The Constellation Argo Navis : Johannes Hevelius’s Hidden Symbolism
The Esoteric Meaning of the Argo
The Constellation Argo Navis is one of 48 constellations cataloged in Ptolemy’s Almagest in 2nd Century. The Argo Navis was a huge constellation and is mostly only seen in the southern hemisphere. Astronomers and cartographers found it very difficult to construct on star maps in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1756, a French astronomer by the name of Nicolas Louis de Lacaille separated the constellation into three parts, the Puppis (the Stern), Carina (the Keel), and Vela (the Sails). A fourth constellation, Pyxus (the compass), was removed from the mast and made into a completely independent constellation.
The name Argo Navis stems from the 3rd century BC Greek poem called Argonautica by Apollonius Rhodius. The Argonautica tells the myth of the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts to retrieve the Golden Fleece from remote Colchis. The ship was built by the shipwright Argos or Argus, with the guidance of Athena, at the port of Pagasae, using timber from nearby Mount Pelion. Some believe the Argo was built in the City of Argos along the southern shores of Greece.
The foundation story of the City of Argos was the myth of an Egyptian monarch by the name of Danaus. Danaus had fifty daughters, the Danaides, and his twin brother, Aegyptus, had fifty sons. Aegyptus commanded his sons to marry the Danaides, Danaus’ daughters. Knowing this, Danaus decided to flee instead, and he decided to build a ship, the very first ship that was ever made, just like the myth of the Argo. With the use of this ship, Danaus fled to Argos.
There are a few inferences to be made within this myth. One being the name of Danaus. According to the Biblical timeline, this event is very close to the Exodus from Egypt around 1500 BCE, which included the Tribe of Dan. The tribe has been historically connected to ships. The tribe was an adventurous people that was known to leave their name at the places they traveled and conquered. The Eridanus, which the Argonauts sailed in the story, and Danube River could be examples.
Secondly, The Argo was manned by the fifty finest heroes, which used fifty oars, in Greek history and believed to be the first ship to sail the seas. Danaus had fifty daughters and Aegyptus had fifty sons. There seems to be a correlation between the number 50 and the ancient use of the sixty base numbering system. There are 50 arc seconds of precession each year, matching to the number 50 used in the both myths connected to the Argo. The ancients used the sixty base numbering system for geometry and time. This system is still used by astronomers today. This may be evidence of ancient knowledge of precession. According to The Bible Wheel site, (https://www.biblewheel.com/GR/GR_50.php) the number 50 in Hebrew gematria means “all”, “everything”, “man”, and “sea”. While on Bill Heidrick’s gematria site, has “roaring; the sea, a large river” as a meaning.
The Egyptians believed Argo Navis represented the ship Osiris and Isis sailed on to escape the Great Deluge or maybe Ra’s Sun Boat he traveled on each day to carry the Sun across the sky. The closest the constellation gets to the sun is on the winter solstice when the bow of the Argo rises at the same azimuth bearing on the horizon as the sun on that day. However, the sun is on the opposite side of the world. As Argo Navis sets on the winter solstice, the sun begins to rise like they are chasing each other around the Milky Way. At the time of the Pharaohs in 3000-2000 BCE, The Argo would appear to be sailing across the southern horizon. The complete ship would be visible at this time before diving hull first below the horizon. As the sun sets on the vernal equinox at the Great Pyramid in 2000BCE, the constellation sits perfectly on the horizon. The vernal equinox is one of two times during the years Egypt experiences of wet weather and the flooding of the Nile River. The constellation in this position at the vernal equinox and the time of the Nile River flooding makes perfect sense.
