Lyra the 'Lyre' or 'Harp' is the instrument invented by Hermes (Mercury) and given to Apollo his half-brother, who in turn gave it to his son Orpheus, the muscian of the Argonauts.

Lyra is best seen in June through October
in the Northern Hemisphere

Lyra is the lyre played by Orpheus, musician of the Argonauts and son of Apollo and the muse Calliope. Apollo gave his son the lyre as a gift, and Orpheus played it so well that even the wild beasts, the rocks, and the trees were charmed by his music. He fell deeply in love with the nymph Eurydice, and the two were married.

Their wedded bliss did not last for very long, however. Eurydice was wandering in the fields with some other nymphs when she was seen by the shepherd Aristaeus. Aristaeus was struck by her beauty and pursued her; as she fled, she was bitten by a snake in the grass and died of the serpent's poison.

Orpheus was devastated. He decided to seek out his wife in the underworld, and gained an audience with Pluto and Persephone. The king and queen of the underworld, like all others, were charmed by his music and granted him permission to take Eurydice back to the land of the living with him:

They called Eurydice. She was among the ghosts who had but newly come, and walked slowly because of her injury. Thracian Orpheus received her, but on condition that he must not look back until he had emerged from the valleys of Avernus or else the gift he had been given would be taken from him.

Up the sloping path, through the mute silence they made their way, up the steep dark track, wrapped in impenetrable gloom, till they had almost reached the surface of the earth. Here, anxious in case his wife's strength be failing and eager to see her, the lover looked behind him, and straightaway Eurydice slipped back into the depths.

Orpheus stretched out his arms, straining to clasp her and be clasped; but the hapless man touched nothing but yielding air. Eurydice, dying now a second time, uttered no complaint against her husband.

What was there to complain of, that she had been loved? With a last farewell which scarcely reached his ears, she fell back again into the same place from which she had come

According to Ovid, Orpheus was so morose that he rejected the company of the Thracian women in favor of the company of small boys. The women were infuriated and, when maddened by the rites of Bacchus, hurled rocks at the bard. The rocks, tamed by the sound of the lyre, fell harmlessly at his feet until the screams of the infuriated women drowned out the music.

The women dismembered Orpheus, throwing his lyre and his head into the river Hebrus. The Muses gathered up his limbs and buried them, and Orpheus went to the underworld to spend eternity with Eurydice. Jupiter himself cast the bard's lyre into the sky.

Lyra may be easily be seen because of Vega, at zero magnitude the second brightest star in the northern sky. Vega is also part of the summer triangle, formed with Deneb and Altair.

In Latin Lyra as often the alpha star or lucida takes on the name of the constellation. Flamsteed's had Testa fulgida dicta Lyra; Latin Fidis and Fides "lyre", "string" and Fidicula.

Early Christians saw Lyra as King David's Harp.

In Holland's translation of Pliny it is the 'Harp-Star'.

Vega is the fifth brightest star in the sky and appears bluish in color. Vega located within the Lyra constellation.

Vega is the second brightest star in the northern hemisphere, closely rivaling Arcturus.

Vega was one of the first stars to be discovered with a large luminous infrared-radiating halo that suggests a circumstellar cloud of warm dust. Since Vega seems to be rotating with its pole directed toward the Earth, the dust cloud probably represents a face-on disk that may not be unlike the disk surrounding the Sun and that contains the planets.

Several other stars similar to Vega (Fomalhaut, Denebola, Merak, for example) possess similar disks, and astronomers speculate that they may indicate the existence of planetary systems, though no planets have ever been detected. Even if they exist, it seems unlikely that life would have developed to any degree because of the short lifetimes of these hot stars.

Vega means 'Swooping Eagle' in Arabic. It soars almost directly overhead in summer, while the bright stars of winter nights are hidden almost directly beneath our feet. Look for a small parallelogram of stars near Vega which forms the frame of the harp. In mythology it has an upturned head with a lyre in its beak from the story of Orpheus who was torn apart by the Maenads, raving mad-women they cast the lyre in the river. Jupiter sent a vulture to scoop it out of the river and then placed it in the sky.

A slow wobble in the Earth's daily rotation causes the Earth's north pole to trace a circle among the stars every 26,000 years. Because of this motion, called precession, the star nearest the pole is not always the same. Architects of the great Egyptian pyramid used Thuban (TOO-bahn), a star in the constellation Draco the Dragon, for their north star.

Polaris, the tip of the Little Dipper's handle (see Ursa Minor), currently lies within three-quarters of a degree from the polar point, and will reach its closest proximity--under half a degree--in the year 2102 AD. No matter where you are in the northern hemisphere, when you face Polaris you are facing north. Polaris now points northward more accurately than a magnetic compass.

In 14,000 years Vega will become the pole star. This extremely slow but steady cycle of precession was discovered around 150 B.C by the ancient astronomer Hipparchos. Hipparchos combined the qualitative geometrical systems of the Greeks with the quantitative astronomy of the Babylonians, whose ancient observations were etched on cuneiform tablets. This remarkable fusion of cultures, embodied in the achievements of Hipparchos, greatly benefited Ptolemy 300 years later.

Ptolemy advised his readers that to comprehend the great cycles of the stars provides serenity in the midst of continually changing earthly life: Above all things, astronomy can make men see clearly. From the constancy, order, symmetry and calm which are associated with the divine, astronomy makes its followers lovers of this divine beauty, accustoming them and reforming their natures, as it were, to a similar spiritual state.

Babylonians called it 'Dilgan' - 'the Messenger of Light'.

Greek titles for Vega are Allore, Alahore, and Alohore.

The Chinese called Vega 'She-niu' - 'The Weaver' - and her beloved shepherd, Altair, who meet once a year, crossing the Milky Way.

Vega was one of the stars in the Hindu 20th nakshatra, Abhtlit, "Victorious", the most northern of these stellar divisions and far out of the moon's path [usually the stars in moon mansions are ecliptic stars], but apparently utilized to bring in this splendid object; or, as Mueller says, because it was of specially good omen, for under its influence the gods had vanquished the Asuras; these last being the Hindu divinities of evil, similar to the Titans of Greece.

The Hindus figured it as a Triangle, or as the three-cornered nut of the aquatic plant Cringata. Vega, along with Deneb Adige in the Swan, and Altair in the Eagle, forms the Great Summer Triangle. The summer triangle consists of Deneb - Altair - and Vega.