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Alternate Spellings: Κηφεύς Kepheús (Greek)
Pronunciation: sē-ˌfyüs or sē-fē-əs
In Greek mythology, Cepheus is the name of two rulers for Aethiopia; a grandfather and grandson. Regarding the more famous story for Perseus; his freeing Andromeda and constellation, it is the grandson, King Cepheus, the son of Agenor who is the more well known.
The constellation representing Cepheus is often portrayed as a monarch sitting on his throne with his arms held up and his feet pointing towards the north pole. In the night sky, Cepheus is found to the west of the Cassiopeia constellation where it appears to be circling the pole star every night.
Story Of Perseus
In Greek story of Perseus, Cepheus was the king of Acrisios or Aethiopia, the husband of Queen Cassiopeia and the father to Andromeda. For the Greeks, Cepheus is known as the father of the Royal Family.
The story begins when Cassiopea started bragging about how Andromeda was more beautiful than the Nereids. This kind of attitude of extreme arrogance and pride, especially when a person claims being better than the gods, creates what’s known as hubris.
Offended by Cassiopeia’s remarks, the Nereids approached Poseidon and complained, asking him to punish this mortal woman. Poseidon agreed and he sent a flood as well as the sea monster Cetus (or Kraken) to destroy the coastline of Aethiopia.
After consulting with the oracle of Ammon (identified by the Greeks with Zeus,) located at an oasis near Siwa in the Libyan desert, Cepheus was told that he would be able to end the destruction of his country by giving up his daughter Andromeda in sacrifice to Cetus. At the urging of his people, Cepheus had Andromeda chained to a rock by the sea to await her fate.
Luck was with Andromeda, for the hero Perseus was flying by on the Pegasus and on seeing her, he flew down to ask her why she was bound to the rocks. Andromeda told her story to the hero Perseus.
After hearing the story, Perseus went to Cepheus, saying he could save Andromeda from the sea monster and that in return, he wanted her hand in marriage. Cepheus told Perseus that he could have what he wanted.
At that, Perseus then, depending on the accounts given, pulled his sword and found a weak spot in the scales of the sea monster Cetus or he used the severed head of Medusa to turn the monster to stone.
In either event, the monster was slain, Perseus saved Andromeda and a grateful Cepheus and Cassiopeia welcomed them to a feast where the two were married.
The story doesn’t completely end there as it seems Andromeda had also been promised to her uncle Phineus to marry. This wouldn’t have been disputed or contested if Phineus had been the one to save Andromeda and slay Cetus himself. So Phineus picked a fight with Perseus about his right to marry Andromeda at the wedding.
After slaying a Gorgon and a Sea Monster, a mere mortal man is no challenge for Perseus who once again pulls out Medusa’s head and turns Phineus to stone. Given variations of the story, sometimes this is when Cepheus and Cassiopeia are also turned to stone when they accidentally look at the gorgon’s severed head. With Phineus now dead, Andromeda accompanies Perseus back to his home Tiryns in Argos where they eventually founded the Perseid dynasty.
Some accounts give that Perseus and Andromeda had seven sons and two daughters. Others place this count a little differently saying its seven children all together, six sons and one daughter. Most accounts agree that the eldest son, Perses founds his own kingdom and becomes the ancestor to the kings of Persia. A variation to this account is that Perses was adopted by his grandfather Cepheus and named heir to the throne.
Eventually, years later, as the major figures of the storied died and passed away, the goddess Athena placed Cepheus and the others up into the heavens as constellations to immortalize and commemorate this story.
In another account, because Cepheus was descended from one of Zeus’ lovers, the nymph Io, that earned him a place in the night sky.
Further, it is the god Poseidon who places both Cepheus and Cassiopeia up into heavens to become constellation.
Hyginus’ Account – By his account, Cepheus’ brother is Agenor who confronts Perseus as he was the one to whom Andromeda had been promised in marriage. So, this is who Perseus ends up killing instead of Phineus.
Aethiopia or Ethiopia?
The accounts can vary and much of this owes to some lack of clarity among the ancient Greek Scholars and Historians. Homer is the first to have used the term Aethiopia in his Iliad and Odyssey. Greek historian Herodotus uses the name Aethiopia to describe all of the inhabited lands south of Egypt. The name also features in Greek mythology, where it is sometimes associated with a kingdom said to be seated at Joppa, (what would be modern day Tel-Aviv) or it is placed elsewhere in Asia Minor such as Lybia, Lydia, the Zagros Mountains and even India.
Modern day Ethopia is located on the horn of Africa and has some tentative ties to the legend of Andromeda. The Egyptian priest Manetho, who lived around 300 BCE called Egypt’s Kushite dynasty the “Aethiopian dynasty.” And with the translation of the Hebrew Bible or Torah into Greek around 200 BCE, the Hebrew usage of “Kush” and Kushite” became the Greek “Aethiopia” and “Aethiopians.” This again changes later to the modern English use of “Ethiopia” and “Ethiopians” with the arrival of the King James Bible.
Given the way that Countries, Empires, Kingdoms and Nations rise and fall, expand and shrink, it’s very well possible that both Aethiopia and Ethiopia are one and the same and that modern-day Tel-Aviv once known as Joppa (Jaffa) may have once been part of Ethiopia. Some sources cite Joppa as having been a city of Phoenicia. There is a lot of history that has been lost to the sands of time that can only be guessed at and speculated upon.
Descendant Of Poseidon
Sometimes the genealogies of Greek characters can get a bit confusing depending on when and who is giving the story.
Regarding the King Cepheus from the story of Perseus and Andromeda, he is sometimes said to be the son of Belus, a king of Egypt and son of the god Poseidon. Or, Cepheus would be listed as the son of Phoenix.
Where Belus’ is given as the father, Cepheus then had Anchinoe as his mother and that Danaus, Aegyptus and Phineus are his brothers.
Iasid Cepheus – This is another name Cepheus is known as, referencing his Argive ancestry and connection to King Iasus of Argus, the father of Io.
The constellation known as Cepheus is one of 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy in his book, Almagest. Today it remains as one of the 88 current or modern constellations. The constellation of Cepheus is one of the oldest ones identified by the ancient Greeks in the night sky. Also of note is that the stars that comprise the Cepheus constellation aren’t very bright.
The Cepheus constellation is found on the northern hemisphere where it can most likely be seen during autumn evenings, along with several other constellations named after characters in the myth of Perseus. Because of its northern location, Cepheus is only visible north of the 40° south latitude line and for observers farther south it lies below the horizon. It is 27th largest constellation found in the night sky. Bordering constellations to Cepheus are: Cygnus, Lacerta, Cassiopeia, Camelopardalis, Draco and Ursa Minor.
