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Star Lore of the Constellations:  Andromeda, The Princess - by Deborah Houlding

Notable stars in Andromeda: Epoch 2000
Longitude Name Nature Mag. Position Lat. Dec.
14 Ari 18 Alpheratz Venus 2.2 Head of figure 26N 29N
27 Ari 51 Vertex MarsMoon 4.8 North of head 33N 41N
00 Tau 24 Mirach Venus 2.4 Left thigh 26N 36N
14 Tau 14 Almach Venus 2.3 Left foot 28N 42N

The myth of Andromeda claims that her mother, Queen Cassiopeia, was so proud of her daughter's beauty that she boasted it surpassed even that of the nymphs of the sea. Such arrogance offended the gods, who released floods in retribution and threatened to destroy the kingdom. Andromeda was chained to a rock by the sea upon the orders of her father, Cepheus, in the hope that her sacirfice to the sea-monster Cetus would appease the gods of the sea. Whilst awaiting her fearful fate, the princess was heroically rescued by Perseus who exposed to Cetus the decapitated head of Medusa - a sight so horrifying and morbid that the monster turned to stone.

The usual representation of the constellation figure depicts Andromeda as a sacrificial victim chained to the rocks, and it was in the act of imprisonment and sacrifice that Manilius saw its astrological significance. The influence of Andromeda upon those born at its rising is to create natives who would imprison others or profit from captivity or execution:

The man whose birth coincides with the rising of Andromeda... will prove merciless, a dispenser of punishment, a warder of dungeons… From the same constellation comes the figure of the executioner, ready to take money for a speedy death and the rites of the funeral pyre... in short, a man who could have looked unmoved on Andromeda herself fettered to the rock. Governor of the imprisoned he occasionally becomes a fellow convict, chained to criminals so as to save them from execution. [1]

But although Ptolemy linked it with those who die by crucifixion, [2] and William Lilly associated it with death by hanging or decapitation when prominently placed with Mars, [3] Andromeda is generally considered to be a fortunate constellation, associated with the personal attributes of the princess herself. According to Ptolemy all of the stars within the figure are of the nature of Venus. [4]

The brightest star of the constellation is Alpheratz, a 2nd magnitude double star of white and purplish colour, located in the head. It has a very fortunate influence and is renowned for attributing honour, harmony, popularity and wealth. The name is derived from an Arabic phrase meaning 'The Horse's Navel' from a time in early Arabian astronomy when it was associated with the constellation Pegasus. In later Arabian astronomy taken from Ptolemy it was known as 'the Head of the Woman in Chains'[5] or more simply as 'Andromeda's Head' by Lilly and his contemporaries.

Mirach, yellow in colour, is a slightly less brilliant 2nd magnitude star situated near the top of the left thigh. It takes its name from the Arabic Mizar meaning 'Girdle'. Its influence is upon domestic matters and it is reported to give a happy marriage, a love of home and personal beauty.

Almach is a double star, situated on the left foot of Andromeda. The origin of its name has not been positively identified but it is thought to be from an Arabic phrase meaning 'the Woman's Foot'. Another 2nd magnitude star, it is connected with eminence and honour and is especially noted for its magnificent colours of orange, emerald and blue. William Herschel, (who discovered Uranus) remarked upon its attractive appearance by describing it as "one of the most beautiful objects in the Heavens"[6] - a comment which aptly links the star to the mythological character it portrays.

Vertex, the star cluster to the north of Andromeda's head, has a far less fortunate reputation. It is listed by Ptolemy as of the nature of Mars and the Moon, and like all nebulous clusters, is associated with weakness and a potential for blindness.[7] Vertex is actually a galaxy, called 'the Andromeda Galaxy' by astronomers. It is the only separate galaxy visible to the naked eye; over 2 million light years away.

Andromeda is nearly circumpolar, so it can be observed at most times of the year for observers in the northern hemisphere, but the best time to view is September to February. Alpheratz, Mirach, Almach and Mirfak (the alpha star of Perseus) can be seen as four bright stars that appear to make a circular line around Cassiopeia (the easy to identify W-shape group of stars). Alpheratz was once part of the constellation Pegasus, so it may also be recognised as the northeast corner of the Great Square of Pegasus. On dark, clear nights, Vertex can be seen as a cloudy spot just above Andromeda.

The Sun crosses Alpheratz around 4th April, Vertex around 17th April, Mirach around 20th April, and Almach around 5th May each year.

Notes & References:
  1 ] Manilius, Astronomica, (c.10 AD), translated by G.P. Goold, (Harvard Heinemann, Loeb Classical Library, London, 1976), 5.619.
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  2 ] Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos (1st cent. AD) published by Harvard Heinemann, Loeb classical library; IV.9 (Loeb p.435).
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  3 ] Lilly, Christian Astrology (1647) Regulus Reprint, p.648.
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  4 ] Ptolemy, I.9 (Loeb p.57)
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  5 ] R.H. Allen, Star Names, Their Lore and Meaning; 1899, Dover Publications, p.35.
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  6 ] Ibid., p.38.
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  7 ] Vivian Robson, The Fixed Stars & Constellations, 1923; p.124.
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© Deborah Houlding. First published in The Traditional Astrologer Magazine, issue 9; Summer 1995. Published online November 2006.

Stars & Constellations