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A picture is worth a thousand words.

~Napoleon Bonaparte

Sunday, 9 September 2012

God Atlas and star myths

The main source for Greek star myths were the lost works of Hesiod and Pherecydes, and the later works of Pseudo-Eratosthenes,  Aratus and Hyginus. 

Bertel Thorvaldsen, Dance of the Muses on Mount Helicon, 1807Muses dancing on Mount Helicon. Hesiod claimed he was inspired by the Muses to become a poet after they appeared to him on Mount Helicon. His poetry was partly an account of heroes and divinities, such as the Muses themselves, and included praise of kings.

Hesiod and the Muse, by Gustave Moreau. Here he is presented with a lyre, which contradicts the account given by Hesiod himself, in which the gift was a laurel staff.

Gustave Moreau, Hesiod and the Muse

Eugène DelacroixHesiod and the Muse

The Greeks imagined the heavens as a great, solid dome, which, some say, was forged of bronze, and upon which the heavenly constellations were fixed. The Titan Atlas, who stood either beneath the axis of heaven in the far north (in the land of the Hyperboreans), or at heaven's western rim in by the Atlas mountains in North Africa, was said to spin the dome around upon his shoulders, causing the stars to rise and set.

ATLAS, according to Hesiod (Theog. 507, &c.), a son of Japetus and Clymene, and a brother of Menoetius, Prometheus, and Epimetheus; according to Apollodorus (i. 2. § 3), his mother's name was Asia; and, according to Hyginus (Fab. Praef.), he was a son of Aether and Gaea.

Detail of the Titan Atlas holding the rocky dome of heaven upon his shoulders. He is tormented by the Hesperian Drakon. ca 530 BC

Atlas is described as the leader of the Titans in their contest with Zeus, and, being conquered, he was condemned to the labour of bearing heaven on his head and hands. (Hesiod, l c.;Hygin. Fab. 150.) Still later traditions distort the original idea still more, by putting rationalistic interpretations upon it, and make Atlas a man who was metamorphosed into a mountain. Thus Ovid (Met. iv. 630,&c., comp. ii. 296) relates, that Perseus came to him and asked for shelter, which he was refused, whereupon Perseus, by means of the head of Medusa, changed him into mount Atlas, on which rested heaven with all its stars. Others go still further, and represent Atlas as a powerful king, who possessed great knowledge of the courses of the stars, and who was the first who taught men that heaven had the form of a globe. Hence the expression that heaven rested on his shoulders was regarded as a mere figurative mode of speaking. (Diod. iii. 60, iv. 27; Paus. ix. 20. § 3; Serv. ad Aen. i. 745; Tzetz. ad Lycophr. 873.)

Atlas , a 3rd century Roman copy of a  Hellenistic  work 

At first, the story of Atlas referred to one mountain only, which was believed to exist on the extreme boundary of the earth; but, as geographical knowledge extended, the name of Atlas was transferred to other places, and thus we read of a Mauritanian, Italian, Arcadian, and even of a Caucasian, Atlas. (Apollod. iii. 10. § 1 ; Dionys. i. 61; Serv. ad Aen. viii. 134.) The common opinion, however, was, that the heaven-bearing Atlas was in the north-western part of Africa, and the range of mountains in that part of the world bears the name of Atlas down to this day. Atlas is said to have been the father of the Pleiades by Pleione or by Hesperis, of the Hyades and Hesperides by Aethra, and of Oenomaus and Maea by Sterope. (Apollod. iii. 10. § 1; Diod. iv. 27; Serv. ad Aen. viii. 130.) Dione and Calypso, and Hyas and Hesperus, are likewise called his children. 

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 150 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"After Juno [Hera] saw that Epaphus, born of a concubine, ruled such a great kingdom, she saw to it that he should be killed while hunting, and encouraged the Titanes to drive Jove [Zeus] from the kingdom and restore it to Saturn [Kronos]. When they tried to mount to heaven, Jove with the help of Minerva [Athene], Apollo, and Diana [Artemis], cast them headlong into Tartarus. On Atlas, who had been their leader, he put the vault of the sky; even now he is said to hold up the sky on his shoulders."

Homer, Odyssey 1. 52 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"Atlas the baleful (oloophron); he knows the depths of all the seas, and he, no other, guards (or holds) the tall pillars that keep the sky and earth apart."