In Arab astronomy, the image of a shepherd with his dog and sheep are seen in this constellation.
In modern Chinese, the constellation is known as Xiān Wáng Zuò, “The Immortal King.”
The stars of Cepheus are found in two areas of the night sky, the Purple Forbidden Enclosure (Zǐ Wēi Yuán, also called the Central Palace) and the Black Tortoise of the North (Běi Fāng Xuán Wǔ). Part of the eastern wall forming the Purple Palace Enclosure passed through Cepheus coming from the Draco constellation to Cassiopeia. Which stars made up this wall is uncertain though.
Tiangou – Also known as Gouxing, the “Hook Star.” The stars Alpha, Eta, Theta, Xi, Iota, and Omicron Cephei form this asterism. This asterism was associated with omens portending earthquakes.
Wudineizuo – This was a group of five stars in the northern part of the Cepheus constellation that bordered with Cassiopeia and Camelopardalis. These five stars represented the seats of the five celestial emperors. These emperors are the deified rulers for the five directions of North, South, East, West and the Center. It’s unknown which of these five stars represented this asterism.
Zaofu – Also spelt as Zhaofu or Tsao Fu. The stars Delta, Epsilon, Zeta, Mu, and Nu Cephei formed this constellation. It is named for a famous charioteer of emperor Mu Wang who lived approximately 950 B.C.E.
The constellation of Cepheus, along with eight other constellations of: Andromeda, Auriga, Cassiopeia, Cetus, Lacerta, Pegasus, Perseus and Triangulum.
All of these constellations have some connection to the overall legend and myth of the Grecian hero Perseus.
Stars of Cepheus
Alpha Cephei – Also known as Alderamin from the Arabic phrase “að-ðirā‘ al-yamīn,” meaning: “the right arm.” This is the brightest star within the Cepheus constellation that is some 49 light years away from the earth. This star still will become the pole star in another 5,500 years. The last time that Alpha Cephei had been the pole star was about 18,000 B.C.E.
Beta Cephei – Also known as Alfirk from the Arabic word “al-firqah,” meaning: “the flock.” It is the second brightest star within the Cepheus constellation. It is a triple star that is a class of stars known as Beta Cephei variable stars and is located some 690 light years away from the earth.
Delta Cephei – Also known as Alrediph or Al Radif meaning “the follower.” It is a double star of a yellow and blue star, this star is a prototype star of a class of stars known as Cepheid variable stars or Cepheids. These are pulsating variable stars that can vary in size over a period of hours, days and years. The constellation of Cepheus has many such stars like this. Delta Cephei is some 891 light years away from the earth.
Gamma Cephei – Also known as Alrai, Er Rai and Errai from the Arabic word “ar-rā‘ī” meaning: “the shepherd.” The star Beta Ophiuchi found within the Ophiuchus constellation is sometimes called Alrai, but is more often called “Cebalrai,” the shepherd’s dog. The first confirmed exo-planet was found near Gamma Cephei in 1989 that then got retracted and later reconfirmed in 2002 after more evidence and studies were done. This is a double star like Delta Cephei and is located some 45 light years from the earth. Due to the precession of equinoxes, Gamma Cephei will replace the star Polaris, Alpha Canis Minoris as the north pole star around 3,000 C.E.
Eta Cephei – Also known as Al Kidr, this star is an orange giant that is located some 45 light years away from the earth.
Mu Cephei – Also known as the Garnet Star or Herschel’s Garnet Star, it is a red supergiant that is estimated to be about 2,400 light years away from the earth. This star was discovered by William Herschell in 1781 who described it as being: “a very fine deep garnet colour, such as the periodical star ο Ceti.” It is to date, the largest known star within the Milky Way galaxy.
Xi Cephei – Also known as Kurhah, Alkirdah, Alkurhah or Al Kirduh, it is a triple star of which all three are dwarf stars.
The Cepheus constellation is the location of the quasar 6C B0014+8120 and has an ultra-massive black hole that is reported to be some 40 billion solar masses. This is about 10,000 times more massive than the central black hole found in the Milky Way, making it the most massive black hole known.
Also known as S 155, this nebula is dim and diffuse bright nebula within a larger nebula.
The Fireworks Galaxy
Also known as NGC 6946, this is a spiral galaxy that has had ten supernovae observed within it so far. This galaxy was first discovered by William Herschel in September 1798. It is some 22 million light years away from the earth and lays along the border between Cepheus and Cygnus.
Also known as NGC 738, this is an open star cluster that was discovered by Caroline Herschel in 1787. This cluster is about 7,000 light years away and the stars found within are less than five million years old, making the Wizard Nebula a young open cluster.
Others Named Cepheus
There are a couple of others named Cepheus in Greek mythology.
- There is a King Cepheus of Tegea. He was the son of Aleus from Arcadia and either Neaera or Cleobule. He had four brothers: Amphidamas, Lycurgus of Arcadia, Auge and Alcidice. This Cepheus would go on to sire twenty sons (at least one named Aeropus) and at least three daughters (Aerope, Antinoe and Sterope). He noted too as the founder of Caphyae. Cepheus and his brother, Amphidamas would later sail with Jason as an Argonaut. During Heracles’ campaign against Hippocoon, Cepheus and his sons allied with the Heracles. Depending on the version of this story told, Cepheus either lost all of his sons or seventeen of his sons and was himself killed during the campaign.
- Cepheus is also the name of one of the people involved in the Calydonian Hunt.
Etymology – Greek – ophis (serpent), ekhein or okhos (holder), “Serpent-Bearer”
Also known as: Ὀφιοῦχος (Greek), Anguitenens, Serpentarius, Hebitsukai-Za (Japanese, “Serpent Bearer”, the Serpent-holder, the Serpent Bearer, the Serpent Wrestler, or the Snake Charmer
The constellation of Ophiuchus is represented as a man holding a snake, seen in the constellation of Serpens. The body of Ophiuchus divides the Serpens constellation in half to Serpens Caput and Serpens Cauda.
The ancient Greeks saw the god Apollo in the constellation of Ophiuchus, contending with a large snake that guarded the Delphi Oracle. Many others have seen various legendary healers from Joseph and Aaron from the Bible, Imhotep and Asclepius in this constellation.
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 could 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. Even in current, modern times, the influence of these ancients is still known.
The constellation known as Ophiuchus is one of 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy in his book, Almagest. Today it remains as one of the 88 current or modern constellations. It is a large constellation, ranking 11th in size and located near the celestial equator. Ophiuchus was previously known as Anguitenens and Serpentarius; which in Latin has the same meaning as the modern name.
