Ancient Greek Astrology, Divination, Omens and the Zodiac

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black figure eye cup with a mask of Dionysus

The Greeks were very superstitious. Steve Coates wrote in the New York Times, “The Greeks don’t deserve their reputation as rationalists. Religion and ritual permeated the world of the city-states. The scholar Joan Breton Connelly noted “there was no area of life that lacked a religious aspect,” citing one estimate that 2,000 cults operated during the classical period in the territory of Athens alone.

In the “ Characters” Theophrastus describes a man who "won't go out for the day without washing hands...and putting a piece of laurel leaf from a temple in his mouth. If a cat crosses the road he won't go any further until someone else passes or he has thrown three stones across the road. If he sees a snake in his house, he calls on Sabazius, if it is one of the red variety; if its one of the sacred sort he builds a shrine on the spot...If he hear an owl hoot while he's out walking he is much shaken and won't go past without muttering 'All power is Athene's." ["World Religions" edited by Geoffrey Parrinder, Facts on File Publications, New York]

"Every month on the forth and seventh he gives instructions for wine to be mulled for his family...Every time he has a dream he rushes to the dream experts...If ever he sees one of the figures of Hecate...with a wreath of garlic, he rushes straight home to wash his head, and sends for a priestesses, and tells them to purify him by carrying around a puppy." [Ibid]

Socrates feared the evil eye. Alexander the Great used fortunetellers used haruspicy (searching for omens in the entrails of animals) to predict the future. The Athenian leader Pericles once lost two armies because two medicine men told him he should not move his army until "thrice nine" days after lunar eclipse. Plutarch once wrote that superstitious "word and gestures, sorcery and magic, running backwards and forward" drove reasonable men to atheism.

Greeks believed in the magic spells of the sorceress Medea. Chance was a Greek goddess. Pliny said "We are much at the mercy of Chance that Chance is our god." The sphinx represented prophecy.

Websites on Ancient Greece and Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks; Canadian Museum of History; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; ;; British Museum; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ;; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Ancient City of Athens; The Internet Classics Archive ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome;
The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Ancient Greek Superstitions and Fortunetellers

The superstition that spilling salt is bad luck and the custom of throwing salt over one's shoulder could cancel bad luck was practiced by the ancient Sumerians, Egyptians, Assyrians and later the Romans and Greeks. The custom is believed to have been practiced since 3500 B.C. Knocking on wood is said to date back to ancient Greece

cult bird phallus

“ Triskaidekaphobia” , the fear of the number 13, is named after the first man to be recorded of having a fear of that number, Triskaideskaphodes. According to ancient numerology 12 was the perfect number where everything was in balance. There were 12 months, 12 hours in the day, 12 signs on the zodiac, 12 gods at Olympus, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 Apostles of Jesus, 12 days of Christmas, and 12 gods at Olympus. The number "13" upset the balance of the number "12" and therefor was viewed as unlucky and evil. Friday the 13th became an especially unlucky day because Jesus was crucified on a Friday and some say Eve gave Adam the apple on a Friday. In 1969 a 13-year-old Eton school boy named S.R. Baxter proved that the "13th of the month is more likely to be a Friday than any other day."

Greeks believed that any person who intentionally or accidently ate the meat from a human mixed with blood or flesh of a sacrificed animal would turn into a werewolf. The werewolf cult of Zeus Lykaios was strong in Peloponnesian Arcadia. Plato wrote: "Begging priests soothsayers go to the doors of the wealthy and convince them that if they want to harm an enemy, at very little expense, whether he deserves it or not, they will persuade the gods through charms and binding spells to do their bidding." Plato advocated ending the practice by executing curse writers and imposing heavy fines on their clients.

