Etymology – The Ram
Aries is a familiar constellation that is part of the Western or Greek Zodiac and symbolized by a Ram. Like many of the constellations, Aries has ancient origins that date it as far back as the ancient Babylonians. The constellation of Aries is often shown as a crouched, wingless ram with its head facing towards the constellation of Taurus.
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. Or who influenced who regarding the stories and myths behind the constellations. Even in current, modern times, the influence of these ancients is still known.
Aries is Latin for ram and is one of 48 constellations that were identified by Ptolemy, an astronomer who lived during the second century. In modern times, it is one of 88 known or recognized constellations and is located in the Northern Hemisphere between the constellations of Pisces and Taurus. It is a mid-sized constellation, about 39th in size among the other recognized constellations. Other constellations close to it are Cetus, Perseus, Pisces, Taurus, and Triangulum.
Reportedly, in May of 1012 C.E. a nova was seen within Aries constellation.
For a time, the Aries constellation wasn’t recognized and had been divided up into other constellations that are now considered obsolete. These included: Musca Borealis, Vespa, and Apis constellations. It wasn’t until 1922 that the International Astronomical Union decided to officially recognize it. And it wasn’t until 1930 when it was fully outlined and defined by the astronomer Eugène Delporte.
Musca Borealis consisted of the stars: 33 Arietis, 35 Arietis, 39 Arietis, and 41 Arietis.
In 1612, the astronomer, Petrus Plancius introduced Apis, a constellation representing a bee. In the year1624, the same stars were used by Jakob Bartsch to create another constellation called Vespa, representing as a wasp. Neither of these constellations became widely accepted. And a Johann Hevelius renamed the constellation to “Musca” in 1690 in his book Firmamentum Sobiescianum.
To differentiate this constellation from Musca, the southern fly, it was later renamed to Musca Borealis but it still didn’t gain acceptance and its stars ultimately went back to being known as Aries.
Among Muslim astronomers like al-Sufi, they saw a ram in the Aries constellation as set forth by Ptolemy. Other astronomers showed the Aries constellation as an unknown four-legged animal with antlers instead of horns. Al-Sufi’s depiction of a ram differed from other Arab astronomers in that his ram is shown running while looking behind itself.
Other early Bedouin astronomers did see a ram, but placed it as being elsewhere in the night sky. This ram constellation had the Pleiades as its tail. Most though generally accepted an Arabic formation of the Aries constellation that had thirteen stars and five “unformed” stars, four of which were to be the ram’s hindquarters and one over the ram’s head.
The brightest star in the Aries constellation is Hamal, from the Arabic phrase: “Al Ras al Hamal,” meaning “the Head of the Sheep.” The star, Beta Arietis is known as Sharatan, that along with Gamma Arietis, in Arabic meaning “two signs” that marked the start of the Vernal Equinox. Gamma Arietis is known as Mesarthim, thought to be the result of a series of mispronunciations over the millennia.
Among the Hebrews, Aries was called: “Teli” and signified either Simeon or Gad. This constellation was typically thought to symbolize the “Lamb of the World”. The nearby Syrians called the constellation “Amru”, and the Turks referred to it as “Kuzi”.
The Jewish month of Nisan that roughly corresponds to March-April was associated with Aries for it is believed that during this time, the Hebrew people had been freed from slavery in ancient Egypt. The same month of Nisanu in Assyria, the constellation Aries represents the Alter and Sacrifice, usually of a ram.
In a similar system to the Chinese, the first lunar mansion in Hindu astronomy was called “Aswini”, after the traditional names for Beta and Gamma Arietis, the Aswins. Because the Hindu new year began with the vernal equinox, the Rig Veda contains over 50 new-year’s related hymns to the twins, making them some of the most prominent characters in the work. Aries itself was known as “Aja” and “Mesha”.
Among the Marshall Islands, several stars in Aries along with stars from other constellations such as Cassiopeia, Andromeda and Triangulum form a porpoise.
