The Story Behind the Stars
In this Greek myth, the monster Typhon descends upon Mount Olympus, threatening all of the gods and goddesses, who flee from their home (with a couple key exceptions). As Typhon approaches, the goddess Aphrodite and her son Eros (a.k.a. Venus and Cupid in Roman mythology) find themselves in need of escape.
Here’s where you get to choose your own adventure. According to different versions of this legend, either Aphrodite and Eros turn into fish, two fish approach them and swim them away to safety, or they turn into fish AND two other fish take them to safety. Whichever version you prefer, truth be told, it doesn’t really matter. One way or another, the two escape from Typhon thanks to two fish.
These two fish were later honored by being placed in the heavens as the constellation Pisces. It is for this reason that I tend to believe that there were two fish who were not Aphrodite and Eros, since during Typhon’s assault on Mount Olympus, the other gods turned into animals as well, and were not turned into constellations.
Note that the mythology of Pisces always refers to two fish, never one. Most versions of the Typhon escape legend speak of the tails of the fish being tied together to avoid losing each other. The constellation of Pisces represents two fish with their tails tied together.
A similar version of the story is told in Syrian mythology, where two fish known as the “Ikhthyes” (or “Ichthyes”) were the ones who rescued Aphrodite and Eros. Later, a different Syrian myth tells of a large and mysterious egg appearing on the Euphrates river, where two fish (or possibly men with fish-tails according to some classical art) named Aphros and Bythos who brought the egg to shore and helped it hatch. Inside the egg was Aphrodite (as her Syrian counterpart Ashtarte).
Both stories have to do with some form of fish rescuing some form of Aphrodite via the river Euphrates. In both myths, the helpful fish were made into the Pisces constellation. It is believed that this legend is the reason why Syrians refused to eat fish.
Lastly, there are often questions as to the relevance of the mythology of Pisces in reference to Christian mythology. The fish is often used in Christian symbology to represent Jesus Christ. This is typically in reference to the tale of the “Loaves and Fishes Miracle”, rather than to the Pisces myth.
The Aquarius myth follows the story of Ganymede, a young prince, and supposedly the most beautiful young man of Troy.
One day Ganymede was off tending to his father’s sheep in a grassy area on Mount Ida when he was spotted by Zeus (Greek mythology).
Now, you have to remember that back in ancient Greece, it was the social norm for an older man to take a “young boy” (anywhere from 12 to 19) as a lover. In Ganymede’s case, he was probably around 15 or so when the considerably older Zeus found him irresistibly beautiful and decided that he wanted him for himself.
Zeus transformed himself into the shape of a giant eagle and swooped down from Mount Olympus to Mount Ida. He grabbed Ganymede in his talons and carried him back to Mount Olympus to be his young lover / servant. Now, normally in these kinds of relationships the older man would serve as a sort of mentor to the younger one, but this was Zeus, and he pretty much gets whatever he wants. So Zeus decides that Ganymede will become his personal cup-bearer, basically bringing him drinks whenever he pleases.
Since Ganymede is now essentially Zeus’s slave, Zeus offers Ganymede’s father a herd of the finest horses in the land as compensation for taking his son away. This apparently appeases the father, though it’s doubtful that he had much of a say in the matter either way.
One day Ganymede has had enough, and he decides to pour out all of the wine, ambrosia, and water of the gods, refusing to stay Zeus’s cup bearer any longer. The legend goes that the water all fell to Earth, causing inundating rains for days upon days, which created a massive flood that flooded the entire world.
At first Zeus wants to punish Ganymede, but in a rare moment of self-reflection, Zeus realizes that he has been a bit unkind to the boy, so he makes him immortal as the constellation representing the Aquarius myth.
The Greeks associated the constellation with the forest deity Pan, who had the legs and horns of a goat. Crotus, his son, is usually identified with another amphibious creature, represented by the neighboring constellation Sagittarius.
Pan was placed in the sky by Zeus in gratitude for his coming to the other gods’ rescue on several occasions. During the gods’ war with the Titans, Pan helped scare the Titans away by blowing his conch shell and, later, he warned the gods that Typhon, a monster sent by Gaia to fight the gods, was approaching. He also suggested that the gods disguise themselves as animals until the danger passed.
