Etymology – The Twins
The constellation known as Gemini is one of twelve constellations that form and make up the classical Greek Zodiac. It is associated with the myth of Castor and Pollux, also known as the Dioscuri. It is also one of the few constellations that actually look like its namesake and what it’s to represent.
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.
Gemini is one of the oldest recognized constellations and was 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. It is the 30th largest constellation of the night sky. The constellation of Gemini is also unique as it’s not just named for two twin heroes, but has two stars found within it named for those same heroes. The planets Uranus and Pluto were discovered in Gemini. Bordering constellations to Gemini are Auriga, Cancer, Canis Minor, Lynx, Monoceros, Orion and Taurus.
The constellation of Gemini is one that can be seen with the naked eye. The easiest way to locate the constellation in the night sky is to find its two brightest stars Castor and Pollux. These two stars lay in an easterly direction from the familiar “V” shaped asterism of Taurus and the three stars of Orion’s belt. Another method is to mentally draw a line from the Pleiades star cluster located within Taurus and the brightest star in Leo, Regulus.
Gemini is represented by a pair of peacocks.
In Babylonian astronomy, the stars Castor and Pollux were known as the Great Twins, MUL.MASH.TAB.BA.GAL.GAL. The Great Twins were minor gods and known as Meshlamtaea and Lugalirra, each meaning respectively: “The One who has arisen from the Underworld” and the “Mighty King.” Both of these names are titles of Nergal, the major Babylonian god of plague and pestilence, who was king of the Underworld.
In some sources, the constellation of the Great Twins is believed to commemorate the friendship of Gilgamesh and Enkidu who adventured together and fought the gods in twelve adventures and a quest for immortality.
Another point of interest is that the symbol for Gemini was a pile of bricks and referred to as the first city built and not just the twins. The Sumerian name for the lunar month that fell between May and June is Araḫ Simanu.
In Chinese astronomy, the stars that correspond to Gemini are located in two areas: the White Tiger of the West and the Vermillion Bird of the South. The stars known as Castor and Pollux are seen as Yin and Yang, an important concept and principle in Buddhism on how all things are connected and related.
The largest part of Gemini forms a constellation in Chinese known as Jing, meaning “Well.” It is sometimes called the Eastern Well is comprise of eight stars: Lambda, Zeta, 36, Epsilon, Xi, Gamma, Nu and Mu Geminorum. Together, these stars form the shape that resembles the Chinese character for “well.” Tthe 22nd Chinese lunar mansion is also called Jing after this constellation and is the widest of the 28 lunar mansions. The star known as Eta Geminorum, which is next to the Well is called Yue and represents a battle axe used for decapitating the corrupt and immoral.
The actual stars called Castor and Pollux are not part of Jing. They, along with Rho Geminorum are part of another constellation called Beihe, the Northern River. The Chinese constellation Nanhe that’s the Southern River is found in Canis Minor. Both of these constellations lay on the north and south along the ecliptic and were seen as gates or sentries. To either end of Beihe were Jishui and Jixin, each represented by a single star and represent the supply of water needed for winemaking and brewing and a pile of firewood used for cooking. Sun and Kistemaker identified these stars as Omicron and Phi Geminorum, though Kappa is also a good candidate for the latter.
The star Alhena is known as “the Third Star of the Well.” Another five stars from Theta to Kappa Geminorum and possibly Phi Geminorum were part of a constellation known as Wuzhuhou and represented five feudal lords or princes that acted as the Emperor’s advisors and teachers. Delta Geminorum was one of a triangle of stars along the ecliptic that formed Tianzun, a wine cup or water jar with three feet.
The last Chinese constellation found in or makes up part of the western Gemini is Shuiwei, the “water level.” It is a curved line of four stars, often seen as extending out from Canis Minor into Cancer. In some older versions, Shuiwei will be shown as the stars 68 to 85 Geminorum. All of which shows that over time, the Chinese constellations have changed and been altered.
