Etymology – The Bull
Taurus is a familiar zodiac symbol to many representing power and strength. It is considered and believed that Taurus is one of the oldest constellations known to man, dating back to the Bronze Age and depictions found on cave walls.
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.
The Taurus constellation is Latin for “Bull.” This constellation is one of 48 constellations that were identified by Ptolemy, an astronomer who lived during the second century. It is the 17th largest constellation found in the night sky of the northern hemisphere. In modern times, Taurus is one of 88 known constellations and is bordered by the constellations of Aries, Auriga, Cetus, Eridanus, Gemini, Orion and Perseus.
The constellation of Taurus is formed from two star clusters, the Hyades and Pleiades. When looking for the Taurus constellation in the night sky, the pattern of stars depict only the front half of a bull. The reasoning given is that the bull’s hind quarters are underwater as this image shows the Greek story of the white bull carrying Europa to Crete.
Further, it’s only in the imagination that the front quarters of the bull can be seen. The Hyades, a V-shaped grouping of stars form the face of Taurus, which have their own mythological story.
If you can find Orion in the night sky, follow his familiar three star belt pattern to the right. You should be able to spot Alderbaran, the Bull’s Eye and then find the rest of this constellation.
The Taurus constellation has been called Al Thaur by the Arabs, Il Toro by the Italians, Le Taureau by the French, Taura by the Persians, and Shor by the Jews all of which mean the Bull in their respective languages.
The Taurus constellation is believed to be one of the oldest constellations, known since at least the Early Bronze Age. It has been placed as dating to the Chalcolithic and possibly even the later Paleolithic eras. During this time, Taurus had marked the Spring Equinox between 4,000 B.C.E. to 1,700 B.C.E. which is also known as the Age of Taurus.
A Michael Rappenglück believes that depictions of the Taurus constellation and the Pleiades stars have been found in a cave painting at Lascaux, France. These paintings date back to 15,000 B.C.E. That both Taurus and the Pleiades are and have been known in many cultures as a bull and seven sisters gives cause for many paleontologists and astronomers to believe in a common origin and myth for their names.
In Babylonian astronomy, the Taurus constellation was listed in the MUL.APIN as GU4.AN.NA, meaning “The Heavenly Bull.” As Taurus marked the Vernal Equinox, it was the first constellation in the Babylonian zodiac and was referred to as “The Bull in Front.” The Akkadian name for Taurus was Alu.
In the Epic of Gilgamesh, an early literary work from Mesopotamia, Gilgamesh faces off against the Bull of Heaven after it was sent by the goddess Ishtar to kill him for spurning her advances. Gilgamesh is associated with the constellation of Orion. The two constellations of Orion and Taurus are often shown as being Gilgamesh and the Heavenly Bull in combat.
In early Mesopotamian art, the Bull of Heaven is connected in myths to Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of sexual love, fertility and warfare. One of the oldest depictions of the Heavenly Bull shows it standing in front of Inanna’s standard. It had three stars on its back; the cuneiform symbol for the “star-constellation” and archaeologists use this as good evidence that Taurus constellation is connected to Babylonian myths.
In Buddhist legends, Gautama Buddha had been born during a Full Moon in the month of Vaisakha, which coincides about the time of Taurus. The Buddha’s birthday is held and celebrated with the Wesak Festival or Vesākha. This happens during the first or second Full Moon while the Sun is in Taurus.
The druids held an important religious festival involving bulls when the Sun passed through the Taurus constellation.
The Heavenly Bull of Babylonian myth is also found on the Dendera zodiac, an Egyptian bas-relief carved into the ceiling of a temple. In these early depictions, the bull’s horns are shown facing upward or backwards. Later Greek depictions of Taurus show it pointed forwards.
For the Egyptians, the constellation of Taurus represented Osiris, a Sun god and in some accounts, his sister Isis. Both were represented by a bull and cow. As a bull, Osiris became known as the Bull-God Apis; seen as an aspect of the Sun god. Though worship of the Bull-God, Apis was worshipped in ancient Egypt at a much earlier time than Osiris. The priests of Apis would find a bull bearing the marks that would prove it embodied the soul of the deity. This bull was worshiped and cared for by the priests until it died and another bull was found bearing the marks of Apis.
