Some time ago, I was asked to write about the myths of zodiac for a website in Australia. I did so, and it has been a great success. I have modified and cleaned it up a bit and I am anti-blogging here. Mythology is not some kind of fairy-tale-type story, but myths are profound stories that must be deciphered carefully to be understood. “The Myths of the Zodiac” that I have written is a great telling of the profound drama and tragedies that are in the heavens, of which very few moderns know. These tragedies include the very origin of tragedy itself. I have put together these myths from various ancient sources, and much of the interpretation that I have given is original, as I far as I know.
Aries the Ram
The ram with the golden fleece is believed to have been born of the union of Poseidon and Theophane, the daughter of Bialius. It is said that Poseidon had changed her into a sheep to keep her away from her many suitors, and the god himself turned himself into a ram to couple with her. But this ram is not remembered because of this amorous adventure.
This ram carried the children of King Athamas of Boetia Phrixus and Helle in the air, across the waterway now known as the Hellespont. The ram, according to Pseudo-Eratosthenes, and given to the youngsters by their mother, Nephele (“cloud”). Eratosthenes mentions that as they crossed that narrow straight between Europe and Asia, the ram threw the young girl Helle off, and lost a horn at the same time. Poseidon, the god of the sea and of horses, purportedly rescued her. Hyginus in his Poetica Astronomia, however, is a little more candid, and notes that Poseidon raped her. Helle would later give birth to Paeon or to Edonus, depending on the source.
According to Hyginus, after Phrixus arrived at Colchis, the kingdom of Aeetes, father of the Medea and brother to Circe and Pasiphae, the young man sacrificed the ram to Zeus and hung the golden fleece in the temple on the altar. Eratosthenes, however, says that the ram shed the fleece and gave it to Phrixus as a souvenir. The ram then went to the stars, where it is very faint. Not one star of Aires is brighter than the third-magnitude.
Hyginus says the ram was placed among the stars by Nephele to preside over spring, because formerly Ino sowed parched grain at that time, which was responsible for the flight of Phrixus and Helle in the first place. It is here where the story is murky and requires a bit of deduction. Ino, the daughter of Cadmus and Harmony and a descendent of Aphrodite, would later marry Athamas after he divorced Nephele. Ino also would later go insane and kill her own children because of the anger of Hera. The goddess sought revenge for Ino caring for one of Zeus’s sons, the god Dionysos, a god of madness and the frenzy that is visited upon women in particular. In turn, Ino would commit suicide and throw herself into the sea, where she was transformed into Leucothea, the nymph who would save Odysseus during a great storm. There is a strong theme of underlying madness as part of the myth.
Of course, it is not so clear as to why the flight took place. One account has it that Cretheus, Athamas’s brother, had a wife Demodice (or Biadice).
She had fallen in love with Phrixus, because the young man was very handsome, but she could not seduce him. Enraged, she denounced the young man before Cretheus, accusing him of trying to rape her. A man who loved his wife or perhaps to because he felt his own honor at stake, Cretheus prevailed upon Athamas to kill his son. It was then that Nephele placed her two children on the ram that led Phrixus to Colchis and Helle either into the arms of Poseidon or to her death in the Hellespont. One account has it that Hermes, the messenger of the gods, brought Phrixus back to his father, persuading him that the young man was innocent. It is reported that Demodice was later executed for her treachery.
Later, of course, the golden fleece would be the quest of Jason and the Argonauts.
The usual modern explanation for this myth is that in times of famine or drought, the son of the king would be sacrificed just as a ram would be sacrificed to Zeus. The ram is the animal favored for sacrifice to Zeus. Clearly, spring is a good time for sacrifice. If spring planting is unsuccessful, starvation is imminent. This explanation is likely to be true. However, very little is ever said about Helle, who is treated as if she were just an incidental to the story. Helle is said to have been raped by Poseidon. The terminology is not rape in the modern sense of the word, but more like hierogamy, the coupling of a woman with a god. In this story of Phrixus and Helle, we find the twin parts of mystery of sacrifice. For women, it is often hierogamy instead of death or perhaps death sometimes interpreted as hierogamy.
There are many children who are lost in ancient times to the gods, and even today some go to the god, albeit not as a sacrifice. That such a story is composed over such a hard occasion is one way to appease the pain and sorrow of the parents, family, and the community. Most anthropologists would say instead that this story also depicts the time when human sacrifice was ended, and a ram was substituted for the young man. That interpretation is probably correct as well.
Yet, in the end, isn’t hierogamy and sacrifice the same thing? In the beginning, the god would copulate and kill himself at the same time. Human beings could not do this, so instead they used the two genders they had to duplicate the divine way: killing and copulation, sacrifice and marriage.
As for the erotic tale of Demodice as the foundation of the flight, it is probably a late interpolation. Yet there is another erotic side, between the lines.
It involves the profound marital discord between Athamas and his two wives, Nephele and Ino. The reason for her divorce from Athamas was an accusation by her husband that Nephele was given to fits of insanity. However, Ino, who was jealous of the divorced Nephele, because Phrixus and Helle would succeed Athamas, intrigued against the children. So to save them, Nephele put them on the ram. Perhaps Nephele throws a mist over her children so they can escape. Later would Nephele be turned into a cloud. The Latins called her Nube or Nebula. (Sometimes the golden wool is referred to as the Nephelian fleece.)
One wonders exactly what it was that Ino said to Athamas that would have prompted Nephele to save her children. Hyginus tells us that Ino sowed parched grain; there is no elaboration in this exceptionally laconic passage. In all likelihood, it was Ino who demanded Phrixus be sacrificed during a period of drought and Athamas no doubt had no choice but to enforce the ancient law, while Nephele wanted to substitute the ram. Ino, a very special woman, prevailed because of her beauty and ambition. Of course, it is Hera, the goddess of marriage, who would destroy her.