Maxfield Parrish,  Atlas

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 119 - 120 :
"Prometheus advised Heracles not to go after the apples himself, but rather to reelive Atlas of the celestial sphere and dispatch him. So when Herakles reached Atlas among the Hyperboreans, he remembered Prometheus’ advise and took over the sphere. Atlas picked three apples from the garden of the Hesperides, then returned to Heracles. Not wanting to hold up the sphere, he told Herakles that he should carry the applies back to Eurystheus, and that Herakles could hold up the sky in his place. Heracles agreed, but by a trick gave the sphere back to Atlas. On the advise of Prometheus he asked Atlas to take the sky while he put a cushion on his head. Hearing this, Atlas set the apples down on the ground, and relieved Herakles of the sphere. Thus Heracles picked them up and left. Some say, however, that he did not take the apples from Atlas, but killed the Drakon that guarded them, and picked them himself. Returning with the apples he gave them to Eurystheus who made a present of them to Heracles. But Athene retrieved them from him and took them back, for it was not permitted by diving law to locate them anywhere else."

Edward Coley Burne-Jones - The Garden of the Hesperides


This was a late story invented to describe the origin of the heaven-bearing Atlas Mountains of North Africa.
Polyidus, Fragment 837 (from Etymologicum Magnum) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric V) :
"Atlas : a mountain in Libya. Polyidos the dithyrambic poet makes Atlas a shepherd: according to him, Perseus arrived on the scene, and Atlas asked who he was and where he had come from; and when Perseus’ words failed to persuade him to allow him to pass, he was compelled to show him the Gorgon’s face and turned him to stone; and the mountain was called Atlas after him. So the commentary on Lykophron."

Edward Burne-Jones, Atlas turned to Stone

Atlas is described as meditating upon heaven and hell, meaning he studied the constellations, which were believed to be mortal, setting annually in the underworld. Homer says he also meditated on the sea, indicating the role played by astronomy in navigation.

Homer, Odyssey 1. 52 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"Atlas the baleful; he knows the depths of all the seas, and he, no other, guards [or holds] the tall pillars that keep the sky and earth apart."

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 26. 2 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"Atlas had worked out the science of astrology to a degree surpassing others and had ingeniously discovered the spherical arrangement of the stars, and for that reason was generally believed to be bearing the entire firmament upon his shoulders. Similarly in the case of Herakles, when he had brought to the Greeks the doctrine of the sphere, he gained great fame, as if he had taken over the burden of the firmament which Atlas had borne, since men intimated in this enigmatic way what had actually taken place."

Greco-Buddhist (1-200 BC) Atlas, supporting a Buddhist monument, Hadda,  Afghanistan.

Lee Lawrie's colossal bronze Atlas, Rockefeller Center, New York.

The daughters of Atlas were the star-nymphe Pleaides and Hyades, and his son, the beautiful youth Hyas. Following his death, Hyas was placed in the heavens as the constellation Aquarius, the lion which slew him as Leo (Aquarius and Leo were seen to rise and set in opposition), and his sisters as the Pleiades and Hyades. He was probably closely connected with Herakles beloved, water-bearer Hylas.

Part of the heavenly dome always lay beneath the horizon. Here the constellations were apparently believed to dwell deep beneath the earth in the misty pit of Tartaros, or else within the lands of the dead. When they rose up into the heavens, the constellations were first bathed in the purifying waters of the great earth-encircling river Okeano. Various myths describe the birth and death of the semi-immortal constellations: such as the Gemini twins, or Dioskouroi, who were said to divide their time equally between Heaven and Haides. Orion was also described by Homer both striding across the heavens and hunting wild beasts in the underworld.

Latin : Draco (the Dragon)

Hesperian Dragon The huge serpent which guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides. After the beast was slain by Heracles, Hera placed it amongst the stars as Draco. (Hyginus 2.3 on Eratosthenes)

Detail of the three Hesperides, the tree of the Golden Apples and the coiling Drakon, ca 420 - 410 BC.

Draco coils around the north celestial pole, as depicted in Urania's Mirror, a set of constellation cards published in London c.1825

Dragon of Athena A gigantic serpent which was cast at the goddess Athena during the giant war. She caught it in her hands and set it about the northern pole as the constellation Draco. (Hyginus 2.3)


Latin : Hercules
Greek : Engonasin (the Kneeler) 
Sumerian : (the Stag?)

Hercules as depicted in Urania's Mirror, a set of constellation cards published in London c.1825. The figure appears upside down in the sky relative to neighbouring constellations.

