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The Mythology of your Star Sign

The zodiac signs draw on stars in Babylonian star catalogues, originating from the 1st millennium BC
 
Elisa Taddei / Storyteller

The zodiac signs draw on stars in Babylonian star catalogues, originating from the 1st millennium BC

The English word zodiac derives from zōdiacus, the Latinized form of the Ancient Greek zōidiakòs kýklos, meaning "circle of little animals".

The Signs of the Zodiac

Learn the mythology behind your star sign

Have you ever wondered where the various animals of the Zodiac and their contellations came from? A lot of people are surprised to learn the sometimes violent or lurid origins of their star sign which some closely identify with. In fact, each star sign has its each unique characteristics which you may indeed see reflected in yourself. Star signs were also used to predict compatibility between couples through astrology, for example, people having Fire element in their zodiac sign get along well with people having Air element in their zodiac sign. Whatever your sign, we hope you enjoy these stories from the ancients!


 

Aries

March 21 - April 20

Aries, the Ram, is the first of the twelve Zodiac constellations. In Greek mythology, it represents the animal whose fleece was sought by Jason and the Argonauts. The Jason' s main quest was to find the golden fleece of the ram in order to prove himself to be the rightful king of Iolcos in Thessalay.

Originally, the ram had been presented to Nephele by Mercury when her husband took a new wife, Ino, who persecuted Nephele's children. To keep them safe, Nephele sent Phrixus and Helle away on the back of the magical ram, who flew away to the east. Helle fell off into the Hellespont (now the Dardanelles) between the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara; Phrixus safely made it to Colchis on the eastern shore of the Black Sea.

Ancient Mediterranean civilizations have since immortalized Aries, and the golden fleece in essence, among one of the creatures inhabiting the night sky.

Phrixus sacrificed the ram and presented the Golden Fleece to the king, Aeetes. After that, the Golden Fleece was the treasure wrested from a dragon. There it remained until taken by Jason and the Argonauts after Medea had drugged the dragon. Jason and Medea then fled carrying the fleece on Jason's ship, the Argo. After Argo's return, this prize was spread on the bridal couch of Jason and Medea, thus sanctifying their royal union.

Notable Aries

Raphael Sanzio

Italian Painter

March 27th 1483

Pope Urban VIII

Pontifex Maximus

April 5th 1568


 

Taurus

April 20 - May 20

Taurus’ symbology stems from this tale: Zeus was extremely attracted to Europa. Pulling a slight of hand, he changed himself into a white bull and wandered towards Europa who was picking flowers in a nearby field. Europa couldn't resist petting the bull; then climbed upon the bull's back and he carried Europa across the sea to Crete, kidnapping her.

The couple had a son, Minos, king of Crete. Minos made a deal with Poseidon, and promised him a beautiful white bull in offering if he could give him mastery over the seas. The god agreed. However, when the time came to sacrifice the bull, he decided to keep it for himself, offering a lesser specimen in its place. The god, in revenge, asked Aphrodite for aid in a plan for retaliation. Aphrodite afflicted Minos' wife with an uncontrollable lust for the white bull. Pasiphae, unable to suppress her desires, mated with the white bull. The offspring of this union was the Minotaur, a dreadful beast with the body of a man and the head of a bull, which fed on human flesh.

Minos made a deal with Poseidon, and promised him a beautiful white bull in offering if he could give him mastery over the seas.

It was enclosed in an impenetrable labyrinth, where youths were regularly thrown to feed its endless appetite for human flesh. Theseus, son of the King of Athens, volunteered to slay the Minotaur. With the help of Minos' daughter Ariadne and her ball of thread, he found his way into the labyrinth and killed the Minotaur with a club, finding his way out again through the strand of thread.

Notable Taurus

William Shakespeare

English Writer

April 23rd 1564

Salvador Dali

Spanish Surrealist Painter

May 11th 1904


 

Gemini

May 21 - June 21

Castor and Pollux were twins born from the same mother Leda, but from different fathers. Castor’s father was Tyandarus, king of Sparta, while Pollux’s father was Zeus, the father of all Gods, who seduced Leda in the form of a Swan. Their adventures brought them on the quest for the Golden Fleece as Argonauts, or fighting in the Trojan War side by side after the supposed kidnapping of their sister Helen of Troy. The twins were born strong, handsome and identical in all aspects but one: Castor was born mortal and Pollux was immortal.

From then on, they have remained together as the star sign of the Gemini.

