Libra, A Zodiacal Constellation Like No Other
by Duane Dunkerson
Libra, a zodiacal constellation, may be hard to find in
a dark sky or a not-so-dark sky. In the dark sky you may
be hindered in your effort to pick out the identifying
stars of the constellation. These defining stars may not
stand out from the stellar forest. In a not-so-dark sky
the faint demarcation stars of Libra are notably faint
and the forest of stars is thin in ranks thereabouts.
Once found, between Virgo and Scorpio, Libra, like
Virgo and Scorpio, lies in the zodiac. The zodiac is a
band in the sky which contains the travels of the Sun,
most planets, and twelve constellations. The
constellations of the zodiac number twelve to provide
one for each of our twelve calendar months.
Of these twelve zodiacal constellations, Libra is not
one of the animals or persons up there. Libra is an
object. It is now a Balance or Scales. From exposure to
basic lab physics or chemistry of some years ago, one
encountered a balance beam. Such a device "weighed out"
whatever quantity of a substance was needed. A known
quantity was in one "pan" and across the beam in another
pan was the unknown amount of X. The beam rested on a
point so that the known equaled X if the beam was level
and "in balance".
Lab coursework was not being depicted in the sky by
ancient Greek, Romans, and others. Some were depicting
justice. Matching the worth of deed, intent, character,
and other rather non-scientific concerns was in the
outcome of this balance or scale.
The Greeks, for a time, had Libra as the claws of
Scorpio. Later the Romans made that stellar area into
the Balance. Justice was not always a representation for
the Balance. Libra was once the area of the autumnal
equinox when night and day were of equal, balanced,
Be it justice or claws, Libra is like other
constellations in having an ancient heritage based on
finding patterns of stars in the night sky. Names for
individual stars were made. These individual stayed put
in relation to other stars. In reality, they only appear
together from our vantage point. Ursa Major (the Big
Dipper, the Big Bear) is an exception in that its major
stars do travel as a unit. The stars close by to one
another moved as a whole nightly and seasonally. They
stayed grouped from year to year for lifetime after
lifetime. You could group the stars and name the group.
We have always had a propensity for naming whatever we
find about us.
The groupings of these stars, the constellations, are
imaginary. Nothing scientific about the naming of
constellations took place. Down on earth the structure
of people and animals lent itself to structure for star
groups, the constellations. Plant life was not,
apparently, rigid enough in structure or far enough up
the Great Chain of Being. Also, apparently, cities and
states did not have a structure that could be foisted on
the stars. No Athens, Perisopolis, Rome, or Syracuse of
Perhaps a traditional sense of scale and importance
prevented ancient man from getting Tom, Dick, and Harry
in the sky. Later, a lesser more modern age had
constellations proposed that had a rampant egotistical
bias. Certain animals and people were of importance to
those who first named the constellations. Others said
okay so a star is a star and if we name a constellations
after our favorite pie or whatever then what is to stop
an over the hill, down in the valley guy placing what he
might find amusing as a template in the sky? Notions of
propriety, authority, point of order, precedence,
aptness, and indifference may have also played roles in
naming and maintaining the constellations.
More modern times saw differing names for established
constellations and the boundaries of these
constellations ebbed and flowed decade by decade. For
example, The Celestial Atlas of Julius Schiller in 1627
at Augsburg had pagan constellations replaced with
Christian ones. The zodiac was apostolic. The first star
atlas could be that of Piccolomiu's of 1540 in Venice.
It was called De le stelle fisse (the fixed stars). In
1930 definite name and demarcation for the
constellations was announced by the International
Astronomical Association. A star atlas, Atlas Celeste,
was then published in Cambridge. They were, in part,
following Bayer's designations of 1603. He and
Heveleius, followed by Lalande and La Caille, had gotten
the ball rolling for naming the scientific
constellations of the southern hemisphere.
Some maintain that the earlier constellation-naming for
the northern hemisphere was done by Aratos of the court
of the Macedonian ruler Antigonos Gonatas of the third
century BC. Most of the northern hemisphere has
constellations from Ptolemy's Algamest of the second
century AD. Stars were then thought to be equidistant
from earth so patterns could be accepted easily enough.
In any event, the Greeks found twelve zodiacal
constellations that we now maintain, except for one,
Libra. For their constellations, they borrowed from the
Babylonians and the Egyptians. The term, "zodiac" is
from the Greek "zodiakos kyrklos" meaning "circle of
little animals". If the zodiacal constellations were all
animals, where did the Balance come from? It came from
the Romans. Libra is Latin for balance or scale. Libra
showed up in the Julian calender fo 46 BC.
The Greeks and others had Libra as the claws of
Scorpio. The Romans and others had a Balance, for
measuring justice. It is fitting that a hard to find
constellation has as its precept (inspiration?) what is
often hard to find on earth.