Constellations bordering with Ophiuchus are: Aquila, Libra, Scorpius, Serpens and Hercules. If you know where in the night sky that Orion is, Ophiuchus on the opposite. The best time to spot Ophiuchus is during the month of July in the Northern Hemisphere.
The ancient Babylonians have a constellation known as the “Sitting Gods” that might have been in the same location of the night sky that Ophiuchus is found.
The Sumerian god, Enki has also been suggested as who the constellation is based on.
In his book, Babylonian Star-lore, Gavin White suggests that Ophiuchus has a connection to the ancient snake god, Nirah, who is sometimes depicted having the upper body of a man and snakes for legs. This idea seems a bit farfetched as there aren’t too many other scholarly works to validate or refute it.
Ophiuchus, combined with Serpens was known as Nu-tsir-da.
Arabic & Islamic Astronomy
According to 10th century C.E., Azophi’s Uranometry, the constellation of Ophiuchus is known by the name of Al-Hawwa’, the Snake-Charmer.
An Arabic title for Ophiuchus is Suille. Herodotus mentions a tribe of snake-charmers known as Psylli in North Africa. This part offered up some confusion keeping this straight. Again, as there’s some conflicting information and research. I found a “le Psylle” that refers to an insect. This may be to a lot of confusion with languages and translations.
To the ancient Chinese astronomers, Alpha Ophiuchi is known as Hou, a senior assistant to the Emperor. The Emperor’s thrown, Dizuo is located directly north in the Hercules constellation where it corresponds with the star Alpha Herculis. What exactly Hou’s role is, is rather unclear. Some have referred to him as an overseer, an usher bringing in guests and possibly an astrologer.
The stars Iota and Kappa Ophiuchi formed Hu, a measuring cup for liquids, this constellation is found further in the Hercules constellation.
For the ancient Chinese, the southern part of Hercules, most of Serpens and Ophiuchus were viewed as a celestial market place, Tianshi. To the left of Tianshi, there is an eastern wall that starts in the constellation of Hercules and heads south through Serpens Cauda and ending in Ophiuchus at Eta Ophiuchi. To the right of Tianshi, a western wall runs southward from Hercules, through Serpens Caput and ends in Ophiuchus with stars Delta, Epsilon and Zeta Ophiuchi. The stars 20 Ophiuchi and Chesi are seen as market stalls along the right wall. The stars Lambda Ophiuchi and Sigma Serpentis made up Liesi, an arcade where jewelers shops could be found.
Comprised of stars Mu, 47, 30 and a much fainter star formed a six-star loop that represents a hall or a tower housing the trading standards office. Finishing out this shape are the stars Omicron and Nu in Serpens Cauda.
Zongzheng, Zongren, and Zong
These three constellations are found to the south of Hou. Zongzheng is noted by the stars Beta and Gamma Ophiuchi and Zongren is noted by the stars 66, 67, 68 and 70 Ophiuchi. These two constellations are seen to represent a governor and his aides who are supervising the younger members of the royal family. Zong is noted by the stars 71 and 72 Ophiuchi and is seen to represent a revered ancestor to the royal family.
The stars Phi, Chi, Psi, and Omega Ophiuchi formed Dongxian found outside the market walls. Dongxian is the western door to the steward’s room, used for investigating on any trade infractions. The eastern door, Xixian is found in Scorpius and Libra.
Marked by Theta Ophiuchi and three other stars, this constellation is a celestial river, located in the Milky Way and thought to control the waterways.
Lying next to Tianjiang, this constellation is composed of eight faint stars found in Ophiuchus and Sagittarius. It is thought that Tianyue lays directly on the ecliptic and represents a keyhole or lock that the Sun must thread itself through every year. It lays directly across the heavens from Tiangun, a gate found on the ecliptic within the Taurus constellation.
In later symbolic literature for Christianity, the imagery of Ophiuchus and the serpent is used in the story of the Garden of Eden. In his Paradise Lost, John Milton uses Ophiuchus as a major simile where he compares Satan to a comet that burns through the length of the constellation.
Again, with the strong imagery of the figure holding a serpent, some astrologists have connected the story of Joseph from the Biblical Book of Genesis and his interpreting dreams for the Pharaoh. Another story connecting Ophiuchus to the bible is that of Aaron and his casting down his rod to become a snake.
Due to the rise of interest in Ophiuchus as a 13th Astrological sign, many have been quick to identify the Greek physician Asclepius in this constellation. In turn, discussion extends to an earlier Egyptian healer, Imhotep that Asclepius is based on.
The 4th century B.C.E. Greek poet, Aratus has the earliest mention of Ophiuchus in his Phaenomena, which in turn is based on earlier works by Eudoxus of Cnidus. While Aratus didn’t know much about astronomy by Greek standards of the day, he was very well known for his poetry and descriptive imagery for the constellations.
The ancient Greeks saw the god Apollo in the constellation of Ophiuchus, contending with a large snake that guarded the Delphi Oracle.
The son of the god Apollo, Asclepius is the figure most often seen and identified in the constellation of Ophiuchus. Elevated to the status of a demi or lesser god, Asclepius was greatly renowned for his healing skills to the degree that he could even bring people back from the dead.
This knowledge of healing came about after Glaucus, the son of King Minos of Crete had fallen into a jar of honey and drowned. Asclepius had been called into the scene and while there, saw a snake slithering towards Glaucus’ body. Asclepius killed the snake and then saw another snake come in and place an herb on the body of the first snake, bringing it back to life. After witnessing this, Asclepius proceeded to take the same herb and place it on Glaucus’ body and bring him back to life.
Another story of Asclepius bringing people back to life is the resurrection of Thesues’ son, Hippolytus after the king’s son had been thrown from his chariot.
Asclepius had been raised by Chiron, the immortal centaur and god in his own right. From Chiron, Asclepius learned the art of healing and in one story, Asclepius received the blood of the slain gorgon Medusa from the goddess Athena. The gorgon’s blood reportedly held some mystical qualities. The blood taken from the left side of Medusa’s body was a poison while the blood taken from the right side would be able to resurrect people, bringing them back from the dead.
This caused enough of a complaint from Hades to Zeus that humans would become immortal and that there wouldn’t be any one entering the Underworld. To prevent people from becoming immortal, Zeus agreed to kill Asclepius, doing so with a lightning bolt. Later, Zeus placed Asclepius’ image up into the heavens to become the constellation of Ophiuchus in honor and memory.
