Monday, December 21, 2015

Latin Words and Phrases Worth Knowing About: Septentriones

Julius Caesar uses the word septentriones in Gallic Wars 1.1 to denote "North." The word is actually a compound from septem triōnēs the "seven plow-oxen."  It was a name for the seven stars that make up the Big Dipper.

It is interesting that many peoples of the world conceive of those seven stars as a grouping. In addition to the Seven Plow-Oxen, the constellation is known as Ursa Major (Big Bear) in Latin. Homer calls it "The Bear" in Iliad 18. Arab mythology viewed the four stars in the square to be a funeral bier, with the three stars trailing to be the mourning daughters of the deceased.

Septentriones gives us the word septentrional, meaning "of the North," the Romance adjective rounding out oriental (of the East), occidental (of the West), and meridional (of the South). 


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