Advertisements

Category Archives: Twelve Labors

Aquila

Aquila
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.

Western Astronomy

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.

Arabic Astronomy

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.

Astronomy

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.

Greek Mythology

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’ Metamorphosis

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.

Titanomachy

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.

Ganymede

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?

Hindu Mythology

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.

Mesopotamian Mythology

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.

Polynesian Mythology

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.”

Roman Mythology

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.

Aetos Dios

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.

Hercules Family

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.

Summer Triangle

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.

Novae

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.

Aquilids

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.

Aquarius

Ganymede

Advertisements

Cygnus

Cgynus

Etymology – Swan

Also known as: The Northern Cross, Ornis (Greek “bird”)

The constellation of Cygnus, the Swan is considered one of the most recognizable constellations in the night sky, particularly during the summer and autumn in the Northern Hemisphere.

To the Greeks, this constellation was known as Ornis, meaning “bird.” It was later named Cygnus by the Romans who proceeded to adapt several Greek myths to try and explain the name or connection.

While there are many people in Greek mythology who bear the name of Cycnus, the constellation of Cygnus is also associated with several stories. One of the more well known stories is that of the god Zeus and his transformation into a swan to try and seduce Leda or in some variations, Nemesis. Another well known story connected to this constellation is that of the story of Phaethon and his friend Cycnus.

Western Astronomy

The constellation known as Cygnus 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 16th in size. Pseudo-Eratosthenes and Hyginus’ Poetical Astronomy are the earliest sources of Greek astronomy and constellations that make the connection of the story of Zeus and Leda with his transformation into a swan.

Constellations bordering with Cycgnus are: Cepheus, Draco, Lyra, Vulpecula, Pegasus and Lacerta, The best time to spot Cygnus is during the month of September in the Northern Hemisphere.

Arabic Astronomy

Many of the older, traditional names for the star in Cygnus such as Albireo, Deneb, Rukh and Sadr clearly point towards a Middle Eastern connection. In Arabia, the constellation was known as: Al Ta’ir al Arduf, “the Flying Eagle.” Other names include Al Ta’ir al Arduf, Al Radif and Al Dajajah “the Hen.”

They clearly saw a bird, sometimes said to be an Eagle or Pigeon, but frequently, as the traditional names point to, a Hen.

The Arabs also have an asterism called Al Fawaris or “the Riders” that’s found within Cygnus.

Chinese Astronomy & Mythology

The constellation of Cygnus lays in the area of the night sky symbolized by The Black Tortoise of the North or Běi Fāng Xuán Wǔ. Modern Chinese has adopted the name of tiān é zuò, meaning “the swan constellation.”

The Chinese also know the constellation of Cygnus as Que Qiao, the “magpie bridge.” In the story associated with it, there was a pair of lovers, Niu Lang (a Shepherd) and Zhi Nu (a Weaver) who were separated by the Goddess of Heaven because Zhi Nu is a fairy and due to celestial decrees and mandates, wasn’t allowed to be with a mortal.

When the Goddess learned that the two were secretly married, she took Zhi Nu with her up into the heavens and created a river, represented by the Milky Way in the sky to keep the two separated.

Niu Lang was still determined and took his and Zhi Nu’s two children to Heaven so they could all be together. The Goddess however still forbade the two lovers to be together but on seeing their bitter tears, she relented and allowed that once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month the two could be reunited. So once a year, all the magpies in the world come together to form a bridge over the river and help the two lovers unite and see each other. The star Deneb in the story either marks the start of the bridge or represents a fairy who chaperones the two lovers when they meet.

The Qixi Festival, also known as the Qiqiao Festival and Double Seventh Festival and even the Magpie Festival commemorates the joyful reunion of these two lovers. It is a variable holiday held on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month in China. It is celebrated and observed in a couple other countries like Japan as Tanabata in Korea as Chilseok. It is a festival and holiday comparable to the European celebration of Valentine’s Day.

The legend of Niu Lang and Zhi Nu is one of four folk legends regarding love and romance. Young girls pray to Zhi Nu for skillful hands for sewing and young newly weds will worship this celestial couple and bid them farewell before moving on in their own marriage and happiness. Now days though, young people tend to favor the Western celebration of Valentine’s Day more then the Qixi Festival though their story is still told and passed on.

Polynesian Astronomy

In Tonga, Cygnus is known as Tuula-lupe. The Tuamotus called it Fanui-raro or Fanui-tai. The star Deneb is also given the name of Fanui-tai. The star Gamma Cygni is called Fanui-runga. In New Zealand, it is known as Mara-tea. The star Beta Cygni was likely called Whetu-kaupo. In the Society Islands, it is known as Pirae-tea or Taurua-i-te-haapa-raa-manu.

Zeus And Leda

One of the more well known stories connected to the Cygnus constellation is the story of Zeus disguising himself as a swan in order to seduce Leda. In this guise, Zeus behaved much like a swain, which means a lover or wooer.

Leda was the wife of the Spartan King Tyndareus. She’s known for giving birth to two sets of twins; the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux), and Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra. When Leda laid with Zeus, their union produced an egg. Later that night, when she laid with her lawful husband Tyndareus, their union resulted in another egg. The immortal twins Pollux and Helen are said to have been fathered by Zeus while the mortal twins Castor and Clytemnestra were fathered by Tyndareus.

