Constellation Mythology
A Report Presented to the March 1998 Meeting of EAAA by:
Beth Hartung, Junior Astronomer, Age 9

(Much of this research was originally the work of Cathy Bell.  She is a student at Princeton University.  T his is significant because Beth's (Hartung's) grandmother works down the street from Princeton University.  This presentation is almost completely Beth's research.  We did web searches and library searches.  Beth read all of the books we got and all of the sites then sat down at the computer and regurgitated it all.)--Bill Hartung, Beth's father

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Report on Constellation Myths:

We decided to focus the Greek / Roman myths of 7 constellations because the characters are all related as this first slide shows.  We also threw in Hercules because of his labors and Orion because he is so obvious.

We included both the Greek and the Roman names when we could find them.  We are more familiar with the Roman names because the Roman culture evolved from the ashes of the Greek culture.

I hope you enjoy our presentation as much as we enjoyed preparing it.

The chain of families with the most constellations begins with Akrisios, king of Argos.  One day he consulted an oracle, asking if he could have a son.  It said, No, but your daughter will.   That made him so angry that he buried her in a pit.  Zeus (Roman Jupiter) went down into the pit, and rescued Danae, the daughter of Akrisios.  He caused her to have a son, Perseus.

When Danae was brought out, Akrisios made her tell who the child's father was.  She answered, Zeus, and wasn't believed.  Akrisios shut up the mother and child in a chest and threw it into the ocean.  After many days, a fisherman named Diktys saw the floating object from the shore.  He cried out, What is this I see?   Calling for help, he succeeded in casting his net far enough out to catch the ark in the net.  With help, he drew the chest to shore.  Upon opening the ark, he was quite surprised to discover Danae and Perseus.  Horrified at the change, Danae reveals who she is, who her husband is and who her son is.

Now, the brother of Diktys was Polydektes, lord of Seriphos.   When Perseus was grown, Polydektes arranged an eranos, a banquet where every invited guest must provide a gift decided by those arranging it.   He decided that everyone coming must bring a horse, a supposed wedding gift for the fair princess Hippodameia, daughter of Oinomaos.  Perseus, of course, had brought no horse, nor had Diktys any horse.  What aim could Polydektes have had but that of humiliating Perseus?  Perseus told the king, I will bring you the Gorgon's head, and received the response, Bring it.   The Gorgon Medusa is a mare in the oldest representation of her, bride of Poseidon (Neptune), at whose marriage he entered upon in the shape of a stallion.  Perseus, therefore, offered only the desired gift, a horse, but a seemingly impossible one to get.   The Gorgon had a face that, at one glance, requiring but a split second to do, caused those who looked at it to stiffen to stone.  This may be what Polydektes was thinking of, as he accepted his offer.  Perseus became afraid of keeping his promise, yet was equally afraid of not keeping it.

After about a week had passed, Hermes (Mercury) and Athena (Pallas) visited Perseus.  Athena gave Perseus a brightly-polished shield with instructions to keep it polished the way it was then.  Hermes gave a sword shaped like a scythe, the harpe.  Both then guided Perseus to the lands of the three Naiads, the spring-nymphs.  These had in their possession three items valuable on his journey.  The oldest gave him the winged slippers, the second the cap of invisibility, the youngest the wallet, kibisis, in which to carry the head of the Gorgon.

Once equipped, Perseus traveled through the realm of darkness, where the Graiai kept watch before the Gorgons' cave.  The Graiai are goddesses and daughters of the old man of the sea, Phorkys.  These goddesses had one eye only amongst the three of them.  One watched at a time, and to change the watch, one passed the single eye to another.  For so long, all three were blind.  Perseus was hiding out of view.  When they changed the watch, he leaped out and stole the eye.  He would not give it back until they told him the way to the Gorgons.   They told him, and he flew away.  Only after he was out of sight did he toss it to the Graiai.  Soon he reached the cave of the Gorgons.  Luckily, all three were sleeping.  Two of the Gorgons were immortal, Medusa the only mortal.

Looking only at the reflection in his shield, he sliced off the head of Medusa.  He then quickly slipped it into the kibisis.   Medusa was pregnant by Poseidon with the hero Chrysaor and the winged horse Pegasos (more commonly known as Pegasus.)  These sprang out from her severed neck.  As soon as the head was safe, he fled, for the immortal Gorgons now awoke.  Seeing their dead sister they closely pursued him.