The Marquesas islanders called Aries: Na-pai-ka. The Maori constellation of Pipiri may be modern Aries as well.
South American Astronomy
Among the indigenous Peruvian, a constellation with many of the same stars as Aries was recognized. It was called the “Market Moon” as well as the “Kneeling Terrace”, it was a reminder for people of when to hold the annual harvest festival, Ayri Huay.
Although Aries came to represent specifically the ram whose fleece became the Golden Fleece of Ancient Greek mythology, it has represented a ram since late Babylonian times. Before that, the stars of Aries formed a farmhand.
The Babylonian clay tablets known as the MUL.APIN, was a comprehensive list and table of stars marking an agricultural calendar. The constellation we know today as Aries, was known as MULLÚ.ḪUN.GÁ, meaning “The Agrarian Worker” or “The Hired Man.” It was depicted as being the last or final constellation on the ancient Babylonian’s agricultural calendar.
It’s thought by scholars that the MUL.APIN was compiled in either the 12th or 11th century B.C.E. At this point in time, during the Middle Bronze Age, with the procession of stars, the Pleiades marked the Vernal Equinox.
The clearest and earliest reference to depicting Aries as a constellation come from some boundary stones dating between 1350 B.C.E. to 1000 B.C.E. Several of these boundary stones clearly show a ram figure that is distinct from any other characters shown.
The identification of the Agrarian Worker to the Ram as the image for this constellation is thought to have happened in later Babylonian traditions due to the increased association of Dumuzi the Shepard. When the MUL.APIN was created around 1000 B.C.E., the constellation we know as Aries was associated with both Dumuzi’s ram and a hired laborer. Exactly when this change and shift of association for the Aries constellation was to have happened is difficult to determine due to the lack of surviving records for archaeologists to look at it.
Another source lists a Sumerian name LU.HUN.GA, which may be a pun. The name, taken at face value refers to hired workers for bringing in the Spring harvest of barley. However, in the Akkadian language, the word LU can also mena “sheep” and may mean something like “The Sheep of Appeasement.”
In traditional Chinese astronomy, the stars of the Aries constellation are part of several other constellations. The Aries constellation along with Taurus and Gemini are part of The White Tiger of the West, Xī Fāng Bái Hǔ. It is also known as the Lake of Fullness, the Five Reservoirs of Heaven, and the House of the Five Emperors.
The stars known as Alpha, Beta and Gamma Arietis from a constellation called Lou, which has been translated to mean “bond,” “lasso,” and “sickle” and has been associated with the ritual sacrifice of cattle. The name Lou has been used for the 16th lunar mansion and the location closest to the Autumn Equinox. This lunar mansion represented the place where animals would be gathered and held before they were sacrificed. The constellation has been associated too with harvest-times and may also represent a woman carrying a basket of food on her head.
The stars 35, 39 and 41 Arietis form part of a constellation known as Wei, representing a fat abdomen and the name of the 17th lunar mansion which symbolized the granaries. Causing for some confusion, two other lunar mansions are also called Wei. One is located in Scorpius and the other in Aquarious and Pegasus, though their Chinese characters are different. The Wei in Aries represents the granaries for storing cereals and grains.
The stars Delta and Zeta Arietis form part of the constellation Tianyin (“the celestial yin force”) and is thought to represent the Emperor’s hunting partner. North of Tianyin is a solitary star called Tian’e or Tianhe, meaning “celestial river” For modern astronomers, this is the star known as HR 999.
Another constellation known as Zuogeng (Tso-kang) represents a Forestry manager or Ranger. This constellation is composed of the stars Mu, Nu, Omicron, Pi and Sigma Arietis. Zuogeng is also accompanied by Yeo-kang, another constellation representing an official in charge of pasture distributions.
Other names for Aries have shown it as a dog, Heang Low or Kiang Leu. In more modern times with Western influence, the constellation is known as Pih Yang, “the White Sheep.”