Egyptian Mythology & Astronomy
The twin stars of Castor and Pollux formed an important part of Egyptian astronomy. They were represented by a pair of goats made mention of in the Ramissede Hour Tables that were used to keep track of time at any point during the night as the two stars followed each other. These two stars were known to rise at the dawn. The constellation Gemini can also represent Horus the older and Horus the younger. Or sometimes just the “Two Stars.”
In Greek mythology, the constellation of Gemini represents the twin heroes Castor and Polydeuces. They are also sometimes called Iabal and Ivbal. Together, the two are also known as the Dioscuri. In Latin, the twins are known as Gemini or Castores. And finally, they are also sometimes called the Tyndaridae or Tyndarids, in reference to their father and stepfather Tyndareus.
The two were born from an egg laid by Leda after she had been seduced or raped by the god Zeus in the guise of a swan. Slight variations to this story state that Polydeuces was the son of Zeus and that Castor was the son of Tyndareus, the king of Sparta. This explanation of the twins’ parentage is used to explain why Polydeuces is immortal and Castor is mortal. Either way, the two brothers were good friends who became gods, patrons of athletes and the protectors of sea goers and sailors for whom they could appear as St. Elmo’s fire. The two brothers also had twin sisters Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra, working out that the two sets of twins are Polydeuces and Helen and then Castor and Clytemnestra.
As demigods, Castor and Polydeuces held power over the winds and waves. Castor became famous as a horsemanship and Polydeuces was equally skilled and famous at boxing and his fighting prowess in battles. The two were even the students of the centaur Chiron and were raised by him. They would later join Jason and the Argonauts in their search for the Golden Fleece. Other exploits of theirs are joining the hunt of the Calydonian Boar.
In time, the two took wives, two daughters of the King of Sparta. Strangely enough, these two women were already married to the twins’ cousins Idas and Lynceus who are also twins themselves. In some accounts they don’t seem bothered by the fact that Castor and Polydeuces simply take off with the two women and settle down with them else where. Though in other accounts, this does cause a problem and a few years later, the two cousins join the twins on a joint raid for some cattle in Arcadia. They take their revenge on the twins when it came time to divide up the stolen cattle.
Idas had a solution involving cutting one of the cows up into four equal parts and said that whichever two pairs could completely finish their parts first could divide up the spoils. This took the twins off guard as they watched their cousins completely wolf down their quarters of the cow. Once finished, Idas and Lynceus then drove off with the entire stolen herd of cattle.
Tricked by their cousins, Castor and Polydeuces vowed to get even. A few days later they set off after their cousins to claim their share of the cattle. In the fight that followed, Idas killed Castor with a spear. Enraged at the loss of his brother, Polydeuces pursued his cousins. He managed to kill Lynceus in a single blow. Just as Idas was about to hurl a tombstone at Polydeuces, Zeus interceded, hurling a a thunderbolt at Idas and killing him.
His twin dead, Polydeuces, being the immortal son of Zeus, begged for death so he wouldn’t be separated from his brother. Not able to do such a thing, Zeus did the next best thing that he could and placed them together up in the heavens to form the Gemini constellation. In another variation to this ending, Polydeuces was given a choice by Zeus of spending all of his time on Mount Olympus or giving up half of his immortality to his brother Castor. Polydeuces choose the latter and thus enabled the twins to alternate between being on Olympus or in Hades. As symbols of immortality and death, the twins, like Hercules are also said to have been initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries.
Apollo and Heracles – Alternate Identification
Of course, not everyone identified the constellation of Gemini with Castor and Polydeuces. The ancient writer Aratus does refer to the constellation of Gemini as the twins but he doesn’t say who they were. A century later, Eratosthenes named them Castor and Polydeuces. Some like Hyginus and Ptolemy identified the stars with Apollo and Heracles, both half-brothers and sons of Zeus, though they aren’t twins. Ptolemy referred to the stars Castor and Polydeuces as “the star of Apollo” and “the star of Heracles” respectively. A reference found in Ptolemy’s more obscure Tetrabiblos that is about astrology. Additionally, several ancient star maps portray the constellation of Gemini as Apollo and Heracles. One example is Bode’s Uranographia which shows Apollo carrying a lyre and arrow while Heracles is shown carrying a club.
