Lore of the Constellations: Boötes

For video #3 in our special series, Jay Lamm, Planetarium Producer and Technical Manager at the Irene W. Pennington Planetarium in the Louisiana Art & Science Museum, will take you on an exploration behind the meaning and origin of the strange namesake of Boötes, the herdsman.

You might not be too familiar with the constellation Boötes but it represents a herdsman.  You can find him right above the constellation of Virgo and under the arc of the Big Dipper within Ursa Major.  In fact, here’s a shot of Boötes as seen from outside my house.

Having a hard time finding it?  Click on the images to see a full-size shot.

Boötes looks sort of like a kite, ice cream cone, or maybe even a neck-tie.  But, if we use our imagination we can form a picture of a herdsman,  yelling at Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, aka the large and small bear.  To find Boötes, take the arc of the Big Dipper (found within Ursa Major) and arc your way to the bright star Arcturus.  Here’s an outline of Boötes from the same picture.

Now, see if you can make out Boötes for yourself.

There are several myths associated with the constellation of Boötes.  The most famous story involves Icarius, a grape grower who invited the god Dionysus to inspect his vineyards.  Dionysus was so impressed by what he saw, he taught the Athenian his secret of wine-making.  Icarius turned out to be quite a student and produced such great wine that he decided to invite all his friends to come and sample the fruits of his work.  However, his shepherd friends had no idea what they were drinking, and the next day after suffering from the world’s first hangover subsequently accused him of trying to poison them and killed him in revenge.

Dionysus was said to be so saddened by the killing of his friend that he placed him in the sky as a sign of his affection, whereas he can still be seen to this day as the constellation Boötes.

The origins of the name Boötes is still shrouded in mystery.  It is believed to be derived from the Greek word meaning “noisey” since Boötes appears to be calling out and driving the two bears in the sky, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.

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