HERACLES DRAGON SLAYER The great hero was placed amongst the stars in the form of a kneeling man with his club poised to strike the Hesperian dragon, the constellation Draco. (Hyginus 2.6 on Panyassis and Eratosthenes)

HERACLES IN LIGURIA The great hero was said to have been placed amongst the stars in the shape of kneeling man, as a memorial of his desperate battle with the Ligurians, whom he encountered on his return trip to Greece with the cattle of Geryon. (Hyginus 2.6 on Euripides)

IXION An Lapith king who attempted to rape the goddess Hera. As punishment for his crime he was bound to a fiery wheel and fixed in the heavens as the constellation Engonasin, a warning to others. (Hyginus 2.6)

PROMETHEUS As punishment for his defiance of Zeus, the Titan Prometheus was chained to Mount Caucasus where an eagle set to feed on his ever-regenerating liver. Heracles later released him from his torment, felling the eagle with an arrow. In memory of this deed, Prometheus, the arrow and the eagle were placed side by side amongst the stars as the constellations Engonasin, Aquila (or Lyra the vulture) and Sagitta. (Hyginus 2.6)

ORPHEUS A Thracian bard who was torn to pieces by the Bacchantes when they caught him spying on their secret rites. He was placed amongst the stars by Apollo and the Muses as a kneeling man with a lyre. The lyre was represented by the adjacent constellation Lyra. (Hyginus 2.6)

THAMYRIS A bard who was blinded by the Muses as punishment for daring to challenge them to a musical contest. He was placed amongst the stars as a man bent down on one knee in supplication along with his lyre. (Hyginus 2.6)

THESEUS The Athenian hero was set amongst the stars in the pose of a kneeling man, the constellation Ennosagin. In this way he was depicted lifting the stone at Troezen under which Aegeus had laid the sword as proof of his paternity. Some say, the adjacent constellation Lyra was his. (Hyginus 2.6 on Hergesianax)

CETEUS A King of Arcadia who was placed amongst the stars as the constellation Kneeler. He was depicted kneeling in lamentation with a hand reached out to his daughter Megisto, the constellation Ursa Major, who had been transformed into a bear. (Hyginus 2.1 & 2.6 on Araethus of Tegea)

Rubens, The Drunken Hercules

Latin : Hydra (the Water Serpent)
Greek : Hydra (the Water Serpent)
Summerian : MUSH (the Snake)

LERNAEN HYDRA A monstrous nine-headed serpent which haunted the springs of Lerna. Heracles slew it as one of his twelve labours, along with its ally the crab. Hera placed the pair in the heavens as the constellations Hydra and Cancer. (Hyginus 2.40)

John Singer Sargent, Hercules

SERPENT OF APOLLO A water-serpent was placed amongst the stars by the god Apollo in the form of the constellation Hydra, to guard the heavenly bowl Crater, preventing the crow Corvus from drinking. (Hyginus 2.40)


Latin : (Milky Way)
Greek : Gala (Milky Way)

Milk OF HERA Zeus once conspired to place the infant Heracles at the breast of Hera. The goddess woke from her sleep, because of the roughness of the child, and pushed him away in disgust. The milk which flowed forth formed the Milky Way. (Hyginus 2.43)

Tintoretto , The Origin of the Milky Way

MILK OF RHEA When the Titaness Rhea presented a stone wrapped in swaddling cloth to Cronus as substitute for the infant Zeus, the Titan pressed it against her breast and milk flowed forth which flowed formed the Milky Way. (Hyginus 2.43)

Rhea presents Cronus a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes instead of the infant Zeus Marble relief, c. 400 BC


Latin : Virgo (the Virgin)
Greek : Parthenos (the Virgin)

ASTRAEA The maiden goddess of justice, who departed from the earth at the start of the Brazen Age of Man. She was given a place amongst the stars as the winged constellation Virgo, with her scales set nearby in the form of Libra. (Hyginus 2.25 on Hesiod and Aratus ; Aratus 96)

Detail of figure Astrape (Lightning Bolt). Astrape stands beside the throne of Zeus, bearing his thunderbolt in her hand. She is depicted as Astraia (constellation Virgo), the goddess of justice, with the usual attributes of a star-god: wings, flaming torch and shining aureole. ca 350 - 340 BC

TYCHE The goddess of good fortune was set amongst the stars as Virgo, along with the scales of fate, Libra. (Hyginus 2.25)

Elihu Vedder, Fortuna

DEMETER The goddess of agriculture was given a memorial amongst the stars in the form of the constellation Virgo, which some say holds a sheaf of wheat in its hand. (Hyginus 2.25)

Jacob Jordaens, Virgo

Sebastiano RICCI, Bacchus and Ceres


Latin : Libra (the Scales)
Greek : Zyygos (the Scales) or Khêlai (the Claws)
Akkadian : Zibanitu (the Scales)
Sumerian : ZI.BA.AN.NA (the Scales)

SCALES OF JUSTICE The scales of Astraea, the goddess of justice, were placed beside her in the heavens as the constellation Libra. Astraea herself was Virgo. (Hyginus 2.25)

SCALES OF FATE The scales of Tyche, goddess of fortune, were set amongst the stars as the constellation Libra. Tyche herself was one of the goddesses identified as Virgo. (Hyginus 2.25)

CLAWS OF SCORPIO The claws of the constellation Scorpio were sometimes said to be represented amongst the stars as Libra. (Hyginus 2.26)

The Tyche (Fortune) of Antioch. Marble, Roman copy after a Greek bronze original by Eutychides of the 3rd century BC.