Ophiuchus is part of the Hercules Family of constellations. The myth I found making this connection, has the famous hero Hercules kill Kaikias, the Blinding One. Kaikias or Caecius is the god of the North East Wind who is shown carrying a large shield that scatters hailstones upon the earth.
Other Greek myths see the figure of Laocoön, a Trojan priest of Poseidon. Laocoön had tried to warn the other Trojans about the Trojan Horse and the fact that the Greeks were hiding within it. He would later be killed by a pair of sea serpents sent by the gods to punish Laocoön.
Another Greek myth links Phorbos with the constellation of Ophiuchus. The son of Triopas and Hiscilla, Phorbas became the hero of the island of Rhodes when he saved the people from a plague of serpents. Sometimes this is interpreted to have been dragons, but snakes is often referred to or meant in the story. An oracle had told the people to call on Phorbas who came and rid the island of snakes.
Renaissance And Early Modern Depictions
Inspired by Aratus’ description of Ophiuchus stepping on the constellation of Scorpio with his feet, others such as Renaissance artist such as Albrecht Dürer and astronomer Johannes Kepler continued this idea.
For the Romans, the legendary healer, Asclepius is Romanized to the Latin spelling of Aesculapius. The Ophiuchus constellation is known by the Latin name of Serpentarius.
The constellation of Ophiuchus, along with 18 other constellations of: Cygnus, Hercules, Sagitta, Aquila, Lyra, Vulpecula, Hydra, Sextans, Crater, Corvus, Serpens, Scutum, Centaurus, Lupus, Corona Australis, Ara, Triangulum Australe, and Crux.
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.
The connection extends from Donald H. Menzel, the director of the Harvard Observatory, who in his A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets, takes groups of constellations based on where in the night sky they are located and grouping them by the very same location.
Stars Of Ophiuchus
Alpha Ophiuchi – Also known as Rasalhagues or Ras Alhague, meaning “Head of the Snake Charmer” or “Snake Collector” in Arabic, is the brightest star in the Ophiuchus constellation. It marks the head of Ophiuchus.
Beta Ophiuchi – Also known as Celbalrai. Cheleb and Kelb Alrai, it comes from the Arabic word kalb al-rā‘ī, meaning “the shepherd dog.” Ptolemy in his Almagest, placed the right shoulder of the Serpent Holder with this star along with Gamma Ophiuchi.
The Arabs saw a Shepherd in the star Alpha Ophiuchi with his dog, the star Beta Ophiuchi guarding sheep in the area.
Delta Ophiuchi – Also known as Yed Prior, the word “yed” comes from the Arabic language meaning “the hand.” Along with the star Epsilon Ophiuchi, these two stars mark the left hand of the Serpent Bearer, holding the head of the snake.
Epsilon Ophiuchi – Also known as Yed Posterior, this star along with Delta Ophiuchi mark the left hand of the Serpent Bearer.
Eta Ophiuchi – Also known as Sabik is the second brightest star in Ophiuchus.
Gamma Ophiuchi – Ptolemy in his Almagest, placed the right shoulder of the Serpent Holder with this star along with Beta Ophiuchi.
Iota Ophiuchi – Ptolemy in his Almagest, placed the left shoulder of the Serpent Holder with this star along with Kappa Ophiuchi.
Kappa Ophiuchi – Ptolemy in his Almagest, placed the left shoulder of the Serpent Holder with this star along with Iota Ophiuchi.
Barnard’s Star – This is the second or third closest star to our own sun about 6 light-years away. The only other stars that are closer are those found in the Alpha Centauri binary star system and Proxima Centauri. Banard’s Star is located just north of a V-shaped group of stars that form a now obsolete constellation known as Taurus Poniatovii or Poniatowski’s Bull, specifically 66 Ophiuchi.
Taurus Poniatovii – Obsolete Constellation
According to Ptolemy’s The Almagest, the stars 66, 67, 68, 70, and 72 Ophiuchi made a short-lived constellation that formed a bull. The constellation has since then been combined wiwth Ophiuchus to form the right shoulder and tail of the serpent.
First off, what is a Superbubble? It’s an astronomical event that happens when area of space, often hundreds of light years in distance has been created by several stars going supernovae and stellar winds blowing in interstellar gas. It’s basically what’s left over after the star or stars have finished going nova.
2005 saw a group of astronomers using information from the Green Bank Telescope to discover and identify one such Superbubble or Supershell. This particular superbubble is so large it reaches out beyond the furthest edges of the galaxy.
Also, known as Keplar’s Star. On October 9th, 1604, Johannes Kepler observed a supernova near the star Ophiuchi. Johannes would study this nova so extensively that it would eventually be named after him. The book, De stella nova in pede Serpentarii (On the New Star in Ophiuchus’ Foot) contains all of Johannes’ studies and finding on this nova.
Galileo used this nova’s brief appearance when countering Aristotelian dogma and beliefs that the heavens were unchangeable.
Little Ghost Nebula
This is a planetary nebula found in Ophiuchus by William Herschel. It is about 2,000 light years away from the Earth.
Dark Horse Nebula
Also, known as the Great Dark Horse is a nebula found in Ophiuchus. This nebular is so named as its shape looks like the profile of a horse. It lays near the border with the constellations of Sagittarius and Scorpius. The Dark Horse Nebula is one of the largest and with the right conditions, it can be seen without the aid of binoculars.
This nebula is part of the larger Dark Horse Nebula and is considered to form the hind legs or quarters of the Dark Horse. Like the Dark Horse, the Pipe can be seen without any aid from telescopes or binoculars, but its still helpful to use them.
Yet another nebula found in Ophiuchus. Like the Pipe Nebula, the Snake Nebula is also part of the much larger Dark Horse Nebula. It is about 650 light years from the Earth. While small, the snake is easily found for its distinctive s-shape near the bowl part of the Pipe Nebula.
Twin Jet Nebula
Also, known as Minkowski’s Butterfly or the Butterfly Nebula, it was first discovered by German-American astronomer Rudolph Minkowski in 1947. The nebula is so named as it appears like either a butterfly or a pair of exhaust pipes on a jet.
There are four meteor shows associated with the constellation of Ophiuchus. They are the Ophiuchids, the Northern May Ophiuchids, Southern May Ophiuchids and Theta Ophiuchids.
Ophiuchus In Astrology?
The 13th Sign of the Zodiac!
Not so fast there! It may sound great and exciting, but such is not the case.
The idea of a 13th Sign for the Zodiac quickly caught fire in the imaginations of many aspiring astrologers, New Agers and assorted others.
Even from the expert astrologers, it must be remembered that Ophiuchus is a constellation, not a new Zodiac Sign. You don’t have to worry about going to bed, believing you were a Scorpio or Sagittarius and suddenly, everything has changed and you’re now an Ophiuchus. Nothing of the sort.
