Why is it called Antarctica ?

This is probably my most favourite blog-post ever ! While I was chatting with a stranger at the fish’n chip shop a couple of weeks ago, I was asked the most basic but fascinating question about Antarctica – where does its name come from ? I had absolutely no idea, but reckoned it means “Not the Arctic”. But there is so much more to that story…

I grew up in the beautiful South of Germany, an area where Munich’s light pollution made only the brightest constellations at the night sky visible to my eyes. After years of stargazing, the “Great Bear” became my personal point of reference and I would relate any other star to it. But then, during one of many personal coaching sessions in Latin, our neighbour Paul pointed out that “Ursa Major – Great Bear” is actually feminine and that my “bear boar” is rather a “bear sow”. The romanized word Arctic stems from the Greek word arktikos – “near the northern Bear”, referring to my favourite (now feminine) constellation Ursa Major. In 150 A.D. the ancient Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemaeus was the first to suggest the existence of an unknown southern land that balances the globe’s northern continents. Since this day scientists have tried to prove that Ptolemy was a fool, and that his controversial theory of antarktike – “opposite to the northern Bear” is wrong. But today we know that: Optime ridet qui ultimus ridet.


Nowadays I live in New Zealand, and the Southern Cross has replaced the Great Bear as my constellation of reference on the night sky. If you now wonder about the Latin word for the Southern Cross, I will save you some time – it is Crux – and this is also the correct term for the most difficult section of a rock-climbing route… I like astrology…


When it comes to imagination, the New Zealand’s night sky has no limit




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2 Responses to Why is it called Antarctica ?

  1. Paul Kuhn says:

    Christian, it is great to see that our latin sessions have been helpful also for the „big“ questions of today and not only for surviving High School.


  2. Pingback: Meeting spaced-out people | Christian Wild

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