Piscis Austrinus

Constellations of Words

Explore the etymology and symbolism of the constellations

Pisces Australis, the Southern Fish


1. Clues to the meaning of this celestial feature
2. The fixed stars in this constellation
3. History_of_the_constellation

Clues to the meaning of this celestial feature

Pisces Australis, or Piscis Aistrinus, is the Southern Fish, and not to be confused with the two fishes of Pisces. The Southern Fish is depicted with its mouth open, drinking the water that is being poured from the jar of Aquarius. According to Staal, the fish is often seen as a sign of salvation in the legends of a great deluge: “The fish drinks the waters of the flood to save the world.”

Allen [Star Names] says that this constellation was believed to be the “Oxyrinque adored in Egypt.” Oxyrhynchus is the town named after a species of fish of the Nile River which was important in Egyptian mythology as “the fish that swallowed the penis of Osiris.” It is generally believed to be the elephantfish of the family Mormyrid [see a story on this fish, there is a picture of the fish here with the horns of Hathor and sun disc of Ra]. Mormyrid or Elephant-nose fish are depicted in ancient Egyptian tombs dating from around 2500 B.C. Oxyrhynchus‘ papyrus-rich garbage heaps were excavated in the late 1890s and yielded paper fragments of books and documents of seven centuries of Graeco-Egyptian life. The Long-nosed elephant fish has an electrical organ which it uses to find its food in dark and murky waters. This fish is used by water departments in the U.S. and Germany to test the quality of drinking water. Its brain size to body weight ratio is higher than that of humans []. The human brain uses 15-20% of the body’s oxygen supply. The brain of the African elephant nose fish uses 60% of its body’s oxygen supply []. (Maybe this explains the prefix oxy– in Oxyrhynchus, –rhynchus is Greek for beak). The particular sturgeon species called the Acipenser oxyrhynchusoxyrinchus is the Atlantic sturgeon

Piscis Austrinis represents the “Oxyrinque adored in Egypt,” important in Egyptian mythology as “the fish that swallowed the penis of Osiris.” Isis fashioned a replacement for Osiris’ missing penis or phallus, either out of clay, wood or gold, and attached this to her dead husband’s body, brought him to life and conceived Horus. The replacement phallus should also relate to this constellation. Diodorus Siculus (circe 1st B.C.) says Isis commanded that their temples in an erect position and that this is the myth about the birth of Priapus, also called by some Ithyphallus (Greek ithus or ithys ‘straight or erect’ + phallus). Priapism is a persistent, usually painful erection of the penis. The human penis relies entirely on engorgement with blood to reach its erect state. Piscis Austrinus is a drinking fish, depicted with its mouth open drinking (or engorging) the water pouring from the jar of Aquarius. In astrology Aquarius rules the circulation of blood (among other things) []. This hauriant fish (a fish posture that show a fish rising, or swimming vertically upwards) might represent the penile erection.

Allen [Star Names, below] says “La Lande asserted that Dupuis had proved this [constellation] to be the sky symbol of the god Dagon of the Syrians”. The chief god of the ancient Philistines, represented as half-man and half-fish and had merman characteristics.

“The ‘southern-fish‘ (Piscis Australis) is named either because it takes up (translator’s note; compare (aurire, past participle of (austus, ‘drink’) a wave of water in its mouth (os, genitive oris) or because it appears (oriri) at the time when the Pleiades begin to decline in the west” [The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, 7th century AD, p.261.]

Latin aurire comes from the Indo-European root aus- ‘To draw water’. Derivatives words: haustellum (a proboscis in certain insects adapted for sucking blood or juices of plants), haustorium (a specialized absorbing structure of a parasitic plant, such as the rootlike outgrowth of the dodder, that obtains food from a host plant), exhaust, to drain of resources or properties; deplete, from ex– + haurire, ‘to draw out (water), drain, breathe’, which is probably cognate with Greek (purauein ‘to light (a fire)’ (for Greek ausiein and with Old Norse ausa, ‘to scoop (water)’, austr, ‘the act of scooping’ – Klein.) [Pokorny aus– 90. Watkins]. In heraldry Hauriant is a fish posture that show a fish rising, or swimming vertically upwards [].

“The austra (i.e. haustrum, ‘scoop of a waterwheel’), that is, the waterwheel, is so called from ‘drawing’ (haurire, past participle of haustus) water” [p.405.]. “Drained (exhaustus), because one is consumed and made empty (compare haurio, past participle haustus, ‘drain’)” [p.218.] [The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, 7th century A.D.]

