A zodiac is an area of the sky that is divided into 12 equal divisions with a stellar constellation assigned to each. These 12 constellations are derived from stories of Greek mythology and make up the Greek zodiac calendar. So what are the signs in the Greek zodiac calendar and where did they come from?
Capricorn (December 22 – January 20)
The zodiac sign, Capricorn, is symbolic of the birth and care of the Greek god, Zeus.
Rhea, mother to Zeus, was fearful that her husband, Cronus, would devour her child; therefore, Rhea took Zeus to Mount Dicte where Zeus was nursed by Amaltheia, a goat nymph.
When Zeus became god of the sky, he paid tribute to Amaltheia by setting her image among the stars in the constellation Capricorn. The Capricorn has a head and body of a goat with the tail of a fish.
Aquarius (January 21 – February 19)
Named after Ganymede, the constellation Aquarius shows a person pouring water out of a jug. In Greek mythology, Ganymede was the son of Tros of whom the famous city, Troy, was named after. Zeus was stricken by Ganymede’s beautiful appearance, so he flew down as an eagle and took Ganymede back to Olympus. Zeus made Ganymede his personal cupbearer. The cupbearer was responsible for bringing nectar to the Olympians.
Zeus honored Ganymede by giving him a constellation of stars among the sky in the form of Aquarius.
Pisces (February 20 – March 20)
Pisces depicts two fish swimming in opposite directions and is a representation of the goddess Aphrodite. To disguise themselves from the monster, Typhon, the gods and goddesses took the form of animals on earth. Aphrodite and her son, Eros, took the form of twin fish and dove to the bottom of the sea.
Aphrodite paid respect to the fish by giving them the constellation Pisces in the night sky.
Aries (March 21 – April 20)
Aries is represented by a ram which symbolizes the Greek myth of the Golden Ram. The fleece of the Golden Ram was sought after and acquired by Jason and the Argonauts. Zeus placed the golden fleece of the ram in the sky to be honored as the constellation Aries.
Taurus (April 21 – May 21)
In the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, Theseus has to defeat a half-bull, half-man creature known as the Minotaur. This monster stayed in a labyrinth in Crete, and Athenians would be given to the Minotaur to devour. Theseus killed the Minotaur and saved the city of Crete from the malevolent King Minos.
Gemini (May 22 – June 21)
Gemini is the sign of the twins who are represented by half-brothers Castor and Polydeuces. Castor was immoral while Polydeuces was mortal. Because of their inseparability, Castor and Polydeuces became known as the Dioscuri. The Dioscuri had the ability to calm the rough seas, so Poseidon granted them the ability to help shipwrecked sailors as they prayed.
During battle, Castor was killed sent to the underworld. Polydeuces was heartbroken that his brother had died and prayed to Zeus to cast him to the underworld as well. Zeus invited Polydeuces to live in Olympus, but Polydeuces refused, stating it was too difficult to live without his brother.
Zeus granted Castor and Polydeuces to divide their time together between the underworld and on Olympus, alternating between spending each day at each location.
In a final homage to the Dioscuri, Zeus placed their image in the night sky in the constellation Gemini. The constellation is represented by two bright stars in a cluster of weaker stars.
Cancer (June 22 – July 23)
The Cancer constellation is represented by a crab. The crab appears in Greek mythology during the second labor of Hercules. Hercules was ordered to kill the Lerna Hydra when a giant crab, ordered by Hera, attacked Hercules during the feat. The crab dug its claws into the foot of Hercules. Hercules used his great strength to step on the crab and crush it to death.
It was Hera who honored the crab by placing its image in the Cancer constellation among the stars in the night sky.
Leo (July 24 – August 23)
Continuing with the 12 labors of Hercules, the Leo constellation is represented by a lion. In his first labor, Hercules was ordered to bring back the skin of the Nemean Lion. Hercules strangled the lion to death and wore the skin of the lion on his back as he returned from his labor.
Zeus honored the lion by placing it in the sky in the constellation Leo.
Virgo (August 24 – September 23)
The Greek zodiac calendar aligns with the northern hemisphere’s Gregorian calendar. The autumn equinox falls during this time, around September 21 – 23. Virgo is symbolic of the changing seasons, especially death afterlife. Virgo represents a virgin, and it is Persephone’s story of having her virginity stolen that was the inspiration to this constellation.
Libra (September 24 – October 23)
One of the lesser-known goddesses of the underworld is Dike. Dike represents justice through retribution. The Libra constellation is located between Virgo and Scorpio and symbolizes balance and equality.
Ancient Greeks honor the justice, fairness, and balance that Dike represents by giving Libra a place in the night sky.
Scorpio (October 24 – November 22)
The Scorpio constellation is represented by a scorpion and comes from the Greek myth of Orion being stung by a scorpion. There are different versions of the myth. One version states that Gaia had sent the scorpion to sting Orion because of his boastfulness and arrogance. Another version of the myth claims that Orion had chased seven beautiful sisters. The sister cried out to Zeus to save them, and Zeus turned the sisters into the constellation Pleiades while he sent a scorpion to sting Orion.
The constellation Scorpio can be found arranged in the night sky to appear as it is chasing Orion.
Sagittarius (November 23 – December 21)
The Sagittarius constellation is represented by the Centaur. In Greek mythology, the Centaur is represented by the upper body and head of a man and the lower body of a horse. Chiron was the most famous centaur, as he was considered the king of the centaurs. Chiron was subjected to one of the poison arrows of Hercules, but he would not die. Instead, he was in excruciating pain and prayed to Zeus to relieve his pain.
Zeus granted Chiron that he would relieve his pain if he would give his godly powers to Prometheus.