Category Archives: Heroes
Etymology – hippopotamus
Mali is the name of a shape-shifting, monstrous and carnivorous hippopotamus responsible for the destruction and eating entire fields of rice.
Among the Mali and Songhay people, the hero, Fara Maka is the one who finally defeats this monster after numerous attempts. In his first attempt, Fara Maka tries throwing spears to no affect, as the spears would disintegrate or melt on contact with Mali’s skin.
In Fara Maka’s next attempt, he is joined by fellow hunter, Karadigi who set his pack of 120 black dogs on the raging monster. Karadigi’s pack were all eaten in short order by Mali.
At last, Fara Maka decided to consult with his wife, Nana Miriam. She cast a spell of paralysis on Mali. With the monster unable to move, Fara Maka was now able to destroy this monstrous hippopotamus.
In some versions of this stories, the crops eaten were Fara Maka’s. When he had failed at killing Mali, Fara Maka’s wife, Nana Miriam used the spell of paralysis to defeat the monster.
The Niger River
The third longest river on the African continent after the Nile and Congo rivers. This river is the location for where the confrontations with Mali and Fara Maka take place in traditions and legends.
Alternate Spelling: Ὀρφεύς, Greek
Etymology: There are more than a few different etymologies that have been given for the name of Orpheus. One suggestion has been orbhao, meaning “to be deprived” and another is orbh, “to put asunder or separate.” This later is in reference about Orpheus having been torn apart by the Maenads. A last word is “goao,” meaning “to lament, sing wildly or cast a spell,” this word appears to combine all the traits that Orpheus is known for as a forlorn lover, musician and priest.
Golden Age Hero
Among the Greeks, Orpheus is the name of the greatest and legendary musician and poet of mythology and religion. His music was so great that he could charm all living things and even the stones of the earth. The story that Orpheus is the most well-known for, is that of going to the Underworld to bring his wife, Eurydice back to the lands of the living. Orpheus’ other claim to fame in stories is being a member of the Argonauts.
Parentage and Family
There’s typically a couple slight variations as to who Orpheus’ parents are.
Apollo & Calliope – In this version of parentage, Orpheus is very much so a god, even if a minor god.
Oeagrus & Calliope – With this version of parentage, with his father a mortal king and his mother the muse Calliope, Orpheus is certainly considered a demigod.
The Muses (though I’d think them more like Aunts), the Graces, Linus (who goes on to Thebes, thus becoming a Theban).
Aristaeus – the son of Apollo and a potential half-brother to Orpheus if we use the parentage of Apollo and Calliope for Orpheus.
Eurydice – Sometimes known as Argiope. Some versions of the story mention her to be a Nymph. Orpheus travels to the underworld to bring her back to life after her untimely death.
Musaeus of Athens is thought to be Orpheus’ son.
Orpheus’ Lineage – Divine Heritage
There are a couple of different lines of parentage for Orpheus that are given.
In one, he is the son of the god Apollo and the muse Calliope.
In the second, he is the son of a mortal king, Oeagrus and again, the muse Calliope.
Depending on the lineage one goes with, Orpheus is either a minor god or demigod.
The ancient writer, Strabo wrote of Orpheus as a mere mortal who lived in a village near Mount Olympus. According to Strabo, Orpheus would have made his living as a wizard, likely the charlatan, street performer kind and musician.
For those interested, this city in ancient Greek and likely located where the modern village of Agia Paraskevi close to Litochoron, is reputed to be the birthplace of Orpheus. Dion and Mount Olympus also nearby to Pimpleia. There are several springs and memorials dedicated to Orpheus and the Orphic Cults. Even the Cults of the Muses were honored and known by the epithet of Pimpleids.
Early Literature & History
The ancient Greeks, except for Aristotle, seem to have accepted Orpheus as a historical personage. Neither Homer or Hesiod mention him in any of their writings. Pindar makes note of Orpheus, calling him “the father of songs” and that he is the son of the Thracian king Oeagrus and the Muse Calliope. The earliest reference to Orpheus is found in the fragments of a poem by the 6th century B.C.E. poet Ibycus. In this fragment, Orpheus is called onomaklyton Orphēn or “Orpheus famous-of-name.”
Orphism – The Orphic Mysteries
Orpheus is considered by the Greeks to be the founder of the Orphic Mysteries. He is often credited as being the composer for the Orphic Hymns, of which, only two have survived to the present day of this body of literature and hymns. Some 87 hymns have been attributed to Orpheus for the god Dionysus and sung for the Orphic and Bacchus Mystery cults. The composer, Onomacritus is likely to have written many of the early Orphic hymns.
Orphism was at its height during the 6th century B.C.E. in ancient Greece. Shrines dedicated to Orpheus reportedly containing relics of his have been regarded as Oracles. In the sanctuary of the Eleusinian Demeter in Taygetus, there was a wooden statue of Orpheus.
Orphic – The word orphic derives from Orpheus’ name and has come to have the definition of mystic, fascinating and entrancing. With the connection to the Oracle of Orpheus, the word orphic can also refer to or mean oracular. As a seer and auger, Orpheus also practiced astrology and founded cults for Apollo and Dionysus.
Orphikos – Or the “Orphic Way of Life.” Plato makes mention of a class of vagrant beggar-priests who would offer purification rites for the wealthy and have a collection of books attributed to Orpheus and Musaeus. The most devoted to the Orphic rites would frequently practice vegetarianism, refusing to eat eggs and beans as well as practicing celibacy.
Orphic Ritual & Eschatology – It’s thought that this ritual involved a symbolic or actual dismemberment of an individual who represented the god Dionysus reborn. There was a lot of Orphic eschatology doctrine centered around the rewards and punishment for the soul once the body died and being free to pursue their true purpose or life.
Wine – Wine was an important element of the Orphic religion, used in their sacrament for a sacred intoxication they believed would bring them closer to god and as a means of gaining mystic knowledge. This concept was introduced to the Greeks by Pythagoras, who was viewed as a reformer to the Orphic Mysteries that succeeded the Dionysus Mysteries. It’s easy to see or assume this concept of wine in religious sacraments makes its way into other religious practices.
Gifts Of Orpheus
Other gifts that Orpheus is thought to have given to his fellow humans is that of medicine, though that is credited as more having been Aesculapius or Apollo. Writing, often more the purview and invention of Cadmus. Lastly, agriculture, though with this role, Orpheus takes on the Eleusinian role of Triptolemus who gives Demeter’s knowledge of agriculture to humans. The ancient writers Aristophanes and Horace go so far as to state that Orpheus even taught cannibals to live on eating fruit. According to Horace, Orpheus is the one who brings order and civilization to otherwise lawless and savage people.
Other Cults And Religious Worship
Orpheus is credited with establishing the worship of different deities in other places throughout ancient Greece.
Hecate – in Aegina.
Demeter Chthonia – in Laconia
Kores Sōteiras – also in Laconia as a savior maid
Orpheus & His Lyre
While Orpheus was living with his mother Calliope and her other sisters, the muses in Parnassus, the youth met the god Apollo who was courting the muse Thalia at the time. In his role as the god of music, Apollo gave Orpheus a golden lyre and taught him how to play. Calliope, as Orpheus’ mother, taught him how to compose songs and lyrics.
A minor note though is that while Hermes is the one who invented the lyre, Orpheus is who perfected the art of music with it.
Jason and the Argonauts
In the stories of Jason and the Argonauts, Orpheus is but one of many companions who journeyed with Jason.
In his quest for the Golden Fleece, Jason had been advised by Chiron in a prophesy that he would need the famed musician Orpheus.
Feeding The Crew – Armed only with his golden lyre, Orpheus aided and helped feed the crew of the Argos by charming fish from the sea with his music.
Calming The Storm – In one episode, a storm rolled in and Orpheus played his lyre, thereby, immediately calming the seas and ending the storm.
Siren Call – This the most famous episode in the tale of Jason and the Argonauts that Orpheus is known for. When the Argonauts encountered the Sirens, Orpheus pulled out his lyre and played his music much louder than the Sirens, drowning out their voices so that the crew could bypass the danger. One account has the Sirens changing into rocks.
However, one Argonaut, Boutes is mentioned as still being affected by the Sirens’ call and leaps overboard when the Argo started sailing further away. Lucky for Boutes, the goddess Aphrodite saved him and took him to Cape Lilybaeum.
These are the same Sirens that Odysseus encounters in Homer’s epic of the Odyssey. The Sirens lived on a series of three small, rocky islands known as the Sirenum scopuli. The voices of the Sirens, when they sang or called out would cause sailors to leap to their deaths into the sea and crashing their boats on the rocks to sink beneath the waves.
Unrequited Love – The 3rd century B.C.E. poet Phanocles, wrote of Orpheus being in love with Calais, the son of Boreas, the god of the North Wind. The affection doesn’t seem to have been returned as Phanocles writes of how Orpheus would go to shady groves and sing of his unfulfilled desire and longing for Calais.
