I’m still sick as a dog, so I’m still taking it easy, but today was always scheduled as a learn something day, so, hopefully my brain is in the game enough to make sense. The post is coming super late though because it takes a long time to research and write when you can’t actually see because you can’t wear your glasses -_-
We’ve talked about sun signs and what they might say about you, but do you know the story of where your sign came from? You’re gonna today 😉
The zodiac as we know it, and the myths associated with signs come from the Greeks, but evidence actually dates them back to 2900 BCE and originating in Sumeria , and they have even been found in Paleolithic era cave art. For comparison, Ancient Greece is classified as 800-500 BCE.
But here’s the “official” story of how the constellation your sign is named for came to be.
Aries (March 21-April 19)
The Ancient Greeks tell us that the Aries constellation was created when a god placed the ram among the stars to honor it. Aries was the winged-ram with the golden fleece, who was the offspring of Poseidon, god of the sea, in ram form and the nymph Thephane (granddaughter of the sun-god Helios) whom he had turned into a ewe. Aries major story comes in when, in Boeotia, there was a king who had two children with his first wife, the goddess Nephele. After the King, Athamas, fell in love with and married his second wife, Nephele left angrily and it started a drought in the kingdom. Ino, the second wife, was dangerously jealous of the children and wanted them killed. She faked a prophecy from the oracle claiming that the son, Phrixus, had to be sacrificed to end the drought. When the king was preparing to sacrifice Phrixus on a mountain top, Aries was sent by Nephele to carry the children away. The ram carried the children across the sea, during which Helle (the girl child) fell off and drowned in the strait between Europe and Asia. The ram spoke to and comforted Phrixus, who arrived safely at the East end of the Black Sea, and promptly sacrificed the ram to Poseidon, which seems like a dick move to me, but I guess gods are into that kind of thing. Having effectively been returned to the god who created him, Aries was then placed among the stars. Phrixus saved the fleece to give to the king of his new home and it is featured in the story of Jason and the Argonauts.
Taurus (April 20-May 20)
The bull has a number of potential origin myths among Greek mythology, but the only one that legitimately fits the formula for constellation creation is the story of Io. Io was the daughter of the first king of Argos and the nymph Melia (daughter of Oceanus, the Titan lord of the seas and ocean.) She was a priestess of the goddess Hera, wife of the ruling god, Zeus. Zeus, lustful adulterous god that he was, took no notice of this position and only of her beauty. Faithful to Hera, Io rejected Zeus repeatedly, but eventually on the advice of the Oracle her father put her out of the house and she was left to the mercy of Zeus. He transformed her into a heifer in order to hide her from his wife, but Hera saw through the deception and requested the cow as a gift. Zeus had no excusable reason to deny her, so Io was presented to Hera as a gift as requested. Hera sent Io to a hundred-eyed giant to be sure Zeus would be unable to further court her. Zeus was pretty persistent, or possibly loyal, about his lovers once he chose them, and he sent Hermes to distract then kill the giant, allowing Zeus to rescue Io, still in heifer form. Learning this, Hera sent a gadfly to constantly sting Io to make her unable to rest and forced to wander the world. Eventually she escaped to Egypt, where Zeus returned her to her human form and she eventually mothered many heroes (some fathered by Zeus, some by an Egyptian king.) Her grandson returned to Greece with his 50 daughters and eventually their blood line lead to the greatest Greek hero, Heracles (Hercules to the Romans.) Being mortal, but among Zeus’s favorites, before her death Zeus returned her to bull form and placed her to live among the stars forever.
