Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 31.djvu/207

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195
ASTRONOMY WITH AN OPERA-GLASS.

grasping a writhing serpent with his hands. The head of the serpent is under the Northern Crown, and its tail ends over the star-gemmed region that we have just described, called "Sobieski's Shield." Ophiuchus stands, as figured in Flamsteed's "Atlas," upon the back of the Scorpion, holding the serpent with one hand below the neck, this hand being indicated by the pair of stars marked Epsilon (ε) and Delta (δ), and with the other near the tail. The stars Tau (τ) and Nu (ν) indicate

PSM V31 D207 Ophiuchus and serpens.jpg
Ophiuchus and Serpens.

the second hand. The giant's face is toward the observer, and the star Alpha (α), also called Ras Alhague, shines in his forehead, while Beta (β) and Gamma (γ) mark his right shoulder. Ophiuchus has been held to represent the famous physician Æsculapius. One may well repress the tendency to smile at these fanciful legends when he reflects upon their antiquity. There is no doubt that this double constellation is at least three thousand years old—that is to say, for thirty centuries the imagination of men has continued to shape these stars into the figures of a gigantic man struggling with a huge serpent. If it possesses no other interest, then it at least has that which attaches to all things ancient. Like many other of the constellations it has proved longer-lived than the mightiest nations. While Greece flour-