Etymology – The Archer; “sagitta” means “arrow” in Latin. Toxotes in Greek
For those who study either Astronomy or Astrology, the constellation of Sagittarius is easily recognizable by the image of a centaur drawing a bow. It is found between the constellations of Ophiuchus to the west and Capricornus to the east.
Astronomy & Astrology
Much of the foundations of Western knowledge regarding the fields of Astronomy and Astrology owe its roots to Ancient Mesopotamian cultures. Many ancient cultures studied the stars, seeing in them patterns that are called constellations. These ancient astronomers were able to make predictable, annual turnings of the heavens that they could divide and mark for the passing of the Seasons and time. For the ancients, Astrology served as a precursor to Astronomy and they believed that by studying the heavens, they could foretell future events and even a person’s life path.
These ancient cultures would also meet and exchange ideas frequently and in this fashion, when the Greeks encountered the Persians, there was an exchange of knowledge regarding Astronomy that becomes the constellations and zodiacs so many know today. Eventually, there is no clear distinction between what ancient Mesopotamian Astronomers and Greeks Philosophers knew. Even in current, modern times, the influence of these ancients is still known.
In Greek mythology, I’ve come across a couple of different stories related to the constellation of Sagittarius.
Most people will identify Sagittarius as a centaur, half human, half horse, wielding a bow. Generally this centaur is supposed to be Chiron and in others, it’s the centaur Phollus. Upon their death, they were placed up in the heavens to form the familiar constellation of Sagittarius. More scholarly sources will point out that the story of Chiron is actually more correctly identified with the constellation of Centaurus.
Interestingly, it wasn’t until I went looking up information on Sagittarius that I’ve come across the name of this satyr, Crotus. None of the books I have mention, name or come close to referencing him. Everything I’ve come up with on him is through on-line and these sources reference Theony Condos’ book Star Myths and two ancient sources of Eratosthenes (1st/2nd century C.E.) and Hyginus (1st century B.C.E.).
Just who is he? Crotus in the myths I found, place him as the son of Pan and Eupheme, apparently a nursemaid to the Muses and one of the Charities. Eupheme is another name that once I went looking up Crotus, I couldn’t find anything on her in my books except for on-line sources. But I can see why there’s a mix up with Chiron who was peaceful by nature and Crotus who was also peaceful by nature where other Centaurs and Satyrs were known for wild and rowdy behaviors.
But this story makes far more sense for Crotus to be the figure shown in the constellation of Sagittarius. Satyrs, depending on the source and book read, are sometimes described as having a horse’s tail along with the hooves and goat-like horns. And in the myths that I’ve found regarding Crotus, he’s described as being a very skilled hunter and the inventor of the bow. So well loved was he by the muses that they asked Zeus to place Crotus up among the stars to be commemorated as a constellation.
Perhaps in a vague effort to connect Sagittarius with its earlier Babylonian astronomy, the constellation of Sagittarius is said to aiming an arrow at the constellation of Scorpio, specifically the star called Antares, the heart of the Scorpion.
The constellation of Sagittarius was well known to earlier civilizations in the Middle East and Mesopotamian cultures. When the twelve constellations were listed sometime around the third millennium B.C.E., Sagittarius, the Archer was on it. It’s generally agreed by many that the Babylonian’s constellation of Sagittarius later becomes the root of the Greek Sagittarius mythology.
In some myths, the character of Enkidu, a feral man raised by beasts, was seen represented in the constellation of Sagittarius. Enkidu was a close friend and companion to Gilgamish of the city Uruk. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Nergal, the god of war is found on two cuneal inscriptions. In Sumerian, Nergal’s name means “Lord of the Great Dwelling,” that is the Underworld. Nergal was one of seven deities to who sacrifices and offerings of sheep and cattle were made. Nergal was originally associated with fire and the heat of the sun. One of his epitaphs is sarrapu, “the Burner.” He later came to be seen as a god of War, Pestilence and Devastation.
The Babylonians saw Nergal in the constellation of Sagittarius. Nergal was said to be a strange centaur-like creature firing a bow. One source states that this image is usually depicted with wings, two heads, one being a panther, the other a human head and a scorpion’s stinger raised above it instead of a horse’s tail.
The Sumerian’s also saw their god Pabilsag. This deity’s name is comprised of two words, the first being Pabil, meaning “elder paternal kinsman” and Sag, meaning “chief head.” The thought or idea is that the name can then translate to “Forefather” or “Chief Ancestor.” Pabilsag’s look contains several complex characteristics not interpreted in the Greek icon of a centaur. Pabilsag had a scorpion’s tail, a dog’s head and wings. In other variants the characteristics are altered, the dog’s head or wings could be overlooked all together, while in other icons bird like feet supplant the scorpion’s tail.
