The Names and Lore of Spica

In ancient Egypt, Spica was supposedly very important, being known as the Lute-Bearer and Repa, meaning "the Lord." The English astronomer Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer believed that several very important temples of very ancient Egypt and ancient Greece were dedicated to Spica, which may have been associated with the legendary Egyptian personage Menes.

In medieval times, one of the names that the Arabs applied to Spica was Sunbulah. The nineteenth-century deep-sky writer Admiral Smyth states that, before his time, there was an attempt to rename the star Newton, after the great scientist. But perhaps the most enduring alternate name of Spica is Azimech. That name comes from the medieval Arabic title Al Simak al A'zal, which means "the Unarmed Simak." Arcturus was the other Simak, the Armed one, Al Simak al Ramih. R. H. Allen speculated that simak was from a root that meant "to raise on high." But our contemporary star-name expert Paul Kunitzsch states he feels that the meaning of simak is uncertain. We do know that the part of the two stars' titles about being armed or unarmed is probably a reference to the fact Arcturus has some modestly bright naked-eye stars near it and Spica doesn't. Eta Bootis (Muphrid) and a few other stars might be the weapon of Arcturus, a lance that made it the "lance-bearer."

Spica and Arcturus are paired in another memorable imagining, this one in ancient China. According to Gertrude and James Jobes, the two bright stars were the Horns of the Dragon and spring was calculated from the time that the Full Moon appeared between these horns. "With warmth of feeling, a great display ofjoy," write the Jobeses, "the people, who used the skies as a calendar, watched the winter draw to a close when the Moon 'rode the Dragon's Horns.'" Furthermore, they say, "This association with spring may have been the reason Show Sing, god of long life, may have chosen Spica for his home. This venerable and wise old man rode about on a stag accompanied by a bat, symbol of happiness and longevity. Show Sing, smiling and kindly, always carried peaches, the fruit of immortality."

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