Constellations

         Below, I have begun to include some of the 88 official constellations and their corresponding mythology.  I have included the “Circumpolar Constellations” at the top because they are stay above the horizon and can be seen all year round. The “Winter Constellations” are further down the page.  

I will update newer constellations as the seasons change.  I should note at this point that I am giving shortened versions of the following myths. There also tends to be many different versions of the same myth.  If you have a different version then I have below, feel free to email me your version and I may include parts if they affect the myth.

Circumpolar Constellations

(Can be seen all year round!)
 
  • Cassiopeia:  Cassiopeia was the beautiful wife, and Queen, of Cepheus, the King of Ethiopia.  Her daughter was Andromeda.  She began bragging about how beautiful she was, even more beautiful than the sea nymphs themselves.  The sea nymphs became angry and asked Poseidon to punish her.  He unleashed his terrible sea monster, Cetus the whale (not the Kraken), to destroy her and her town.  Even after this, the sea nymphs wanted an eternal punishment, so Poseidon placed her in the night sky, tied to a chair and hanging upside down.

Cassiopeia_Lines

  • Cepheus:  Cepheus was the King of Ethiopia, the husband of Cassiopeia and the father of Andromeda.  He also traveled with Jason as one of the Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece.

Cepheus_Lines

  • Draco:  Draco was a dragon who guarded the Golden Apple Tree on Mount Olympus.  The tree belonged to Hera, Zeus‘ wife and Queen of the Gods, and was given to her by Gaia (Mother Earth) as a wedding present.  Hera chose the dragon Ladon to guard the apple tree.  As one of Hercules‘ 12 Labors, he had to get 3 apples from the tree.  He killed Ladon with arrows and was able to get his apples.  Hera was so upset at his death that she placed him in the sky to honor his service.

Draco_Lines

  • Ursa Major:  Ursa Major, also known as the Great Bear and most often recognized as the Big Dipper by most people.  The story is long, but the short version is based on story about Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, wild animals, and women in general.  She was also the twin sister of Apollo, the god of sun and light, music, and poetry.  Artemis was not married and did not believe that she had to marry, which was not a common belief at the time.  Living with her in the woods were a group of young women, called nymphs, who had taken an oath to not marry either.  One of these nymphs was named Callisto and Callisto secretly fell in love with the god Zeus and they got married without anyone knowing.  Eventually, Artemis found out and was furious!  She decided to change Callisto into a bear and have her and the young nymphs hunt her down without the nymphs realizing Callisto was the bear.  Zeus found out about her plan and saved her by putting her into the sky, still in bear form.

Ursa Major_Lines

  • Ursa Minor:  (If you haven’t yet, read the above summary of Ursa Major first)  Ursa Minor, also known as the Lesser, or Little, Bear.  Ursa Minor is said to be Arcas, the son of Callisto.  He didn’t know that his mother had been turned into a bear and saw her walking in the woods one day and acting strangely.  Upon seeing that the bear was acting strangely, he picked up his bow to shoot it when Zeus saw him and quickly changed him into a bear as well.  They were both then put into the sky to live forever.

Ursa Minor_Lines


Winter Constellations

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  • Orion:  Orion was the son of Poseidon and Euryale, a daughter of King Minos of Crete (where the Minotaur lived).  Some say that Poseidon gave him the ability to walk on water.  There are several stories about Orion, but the most famous is about him being a fantastic hunter.  He was a very skilled hunter and once boasted that he could kill every animal on the Earth.  Well, the Earth goddess, Gaia, did not like such a boast and sent one of her smallest scorpions to stop him from doing so.  It stung him and he eventually died.  Both Orion and the Scorpion were placed in opposite sides of the horizon so while one of them is up, the other cannot be seen.

Orion Constellation_Drawing

  • Canis Major and Canis Minor:  These two constellations are considered the hunting dogs of Orion.  They are sometimes thought to be chasing the rabbit constellation of Lepus, located underneath the feet of Orion.

Canis Major Constellation_W:Out Star NamesCanis Minor

  • Gemini:  Gemini is a constellation made up of two people, Castor and Polydeuces (Pollux is the Latin form of his name).  They are brothers and were sort of twins who were the best of friends who looked alike and even dressed alike.  Castor was known for his way with horses, while Polydeuces was a terrific boxer.  They were both part of the journey of Jason and the Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece.  At some point they got into a fight with another set of twins and Castor was killed.  Polydeuces was so heartbroken that he asked Zeus if they be together for eternity.  Zeus granted his request and place them both in the sky as the constellation Gemini.

Gemini Constellation_W Names&Lines

  • Auriga:  Auriga is a charioteer (a person who holds the reigns of the horses who pull a chariot) whose name is actually Erichthonius (not sure of the name change), who was a king of Athens.  His father was Hephaestus (Roman for Vulcan), the god of fire and was known for his metalworking, often making pieces for the gods.  Hephaestus was very busy with his work and instead had Athene raise his son for him.  Athene taught Erichthonius many things, including how to tame horses.  He was supposedly the first person to harness four horses to a chariot, in the same way that the Sun is pulled by a four-horse chariot.  This earned him the admiration of Zeus and for this deed he was placed forever in the stars as the constellation Auriga.

Auriga_Lines

  • Taurus:  Taurus was a bull who was actually Zeus in his most famous disguise.  Zeus really liked a girl named Europa who liked to play on the beach with the other girls of Tyre.  Zeus changed into the form of a bull and mingled in with a herd of cows that were also on the beach near Europa.  Zeus was no ordinary bull, though, he was pure white and his horns were as shiny as polished metal.  Europa was very curious of this magnificent creature and eventually got onto his back.  Zeus then made his way into the ocean and swam away with her on his back.  Eventually, Europa gave birth to Minos, the eventual king of Crete.

Taurus_Lines

  • Pleiades:  The Pleiades, also known as The Seven Sisters, were daughters of the titan, Atlas, and a sea-nymph named Pleione.  Their names are as follows: Maia, Electra, Taygete, Alcyone, Celaeno, Sterope, Merope.  They were also companions of Artemis and would accompany her through the forest.  One day, Orion saw them walking alone and pursued them.  Seeing that they would not escape the greatest hunter in the world, Zeus changed them into doves to escape and then into stars as the Pleiades.  In the sky, Orion is actually pointing at the Pleiades as he continues to chase them for eternity.  Only six of the seven sisters are actually visible to the naked eye in the sky, and so there are various stories as to why . . .  I know, the Pleiades are not an actual constellation, but a star cluster.  They can actually be found in the constellation of Taurus and are common to most casual star-gazer, so I included them on the constellations page.
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