Aries the first sign of the greek zodiac, marking the beginning of spring and the start of a new cycle of life.
The story of Aries is linked with the myth of the Golden Ram, which saved two kids, a brother and a sister, from being sacrificed in order to appease the gods.
The next sign of the greek zodiac is the constellation of Taurus (bull), associated with the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur.
According to myth, Theseus volunteered to be one of the youths from Athens who would be offered as food to the horrible monster Minotaur (half man, half bull) who stayed in Crete, in the labyrinth. But, when he was there and 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.
The constellation of Gemini is the next sign of the greek zodiac. It is linked with the story of the twin brothers Castor and Polydeuces (Pollux in latin). Actually, 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 (the same one who later was the cause of the Trojan War) 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 (who later became the wife of Agamemnon, the military leader of the Greeks in the Trojan War) 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.
The constellation of the greek zodiac known as Cancer (Crab), is linked with the second labour 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, honoured the crab by placing its image among the stars, as the constellation of Cancer.
Leo, the fifth constellation of the greek zodiac, is linked with Hercules’ very first labour, 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 from any known weapon of the time whether made of iron, bronze or stone.
After its death, the famous lion was put on the sky by Zeus, to become the constellation of Leo.
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 helped to explain why the seasons change.
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 Dike, 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.
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 of 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 bejewelled belt.
Many of the stories concerning the constellations of Orion and Scorpio reflect the annual rising and setting 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: This is Sirius, the brightest star in the heavens.
There is another story about Orion and the scorpion.
One day, when Orion was out in the woods, he caught sight of seven beautiful sisters, the daughters of Atlas and Pleione. Orion loved them all at first sight and began to chase after them.
The sisters, however, were terrified and cried out to Zeus to save them.
Zeus heard their pleas and helped them by turning them first into doves, so they could fly away from Orion, and then into the seven stars which are now called Pleiades.
According to myth, Orion was stung by the scorpion as a punishment for chasing the seven sisters. Zeus decided that the constellations of Orion and the Pleiades were arranged in the heavens, so that it seemed that Orion was in constant pursuit of the seven sisters, without ever becoming successful, just as the Scorpio seems always to be chasing Orion, without ever touching him.
The constellation of Sagittarius (the archer),depicts a creature called centaur, which has the body and head of a man and the hindquarters of a horse.
He is named after Cheiron, 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 were Hercules, and Jason, who later became the leader of the argonauts.
As the myth goes, Cheiron 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 near the place where Cheiron lived.
By accident, however, one of the poisonous arrows that Hercules used to defend himself from his attackers, went astray and hit his old teacher. Cheiron, being semi-divine, would not die, having to suffer an excruciating pain, because of the poison.
He was in such an 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, Cheiron finally was let to die, relieved from the intolerable pain that was inflicted on him from the wound.
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 on her own rich milk and sweet lavender-scented honey.
Zeus’s golden cradle was hung high upon 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 stars on the greek zodiac, as the constellation of Capricorn.
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 Ganymedes’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 on the heavenly palace, Zeus had to find a job for his young protegee. So, he decided that Ganymede should be given the special honour of being his personal cupbearer.
The position was considered to be highly distinguished, since the person who was assigned the duty of the cupbearer, was responsible for pouring into the glasses of the Olympians the divine drink called nectar. This was the special drink that bestowed on the gods their eternal youth and vigor.
Zeus was forever fond of his cupbearer. So, he honoured him by giving him a prominent position on the greek zodiac, as the constellation of Aquarius.
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. From the thighs down he was a mass of coiled snakes, while his arms were so long that when he spread them out he reached a hundred leagues each way.
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, dived 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 lent 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.