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Naming The Zodiac Constellations

In reading about the naming of the 12 Greek constellations (that comprise the 12 Signs of the Zodiac in astrology), there are likely to be a few surprises. This holds true even for those who "think" they already know the mythology behind the naming of the constellations.

Also when reading up on the naming of the 12 Greek constellations that comprise the Zodiac, you're likely to be disappointed. The various reasons for their naming are often going to be rather short and sweet.

And, finally, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you'll often discover that there is often no single, definitive, absolute, "this is it" answer for the Greek/Roman mythology behind the naming of the 12 constellations contained in the Zodiac. Like anything concerning ancient Greek/Roman mythology, there will be differing variants, stories, and/or legends.

The History Behind Their Naming

The naming of the constellations by the ancient Greeks most likely occurred sometime between the 6th - 5th centuries B.C. However, the first satisfactory evidence of an extensive set of Greek constellations existing comes from the 4th century B.C. astronomer Eudoxus (390 – 340 B.C.). The works of Eudoxus are lost, but are contained in the writings of another Greek, Aratus of Soli (315 – 245 B.C.). Aratus’ poetry "Phaenomena" provides a complete guide to the constellations known to the ancient Greeks as laid down by Eudoxus.

Eudoxus had allegedly learned about the constellations from priests in Egypt and then introduced them to Greece. It's appears more likely, however, that the cosmological idea of naming the constellations was appropriated from the Greek's neighbors the Babylonians and Sumerians. Upon the Greeks "borrowing" the constellations (and utilizing a few of the same figures and symbols) - they, then, went about devising many of their own unique names and explanations as to how all the different animals and people had gotten into the sky.

Originally 48

The ancient Greeks originally gave us 48 "classical" constellations. Since then, more and more constellations have been added - and today there are now a total of 88.

The Imaginal 12 Sectors of the Zodiac

The Babylonians and the Egyptians had also previously founded the cosmological concept that each year the Sun passed through divisions or sectors in the sky that were located on an imaginary circle called the "ecliptic." It is believed that the ancient, imaginal, and archetypal concept of a "world soul" ruled by divisions or sectors came first - then, later, (based on these preexisting imaginal divisions) came the naming of the actual constellations in the sky. The Greeks also borrowed this idea from their neighbors.

The imaginary "ecliptic" 12 sector circle of the Sun's path through the sky and based on the changing seasons constructed by the Greeks (and later adopted by the Romans) - is today commonly known as the 12 Signs of the Zodiac.

Aries / Taurus / Gemini / Cancer / Leo / Virgo / Libra / Scorpio / Sagittarius / Capricorn / Aquarius / Pisces /

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