One of the highest honours any demigod, demigoddess, mortal male or female, or beast for that matter could be awarded in Greco-Roman times would be to immortalized as a star or a constellation in the heavens. Here’s a few of those that achieved that honour.
*Andromeda [see] Perseus.
*Aquarius, the Water-Carrier: In Greek mythology, a young handsome lad was known as Ganymede. Ganymede is carried up in a whirlwind to Olympus by the gods to be a cupbearer for Zeus, or, in a more erotic version, a servant of Zeus kidnaps him, or Zeus himself did the deed disguised as an eagle. The erotic upshot was that though Zeus favoured the ladies, goddesses, demigoddesses, even mortal women, for a catamite change of pace now and again… Ganymede was rewarded for his services by eternal youth and immortality, eventually placed in the sky as the constellation Aquarius, the Water-Carrier. See also Aquila.
*Aquila (the constellation) was once an eagle owned by the Greek/Roman god Zeus/Jupiter who performed many useful tasks for the King of the Gods, such as carrying his thunderbolts and kidnapping the young and handsome lad Ganymede. See also Aquarius.
*Ara, the Alter: In ancient Greek mythology, Ara was identified as the altar, made by the trilogy of Cyclopes, an alter where the Olympian gods first made offerings and formed an alliance when they were about to fight the original Titans in order to become masters of the universe, or at least masters of third rock from the sun – well, would you believe a local region of the Mediterranean anyway.
*Arcturus, the Bear-Guardian [see] Ursa Major.
*Aries, the Ram: A young lad, Phrixos (or Phrixus), son of the King of Thessaly, became an unpopular stepchild after his natural mother died and the King remarried, a woman by the name of Ino. Ino had it in for Phrixos, and his sister (Helle) too. Ino arranged for the grain harvest to be ruined, resulting in a famine. She then bribed the Oracle at Delphi to predict that only the sacrifice of Phrixus to the gods would end the famine. Just before the fatal throat cut, a marvellous flying and talking ram appeared, a gift by Hermes to Phrixos’s natural mother, who I gather was able to send it from her place in the afterlife. The flying ram spirited Phrixos (and his sister) away in the nick of time (but unfortunately the sister fell off in mid-flight and perished). When safely deposited in a new land, the local king welcomed Phrixos and of course he eventually married the king’s daughter. In gratitude for his salvation, Phrixos sacrificed the ram to Zeus, who then immortalised it in the heavens as the constellation Aries. The ram’s golden fleece was given to the king who hung it up in a tree guarded by a dragon, which leads to another rather famous tale in Greek mythology – the quest for the golden fleece.
*Asclepius [see] Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer.
*Auriga, the Charioteer: Phaethon, son of the sun god Helios, tried to prove his manhood bona-fides by driving his father’s fiery chariot drawn by a team of highly spirited horses. He failed. When he ran out of control, Zeus had to shoot him down out of the sky. His lifeless body plunged into the River Eridanus. Phaethon was turned into the constellation of Auriga, the Charioteer; even the River Eridanus achieved constellation status under that name, stretching across the night sky west of Orion.
*Bootes, the Ploughman: Dionysus, the god of wine and good times, gave a wine branch to a lowly farmer, Icarius, and taught him how to grow grapes and make wine. The farmer shared some of this wine with neighbouring shepherds, but they got so intoxicated they killed Icarius. His daughter, Erigone, led by Dionysus’s faithful dog, Maira, uncovered the site where the shepherds buried Icarius. The daughter distressed and in grief, hung herself. Even the dog died of sorrow. Dionysus cursed the locals. Many went mad and many women hung themselves in that state. When later they learned of the injustice that had prompted all of this, they lynched the original shepherds. Dionysus immortalized the farmer as Bootes the Ploughman. The daughter became the constellation Virgo, and Maira the dog – well he became Canis Minor, the lesser dog.
*Callisto [see] Ursa Major.
*Cancer, the Crab: Hera (Mrs Zeus) hated Hercules since he was a constant reminder of her husband’s wandering ways when it came to the opposite sex. Hercules second great labour was to kill the multi-headed Hydra, but while that battle was raging a giant crab entered the fray and had a go at Hercules too. So, Hercules had to deal with the crab first. Hera was very pleased that the crab had attacked Hercules and thus she herself honoured the crab by placing it in the heavens as the constellation Cancer. I’ve seen an alternative version that had Athena place the crab in the firmament, but Hera seems the more logical choice.
*Canis Major, the Greater Dog [see] Orion.
*Canis Minor, the Lesser Dog [see] Bootes.
*Capricorn: In Greek mythology, this constellation is sometimes identified as Amalthea, the goat that suckled the infant Zeus after his mother Rhea saved him from being devoured by his father Cronos by spiriting him off to Crete and out of harms way. The goat’s broken horn was transformed into the cornucopia or horn of plenty.