Zeus And Nemesis

A variation to the above myth is that instead of Zeus seducing Leda, he seduces Nemesis, the goddess of divine justice and retribution. She was also the goddess of the Pelopennesian cult. Other sources are more clear that Nemesis lived in Rhamnus (located to the North-East of Athens) where this cult may have been. When Zeus went to seduce Nemesis, she changed herself into a variety of different animals before taking the form of a goose to escape him. Zeus continued to pursue Nemesis, each time taking the form of a larger, swifter animal until he turned into a swan before he was able to catch and rape her.

A variation of the story with Nemesis that’s told by Hyginus is that Zeus had turned himself into a swan and pretends to be escaping from an eagle. Nemesis protected the bird, offering sanctuary. It’s after words, when Nemesis has gone to sleep with the swan on her lap that she discovers the truth of who the bird really is.

In either version of the story told, Nemesis ends up laying an egg that she leaves in a swamp. This egg was found either by Hermes or a shepherd who brings it to Leda who keeps the egg in a chest until it hatches. It is from this egg that Helen of Troy is hatched. As a result of his success, Zeus placed an image of the swan up into the heavens.

Orpheus

The great musician Orpheus was said to have been turned into swan after being murdered by a group of Ciconian or Thracian Maenads. In this retelling of the story, Orpheus was placed up into the heavens as a swan next to his lyre, the constellation Lyra.

Cycnus And Phyllius

Another myth connected to this constellation is that of Cycnus and Phyllius. This Cycnus committed suicide and was turned into a swan after he was shamed and refused a tame bull that he demanded from Phyllius.

King Of Kolonai

Among many ancient Greek figures to have the name Cygnus or Cycnus, is a son of Poseidon and as well a king who fought in the Trojan war. He was killed by the hero Achilles on the first day and turned into a swan at his death by his father to save him.

The Death Of Phaethon

This story is perhaps the best known and most associated story to the Cygnus constellation.

Phaethon was the son of Clymene, whose husband was the Egyptian King Merops. Eventually, Clymene told Phaethon that Merops wasn’t his father and that it was the Sun-god Helios (or Apollo). Afterwards, Phaethon would boast and brag to his friends how his real father was a powerful god. Phaethon’s friends teased him and said he was lying. Hurt by this, Phaethon went to his mother Clymene, who then told him to go to the Sun-god and ask him yourself of the truth.

Helios was greatly pleased on seeing his son Phaethon and promised him anything that he asked for in order to prove to his friend who his father is. To Helios’ horror or dismay, Phaethon demanded to drive the Sun-chariot across the sky. Helios tried to dissuade Phaethon, telling him that driving the chariot was too dangerous for mortals, even demigods to drive. Unable to deter Phaethon, Helios relented, granting Phaethon his request.

Phaethon soon found himself loosing control of the chariot as the horses realized that someone new and inexperienced was holding the reigns. Like any such spirited animals who push to see how far they can go and do what they please, the horses took their own lead, racing across the sky towards the eastern horizon and heavens.

The horses’ uncontrolled pathway across the heavens left a scorch mark across the sky that became the Milky Way. The Earth became cold as the Sun-chariot was too high. As the horses continued their uncontrolled trek, they raced down close to the Earth, scorching the land across Africa and creating a great desert.

Making it worse, a frightened Phaethon saw the chariot racing towards a giant scorpion, the Scorpius constellation as the horses continued their uncheck race across the heavens. Pulling wildly on the reigns, Phaethon realized his folly and foolishness to not listen to his father.

To keep the Earth and Heavens from seeing more destruction from the out-of-control chariot, Zeus, the King of the Gods hurled one of his thunderbolts, striking Phaethon in the process. Phaethon’s body fell into the river Eridanus while the horses returned to their stables and back to Helios.

Phaethon’s friend or lover, Cycnus was so distraught over his death, that he went down to the river where he wept bitterly until the god Apollo took pity and turned Cycnus into a swan and eventually the gods decided to place him up into the heavens as the Cygnus constellation.

Another version to this story is that Phaethon and Cycnus were racing their respective chariots across the sky when they got too close to the Sun. Their chariots burned up and they fell to the Earth with Phaethon falling into the river Eridanus. When Cycnus came to and found where his friend was at, he dove in after to try and retrieve his friend’s body for burial and it’s from that action, that the gods or Apollo (sometimes its listed as Zeus) turn Cycnus into a swan and place him up into the heavens due to the level of grief Cycnus held and the gods sympathy and pity for him.

In other slight versions to this story, Cycnus is not only mentioned as a musician, but a King of the Ligurians. When Phaethon fell into the river Eridanus, Cycnus dove into the water, swimming back and forth searching for his friend’s body so he could bury them. Regardless of which variations of the story are retold and mentioned, Cycnus is still turned into a swan by the god Apollo and placed up into the heavens to form the Cygnus or Swan Constellation.

The Sons of Ares

There are two sons of Ares both of whom are named Cycnus. They often get confused together, though they both have in common getting killed by the hero Hercules and being turned into swans at their death.

Sacred Bird Of Apollo

While many deities have animals associated with them, Apollo is best known and associated with the swan. It was believed that large flocks of these birds could be found living on the mythical northern river of Eridanos in Hyperborea. These flocks were said to circle Apollo’s holy shrine, singing hymns. Another belief was that the people of Hyperborea, on reaching old age, that instead of dying, would turn into swans after bathing in the bitumen swamp of the river.