Some scholars like to try making a connection of the Greek Sagittarius to the ancient Babylonian constellation through the etymology of words. With how Sagittarius is from the Latin meaning the Archer. This is translated from the word Sagitta meaning an arrow. This is then translated from the Greek word Taxotes, meaning the Archer, and when translated to the Akkadian language, is Nedu the Soldier. Once more this gets translated to the Sumerian word “Us,” meaning the Soldier). And ultimately, it is finally translated to the Sumerian words Pa.bil.sag, meaning the Archer.
The Arabs named a number of the brighter stars in the constellation after parts of the human body and for parts of a bow and arrow, indicating that they too associated this constellation with an archer. One star, called Nunki, is a fairly recently used name by navigators and comes from a list of Babylonian star names. The name Nun-Ki was the name of a group of stars representing the Babylonian’s sacred city of Eridu on the Euphrates River. This name is now used exclusively for the star Sigma Sagittarii, and is considered to be the oldest star name in use.
For the Chinese, they view the constellation of Sagittarius as two separate constellations of the seventh and eighth lunar mansions called Ji and Dou Ji, representing a winnowing basket used for separating rice grains from their chaffs. The chaff was represented by a single star called Kang. A related constellation called Chu, the pestle is to the south of Ji, used for pounding the rice to remove the husks.
Dou, “dipper” or Nandou “southern dipper” was formed by the stars Mu, Lambda, Phi, Sigma, Tau and Zeta Sagittarii. This constellation is also called the Milk Dipper. In Chinese proverbs, the southern dipper marks life while the northern dipper, Beidou, the familiar Big Dipper found as part of Ursa Major, marks death. A solitary star nearby was called Nongzhangren, an old farmer, measures out the grains in the dipper and winnowing basket.
North of Dou, an arc of stars, Upsilon, Rho, 43, Pi, Omicron and Xi Sagittarii is called Jian and represents a banner, possibly at a city gate. Next to it is Tianji, the “celestial cock” who is in charge of time as they’re the first to crow the dawn while all the other birds follow it.
To the south of Tianji are two canine related constellations. Gouguo which consists of stars Omega, 59, 60 and 62 Sagittarrii. The name Gouguo translates to “territory of dogs” or “dog kingdom” and could represent a nation of Chinese myth and history, possibly the Mongols. Next to Gouguo, is Gou, formed by the stars 52 and Chi-1 Sagittarii, and is said to represent a guard dog.
In the southern part of Sagittarius, a group of ten stars formed the constellation Tianyuan and represented a body of water such as a lake or ocean. Tianyuan was said to control or govern the irrigation of fields. A group of fainter stars in Sagittarius on the border with the constellation Ophiuchus form part of another constellation, Tianyue. This constellation lay on an ecliptic threshold and represented a lock or keyhole through which the Sun had to pass every year. It lays directly opposite in the heavens from Tianguan, a gate on the edge of Taurus.
The eight brightest stars of Sagittarius form an easily recognizable, smaller constellation or asterism known as the “the Teapot.” Four stars form the body of the pot, while other stars form the lid, spout and even the handle. Another smaller group of these stars form a ladle shape called the Milk Dipper. Ancient Chinese astronomers also saw a dipper among these same stars as mentioned above.
The Galactic Center!
According to Astronomers, the constellation of Sagittarius sits at the center of the Milky Way galaxy as it is at its densest there. Many star clusters and nebulae are also found within the constellation of Sagittarius. Some of these nebulae are the Lagoon Nebula, the Omega Nebula, which is also called the Loon, or Swan or even the Horseshoe Nebula, and the Trifid Nebula. The brightest star cluster is called Messier 55. In addition to all this, it is believed that the exact center of the Galaxy is marked by a radio signal that astronomers call Sagittarius A.
The constellation of Sagittarius is the ninth sign of twelve signs that form the Zodiac. For those who study and are into the classical Greek Zodiacs, this time is typically said to be from November 21 to December 21. Due to the changes of the earth’s orbit and tilt, the best time to see this constellation is during early summer. The planet Jupiter is said to rule this Zodiacal sign and constellation. Its element is Fire, an extroverted sign and is one of four mutable signs.
Sagittarius people are said to like being straight forward, getting to the heart of the matter with honesty. Sometimes their sense of honesty and truthfulness can hurt as they may not necessarily sugar coat anything. A younger Sagittarius will be rather abrasive about this, sometimes coming off as a smart alec whereas an older Sagittarius has learned to better temper their words will still being very frank and forthright. A Sagittarius person may also aspire to a lot of athleticism, philosophy, scholarly pursuits, travel, adventure or high and noble ideals. They’re known for being loyal and being those who can give as well as effectively follow directions.