*Cassiopeia [see] Perseus.
*Castor [see] Gemini.
*Centaurus, the Centaur: The ancient Greeks depicted the southern constellation as a centaur and gave it its current name. The name Centaurus however in mythology is often given not to an actual centaur but to that deformed human who would later mate with mares and spawn the centaur race. More commonly however, Centaurus is credited as being the first centaur. See also Sagittarius.
*Cepheus [see] Perseus.
*Cetus, the Sea Monster (or Whale) [see] Perseus.
*Chiron, the Centaur [see] Sagittarius.
*Corona Borealis: Ariadne aided Theseus when he entered the labyrinth to slay the Minotaur by providing him with a ball of string which he unravelled as he made passage in through the maze and thus could follow the trail out again. Of course he promised eternal love to Ariadne, but shortly after having set sail from Crete, he abandoned her on the island of Naxos, no doubt on command from the deity Dionysus who wanted Ariadne for himself. Rank has its privileges! Dionysus duly carried her off to Olympus and made her an immortal and as a wedding gift gave her a golden crown. That crown was later placed in the heavens as the Corona Borealis.
*Corvus, the Crow: The crow or raven is Apollo’s sacred bird. When Apollo sent his raven to fetch some water in the god’s cup (Crater), the raven took his damn sweet time about it. To cover for his laziness, and lateness, he blamed the water-snake (the Hydra) for making him tardy. Apollo however knew a fib when told one and saw through the raven’s tall tale. Since he saw through the fraud and was not tricked Apollo rather pissed that his sacred bird would lie, put the raven in the sky (Corvus) along with the water snake (the Hydra) and the cup (Crater). For another version of the fate of the Hydra, see also Hydra. To further punish the raven, Hydra the snake keeps water from the eternally thirsty raven, yet the raven always sees the water, just out of reach.
*Crater, the Cup [see] Corvus, the Crow.
*Cygnus, the Swan: When the rash wannabe charioteer Phaethon (son of Helios) had to be dispatched by Zeus for reckless driving, a relative, Kyknos, mourned so greatly that the gods turned him into a swan. When it was time to die, Kyknos-the-swan sang all the way to the heavens to become the constellation Cygnus, the Swan. As an aside, when you know it’s time to face the end, you sing your ‘swan song’.
*Delphinus, the Dolphin: Poseidon, the god of the sea, had the hots for the Nereid, Amphitrite. Being a shy sort of lass, she made a beeline out to sea to escape (which seems to be an odd strategy seeing how she’s fleeing from the god of the sea). Be that as it may, Poseidon sends out all manner of his marine creatures to find her. A dolphin does so and talks Amphitrite into reconsidering and so to make a long story short, Poseidon and Amphitrite tie the knot. As a reward, Poseidon immortalises dolphins by casting one into the heavens to become the constellation Delphinus.
*Draco, the Dragon: Hercules was tasked with his eleventh labour to fetch the golden apples from the garden of Hesperides. The tree that bore the apples was well guarded by a giant serpent called Ladon. So, of course, Hercules, at least in some retellings, had to slay the serpent before nicking off with the fruit. The late and great Ladon was immortalized as the constellation Draco, placed next to the constellation of Hercules himself, club raised and poised to strike. Oh, once Hercules handed over the apples, they were returned to him; he dedicated them to the goddess Athena who returned them to their rightful place. Golden apples are far too powerful to be entrusted to the keeping of mere mortals. See also Hercules.
*Eosphoros [see] Venus.
*Eridanus [see] Auriga, the Charioteer.
*Equuleus, the Pony: In Greek mythology, Pegasus, the winged horse, had either a brother or son, the foal Celeris (meaning “swiftness” or “speed”). Celeris was given to Castor (one of the two Gemini twins) by Hermes (Mercury to the Romans). Another version has Equuleus as the horse struck from Poseidon’s trident during a pissing contest between him and the goddess Athena when contesting who would be the superior patron of Athens (that name gives away who won). Because Equuleus’s section of stars rises before the constellation of Pegasus, it is often called Equus Primus, or the First Horse. See also Pegasus.
*Ganymede [see] Aquarius, the Water-Carrier.
*Gemini, the Twins: The Dioscuri, the “Sons of Zeus” or the “Heavenly Twins” are better known as Castor and Polydeuces (who is even better known as Pollux). Despite the “Sons of Zeus” tag, Pollux was the son of Zeus and Leda, and Castor the son of Leda and her husband, the King of Sparta. However they were twins, and brothers to Helen (of Troy), daughter of Zeus and Leda. When Castor was fatally wounded, Pollux asked Zeus to let him die alongside his beloved brother. They were eventually placed among the stars as the constellation we know as Gemini.
