Timeless Myths

Facts and Figures

Astronomy

Here, you will find the myths of the stars and the planets.

I have also included other factual information in a table of other heavenly bodies, such as galaxies, star clusters and nebulae.


  Constellations
  Brightest Stars
  Other Heavenly Bodies
  The Solar System      





Constellations

Men have always looked at the night sky; they imagined that they saw that the heaven was filled with the images of their gods, heroes and strange creatures. We owed these ancient astronomers for their abilities to see shapes by grouping stars together, and the poets for entertaining us with the tales of these great beings and creatures.

Though there are other sources available from other classical writers. Homer mentioned the earliest constellations in Odyssey V, all in the same passage: Great Bear, Bootes, Orion and the clusters of stars, known as the Pleiades, but he doesn't provide any myths to them.

  Gladly then did goodly Odysseus spread his sail to the breeze; and he sat and guided his raft skilfully with the steering-oar, nor did sleep fall upon his eyelids, as he watched the Pleiads, and late-setting Bootes, and the Bear, which men also call the Wain, which ever circles where it is and watches Orion, and alone has no part in the baths of Ocean.
Odyssey V,
Homer,
translated by A.T. Murray.

Hesiod linked these constellations, not to navigation, but to the seasons that governing the farming, and mentioned the stars Sirius and Arcturus. It is in a small fragmented poem, titled Astronomy, which was attributed to Hesiod (8th-7th century BC), give more details than Homer, but have other constellations, added constellations like Hyades and the Scorpion (Scorpio).

The lost work of Hipparchus (died in 127 BC), who was the first to attempt to catalogue the stars. Our source for his lost work come from another astronomer of later period - Ptolemy (flourished in AD 127-151), the great astronomer and geographer who wrote the Almagest. Ptolemy had relied on Hipparchus as his source. These two authors wrote of astronomy (and astrology), and not really on the myths of stars or constellations. Ptolemy had catalog over 1000 stars.

For the mythological aspect of astronomy, I had relied mainly on Hyginus (fl. 2nd century AD), in particular his Poetica Astronomia; his other work is Fabulae. Hyginus covered mostly myths, but it is more than likely that Hyginus relied on Ptolemy as his source for information (astronomical aspects) about the constellations, and indirectly from Hipparchus. When it comes to mytbs, Hyginus is not a reliable source, because of his attempts at changing well-known myths through embellishment or trying to explain the myths, in a rather disordered manner. Yet, Hyginus' myths are important to us.

I have also briefly included some interesting information about the constellations and stars that may interested you.

Note that the myth of the astronomy mostly covered the constellations of the Northern Hemisphere, but I won't ignore any constellations that have mythological, such as the Centaurus and Argo Navi.

  Constellations of the Zodiac
  Other Constellations



Constellations of the Zodiac

If you ever wonder where the constellations of the Zodiac come from, I have listed briefly the Graeco-Roman myths of 12 zodiac signs that we know of today.

The importance of these twelve constellations was that they formed a circle or an imaginary belt of the celestial sphere in which the sun, moon and the seven of the nine planets orbited our night sky (with the exception being the planet Pluto). Originally only five out of the nine planets were known to ancient astronomers and astrologers. So only Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, plus the Sun and Moon, were used in astrology with the Zodiac.

Note that the names on all of these constellations come from Latin names.


 
Constellations Name Description
Aries Aries "Ram"
(Golden Fleece)

The Golden Fleece saved Phrixus and Helle, the children of Athamas, from being sacrifice. Phrixus gave the Golden Fleece to Aeetes, king of the Colchians. The ram was later the object of the quest with Jason and the Argonauts. See the Argonauts and Athamas in the Aeolids. In the Egyptian myth, the constellation was associated with god Amon.

Aries is located on the celestial circle between the constellations of Pisces and Taurus. The brightest star in the constellation of Aries is Hamal.

In astrology, Aries is the 1st sign of the zodiac, and the period of the Aries is within March 21 and April 19. Fire is the element of Aries, and the planet Mars governed the sign.

Taurus Taurus "Bull"
(Zeus)

The form that Zeus took when he carried off the Phoenician maiden Europa, the sister of Cadmus.

The constellation of Taurus is located between Aries and Gemini on the celestial circle. The brightest star in the constellation was Aldebaran. Other notable features of this constellation are the Crab Nebula (M1) and the loose cluster of stars known as the Pleiades (M45), of which Alycone is the brightest star of the Pleiades. In the myths, the Pleiades are associated with the giant hunter Orion, whose constellation is nearby.

In astrology, Taurus is the second sign of the zodiac, Taurus, falls in between the period of April 20 and May 20. Earth is the element of Taurus, while the planet Venus influences this sign.

Gemini Gemini "Twins"
(Dioscuri)

The Spartan heroes known as the Dioscuri were the twin sons of Zeus and Leda, and brothers of Helen of Troy. The brothers were named Castor and Polydeuces (Pollux). See the Dioscuri. However the constellation had also being associated with other twins in Rome, Romulus and Remus, the sons of the war-god Mars.

On the celestial circle, the constellation of Gemini is situated between Taurus and Cancer. The two brightest stars were called Castor (Alpha Geminorum) and Pollux (Polydeuces, also called Beta Geminorum). Castor is actually a binary star.

In astrology, Gemini is the 3rd zodiacal sign, and it falls within the period of May 21 and June 21. The element of Gemini is air, and the planet Mercury governed the Twins.

Cancer Cancer "Crab"

The giant crab that Hera sent against Heracles (Hercules), during in his 2nd labour when the hero had to kill the Hydra. Hera immortalised the crab as a constellation Cancer, after Heracles had killed the crab.