For a time of renewal associated with spring, Aires the Ram also is a reminder of a tragedy.
Taurus the Bull
In ancient times, several gods took on the form of a bull rising from the sea, including the Dionysos. However, Taurus is the bull commemorates the abduction of Europa by Zeus, goaded on by the gadfly, who took her from her home in Phoenicia over to the waters to Crete. It is the beginning of the long struggle between Asia and Europe. That is one story.
Others maintain that the bull is Zeus, yes, but that it is his relationship with Io that is recalled by its major stars, the Hyades (the sisters of Hyas) and the Pleiades, the seven weeping sisters. For while Europa is important, she is only a duplicate of an earlier hierogamy, that of her great-great-grandmother Io.
The story of Zeus and Io is spoken of very discreetly. Io was Hera’s own priestess at Argos when Zeus conceived his desire for her. Io’s dreams were full of loving whispers from Zeus. They told her to go to the fields of Lerna, where later in its swamps Heracles would fight the Hydra. As they intertwined together, Hera intruded, and Zeus quickly turned her into a heifer to protect her. Hera, however, set the monster Argus, whose hundred eyes see everything, to watch over her. Not to be put off, Zeus sent Hermes to kill Argus, and Zeus finally enjoyed Io fully as he wanted.
Hera and Zeus, brother and sister, husband and wife, discovered each other as children. Homer tells of their secret love:
And Zeus who gathers the clouds saw her, and when he saw her desire was a mist about his close heart as much as on that time they first went to bed together and lay in love, and their dear parents knew nothing of it.
Zeus petted Hera for three-hundred years, on an amazing bed. Hera, of course, is the goddess of the bed, the playpen of erotic devotion. At the temple of Hera in Argos, it is said that the worshipper could see an image of Hera’s mouth closing over the phallus of Zeus. No other goddess, not even Aphrodite, was allowed to be seen in such an image at her shrine.
So what does Io have to do with all this? It was Zeus’s first adultery, and the betrayal was perpetrated on a woman who was closest to Hera herself, a woman very close to her, a copy, a duplicate.
Hera punished this woman who was most like herself. Io, in the form of a heifer, became a beast consecrated to the divine. She was forced to wander from Hera’s sanctuary throughout the world. Hera used the gadfly as the instrument of her vengeance. This little insect goaded her on and on, forcing Io to ford every stream, wandering from place to place. She even meets Prometheus, also suffering, and tells him that she wants to die. This obsession ends at the banks of the Nile in Egypt. She prays to Zeus, and Zeus transforms her back into a woman by skimming his hand lightly over her. United with the god again, Io would have a son named Epaphus, meaning the hand’s light touch. The boy would become king of Egypt one day and he would have a great ox himself, Apis.
Connected with this constellation are two other tragedies:
The Hyades were five daughters of Atlas. They loved their brother Hyas immensely, that when he was killed by a wild boar, in their grief, they pined away and died. Their names are Phaoia, Ambrosia, Eudora, Coronis, and Polyxo. Others add Pedile, Phyto, and Thyone, as well. Some say that they were former Dodoanian nymphs. (Dodona was the home of the oracle of Zeus, a very special oracle completely unlike the one at Delphi. At Dodona, one speaks to the Oak of Zeus to ask to which god one must sacrifice. There is not point in making a sacrifice if it is to the wrong god.) According to Hyginus who paraphrases Pherecydes, they brought Liber, another name for Dionysos or Bacchus, to Ino. As a reward, Zeus placed them in the heavens.
The rising of the Hyades in the sky as well as their setting is attended with much rain, hence their name.
Now there were other daughters of Atlas and Aethra, the daughter of the great Oceanus, the great image of necessity who girdles the globe. The sisters of the Hyades are the Pleiades. These seven sisters some say discussed what had happened to their sisters, and decided to kill themselves in their honor.
However, there are other considerations. Alcyone, Merope, Maia, Electra, Taygete, Steope, and Celaeno are their names, but only six are easily discernable. Mortal Merope is said to have married Sisyphus and bore Glaucus, who may be the father of Bellephron, and she was placed on in the heavens with her immortal sisters. Because she was mortal, her star is very faint.
The other sisters are credited with different divine husbands: Zeus is said to be the father of Dardanus by Electra; father of Hermes by Maia; and of Lacedamon by Taygete. Poseidon is the father of Hyreus by Alcyone, Lycus and Nycteus by Celaeno. Ares is the father of Oenomaus by Sterope.
Others claim that the faintest star is not Merope, but Electra who, after the fall of Troy and her descendents through Dardanus were driven in exile, removed herself out of the Pleiades out of grief. She is believed to lead the Pleiades in their circular motion around the polar regions, where, with her hair loosed, she is observed mourning. She is called Cometes (“long-haired”).
In ancient times, the Pleiades were outside of Taurus, and in connection with the story that they were the daughters of Pleione and Atlas. Pleione is said to have been traveling through Boetia with her daughters when Orion the Hunter was aroused by her and tried to possess her. She fled, and Orion pursued her for seven years, but was not able to find her. Pitying their condition, Zeus placed the daughters in the sky as the bull’s tail. Orion, of course, appears to follow them as they set in their flight.