Swan Song

This phrase refers to a person’s final act or deed before death or retirement. Most often this is used for a person’s last piece of creative work, or performance, particularly in literature, music, or art.

One origin for this phrase is from the story of Cycnus, the friend or lover of Phaeton. The same Phaethon who begged his father Helios to be able to drive the sun chariot across the sky that ended in disaster and his death. While there are a few different versions of this story, it is generally agreed that Cycnus, being in such grief over the death and loss of his friend was changed into a swan by the god Apollo who took pity on him.

In addition, the Mute Swan was believed to sing a song at its death, a song considered to be the sweetest of all bird songs.

Queen Cassiopeia’s Pet

A rather minor note is that some think that Cygnus represents the swan that Queen Cassiopeia kept.

Hercules Family

The constellation of Cygnus, along with 18 other constellations of: Hercules, Sagitta, Aquila, Lyra, Vulpecula, Hydra, Sextans, Crater, Corvus, Ophiuchus, Serpens, Scutum, Centaurus, Lupus, Corona Australis, Ara, Triangulum Australe, and Crux.

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.

Cygnus, along with the other avian constellations of Aquila and Vultur cadens form a part of a significant myth of the Stymphalian Birds and one of the Twelve Labors of Hercules.

The Northern Cross

Among Christians, the constellation of Cygnus is known as the Northern Cross. Many Christians have seen the Cross or Crux that Jesus hung on.

Five stars form this asterism. They are: Deneb (Alpha Cygni), Delta Cygni, Albireo (Beta Cygni), Gienah (Epsilon Cygni) and Sadr (Gamma Cygni) forming the center.

Neolithic Connections?

It has been noted by some archaeologists that there are megalithic sites such as those found in Ireland that appear to be aligned with the Cygnus constellation. The Avebury, Wayland Smithy long barrow and Callanish are two such places aligned with either the rising or setting stars within Cygnus.

The swan, like many other birds are seen as symbolic of carrying the souls of the deceased to the after life. Many Palaeolithic sites and cultures have used birds symbolically for death and rebirth. Even the Greeks saw birds as psychopomps or “soul-carriers” and it been a very common belief among several cultures of Europe.

With such a connection to death and rebirth and Cygnus’ shape in the heavens, it would be very easy for early Christians to adapt and adopt this belief to their faith as the Cross.

Stars Of Cygnus

The stars Delta and Epsilon Cygni are used to depicted Cgynus’ wings while the star Deneb depicts the tail and Albireo represents the tip of the swan’s beak.

Alpha Cygni – Also known as Deneb, it is one of the brightest stars seen in the night sky. It is a blue-white supergiant star and 19th in brightness. The name Deneb comes from the Arabic word dhaneb, meaning “tail.” It is from the phrase Dhanab ad-Dajajah, which means: “the tail of the hen.” Within the constellation of Cygnus, it is one corner of the Summer Triangle with the stars Altair found in the constellation Auila and Vega, found in the constellation Lyra.

Beta Cygni – Also known as Albireo, it is generally considered to be the head of the swan and sometimes called “the beak star.” The name Albireo is likely the result of a mistranslation from Arabic into Latin where ab ireo was thought to be the name of a particular herb. The original translated name in Arabic was from the Greek word for bird which is “ornis.” It is a binary star and the fifth brightest star in Cygnus. It is one of the stars that form the Northern Cross.

Gamma Cygni – Also known as Sadr which comes from the Arabic word for “the chest.” This star is also sometime known as Pectus Gallinae, which is Latin for “the hen’s chest.” It is the star found in the center of the Northern Cross asterism.

Delta Cygni – Also known as Rukh. The name Rukh is Persian in origin and is related to Urkhga in Akkadian. The star is named after the huge, mythical bird of prey known as a Roc that was capable of carrying off elephants. In the year 11,250 C.E. this star will take the position of the North Star for a period of about 400 years.

Epsilon Cygni – Also known as Gienah, this star shares the same traditional name with Gamma Corvi from the Corvus constellation. The name Gienah comes from the Arabic word janah meaning “the wing.”

Kappa Cygni – This star marks the tip of Cygnus’ left wing. Its most notable for a meteor shower, the Kappa Cygnids that take place in August.

North America Nebula

Or NGC 7000 is one of the most well-known nebulae found within the Cgynus constellation as it is visible within the night sky without the aid of any telescopes as a bright patch of the Milky Way. Due to its characteristic shape, which resembles the North American Continent, it is only visible in long-exposure photographs and for those using telescopes; it can be difficult to spot as the surface area for brightness is low. It was first discovered by William Herschel in 1786.

Cygnus X

This is the largest star-forming region that has some of the brightest and most massive stars known such as Cygnus OB2-12 and Cygnus OB2.

Fireworks Galaxy

Also known as NGC 6946; this galaxy is known for the number of supernovae that have been found there. It is a spiral galaxy that borders the edge of Cygnus with the constellation Cepheus. NGC 6946 was discovered on September 9, 1798 by the German-born British astronomer Sir Frederick William Herschel. So far nine supernovae have been observed within this galaxy.

Cygnids

There are two meteor showers associated with the constellation of Cygnus. They are the October Cygnids and the Kappa Cygnids, a minor meteor shower that occurs in August.

Leo

Leo - Constellation

Etymology – the Lion

The constellation Leo is one of many familiar constellations that form the classical Greek Zodiac. It is often represented as a sickle-shape series of stars, with the sickle part being the lion’s head and the rest forming the body and tail of the lion.