Organ Divination Among the Greeks and Romans

Liver divination was very big among Mesopotamians and was also practiced by the Etruscans. Greeks and Romans took it a step further by bringing in other organs. Morris Jastrow said: Liver divination in “passing to the Greeks and Romans, underwent an important modification which was destined eventually to bring the practice into disrepute. It will be recalled that the entire system of hepatoscopy rested on the belief that the liver was the seat of the soul, and that this theoretical basis was consistently maintained in Babylonia and Assyria throughout all periods of the history of these two states. ...The existence of an elaborate system of divination...acted, with the Babylonians, as a firm bulwark against the introduction of any rival theory. Not so, however, among the Romans, whose augurs took what seemed an innocent and logical step, in order to bring the system of divination into accord with more advanced anatomy, by adding to the examination of the liver that of the heart, as being likewise an organ through which an insight could be obtained into the soul of the animal, and hence into that of the god to whom it was sacrificed. Pliny has an interesting passage in his Natural History in which he specifies the occasion when, for the first time, the heart in addition to the liver of the sacrificial animal was inspected to secure an omen. The implication in the passage of Pliny is that prior to this date, which corresponds to c. 274 B.C., the liver alone was used. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911]

sheep liver

“Liver and heart continued to be, from this time on, the chief organs inspected, but occasionally the lungs also were examined, and even the spleen and the kidneys. Owing to the growing habit of inspecting other organs beside the liver, it became customary to speak of consulting the exta —a term which included all these organs. Similarly, we may conclude from the use of the terms splangchna (“entrails”) and hiera (“sacred parts”) in Greek writers, when referring to divination through the sacrificial animal, that among the Greeks also, who as little as the Romans were restrained by any force of ancient tradition, the basis on which hepatoscopy rested was shifted, in deference to a more scientific theory of anatomy which dethroned the liver from its position in primitive and non-scientific beliefs. This step, though apparently progressive, was fatal to the rite, for in abandoning the belief that the liver was sole seat of the soul, the necessity for inspecting it in order to divine the future was lost. There could be but one claimant as the legitimate organ of divination. If the soul were not in the liver but in the heart, then the heart should have been inspected, but to take both the liver and the heart, and to add to these even the lungs and other organs was to convert the entire rite into a groundless superstition—a survival in practice, based on an outgrown belief.

“It is significant that this step was not taken by the Babylonians or Assyrians nor, so far as we know, by the ancient Etruscans, but only by the Romans and the Greeks. That they did so may be taken as an additional indication that hepatoscopy among them was an importation, and not an indigenous growth. As a borrowed practice, the Greeks and Romans felt no pressure of tradition which in Babylonia kept the system of liver interpretation intact down to the latest days. A borrowed rite is always more liable to modification than one that is indigenous, as it were, and attached to the very soil; thus it happens that, under foreign influences, divination through the liver, resting upon deductions from a primitive belief persistently maintained, degenerates into a foolish superstition without reason. It is also an observation that has many parallels in the history of religion:—a borrowed rite is always more liable to abuse. It is not, therefore, surprising to find that the “inspection” of an animal for purposes of divination degenerated still further among Greeks and Romans into wilful deceit and trickery.

“Frontinus and Polyaenus tell us of the way in which the “inspectors” of later days had recourse to base tricks to deceive the masses. They tell, for instance, of a certain augur, who, desirous of obtaining an omen that would encourage the army in a battle near at hand, wrote the words, “victory of the king,” backwards on the palm of his hand, and then, having pressed the smooth surface of the sacrificial liver against his palm, held aloft to the astonished gaze of the multitude the organ bearing the miraculous omen. The augur’s name is given as Soudinos “the Chaldean,” but this epithet had become at this time, for reasons to be set forth in the next lecture, generic for soothsayers and tricksters, indiscriminately, without any implied reference to nationality. Hence Soudinos , who may very well have been a Greek, is called “the Chaldean.”

“Whatever the deficiencies of the Babylonian-Assyrian “inspectors” may have been, it must be allowed, from the knowledge transmitted to us, that down to the end of the neo-Babylonian empire they acted fairly, honestly, and conscientiously. The collections of omens and the official reports show that they by no means flattered their royal masters by favourable omens. It would have been, indeed, hazardous to do so; but whatever their motives, the fact remains that in the recorded liver examinations we find unfavourable conclusions quite as frequently as favourable. In a large number of reports delivered by the priests there seems nothing, so long as the religion itself held sway, to warrant a suspicion of trickery or fraud of any kind. At most, we may possibly here and there detect a not unnatural eagerness on the part of a diviner to justify his conclusion, or to tone down a highly inauspicious prognostication.”

