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Aries

Star Lore

Aries is a mid-sized Zodiac constellation in the Northern celestial hemisphere. Its name is Latin for Ram.
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 Aries was listed as MUL.L.ḪUN.G, meaning "The Agrarian Worker" or "The Hired Man."

Wikipedia tells us, that "...the earliest identifiable reference to Aries as a distinct constellation comes from boundary stones that date from 1350 to 1000 BC. On several boundary stones, a zodiacal ram figure is distinct from the other characters present. The shift in identification from the constellation as the Agrarian Worker to the Ram likely occurred in later Babylonian tradition because of its growing association with Dumuzid the Shepherd.

In Sumerian and Babylonian Mythology, Dumuzid was a god associated with shepherds, who was also the primary consort of the goddess Inanna (later known as Ishtar)."

Sources: Wikipedia and J.H. Rogers: Origins of the ancient constellations

Ancient Sumerian depiction of the marriage of Inanna and Dumuzid
Source: Wikipedia

In Zoroastrianism, the star 41 Arietis was associated with the Yazad (angel) Upa-paoiri.

Source: Wikipedia

Ancient Egypt

In ancient Egyptian astronomy, Aries was associated with the god Amon. Amon was a major ancient Egyptian deity. Under the rule of Ahmose I in the 16th century BC, Amun acquired national importance, expressed in his fusion with the Sun god, Ra, as Amun-Ra or Amun-Re.

At the time, Aries was the location of the vernal equinox. Thus, it was called the "Indicator of the Reborn Sun". During the times of the year when Aries was prominent, priests would process statues of Amon-Ra to temples.

Source: Wikipedia

Amun-Ra
Source: Wikipedia

Ancient Greece

In Greek, the constellation is called Krios (Κριός)

Wikipedia tells us that Aries "..."is associated with the golden ram of Greek mythology that rescued Phrixus and Helle on orders from Hermes, taking Phrixus to the land of Colchis.

Phrixos and Helle were the son and daughter of King Athamas and his first wife Nephele. The king's second wife, Ino, was jealous and wished to kill his children. To accomplish this, she induced a famine in Boeotia, then falsified a message from the Oracle of Delphi that said Phrixos must be sacrificed to end the famine.

Athamas was about to sacrifice his son atop Mount Laphystium when Aries, sent by Nephele, arrived. Helle fell off of Aries's back in flight and drowned in the Dardanelles, also called the Hellespont in her honor. After arriving, Phrixus sacrificed the ram to Zeus and gave the Fleece to Aetes of Colchis, who rewarded him with an engagement to his daughter Chalciope. Aetes hung its skin in a sacred place where it became known as the Golden Fleece and was guarded by a dragon."

Source: Wikipedia

Phrixos and Helle in a Roman fresco found in Pompeii
Source: Wikipedia

In a later myth, this Golden Fleece was stolen by Jason and the Argonauts. Ian Ridpath tell us the story:
"After Phrixus died, his cousin Pelias seized the throne of Iolcus in Thessaly. The true successor to the throne was Jason. Pelias promised to give up the throne to Jason if he brought home the golden fleece from Colchis. This was the challenge that led to the epic voyage of Jason and the Argonauts.

When he reached Colchis, Jason first asked King Aetes politely for the fleece, but he was rejected. The kings daughter, Medea, fell in love with Jason and offered to help him steal the fleece.

At night the two crept into the wood where the golden fleece hung, shining like a cloud lit by the rising Sun. Medea bewitched the serpent so that it slept while Jason snatched the fleece. According to Apollonius Rhodius, the fleece was as large as the hide of a young cow, and when Jason slung it over his shoulder it reached his feet. The ground shone from its glittering golden wool as Jason and Medea escaped with it.

Once free of the pursuing forces of King Aetes, Jason and Medea used the fleece to cover their wedding bed. The final resting place of the fleece was in the temple of Zeus at Orchomenus, where Jason hung it on his return to Greece.

Source: Ian Ridpath
Jason returns with the Golden Fleece
Apulian calyx crater, ca. 340 BC, Louvre, Paris
Source: Wikipedia
Julius D. W. Staal added another interpretation to the constellation, seeing Aries as the ram Odysseus used to escape the cave of cyclops Polyphemus.

On their way home from the Trojan War, Odysseus and his shipmates were captured by Polyphemus and held in a cave with the Cyclops' sheep. They escaped by blinding Polyphemus and hiding under the bellies of his sheep, when they flocked out of the cave in the morning.

Staal writes, "That Odysseus was brought by a ram from the dark cave to the light symbolizes that when the Sun is in Aries, the long, dark Winter months are over and Spring has begun."

Source: Julius D. W. Staal: New Patterns in the Sky
Odysseus underneath the ram
Source: The J. Paul Getty Museum

Apes, Vespa, Musca Borealis and Lilium

In 1612, Dutch cartographer Petrus Plancius created - among other constellations - a constellation called Apes (plural of Apis, which is Latin for bee) out of the faint stars 33, 35, 39 and 41 Arietis in the northern part of the constellation Aries.