Yes, Ophiuchus is one of thirteen constellations that crosses the ecliptic as the earth makes it monthly journey around the sun and appears to move from one Zodiac Sign to the next. There is a huge difference though between a constellation and a Sign within the Zodiac. Traditionally the classical Greek Zodiac is set up into twelve Signs that stretch along the earth’s ecliptic path with each sign having roughly a month’s time. Especially in the Western traditions. The set up for the for the Signs also follow the changes of the seasons so that the March equinox will fall on the day when the celestial boundary is between Aries and Pisces.
Constellations on the other hand, vary in size and are based on the positions of the stars. Due to the precession of the equinoxes over the millennia, a Sign and constellation no longer directly line up and correlate to which Zodiac is in the heavens.
A History Lesson
Ptolemy, in his book Tetrabiblos, 170 C.E., mentions only 12 Signs. Yes Ophiuchus and some of the fixed stars got used by some of the ancient astrologers for the more significant celestial events. The 1st C.E. poet Manilius for example, in his Astronomica, describes Ohiuchus in an astrological poem. Later, Manilus goes on to discuss the astrological influence of Ophiuchus, commenting that when this constellation is rising, a person will have an affinity for snakes and be protected from their poison. Of course, a later 4th century astrologer known as Anonymous of 379 will make the association of Ras Alhague, the brightest star in Ophiuchus, as the star of doctors, healers and physicians.
Alright, so I can see where some people will jump up and down getting excited for: “See! It is the 13th Sign!”
In more modern 20th and 21st century, the IAU (International Astronomy Union) in 1930 came up with the idea of 13 astrological Signs due to “the Sun is in the sign of Ophiuchus” between November 29th and December 17th with where the constellation boundaries lay. This continues with Stephen Schmidt in 1970, when he suggested a 14-Sign Zodiac, which includes Cetus as a Sign. Later, in 1995, the 13-Sign Zodiac is put forward by Walter Berg in his “The 13 Signs of the Zodiac” and Mark Yazaki in Japan. There, the concept of Ophiuchus took off in Japanese pop culture appearing in a number of video games, notably Final Fantasy and the anime and manga series known as Fairy Tail.
People’s imaginations got fired up for a 13th Sign when an astronomy professor Parke Kunkle from the Minneapolis Community and Technical College explained to his local paper, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune about the precession of stars over time and that eventually, old markers for time with the changes of the season altered.
The specific quote is this – “Two thousand years ago the Sun was ‘in’ whatever it was in. Now it’s about a whole constellation off from that.” It’s a quote that went viral and got picked up by various media news sites. And for the lay person who first gets into Astrology or doesn’t know anything at all, there’s the assumption that it’s all based on the constellations and not the Signs.
But It Must Be A Sign!
If you’re insisting it must be a new Zodiac Sign, here we go –
The time for Ophiuchus is from November 29th to December 17th. This takes up a good chunk of the time that’s for Sagittarius that typically runs from November 23rd to December 21st. Perhaps you can see why this is problematic.
As a 13th Sign, Ophiuchus doesn’t have an opposite Sign like all the others do. Adding Ophiuchus makes the use of the Zodiacs more Constellation based or sidereal. The use of sidereal astrology is more typical of the Vedic Astrology. Walter Berg states that the Sun is the Planet associated for this Sign. Many also place a strong emphasis on Ophiuchus’ role and affinity with healing through the use of imagery with Asclepius, Imhotep and to a lesser degree others like Joseph of Biblical fame for his interpretation of dreams and the Babylonian god Enki.
Ophiuchans are described as: seekers of wisdom and knowledge, they’re known for having a flamboyant or brightly colored wardrobe, they get along will with authority and supervisors, a seeker of peace and harmony, dream interpretation, premonitions, medical affinity, likely to have a large family though possibly have left their own home at an early age and have an eye for design and construction. The number 12 is considered an Ophiuchan’s lucky number and people may or may not be a bit envious for their progress and advances in life.
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 or 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.
Alternate Spelling: Kybele
Other names: Agdistis Cybele Magna Mater, Berecyntia, Brimo, Dindymene, Magna Mater, Mother of the Gods, Kubaba, Matar Kubelē, Kubileya or Kubeleya “Kubeleyan Mother” (Phrygian, translation: “Mountain Mother”), Lydian Kuvava (Turkish Kibele), Κυβέλη, Kybêlê, Kybele, Κυβήβη Kybebe, Κύβελις Kybelis (Greek), Meter Theon, Great Mother
Other Names and Epithets: Antaea, Mātēr, Mētēr, Mistress Cybele the Mother, Mistress of Animals, Idaea, Isis, Rhea, Demeter, Ops, Potnia Theron (Mistress of the Animals), Mater Deum Magna Idaea, Meter Theon Idaia (“Mother of the Gods, from Mount Ida”), Meter Oreie (Mountain Mother), “The Mother of the Gods, the Savior who Hears our Prayers”, “The Mother of the Gods, the Accessible One.” Megalenses ludi, Pessinuntica (Phrygian – “Mother of the Gods.”)
Antaea – This name and epitaph is one that is applied equally to Cybele, Demeter and Rhea by the Greeks. The meaning of the name is unclear, though it does denote a name for a goddess whom people could approach in prayer.
Etymology: ” Mother of the Mountain,” “Cavern-Dweller”
An inscription found on one of Cybele’s Phrygian rock monuments has been translated as mater kubileya, “Mother of the Mountain.” The inscription for matar or “Mother” is found at many other Phrygian sites.
Animal: Bee, Hawks, Lions, essentially all wildlife.
Colors: Brown, Green, Blue
Day of the Week: Saturday
Patron of: Nature, Natural places, Mountains, Caverns, Walls, Fortresses
Plant: Almond, Pine
Sphere of Influence: Fertility, Menstruation, Nature, Sex, War, Mother of Life
Symbols: lions, naiskos, tympanon (hand-drum or tambourine), pine cones
Early Greek depictions of Cybele are small votive representations of her rock-cut statues and images found in Phrygia. Cybele is shown standing alone inside a naiskos, which is basically a rock-hewn relief with walls and roof overhead to represent a temple or doorway. She is crowned with a type of tall cylindrical hat called a polos, a long flowing chiton that covers her shoulders and back. Cybele is sometimes shown with lion attendants to either side of her.
Approximately 5th century B.C.E., the Greek sculptor Agoracritos made the official Hellenized version of Cybele in the Athenian agora. This statue shows Cybele sitting on a throne with a lion at her side and holding a tympanon, a type of hand drum that the Greeks used in her cults and worship. In Greece, Cybele would be very closely identified with the Greek’s mother goddess figure of Rhea.
