Celestial nomenclature in the Chronicle of Zuqnin Open this page in a new tab

Celestial nomenclature in the Chronicle of Zuqnin

2.5. Nomenclature of transient celestial objects

The Chronicle of Zugnin describes the object of AD 760 as "white sign" and as kawwbo ("star") with or in the shape of a "broom" (for kawkbo, see Section 2.2), but it did not use the Syriac term nayzko — usually translated with "comet", literally meaning "short spear" or "lance"; maybe, the term used here by our Chronicler is motivated by the real form of the phenomenon on sky resembling more a broom than a lance.

Our Chronicler also called an object reported for AD 768/9 (probably 770 May) "sign in the likeness of a broom", also a comet in today's sense (Harrak, 1999, pp. 226/7). For the 6th century, the Chronicle of Zuqnin describes three objects as both kawkbO and nayzko (Harrak, 1999, p. 136, n. 5), for the first two it is explicitly mentioned that they are called "kometes" by the Greek (e.g. Harrak, 1999, p. 93) — the term "kometes" is taken from its source, the otherwise mostly lost Chronicle of John of Ephesus (based on John Malalas).

The author of the Chronicle of Zuqnin should have noticed that all these objects are of the same class (comet in our sense) given similar drawings. Greek terms like "kometes" may have been outmoded in the `Abbasid caliphate, but acceptable when used in quotation. The terms nayzko in Syriac, nayzak in Arabic, and "kometes" in Greek formerly all meant the same — not only a comet in today's sense, but more generally a transient, extended celestial object; bright supernovae were sometimes also called "kometes" or nayzak, as they appeared to be extended due to strong scintilation, see R. Neuhauser et al. (2016).