In Hellenistic astrology, the sign of the ram was mythologically associated with the golden winged ram that rescued Phrixos and his sister Helle from the altar where they were to be offered as a sacrifice to Zeus. The golden ram carried them to the land of Colchis but on the way Helle fell into the sea and drowned. When Phrixos arrived at Colchis he sacrificed the ram to Zeus and presented the golden fleece to his father-in-law, the King of Colchis. The fleece was then hung upon a sacred oak and guarded by a dragon until rescued by Jason and the Argonauts. The myth recounts that Zeus was so moved by the ram's fate that he gave it the greatest honour of being moved to the heavens.
In Greek mythology, Taurus was identified with the bull whose form Zeus took to rape Europa, a legendary Phoenician princess. In illustrations, only the front portion of this constellation are depicted; in Greek mythology this was sometimes explained as Taurus being partly submerged as he carried Europa out to sea. Greek mythographer Acusilaus marks the bull Taurus as the same that formed the myth of the Cretan Bull, one of The Twelve Labors of Hercules. Liz Greene associates the Taurus myth with that of King Theseus and the Minotaur, saying "within each Taurean is this basic conflict between the human, heroic side and the bestial side with its rampant appetites."
The ancient Babylonians referred to the constellation as Mastabba Galgal, the 'Great Twins', and commemorated within it the mythical friendship of the demi-god Gilgamesh and his mortal friend Enkidu, who fought against the gods in twelve adventures. Stricken by grief at Enkidu's death, Gilgamesh pursued a quest to ensure his own immortality.
The ancient Greek tale of the egg-born brothers Castor and Pollux, born to their mother Leda after she was seduced by Zeus in the guise of a swan. Their consummation, on the same night as Leda lay with her husband, Sparta's King Tyndareus, resulted in the birth of immortal Pollux, who possessed great physical strength, and mortal Castor who possessed great ingenuity. Upon Castor's death Pollux begged Zeus to let him share his own immortality with his twin to keep them together and they were transformed into the Gemini constellation.
According to an ancient Greek legend, the figure of a crab was placed in the nighttime sky by the goddess Hera to form the constellation Cancer. Hera swore to kill Heracles, the most famous Greek hero. Hera attempted to kill Heracles in many different ways, but each time his incredible physical strength allowed him to survive. Hera cast a spell of madness on Heracles, causing him to commit a great crime. In order to be forgiven, he had to perform twelve difficult tasks. One of these tasks was destroying the terrible nine-headed water-serpent, Hydra.
During the battle between Heracles and Hydra, the goddess Hera sent a crab to aid the serpent. But Heracles, being so strong, killed the crab by smashing its shell with his foot. As a reward for its service, Hera placed the crab's image in the night sky. However, there are many different stories regarding this; in one version, instead of Hera graciously placing it in the sky, Heracles kicked the crab to the stars, but this is not known for sure.
Leo was one of the earliest recognized constellations, as there is archaeological evidence that the Mesopotamians had a similar constellation as early as 4000 BCE.The Persians called Leo Ser or Shir; the Turks, Artan; the Syrians, Aryo; the Jewish, Arye; the Indians, Simha, all meaning "lion". In Babylonian astronomy the constellation was called UR.GU.LA - the 'Great Lion'; the bright star, Regulus, that stands at the Lion's breast also had distinctly regal associations as it was known as the King Star.
In Greek mythology, Leo was identified as the Nemean Lion which was killed by Hercules during one of his twelve labours, and subsequently put into the sky.
The Roman poet Ovid called it Herculeus Leo and Violentus Leo. Bacchi Sidus (star of Bacchus) was another of its titles, the god Bacchus always being identified with this animal. However, Manilius called it Jovis et Junonis Sidus (Star of Jupiter and Juno).
In ancient Greek mythology, two prominent figures associated with the constellation are Erigone and Astraea. Astraea was the Greek goddess of innocence and the administration of law. Sickened by the wars of men, she was the last of the celestial beings to leave the earth for the heavens and is often depicted with the wings that allowed her angelic ascension to the stars. It is said that Zeus placed her amongst the stars as the Virgo constellation along with her scales of justice to depict the constellation Libra.
Erigone was the name by which the first century astrologer Marcus Manilius referred to the constellation. As the sign of the harvest, Virgo held strong connections with the time that grapes were gathered for the production of wine and Erigone represents an aspect of this association. She was the daughter of Icarius, who received the secret of wine making from the Wine God, Dionysus, and was murdered by peasants who believed they had been poisoned by his wine. Erigone was led to discover his body by their faithful dog and hung herself in grief. The gods were moved to pity over the tragedy and transported the family to everlasting glory in the heavens: Icarius became Boötes, Erigone became Virgo, and the dog Maera, the constellation Canis Minor.