Days turned into months and months turned into years and faith could not have held a crueler conclusion. Castor finally died leaving his immortal twin brother Pollux torn apart with heartache after having spent their whole life together. Pollux besought Zeus to be permitted to offer his own life in exchange for that of his brother. Zeus became so heartened from such love that he decided to give them both the gift of immortality and rewarded them by placing them as stars among the constellations.

Notable Geminis

Dante Alighieri

Italian Writer

Between May 22 and June 13 1265

Paul Gauguin

French Painter

June 7th 1848


 

Cancer

June 22 - July 22

Cancer, derived from Latin, means literally, the crab. The association of Cancer with water dates back to the dawn of astrology. The image of the crab is Babylonian in origin. In Egypt, this sign was represented by two turtles. The later placement of the crab within the zodiac is related to a minor chapter in Greek mythology. Cancer, the giant crab named Carcinus, plays a minor role in the Twelve Labors of Hercules.

Impressed by its loyalty and courage, Hera placed the crab's image in the night sky.

Hercules wanted to kill the many-headed Hydra, a great sea monster, living in the marshes of Lerna. Hera, the goddess who sent Hercules to these tasks, also hated him and often encouraged his failure. During his battle with Hydra, Hera commanded a nearby crab to attack Hercules and draw his attention away. Without question, the little creature took a claw-hold of a conspicuous toe. This act cost the crab its life, for Hercules kicked it so hard that it was sent to the sky. By other accounts when the crab grabbed onto the hero's toe, barely breaking the rhythm of his great battle with Hydra, Hercules crushed it with his foot. Impressed by its loyalty and courage, Hera placed the crab's image in the night sky. But, none of its stars were bright because the crab had failed to accomplish its given task. Some scholars have suggested that Cancer was a late add-on to the myth of Hercules to make the Twelve Labors correspond to the twelve signs of the Zodiac.

Notable Cancers

Julius Caesar

Roman Emperor

July 13th 102 B.C.

Henry VIII

King of England

June 28th 1491


 

Leo

June 22 - July 22

The Nemean lion was a vicious monster who lived in a cave in Nemea. The Lion is usually considered to have been the offspring of Typhon (or Orthrus) and Echidna. It is also said to have fallen from the moon as the offspring of Zeus and Selene.

The skin of the Lion couldn’t be penetrated or grazed by any kind of weapon. His fangs and claws were as hard as iron. That’s why the Lion was considered to be invulnerable. He was sent to Nemea to terrorize the city with his roaring. People and flocks were attacked and killed by the Lion. The first of Hercules’ twelve labors was to slay the Nemea lion. While searching for the lion, Hercules fetched some arrows to use against it, not knowing that its golden fur was impenetrable. He found and shot the lion. He discovered the fur's property when the arrow bounced harmlessly off the creature's thigh.

Once dead, the great Nemea lion was placed by Zeus between the signs of the zodiac.

During the fight the lion destroyed Hercules’ armor and bit off one of his fingers. Finally, Hercules stunned the beast with his club, and using his immense strength, strangled it to death. After slaying the lion, he tried to skin it with a knife from his belt, but failed. Athena told Heracles to use one of the lion's own claws to skin the pelt. Once dead, the Nemea lion was placed by Zeus between the signs of the zodiac.

Notable Leos

Giorgio Vasari

Italian Artist

July 30th 1511

Napoleone Bonaparte

French Emperor

August 15th 1769


 

Virgo

June 22 - July 22

Most of the goddesses who were linked to Virgo were considered fertility goddesses, or goddesses of the harvest. This resonates with the view of Virgo being the caretaker of mankind through her fertility. This includes Ishtar (Babylonian mythology), Isis (Egyptian mythology), Ceres (Roman mythology), and Demeter (Greek mythology).

The constellation Virgo is thought to be a woman holding an ear of corn, thus reinforcing the Harvest Mother mythology. In one well-known Greek myth, the goddess of Spring Persephone is kidnapped by the god of the Underworld Hades. Upon discovering this, the young goddess's mother Demeter, being the goddess of the harvest, decides to ruin the harvest in her despair. Eventually the Spring goddess was allowed to return for six months a year to aid her mother in the harvest. This coincides with the constellation Virgo being visible for only the months of March through August.