Anatolian & Phrygian Origins
While Cybele is known as the Great Mother in the Roman pantheon, she was originally a mother goddess from Anatolia. She is likely the precursor of a Neolithic goddess in Çatalhöyük (Konya), where a statue of a pregnant goddess that appears to be giving birth is seated on a lion throne was found within a granary.
For the Phrygians, Cybele is the only known goddess and is also likely the state deity. In addition, Cybele was a goddess of caverns, goddess of the Earth in its primitive form and was worshiped on mountain tops. Cybele’s domain was over all the wild creatures of the earth. Phrygian art dating to the 8th century B.C.E. shows Cybele attended by lions, a bird of prey and a small vase for libations or other offerings.
Greek colonists would later adopt Cybele in Asia Minor before bringing her back to the mainland where her worship would spread during the 6th century B.C.E.
In Çatal Hüyük, Turkey, there is a figurine that was found dating back to 8,000 B.C.E. that depicts a Mother Goddess squatting in the process of giving birth and is flanked to either side by two leopards. This figurine is thought to be Cybele in a very early form.
Cumae – The Sybils of this temple were Cybele’s priestess and oracles.
Ionia – In places such as Magnesia and Maeander, where Cybele is worshiped as Dindymene, she held temples.
Pessinus – Located near Mount Dindymus in Phrygia, a temple was built here dedicated to Cybele Dindymene. Legend holds that the Argonauts built this temple. Here, Cybele was represented by a black meteoric iron stone. This same meteorite may have also associated with another mountain deity of Pessinus as Agdistis.
Rome – A temple for Cybele as Magna Mater stood on the slopes of Palatine Hill it overlooked the Circus Maximus and facing another of Cybele’s temples on Aventine. The first temple here was destroyed by fire in 111 B.C.E. and later rebuilt. In Imperial Rome, the temple burned down again and was rebuilt by Augustus, only to get burned again.
During the ground breaking and preparation for Saint Peter’s Basilica on Vatican Hill, a shrine known as the Phrgianum and dedicated to Magna Mater was found. A motif of Saint Peter is found standing at the site of Cybele’s temple in Rome.
The Roman port of Ostia also boosted a sanctuary to Magna Mater and Attis, commemorating their arrival to Rome. The worship of Cybele brought on the anger of many Christians within the Roman Empire. Especially when Saint Theodre of Amasea, in recanting his beliefs, did so by burning down a temple of Cybele.
Mount Sipylus – A stone carving found here is believed to be the oldest image of Cybele. The carving itself is attributed to the legendary Greek hunter Broteas as having created it. The 2nd century C.E. geographer Rausanias mentions a Magnesian cult to “The Mother of the Gods” having been present.
Cults Of Cybele
The rites for Cybele were secretive and mysterious like many Earth Mother Goddesses such as Demeter and Isis. Cybele’ cult was directed by eunuch priests known as Corybantes or Galli. They were very faithful in conducting their orgiastic rites that were often wild and emotional with lots of ecstatic cries and frenzied, passionate music of flutes, drums and cymbals. In addition, sacrifices were made to Cybele, symbolizing the death and rebirth of her son and consort Attis. Self-castration is said to have taken place in Cybele’s rites. Other later rites were the taurobolium in which a bull was sacrificed and a priest bathing in its blood.
As a mystery cult, not much is known about Cybele’s initiates and worshipers. Stone reliefs show Cybele alongside both young male and female attendants carrying torches and vessels used for purification. Surviving literature describes a joyous sound of abandonment with loud percussions of tympanons, castanets, cymbals and flutes and a lot of frenzied dancing. It has been suggested that the dancing is likely to have been circle-dancing by women.
Worship Among The Greeks
Cybele’s cult was introduced to Greece by returning soldiers from the Trojan War and is noted for having caused a lot of conflicts. It would later be adopted by the Romans who held festivals in Cybele’s honor. The worship of Cybele among the Greeks held various mixed views. Here, her various different aspects were mixed with other goddesses. Notably the goddesses of Gaia, an Earth-goddess, Rhea, a Minoan goddess and the Harvest-Mother goddess of Demeter. The city-state of Athens invoked Cybele as a protector.
In 6th century B.C.E., Herodotus mentions that when Anacharsis returned to Scythia, that his brother the Scythian king had Anacharsis put to death for joining Cybele’s cult.
Athenian tradition holds that sometime around 500 B.C.E, a city metroon was created in order to placate Cybele after she visited a plague upon the city after one of her priests was killed for trying to introduce her cult. It’s thought that this story would explain why a public building would be dedicated to an imported goddess. The earliest source to this story is referenced in the “Hymn To The Mother Of The Gods,” circa 362 C.E. by the Roman emperor Julian. Given Cybele’s wild and forceful nature, her cults were often privately funded rather than publicly funded among the Greeks.
In Greek rites, Cybele was often seen as a foreign and exotic mystery-goddess who rode in a lion-drawn chariot accompanied with wild music, wine and a rather disorderly following; not unlike Dionysus or Bacchus’ Bacchanalias. As a foreign goddess, Cybele was seen as the great goddess of the Eastern World.
The transgender or eunuch priesthood was uniquely Greek. Many of Cybele’s Greek cults held a rite to a divine Phrygian Shepard-consort of Attis. This joint cult of Cybele and Attis was found throughout Magna Graecia, with evidence of this cult in Gaul, modern day Marseilles and Lokroi in southern Italy during the 6th and 7th centuries B.C.E. Following Alexander the Great’s conquests of the known world, wandering devotees to Cybele became common place in Greek literature and social life.
The Greeks associating Cybele with the Minoan goddess, Rhea has led to a number of different male demigods becoming tied into Cybele’s mythology as attendants or guardians for her infant son Zeus, in the cave of his birth.
Within the Grecian cults, these different male demigods acted as the intermediaries, go-between, even messengers for the goddess and her mortal followers through the use of dreams, trances and ecstatic dances and song.
Some of these demigod messengers are:
Korybantes – Or Kouretes, a group of nine armed dancers who are the offspring of the Muse Thalia and the god Apollo. They used drumming and dancing to drown out the cries of an infant Zeus to prevent him from being discovered.
Corybantes – Simply the same group, only this is the Phrygian name for this group of dancers.
Dactyls – A group of magician-smiths who are sometimes the offspring of Rhea or they worked for the god Hephaestus. They were ancient smiths and healers who sprang into being as Rhea went into labor with her son Zeus.