Pederasty – Since we’re on this subject of love, Ovid writes of how Orpheus eventually came to spurn the love of women due to his loss of Eurydice. Due to Orpheus fame and skill with music, many people still wanted his companionship and not just as friends either. Continuing with Ovid’s line of thought, Orpheus is to be counted as the first Thracian to engage in pederasty. Pederasty being the relationship between an older man and a younger man, often in his teens. Ancient Greek social customs say this relationship was consensual.
Orpheus & Eurydice
This is perhaps the most well-known of the stories surrounding Orpheus, the death of his wife Eurydice and Orpheus’ journey to the Underworld to try and bring her back.
There are a few different variations to how Eurydice died. Most versions agree that in one way or another, she had been bitten by a venomous snake.
When Orpheus met and fell in love Eurydice, like many couples, they decided to tie the knot and get married. Hymen, the god of marriage presided over the marriage to bless it. However, Hymen prophesied that this marriage would not last.
Sooner than anyone thought, the trouble would come. Shortly after their marriage, Eurydice went out walking in some tall grass. In one version of the story has Eurydice bitten while dancing to Orpheus’ music. In another version, a satyr jumped out and did as all satyrs do when confronted by a female, they chased after Eurydice. In her flight from the satyr, Eurydice fell into a viper’s nest where she was bitten on the heel.
Yet another version of the story, told by Virgil in his Georgics, has a man by the name of Aristaeus, a shepard chasing after Eurydice before she is bit by a viper. In Ovid’s retelling of the story, Eurydice’s death comes about by dancing with the Naiads on her wedding day. Aristaeus is also, incidentally Apollo’s son. So, potential half-brother that might have been invited to the wedding and lusting after his brother’s wife.
When her body was later discovered by Orpheus; in his overwhelming grief, he played a rather sorrowful tune. This music caused all of the nymphs and gods to grieve for Orpheus’ loss. Virgil describes Dryads as weeping from Epirus and Hebrus and as far as the land of Getae. Orpheus is further described as having wandered to Hypberborea and Tanais in his grief for Eurydice’s loss.
Moved by Orpheus’ laments, the gods and nymphs advised the great musician to go into the Underworld to bring back Eurydice. Sometimes it is just the god Apollo who advises Orpheus to make the descent. Eventually Orpheus descends into the Underworld to bringing his wife back to life. Using his famous lyre, Orpheus succeeded in charming Charon, the ferryman for the river Styx, the three-headed dog Cerberus, and both Hades and Persephone. They agreed to a bargain, that Orpheus could lead Eurydice back up to the lands of the living. However, there was one condition for this and that was that Orpheus could not look back at Eurydice until they had reached the surface.
Tragically, just before they reached the surface, Orpheus’ anxiety and love for Eurydice overwhelmed him, that he looked back at his wife. This caused Eurydice to be pulled back down to the lands of the dead, this time for good.
Ancient Views –
Interestingly, Orpheus’ visit to the Underworld is sometimes viewed in a negative light. Some, like Plato, speaking through the voice of Phaedrus in his Symposium, say that Hades never intended for Eurydice to return to the lands of the living and had presented Orpheus with an illusion or apparition of his deceased wife. Plato saw Orpheus as a coward, who instead of choosing to die and be with the one he loved, decided to defy the gods and the natural order by going to Hades and bringing his dead wife back. By Plato’s argument, Orpheus’ love wasn’t true as he did not want to die for love, so the gods’ punishment is that Orpheus would have only the illusion of getting his wife back and would than later be killed by women, the Maenads.
It has been suggested that the story of Orpheus and Eurydice might be a later addition to the Orpheus myths. One example put forward is that of the name Eurudike, meaning “she whose justice extends widely” is very probably one of Persephone’s titles.
Don’t Look Back!
This mythical theme of not looking back is a stable of many stories. It is famously known in the biblical story of Lot’s wife looking when his family fled the destruction of Sodom. Other stories are those of the hero Jason’s raising up the chthonic Brimo Hekate with Medea, Adonis’ time in the Underworld and that of Persephone’s capture by the god Hades. Even in general folklore, there is the one simple task the hero is to do to win the prize and yet, they still manage to fail, thus upsetting the gods, fay or other supernatural being.
Distraught with the loss of his wife a second time, Orpheus fell into solitude, spurning the companionship of others and even disdaining the worship of the Greek Gods. In Ovid’s telling of Orpheus and Eurydice, Orpheus went mad in his failure to bring back his wife.
An Affront To Bacchus/Dionysus
In the version of this account by Aeschylus, in his play the Bassarids, Orpheus worshiped only the sun, Apollo. One morning, when Orpheus went to the Oracle of Dionysus located near Mount Pangaion to do his morning respects to the sun, he ended up getting torn to pieces by the Maenads for failing to give proper respect to Dionysus whom he had previously been devoted to. Eventually Orpheus was buried in Pieria. The Greek writer Pausanias says that Orpheus was killed and buried in Dion. Per Pausanias, the river Helicon is to have sunk underground when the Maenads who killed Orpheus went to wash the blood off their hands.
Where it’s the god Bacchus who is mentioned, Orpheus had once been a devotee to the Bacchus’ Mysteries. So this version of the story has Bacchus punishing the Maenads for Orpheus’ death by turning them all into trees. This version of the story is disputed as whey would Bacchus punish his own followers even if Orpheus had once been a follower himself. Though an argument comes that Bacchus allows the death for Orpheus when the musician abandoned Bacchus’ Mystery Cult.
A slight variation to all of this as recounted by Dürer in his Death of Orpheus, the Ciconian women, when they set about to kill Orpheus, first did so by throwing sticks and stones at him. Due to Orpheus’ skill with music, the very stones of the earth and sticks wouldn’t hit him. It is then, that these enraged women tore Orpheus apart with their bare hands in a fit of Bacchae madness.
Orpheus’ head and lyre would eventually find their way to the shores of Lesbos where the local people buried his head and built a shrine near Antissa to honor him. Orpheus’ head would offer up prophesies. When this oracle began to become more famous than Apollo’s Delphi Oracle, the god silenced the Antissa oracle.
Sometimes the Muses are credited with having taken Orpheus’ body for burial, first in Leibethra before the river Sys flooded and eventually to Dion. It’s expected that Orpheus’ shade does return to the Underworld to be reunited with his love. In Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, Orpheus’ limbs are entombed at the base of Mount Olympus where nightingales to this day, “sing more sweetly than anywhere else.”
As to the lyre, the Muses would come claim it and place it up into the heavens to become the constellation Lyra.
Instead of being killed by a group of women, Orpheus is said to have committed suicide in his inability to bring back Eurydice, after a failed trip to the oracle found in Thesprotia. This suicide is seen as Orpheus playing his lyre, calling for the wild animals to come tear him apart. Another story says that Zeus struck Orpheus with lightning as punishment for revealing the secrets of the gods to mortal men.
Analogies To Other Greek Figures Of Myth
The story of Orpheus’ death at the hands of the Maenads has similarities with other figures of Greek myths and legends.
Dionysus – In terms of the Orphic Mystery Cult, the death of Orpheus seems to parallel the story of Dionysus’ death and their decent into the Underworld of Hades.
Pentheus – A former king of Thebes who was also torn apart by the Maenads. His story is mainly found and best retold by Euripides in his The Bacchae.
After Orpheus was murdered by either the Ciconian group or Thracian Maenads, he was turned into a swan and placed up into the heavens to become the constellation Cygnus next to his lyre, the constellation Lyra.
Other names: zmaj (Serbian) змај, (Croatian and Bosnian), zmaj (Slovene), zmey, змей (Bulgarian, Russian), zmiy (Old Church Slavonic), змеj (Macedonian), żmij (Polish), змій (Ukrainian)
It should be noted that most of these words are the masculine forms for the Slavic word “snake.” In Russian, the feminine is zmeya. Other names include zmajček or zmajić that is used as a diminutive form of endearment.
Etymology – Dragon, Snake or Serpent
In the Slavic language, a dragon is called a Zmej. It appears as multi-headed dragon with three, seven or nine heads that are capable of breathing fire. The Eastern Slavic dragons are believed to be able to regrow their heads like a hydra if one head is chopped off. In all cases, their large size makes them fearsome foes.
The Zmej is primarily associated with fire, like a good many other dragons of European folklore. It either breathes fire or it can throw fiery arrows or lightning bolts. It is exceedingly strong and the Zmej’s strength can be taken by a person who eats the dragon’s heart. That puts a whole new light on the movie Dragon Heart. The precise abilities of the Slavic dragons vary by locality and country.
The male Zmej were often portrayed in a positive light, acting as protectors of their family and tribe. He was seen as a good demonic force, using the power of weather in the way of hail, storms and strong winds to protect crops and harvests from getting ruined. Among the Southern Slavs, it’s very common to see the imagery of a dragon representing a good demonic force.