Quickly he made his way to Ethiopia, where he saw Cetus (the sea monster) (Located in southern sky far from Andromeda, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, and Perseus) approaching Andromeda.  She was the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia, the king and queen of Ethiopia.  Cassiopeia had boasted that she was more beautiful than the Nereids, water nymphs, or even Hera (Juno), the queen of the gods.  To avenge the insult to Hera and his daughters, Poseidon sent Cetus to ravage the coast.  Cepheus consulted Ammon, the oracle of Zeus, who said that the only way to appease Poseidon was to sacrifice Andromeda to Cetus, and therefore to Poseidon.  She was chained to a rock and left to Cetus.  Just then Perseus flew up on Pegasus and, learning about her, held up the head and turned Cetus to stone, saving her.  She became his wife.   She was carried back to Seriphos, where Danae, Polydektes, and the eranos waited.  Polydektes did not think Perseus had really brought the Gorgon's head back, so Perseus showed the head to all but Andromeda and Danae.  All who he showed it to turned to stone.  Andromeda and Danae returned to Argos with him, where he married Andromeda and was reconciled with Akrisios.

The great-great-great granddaughter of the couple was Alcmene, mother of Herakles (Hercules).  He was the son of Jupiter.  His labors are listed here, and any labors that are constellations are easily recognized.

Hercules

Hercules was the living breathing shame of Juno because Alcmena was unfaithful to him.  Juno sent 2 snakes into Hercules' crib to kill him and his mortal twin.  Hercules killed both snakes.

Constellation shows Hercules wearing the skin of the Nemean lion while holding his club and Cerberus the 3 headed dog. He rests his foot on the head of Draco the dragon.

The 12 Labors of Hercules -- 7 constellations

1) Nemean Lion inpenetrable skin.  Killed by wrestling lion and choking it. removed a claw and used it to skin the lion wore always for protection. (Leo)

2) Hydra of Lerna (Hydra) Grew 2 heads every time one was cut off.  Burned stumps, buried immortal head complicated by Juno because he sent a crab (Cancer) to nip at Hercules feet.  Hercules stomped it.  Cancer was rewarded by Juno for faithful service.

3) Captured golden horned stag

4) Boar of Erymanthos

5) Birds of Lake Stymphalos (Aquila, Cygnus)

6) Cleaned stable of Augeias by redirecting rivers

7) Captured Horses of the Thracian Diomedes, fed on human flesh, fed owner to Horses

8) Bull of Minos (Taurus)

9) Girdle of Queen of the Amazons (Corona Australis)

10) Stole man eating Cattle of Geryoneus

11) Won Golden Apples of Hesperides by killing a dragon

12) Cerberus the 3 headed Hound of Hades

Orion

The great hunter, his father was Neptune, or gift to pious peasant from Jupiter, Neptune, Mercury.  Orion was able to walk on water, and had an immense ego. Boasted he could best any animal on earth. He was killed by a scorpion sent by Apollo who was worried about the chastity of Orion's girlfriend, Diana. Orion and Scorpio were placed on opposite sides of the sky so that they are never visible at the same time.


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Bibliography

*Bell, Cathy; http://www.princeton.edu/~cmbell/myth/myth.html

*Degani, Meir H., Sc.D.; Astronomy Made Simple, Doubleday & Company, Inc., New York City, 1976

*Friedlander, Michael W.; Astronomy: From Stonehenge to Quasars, Prentice Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, 1985

*Hardin, Terri; Legends and Lore of the American Indians; Barnes & Noble, Inc.; New York City, 1993

*Kerenyi, C.; The Heroes of the Greeks; Thames and Hudson, 1993

*Lum, Peter; The Stars in Our Heaven: Myths and Fables; Pantheon Books Inc.,  New York City; 1948

*Menzel, Donald H.; A Field Guide To The Stars and Planets; Houghton Mifflon Co., Boston, 1964

*Moore, Patrick, FRAS, FRSA; Suns, Myths, and Men; W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., New York City, 1968

*Ross, Katharine; The Glow-In-The-Dark Zodiac Storybook; Random House, New York City, 1993

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