Astronomy & Astrology

Much of the foundations of Western knowledge regarding the fields of Astronomy and Astrology owe its roots to Ancient Mesopotamian cultures. Many ancient cultures studied the stars, seeing in them patterns that are called constellations. These ancient astronomers were able to make predictable, annual turnings of the heavens that they could divide and mark for the passing of the Seasons and time. For the ancients, Astrology served as a precursor to Astronomy and they believed that by studying the heavens, they could foretell future events and even a person’s life path.

These ancient cultures would also meet and exchange ideas frequently and in this fashion, when the Greeks encountered the Persians, there was an exchange of knowledge regarding Astronomy that becomes the constellations and zodiacs so many know today. Eventually, there is no clear distinction between what ancient Mesopotamian Astronomers and Greeks Philosophers knew. Or who influenced who regarding the stories and myths behind the constellations. Even in current, modern times, the influence of these ancients is still known.

Western Astronomy

Leo is one of the oldest recognized constellations and was one of 48 constellations that were identified by Ptolemy, an astronomer who lived during the second century. In modern times, it is one of 88 known or recognized constellations. It is the 12th largest constellation in the night sky. The Leo constellation is a rather small constellation and is found between Cancer to the west and Virgo to the east. Other constellations bordering with Leo are Cancer, Coma Berenices, Crater, Hydra, Leo Minor, Lynx, Sextans, Ursa Major and Virgo.

Several other cultures have known of Leo throughout the millennia. Hindu astronomers have known of Leo as Asleha and Sinha, The Persians referred to this constellation as Ser or Shir, to the Turks as Artan, the Syrians as Aryo, the Jews as Arye, the Tamil as Simham and the Babylonians, Aru; all of which mean Lion in their respective languages.

Chinese Astronomy

The Chinese know of the constellation Leo, or at least know most of that stars that make up Leo as their constellation: Xuanyuan, the Yellow Dragon. In the Chinese zodiac, the stars that make up Leo are thought to represent a horse.

The star Beta Leonis while not part of Xuanyuan, was part of the myth connected to this constellation. It was called Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor, a legendary ruler and founder of Chinese civilization. His image, along with the Yellow Dragon, Yuanyuan were immortalized up in the heavens as a constellation.

A set of four stars to the north, south, west and east of Huangdi controlled and ruled the four season. These stars along with Huangdi formed an asterism known as Wudi, the Emperors. The chariots of the Emperors were represented by the fives that outline the constellation Auriga. North of this group of stars was the Emperor’s heir, Taizi (93 Leonis), his personal assistant Congguan (92 Leonis) and a bodyguard Huben (72 Leonis) who kept watch.

Wudi, Taizi and Congguan fall within a larger area called Taiwei which represented a court where the Emperor met with his private council. Taiwei extends out into the constellation of Virgo. A chain of five stars along the south of Delta, Theta, Iota and Sigma and up to Beta Virginis form one of the boundary walls for Taiwei.

Another fainter line of four stars from the north of Leo into Leo Minor form Shaowei, represent either a delegation of nobility welcoming Huangdi or a group of scholarly advisors. Its unclear which stars were meant to represent Shaowei. Some sources say they are 53 Leonis to 41 Leonis Minoris. This same line of stars later forms Changyuan, an outer wall protectiong Taiwei.

There are a few other smaller constellations that the Chinese saw in the area of Leo. The stars Xi Leonis and a couple other stars formed Jiuqi, a banner of a wine maker or merchant. Jiuqi is probably meant to be connected to the kitchen, Waichu seen in the constellation of Hydra to the south.

The stars Chi, 58 and 59 Leonis represent Lingtai, an astronomical observatory. The star Upsilon Leonis and two more stars formed Mingtang, the “bright hall”, an administrative center where the Emperor announced the forecast of events for the coming year. The “brightness” part of this asterism’s title may refer to the Emperor’s presence.

The sickle part of the Leo constellation is recognized as a completely different constellation. One that forms a snaking line up into the Lynx constellation.

Egyptian Mythology

The ancient Egyptians were known to have worshipped lion headed gods. They also believed that the world was created during a time when the Sun rose in the Leo constellation near the star known as Denebola. The Sun in Leo during the time of the Egyptians marked the annual flooding of the Nile River, the life blood of the Empire’s agriculture.

Greek and Roman Mythology

The Twelve Labors of Hercules

In Greek mythology, the hero Hercules was tasked with a series of twelve labors by King Eurystheus that needed to be performed as penance for the killing of Hercules’ family. The first of these tasks was to slay the Nemean Lion, one of many children of the giant Typhon and the monstrous Echidna. Other sources say the lion was the offspring of the god Zeus and Selene and that Selene may have deliberately set the monster against the people of Nemea for not giving her proper dues and respect as a goddess. Some sources will add too that the Nemean Lion was the brother of the Theban Sphinx. And finally, there is also mention of the dog Orthrus having sired the Nemean Lion.

When heading out to accomplish this task, Hercules stopped at the town of Cleonae where he stayed with a poor man known as Molorchus. When Molorchus heard of Hercules’ task, he offered to do a sacrifice to ensure a successful lion hunt. Hercules convinced Molorchus to wait thirty days. That way then, if Hercules returned with the slain beast, a sacrifice would be made to Zeus. If Hercules didn’t return, Molorchus would make a sacrifice to honor the fallen hero.

