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Capricornus is the smallest constellations of the zodiac. Its name is Latin for "horned goat." It is commonly represented in the form of a sea goat: a mythical creature that is half goat, half fish.

Ancient Mesopotamia

Capricornus is one of the constellations the Greeks inherited from Sumer and Babylon.

In the MUL.APIN star catalog, Capricornus was called MULSUḪUR.MA, which means "Goat Fish." It was associated with Enki, the Sumerian god of of water, knowledge, mischief, crafts, and creation. Eki's characteristic symbols were a bird, a goat and flowing water.


Enki was originally patron god of the city of Eridu, but later the influence of his cult spread throughout Mesopotamia and to the Canaanites, Hittites and Hurrians.

To the left is a contemporaneous stone basin from Elam (now in the Louvre) in the shape of a goat fish.

Source: J.H. Rogers, Origins of the Ancient Constellations

Enki, with his characteristic symbols from a cylinder seal at the British Museum
Sources: New World Encyclopedia
and World Myth

One simple reason for the naming of the constellation may have been the fishing season for goat fishes (Parupeneus forsskali), which coincided with the Heliacal rising of MULSUḪUR.MA.

Source: German Wikipedia

Goatfish; Wikipedia Neo-Babylonian (625539 BC) chalcedony pyramidal stamp seal with a goat-fish
Source: @HistAstro

Greek Mythology

Wikipedia tells us the story of the sea goat:

The sea-goat Pricus was the father of the race of sea-goats (half goats half fish), who were intelligent and honorable creatures. They lived in the sea near the shore and could speak and think. They were favored by the gods.

Immortal Pricus was created by Chronos, the god of time and shares Chronos' ability to manipulate time.

When Pricus' children found themselves on the dry land they turned into normal goats, losing their special ability to think and speak. Pricus tried to prevent this by turning back time, again and again but eventually accepted that his little Sea Goats preferred to live on dry land. Not wanting to be the only Sea Goat, he asked Chronos to let him die. Because of his immortality, he had to live on forever on some way, so Chronos put him in the sky as Capricorn.


Ian Ridpath adds to the story, telling us that the Greeks called the constellation Αἰγόκερως (Aigokeros), meaning goat-horned and identified it with Pan, god of the countryside, who had the horns and legs of a goat.

In one story, Pan aided Zeus fighting the sea monster Typhon. In this battle, Pan gave himself a fish's tail and dove into a river. In gratitude, Zeus placed the image of Pan in the sky as the constellation Capricornus.

Sources:Wikipedia, Ian Ridpath

Capricornus in "Leiden Arathea, 816
Source: Wikimedia

Capricornus in Urania's Mirror, 1824
Source: Wikipedia

Sometimes, the Greeks also identified the constellation as Amalthea, the goat that suckled the infant Zeus after his mother, Rhea saved him from being devoured by his father, Cronos.

Source: Wikipedia



Ancient China

In Chinese, Capricornus is written 摩 羯 座

In Chinese astronomy, the constellation is located in the quadrant of the Black Tortoise of the North.

It stretches across Lunar Mansions 9, 10, 11 and 13, covering seven asterisms. The mansions are Ni (Ox; 9), (Girl; 10), (Emptiness; 11) and Shì (Encampment; 13).

Wikipedia and Ian Ridpath have detailed descriptions of the mansions and the stars belonging to each one.

Ox, Girl, Emptiness and Encampment
Map based on

Ni or Ox is also the name of an asterism in the 9th Lunar Mansion of the same name. It consists (among others) of α, β, ξ, π, ρ and ο Capricorni and represents an animal for the midwinter sacrifice.

This Ox should not be confused with the Chinese Zodiac of the same name.

The other two Capricornus related asterisms in the 9th Lunar Mansion are Tiāntin and Luyàn.

Tiāntin, consisting (among others) of ω and ψ Capricorni represents the Celestial (or imperial) Farmland. Water for the farmland is supplied by Luyàn, consisting (among others) of τ and υ Capricorni representing a Network of Dykes.

Sources:Wikipedia and Ian Ridpath

Chinese Ox

The part of Capricornus located in the 10th Lunar Mansion consists (among others) of φ, ι, χ, θ and ζ Capricorni. The asterism is called Shèrgu, meaning "The Twelve States." It represents the Chinese states during the Warring States period of the 4th century BC.

Two Capricornus asterisms are located in the 11th Lunar Mansion. A group consisting of μ Capricorni and the faint stars 42, 44, and 45 Capricorni is described by Ian Ridpath as Liyu, which represents jade jewellery, while Wikipedia calls the same group , which means "Crying".

A group of stars around λ Capricorni, also in the 11th Mansion is called Tiānlichng, meaning "Celestial Rampart" or "Castle with earthwork ramparts."

The ramparts continue into the 13th Lunar Mansion, where a constellation consisting (among others) of κ, ε, γ and δ Capricorni forms Libìzhèn, or "Line of Ramparts."

Sources: Wikipedia and Ian Ridpath

The Warring States
Source: Wikipedia

Chinese castle with earthwork ramparts

North Caucasus

The Nakh peoples in the North Caucasus called the constellation Capricornus Neģara Bjovna,
meaning "Roofing Towers."

Source: Wikipedia


On the Society Islands, the constellation is called Rua-o-Mere, meaning "Cavern of parental yearnings"

Source: Wikipedia


The Boorong of north-western Victoria (Australia) see the double star Algiedi Prima (α1 Capricorni) and Algiedi Secunda (α2 Capricorni) as the fingers of Collenbitchick, feeling for the bank of the river.

Collenbitchick was the uncle of Totyarguil, which is represented by Altair (α Aquilae) and the brother of Totyarguil's mother Neilloan, which is which is Vega (α Lyrae).

Once, Totyarguil was tricked by his mother-in-law Yerredetkurrk, fell into a water hole and was killed by monsters called the Bunyips. His remains were rescued by Collenbitchick, who was able to revive him.

Honey Ants
Source: Ant Art through the Ages

Most likely, Collenbitchick was associated with some kind of ant or termite, which would explain his mythical healing powers. Popular legend tells a story of Aboriginals using ants to stitch cuts together by holding the two sides of a wound together and then encouraged an ant to bite and embed its pincers in either side of the wound, which would then close up.

Source: John Morieson: The Night Sky of the Boorong

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