This follows the same pattern of archaeoastronomy of the ancient Egyptians by using constellations close to the horizon and aligning the geography. The southern position of the Argo aligns with the flow of the Nile River to the south. Many researchers believe the pyramids and Sphinx were built in 10,500BCE due to the Constellation Orion and Leo acting in the same manner on the horizon. Researchers discovered the stars in Orion’s Belt has a similar pattern as the alignment of the three pyramids. When Orion rises to the south and Leo in the east of the Great Pyramid, Orion and Leo appear to be standing on the horizon. The Sphinx actually faces the east as Leo rises in this position. This particular position of the constellations on the horizon was of extreme important to the Egyptians.
One of the strangest arguments concerning the constellation has been its orientation. Which way it the ship sailing, east or west? The constellation is situated on the Milky Way, which resembles a river to many ancient cultures and the stars move east to west, so one would think the ship would sail east to west following the Sun. However, some depictions have the stern facing west to appear sailing backwards. There are two possible reasons for this occurrence. One reason is at some time between Ptolemy and the 17th Century, an astronomer or cartographer drew the Argo facing the wrong direction. The error was copied by other astronomers and placed in future star catalogs. Hevelius drew his constellations in reverse, which adds another twist. He drew them “as God would see them.” The other reason may be the ship design of the Egyptians. Both, the stern and bow, looked the same. Each end of the ship were pointed as a bow should be. With more time I would like to research back to find the first error. Today, according to Stellarium, the Argo is facing the correct direction with its bow facing the west so it sails with the other celestial objects.
There have been many different depictions of Argo Navis throughout the centuries. While many astronomers viewed Argo Navis as the ship Jason and the Argonauts sailed to retrieve the Golden Fleece, the astronomer Julius Schiller viewed Argo Navis as Noah’s Ark in his 1627 star catalog Coelum Stellatum Christianum. Schiller changed all of the constellations to represent Christian names. The Zodiac constellations were changed to the twelve apostles. He named the northern constellations by figures from the New Testament and the southern constellations by figures from the Old Testament. Another nearby constellation off the bow of Argo Navis is Columba or “Noah’s Dove”. In the myth, Noah’s dove is sent from the Ark to see if there is any dry land left after the Great Flood. The bird returns holding an olive branch in its beak, signaling that the flood is receding.
Even the great Sir Isaac Newton dedicated the last several years of his life to date the building and sailing of the Argo to retrieve the Golden Fleece (http://www.argonauts-book.com/isaac-newton.html). Sir Isaac Newton traced back to the building of Argo using three different methods to determine the date of the ship. He followed this line of research, because he attempted to determine the date humans first sailed to the British Isles to populate the U.K. He knew the British Isles were only reachable by ship, so the population of the Isles had to be after the building of the Argo, the first ship that ever sailed. Newton fixed the date of the building of this celebrated craft as 936 B.C. He claimed that all the ancient constellations relate some way to the adventures of the Argonauts.
According to William Olcott in Star Lore of All Ages, Newton claimed “as Musasus, one of the Argonauts, was the first Greek who made a celestial sphere, he would naturally delineate on it those figures which had some reference to the expedition. Accordingly, we have on our globes to this day, ‘the Golden Ram’ (Aries), the ensign of the ship in which Phryxus fled to Colchis, the scene of the Argonautica achievements. We have also the Bull (Taurus) with brazen hoofs tamed by Jason; the Twins (Gemini) Castor and Pollux; two sailors with their mother Leda in the form of a Swan (Cygnus); and Argo, the ship itself. The watchful Dragon (Draco) Hydra, with the Cup (Crater) of Medea, and a raven (Corvus) upon its carcass, as an emblem of death; also Chiron (Sagittarius), the master of Cepheus, the King Jason, with his ‘Altar’ and sacrifice. Hercules, the Argonaut, with his club, his dart (Sagitta), and vulture, with the Dragon, Crab (Cancer), and Lion (Leo) which he slew; and Orpheus, one of the company, with his harp (Lyra). Again we have Orion, the son of Neptune, or as some say the grandson of Minos, with his dogs (Canis Major and Minor), and the Hare (Lepus), River (Eridanus), and Scorpion. We have the story of Perseus, in the constellation of that name, as well as in Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Andromeda, and Cetus; that of Calisto and her son Areas in Ursa Major; that of Icarius and his daughter Erigone in Bootes and Virgo. Ursa Minor relates to one of the nurses of Jupiter, Auriga to Erichthonius, Ophiuchus to Phorbas, Sagittarius to Crolus, the son of one of the Muses, Capricorn to Pan, and Aquarius to Ganymede. We have also Ariadne’s crown (Corona Borealis), Bellerophon’s horse (Pegasus), Neptune’s dolphin (Delphinus), Ganymede’s eagle (Aquila), Jupiter’s goat with her kids, the asses of Bacchus (in Ganger), the fishes of Venus and Cupid (Pisces), with their parent the Southern Fish.” These, according to Deltoton, comprise the Grecian constellations mentioned by the poet Aratos, and all relate, as Newton supposes, remotely or immediately to the Argonauts.”