Etruscans and Greek Sacrifices and Roman Liver Divination

Etruscan liver divination tool

The Etruscans, like the ancient Babylonians, practiced liver divination and they are believed to have passed on the practice to the Romans and influenced ritual practices of the Greeks. Historian Morris Jastrow said: ““Through the Etruscans hepatoscopy came to the Romans, and it is significant that down through the days of the Roman Republic the official augurs were generally Etruscans, as Cicero and other writers expressly tell us.The references to liver divination are numerous in Latin writers, and although the term used by them is a more general one, exta ,—usually rendered “entrails,”—when we come to examine the passages, we find, in almost all cases, the omen specified is a sign noted on the liver of a sacrificial animal. So Livy, Valerius Maximus, Pliny, and Plutarch unite in recording that when the omens were taken shortly before the death of Marcellus, during the war against Hannibal, the liver of the sacrificial animal had no processus pyramidalis, which was regarded as an unfavourable sign, presaging the death of the Roman general. Pliny specifies a large number of historical occasions when forecasts were made by the augurs, and almost all his illustrations are concerned with signs observed on the liver. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911]

“The same is the case with the numerous references to divination through sacrificial animals found in Greek writers; for the Greeks and Romans alike resorted to this form of divination on all occasions. In Greek, too, the term applied to such divination is a general one, hiera or hiereia , the “sacred parts,” but the specific examples in every instance deal with signs on the liver. Thus, e.g., in the Electra of Euripides, Ægisthos, when surprised by Orestes, is represented in the act of examining the liver of an ox sacrificed on a festive occasion. Holding the liver in his hand, Ægisthos observes that “there was no lobe,and that the gate and the gall-bladder portended evil.” While Ægisthos is thus occupied, Orestes steals upon him from behind and deals the fatal blow. Æschylus, in the eloquent passage in which the Chorus describes the many benefits conferred on mankind by the unhappy Prometheus, ascribes to the Titan the art also of divination, but while using the general term, the liver is specified: ‘The smoothness of the entrails, and what the colour is, whether portending good fortune, and the multi-coloured well-formed gallbladder.’

“Whether or not the Greeks adopted this system of hepatoscopy through the influence likewise of the Etruscans, or whether or not it was due to more direct contact with Babylonian-Assyrian culture is an open question. The eastern origin of the Etruscans is now generally admitted, and it may well be that in the course of their migration westward they came in contact with settlements in Greece; but on the other hand, the close affiliation between Greece and Asia Minor furnishes a stronger presumption in favour of the more direct contact with the Babylonian system through its spread among Hittite settlements.

Bad Omen for Alexander the Great

Good omen before the Battle of Gaugamela: an eagle flew over Alexander's head

Describing Alexander the Great a few weeks before his death, Plutarch wrote: “As he was upon his way to Babylon, Nearchus, who had sailed back out of the ocean up the mouth of the river Euphrates, came to tell him he had met with some Chaldæan diviners, who had warned him against Alexander’s going thither. Alexander, however, took no thought of it, and went on, and when he came near the walls of the place, he saw a great many crows fighting with one another, some of whom fell down just by him. After this, being privately informed that Apollodorus, the governor of Babylon, had sacrificed, to know what would become of him, he sent for Pythagoras, the soothsayer, and on his admitting the thing, asked him, in what condition he found the victim; and when he told him the liver was defective in its lobe, “A great presage indeed!” said Alexander. However, he offered Pythagoras no injury, but was sorry that he had neglected Nearchus’s advice, and stayed for the most part outside the town, removing his tent from place to place, and sailing up and down the Euphrates. Besides this, he was disturbed by many other prodigies. A tame ass fell upon the biggest and handsomest lion that he kept, and killed him by a kick. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ]