Gemini (May 21-June 20)
Gemini’s Greek myth revolves around Castor and Pollux, twin brothers who were born to Leda by different fathers. Pollux was the son of Zeus, conceived when he became a swan to seduce Leda, and Castor the mortal son of Leda’s husband, the king of Sparta. They lead adventurous lives, including becoming Argonauts on the quest to retrieve the golden fleece, rescuing their sister Helen from Theseus after he kidnapped her, and the final adventure that ultimately lead to their place in the stars. The twins wanted to marry women who were already promised to their cousins, and as a result abducted them, taking them to Sparta where they each had a son. Obviously their cousins (also twins) were displeased with this and it set off a lifelong feud. The four joined forces to conduct a cattle raid on Arcadia, and before dividing the herd they sat to eat a quartered calf. One of the cousins, the giant Idas, suggested that they divide the herd in halves instead of quarters and grant both halves to whichever set of cousins finished eating first. Castor and Pollux agreed, but were tricked when Idas ate both his and his brothers portions of the meal. They allowed their cousins to take the herd, but prepared to plot revenge. At a later point the cousins came to visit their uncle’s home in Sparta, but the uncle was traveling and left Helen to entertain her brothers, cousins, and Paris, the visiting prince of Troy. Castor and Pollux saw the opportunity and excused themselves from the feast to steal their cousins’ herd. Said cousins, Idas and Lynceus, left the feast to return home, and Helen was left alone with Paris who kidnapped her and began the Trojan War, but that’s a different story altogether. When Castor and Pollux reached the herd, Castor scaled a tree to keep lookout and Pollux started to free the cattle. Lynceus was able to see in the dark and saw what was happening, which enraged the cousins, who gave Castor a fatal wound, though they failed to stop him from warning Pollux. Pollux killed Lynceus, and was nearly killed himself by Idas, but Zeus sent a Thunderbolt to kill Idas in order to save his son. Pollux begged Zeus to save his dying brother. Zeus gave Pollux the choice to spend eternity on Mount Olympus with the gods, or to give half of his immortality to Castor. Pollux chose to share his immortality and thus Zeus placed them in the heavens as stars.
Cancer (June 21-July 22)
The crab was placed in the sky for it’s involvement in one of the 12 Labors of Hercules. Hera, queen of the gods and married to Zeus, had a special hatred for Heracles, who was the product of one of Zeus many love affairs with a mortal woman, and made many attempts to kill him starting in his infancy. Later in his life, Hera drove him mad and in his insanity he killed his children, and his wife Megara. Once he regained his wits he was distraught about what he’d done, and went to the Oracle at Delphi to pray to Apollo for guidance on how to atone for his actions. He was told to go serve his cousin, King Eurystheus, for 12 years and to do whatever labours were beset him, and that he’d receive immortality in exchange. Heracles was again distraught over having to serve a man he considered his inferior but feared the wrath of Zeus if he defied the order and went to serve Eurystheus faithfully. The king ordered him to perform ten labours, but two were disqualified for having received assistance or payment in completing them and thus he had to complete twelve in the end. One of the labors (actually one of the ones that was disqualified for receiving help) was to kill the Hydra, a six-headed water serpent guarding one of the entries to the underworld, which was raised by Hera specifically to kill Heracles. Heracles attacked the hydra with, depending on the source, either a sickle, sword, or club. According to most sources every time the hydra lost one head it would grow two new ones in its place. This lead to Heracles turning to his nephew, Iolaus, for help. Iolaus was guided by Athena to cauterize the wound with a torch immediately after Heracles severed a head, preventing any from growing back. Upon seeing that Heracles was winning the battle, Hera sent a giant crab to distract him from his task. Depending on the source Heracles either swiftly kicked the crab so hard that it landed among the stars, becoming the Cancer constellation, or he crushed it under his foot and Hera placed it in the stars to honor its efforts.
Leo (July 23-August 22)
The Greek myth of the Leo constellation is that it is the Nemean Lion. This lion, of various purported divine heritage, would abduct maidens and take them to its cave near Nemea, using them as bait to attract warriors to come to their rescue. When said warriors would enter the lair they would see a woman, generally feigning injury, and rush to her aid. Once they were close the woman would transform back into a lion and devour the warrior, giving his bones to Hades, because as with most of the quests in Hercules’ 12 Labors, the lion guarded one of the entrances to the underworld. For background on the 12 Labors see the above blurb about Cancer. Slaying the Nemean Lion was the first of the 12 labors. The lion’s fur was entirely impenetrable to attack, but upon discovering his arrows had no effect Heracles trapped the lion in its cave by blocking off one of the two entrances and attacking from the other. With the lion trapped he was able to beat it with his club to effectively stun it, and then depending on which source you read he either strangled the lion by his sheer strength, shot it with an arrow in the mouth where its fur couldn’t protect it, or grabbed it’s front and back legs and bent them in such a way to break the animal’s back. After defeating the lion, Heracles skinned it with one of its own claws, and wore its hide as armor for the rest of his labours to take advantage of its impenetrable nature. Some sources say that Zeus placed the Lion in the sky to simply commemorate the event, but the more mythological formula fitting story is the one that holds that the Lion was the offspring of Zeus and the moon goddess Selene. Zeus was much more likely to preserve his offspring in the stars than to simply commemorate a quest.
