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Aquarius

The Water Carrier

Aquarius is a large constellation of the Zodiac. It is one of the 48 original Ptolemaic Constellations.
For a brief overview of the main stars of the constellation, click the Astronomy icon.

For an alphabetic listing of the constellation's main object in different cultures, click the Index icon.

Ancient Babylon

In Babylonian star catalogues, the constellation later known as Aquarius was listed as GU.LA, meaning "The Great One."

In Sumer, "The Great One", the god of water, knowledge, mischief, crafts, and creation was called Enki, in Babylon, the name shifted to Ea.

The Babylonian star-figure appears on boundary stones and cylinder seals as far back as the second millennium BC. One example is the Adda Seal, an ancient Akkadian cylinder seal from ca. 2300 BC, showing Inanna, Utu, Enki, and Isimud (right).

The Adda Seal; Wikipedia

In the Early Bronze Age, Aquarius was the location of the Winter solstice and thus, Ea was the ruler of the southernmost quarter of the Sun's path, the "Way of Ea", corresponding to the period of 45 days on either side of winter solstice.

Aquarius was also associated with the destructive floods that the Babylonians regularly experienced; a concept that was adopted in ancient Egypt as well.

Sources: Wikipedia and J.H. Rogers: Origins of the ancient constellations
The Water Poorer on a fragmentary Boundary Stone, now in the Louvre
Source: J.H. Rogers

Ancient Egypt

In ancient Egyptian astronomy, Aquarius was associated with the annual flood of the Nile; the banks were said to flood when Aquarius put his jar into the river, beginning spring.

Richard H. Allen writes that "...the ancient Egyptians imagined that the setting of Aquarius caused the rising of the Nile, as he sank his huge urn in the river to fill it."

Sources: Wikipedia, Richard H. Allen: Star Names Their Lore and Meaning

Nile flood
Source: Library of Congress

Ancient Greece

The Greek picked up the concept of the flood maker, calling the constellation Hydrochos (Ὑδροχόος), the Water-carrier, which later was Latinized as Aquarius.

In one Greek myth, Aquarius is associated with Deucalion, the son of Prometheus.


In a legend similar to the Biblical flood, Zeus detested the human race which, after Prometheus had given given them the fire of the Gods had grown too powerful and disrespect for the gods.

When Zeus planned to send a flood to wipe out humanity, Prometheus warned Deucalion, who, together with his wife Pyrrha built a ship and sailed the flood for nine days before washing ashore on Mount Parnassus.

However, after the flood, Zeus recognized that Deucalion and his wife were just and loving people and thus decided to help them repopulate the Earth. He told them, to throw the bones of their mother over their shoulders.


Deucalion and Pyrrha by Virgil Solis, 1481
Source: Wikipedia

Deucalion and Pyrrha solved the riddle acknowledging Mother Earth as their mother. They threw stones over their shoulders and humans, as strong as stone sprang up where the stones fell.

The gods rewarded Deucalion by placing him among the stars, where, as the Water Poorer, he urges the people to respect the gods or the floods might come again.

Sources: Wikipedia, Tom Burns

In another legend, Aquarius is identified with beautiful Ganymede, a youth in Greek mythology and the son of Trojan king Tros, who was taken to Mount Olympus by Zeus to act as cup-carrier to the gods.

Neighboring Aquila represents the eagle, under Zeus' command, that snatched the young boy.

The Abduction of Ganymede
Eustache Le Sueur, ca. 1650
Source: Wikipedia

Some versions of the myth indicate that the eagle was in fact Zeus transformed. An alternative version of the tale recounts Ganymede's kidnapping by the goddess of the dawn, Eos, motivated by her affection for young men; Zeus then stole him from Eos and employed him as cup-bearer.

Yet another figure associated with the water bearer is Cecrops I, a king of Athens who sacrificed water instead of wine to the gods.

An old Meyer's Encyclopedia actually depicts Cecrops I with a fish or snake tail.