While I note the use of the word and spelling demonic to describe the Zmej; given the context and influence of Christianity upon an older Pagan religion, beliefs and traditions; it is very likely that the Greek term and usage of daimon is more appropriate.
You Called Him A Daimon!
Yes, as in the Greek term and meaning for the word spirit. It is Christianity that takes and twists the word and meaning to Demon, for an evil spirit or being.
Among the ancient Greeks, the word daimon means spirit or “replete with knowledge.” They recognized both good (eudemons) and bad (cacodemons). The word or term daimon also means “divine power,” “fate,” or “god.” And in Greek mythology, daimons could also include deified heroes.
Daimons functioned as messengers or intermediary spirits between men and gods. The good daimons were viewed as guardian spirits who gave guidance and protection to those they watched over. The bad daimons, naturally, weren’t so nice and could mislead people, getting them into trouble.
Sometimes the Zmej also appears as an anthropomorphic dragon man, much like the Romanian Zmeu, seen as very intelligent, wise and knowledgeable with great magical proficiency, breath fire and superhuman strength. Like the Romanian Zmeu, the Slavic Zmej was also known for being very wealthy with castles and realms in otherworlds. They too lusted after women with home they could bear children. Respect was always given to these Zmej as one never knew what to expect in terms of behavior.
National And Folk Heroes
A good many heroes were considered dragons or the son of a Zmej. A number of these heroes include:
Husein-Kapetan Gradaščević – A successful Bosniak general who fought for the independence of the Ottoman Empire from Bosnia. He is known as “Zmaj od Bosnia,” or “The Dragon of Bosnia.”
Vlad III Dracula – A Romanian Hero and more infamously known as Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s book Dracula and depicted as a Vampire. Among the Romanians of Wallachia, Vlad is a hero, having been inducted into the Order of the Dragon by the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund to defend a Christian Europe against the Ottoman Empire.
Vuk Grgurević – A Serbian Despot known as “Zmaj-Ognjeni Vuk” or “Vuk the Fiery-Dragon” due to the vicioness of his rule and his many battles against the Turks.
In the folk songs of Bulgaria, the Zmej appears as a popular motif as a Draconic Lover. Most of these songs featuring a Dragon Love, have a male Zmej. More heroic songs involving a Zmej will be female.
It’s interesting to note a very stark contrast and distinction male and female dragons in Bulgarian folklore. For one, the male and female dragons were seen as brother and sister. Yet for all this, they were very staunchly opposed to each other. The female dragons were known for representing the destructive weather that would destroy crops and agriculture. Whereas, the male dragons protected the fields and crops for harvest. Such that the two often fought each other, representing the dueling, opposing forces of female/water with male/fire symbolism.
Macedonia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Serbia, Slovenia and Montenegro Folklore
In these Eastern Slavic countries and areas, a dragon is known by the name of zmaj, zmej and lamja. Similar to the Russian dragons, it has three, seven or even nine heads, all of which breathe fire. Additionally, in Serbia the dragon is called aždaja or hala and in Bosnia is called aždaha.
Polish And Belarussian Folklore
In both of these cultures, aside from Zmej, they also have the word smok, coming from the Indo-Iranian word for swallow. Other spellings for smok are: смок and цмок.
As previously mentioned, there is a very similar dragon-like creature in Romania with an equally similar name called the Zmeu. It is distinguished from many of the Slavic Zmej as it is anthropomorphic in nature and always a destructive force.
Russian And Ukrainian Folklore
Representing the Eastern Slavic people, there are a few different dragons found in their folklore. A number of prehistoric sites such as the Serpent’s Wall near Kiev have associations with dragons and act as symbols for foreign people. The Russian dragons are known to have heads that come in multiples of three and will grow back if every single head isn’t chopped off or promptly covered in ash or burnt.
Zmey Gorynych – This green colored dragon has three heads and walks on two back paws with two smaller front paws. Like many dragons, it breathes fire. The hero Dobrynya Nikitich is who killed this dragon.
Tugarin Zmeyevich – This dragon very strongly represented the Mongols and other Steppe peoples who often threatened the borders of Russia. Tugarin’s name is Turkic in origin. He was defeated by the hero Alyosha Popovich.
Saint George And The Dragon – It is without question that the hero Saint George symbolizes Christianity and that his killing of the Dragon symbolizes the Devil or Satan. It is a motif often portrayed on the coat of arms for Moscow.
The Serbian folklore for dragons is very similar to that of Bulgarian folklore. Essentially the differences come down to the different countries and regions’ name for them. Here, the Zmaj or Zmey is seen as very intelligent with superhuman strength and well versed in the use of magic. Like many European dragons, they breath fire and lust over young women. An image that sounds very much so like the Romanian Zmeu. The big difference here is that the Zmaj or Zmey are defenders of the crops and fight against a demon known as Ala that they attack using lightning.
The Slovene word of zmaj is of an uncertain, archaic origin. Another word used for dragons is pozoj. Like many European dragons, the zmaj are often seen in a negative light and associated with Saint George in his slaying the dragon.
There are other Pre-Christian Folk Tales involving dragons.
Ljubljana Dragon – This dragon features on the city of Ljubljana’s coat of arms that it guarded over and protected.
Wawel Dragon – This Polish dragon is often defeated by tricking it into eating a lime. It should be noted that this dragon isn’t always harmful towards people.
Also known as aždaha, ala or hala in Persian mythology. Some Southern Slavic countries will mention Aždaja as a type of dragon. Its true nature is considered to be drastically different than that of a real dragon and considered separate. While the Zmej is often seen as a positive force, the Aždaja is seen as a negative force and woefully evil. Ultimately the nature of the Aždaja seems contradictory and should be a type of dragon as it shares all of the hall marks of the European dragons that are often sinister in nature. After all, the Aždaja is draconic in appearance, they live in dark places such as caves. Like many other Slavic dragons, the Aždaja is frequently multi-headed with three, seven or nine heads and breathes fire. In some of the Christian mythologies of Saint George, he is shown slaying the Aždaja and not Zmej.
While the Zmej is male, the Southern Slavic folklore makes mention of a female version known as Lamya. This name derives from the name Lamia, a Queen and former lover of the god Zeus who turns into a daemon that devours children and in some versions of her story, Lamia becomes more serpentine. Later stories will equate Lamia to vampires and succubae.
In Bulgaria and Macedonia, there is a Bulgarian legend about the hero Mavrud who succeeds in cutting off all of the heads of Lamya; who appears in this story as a hydra-like dragon. It has been commented that this story seems to symbolize the pruning of grape vines. Further, there is a variety of Bulgarian grapes known as Mavrud.
Also known and spelled as: Zin, Zin Kibaru or Zin-Kibaru
Etymology – It has been suggested that the name Zin probably comes from the Arabic Djinn.
Zinkibaru is the name of the water spirit from Songhay folklore that the hero Fara Maka does battle with. As a water spirit, Zinkibaru is the blind Master of Fish who resides in the Niger River.
Zinkibaru owned a magic guitar that he used to enchant and command the creatures of the river. He commanded the fish to eat Fara Maka’s rice plants. In retaliation, Fara Maka sought out Zinkibaru to fight him. In the end, Fara Maka won and claimed the spirit’s guitar for his own; thus gaining control of the river creatures.
Also called: Faran Maka, Faran Maka Bote
Among the Songhay people of Africa, Fara Maka is a significant culture hero. He is described as being a giant of a man who fished and grew rice for a living. Stories about Fara Maka have him using his long beard to catch fish and to eat at least one hippopotamus a day. As a result of his divine heritage, Fara Maka also had magical powers.
The Songhay are able to trace their origins back to the 8th century B.C.E. when Aliman Dia came to the Niger River. Aliman Dia had iron weapons that enabled him to overpower the people living there along the river. Namely the sorko or fishers and the gow or hunters. By uniting the different villages in the area, Aliman Dia founded the first Songhay dynasty.
Aliman Dia’s descendants ruled until around the 15th century when the Sonni replaced them.
Parentage and Family
Fara Maka’s father was a mortal man by the name of Nisili Bote, a fisherman by trade.
His mother’s name is Maka, a river spirit. As a result, this is whom Fara got his mystical and divine heritage from.
This one is a bit odd, Fara Maka found a girl in a termite mound who gave birth to his two children.
Among the Mali people, Fara Maka or Fara Maka’s wife’s name is Nana Miriam.
Fara Maka is the father of Wango and Weikare. Not a whole lot else is known about them other than their children in turn become the sorko of the Songhay tribe.
The most significant story involving Fara Maka is that of his battle with the water spirit Zinkibaru for control of the Niger River.
Zinkibaru has caused the fish to eat Fara Maka’s rice crops. In response to this, Fara Maka fought the water spirit and in the process, won a magical guitar from it.