Named Stars in Argo Navis
Canopus (a Carinae)
The brightest star in the original Argo Navis and now in the Constellation Carina is Canopus. Canopus is ranked the second brightest star in all the heavens and located on the keel of the constellation, near the bow. The brightest star in the night sky is the Dog Star, Sirius, which is located close to Canopus, off the bow of Argo Navis in the Constellation Canes Major. These two bright stars have a connection that I will discuss later.
The Greek name for the star comes from Kanobos, and Kanopus, transcribed into Canobus and now is known as Canopus. Canopus is named “Menelaus’s helmsman” for the Argo’s pilot.
Miaplacidus (b Carinae)
The second brightest star in the former Argo Navis constellation is called the 2nd magnitude Miaplacidus. Miaplacidus is ranked the 28th brightest star. Although the name is of unknown origins, within the name is “placid”, which could refer to “calm waters”. The star is located in the keel at the stern of the ship, so calm or placid waters would be a fitting meaning to Miaplacidus. This star is one of four stars that form the asterism called the Diamond Cross within the constellation.
This star was known as (α Roburis Carolii) when Edmond Halley cataloged his only constellation Robur Carolinium, Charles’s Oak, in his 1679 Catalogus Stellarum Australium after mapping the southern stars at St. Helena Island. In 1756, Nicolas Louis de Lacaille removed the constellation when he split the Argo Navis constellation into three separate constellations.
Avior (ε Carinae)
Avior wasn’t named until the 1930s even though the star is ranked 40th of the brightest stars. Avior may be the most underrated stars in the sky. Being a southern hemisphere star may be the reason for Avior’s neglect. A large majority of astronomers have primarily viewed the stars from the northern hemisphere and the star has been simply overlooked. Avior is located in the keel of the ship, but a better description would be the center of the original ship.
Avior is part of an asterism called the False Cross. The other stars that form the asterism Delta Velorum, Kappa Velorum, and Iota Carinae.
Aspidiske (ι Carinae)
Another named star in the Constellation Carina within the original Argo Navis is Aspidiske, Scutulum, or Turais. This star is one of the four members of the False Cross asterism previously mentioned. Aspidiske is positioned on the keel, but at the top where Hevelius placed five distinct shields along the rail of the Argo, which makes sense, because Scutulum and Turais mean “little shield”. The five shields appear to be Zeus’s Thunderbolt, sun, moon, triangle, and a man. The man could very well be Polish King Jan III Sobieski, which Hevelius named his own constellation called Scutum, the shield.
Azmidi/Asmidiske (Xi Puppis)
Asmidiske in the Constellation Puppis is often misspelled and confused with the previous star Aspidiske in Carina. This isn’t the only confusion associated with this star and constellation. Puppis is supposed to represent the stern of the Argo, yet it’s clearly the bow. So, if you believe the Argo is sailing east to west, like normal people, then Azmidi is located at the bow of the ship. Azmidi is the first star of Argo to rise above the horizon in the northern hemisphere, which is very close to the same point on the horizon as the rising sun on the winter solstice. In my opinion, the star would represent the figurehead of the Argo.
