The Origin of the Celestial Lion

LEO IN 1500 BC

This is how Leo appeared shortly after sunset, about a month before the summer solstice in 1500 BC.

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One of the questions arising from my work is, “When were the stars in Leo first pictured as a lion?”

The most comprehensive historical resource I’ve seen is Gary David Thompson’s writings. He indicates that the earliest reference in Egypt is found in Senmut’s tomb, dating it to approximately 1500 BC. In Babylon, the earliest date is roughly the same: about 1530 BC. These are both before the time of the celestial interaction recorded in the Samson story.

As both constellations are linked to the same stars (A, B), the next question is, “How much historical interaction existed between these cultures during those times?” (And remember that Israel neighbored both these societies.) The Amarna Letters show the influence is more than one may first think, and the Samson story confirms the link.

Another question is “Why were they pictured as a lion?” Viewing the previous graphic, you can see that the stars do resemble a stick-figure lion. There may have been more at play in our ancestors’ minds. The following is conjectural, because I am not very familiar with lion habits, but according to rainfall and other sites, June was the beginning of the hot part of their year. (I haven’t seen any indication that their rainfall patterns have significantly changed in the last thirty-five hundred years.) Lions may have become more active at that time, although such isn’t mentioned on Wikipedia’s treatment. If you know more about lion habits in this regard, feel free to leave a comment.

The animation is derived from Stellarium, a wonderful open source planetarium program. Thank you, Fabian, and all those who helped out on that fantastic project!

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