After his battle with the river spirit Zinkibaru, Fara Maka soon got too overconfident with his abilities and victory. This angered Dongo, the god of lightning and thunder. Dongo displayed his anger towards Fara by burning many Songhay villages and people.
Eventually Dongo cooled down enough and summoned Fara to him. Dongo demanded that Fara humble himself in order to stop the attacks on the villages by offering up music, praise-poems and animal sacrifices. Dongo further told Faran that if he would organize these festivals, that he, Dongo would enter into the bodies of the dancers for a spiritual ecstasy and help all those living along the Niger River.
Songhay Possession Ceremony
After Dongo’s forced meeting with Fara Maka, the first Songhay Possession Ceremony was held. Even today in modern era, this ceremony is still performed. The most important people of the Songhay Possession Troupe are the Sorko, the praise-singers to the spirits. The Sorko are direct descendants of Fara Maka Bote, keeping alive the traditions, folklore and religion of the Songhay.
Among the people of Mali, Fara Maka is a hero who slew a monstrous hippopotamus known as Mali.
Mali had eaten all of Fara Maka’s crops. Fara Maka tried to kill the monster hippo using his spear and sending out as many 120 black hounds to attack the beast. Fara Maka failed and was eaten in the process by some accounts. His wife, Nana Miriam used a spell to paralyze the monster Mali and finally defeating it.
Also known as: 叔均 (Chinese), Shangjun and Yijun
Shujun is one of many Agricultural deities that China has. Others include Di Jun, Houji, Shennong to name a few. Shujun specifically, is the god of farming and cultivation. He is also credited with the invention of using a draft animal such as oxen to pull a plow when tilling the fields.
An alternative to Shujun’s story is that he is a cultural hero who descends from a line of emperors known as the Yellow Emperor or Huangdi.
Qiaorui – He is a famous craftsman who invented a number of different crafts such as the bell, boat, and a plow-like farm tool for people. Shujun has sometimes been identified with him.
The Yellow Emperor
The Yellow Emperor is a title of the dynasty who ruled China after the first defeated the last of the Flame Emperors or Yandi.
Huangdi – Also known as “The Yellow Emperor,” was known to be a friend and fellow scholar with Shennong despite there being some 500 years’ distance between the two. Both Huangdi and Shennong are said to have shared the alchemical secrets of medicine, immortality and making gold.
Shiji (Records of the Grand Historian) – By the 8th Century C.E. historian Sima Zhen, Shennong is a kinsman of the Yellow Emperor and the ancestor or patriarch of the Chinese. The Han Chinese regard both Shennong and the Yellow Emperor as their ancestors.
Aside from the Yellow Emperor, Shujun is also said to be related to Di Jun, or the Emperor Jun and Houji, a minister of Huangdi.
Alternatively, Shujun is the son of Houji. Sometimes Shujun is even Houji’s nephew through his younger brother Taixi.
God Of Farming And Cultivation
In either event, whether as son or nephew, Shujun takes Houji and/or Taixi’s place with sowing a variety of different grains and the invention of the plowing with draft animals.
Alternate Spellings: Shen-Nung
Also known as: 神農 (Traditional Chinese), 神农 (Simplified Chinese), Thần Nông
(Vietnamese), Hangul (신농 Korean), 神農 (Japanese), The Emperor of the Five Grains (Wǔgǔxiāndì), Shen-Nung, Sheng-Nong, Shen-Nong-Shi, Yan-Di, Yandi, Flame Emperor, Lord of the Burning Wind, Holy Plowman King
Pronunciation: shin nung
Etymology: Divine Farmer or Divine Husbandman
In Chinese mythology, Shennong is one of several important deities who introduced and brought agriculture to the Chinese people. Shennong is one of the three noble ones known as the San-huang. In art, Shennong is sometimes depicted with the head of an ox or bull.
Shennong is credited with having invented the plow and teaching people agriculture and the cultivation of forests. In addition, Shennong also introduced the use of medicines and herbs.
Shennong is the second of three legendary Emperors of China and an important cultural hero. Tradition has him being born in the 28th century B.C.E. with the head of a bull and the body of a man.
What makes Shennong such an important hero is not only his introduction and use of agriculture but his identifying the use of hundreds of medical and poisonous plants that are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. He went about this by testing the effects of these plants on himself.
Chinese legends tell how Shennong had a transparent body that allowed him to see the effects that different plants and substances had on him. Another legend tells how during his research, Shennong poisoned himself a total of seventy-two times during the course of a single day. Fortunately, and Shennong credited his anecdotal tea preventing him from suffering any long-term complications or side-effects.
Tea, a discovery attributed to Shennong, was believed to act as an antidote to some seventy different herbs. Shennong traditionally held to have discovered tea and to have first tasted it sometime around 2437 B.C.E. when the burning leaves of a tea tree were lifted up by the hot air from a fire and fell into a cauldron of boiling water.
Another discovery attributed to Shennong is that of acupuncture. Further, stories of Shennong’s youth have him speaking after three days, walking within the week and that he could plow a field by the time he was three.
Depending on the version of the story told and the accounts given, Shennong died as a result of his testing the effects of plants on himself. One of his experiments didn’t agree with him when he ate a yellow flower from a weed that caused his intestines to rupture before Shennong had time to take his anecdotal tea.
This wouldn’t be the end for Shennong as he was given special honors and worshiped as the Medicine King and Father of Chinese Medicine.
God Of Agriculture & Medicine
When Shennong is worshipped and mentioned as a deity, he is the god of the burning wind and the patron of farmers, pharmacists, rice traders and practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
As a god of agriculture, Shennong is one of many cultural heroes and deities credited with different, various inventions such as the axe, the hoe, the plow (both leisi and the plowshare), digging wells, irrigations, the use of boiled horse urine to store seeds, weekly farmers’ markets, the Chinese calendar, acupuncture, therapeutic use of taking pulse measurements, moxibustion and instituting the harvest thanksgiving ceremony of Zhaji Sacrificial Rite, later known as the Laji Rite.
Burning Wind – This term refers to the type of agriculture that is slash and burn. The ash from the resulting fire is then used to fertilize the fields.
Worship – As Shennong is often depicted as being ox-headed, the sacrifice and offerings of cattle is never acceptable. However, the sacrifice of pigs and sheep is acceptable. In addition, the use and offerings of fireworks and incense is used at Shennong’s statues, particularly on the lunar calendar for April 26th for his birthday. There are a number of temples and places dedicated to the commemoration of Shennong.
Divine Family – This part is rather tentative and relies on accepting Shennong as a defied human. A couple sources will list Shennong as having married a Sien-Tsang, the goddess of Weaving and Crafts. They had a son, Qi-Yu (alternatively Chi-Yu) a rain god and who is half bull like his father.
San-Huang – The Three Sovereigns
Also known as the Three Emperors, they are a group of pseudo-mythological and sage-like emperors who are believed to have lived some 4,500 years ago. Shennong is counted as being part of this group and the second of their number to have once ruled over China.
The Flame Emperor
Or Yan di, the Chinese accounts can sometimes get confused as to who exactly the Yan Emperor is or was.
Some accounts of Shennong’s legend place him as a relative to the Yan Emperor. Other accounts place him as the first Yan Emperor and that Shennong appointed one of his ministers, Chi You who was also ox-headed with sharp horns, bronze forehead and iron skulled.
Another account has posited that the Flame Emperor was a title, held by the dynastic succession with Shennong holding the title of Yandi posthumously. The last Yan Emperor was defeated by Huangdi (the Yellow Emperor) about 500 years later.
The Yan di were regarded as masters of fire and thus used fire in their names. The Yan di was also known as the Emperor of the South. With the Yan di defeat by the Huangdi, the title of Yan passed out of usage. Their descendants though intermarried with the Huangdi.
Shennong, along with Fuxi and the Yellow Emperor are credited with the creation of the Gugin.
The Yellow Emperor
Huangdi – Also known as “The Yellow Emperor,” was known to be a friend and fellow scholar with Shennong despite there being some 500 years’ distance between the two. Both Huangdi and Shennong are said to have shared the alchemical secrets of medicine, immortality and making gold.
Shiji (Records of the Grand Historian) – By the 8th Century C.E. historian Sima Zhen, Shennong is a kinsman of the Yellow Emperor and the ancestor or patriarch of the Chinese. The Han Chinese regard both Shennong and the Yellow Emperor as their ancestors.
Aside from the Han, the Song Dynasty General Yue Fei also traced his lineage to Shennong.
Possible Reality Behind The Legends
Getting anything for reliable accuracy and the historical context of China before the 13th century B.C.E. is fairly difficult. There is a lot of reliance on what archaeology can provide and prove. The earliest Chinese writing and records date to the Shang dynasty around 1200 B.C.E. This system of writing is the use of bones for oracles. Even any hard evidence for the Xia dynasty, a successor to Shennong is hard to find, even with Chinese archaeologist trying to link this dynasty to the Bronze Age Erlitou sites.