The nefarious beast was well known and Hercules lost no time at all in finding the beast’s lair; a cave with two entrances. When Hercules arrived, the lion showed itself and the hero began his battle in earnest with it. The lion was said to have a hide so tough that no weapon could pierce it as Hercules quickly discovered when his arrows had no effect on it. Hercules decided to seal off one of the cave entrances before pursuing the beast. Eventually Hercules caught up with the beast and ended up strangling the Lion to death by ramming his fist down its throat.

Obviously, Hercules was able to return to Cleonae where he and Molorchus made a sacrifice to Zeus, King of the Gods. And with the lion now dead, Hercules used one of its claws to skin it for its pelt. Wearing the pelt as a cloak, along with the lion’s head, Hercules returned to King Eurystheus to show proof of having finished the first of his twelve labors. Eurystheus was so frightened of the beast that he fled in terror from it. In any event, Hercules skinned the lion and used its hide for a shield.

Depending on the version of the story of Hercules and his first labor, it will be either Hera or Zeus who places the lion up in the heavens to become the constellation of Leo.

Pyramus and Thisbe

A story told by the poet Ovid, it tells how the parents of the title characters Pyramus and Thisbe, believed them too young to marry and forbade the two from seeing each other. As is the nature of rebellious youth passionately in love, the two still arranged to meet secretly with each other under a mulberry tree with white berries.

When Thisbe arrived to wait for Pyramus, a lion sprung out from under some bushes and she ran away in terror from it. As she did so, her veil fell to the ground and the lion already bloody from an earlier kill, pounced on it.

So later, when Pyramus arrives, he sees the bloodied veil of Thisbe and believes it as proof of her having been killed. Beside himself with grief and unable to see life without her, Pyramus thrusts himself on his sword. As he lays dying, Thisbe returns and seeing that her love is dead, takes up the sword to kill herself too. This tragedy was used to explain why mulberries are red as its believed the blood of the lovers colored them so. Other sources will say that Zeus placed Thisbe’s veil up in the heavens as the constellation Coma Berenices.

Other Names and Zodiac

Leo was also known as Bacchi Sidus, the star of Bacchus and identified with the god Bacchus. Roman poets like Ovid called the Leo constellation Herculeus Leo and Violentus Leo. Others like Manilius referred to this constellation as Jovis et Junonis Side, the Star of Jupiter and Juno. The Greek scholar Eratosthenes and Roman author Hyginus both have said that the lion was placed in the heavens as it is the king of beasts.

In regards to the zodiac and summer solstice, the Greeks and Romans had many various lion-headed fountains that may or may not have symbolized the strong connection of Leo to the life-giving waters and rains that the Egyptians revered.

Mesopotamian Mythology

Like many of the classic constellations, the Leo constellation was known as far back as 4000 B.C.E. by the Mesopotamians. The Babylonians called this constellation UR.GU.LA, the “Great Lion.” The star Regulus was known as “the star that stands at the Lion’s breast” and held distinct regal authority as it was also known as the “King Star” or Star of the King.” The ancient Chaldeans associated Leo with the sun as back during their time; the sun was in the sky during the summer solstice.

King Of The Beasts

The ancient Greeks Eratosthenes and Hyginus both mention that the shape of a lion to have placed in the night sky as it is the King of the Beasts.

Loosing A Tail

Around 240 B.C.E., the Leo constellation lost its tail when an astronomer-priest under Ptolemy III reassigned the stars to make up the constellation of Coma Berenices or Berenice’s Hair.

Stars In Leo

Alpha Leonis – Also known as Regulus and believed to be so named by the astronomer Copernicus, it is the brightest star in Leo and it is the 22nd brightest star in the sky. In the northern hemisphere, Regulus is best seen in late winter and spring evenings. Due to the earth’s orbit and rotation around the sun, Regulus can’t be seen for about a two month’s time during August and September. The name Regulus means “little king” or “prince” in Latin. The Greek name Basiliscos also holds the same meaning. And the Arabic name for this star, Qalb al-Asad means: “the heart of the lion.” Among those civilizations located around the Euphrates river, Regulus was known as “The Flame” or “Red Fire” as it had been believed anciently that this star was responsible for the hotness of Summer.

Another name with the same meanings is Cor Leonis. Regulus was known anciently as one of the four “Royal Stars” of Heaven. The other three are Aldebaran, Fomalhaut, and Antares.

Beta Leonis – Also known as Denebola or the tail of the lion. It is the second brightest star in the Leo constellation. The name Denebola comes from the Arabic name ðanab al-asad.

Gamma Leonis – Also known as Algieba, it is a double star. The name Algieba or Al Gieba comes from the Arabic word Al-Jabhah which means “the forehead” or “lion’s mane.” The star is also known by a Latin name of Juba. Along with other stars, Adhafera or Zeta Leonis and Al Jabbah or Eta Leonis, they are sometimes called the Sickle.

Delta Leonis – Or Zosma from the Greek language for “girdle,” it refers to this star’s location on the lion’s hip.

Wolf 359 – This star is a red dwarf and is one of the lowest-mass stars discovered to date. After Alpha Centauri and Barnad’s Star, it is one of the closest stars to our Sun. As a result of this, Wolf 359 has enjoyed some claim to fame by being mentioned shows like Star Trek and location of the Battle of Wolf 359 where the Borg destroyed a number of Star Fleet ships. Wolf 359 also has mention made in an episode of The Outer Limits.