Under the influence of many English writers during the 14th through as late as the 17th century, the constellation of Aries was Anglicized to Ariete. There were many efforts to rewrite the stories of the constellations along biblical terms. Aries was to represent the ram caught in a thicket during the story of Abraham and Isaac. Saint Peter, a bishop of the early Christian church saw the constellation known as Triangulum become associated with his Mitre. And Caesius saw in Aries the Lamb sacrificed on Calvary Hill for the redemption of all mankind.
Among the ancient Egyptians, the constellation of Aries was associated with the god Amon-Ra, often depicted or shown as a man with a ram’s head. Amon-Ra represented fertility and creativity for the Egyptians.
With the Aries Constellation being close to the Vernal Equinox, it was called the “Indicator of the Reborn Sun.” During this time of the year when Aries was said to be in the heavens, the priests would dedicated statues of Amon-Ra in temples. This practice would be modified later by Persian astronomers later on. The constellation of Aries also gained the title of “Lord of the Head,” indicating an important symbolic and mythological meaning in Egyptian theology.
Between 1580 B.C.E. to 360 B.C.E., the ancient Greek built and oriented many of their sacred temples in alignment to the star Hamal.
The Golden Fleece
The story of the Golden Fleece is perhaps the most well known and famous story linked to the Aries constellation.
In Greek mythology, King Athamas of Orchomenus (a region of Boetia) had married the cloud nymph Nephele after the incidents and her involvement with Ixion and the resulting birth of the Centaur race. By her, Athamas had twin children; a son, Phrixus and a daughter, Helle.
Due to the previous baggage of Nephele’s from the incident with Ixion and that she wouldn’t stop crying, Athamas eventually got fed up with Nephele and divorced her for another woman, Ino, the daughter of Cadmus and Queen of Thebes. Being a jealous woman and rather ambitious, Ino conspired and plotted to kill Athamas’ children so any children of hers could inherit the throne.
To do this, Ino created a famine throughout Orchomenus wherein she had roasted all of the town’s crop seeds so they couldn’t grow. Scared of the idea of starvation, the local farmers went to the nearest Oracle for help. Ino had already beaten them to it and had bribed the men of the Oracle of Delphi to tell the farmers that in order to avoid the famine, that Athamas’ son Phrixus needed to be sacrificed.
Reluctantly, Athamas agreed to the sacrifice his son Phrixus. But before that could even happen, a golden, flying ram arrived at the top of Mount Laphystium, where the sacrifice was to take place, and rescued both Phrixos and Helle. In one source, this ram was sent by the god Hermes, but it makes far more sense when looking at other sources, that this ram was sent by Nephele, the twin’s own mother Another source says the ram’s name is Chrysomallus and that he was the son of the sea god Neptune and Theophane. That same source also says that Ino’s whole plot to kill Phrixus is because he refused to have sex with her. His step-mother. I don’t blame him, not when she’s to be married to his dad.
From there, the twins flew towards the land of Colchis where King Aeetes, the son of the Sun God Helios ruled. Unfortunately during this flight, Helle fell off of the ram’s back and drowned in the Dardanelles, also known as the Hellespont to honor her.
Once they arrived in Colchis, the golden ram instructed Phrixus to sacrifice it to the gods. In one version of this tale, this god is Zeus and in others it is Poseidon. Phrixus did the sacrifice and removed the ram’s Golden Fleece, presenting it to King Aeetes who then arranged for a marriage with his daughter Chalciope.
King Aeetes hung the Golden Fleece in a sacred Grove of Ares, the God of War, where a dragon that never slept guarded it. In a later myth of Jason and the Argonauts, the title character Jason steals the Golden Fleece in order to claim and restore his own rightful claim to his throne in Iolcos.
For its sacrifice in helping Phrixus, the golden ram was placed up in the heavens to become the constellation of Aries.