The Latin word for south is austral from which we get the second word in the title ‘Pisces Australis‘. Pisces Australis was also titled Notus from Greek notos, ‘south’. Latin Auster was the name of the Roman god of the south wind (some believe that Notos actually refers to the south-west wind), from which comes the adjective austral, from Latin australis, referring to anything ‘of, or related to, the southern hemisphere,’ and thus we have the name the southern continent, Australia

Isidore sees a relationship between Latin (aurire ‘to drink in’; and auris, ear:

“The ear (auris) owes its name to the fact that it draws in (aurire, i.e. haurire, ‘drink in’) sounds, whence Vergil also says (cf. Aen. 4.359): ‘He drank in with these ears (auribusausit) his words’. Or it is because the Greeks called the voice itself aude, from ‘hearing’ (auditus); through the change of a letter ears (auris, plural aures) are named as if the term were audes” [p.234.] “Hearing (auditus) is so called, because it draws (aurire, i.e. haurire) in voices; that is to say, it catches sounds when the air is reverberating” [p.232.]. [The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, 7th century AD]

Ear, Latin auris comes from the Indo-European root *ous Also *aus– ‘Ear’. Derivatives: ear¹, aural¹, auricle (an auricle of the heart: auricular fibrillation. The outer projecting portion of the ear, also called pinna), auriform (shaped like an ear, from Latin auris, ear), ormer (abalone fish; seaear), auscultation (the act of listening), scout¹, (from Latin auscultare, to listen to), myosotis (the flower ‘forget-me-not’.), parotidgland (either of the pair of salivary glands situated below and in front of each ear). [Pokorny 2. ous– 785. Watkins] Klein adds: oto– (ear: otology, from Greek otion denoting ear or auricle), oyer (oyer and terminer, a hearing or trial), oyez (used three times in succession to introduce the opening of a court of law). “The fifth finger is called auricularis, because we scrape our ear, auris, with it” (Aberdeen Bestiary).

Piscis Notus
Johann Bode,Uranographia, 1801. The feet above the fish belong toAquariuswho is pouring the water into the fish’s mouth. The Air Balloon to the side, Globus Aerostatitus, Montgolfier balloon, is an obsolete constellation [].

The cochlea is the auditory portion of the inner ear. The word ‘cochlea’ is related to ‘conch’, it was called a cochlea because it resembles the spiral of a conch. The conch is a large spiral shell, often used as a horn or trumpet. Manilius (see below), in giving the astrological influences for this constellation, says that those influenced by the Southern Fish are pearl divers who gather pellucid stones (pearls). Manilius used the Latin word conchae for pearls. The depiction of Piscis Austrinus by Johann Bode shows the fish with a spiral, or conch-like tail.

Auster is named from gathering (aurire, i.e. haurire) waters, with which it makes the air thick and feeds the rain-clouds. It is called notos in Greek, because it sometimes corrupts the air (compare notheuein ‘corrupt, adulterate’), for when Auster blows, it brings to other regions pestilence, which arises from corrupted air. But just as Auster brings pestilence, so Aquilo [north wind] drives it away. Euroauster [south-east wind] is named because on one side it links with Eurus [east] and on the other with Auster.” [The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, 7th century AD, p.275.]

Piscis Austrinus was titled Notus from Greek notos, ‘south’, Notos or Notius is the god of the South Wind, a warm and very moist wind.

The word notheuein that Isidore refers to is related to notho-, from Greek notho– from nothos, ‘bastard, spurious’; of unknown origin. Nothos (singular) and nothoi (plural) is the ancient Greek term for illegitimate child, or bastard. Ancient Greek nothos also had the meaning of fake, not genuine, false [].

Pisces Austrinus is also south of Capricorn, i.e. Aigokeros

“… and Notos, that hot wind, round about the southern foot of Aigokeros [Capricorn] flogged the aerial vaults, leading against Typhon a glowing blaze with steamy heat” [].

Nothosaurus means ‘false lizard’.

The alpha star of this constellation is called Fomalhaut [see a picture of the star here.] From the New Scientist Magazine, June 22nd 2005: “A recent image captured with the Hubble Space Telescope [of the star Fomalhaut] – which makes the system look uncannily like ‘the Great Eye of Sauron‘ from the blockbusting Lord of the Rings trilogy…” [].

Eratosthenes called this constellation the Great Fish, and said that it was the parent of the two smaller fishes of Pisces. In evolutionary terms the parents of the standard streamlined fishes (Pisces) were the Ostracoderms (‘shell-skinned’).