Hindu Mythology – Rigveda
In the texts of the Rigveda, a Hindu text that dates back more than 6,000 years, the two main stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux are known as twin horsemen who appear at dawn. They were members of the Ashvins, known as Sahadeva and Nakula. Back during this time, the stars were only visible at during Spring. This in turn lead to linking the twins to the Spring Equinox. Mithuna is the Sanskrit name for this pair of twins and they nearly match the same meaning as the Gemini constellation in terms of the Zodiac.
In Norse mythology, Gemini is strongly associated with the god Loki.
A constellation called Þjazi’s eyes (augu Þjaza) is one of the few known Norse constellations. It’s not certain which stars in the sky made up this constellation. One idea put forth is that they are the stars Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini.
In Norse mythology, Þjazi is a giant who kidnapped Idun. When he didn’t return home after chasing Idun and her rescuer Loki, Þjazi’s daughter Skadi realized he must be dead and took up arms, swearing vengeance for her father’s death.
As she marched upon Ásgarð, Heimdall sounded the alarm and several of the gods went out to meet her. As they had no desire to continue the feud, the gods asked Skadi if she would accept wergild, basically gold as payment for her father’s death.
Skadi said she would only accept or settle instead for a husband of her choosing from among the gods. They agreed, saying in turn that she must choose her husband by looking only at his feet.
She agreed and Odin arranged for all the gods to gather. With her eyes shield so that she could only see their feet, Skadi made her choice of the most good looking feet, believing that they belonged to Baldur. To her surprise and horror, the feet belong to the god Njord an elderly god of the sea as well as fertility.
The next part of this bargain was for the gods to make Skadi laugh, something she thought that they would be unable to do. Odin called for Loki to come to to make her laugh. He came and told a story of taking a goat to market and how he had tied one end of the rope to the goat’s beard and the other to his own testicles. The description of the tug-of-war that followed between Loki and the goat caused Skadi to laugh in spite of her self.
In an effort to try and please Skadi further, Odin brought out two liquid orbs that Skadi immediately recognized as her father’s eyes. Odin threw them up into the sky where they became two stars, presumably the stars Castor and Pollux that form part of Gemini.
The two gods Njord and Skadi decided to live for half of the year in Skadi’s frozen hall in the mountains of Þrymheim and the other half in Njord’s hall in the sea at Nóatún. Neither liked the other’s hall, Njord didn’t enjoy the cold or the howling wolves, and Skadi couldn’t tolerate the motion of the sea and the noise of crashing waves. They eventually agreed that they would live apart.
For the Romans, the constellation Gemini can represent the twins Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.
As the Romans were famous for absorbing and taking many of the Greek myths and legends into their own mythology, the previous story of the two twin heroes mentioned under Greek mythology is still very much so the same, only the Romans refer to them as Castor and Pollux instead of Castor and Polydeuces.
Stars of Gemini
The two brightest stars found within Gemini are Castor and Pollux. Castor also holds another designation as Alpha Geminorum even though it is second brightest to Pollux or Beta Geminorum. The problem in their naming with brightness and designations is owed to a mistake made by Johann Bayer in 1603 when he was cataloging the stars.
Castor – Castor is also a sextuplet star system In Arabic culture, Castor is known as “The Head of the Foremost Twin,” or Al-Ras al-Taum al-Muqadim. To the Chinese, Castor represents Yin, one of two fundamental principles and concept on which all things depend, are connected and related to.
Pollux – This star is also known as “The Head of the Second Twin,” from the Arabic Al-Ras al-Tau’am al-Mu’akhar. To the Chinese, Pollux represents Yang, one of two dundamental principles and concepts on which all things depends, are connected and related to.
Geminga – Geminga is a neutron star found within the Gemini constellation. It is the decaying core of an old massive star that went supernova some 300,000 years ago. The name Geminga comes from the Italian gh’è minga, meaning “it’s not there.” At the same time, the name is also short for “Gemini gamma-ray source.” It has the distinction of being the first unidentified gamma-ray source to be discovered and the first example of a radio-quiet pulsar.
