Allerlei - Classical Constellations: Andromeda to Auriga

Next: Boötes - Cassiopeia


Andromeda was the daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia in a kingdom called Ethiopia. The Queen was very proud of her good looks and even boasted that she was more beautiful than the Sea Nymphs. The Sea Nymphs really were very beautiful and when they heard of Cassiopeia's boast they became very angry. They asked the god of the sea, Poseidon, to punish Cassiopeia. So Poseidon sent a sea monster to destroy the kingdom. Cetus, the sea monster, came up out of the waves and onto the shore and began to lay the land to waste. None of the kingdom's warriors could stop Cetus. The King and Queen turned to a wise old woman for help. She said, "Yes there is a way to stop the monster. You must chain your daughter Andromeda to a rock on the seashore. Chain her well so that she can not escape. Cetus will come and devour her. Then it will go back into the sea and will not trouble you again." Cepheus and Cassiopeia were very sad but they had no other choice. They chained Andromeda to a rock. The sea monster came and let out a huge roar. Andromeda knew that this was the end - but nothing happened. Cetus wasn't roaring at her but instead at a hero named Perseus. After a terrific battle Perseus killed Cetus and freed Andromeda.


Ara, the Altar, was just that - a place to offer sacrifices to the gods.


Auriga is usually called a charioteer, meaning a person who drives a chariot. One story says that he is the same person as Erichthonius, a man in Greek mythology. Erichthonius was crippled (some say because he had snake-like legs) and could not walk. So in order to get around Erichthonius invented the chariot. He was honored for his invention by being placed in the sky.

Sometimes Auriga is said to be a goat herder. He is often pictured carrying a goat and some kids (baby goats). The chariot is usually missing in pictures of this constellation but Auriga still holds the reins of a chariot in one hand.


Aquila, the Eagle, is a very old constellation. The brightest star, Altair, was known as the Eagle Star thousands of years ago. Much later Greeks thought that this eagle constellation represented the pet eagle of Zeus (who was king of the Greek gods).


Aquarius, the Water Bearer, is located in an area of sky that is sometimes known as the Sea. All the constellations in this celestial sea are associated with water. They include Capricorn (Sea Goat), Cetus (Sea Monster), Delphinus (Dolphin), Eridanus (River), Hydra (Sea Serpent), Pisces (Fishes), and Piscis Austrinus (Southern Fish). Aquarius was thought to have control over the celestial sea.

Aquarius is associated with one of the oldest stories ever known, the world-wide flood. A Euphratean story (from the area now called Iraq) told how the god Ea saved Pirnapishtim, his family, and the seed of every living thing from the flood. After the flood Pirnapishtim rebuilt the world.

In Greek mythology Aquarius represents a king called Deucalion. He and his wife Pyrrha built a boat and survived a flood which had covered almost the whole world. The only other living human was a wise person who lived on top of a high mountain. The wise person told Deucalion that to restore the human race he should throw the bones of his mother behind him. Deucalion finally figured out that 'mother' meant mother-earth and that the 'bones' really meant stones. The stones Deucalion threw became men and the stones that Pyrrha threw became women.

Probably the best known flood story is the Biblical story of Noah and the Ark.


Aries, the Ram, is a small and very old constellation. There are many stories about the Ram (a male sheep, often shown with horns), here is one of them.

A long time ago, in a part of Greece called Thessaly, there lived a king called Athamas and a queen called Nephele. They had two children, a girl named Helle and a boy named Phryxus. Unfortunately the King and Queen separated and King Athamas remarried to a woman named Ino. Ino was a cruel stepmother and she wanted to get rid of Helle and Phryxus. When Nephele found out that her children were in danger she asked the god Hermes for help. Hermes gave Nephele a ram with fleece of gold. The ram's name was Chrysomallus and it could fly through the air! Nephele put her two children on the ram's back and Chrysomallus flew eastward. While they were flying over the strait (a body of water) that separated Europe from Asia Helle lost her grip and fell into the water. In her honor the strait was named Hellespont (but today it is usually called the Dardanelles). There was nothing that Phryxus could do to save Helle and so he kept on flying. Finally he reached a land called Colchis, on the eastern shore of the Black Sea. He gave thanks to the gods for his safe arrival by offering up the ram as a sacrifice. He gave the golden fleece to King Aeetes of Colchis and they became good friends. King Aeetes hung the golden fleece on a sacred oak tree where it was guarded by a dragon. That golden fleece was to become the subject of the famous story called Jason and the Golden Fleece.

Next: Boötes - Cassiopeia