History of the Constellations

Stars and Constellations


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Contents of this page: | Description | Skylore | Modern Culture | Origin and History | Asterisms | Special Stars | Galaxies | Submit new info... |

Images (at bottom of page): | Pisces Chart: (Figure 1) | Hyginus, 1482, page F4v: (Figure 2) | Ptolemy, 1541-const, page Pisces: (Figure 3) | Bayer, 1661, page zIi: (Figure 4) | Bayer, 1697, page L2r: (Figure 5) | Bayer, 1697, page L2v: (Figure 6) | Bayer, 1697, page L3r: (Figure 7) | Bode, 1801, page l: (Figure 8) | Bode, 1801, page r: (Figure 9) | Aspin, 1825, page Pisces: (Figure 10) | Images digitized by Hannah Magruder.

Constellation Data


South of Pegasus and Andromeda, near Aquarius. Pisces represents two fish tied together by two cords:
  • The western fish, a pentagon of stars just south of Pegasus, is an asterism known as the circlet.
  • The other fish lies on the opposite side of Pegasus, just under Andromeda.

The brightest star, alpha-Piscium, is known as El-Rischa or the "knot" because it ties the two cords together with the two fish on the opposite ends. Alpha-Piscium lies nestled up next to Mira, a bright variable star of the constellation Cetus the Whale.

Skylore and Literature

According to Roman legend, Venus and her son Cupid escaped from Typhon, a fire-monster, by swimming through the sea. To stay together in the dark depths, they tied themselves together by a rope.

According to medieval tradition, Pisces was associated by ancient Babylonian or Persian magi with the nation of Israel, which led Kepler to consider it as a likely location of the star of Bethlehem. (Hellenistic and Roman astrologers associated Aries, not Pisces, with Israel.)

Modern Culture

Origin and History

Pisces is included in the ancient star catalogs of Eudoxos of Knidos, Aratos of Soli, and Ptolemy.



Special Stars

The reddish star TX Piscium varies in brightness.


M74 (Spiral galaxy), mag. 9.3.

Submit new info...

Many excellent websites provide a variety of information about constellations for amateur astronomers and telescope users (see sidebar links for a few of these). These constellation pages are not intended to duplicate those efforts, but are devoted to two aims: First, they are intended to assist the beginning skywatcher, including students in history of science survey courses, in becoming familiar with Basic Celestial Phenomena (BCP). Second, these pages are devoted to the history of the constellations and the history of astronomy. They are intended to serve as a repository for collaborative use and reference. Do you have additional historical information about the stars or constellation described on this page? Please submit additional information to kmagruder@ou.edu. Submissions will be attributed. Editors for historical information are Kerry Magruder, JoAnn Palmeri, Peter Barker, and Laura Gibbs.

Oklahoma History of Science exhibits: http://hos.ou.edu/exhibits/. Page revised 4/15/04

Bad links, misplaced images, or questions? Contact Kerry Magruder. Thank you.

"If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown. But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile." R. W. Emerson, Nature


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Psc Chart
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Hyginus, 1482

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Ptolemy, 1541-const

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Bayer, 1661

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Bayer, 1697

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Bayer, 1697

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Bayer, 1697

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Bode, 1801

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Bode, 1801

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Aspin, 1825

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Exhibit credit: Kerry Magruder.

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These teaching resources provided by the History of Science Department at the University of Oklahoma.

Unless otherwise indicated, all images courtesy History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries. Image Terms of Use.

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