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Pisces is a constellation in the northern celestial hemisphere. Its name is the Latin plural for "fish".

Ancient Babylon

Early Babylonian star tables (1200 BC) divided the constellation later known as Pisces into two asterisms. The northern fish was seen as Šinunutu4, "the Great Swallow." The inofficial name Kullat Nūnu for
η Piscium, meaning either the bucket or the cord that holds the fish together, still remains from the Babylonian era.

Anunitum; Source: G. White.

The southwestern fish was called Anunitum, the "Lady of the Heaven."

G. White connects Anunitum to the theme of solar rebirth after the winter solstice and writes:
"The same theme of solar rebirth is expressed in a somewhat different form in the adjacent constellations known as Anunitum, the Swallow and the Field. These star figures together constitute a vivid depiction of the "myth of the Syrian goddess", which can be thought of as the master-myth of this season. The myth runs as follows – two fish found an enormous egg floating in the depths of the river Euphrates, the fish guided the egg up from the watery depths of the river and rolled it onto dry land, where a dove appeared and started to brood it. In due time, the Syrian goddess herself was born from the egg. On account of this myth, fish and birds were held to be particularly sacred to the Syrian goddess."

The "Syrian Goddess" referred to in the myth is Atargatis, chief goddess of northern Syria in Classical antiquity. She was also known under the name Derceto, and was later in Greek Mythology fused with Aphrodite, closing the circle to the Greek Pisces legend involving Aphrodite and Eros.

Fish-bodied Atargatis, holding the egg
Syrian coin, 1st century BC
Source: Wikipedia.

In some versions, the creatures guarding the egg were epic beings, half-fish, half-men named Aphros and Bythos.

Later in the Babylonian Astronomical Diaries (600 BC), there was a notion of Rikis-nu.mi, "the fish cord or ribbon," which was the first fish-related reference to the later Zodiac constellation.

Sources: J.H. Rogers: Origins of the ancient constellations, R.H. Allen:Star Names, Their Lore and Meaning,,
G. White: Babylonian Star Lore

Ancient Greece

The Greek myth of the fishes goes back to the end of the Gigantomachy, the decisive battle the fought between the Giants and the Olympian gods for supremacy of the cosmos. In a last attempt to defeat the Olympians, Gaia, Mother Earth and mother of the Giants went to the lowest region of the Underworld where Zeus had imprisoned the Titans, coupled with Tartarus and gave birth to Typhon. Ian Ridpath tells us that Typhon was : "... the most awful monster the world had ever seen. According to Hesiod in the Theogony, Typhon had a hundred dragon’s heads from which black tongues flicked out. Fire blazed from the eyes in each of these heads, and from them came a cacophony of sound: sometimes ethereal voices which only the gods could understand, while at other times Typhon bellowed like a bull, roared like a lion, yelped like puppies, or hissed like a nest of snakes.

Gaia sent this fearsome monster to attack the gods. Pan saw him coming and alerted the others with a shout. Pan himself jumped into the river and changed his form into a goat-fish, represented by the constellation Capricornus.

The goddess Aphrodite and her son Eros took cover among the reeds on the banks of the Euphrates, but when the wind rustled the undergrowth Aphrodite became fearful. Holding Eros in her lap she called for help to the water nymphs and leapt into the river. In one version of the story, two fish swam up and carried Aphrodite and Eros to safety on their backs...

Zeus and Typhon, ca. 540 BC,
State Collections of Antiquities, Munich
Source: Wikipedia

Pisces in Urania's Mirror
Source: Wikipedia

In another version, the two refugees were themselves changed into fish. The mythologists said that because of this story the Syrians would not eat fish, regarding them as gods or the protectors of gods."

In an alternative story in the Fabulae, Hyginus picks up on the Mesopotamian story of the Syrian goddess. Ian Ridpath writes that "... an egg fell into the Euphrates and was rolled to the shore by two fish. Doves sat on the egg and from it hatched Aphrodite who, in gratitude, put the fish in the sky. Eratosthenes had yet another explanation: he wrote that the two fish represented by Pisces were offspring of the much larger fish that is represented by the constellation Piscis Austrinus. When the goddess Derceto fell into a lake near Bambyce in northern Syria, she was rescued by the large fish; she placed this fish and its two youngsters in the sky as Piscis Austrinus and Pisces, respectively."

Source: Ian Ridpath, Wikipedia,
Pisces in Poeticon Astronomicon

Another legend, unrelated to all the stories above uses the fishes as a symbol for Dictys, the brave and kind fisherman who recused princess Danaë and her infant son Perseus, after Danaë's father, king Acrisius of Argos abandoned them at sea in a wooden box.

The story links the constellation Pisces to its celestial neighbors Perseus and Andromeda.

Sources: Wikipedia, X

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Dictys rescues Danaë and Perseus; Source:

Ancient Egypt

The ancient Egyptian knew of Pisces, seeing in it a creation story and the "fish of the Nile." The symbol of Pisces’ two fish has been found on the lid to an Egyptian sarcophagus dating back to 2300 BCE.


Egyptian sarcophagus (from Aegyptische Urkunden; koenigliche Museen zu Berlin)

Medieval Islamic Astronomy

In Arab, Pisces is called Al Samakatain, "the Two Fishes."

In al-Sufi's version of the story of Aphrodite/Venus and Eros/Cupid, the two tied themselves together with a cord in order not to lose each other in the Euphrates. The knot of the rope is marked by α Piscium which wascalled Al-Rischa ("the cord") in Arabic, leading to today's official designation as Alrescha.

Other stars tracing their names back to an Arab origin are Dzaneb al Samkat (ω Psc) - the "Tail of the Fish" and Fum al Samakah (β Psc) - the "Mouth of the Fish."