The constellation of Cancer is situated between Gemini and Leo in the celestial circle.

In astrology, Cancer is the 4th zodiacal sign and the period starts on June 22 and ends at July 22. The element of Cancer is water, and the Moon ruled the Crab.

Leo Leo "Lion"
(Nemean Lion)

This constellation was said to be the Nemean Lion, another beast that Heracles (Hercules) had killed, in his 1st labour.

The constellation of Leo lies between Cancer and Virgo constellations. Regulus was the brightest star in the Leo constellation (1st magnitude).

In astrology, Leo is the 5th sign of the zodiac, and the period begins on July 23 and ends on August 22. Fire is the element of Leo, while the Sun ruled this sign.

Virgo Virgo "Virgin"
(Erigone or Parthenos)

Normally, this constellation was probably Erigone, the daughter of Icarius (Boötes), and the owner of the dog Maera (the constellation of Canis Minor or the star Sirius). It was the god Dionysus who immortalised her, her father and the hound. (See Maera for the story in Mythical Creatures.)

Though other say the Virgin was Parthenos, the daughter of Apollo and Chrysothemis, who had died young, though not everyone agree with this. Other likely candidates were probably another Erigone, the daughter of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra, or Dike (Justice), or Tyche (Fortune).

The constellation of Virgo is located between Leo and Libra. The brightest star in the Virgo constellation was Spica (1st magnitude).

In astrology, Virgo is the 6th zodiacal sign, and the period is within August 23 and September 22. The element of Virgo is earth, and the planet Mercury governed this sign.

Libra Libra "Scale"

Libra was the constellation of a balance or scale. Libra supposed to represent Astraea, the Roman goddess of divine justice. Or this scale could be Scale of Fates, where Jupiter measured the lives between two people, to see who was doomed to die, such as between Achilles and Hector; it was Hector who was killed that day.

Libra is located between the Virgo and Scorpio in the celestial circle. Zubenegenubi is a double star, was the brightest in this constellation.

In astrology, Libra is the 7th sign of the zodiac that begins on September 23 and ends on October 23. Air is the element of Libra, while the planet Venus ruled this sign.

Scorpio Scorpio "Scorpion"

According to Hesiod's Astronomy, Gaea (Earth) sent the giant scorpion to kill Orion, though the more popular myth says that Orion was killed by Artemis, either deliberate or an accident.

Scorpio or Scorpius is located between the constellations of Libra and Sagittarius in the celestial circle. The brightest star in the Scorpio constellation was Antares, which is a red star of the 1st magnitude.

In astrology, Scorpio is the 7th zodiacal sign and the period is between October 24 and November 21. The element of Scorpio is water, while the planet was Mars (but now it is Pluto) that governed the sign of the Scorpion.

Sagittarius Sagittarius "Archer"

This constellation was Crotus, the son of Pan and Eupheme, who was the nurse of the Muses. Zeus immortalised him as the constellation Sagittarius by the request of the Muses.

The Sagittarius is located between the constellations of Scorpio and Capricorn. Rukbat or Alpha Sagittarii (4th magnitude) is the brightest out of the eight stars that are visible. The Lagoon Nebula (M8) and the Trifid Nebula (M20) can be found in the Sagittarius region.

In astrology, Sagittarius is the 9th sign of the zodiac, and the period begins on November 22 and ends on December 21. Sagittarius belongs to the element of fire, while the planet Jupiter ruled the sign of the Archer.

Capricorn Capricorn "Sea-goat"
(Aegipan)

A goat-like being named Aegipan. I am not sure if this was just another name for Pan, or it was a magical she-goat. Aegipan escaped from the monster Typhon with the other gods, by transforming herself into a goat, with a tail and lower body of a fish. See also Typhon in the Creation page.

Capricorn resides between the constellations of Sagittarius and Aquarius. None of the stars are bright, but the brightest being Alpha Capricorni, which was only a 3rd magnitude.

In astrology, Capricorn is the 10th zodiacal sign and the period is between December 22 and January 19. Earth is the element of Capricorn, and the planet Saturn rules the sign.

Aquarius Aquarius "Water-carrier"
(Ganymede)

The Water-carrier was Ganymede, the son of King Tros of Troy. Zeus had abducted the Trojan youth, because he fell in love with the boy. Ganymede served the gods as a cupbearer in Olympus.

The constellation of Aquarius is situated on the celestial circle between Capricorn and Pisces. The stars in the constellation were no brighter than the 3rd magnitude star, though it does contain a couple of globular clusters and a couple of planetary nebulae.

In astrology, Aquarius is the 11th sign of the zodiac and the period is between January 20 and February 18. Air is the element of Aquarius. The planet Uranus rules the sign, but originally it had been Saturn.

Pisces Pisces "Fishes"
(Aphrodite and Eros)

Aphrodite and Eros escaped from the monster Typhon by leaping into the sea and transforming themselves into fishes. The goddess was grateful of her escape, immortalised their forms as fishes, by placing them in the sky. See also Typhon in the Creation page.

Pisces is situated between the constellations of Aquarius and Aries. None of the stars are particularly bright, but the sun does passed through one of its star during the vernal equinox (previously, the sun had passed through Aries, during ancient time).

In astrology, Pisces is the 12th zodiacal sign and the period begins on February 20 and March 20. The Fishes belonged to the water element. Although the planet Neptune now rules Pisces, the original planet was Jupiter. Usually Pisces is depicted two fishes with a string tied to their tails.

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Other Constellations

Below is another list of constellations with some brief summary on the myths behind the stars.