Source: Wikipedia
Cecrops I; Wikipedia
Ian Ridpath adds, that "... star maps show Aquarius as a young man pouring water from a jar or amphora, although Ovid, in his Fasti, says the liquid is a mixture of water and nectar, the drink of the gods."

Source: Ian Ridpath

Asterisms in Aquarius

There are two commonly recognized asterisms associated with the constellation Aquarius, the Lightning Bolt and the Water Jar.

The Lightning Bolt connects the bright stars Enif (ε Peg), Sadalmelik (α Aqr), Sadalsuud (β Aqr) and Deneb Algedi (δ Cap) in a zig-zag line.

The Water Jar is a Y-shaped asterism consisting of γ, π, η and ζ Aquarii.

Water Jar and Lightning Bolt
Milwaukee Astronomical Society
The jar's grommet is λ Aquarii, which bears the traditional (unapproved by the IAU) name Hydor (Ὕδωρ), meaning Water; a name given to the star by 5th century Greek philosopher Proclus Lycius.

Another ancient Greek name for the star was Ekkhysis (εκχυσις) meaning "outpouring."

The jar pours water into a stream of more than 20 stars terminating with Fomalhaut (α PsA), main star of the Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish.

Sometimes, the Waterjar was considered an individual constellation, called Urna.

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen, James B. Kaler, Sky Eye
Aquarius in the 1753 edition of Atlas Coelestis
Source:
Atlas Coelestis

The water bearer's head is represented by faint 25 Aquarii while his left shoulder is Sadalsuud (β Aqu); his right shoulder and forearm are represented by Sadalmelik (α Aqu) and Sadachbia (γ Aqu), respectively.

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen

Roman Mythology

According to R.H. Allen, in the Roman Zodiac, the constellation was shown as a peacock and sometimes as a Goose.

Both birds are sacred to the roman queen goddess Juno.

Source: R.H. Allen

Juno and Peacock
Walter Crane

Medieval Latin

Ancha (θ Aqr) is the Medieval Latin word for "hip." The name was approved by the IAU in 2016.

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen

Situla (κ Aqr) is the Medieval Latin word for "bucket" or "water jar," a name approved by the IAU in 2016.

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen

Celtic Mythology

Richard H Allen informs us that "The Anglo-Saxons called the constellation se Waeter-gyt, the Water-pourer; while not long after them John of Trevisa, the English translator, in 1398 thus quaintly recalled the classical form:

The Sygne Aquarius is the butlere of the goddes and yevyth them a water-potte."


R.H. Allen

Sancti Ivd Thadi Apostoli

In 1627, German lawyer and astronomer Julius Schiller published a star map called Coelum Stellatum Christianum (The Christian Starry Heaven). It was an (unsuccessful) attempt to replace the "pagan" constellations with Biblical names and themes.

The constellations of the Zodiac were replaced by the Twelve Apostles.

Aquarius became Sancti Ivd Thadi Apostoli, the apostle Saint Jude, also known as Jude Thaddaeus.

According to Christian tradition, Saint Jude preached the Gospel in Judea, Samaria, Idumaea, Syria, Mesopotamia and Libya and suffered martyrdom about 65 AD in Beirut together with the apostle Simon.

Sources: Wikipedia, SkyEye

Sancti Ivd Thadi Apostoli
Source: Wikipedia


Arabian Peninsula: as-suud - The Auspicious Asterisms

The Auspicious Asterisms are one of eleven Folkloric Celestial Complexes identified in the Arabic Star Catalog, developed by Danielle Adams at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

According to Danielle Adams, the Arabic term sad "... indicates good fortune or something that is auspicious, especially a star." Thus, the sad asterisms can be interpreted as "lucky stars".

There is one group of four stars and nine pairs of stars covering an area now (partially) occupied by the constellations Aquarius, Capricornus and Pegasus.

