Updated: Jan 19
Those are just three of the many animals that represent the zodiac signs. But what is the story behind the animals' placement in these complex charts that determine your personality, your attitude, your love life, and many more characteristics of a person?
As is common knowledge, there are twelve signs in the zodiac, represented by different animals and objects.
The word ‘zodiac’ comes from Ancient Greek, its meaning being an animal cycle or circle. It clarifies the fact that all the signs are named after certain animals or mythological creatures.
Actually, no one knows when the first ideas concerning the Zodiac appeared in the world. It is generally believed that the early features of astrology were observed in Babylon approximately during the first millennium BC.
India has its own astrological system, known as the Jyotisha, also called Vedic Astrology. Actually, the Vedas were compiled by people who researched astrological notions. In particular, their ‘Vedanga Jyotisha’ is considered one of the earliest works in this field. From a modern point of view, Jyotisha was directly connected with horoscopic astrology. But if we trace backward into history, the influence of Greeks on the Indian development in this sphere cannot be unnoticed. After the conquest of Alexander the Great, Greek astronomical and astrological works penetrated the Indian vision of the world and elements of the solar system. Indians translated the Greek researches and astrological treatises, on the basis of which they developed their own works.
Astronomy and astrology in India were closely connected with each other. There are a lot of early works concerning the creation of our planet, the Zodiac, and the universe in general. For instance, it was described in detail in the sagas of the Bhrigu Samhita. At the same time, Samhita created approximately five million horoscopes which told people about some past events and predicted what the future would bring. More profound astronomical researches appeared in India in the fifth century AD. Among the famous astronomers of that time, Aryabhata and Varahamihira can be mentioned.
· The Zodiac in China has a dramatically different view. The reason is that the Chinese have imagined our universe from another perspective. They created their own calendar and made a new division of the zodiac. In the traditions of Chinese astrology, the signs are named after different animals and creatures. It can be explained by the fact that science in
China developed independently from Western research.
Another reason is that astrology in China always was in close connection to their philosophy, which also has nothing in common with the European one. All famous Chinese principles such as yin and yang, the harmony of three environments – water, heaven, and earth – left a huge mark on astrology and astronomy development.
The Chinese believed that zodiacal signs can influence people’s life and behavior.
MYTHS OF GREEK ZODIAC
Ø ARIES- The story of Aries is linked with the myth of the Golden Ram, which saved a brother and a sister from being sacrificed in order to appease the gods.
Once Jason had completed his mission, Zeus put the ram's golden fleece up in the skies, where it appears till today as the constellation of Aries.
Ø TAURUS- According to myth, Theseus volunteered to be one of the youth from Athens who would be offered as food to the Minotaur (half-man, half-bull) who stayed in Crete, in the labyrinth. But, with the help of Ariadne, the legendary hero managed to kill the beast and thus relieve his city Athens from the terrible punishment imposed by the Cretan king Minos.
Ø GEMINI- It is linked with the story of the twin brothers Castor and Polydeuces (Pollux in Latin). They were not twins in the ordinary sense, since they had different fathers. Their story starts when Zeus, king of the gods, wanted to have an affair with Leda, the lovely queen of Sparta. In order to fool her, he transformed himself into a beautiful swan. In the course of time, Leda bore two eggs: One of them contained a baby girl named Helen and a boy called Pollux. These two were the divine children of Zeus. The other egg opened up to reveal another girl and boy, Clytemnestra and Castor. These were the mortal children of king Tyndareus, the legitimate husband of Leda. Despite the fact that one brother was divine and the other mortal, the twins Castor and Pollux grew to be inseparable. They did everything together and they loved each other dearly. Because they were so close, they were called by one name; the Dioscuri. As they were growing, they both loved all kinds of sport. Pollux was particularly good at boxing, while Castor was renowned for his skill and daring on horseback. When Jason was recruiting the Argonauts to join him in his quest for the Golden Fleece, the Dioscuri eagerly accepted the invitation. During the expedition, they became famous for their ability to calm the rough seas, which, once or twice, had threatened to capsize the Argo. Unfortunately, following a bitter fight that the twins had with other warriors, Castor was killed and was summoned to the Underworld. Pollux was heartbroken and prayed to almighty Zeus to take his life as well, for he couldn't bear to live without his brother. When Zeus invited him and the rest of the Olympians on Olympus, Pollux declined, saying that he would not want to live forever, while his beloved brother was dead. Zeus was so touched by the twin's love and affection for his brother, that he arranged for them to be together again. In further recognition of their brotherly love, he set their images among the stars as the constellation of Gemini, so that they would never be separated again.
