Most of you will know the Zodiac signs, and hopefully their associated constellations in the sky. But lesser known, among many people, are the mythological stories associated with these constellations around the world. Many cultures identify the same patterns, or at least similar ones, as constellations and have corresponding stories. The legends most usually associated with the Zodiac signs in the West, are from the Greek and Roman mythos. Other cultures have their own stories too however, and we will touch on some of them here as well.
So, to kick things off, we’ve got one of Ancient Greek polymath Ptolemy’s 48 original constellations – Aries.
A Golden Sheep
Most well known for its association with the myth of Jason and his Argonauts, who went on a quest to find the golden-haired fleece, the constellation of Aries has been associated with rams since Babylonian times – some 3000 years ago. That ancient Mesopotamian culture called the constellation Agru, or The Farmer. However, not many of their myths survived so it is difficult to know exactly when the mythos shifted between farm worker and farm animal.
The Ancient Egyptians also associated this patch of sky with a ram, specifically the sheep-headed god Amun-Ra. Originally the God of fertility, Amun-Ra eventually merged in people’s consciousness with aspects of the former Sun god Ra before becoming the chief monotheistic deity of the culture for nearly a thousand years.
However, the Ancient Greeks were the first to identify the modern constellation of Aries as we know it today. They associated it with the tale of the Golden Ram, sent by the messenger god Hermes, who saved demigods Phrixus and Helle from their murderous step-mother. In a typical Ancient show of gratitude Phrixus then sacrificed the Ram to the Gods and made a fleece from its golden hair. This would eventually become the Golden Fleece that Jason and his Argonauts famously chased across the classical world.
Characters in this myth include such famous figures as Heracles (Hercules), Medusa and Castor and Pollux (brothers to Helen of Troy). Following the story of the usurped King Jason on his quest to find the fleece, a supposedly impossible task set by the vengeful King Pelias, the Argonauts (named after their ship, the Argo) fought beautiful harpies, six-armed giants, flaming oxen and, finally, a sleepless dragon before finally achieving their goal.
This story has endured for thousands of years and has been adapted for film or TV dozens of times. Most recently in 2000 – but it is the 1963 version that uses the talents of stop-motion animation master Ray Harryhausen that is considered the definitive version. Well worth checking out if you haven’t seen it.
Anyway, the simple fact that thousands of years of myths and stories, that are still relevant today, spawned from this simple pattern of stars that resembles a ram’s head is testament to the power that constellations and zodiac signs have over our lives. And that’s quite apart from any astrological significance either!