 
Constellations Name Description
Ursa Major Ursa Major – "Great Bear" (Callisto)

Plaustrum – "Wagon"

Callisto (Καλλιστώ) was the daughter of Lycaon, who was transformed into a bear by either by Zeus (Jupiter), her lover, or by Zeus' jealous wife, Hera (Juno), or by Artemis (Diana), the goddess of the hunt. To prevent her son Arcas from killing the bear, Zeus placed her among the star as the Great Bear, known as Ursa Major. The Greeks called the constellation Arctos, which mean "she-bear". It was called Ursa by the Romans. There are several variations of the myth of the Great Bear, so see Callisto.

Another says that the constellations of the Great Bear and Lesser Bear (Ursa Minor) were Helice and Cynosura, the Cretan nurses of Zeus.

Though, the Roman writer Hyginus had also said that it was not a constellation of a bear at all, but a constellation of a Wagon called Plaustrum. Icarius, the father of Erigone, drove the Wagon (Plaustrum); he was immortalised as the constellation Boötes (Wagon-Driver). See Maera about Icarius and Maera.

The seven brightest stars of the Great Bear formed a different constellation which was also known through different names, such as the Wagon (Plaustrum), the Big Dipper, the Plow and Charles' Wain. The seven brightest stars in Ursa Major were grouped together, to look something like a giant ladle.

Ursa Minor Ursa Minor – "Lesser Bear" or "Little Bear" (Cynosura)

Cynosura (Κυπάρσουρα) was one of the nurses of Zeus in Crete, who was transformed into a constellation called Ursa Minor or the Lesser Bear. It was also known as the Little Dipper. See also Ursa Major.

The seven brightest stars formed a constellation, known as the Little Dipper within the Ursa Minor. The star at the end of the Little Bear was called Polaris, which marked the spot of north (celestial) pole. About three-quarter of Ursa Minor is surrounded by the long tail of Draco constellation (Dragon).

Boötes Boötes – "Wagon-Driver" or "Bear-Driver" (Icarius)

Arctophylax – "Bear-Warden" (Arcas)

According to the myth about Callisto (Καλλιστώ), her son Arcas (Ἀρκάς) was immortalised in the sky, because his father was the god Zeus (Jupiter). Boötes was also known by another name – Arctophylax, which means Bear-warden. See Callisto.

The constellation Boötes was also called the Wagon-driver which represented Icarius, the father of Erigone and the master of the faithful hound, Maera. See Maera for the myth about Icarius and Erigone.

Arcturus was the brightest start in the constellation Boötes. Arcturus is also the third brightest star of the night sky.

Orion Orion

Orion (Ὠρίωνα) was a giant, known for his skill as a hunter, who was either killed by a giant scorpion sent by Gaea (Earth), or else he was killed by an arrow of either Artemis or Apollo.

Other constellations associated with Orion constellation: the Canis Major (Great Dog), Canis Minor (Little Dog), Lepus (Hare) and Taurus (Bull). There also the Pleiades, a star cluster in Taurus region. Orion had pursued amorously the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione. To save the Pleiades they were placed in the sky as seven stars (the brightest being Alycone, and Atlas and Pleione are also found near the cluster).

The constellation of Orion depicted him holding a club held high in one hand and a sword in the other. The Orion has a number of bright stars: Betelgeuse, Bellatrix and Melssa, for his shoulders and head; Salph and Rigel for his legs. He even looks like he is wearing a belt (Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka). Rigel is the brightest star in Orion, but it is only the 7th brightest star in the night sky; Betelgeuse being the 10th brightest. The Orion Nebula (M42) and the Horsehead Nebula (IC434) also found in the Orion region. Orion is situated below the constellation of Taurus, with the Lepus (Hare) at his feet.

The constellation is important to other civilisations. In Egypt, it was called Sah and the Orion has been identified with Osiris, the Egyptian god of the Netherworld and husband of Isis.

Canis Major "Great Dog"

The constellation of the Dog had been attributed to several dogs that had appeared in classical myth.

The most famous of these dogs was Laelaps (Λαίλαπς). Several people had owned Laelaps. It was first given to Europa, which her son Minos would later inherit. Minos had given the hound to his mistress Procris, who then gave it to her husband Cephalus. Amphitryon borrowed the hound to hunt the Teumessian Vixen. To prevent the hound from catching the Vixen, Zeus changed both the hound and the fox into stone. The god then put Laelaps in the sky as Canis Major, and the fox as Vulpecula.

Some other sources say that it was Maera, the hound of Icarius, or that of the faithful hunting dog of Orion, the great giant hunter.

The eye of Canis Major was a bright star known as Sirius (Σἳρις, "Dog Star"), which was said to bring droughts or pestilences when it appeared from the horizon. The Egyptian called the star Sopdet, which the Greeks later called Sothis, because it is said to cause the annual flood in the Nile River. Sopdet or Sothis was a goddess associated with the Nile's annual innundation. Sopdet/Sothis was identified with the goddess Isis, wife of Osiris, who was identified with the constellation Orion. Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky, as well as being a binary star.

Canis Minor "Lesser Dog" Procyon, Maera

The constellation of the Lesser Dog was probably that belonging to Orion. Or it could be Maera (Μαἳρα), who was the hound of Icarius (Ἰκάριος). Maera howled in grief, over his master's death, before leaping off the cliff. See Maera.

The brightest star in Canis Minor was known as Procyon in Greek (as it is known today), while it was known to the Romans as Canicula. Procyon is the 8th brightest star in the night sky, and it is also a binary star.

