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Greek Mythology Today


A constellation is a group of bright stars that makes an imaginary shape in the night sky - consider it a real cool game of connect-the-dots! They are prominent stars visible to the human eye and they are usually named after mythological characters, people, hunters, gods, animals or objects.

In different parts of the world, depending on their vantage point, people have made up different shapes out of the same groups of bright stars. That is why the constellations have been called humanity's oldest picture book.

The ancients made a practice of creating these imaginary images because it assisted them in their daily lives, including enabling sailors or travelers to use them as signposts to navigate, or helping farmers to keep track of the seasons and thus know when to annually plant or harvest their crops by using the positions of the stars.

The second century Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemy identified 48 constellations. Today there are 88 recognized constellations across the night sky between the northern and southern hemispheres, with the pattern of stars differing in both these parts of the celestial sphere.

The current list of 88 has been recognized by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) since around 1922. After this, the Belgian astronomer Eugène Joseph Delporte drew up precise boundaries for each constellation, so that every point in the sky belonged to exactly one constellation.

The constellations revolve round a central point in the northern sky known as the Pole Star, or Heavenly Axis ('polos' in Greek). Because of its far northern location, most of the stars are seen to rise in the east and set in the west. Only those few closest to the pole - namely, Ursa Major and Minor (the Bears), and Draco (the Dragon) - appear to travel at night in an eternal circle around the pole.

The ancient Greeks imagined the heavens as a great, solid dome, forged of bronze, and upon which the heavenly constellations were fixed. The Titan Atlas, who fought on the side of his fellow Titans against the Olympian god Zeus when the latter was establishing his rule, was severely punished by the king of the Olympians following the Titanic defeat.

He was sentenced to stand either beneath the axis of heaven in the far north (in the land of the Hyperboreans), or at heaven's western rim by the Atlas mountains in North Africa. There, mighty Atlas was said to support the heavens and to forever spin the dome around upon his shoulders, causing the stars to rise and set.

A vast majority of constellations derive their names from Greek mythology. I'm here to help you discover mythology's delightful role in the naming of these constellations, planets and particularly the Zodiac, which translates to 'circle of animals'. There are some great stories behind these names!

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