Ø CANCER- The constellation of the Greek zodiac known as Cancer (Crab), is linked to the second labor of the mighty hero Hercules when he was assigned by Eurystheus to kill Lerna Hydra, a horrible water snake with a hundred heads. As the story goes, in the midst of Hercules' struggle, Hera, who was the hero's worst enemy, ordered a giant crab to go and help the Hydra by digging its claws into Hercules' foot. Howling with pain, the hero stamped on the crab furiously, crushing it to death. Hera, being grateful for its support and in recognition of its attempt to help her, honored the crab by placing its image among the stars, as the constellation of Cancer.
Ø LEO- the fifth constellation of the Greek zodiac, is linked to Hercules' very first labor, the capture of the Nemean Lion. According to the myth, Hercules finally managed to kill the beast by strangling it to death. Then, he skinned the lion and took its pelt to wear it. He was then quite protected from his enemies, as the skin could not be penetrated by any known weapon of the time, whether made of iron, bronze, or stone.
After its death, the famous lion was put in the sky by Zeus, to become the constellation of Leo.
Ø VIRGO- The constellation of Virgo is associated with the story of Demeter and her daughter Persephone. For the ancient Greeks, the story of Demeter and Persephone explained why the seasons change. Enraged and horrified at the prospect of Hades taking away her daughter, Demeter remained relentless in her pursuit. Realizing that Zeus was a possible accomplice in the abduction, she refused to return to Olympus. Instead, she roamed the earth in the guise of a mortal, forbidding the trees to bear fruit and the earth to nurture vegetables and fruit. A full year passed by and Zeus became restless; if he let Demeter persist in her pursuit, all humankind would starve to death. So, he decided to send to her all the gods and goddesses of Olympus to beg her to change her mind. Rhea, the mother of Zeus, Demeter, and Hades, proposed an idea; Persephone would stay with Hades in the Underworld for six months each year. The rest of the year, she would be allowed to ascend to earth to stay with her mother. When the time came that mother and daughter would part, the earth would become colder and less fertile, until the maiden's re-emergence, six months later. The cycle of Persephone's descent to the Underworld and her subsequent ascension to earth signifies the progression of seasons, Fall and Winter succeeded by Spring and Summer. In the Fall, seeds were buried underground. But in the Spring, crops come out into the sun once more.
Ø LIBRA- The stars that form the golden scales of Libra lie halfway around the band of the Greek zodiac, between Virgo and Scorpio. Day and night are equal when the sun passes through the constellation of Libra. The scales are a symbol of balance and equity. More specifically, the scales were considered to be the symbol of Nike, meaning Justice, who was a minor goddess of the Underworld. The fact that the ancient Greeks gave Libra a prominent place in the sky, signifies that they considered justice, equity, and balance in general, to be the moral cornerstones of an ideal way of living.
Ø SCORPIO- The eighth constellation of the Greek zodiac is the one with the name Scorpio. The story of the scorpion is connected with different versions of stories that involve the mighty hunter Orion - a hero who is represented by another familiar group of stars. Orion was said to be the tallest and the most handsome man in the then known world. He was often seen hunting in the woods and hills of ancient Greece with his pack of dogs. His constellation shows him striding across the heavens flourishing a gleaming sword on his bejeweled belt. Many of the stories concerning the constellations of Orion and Scorpio reflect the annual rising and settling of their constellations, which appear to pursue each other across the sky. One story tells how Gaia had sent the scorpion to sting Orion, in order to punish him for being too boastful, claiming that he was so mighty that he could easily rid the whole earth of all beasts and creatures. As soon as the scorpion was released from the breast of Gaia, it immediately stung Orion and its deadly venom sent him straight to his death. The scorpion was set up on the sky by Gaia to mark her victory, while goddess Artemis, who had loved Orion, placed his image on the sky as well, forming his own constellation. Because Orion had cared so much for his hunting dog, Artemis also put up a star for his dog; Sirius, the brightest star in the heavens.