Latin : Triangulum (the Triangle)
Greek : Deltôton (the Triangle or letter D)

DIVISION OF THE COSMOS A triangle was placed amongst the stars to commemorate the division of the universe amongst the three sons of Cronus : Zeus received the heavens, Poseidon the sea, and Hades the underworld. (Hyginus 2.19)

D FOR DIOS The Greek letter Delta (shaped like a triangle) was placed amongst the stars by Hermes to mark more clearly the faint sign of Aries. It was also placed as a memorial of his invention of the alphabet, the letter D being chosen to signify the name of Zeus (spelt Dios, Dii, in other forms). (Hyginus 2.19)

DELTA OF EGYPT The triangle formed by the delta of the River Nile was placed amongst the stars as the constellation of the same name. Others say the triangle represented the whole of Egypt from the Nile border with Egypt down to the sea. (Hyginus 2.19)

ISLAND OF SICILY The triangle shaped island of Sicily was represented amongst the stars as the constellation Triangulum. The reason for its placement is not known. (Hyginus 2.19)


Latin : Taurus (the Bull)
Greek : Tauros (the Bull)
Sumerian : GU.AN.NA (the Bull of Heaven)

Latin : Suculae (the Suckling Pigs)
Greek : Hyades (the Rainy Ones)

Latin : Vergiliae
Greek : Pleiades (the Ladies of Plenty)
Akkadian : Zappu (the Bristle)
Sumerian : MUL.MUL (the Stars)

BULL ZEUS When the Phoenician princess Europa was playing by the sea shore, Zeus approached her in the guise of a bull and, tempting her to climb onto his back, carried her away to the island of Crete. (Hyginus 2.21 on Euripides)

Rubens, The Rape of Europa

COW IO The Argive princess Io was loved by Zeus, who transformed her into a cow to hide her from the jealous gaze of his wife Hera. She was nevertheless recognised by the goddess who set a maddening gladfly to torment her that drive her wandering to Egypt. There Io was restored to human form and gave birth to her son Epaphos. As a memorial of her trials, Io was set amongst the stars as the constellation "Taurus." (Hyginus 2.21)

Pieter Lastman , Juno Discovering Jupiter with Io

HYADES Five nymphs whose stars outline the face of the bull Taurus. They were nurses of the god Dionysus who were awarded for their service with a place amongst the stars of heaven. Their rising heralded the onset of the rainy season in Greece. Some say they were teary nymphs placed in the heavens following the death of their brother Hyas, who was killed by a lion. Presumably this Hyas and the lion were represented by the constellations Aquarius and Leo. (Hyginus 2.21 on Pherecydes)

PLEIADES Seven nymphs whose stars form the "tail of the Bull" Taurus. The sisters were placed amongst the stars by the god Zeus, after the lustful giant Orion had pursued them across the earth for seven years. Orion was also set in heaven, but doomed to continue a futile chase for all eternity. (Hyginus 2.21 ; Aratus 254)

Elihu Vedder, The Pleiades


Latin : Scorpio (the Scorpion)
Greek : Skorpios (the Scorpion)
Akkadian : Zuqaqipu (the Scorpion)
Sumerian : GÍR.TAB (the Scorpion)

SCORPION OF ORION A scorpion sent forth by the earth-goddess Gaea to kill Orion when the giant boasted that he would slay all the animals of the earth. The pair were placed amongst the stars as the constellations Scorpio and Orion. The ancients sometimes combined a pair of constellations to create the the scorpion, with Libra forming the claws. (Hyginus 2.26 ; Aratus 634)


Latin : Saggitarius (the Archer)
Greek : Toxeutês (the Archer)
Sumerian : PA.BIL.SAG

CHIRON The wise centaur Chiron was placed amongst the stars as the constellation Saggitarius or Centaurus, when he surrendered his immortality after being poisoned by an arrow of Heracles.

