Aries the Ram
Greek:Helle and her brother Phryxus were the children of the King of Thebes. Their stepmother, Queen Ino treated them poorly, and the gods took pity on the two children. Hermes made a golden ram to rescue them. The two children climbed on his back as the ram lifted them over the sea. However, Helle lost her grip and fell to her death. The spot which she landed in the ocean was later called the Hellespont in her honor. Arriving safely in the kingdom of AEetes, Phryxux sacrificed the ram to the gods in thanks. The ramís hide became the Golden Fleece sought after by Jason and his Argonauts.
Egytpian:The Egyptians saw this constellation as the Phoenix, the legendary bird who built itís own funeral pyre every 500 years to burn itself then be reborn.
Pisces the Fish
Greek:According to the Greeks, the gods were having a picnic and they were attacked by the monster Typhoon. The gods took various forms to flee. Zeus eventually killed the monster with one of his famous lightning bolts.
Pisces was the form Aphrodite and her son Eros took. They lept into a near by river and changed into fish. They tied themselves together by the tail so they wouldn't lose each other.
Aquarius the Water Bearer
Greek:Not all of Zeus's consorts were female. This constellation represnets Gandymeade, a beautiful, young shepherd boy. Zeus, in the form of an eagle, snatched him up and brought him to Mount Olympus to be the cup bearer of the gods. He brings the gods the drink called Nector.
NOTE: While most sources say Gandymeade was male, I have seen some sources that claim he was a she. We may never know.
Mesopotamia:This constellation is somehow connected with the Mesopotamian Flood Myth. The hero Atrahasis (Sumerian; Ut-naptishan is the Babylonian name) is informed of a plot by the god Enlil to destroy the world with various disasters. Each time, the god Ea (Babylonian: Enki) tells Atrahasis how to prevent the disaster. The final disaster is a flood, but this time Enlil threatens to destroy Ea if he interferes. So Ea tells the hero in a dream to build a boat and to save himnself, his family, and some animals. After the flood, Atrahasis performs a sacrifce to appease Enlil and the gods swear never to make this mistake again. However, in order to prevent humanity from becoming too numerous, he declares some people must remain celubate and one third of the children will be killed by demons at birth.
Capricorn the Sea-Goat
Greek:The story behind Capricorn follows the story of Pisces, with Capricorn representing the god of the woods, Pan. When he jumped into the river to escape, he hesitated for a second before changing into a fish. Only his legs made the change, leaving him as a half goat, half fish to make his escape. Zeus thought this form was humorous, so after he defeated Typhoon he placed Panís likeness in the sky as a joke.
Babylon:The Babylonians saw this constellation as Enki, god of the fresh waters and cunning intellect. He was sometimes refereed to as Ea. Enki is often pictured as having the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, teeming with fish, springing out of his shoulders. Enki plays an important role in many of the Mesopotamian legends. His role with Inanna will be touched upon later. The constellation of Aquarius, right to his left, is a symbol of the great flood in the story of Atrahasis. The story begins before the creation of man. The ruler of the gods was named Enlil. He had the other gods build him a temple, but the work was too hard and they threatened to revolt, so Enlil decided to create a race of creatures to take the burden of the gods. He killed another god and had Enki make humans out of the blood. It was the duty of mankind to feed the gods with sacrifices and build temples for them.
Greek:Sagittarius is thought to be the wise centaur Chiron who tutored many Greek heroes in philosophy, science, healing, and ethics. He gave his life to grant freedom to the bound titan Prometheus.
Babylon:The Babylonians saw this constellation as Nergal, the god of war and husband of Esreskingal. The gods were having a feast, and since Esreskingal couldnít leave her kingdom, they invited her to send a messager to take some food for her. The servant arrived at the feast to do his task, and all the gods paid their respects to him and his queen. All except Nergal. This enraged Esreskingal, so she demanded he come to the underworld to pay his respects. However, Nergal knew that the road to Hades wasnít called "the path which those who walk never return" for nothing, so he built a throne to take with him. This throne would protect him from the powers of the underworld. He arrived in Hades and engaged in a struggle with the queen of the dead. Neither could gain an advantage, so Nergal married her as opposed to returning humbled.
Scorpius the Scorpion
Greek: All sources on Greek mythology seem to agree that this was the giant Scorpion sent by either Artemis or Gaia to kill Orion the hunter.
Hawaiian: This constellation represented the fishing hook of the trickster Maui. One day, he and his brothers went out fishing. Maui had them paddle for several days until they came to just the right spot. Maui told his brothers that this magical fishhook would catch lots of fish, but they had to keep their eyes forward and not look at him while he fished. Maui threw his hook into the water and waited. Soon, he could feel a tug. He pulled as hard as he could and had his brothers paddle as fast as they could! They asked what Maui had caught, but he wouldn't tell them. Finally, the frustraited and tired brothers looked back and found that Maui had hooked the bottom of the ocean, and several tall mountains (the Hawaiian Islands) were breaking through the ocean. However, this broke the spell, and Maui's fishing line snapped, where it flew into the sky and stuck there as a constellation.
Libra the Scales
Roman:Originally, this constellation formed the claws of Scorpius. However, the Romans split that constellation into two so they could have twelve constellations for their calender. Libra was seen as the scales of Aestrea, the goddess of justice.