“And one day after he had undressed himself to be anointed, and was playing at ball, just as they were going to bring his clothes again, the young men who played with him perceived a man clad in the king’s robes, with a diadem upon his head, sitting silently upon his throne. They asked him who he was, to which he gave no answer a good while, till at last coming to himself, he told them his name was Dionysius, that he was of Messenia, that for some crime of which he was accused, he was brought thither from the sea-side, and had been kept long in prison, that Serapis appeared to him, had freed him from his chains, conducted him to that place, and commanded him to put on the king’s robe and diadem, and to sit where they found him, and to say nothing. Alexander, when he heard this, by the direction of his soothsayers, put the fellow to death, but he lost his spirits, and grew diffident of the protection and assistance of the gods, and suspicious of his friends. His greatest apprehension was of Antipater and his sons, one of whom, Iolaus, was his chief cupbearer; and Cassander, who had lately arrived, and had been bred up in Greek manners, the first time he saw some of the barbarians adore the king, could not forbear laughing at it aloud, which so incensed Alexander, that he took him by the hair with both hands, and dashed his head against the wall.

astrological birth chart for Alexander the Great

Another time, Cassander would have said something in defence of Antipater to those who accused him, but Alexander interrupting him, said, “What is it you say? Do you think people, if they had received no injury, would come such a journey only to calumniate your father?” To which when Cassander replied, that their coming so far from the evidence was a great proof of the falseness of their charges, Alexander smiled, and said those were some of Aristotle’s sophisms, which would serve equally on both sides; and added, that both he and his father should be severely punished, if they were found guilty of the least injustice towards those who complained. All which made such a deep impression of terror in Cassander’s mind, that long after, when he was king of Macedonia, and master of Greece, as he was walking up and down at Delphi, and looking at the statues, at the sight of that of Alexander he was suddenly struck with alarm, and shook all over, his eyes rolled, his head grew dizzy, and it was long before he recovered himself.

“When once Alexander had given way to fears of super natural influence, his mind grew so disturbed and so easily alarmed, that if the least unusual or extraordinary thing happened, he thought it a prodigy or a presage, and his court was thronged with diviners and priests whose business was to sacrifice and purify and foretell the future. So miserable a thing is incredulity and contempt of divine power on the one hand, and so miserable, also, superstition on the other, which like water, where the level has been lowered, flowing in and never stopping, fills the mind with slavish fears and follies, as now in Alexander’s case. But upon some answers which were brought him from the oracle concerning Hephæstion, he laid aside his sorrow, and fell again to sacrificing and drinking; and having given Nearchus a splendid entertainment, after he had bathed, as was his custom, just as he was going to bed, at Medius’s request he went to supper with him.”

Omens of Alexander’s Approaching Death

Arrian wrote: “Having thus proved the falsity of the prophecy of the Chaldaeans, by not having experienced any unpleasant fortune in Babylon, as they had predicted, but having marched out of that city without suffering any mishap, be grew confident in spirit and sailed again through the marshes, having Babylon on his left hand. Here a part of his fleet lost its way in the narrow branches of the river through want of a pilot, until he sent a man to pilot it and lead it back into the channel of the river. The following story is told. Most of the tombs of the Assyrian kings had been built among the pools and marshes. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

a bad omen before Alexander's death: a flock of crows

“When Alexander was sailing through these marshes, and, as the story goes, was himself steering the trireme, a strong gust of wind fell upon his broad-brimmed Macedonian hat, and the fillet which encircled it. The hat, being heavy, fell into the water; but the fillet, being carried along by the wind, was caught by one of the reeds growing near the tomb of one of the ancient kings. This incident itself was an omen of what was about to occur, and so was the fact that one of the sailors swam off towards the fillet and snatched it from the reed. But he did not carry it in his hands, because it would have been wetted while he was swimming; he therefore put it round his own head and thus conveyed it to the king.

“Most of the biographers of Alexander say that the king presented him with a talent as a reward for his zeal, and then ordered his head to be cut off; as the prophets had directed him not to permit that head to be safe which had worn the royal fillet. However, Aristobulus says that the man received a talent; but afterwards also received a scourging for placing the fillet round his head. The same author says that it was one of the Phoenician sailors who fetched the fillet for Alexander; but there are some who say it was Seleucus, and that this was an omen to Alexander of his death and to Seleucus of his great kingdom. For that of all those who succeeded to the sovereignty after Alexander, Seleucus became the greatest king, was the most kingly in mind, and ruled over the greatest extent of land after Alexander himself, does not seem to me to admit of question.”