In the myth, Pan eluded the monster himself by jumping into the river Nile and turning the lower part of his body into that of a fish. Zeus eventually killed Typhon with his thunderbolts and, in reference to the myth, Capricornus is still often depicted as a goat with the tail of a fish.`
SAGITTARIUS, The Archer, represents a centaur - half-man, half-horse, descended from Ixion, the man who dared to lust after Hera, wife of Zeus. Realising Ixion’s intentions, Zeus sent a cloud, disguised as Hera, to trick him. The offspring of this union was Kentauros, who was shunned by gods and mankind alike. He moved to Thessaly and bred with the mares there, and so centaurs were born. Some, like Chiron, the wise and kindly centaur who befriended Hercules and who is represented by CENTAURUS, were considerate and friendly to men, but many were aggressive. SAGITTARIUS is one of the latter, a fierce hunter with his bow and arrow always aimed at Scorpius.
Scorpius is a zodiacal constellation. The scorpion is generally believed to be responsible for the death of the great hunter Orion. According to some myths, the scorpion stung Orion in response to his boast that he could defeat any beast; according to others, it was sent by Apollo, who was concerned for his sister Diana’s continued chastity.
In either case, Scorpius was placed in the opposite side of the sky from Orion so as to avoid any further conflict. It is to the southeast of Libra, and is marked by the bright red star Antares. (Antares is Greek for “Rival of Ares,” the Greek war-god. The star is so named because of of its brightness and color, which are approximately the same as of the planet Mars. Mars, of course, is the Roman name for Ares.)
Libra is the 7th sign of the zodiac and is remarkable for being the only one not represented by a living creature. Libra, the Scales of Balance and Final Judgment dates back to Egyptian afterlife rituals - wherein a scale was allegedly used to weigh the souls of the dead. Anubis weighs the heart of the deceased against the feather of Ma’at, goddess of truth and justice. Libra has also been associated, in mythology, with Tyche, the goddess of fortune (identified as Virgo) and also called The Lady Justice.
Her Scales were set amongst the stars as the constellation of Libra. In Italy, Fortuna began as a bringer of luck, of good crops and plentiful harvest. Hers was one of the very few festivals that slaves could attend as well as free persons. There are several myths which are associated with the astrological star sign, Libra.Astraea, daughter of Themis, are also associated with Libra. Greco-Roman goddesses such as Venus/Aphrodite, Discordia/Eris, Freyja and Frigg, Ishta, and Aztec god Xolotl are all associated with Libra.
In all of constellation mythology, few legends are as misunderstood as the Virgo myth.
By most accounts, the typical interpretation of Virgo mythology is a series of goddesses from various cultural mythologies that combine to create the myth of “Virgo the Virgin”. I believe, however, that this view is inaccurate.
The word “virgo” is Latin, means “self-contained” which is for us is better interpreted as “self-sufficient”. In astrology, those born under the sign of Virgo are said to behave in an individualistic, self-sufficient manner. Their nurturing comes from a place of not needing others to find fulfillment for them, but being able to create for others because they can already create for themselves.
The first is the Nemean lion which Hercules had to kill as the first of his 12 Labours. This fearsome beast terrorised the land, killing all who ventured near it. Not only was it more fierce, larger and stronger than other lions, but it also had the added advantage of possessing a skin which was impervious to metal, stone and wood. Since, for this reason, Hercules could not kill the lion with any weapon, he wrestled it with his bare hands, and finally managed to strangle the animal. Seeing at once the unique protective qualities of the pelt, he removed it with one of the lion’s own claws, and thereafter wore it as a cloak.
The second contender is the lion featured in the poet Ovid’s tale of Pyramus and Thisbe. Both sets of parents of this young couple considered them too young to marry and stopped them seeing each other. However, the pair made arrangements to meet secretly by a mulberry tree with white berries. When Thisbe arrived at the appointed place, a lion sprang out from some bushes and she ran away in fright. Unfortunately, her veil fluttered to the ground as she ran and the lion, bloody from its latest kill, pounced on it. A short time later Pyramus arrived, saw his beloved’s bloody veil and believed that she had been killed. Totally distraught, and unable to face life without her, he threw himself on his sword. As he lay dying, Thisbe returned, took his sword and killed herself. The blood of the tragic pair coloured the berries of the mulberry tree red, and so they remain to this day.