Naos (ζ Puppis)
Naos means “ship” or a small chamber within a temple holding an idol to the Greeks. Naos seems to be located near the “eye” painted on the hull of the ship. Naos is also known as Suhail Hadar, which is the one of the stars that forms the Egyptian Cross asterism. Naos is one of the most luminous and hottest stars in our part of the galaxy because of its blue color. The more blue the star, the hotter its core. Naos appears to be much dimmer when viewing from Earth due to its great distance of about 1,080 light years. If Naos was at the same distance as Sirius, about 8.6 light years, it would shine at magnitude -7.8, a full three magnitudes (or 15 times) brighter than Venus.
Regor (γ Velorum)
Regor is a bright 1.78 magnitude star located in the Constellation Vela. The name Regor stems from the astronaut Roger Chaffee, one of the astronauts who died in the Apollo fire. Regor, “Roger” spelled backwards, and honors Chaffee. It’s located on the ship where the sails meet the deck of the Argo.
Markeb (k Puppis)
Markeb is one of four stars that forms the False Cross asterism. The name is derived from the Arabic word markab, which means “something to ride.” Located in the sails of the original Argo Navis, Markeb is part of a Chinese asterism called the Celestial earth god’s Temple. The remaining four stars of the asterism are all located in Vela.
Suhail (λ Velorum)
Suhail is the 64th brightest star in the night sky and the 3rd brightest star in Vela. In Arabic, Suhail means “smooth plain” and is the main star defining the sails of the Argo. Only a few major stars of the original Argo Navis are visible in Europe and North America and Suhail is one of them. It’s a 2.2 magnitude star and visible by the naked eye.
Asterisms in Argo Navis
The Egyptian Cross asterism is two inverted triangles meeting at Sirius to form a large Latin letter ‘X’ in the northern hemisphere winter sky. The upper half of the X is identical to the Winter Triangle; the southern half is composed of Sirius (Canis Majoris), Betelgeuse (Orion), Procyon (Canes Minor, Naos (Puppis), and Phact (Columbae). This asterism takes its name from the fact that its stars roughly border the celestial equator, and that traditionally it was more readily seen in its entirety from North Africa than Europe.
The False Cross is a diamond-shaped asterism composed of the four stars Alspehina (δ Vela) and Markeb (κ Vela) and Avior (ε Carinae) and Aspidiske (ι Carinae). Although its component stars are not quite as bright as those of the Southern Cross, it is somewhat larger and better shaped than the Southern Cross, for which it sometimes mistaken, causing errors in astronavigation.
The Diamond Cross asterism uses the four bright stars in Carina (β, ν, θ, ω) forming an almost perfect, upright diamond shape.
The Argo, the Magic Oak Branch, and Johannes Hevelius
In the myth of Jason and the Argonauts, the oak plays a role when the Goddess Athena gives Jason a magic oak branch from Zeus’s oak grove near the ancient city of Dodoni, Greece. The branch would speak and give warnings or advice to Jason on their journey for the Golden Fleece. The holy ‘speaking’ oak branch was placed on the bow of the Argo by Jason.
This is a particularly meaningful part of the story, because Ptolemy would have been familiar with the myth of Jason and the Argonauts prior to cataloging his constellations in the Almagest. He positioned the Constellation Argo Navis to rise at the same azimuth bearing on the horizon as the rising Sun on the winter solstice. This is significant for a few reasons.
One possible reason could be the importance of the oak tree to ancient cultures. To the ancient people, the solstices and equinoxes were an important and meaning time of the year. With each passing day of autumn we lose daylight. However, as the Winter Solstice arrives, the shortest day arrives, and we gain more daylight going forward toward the summer solstice. Ancient people, who spent more time outdoors, were highly aware of this annual change in daylight, the two poles of which are the winter and summer solstice.