Telchines – An ancient primordial race with dog heads and flippers for hands. They were best known for their metal working. A group of nine Telchines were employed by Rhea to raise her infant son Zeus.
Worship Among The Romans
To the Romans, Cybele was known as Magna Mātēr or “Great Mother.” In the Roman State, Cybele’s cult and worship was adopted after the Sibylline oracle said it would be an important religious factor during Rome’s Second Punic War with Carthage.
The Romans had some dire omens in the way of a meteor shower, failed crops and an impending famine. It should be noted that a second consultation with the Greek oracle at Delphi confirmed to the Romans that adopting Cybele’s cult and worship would be the right way to go in assuring victory.
Cybele’s arrival into Rome is marked by the arrival of the Pessinos’ black meteor stone from the neighboring Roman ally and Kingdom of Pergamum. Further, Roman legend connects the voyage of the meteor stone with a Claudia Quinta who was accused of being unchaste. When the ship carrying Cybele’s sacred stone became stuck on a sand bar in the Tiber River, Claudia prayed to the goddess for help. Proving her innocence, Claudia was able to single-handedly pull and tow the ship free of the sandbar. Shortly after, Rome’s fortunes changed with a successful harvest and their being able to defeat Hannibal, the then leader of Carthage.
Among the Romans, Cybele was rewritten to be a Trojan goddess and thus making her an ancestral goddess through the Trojan prince Aeneas. Many of Rome’s leading families claimed Trojan ancestry and this made for Cybele’s integration into the Roman culture and pantheon a sort of reunion with a Mother Goddess’ exiled people. Further Romanization of Cybele sees her identified with the goddess Ops, wife of Saturn and the parents of Jupiter.
Rome’s dominance over the Mediterranean and Europe, saw many of Cybele’s cults get Romanized and spread throughout the Empire. Just what the exact nature of Cybele’s cults and worship among the Romans has meant were greatly discussed and disputed in both Greek and Roman literature and even among modern scholars.
It is generally agreed that the addition of Cybele’s consort Attis and her eunuch priests known as Galli or Gallai and all the wild, ecstatic features of her worship from her Greek and Phrygian cults have been largely Romanized. Something the Romans were very good at when adopting the gods of other cultures into their own. Under the rule of Caesar Augustus, he built a large temple to Cybele on the Palatine Hill. The statue of Cybele found within this temple has the likeness of Augustus’ wife, Livia.
Big Three – Cybele’s worship in Rome became so popular that it would become one of the three, major and important cults within Rome. The other cults are the Cult of Isis and Serapis (Osirus) and Mithraism. All three of these cults would persist and last until Rome’s conversion to Christianity as a state religion. Under Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century C.E., he outlawed all other cults and the church of Magna Mater, Cybele ceased to be and saw heavy persecution and the destruction of her temples.
Castissima Femina – “Purest or Most Virtuous Woman” Claudia Quinta’s connection and involvement with bringing the worship of Cybele to Rome would become more glorified and embellished over the centuries. To the point of forming a small cult. Claudia Quinta would be shown in the dress of a Vestal Virgin in art. Imperial Augustan ideology viewed Claudia as the very ideal of virtuous Roman womanhood.
Criobolium And Taurobolium – While the Greeks may have had no problems with castration for initiation into Cybele’s Cults, the Romans did hold prohibitions to this practice that greatly limited who could be initiated into the cult. Around 160 C.E., it is known that Roman citizen who sought initiation could offer up two forms of animal sacrifice as an alternative to self-castration.
The first, Taurobolium, sacrificed a bull, considered to a potent and expensive offering. The high cost for this sacrifice ensured that only Rome’s highest social class could be initiated. The second, Cribolium, sacrificed a ram, seen as a more inexpensive and thus less potent offering. This sacrifice is more typical of Rome’s poorer social classes.
The Christian apologist, Prudentius gives a description of these sacrifices where a priest stands in a pit under a slatted wooden floor. When the acolytes killed the bull with a sacred spear. The priest will come out from the pit, covered in the bull’s blood, much to the applause of spectators. This is atypical of Roman sacrifices as what is more likely to have happened with a sacrifice is that the blood is carefully collected and offered up to the deity along with the animal’s reproductive organs.
Both the Criobolium and Taurobolium are not linked to any specific religious celebration with Magna Mater, though they clearly have the same symbolism seen with the observance of Hilaria, March’s “Holy Week” that celebrates and honors the death and rebirth of Attis. Later, during Rome’s Imperial era, many of Attis’ initiates come from the deeply religious and wealthy citizens and not necessarily for the worship of Cybele.
Galli – This is the name for Cybele’s priesthood during Imperial Rome. They were eunuch priests who practiced castration as a sign of their devotion to the goddess Cybele. The Galli castrated themselves in service to Cybele as they thought that doing so would give them the powers of prophecy. After castration, they would dress as women, keeping their hair long and adopting female mannerisms and appearances. The Galli also wore a tall cylindrical hat called a polos. It is known the Galli held orgiastic rituals accompanied by loud cries and the loud noise of flutes, drums and cymbals. While there are certainly the male priests who wore women’s clothing, in some regions there were also known to be female priestesses devoted to Cybele.
In Servius’ account, Attis is the founder of this priesthood with the highest ranking Gallus taking the name of Attis. The more junior Galli was known as Battakes. The Galli located at Pessinus were very politically influential among the Roman Senate.
In Rome, the Galli were forbidden citizenship and the rights of inheritance, as they were eunuchs and unable to have children. This was a very stark contrast to many other priests of other Roman gods who did have families and raise children, particularly of the more senior priests.
The Galli are thought to have castrated themselves in keeping with the myth of Attis where he castrates a king for their unwanted sexual advances and gets castrated in turn by the dying king. Cybele’s priest would have found Attis at the base of a pine tree where he dies and they proceed to bury him. In memory of Atti’s passing, the priests are believed to have emasculated themselves and added him to the celebrations and rites for the goddess Cybele. In Hellenistic Greek, a poet refers to Cybele’s priests as Gallai, a feminine form of the name. The Roman poet Catullus refers to Attis in the masculine form of his name until he is castrated. Catullus then refers to Attis in the feminine form of his name thereafter. Different Roman sources refer to the Galli by a third gender of medium genus or tertium sexus when mentioning them.
During the Megalesia festival, the Galli were allowed to leave their temple under Cybele’s law and go out into the streets begging for money. The standard of dress that the Galli wore, marked them as outsiders to the Roman people. Despite their effeminate dress and mannerisms, the Galli were considered sacred and inviolate as they were part of a state Cult. The Roman prohibitions of castration made the Galli a clear image of curiosity and scorn. The Galli were a constant presence within Roman cities even into Rome’s Christian era.