Mebsuta – Also known as Epsilon Geminorum, it marks Castor’s outstretched right leg. In Arabic, the name Mebsuta means “the outstretched paw.”
Mekbuda – The star known as Mekbuda is a super-giant star with a radius about 220,000 times the size of the Sun.
In Arabic culture, both Epsilon and Zeta Geminorum are called Melboula or Melucta as they represent a lion’s outstretched paws.
The Eskimo Nebula or Clown Face Nebula is a planetary nebula located about 4,000 light-years away from Earth. For those using amateur telescopes, its central star that’s 10th in magnitude can be seen and has a blue-green elliptical disk. The name comes from its resemblance to the head of a person wearing a parka. It was discovered in 1787 by the German-born British astronomer William Herschel.
The Jellyfish Nebula is the remnant of a Galactic supernova that can be found near the star Eta Geminorum. The supernova that created this Nebula is thought to have happened some 3,000 to 30,000 years ago.
The Medusa Nebula or Sharpless 2-274 and Abell 21 is a planetary nebula found within the Gemini constellation near the border with the Canis Minor constellation. It gets its name from the filaments of glowing gas that look like the snake hair of the monster Medusa. It was first discovered by the UCLA astronomer George O. Abell in 1955. Until the 1970’s it was thought to be the remnant of a supernova when Soviet astronomers stated it was more likely a planetary nebula. The Medusa Nebula is rather large and old, formed when a red giant turned in a hot white dwarf and shed its outer layers.
The Geminids are a bright meteor shower that peaks around December 13th to 14th with roughly 100 meteors per hour.
Another is the Epsilon Geminid that peaks around October 18 to October 29, they overlap with the Orionid meteor shower and are hard to distinguish from the Orionid. The difference though is that the Epsilon Geminid meteor shower has a greater velocity than the Orionid meteor shower.
As information on the exact Zodiacal calendars can change each year (and by sources) along with the precision of the equinoxes over the year, the Summer Solstice is falling more and more into Gemini. The Summer Solstice, of course, is when the days are at their longest and the nights at their shortest.
The constellation of Gemini is the third 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 May 22 to June 22. Due to the changes of the earth’s orbit and tilt, the best time to see this constellation is during February around 9 p.m. The planet Mercury and the Moon are said to rule this Zodiacal sign and constellation. Its element is Air, an extroverted sign and is one of four mutable signs.
Gemini people are said to be lively, versatile, intellectuals, adaptable, communicative, observant, fickle, inconsistent, cunning, inquisitive, two-faced, gossipers, expressive, quick-witted, clever, changeable, ungrateful, scatterbrained, restless and scheming. Those born to this sign seem to need a lot of stimuli, they like doing and taking on a lot of projects and can move from one topic to another easily during conversations. A Gemini seems to have duality to their nature and can seem like yin and yang with how they appear to others as it can seem as if you’re not sure if you’re dealing with the good twin or the bad twin with how mercurial their natures are.
It’s easy for a Gemini to become a jack-of-trades person, learning a little bit about everything, but if they’re not careful, they’re not masters of a particular area, knowledge, trade or skill. A lack of focus can make a Gemini seem fickle, uninterested or have an uncaring attitude. A Gemini aware of their nature is more than capable of multi-tasking and taking care of multiple tasks and challenges. With their love for talking, a Gemini can also make a good diplomat when tensions are high and people need to communicate, to listen as much as say what needs to be said. As great communicators, a Gemini is able to see both sides of a situation. The Greek myth of Castor and Pollux explores the inherit duality of life – of mortality and immortality forever intertwined and perpetually in conflict.
The ancient writer Ptolemy has commented that the star Pollux, as it’s a fiery red star, has a nature similar to Mars and that Castor, a bright white star has a nature similar to Mercury. On more specific notes, Pollux is thought to denote a more spirited nature and encourages violence, rashness and a love for sports. Pollux is renowned for strength and ferocity. Castor though is then believed to be more intellectual and aids in the success of all studies. Castor is also thought to pass on a skill of natural horsemanship for those born under the sign of Gemini.