The most famous ancient Greeks were the leaders and the warriors, but the rock stars of the time were the poets and the astronomers. Aratus was one of each, giving him a double celebrity status that carried over to the Romans and even to the present day – NASA named a crater on the moon and a minor planet after Aratus. All of this explains why residents of Cilicia in southern Turkey are excited about the discovery of the tomb of Aratus in what was once his hometown of Soli Pompeiopolis on the Mediterranean coast.
“This place looks like a crater and has a circular area (that could have been used by) an astronomer. We have also come across a solid and large monumental structure.”
In announcing the discovery of Aratus’ tomb in a press release, Professor Remzi Yağcı, head of the Department of Museology at Turkey’s Dokuz Eylül University and leader of the excavation, extoled the uniqueness of the tomb and how it befit the celebrity status of the astronomer and poet. Aratus was born in Soli born in 315 BCE, a prominent port city in the ancient region of Paphlagonia and once stretching to the Küre and Ilgaz mountains. Soli was prominent during Roman times but lost after that until being rediscovered in the 1800s.
“The name of Aratos, although well known in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, has reached the present day. American National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA), on the moon he named a crater Aratos, so I think Aratos' mausoleum will enter the UNESCO World Heritage List."
Yağcı sees this discovery as a big deal because it is. According to many accounts, Aratus was born around 315 BEC and died in 245 BCE. In between, he served in the courts of Antigonus II Gonatas, king of Macedonia, and Antiochus I of Syria. His best-known work is the Phaenomena (Appearances), a didactic (teaching) poem in hexameters (classical pattern of six long and short syllables) primarily about astronomy. His other well-known poem is Diosemeia (On Weather Signs), which contains weather forecasts using astronomical phenomena and references its effects on animals. Both were popular in Aratus’ time, in the Roman period that followed and amongst scholars of both Greek and Roman poetry and astronomy. And, as he noted, Aratus’ name will always be on the Moon and a minor planet.
“Aside from more familiar structures, such as the colonnaded streets, the ancient port, the theater, and the bathhouse, something very unique has been found. This find brings dynamism to the ancient city and can influence tourism in the region – for both those interested in cultural heritage and general visitors to the region.”
With an eye on the economy, Yağcı wants the Aratus tomb and the entire excavation area of the of the ancient city of Soli Pompeiopolis to be preserved as a UNESCO site to attract both researchers and tourists.
If it’s all Greek to you, the discovery of the tomb of Aratus should be cause for celebration … with social distancing, of course.