CROTUS A horse-legged, satyr hunter who was a companion of the Muses on Mount Helicon. As a reward for his zeal he was placed amongst the stars as the constellation Saggitarius. His victory wreath was further set as a circle of stars at his feet. (Hyginus 2.27 on Sositheus)


Latin : Saggita (the Arrow)
Greek : Oistos (the Arrow)
Sumerian : KAK.SI.KI (the Arrow)

ARROW OF APOLLO The arrow which Apollo used to slay the Cyclopes, to avenge the death of his son Asclepius who had been destroyed by a thunderbolt created on their forge. Both Asclepius and the arrow were placed amongst the stars, as Ophiochus and Sagitta respectively. (Hyginus 2.15 on Eratosthenes)

ARROW OF HERACLES The arrow with which Heracles slew the eagle set to torment the Titan Prometheus. The eagle and arrow were placed side by side in the heavens as the constellations Aquila and Sagitta. (Hyginus 2.15)


Latin : Pisces (the Fishes)
Greek : Ikhthyes (the Fishes)
Akkadian : Nunu (the Fish) & Shinunutu (the Swallow)
Sumerian : KU (the Fish) & SIM.MAH (the Swallow)

FISHES OF APHRODITE When the monster Typhon attacked Olympus, the gods fled in a body to the south. Aphrodite and her son Eros reached the river Eridanus where they threw themselves in the water and hid in the guise of fish. In memory of the event a pair of fish were set amongst the stars as the constellation Pisces. (Hyginus 2.30 on Diognetus Erythraeus)


Greek : Perseus (the Destroyer)
Akkadian : Shibu (the Old Man)
Summerian : SHU.GI (the Old Man)

PERSEUS An Argive hero, the son of Zeus and Danae. When he was returning on his quest for the Gorgon's head, he spied the Ethiopian princess Andromeda chained to the rocks as sacrifice to a sea-monster. Perseus slew the beast and saved the girl. In memorial of the event Athena placed Perseus, Andromeda, Cepheus and Cassiopea (the girl's parents) and Cetus (the Sea Monster) amongst the stars. (Hyginus 2.12 ; Aratus 248)


Latin : Equus (the Horse)
Greek : Hippos (the Horse) or Pegasos
Akkadian : Sisû (the Horse)
Sumerian : ANSHE.KUR.RA (the Horse)

PEGASUS A winged horse, son of the Gorgon Medusa. It was tamed by the hero Bellerophon who rode it into battle against the three-headed monster Chimera. When he later tried to fly to heaven, he was thrown back down to earth, but the horse was received and set amongst the stars by Zeus. (Hyginus 2.18 on Aratus ; Aratus 205)

MELANIPPE A daughter of the centaur Chiron. When she became pregnant by the hero Aeolus, she hid herself away in a forest in shame, and prayed that her father might not find her. The gods then transformed her into a horse, and after her child was born set her amongst the stars as a constellation. There she was said to continue to hide from her father, setting just as her father's own constellation was on the rise. (Hyginus 2.18 on Euripides)


Latin : Orion
Greek : Ôriôn (the Mountain Man?)
Akkadian : Shidallu (the True Shepherd of Anu)
Sumerian : SIPA.ZI.AN.NA (the True Shepherd of Anu)

ORION A giant hunter who was set amongst the stars as the constellation Orion. Some say he chased Lepus, the hare, across the heavens with his dog, the constellation Canis, others that he was in pursuit of Taurus the bull, or even chasing after the seven beautiful Pleiad nymphs. In the story of his death, Orion was either killed by Artemis or by a scorpion sent by Gaea to punish him for boasting that he would slay all the creatures of the earth. The scorpion was also placed amongst the stars and continued to plague him, for as it rose in the east, Orion fled beneath the horizon in the west. (Hyginus 2.34 on Hesiod, Aristomarchus and Istrus ; Aratus 634)


Latin : Ophiuchus
Greek : Ophiokhos (the Serpent Holder)

ASCLEPIUS  The great physician, a son of the god Apollo. When Asclepius dared to extend his craft by bringing back men from the dead, Zeus struck him dead with a thunderbolt. As a memorial the hero was placed amongst the stars along with the serpent which coiled around his staff. (Hyginus 2.14)

CARNOBON A King of the Getae tribe of Thrace. When the hero Triptolemus passed through his land instructing mankind in agriculture, he set an ambush and slew one of his flying serpents. The goddess punished Carnobon and afterwards set him amongst the stars struggling eternally with a serpent as warning. (Hyginus 2.14)

HERACLES The great hero. Heracles spent time in the service of Queen Omphale of Lydia, where he slew a gigantic serpent which was ravaging the land. As a memorial Zeus commemorated the deed amongst the stars of heaven. (Hyginus 2.14)