Archaeologists in Memphis, Egypt found the ancient tomb of the Apis-bull. Inside the tomb is a broad paved avenue lined on either side by stone carved lions. On entering the tomb, a person passed through a long, high arched corridor with recesses carved into the rock wall on either side. Within the recesses were the entombed remains of the Apis-bulls.
Springtime is when the festivals honoring the Apis-bulls would occur. This was also the time of year when the Nile River has overflowed its banks, leaving the life-giving waters and silts behind for farmers to till and plant. The constellation of Taurus as a sacred bull was associated strongly with the renewal of life during Spring.
During this point and time of history, around 4,000 B.C.E., the Sun’s position in the heavens along the Zodiac rested on the first day of Spring, in the constellation we recognize now days as Taurus, the Bull. For many centuries, Taurus was the first constellation in the Zodiac and some scholars suggest that Taurus may have been the first Zodiac constellation invented.
Zeus and Europa
In Greek mythology, Zeus in many of his various affairs; had fallen love with Europa, the daughter of Agenor, a King of Tyre in ancient Phoenicia. The problem with Zeus getting close to show his affection is that Europa was always guarded by her father’s servants. Being a god and a shape-shifter, Zeus changed himself into the form of a handsome white bull with golden horns.
That accomplished, Zeus in his white bull form then mingles with the King’s royal herds grazing in a large field near the sea. While a walk along the beach, Europe noticed the handsome white bull and couldn’t resist going up to feed it. The bull was so very friendly and gentle, that Europe climbed up on its back when it lay down; taking hold of the golden horns.
Once she was on the bull’s back, it stood up and the white bull wandered closer and closer to the sea and then when they approached the beach, took off running for the water. Once in the sea, the bull starts swimming towards the island of Crete. And for Europa, it was too late to get off now.
When they arrived in Crete, Zeus changed back into his own form, revealing himself to Europa. As he’s already married to Hera, Zeus gives Europa instead in marriage to Asterius, the King of Crete.
In slightly different versions of this story, Zeus and Europa have three children together. One of whom is Minos who grows up and goes on to be a famous king of Crete. He had the palace in Knossos built where bull games were held and is more infamous for the sacrifice of fourteen youths (seven boys and seven girls) to his Minotaur in a labyrinth every year. In either event, Zeus is said to have commemorated the white bull he turned into by placing it up among the heavens as a constellation.
An alternate story of the myth of Taurus holds that it the nymph Io, whom Europa is descended from. In this story, Io was changed into a cow in order to hide her from Hera during an affair with Zeus.
The Greek mythographer Acusilaus indentified the constellation of Taurus as being the Cretan Bull, which was one of the Twelve Labors of Heracles.
For the Hebrews, Taurus was also the first constellation in their zodiac. It was represented by the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet as Aleph.
The Bull’s Eye and other Stars in Taurus
The brightest star found in the Taurus constellation is Alpha Tauri or Aldebaran, from the Arabic language meaning: “The follower” (of the Pleiades). It is part of the group of stars known as the Hyades that form the Bull’s face. Aldebaranm being a giant red star, is seen as being the Bull’s bloodshot eye. This eye is often said to be glaring at the constellation of Orion the Hunter. Incidentally, Alderbaran is the 13th brightest star in the night sky.
The Chinese refer to Alderbaran as the Fifth Star of the Net. The Inuit call it the Spirit of the Polar Bear. The Seris of Mexico believe that Alderbaran provides light for seven women giving birth (the Pleiades). The Dakotas of North America saw Alderbaran as a hero chasing a white buffalo, again the Pleiades.
The second brightest star in Taurus is Beta Tauri or El Nath, from the Arabic language meaning “the butting,” in reference to a bull butting someone with their horns.
