The Myths of Corona Borealis, The Northern Crown

All of the following material was taken directly from William Tyler Olcott's book entitled Star Lore of All Ages, published in 1911 by The Knickerbocker Press. William Tyler Olcott was a co-founder of the AAVSO in 1911.

The Greek/Roman Legend

This conspicuous and beautiful constellation is said to commemorate the crown presented by Bacchus to Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, second King of Crete. The legend relates that Theseus, King of Athens (1235 B.C.), was shut up in the celebrated labyrinth of Crete to be devoured by the ferocious Minotaur, which was confined in that place. This creature was accustomed to feed upon the chosen young men and maidens exacted from the Athenians as a yearly tribute to the tyranny of Minos. Theseus attacked and slew the wicked monster, and being furnished with a clue of thread by Ariadne, who was passionately devoted to him, he extricated himself from the difficult windings of the labyrinth. He afterwards married the beautiful Ariadne, and carried her away to the island of Naxos, where sad to relate he deserted her.

Spenser however thinks that Theseus was the donor of the crown. Apollonius Rhodius thus refers to the Crown in his Tale of the Argonauts as early as the third century BC:

Still her sign is seen in heaven,
And midst the glittering symbols of the sky
The starry crown of Ariadne glides.

    Apollonius Rhodius, in his Tale of the Argonauts

Ariadne Sleeping
National Museum, Rome
Photo by Anderson

Brown claims that the crown was bestowed by the sungod Dionysos on his consort Ariadne (the very chaste one) on the occasion of his nuptials in the island of Naxos.

We therefore have our choice as to who bestowed the crown on Ariadne - Bacchus, Theseus, or Dionysis.

The Australian Legend

The Australian natives called this constellation "womera," our boomerang, the arrangement of the stars suggesting that weapon to their minds.

The Shawnee Legend

The Shawnee Indians . . . called this constellation "The Celestial Sisters" . . . .The legend is as follows: "White Hawk, a mighty hunter, was searching for game. He suddenly found himself on the outskirts of a great prairie, where he perceived a circular path worn through the grass with no path leading to it. While he stood wondering at the strange pathway, he saw descending from the heavens a silver basket containing twelve beautiful maidens. As the basket touched the ground they alighted and began dancing about the ring, beating time on a silver ball. White Hawk endeavored to capture the most beautiful of the maidens, but they all leaped into the basket, which was instantly carried up into the sky. The next day White Hawk revisited the spot disguised as a rabbit, and tried in vain to seize one of the dancers. The day following in the guise of a mouse he was more successful, and succeeded in catching the most bewitching maiden, and took her home as his bride. She soon became homesick, however, and one day when White Hawk was absent she made a silver basket, and singing her magic chant was carried to the heavens, where she appears now as one of the bright stars near the Crown, the star Arcturus in the constellation Bootes."

The [Native Americans] also imagined that this star-traced circle represented a council of Chiefs, and the star in the center of the circle was the servant, cooking over the fire, preparing the feast.

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