Source: Wikipedia,

1607 copy of Pisces in
Al-Sufi's Book of Fixed Stars
Source: Princeton University Library Catalog

Grimms' Fairy Tales

Several authors see a connection between the constellation Pisces and the North German fairy tale of a fisherman named Antenteh. The tale was part of North German oral folklore for centuries until it was recorded twice in 1812; first by Philipp Otto Runge and then by the Brothers Grimm, who published it under the title The Fisherman and His Wife.

The connection between the tale and the constellation seems a little far fetched, but several sources report it.

"The Fisherman and His Wife" by Alexander Zick
Source: Wikipedia tells the story:

Antenteh, who was very poor and his wife lived in a small cabin by the sea. The only possessions they had were the cabin and a tub that they filled with feathers to at least have somewhere to rest and sleep.
One day, Antenteh caught a fish that struggled to get free as he pulled it up in his fishing nets. To Antenteh's amazement, the fish spoke to him, telling Antenteh that he is actually an enchanted prince. The fish told Antenteh that if he released him, he could have anything that he wanted. In the story I read back in school, the fish gives Antenteh three wishes.

Antenteh whose needs are simple and feeling honored at having rescued such an important person refused to accept anything from the enchanted prince. On getting home, Antenteh found that wasn’t to be the case. His wife became very angry for not taking advantage of the opportunity and Antenteh found himself returning to the seashore and called for the fish.

Luckily for Antenteh, the fish came and an embarrassed Antenteh told the fish how the wife wanted a house and furniture for it. The fish told him not to worry and that he would take care of everything. Returning home, Antenteh found that his cabin was now a fine house. Now if Antenteh's wife hadn’t been so greedy, everything probably would have been fine.

"The Fisherman and His Wife" by Alexander Zick

As time progressed, Antenteh's wife demanded more. She wanted to be a queen and to have a palace and this wish was granted. Still not satisfied, she demanded to become a goddess.

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back in this case and the fish now angry at the increasing demands, made everything that Antenteh had been given and wished for vanish and he and his wife were back to having their old cabin and tub full of feathers to sleep in.

Sources: Wikipedia,,
"The Fisherman and His Wife"

Ancient India

In Hindu Astronomy, the rather faint (magnitude 4.9) star system Zeta Piscium is the center of the 28th Nakashtra, called Revati, "the prosperous."

Indicating a connection to cultures west of India, Revati is is also associated with the sea and symbolized by a fish, or often even by a pair of fish.

Zeta Piscium is identified as the First Point of Aries, meaning, when the Sun crosses this star, a new solar year begins.

In Sanskrit, Revati is written रेवती.

Meena (Fish)
© Drdha Vrata Gorrick

Zeta Piscium is a quintuple star system, consisting of a binary star (ζ Piscium A) and a triple star system
(ζ Piscium BC).

ζ Piscium A's two components are designated as ζ Piscium Aa and ζ Piscium Ab.

ζ Piscium BC consists of a spectroscopic binary (ζ Piscium B) and a single star (ζ Piscium C).

In 2017, the IAU's Working Group on Star Names (WGSN) attributed the Indian name Revati to Zeta Piscium A. The WGSN attributes proper names to individual stars rather than entire multiple systems, which is why the name Revati technically only applies to Zeta Piscium A.

Sources: Wikipedia: Revati, Wikipedia: Zeta Piscium

Ancient China

In Chinese, Pisces is written 雙魚座.

In Chinese astronomy, the constellation forms nine asterisms, belonging to four Lunar Mansions, located in two quadrants.

Ian Ridpath (partially quoted in the following paragraphs) provides an extensive and graphic description of the main asterisms:

Chinese astronomers knew the line of seven stars from α to δ Piscium Wàipíng, a fence to screen off the cesspit of Tiānhùn which lay south of it in Cetus. (Wikipedia calls Tiānhùn the "Celestial Pigsty".)

Chinese asterisms in Pisces
Map based on
Wàipíng is part of the 15th Lunar Mansion, called Kuí (Legs).

The 15th Mansion is named after an the loop-shaped figure called Kuí in the north of the constellation, consisting of seven stars including χ, φ, υ and τ Piscium. The largest part of Kuí is located in Andromeda.

The 16th Lunar Mansion is called Lóu (bond). The formation of the same name is represented in Pisces only by two faint stars, 107 piscium and VY piscium. Also located in the 16th Mansion is Yòugèng, a formation of five stars including ρ, η, π and ο Piscium representing a livestock manager.
The 15th and 16th Lunar Mansions are in the quadrant of the White Tiger of the West.

With one small exception, all other asterisms (see below) are located in the Azure Dragon of the East.

The very faint star 20 Piscium in the southwesternmost part of the constellation is part of an asterism called Chuánshì, the Guest House, which is part of the Purple Forbidden Enclosure.
A group of stars in southernmost Pisces , including 27, 29, 30 and 33 Piscium mark the eastern end of the constellation Lìibìzhèn, a chain of fortifications, which crossed Aquarius into Capricornus.

Lìibìzhèn is part of the 13th Lunar Mansion, called Shì, the "Encampment."
A zig-zagging chain of five stars from Beta to Iota or Omega Piscium formed Pili, a thunderclap or thunderbolt; to its south, four stars including Lambda and Kappa Piscium formed Yunyu, cloud and rain (Leidian, representing thunder and lightning, lay over the border to the north in Pegasus, completing the stormy scene).

Sources: Wikipedia and Ian Ridpath
Rain and Lightning

Maya - Central America

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

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

Source: Susan Milbrath p. 258

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