Myths of The Zodiac: Capricorn

Capricorn is the smallest of Zodiacal constellations. It is known to astronomers by the slightly different name of Capricornus.

Capricorn’s name comes from the Latin for ‘horned goat’. In traditional astrological and astronomical charts, the constellation is often represented by a strange sea-goat hybrid creature that has a ram’s head and a fish’s lower body.

People born between the 21st of December and the 21st of the following January fall under this sign. Capricorn is an Earth sign and is ruled by Saturn.

In astronomical terms, Capricornus is not only the smallest but one of the faintest constellations too. Only its alpha (brightest) star, Delta Capricorni or Deneb Algedi as it was named by ancient Arabic astronomers, has a magnitude of below 4.

The lower the magnitude the brighter a star is as seen from Earth. Only four stars in our night sky have a magnitude of less than zero.

Myths & Legends

Even though it is relatively dim compared to many of the other constellations, there is evidence that many ancient cultures attached significance to Capricornus. We’ve often started with the Babylonians in these articles, but the evidence for humans relating Capricornus to a goat-fish creature goes back as far as the Bronze Age around 5000 years ago in 3000BC.

The Babylonians though, were the first to preserve official religious records, which include pieces that link from Capricornus to Enki who was the god of water, fertility and creation. In Ancient Sumer Capricornus was often associated with the Apkallu, fish-men beings who were sent to Earth to teach humans about creation.

In Ancient Greek mythology, Capricornus is associated with two figures. The first is goat-goddess Amalthea, who nursed the infant baby Zeus after he escaped being eaten by his titan father Chronos.

Zeus, being an almost infinitely strong god, broke one of the goat’s horns in the process. Later in life he put the horn up in heaven as a symbol of gratitude and that became Capricornus. Some experts see the root of the story of the Cornucopia in this tale. The Cornucopia was a horn of plenty, that symbolized the oncoming of the new year and spring – which makes sense given Capricornus’ position in the sky.

In the other story, Capricornus was put in the sky to remind humans of the tale of the goat-headed satyr god Pan. Pan was being chased by the deadly titan serpent Typhon. In order to escape he transformed his lower half into that of a fish and dove into a river where he hid from the vengeful snake god.

In Astronomy & Astrology

Modern astronomy has found that Capricornus’ brightest star, Deneb Algedi, is actually a binary pair of two stars that eclipse each other (from our Earthly point of view) every 24 hours or so. Its traditional name means ‘Tail of the Goat’.

In modern astrology, Capricorn is one of the Cardinal signs, and signifies the year’s transition into Winter.

Consequently, Capricorns are considered dependable, reliable and principled but also sometimes emotionally cold and inflexible.