PHORBAS A hero of the island of Rhodes. When the island was plagued by serpents, Phorbas destroyed them all, and as a reward for this service was placed amongst the stars by the god Apollon. (Hyginus 2.14 on Polyzelus the Rhodian)

TRIOPAS A Thessalian king. In his greed he tore the roof from a temple of Demeter for his own palace. The goddess in wrath inflicted him with unquenchable hunger and sent a serpent to further plague him. When he died she set him amongst the stars to continue for eternity the struggle with the serpent. (Hyginus 2.14)


Latin : Lyra (the Lyre)
Greek : Lyrê (the Lyre) or Khelys (the Tortoise)
Akkadian : Enzu (the She-Goat)
Sumerian : ÙZ (the She-Goat)

TORTOISE OF HERMES  The lyre first carved by the god Hermes out of the shell of a tortoise. He traded it with Apollo for the caduceus, who set it amongst the stars as memorial. (Hyginus 2.7 ; Aratus 268)

Hermes with winged cap seated on a rock, his hand resting on a tortoise. C1st AD 

LYRE OF ORPHEUS The lyre of the great bard Orpheus, who could charm animals, trees and rocks with his music. After he was slain by the Bacchantes, Apollo and the Muses placed his lyre amongst the stars. Some say Orpheus was himself represented nearby in the form of the constellation "Hercules," the Kneeling Man. (Hyginus 2.7 on Eratosthenes)

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld

LYRE OF THESEUS The lyre of the hero Theseus who was set in the stars as the constellation "Heracles" next to that of the lyre. (Hyginus 2.6)

LYRE OF THAMYRIS A bard who was blinded by the Muses. He was placed amongst the stars as a warning along with his lyre as the constellations Ennosagin (or "Hercules") and Lyra. (Hyginus 2.6)


Latin : Leo (the Lion)
Greek : Leon (the Lion)
Sumerian : UR.GU.LA (the Lion)

NEMEAN LION A lion whose hide was impervious to weapons which terrorized the countryside of Nemea. When Heracles was commanded to destroy it was one of his twelve labours, he throttled the beast to death with his bare hands. The lion was then placed by Hera amongst the stars as the constellation Leo. (Hyginus 2.24)

Francisco de Zurbarán

KING LION The lion, king of all the beasts, was set amongst the stars as the constellation Leo in recognition of his supremacy. (Hyginus 2.24)

Latin : Gemini (the Twins)
Greek : Didymoi (the Twins)
Akkadian : Tu'amu rabûtu (the Great Twins)
Sumerian : MASH.TAB.BA.GAL.GAL (the Great Twins) & MASH.TAB.BA.TUR.TUR (the Little Twins), the 4 main stars of Gemini

DIOSCURI Twin sons of Zeus, named Castor and Polydeuces. The pair were famed horsemen who were transferred to the heavens at death to form the constellation Gemini. The Dioscuri came to the rescue of sailors in distress. (Hyginus 2.22)

HERACLES & APOLLO When Apollo commanded that Heracles be sold into slavery to atone for murder, the hero was enraged as wrestled the god for the Delphic tripod. Their match was memorialised amongst the stars as the constellation Gemini. (Hyginus 2.22)

Hercules, Apollo, and the Delphic Tripod ca 510 BC

TRIPTOLEMUS & IASION The two favourites of the goddess Demeter. Triptolemus was a hero who first instructed mankind in the art of agriculture, while Iasion was her lover on the island of Samothrace, lying with her in a thrice-plowed field. (Hyginus 2.22)

Triptolemos' departure. Side A from an Attic red-figure stamnos, ca. 480 BC

Latin : Delphinus (the Dolphin)
Greek : Delphin (the Dolphin)
Sumerian : SHAH (the Pig or Boar)

DOLPHIN OF POSEIDON When Poseidon was wooing Amphitrite, she fled his advances and hid herself away. Dolphin was sent to find her, and persuaded her to return. As a reward for this service Poseidon set him amongst the stars. (Hyginus 2.17 on Eratosthenes)

DOLPHINS OF DIONYSUS When Dionysus was travelling between the islands of the Aegean, he was captured by Tyrrhenian pirates. The god drove them to terror with his illusions and, when they leapt from the ship, he transformed them into dolphins. In memory of the event he placed a dolphin amongst the stars. (Hyginus 2.17 on Aglaosthenes)

DOLPHIN OF ARION When the famed Corinthian bard Arion was thrown overboard by seamen who coveted his wealth, a dolphin came and carried him safely to shore. As memorial the kindly animal was placed amongst the stars. (Hyginus 2.17)


Latin : Andromeda
Greek : Andromedê
Sumerian : LU.LIM (the Stag)
Akkadian : Lulimu (the Stag)

ANDROMEDA A Princess of Ethiopia, daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopea. Her mother offended the gods by boasting that the girl was more beautiful than the Nereids. Poseidon in wrath sent a sea-monster to devour the girl. When she was chained to the rocks, the hero Perseus spied her, slew the beast, and carried her off as his wife. The gods as a memorial, set the whole family amongst the stars as constellations. (Hyginus 2.11 ; Aratus 197)

Pierre Mignard, The king of Greece, Céphée, and the queen, Cassiopé, thank the hero Perseus for having delivered their daughter Andromeda, offered in sacrifice to a marine monster.

