Allerlei - Classical Constellations: Boötes - Cassiopeia

Previous: Andromeda to Auriga
Next: Centaurus to Corvus


Boötes is the name of the Plowman (someone who tills the earth). He was a Greek prince but his brother stole his wealth and so Boötes became poor. Boötes wandered the countryside and helped farmers work their fields. In order to make the job easier Boötes invented the plow. He was honored for his important invention by being placed in the sky. In the picture above Boötes holds a staff in one hand and leashes to two dogs in his other hand.

This constellation was sometimes called Arctophylax, Bear Driver, because his job was to make sure that the Big Bear (Ursa Major) kept circling around the north pole. However, in the picture above he is facing away from the Big Bear - so he wouldn't be a good Bear Driver! (The Bear would be on the side of Boötes' upraised left arm.) Constellation drawings by other astronomers often do show Boötes facing the Bear.


Cancer, the Crab, is a very old constellation. There are not a lot of stories about it but sometimes Cancer is supposed to the same crab that bit Hercules. Hercules was a Greek hero. One day he was fighting a fierce monster called the Hydra - it had nine heads. Hercules was winning and that made Hera (queen of the gods) mad. She did not like Hercules and wanted him to lose. Hera sent a crab to bite Hercules in the foot to distract him. Well, Hercules hardly even noticed the crab and he simply stepped on it and killed it. Hercules continued fighting the Hydra and finally beat it. Because the crab sacrificed its life Hera honored it by placing it in the sky.


Capricornus, the Sea Goat, is said to represent the satyr Pan in Greek mythology. Satyrs lived in forests and had goat-like ears, horns, a short tail, and two legs ending in hoofs. They loved to dance and have fun. Satyrs also liked to scare travelers but one day it was Pan that got scared. Pan was relaxing by a river when the fire breathing giant called Typhon surprised him. Pan escaped from the giant by jumping into a river. When he did so his lower half turned into a fish's tail.

Here is a goat story that has nothing whatsoever to do with the constellation! Some goats can climb steep mountains but none of them can climb trees. A Haitian myth says that long ago Goat asked Cat if he would teach him how to climb trees. Cat agreed and began to give Goat tree climbing lessons. After the first lesson Goat decided to practice what he had learned. As he was trying to climb a tree Dog wandered by. "What are you doing," said Dog. "I am learning how to climb trees," said Goat. Dog thought that would be a good thing to know how to do so he said, "Will you teach me how to climb a tree?" "Certainly!" said Goat, who wished to show off what he had learned so far. No sooner had he started to teach Dog when Cat came by. "What are you doing," he said to Goat. "Are you teaching Dog to climb trees?" Goat replied yes. Well, Cat did not think that a tree climbing dog was a very good thing! And so that was the end of tree climbing lessons for Goat!

Canis Minor

Canis Minor, the Little Dog, is sometimes said to be Orion's hunting dog. Not a lot of Greek mythology about Canis Major.

Canis Major

Canis Major, the Big Dog, is sometimes said to be Orion's hunting dog. Not a lot of Greek mythology about Canis Major.


Cassiopeia, Queen of Ethiopia, boasted that her beauty exceeded that of the Nereids (sea nymphs) and that made them very angry. The Nereids asked Poseidon (god of the sea) to unleash a sea monster on Ethiopia. To stop the sea monster Cassiopeia and her husband, King Cepheus, had to sacrifice their daughter Andromeda. She was chained to a rock at the seashore but when the sea monster came to devour her she was rescued by a hero named Perseus. Cassiopeia was given a place near the north star as punishment for her boasting. In her journey around the sky one-half of the time she is upside down. Sometimes this constellation is called 'The Lady in the Chair' because Cassiopeia is usually shown seated in a chair.

In the northwest state of Washington the Quileute Indians saw an elkhide in Cassiopeia and other nearby stars. Not far from LaPush lived five brothers. One day the four oldest brothers canoed down a river to find a good place to hunt. When they reached Fork Prairie they stopped to find some game. Then a stranger approached them in the tall grass. He was called Big Man. "I see that you are hunting," said Big Man. "You should use my arrows. They are sharper and fly straighter than yours." The four brothers decided to trade their arrows for Big Man's arrows. But Big Man had magic and he tricked the brothers. After his arrows were shot they would fall apart in mid-air. When the trade was done Big Man turned into a large powerful elk and charged the four brothers. They shot at the elk with Big Man's arrows but the arrows fell apart and did not hurt it. The elk killed all four brothers. Meanwhile, back at home, the youngest brother, Toscobuk, was getting worried. His four brothers were late and should have returned a long time ago. "I had better go find them," thought Toscobuk. He paddled down the river until he came upon his brothers' canoe. "This looks like a good place to hunt," he thought. "Maybe my brothers are still hunting." Toscobuk followed his brothers' trail until he met Big Man. "Have you seen my four brothers?" asked Toscobuk. "No," said Big Man, "but while you are looking for them you will find much game to hunt. You should use my arrows. They are sharper and fly straighter than yours." Big Man did not fool Toscobuk. "You keep your arrows, I will use my own!" So Big Man went away. Toscobuk felt that something was wrong. He hid behind a tree to see what would happen next. In a little while a big elk came down the trail. It was really Big Man who had come back to kill Toscobuk. Toscobuk shot four arrows at the elk and then he finally killed it with his clamshell knife. When he stretched out the hide he found that it was bigger than the whole prairie so Toscobuk threw it into the sky. The bright stars of Cassiopeia mark the holes in the hide that Toscobuk made when he stretched it out.

Previous: Andromeda to Auriga
Next: Centaurus to Corvus