Riding the wave


The origin of this constellation is a sad story of death. When Dionysus, god of grape-harvest and inebriation, descended to earth to bring the vine and wine to men, he was generously hosted by the Athenian Icarus and his daughter Erigone. He fell in love with her and the two had a son, the hero Staphylos.

To reciprocate his host's kindness, Dionysus taught Icarius the art of viticulture and fermentation, and gave him a demijohn of wine, with the recommendation to increase its popularity among his neighbors. The latter ones appreciated wine so much that they got drunk, thereafter believing that Icarius had tried to poison them, and therefore killed him in revenge. Icarus' dog Mera, with its howling, attracted the attention of Erigon and led her where her father's body lay. At that sight the young woman hung herself from a tree nearby, while the dog Mera watched the corpses till its own death. To avenge those deaths, Dionysus afflicted the youth of Athens with a form of madness that led them to suicide by hanging. When the Oracle of Delphi then revealed to the Athenians that this madness was the punishment of God, they condemned the perpetrators of the double death, and then instituted a festival in honor of Erigon, during which young women used to swing from the branches of trees. Later the tradition of the girls swinging was replaced by discs hanging from trees, painted with human faces, which originated the ritual of the oscilla, adopted in Rome during the festivities in honor of Bacchus. The protagonists of this story were immortalized in the firmament, where Icarius became the constellation of Bootes i.e., the Herdsman, Mera originated the Little Dog and Erigon was immortalized in the Virgin.

The constellation, which culminates in April and May, between 11 p.m. and 12 p.m., is inconspicuous because it has no significant stars, but occupies 1294 square degrees and is thus the second largest of all.