Latin : Cassiopea
Greek : Kassiepeia

CASSIOPEA A Queen of Ethiopia, mother of the lovely Andromeda. When she boasted that her daughter was more beautiful than the Nereids, Poseidon sent a sea monster to devour the girl. She was rescued by Perseus, who slew the beast. As a memorial the whole family were placed amongst the stars, but Cassiopea because of her pride, was set to hang eternally upside down on her throne. (Hyginus 2.10 on Euripides and Sophocles)

File:Poeticon astronomicon cas.jpg
Poseidon's punishment: Cassiopea as a constellation sitting in the heavens tied to a chair. Hyginus, Poeticon Astronomicon. 


Latin : Aquarius (Water Bearer)
Greek : Hydrokhoos (Water-Bearer)
Sumerian : GU.LA (the Great)

GANYMEDES A handsome Trojan prince. He was seized and carried off to heaven by an eagle sent down by Zeus, to become the cup-bearer of the gods. The eagle and boy were subsequently placed amongst the stars as the constellations Aquila and Aquarius. (Hyginus 2.16 and 2.29)

Ganymede Waters Zeus as an Eagle by Bertel Thorvaldsen

DEUCALION An early Greek king who managed to survive the great Deluge that was sent by Zeus to destroy mankind. Because so much rain fell during his reign he was represented amongst the stars as the Water-Pourer. (Hyginus 2.29 on Hegesianax)

Giovanni Maria Bottala, Deucalion and Pyrrha

CECROPS An early king of Athens who was the first to pour libations in honour of the gods. In memory of this he was placed in the heavens as the water-pourer Aquarius. (Hyginus 2.29 on Eubulus)


Latin : Aquila (the Eagle)
Greek : Aiêtos (the Eagle)
Akkadian : Erû (the Eagle)
Sumerian : Á.MUSHEN (the Eagle)

EAGLE APHRODITE When Zeus wished to seduce the goddess Nemesis, he transformed himself into a swan, and bade Aphrodite pursue him into her lap in the guise of an eagle. In this way he accomplished his seduction and in memorial placed an eagle and swan amongst the stars. (Hyginus 2.8)

EAGLE OF PROMETHEUS An eagle which was set by Zeus feed on the liver of the chained Titan Prometheus. When Heracles freed him from his chains, he slew the eagle with an arrow, and Zeus placed the pair amongst the stars as Aquila (eagle) and Sagitta (arrow). (Hyginus 2.15)

Theodoor Rombouts, Prometheus

EAGLE OF ZEUS 1 The eagle which Zeus sent to snatch the handsome Trojan youth Ganymedes up to heaven. The boy and eagle were placed amongst the stars as the adjacent constellations Aquarius and Aquila. (Hyginus 2.16)

EAGLE OF ZEUS 2 An eagle which appeared to Zeus as a sign of good omen when he was sacrificing on an altar prior to the commencement of his war against the Titans. To commemorate the event he placed the eagle and altar amongst the stars as the constellations Aquila and Ara. (Hyginus 2.16)

EAGLE OF ZEUS 3 When Hermes was wooing the goddess Aphrodite she spurned his advances. Zeus, pitying his son, sent an eagle which snatched away her sandal and delivered it the god, which he used to barter for her favours. The eagle was rewarded with a place amonst the stars. (Hyginus 2.16)

MEROPES A King of Cos whose wife was killed by Artemis for spurning her worship. When he was about to commit suicide in his grief, Hera transformed Meropes into an eagle and placed him amongst the stars in the form of Aquila. (Hyginus 2.16 on Aglaosthenes)


Latin : Canis (the Dog)
Greek : Kyôn (the Dog)
Latin : Sirios
Greek : Seirios or Kyon Aster (the Dog-Star)

LAELAPS A magical dog which was destined never to surrender a chase. It was first bestowed on Europa by Zeus, who passed it to her son Minos, and from him to Procris and Cephalus. The last of these set it to hunt down the Teumessian fox, which was destined never to be caught. To resolve the contrary fates of the two animals, Zeus placed them amongst the stars as the constellations Canis Major and Minor to play out the chase unresolved for eternity. (Hyginus 2.35)