Lepus "Hare" (Lepus) The god Hermes placed this constellation of the hare, because of its fleet-footed. The constellation was near Orion, which suggested that he had hunted the hare.
Perseus Perseus The slayer of the Gorgon Medusa. Perseus (Περσεύς) was the son of Zeus and Danae. Perseus married Andromeda, and later became the king of Mycenae. See Perseus. The Perseus constellation is situated near Andromeda and Cassopeia, as well as near the zodiac constellations, Aries and Taurus.
Andromeda Andromedea

Andromeda (Ἀνδρομέδη) was the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia of Ethiopia. The hero Perseus rescued Andromeda from the sea-monster. Andromeda became Perseus' wife. The goddess Athena had placed Andromeda among the stars with Perseus and her parents. See Perseus. The constellation is situated between Perseus and Pegasus, and Pisces being the nearest zodiac constellation to Andromeda.

The most notable feature of this constellation is the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), which is the nearest galaxy to our Milky Way.

Cepheus Cepheus King of Ethiopia, Cepheus (Κηφεύς) was the husband of Cassiopeia and father of Andromeda. Poseidon placed him among the stars with his wife after their death. See Perseus.
Cassiopeia Cassiopeia Cassiopeia (Κασσιέπεια) was the wife of Cepheus and mother of Andromeda. She was placed among the stars with her husband and daughter. See Perseus.
Cetus Sea-monster or Whale Poseidon sent a sea-monster known as Cetus, to punish Cassiopeia, wife of King Cepheus. His kingdom would be saved if they sacrifice their daughter, Andromeda to the monster. Perseus killed the monster either by turning Cetus into stone or killing the monster with the sickle (see Perseus). Poseidon transformed the monster into the constellation. Cetus means "whale" in Latin.
Pegasus Winged-horse Pegasus (Πήγασος) was the winged-horse of the hero Bellerophon. Pegasus was an offspring of Poseidon and the Gorgon Medusa.
Equuleus Little Horse

The constellation Equuleus was known as the Little Horse. The other horse constellation was Pegasus, which is west of the smaller constellation.

Equuleus was identified with Melanippe (Μελανίππη), the daughter of Cheiron and Chariclo. According to Hyginus, either, she was the lover of Aeolus, or he had raped her. Melanippe tried to hide her pregnancy from her father. When it was time to give birth, she fled from home and hid in the wood. Her father went searching for her. When she heard that he was approaching, she feared that he would kill her. Melanippe prayed to the gods, who transformed her into a mare, and later she was transported to the stars.

Ovid had called Cheiron's daughter as Ocyrrhoe, instead. Ocyrrhoe was transformed into the horse, because she was a prophetess. So gifted that she was in the prophecy that the gods feared she would reveal every secrets to mankind. This was the reason for her transformation.

Hercules Previous called the Engonasin – "Kneeler"
(Hercules or Heracles, Theseus, Thamyris, Orpheus, Ixion, Ceteus, Prometheus)

The ancient name of this constellation was Engonasin, which means "Kneeler". Though we now called the constellation, Hercules (Heracles). Hyginus gave as many as eight representations of the Kneeler. Hercules is the modern name for this constellation.

It supposed to represent Heracles killing Ladon (Draco), the giant serpent of the Garden of Hesperides, in the 11th labour. Hyginus also says that it could be Heracles driving the Ligurian army back, during the 10th labour, where he was kneeling and hurling fistful-size stones at his enemies.

Hyginus also say that the Kneeler could be the hero Theseus. The young Theseus had to retrieve some objects under a large stone, left there by his father Aegeus.

Other possible candidates of the Kneeler, was the gifted bard Thamyris blinded by the Muses for challenging the goddesses in a contest. Thamyris was kneeling as suppliant, with constellation of the Lyre (Lyra) near him. Or it was Orpheus killed by the Thracian women. There are several other possible figures who could be the Kneeler: Ixion, Prometheus, or Ceteus, the son of Lycaon.

None of the stars are particularly bright in Hercules constellation. The brightest being the red supergiant, known as Ras Algethi, which is Arabic for the "Head of the Kneeler". Above Hercules is the constellation Draco, to the left of the constellation, is the Lyre. Below him, was the Ophiuchus (Serpent-holder), which Heracles was said to have used to kill a snake in Lycia, for Queen Omphale.

Sagitta "Arrow" This was either the arrow that Heracles had used to kill the Caucasian Eagle which fed on Prometheus' liver, or the one that Apollo had used to kill one of the Cyclopes.
Draco Dragon or Serpent
(Ladon?)

Some say that the constellation Draco was Ladon, the dragon that guarded the golden apples in the Garden of Hesperides, in which some sources say that Heracles killed Ladon.

While others say that Draco was the dragon that guarded the sacred spring of Ares (Mars), but Cadmus slay the dragon when he founded his new kingdom – Thebes.

The classical writer had often called this constellation, the Serpent, instead of Draco. Though, this should not be confused with two flanking ends of the serpent (head and tail), known as the Serpens, with the constellation of Ophiuchus (Serpent-holder) in between.

Eltanin and Rastaban are the two brightest stars, at the head of the Draco. The long tail of Draco covered almost three-quarter of the Ursa Minor (Little Bear).

Lyra "Lyre" The constellation of the Lyre was probably the musical instrument of Orpheus, the greatest mortal musician. The brightest star in Lyra is Vega. From the Lyra constellation, there is the spectacular Ring Nebula (M57).
Ophiuchus Serpent-holder The Ophiuchus was a name of the "Serpent-holder", was located between the Serpens Caput (Head of the Serpent) and the Serpens Cauda (Tail of the Serpent). The Ophiuchus was said to be staff of Asclepius, known as Serpent-holder. Though there are other explanations of this constellation, such as Triopas driving all the serpents out of the island of Rhodes, or Heracles killing serpents when he was living in Lydia with Queen Omphale.
Serpens Serpent

This is actually consisted of two constellations. The Serpen Caput or "Serpent's Head" and Serpens Cauda or "Tail of Serpent", was separated by the constellation of Ophiuchus (Serpent-holder).