Libra was known in Babylonian astronomy as MUL Zibanu ("the scales"), or alternatively as the Claws of the Scorpion. The scales were held sacred to the sun god Shamash, who was also the patron of truth and justice. Since these times, Libra has been associated with law, fairness and civility. In Arabic zubānā means "scorpion's claws", and likely similarly in other Semitic languages: this resemblance of words may be why the Scorpion's claws became the Scales. It has also been suggested that the scales are in allusion to the fact that when the sun enters this part of the ecliptic at the autumnal equinox, the days and nights are equal.
Libra is the only zodiac sign that does not symbolize a living creature.
In Greek mythology, the Scorpio is featured in the myth of the giant hunter Orion and the Goddess Artemis. According to the Phenomena of Aratus, Orion was enjoying the slaughter of all manner of beasts when he laid his hands upon Artemis's robes. In anger she proved his vulnerability by rousing the deadly scorpion whose unsuspected bite destroyed the supposedly invincible hunter. The goddess raised the Scorpion to the heavens in gratitude, placing its constellation in opposition to that of Orion. The scorpion and the hunter are thus said to be linked forever in conflict in the sky, such that Orion flees beneath the western descendant whenever his murderer rises in the east.
The Babylonians identified Sagittarius as the god Nerigal or Nergal, a strange centaur-like creature firing an arrow from a bow. It is generally depicted with wings, with two heads, one panther head and one human head, as well as a scorpion's stinger raised above its more conventional horse's tail. The Sumerian name Pabilsag is composed of two elements - Pabil, meaning 'elder paternal kinsman' and Sag, meaning 'chief, head'. The name may thus be translated as the 'Forefather' or 'Chief Ancestor'. The figure is reminiscent of modern depictions of Sagittarius.
In Greek mythology, Sagittarius is identified as a centaur: half human, half horse. In some legends, the Centaur Chiron was the son of Philyra and Saturn, who was said to have changed himself into a horse to escape his jealous wife, Rhea. Chiron was eventually immortalised in the constellation of Centaurus or in some version, Sagittarius.
The arrow of this constellation points towards the star Antares, the "heart of the scorpion."
The constellation is usually depicted as a goat with a fish's tail. One myth says that when the goat-god Pan was attacked by the monster Typhon, he dove into the Nile; the parts above the water remained a goat, but those under the water transformed into a fish.
Capricorn is sometimes depicted as a sea-goat, and sometimes as a terrestrial goat. The reasons for this are unknown, but the image of a sea-goat goes back at least to Babylonian times. Furthermore, the Sumerian god Enki's symbols included a goat and a fish, which later combined into a single beast, the goat Capricorn, recognized as the Zodiacal constellation Capricornus.
"The symbol of the goat rising from the body of a fish represents with greatest propriety the mountainous buildings of Babylon rising out of its low and damp situation; the two horns of the goat being emblematic of the two towns, Nineveh and Babylon, the former built on the Tigris, the latter on the Euphrates; but both subjected to one sovereignty."
On the other hand, the constellation of Capricornus is sometimes identified as Amalthea, the goat that suckled the infant Zeus after his mother Rhea saved him from being devoured by his father Cronos (in Greek mythology). The goat's broken horn was transformed into the cornucopia or horn of plenty. Some ancient sources claim that this derives from the sun "taking nourishment" while in the constellation, in preparation for its climb back northward. As such, it is a symbol of discipline.
Aquarius is sometimes identified with Ganymede, a beautiful youth in Greek mythology with whom Zeus fell in love and, in the disguise of an eagle (represented by the constellation Aquila), carried off to Olympus to be "cup-carrier" to the gods. Aquarius has also been identified as the pourer of the waters that flooded the Earth in the ancient Greek version of the Great Flood myth. As such, the constellation Eridanus the river is sometimes identified as a river being poured by Aquarius.
According to one Greek myth, Pisces represents the fish into which Aphrodite and her son Eros transformed in order to escape Typhon; they are tied together with a cord on their mouth to make sure they do not lose one another. Alternatively, the twin fish were placed in the heavens in honor of their heroic deed of saving Aphrodite and Eros from Typhon on the river Euphrates. Another myth of Pisces is that it represents the Sea Monster that Perseus defeated in Ethiopia to save the Princess Andromeda, and that Zeus was so pleased with his son's feat that he placed the monster's skeleton in the sky as a reminder of this heroic deed.