Auspicious Asterisms; presentation by Danielle Adams
Source: Arab Star Calendars
Four of the Auspicious Asterisms are located in Aquarius. Three of those also represent three of the Arabic Lunar Stations.

ε and μ Aquarii form sad bul (سعد بلع), the Voracious Auspice or sad al-bali’ (سعد البالع), the Auspice of the Voracious Eater. They also represent the 23rd Lunar Station.

The Auspice of Auspices, sad as-suud (سعد السعود) was formed by β and ξ Aquarii, which also formed the 24th Lunar Station.

The "double luck" asterism was the most sought after for good fortune among the ten Auspicious Asterisms.
Auspicious Asterisms in Aquarius; Map based on seasky.org
Sad al-akhbiya (سعد الأخبية) the The Auspice of Woolen Tents, is formed by three stars, γ, η and π Aquarii in the shape of a triangular tent, with a fourth star, ζ Aquarii in the center.

The four stars also represent the 25th Lunar Station.

Sad al-malik (سعد الملك), the Auspice of the King consists of the second brightest star in Aquarius, α Aquarii and rather faint nearby ο Aquarii.

With slightly different spelling, the asterisms are also listed by R.H. Allen.

Source: Arab Star Calender
Tent in the Arabian Desert; dreamstime.com

Medieval Arab Astronomy

R.H. Allen points out that the religion of Islam prohibited the depiction of humans or human-like figures and that therefore, several Islamic astronomers showed the constellation as an amphora (Al Bīrūnī) or as a water bucket (Ulugh Beg).

The most popular drawings of Aquarius, however, were done by Persian astronomer Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi, who in his Book of Fixed Stars returned to the old Mesopotamian human-like image of the Water Poorer.

Al-Sufi adopted the constellations as described by Ptolemy, but assigned Arabic names to the stars, many of which had their roots in pre-Islamic Celestial Complexes and constellations.

Aquarius in a version of Al-Sufi's Book of Fixed Stars
Source: sciencephoto.com
α Sadalmelik سعد الملك sad al-malik The Auspice of the King
β Sadalsuud سعد السعود sad as-suud The Auspice of Auspices
γ Sadachbia سعد الأخبية sad al-akhbiya The Auspice of Tents
δ Skat الساق al-sāq Shin
ε Albali سعد البالع sad al-bali The Auspice of the Voracious Eater
ζ Sadaltager آخر ألأخبية ākhir al-akhbiya End of the Auspice of Tents
μ Albulaan ألبولعان al-bulaʽān The two Swallowers
ν Albulaan ألبولعان al-bulaʽān The two Swallowers
π Seat وسط الأخبية wasath al-akhbiya Middle of the Auspice of Tents
ξ Bunda بوندا bunda Persian: Foundation
Official names derived from Arabic origins are shown in bold.


Today's names of Aquarius' three brightest stars are directly derived from the Auspicious Asterisms (see above).
The name Sadalmelik (α Aqu) is derived from sad al-malik, the Auspice of the King.

The name of Aquarius' brightest star, Sadalsuud (β Aqu), comes from sad as-suud, the The Auspice of Auspices. Originally, β Aqu was called nir sad as-suud, the brightest of the Auspice of Auspices, while ξ Aqu was called thanih sad as-suud, the second of the Auspice of Auspices.

R.H. Allen adds 46 Capricorni to the Auspice of Auspices.

In Persian astronomy, β and ξ Aquarii formed the 24th Lunar Mansion, called Bunda, the Foundation. The name is commonly used for ξ Aquarii.

Sadachbia (γ Aqu) was derived from sad al-akhbiya, the Auspice of Tents.

17th century Egyptian astronomer al-Muwaqqit assigned individual names to the stars of the Auspice of Tents. γ Aqr was named aoul al achbiya, the "First of the Auspice of Tents", π Aqu, was named wasat al achbiya, the "Middle of the Auspice of Tents" and ζ Aqr was achr al achbiya, the "End of the Auspice of Tents."

