Etymology – The Scales

One of twelve signs of the Classical Greek Zodiac, Libra also has the distinction of being the only zodiacal sign that doesn’t represent a living creature. Libra is often shown as a set of balancing scales or a set of scales held by a woman.

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.

Western Astronomy

Libra is Latin for the scales 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. It is the 29th in size for constellations in the night sky. Other constellations close to Libra are Serpens Caput, Virgo, Hydra, Centaurus, Lupus, Scorpius and Ophiuchus.

Chinese Astronomy

In ancient China, the constellation was known as Show Sing, meaning “the Star of Longevity.” Later, it has become known as Tien Ching, “the Celestial Balance.”

The stars Alpha, Iota, Gamma and Beta Librae formed a constellation called Di, representing a palace for the Emperor to stay during the night with his wife and concubines. Di is also the name of the third Chinese lunar mansion and usually means “root” owing to its appearance in the morning skies of early October. Di was sometimes seen as representing the paw or chest of the Blue Dragon.

The stars Theta and 48 Librae form part of a line extending from Scorpius that from another constellation called Xixian, representing a wall used for holding and penalizing dishonest traders. In the southern part of Libra was to be a calvary camp spread out over the elliptic.

Egyptian Mythology

Among the Egyptians, they saw in the constellation of Libra a set of scales as well, representative of the Scales of Justice upon which a human heart would be weighed before gaining entrance into the Afterlife.

Greek Mythology

The Greeks didn’t recognize a separate constellation of Libra. For them, the constellation we know now days was part of the constellation of Scorpius and made up its two claws that they called Chelae.

Indian Astronomy

In India, the constellation of Libra is known as Tula, which means “a balance.” It is often shown as being a man kneeling on one knee and holding a set of scales.

Mesopotamian Mythology

In the ancient Sumer-Babylonian astronomy, the constellation Libra was known as MUL Zibanitu, meaning “the scales” or “the claws of the scorpion.” The scales were sacred to the sun god Shamash, was also the patron god of truth and justice. The association of Libra with the law, fairness and civility has continued throughout the ages. In modern Arabic languages, the word zubānā which means “scorpion’s claws,” seems to be a word continuing its ancient use from Akkadian languages. Though some scholars says this has only been the result of possible errors and mistranslations.

The transition of the Scales becoming Scorpion claws due to changes in cultures over the years and how the stars were perceived and due to similarity of the Akkadian and Arabic words “zibanitu” and “zubānā” that mean scales and claws. Anciently, scales of the Mesopotamian region did look similar to an upside down scorpion. With the Romans, the constellation reverted back to being a set of Scales.

Roman Mythology

The Romans are sometimes given credit with having invented the constellation of Libra and to have given it importance. To them, Libra was the “Scales of Justice” held by Julius Caesar. Later on, the scales are associated with the constellation of Virgo as either Astraea or Dike, a goddess of Justice.

Demeter and Persephone

Following the story of Persephone’s abduction into the underworld by Hades in Greek myth; the constellation of Libra is sometimes seen as representing Pluto’s Golden Chariot that is pulled by four black horses.

On one of his rare trips up to the surface, Hades spotted Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter and desiring her to be his wife, Hades took her down to the underworld to become Queen.

Before this, it had always been eternal spring, never winter. So when Hades abducts Persephone, Demeter is overcome with grief, rage and anger, so much so that she destroys the crops of the Greeks and bringing about winter. Demeter swore that she would not allow the Earth to be fertile again until her daughter is returned.

With the people starving and beseeching the gods for help, Zeus intervenes, informing his brother Hades that Persephone must be returned. Such would be possible, provided that Persephone hadn’t eaten any of the Underworld food or drink.

However, by one means or another, Persephone did eat three seeds of a pomegranate and as a result; this tied her to the underworld. Eventually a compromise was reached, where Persephone agreed to marry Hades and she would spend part of the year with him, the time known as winter and the other times of the year, she would be with her mother Demeter, allowing for spring and the other seasons.

Stars of Libra

The brightest stars found in Libra from a quadrangle that makes it easy to spot in the night sky unaided by telescopes.

Alpha Librae – Also known as Zubenelgenubi which means “the southern claw.” It is a binary star with the brighter of the two being a blue-white star and the other a white star. This star is also the second brightest star found in Libra.

Beta Librae – Also known as Zubeneschamali which means “the northern claw.” It is a green-tinged star. Another name for this star is Lanx Australis, “the southern scale.” This star is the brightest star found in Libra.

Gamma Librae – Also known as Zubenelakrab which means “the scorpion’s claw” It is an orange giant.

Zubeneschamali, along with Zubenelgenubi and Zubenelakrab are easy reminders of when the Libra constellation was part of Scorpio before getting cut off and becoming associated with Virgo.

Gliese 581 – This star has a planetary system of at least six planets of which Gliese 581 d and Gliese 581 g are thought to be the most likely to hold life. At current, 581 g’s status and existence still isn’t agreed upon or confirmed by the scientific community as a whole. Gliese 581 c, discovered in 2007, is the first exo-planet found in an area known as the goldilocks zone of a star for habitability and earth-like conditions for life. Gliese 581 e is the smallest exo-planet found to date.

Autumn Equinox

During the time of the Romans, they had chosen Libra and placed importance on it as at one point some 4,000 years ago, when the Sun pass through Libra, it marked the Autumn Equinox close to and around September 21st. This time is also known as the “First Point of Libra”, marking a time of the year when both day and night are perfectly balanced in terms of being equal length; before the nights started getting longer due to the earth’s axel tilt and seasonal changes for winter.


The constellation of Libra is the seventh 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 September 23 to October 22. Due to the changes of the earth’s orbit and tilt, the best time to see this constellation is during June around 9 p.m. The planet Venus is said to rule this Zodiacal sign and constellation. Its element is Air, a Cardinal sign and is one of four Cardinal signs.

One of the defining traits about Libras is that they love balance; they love to do things in pairs, that is with other people. They love to work with others, have a strong sense of fair play and equality, they make excellent team players. Libras love to have everything out in the open, nothing hidden as they like too to be objective in all their decisions and interactions with everyone.

Because they like to try and get along with everyone, a Libra can be seen as indecisive. This same indecisiveness can also come about when faced with two opposing choices as they can see both sides and they can also have a hard time as to which to go with.


About silverfox57

An AFOL who's been around a long time and has decided to make more of an on-line presence. I also have a strong love of mythology and folklore.

Posted on October 16, 2013, in Astrology, Autumn, Chinese, Constellations, Deity, Egyptian, Greek, Hindu, Mesopotamian, Roman, Underworld, Zodiac. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. By searching on Zodiac related things I came on your blog. You have a lot of nice information, but I guess you would be pleased by hearing some deeper meaning about it. It makes it all logic and coherent. Search on Santos Bonacci, mr astrotheology.

    • Thanks for sharing the information. I’m sure those looking for a deeper understanding of astrology and not just the mythology or history of the Greek Zodiacs and constellations will be interested.

      • Yes a deeper understanding. To me the knowledge of “astro-theology” connects the dots of all ancient allegorical mythology. It was not a belief system, more a science of the “as above, so below” and “man know thyself” It is syncretism.

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