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
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
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
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!
Just click on the buttons below to visit the outstanding Homework Help
pages! Have fun!
Web, myth narration and graphics created and
maintained by Nick Pontikis
Copyright © 1995 Nick Pontikis
Thanasi's Olympus Greek
Copyright 1999 mythman.com
The Myth Man persona copyright 1988 Nick Pontikis