Helius the Sun and four of the Planeta, Athenian red-figure
C5th B.C., British Museum, London
THE ASTRA PLANETA were the gods of the five wandering stars or planets. They were named Phainon (the planet of Kronos, Roman Saturn), Phaethon (the planet of Zeus, Roman Jupiter), Pyroeis (the planet of Ares, Mars), Eosphoros (the planet of Aphrodite, Venus), and Stilbon (the planet of Hermes, Mercury). In Greek vase painting they were depicted as youths diving into the river Okeanos with the rising of Helios the sun.
The planets invisible to the naked eye--Uranus, Neptune and Pluto--were only discovered and named in modern times. They were unknown to the ancients.
PARENTAGE OF THE ASTRA PLANETA
Hesiod, Theogony 378 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"And Eos (Dawn) bare to Astraios (the Starry) the strong-hearted Anemoi (Winds) . . . a goddess mating in love with a god. And after these Erigenia [Eos] bare the star Eosphorus (Dawn-bringer), and the gleaming Astra (Stars) with which heaven is crowned."
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 8 - 9 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"The Titanes had children . . . Eos and Astraios were parents of Anemoi (Winds) and Astra (Stars)."
PLANETA, THE FIVE WANDERING STARS
Plato, Cratylus 400d & 409c (trans. Lamb) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"[Plato constructs philosophical etymologies for the names of the gods :]
Sokrates : Let us inquire what thought men had in giving them [the gods] their names . . . The first men who gave names [to the gods] were no ordinary persons, but high thinkers and great talkers . . . But why should you not tell of another kind of gods, such as sun, moon, stars, earth, ether, air, fire, water, the seasons, and the year? . . . I think the stars (astera) get their name from astrapê (lightning). But astrapê, because it turns our eyes upwards (ta ôpa anastrethei), would be called anastrôpê, which is now pronounced more prettily astrapê."
Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 1. 498 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.) :
"He [Orpheus] sang of [the creation of the cosmos] . . . how the Astra (Stars), Selene (Moon), and travelling Helios (Sun) keep faithfully to their stations in the heavens."
Aratus, Phaenomena 454 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek astronomical poem C3rd B.C.) :
"But of quite a different class are those five other orbs [the Planetoi], that intermingle with them and wheel wandering on every side of the twelve figures of the Zodiac. No longer with the others as they guide couldst thou mark whee lies the path of those, since all pursue a shifty course, and long are the periods of their revolution and far distant lies the goal of their conjunction."
Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 1. 11 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
"[From a description of an ancient Greek painting depicting the fall of Phaethon :] In his passion for driving this son of Helios (the Sun) [Phaethon] ventured to mount his father’s chariot, but because he did not keep a firm rein he came to grief and fell into the Eridanos . . . Look! Nyx (Night) is driving Hemera (Day) from the noonday sky, and the Sun’s orb as it plunges toward the earth draws in its train the Astera (Stars) [i.e. the five Planeta]."
Orphic Hymn 7 to the Stars (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"To the Astron (Stars) [both fixed stars and planets], Fumigation from Aromatics. With holy voice I call the stars on high, pure sacred light, and Daimones of the sky. Celestial stars, dear progeny of Nyx (Night), in whirling circles beaming far your light; refulgent rays around the heavens ye throw, eternal fires, the source of all below. With flames significant of fate ye shine, and aptly rule for men a path divine. In seven bright zones ye run with wandering flames, and heaven and earth compose your lucid frames: with course unwearied, pure and fiery bright, for ever shining through the veil of Nyx (Night). Hail, glittering, joyful, ever wakeful fires! Propitious shine on all my just desires, these sacred rites regard with conscious rays, and end our works devoted to your praise."
Anonymous, Hero and Leander Fragment (trans. Page, Vol. Select Papyri III, No. 126) (Greek poetry C3rd to 1st B.C.) :
"`Stars (asteres), bow to my prayer, and become sightless; Moon (mênê), suffer your light to sink swiftly and depart!' So she [Hero] spoke, for to see Laandros was all her heart’s desire. Then did he too make supplication : `Back, Hesperos [i.e. the star Venus], to hiding!’ (thus prayed Laandros). `Ride backward, all the stars, that night and heaven and sun and earth may grow dark!'"
Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 4 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Planets. It remains for us to speak of the five stars which many have called wandering, and which the Greeks call Planeta.