Leo Ring

One of the more interesting celestial objects found in the Leo constellation is the Leo Ring is a huge ancient cloud of helium and hydrogen gas that orbits between two galaxies. Astronomers have determined that it is left over material from the event known as the Big Bang. This gas cloud was discovered by radio astronomers in 1983.

Leonids

The Leonids are the meteor showers associated with the Leo constellation. They’re seen in November and peak around November 14-15 with 10-20 meteors per hour. These meteors are known to come from the Tempel-Tuttle comet which orbits the sun every 33 years. Three times a century, this meteor shower will become particularly dense with several hundred to even bursts of 1,000 meteors per hour. These denser showers typically happen in years ending in 33, 66 and 99.

There is another minor January Leonid shower that typically occurs between January 1 and January 7.

Summer Solstice

The constellation Leo had at one time been associated with the Summer Solstice. This has changed over the millennia, with progression of the equinoxes and shifts in the Earth’s axis as it rotates around the sun.

Anciently, it had been believed that the star known as Regulus was responsible for the excessive heat at the height of summer. Around 2,300 B.C.E. the Summer Solstice was located near Regulus and marked the beginning of summer. Nowadays, we’re close to the end of summer and getting to head into autumn. The role of the summer star has changed to that of Sirius and the dog days of summer.

The ancient Egyptians believed the world to have been created during a time with the Sun in Leo and close to the star known as Denebola. On the Temple ceiling in Dendera Temple complex in Egypt, there is a night sky painting depicting the whole zodiac and their constellations. All of which shows a strong Greco-Roman influence.

Zodiac

The constellation of Leo is the fifth sign of twelve signs that form the Zodiac. For those who study and are into the classical Greek Zodiacs, this time is typically said to be from July 22 to August 22. Due to the changes of the earth’s orbit and tilt, the best time to see this constellation is during April around 9 p.m. The Sun is said to rule this Zodiacal sign and constellation. Its element is Fire, an extroverted sign and is one of four fixed signs.

Those born under the sign of Leo are thought to love taking the spot light and center stage in everything they do as they are very outgoing and enthusiastic. This can cause a seeming appearance and belief that the world revolves around them. Leos are also seen as being rather ambitious and take up a lot of different creative activities. The down side to Leos is that they can be seen as brash and arrogant in their self-confidence. Leos can be rather opinionated about matters and may rub others the wrong way. Leos can be very generous in spirit, fierce in their determination and loyal.

Cancer

Cancer

Etymology – The Crab.

Cancer, the Crab is one of twelve familiar signs of the Zodiac in Western Culture. Surprisingly for all of its importance in the Zodiac, the part it plays in Greek mythology is only that of a bit part.

The modern-day symbol for Cancer is a pair of pincers like those on a crab. The constellation shape for cancer itself looks more like an upside-down “Y” which is interpreted to be the back of the crab. Over the millennia, the Cancer constellation has been used to represent a number of different animals, most often those of an aquatic, shore-dwelling animal with an exoskeleton.

Astronomy & Astrology

Much of the foundations of Western knowledge regarding the fields of Astronomy and Astrology owe its roots to Ancient Mesopotamian cultures. Many ancient cultures studied the stars, seeing in them patterns that are called constellations. These ancient astronomers were able to make predictable, annual turnings of the heavens that they could divide and mark for the passing of the Seasons and time. For the ancients, Astrology served as a precursor to Astronomy and they believed that by studying the heavens, they could foretell future events and even a person’s life path.

These ancient cultures would also meet and exchange ideas frequently and in this fashion, when the Greeks encountered the Persians, there was an exchange of knowledge regarding Astronomy that becomes the constellations and zodiacs so many know today. Eventually, there is no clear distinction between what ancient Mesopotamian Astronomers and Greeks Philosophers knew. Or who influenced who regarding the stories and myths behind the constellations. Even in current, modern times, the influence of these ancients is still known.

Western Astronomy

Cancer is one of the oldest recognized constellations and was one of 48 constellations that were identified by Ptolemy, an astronomer who lived during the second century. In modern times, it is one of 88 known or recognized constellations. It is the 31st largest constellation in the night sky. The Cancer constellation is a rather small constellation and is found between Gemini to the west and Leo to the east. Other constellations bordering with Cancer are Leo Minor, Lynx, Canis Minor and Hydra.

There is a 12th century illustrated astronomical book that depicts the Cancer constellation as a water beetle. In 1489, an Albumasar wrote about Cancer, describing it as a large crayfish. Then in the 17th century, Jakob Bartsch and Stanislaus Lubienitzki describe the constellation as being a lobster.

Chinese Astronomy

In Chinese astronomy, the stars that make up Cancer lie within the Vermillion Bird of the South or Nán Fāng Zhū Què.

The four stars (Delta, Gamma, Eta and Theta Cancri ) surrounding the star cluster known as Praesepe or the Beehive Cluster were known as Gui, meaning ghosts, which referred to the spirits of the dead. The 23rd Chinese Lunar Mansion was also called Gui for this asterism. In China, Praesepe was called Jishi, a group of corpses. This star cluster and the four stars surrounding it were seen as a ghost being carried in a sedan chair on a wagon. For this reason, this group of stars was known as Yugui or Ghost Wagon.