The Serpens Cauda has an incredible Eagle Nebula (M16), particularly near the centre, where several clouds of gases looked like gaseous pillars.

Hydra Hydra Hydra (Ὕδρα) was the nine-headed monster that Heracles had to kill in one of his labours. Hydra was the offspring of the monsters Typhon and Echidna. There is only one bright star in the Hydra, but this happened to be a binary star, called Alphard.
Aquila "Eagle" (Zeus)

The form that Zeus had assumed to abduct the Trojan youth Ganymede, a son of Tros. Zeus immortalised the eagle as the constellation Aquila. See Two Ruling Houses in the House of Troy. This is quite likely since the Aquila is near the zodiacal constellation of Aquarius, which meant to represent Ganymede.

While there is another tale about Hermes wanted to seduce Aphrodite, but was unable to achieve his desire. Taking pity on his son, Zeus sent an eagle to steal Aphrodite's slipper. The eagle dropped the slipper into Hermes' laps. Hermes agreed to return the slipper only if they became lovers. Hermes honoured the eagle by putting the eagle in the sky.

See Eagle in Mythical Creatures.

However, the Eagle had also been identified with Meropes of the island of Cos. His wife was killed by Artemis, when she had ceased to worship her. Hera took pity on Meropes and had transformed him into an eagle and put him in the sky as a constellation.

The brightest star in Aquila is Altair, and the other bright star is Tarazed, which is of magnitude 2.7.

Cygnus "Swan" (Zeus) The constellation of the Swan (Cygnus) was the shape that Zeus had assumed when he seduced Leda, the mother of the Dioscuri and Helen. The Cygnus looked more like a large cross, which was why it was sometimes called Northern Cross. The brightest star in the Swan is the Deneb. There are at least half-dozen nebulae in the Cygnus constellation, known as the Cygnus Loop. Of these nebulae, the most notable are the Lacework Nebula and the Veil Nebula (NGC6992).
Corvus "Crow"

Corvus was the constellation of the crow. It was probably the bird of Apollo. The crow was originally a white bird. Apollo had seduced a Thessalian princess, Coronis, who was pregnant with Asclepius. When the crow informed Apollo that Coronis had taken a mortal lover, Apollo turned the feathers of the crow to black, because of the crow's tattling. Apollo killed the lovers, but the god saved the unborn child (Asclepius). See Coronis and Asclepius.

There is another myth to Apollo's crow, which involved the constellation of the Crater or "Bowl". Apollo had sent the crow to fetch water with the drinking bowl. The crow, however, became distracted when it discovered ripe figs. Forgetting the god's command, the crow ate the figs from the tree for several days. When it returned to the god with bowl of water, Apollo punished the crow so that whenever figs were ripe, the crow couldn't drink any water. Apollo placed the crow and the bowl (as Crater) into the sky as constellations.

Crater Bowl

One of the myths on the Crater or the "Bowl" constellation was in connection with Apollo and his bird the Corvus or Crow, which became another constellation. See the above constellation about Corvus and the Crater.

Another tale, involved the nobleman named Mastusius from Thrace. His king, Demophon had learned from oracle that he can stop the plague by annually sacrificing a virgin. Sacrifice was performed each year by drawing lots. Mastusius refused to have his daughter in the draw, unless the king placed his own daughters in the draw. Angry with this declaration, Demophon had Mastusius' daughter sacrificed, without the drawing. Mastusius plotted revenge. One day, when Mastusius had invited the king to dinner, but the king had previous engagement had sent his daughters to his host. Mastusius murdered his king's daughters. Mastusius then later serving the king in a bowl of wine mixed with the blood of the Demophon's daughters. When Demophon discovered of his daughters' murder, he had Mastusius and the drinking bowl thrown off the cliff. The bowl was transported into the sky, as the constellation Crater.

Auriga "Charioteer" The Charioteer constellation was possibly of King Erichthonius of Athens, Orsilochus the Argonaut, or the constellation was Myrtilus, the treacherous charioteer of King Oenomaus of Pisa. Erichthonius was said to have invented the four-horse chariot. Capella is the brightest star in Auriga, and the 6th brightest in the night sky.
Hyades Sisters of Hyades The Hyades were nymphs, possibly the daughters of Oceanus and Tethys, or of the Oceanid Aethra. They had died of grief when their brother Hyas was killed while hunting a lion or bear. Zeus had placed them in the sky as a cluster of stars as the Hyades, which is located on the head of the constellation of Taurus.
Delphinus "Dolphin" (Delphinus)

When Poseidon wanted to make the sea goddess Amphitrite, his wife and consort, the goddess fled and hid herself from Poseidon. Delphinus (dolphin) persuaded Amphitrite to accept Poseidon as her husband. Poseidon awarded Delphinus by placing the constellation of the Dolphin in the night sky.

Another tale says that a dolphin was the one that saved the legendary poet Arion.

Corona Borealis "Crown" The constellation of the Corona Borealis or the "Crown" was a wedding gift from Aphrodite to Ariadne when married the wine god Dionysus on the island of Naxos. It was Dionysus who placed the crown in the night sky.
Scutum Shield A Roman name for a shield. Scutum was located between the Aquilia (Eagle) and the Serpens Cauda (Serpent's Tail). I don't think there is any myth for this constellation.
Centaurus Centaur (Cheiron?)

The constellation of the Centaur was possibly that of Cheiron (Χείρων), who was mortally wounded by the deadly poison of Heracles' arrow. Cheiron had given up his immortality to be relieved of his agony. If you were in Athens, you couldn't see the legs of the Centaurus.