In Celtic mythology the Oak King and the Holly King were twins, pitted against each other in a never-ending fight for supremacy. oak trees, sacred to the Celts, lose their leaves, while the Christmas holly trees are evergreen. As cold weather approached, the Celts marveled at how the evergreen Christmas holly trees, hidden amongst the leafy oaks the rest of the year, now stood out prominently on an otherwise barren landscape. The Holly King had won out, as it were, as the incarnations of his twin brother had shed all their leaves and stood naked in defeat.
Every year at the winter and summer solstices, these two fight for dominance. The Holly King rules from Mid-summer (summer solstice) to Yule (winter solstice), and the Oak King rules from Yule to Mid-summer. The Holly King represents darkness, decay and destruction, however, also represents inner knowledge and mysteries. The Oak King, on the other hand, represents light, growth and expansion. These two mighty kings fight a symbolic battle to win the crown of the year, at Yule when the Oak King wins, and at mid-summer when the Holly King wins.
The Oak King is associated with the Green Man in Celtic mythology. Although there are many variations, the Green Man represents nature and the rebirth in the spring/vernal equinox. This corresponds with the Oak King’s reign that starts with the winter solstice and ends with the summer solstice. The vernal equinox would be the halfway point to the summer solstice. The face depicting the Oak King is a likeness for the Green Man represented on the stern of the Argo Navis drawn in Johannes Hevelius’s star catalog called Firmamentum Sobiescianum of 1690. Whether Ptolemy knew the legend or not, Hevelius, being from Poland, would’ve known the myth of the Oak King and his association with the Green Man. The Green Man would have no apparent connection to the Constellation Argo Navis other than the Sun rising at the same bearing on the winter solstice.
The Constellation Columba, a constellation off the bow of the ship, is associated with the oak tree too. The constellation is a reference to St. Columba, the Irish missionary widely credited with bringing Christianity to what is now Scotland, founded monasteries and churches in oak groves, even living for a time under an oak at the monastery at Kells. Many old oaks today are considered “gospel oaks,” referring to a time when the gospels were preached in their shade.
An interesting connection between Hevelius’s version of the Argo Navis constellation and the magic oak branch is through Edmond Halley, known for Halley’s Comet. Although Halley was much younger than Hevelius, they became good friends before Hevelius’s death in 1687.
Prior to their meeting, at the young age 20, child prodigy Edmond Halley was sent to St. Helena Island, a small island in the southern Atlantic, to map the southern stars for King Charles II and the Royal Society of London. Halley traveled on the East India Company ship, The Unity, to St. Helena in 1676 and returned in 1678 on another East India Company ship called The Golden Fleece, a reference to Jason and the Argonauts.
The result of Halley’s trip was the first star catalog ever compiled with the aid of a telescope, accompanied by the first reliable chart of the southern hemisphere of the sky. When Edmond Halley returned from St. Helena, he was immediately sent to meet Hevelius in Poland on Royal Society business. Sir Robert Hooke challenged Hevelius’s ability to accurately record star positions using older equipment, such as a sextant and quadrant with iron sites. The telescope was beginning to be the tool of choice by many leading astronomers in Europe. Halley was sent to test Hevelius’s accuracy. Can you imagine a 22 year old Edmond Halley sent to question the 67 year old Hevelius? Halley spent two months in Poland and reported back to the Royal Society Hevelius was very accurate with just using his naked eye. However, there has to be more to this story.
