Classics Aratus
Helen Van Noorden
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0102


Aratus of Soli (3rd century BCE) is the author of the Phaenomena, a hexameter poem of just over one thousand lines on constellations and weather signs, presented as clues to the will of Zeus. This work, combining interpretations of Hesiodic poetry with the material of astronomical and meteorological treatises, prompted numerous translations and commentaries within Antiquity and is a prominent model for didactic literature such as Virgil’s Georgics, Book 2 and Manilius’s Astronomica Book 1. Aratus’s acquaintance with Stoic ideas is apparent particularly in the Phaenomena’s introduction, which takes the form of a hymn to Zeus. The astronomical part of the poem may be subdivided into a map of the constellations followed by a description of star belts and how to estimate time from risings and settings; the second part, titled Diosemeiae in some manuscripts, is concerned with weather signs in nature and in animal behavior. Aratus was much praised by his contemporaries, but nothing survives of his other works, which included encomia, an anthology of “light verse,” didactic letters, and works on planets.

General Overviews

Concise orientation through the sources, fame, and Hellenistic features of the Phaenomena is provided in Volk 2010, Gutzwiller 2007, Kost 2005, and the Pauly-Wissowa Encyclopedia entries of Fantuzzi 2002 and Ludwig 1965, each with bibliography. For a more basic introduction to Aratus as a didactic poet, see Toohey 1996; the wide-ranging analysis of Hunter 1995 positions Aratus’s poem against several backgrounds of poetry and prose.

  • Fantuzzi, Marco. 2002. Aratus. In Brill’s new Pauly. Antiquity volumes edited by Hubert Cancik and Helmuth Schneider. English edition by Christine F. Salazar, 955–960. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    Summarizes the lost works and sketches the Phaenomena’s debts to science and to Hesiod, and its influence in Antiquity and beyond, citing critical literature for each point. This is an English translation of the entry on Aratos in Der Neue Pauly (1996). Both versions are now available online to subscribing institutions.

  • Gutzwiller, Kathryn J. 2007. A guide to Hellenistic literature. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470690185

    See pp. 97–103 for a clear overview of Aratus in the context of Hellenistic literature. See also pp. 168–212 on learning and innovation, book culture and performance, social and political background, and the critical impulse in literature and art.

  • Hunter, Richard L. 1995. Written in the stars: Poetry and philosophy in the Phaenomena of Aratus. Arachnion 2:1–34.

    A reading of the Phaenomena informed by technical, literary, Stoic, and other backgrounds. Foundational for most recent scholarship on Aratus; footnotes particularly helpful for graduates. Reprinted in R. L. Hunter, On Coming After: Studies in Post-Classical Greek Literature and Its Reception, Vol. 1 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2008), pp. 153–188.

  • Kost, Karlheinz. 2005. Arat(os) aus Soloi. In Lexikon des Hellenismus. Edited by Hatto H. Schmitt and Ernst Vogt, 94–99. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz Verlag.

    Encyclopedia entry covering major aspects of the Phaenomena, especially its Hellenistic poetic features. Followed by substantial bibliography divided by theme, particularly strong on “influence.”

  • Ludwig, Walther. 1965. Aratos. In Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft Supp. 13. Edited by August Pauly, Georg Wissowa, Wilhelm Kroll, et al., 26–39. Munich: Druckenmüller.

    Summarizes the poem, sources, and style, with decided remarks about earlier scholarship.

  • Toohey, Peter. 1996. Epic lessons: An introduction to ancient didactic poetry. New York: Routledge.

    A readable guide, recommended for undergraduates. On Aratus, see pp. 51–63 (also pp. 79–87, 124–145, 185–192 on Roman responses). Usefully sketches the structure of Aratus’s verbal map of the sky (p. 53).

  • Volk, Katharina. 2010. Aratus. In A companion to Hellenistic literature. Edited by James J. Clauss and Martine Cuypers, 197–210. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.

    Clear and reflective summary of the scholarly cruces and the evidence on which they rest, intertwined with an interpretative overview of the poem, highlighting (on pp. 205–208) Aratus’s preference for “subtle” constellations over brighter ones. Includes a guide to further study.

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