North of Gui was another grouping of stars that formed a figure called Guan, a beacon fire on a watchtower. Sources will differ as to which four groups of stars this was to have been and it may have changed from time to time too. Some sources place Gui as being around Chi Cancri while other sources place Gui around Iota Cancre. A final chain of four stars that crosses into Cancer from Canis Minor was known as Shuiwei or the “water level.”

Egyptian Mythology

In ancient Egyptian records dating back to around 2,000 B.C.E., the Cancer constellation was seen as Scarabaeus or the Scarab and a sacred emblem for immortality. A scarab was also responsible for pushing the Sun across the heavens.

In Coptic Egypt, Athanasius Kircher reports that Cancer was Κλαρια, the Bestia seu Statio Typhonis or the Power of Darkness. The scholar, Jérôme Lalande identified Cancer with Anubis, one of the Egyptian divinities commonly associated with Sirius.

Greek & Roman Mythology

Cancer the crab was known by several names. In Latin, the name Cancer means crab. Manilus and Ovid both referred to this constellation as Litoreus or “shore-inhabiting.” In Greece, it was Karkinos, meaning crab. In the Alfonsine tables, it was called Carcinus, a Latinized form of the Greek word. Aside from being known as a crab, it was also called Asses and Crib.

The famous hero Hercules had to perform a series of twelve tasks or labors as part of his penance for the death of his sons after he had been driven mad by Hera. For the second of these labors, Hercules traveled to the swamps of Lerna where the Hydra dwelt. With Athena’s aid, Hercules was able to locate the Hydra’s lair. The Hydra was a gigantic water snake with nine heads and immortal. The mighty hero found himself at a standoff with the beast as he soon discovered that for every time a head was chopped off, two more would grow back and its breath could kill on contact.

The crab, Cancer enters the story here as either the Hydra called on it for help or the goddess Hera sent it to hinder the hero Hercules. It’s considered a large crab, large enough that it tries to do a number on Hercules’ foot with its pincers. For all its trouble, Hercules simply kills it by crushing it in return with his foot and then turning his attention back to the Hydra and finally succeeds at killing it. A slight variation to this turn of events places Hercules as having kicked the crab hard enough that it flew up into the heavens to become the familiar constellation of Cancer.

With the Hydra’s death, Hercules proceeds to dip his arrows into the beast’s blood. As the Hydra’s blood is poisonous, the slightest scratch from one of these poisoned-tipped arrows would be instant death to his enemies. Instead later, it results in the accidental poisoning and death of either Chiron or Pholus depending on the version of the story of Hercules’ battle with the centaurs being told.

Late addition or down grade of a legend?

Several scholars have come to believe that its very well possible that the crab part of the myth when Hercules battles the Hydra in the Twelve Labors of Hercules, is a latter addition by early astrologers and astronomers trying to connect and relate all the constellations to Hercules’ legends.

Regardless of what the case is, the crab is awarded a place in the heavens as a constellation by Hera. As the crab failed to kill Hercules, it only has faint stars that make it up; no bright stars are found within it.

Cry Havoc And Let Slip The Donkeys of War!

There are two stars, Delta and Gamma Cancri, respectively known as the Northern and Southern Donkey that are part of an old Greek legend. When the gods went to battle the Titans, Hephaestus, Dionysus and several other gods rode in on donkeys. The Titans, having never heard the sounds of Donkeys braying, thought that they were monsters and so fled the field of battle. To commemorate this event, Dionysus placed the donkeys in the night sky as a star next to the star cluster Praesepe, which represented a manger or crib.

Another version from Greek Legend

In another legend, Hera is to have driven the god Dionysus insane. As a result, he ended up wandering through Egypt and Syria in the throes of madness. In an attempt to recover his sanity, Dionysus visited the Oracle of Zeus in Dodona to find a solution. While on his way there, he came upon a swamp where, he encountered two asses or donkeys which he subsequently caught. Dionysus then proceeded to ride the donkeys through the swamp in order to avoid getting wet. Once through and on the other side, Dionysus found that he was cured of his insanity and rewarded the donkeys by placing them up in the heavens as the Northern and Southern Donkey.

And from Roman Legend

In this one, the god Silenus’ donkey that he rode got into a contest with Priapus over the size of their erect manhoods. When the god won, he killed the beast and Silenus taking pity, placed the donkey up into the stars where it can be found in Cancer.

Hindu Mythology & Astronomy

In Sanskrit, Cancer is known by the name of Karka and Karkata. In Telugu it is called Karkatakam. Other dialects from India such as Kannada call Cancer Karkataka or Kataka. In Tamil its Karkatan and in Sinhalese its Kagthaca. Later Hindus would know Cancer as Kuilura. Etymologists believe that all of these word variations have influenced the Greek name for Cancer.

Malaysian Mythology

In Malaysian myths, Cancer was the “First and Only Crab” which existed long ago, the primal or mother crab from which all crabs came. It was a huge crustacean who lived in a deep hole in the sea. This hole was so large that the crab’s coming and goings from it would cause the ocean tides.

Mesopotamian Mythology

In Akkadia, Cancer was known as Alluttu. It marked the location for the Sun of the South during the Summer Solstice. Later on, it became associated with the fourth month of Duzu that roughly corresponds with the modern, western calendar of June-July. Duzu was known too as the Northern Gate of the Sun.

Among the Babylonians, the constellation was known as MUL.AL.LUL, or Bulag a name that can refer to either a crab or a snapping turtle. One source places the meaning of the word Bulag as “the Wicked One.” This is to be an early reference to the stars as having a reputation for being of an unfortunate nature. On boundary stones, the image of a turtle or tortoise is found regularly and thought to be what represents Cancer. A crab symbol has yet so far, not been found on any of the boundary stones.

