Polaris - Names

Names

Further information: Axis mundi

Because of its importance in celestial navigation, Polaris is known by numerous names.

One ancient name for Polaris was Cynosūra, from the Greek κυνόσουρα "the dog’s tail" (reflecting a time when the constellation of Ursa Minor "Little Bear" was taken to represent a dog), whence the English word cynosure. Most other names are directly tied to its role as pole star.

In English, it was known as "pole star" or "north star", in Spenser also "steadfast star". An older English name, attested since the 14th century, is lodestar "guiding star", cognate with the Old Norse leiðarstjarna, Middle High German leitsterne. Use of the name Polaris in English dates to the 17th century. It is an ellipsis for the Latin stella polaris "pole star". Another Latin name is stella maris "sea-star", from an early time also used as a title of the Blessed Virgin Mary, popularized in the hymn Ave Maris Stella (8th century). In traditional Indian astronomy, its name in Sanskrit dhruva tāra, literally "fixed star". Its name in medieval Islamic astronomy was variously reported as Mismar "needle, nail", al-kutb al-shamaliyy "the northern axle/spindle", al-kaukab al-shamaliyy "north star". The name Alruccabah or Ruccabah reported in 16th century western sources was that of the constellation.

In the Old English rune poem, the T-rune is identified with Tyr "fame, honour", which is compared to the pole star, ᛏ biþ tacna sum, healdeð trywa wel " is a sign, it keeps faith well". Shakespeare's sonnet 116 is an example of the symbolism of the north star as a guiding principle: " is the star to every wandering bark / Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken."

I popular music, Joni Mitchell's song The Last Time I Saw Richard contains the lines: You said 'I am as constant as the Northern Star'/ And I said 'Constantly in the darkness/ Where's that at? If you want me I'll be in the bar'.


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Famous quotes containing the word names:

    Men have sometimes exchanged names with their friends, as if they would signify that in their friend each loved his own soul.
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    Tonight there are only the winter stars.
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