DOG OF ORION The dog of the giant hunter Orion who stands above it in the heavens. He leads it in the chase of the hare (Lepus) or the fox (Canis Minor). (Hyginus 2.35)

MAERA The dog of Icarius, a devotee of the god Dionysus. When his master was murdered, and his mistress committed suicide, the dog threw himself down a well. All three were then placed amongst the stars as Procyon (Canis Minor), Bootes and Virgo. (Hyginus 2.4 & 2.35)

SIRIUS The dog-star which crowns the head of the constellation Canis Major. Its rising in conjunction with the sun at dawn was thought to bring on the scorching heat of mid-summer. The Egyptians called it the star of Isis. (Hyginus 2.35)


Latin : Centaurus (the Centaur)
Greek : Kentauros (the Centaur)
Akkadian : Habasiranu
Sumerian : EN.TE.NA.BAR.HUM
CHIRON The wisest of the Centaurs, a son of the Titan Cronus. He once entertained Heracles, but when examining his poisonous arrows dropped one on his foot. Because of the unbearable pain of the wound, he surrendered his immortality and was placed amongst the stars as the constellation Centaurus. Others say he became Saggitarius. (Hyginus 2.38)

PHOLUS A centaur of Mount Pholoe in Arcadia who entertained Heracles in his cave. But when he opened the wine, the smell drew the other centaurs who attacked. Heracles slew them, but Pholus examining one of the poisonous arrows let it fall on his foot and died. The gods placed him amongst the stars as the constellation Centaurus, along with his drinking cup Crater. Some say Centaurus is depicted pouring a libation at the altar, Ara. (Hyginus 2.38)

Heracles at Pholus'. , 520–510 BC.


Latin : Crater (the Drinking Cup)
Greek : Krêtêr (the Drinking Cup)

CUP OF PHOLUS The drinking cup of the the centaur Pholos. It and its owner were placed amongst the stars as the adjacent constellations Crater and Centaurus. (Hyginus 2.38)

CUP OF APOLLO A cup placed amongst the stars by Apollo in form of the constellation Crater, next to Corvus the crow and Hydra the serpent. The serpent was set to guard the bowl, preventing the crow from drinking. (Hyginus 2.40)


Latin : Corona (the Crown)
Greek : Stephanos (the Crown)
Akkadian : A-nim (the Crown of Anu)
Sumerian : AGA (the Crown of Anu)

CROWN OF ARIADNE The crown of the Cretan princess Ariadne. She received from the gods as a wedding gift upon her marriage to the god Dionysus. After her death it was set amongst the stars as the constellation Corona. (Hyginus 2.5)

CROWN OF DIONYSUS The crown of the god of wine. He received it as a gift from Aphrodite and after his return from the underworld with his mother Semele he set it amongst the stars in memorial of the event. (Hyginus 2.5 on the Argolica)

CROWN OF THESEUS The crown of the Athenian hero Theseus which he received from the goddess Amphitrite as a mark of his divine paternity. He in turn gave it to Ariadne as reward for the assistance she provided him in navigating the passages of the Labyrinth. At her death it was placed amongst the stars. (Hyginus 2.5)

Sebastiano RICCI, Bacchus and Ariadne


Latin : Corvus (the Crow)
Greek : Koronis (the Crow) or Korakos (the Raven)
Akkadian : Aribu (the Raven)
Sumerian : UGA-MUSHEN (the Raven)

CORONIS A Thessalian girl loved by the god Apollo. But she proved unfaithful and Artemis slew her with her arrows. The god then placed Coronis (literally, "the Crow") amongst the stars as the constellation Corvus. Her son by Apollo was Asclepius, the constellation Ophiochus. (Hyginus 2.40 on Istrus)

CROW OF APOLLO A crow which was sent by Apollo to fetch water for libations. It tarried in the task, and as punishment was placed amongst the stars as the constellation Corvus, along with the serpent Hydra, and the water-cup Crater. The serpent prevented the crow from drinking at the bowl leaving it eternally parched in the heavens. (Hyginus 2.40)



Latin : Cygnus (the Swan)
Greek : Ornis (the Bird) or Kygnos (the Swan)

SWAN ZEUS When Zeus wanted to seduce the goddess Nemesis he transformed himself into a swan, and bade Aphrodite in the guise of an eagle pursue him into her lap. As a memorial of this successful ruse he placed an eagle and swan in the sky as the constellations Cygnus and Aquila. (Hyginus 2.8)