In the 17th century, Hugo Grotius assigned the name Seat to π Aqu. According to Jim Kahler this is a made-up name referring back to the meaning of Sadachbia as a "lucky star of hidden things."

ζ Aqr is now commonly known as Sadaltager, a name of unknown origin.

The name Skat (δ Aqu) comes from al-sāq (الساق) - shin. The star is not part of any of the Auspices.

The name Albali (ε Aqu) comes from sad al-bali, the Auspice of the Voracious Eater, also known as "The Swallower."

Al-Muwaqqit named ε Aqu nir saad bula, the brightest of the Auspice of the Swallower.

Al-Muwaqqit added a third star to the original pair and named ν and μ Aquarii collectively Albulaan, which is the plural form of al Bula.

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen

Aquarius in Book of Fixed Stars
of Alfonso the Wise, 1279
Source: facsimilefinder.com


17th century copy of
Al-Sufi's Aquarius
Source: @HistAstro

Ancient India

In Hindu Astronomy, the star γ Aquarii is called Satabhishaj, meaning "a hundred physicians."

According to Wikipedia, the star lend its name to the 24th Nakshatra, called Shatabhisha.

However, R.H. Allen and Chander Mohan associate that Nakashtra with λ Aquarii, called Catabhisaj by Allen and Satataraka by Mohan.

The Nakashtra is associated with the Vedic deity Varuna, the God of Water and Sky.

In Sanskrit, Shathabhisha is written शतभिषा.

The corresponding name in Tamil is Chathayam, written சதயம்.

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen, Chander Mohan, www.mypanchang.com

Varuna; Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Ancient China

In Chinese, Aquarius is written 寶 瓶 座.

In Chinese astronomy, the constellation forms fifteen asterisms, belonging to four Lunar Mansions, all located in the quadrant of the Black Tortoise of the North.

The stars around ε and μ Aquarii form the asterism (Girl) which gave its name to the Tenth Lunar Mansion. According to Ian Ridpath, the "girl" is a maidservant. A single very faint star, 1 Aquarii is pearls on the girl's Wear.

Lunar Mansions in Aquarius
Map based on seasky.org

The stars around β Aquarii, together with α Equulei (the brightest star in the neighboring Equuleus constellation), form or Emptiness, an asterism that lend its name to the Eleventh Lunar Mansion. Ian Ridpath tells us that the 11th lunar mansion symbolizes a place of desolation and darkness connected with funerals and mourning. Fittingly there are two faint asterisms called (Crying) and (Weeping) nearby.

Also part of the 11th lunar mansion are two small asterisms called Sīmìng and Sīlù, centered around 25 Aquarii, the small star that in Greek astronomy formed the water carrier's head.

Sīlù represents a Deified Judge, while Sīmìng is something that is hard to translate. Wikipedia describes it as "Master of Fate" or "Controller of Fate", Ian Ridpath calls it "a deity governing punishment, life, and death."

Then, still in the 11th lunar mansion, there is the beginning of a construction that will stretch all across the next, the 12th lunar mansion. Tiānlěichng, the "Celestial Ramparts" protect a large complex of buildings that we will visit in the next mansion. The asterism centers around ξ and ν Aquarii.

The rooftop of the whole complex is formed by a V-shaped asterism that combines α Aquarii with θ and ε Pegasi. The formation is called Wēi (Rooftop), which is also the name of the 12th Lunar Mansion.

The roof continues with the stars around ο Aquarii, an asterism called Gàiwū (Roofing).


Siming Temple; Source: Wikipedia

Chinese castle with earthwork ramparts
Source: britannica.com

The star κ Aquarii is called Sāngōng (三公), meaning Three Leaders. At this star, we enter Xūling, which Wikipedia translates as temple, while Ian Ridpath calls it a mausoleum for departed Emperors.

The latter seems more likely, considering that next to it is Fnmù, a tomb, consisting, among others of γ ζ η and π Aquarii.