In 1624, the formation was renamed Vespa (Latin for wasp) by Jakob Bartsch.

In the star atlas Firmamentum Sobiescianum by Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius, published in 1690, it was named Musca (Latin for fly).

This should not be confused with the southern hemisphere constellation Musca, created in 1603 by Keyser and de Houtman.

For this very reason, in later star maps, the constellation appeared as Musca Borealis (Northern Fly), while the Southern Fly was named Musca Australis.

In 1679, Augustin Royer used the same stars for his creation of Lilium, the Lily, referring to the fleur-de-lis, the symbol of French royalty.

Later, French astronomer Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille named the stars 39 and 41 Arietis Lilii Borea and Līliī Austrīnā, "In the north of Lilium" and "In the south of Lilium", respectively.

Source: Wikipedia

Musca Borealis and Aries in Urania's Mirror

Lilium and Triangulum by C Thomas, Frankfurt & Leipzig, 1730
Source:swaen.com

When the IAU settled on the 88 modern constellations, the stars of Musca Borealis / Lilium were reunited with those of Aries.
As a constellation, Lilium disappeared from the star maps in 1930, but the name remained to this day. In 2016, the name Lilii Borea was adopted by the IAU as the official name for 39 Arietis.

Sources: Wikipedia, SkyEye, Ian Ridpath

Hebrew Astronomy

In Hebrew astronomy, Aries was named Taleh (טלה); it generally symbolizes the "Lamb of the World".

Source: Wikipedia

The image to the right shows the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, the center piece of the 15th century Ghent Altarpiece, generally considered the first major oil painting to gain global fame.

Ghent Altarpiece; BBC News

Sancti Petri Principus Apostolorum

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 Petri Principus Apostolorum, the apostle Saint Peter.

According to Christian tradition, Saint Peter was one of the first leaders of the early Church. He is traditionally counted as the first bishop of Rome‍ - the first pope‍. He was crucified under Emperor Nero in Rome some time between 64 and 68 AD.

Sources: Wikipedia; Schiller, Wikipedia; St. Peter, SkyEye

Sancti Petri Principus Apostolorum
Source: Wikipedia


Arabian Peninsula: al-hamal - The Lamb

al-hamal (الحمل), The Lamb is 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, on the Arabian Peninsula, the term al-hamal "... refers to a first-year lamb ... of the fat-tailed sheep variety."

The complex consists of three distinct parts, The Horns and The Little Belly, which are both located in what is now Aries and the Fatty Tail, represented by the Pleiades.

When it was first used, the Lamb was the location of the vernal equinox; its stars formed the first three Arabic Lunar Mansions.

The Lamb; presentation by Danielle Adams
Source: Arab Star Calendars

qarna al-hamal (قرنا الحمل), The Two Horns of the Lamb were formed by α and β Arietis. Individually, the two stars were called al-nath (النطح), the Butting (α Ari) and al-natih (الناطح), the Butter (α Ari).
β Arietis, together with γ Arietis were also called a-araţān, the two signs, referring to the fact that the two stars once marked the northern vernal equinox. They formed the First Arabic Lunar Mansion.

al-butayn (البطين), the The Little Belly, also called batn al-hamal (بطن الحمل), the The Belly of the Lamb originally (according to Danielle Adams) most likely consisted of the stars 41, 39 and 35 Ari.

She also list an alternative position, consisting of δ, ε and σ Arietis.

Persian scientist Al-Bīrūnī defined al-butayn as δ, ε, π and ζ Arietis.

The stars of al-butayn formed the Second Arabic Lunar Mansion.

Sources: D. Adams, R.H. Allen, I. Hafez

Possible stars of al-butayn
Map based on seasky.org
alyat al-hamal (ألية الحمل), the The Fatty Tail of the Lamb was made up by the Pleiades. More information can be found here.

For more information on this ancient Arab Lamb complex, see Danielle Adams' essay The Little Lamb that Changed the Calendar: The vernal equinox in Arabia.

Medieval Islamic Astronomy

Most of the main stars in Aries carry traditional Arabic names. Persian astronomer Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi based his description on Ptolemy and depicted the constellation as a ram. Others, however, saw it as a "nondescript four-legged animal with what may be antlers instead of horns," as shown in some Islamic celestial globes.

Source: Wikipedia

Hamal (α Ari), the brightest star in Aries lends its name to the entire constellation. It is derived from the Arabic rās al-ħamal, the "head of the ram."

Source: Wikipedia

The name Sheratan (β Ari) stems from the Arabic a-araţān, "the two signs" (see above).

Source: Wikipedia

The name Mesarthim (γ Ari) is a classic example of misinterpretation. Originally, the star shared the name Sheratan with β Arietis. According to Wikipedia, in medieval manuscripts the name Sheratan got corrupted to Sartai.