Parentage and Family
Dindymene – In Phrygian mythology, she with King Maeon, is the mother of Cybele. Otherwise, the name of Dindymene is sometimes seen as just an alternative name for Cybele.
Maeon – (Also spelt Meion). A King of Phrygia and Lydia, with his wife Dindymene, fathered Cybele.
In this version of the myths, Cybele was left out, exposed on Mount Cybelus to die. However, leopards came and suckled Cybele, allowing her to survive.
Zeus & Gaia – Pausanias identifies Cybele’s parents as being the Phrygian Sky-Gods and Earth-Goddess whom he names as having been Zeus and Gaia.
Attis – A vegetation bull-god. In the very conflicting and varying stories, Attis is both Cybele’s son and consort.
Midas – As in King Midas of the golden touch. He is sometimes shown to be a consort of Cybele. Though he is definitely regarded as a leader to Cybele’s cult.
Cybele is ultimately the mother and grandmother to a good many deities of the Roman Pantheon.
Cronos – When Cybele is identified with Rhea, she is the mother of Alce, Midas and Nicaea.
Gordius – With him, Cybele is the mother of Midas, when he’s not shown as her consort.
Iasion – With him, Cybele is the mother of Corybas (also spelt Korybas). Iasion is the Samothrakian for Cybele’s consort Attis. Corybas is the first of the Korybantes who will later stand guard over the infant Zeus.
Olympos – With him, Cybele is the mother of Alke-Kybele
Sabazios-Dionysos – Some versions of his birth place him as Cybele’s son instead of Hera/Juno’s child.
A Crisis Of Identity
While Cybele has her origins in Anatolian and Phrygian culture and mythology; her being imported and adopted by other cultures in the Mediterranean has led to a good many other goddess being identified with Cybele or seen as alternative names and epithet.
The most notable is that of the Greek Goddess Rhea, who is also a Mother Goddess. Many of her myths have become intertwined with those of Cybele’s over the years.
Other goddess who have been equated and identified with Cybele are the Roman Goddess Ops, the wife of Saturn, the Egyptian goddess Isis, a minor local goddess or nymph Idaea and the Greek goddess Demeter.
Cybele And The Sibyls
Due to the similarity in the how the names sound, there tends to be a lot of associating the Sibyls as potential female priests and oracles for Cybele. While female oracles, the Sibyls could claim patronage to any deity and not necessarily Cybele. Most seem to follow the Greek god Apollo as he is a god of Prophecy.
Many Sibyles would prophesy at holy sites and they were originally at Delphi and Pessinos, following chthonic deities. And yes, Pessinos is where Cybele originated from when the Romans brought her black stone and statue back home. So there just might be a real connection.
Agdistis – Hermaphrodite – The Birth Of Cybele
Anatolian Goddess – Before the drastic changes to her myth, Agdistis had been a benevolent goddess of healing. Accepted for as they are until later changes are made and forced to this goddess as she and many others are absorbed into the larger myth of Cybele and adopted by other cultures, namely Greece and Rome.
When taken as a separate deity from Cybele, Agdistis is of mixed Anatolian, Greek and Roman mythology. They are a hermaphrodite or androgynous being; having both the male and female sexual organs. This dual nature of Agdistis made them symbolic of the wild and uncontrollable nature. This is an aspect that was seen as so threatening to the other gods that they sought to destroy Agdistis. The one explanation found or given is that Agdistis, being a hermaphrodite, held a huge sexual appetite and the gods were unable to handle it. They felt that this being could and should only be one gender or the other and for the gods, it was easier to remove the male sexual organs.
There a lot of ancient inscriptions that plainly and clearly show Agdistis as being separate from Cybele. However, later, Agdistis’ name would become one of Cybele’s many epithets. A common occurrence for many localized gods and goddess of Phrygia as the gods were imported into Greece and then Rome and many deities of a foreign place were often seen as being the same god, just known by another name.
There are multiple versions of the story for how Agdistis is attacked by the other gods and is castrated, how Attis is born and that Agdistis, now Cybele falls in love with the youth, promising to make him immortal.
How in some versions, Attis is punished for falling in love with is mother, how instead of keeping his vow to Cybele to only follow her, that he falls in love with another and that a jealous, angry Cybele drives Attis and the other guests at a wedding mad. How after, regretting her actions that she pleads to Jupiter/Zeus to restore Attis. One version of the story has both Agdistis and Cybele as separate beings who both fall in love with Attis.
The Greek Version – In this version of the myths, Cybele was raped by Zeus and gave birth to Agdistis. It should be noted, that Attis is very strongly and likely an invention and addition to Cybele’s myth.
As a deity separate from Cybele, Agdistis was a mountain deity found on Mount Dindymus near the city of Pessinus.
The Roman Version – In one version of the myths, Cybele, known as Agdistis is thought to have been a hermaphrodite, having been born of the earth where Jupiter’s sperm fell. The gods castrated Agdistis who then becomes the goddess Cybele. Where the severed pieces of Agdistis’ manhood fell, an almond tree grew. The fruit of this tree impregnated the nymph Nana when she placed an almond on her womb. Or more likely, that she ate an almond. Nana later gave birth to the god Attis. The baby Attis was abandoned by Nana as she was afraid of her father. The baby was discovered and saved by shepherds. Attis would grow up to become Cybele’s lover.
Pausanias’ Version – Pausanias identifies the Phrygian Sky-God and Earth-Goddess as being Zeus and Gaia.
In Pausanias’ version of the story, while sleeping, Zeus had some of his sperm fall on the ground. This of course created a Daimon that was hermaphroditic having the sexual organs for both male and female. This Daimon would be called Agdistis, another name for Cybele. The other gods feared Agdistis and cut off the male organs. This proceeded to create an almond tree. The daughter of the river Saggarios then took the almond fruit and held it to her bosom where it vanished. The daughter would find later that she was pregnant and give birth to Attis.
A slight variation to this story is that while Gaia, as the Great Mother slept on a rock called “Agdo,” the god Zeus raped Gaia and brought about Agdistis birth.
Other variations yet have either Dionysus or Liber who make a potion to put Agdistis to sleep so they can castrate them by tying his genitals to his foot so they’re ripped off when Agdistis stands.
Depending on the version of the story read, there are different accounts to the sequences of events and who is involved, a river nymph or king’s daughter that Attis marries.
It certainly reads as a very conflicting story that will vary by which author relates it. There’s been a good many changes to the story, especially considering how much Attis is a later addition that is largely added-on by the Romans.