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Charles’ Wain (Classical astronomy)

From Middle English Charlewayn, from Old English carles wǣn, apparently from a common Proto-Germanic *karlas wagnaz (cognate with forms in other Germanic languages). It seems that this common Germanic name originally meant the ‘peasant’s wagon’ (the churls’ wagon) in contrast to the ‘woman’s wagon’ (Ursa Minor). Later it was interpreted as ‘Charles’s wagon’ and associated with Charlemagne.

Source: Charles’ Wain – Wiktionary


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1 Comment

  1. Tim B.

    “The name “Bear” is Homeric, and apparently native to Greece, while the “Wain” tradition is Mesopotamian. Book XVIII of Homer’s Iliad mentions it as “the Bear, which men also call the Wain”.[10] In Latin, these seven stars were known as the “Seven Oxen” (septentriones, from septem triōnēs).[11] Classical Greek mythography identified the “Bear” as the nymph Callisto, changed into a she-bear by Hera, the jealous wife of Zeus.

    In Ireland and the United Kingdom, this pattern is known as the Plough. The symbol of the Starry Plough has been used as a political symbol by Irish Republican and left wing movements. Former names include the Great Wain (i.e., wagon) or Butcher’s Cleaver. The terms Charles’s Wain and Charles his Wain are derived from the still older Carlswæn.[12] A folk etymology holds that this derived from Charlemagne, but the name is common to all the Germanic languages and intended the churls’ wagon (i.e., “the men’s wagon”), in contrast with the women’s wagon (the Little Dipper).[13][14] An older “Odin’s Wain” may have preceded these Nordic designations.[12]

    In German, it is known as the “Great Wagon” (Großer Wagen) and, less often, the “Great Bear” (Großer Bär). In Scandinavia, it is known by variations of “Charles’s Wagon” (Karlavagnen, Karlsvogna, or Karlsvognen), but also the “Great Bear” (Stora Björn). In Dutch, its official name is the “Great Bear” (Grote Beer), but it is popularly known as the “Saucepan” (Steelpannetje). In Italian, too, it is called the “Great Wagon” (Grande Carro).

    In Romanian and most Slavic languages, it is known as the “Great Wagon” as well. In Hungarian, it is commonly called “Göncöl’s Wagon” (Göncölszekér) or, less often, “Big Göncöl” (Nagy Göncöl) after a táltos (shaman) in Hungarian mythology who carried medicine that could cure any disease. In Finnish, the figure is known as Otava with established etymology in the archaic meaning ‘salmon net’, although other uses of the word refer to ‘bear’ and ‘wheel’.[15] The bear relation is claimed to stem from the animal’s resemblance to—and mythical origin from—the asterism rather than vice versa.[16][17] ”

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