ARIES: The Ram
The tale of the Golden Fleece begins when King Athamas leaves his wife, Nephele, to marry Ino.
In order to secure that her own son would one day become King, Ino plotted to kill Athamas’ children, Phrixus and Helle. To that end, she poisoned the crops and when they failed, she bribed the oracles to convince Athamas that he should sacrifice his Phrixus in order to save the harvest. Athamas reluctantly agreed to heed the false oracle, but just as he raised the knife over his son on the altar, a golden winged ram appeared, taking both Phrixus and Helle on its back to carry them away.
While they were crossing the water, Helle slipped and fell into the water and drowned.
Phrixus was delivered safely to land. In gratitude to Zeus for having being saved, Phrixus sacrificed the golden ram and gave his golden fleece as a present, to the King. This is the beginning of a legendary myth known as “Jason and the Argonauts: The Quest for the Golden Fleece.” Zeus eventually places the Ram amongst the stars to commemorate the epic journey.
TAURUS: The Bull
Once, there lived Agenor, King of Phoenicia. Agenor had a daughter named Europa who was so beautiful that Zeus fell madly in love with her. Zeus disguised himself as a snow-white bull and blended into the herds that Europa was caring for. Europa was mesmerized by the beauty of the white bull. One day, Europa climbed onto the bulls back and it suddenly started to run away – journeying across many seas. When it reached Crete, Zeus re-assumed his normal form in front of Europa. Zeus had successfully kidnapped Europa and so to commemorate his achievement, he placed a depiction of Taurus amongst the other constellations in the sky. And on Earth, a continent was named after Europa.
An alternate myth tells of Cerus, a powerful bull who destroyed villages and wreaked havoc until he was tamed by the Spring Goddess, Persephone. Every Spring, Persephone, rides Cerus through the fields setting the flowers in bloom. In the Fall, when their work is long done, Cerus returns to the sky.
GEMINI: The Twins
Once, there lived Leda who was married to Tyndareus, the King of Sparta. Leda had twin boys named Castor and Pollux, but soon discovered that only Castor was the son of her husband, Tyndareus. Pollux was the son of Zeus making him immortal while Castor was mortal. The twins were handsome and adventurous. They took part in many events together and were known for their energy and curiosity. Castor was an amazing horseman, while Pollux was known for his strength. One day in battle, Castor was killed. Pollux was heartbroken and prayed to Zeus to take his life as well, for he could not bear to live without his brother. Zeus was so touched by the twin’s love and affection for his brother, that he granted Pollux his wish and set their images among the stars as the constellation of Gemini, so that they would never again be separated.
CANCER: The Crab
Once, there lived a hero named Hercules. Zeus and Hera were Hercules’ parents. Hera, jealous of Zeus’ affection for their son, gave Hercules 12 tasks to test his strength and courage. Hera wished that the 12 tasks would prove to Zeus that Hercules was not worthy of his love. The second of the tasks was to defeat the Lernean Hydra – a snake-like creature with nine heads. The catch was that if anyone succeeded in cutting off one of its heads, two more would grow in its place. In order to guarantee Hercules’ failure, Hera sent a large crab to grab Hercules by the foot and distract him while he was fighting. Hercules’ plan to defeat Hydra was to cut off one head at a time while his nephew, Lolaus, burned its necks before any new heads could replace the amputated ones. During the battle, the crab grabbed the foot of Hercules, but he crushed it with his other foot. Then, he cut off the final head of Hydra, defeating it.. To honour t Hercules’ victory and to remind Hera of her failure, Zeus placed the constellation of the Crab in the sky.
LEO: The Lion
Once, there lived a ferocious lion named Leo who viciously feasted on the animals of the forest and the villagers of Nemaea. Many brave men lost their lives attempting to kill the dangerous lion, for his skin was so tough that no arrow or spear could pierce it. The first of the 12 tasks that Hera, the jealous wife of Zeus, assigned Hercules in an attempt to prove him unworthy before Zeus, was to defeat the terrible lion. Hercules entered the cave knowing that no arrow or spear could injure Leo. Shortly after he entered, Hercules emerged from the cave wearing the lion skin as a robe – he had succeeded in defeating the lion by strangulating it. He had saved the people of Nemaea and Zeus honoured his victory by placing an image of the defeated lion (Leo) in the sky.
VIRGO: The Virgin
Once, there lived a beautiful girl named Persephone. She was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter (The Goddess of Fertility). One day, Persephone was walking outside when Hades (God of the Underworld) kidnapped her to become his wife. Persephone refused to accept her captivity and rejected any food, jewels, fancy clothing, and entertainment that Hades tempted her with. Demeter soon discovered that her daughter had been kidnapped by Hades and that her husband would not intervene since he had been bribed by Hades. She became so angry that she refused to care for the crops of the Earth. A great famine followed, killing many animals and people. Finally, Zeus changed his mind and promised Demeter that he would get Persephone back. However, according to the Law of Abode, if Persephone had accepted any food from Hades, she would be considered a guest, not a captive, and would be forced to stay in the Underworld as Hades’ bride. Hermes was immediately sent to fetch Persephone. But before Hermes could reach her, an evil man who despised Demeter offered Persephone some pomegranate. Persephone had grown very hungry by this time and so acceptingly ate six pomegranate seeds. Hades then claimed Persephone as his bride. A compromise had to be reached to satisfy both Hades and Demeter. Zeus declared that each year, Persephone would spend six months with Hades and six months with her mother on Olympus. During the six months Persephone remained in the Underworld, the earth became colder and less fertile, until the maiden’s reemergence six months later when at last the crops would regrow. 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. This story coincides with the constellation Virgo only being visible from March until August.
