Allerlei - Classical Constellations: Gemini to Libra

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Gemini

Gemini, the Twins, represents two men in Greek mythology - Castor and Polydeuces. They were twin sons of the god Zeus and a mortal woman named Leda. Castor grew up to be very skilled in horsemanship and spear throwing. Polydeuces grew up to be a famous boxer. They had many adventures, one of which was to sail with Jason on the Quest for the Golden Fleece. In another story Castor died but Pollux, who was immortal, wanted to bring him back to life. He asked Zeus for help and the god said that they both could live but they would have to share Pollux's immortality. Whenever one was in Olympus (home of the gods) the other had to live in a cave under the earth.

The drawing above is a bit strange. It doesn't look anything like the two strong men that Castor and Polydeuces were!

Today Polydeuces is most commonly called Pollux.

Hydra - head half Hydra - tail half

Hydra, the Sea Serpent, lived in a swamp in a land called Lerna. The second labor of Heracles was to kill the monster. It was no easy task because the Hydra had 9 heads, one of which was immortal. During the battle each time Heracles cut off a head two more heads sprouted in its place. Heracles was losing the battle until he took a torch and burned each neck as he cut off the head. That prevented any new heads from sprouting. Finally the Hydra only had its single immortal head remaining. Heracles cut it off but because that head could not be killed he got rid of it by burying it under a massive rock. And that was the end of the Hydra.

Hydra is such a large constellation that I split the drawing into two parts. The drawing shows a one headed monster. Either that is all the artist chose to draw or it is because the story of "Heracles and the Hydra" is but one of many associated with this constellation. The other stories do not mention a multiple headed monster.

Lepus

Lepus, the Hare, is a small constellation just south of Orion. It is sometimes said that Orion liked to hunt hares.

Hares are born with fur and with their eyes open. Rabbits are born without fur and are unable to see at birth. Both rabbits and hares look very similar when they are grown up.

Hercules

Hercules was a hero who had many adventures. He was known as Hercules to the Romans but as Heracles to the Greeks. This hero's stories originated in ancient Greece so I like to call him Heracles.

Heracles was the son of the god Zeus and the mortal woman Alcmene. His most famous adventures involved twelve tasks:
1) Kill the Nemean Lion
2) Kill the Lernean Hydra
3) Capture the Arcadian Stag
4) Capture the Erymanthian Boar
5) Clean the Augean Stables
6) Drive away the Stymphalian Birds
7) Capture the Cretan Bull
8) Capture the man-eating Mares of Diomede
9) Bring back the Girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons
10) Capture the Cattle of Geryon
11) Bring back the Golden Apples of Hesperides
12) Take the three-headed dog Cerberus out of Hades

Heracles met his death from an enemy's poison. He was honored by being placed in the stars.

These stars were considered a constellation even before the Heracles myth. Many thousands of years ago, in Mesopotamia, these stars were known as the Kneeling Man. Today the figure in these stars, whether you call him Heracles, Hercules, or the Kneeling Man, looks to be up-side-down. But a long time ago, when the Kneeling Man was invented, the figure looked right-side-up. The figure became up-side-down because the stars change their position in the sky very slowly. Scientists can measure the shift of stars easily but it takes hundreds or thousands of years to be noticeable to the human eye. I rotated the picture above so you can see the constellation right-side-up, that is why the writing is up-side-down!

Leo

Leo, the Lion, has more than one story associated with it. The oldest legends are from a land that is now called Iraq. The most well known legend however is much younger. It is from the country called Greece and tells how Heracles slew the Lion to fulfill his first labor. This large powerful lion roamed the countryside in a land called Nemea. The lion was impervious to arrows or other weapons but Heracles succeeded by strangling the beast with his bare hands.

Near the front of Leo you will see a faint sketch of a sickle. If you connect the stars in the front part of Leo you will see that they really do form a sickle. It is a good landmark to find the constellation. You can also think of those stars as a backwards question mark.

Libra

Libra, the Balance, is shown as a balance beam with two flat measuring pans. The ropes connecting the pans to the balance are lax in the drawing so it is a little hard to get a good idea of Libra from the illustration. Normally the pans would be hanging down, supported by the ropes. Objects were put on each pan and when they balanced then the two objects were known to weigh the same.

The two brightest stars in the constellation Libra were at one time considered to be a part of Scorpius, the Scorpion. The claws of the Scorpion were considerably larger than they are now. The two stars marked the tips of the Scorpion's extended claws.


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