13th century Spanish copy of al-Sufi's illustration
in the Book of Fixed Stars; akg-image

15th century Czech copy of al-Sufi's Aries
Alamy Stock Photo

In 1803, when Johann Bayer developed his star catalogue Uranometria, he erroneously interpreted that name as the Hebrew word מְשָׁרְתִים (mᵉshārᵉthīm), meaning "servants." Later scholars picked up on the term, for example, the English astronomer William Henry Smyth (1788-1865) called it Mesartun - and so, the name stuck.

Source: Wikipedia, Constellation of Words

The name Botein (δ Ari) is derived from al-butayn (see above).

Source: Wikipedia

Ancient India

In Hindu Astronomy, β, and γ Arietis are called The Aśvins.

In Hindu mythology, the Aśvins are twin Vedic gods of medicine. The Rigveda describes them as youthful twin horsemen, traveling in a chariot drawn by horses that are never weary.

The Aśvins gave their name to the first Nakashtra in Hindu astronomy, called Ashwini.

In Proto-Indo-European mythology, the divine twins are gods or demigods, who serve as rescuers and healers. They are seen as the roots of the Aśvins in Hindu mythology and of Castor and Pollux (who became the constellation Gemini) in Greek mythology.

Source: Wikipedia

Ashwini Kumaras
Source: Wikipedia

The faint star Bharani (41 Arietis), the Bearer, gave its name to the second Nakshatra in Hindu Astronomy, where it is joined by 39 and 35 Arietis.

While the first Nakashtra is associated with healing gods, the second Nakashtra is associated with Yama, the Hindu god of death.

Source: Wikipedia

In Sanskrit, Ashwini, the first Nakashtra, is written अश्विनि.
Bharaṇī, the second Nakashtra is written भरणी.

Yama, the Lord of Death
Source: Wikipedia

Ancient China

In Chinese, Aries is written 白 羊 座.

In Chinese astronomy, the constellation forms seven asterisms, belonging to three Lunar Mansions.

Hamal (α Ari), together with β, γ and λ Arietis and some fainter stars forms Lu which translates to "Bond." Ian Ridpath explains one interpretation of "Bond" can be "...the rearing and gathering of cattle for sacrifice. ... According to one story, the Emperor sacrificed a cow or ram just after the equinox, and the lunar mansion Lu was said to be where animals were assembled prior to the sacrifice.

Lunar Mansions in Aries
Map based on seasky.org

The Lu asterism gave its name to the 16th Lunar Mansion.

The faint stars in the center of Aries (including ν, μ and ο Arietis form an asterism called Zuǒgēng, meaning "Forest Manager." Together with the even fainter Yugng (Pasturing Manager), these two asterisms are also part of the 16th Lunar Mansion.

The asterism Wi, meaning "Stomach" gave its name to the 17th Lunar Mansion. It is centered around 41 Arietis (Bharani). Also part of the 17th Lunar Mansion is an asterism called Tiānqūn, which is centered around barely visible ξ Arietis. Tiānqūn translates to "Circular Celestial Granary "

Located in the 18th Lunar Mansion, which is called Mǎo or the "The Hairy Head" (of the White Tiger) is an asterism called Tiānyīn (The Yin Force). North of Tiānyīn is the faint star Tiānh 62 Ari, which means "Celestial River." It got its name because it stands alone in the celestial river.

All three Lunar Mansions are located in the quadrant of the White Tiger of the West.

Sources: Wikipedia and Ian Ridpath

White Tiger of the West
AtmaFlare

Marshall Islands

The people of the Marshall Islands incorporated several stars from Aries into a constellation depicting a porpoise called Ke. Hamal (α Ari), Sheratan (β Ari) and Mesarthim (γ Ari) formed the head of the porpoise, while stars from Andromeda and Triangulum formed the body and the bright stars of Cassiopeia formed the tail.

Sources: Wikipedia, Marshallese-English Dictionary

Possible outline of the porpoise
Drawn by the author based on
a map from thoughtco.com

Dakota and Lakota

The Dakota and Lakota in North America combined Hamal and Sheratan (α and β Arietis) with the stars of Triangulum to Chanśśa ipsye, which translates litelally to "Dried Willow" or "Red Willow."

It is seen as a wooden spoon used to pick up coal to light a pipe. When the sun is in this constellation, the people prepare for the pipe ceremony to celebrate the first day of spring.

The "Pipe Ceremony in the Stars" happens each year at sunrise on the Spring Equinox as the Sun, the Red Willow constellation and the Big Dipper line up along the eastern horizon.

Sources: Mark Hollabaugh: The Spirit and the Sky: Lakota Visions of the Cosmos, p. 66,
Astro by Mark, lakotajewelry.com, Dakota Constellation Guide

Lighting a pipe
Source: One Spirit

Maya

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

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

Source: Susan Milbrath p. 258

Inca

In indigenous Peruvian astronomy, a constellation with most of the same stars as Aries was called the "Market Moon" and the "Kneeling Terrace", as a reminder for when to hold the annual harvest festival, Ayri Huay.

Source: Wikipedia

Inca Festival
Source: Historia Peruana

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