LIBRA: The Scales
Libra is the only zodiacal constellation that represents an inanimate object. The constellation Libra lies halfway around the band of the Greek zodiacs. Day and night are equal when the sun passes through the constellation of Libra. The scales are a symbol of balance and equity. The fact that the ancient Greeks gave Libra a prominent place in the sky, shows that they considered the principles of justice and equality to be morally fundamental to life.
SCORPIUS: The Scorpion
Once, there was a great hunter named Orion. Orion liked to boast that he was the best hunter who lived and that he could rid the Earth of all creatures should he wish. This angered Gaia, Mother Earth, who then commanded a large scorpion to sting Orion as punishment. The venom of the scorpion was deadly and Orion died instantly. The scorpion was set up on the sky by Gaia to mark her victory. The Goddess Artemis (The Goddess of Hunting), 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. Embroiled in constant conflict, Orion and Scorpio appear to pursue each other across the sky with the annual rising and setting of their constellations. Despite being set 180 degrees apart from each other, their feud seems to continue with time.
SAGITTARIUS: The Archer
Once, there lived a noble centaur named Cheiron. He was semi-divine, as he was the son of God Poseidon. He was the oldest and wisest of all the centaurs and was a skilled archer. One day, Cheiron encountered some drunken centaurs attacking Hercules and Pholus (another centaur). Cheiron came to the aid of Hercules and Pholus but was accidentally wounded by one of Hercules’ poison-tipped arrows. Because Cheiron was immortal, he did not die. Instead he suffered painfully for a long time. Zeus took pity on Cheiron, and not wanting him to live in horrible pain forever, ended his life. To honour Cheiron and his valiant efforts to help Hercules and Pholus, Zeus placed Sagittarius in the sky, depicting him as a strong and fearless warrior, armed with his bow and arrow.
CAPRICORNUS: The Sea-Goat
Once, there lived a cruel god named Cronus. Cronus was told by an oracle that one of his sons would become more powerful than him and would oneday defeat him in battle. Cronus, afraid this would happen, had everyone of his sons killed.. Knowing the curse, Rhea, wife of Cronus and mother of Zeus, gave him to some sea nymphs with the instruction to care for him in a place far away from Cronus. However, since sea nymphs could not produce milk to feed baby Zeus, they brought along a goat named Amalthea, to nurse him. One day, when they were playing together, Zeus accidentally broke off one of Amalthea’s horns. Zeus took this as a sign that he needed to break off his relationship with Amalthea and the sea nymphs and fight his father Cronus. As Zeus left, he gave the horn to the sea nymphs and told them that the horn, being magical, would provide them with any food or drink they ever desired. This horn is now known as the Horn of Plenty. Zeus found, fought and defeated Cronus, resurrecting his missing brothers at the same time. Since Zeus was now king of the gods, his first act was to place the constellation of Capricornus in the sky to honour Amalthea and the sea nymphs who had cared for him. This is why Capricorn is represented as a creature bearing the head of a goat and the tail of a fish.
AQUARIUS: The Water Bearer
Once, there lived a mortal prince named Ganymede, son of King Tros, the founder of Troy. Ganymede was the most handsome man that had ever lived. Zeus, who was especially fond of the handsome prince, captured the young man and brought him back to Olympus. Zeus then enslaved Ganymede making him his personal cup bearer. One day Ganymede, having had enough and refusing to be Zeus’s servant any longer, decided to pour out all of the wine (the nectar of the Gods that bestowed them with eternal youth). The legend goes that the wine fell to Earth as rain, for days upon days, flooding the entire world. At first Zeus wanted to punish Ganymede but then realized that he had been unfair in making him his slave. And so Zeus honoured Ganymede by giving him a prominent position in the sky as Aquarius, the Water Bearer.
PISCES: The (Two) Fish
Once, there lived a goddess named Gaia, Mother Earth. After Zeus defeated Cronus and all of Gaia’s other children, she decided to take revenge. Gaia gave birth to a monster named Typhon. He was the largest and most frightening creature that ever lived with legs of snakes and arms that stretched for miles on end. Let loose by his mother, Typhon charged towards the Olympians declaring war against them. Scared, the gods disguised themselves as animals. Zeus took the form of a ram, Hera became a cow, Artemis became a cat, Hermes turned into an ibis and Ares became a boar. Lastly, Aphrodite and her son, Eros, swam deep into the ocean and took the forms of twin fish. When Typhon was finally captured and the Olympians transformed back to their godly selves, Aphrodite, eternally grateful to the fish who had lent her and Eros their forms, decided to place their images in the sky.