Aratus of Soli

Aratus (Greek Aratos, Άρατος ο Σολεύς) (circa 315 B.C./310 B.C. - 240 B.C.) was a Greek poet, known for his technical poetry.

Life and Writings

Aratus was born in Soli on the island of Cyprus. He spent time at the courts of the Egyptian court of Ptolemy Philadelphus, and the Syrian court of Antiochus I. His principal patron was the Macedonian King Antigonus II Gonatas, whose victory over the Celts (277) Aratus set to verse. He died in Pella, the capital of the Macedonian Kingdom (today central Macedonia in Greece).

Aratus' principal work, the Phaenomena (Appearances), versifies one or more works of Eudoxus of Cnidus. In 1154 hexameters he lays bare the names and movements of the heavenly bodies, and the significance of various weather signs. Technical description are primary but mythical digressions are frequent. The second half, on weather signs, has sometimes circulated under the title Diosemeia (Signs from Zeus), but was not originally separate.

Aratus enjoyed immense prestige among Hellenistic poets, including Theocritus, Callimachus and Leonidas of Tarentum. This assessment was picked up by Latin poets, including Ovid and Vergil. Latin versions were made by none other than Cicero (fragmentary), the near-emperor Germanicus (mostly extant), and the less-famous Avienus (extant). He was also cited in the New Testament, where, in second half of Acts, 17.28, Saint Paul, speaking of God, quotes the fifth line Aratus's Phaenomena (Epimenides gets credit for the first half of Acts 17.28 (

Let us begin with Zeus, whom we mortals never leave unspoken.
For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus.
Even the sea and the harbour are full of this deity.
Everywhere everyone is indebted to Zeus.

For we are indeed his offspring... (Phaenomena 1-5).

Authors of 27 commentaries are known; ones by Theon of Alexandria, Achilles Tatius and Hipparchus of Nicaea survive. An Arabic translation was commissioned in the ninth century by the Caliph Al-Ma'mun

Aratus wrote a number of other poems, many of an astronomical or technical nature.

His Phenomena is a short astronomical poem, without life or feeling, which scarcely aims at any of the grace or flow of poetry. It describes the planets and the constellations one by one, and tells us what stars are seen in the head, feet, and other parts of each figure; and then the seasons, and the stars seen at night at each time of the year. When maps were little known, it must have been of great use, to learners; and its being in verse made it the more easy to remember. The value which the ancients set upon this poem is curiously shown by the number of Latin translations which were made from it. Cicero in his early youth, before he was known as an orator or philosopher, perhaps before he himself knew in which path of letters he was soon to take the lead, translated this poem. The next translation is by Germanicus Cæsar, whose early death and many good qualities have thrown such a bright light upon his name. He shone as a general, as an orator, and as an author; but his Greek comedies, his Latin orations, and his poem on Augustus are lost, while his translation of Aratus is all that is left to prove that this high name in literature was not given to him for his political virtues alone. Lastly Avienus, a writer in the reign of Diocletian, or perhaps of Theodosius, has left a rugged, unpolished translation of this much-valued poem. Aratus, the poet of the heavens, will be read, said Ovid, as long as the sun and moon shall shine. S. Rappoport, History of Egypt

Bibliography and Links

Aratus Phaenomena in Greek

Suda Entry in Greek

The best edition of Aratus' work is now Douglas Kidd's Cambridge edition, with translation and commentary.

The Apostle and the Poet: Paul and Aratus ( (Dr. Riemer Faber)

Review of above ( by Mark Possanza, BMCR (September 1999).

Hellenistic Bibliography, Aratus and Aratea ( compiled by Martijn Cuypers

"Written in the Stars:Poetry and Philosophy in the Phaenomena of Aratus" ( by Richard L. Hunter, Arachnion 2.

Suda On-Line: Aratus (), with a list of works ascribed to Aratus.

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