The astrological influences of the constellation given by Manilius:

“Then rises the Southern Fish in the quarter of the wind after which it is named” [Manilius, Astronomica, 1st century AD, book 1, p.39].

“When the Southern Fish rises into the heavens, leaving its native waters for a foreign element, whoever at this hour takes hold of life will spend his years about sea-shore and river-bank he will capture fish as they swim poised in the hidden depths; he will cast his greedy eyes into the midst of the waters, craving to gather pellucid stones (pearls) and, immersed himself, will bring them forth together with the homes of protective shell wherein they lurk. No peril is left for man to brave, profit is sought by means of shipwreck, and the diver who has plunged into the depths becomes, like the booty, the object of recovery. And not always small is the gain to be derived from this dangerous labor (implying that a diver’s life was usually an unenviable one) pearls are worth fortunes, and because of these splendid stones there is scarcely a rich man left. Dwellers on land are burdened with the treasures of the sea. A man born to such a lot plies his skill along the shore; or he purchases at a fixed wage another’s labor and sells for a profit what it has brought him, a pedlar in the many different forms of sea products”. [Manilius, Astronomica, 1st century AD, book 5, p.333.]

© Anne Wright 2008.

Fixed stars in Piscis Austrinus
Star 1900 2000 R A Decl 1950 Lat Mag Sp
iota 15AQU52 17AQU15 325 29 36 -33 15 18 -18 20 13 4.35 A0
mu 20AQU42 22AQU05 331 20 04 -33 14 01 -20 04 10 4.62 A2
tau 21AQU16 22AQU39 331 48 20 -32 47 41 -19 48 33 5.06 F5
beta 25AQU48 27AQU11 337 10 02 -32 36 11 -21 21 44 4.36 A0
epsilon 29AQU52 01PIS15 339 23 24 -27 18 18 -17 14 30 4.22 B8
gamma 29AQU57 01PIS20 342 26 15 -33 08 28 -23 38 35 4.52 A0
delta 00PIS49 02PIS12 343 17 45 -32 48 26 -23 38 17 4.33 G3
Fomalhaut alpha 02PIS27 03PIS52 343 43 23 -29 53 16 -21 07 45 1.16 A2

Johann Bode,Uranographia, 1801

History of the constellation

from Star Names, 1889, Richard H. Allen

Next swims the SouthernFish which bears a Name

From the South wind, and spreads a feeble Flame.

To him the Flouds in spacious windings turn.

— Creech’s Manilius

(Piscis Austrinus is a single fish and should not to be confused with the zodiacal Pisces, consisting of two fishes tied together)

Piscis Australe (or Piscis Austrinus) “the Southern Fish”, is the Italian Pesce Australe; the French Poisson Australe; and the German Sudliche Fisch. It lies immediately south of Capricornus and Aquarius, in that part of the sky early known as the Water, Aratos describing the figure as “on his back the Fish,” and

The Fish reversed still shows his belly’s stars;

but modern representations give it in a normal attitude. In either case, however, it is very unnaturally drinking the whole outflow from the Urn. This idea of the Fish drinking the Stream is an ancient one, and may have given rise to the title Piscisaquosus (piscis aquosi), found with Ovid and in the 4th Georgic, which has commonly been referred to this constellation; Vergil mentioning it in his directions as to the time for gathering the honey harvest; but the proper application of this adjectival title is uncertain, for Professors Ridgeway and Wilkins, in their admirable article on Astronomia in Doctor Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, write:

The Piscis in question has been variously supposed to be one of the Fishes in the Zodiac — the Southern Fish — Hydra — the Dolphin — or even the Scorpion.

Smyth said that

In the early Venetian editions of Hyginus, there is a smaller fish close under it, remora fashion, interfering with the Solitarius by which that astronomer, from its insulated position, designated Piscis Notius

Accordingly the edition of 1488, with this representation, had it Pisces, and the German manuscript of the 15th century showed it with a still larger companion.

The figure is strangely omitted from the Farnese globe, the stream from the Urn of Aquarius ending at the tail of Cetus

In early legend our australis was the parent of the zodiacal two, and has always been known under this specific title, varied by the other adjectives of equivalent signification, austrinus, meridionalis, and notius [Notus from Greek notos, “south” is the god of the South Wind, a warm and very moist wind. ].

La Lande asserted that Dupuis had proved this to be the sky symbol of {Page 345} the god Dagon of the Syrians, the Phagre and Oxyrinque adored in Egypt; and it even has been associated with the still greater Oannes

It also was Ikhthus (ichthys), and Ikhthus notios; and Piscismagnus; Ikhthus monazon and Piscis solitarius; Piscis Capricorni, from its position; and it is specially mentioned by Avienus as the Greater Fish. Longfellow, in the notes to his translation of the Divine Comedy, called it the Golden Fish, probably as being so much more conspicuous than those in the north.