*Hercules was finally undone by an act of deception. His wife without knowing the true facts of the matter had Hercules put on a poisoned robe, which was akin to him bathing in a tub of acid. In agony, the demigod builds his own funeral pyre and lays on it awaiting death. A passing King of Malis, a former Argonaut, Poias, lights the pyre. An almighty thunderclap booms out as the pyre started burning as Zeus took Hercules up to Olympus and made him an immortal god. Even his stepmother, Hera, finally give up her intense anger towards him and they were reconciled. To honour his son, Zeus set up the stars in the constellation now named for him. See also Draco, Hydra and Leo.
*Hesperus [see] Venus.
*Hyades (star cluster) [see] Pleiades.
*Hyas [see] Pleiades.
*Hydra, the Snake (or Water-Snake): After Hercules killed the Hydra (his second of twelve labours), the Hydra was placed in the firmament by Athena as the constellation Hydra, the Snake (or Water-Snake). See also Corvus, the Crow and Hercules.
*Ladon [see] Draco, the Dragon.
*Leo, the Lion: The first great labour of Hercules was to slay the great Nemean Lion who was invulnerable to arrows and spears and swords, etc. So, Hercules had to choke the beast to death. Hercules wore the skin of the lion as a cloak, and Zeus, to honour his son’s completion of his first Mission: Impossible task was to place the lion in the sky as a memorial – the constellation Leo. See also Hercules.
*Lyra: Orpheus, son of one of the nine Muses, was a highly skilled musician and singer who could charm the gods, mortals and beasts alike. However, when Orpheus eventually came to a sticky end, Zeus immortalized his music by placing his lyre among the stars as the constellation Lyra. Orpheus himself went to and stayed put in Hades, but that’s actually a happy ending, for he was forever reunited with his wife Eurydice, who he earlier, when alive, tried to rescue from the underworld, but failed to do so.
*Orpheus [see] Lyra.
*Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer: Asclepius, the son of Apollo and a mortal woman, turned out to be an extremely skilled physician. So skilled was he than he actually brought a corpse back to life! This was frowned on by Zeus as it got into deity only abilities, so Zeus smote him with his thunderbolts (and the now alive corpse as well). Now this pisses off Apollo, so in turn he smites the Cyclopes, the makers of those lethal thunderbolts. Now this as you would expect pisses off Zeus, so he forces Apollo into servitude to a mortal for one year as punishment. Meantime, as Asclepius was depicted with a staff with a snake coiled around it, he was immortalised as the eternal symbol in the heavens, the constellation Ophiuchus, the Serpent Holder (or Bearer). See also Sagitta.
*Orion: Orion, the mighty hunter, lusted after the Pleiades (the seven sisters) and their mum, so Zeus put the lot of them in the heavens thus out of Orion’s and harms way. Orion finally met his doom by boasting once too often about hunting and killing the wildlife, and so his was stung to death by a giant scorpion by orders of the earth goddess Gaia. On behalf of several of the gods or goddesses (Artemis and Leto) Zeus placed Orion too in the heavens, behind and forever chasing after those Pleiades sisters. The scorpion, for services rendered was also places in the heavens as the constellation Scorpio, still in pursuit of Orion! As an almighty hunter, Orion was accompanied by a hunting dog, the constellation Canis Major which includes the brilliant Dog Star, Sirius.
*Pegasus: Pegasus, the winged horse was the offspring of the god of the sea, Poseidon (often identified with all things equine) and the gorgon Medusa, born when Perseus sliced off Medusa’s head. Pegasus was caught and tamed by Bellerophon, the two of which made a good team when Belleraphon slew the Chimera from the air and out of harms way. But, he became unstuck when he tried to use his aerial transport and fly Pegasus to Olympus uninvited. Zeus, furious at the presumption that Bellerophon could just waltz into the abode of the gods any old time, sent an insect to sting Pegasus, causing the winged horse to throw off its rider, Bellerophon, who, without benefit of a parachute eventually went splat. Though Bellerophon survived the crash, he was crippled for life. Zeus then utilized Pegasus to draw his chariot filled with his thunderbolts, and as a final reward, placed Pegasus among the stars. See also Equuleus, the Pony.
*Perseus, who killed the gorgon Medusa, also rescued the lovely Andromeda from a sea monster, Cetus. Perseus and Andromeda of course married and had a son, Perses, but Parses was entrusted to and raised by King Cepheus (father of Andromeda) who needed a male heir to his throne (in Ethiopia). Now King Cepheus was married to the vain Cassiopeia (mother of Andromeda) who bragged she was better looking than the sea nymphs, the Nereids. The Nereids complained to their boss, Poseidon, the god of the sea who spat the dummy and demanded that her child, Andromeda of course, be sacrificed to Cetus, the sea monster, as retribution. That’s when Perseus happened by. All five, after they died their natural deaths, were placed among the stars as the constellations named after them. But Cassiopeia was placed upside down in the heavens to teach her some humility.