Another variant of the story is that Orion, a very handsome man, fell in love with Merope, who was the daughter of Dionysos’s son Oenopion who had promised Merope to him. However, Orion had to rid his island of its dangerous wild beasts. Of course, he did, and brought all the pelts to Merope. Needless to say, her father said that there had been rumors of beasts still about and refused to let Orion have Merope. Finally, after drinking a great deal of wine, Orion raped Merope in her bedroom. Calling on Dionysos for help, Oenopion, helped by the satyrs, made Orion so drunk he fell asleep and they blinded him when he was helpless. They threw on the seashore and left him there for further adventures. Of the four or five different myths that are combined in Orion, none truly matter when we look up in the night sky and see his presence. Of all the constellations, Orion continues to be one of the most prominent and recognizable of all.
The Pleiades are called Vergiliae, the spring stars, by the Romans, because they rise after the spring equinox. To the Romans, they were considered sweet and wonderful indications of spring.
But even today, many astrologers consider that any planet in conjunction with the Pleiades, at about twenty-nine degrees of Taurus, entails a fate worth weeping about.
Gemini the Twins
This constellation is of the Greek Discouri (“striplings of Zeus”) brothers, known as Castor and Pollux in Latin, and Polydeuces in Greek. They were the most loving of brothers, and never fought against each other, whether it was over kingship or anything else. They never did anything without the other’s consent. They were among the most popular of the ancient cult divinities, and their worship spread all over Greece and even to Sicily.
They are the brothers of Helen, the wife of Menelaus who ran off with Paris to Troy, precipitating the Trojan War that wiped out the age of heroes.
The boys and Helen are often said to be born of Leda to whom Zeus appeared as a swan, a frequent image in the history of art.
However, there is a more profound story relating to their birth. Of the various forms of Necessity (Adrasteia, Tyche, Moira, Ananke, Ate, Aisa, Dike, Erinyes, Heimarmene, all of whom are female and against whom no one, not even the gods may rebel), Nemesis, the daughter Nyx or night, is the most beautiful. She is that horrible force that brings down vengeance on the impious and the evil, while the other forms of Necessity, like chance, push us and everything in the world. They are from the time of Kronos.
Nemesis has long dark hair and wears white clothes. She is accompanied by her friend, Aidos, shame, everywhere she goes. Aidos keeps people from offending, while Nemesis punishes those who do. One day Zeus was watching Nemesis and he felt that tinge inside him. He never felt any desire for any form of necessity, but he suddenly felt a deep desire for Nemesis and he pursued her. She fled from one country to the next, into the waters of the earth, and in the skies. Nemesis changed into various shapes into every form of animal. Exhausted, Zeus caught her when she was a swan and he coupled with her as birds, passionately. It is Zeus’s greatest moment, for he has overcome necessity itself. Nemesis and her friend Aidos are torn against by necessity and shame—torn apart by herself.
From that night’s adventure came the egg from which Castor and Polydeuces, as well as Helen, who combines both beauty and necessity, were born.
The twin boys were model young men. When Helen was twelve and abducted and willingly, happily, sodomized by Theseus on one of his many adventures, the twins went and recovered her, capturing Athens in the process. Moreover, they made Menstheus king of that city. They were part of the great hunt for the boar killed by Meleager. Castor is credited with teaching Heracles to fence. Together with Peleus, Achilles’s father, and with Jason, the Dioscuri laid waste to Iolcus. They were famous for the boxing and fighting skills. They carried off the daughters of Leucippus and wedded them (Castor had Anogon by Hilaria, while Polydeuces had Mnesileus by Phoebe).
But their glory rests in the sadness of the death of Castor, the mortal of the twins. In a war between Sparta and Athens, Castor was killed in Aphidnae. Grief-stricken, Polydeuces, Homer tells us, gave his brother half-of-his life. Thus, part of the year, Castor goes beneath the earth, as the constellation sets.
They symbolize the dual night/day character of the sky, evening and morning star. They were believed to come to the aid of mariners in distress, and they were associated with what later became known as St. Elmo’s fire, a favorable omen when it appeared in two flames, unlucky as one.
Twins were considered a great problem in the ancient world. But if we are to examine the problem with some care it is obvious that they represent the problem of the copy or image and its relationship to the original. The image and the original are like the Dioscuri brothers, who cannot do without each other, even though one is immortal, the original, and the other is mortal, the perfect copy.
Cancer the Crab
The side-moving crab is the one that attacked Heracles at the swamp of Lerna, when he was he fighting the dreaded, multi-headed and very poisonous Hydra. The crab moved up and pincered Heracles on his foot. Angrily, Heracles crushed the crab with his foot. Hera remembered how devoted the crab was and set it into the stars.
Of course, this crab had been sent by Hera to help in the effort to defeat Heracles, whose name means “glory of Hera”. This sobriquet means to be hated by her more than anything else. It all begins with what one might call a kind of necessity. Ate, one of the Necessities, had the horrible habit of bringing all measures of evils to men and, for that matter, the gods. She is never noticed, because Ate treads with the lightest of feet. Zeus is boasting that Alcmene is about to be bear him a son (part of a womb with twins). Ate is there already. Zeus with immense paternal pride swears that the first-born would rule over the kingdom and all his neighbors. Ate has done her work well. In a moment, Hera alights on earth and makes sure that Eurystheus is born first, and Heracles ends up being his servant. Later, Zeus would get so angry at Ate that he hurled her off of Olympus onto the earth. She would land on that spot that would later be called Troy.