Virgo (August 23-September 22)
The Greek myth explaining the constellation of the virgin is best explained as the tale of Erigone. Erigone was the daughter of Icarius of Athens. Icarius had given hospitality to the god of the vine, Dionysus. As Dionysus was prone to do, he gave Icarius’s shepherds wine, on which they became intoxicated. This new experience made them think that Icarius had poisoned them and they killed him. While this was happening Dionysus had taken the shape of a grape cluster as a deception to approach Erigone, with the hopes of seducing her. However, Erigone found her father’s body, and after his burial she hung herself over his grave. Angered by the murder of the man who had been hospitable to him and the resulting death of the object of his affections, Dionysus punished all of Athens by inflicting all of the unmarried women with insanity and causing them to hang themselves the same way Erigone did. The plague ended only once the Athenians held honorific rites for Icarius and Erigone. Dionysus placed Icarius among the stars as the lesser known constellation Boötes and Erigone as the constellation Virgo.
Libra (September 23-October 22)
The Greeks actually didn’t have an origin myth for Libra, because to them rather than scales Libra represented the claws of the scorpion. These two identities have been used interchangeably since the origin in Babylon. Libra officially became it’s own constellation in ancient Rome, where it represented the scales held by the goddess of justice, Astraea, who in some myths was also associated with the constellation Virgo, because to the Greeks she was the virgin goddess of innocence and purity, though closely associated with the goddess of justice, Dike. According to myth she was the last immortal to live among humans during the Golden Age, and left the earth during the Iron Age. Humanity was newly wicked and she fled to the heavens to become either the constellation Virgo or the Constellation Libra, depending upon the source. According to legend she will someday return to Earth and bring back the utopian Golden Age. Libra is a unique sign in that it’s constellation has throughout history been considered parts of either Virgo or Scorpio, and given those associations I’m not sure why it was chosen to be one of the 12 signs of the Zodiac instead of the alternate 13th Zodiac sign Ophiuchus, which is occasionally presented as a “new” zodiac sign, but has existed since the ancient times with the others, but civilizations narrowed it down to 12 signs to match the 12 calendar months.
Scorpio (October 23-November 21)
The Scorpio (Scorpius) constellation myth is invariably tied to Orion, the giant huntsman son of Poseidon. As a hunter he was often in the company of Artemis, goddess of the hunt. Orion was said to be a better hunter than Artemis herself, but he humbled himself and insisted that Artemis was superior. Because of this he was a favorite of hers, but he made the mistake of bragging to her that he would kill every animal on the earth. Despite being the patron of hunters, Artemis was also the protector of all creatures. In response to his bragging, Artemis sent a scorpion to take care of him. Orion and the scorpion battled, and the scorpion won. Both were placed in the heavens both because Artemis honored them, but also to remind men not to have excessive pride. For the rest of time, every winter Orion hunts across the sky, and every summer he flees as the scorpion constellation approaches.
Sagittarius (November 22-December 21)
There are two Greek identities thought to represent Sagittarius, the most commonly known (though wrong) being that Sagittarius is a centaur, generally the centaur Chiron, son of the Greek god Cronus in the form of a stallion (to hide from his jealous wife Rhea) and Philyra, one of the Oceanids who was so repulsed by the half human half horse offspring that resulted that she begged the gods to transform her to something that wouldn’t have to bear the shame and became a linden tree. The problem with this identity is that there is also the constellation Centaurus, which is also identified as Chiron. Furthermore, centaurs didn’t use bows. The correct identity for Sagittarius is the Satyr Krotos. Krotos was the son of Pan, but much less wild and more cultured than the other Satyrs. He was known to be the inventor of archery and to frequently hunt via horseback. He lived among the Muses, whom his mother (Eupheme, the Greek spirit of positive speech) had nursed. In addition to archery, he also invented applause, and would clap his hands when the Muses sang. They preferred that to any verbal praise and requested that Zeus place him in the sky at his death, for which no details are given. Sagittarius therefore shows him practicing archery via horseback.
