BEHIND THE NAME : Constellation & Greek Mythology

BEHIND THE NAME : Constellation & Greek Mythology

Nurul Syuhada (UM Internship Student 2020)


In the past, people had an outstanding observation of the night sky. They were able to tell when to plant and when to harvest, and later they navigated the seas with the stars’ help. Characters of myth and legend were used to name and tell the stories of the stars. So, the constellation’s names that we use nowadays were derived from the Greek’s superior or character. There are millions of stars, but only 5,780 are visible to the naked eye. There are total twelve constellations and often called Zodiac, make a belt pattern around the Earth. The word Zodiac comes from the Latinized form of the Ancient Greek zōidiakòs kýklos (ζῳδιακός κύκλος), meaning “Cycle or circle of little animals”. Zōidion (ζῴδιον) is the diminutive of zōion (ζῷον, “animal”).

From the earliest of times, the zodiac has been universally used to predict or reflect characteristics of personality, whether from the Chinese, Mesopotamian, Indus Valley, Egyptian or any other culture. In this article, I would like to highlight the origin of the Constellation’s name based on the Greek mythology. There has been much speculation as to the origin of the constellations. Until recently it has usually been assumed that they evolved from the fancies of primitive imaginations, but research now suggests that they were designed as a pictorial scientific coordinate system. A coordinate system is a set of imaginary lines for measuring positions, like the lines of latitude and longitude for determining locations on the earth. The constellations perform a similar function, but they employ pictures, which make it easy to identify stars without need of instruments.


Constellation’s name based on Greek mythology:


1. Aries (The Ram)
King Athamas of Boeotia married the nymph Nephele at Hera’s command. She was a nymph made from a cloud in Hera’s image to trap the centaur, Ixion. The couple had two children; a son named Phrixus and a daughter named Helle. After a while, Athamas grew tired of Nephele and left her. Athamas then remarried, and his second wife was Ino, the daughter of Cadmus. She also gave him children; two sons named Learches and Melicertes. Nephele was angry and asked Hera to assist in avenging Athamas’ desertion. While this was going on, Zeus asked Ino and Athamas to care for Dionysus, as he wanted to keep him a secret from Hera. Hera eventually punished them for this by making them go mad. Ino was terribly jealous of Athamas and Nephele’s children and plotted their deaths. Ino tricked Athamas into attempting to sacrifice Phrixus, but he was saved by Heracles who sent a golden ram to carry him to Colchis. Helle grabbed hold of the winged ram, but fell to her death between the Mediterranean and Black Sea when she lost her hold. The strait, to this day, is named after her — the Hellespont (Dardanelles). Upon reaching Colchis, Phrixus sacrificed the golden ram to Zeus, who in turn placed the ram’s image among the stars in honor of its heroism.


2. Taurus (The Bull)
Jupiter, the supreme Roman god, turned himself into a beautiful white Bull to win the affections of the Phoenician princess Europa. After Europa hopped onto the Bull’s back, the Bull swam across the Mediterranean Sea, taking Europa all the way to the island of Crete. Zeus and Europa became the parents of Minos, the legendary king of Crete.


3. Gemini (The Twins)
This constellation reminded the Greeks of Castor and Pollux, the mythological twin sons of Zeus. Pollux was the son of Zeus, who seduced Leda, while Castor was the son of Tyndareus, king of Sparta and Leda’s husband. These were born from an egg after their mother, Leda, Queen of Sparta, had been seduced by Zeus, disguised as a swan. Although only half brothers, Castor, the mortal son of Leda’s husband, King Tyndareus, and Polydeuces, immortal son of Zeus, were extremely close and together took part in many adventures. Sadly, on one of these Castor was killed. Polydeuces avenged Castor’s murder, but was so overcome with grief that he begged to be allowed to be with his brother in the underworld. Zeus, knowing the strength of their feelings, and for once showing some compassion, granted this request. He placed the twin side by side in the heavens so that they could alternate their time together between Hades and the home of the gods.
It was thought to bring good luck to sailors since it appeared at the end of the winter storm season.


4. Cancer (The Crab)
Cancer is identified with the crab that Juno, queen of the gods, sent to rescue Hydra, appeared while Heracles fought the many-headed Hydra. Hercules stepped on the crab, crushing it to death after it bit him in the foot. Afterwards, the goddess Hera, an enemy of Heracles, placed the crab among the stars to reward the crab for its heroic attempt.


5. Pisces (The Fishes)
Pisces is the fishes. These two fish were Aphrodite and Eros. They were walking along the Euphrates River when Typhon appeared. They were scared and unable to run, so they called upon Zeus for help. He turned them into two fish, and they jumped in the river and escaped. Athena placed the fish among the stars and they became the constellation of Pisces.