Heracles, who never really made it as a god, is the last great hero whose entire life is nothing more than being a plaything of the gods. He works under astral compulsion in a way that we in the modern way cannot understand. In the zodiac of his twelve labors, in all of his adventures, Heracles simply does what he has to do without understanding and without joy. He is stronger than all other men, but he is a man nevertheless, ignorant and wishing that he could stop. But Heracles is a different kind of man of force. Plutarch writes in his life of Theseus, “That age produced a sort of men, in force of hand, and swiftness of foot, and strength of body, excelling the ordinary rate and wholly in capable of fatigue; making use, however, of these gifts of nature to no good or profitable purpose for mankind, but rejoicing and priding themselves in insolence, and taking the benefit of their superior strength in the exercise of inhumanity and cruelty, and in seizing, forcing, and committing all manners of outrages upon everything that fell into their hands; all respect for others, all justice, they thought, all equity and humanity, though naturally lauded by common people, either out of want of courage to commit injuries or fear to receive them, yet no way concerned those who were strong enough to win for themselves.” It is Heracles, along with Theseus, who is the first man to be heroic on behalf of others, but at the cost of having no real life of his own. Eventually, this constant heroism would drive him insane and to his death.
Among the stars of Cancer is a small grouping called the Asses, who appear on the back of the crab’s shell. Hera had driven the god Dionysos insane, not particularly odd perhaps for the god who discovers the vine. He roamed Egypt and Syria in his madness. It is said that attempted to recover by going to Dodona to ask the oracle of Zeus what to do. As he came to a large swamp, he encountered two asses, captured them, and he rode them over the swamp without getting wet. Dionysos was then cured, and rewarded the asses by putting them in the heavens.
Hyginus also tells us that Dionysos gave one of the asses a human voice. Later this ass would be killed by Priapus, a son of Aphrodite by Hermes or Adonis, in an argument over the size of their penises. Priapus was a particularly ugly child and man with deformed limbs, and with a rather large male member. In pity for the dead ass, Dionysos put the ass in the skies with defiance. Wanting to show that he did so as a god, Dionysos placed the ass above the crab that Hera had put there.
Finally, Eratosthenes tells us that during that war between the Olympians and the Titanic giants, Dionysos, Hephaestus, and the Satyrs rode into battle on asses. Their braying and the confusion they caused made the giants flee. For these reasons, they were given a place in the heavens on the western side of the crab.
The ass was one of the most important symbols throughout history, not in ancient Greece and Rome, but in the Middle East among the Jews and others there, and even well into European history up through the Renaissance. In all likelihood, the asses were much more important than the crab; however, somehow that part of constellation has not carried forth into our time. The ass is both wisdom and stupidity; power and humility; demonic and beneficent; and it always has a lasciviousness, lubricity, and unmistakable phallic character. It is life and death (part of Hades is named after the ass). Moreover, it is a symbol of the turn of fate itself. Sadly, this wonderful creature no longer inhabits our imagination except when we call someone an ass or consider something asinine.
It is odd how modern astrologers have missed the obvious: The Cancer convergence of cardinal and water traits—stubbornness, the desire for life to be exciting, the willfulness, possessiveness, unhurriedness, the gifted insight, the unpredictability, and even its opportunism, calculation, and self-centeredness—have never belonged to a crab at all, but the Ass so associated with Dionysos.
Leo the Lion
There seems to be no controversy about this constellation, and almost nothing to say about it. It is there because Zeus considered the lion as the king of beasts. At one time, lions roamed around Greece, but by the time of the Roman Empire it was hunted to extinction. However, recently, scholars have maintained that there is no genuine evidence that lions were present in Greece.
Needless to say, this constellation is also associated with the Nemean lion that Heracles killed on his first labor. Heracles strangled the beast, and then skinned and wore it around him as a trophy. However, this feat is not just killing any little cat. Apollodorus reports that the lion was the progeny of Typhon, the great monster. At first, Heracles attempted to shoot at it with its arrows. But they simply bounced off. So Heracles picked up his club and tracked it down. The lion hid in his cave, and it took Heracles two months to find it and finally choke it to death. He used its own claws to skin it.
Yet this feat by Heracles is also performed in a similar fashion by Gilgamesh or the Sun god. Some say that the association of the lion with the Sun is owing to the coincidence of the lion in the Babylonian zodiac with the summer solstice.
But in conjunction with the story of Virgo, it is important to note that at the tail of Leo, there is a group of seven stars in the shape of a triangle. They are called the lock of Berenice by Callimachus and the mathematician Conon of Samos. When Ptolemy married his sister Berenice, in the customary Egyptian way, he went off to war. Berenice vowed that if Ptolemy would return victorious, she would make a votive offering of a lock of her hair.
After he returned, Berenice did just that at the Temple of Aphrodite Arsinoe Zephyritis. The next day, a fretting Ptolemy searched for the lock, for it had disappeared. However, Conon pointed out that the lock had been placed among the stars, the seven stars representing the lock.
The Virgin is one of the most intriguing of the constellations, for there appears to be an exoteric and esoteric side to her.
Hesiod in the Theogony associates the constellation with Dike or Justice, the daughter of Zeus and Themis, who was once the mistress of all-divine order and law before the Olympians. Dike once lived among men, but withdrew from them when they no longer upheld justice. Astrologers consider Virgo the sign the very critical.
Other associated the constellations with Demeter, the mother of Persphone, and the goddess of the harvest, because the constellation holds sheaf of grain. Others say Virgo is Isis, other Aragatis, and some consider her to be Tyche, luck, but in Greek is has a much more random character. This association with Tyche comes about because Virgo apparently has no head. Another possibility is Apollo’s daughter by Chrysothemis, who was called parthenos (“virgin”), and who because she died young was placed in the heavens.
Yes, these examples are all good possibilities, but the more likely candidate—who also fits in the character of the astrological sign itself—is Erigone, the daughter of Icarius, about whom almost nothing is known.