One of them is the star of Jove [Zeus], Phaenon by name, a youth whom Prometheus made excelling all others in beauty, when he was making men, as Heraclides Ponticus says. When he intended to keep him back, without presenting him to Jove as he did the others, Cupid [Eros] reported this to Jove, whereupon Mercurius [Hermes] was sent to Phaenon and persuaded him to come to Jove and become immortal. Therefore he is placed among the stars.
The second star is that of Sol [Helios]; others say of Saturnus [Kronos]. Eratosthenes claim that it is called Phaethon, from the son of Sol. Many have written about him - how he foolishly drove his father’s chariot and set fire to the earth. Because of this he was struck with a thunderbolt by Jove, and fell into the river Eridanus, and was conveyed by Sol to the constellations.
The third star is that of Mars [Ares], though others say it belongs to Hercules . . . Since she [Aphrodite] inflamed him violently with love, she called the star Pyroeis, indicating this fact.
The fourth star is that of Venus [Aphrodite], Luciferus [Eosphoros] by name. Some say it is Juno’s. In many tales it is recorded that it is called Hesperus, too. It seems to be the largest of all stars. Some have said it represents the son of Aurora [Eos] and Cephalus, who surpassed many in beauty, so that he even vied with Venus, and, as Eratosthenes says, for this reason it is called the star of Venus. It is visible both at dawn and sunset, and so properly has been called both Luciferus and Hesperus.
This fifth star is Mercurius’ [Hermes], named Stilbon. It is small and bright. It is attributed to Mercurius because he first established the months and perceived the courses of the constellations. Euhemerus says that Venus [Aphrodite] first established the constellations and taught Mercurius."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 2. 112 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Aurora [Eos the Dawn], watchful in the reddening dawn, threw wide her crimson doors and rose-filled halls; the Stellae (Stars) took flight, in marshalled order set by Lucifer [Eosphoros] who left his station last."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 7. 192 ff :
"[The witch Medea invokes the Sun, Moon and Stars in a spell :] When she [Selene the moon] shone in fullest radiance and with form complete gazed down upon the sleeping lands below, Medea, barefoot, her long robe unfastened, her hair upon her shoulders falling loose, went forth alone upon her roaming way, in the deep stillness of the midnight hour . . . Then to the stars she stretched her arms, and thrice she turned about and thrice bedewed her locks with water, thrice a wailing cry she gave, then kneeling on the stony ground, `O Nox [Nyx the night], Mother of Mysteries, and all ye golden Astra (Stars) [probably the five Planets] who with Luna [Selene the moon] succeed the fires of day, and thou, divine three-formed Hecate, who . . . dost fortify the arts of magic . . . be with me now!'"
Cicero, De Natura Deorum 2. 15 & 20 ff (trans. Rackham) (Roman rhetorician C1st B.C.) :
"We must also assign the same divinity to the Stellae (Stars) [fixed and wandering], which are formed from the most mobile and the purest part of the aether (upper atmosphere), and are not compounded of any other element besides; they are of a fiery heat and translucent throughout. Hence they too have the fullest right to be pronounced living beings endowed with sensation and intelligence . . .
The Stellae (Stars) occupy the region of aether, and as this has a very rarefied substance and is always in lively motion . . .
Most marvellous [of all the stars of heaven] are the motions of the five Stellae, falsely called Planeta or Stellae Errantes (Wandering Stars)--for a thing cannot be said to wander if it preserves for all eternity fixed and regular motions, forward, backward and in other directions. And this regularity is all the more marvellous in the case of the Stellae we speak of, because at one time they are hidden and at another they are uncovered again; now they approach, now retire; now precede, now follow; now move faster, now slower, now do not move at all but remain for a time stationary. One the diverse motions of the Planets the mathematicians have based what they call the Great Year, which is completed when the sun, moon and five planets having all finished their courses have returned to the same positions relative to one another. The length of this period is hotly debated, but it must be necessarily be a fixed and definite time.
For the Stella (Star) that is called Saturnus’, the Greek name for which is Phaenon (the shiner), which is the farthest away from the earth, completes its orbit in about thirty years, in the course of which is passes through a number of remarkable phases, at one time accelerating and at another time retarding its velocity, now disappearing in the evening, then reappearing in the morning, yet without varying in the least degree throughout all the ages of eternity, but always doing the same things at the same times.
Below this and nearer to the earth moves the Stella of Jupiter, called Phaethon (the blazing), which completes the same circuit of the twelve signs of the zodiac in twelve years, and makes the same variations during its course as the star of Saturnus.
