Those familiar with Greek mythology, will no doubt be familiar with the image of the Sea-Goat known as Capricorn. The lower half of Capricorn resembles that of a fish, while the upper half is that of a goat. There are a few different conflicting myths regarding the Capricorn constellation.
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.
The Capricornus or Capricorn constellation is Latin for “Goat-Horned.” This constellation is one of 48 constellations that were identified by Ptolemy, an astronomer who lived during the second century. In modern times, Capricornus is one of 88 known constellations and is bordered by the constellations of Aquila, Sagittarius, Microscopium, Piscis Austrinus and Aquarius. Many of the constellations bordering with Capricornus are water-related and are located in an area of the sky known as the Sea or Water. The latitude at which the Capricorn constellation appears overhead and can be seen by observers and star gazers is still known as the Tropic of Capricorn. This is when the sun is at its most southerly position during the Winter Solstice. The term also applies to the line on the Earth, on atlases that marks when the sun is directly over head at noon on the Winter Solstice.
In the Chinese system of Astronomy, the constellation Capricornus is located in The Black Tortoise of the North or Bei Fang Xuán Wu. Its name in modern Chinese is mó jié zuò, meaning “the rub ram constellation.”
Middle Eastern Astronomy
The Arabs, Persians, Turks and Syrians all knew of Capricornus as the Goat. In certain places of the Middle East, the constellation was known as the Southern Gate of the Sun, indicating that it is in this constellation that the Sun reached its lowest point in the solar year before the days become longer and the nights shorter.
Other Cultural Astronomy
The Nakh people call this constellation Negara Bjovnaš, the “Roofing Towers”
In the Society Islands, the figure of Capricornus is called Rua-o-Mere.
The planet Neptune was discovered in Capricornus by German astronomer Johann Galle, on September 23, 1846.
The constellation of Capricornus dates back to the ancient Babylonians and Sumarians. The first recordings and depictions of this constellation date to the 21st century B.C.E. before 1000 B.C.E. It was associated with the planet Saturn and the Mesopotamian god Enki, the Babylonian Ea. In the beginning, Enki was the God of the city Eridu. He was the god of artisanship, water, saltwater, lake water, intellect and creative activity. Enki or Ea was described as being fish-tailed and was called the “Antelope of the Sea.” He was seen as coming up from the abyss of the deep ocean teaching humans knowledge and the wisdom of the gods.
Enki’s symbols were the goat and fish that both combined into the sea-goat. This symbol of a goat-fish represented the great propriety of the buildings of Babylon out of the low, damp lands they were once located in. The horns of the goat represented the towns of Nineveh and Babylon built on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
The Capricorn constellation is called “šaxû ibex” in Babylonian. The sun in that month moves into the “suxûru” or fish constellation, which is called the star of Tashmetum, named after a goddess of Akkadian mythology. Tashmetum is the wife of the god known as Nabu. Nabu is the god of wisdom and writing in Babylonian legends. The ancient Babylonians revered Nabu because he was the son of Marduk and his wife, Sarpanitum. Finally, Enki or Ea is Nabu’s grandfather.
In one account of Greek mythology, this constellation is the symbol for Amalthea, the she-goat who nursed the god Zeus when he was an infant. Her broken horn that was used to feed Zeus was changed into the horn of plenty or cornucopia. A slight variation to this is that Amalthea is the name of the nymph who raised Zeus and took care of the goat that provided milk and nourishment for him. After Zeus had grown up and was able to over throw his father Cronus, Zeus placed Amalthea up in the heaven in thanks as the constellation of Capricornus.
The horns from Amalthea the goat later become the Horn of Plenty, or Cornucopia. It is also said that the association with cornucopia is because this is the period of time when the sun is resting and “nourishing itself” before moving northwards on its solar path across the heavens. This was also seen as a symbol of discipline.
In Greek mythology, Capricorn is known as Pan and he is usually portrayed as the son of Hermes. He had the upper half of a man and the legs of a goat. How Pan becomes associated with the constellation of Capricorn is that one day when Pan and the other Gods were down by the Nile River, they were attacked by the monster Typhon. The Gods all changed themselves into various animals and forms in order to escape. In the confusion and panic, Pan jumped into the Nile River, intending to change into a fish, but only his lower half changed while his upper half turned into a goat. When the other Gods saw this half-goat, half-fish form of Pans, they laughed so much and decided to place an image of it up among the stars where it becomes the Capricornus or Capricorn constellation.
