(c. 315—240 bc)
Greek poet, c.315 to before 240 bc. Born in Cilicia, he studied at Athens, where he imbibed Stoicism from Zeno (2) and was introduced to Antigonus Gonatas, king of Macedon, who invited him to the court at Pella. There he celebrated the king's marriage, and composed a Hymn to Pan glorifying Antigonus' victory over the Celts (277).
Aratus' best‐known work, and the only one extant, is a poem entitled Phaenomena (‘Celestial Phenomena’), undertaken at the suggestion of Antigonus. The first and longest part of this is a versification of a prose treatise by Eudoxus which gave a detailed description of the make‐up and relative positions of the constellations. After a proem to Zeus, Aratus describes the poles and the north constellations, the south constellations, enumerates the principal circles of the celestial sphere, and lists the simultaneous risings and settings of many combinations of the constellations, supposedly for telling the time at night. The second part of the poem deals with weather signs. Although it has a separate title and is derived from a different source, it is an integral part of the poem. After enumerating the days of the lunar month, and mentioning the seasons and Meton's 19‐year calendaric cycle, Aratus gives weather prognostications, not only from the celestial bodies, but also from terrestrial phenomena and animal behaviour. The poem is enlivened by mythical allusions and picturesque digressions, longest being descriptions of the golden age and of storms at sea. The author's Stoicism is apparent esp. in the proem, where ‘Zeus’ is the Stoic all‐informing deity.
Phaenomena achieved immediate fame and lasting popularity beyond the circle of learned poets: it became the most widely read poem, after the Iliad and Odyssey, in the ancient world, and was one of the very few Greek poems translated into Arabic. Latin translations were made by Cicero, and Germanicus. It was read more for its literary charm than its astronomical content, but some commentaries criticized the many grave astronomical errors which it contains.
Subjects: Classical studies