Despite a lack of hard evidence, Shennong remains an important individual and even his clan share a prominent place in the history of China’s culture for mythology, popular culture and historical literature.
Shennong-shi – Shennong’s name can also refer to his people. The “shi” can mean both “clan” and “surname” as well as an honorific like “sir” or “mister.”
Sima Qian comments how the rulers directly following the Yellow Emperor were all of Shennong’s house or social group. Sima Zhen in his prologue for his Shiji says that Shennong’s surname was Jiang before going on to list all of his successors.
Herbalism and Traditional Chinese Remedies
The Chinese have a rich history and use of traditional remedies and herbs that dates back more than 5,000 years. With the use of oral history and stories by word of mouth, many of the stories attribute Shennong as the father of medicine. Like Shennong, Chinese people have tested the effects of different plants and herbs on themselves for their medicinal values over the millennia. These years of experimentation allowed for an increased understanding of pharmacology for the uses, dosages and toxicity of different herbal medicines.
Huainanzi – This is an older and more famous reference document. In it, before Shennong came along, people were constantly sick, starving, diseased and always suffering. When Shennong came along, he taught the people the art of agriculture and through his own research, the use of plants for medicine. Shennong did this feat by consuming hundreds of plants, testing them on himself. He is even said to have eaten some seventy poisons in one day.
Huang Ti Nei Ching – The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine – This book comprises of the theories of the legendary emperor Huang Ti who lived around 2600 B.C.E. This tome preserved a lot of ancient medical knowledge and is compose of two volumes. The first one is a dialogue between Huang Ti and his minister, Qibo. The second one has the descriptions of anatomy, medical physiology and acupuncture. The real author of this book is unknown.
I Ching – The Book of Changes, Shennong is mentioned in this book coming into power after the end of the house or reigning period of Paoxi (Fu Xi). He is mentioned here as having invented the bent-wood plow, a cut-wood rake and having taught these skills to other people. Shennong is also credited with establishing of noonday markets.
Lüshi Chunqiu – This document mentions the violence of the rise of Shennong’s house and its lasting for seventeen generations.
Shénnóng Běn Cǎo Jīng – Also called: “The Divine Farmer’s Herb-Root Classic” or “The Classic of Herbal Medicine” and “Shen-nung Pen-tsao Ching.” This book on agriculture and medicinal plants is the most well-known work attributed to Shennong. Research has found and suggested that this book is a compilation of oral traditions dating to between 200 and 250 C.E. during the end of the Western Han Dynasty.
Unfortunately, the original book no longer exists, but it believed it was written in three volumes with some 365 entries. The books list numerous, different herbs said to be discovered by Shennong. As the earliest pharmacopoeia reference, there are hundreds of different medicines derived from various animals, minerals and plants.
The first volume included 120 herbs and drugs deemed to be harmless to humans as they were stimulants such as reishi, ginseng, jujube, the orange, Chinese cinnamon, Eucommia bark and liquorice root. All of these herbs were regarded as “noble” or “upper herbs.”
The second volume has 120 therapeutic entries intended to treat the sick. All of them though have toxic or potentially toxic effects. Entries include cucumber, ginger and peonies. All of these entries were considered to be “human,” “commoner” or “middle herbs.”
The last volume has 125 entries for those herbs and substances that have strong or violent effects on physiological functions and seen as poisonous. Entries in this volume include rhubarb, various pitted fruits and peaches. All of these herbs are considered “low herbs.”
Wu Shi Er Bing Fang – Prescriptions for Fifty-Two Diseases, this book is ultimately the first written treatise on herbal medicine that dates to between 1065-771 B.C.E. It was discovered in 1973 during that excavation of Ma Wang Dui’s tomb in Changsha, Hunan province. It beats out the Shénnóng Běn Cǎo Jīng which is figured to have been written between 200 and 250 C.E.
Many places in China have connections to Shennong.
Shennongjia – This mountain range located in Hubei is where Shennong is to have climbed up a rattan ladder that turns into a vast forest.
Shennongding – “Shennong’s Peak” – This is the specific mountain that Shennong climbed up and down with his ladder.
Shennong Stream – Named for Shennong, this stream flows into the Yangtze River.
Shennong Temple – Located in Taiwan, Shennong is worshiped here under a number of different names such as King Yan, the God of Five Grains, Shennong the Great Emperor, the Ancestor of Farming, Great Emperor of Medicine, God of Earth, and the God of Fields.
Etymology – Sown-Ones or Sown Men. From the Greek word: σπείρω, speírō, meaning: “to sow.”
Also known as: Σπαρτοί (Spartos), Σπαρτος (Spartoi), Spartus, Spartes, Sparti, Serpent’s Race, Ophion’s Race, Gegenees (Earth-Born), Gigantes, Terrigenae (Earth-Born)
In Greek mythology, the Spartoi are the earth-born warriors of the war god, Ares. When the teeth of the slain dragon Dracon were planted in a field sacred to Ares, a warrior springs up from the ground fully grown, armed and ready for battle from each tooth. As such, the Spartoi are seen as the sons of Ares.
Spartoi Of Thebes
The famous hero Cadmus is perhaps the most well-known for having planted and created such an army in his founding of Thebes.
As the story goes, Cadmus was the son of King Agenor and Queen Telephassa in Tyre. After his sister Europa had been kidnapped by the god Zeus, Agenor sent Cadmus and his other brothers to search for her. Eventually all the brothers gave up their search and began to find other places to settle since they couldn’t return home to Tyre.
Cadmus had been told by an oracle at Delphi, to found a city where ever a cow would stop and lay down. After a good long while, the cow finally lay down and Cadmus sent his men off to the nearby spring of Ismene to fetch water as part of sacrificing the cow to Athena. As it would be, this particular spring was guarded by a dragon or serpent, Drakon that killed many of Cadmus’ men before he finally slew it with his sword.
Now a couple of different things happened. First, Athena appeared to Cadmus and gave him half of the dragon’s teeth, instructing him to plant them. As Cadmus did so on the Aonian plain, from each tooth sprang up a fully armed warrior. Fearing for his life, Cadmus threw a stone in amongst the warriors and they began to fight each other. Each thinking the stone had been thrown by another warrior. These warriors fought until there were only five of them left standing. Sometimes, depending on who’s telling the story, Athena instructed Cadmus to leave only five living Spartoi. These five remaining warriors’ names were: Chthonius, Echion, Hyperenor, Pelorus and Udeus. At Cadmus’ instructions, they helped him to found and build the city of Thebes.
Secondly, with the dragon being sacred to Ares, Cadmus was forced to be a servant to the god for an “everlasting year,” such a time period was the equivalent of eight years as repayment for killing it. At the end of that time, Cadmus was married to Harmonia, the daughter of Aphrodite and Ares. Cadmus and Harmonia had four daughters, Agave, Autonoe, Ino and Semele.
In his writings, when Cadmus planted the dragon’s teeth, only five warriors sprang up from the ground. There was no fighting it out among them. In addition, Hellanicus has Zeus step in to save Cadmus from the Ares’ wrath as the war god wanted to kill the mortal. And the Spartoi, Echion marries Cadmus’ daughter Agave and their son, Pentheus succeeds Cadmus to become king.
Royal Family Of Thebes
The five surviving Spartoi from the dragon’s teeth that Cadmus sowed, go on to become the ancestors and founding families of Thebes. Additionally, whenever the Theban seer summons the ghosts of heroes past, it is the Spartoi who appear.
The descendants of the Spartoi all bear distinctive birth marks that identified them as such. Some thought is that these birth marks looked like serpents or dragons. Another source sites that this birth mark appeared as a spear.
Khthonios – (Χθονιος, Chthonius) “Of the Earth.” He has two known sons, Nykteus and Lykos. His granddaughter Nykteis marries Polydorus from Ekhiôn’s line and uniting these two families to the royal ruling line of Cadmus for Thebes.
Ekhiôn – (Εχιων, Echion – Latin) “Of the Viper,” He marries Agave, Cadmus’ daughter and their son Pentheus goes on to become king after Cadmus. He also believed to have dedicated a temple to Cybele in Boeotia.
Further descendants of Ekhiôn after Pentheus’ reign are: Polydorus who married Nykteis, a daughter of Nykteus, the son of Khthonios. They in turn had Labdakos who died soon after Pentheus’ death but not before leaving behind a year-old son Laios. At this time, Thebes was ruled by a regent, Lykos until Laios came of age.
Hyperênôr – (Ὑπερηνωρ, Hyperenor) “Overbearing”
Pelôros – (Πελωρος, Pelorus, Pelor) “Huge” or “Gigantic”
Oudaios – (Ουδαιος, Udaeus – Latin) “Of the Earth.” From his linage, there is a soothsayer, Teiresias, son of Everes and the nymph Khariklo.