Capricorn (December 22-January 19)
The Capricorn constellation (Capricornus) has been depicted as a hybrid of a goat and a fish since the Bronze Age, but is frequently only known as a goat these days. Because of that Capricorn is sometimes thought to be the goat Amalthea, who nursed Zeus as an infant after his mother Rhea hid him in a cave to save him from being eaten by his father Cronos, and whose horn became the first cornucopia. However the more likely, though less known, Greek explanation is that Capricornus represents the satyr Pan, who was the god of the wild, shepherds, flocks, mountains, fields, groves, wooded glens and rustic music, and has a strong connection to fertility. This myth comes from a time that the Olympian gods were hiding in Egypt from Typhon, the last of the Titans and father to many of the Greek’s most famous monsters. This last Titan who was seeking revenge for his fallen siblings. Typhon was taller than a mountain and had a hundred dragon’s heads, with fire blazing from the eyes of each of these heads and a cacophony of horrible noises from the underworld of which he was fathered, so he was well worth hiding from. The gods all adopted various disguises as animals, with Pan’s being a goat. Typhon came upon the gods and Pan tried to escape by jumping into the Nile, but in his fear he only managed to change his lower half, ending up with a goat’s body and a fish’s tail. During all of this Typhon had dismembered Zeus, but Pan distracted him with an ear-splitting shout (the source of the word Panic), and that gave Hermes time to gather Zeus’s limbs and restore him. There is debate about whether Pan survived this attack, but he is known to be the only greek god to have actually died, with the cry “Great Pan is dead” surviving to modern poets like John Milton and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Pan dying, or being mortally wounded, in this encounter, particularly sacrificing himself to save Zeus, is ample reason to explain why he would be placed in the stars to live forever.
Aquarius (January 20-February 18)
To the Greeks, Aquarius represents Ganymede. Ganymede was a young man from Troy, son of Tros (the founder of Troy) and Callirrhoe (daughter of the river god Scamander.) Keeping in mind that in Ancient Greece it was socially acceptable for adult men to have erotic relationships with adolescent males, Ganymede was known to be a beautiful young man, and he caught the attention of the ever insatiable Zeus while tending sheep. Zeus called upon the eagle Aquila (who carried his thunderbolts) to carry Ganymede off to Olympus to be his cup-bearer. Zeus paid Tros for the ownership of his son, and satisfied him that his son was now immortal and given eternal youth. Ganymede created mead, and all of the gods were pleased with him and his presence, except of course Hera, who didn’t like to share her husband and counted Ganymede as a rival. As Zeus commonly did to protect his chosen lovers from Hera’s wrath, he chose to put Ganymede in the sky as the constellation Aquarius, where Aquila is found nearby, ever ready to carry Ganymede off again.
Pisces (February 19-March 20)
The Pisces constellation takes us back to the story recounted in the description of Capricorn, where there was a time that all of the gods of Olympus had to flee from the monstrous Typhon. Aphrodite (the goddess of love) and Eros (her son, better known by his Roman name, Cupid) hid in the reeds on the banks of the Euphrates River, but wind was rustling the undergrowth and a scared Aphrodite held Eros in her lap and called to the water nymphs for help as she leapt into the river and transformed herself and her son into fish. In the river, they met two young fish who guided them to safety. In exchange for saving their lives these fish, along with their mother (the constellation Piscis Austrinus) were placed among the stars, where they can swim eternally, the two younger fish that make up Pisces with their tails tied together so they never lose each other, despite swimming in opposite directions.
And those are all of the constellations we use signs from, so my entry is all kinds of late but took less than 12 hours to write 🙂 and now perhaps you know something new about your sign and where some of your supposed personality traits may have come from in relation to their creation myth.
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Today’s music can be found on Amazon.com:
MP3:No Matter What Sign You Are
Album: Gold [2 CD]