After leaving Earth, Astraea is said to have been "placed in the heavens"

Astraea is perhaps the most interesting character involved in the Virgo myth, as she is a virgin representing justice, and was a caretaker of humanity. After leaving Earth, she is said to have been "placed in the heavens", which is most likely why some mythologists believe her to be the constellation "Virgo" itself. Many mythologists suggest that she became the constellation Virgo and her scales of justice became the constellation Libra.

Notable Virgos

Caligula

Roman Emperor

August 31st 12 AD

Renzo Piano

Contemporary Italian Architect

September 14th 1937


 

Libra

September 22 - October 23

Libra's symbol of the scales is based on the Scales of Justice held by Themis, the Greek personification of divine law and custom. She became the inspiration for modern depictions of Lady Justice. Libra is the only zodiac constellation in the sky represented by an inanimate object. The other eleven signs are represented either as an animal or mythological characters throughout history.

Libras are the children of Venus, and for this reason they are elegant, charming, they have good taste and they love beauty. They don't like routine and prefer an intellectually appealing argument rather than banal work. They are artistic but also rational, sensitive, but also timid and indecisive. But once they have chosen their goal, they have no further hesitations and show their hidden ambition. They can be excellent philosophers, artists and diplomats.

The symbol of the scales is based on the Scales of Justice held by Themis, the Greek personification of divine law and custom.

Their love for beauty and pleasure can lead them into a hedonistic existence, but they can also carry out a stylish and philanthropic lifestyle without falling in the frivolity of the mundane world. Because they are not attached to money and seek more intangible achievements, they are trust-worthy bankers or stock brokers. They have a community-oriented spirit and can easily get in the middle of a controversy to pacify the parties in the name of justice; for this reason they tend to be excellent mediators. They reject the domination of the strong over the weak, and believe in the power of ideas over all.

Notable Libras

Luciano Pavarotti

Italian Tenor

September 19th 1571

Caravaggio

Italian Artist

September 19th 1571


 

Scorpio

October 23 - November 21

The meaning behind the zodiac sign Scorpio is based on the Greek myth of Orion, the son of Posiedon and Euriale, who after enraging the Goddess Artemis (Goddess of Hunting) is punished by the Gods. Legend has it that Artemis, having fallen in love with the handsome and gifted huntsman, invites him to join her in a hunt. Orion, known for his rough nature and lack of control, misunderstands the Goddess’ intentions and attempts to rape her, thereby incurring the wrath of the gods with this act of sacrilege. In another version of the legend, he dares to boast of his hunting skills by arrogantly showing Artemis the hundreds of trophies of his kills.

As a reward for being a staunch ally of the Gods, the scorpion was immortalized in a constellation

In both versions of the story, the Gods decided to punish him – a scorpion is sent to do battle with him and eventually kills him with its poisonous sting. A staunch ally of the Gods, the scorpion in immortalized in a constellation. Orion is also transformed into a constellation by Artemis and is placed head to head with that of his arch enemy, so the two are forever locked in battle.

Notable Scorpios

Antonio Canova

Italian Sculptor

November 1st 1757

Trilussa

Roman Writer

October 26th 1871


 

Sagittarius

November 22 - December 21

The zodiac sign of Sagittarius refers to a constellation that comes from the culture of the Sumerians, later adopted by the Greeks and then by the Romans, who created a bit of confusion around its mythological origins. According to some cuneiform inscriptions, the Sumerian god of war, Nergal, was represented as a hunter and an archer.

For the Romans, the Archer was Chiron, the wise centaur, teacher of Jason, Achilles and other famous heroes, but the identification of Sagittarius with Chiron is inaccurate as he was originally associated with the Centaur stars. However, already during the Alexandrian and then Roman periods, some authors confused Chiron with Sagittarius. The constellation of Sagittarius was created to guide Jason and the Argonauts to the Golden Fleece.

The muses asked Zeus to put him in heaven, and so there he was placed, in the act of demonstrating his marksmanship

In fact, the character who originally represented him in Greek mythology was the legendary Crotonic, son of the goat-god Pan and Eufeme, the nurse of the Muses. As the son of a hybrid goat, he was probably a satyr (a human creature with ears, tail and hooves of a goat) and a centaur. Crotus--a satyr who lived on Mount Helicon--was the inventor of the bow and arrow and often went hunting on horseback. The muses asked Zeus to put him in heaven, and so there he was placed, in the act of demonstrating his archery abilities.