Seven Against Thebes
In Aeschylus’ tragedy from 5th century B.C.E., the whole dilemma comes about because Oedipus marries his mother Jocasta without knowing it. Oedipus and Jocasta had four children of which, the incest and inbreeding caused huge problems for the people of Thebes as they saw their crops begin to fail. In response, Oedipus blinded himself out of shame and cursed his two sons: Eteocles and Polynices to figure out who would succeed as ruler of Thebes through war.
All started out well as at first, Eteocles and Polynices decided they would avoid any bloodshed over their kingdom by alternating who ruled each year. Eventually, Eteocles refused to step down as king and his brother Polynices raised an army to confront his brother, leading to the story of the Seven Against Thebes.
Much of Aeschylus’ tragedy is mainly dialogue that delves into depth many of the characters of his story until it resolves at the end with a messenger coming and saying that the army has left and both Eteocles and Polynices are now dead.
There are a number of scenes in which descendants of the Spartoi are made mention of. One scene has a Tydeus, son of Astakos and ultimately descended from the Spartoi is set to guard a gate. Another scene has a Megareus, also descended from the Spartoi sent out to confront Eteoklos after he taunts Ares, the god of War as being unable to throw him from the battlements.
When the Thebans consulted their prophets, Teiresias told them that they would win the battle if Kreon’s son, Menoikeus and the father of Jocasta, a descendant of the Spartoi, offered up his life to Ares at the spring of Dirke or the Dragon’s hole. Menoikeus did so, pulling out a sword that was already stabbed into him and killing himself. Another variation to this story has Menoikeus throwing himself from a wall to ensure the Thebans victory after hearing Teiresias’ prophesy how if any of the descendants of the Spartoi should die, Thebes would be saved.
The Haunted Fields Of Thebes
Continuing Teiresias’ part in the story of the Seven Against Thebes, the Roman tragedy of Oedipus has the seer performing Necromancy and summoning the ghosts of the Spartoi, the Theban ancestors aid their living kinsmen against their attackers.
In Statius’ poem Thebaid the summoned ghosts of Spartoi are a bit vampiric as they are made mention of draining the blood of the living. That could just be the poetic phrasing on his account for the nature of war. Statius also continues to mention in his poem how the fields surrounding Thebes, particularly the plain sacred to Ares were haunted and the ghosts of Spartoi would appear to frighten off Farmers from tilling the land.
Other Descendants Of The Spartoi
There is a grave marker for the historical Theban Epaminondas with a shield of a dragon or serpent on it. The relief symbol indicates that Epaminondas was descended from the Spartoi.
The Roman mythographer, Pseudo-Hyginus in his Fabulae, when writing about Antigona (Antigone) and her son Haemon. When Haemon came of age, he went to Thebes for their annual Games and Kreon, his grandfather recognized him due to his birthmark that all those of Spartoi linage have.
In Plato’s Sophist, he comments that the Spartoi were so earthy and unable to grasp any philosophical concepts. Saying that anything they couldn’t hold in their hands, had no existence.
Spartoi Of Colchis
As to the other half of the dragon’s teeth that Athena hung onto, she gave those to King Aeetes of Colchis near the Black Sea. When Jason and his Argonauts came to Colchis seeking out the Golden Fleece, King Aeetes set Jason what he thought would be an impossible task in order to earn it. He was to sow the dragon’s teeth and slay all the arising Spartoi from them before the end of the day.
Jason was instructed by King Aeetes to sow the teeth of a Drakon in a field sacred to the god Ares. In this case, the task wasn’t as simple as that of plowing the field, Jason was to use a pair of metallic bulls who breathed fire constructed by the god Hephaestus to plow and sow the dragon’s teeth. Making the task more daunting is that the bulls had never been tamed or yoked for doing farm labor before. So much of Jason’s time, with the aid of his fellow Argonauts, was spent in taming these fearsome, wild bulls.
As the field was plowed, Jason sowed the dragon’s teeth and as it happened before with Cadmus, an army of Spartoi rose up from the earth, fully armed and ready for battle. Just as Cadmus had done before with his task, Jason also threw a stone into the middle of the newly sprung up Spartoi. As with the previous group of Spartoi, this new group also fought each other over who threw the stone. In some instances of this story’s retelling, Jason has the help of a witch, Medeia, who uses salves, herbs and charms to protect him from the spears and weapons of the Spartoi. As this new sprung group of Spartoi rose up and fought each other, the hero Jason slew and attacked many of them in order to fulfill his task from King Aeetes and win from him the Golden Fleece.
To Sow Dragon’s Teeth
This phrase has come to be a poetic way saying that someone is fomenting chaos, contention and stirring up strife or war. More specifically, the phrase refers to a fight or problem that is to have already been taken care of and laid to rest yet pops back up anew. The original example being Cadmus’ slaying the dragon and then sowing its teeth to create an army ready to fight. In other words, the problems of the past keep getting brought up and no one is willing to move on.
Poetically, the term Dragon’s Teeth refers to subjects or people of civil strife, for whatever cause and reason cause people to have to rise up and take arms.
Other phrases or words from the story of the Theban Spartoi is the word Cadmeian (or Kadmeian). It is used to mean any victory in war often has more losses instead of gains.
Marvel Comics And Guardians Of The Galaxy
For those who’ve enjoyed the movie and read the comics, the Spartoi are an alien and cousin race to the Shi’ar with whom they have had unsteady alliances with in the past. The Spartoi come from a planet known as Spartax and have built an empire that spans hundreds of worlds. Compared to humans, the Spartoi are very long lived. J’son or Jason of Sparta and a prince is the father of Peter Quill or Star Lord in the comics. The basic concept of the Spartoi in Marvel Comics was very closely tied to Greek mythology.
Etymology – The Eagle
Pronunciation: There are a few different variations – ˈækwɨlə, əˈkwɪlə and ˈækwɨli
Also known as: Αετός Δίας (Aetos Dios), Aquila Jovis, the Bird of Zeus and the King of Birds
The constellation Aquila, the Eagle has been recognized as early as 1,200 B.C.E. The Euphratean uraanographic stone, dating from the Mesopotamian cultures, depicts this constellation. The constellation lies just a few degrees north of the celestial equator. Many ancient cultures such as the Persians, Hebrews, Arabs, Greeks and Romans all saw an eagle represented in this constellation.
The constellation is seen first with a straight line of three stars that symbolize the wings. The tips of the wings are seen to extend out further to the southeast and northwest. The head of the eagle is seen as stretching out towards the southwest. In older depictions of this constellation, the Eagle is sometimes shown carrying the youth Ganymede.
The constellation known as Aquila is one of 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy in his book, Almagest. Aquila is also mentioned by Eudoxus in 4th century B.C.E. and by Aratus in 3rd century B.C.E. Today it remains as one of the 88 current or modern constellations. It is a large constellation, ranking 22nd in size.
Constellations bordering with Aquila are: Aquarius, Capricornus, Delphinus, Hercules, Ophiuchus, Sagitta, Sagittarius, Scutum, and Serpens Cauda. The best time to spot Aquila is during the month of August in the Northern Hemisphere.
Antinous – Obsolete Constellation
The astronomer Ptolemy catalogued nineteen stars altogether in Aquila and Antinous. The now obsolete Antinous constellation had been named during Emperor Hadrian’s rule in 132 C.E. Sometimes the cataloging of stars is erroneously attributed to Tycho Brahe who cataloged twelve stars in Aquila and seven stars in Antionus. A Hevelius cataloged some twenty-three stars in Aquila and nineteen in Antionus.
Among the Arabs, Aquila has been known as the Flying Eagle, Crow or Raven. The Persians knew Aquila by the names: the Falcon and the Flying Vulture. The Turks referred to this constellation as the Hunting Eagle.
Chinese Astronomy And Mythology
There is a rather famous and well known love story found in Chinese mythology that is related to the constellation of Aquila, or rather several of its stars. It’s a story that is also similar to the love story connected with the Cygnus constellation.
In Chinese astronomy, the modern day constellation of Aquila lies in the area of the heavens known as Běi Fāng Xuán Wǔ, the Black Tortoise of the North and the Three Enclosures or Sān Yuán that divides the night sky of the Chinese Heavens.
The star Zeta Aquilae is located in a part of the night sky seen as Tiān Shì Yuán or the Heavenly Market Enclosure. The rest of Aquila’s stars are found in the area of the night sky ruled by Běi Fāng Xuán Wǔ, the Black Tortoise of the North.
In modern day, Aquila is known by the name of Tiān Yīng Zuò, which means: “the heaven eagle constellation.”
Hegu – The Battle Drum
The star Altair and the two stars to either side of it, Beta and Gamma Aquilae form the asterism known as Hegu, a battle drum.
Tianfu – Celestial Drumsticks
The Chinese have an asterism comprising of the stars 62 Aquilae, 58 Aquilae and Eta Aquilae that they call the Celestial Drumsticks.
Youqi – Banner Flags
The stars Delta, Iota, Mu and Sigma form a banner flying to the right of Hegu.