“But Alexander’s own end was now near. Aristobulus says that the following occurrence was a prognostication of what was about to happen. He was distributing the army which came with Peucestas from Persia, and that which came with Philoxenus and Menander from the sea, among the Macedonian lines, and becoming thirsty he retired from his seat and thus left the royal throne empty. On each side of the throne were couches with silver feet, upon which his personal Companions were sitting. A certain man of obscure condition (some say that he was even one of the men kept under guard without being in chains), seeing the throne and the couches empty, and the eunuchs standing round the throne (for the Companions also rose up from their seats with the king when he retired), walked through the line of eunuchs, ascended the throne, and sat down upon it. According to a Persian law, they did not make him rise from the throne; but rent their garments and beat their breasts and faces as if on account of a great evil. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

“When Alexander was informed of this, he ordered the man who had sat upon his throne to be put to the torture, with the view of discovering whether he had done this according to a plan concerted by a conspiracy. But the man confessed nothing, except that it came into his mind at the time to act thus. Even more for this reason the diviners explained that this occurrence boded no good to him. A few days after this, after offering to the gods the customary sacrifices for good success, and certain others also for the purpose of divination, he was feasting with his friends, and was drinking far into the night. He is also said to have distributed the sacrificial victims as well as a quantity of wine to the army throughout the companies and centuries. There are some who have recorded that he wished to retire after the drinking party to his bed-chamber; but Medius, at that time the most influential of the Companions, met him and begged him to join a party of revellers at his residence, saying that the revel would be a pleasant one.”


Ancient Greek Astrology

The Egyptians refined the Babylonian system of astrology and the Greeks shaped it into its modern form. The Ancient Greeks were skeptical about astrology. They wondered, for example, why twins born under the same astrological conditions had different fortunes, and why animals weren't ruled by the same cosmic powers as humans. [Source: "The Discoverers" by Daniel Boorstin,∞]

Astrology as we know it originated in Babylon. It developed out of the belief that since the Gods in the heavens ruled man's fate, the stars could reveal fortunes and the notion that the motions of the stars and planets control the fate of people on earth. The motions of the stars and planets are mainly the result of the earth’s movement around the sun, which causes: 1) the sun to move eastward against the background of the constellations; 2) the planets and moon to shift around the sky; and 3) causes different constellations to rise from the horizon at sunset different times of the year.

In ancient times astrology and astronomy were the same thing. The Babylonians were the first people to apply myths to constellations and astrology and describe the 12 signs of the zodiac. The Egyptians refined the Babylonian system of astrology and the Greeks shaped it into its modern form. The Greeks and Romans borrowed some of their myths from the Babylonians and invented their own. The word astrology (and astronomy) are derived from the Greek word for "star."

The names and shapes of many the constellations are believed to date to Sumerian times because the animals and figures chosen held a prominent place in their lives. It is thought that if the constellations originated with the the Egyptians were would ibises, jackals, crocodiles and hippos — animals in their environment — rather than goats and bulls. If they came from India why isn’t there a tiger or a monkey. To the Assyrians the constellation Capricorn was “ munaxa” (the goat fish).

The Greeks added names of heroes to the constellations. The Romans took these and gave them the Latin names we use today. Ptolemy listed 48 constellations. His list included ones in the southern hemisphere, which he and the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans couldn’t see.

Book: “ Astrology: A History” by Peter Whitfield (Abrams, 2001).