Icarius was a poverty-ridden farmer of great piety and justice, who once entertained Dionysos who came to him incognito, with the greatest hospitality that a man like himself could muster. Perhaps to reward him, Dionysos introduced him to wine, something new to humanity. He had Erigone pour cup after cup of the marvelous drink for her father. Demeter may have given men bread, but wine was something special as it could dissolve a man’s sorrows, put him to sleep, or even make him powerful. As Triptolemus had been given the task to bring bread to the rest of humanity, Icarius was now to spread the gift of wine to men.
It is not known whether Dionysos had seduced Erigone while Icarius drank. Ovid gives us a hint in the tapestry that Arachne wove in competition with Athena. In that tapestry that included many victimized women and the multitudes of shameful acts by the gods, this doomed woman, soon to be a spider, included a picture of how Dionysos had hidden in a bowl of grapes and tricked Erigone. Some say Erigone would later give birth to a child, Staphylus, “a bunch of grapes”.
Icarius obeyed Dionysos, and with his cart set off around Attica to reveal to them what the god had given him. One night, while he was drinking with some shepherds, some of them fell into a very deep sleep and they feared that Icarius was up to something horrible, possibly poisoning them to steal their sheep. They surrounded Icarius (remember, they had been drinking), and one picked up a sickle, another an ax, and another a shovel, and the fourth a large stone. They hit with their weapons, and to finish the job off they put a spit through him from the cooking pit.
As Icarius lay dying, he remembered how Dionysos had taught him out to plant the vines and care for them, and how he would have to squeeze the grapes. One day, a goat came by and ate all the tender shoots he had planted with such loving care. The angry Icarius killed the goat, skinned it, filled it with air, and then tied it around him. He then invited his neighbors, and they danced around it. Eratosthenes says, in that kind of almost riddling laconic sentence, “Men first danced around the goat of Icarius.”
Dying, Icarius realized that the goat he had killed was himself.
What Icarius did not realize, however, was that this incident was the origin of all tragedy. From Eratosthenes we find that Icarius and his neighbors danced around the goat. However, Aristotle says that the origin of tragedy was the singing and dancing of the goats. Of course, they are talking of the same thing. To dress up as a satyr, you have to kill the goat and skin it. So all tragedies begin with this slaying; stretching its skin into a wineskin; and Icarius and his friends dance around the goat and stamp on the wineskin while wearing the skins. It is a dance of goats around a goat. All our great tragedies, our plays, come from this death.
What of Erigone? She was the poorest of all who were ever enshrined in the skies. She wandered around the earth looking for father, with what we would think of as Virgonian duty. She roved like a beggar, like Isis did when she searched for the dead Osiris. Accompanying her on her wanderings was Icarius’s dog, Maera. One day, the dog tugged at her, and led Erigone to a well beneath a tree where the shepherds had thrown her father’s body. Erigone buried him, and then climbed this tree, the great vast cosmic one spreads over the entire earth, and hanged herself. Maera stayed there to watch over the two bodies until he starved himself to death.
According to Hyginus, “Meanwhile, many maidens in the Athenian land committed suicide by hanging for no apparent reason, for Erigone, dying, had prayed that the daughters of the Athenians should be afflicted with the same death she was about to suffer, until such time as the Athenians found the murderer of Icarius and punished him.” The Athenians instituted a ritual of sacrifice in her name. Meanwhile, the murderers had gone to the island of Ceos in the dog days when Sirius was in the ascendant. The island suffered a horrible heat wave, and everything burned up and died. Apollo spoke to the king of the land and told him that the murderers had to be punished. Once they were executed, the cool breeze that makes life possible in the summer reappeared as they do every year during the Dog Days.
Maera became either Canis Major or Minor, depending on whom we read. Icarius may be Bootes, but not far from Virgo near the Dog, Erigone tore out a lock of her hair in mourning. Erigone’s lock lies on top of the lock of Berenice, the same lock of hair that so many women have taken out of their hair in mourning or as the votive offering. Nonnos, the last great epic poet before the end of the classical world, uses the word lock, botrys, as well to mean a bunch of grapes.
Scorpio and Libra
Libra did not exist in the ancient world until very late. Before, Scorpio spread over two-twelfths of the zodiac and what we call Libra today was the Scorpion’s claws. As we can see from the night time sky, Scorpio is next to the great hunter Orion. Modern scholars assume that Scorpio had come from ancient Babylonian to the West. While that may be true, there is a question which we must always ask: “Why did the Greeks keep this monster and adopt it from the Middle East?” It is impossible to know.
As for Libra, they were the Chelae or Claws before they were transformed into the scales or balance. The change to a separate and different constellation appears to have occurred during Roman times when the claws were referred to as Jugum, the Voke or Beam, of the Balance. It was probably transformed, because of the autumnal equinox when Libra weighs and balances night and day. It appears that Libra does appear in the Julian calendar when it is instituted by Caesar who was then Pontifex Maximus.
As for Scorpio, the fundamental story is that Artemis had brought out the scorpion to kill Orion while on the island of Ceos. Eratosthenes mentions that Orion had used unbecoming force against her, while Hyginus says that Orion was killed because he had boasted his hunting prowess to Artemis of Latona, bragging that he could kill any creature on earth.
In all likelihood, there is a grain of truth to both stories. For Artemis, the Goddess of the Moon, is a hunter herself. But while she hunts, her divinity protects all animals as well. Had Orion killed all the wild animals on Ceos, we would have to assume that Artemis would not be amused. Such wanton destruction is not allowed to any man and, for that matter, to most gods as well.