The stars from Sagitta in the north represent a banner to the left side of Hegu.
The Three Generals
Altair, Beta and Gamma Aquilae are also known as the Three Generals with Altair representing the commanding officers with this two subordinates.
Tiabian – Trade Officials
The stars Lambda and 12 Aquilae along with the stars in the constellation Scutum represented a team of Trade Official overseeing the organization of the markets. An area of the heavens that includes the Hercules, Ophiuchus and Serpens constellations. The officials were located just outside of the market walls.
The star Zeta Aquilae formed part of this wall.
Lizhu – The Empress’s Pearls
An L-shaped pattern formed by the stars 1, 69, 70 and 71 Aquilae represent four pearls worn by the Empress. These same stars are also astrologically connected to the Emperor’s harem.
Qi Xi – The Princess And The Cowherd (Herd-Boy And Weaver-Girl)
This is a rather old story that dates as far back as at least the 6th century B.C.E. where it first appears in a collection of stories called the Book of Songs or Shih Ching. The book was possibly compiled and put together by Confucius. However, this book was later destroy a few centuries later by the emperor, Shih Huang Ti who is remembered more for his burning books instead of the construction of the Great Wall of China.
Chih Nu, identified with the star Vega was the daughter of the Sun-God. Chih Nu was known for being very good and skilled with weaving, especially her creation of tapestries. On one particular day, Chih Nu was looking out the palace window and spotted one of her father’s herdmen, Ch’ien Niu. For these two, it was love at first sight and Chih Nu’s father, the King was very happy when he discovered the news.
All started off well, for it was considered a good match, given how Ch’ien Niu was known for being a hard worker and took care of the royal flock with due diligence.
A wedding was planned in which Chih Nu wove her own wedding dress out of starlight. All started off well and the newly married couple were very happy and deeply devoted to each.
It would seem that this deep devotion was also the source of a problem, for it didn’t take long for everyone to realize that Chih Nu’s and Ch’ien Niu’s duties and responsibilities were becoming neglected. Chih Nu’s loom stood forgotten and gathering dust in a corner while the royal cattle that Ch’ien Niu was to tend, began wandering out, straying far across the heavenly plains.
Chih Nu’s father, the Sun-God and King gave the two lovers repeated warnings and still they failed to follow through with their respective obligations and responsibilities. Things got bad enough that the Sun-God finally took measures, the first of which was to banish Ch’ien Niu to the other side of the Heavens to tend the royal cattle there.
Once Ch’ien Niu had crossed the only ford, T’ien-tsin, the Sun-King then ordered that both borders of the ford be closed off so that neither lover could cross. Chih Nu begged her father, but he would not relent on his royal decree.
Eventually, Ch’ien Niu had pleaded her case to the magpies who took pity on her. They decided that once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh monty, that they would help the parted lovers. On this day, all the magpies across China would fly up to the Heavens and create a bridge with their wings. This way the two lovers can cross and be together. On this day, Chih Nu cries, at first it is tears of joy that come down as soft, gentle rain. As the day progresses and starts to end, Chih Nu’s tears become a down pour of rain as she knows the two lovers must part ways for another year.
Their task done, the magpies fly away again back to their fields. The next day, when people see the magpies, they take heart knowing that the magpies have done their duty by the way their feathers look trampled. If the magpies’ feathers aren’t trampled, then the people say that bad weather has prevented from flying up to the heavens to form their bridge. Children are also believed to throw stones at any magpies found on the seventh day of the seventh month as these birds are seen as neglecting their duty to go with the others to form the bridge for the two lovers.
Qi Xi Variations
This story is told in China, Korea and Japan, so there are a few different names and variations to the story of Qi Xi. In one version, the star Altair is identified as Niu Lang and his two children are identified as Beta and Gama Aquilae who become separated forever from their wife and mother Zhi Nu, who is identified with the star Vega, in the Cygnus constellation. This separation is represented by the river, the Milky Way.
Another version places the Herd-Boy as an orphan who observes Weaver-Girl among some seven Weavers who descend from the heavens to bathe in a nearby stream. By snatching Weaver-Girl’s robe, Herd-Boy compels her to marry him and ends up sharing her immortality.
Much like the previous version, the two slack off in their duties and it is Weaver-Girl’s grandmother, a Queen of the Heavens who separates the two. The rest of the heaven’s take pity on the young lovers and they are allowed to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month with magpies forming a bridge for them to cross.
In Greek Mythology, there are a few different myths regarding the Aquila constellation. Generally, Aquila is seen as a large golden eagle who serves as Zeus’ messenger and companion animal.
Periphas was a priest of the god Apollo, he lived in Attic at the time and was an autocthon, one of the Earth-Sprung Rock. He was considered so virtuous and beloved by the people that they made him a king and began to honor him like a god.
This angered the god Zeus who was ready to strike down this insolent mortal with one of his thunderbolts. The god Apollo intervened and requested that Zeus instead transform Periphas into an eagle. Zeus went into Periphas’ house and transformed him while Periphas was with his wife. As she didn’t want to be separated from her husband, Zeus also transformed her into a bird, a vulture, represented by the constellation of Lyra, the heavenly vulture.
As Periphas had shown piety and honors to the god Apollo while he had been mortal, Zeus made him the king of birds and tasked him with guarding the sacred scepter and thunderbolts. For Periphas’ wife, Zeus made her a sign and image of good luck regarding all the matters of humankind.
During the ten-year war that Zeus and the other gods held against the Titans, Zeus had an eagle who carried the thunderbolts that he used to hurl at the Titans. In gratitude for the eagle’s service and loyalty, it was given a place up in the heavens as the constellation Aquila.
In other accounts, Zeus adopted the eagle as his bird when it first appeared to him before the Titan War as a sign of good omen while making sacrifices.
The constellation of Aquila is also tied to the story of Ganymede, Zeus’ cup-bearer.
Ganymede was the son of King Tros of Dardania and the basis for the kingdom of Troy in Greek mythology. An exceptionally beautiful youth, Ganymede had caught the attention of Zeus when he was out watching over his father’s flock of sheep. Now, depending on the versions of the story being told, Zeus, either in the guise of an eagle or sending the eagle Aquila, came and carried him off to Mount Olympus. As compensation to King Tros, Zeus gave him some horses.
Once there, Ganymede faced the wrath of Hera, the wife of Zeus, who was angry and very likely jealous that her husband had taken such a fancy for a young boy. In addition to this, she was also angry that Zeus intended for Ganymede to replace Hebe, Hera’s daughter as the cup-bearer after an incident where Hebe had accidentally spilled some nectar of the gods. And it couldn’t have set well with Hera that Zeus immortalized Ganymede in the constellation of Aquarius in addition to immortality and eternal youth.
Another version of this myth says that it was Eos, the goddess of the Dawn who carries off Ganymede to Mount Olympus and then Zeus took him from her to be the cup-bearer.
Regardless of the versions of the story told, Ganymede does become the cup-bearer to the gods and basically serves them their wine. Further variations of this story tell how Ganymede would ride Zeus’ eagle Aquila, accompanying this god on his travels. Both the Aquila constellation near Aquarius and the constellation of Crater, said to be Ganymede’s cup are near Aquarius to complete this story.
Ganymede also becomes deified as he was given immorality and eternal youth by Zeus and ends up being the one responsible for the annual Nile River flooding and the life-giving waters of rain. Some scholars have pointed out that like the story of Capricorn, the Greeks are borrowing from other older stories and cultures as well as coming up with their own stories to explain the images and what the constellations mean.
In Roman times, the name Ganymede was sometimes used for handsome slaves who served as cupbearers. Furthering this, many have pointed out that the story of Ganymede is a clear indication and precedence for homosexuality in Greek culture. Others, like in Plato’s writings of dialogues between him and Socrates say that it wasn’t homosexuality; instead, they point out the meaning of the name Ganymede for “taking pleasure of the mind.” That Zeus loved Ganymede non-sexually for his mind. Still, other sources point out that this is where the Latin word for catamite originates. Additionally, the Roman poet Ovid says that Zeus who turned into an eagle to go retrieve the youth Ganymede.
Aquila Guarding The Arrow of Eros
Another minor story of Aquila that is more attached to the constellation of Sagitta. In this one, Aquila is seen guarding the arrow of Eros that has hit the god Zeus and caused him to become love-struck.
Zeus And Nemesis
During one of Zeus’ many exploits with chasing after and raping other women, he is to have somehow enlisted the aid of the goddess of love, Aphrodite.
In this story, Aquila represents Aphrodite as she’s disguised herself as an eagle, pretending to chase after Zeus who is in the guise of a Swan. All this so he can get the goddess Nemesis to offer him shelter. It is only afterword, when Nemesis has gone to sleep that she learns the swan she thought she had rescued is really the god Zeus in disguise and he rapes her.
