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Star Lore of the Constellations: Aquila the Eagle - by Deborah Houlding

Notable stars in Aquila: Epoch 2000
Longitude Name Nature Mag. Position Lat. Dec.
19 Cp. 48 Dheneb Mars/Jupiter 3 Eagle's tail 36N 14N
00 Aq. 56 Tarazed Mars/Jupiter 2.8 Eagle's back 31N 11N
01 Aq. 46 Altair Mars/Jupiter 0.77 Eagle's breast 29N 09N
02 Aq. 25 Alshain Mars/Jupiter 3.9 Eagle's neck 27N 6N

In classical myth the eagle was the bird of Zeus who returned his master's thunderbolts and carried to him the souls of heroes. In The Royal Art of Astrology,[1] Robert Eisler explains how, at the funerals of' Roman emperors, an eagle was lightly fastened to the top of the pyre so that as soon as the fire had singed its fetters, it would break free of its bonds and fly away - apparently bearing aloft the soul of the departed. The location of Aquila by the side of Aquarius, and its flight across the Milky Way was thus said by some classical authors to represent the ascension of Ganymede (identified with Aquarius) to Zeus. Modern scholars prefer the theory that this constellation's name was assigned when it was near the summer solstice - the bird of greatest elevation being chosen to assume the symbolism of the summit of the Sun.[2]

The imagery of the eagle has always been identified with the qualities of strength, courage, nobility and dignity, which accords with Ptolemy's belief that its stars are of the nature of Mars and Jupiter.[3] Manilius illustrates the Martian trait in his description of those born under its influence:

He that is born in the hour of its rising will grow up bent on spoil and plunder, won even with bloodshed Yet, should perchance his aggressiveness be enlisted in a noble cause, depravity will turn to virtue, and he will succeed in bringing wars to a conclusion and enriching his country with glorious triumphs. [4]

The main star, Altair, is named from the Arabic Al Tair meaning 'The Eagle'. Lilly, adhering to Manilius, says that this 1st magnitude yellow star represents "a bold, confident, valiant person, never yielding, guilty of bloodshed, of distempered manner,. &c ". But he also adds that when the Moon is directed to it there is fortune in great measure and a time of marriage and childbirth. [5]

The other notable stars include Dheneb, a 3rd magnitude star which shines with a green glint and whose name comes from Al Dhanab 'The Tail'; Tarazed a pale orange 3rd magnitude star in the back of the eagle; and Alshain a 4th magnitude star otherwise known as 'the Eagle's neck'. The attributes of these stars are similar to Altair but, being of less brilliance, their influence is not so strong.

Aquila is most easily found by locating Altair, the twelfth brightest star in the sky. The best time to view is mid-summer, where it appears high in the sky between Sagittarius and Capricorn. Altair forms the southern tip of the asterism called the "Summer Triangle", the most noticeable asterism in summer skies, which also comprises the bright stars Vega from the constellation Lyra and Deneb from the constellation Cygnus.
The Sun crosses Dheneb around 10th January each year; it crosses Altair around 21st January.

Notes & References:
  1 ] Published by Herbert Joseph Ltd., London, 1946.
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  2 ] Allen, Star Names, their Lore and Meaning, Dover, 1963; p.56.
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  3 ] Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, (ca. AD 150), Harvard Heinemann Loeb Classical Library, trans. F.E. Robbins, 1940; I.9, (Loeb p.57).
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  4 ] Manilius, Astronomica, (c. 10 AD) trans. G.P. Goold, 1997, published by Harvard Heinemann, Loeb classical library, London. 5.494, (Loeb p.341). Back to text

  5 ] William Lilly, Christian Astrology, 1647, p.537 & 702.
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© Deborah Houlding

Stars & Constellations