When the Arabians adopted the Greek constellations and names this became AlHutalJanubiyy, the Large Southern Fish, distorted in late mediaeval days into Hautelgenubi, and given by Chilmead as AhantAlgenubi; but their figure was extended further to the south than ours, and so included stars of the modern Grus. Smyth wrote of it:

The Mosaicists held the asterism to represent the BarrelofMeal belonging to Sarephtha’s widow; but Schickard pronounces it to be the Fish taken by St. Peter with a piece of money in its mouth.

Bayer said that it partook of the astrological character of the planet Saturn. Gould assigns to it 75 naked-eye components.


alpha, 1.3, reddish. Fomalhaut, from the Arabic FumalHut, the Fish’s Mouth, has long been the common name for this star, Smyth saying that FomAlhoutAlgenubi appears, with its translation OsPiscisMeridiani, in a still existing manuscript almanac of 1340.

Aratos distinctly mentioned it as

One large and bright by both the Power feet,

which is its location in the maps of today, although sometimes it has marked the eye of the Fish, and formerly was still differently placed, as is noted at beta.

In addition to putting it in its own constellation, Ptolemy inserted it in his Almagest, and Flamsteed followed him in making it his 24 of Piscis Australis and 79 of Aquarius, calling it AquaeUltimaFomalhaut

No other star seems to have had so varied an orthography. The AlfonsineTables of 1521 locate it in Aquarius as Fomahant and of the 1st magnitude, but they describe it in PiscisMeridionalis as inore, omitting its title and calling it a 4th-magnitude. The other editions of these Tables, and Kazwini, do not mention it at all in this constellation, but {Page 346} in Aquarius; nor does Bullialdus in his edition of the RudolphineTables, although in his reproduction of the PersianTables of Chrysococca he calls it OsPiscisnotii and Fumahaud. The AstronomicaDanica of Longomontanus includes it in Aquarius as ultimaineffusioneFomahant, giving no Piscis at all; Tycho’s RudolphineTables, in Kepler’s edition of 1627, have the same, and Hevelius also puts it there as Fomahandt. Bayer cites it, in Piscis Notius (Piscis Austrinus), as Fumahant, FumahautrecfiusFumalhaut; Chilmead, PhomAhut; Caesius has Fomahand and Fontabant; Riccioli’s names for it are Fomauth, Phomaut, Phomault, Phomant, Phomaant, Phomhaut, Phomelhaut; La Caille’s, Phomalhaut; La Lande’s are Fumalhant, Fomahaut, and Phomahant; and Schickard’s, Fomalcuti. Costard gives it as Fomahout; and Sir William Herschel had it Fomalhout

More correctly than all these, Hyde wrote it PhamAlHut. Burritt’s Atlas has the present form Fomalhaut, but his Planisphere, Fomalhani. It generally, but wrongly, is pronounced Fomalo, as though from the French.

The HarleianManuscript of Cicero’s Aratos has the words StellaCampus at the Fish’s mouth, which is either an erroneous title, or another use of the word for any very bright star, as is noted under alpha Argus, — Canopus.

Among early Arabs Fomalhaut was AlDifdialAwwal, the First Frog; and in its location on the Borgian globe is the word Thalim, the Ostrich, evidently another individual title.

Flammarion says that it was Hastorang in Persia 3000 B.C., when near the winter solstice, and a Royal Star, one of the four Guardians of Heaven, sentinels watching over other stars; while about 500 B.C. it was the object of sunrise worship in the temple of Demeter at Eleusis; and still later on, with astrologers, portended eminence, fortune, and power.

The Chinese knew it as PiLoSzeMun

With Achernar and Canopus it made up Dante’s TreFacelle; and sixty years ago, Boguslawski thought that it might be the Central Sun of the Universe.

It lies in about 30° 15′ of south declination, and so is the most southerly of all the prominent stars visible in the latitude of New York City, but it is in the zenith of Chile, the Cape of Good Hope, and South Australia. To the uninstructed observer it seems a full 1st-magnitude, perhaps from the absence of near-by stars. It culminates on the 25th of October. As one of the so-called lunar stars it is of importance in navigation, and appears in the Ephemerides of all modern sea-going nations. {Page 347} See calls its color white, and has discovered a 14.8 bluish companion 30″ away, at a position angle of 36°. 2.

Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning, Richard H. Allen, 1889.]