What is an “Aratea”?


Rooted in the name “Aratus” for Aratus of Soli a greek didactic poet of the 3rd century BC. An Aratea consist of taking knowledge from the past and casting it in present light using modern creative languages. In doing so, contemporary information is added to the original work who is revived as a way to ensure its permanence.

«Let us begin with Zeus, whom we mortals never leave unspoken. For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus. Even the sea and the harbour are full of this deity. Everywhere everyone is indebted to Zeus. For we are indeed his offspring...»

Phaenomena 1-5
A very long time ago was a Greek didactic poet name Aratus of Soli. Aratus flourished in Macedonia in the early C3rd BC and his infamously known for his major extant work: Phaenomena (Appearances).

Didactic poetry is poetry that instructs, either in terms of moral or by providing knowledge of philosophy, religion, arts, science or skills. The purpose of Phaenomena is to give an introduction to the constellations with the rules for their risings and settings while narrating the mythological story behind every entity they represent. The positions of the constellations, north of the ecliptic, are described by reference to the principal groups surrounding the north pole (Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Draco and Cepheus), whilst Orion serves as a point of departure for those to the south.

Aratus was neither a mathematician nor observer, from the lack of precision in the descriptions, or the absence of aim at scientific accuracy, some configurations of par- ticular groups are represented incorrectly and phenomena are described with incons- istency. These errors are partly attributed to Eudoxus himself, and partly to the way in which Aratus has used the materials supplied by him. Aratus’s Phaenomena appears to be based on two prose works - Phaenomena and Enoptron, presumably a descriptive image of the heavens by Eudoxus of Cnidus.

Nonetheless, despite those inexactitude Aratus’s work was very popular both in the Greek and Roman world, as is proved by the number of commentaries and Latin transla- tions. The author enjoyed immense prestige among Hellenistic poets, and later on, Latin versions were made by none other than Cicero. Marcu Tullius Cicero, born on 3 January 106 BC, nestrides Latin literature like a colossus, however, one part of Cicero’s output that has been traditionally been less highly valued has been his poetry. While Cicero poetical talent and legacy has been eclipsed by the virtuosity achieved by the poets of the next generation (Catullus and Lucretius) it is only recently that scholars have begun to turn a more sympathetic eye to Cicero’s verse.

As I said previously, the work of Aratus was repeatedly translated into Latin; Cicero preparing his version of the poem in the 80s BC, when he was in his early twenties. The beauty of Cicero’s work based on Aratus’s poem, know as Cicero’s Aratea, lies in the layout of the information and the editorial vision of the author. As a result, Cicero’s text (the translation of Aratus’s poem) is presented at the bottom of each page, accom- panied by a drawing of the relevant constellation. Yet these drawings are formed out of words, taken from the relevant passages of the Astronomica of Hyginus (compared to the it’s compatriot Cicero, the humble librarians set himself the task of providing a valuable companion guide to the heavens, the kind of thing the educated reader would welcome when trying to understand the more abstruse passages of the poem itself).

Now that clear insight and description regarding the content offered in this work has been given, I shall explain why such an initiative. I do not consider my self as a writer or a poet, therefore no initiative of translating or adapting the verses written from Cicero, Aratus and Hyginus has been taken. This work is a revival, an artistic response to some of the most impressive, enlightening and trans- cending work of Art and Literature that our rich cultural legacy possesses. This Aratea is a tribute, a tribute to a vision of the world and of the heavens that illuminated the mind of our ancestors, and I believe that should illuminate ours.

I am not nostalgic, only fascinated by these classics, and a true believer that, the information they possess can still be relevant today, if one knows how to appreciate it. In this work, I confronted the content from Cicero and Hyginus to data and information that have been acquired through our current technologies. As a result I believe it is this duality, yet symbiotic, within the content, where informations belong to different time period that creates the density and uniqueness of this artistic endeavor. Finally, as it is a new endeavor, this work remains different from its predecessors on a few aspects. Firstly, compare to the Cicero’s Aratea, the text within the illustration is not extract from Hyginus Astronomica, but passages of Aratus’s poem. Consequently Hyginus’s words are displayed on the left of the illustrations. Unlike in Cicero’s Aratea, I believe Hyginus’s text needed to stand apart from the drawings to benefit from a better reading experience, and as said previously, help the reader understand the poem. On the other hand, Aratus’s verse deserve to be in the illustration, resulting in a transcending visual experience created by the symbiotic relationship of both the words of poetry and the drawings. Secondly, the work features accurate constellation line drawing where three to four of the constellation’s main star or asterism benefit from a small paragraph of infor- mation (information we have access now with our current technology). Technical data about these same main star or asterism also add to the content density of the page and enhance the learning experience.