Ptolemy zodiac

Greek Zodiac

The word zodiac comes from a Greek word meaning, "The circle of animals". The animals representing the signs were placed among the stars usually for great acts of heroism. [Source: and]

Aries - The Ram (March 21 — April 19). Aries people are creative, adaptive, and insightful. They can also be strong-willed and spontaneous (sometimes to a fault). Aries people can be driven and are very ambitious often making them over-achievers in anything they set their mind to tackle. Aries are fire signs, and so too is their personality. They may be quick to anger, but don’t take it personally, it’s just their fiery, passionate personalities showing through. Aries signs have excellent sense of humor, and they get along with almost everyone at the party (and they DO know how to party). Aries can be impatient, but we love them anyway because they are devoted friends, lovers and family members — they are loyal to then end and will fight for their causes (usually supporting the underdog). See symbolic meanings of the Ram here. [Source:]

The origin of Aries stems from the tale of the Golden Ram. In a plot to trap the centaur Ixion, Hera created a woman looking nearly identical to herself out of a cloud and named her Nephele. She then forced King Athamus to marry this woman. This relationship didn't work out at all as Athamus became bored with Nephele fairly quickly and left her. Athamus almost immediately after this, married Ino. This of course angered Nephele, so she asked Hera for vengeance. Hera had no problem in doing this as she was already angry at Athamus and Ino already as a cause of them taking care of Dionysus for Zeus. Hera then proceeded to poison their minds and make them crazy. Athamus attempted to sacrifice his son by Nephele, Phrixius. This plot was thwarted when Heracles sent a Golden Ram to save him. When the ram brought Phrixius to his destination, he sacrificed the Golden Ram to Zeus and in turn, Zeus placed the mighty ram among the stars for his heroic deed. It is also from this ram that the Golden Fleece from the tale of Jason & the Argonauts came from. [Source:]

Taurus - The Bull (April 20 — May 20). Taurus zodiac signs and meanings, like the animal that represents them, is all about strength, stamina and will. Stubborn by nature, the Taurus will stand his/her ground to the bitter end (sometimes even irrationally so). But that’s okay because the Taurus is also a loving, sympathetic and appreciative sign. The Taurus is very understanding and when we need someone to unburden ourselves to, we often share our deepest fears with the Taurians of the zodiac. Taurians are very patient, practical and efficient, they are excellent in matters of business and are also wonderful instructors/teachers. Although initially they may have their own best interest at heart, they are ultimately & endlessly generous with their time, possessions and love. [Source:]

The sign of Taurus stems from the Tale of Europa and the Bull. This is a tale of one of Zeus' many affairs. Zeus was extremely attracted to Europa and yearned for her affection. Zeus then appeared before Europa in the form of a magnificent white bull. Europa couldn't resist petting the bull, so she walked over to it and did just that. She then climbed upon the bull's back at which point the bull carried Europa across the sea to Crete where he then took the form of an eagle and, for a lack of better terms, raped her. In rememberance of this affair, Zeus placed the image of the bull amongst the stars. [Source:]

Gemini, Cancer and Leo

Gemini - The Twins (May 21 - June 20). Flexibility, balance and adaptability are the keywords for the Gemini. They are quick to grasp the meaning of a situation and act on it, often with positive effects. They tend to have a duality to their nature, and can sometimes be tough to predict how they will react. They can turn from hot to cold and may be prone to noticeable mood swings. However, they are generous signs with tendencies of being affectionate, and imaginative. They also inspire others easily as they seem to naturally motivate themselves — their charisma and accomplishments are infectious. Geminians are very supportive, and are especially good at promotions, sales, and driving hard bargains. [Source:]

20120220-Minoan_Head_Bull Heraklion.jpg
The Gemini sign stems from the Tale of Castor and Pollux. Castor and Pollux were half-brothers. Castor was born of Tyndareus and Leda, Pollux was born of the affair between Zeus and Leda (also known as the Tale of Leda and the Swan). The twins grew inseperable as time went on. One day, Castor was killed in a battle. Pollux was so grief stricken that he took his own life to join his brother at death. In honor of the brothers' great love, Zeus placed them among the stars. [Source:]

