Augiga The Charioteer Essay, Research Paper
Auriga, the Charioteer is the last of the autumn
constellations with a right ascension of six hours and a
declination of 41.73 degrees. Auriga is an ancient Northern
Hemisphere constellation featuring one of the brightest
stars in the sky: Capella. Auriga is usually shown as a
charioteer; the young Auriga wields a whip in one hand and
holds a goat (Capella) and her two/three kids in the other.
To find Auriga, first locate Orion. Taurus is to the
right (west) and just above these two, much higher in the
sky, you will see Capella. While this star marks roughly the
mid-point of the constellation, north to south, most of the
more interesting aspects of the constellation are found to
the south of the star, all the way down to El Nath, the
second brightest star (gamma Auriga) which is actually
shared with Taurus, and also known as beta Taurus.
Auriga’s stars are fairly bright; five are second
magnitude or brighter. Alpha Auriga (Capella) is the sixth
brightness star, at a visual magnitude of 0.08. The star is
43.5 light years away, and is about ten times the size of
our Sun. Capella’s visual magnitude is really the combined
brightness of the primary star and another star that
revolves every 104 days. This star is also known as
Menkalina. The star name derives from the Arabic name Al
Mankib dhi’l Inan, “The Shoulder of the One Who Holds the
Reins,” that is, “The Shoulder of the Charioteer.” Several
open clusters are found in Auriga. Each contains about 100
stars and is about 2,700 light years away. The main part of
Auriga is a five-sided figure of first, second, third
magnitude stars. The Charioteer has two strange variable
stars. Epsilon is usually a third magnitude star, then once
every twenty-seven years it undergoes an eclipse, dimming by
almost a magnitude for nearly two years. The next scheduled
eclipse is in the late summer of 2010.
The Charioteer may be the legendary King Erichthonius
of Athens. He was the son of Hephaestus, the God of Fire,
which the Romans called Vulcan. Like his father Erichthonius
he was also crippled. Erichthonius was raised by Athene, the
patron goddess of Athens, and from her he learned how tame
horses. He was the first to harness four horses to one
chariot, in imitation of the Chariot of the Sun. For this he
was honored by Zeus by being placed among the stars as the
constellation of Auriga.
Others say that The Charioteer represents Hippolytus,
the son of the very same Theseus of Athens who sailed to
Crete, traveled to the Labyrinth with the help of King
Minos’ daughter Ariadne and killed the monstrous Minotaur.
It is said that Hippolytus stepmother Phaedra desired the
young man and killed herself in despair after he rejected
her, but not before writing a note to her husband, Theseus
charging Hippolytus with rape. Reading the note, Theseus
banished Hippolytus from the city and prayed to that the god
Poseidon should strike him down. As Hippolytus drove off in
his chariot, the horses drawing the chariot were thrown into
a panic by the vision of a giant bull emerging from the sea.
The chariot crashed and Hippolytus was killed.
Some people identify The Charioteer with Myrtilus, a
son of Hermes and the chariot driver for King Oenomaus of
Elis. The king had a beautiful daughter Hippodamia. There
were many suitors who sought her hand in marriage. But to
marry her, a suitor had first to win a chariot race with the
king, who rode in a chariot driven by Myrtilus. Any suitor
who could not beat the king’s chariot, had his head lopped
off. Hippodamia’s chances of marriage did not look very good
until Pelops son of Tantalus showed up. She fell in love
with him and arranged that Myrtilus would throw the chariot
race. He sabotaged the king’s chariot so that a wheel came
off during the race and the king was thrown to his death.
The ungrateful Pelops threw the chariot driver Myrtilus into
the sea, where he drowned. Hermes memorialized his drowned
son Myrtilus by putting the image of the Chariot Driver
among the stars.
The Chariot Driver is shown as holding a small goat.
The goat is usually identified as the animal that had fed
the baby Zeus on the Island of Crete milk, where his mother
Rhea had hid him from his father Cronus. Cronus was a Titan,
one of the elder gods. Because of a prophesy that one of his
children would otherthrow him, Cronus swallowed each of his
children as they were born. Out of gratitude to the goat
that had fed him , Zeus placed the image of the goat into
the stars. Another story tells us that the goat was so very
ugly that it could frighten even the Titans. When Zeus
became an adult, he made a cloak from the hide of this ugly
goat. This was Zeus “aegis” which protected him and
frightened his enemies. There is no explanation of how the
goat became associated with the Chariot Driver.