||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 – “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 – “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 (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.
||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.
|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.
||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.
||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 (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.
||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 (Κασσιέπεια) was the wife of Cepheus and mother of Andromeda. She was placed among the stars with her husband and daughter. See Perseus.
||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 (Πήγασος) was the winged-horse of the hero Bellerophon. Pegasus was an offspring of Poseidon and the Gorgon Medusa.
||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.
||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.
||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.
||Dragon or Serpent
|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).
||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).
||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.
||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 (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.
||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.
||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 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.
||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.
||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.
||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.
||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.
||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.
||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.
||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.
||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 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 (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.