by Robin Hard
Oxford World’s Classics (2015) p/b 210pp £8.99 (ISBN 9780198716983)
Eratosthenes of Cyrene was a polymath scholar of the 3rd century BC who, among much else, became chief Librarian at Alexandria. But here, a word of warning: nothing survives of his ‘Catasterisms’ (placing constellations in the sky), and what we have here are epitomes of them—which were labelled by the late Peter Fraser as by pseudo-Eratosthenes. Indeed, the evidence for Eratosthenes as author of the Catasterisms is very slender.
The work under notice starts with a useful Introduction, followed by, for any given constellation (48 in all), the epitome mentioned above, then an account by Hyginus of the constellation as seen in the sky, and its relevant mythology, and finally a commentary by the editor. For good measure, we then have a translation of Aratus’s (contemporary with Eratosthenes) Phaenomena, and extracts from an astrological handbook by Geminos (1st century AD). Explanatory notes (distinctly helpful) and an Index follow. For the sake of consistency, the editor has sensibly Graecised the Latin forms used by Hyginus. Regrettably, the two maps that are provided are too small to be of much use.
This adds up to a useful, inexpensive, and comprehensive vade-mecum of the mythology that surrounds the constellations, and for his commentary the editor has also drawn on Apollodorus’s Library. Of course, no Latin or Greek text is provided (Aratus can be found in a rather ancient volume of the Loeb Library series, combined with Callimachus and Lycophron, and there is a recent Budé edition of the Epitomes.) The subject is of necessarily specialist interest, but it seems fair to say that the answer to any query that one may have is more than likely to be found here.