Constellations of Words

Explore the etymology and symbolism of the constellations

the Sculptor

Johann Bode’sUranographia, 1801 (Skywatching

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

Sculptor is one of the modern constellations in the Southern Hemisphere named in 1752 by Abbe Nicholas Louis de Lacaille. It was originally named L’ Atelier du Sculpteur (the Sculptor’s Workshop), the name was shortened to Sculptor. The constellation is bordered by Cetus, Fornax, Phoenix, Grus, Piscis Australis and Aquarius. “Although its stars are dim, it contains the South Galactic Pole. Thus when viewing Sculptor we are looking at right angles to the Milky Way and deep into space, unobscured by stars or gas. Many galaxies both bright and faint are visible. Many are members of the Sculptor group. Also in the group is NGC 247 in Cetus.” [

The word sculptor comes from Latin sculpere, related to scalpere, to cut, from the Indo-European root *skel-¹ ‘To cut’. Derivatives: shell, scagliola (plasterwork in imitation of ornamental marble), shale, scale¹, scall, scalp, scale³ (weighing scales), skoal (drinking vessel made from a shell), shield (a generic word covering all defensive weapons), shelter, skill, sheldrake, school² (of fish), shoal², coulter, cultrate, cutlass, scalene (having three unequal sides, used of triangles, from Greek skallein, to stir up, hoe > skalenos, uneven), shelf, half, halve, scalpel, sculpture, (these words from Latin scalpere, to cut, scrape, to carve). [Pokorny 1. (s)kel- 923. Watkins] Also scallops, the shell, which is a bivalve, or two half shells

Shells are composed of calcium carbonate, and chalk is derived chiefly from fossil seashells. Klein (under calcareous) supplies more cognates of skel-¹: “Compare also calcine, calculate, calculus, calx (chalk, limestone, heelbone), calcium, cauk, causeway, causey, chalk“. These words are also related to the Latin calx root: calcaneum (limestone; chalky), calcaneus (heelbone), calcar (a spur found on the base of a petal or on the wing or leg of a bird), calk, caulk, cockatrice (calcatrix), inculcate, calculate (Latin calculus, ‘small stone used in reckoning’, diminutive of calx), cauchemar (incubus, meaning ‘to trample’), recalcitrant (originally ‘to kick back with the heel’).

Klein also sees the word silicate as cognate with skel-¹: The chemical compound silicon dioxide, also known as silica or silox (from the Latin ‘silex‘ ‘flint, pebblestone’), and the silicon in the silicon chip

The word scale as in the ‘scales of balance’ of the constellation Libra are related to the above group of words and may have been originally two shells. According to Klein (Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary); “German Schale meant ‘drinking cup, bowl; shell, scale of a balance’, from Teutonic skelo-, which originally denoted a drinking cup made from a skull, so called in allusion to the skull as separated from the other bones of the head”.

Coma Berenices, the hair of the scalp of the head, is located directly opposite in the sky and contains the North Galactic Pole, the northern perpendicular to the Milky Way. The South Galactic Pole is in Sculptor which might be the scalp of the head.

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses Pygmalion is the name of a sculptor who created an ivory statue, or sculpture, named Galatea (‘milk-white’), and fell in love with it. He offered the statue presents and prayed to Venus, Venus brought the statue to life. Pygmalion and Galatea marry and have a son, Paphos. Galatea’s name from Greek Galateia translates to ‘milk-white’. Sculptor contains the south galactic pole of the Milky Way. Milk is a source of calcium, and this constellation portrays a bust (see Bode’s picture above) which along with the meaning of a person’s head, shoulders, and upper chest, can also mean a woman’s bosom. Pygmalion might relate to this constellation because he is the most famous sculptor in Greek myth. His name is believed to be related to the word pygmy; in myth it is said that the cranes were always at war with the Pygmies. Sculptor is adjacent to Grus, the Crane. The Pygmalion story was adapted by Jonathan Swift as a template for Lilliputians []. This constellation contains the Sculptor Dwarf, a dwarf galaxy which is a member of the Local Group [].

In Greek mythology Aphrodite (Venus) rose from the foam of the sea and was carried by a Scallop shell first to the island of Cythera and then all the way to Cyprus. The names of other shells are sometimes given, but Aphrodite is far more often portrayed in sculpture and paintings on a scallop shell. Scallops are the only seashells that travel the oceans. Scallop shells were the badge of pilgrims and served both as a symbol of the pilgrimage and were used as drinking cups, spoons, and dishes. Pilgrims of Japan also carry scallop shells. Scallops are unusual as bivalves (half shells) in their ability to swim, they travels by jet propulsion which they do by spasmodic clapping movements; opening and closing of the valves; the water, ejected in jetlike spurts, propels the animal forward. “The scallops look for all the world like sets of false teeth jouncing around the intruding divers” []. A single scallop can possess over a hundred eyes around the shell. They remind me of flying sauces or UFO’s, the eyes like the lights of these vehicles. The scallop shell was an emblem of St. James of Compostella, the so-called ‘St James’s shell’. “Legend has it that this is the St. James that was miraculously conveyed to Spain in a ship of marble from Jerusalem, where he was bishop. A knight saw the ship sailing into port, his horse took fright, and plunged with its rider into the sea. The knight saved himself by ‘boarding the marble vessel,’ but his clothes were found to be entirely covered with scallop shells” []. 

© Anne Wright 2008.

Fixed stars in Sculptor
Star 1900 2000 R A Decl 1950 Lat Mag Sp
gamma 05PIS37 07PIS00 349 01 55 -32 48 17 -25 41 05 4.51 G8
beta 05PIS51 07PIS14 352 34 26 -38 05 43 -31 42 22 4.46 B9
delta 14PIS11 15PIS34 356 34 51 -28 24 25 -24 33 21 4.64 A0
alpha 29PIS06 00ARI29 014 02 58 -29 37 38 -32 30 49 4.39 B5
History of the constellation

from Star Names, 1889, Richard H. Allen

Sculptor as it is now generally known, was formed by La Caille (1752) from stars between Cetus and Phoenix. He called it l’AtelierduSculpteur, the Sculptor’s Studio or Workshop, which Burritt and others have changed to OfficinaSculptoria, or occasionally ApparatusSculptoris. The Italians say Scultore, and the Germans Bildhauerwerkstatte, — Bode’s BildhauerWerkstadt

It is an inconspicuous figure, but contains the intensely scarlet variable R, one of the most brilliantly colored stars in the heavens, with a period of variability from 5.8 to about 7.7 in 207 days.

The constellation culminates with the bright star of the Phoenix on the 17th of November, and is visible from the latitude of New York City.

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

The brightest star is a Sculptor, a SX Arietis-type variable star with the magnitude of only 4.31. This is explained by the fact that Sculptor contains the south galactic pole where stellar density is very low. The constellation contains the Sculptor Dwarf, a dwarf galaxy which is a member of the Local Group, as well as the Sculptor Group, the group of galaxies closest to the Local Group. [Wikipedia