A rather familiar nebula known as M1 (NGC 1952) or more popularly the Crab Nebula is found within the constellation of Taurus. The Crab Nebula is roughly 5,000 light years away from Earth. Astronomers say it is the remnant of a supernova that happened on July 4, 1054. This supernova was so bright it could be seen during the daytime and even has mention in Chinese historical records. The people of North America also saw this event and there is a painting of it on a canyon wall in New Mexico along with various pieces of pottery showing this event. Those archaeological finds weren’t discovered until 1731 by John Bevis.
The name of this nebula comes from its resemblance to a crab. The Crab Nebula is one of the most studied and well known Nebulas in the night sky. In 1968, a pulsar that emits radio waves at regular intervals was discovered. It’s figured the that this radio energy is the result of a dense neutron star.
Other famous nebulas found in Taurus include: Hind’s Variable Nebula (NGC 1555), the colliding galaxies NGC 1410 and NGC 1409, the Crystal Ball Nebula (NGC 1514), and the Merope Nebula (NGC 1435).
Crystal Ball Nebula
The Crystal Ball Nebula is found in the northern part of Taurus and to the northwest of the Pleiades. It gains significance as it was discovered by the German-born English astronomer William Herschel in 1790. Before this time, astronomers believed that nebulae were merely unresolved groups of stars. With Herschel’s discovery, he found that there are stars in a nebula’s center and that it is surround by a cloud of some sort. In 1864, the astronomer William Huggins figured out that this nebula is a luminous gas, not stars as previously supposed.
The Hyades are a V-shaped group of stars that form the face of the Taurus constellation. The Arabs called to this group of stars the “Little she-camels.” In Greek mythology, the Hyades were five sisters of Atlas and thus, half sisters to the Pleiades. The Hyades also had a brother, Hyas who was a great hunter. When he was killed by a wild boar, the sisters grieved. The sisters were later chosen by Zeus to care for his son, Dionysus, the god of Wine when his mother died. In a mixture of gratitude and pity, Zeus placed the sisters up into the night sky and despite their reward, the sisters still mourn for their dead brother.
The stars known as the Pleiades are another group of famous stars found in or associated with the Taurus constellation. They are known as the “Seven Sisters,” the daughters of Atlas and Pleione. In one myth, they were the companions of Artemis and when their father Atlas was given the task of holding the world on his shoulder, they became so grief stricken that Zeus placed them up in the stars. A closely related myth to this, the hunter Orion fell in love with the seven sisters and pursued them endlessly. In order to save them, Zeus placed the sisters up in the Taurus constellation.
Astronomers have shown there to be many more stars then the initial seven. The star known as Aldebaran is considered the lead star of this group or cluster. It is estimated by astronomers that there may be 500-1000 stars in the Pleiades cluster, all of which are roughly 100 million years old. The stars though vary by size and only the largest stars in Pleiades typically represent it.
There are a couple of meteor showers that radiate from the Taurus constellation. They are the Taurids that occur in November and the Beta Taurids that occur in June to July during the day.
The constellation of Taurus is the third sign of twelve signs that form the Greek Zodiac. In more current and modern zodiacs, Taurus is the second sign of the zodiac. For those who study and are into the classical Greek Zodiacs, this time is typically said to be sometime from April 21 to May 20. The best time of year to see this constellation in the northern hemisphere is during the month of January at about 9 p.m. The planet Venus rules Taurus and the element of Earth is associated with this zodiac.
Taurus people, those born during the time of Taurus, are said to be both practical and stubborn. A Taurus tends to plod along at a steady pace when getting their goals and agendas done. So stubbornness can mean a great determination to get a job done right or a failure to see things any other way and seeing only one way to get their objectives done. When it comes to games, Taurus people love the rewards a game offers, they are also viewed as interested only in physical pleasure and material possessions. In that sense, Taurus people do enjoy a lot of physical contact and love creature comforts. With a Taurus’ love for the material, they can also be very sentimental in why they keep some items or the amount of affection they show on their loved one.
Posted on April 28, 2013, in Agriculture, Astrology, Babylonian, Bronze Age, Buddhism, Cattle - Bull/Cow, Constellations, Egyptian, Fertility, Greek, Mesopotamian, Spring, Zodiac. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.