The orbit next below is that of Pyroeis (the fiery), which is called the Stella of Mars, and this covers the same orbit as the two planets above it in twenty-four months all but (I think) six days.
Below this in turn is the Stella of Mercurius, called by the Greeks Stilbon (the gleaming), which completes the circuit of the zodiac in about the period of a year, and is never distant from the sun more than the space of a single sign, though it sometimes precedes the sun and sometimes follows it.
Lowest of the five Stellae and nearest to the earth is the star of Venus, called in Greek Phosphoros (the light-bringer) and in Latin Lucifer when it precedes the sun, but when it follows it Hesperos; this planet completes its orbit in a year, traversing the zodiac with a zigzag movement as do the Stellae above it, and never distant more than the space of two signs from the sun, though sometimes in front of it and sometimes behind it.
This regularity therefore in the Stellae, this exact punctuality throughout all eternity notwithstanding the great variety of their courses, is to me incomprehensible without rational intelligence and purpose. And if we observe these attributes in the Stellae, we cannot fail to enrol even them among the number of the gods."
Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3. 19 :
"You say that Sol the Sun and Luna the Moon are deities, and the Greeks identify the former with Apollo and the latter with Diana [Artemis]. But if Luna (the Moon) is a goddess, then Lucifer (the Morning-Star) [Hesperos] also and the rest of the Stellae Errantes (Planets) will have to be counted gods; and if so, then the Stellae Inerrantes (Fixed Stars) as well."
Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 6. 442 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"[The witch Medea casts a spell :] Medea . . . than whom is none more potent at the nightly altars [i.e. casting magic spells]; for responsive to her cry and to the juices she scatters in desolate places the Stars [probably the five Planets] are halted trembling."
Statius, Thebaid 6. 237 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"Now nine times had Lucifer [Eosphoros the morning-star] chased the dewy Astra (Stars) from heaven."
Statius, Silvae 3. 3. 53 (trans. Mozley) (Roman poetry C1st A.D.) :
"But even deities have their laws : in thraldom the swift choir of the Astra (Stars), in thraldom is wandering Luna [Selene the moon], not unbidden is the light whose path so oft returns [Helios the sun]."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 2. 170 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"[The monster Typhoeus approaches to attack heaven :] It was night, sentinels stood in line around Olympos and the seven zones [i.e. the moon, five planets and fixed stars], and as it were from the summit of towers came their nightly alarms; the calls of the stars in many tongues were carried all abroad, and Selene’s turning-mark received the creaking echo from Kronos’ starting-point [planet Saturn]--here the celestial watchword is passed from star to star through the seven zones to the lowest [the Moon]. Now the Horai (Seasons), guardians of the upper air, handmaids of Phaethon [Helios the Sun], had fortified the sky with a long string of covering clouds like a coronal. The stars had closed the Atlantean bar of the inviolable gates lest some stealthy troop should enter the heavens while the Blessed ones were away . . . Eosphoros (Morning Star) watched the east, Hesperos (Evening Star) the west [N.B. the two were originally regarded as distinct stars]."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 38. 149 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"As he [Phaethon son of Helios the sun] sprang from the childbed, the daughters of Okeanos cleansed him, Klymene’s son, in his grandsire’s waters, and wrapt him in swaddlings. The Stars (Asteres) in shining movement leapt into the stream of Okeanos which they knew so well [the stars set in the river Okeanos], and surrounded the boy, with Selene Eileithyia [the Moon, Goddess of Childbirth], sending forth her sparkling gleams."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 38. 222 ff :
"[Helios instructs his son Phaethon in the drivine of the sun-chariot :] There are twelve houses in all the fiery aither, set in the circle of the rounded Zodiakos (Zodiac), one close after another in a row, each separate; though these alone is the inclined winding path of the restless Planeta rolling in their courses. All round these Kronos [planet Saturn] crawls from house to house on his heavy knees along the seventh zone upon the circle, until at last with difficulty he completes thirty circuits of returning Selene [Moon] [that is, two & half years]. On the sixth, quicker than his father, Zeus [planet Jupiter] has his course opposite, and goes his round in a lichtgang. By the third, fiery Ares [planet Mars] passes [one sign of the Zodiac] in sixty days, near your father [the sun]. I myself [the Sun] rise in the fourth, and traverse the whole sky garland-wise in my car, following the winding circles of the heavenly orbits. I carry the measures of time (khronos), surrounded by the four Horai (Seasons), about the same centre, until I have passed through a whole house and fulfilled one complete month as usual; I never leave my journey unfinished and change to a backward course, nor do I go forward again; since the other Asteres (Stars), the Planeta, in their various courses always run contrary ways: they check backwards, and go both to and fro; when the measures of their way are half done they run back again, thus receiving on both sides my one-sided light [i.e. as half the planets including the moon are above and half below him each of them gets his light from one side only] . . .
