Bellatrix

noun Bel·la·trix \ ˈbe-lə-ˌtriks , bə-ˈlā- \

Definition of Bellatrix

astronomy
: a bluish variable star of the second magnitude that forms the right shoulder of the constellation Orion as seen from the ground and is the third brightest star in that constellation
  • Returning to Canterbury: the new data, gathered in a second visit, are accurate. It is my present belief that Bellatrix was the celestial object so that the derived dates are contemporary with Stonehenge.
  • —Lyle B. BorstScience23 Jan. 1970
called also Gamma Orionis

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Origin and Etymology of bellatrix

borrowed from Medieval Latin, originally a name for the star α Aurigae, literally, “female warrior,” going back to Latin bellātrīx, from bellāre “to wage war” (derivative of bellum “war”) + -trīx, feminine agentive suffix
Note: The genesis of this name is complex and in several points obscure. Its currency in European star catalogues as a name for γ Orionis dates only from a Latin edition of the Alfonsine Tables (a set of astronomical tables compiled by order of the Castilian king Alfonso X in ca. 1263-76) printed in Venice by Johannes Lucilius Santritter in 1492. Originally, however, Bellatrix (as well as the masculine form Bellator) was attached to an entirely different star, α Aurigae (see capella ). The name first appears in a star list included in the Latin translation of an astrological treatise (Kitāb al-nukat [“Book of Subtleties”], in Latin Flores astrologiae, literally, “Flowers of Astrology”) by the Persian-born Islamic author Abū Ma‘shar al-Balkhī (died 886). The basic Latin translation text, attributed to John of Seville/Johannes Hispalensis (12th century), excludes the name, but it is found in an expanded version of the list in three manuscripts of the 14th and 15th centuries (see Paul Kunitzsch, “Abū Ma‘šar, Johannes Hispalensis und Alkameluz,” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, vol. 120 (1970), pp. 103-25). Again, in the compilation Epitome totius astrologiae (“Summary of All Astrology”) by John of Seville, extant in two 14th-century manuscripts and a printed version (Nuremberg, 1548), α Aurigae is named Bellator, literally, “warrior” (called also, in a marginal note in the 1548 version, Hircus, “male goat” and Alhaioth, based on the Arabic name for the star, al-‘ayyūq). Whether Bellator is a translation—or mistranslation—of a word in John’s Arabic source, or has some other origin is uncertain. The transfer of the name Bellatrix/Bellator to γ Orionis seems to have been made by adherents of the Vienna school of astronomy led by Johannes von Gmunden (ca. 1380-1442) (for references to manuscript occurrences see P. Kunitzsch, Typen von Sternverzeichnissen in astronomischen Handschriften des zehnten bis vierzehnten Jahrhunderts, Wiesbaden, 1966, p. 11, 115). Presumably a name meaning “warrior” would be more appropriate to a star in Orion than in Auriga, especially given that α Aurigae had other names more in line with tradition. From the Vienna school Bellatrix as a name for γ Orionis found its way into the 1492 edition of the Alphonsine Tables. (The idea that Bellatrix is a Latin translation of the Arabic name al-nājid, promulgated by R.H. Allen, Star-Names and Their Meanings, p. 313, is specious; cf. Kunitzsch, Arabische Sternnamen in Europa, Wiesbaden, 1959, p. 148-49.)


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