The constellation is located south-east of the zodiacal Libra. Alpha Centauri is the brightest star in the constellation, as well as the fourth brightest in our night sky. However, Alpha Centauri is a triple star; these stars are listed as Alpha Centauri A, B and C. Alpha Centauri A and B act like a binary star, in which they circle around each other. The fainter Alpha Centauri C, which is also known as Proxima, circled around the two brighter stars. Alpha Centauri is also the nearest neighbouring star to our solar system.

Lupus Wolf The constellation of the Lupus, or Wolf, was located near the Centaurus constellation. At the moment I don't know of any myth about this constellation, unless this wolf was meant to represent Lycaon, the king of Arcadia.
Argo Navis "Ship" Argo Navis is the ship of Jason and the Argonauts. The ship was named after the builder Argus. See the Argonauts. In the late 19th century, Argo Navis has been divided into four separate constellations – Carina (the Keel), Puppis (the Stern), Vela (the Sails) and Pyxis (the Compass). These constellations are located south of the Hydra and Canis Minor constellations, with the Carina mostly in the Southern Hemisphere (it can't be seen from Athens). In the Carina constellation, Canopus is the brightest star, as well as being the second brightest in our night sky.
Eridanus River

Eridanus (Ἠριδανός) is the constellation of a river or of a river god, the son of Oceanus and Tethys. According to the myth, it was the river that Phaëthon that fell in, when he lost control of his father's chariot and Zeus had to use his thunderbolt to kill the youth. Phaëthon's sisters wept beside this river, where they were transformed into poplar trees. See Helius about Phaëthon. There is uncertainty of whether the Eridanus is located or that it exist at all.

Hyginus identified Eridanus with the Egyptian river, the Nile.

The constellation is found in the Southern Hemisphere, and the brightest star of Eridanus is called Achernar (Alpha Eridani), and it is the 9th brightest star in the sky.

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Brightest Stars

Here, I have listed 10 of the brightest stars in our night's sky. Each star belonged to one of the constellations that I have mentioned above.

The column labelled "Magnitude", referred to the measurement of the brightness of the star. And the "Hemisphere", referred to the celestial hemispheres, which is divided by the celestial or zodiacal equator or circle.


 
Star Type Magnitude Constellation
(location)
Hemisphere
Sirus (Dog Star) Binary star -1.5 Canis Major (Great Dog) Southern
Canopus -0.5 Carina (Keel) Southern
Arcturus Orange giant 0.0 Boötes (Wagon-driver) Northern
Alpha Centauri Triple star 0.0 Centaurus (Centaur) Southern
Vega White star 0.0 Lyra (Lyre) Northern
Capella (She-goat) Binary star 0.1 Auriga (Charioteer) Northern
Rigel Blue-white supergiant 0.1 Orion Southern
Procyon Binary (White supergiant
and white dwarf)
0.4 Canis Minor (Little Dog) Southern
Achernar 0.5 Eridanus (River) Southern
Betelgeuse Red supergiant 0.5 Orion Southern

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Other Heavenly Bodies

The information in the list concerned about heavenly bodies other than the constellations and stars, which are found in our night's sky. These bodies included galaxies, star clusters and nebulae. Only a few of these bodies have mythical background like the Pleiades, Andromeda and Milky Way. The rest are just factual information.

Astronomers normally catalogue these heavenly bodies by prefix attached to number. There are several systems of cataloguing the stellar systems.

The Messier Catalog would use the letter "M" before the number. Charles Messier had catalogue 109 clusters, nebulae and galaxies in 1786. This Messier Catalog are still used today, however another catalogue system has also been adopted, known as New General Catalogue (NGC). NGC was developed by Johan Ludvig Emil Dreyer, in 1888. NGC has listed over 8000 objects. Another system was used called Index Catalogue (IC) in 1908. I have included both Messier Catalog (M) and NGC in my table, under the column, labelled "Catalog Number".

It should be noted that there are several types of cluster and galaxy, depending on their formation or shape. The galaxy can be of type: "Spiral", "Barred Spiral", "Elliptical" or "Irregular" galaxy. While star clusters can be identified as "Globular" or "Open" cluster.

Nebula is where cloud of gas or dust which may hide stars behind our view. These clouds would either absorb or reflect light, giving us spectacular colours or images. Some of these nebulae are caused by supernova. There are many types of nebula: Light Nebula, Dark Nebula, Diffuse Nebula, Emission Nebula, Reflection Nebula, Planetary Nebula and Supernova Remnant.

Since I am no astronomer, I think that these types of celestial objects should be explained by the experts. I would suggest that you should try the web-site called the Web Nebulae by Bill Arnett, at http://www.seds.org/billa/twn/. It has some great information and photo images.


 
Name Catalog No.
(image)
Catalog Type Location
(constellation)
Milky Way Milky Way Galaxy Barred spiral N/A
Andromeda M31, NGC 224 Galaxy Spiral Andromeda
Orion Nebula
(or Great Nebula)
M42 (& M43), NGC 1976 Nebula Emission Orion
Horsehead IC434 Nebula Dark Orion
Crab Nebula M1, NGC 1952 Nebula Diffused Taurus
Pleiades M45 Cluster Open Taurus
Hyades   Cluster Open Taurus
Beehive Cluster M44, NGC 2632 Cluster Open Cancer
Lagoon Nebula M8, NGC 6523 Nebula Diffused Sagittarius
Omega Nebula
(also Horseshoe, Swan or Lobster Nebula)
M17, NGC 6618 Nebula Emission Sagittarius
Trifid Nebula M20, NGC 6514 Nebula Diffused Sagittarius
Whirlpool Galaxy M51, NGC 5194 Galaxy Spiral Ursa Major
Owl Nebula M97, NGC 3587 Nebula Planetary Ursa Major
Veil Nebula NGC 6960 Nebula Diffused Cygnus
Ring Nebula M57, NGC 6720 Nebula Planetary Lyra
Omega Centauri NGC 5139 Cluster Globular Centaurus
Dumbbell Nebula M27, NGC 6853 Nebula Planetary Vulpecula
Eagle Nebula M16, NGC 6611, IC 4703 Nebula Emission Serpens Cauda
Black Eye Galaxy M64, NGC 4826 Galaxy Spiral Coma Berernices