Virgo the Virgin
Greek:The Greeks saw this constellation as Persephone, daughter of the goddess Demeter. One day while Persephone was out tending the fields, the god of the underworld, Hades, stole her away to be his queen. With her disappearance, the crops began to die and the world grew cold. Demeter questioned a group of farmers, and they reported that they saw Persephone being carried underground by Hades. Meanwhile, Persephone sat in the underworld growing lonely, gray and sad. As she was wandering Hadesí gardens, she grew hungry and ate the nearest food she could find-six seeds of the pompagrate fruit. Back on Mount Olympus, Demeter had Zeus send Hermes out to find Persephone. When the messenger god reached the underworld, he told Hades of Zeusí command-that Persephone be let free. Reluctantly, he agreed. Before she left, Hades asked her if she had eaten anything, and Persephone admitted that she ate six seeds. Because of this, she would have to return to the underworld one month for each seed. So for the six months of autumn and winter, Persephone must remain in the underworld and the Earth becomes cold. When she returns, the world once again becomes warm and fertile.
Babylonian:The Babylonians saw the Virgin as Inanna, the goddess of love and war. One of the most famous myths of Isthar deals with her decent into the underworld. Already accepted as the queen of heaven and earth, Inanna wanted more-the underworld as well. So she put on her finest robes, crown, and jewelry and set off to visit her sister Esreshkingal-queen of the underworld. As she passed through the seven gates of Hades, she had her clothing and jewels taken from her. She came before her sister the way all things do-naked and afraid. After insulting her sister, she was killed by the Annunaki-the judges of the underworld and left to hang on a hook like a piece of rotten meat. Fortunately, Inanna had the foresight to tell her servant Ninshubur to act if she didnít return. The servant begged the gods for help, but only Enki would help. He fashioned two mourners to mourn with Esreskingal. He gave the two mourners the Water and Grass of Life to use on Inannaís remains. Finally, he changed them into flies so they could enter undetected. The mourners came before Esreshkingal and shared in her pain, as the death goddess was forced to cry for every tragedy that happened. Touched, she offered them a reward. They claimed the corpse of Inanna and used the Water and Grass of Life to bring her back from the dead. However, Esreskingal declared that Inanna couldnít leave unless someone remained in her place. Inanna searched the world to find someone that didnít mourn her death, but everyone she found had mourned. All except one-her husband Dumuzi the shepherd. Since he had not mourned, the seven deputies of Hades captured him and took him down. With his passing came winter. His sister offered to spend half of the year in his place so that he could tend to the crops of the world, allowing spring and summer to return.
Egyptian:To the Egyptians, this constellation was Isis, the wife of Osiris and mother of Horus. The only major myth concerning her has to do with her rescuing her husband from death then concieving Horus. However, she seemed to play an important role in the mystery cults of the ancient Mediterranian world.
Leo the Lion
Greek:Leo represented the Nemean Lion, a huge and powerful beast that was immune to weapons. Hercules was forced to wrestle the lion to death. He then skined the lion with its own claws and wore the tough skin for protection.
Cancer the Crab
Greek: It was said that while Hercules battled the Hydra, Hera sent a crab to snap at his ankle, hoping the hero would be distracted long enough for the monster to slay him. However, the crab couldn't do much to the mighty Hercules, and the hero ended up stepping on it. Hera placed the crab in the sky as a reward for its loyal service, but since it had failed its task she did not mark the constellation with any bright stars.
Gemini the Twins
Greek:The Gemini twins were the sons of Zeus and Leda. Zeus seduced Leda in the guise of a swan, so the two were born from eggs. Castor was mortal and became a famous horse trainer. Pollux was immortal like his father and became the best boxer in all of Greece. Both twins were excellent sailors as well. The two accompanied Jason on his quest to find the Golden Fleece. During the voyage, the ship ran into a fierce storm, and the boat would have been capsized had it not been for the twins. The Gemini became known as the patrons of sailors. They also participated in the Trojan War to rescue their sister Helen from Paris. When Castor died during the war, Pollux became so upset that Zeus placed the two in the sky so they could be together forever. Since Pollux was immortal, the star forming his head is a little brighter.
Roman: The Romans viewed this constellation as Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome. They were raised by a wolf, and eventually Romulus killed his brother to take control of the city. Chinese: The Gemini twins were associated with Yin and Yang, the symbol of balancing and complimentry forces.
Taurus the Bull
Greek:The Greeks saw this constellation as the minotaur, a half man, half bull monster. It was the child of Queen Pasiphae, by an adulterous affair some say. King Minos had Daedalus build a maze to keep the monster in. After the death of his son Androgeos, and a despute with King Aegeus of Athens, it was decided that Athens would have to send a yearly sacrifice of seven maidens and seven young men. Aegeusí son Theseus returned home from his wanderings just before the yearly sacrifice went out. He took the place of one of the youths so he could fight the minotaur. The ship went out with a black sail, and would return with a white sail if one of the youths had defeated the minotaur. While in captivity, Theseus fell in love with the Kingís daughter Ariadne. Late at night she gave Theseus a sword with which to fight the beast and a ball of string so he could find his way back. Theseus found and slayed the minotaur, then used the string to find his way back. Quickly, he fled into the night with the other youth of Athens and Princess Ariadne. However, they forgot to change the sail from black to white, and King Aegeus flung himself into the sea in grief. Theseus became king of Athens and married Ariadne. Some stories, however, say that Theseus abandoned her on an island or left her back in Minosí kingdom.
Babylonian:This constellation represented the Bull of Heaven, a beast that fought the hero Gilgamesh.