This myth is called “Egyptian” by Gaius Julius Hyginus in his Poetic Astronomy and serves as a way to justify a connection of Greek-Roman Deities with those of Egypt. Something the Romans loved to do, equating all of their gods with those of other cultures. Pan is one example here, as some retellings of this story will call him Aegipan and depending on the source, some scholars will say that Aegipan is a separate deity from Pan, or that he is one of the Panes or many names by which Pan is known.
In a more elaborate retelling of the story of the Greek Gods versus Typhon, while the Gods did change into various animal forms, Zeus changed into the form of the ram, Aries and remained in this form for a while. Other gods like Aphrodite and Eros became a pair of fish that form the constellation of Pisces. Now Aegipan had also transformed himself into an animal to escape Typhon, but he was already halfway submerged in the Nile River when he finally decided what animal form he would be. He had decided to be a goat, but only from the waist up and a fish from the waist down. And its this result of indecision during panic and trying to escape that results in the familiar half-goat, half-fish from of Capricorn.
Zeus finally reappears back in his own form and battles against Typhon, but he was however defeated. Typhon proceeds then to cut out the tendons of Zeus’ hands and feet and therefore unable and helpless to move. Typhon hid the tendons in a cave in the land of Cilicia. The draconic being known as Delphyne, a half-serpent, half-woman creature was tasked by Typhon to guard Zeus’ tendons.
Between the gods Hermes and Aegipan, they were able to steal back Zeus’ tendons and return them so Zeus could become whole again. With his strength restored, Zeus was now able to battle Typhon again and this time, defeated him hurling thunderbolts at him. For Aegipan’s role in this battle the Titan, Zeus set the Capricorn constellation up in the stars to honor him.
Aegipan or Pan?
Well now that all depends… some scholars will say that Aegipan is a separate deity from Pan like Nomios and Phorbas who are collectively called the Panes. Other scholars will say that the Panes are merely different aspects of the same god, in this case, Pan. Additionally, Aegipan is sometimes said to be the father of Pan and not Hermes. It can create for a lot of confusion. Which is what Pan is good at and hence the origin of the word panic.
During the early Bronze Age, Capricornus marked the Winter Solstice, the day and time of year when the days are their shortest and the nights are at their longest. Due to the rotational axis shift of the Earth, around 130 B.C.E., the Winter Solstice occurs earlier and no longer in the Capricorn constellation. The solstice still marks the start of the astrological sign of Capricorn in the Zodiac with the sun in Sagittarius.
As of 2002, the Sun now appears in the constellation of Capricornus from January 19 to February 15. In tropical astrology, the Sun is in the sign Capricorn from December 22 to January 20, and in sidereal astrology, this time is from January 15 to February 15.
The constellation of Capricorn is the tenth sign of twelve signs that form the Zodiac. It is the second faintest constellation of the zodiac after the Cancer and can be seen at its brightest in September about four A.M. in the morning.
For those who study and are into the classical Greek Zodiacs, this time is typically said to be sometime from December 22 to January 19. Oftentimes, this is very close to the time and start of the Winter Solstice.
Capricorn is recognized by the name of the “Gate of Death” and is opposite to the constellation Cancer, the “Gate of Birth. “ Capricorn relates to the time the Sun embarks on the tenth part of its orbit and relates to a time of new knowledge. The planet Saturn is said to rule this Zodiacal sign and constellation. Its element is Earth, an introverted sign and is one of four cardinal signs.
Capricorn people or those born under this sign are thought to be well ground and capable of exercising a lot of discipline as needed. They make for great listeners due to their great patience. This ability allows Capricorns a good insight into the lives of other people, traditions and personal histories. They can be very cultured and knowledgeable about the world and society. Capricorns may also care a great deal about personal appearances and perceptions, always seeking to dress neatly or be very stylish. They can be seen as generous, interesting and tactful as dispensers of wisdom.