Note that the images of the all the these cosmic bodies belonged to a number of observatories, such as NASA, NASA Hubble Telescope, Anglo-Australian Observatory, Royal Observatory (Edinburgh), and others that I don't know where they come from. These images are the copyright of the photographers and the observatories.

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The Solar System

A list of association of planets with the name of the gods. The planets we know today were named after the Roman deities, instead of their Greek equivalents. Please note that the name of the god enclosed within the round brackets is Greek equivalent to Roman deity.

According to the ancient philosophy and astronomy of the time, the planets Uranus (discovered in 1781), Neptune (1846) and Pluto (1930) don't exist, because these planets were not visible to the naked eye. Seven planetary systems were believed to have existed outside of Earth, which included the Sun and Moon. So the five planets known to ancient astronomers and astrologers are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

The ancient Greeks viewed these planets (πλανίτης), as wandering stars, or simply as wanderers. They included Sun and Moon as planets.

According to the Orphic religion, they believe that each of the planets was governed by a Titan and a Titaness.

 
Planetary Object Roman Deities (Greek) Babylonian Egyptian Description
Sun (Helios)
Sol (Helios); Hyperion Shamash

According to the myth, Hyperion was the original god of the sun, but his role was taken over by his son Helius or the Roman Sol. In Norse mythology, Sol was the name of the goddess of the sun.

According to Orphic belief about the planetary system, the Titan Hyperion and Titaness Theia ruled the Sun.

In astronomy, the sun is our main source of light and heat in the solar system. The Sun has a diameter of 1,392,000 kilometres. The mean distance between the Sun and Earth is 149 million kilometres. According to scientists, the Sun is quite common as a star in term of size, mass and luminosity.

Mercury (Stilbon)
Mercury (Hermes) Nabu Sebku (Seth)

The planet Mercury was named after the Roman messenger god, who was known to the Greeks as Hermes. Mercury was the son of Jupiter (Zeus) and the Pleiade Maia. (See Roman Deities, Mercury.)

The planet Mercury was called Stilbon.

According to the Orphic religion and myth, the Titan Coeus and Titaness Metis governed Mercury.

Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun, and is the smallest in size in the solar system. Mercury take 88 days to orbit the Sun. Mercury has no satellite.

Venus (Phosphoros)
Venus (Aphrodite)

morning star (Eosphorus or Phosphoros)
evening star (Hesperus)
Ishtar Pi-neter-Tuau (Osiris)

The planet Venus was named after the Roman goddess of love, who was known to the Greek as Aphrodite. Venus was either the daughter of Jupiter (Zeus) and Dione, or of she sprung up from the sea from the severed genital of Uranus. (See Roman Deities, Venus.)

According to Orphic myth, Venus was given to the Titan Oceanus and Titaness Tethys to rule.

However, the planet wasn't called Venus at the time. Since Venus can only be seen around dawn or dusk, it was known as Morning Star or Evening Star, and it was assumed that they were different planets, until the Hellenistic period. In Greek, the Morning Star was called Eosphorus (Ἐωσφόρος), or "Dawn Bringer". Eosphorus in Greek myth was the son of Eos, goddess of Dawn, and the Titan Astraeus, god of stars. The Latin name for Eosphorus was Lucifer, "Light-bringer", or Phosphorus (Φωσφόρος). At dusk, the Evening Star was known as Hesperus (Ἥσπερος), a son of Atlas. Knowing that they were the same planet, the Greeks then later, called the planet Aphrodite.

Venus is the second planet near the Sun, between Mercury and Earth. It is similar in size to Earth, being only slightly smaller. Venus takes about 255 days to circle the Sun. Unlike Earth, Venus has no satellite.

Earth Terra (Gaea); Erd (German)

In Classical mythology, the Earth was called Terra Mater or Tellus by the Romans and Gaea by the Greeks. Both names mean Earth. Gaea was the daughter of Chaos and she married her own son Uranus. Terra or Gaea was the mother of the Titans, including Saturn (Cronus). However, the name we use today was named after the ancient German goddess named Nertheus or Erd; they are probably two different goddesses.

Earth is the third planet nearest to the Sun in our solar system. It takes 365 days to orbit the Sun. It is the only planet with atmosphere that supports abundance of life. Earth has a satellite called the Moon.

Moon (Selene)
Luna (Selene); Diana (Artemis); Hecate. Mani. Sin

In classical mythology, there are several goddesses who were the goddess of the moon. Only the names of Luna (Roman) and the Selene (Greek) mean the "moon". The other goddesses of the moon were Diana or Artemis, and Hecate. The name, Moon, was probably derived from the Norse or Germanic myth, Mani, the god of the moon.

According to Orphic cosmology, the Titan Atlas and Titaness Phoebe ruled the Moon.

The Moon is the only satellite of the Earth, and our closest object. The moon takes over 29 days to complete one revolution around the Earth's orbit.

Mars (Pyroeis)
Mars (Ares) Nergal Heru-Khuti (Re)

The planet Mars was named after the Roman god of war, but was the god was known to the Greeks as Ares. Mars was the son of Jupiter (Zeus) and Juno (Hera). (See Roman Deities, Mars.)