*Phaethon [see] Auriga, the Charioteer.
*Phosphorus [see] Venus.
*Pleiades (star cluster): The Pleiades, seven sisters all, were born of the Titan god Atlas and the Oceanid, Pleione. Prior to that Titan mated via the Oceanid Aithra producing a son, Hyas and his sisters, the Hyades. Thus the Pleiades were half-sisters to Hyas and the Hyades. Now one day Hyas was out hunting and was killed in the process by his prey, probably a boar. His sisters, the Hyades, died in turn from grief suffered by the loss of their beloved brother. In a triple-hankie story, their half-sisters, the Pleiades, also died, one and all, out of grief. Zeus, out of sympathy, immortalised the lot of them. Hyas and the Hyades as the star cluster Hyades; close in the sky to that of the Pleiades star cluster. The alternative version is that the hunter Orion had the hots for the seven sisters so Zeus intervened and transferred them to the sky where Orion couldn’t bother them. Of course later on, Orion too gets placed among the stars in the sky and to this day endlessly chases after the Pleiades. See also Orion.
*Pollux [see] Gemini.
*Sagitta, the Arrow: In ancient Greece, Sagitta was regarded as the weapon that Hercules used to kill the eagle (Aquila), an eagle that Zeus employed that perpetually gnawed at Prometheus’s liver. That was punishment for Prometheus’s ‘gift of fire’ to mankind, in defiance of Zeus’s instructions to the contrary. Another version believes the Arrow to be the one shot by Hercules towards the Stymphalian birds, his sixth labour. Those winged creatures had claws, beaks and wings of iron, and they lived on human flesh. Hercules got rid of the lot of them. Yet another version claimed it as the arrow with which Apollo exterminated the original trio of Cyclopes because the Cyclopes forged the thunderbolts for Zeus which Zeus used to kill Apollo’s son, Asclepius. See also Ophiuchus.
*Sagittarius: While undertaking his fourth labour, Hercules accidentally hit the centaur Chiron with one of his arrows that had been tipped with poison from the Hydra he killed earlier. Because the centaur was immortal and couldn’t die, he was doomed to be forever in agony. Zeus relieved him of his immortality, allowing Chiron to pass away, but Zeus in one manner restored Chiron’s immortality when he placed the centaur in the sky as the constellation Sagittarius. See also Centaurus.
*Scorpio [see] Orion.
*Sirius [see] Orion.
*Taurus, the Bull: When the king of the gods, Zeus, had his wicked way with Europa, he did so by shape-shifting into the form of a bull and carried Europa across the sea to Crete in that form, where they ‘did it’ (presumably Zeus shape-shifted back to human form before they ‘did it’). Since that time Crete (known as the Minoan culture or civilization) has had a long association with bulls or a bull-cult, like the sport of bull-jumping (grabbing the horns and somersaulting onto the back of the animal) and hosting half-a-bull as in the Minotaur. Because the bull-form suited Zeus so well, he immortalized the animal as the constellation Taurus.
*Ursa Major, the Great Bear: Callisto was the daughter of the King of Arcady, and she had the misfortune to have Zeus fall for her. Callisto was associated with the virgin goddess Artemis. When Zeus raped Callisto, she got in a family way (in mythology, every rape results in a pregnancy otherwise there’s no point to the rape in the first place). This rape ultimately produces a son, Arcas. Artemis, being the virgin, was livid and banished Callisto from any further association with her. Hera (Mrs. Zeus) in the meantime assumed Callisto was a willing partner to her wayward hubby and in revenge turned Callisto into a bear. Years later, Arcas, out hunting, ran across that bear and not realizing that it was mom, shot her dead. Zeus then placed Callisto into the zodiac as Ursa Major, the Great Bear (or the Big Dipper); Arcas ultimately got his place in the heavens too as the Little Bear (or the Little Dipper).
*Ursa Minor [see] Ursa Major
*Venus: Eos (Dawn) or to the Romans Aurora, born to Astraios all of the stars in the sky, of which two were most notable: Phosphorus (or Eosphorus), the Morning Star, and Hesperus, the Evening Star. In reality, both ‘stars’ are one and the same ‘star’ and not stars at all but the planet Venus.
*Virgo [see] Bootes.
It’s a pity all that came to an end. If you were living way back then, perhaps you too might have been immortalised as a star, a star cluster or perhaps even as a constellation to be recorded for posterity, seen and talked about by millions for generations upon generations to come.