To commemorate this conquest, Zeus places the image of the Eagle (Aquila) and the Swan (Cygnus) up into the heavens. Really?
In Hindu mythology, the constellation of Aquila is seen as being Garuda, a half-eagle, half-human deity. Garuda is sometimes depicted as being the mount for the Hindu god Vishnu and to have been large enough to block out the sun. He is the sworn enemy of the Naga serpent race. He is a symbol of violent force, speed, and martial prowess in battle.
Alternatively, the line of three stars that also includes Altair is seen as being the footprints of the god Vishnu.
The Greek constellation of Aquila is very likely based on the Babylonian constellation of MUL.A.MUSHEN, the Eagle. The Babylonian’s constellation is also located in the same area of the night sky as the Greek’s constellation. The author, Gavin White in his book Babylonian Star-Lore, says that the Eagle carried the constellation called the Dead Man or LU.USH in its talons. It’s a story that carries a lot of connections for later Greek and Roman stories of Antinous and Ganymede.
There is a Sumerian story of the hero Etana, who descended to the heavens with the help god Shamash’s eagle while looking for a plant of birth to help ease his wife’s labor pains for the birth of their son, Balih. This plant could only be found in the higher reaches of heaven where Anu lived.
While riding on the back of the eagle, Etana noticed how the earth began to look smaller and smaller the higher they flew. This caused him to become nervous or scared and loose his grip on the eagle’s back.
One version of this story has Etana living for 1,560 years and having only two children. Another version of the story has Etana falling to the earth for daring to try and enter the realm of the god Anu. There is some thought too, that the plant in question, may refer to Mountain Arnica, which is poisonous, but when taken in the right doses, can ease labor pains during birth.
This story seems to have been the inspiration behind the Greek story of Ganymede.
There are several different myths and stories regarding Aquila among the Polynesians.
Futuna – Aquila is known as Kau-amonga, which means the “Suspended Burden.” The name is in reference to the Futunan’s name for Orion’s belt and sword, Amonga.
Hawaii – Among the Hawaiins, the star Altair is called Humu, as in the humu humu fish. The whole of the Aquila constellation is called Humu-ma, the “Humu cluster.” The Humu-ma constellation is believed to influence astrologers.
Marquesas Islands – Here, Aquila is known by the name of Pao-toa, meaning the “Fatigued Warrior.”
Māori – The Māori of New Zealand called Altair by the name of Poutu-te-rangi, meaning “Pillar of the Sky.” Due to this star’s position in the heavens, it has been used in different Māori calendars. In one, Poutu-te-rangi is the ruling star for the months of February and March. In another calendar, it is the ruling star for March and April. Poutu-te-rangi is also the star that rules over the annual sweet potato harvests.
Pukapuka – Aquila is known by the name of Tolu, meaning “three” and comprises of the stars Alpha, Beta and Gamma Aquilae. The star Altair is known by the name of Turu and was used for navigation.
Tuamotus – Aquila is known by the name of Tukituki, meaning to “Pound with a hammer.” The star Beta Aquilae is called Nga Tangata, meaning “The Men.”
Many of the Roman myths regarding the Aquila constellation are very similar to the Greek stories from which they took, borrowed or stole. There are a few additional myths and stories that can be found.
To start with, the eagle represented in the constellation is thought to be Aetos Dios, the golden eagle who serves Jupiter.
Interestingly, the constellation Aquila is known as Vultur volans, the flying vulture by the Romans. This name shouldn’t be confused with the name Vultur cadens, the Roman’s name for the constellation Lyra.
Aetos Dios & Prometheus
Keeping in mind that the Romans called Aquila a vulture, it then ties in with the story of Prometheus and his being chained and bound to the top of a mountain where a large vulture would come and eat his liver every day as punishment.
In the Greek and Roman mythology, Prometheus is the titan who took pity on humankind and gave them the gift of fire after all the other gifts had been given out. Enraged by this act, the god Zeus had Prometheus chained and bound to a mountain. Every day Prometheus would be attacked by a giant vulture or eagle who ate his liver every day as it would grow back by the next. Being immortal, Prometheus suffered a lot as his wounds would heal every day. Eventually after many years, the hero Hercules comes along and frees the mighty titan after slaying the vulture. After it’s death, the god Zeus placed the vulture up into the heavens to become the constellation Aquilla.
Aetos Dios & Psyche
A Roman novel dating to the second century C.E., The Golden Ass and written by Apuleius, there is an incidence in which the goddess Venus sends Psyche to go get a pitcher of water from the river Styx.
Given the deadly nature of the river Styx, the bird Aetos Dios, of his own freewill and his past services to Cupid, comes to aid Psyche in getting water so she wouldn’t come to harm. What seems a little odd in the story given here is that Aetos Dios lies to Psyche, claiming that Venus had sent him to come help her and mentions nothing at all about acting on his own violation, either way, Psyche has the water and returns to Venus with it.
The constellation of Aquila, along with 18 other constellations of: Ara, Centaurus, Corona Australis, Corvus, Crater, Crux, Cygnus, Hercules, Hydra, Lupus, Lyra, Ophiuchus, Sagitta, Scutum, Serpens, Sextans, Triangulum Australe, and Vulpecula.
All of these constellations have some connection to the overall legend and myth of the Grecian hero Hercules. They are the largest grouping of constellations found in the Western Hemisphere.
Aquila, along with the other avian constellations of Cygnus and Vultur cadens form a part of a significant myth of the Stymphalian Birds and one of the Twelve Labors of Hercules.
Aquila’s alpha star, Altair forms part of an asterism known as the Summer Triangle. It is the southern point of the Summer Triangle. The other stars, Deneb, found in the constellation of Cygnus, is the triangle’s northeastern point and Vega, found in the constellation of Lyra to the northwest.
Stars of Aquila
Alpha Aquilae – Also known as Altair, is the brightest star within the Aquila constellation and the 12th brightest star overall in the night sky. Altair’s name comes from the Arabic phrase: “al-nasr al-tair,” meaning “the flying eagle” or “vulture.” Ptolemy named this star Aetus, the Latin word for “eagle.” Both the ancient Babylonians and Sumerians referred to Altair as “the eagle star.”
Beta Aquilae – Also known as Alshain, it is a yellow star. Alshain’s name comes from the Perso-Arabic word: aš-šāhīn, which means “the falcon.”
Gamma Aquilae – Also known as Tarazed, it is an orange giant. Tarazed’s name comes from the Arabic phrase: “shahin-i tarazu,” meaning “the balance” or “the beam of the scale.”
Epsilon Aquilae – This star, along with Zeta Aquilae have an Arabic name of Deneb al Okab, meaning: “the eagle’s tail.” To differentiate Epsilon Aquilae from Zeta Aquilae, Epsilon Aquilae is frequently referred to as Deneb el Okab Borealis as it is north of Zeta Aquilae.
Zeta Aquilae – This star, along with Epsilon Aquilae have an Arabic name of Deneb al Okab, meaning: “the eagle’s tail.” To differentiate Zeta Aquilae from Epsilon Aquilae, Zeta Aquilae is frequently referred to as Deneb el Okab Australis as it is south of Epsilon Aquilae.
Eta Aquilae – Also known as Bezek, is a yellow-white supergiant star. Bezek’s name comes from the Hebrew word bazak which means: “lightning.”
Theta Aquilae – Also known as Tseen Foo, is a binary star. Tseen Foo’s name comes from the Mandarin word tianfu, which means: “the heavenly rafter” and “drumsticks.”
Iota Aquilae – Also known as Al Thalimain, it is a blue-white star. Al Thalimain’s name, along with Lambda Aquila, in Arabic means: “the two ostriches.”
Lambda Aquilae – Also known as Al Thalimain, it is a blue-white star. Al Thalimain’s name, along with Iota Aquila, in Arabic means: “the two ostriches.”
Rho Aquilae – Also known as Tso Ke, is a white dwarf. Tso Re’s name comes from Mandarin and means: “the left flag.” As of 1992, this star is no longer part of the Aquila constellation and has since moved into the Delphinus constellation.
Glowing Eye Nebula
Also known as NGC 6751, this nebula is one of many found within the borders and star field that makes up Aquila.
Hercules–Corona Borealis Great Wall
Aquila is home to one of the largest single mass concentration of galaxies in the Universe found so far. It is referred to as the Hercules–Corona Borealis Great Wall. It was first discovered in November of 2013 and has a size of about 10 billion light years.
Two major novae have been observed within Aquila. The first one was recorded in 389 B.C.E. and said to have been as bright as Venus. The other novae observed as the Nova Aquilae in 1918 which briefly shone brighter than Altair.
There are a couple of meteor showers associated with this constellation. They are the June Aquilids and the Epsilon Aquilids.
The June Aquilids meteor shower has only been studied by radar and are most active on June 2nd and 3rd.
The Epsilon Aquilids meteor shows is active in mid-March and is best seen using optical aids such as telescopes.