The ancient Greeks called the planet Pyroeis, which means "fiery".

In the Orphic myth, the Titan Crius and Titaness Dione were assigned the planet Mars, to govern.

Mars is the 4th planet nearest to the Sun, between Earth and Jupiter. The planet has reddish colour, because the atmosphere is mainly consist of carbon dioxide. Because of the carbon dioxide and some water vapours, the planet could possibly support life. Though Mars is the third smallest planet in the solar system, it boasted the largest volcanic mountain – Olympus Mons. Mars takes about 687 days to orbit the Sun. Mars has two satellites called Phobos and Deimos, which in the Roman myths, they were the names of his sons by Venus (or Aphrodite).

Between Mars and Jupiter, is the astersoid belt.

Jupiter (Phaëthon or Phaënon)
Jupiter (Zeus) Marduk Heru-Ap-Sheta-Taui

The planet Jupiter was named after the Roman sky god of thunder, but in the Greek myth, he was known as Zeus. Jupiter was the son of Saturn (Cronus) and Ops (Rhea), and he was the supreme ruler of the universe, after deposing his father. Jupiter had married his sister Juno (Hera), but he was the father of many gods and heroes. (See Roman Deities, Jupiter.)

The planet Jupiter was originally named Phaëthon (Φαέθων), a son of Helius and Clymene. It was sometimes named Phaënon, the same name given to the planet Saturn.

According to Orphic planetary system, the Titan Eurymedon and Themis ruled the planet Jupiter.

Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system, and it is fifth planet from the Sun. There are great interests in this planet because of the swirling gaseous clouds, particularly the Great Red Spot. The constant movement of the gas suggested that the planet has been under perpetual storm. The planet has a diffused ring that was discovered Voyager spacecraft, but not visible through the telescope. The planet has about 63 satellites, the largest being Ganymede. The other three large satellites are Io, Europa and Callisto.

Saturn (Phaënon)
Saturn (Cronus) Ninurta Heru-Ka-Pet (Horus)

The planet Saturn was named after the leader of the Titans and he was known to the Greeks as Cronus. Saturn was the son of Uranus and Terra Mater (or Gaea (Earth). Saturn was the supreme ruler of the universe after deposing his father (Uranus). Saturn was the god of agriculture. Saturn had married his sister Ops (Rhea), and became the father of Olympian gods, including Jupiter (Zeus), who had deposed him in turn, as ruler of the world. (See Roman Deities, Saturn.)

The planet was actually called Phaënon by the ancient Greeks. In Greek myth, Phaënon was a beautiful youth that Prometheus created from clay. Prometheus knew that Zeus like beautiful boys, so the Titan tried to keep the boy hidden. Eros informed Zeus of Prometheus' action, and Zeus sent Hermes to fetch the boy, with promise of immortality. Phaënon (Φαένον) became the planet Saturn, though some sources say that Phaënon was the planet Jupiter.

According to the Orphic planetary system, the planet Saturn was governed by the Titans Cronus and Rhea.

Saturn is the 6th planet in the solar system, as well as the second largest planet. Saturn was famous for its giant rings. There are 62 satellites, the largest being Titan. The second largest satellite is Phoebe, which orbit the planet in the opposite direction.

Uranus
Uranus (Uranus)    

Uranus was named after the earliest god of the heaven (sky), who was the offspring of Terra Mater or Gaea (Earth). Uranus married his mother and became the chief god of the world until his son Saturn (Cronus) deposed him as supreme leader of the gods and men.

Uranus is the third largest planet and the seventh planets from the Sun, but it was not known in ancient (and medieval) times. The English astronomer William Hersch had discovered the planet in 1781. Uranus has rings, as well as 27 satellites, of which there are five major satellites. Most astronomers find that Uranus was the least interesting planet in the solar system.

Neptune
Neptune (Poseidon)    

The blue planet was named after Roman god of the sea – Neptune, who was known to the Greeks as Poseidon. Neptune was the son of Saturn (Cronus) and Ops (Rhea), and he was the brother of Jupiter (Zeus) and Pluto (Hades), who were also the name after the planets. (See Roman Deities, Neptune.)

Neptune is the eighth planet and the fourth largest planet in our solar system, and like Uranus and Pluto, it was unknown in ancient and medieval times, because it was not visible to the naked eye. The planet was discovered in 1846. The colour blue of the planet was the colour of the sea, suggested that the planet has high content of methane in its atmosphere. It has also been revealed recently in the Voyager 2 that the planet has a number of rings. Neptune has 13 satellites orbiting the planet; the largest being Triton, which was named after sea-god's son, who is also a sea god.

Pluto
Pluto (Hades)    

The planet that was named after Pluto, the Greek and Roman Lord of the Underworld and the god of the dead. Pluto was often named Hades in Greek myth. Pluto actually means wealth, because precious stone and gold can be found under the earth surface. Pluto was the son of Saturn (Cronus) and Ops (Rhea). His brothers, Jupiter (Zeus) and Neptune (Poseidon), were also named after the planets. (See Roman Deities, Pluto.)

Pluto is the ninth planet and it is the last frontier of our solar system, discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh, hence it was not known in ancient and medieval times. Pluto is the second smallest planet; smaller than many of satellites. Pluto has 3 satellites, Charon being the largest; it was named after the ferryman of the Underworld. Because of its distance from Earth, not much is known about the planet. Unlike the other planets, Pluto doesn't follow the path of celestial circle. Currently, scientists have demoted Pluto to the rank of dwarf planet, because Pluto is located in the Kuiper Belt.

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