In the story where the Greek gods were down by the Nile River and they were attacked by the monster Typhon. When the Gods all changed themselves into various animals to escape, Zeus is said in some accounts to have changed into a ram before turning to do battle with Typhon. And that it is for this battle, the constellation of Aries is commemorated as a constellation in the heavens.
When the god Bacchus (frequently identified by his Greek name Dionysus) and his entourage were wandering through the Liberian desert, they ended up being rescued from death by a ram. This ram showed them the way to a well and as a reward, Bacchus placed the ram up in the heavens to become the Aries constellation and mark the beginning of Spring when the sun passes through it annually.
The First Point of Aries – The Beginning of Spring
With the precession of the Equinoxes and the Earth’s “wobble” as it rotates around the Sun, the exact timing of the Vernal Equinox has been changing over the millennia. The ancient peoples used the constellation of Aries at one time to mark the beginning of Spring. Around 1800 B.C.E., this point of time was indicated by the constellation of Aries and was known as the First Point of Aries.
With the changes of the Equinox over the millennia, the First Point of Aries now occurs in Pisces and will later move into Aquarius around 2600 C.E. Despite these changes, Aries is still associated with the beginning of Spring.
Like many constellations, Aries does have several meteor shows that originate from it. The Daytime Arietid meteor shower is considered one of the strongest meteor showers that happens between May 22nd to June 2nd. It is an annual meteor shower that sees its peak around June 7th with the Marsden comets and up to 54 meteors per hour. The rest of the time, these “earthgrazer” meteors can sometimes be seen just before dawn at a rate of about 1 to 2 per hour. However, it’s usually only using the radio spectrum that these Arietids can be seen and not with the naked eye.
There are several meteor showers such as the Daytime Epsilon Arietids (between and the Northern and Southern Daytime May Arietids. These meteor showers were discovered by the Jodrell Bank Observatory in 1947 when the World War II radar systems were adapted for meteor observations.
These only name a couple of the more notable Arietids as there are several meteor showers that radiate or come from Aries.
In the Greek Zodiac, Aries marks the second spot of the Zodiac Calendar of which there are twelve Zodiac signs in all. For those who study and are into the classical Greek Zodiacs, this time is typically said to be from March 21 to April 19, right about the time that many Pagans celebrate Ostara. Under the old Roman calendar, March 21 marked the beginning of the New Year and the start of Spring. This carries on as in modern astrology, Aries is the first sign of the Zodiac The best time of year to see this constellation is during December around 9 p.m.
In Astrology, Aries is associated with the head and can indicate someone who has a strong temper. Those born under this sign are believed to have strong leadership skills, assertiveness, optimism, to be bold and independent. All said to be the very spirit of Spring. Aries people are believed to very dexterous and like to be the center of attention in many social settings. Though they can be rather stubborn, it’s a stubbornness and head butting that Aries learn to use rather well. In addition, Aries is associated with the planet and Roman God Mars. The element of fire is also associated with this zodiac.
Posted on April 9, 2013, in Agriculture, Astrology, Babylonian, Christian, Constellations, Egyptian, Fertility, Golden Fleece, Greek, Hindu, Roman, Spring, Syrian, Turkish, Zodiac. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.
Whoa….you know your history on constellations! I picked up a book awhile ago, “The Witness of the Stars” by E.W. Bullinger. I thought it was an interesting take on the whole history on the subject. Someday, I will be able to identify more than the Big/small dipper and Orion. Interesting post to reference.
It’s been fun to read up on and learn more about them. At first I thought I’d only have the Greek stories, but then I’ve been finding more in-depth information.
The biggest challenge is editing myself so I don’t have typos or unclear on a line.
Aries has become an increasingly interesting and relevant archetypal figure for me, in his association with the gods Amon-Ra, and Agni, the planet Mars, and Baal, and even (loosely) the devil himself. Aries and Amon-Ra’s shared solar associations seal it for me.
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