When you begin your course, pass close by the side of Kerne, and take Phosphoros (the Morning Star) as guide to lead the way for your car, and you will not go astray."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 41. 339 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"[Harmonia describes the tablets of Phanes, ancient stones which contained prophecies about the cosmos set down by the primordial creator-god Ophion-Phanes :] I have oracles of history on seven tablets, and the tablets bear the names of the seven planets. The first has the name of revolving Selene [the Moon]; the second is called of Hermes [planet Mercury], a shining tabled of gold, upon which are wrought all the secrets of law; the third has your name [Aphrodite the planet Venus], a rosy tablet, for it has the shape of your star in the East; the fourth is Helios [the Sun], cental navel of the seven travelling planets; the fifth is called Ares [the planet Mars], red and fiery; the sixth is called Phaethon [the planet Jupiter], the planet of Kronides [Zeus]; the seventh shows the name of highmoving Kronos [the planet Saturn]. Upon these, ancient Ophion has engraved in red letters all the divers oracles of fate for the universe."
CULT OF THE PLANETA
The five Planeta were sometimes worshipped in conjunction with the Sun (Helios) and the Moon (Selene) as gods presiding over the seven zones of heaven.
I) NEAR SPARTA Chief City of Lakedaimonia (Southern Greece)
Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 20. 9 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"On the road from Sparta to Arkadia . . . is what is called the Tomb of Horse. For Tyndareus, having sacrificed a horse here [to the Sun, Moon and five Planets], administered an oath to the suitors of Helene, making them stand upon the pieces of the horse. The oath was to defend Helene and him who might be chosen to marry her if ever they should be wronged. When he had sworn the suitors he burried the horse here. Seven pillars, which are not far from this tomb . . (lacuna) in the ancient manner, I believe, which they say are images of the Planeta [i.e. the five Planets, plus the Sun and Moon]."
II) THEBES Chief City of Boiotia (Central Greece)
The seven gates of Thebes were dedicated to the Sun, Moon and five Planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn). This naming is only recorded in late antiquity by Nonnus and may not be authentic.
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 5. 67 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"He [Kadmos founder of Thebes] dedicated the seven gates [of the new-founded city] to the seven planets. First towards the western clime he allotted the Onkaian Gate to Mene [Selene the Moon] . . . The second gate he gave in honour to Hermaon [the planet Mercury], the shining neighbour of Mene. The fourth he traced out and named for Elektra Phaethon’s [Helios the Sun’s] daughter, because when he appears, Elektra’s morning gleam sparkles with like colour; and the midmost gate opposite the Dawn he dedicated to fiery Helios, since he is in the middle of the planets.
The fifth he gave to Ares [the planet Mars], the third to Aphrodite [the planet Venus], in order that Phaethon [the Sun] might be between them both on either side, and cut off his neighbour the furious Ares from Aphrodite. The sixth he made an image of Zeus [the planet Jupiter], shining high with more glorious craftsmanship. The last fell to the lot of Kronos [the planet Saturn] the seventh planet."
- Hesiod, Theogony - Greek Epic C8th-7th B.C.
- Plato, Cratylus - Greek Philosophy C4th B.C.
- Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Apollonius Rhodius, The Argonautica - Greek Epic C3rd B.C.
- Greek Papyri III Anonymous, Fragments - Greek Poetry C3rd-1st B.C.
- The Orphic Hymns - Greek Hymns C3rd B.C. - C2nd A.D.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
- Aratus, Phaenomena - Greek Astronomy C3rd B.C.
- Philostratus the Elder, Imagines - Greek Rhetoric C3rd A.D.
- Hyginus, Astronomica - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Ovid, Fasti - Latin Poetry C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Cicero, De Natura Deorum - Latin Rhetoric C1st B.C.
- Statius, Thebaid - Latin Epic C1st A>D.
- Statius, Silvae - Latin Poetry C1st A.D.
- Nonnos, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th A.D.