Gate Of Men

There also seems to be a strong connection linking the ideas of death and passage into the Underworld that may contribute to the Greek myths and legends associated in the story of Hercules and his battle with the Hydra.

In the ancient Chaldean and Platonic philosophies, Cancer was known as the Gate of Men. This was a gateway or portal by which souls descended from the heavens when they were ready to be born. About 2700 years ago, the sun passed through the Cancer constellation during the Summer Solstice. At this point and time, Cancer was the apex of the Zodiac. The symbol of a crab came into use as it was believed that the sun’s seemingly backwards motion through the heavens were much like those of a crab in how they walk; that is sideways and backwards once it reached the Summer Solstice. The symbolism of the crab is also used as it’s a shore creature and represented a bridge between the land and ocean from where all life began. The opposite sign of Cancer is Capricorn, seen as the Gate of the Gods through which the souls of the dead would ascend back up to the heavens.

Stars of Cancer

Alpha Cancri – Also known as Acubens or Al Zubanah, both meaning “the claws.” Another name for this star is Sertan, “the crab.” It is the fourth brightest star of the Cancer constellation.

Beta Cancri – Also known as Al Tarf or Tarf, the name is thought to come from the Arabic “aṭ-ṭarf” which means “the eye,” or “aṭ-ṭarfah” meaning “the glance of Leo.” Beta Cancri is the brightest star found within the Cancer constellation.

Delta Cancri – This star is the second brightest star within the Cancer constellation. An orange giant, it is also known as Asellus Australis or the “southern donkey colt.” Additionally, this star also holds the record for the longest name. Arkushanangarushashutu is from the ancient Babylonian language and means: “the southeast star in the Crab.” This star also marks the location of o Praesepe or the Beehive Cluster.

Gamma Cancri – Also known as Asellus Borealis or “northern donkey colt” is a white A-type star or subgiant.

Both Delta and Gamma Cancri as the Northern and Southern Donkey are associated with a Greek legend in which Dionysus, Hephaestus and several of the gods rode into battle against the Titans riding on donkeys.

Zeta Cancri – Also known as Tegmine, meaning “the shell of the crab” is a star system of at least four stars.

Beehive Cluster

Also known as M44 and better known by its Latin name Praesepe which also means hive or crib, is the brightest star cluster found in Cancer that can be seen by the naked eye at night without the aid of a telescope. The Beehive Cluster is found in the center of the Cancer constellation. It is best seen and observed during the months of February to May on the Northern side of the Equator when Cancer appears at its highest point. There’s well over three hundred stars found in the Beehive Cluster. It thought that over a hundred of these stars are brighter then the Earth’s own Sun.

The ancient astronomer Ptolemy described the Beehive Cluster as “the nebulous mass in the breast of Cancer.” Hipparchus referred to this cluster as a “Little Cloud” and Aratus called it the “Little Mist.” In antiquity, this cluster had often been used to predict the weather. If it wasn’t crystal clear or visible, then inclement weather could be expected. The Beehive Cluster was also one of the first objects that Galileo observed in his telescope in 1609. At that time, he identified 40 stars within the cluster. Nowadays, there are about 1010 likely members with most of them being red dwarfs. Halley’s Comet was discovered in this part of the night sky in 1531.

Both the Greeks and Romans identified the Beehive Cluster as a manager that two donkeys, represented by neighboring stars as Asellus Borealis and Asellus Australis eat from. These two stars represent the donkeys that the god Dionysus and his tutor Silenus rode on during the war with the Titans. The ancient Chinese saw in the cluster a ghost or demon riding in a carriage and called it a “cloud of pollen blown from under willow catkins.”

Cancrids

Cancer has only one meteor shower associated with it and it’s known as the Delta Cancrids.

Tropic of Cancer

The tropic of Cancer is the latitude line on the Earth that marks the northernmost point when the Sun appears to be overhead at noon. Particularly during the Summer Solstice on or roughly around June 21.

Summer Solstice

In ancient times, Cancer marked the location of the Sun’s most northerly position in the heavens and Summer Solstice. With the precession of the equinoxes over the years, the sun is now technically in Taurus come June 21st when its time for the Summer Solstice.

Zodiac

The constellation of Cancer is the fourth sign of twelve signs that form the Zodiac. For those who study and are into the classical Greek Zodiacs, this time is typically said to be from June 21 to July 21. Due to the changes of the earth’s orbit and tilt, the best time to see this constellation is during March around 9 p.m. The Moon is said to rule this Zodiacal sign and constellation. Its element is Water, an extroverted sign and is one of four cardinal signs.

Those born under the sign of Cancer are thought to have sensitive, shy and caring natures. On the extreme side of things, a Cancer person can be seen as being too emotional, touchy and moody. They can be tough when they need to be. Home is important to a Cancer person. They love all the creature comforts of home and family. A Cancer person may have a strong love for family traditions and certainly family values.

Dark Sign Of The Zodiac

Because it has so few stars and isn’t very bright as a constellation to begin with, Cancer is often seen as the “Dark Sign,” described as being black and without eyes.

House Of The Moon

In Richard Hinckley Allen’s book Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning, the constellation of Cancer was considered the House of the Moon as it was believed that the moon was found here at the time of creation.