SAGITTARIUS- The constellation of Sagittarius (the archer), depicts a creature called a centaur, which has the body and head of a man and the hindquarters of a horse. He is named after Chiron, the most famous and king of the centaurs. He was semi-divine, as he was the son of god Poseidon. He was taught by god Apollo and goddess Artemis, and from them, he learned both wisdom and spirituality.
He dwelt in a cave high up in the rocky, snowy sides of Mount Pelion. He was the oldest and wisest of all the centaurs and very strong. In fact, he was so famous that many kings had trusted their sons to teach them. Among the most famous of his students was Hercules, and Jason, who later became the leader of the Argonauts. As the myth goes, Chiron was destined to suffer a gruesome death: When Hercules was returning home to Tiryns after killing the Erymanthian Boar, he had a violent encounter with some drunken centaurs, which he managed to drive away from the place where Chiron lived. However, one of the poisonous arrows that Hercules used to defend himself, went astray and hit his old teacher. Chiron. Being semi-divine, he would not die, having to suffer excruciating pain, because of the poison. He was in such agony, that Zeus himself felt sorry for the poor centaur and permitted him to give up his divine status and give it to Prometheus, the creator of the human race. So, Chiron finally was left to die, relieved from the intolerable pain that was inflicted on him from the wound.
Ø CAPRICORN- The constellation of the Greek zodiac by the name of Capricorn is as strange as that of Sagittarius. It is a sea god, with the head and half the body of a goat, and the tail of a fish. The story of Capricorn is associated with the birth of Zeus, the father of all gods. As the story goes, when Rhea gave birth to baby Zeus, she feared that her cruel husband Cronus would devour her child, just as he did with the previous ones that she gave birth to. So, she secretly took her child to Crete, where he was safely kept in a cave on Mount Dicte. There, he was nursed and cared for by Amaltheia, whose name means ‘tender’. She was a goat nymph, and she looked after baby Zeus with the greatest love and devotion; feeding him with her own rich milk and sweet lavender-scented honey. Zeus's golden cradle was hung up high on a tree so that Cronus would never find him in Heaven or Earth, or even in the ocean. When Zeus later became the lord of the universe, he did not forget his goat-mother, Amaltheia, who had nursed him so lovingly. He took one of her horns and turned it into the horn of plenty, which is always filled with whatever delicious food or drink its owner may wish for and is never empty. Finally, in recognition of all she had done for him, she set her image among the rest of the stars on the Greek zodiac, as the constellation of Capricorn.
Ø AQUARIUS- The constellation of Aquarius shows a person pouring water out of a jug. It is thought that the story behind this group of stars is that of Ganymede. Ganymede was the son of King Tros, after whom Troy was named. The young prince was the most exquisite and handsome youth that ever lived, and was adored and admired by both gods and mortals. Zeus, who was especially fond of beautiful people, was totally infatuated with Ganymede’s external appearance. Thinking it would be appropriate for so handsome a mortal as Ganymede to live with the gods, the mighty god disguised himself as an enormous eagle. He then flew down to Earth, captured the handsome youth, and brought him up to Olympus. Up there in the heavenly palace, Zeus had to find a job for his young protégée. So, he decided that Ganymede should be given the special honor of being his personal cupbearer. Zeus was forever fond of his cupbearer. So, he honored him by giving him a prominent position on the Greek zodiac, as the constellation of Aquarius.
Ø PISCES- The image of the two fish swimming in different directions make the constellation of Pisces. Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, was thought to be the source of inspiration for this particular constellation being set in the stars. After Zeus had fought his father, Cronus, he defeated the race of the giants, who were the children of Gaia, the mother earth. In revenge for the destruction of her children, Gaia gave birth to a horrible monster, called Typhon. He was the largest and most frightening creature ever born. Let loose by his mother Gaia, Typhon thundered towards the Olympian home of the gods, declaring war on all of them. The gods hurried to disguise themselves, in the hope that the horrible creature would not find them; Zeus took the image of a ram; Hera
became a white cow; Artemis became a cat; Hermes turned into an ibis, while Ares became a wild boar. Lastly, the goddess Aphrodite and her son Eros dove deep into the ocean and took the shape of twin fish. When the fierce monster was finally captured by Zeus and all of the Olympians were transformed back to their original form, Aphrodite, being grateful to the fish who had given their form to her and her son when they were in distress, put up their image on the night sky. Thus, Pisces became the last constellation of the Greek zodiac.
To read more about the stars, check out Aditi Upadhyaya's article in issue 31.