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Star Lore of the Constellations:  Cetus, the Whale - by Deborah Houlding

Notable stars in Cetus: Epoch 2000
Longitude Name Nature Mag. Position Lat. Dec.
02 Ari 35 Deneb Kaitos Saturn 2.2 Tail of the Whale 21S 18S
21 Ari 57 Baten Kaitos Saturn 3.9 Belly of the Whale 20S 10S
01 Tau 31 Mira Saturn 3.0 Neck of the Whale 16S 03S
14 Tau 20 Menkar Saturn 2.8 Nose of the Whale 13S 04N

In Greek mythology Cetus represents the sea monster sent to devour Andromeda, but in earlier times it was identified with the primeval Mesopotamian monster Tiamat. It is depicted as a strange, ferocious beast which swims alongside Eridanus the River accompanied by Pisces the Fishes. All its stars are of the nature of Saturn according to Ptolemy.

Manilius and Firmicus both gave the constellation an association with fishermen and those who make a living from salt or salted fish:

As the last portion of the Fishes rises, appears the constellation of the Whale, pursuing Andromeda in heaven as on the Sea. This monster enlists its sons in an onslaught on the deep and a butchery of scaly creatures; theirs will be a passion for ensnaring the deep with nets spread wide...[1]

Formerly, the most prominent star was Menkar, a bright orange, 2nd magnitude star on the monster's nose (from Al-Minkhar, 'the nose' or 'nostril'). Its influence is unfortunate, associated with danger from beasts, disgrace, ill fortune and illness.[2]

Presently, the brightest star is Deneb Kaitos (from Al Dhanab al Kaitos 'the tail of the whale'), known by some as Difda. This is another 2nd magnitude star which overtook Menkar in brilliance during the 19th century. It has a similar unfortunate influence and has been noted by Ebertin and Hoffman to cause inhibition and restraint.[3]

The most remarkable star, however, is Mira, located in the neck, and so sometimes referred to as 'the necklace'. According to Bullinger, its name means 'the Rebel', for the star is a variable one which alternates its brilliance from 2nd magnitude to invisibility in the course of 332 days. In fact it is a binary star, which accounts for its temporary invisibility and extreme irregularities. Some sources state that it is a flushed yellow colour while Sir William Herschel, in 1783, recorded its colour as deep garnet. Ebertin and Hoffman attribute versatility and a progressive spirit to its influence but if at all afflicted it indicates failures, fiascos, enmity and melancholia.[4]

Baten Kaitos, 'the Whale's Belly', is a 3rd magnitude, topaz yellow star. It is known for causing falls and blows, to which Robson adds compulsory transportation, emigration and shipwreck.[5]

The easiest star of the constellation to locate with the naked eye is Menkar. First locate Aldebaran of Taurus. Just below the Pleides, and about that distance again to the west, lies Hamal, the alpha star of Aries. Menkar sits beneath these two stars, roughly in the middle of them, and forms the southern point of a triangle. Continue the line between Aldebaran and Menkar twice again to come to Deneb Kaitos. It is best viewed in the Northern Hemisphere in the autumn months.

The Sun crosses Deneb Kaitos around 22nd March, Baten Kaitos around 11th April, Mira around 21st April, and Menkar around 4th May each year.

Notes & References:
  1 ] Manilius, Astronomica, (c.10 AD), Harvard Heinemann, Loeb Classical Library; 5.660, (Loeb p.353); Firmicus Maternus Mathesis (4th cent.) VIII.XVII.5 (p.280)
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  2 ] R.H. Allen, Star Names: their Lore and Meaning, Dover Publications 1899, p.162.
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  3 ] Ebertin and Hoffman, Fixed Stars and their Interpretation, AFA, 1971, p.12.
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  4 ] Ibid., p.15.
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  5 ] V. Robson, The Fixed Stars and Constellations in Astrology, 1923, p.145.
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© Deborah Houlding. Adapted from an article first published in The Traditional Astrologer Magazine, issue 16; March 1998. Published online March 2008.

Stars & Constellations