Thus, Artemis sent a scorpion to kill Orion, and they fought. The contest was a lively one that caught the attention of Zeus, and placed them both in the heavens to serve as a reminder for men to curb their hubris, or the very least to show their strength and power. The standard explanation is that when Orion is in the sky, the scorpion is below the horizon, that is, beneath the earth. As the scorpion rises, Orion goes beneath the earth to his death.
But as with many of these ancient stories, there is an erotic one as well involving the great Orion. Eos, the goddess of the dawn, is a slut, as well she should be as she reinvigorates the erotic longing of all each day. She is found in bed with all kinds of men and gods. Rosy-fingered she rises every morning to announce the arrival of her brother Helios, the sun. Some say that Eos took a liking to Orion, which annoyed Artemis. She then shot him to death.
Then there is the story that Orion had pursued one or all of the Pleiades and Artemis sent the scorpion to kill him for his attempting to violate these women. Of course, as we know, the Pleiades are not virgins, so it is not clear as to why she might want to protect these women.
Ares or Mars, the god of war, is associated with this constellation, because of the star Antares, which is believed to be from the Greek anti Ares, similar to or rival to Ares. Moreover, this star is red, so that since the most ancient of times until just recently, Mars is considered the ruler of Scorpio. Now, however, the new planet Pluto, the god of the underworld, is given the honor.
There is a bit of controversy regarding this constellation of the archer. It is over whether the stars represent Centaurus. The archer does not seem to have four legs, and appears to be standing shooting his bow. The confusion over Sagittarius mirrors the kind of confusion one would have over being half-man, half-horse.
The non-centaur view is that the figure in the heavens is the hunter and horseman Crotus, who lived on Mount Helicon and either nursed or kept company with the Muses. He is credited with being a good hunter and musician (the string of the bow is the foundation of the harp, in all likelihood). Because he was so gifted as a musician, the Muses asked Zeus to place him among the stars. Hyginus says that Zeus wished to represent all of Crotus’s abilities together, so he gave him horse’s legs and arrows for the archery skills. Moreover, he was given a satyr’s tail because the Muses delighted in him in the same way that Dionysos enjoyed the satyrs.
Eratosthenes, in addition, mentions one delightful quality of Crotus: as he listened to them, he expressed his enthusiasm to their rhythmless song by clapping his hands, a habit that is even used today in our concerts. That Zeus endowed Crotus with horse’s legs means that the case that he is truly a centaur is very likely. However, as the centaur is the symbol of the animal and the human side of human nature, perhaps Crotus is the man who climbed down from the horse and chose to live as a man with human powers, including the power to shoot the bow and enjoy the arts, rather than the wild ride over the countryside.
If, however, the constellation is a centaur, then traditionally it is Chiron, not the wild ones who tend to get drunk at weddings and break all the furniture. They are also very uncontrolled in their sexual desires. However, the most accomplished of all the centaurs, Chiron is credited with teaching many heroes, including Achilles, Jason, Aeneas, and tutoring Asclepius, the first great doctor. Chiron knew the arts of healing using herbs and medicinal plants. He was expert at music as well.
Chiron was also immortal, and it is his immortality that is at the heart of his tragedy. During a visit to his cave by his good friend Heracles, wine was served. The neighboring centaurs smelled it, and decided to boorishly gate-crash the party. A fight naturally ensued, and Heracles picked up his bow and shoot arrows dipped in the Hydra’s poison, killing them all. However, during the scuffle, an arrow accidentally fell on Chiron’s knee or foot, wounding him severely. After the battle, Chiron’s pain was insufferable and there was no cure even among the great medicines he had developed. Immortal, he could not die of the poison, but he would feel it nevertheless. He cried to out Zeus to relieve him of his immortality. Apollodorus reports that Prometheus offer himself to be immortal in his stead, and so Chiron was allowed to die and was placed among the stars.
There are many variants of the battle that Heracles fights with the centaurs, the most notable is in Ovid which is completely different from the one related here. What is important, however, is not so much the actual story, but the problem of the immortality that Chiron gave up. The mortality of the centaur is in his body, and it appears that what is human has a kind of immortality to it. However, like humans, there is no way to get out of that body, although it does seem that human beings can enjoy a life that is not as irrational as the body part of the centaur. In the end, no human being can remain immortal as long as he is combined with the animal part of himself. Alas, there is no separation the human and animal except in death.
What we call Capricorn is Aegocerus or the “goat horn” and is related to Aegipan, a name of the god Pan, because he had a goat’s feet. One account is that Aegocerus was the goat who was brought up with Zeus and fought with Zeus against the Titans. Aegocerus is thought to have invented the trumpet known as panikos from which we drive the word “panic”. The sound of this trumpet inspired the Titans to flee. Panic is that horrible and inexplicable fear that seizes people suddenly and throws them into flight. The fish tail of Aegocerus is attributed to him, because he discovered the trumpet in the sea, no doubt as a shell, perhaps like that of a Triton. However, Hyginus says that when Capricorn showered the enemy with murex shells, his lower body has the shape of a fish.
The Titans were overthrown by Zeus and the Olympians, which made the Olympians very new gods. Moreover, the Olympians had decided to take human form as gods, a very risky thing to do because it was very easy to mistake human for divine and divine for human. Originally, the Titans are also uranian gods, and after they were defeated they were placed underground in Tartarus. But as they had set, there is always the fear that they rise again over the horizon.