The Greek mythology of Cancer the Crab is simply a family mess. It is hard to imagine that the mighty family of Zeus could be so dysfunctional, but there you have it. The story begins with Zeus having an affair with Alcmene, the queen of Tiryns. The result of this union was the Heracles (the Romans named him our familiar Hercules), the most famous Greek Hero. Of course, this union and offspring did not go over too well with Hera, the wife of Zeus. Hera, in her jealous state, swore to kill Hercules. Hera attempted to have Hercules killed many times but his imposing strength allowed him to overcome. Cancer comes into this ‘beloved’ scene when Hercules is fighting the terrible water-serpent, Hydra. During the battle between Heracles and Hydra, Hera sent Cancer, the giant crab, to aid the serpent. As the violent fight took place, Cancer was nipping at Hercules feet. But Heracles, being so mighty in strength, killed the crab by smashing its shell with his foot. Hera then placed the crab’s image in the night sky as a reward for it’s service.
Gemini is a zodiacal constellation representing the twin brothers Castor and Pollux. Both were mothered by Leda, and were therefore brothers of Helen, but they had different fathers: In one night, Leda was made pregnant both by Jupiter in the form of a swan and by her husband, the king Tyndarus of Sparta. Pollux, as the son of a god, was immortal and was renowned for his strength, while his mortal brother Castor was famous for his skill with horses. Both brothers voyaged in search of the Golden Fleece as Argonauts, and then fought in the Trojan War to bring their sister home to her husband Menelaus. They are traditionally depicted as armed with spears and riding a matched pair of snow-white horses.
The most common explanation for their presence in the heavens is that Pollux was overcome with sorrow when his mortal brother died, and begged Jupiter to allow him to share his immortality. Jupiter, acknowledging the heroism of both brothers, consented and reunited the pair in the heavens.
Taurus is a zodiacal constellation. According to myth, Taurus represents the bull-form taken on by Jupiter when he became enamored of Europa, princess of Phoenicia:
Majesty and love go ill together, nor can they long share one abode. Abandoning the dignity of his sceptre, the father and ruler of the gods, whose hand wields the flaming three-forked bolt, whose nod shakes the universe, adopted the guise of a bull; and mingling with the other bullocks, joined in their lowing and ambled in the tender grass, a fair sight to see. His hide was white as untrodden snow, snow not yet melted by the rainy South wind. The muscles stood out on his neck, and deep folds of skin hung along his flanks. His horns were small, it is true, but so beautifully made that you would swear they were the work of an artist, more polished and shining than any jewel. There was no menace in the set of his head or in his eyes; he looked completely placid.(Metamorphoses II 847-858).
The princess Europa was impressed by the beauty and gentleness of the bull, and the two played together on the beach. Eventually, Europa climbed onto the bull’s back, and he swam out to sea with her. He took her to Crete and revealed his true self.
The constellation Taurus consists of only the head and shoulders of the snowy white bull. The representation in the stars seems to show a raging bull, however, always about to plunge into Orion, which doesn’t seem to reflect the gentle, seductive bull in Ovid’s telling of the story.
Aries, The Ram, is the first of the twelve zodiacal constellations, and in Greek myth represents the animal whose fleece was sought by Jason and the Argonauts. Legend has it that when King Athamus of Boetia took a second wife, Ino, she was extremely jealous and resentful of his existing children, especially his son, Phrixus. She therefore deviously plotted the failure of the corn crop, intercepted and bribed the messenger sent by her husband to consult an oracle on the matter, and instructed him to say that he had been told that Phrixus had to be sacrificed if the people were to escape starvation. Despite pleadings from the boy’s mother, Nephele, King Athamus agreed to the sacrifice but, at the very last minute, the boy and his sister, Helle, were saved by a magnificent ram with a golden fleece, sent by Zeus in answer to their mother’s prayers. Unfortunately, as the ram crossed the narrow stretch of water between Europe and Asia, Helle fell to her death (the straits are still known as Hellespont) but Phrixus was carried safely to the land of Colchis. He gave thanks for his deliverance by sacrificing the ram to Zeus and giving its golden fleece to King Aeetes. The king had the fleece placed in a sacred copse, guarded by a fearsome dragon which never slept. Phrixus later married the king’s daughter and remained in exile for the rest of his life, but the fleece was eventually stolen by Jason.