Star Stories
Tales from the dark skies of Tenerife, brought to you by the guides of the stars!
Myths of the Constellations!
with Kieran Mynott, your guide to the dark skies of Tenerife.

Since the dawn of man, we have looked up at the night-sky and wondered about the stars.  These points of light were once a complete mystery.  Before we knew what we do today about the stars and planets, people used constellations to tell a story.  The constellations were like a dot to dot puzzle and people connected the stars to form pictures of their gods.

They also created some wonderful, mythical stories to go along with these heavenly pictures.  The myths of the constellations are tales about gods and monsters as well as villains and heroes. One may think that people don’t rely on these stories anymore, but if they look closely, they just might find them sneaking into everyday life. For example, the 12 zodiac signs heard of when people talk about horoscopes have their origins in the constellations.

As scientists and astronomers have learned more about the universe, we look at the stars in a much different way.  Even so, the legends, gods, and myths associated with these tiny points of light that spread across the evening sky are still quite fascinating.

“I have taught you many ways to kill a mortal, Kratos; flesh that burns, bones that break.  But to break a man’s spirit, is to truly destroy him.”

– Ares (God of War)

Today in the first of a series of blogs about the myths of the stars, we are talking about Aires!

When it comes to Aries, there are two distinctly different stories associated with the name. One is the myth of Aries the Ram while the other is the story of the Greek god named Ares. When referring to the god, Aries is often spelled “Ares.” The zodiac sign of Aries is a combination of the two stories.

Ares is found in Greek mythology as a god of war. He had a sister named Athena. Athena was a goddess of war, but she wasn’t exactly like her brother. She was a very disciplined and strategic goddess while her brother was destructive and chaotic. Greeks used Ares and Athena to represent the two sides of war. One god had well thought out and specific plans while the other was sporadic with little organized planning. Greeks felt that one side of war was calculated and planned while the other side could be out of control.

Ares was well known as having a lust for blood. In other words, his thoughtless aggression and chaotic behavior often resulted in others getting hurt or losing their lives. Some of these characteristics of Ares, although not as intense, have become associated with people born under the sign of Aries the Ram. These people are often thought to be spontaneous, daring, and courageous as well as impatient.

Aries the Ram is a constellation that can be seen from Earth. The Greeks thought this group of stars made the shape of a ram’s head. The mythology behind Aries comes from a story about Jason and the Argonauts. Jason went on a quest in search of Aries the Ram’s Golden Fleece. He needed it to prove that he was the rightful king of Iolcus. His uncle, Pelias, had taken the throne even though it wasn’t his to rightfully take. In order to remain the king, Pelias kept Jason’s father imprisoned. He would have killed Jason, but Jason’s mother pretended he was already dead. Once he came of age he tried to reclaim the throne. He was sent on a series of quests to prove his worthiness, and finding the Ram’s Golden Fleece was one of the tasks included in the challenge.

Although Aries the Ram and the Greek god Ares have the same name, they have nothing to do with each other. They both come from Greek mythology, but Ares the god was often seen in the form of a vulture or dog when pictured as an animal. There is one story where he turned into a boar. He was in love with Aphrodite, but the beautiful Adonis was also in love with her. He used the form of a boar to kill Adonis, but he never turned into a ram. This is one of the most famous stories of Ares. Many of his tales are pretty much the same as the stories of Roman mythology’s Mars. Many consider them to be the same god.

Although Aries came to represent specifically the ram whose fleece became the Golden Fleece of Ancient Greek Mythology, it has represented a ram since late Babylonian times. Before that, the stars of Aries formed a farmhand. Different cultures have incorporated the stars of Aries into different constellations including twin inspectors in China and a porpoise in the Marshall Islands. Aries is a relatively dim constellation, possessing only four bright stars: Hamal (Alpha Arietis, second magnitude), Sheratan (Beta Arietis, third magnitude), Mesarthim (Gamma Arietis, fourth magnitude), and  41 Arietis (also fourth magnitude). The few deep-sky objects within the constellation are quite faint and include several pairs of interacting galaxies. Several meteor showers appear to radiate from Aries, including the daytime Arietids and the Epsilon Arietids.

Until next time when we talk about Taurus, keep looking up in wonder.

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