Hyginus also tells us that according to some accounts, especially from Egypt, that when the gods had gathered together at the Nile the giant monster Typhon attacked them. The frightened gods turned themselves into shapes: Zeus into a ram; Hermes into an ibis; Apollo into a raven; Artemis into a cat. The Egyptians hold the animals to be sacred, because they are images of the god. During the attack, Pan jumped into the river, presumably the Nile, and changed his hind parts into a fish and the rest of his body into a goat to escape the monster. As Zeus thought this very clever, he later placed that image among the stars.
The great satirist Lucian implies that the Egyptians made up this story to account for the worship of their animals. He quotes a famous line from a now lost Orphic poem about it: “Wouldst thou entire the cause of these doings in order to know it….” (Those who were no initiated into the mysteries were required to go indoors and hide as the emblems of Dionysos were going to pass through the streets.) The Greeks and Romans were very prejudiced against the Egyptians for worshipping animals, and considered it very barbaric. One can sense the near nausea that attends some of these writers when they speak of how Egyptians actually can worship a cat. As the cat is sacred, when fires struck an Egyptian home, the cats had to be saved first, even before the children, and they have the horrible habit of running back into his homes, all nine-lives blazing. They had to be rescued again.
Pan figures in another celestial mystery that is not directly related to Capricorn per se. Plutarch reports of the death of the god Pan:
“As for the death of such beings, I have heard the words of a man who was not a fool nor an imposter. The father of Aemilianus the orator, to whom some of you have listened, was Epitherses, who lived in our town and was my teacher in grammar. He said that once upon a time in making a voyage to Italy he embarked on a ship carrying freight and many passengers. It was already evening when, near the Echinades Islands, the wind dropped, and the ship drifted near Paxi. Almost everyone was awake, and a good many had not finished their after-dinner wine. Suddenly from the island of Paxi was heard the voice of someone loudly calling Thamus, so that all were amazed. Thamus was an Egyptian pilot, not known by name even to many on board. Twice he was called and made no reply, but the third time he answered; and the caller, raising his voice, said, ‘When you come opposite to Palodes, announce that the Great Pan is dead.’ On hearing this, all, said Epitherses, were astounded and reasoned among themselves whether it were better to carry out the order or refuse to meddle and let the matter go. Under the circumstances Thamus made up his mind that if there should be a breeze, he would sail past and keep quiet, but with no wind and a smooth sea about the place he would announce what he had heard. So, when he came opposite Palodes, and there was neither wind nor wave, Thamus from the stern, looking toward the land, said the words as he had heard them: ‘Great Pan is dead.’ Even before he had finished there was a great cry of lamentation, not of one person, but of many, mingled with exclamations of amazement. As many persons were on the vessel, the story was soon spread abroad in Rome, and Thamus was sent for by Tiberius Caesar. Tiberius became so convinced of the truth of the story that he caused an inquiry and investigation made about Pan; and the scholars, who were numerous in his court, conjectured that he was the son born of Hermes and Penelope.”
It should be noted that thousands upon thousands of people had seen the death of the god, more than had ever seen death of Jesus or any other god in history. The best explanation of this mystery comes from de Santilla and von Dechend. If we see the story allegorically, and we must consider all such stories allegorically, the great boat is the Argo and the pilot on the stern is Thamus, the Egyptian king of Plato’s Phaedrus, who drives home to Thot-Hermes. This is the boat of the dead with Osiris on board. The Great God Pan is a star, possibly Sirius, the dog star, that rose at the same time and place every year, between July 19 and 20 on the Julian calendar, the Egyptian New Year. For ages, it defied the precession of the equinoxes.
One year, that star failed to rise. One of the youngest of the ancient gods, the Great God Pan, the all, had died.
Aquarius the Water Bearer
From Homer we find that Aquarius is associated with Ganymede, the first mortal ever to become immortal. He was taken to Olympus by Zeus to be the cup-bearer of the gods. He stands with what appears to be either nectar, the drink of the gods, or water coming out of the cup.
Roman homosexuals had made it appear that Zeus, the most heterosexual of all gods with no flings with men, had taken Ganymede as an eagle to Olympus for sexual reasons. It is more likely, of course, that Eos, the Dawn, had abducted him, and that Zeus took him away from her. Eos is not very good at keeping her lovers. Needless to say, Hera was quite vexed at the insult as Ganymede had replaced her daughter Hebe. Zeus and Hera quarreled, as often they did, and finally the frustrated Zeus simply put Ganymede in the heavens.
But the story is much more mundane than that: Ganymede, who was the son of King Tros (who gives his name to Troy) was the most beautiful youth alive, and the gods wanted him as their cupbearer. In turn, King Tros was given some very fine gifts.
It is also said that Aquarius is not Ganymede at all, but Cecrops who ruled Attica before there was wine and therefore water was poured during sacrifices instead. Cecrops was originally from Egypt, and introduced good laws and perhaps some Egyptian gods to Greece. Although he has a wonderful reputation, some make him a monster, half man and half snake. No doubt that he spoke two languages and perhaps had much commerce with his old land of Egypt he must have been a monster.
Modern astrologers associate Aquarius with the Eleventh House and with it “ideals” or “aspirations” or some kind of idealization. While in part this is true, it is perhaps much more subtle than that. The glyph for Aquarius is a modification of the Egyptian sign for the waters, the waters above and the waters below. Aquarius symbolizes the entire realm of the metaphysical, where the invisible and heavenly waters spill over onto this earth and we human beings. Just as the soul is poured into the inanimate materiality of the human body, so does what is above pour into the earth below. What is above is immortal and it is what is alive and brings us life to us.
That Ganymede was the first mortal to be given immortality means that he was the first man to be able to realize and to understand the waters above and to bring them to others. The modern notion of the “ideals” is nothing more than the corruption of the Greek eide whose pure and eternal unities are likened to being above us in the heavens.
