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Star Myths of the Greeks and Romans: A Sourcebook Containing "The Constellations" of Pseudo-Eratosthenes and the "Poetic Astronomy" of Hyginus Paperback – January 1, 1997
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About the Author
Theony Condos, Ph.D., holds a doctorate in classics from the University of Southern California. Her dissertation included the translation of the Greek text which appears in this volume.
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Theony Condos, the translator, draws mostly on two prime sources; Poeticon Astronomicon (Poetic Astronomy), attributed to Hyginus; and Catasterismi (The Constellations), by Eratothenes. In the introduction, Condos discusses the backgrounds of Hyginus and Eratothenes, their influences and sources, and some supporting and relating works by their contemporaries and historical peers. Moving on from the (mercifully!) brief introduction, Condos procedes directly to the heart of the matter, and launches into an alphebetized listing of the major 'western' constellations, each with a idealized line-drawing of the constellation and its namesake image, a brief discussion of the associated legend(s) as discussed in the primary works, and a translators commentary. Primary stars, where possible, are indicated by their symbols (rather than spelling out their names) in the text. This last I found most frustrating, for while a serious scholar of Latin and Greek would recognize these symbols immediately, I found myself struggling to interpret them.
This book comes with fairly extensive end notes and appendicies, useful to the student looking for more insight. While I find this volume to be useful in a limited way, it's really aimed towards the more serious student, and not to the casual sky-watcher. If you want an education on the origins of the Western European constellations, this is a good place to start, though it's not the ultimate word on the subject. However, if you want to identify that intriguing cluster of bright lights in the nighttime sky, you'll probably want to go elsewhere.
However, reading from the text, it is clear that this book is primarily a labor of translation rather than Astronomy. In order to identify stars, Condos compared the texts of Pseudo-Eratosthenes and Hyginus to that of Ptolemy's Almagest. If she could not positively comfirm the identity of a star by cross-referencing it through Ptolemy, she simply left it unidentified in her translation (designating it with a ?). A clear example of the problem with this came when she tried to identify the three stars in Orion's head as lambda, ?, and ?. In this case, if she had a simple star atlas in front of her (like Norton's), she would have been able to easily identify the two unknown stars as phi-1 and phi-2. The sky hasn't changed that much since the time of the Greeks and an atlas might have been helpful to Condos in her work
So, yes, this is a recommendable book, but keep in mind that Condos' translation was made through referencing ancient texts alone without a proper study of the actual sky and stars upon which the texts were based. This flaw isn't fatal, but it is significant enough for me to dock one star and recommend that the reader have an atlas of his or her own to reference when using this book.