Charles's Wain

Charles's Wain
Charles's Wain O.E. Carles wægn, a star-group associated in medieval times with Charlemagne, but originally with the nearby bright star ARCTURUS (Cf. Arcturus), which is linked by folk etymology to L. Arturus "Arthur." Which places the seven-star asterism at the crux of the legendary association (or confusion) of Arthur and Charlemagne. Evidence from Dutch (cited in Grimm, "Teutonic Mythology") suggests that it might originally have been Woden's wagon. More recent names for it are the Plough (by 15c., chiefly British) and the Dipper (19c., chiefly American).
The seven brights stars in the modern constellation Ursa Major have borne a dual identity in Western history at least since Homer's time, being seen as both a wagon and a bear: Cf. L. plaustrum "freight-wagon, ox cart" and arctos "bear," both used of the seven-star pattern, as were equivalent Gk. amaxa (Attic hamaxa) and arktos. The identification with a wagon is easy to see, with four stars as the body and three as the pole. The identification with a bear is more difficult, as the figure has a tail longer than its body. As Allen writes, "The conformation of the seven stars in no way resembles the animal,--indeed the contrary ...." But he suggests the identification "may have arisen from Aristotle's idea that its prototype was the only creature that dared invade the frozen north." The seven stars never were below the horizon in the latitude of the Mediterranean in Homeric and classical times (though not today, due to precession of the equinoxes). See also ARCTIC (Cf. Arctic) for the identification of the bear and the north in classical times.
A variety of French and English sources from the early colonial period independently note that many native North American tribes in the northeast had long seen the seven-star group as a bear tracked by three hunters (or a hunter and his two dogs).
Among the Teutonic peoples, it seems to have been only a wagon, not a bear. A 10c. Anglo-Saxon astronomy manual uses the Greek-derived Aretos, but mentions that the "unlearned" call it "Charles's Wain":
Arheton hatte an tungol on norð dæle, se haefð seofon steorran, & is for ði oþrum naman ge-hatan septemtrio, þone hatað læwede meon carles-wæn." ["Anglo-Saxon Manual of Astronomy"]
[Septemtrio, the seven oxen, was another Roman name.] The star picture was not surely identified as a bear in English before late 14c.
The unlearned of today are corrected that the seven stars are not the Great Bear, but only a part of that large constellation. But those who applied the name "Bear" apparently did so originally only to these seven stars, and from Homer's time down to Thales, "the Bear" meant just the seven stars. From Rome to Anglo-Saxon England to Arabia to India, ancient astronomy texts mention a supposed duplicate constellation to the northern bear in the Southern Hemisphere, never visible from the north. This perhaps is based on sailors' tales of the Southern Cross.

Etymology dictionary. 2014.

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  • Charles's Wain — [Charles + wain; cf. AS. Carles w[=ae]n (for w[ae]gn), Sw. karlvagnen, Dan. karlsvogn. See {Churl}, and {Wain}.] (Astron.) The group of seven stars, commonly called the Big Dipper, in the constellation Ursa Major, or Great Bear. See {Ursa major} …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Charles's Wain — n. Brit. BIG DIPPER …   English World dictionary

  • Charles's Wain — Dipper Dip per, n. 1. One who, or that which, dips; especially, a vessel used to dip water or other liquid; a ladle. [1913 Webster] 2. (Zo[ o]l.) (a) A small grebe; the dabchick. (b) The buffel duck. (c) The water ouzel ({Cinolus aquaticus}) of… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Charles's Wain — n. the constellation Ursa Major or its seven bright stars. Also called PLOUGH. Etymology: OE Carles waeliggn the wain of Carl (Charles the Great, Charlemagne), perh. by assoc. of the star Arcturus with legends of King Arthur and Charlemagne …   Useful english dictionary

  • Charles's Wain — /chahrl ziz wayn /, Brit. See Big Dipper. [bef. 1000; OE Carles waegn Carl s wagon (Carl for Charlemagne); see WAIN] * * * …   Universalium

  • charles's wain — The Great Bear, Ursa Major, The Wain, The Cleaver, The Dipper …   New dictionary of synonyms

  • Charles's Wain — [[t]ˈtʃɑrl zɪz ˈweɪn[/t]] n. astron. Big Dipper • Etymology: bef. 1000; OE Carles wægn Carl s wagon (Carl for Charlemagne); see wain …   From formal English to slang

  • Charles's Wain — /tʃalzəz ˈweɪn/ (say chahlzuhz wayn) noun → Plough. {Middle English, Old English Carles waegn, from Carl Charlemagne + waegn wain (wagon) …  

  • Charles's Wain — noun Etymology: Charlemagne Date: before 12th century Big Dipper …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • CHARLES'S WAIN —    the constellation of Ursa Major, a wagon without a wagoner …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

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