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Zodiac Signs and Greek Mythology

Updated on August 1, 2016
Colin Quartermain profile image

Having travelled through Italy, Greece and the Aegean in his youth, Colin quickly became interested in the ancient mythology of the region.

Astrology Signs and Greek Mythology

In the Western world, most people are probably aware of the Signs of the Zodiac, even if they do not believe in Astrology. Indeed, most people can probably name at least some of the 12 Signs.

This is perhaps not surprising, as the names have been around for over 2000 years, with the names used today coming from the Roman period; the Romans having built upon the work of Greek and Babylonian astronomers.

Again, most people will also know that the 12 Signs of the Zodiac relate to constellations in the night sky, but perhaps fewer will realise that each Sign can be linked to a story from Greek mythology; although, Greek mythology probably adapted some of the myths to take into account existing Babylonian descriptions.

Cellarius:Ptolomaic System; Signs of Zodiac

Loon, J. van (Johannes), ca. 1611-1686 PD-life-100
Loon, J. van (Johannes), ca. 1611-1686 PD-life-100 | Source

Heracles and the Cretan Bull

B. Picart 1731 PD-art-100
B. Picart 1731 PD-art-100 | Source

Greek Mythology Names and Zodiac Signs

Below are a short introduction to each Sign’s story, some are famous stories, and some are less well known.

Aries – The Ram

The first sign of the zodiac is Aries, the Ram; this flying ram came from Greek mythology and was named Crius Chrysomallus. Crius Chrysomallus was an offspring of Poseidon, and was sent by Nephele to rescue her children, Phrixus and Helle, from their stepmother.

The Ram would fly to Colchis where it would tell Phrixus to sacrifice his rescuer to the gods. The fleece of Crius Chrysomallus would become a famous prize in Greek mythology, the Golden Fleece.

Taurus – The Bull

The constellation Taurus was based on one of the most famous creatures of Greek mythology, the Cretan Bull. The Cretan Bull was sent to Crete by Poseidon when the god was angered by Minos. The bull would mate with Queen Pasiphae to bring forth the Minotaur, before going on to ravage the countryside of Crete.

The Cretan Bull would then be encountered by two famous Greek heroes. Firstly, Heracles would capture the bull as part of his 12 Labours, before the bull, now known as the Marathonian Bull, was captured and sacrificed by Theseus.

Gemini – The Twins

The Twins of Greek mythology were the Dioscuri, brothers Castor and Pollux. These were the children of Leda, Castor though was the mortal son of King Tyndareus, whilst Pollux was the immortal son of Zeus.

The two brothers were inseparable, and would become noted heroes, being Argonauts, as well as hunters of the Calydonian Boar. Eventually though, Castor was killed, and Pollux gave up his own immortality. Even in death though, the two were inseparable, as Zeus placed both in the night’s sky.

Meissen Castor and Pollux

BurgererSF Released into PD
BurgererSF Released into PD | Source

Heracles and the Nemean Lion

Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664) PD-art-100
Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664) PD-art-100 | Source

Cancer – The Crab

The Crab, or Cancer, is one of the less well known creatures of Greek mythology, as the sign of the zodiac is based on Carcinus.

Carcinus was a giant crab of unknown parentage who was dispatched by the goddess Hera when Heracles was fighting the Lernaean Hydra. The crab was sent to distract and possibly kill the hero as he fought, but Heracles stood on the crab killing it, and so it was Hera who placed it afterwards in the heavens.

Leo – The Lion

Leo is another creature in Greek mythology encountered by the hero Heracles. The first Labour assigned to Heracles was to kill the Nemean Lion, a creature with impenetrable skin, and deadly claws.

The weapons of Heracles would not work against the skin of the Nemean Lion, and so the hero would eventually wrestle with it, killing it. The skin of the Nemean Lion was then worn by Heracles.

Virgo – The Maiden

Virgo is another less well known figure in Greek mythology, with the Maiden based on Astraea. Astraea was the daughter of Astraeus (Dusk) and Eos (Dawn), and she was the Greek goddess of Innocence and Purity.

Virgo is sometimes wrongly said to be Artemis, the Virgin Goddess.

Themis and the Scales of Justice

Lucas Released into PD
Lucas Released into PD | Source

Libra – The Scales

Libra is the only sign of the zodiac, according to Greek mythology, which was never alive, for the scales are representative of the Scales of Justice that were used by the goddess Themis.

Themis was the goddess of Divine Law, and used the Scales of justice to weigh competing claims.

Scorpio – The Scorpion

The scorpion, Scorpius, was another giant creature, although it was more successful in its task than Carcinus had been. Scorpius was an offspring of Gaia (goddess of the earth) who was dispatched by his mother to kill the hunter Orion.

Orion was a troublesome mortal, often in trouble with the gods, but whilst hunting with Artemis, Orion had boasted that he would kill all animals on the earth, a boast which abhorred Gaia. The fight between Scorpius was long and evenly matched, but eventually the scorpion killed the hunter, and both were subsequently placed in the heavens.

Sagittarius – The Archer

The link between Greek mythology and Sagittarius is an often debated one. Commonly Sagittarius is linked with the wise centaur Chiron who taught Achilles to hunt; Chiron though is normally associated with the Centaurus constellation, and indeed, centaurs were not known as archers.

So, a rival origin myth is talked of where Sagitarrius is actually the satyr Crotus. Crotus being a son of Pan who invented the hunting bow.

The Abduction of Ganymede

Gabriel Ferrier (1847–1914) PD-art-100
Gabriel Ferrier (1847–1914) PD-art-100 | Source

Capricorn – The Sea-Goat

Capricorn is another sign of the zodiac with conflicting mythology. Some sources would name the Sea-Goat as Amalthea, the goat who had suckled and nurses Zeus in his infancy on Crete.

A rival claim is that of Aegipan, a goat like sea god, who during the Titanomachy, sided with Zeus. The sound and sight of the god was enough to send some enemies into a panic, and for his help Zeus placed him amongst the stars for eternity.

Aquarius – The Water-bearer

There is less argument about the identity of Aquarius, and it is commonly said that the water-bearer is Ganymede. Ganymede was a prince of Troy, who was so handsome that he caught the eye of Zeus. Zeus then sent an eagle to abduct the prince.

The eagle took Ganymede up to Mount Olympus, where the Trojan prince became the cupbearer of the gods. Zeus also placed Ganymede amongst the stars, and the eagle was also transformed into the constellation Aquila.

Pisces – The Fish

In Greek mythology, Pisces is said to represent Aphrodite and Eros. When the monster Typhon went to war with the gods of Mount Olympus, many of the deities fled to Egypt. Aphrodite and Eros though, were near to the River Euphrates when the encountered the monster. To escape, mother and son transformed themselves into fish and dived into the river.

Aphrodite and Eros

Yair Haklai CC-BY-SA-3.0
Yair Haklai CC-BY-SA-3.0 | Source

Signs of the Zodiac

No.
Latin name
English translation
1
Aries
The Ram
2
Taurus
The Bull
3
Gemini
The Twins
4
Cancer
The Crab
5
Leo
The Lion
6
Virgo
The Maiden
7
Libra
The Scales
8
Scorpio
The Scorpion
9
Sagittarius
The Archer
10
Capricorn
The Sea-Goat
11
Aquarius
The Water-Bearer
12
Pisces
The Fish

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