Cancer - The Crab (June 21 — July 22). Cancerians love home-life, family and domestic settings. They are traditionalists, and enjoy operating on a fundamental level. They love history, and are fascinated with the beginnings of things (heraldry, ancestry, etc.). The moon is their ruler, so they can be a bit of a contradiction and sometimes moody. However, they are conservative, so they’ll be apt to hide their moods from others altogether. They have a reputation for being fickle, but they’ll tell you that isn’t true, and it’s not. Cancerians make loyal, sympathetic friends. However Cancerians need alone time, and when they retreat, let them do so on their terms. The sign of Cancer stems from one of the 12 Trials of Heracles. While battling the Hydra, Hera sent down a giant crab to thwart his efforts. The crab was only a nuisance at most as Heracles simply crushed the crab under his foot just before he defeated the Hydra. Hera honored the crab's attempt at stopping her most hated of Zeus' children by placing it amongst the stars. [Source: and]

Leo - The Lion (July 23 — August 22). The zodiac signs and meanings of Leo is about expanse, power and exuberance. Leos are natural born leaders, and they will let you know it as they have a tendency to be high-minded and vocal about their opinions. That’s okay, because if you observe, the Leo is usually correct in his/her statements. Leos have a savvy way of analyzing a situation and executing swift judgment with a beneficial outcome. It comes from being a leader. They are brave, intuitive, and also head-strong and willful. Beneath their dynamic persona lies a generous, loving, sensitive nature that they do not easily share with others. They might be a bit bossy, but those who know them understand this comes from a source need to do good, not (usually) from an inflated ego. The sign of Leo stems from yet another of Heracles 12 trials. Leo of course represents the Lion of Nemea which was Heracles' first trial. The lion couldn't be defeated by any weapon. Heracles eventually battled the lion hand to hand (or maybe paw) and strangled the lion to death. In rememberance of the grand battle, Zeus placed the Lion of Nemea amongst the stars. [Source: and]

Virgo, Libra and Scorpio

Virgo - The Virgin (August 23 — September 22). Virgos have keen minds, and are delightful to talk with, often convincing others of outlandish tales with ease and charm. Virgos are inquisitive and are very skilled at drawing information from people. This trait also makes them naturally intuitive. Combine this with their remarkable memories, and we see an advanced, analytical personality. However the Virgo needs balance in their lives otherwise they may become short-tempered, impatient and self-serving. Virgos are excellent teammates in work and social activities. They work well with others, although they freely express their opinions (even when unwarranted). [Source:]

One of the few signs not represented by an animal, Virgo's origin stems from the Tale of Pandora. Virgo of course is the representation of the goddess of purity and innocence, Astraea. After Pandora opened the jar and let loose all the evil's unto the world, the gods who lived on the earth fled back to the heavens and away from the evil's of the earth. Astraea was the last to return to the heavens. As a rememberance of innocence lost, Astraea was placed amongst the stars in the form of Virgo. [Source:]

Libra - The Scales (September 23 — October 22). As their zodiac signs and meanings would indicate, Libras are all about balance, justice, equanimity and stability. They easily surround themselves with harmony and beauty, but sometimes go to extremes to do so if their goals are unreasonable or unhealthy. With Venus as their ruling planet, Libras are very understanding, caring, and often the champion of underdogs. They have keen intuitions, but often don’t give themselves enough credit for their perceptions. They can be quiet and shy if not persuaded to come out of their shell. Ironically and in spite of their introverted nature they make excellent debaters, often proving a point from out of seemingly nowhere. Libra are the scales that balance justice. They are held by the goddess of devine justice, Themis. Why exactly she is placed among the stars I haven't yet found out, but it is interesting that Libra shines right beside Virgo which represents Astraea, daughter of Themis. [Source: and]

Scorpio - The Scorpion (October 23 — November 21). The Scorpio is often misunderstood. These personalities are bold and are capable of executing massive enterprises with cool control and confidence. They can surmount seemingly all obstacles when they put their mind to the task, and they have unshakable focus when the situation calls for it. Regardless of their bold nature, they are often secretive, but they are always observing behind their withdrawn manner. Being associated with a solar animal, (the scorpion) they are not withdrawn for long, and when they come out again they do so with force, vigor and determination. It is true, Scorpios can be argumentative and pack a powerful sting, but that’s simply because they see all opposition as a healthy challenge. [Source:]