During his visit with Hevelius, Halley had to share the southern hemisphere information with Hevelius, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and Hevelius included the information in his catalog in 1690. It was Hevelius that cataloged Edmond Halley’s now obsolete constellation, Robur Caroli, Charles’s Oak. Hevelius placed Robur Caroli at the bow of his version of the Argo, the same place the magic branch was positioned on the Argo. However, Hevelius’s representation of the Argo Navis constellation isn’t the same as the constellation today as previously discussed. The stars Hevelius used to form Robur Caroli included Miaplacidus (b Carinae), which is at the stern of the ship in today’s version. In fact, all the stars he used are located at the stern. This is quite a mystery why Hevelius drew a reverse image of the Argo smashing into an oak tree.
Hevelius’s placement of Robur Caroli at the bow of the ship at the same location as the magic branch and Halley’s connection to the Argonauts through his trip from St. Helena Island makes you wonder if these two references to the Argonauts means something more significant. Both were brilliant men of their time and seem to be interested in the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts, along with another of Halley’s close associates, Sir Isaac Newton.
The Northern Argo Navis
The Constellation Argo Navis is primarily a southern constellation and only a small portion of it reaches the horizon above 40 degrees latitude. The Argonauts are such an important theme in the constellations, so why not create a northern Argo in the sky to compliment the original. I think Johannes Hevelius did.
There is no question Hevelius knew the myth of the Argonaut voyage. His interest may stem from his home of Danzig, Poland, now Gdansk, which is an ancient seaport along the southern shores of the Baltic Sea, which was once considered the Eridanus River. The name “Dan” appears in the name Danzig/Gdansk that could refer to the Tribe of Dan and their travels.
Eridanus or Eridanos, is a name given by geologists to a river which flowed where the Baltic Sea is now. In the Pleistocene era, the current Baltic Sea was the river basin of a river, currently named as Eridanos. It began in Lapland, and then flowed through the area of the modern-day Gulf of Bothnia and Baltic Sea to Western Europe, where it had an immense delta which spanned almost the entire current North Sea. It was comparable in size to the current-day Amazon River. The Eridanos disappeared during the first Ice age of 700,000 years ago, which completely covered its valley. When the ice caps retreated the ancient river valley had been scoured out into a deep hollow which became the Baltic Sea. Remnants of the Eridanos are found all through northern Europe, from the Netherlands at its western end to sediments in northern Lapland. So, if the story is true, the Baltic Sea may have been the mighty Eridanus River in ancient times. I have overlaid the Constellation Eridanus over the Baltic region and it fits pretty well.
Another connection between the myth and Baltic region is the “Tears of Apollo” seen by the Argonauts sticking out of the beach sand as they sailed along the Eridanus River. Tears of Apollo is another name for amber. The southern portion of the Baltic is famous for its quantity of yellow amber. In fact, Gdansk, Poland supplies 80 – 90% of the world’s amber. The amber trade has survived for thousands of years and believed to be active in 2000 BCE. The trade helped fuel the Bronze Age and encouraged the trade of tin from the British Isles (Cornwall) for Baltic Sea amber. The famous Russian Amber Room, one of the wonders of the world, was made with amber from the Baltic region.
When Hevelius drew his version of Argo Navis, he connected the mast of the constellation to the alpha star in the Constellation Hydra, the Water Snake, called Alphard. Hydra is the longest constellation in the sky and if the Argo Navis wasn’t split into four separate constellations, it would be 20% bigger than Hydra. He joined the two biggest constellations in the sky to draw your focus to a certain portion of Hydra that appears to be a cross section of a ship with a Dragon/Serpent figurehead at the bow. The alpha stars in each constellation seem to be placed at matching locations on each ship, the hull. In the northern hemisphere these two constellations travel east to west parallel to each other. However, Argo Navis is below the horizon and Hydra is above. Furthermore, Hevelius added one of his own constellations to complete the Northern Argo. He added the Constellation Sextans where the sails would be on the ship.
The Argo Navis Constellation is a fascinating constellation that is much more than just a ship. The Argo Navis constellation is a perfect example how astronomers used the symbolism to hide special esoteric meanings in their constellations. The constellations were created by man with a purpose. Sometimes the true purpose isn’t so apparent.