Poet, Astronomer (315 BC – 240 BC)
Aratus, an Alexandrian poet and astronomer from Soli of Cilicia flourished in 305 BC until 240 BC. A resident of King Antigonos II Gonatas of Macedonia’s court, Aratus was hailed as the Homer of Astronomy for his astronomical poems, most notably Phaenomena.
Aratus had a rich education. He studied next to poets such as Theocritus and Callimachus and met philosophers such as Zeno and Praxiphanes. As an art lover, King Antigonos II Gonatas hired Aratus on his court, where he compiled his first poem Hymn to Pan.
Not only was Aratus an exquisite poet, he had also studied mathematics and possessed profound knowledge in astronomy. He was tasked by King Antigonos to make the astronomical works of Eudoxus of Cnidus into a poetic form so that they were more accessible to the peoples. Aratus used the dactylic hexameter, the same one used by Homer in the Iliad and the Odyssey in order to further glorify Eudoxus (his name meaning good glory).
The result was Phaenomena, an astronomical poem that caused sheer amazement to the ancient world, widely regarded by scholars and contemporaries as his magnum opus. In the book, Aratus describes poetically several constellations and celestial phenomena, blending elements of mythology, legends and hymns.
Following a Persian raid to the kingdom, Aratus fled to Syria where he published Homer’s Odyssey with his own commentaries. Furthermore, he compiled treatises on medicine, anatomy, pharmacology, ornithology, astrology, wrote numerous hymns as well as eulogies. When things settled, back in King Antigonos’ kingdom, Aratus returned and died soon after in 240 BC.
Aratus was recognized as one of the greatest poets of his era even during his own lifetime. His book Phaenomena garnered significant attention from numerous wise men who wrote their own commentaries on it, most importantly Hipparchus, the greatest astronomer of antiquity and Theon of Alexandria, the father of Hypatia. Among his most noteworthy admirers were Callimachus, who dedicated him an epigram, comparing him to Hesiod; Ptolemy, who hailed his works as masterpieces, saying that as the Sun and the Moon are eternal, so is Aratus.
His works continued to enjoy a long-lasting audience well into the Roman era and the Byzantine Empire. Romans such as Cicero, Ovid and Germanicus translated them into Latin, Paul the Apostle was an avid reader of Aratus while Maximus of Tyre called him a poet not less glorious than Homer. Indeed Aratus became the prime representative of didactic poetry, occupying a unique position in the world of letters across ages.
- “Aratus”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens: 1946. Print.
- Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Georgiades: Athens, 1996. Print.
- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Aratus. Encyclopaedia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com. Web. September 6, 2018.
- Γιατί ὁ Ἄρατος ὁ Σολεὺς θεωρεῖται ὁ Ὅμηρος τῆς Ἀστρονομίας. Olympia.gr. Web. Posted on March 3, 3018.