The sign of Scorpio stems from the Tale of Orion. Orion was the son of Poseidon and Euryale. Orion was also a favored hunting partner by Artemis which made her brother Apollo very envious. Apollo pleaded to Gaea to create a giant scorpion to kill Orion. Gaea obliged, and the scorpion stung and killed great Orion. In rememberance of this struggle, Zeus placed Orion and the scorpion amongst the stars. [Source:]

Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces

Sagittarius - The Centaur (November 22 — December 21). Here we have the philosopher among the zodiac signs and meanings. Like the Scorpio, they have great ability for focus, and can be very intense. However, they must channel their energy or they will waste time and wear themselves out going in too many directions at once. They are not very patient and expect quick results. However, when encountered with failure they make extreme comebacks often against incredible odds. They make loyal friends and lovers, but they do not handle commitment well as they refuse to be tied down while chasing philosophical pursuits. [Source:]

The Sagittarius sign is representative of the centaur, Cheiron. Cheiron was a friend of many great hero's in Greek mythology such as Achilles and Heracles. Speaking of Heracles, some friend he turned out to be. While hunting, Heracles accidently shot Cheiron in the leg with a poison arrow. Cheiron was immortal so he couldn't die, he just had to take the unending pain. Heracles promised to help him somehow. Upon his ventures, Heracles came upon Prometheus who was trapped with no way of escape. The only way Prometheus could be set free was for someone else to take his place. Cheiron wanted only to be relieved of his insufferable pain, so he took Prometheus' place and died. In honor of the noble act, Zeus placed Cheiron amongst the stars. [Source:]

Capricorn - The Goat (December 22 — January 19). Capricorns are also philosophical signs and are highly intelligent too. They apply their knowledge to practical matters, and strive to maintain stability and order. They are good organizers, and they achieve their goals by purposeful, systematic means. They are very intuitive, although they don’t share this trait with others freely. They do not deal well with opposition or criticism but a healthy Capricorn will often shrug off negative comments towards their character. They are patient and persevering — they know they can accomplish any task as long as they follow a their plan step-by-step. Capricorns have broad shoulders, and typically take on other’s problems with aplomb. Ironically, they rarely share their own problems and tend to go through bouts of inner gloom after a spell of dwelling on these problems. The sign of Capricorn represents the goat Amalthea who fed the infant Zeus. It's said that Zeus placed her among the stars in gratitude. Other accounts say that Capricorn represents Pan, the god of the forest, woodlands, and nature. [Source: and]

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Aquarius - The Water Bearer (January 20 — February 18). Often simple and unassuming, the Aquarian goes about accomplishing goals in a quiet, often unorthodox ways. Although their methods may be unorthodox, the results for achievement are surprisingly effective. Aquarians will take up any cause, and are humanitarians of the zodiac. They are honest, loyal and highly intelligent. They are also easy going and make natural friendships. If not kept in check, the Aquarian can be prone to sloth and laziness. However, they know this about themselves, and try their best to motivate themselves to action. They are also prone to philosophical thoughts, and are often quite artistic and poetic. The sign of Aquarius stems from the Tale of the Deucalion Flood. In this tale, Zeus pours all the waters of the heavens onto earth to wash away all the evil beings. Deucalion and Pyrrha then threw stones over their shoulders and created a new race of mankind. [Source: and]

Pisces - The Fish (February 19 — March 20) Also unassuming, the Pisces zodiac signs and meanings deal with acquiring vast amounts of knowledge, but you would never know it. They keep an extremely low profile compared to others in the zodiac. They are honest, unselfish, trustworthy and often have quiet dispositions. They can be overcautious and sometimes gullible. These qualities can cause the Pisces to be taken advantage of, which is unfortunate as this sign is beautifully gentle, and generous. In the end, however, the Pisces is often the victor of ill circumstance because of his/her intense determination. They become passionately devoted to a cause — particularly if they are championing for friends or family. Pisces represents the goddess of love & beauty, Aphrodite and the god of love, Eros. While taking a stroll down the Euphrates River, they had an encounter with the vicious Typhon. They pleaded to Zeus to help them escape, so Zeus changed the two into fish and they swam away to safety. In rememberance of this, Athena placed the twin fishes amongst the stars. [Source: and]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks ; Canadian Museum of History ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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