Notable Sagittarius

GianLorenzo Bernini

Italian Sculptor, Architect, Painter

December 7th 1598

Ludwig Van Beethoven

German Composer

December 16th 1770


 

Capricorn

December 22 - January 19

Ancients had many legends about a strange goat, Capricorn. His figure is often connected to Zeus (Jupiter in Roman mythology), head of gods. Babylonians believed that Capricorn was a Sea-Goat, a god named Ea, who brought learning and culture to the people of Mesopotamia. It was believed that Ea lived in the ocean and that he came out of the water every day to watch over the land and returned at night.

According to Greeks, Capricorn was associated with the demigod, Pan, who was a man from the waist up, and a goat from the waist down. He was the son of Hermes and a forest Nymph. He was raised by nymphs after his mother, disgusted by his appearance, abandoned him. Pan tended sheep and goats and was a talented musician.

Capricorn supported Zeus in his battle with Typhon, and in thanks Zeus immortalized him by transforming him into a star constellation

His libidinous nature also drove him to go after the nymphs who usually fled in panic at the sight of him. One of them, Syrinx, begged gods to be turned into reed which Pan used to create the well-known Pan flute. At one time Pan himself was fleeing from the monster Typhon and tried but failed to turn himself into a fish. However, he supported Zeus in his battle with Typhon, and in thanks Zeus immortalized him by transforming him into a star constellation.

Notable Sagittarius

Cicerone (Marco Tullio)

Latin Philosopher

January 3rd 106 B.C.

Lorenzo il Magnifico

Florentine Merchant

January 1st 1449


 

Aquarius

January 20 - February 18

Aquarius is often associated with Ganymede, a young and beautiful prince of Troy, with whom Zeus fell in love. Zeus disguised himself as an eagle and carried Ganymede to be the cup-carrier to the gods. Hera, wife of Zeus, was jealous of the young prince and treated him with contempt. Zeus, however, was not phased by the wrath of his wife and had Ganymede accompany him on his travels, bearing a golden cup. Ganymede was a kind and compassionate young man and he took pity on the people of earth when he saw they were without water. He begged Zeus to allow him to help the people and eventually was granted permission. He sent down rain upon the earth and quenched the thirst of the people.

Aquarius sent down rain upon the earth and quenched the thirst of the people

He was deified as Aquarius, god of rain. Aquarius was considered positive by cultures which had lands plagued by drought, such as the Greeks and Egyptians. In contrast, cultures prone to flooding, such as the Babylonians, looked at Aquarius in a negative way. The mythological relationship of Zeus and Ganymede is often compared to the real relationship between Emperor Hadrian and Antinous. In fact, Antinous was given the spot below Ganymedes, to be carried to Emperor Hadrian by Zeus, just as he carried Ganymedes to Mount Olympus.

Notable Aquarius

Galileo Galilei

Italian Astronomer

February 15th 1564

Hadrian

Roman Emperor

January 24th 76 A.D.


 

Pisces

February 24th - March 20

In early Greco-Roman mythology, the story of the Pisces constellation follows the brutal defeat of the Titans at the hands of the Olympian Gods. After the power struggle, Gaia (Mother Earth) coupled with Tartarus in the lowest depths of the Underworld, and from this unexpected union was born Typhon. Typhon, as powerful as the Titans themselves, had one hundred dragon heads with flaming eyes and mouths filled with black tongues. Hesiod tells us that he was the most awful monster the world had ever seen.

Gaia sent Typhon to destroy the gods on Mount Olympus as revenge for the death of the Titans. Fortunately Pan, god of the shepherds, saw the monster coming and warned the other gods, giving them just enough time to transform themselves and go into hiding. Jupiter took the shape of a ram, Mercury an ibis, Apollo a crow, Diana a cat, and Bacchus transformed into a goat.

The two fish were hung in the northern skies to commemorate the day of Venus and Cupid’s salvation

Venus and her son Cupid, however, were caught unawares while they were bathing on the banks of the Euphrates River. By pleading with the water nymphs for protection, they were transformed into fish, and their tails were tied with a cord so they wouldn’t be separated. Just before Typhon could destroy them, they swam into the depths of the river. In another account, two fish appeared on the riverbank and carried Venus and Cupid to safety.

Notable Pisces

Michelangelo Buonarroti

Italian Genius

March 6th 1475

Pope Paul III

Pontifex Maximus

February 29th 1468


About the Author


Elisa Taddei was born and raised in the Eternal City- an authentic Roman from Rome. Her education and career includes Cultural Anthropology, Tourism and Art History

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