We leave the tomb entering the 13th Lunar Mansion, called Shì, the Encampment.
Tomb in Shengong Temple
Source: China Tombs
First, there is Lěibìzhèn, a line of ramparts, consisting among others of ι, σ, λ and φ Aquarii and extending into Aquarius.

Also in the 13th mansion is the very faint asterism Fūyuè, the Axe. According to Ian Ridpath, not only the location of Fūyuè is disputed, but also the question whether Fūyuè is an axe used for executions or one for cutting crops.

Undisputed is Yǔlnjūn, the Imperial Guard, an asterism consisting of δ, υ, τ
1, τ2, ψ1, ψ2, ψ3, χ, ω1 and ω2 Aquarii and 35 other stars, extending all the way to Piscis Austrinus. It is the largest number of stars in any Chinese constellation!

Imperial Guards
Source: dragonsarmory.com

YaWL tells a story about the Black Tortoise:

Xuanwu was a king of the north. He gave up his throne and left to search for enlightenment, in order to eventually become a god. During his search, he was told by the gods that he must cleanse himself. Taking the message literally, he had his stomach and intestines removed an cast into a river, which then turned muddy. With this action, he became a god. However, his wayward guts transformed into a snake (the intestines) and a tortoise (the stomach). The two creatures became wicked, and began to terrorize the land. As a deity, Xuanwu returned and defeated his old intestines and stomach. Instead of killing the snake and tortoise, he led them to enlightenment. The became his two most trusted generals, and it is said that he rode them into battles.

Sources: Wikipedia and Ian Ridpath, YaWL

Black Turtle of the North
Source: China Tombs


In Japanese, σ Aquarii is called Takako-boshi, written 貴子星 and meaning "Precious Girl Star."

Source: esotericablog.com

Maya

Maya constellations are widely disputed, but Susan Milbrath: Star Gods of the Ancient Maya sees evidence that the Maya may have seen a bat in the constellation Aquarius.

Interpretations of Maya constellations are uncertain, but in the absence of any other interpretations, we decided to include Susan Milbrath's work in our studies.

Source: Susan Milbrath p. 258

Maya Bat Statue
Source: Maya Archaeology
NameExoworlds

The 2019 NameExoWorld project, in which each country on earth could name one star and one exoplanet, added three new names for stars and planets in the Aquarius constellation.

Bosnia and Herzegovina suggested the name Bosona for the star HD 206610. Bosnia was first mentioned in the mid-10th century in a politico-geographical handbook written by Byzantine emperor Constantine VII. In it, he describes the "small land of Bosona." The name also relates to the Bosna River.

Exoplanet HD 206610 b was named Naron, an antique name for the river Neretva.
Bosna River; Wikipedia
Aquarius was always related to floods and droughts. Going along with that theme, the Dominican Republic named the star WASP-6 Mrohu.

Planet WASP-6b was named Boinayel.

Mrohu and Boinayel were deities of the indigenous Tano people of the Caribbean.

Mrohu was the the god of drought is the protector of the Sun.

Boinayel was the god of rain that fertilizes the soil.

Sources: IAU100 Name ExoWorlds: Approved Names
Wood carving of Boinayel
Source: The British Museum
Hong Kong's contribution was the name Lionrock for the star HD 212771.

Lion Rock is a mountain top resembling a crouching lion.

Exoplanet HD 212771 b was named Victoriapeak after Victoria Peak, the highest hill on Hong Kong island.

Both mountains are of high cultural significance for the people of Hong Kong.
Lion Rock; Wikipedia

Modern Day Music

The Age of Aquarius was part of a medley of two songs written for the 1967 musical Hair by James Rado and Gerome Ragni (lyrics), and Galt MacDermot (music), released as a single by American R&B group The 5th Dimension. The song spent six weeks at number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart in the spring of 1969.

The lyrics of the song were based on the astrological belief that the world would soon be entering the "Age of Aquarius", an age of love, light, and humanity.

Sources: Wikipedia, Youtube

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