Between the lines in Plato’s Philebus, we discover that the gods are nothing more than the ancient reports of the eide. But as all things are made of the eide, the genera, and the good that is beyond all being, we have the gods to lead to us an understanding of that world above that is the cause of life and all our intellectual understanding.
Pisces the Fish
Of the constellations, this one is most difficult to understand. Modern mythographers avoid it all together in Greek and Roman terms, and go to the Babylonians (the Fish are the twelfth sign in their zodiac) and other climes for explanation. The ancients evidently are not the only ones who equate what is old with what is wise.
Hyginus, however, gives us an extraordinary clue and it is very discreet, as it has to be under the circumstances. He writes that Aphrodite and her son Eros were at the Euphrates River when Typhon suddenly appeared. The two deities leaped into the river and changed themselves into fish to escape the danger. Hence, the Syrians keep the fish taboo from eating.
We have encountered Typhon before in Capricorn and we found that Pan too had transformed himself into a fish to get away from this horrible monster. To find the answer, we must to go Nonnos, the last great epic poet of the classical world, which was about to be subsumed and destroyed the Christians.
After Zeus had taken his sister Europa from Sidon to Crete, Cadmus went in search for her, looking for the bull that no one could find. Cadmus, who would bring to Greece those strange scrawlings for sounds, known as the alphabet, came to the Cilician Mountains whose highest peak is Mount Taurus. There was an ominous flock of birds and other creatures in the air above him.
At this time, Zeus had gone in a neighboring cave to seduce the nymph Pluto. Ge, seeking vengeance, gave her son Typhon the monster another chance at Zeus. For this time, Zeus, as he was very busy lovemaking, had put down his lightning bolts, his great power. Typhon quickly grabbed the weapons, and all the gods, seeing what had happened, fled for Egypt. They turned into various animals and flew away. It is at this point, quite possibly, that Aphrodite and Eros, turned themselves into fish. Imagine that two of most powerful forces of love and desire are themselves powerless against such a creature, a monster of hundreds of heads and mouths and thousands of snakes. Typhon is a monster to give an Olympian god a nightmare, a monster that exists only in the deepest reaches of the cosmos.
The monster coiled around the helpless body of Zeus, prying out his sickle, and cutting out the sinews of his hands and feet, leaving Zeus completely helpless wrapped in a bearskin and guarded by Delphine, half-girl, half-snake. Cadmus came upon the scene, all alone, armed with nothing but intelligence. Cadmus remembered something he had learned from Apollo. It was music. In a nearby grove of trees, he began to play some pipes, and the sweetness of the sound intoxicated and intrigued the monster. Part of the monster’s many arms and the only human head it had came out to speak to see him. The monster challenged Cadmus, the monster’s thunder versus Cadmus’s music. The monster took pride in his strength and power that he had no achieved. Moreover, for the song, the monster promised to take Cadmus to Olympus and offered him any of the goddesses, even the virgins Athena and Artemis, everyone but Hera, whom he would keep for himself. Frightened, but resourceful, Cadmus boasted that “what would you do when I strike out a hymn of victory on the harp of seven strings, to honor your throne?” Forget about the pipes, Cadmus said, he could compete masterfully with the harp, whose seven strings, obviously play the music of the seven spheres, the seven sacred vowels. Unfortunately, however, Cadmus didn’t have the sinews to make a harp. The monster, acting like every grand seigneur and wanting to hear the magic music, went into the cave and came out carrying Zeus’s sinews in his hands and gave them Cadmus, who handled them as if he were some great professional musician testing out the wares before he strung them into his instrument. Cadmus went off to build his instrument, hiding the sinews under a rock. Back into a thicket of trees, and he began to play his pipes again.
Nonnos writes: “When a sailor hears the Siren’s perfidious song, and bewitched by the melody, he is dragged to a self-chosen fate too soon; no longer he cleaves the waves, no longer he whitens the blue water with his oars unwetted now, but falling into the net of melodious Fate, he forgets to steer, quite happy, caring not for the seven starry Pleiades and the Bear’s circling course; so the monster, shaken by the breath of that deceitful tune, welcomed with delight the wound of the pipes which was his escort to death.”
The monster heard the tune, but did not understand it or hear it very well. He was straining to hear the composition that Cadmus promised him, an opus to celebrate the fleeing of the gods from Olympus. Typhon finally came out of the cave to hear the song, with all his hundred heads distracted. “But now the shepherd’s reed breathing melody fell silent, and a mantling shadow of cloud hid the piper as he cut off his tune. Typhoeus rushed head-in-air with the fury of battle into the cave’s recesses, and searched with hurried madness for the wind-coursing thunderbolt and lightning unapproachable; with inquiring foot he chased the fire-shotten gleam of the stolen thunderbolt, and found an empty cave!”
Before Cadmus took on Typhon in his musical battle, Zeus appeared to him in the form of a bull. The god was anguished, fearing that the cosmos would roar with laughter from his once defeated father, Kronos. “I fear Hellas even more,” the bull said, for he feared that all the great myths about him would be retold with Typhon enjoying all the glory. The bull, too, promised “I will make you savior of the world’s harmony, and the husband of the lady Harmonia. You also, Eros, primeval founder of fecund marriage, bend your bow, and the cosmos is no longer adrift.”
Rearmed Zeus, chased Typhon to Sicily and finally killed him by throwing Mount Etna on top him. The volcano is what is left of the monster.
So from just a leap of Aphrodite and Eros into the water in fear of Typhon, we find that the Fish are the remembrance of how the entire cosmos is restored to order, to what it was and what it ought to be in the end.