Etymology - “water-carrier” or “cup-carrier”
Aquarius, like many of the constellations that make up the familiar Western or Greek Zodiac is an old constellation sign. It is known as the Water-Carrier and depicted as a youth carrying a vessel of water. This constellation is located between Capricorn and Pisces. As the 10th largest constellation, Aquarius doesn’t have very many bright stars, so for those out stargazing, they will need a dark sky during the month of October in order to pick it out.
Astronomy & Astrology
Much of the foundations of Western knowledge regarding the fields of Astronomy and Astrology owe its roots to Ancient Mesopotamian cultures. Many ancient cultures studied the stars, seeing in them patterns that are called constellations. These ancient astronomers were able to make predictable, annual turnings of the heavens that they could divide and mark for the passing of the Seasons and time. For the ancients, Astrology served as a precursor to Astronomy and they believed that by studying the heavens, they could foretell future events and even a person’s life path.
These ancient cultures would also meet and exchange ideas frequently and in this fashion, when the Greeks encountered the Persians, there was an exchange of knowledge regarding Astronomy that becomes the constellations and zodiacs so many know today. Eventually, there is no clear distinction between what ancient Mesopotamian Astronomers and Greeks Philosophers knew. Even in current, modern times, the influence of these ancients is still known.
Aquarius is one of the oldest recognized constellations and was one of 48 constellations that were identified by Ptolemy, an astronomer who lived during the second century. In modern times, it is one of 88 known or recognized constellations found in an area of the of the night sky known as the Sea or Water due to the number of other constellations with aquatic associations such as Cetus, Delphinus, Pisces and Eridanus.
Aquarius is depicted in Greek astronomy as a young man pouring water from a vase or urn into the mouth of Piscis Austrinus, the southern fish. There are a couple of different myths regarding the constellation of Aquarius in Greek Mythology.
Ganymede was the son of King Tros of Dardania and the basis for the kingdom of Troy in Greek mythology. An exceptionally beautiful youth, Ganymede had caught the attention of Zeus when he was out watching over his father’s flock of sheep. Now, depending on the versions of the story being told, Zeus, either in the guise of an eagle or sending the eagle Aquila, came and carried him off to Mount Olympus. As compensation to King Tros, Zeus gives him some horses.
Once there, Ganymede faced the wrath of Hera, the wife of Zeus, who was angry and very likely jealous that her husband had taken such a fancy for a young boy. In addition to this, she was also angry that Zeus intended for Ganymede to replace Hebe, Hera’s daughter as the cup-bearer after an incident where Hebe had accidentally spilled some nectar of the gods. And it couldn’t have set well with Hera that Zeus immortalizes Ganymede in the constellation of Aquarius in addition to immortality and eternal youth.
Another version of this myth says that it was Eos, the goddess of the Dawn who carries off Ganymede to Mount Olympus and then Zeus took him from her to be the cup-bearer.
Regardless of the versions of the story told, Ganymede does become the cup-bearer to the gods and basically serves them their wine. Further variations of this story tell how Ganymede would ride Zeus’ eagle Aquila, accompanying this god on his travels. Both the Aquila constellation near Aquarius and the constellation of Crater, said to be Ganymede’s cup are near Aquarius to complete this story.
Ganymede also becomes deified as he was given immorality and eternal youth by Zeus and ends up being the one responsible for the annual Nile River flooding and the life-giving waters of rain. Some scholars have pointed out that like the story of Capricorn, the Greeks are borrowing from other older stories and cultures as well as coming up with their own stories to explain the images and what the constellations mean.
In Roman times, the name Ganymedes was sometimes used for handsome slaves who served as cupbearers. Furthering this, many have pointed out that the story of Ganymede is a clear indication and precedence for homosexuality in Greek culture. Others, like in Plato’s writings of dialogues between him and Socrates say that it wasn’t homosexuality; point out the meaning of the name Ganymede for “taking pleasure of the mind.” That Zeus loved Ganymede non-sexually for his mind. Still, other sources point out that this is where the Latin word for catamite originates.
The story of Ganymede seems to be related or taken from a Sumerian story of Etana, who descended to the heavens with the help of an eagle while looking for a plant of birth that in turn leads to the birth of his son, Balih.
Grecian Flood Myth
Aquarius, sometimes identified as the god Zeus is the one who causes a great flooding of the earth. A man by the name of Deucalion and his wife, Pyrrha who survived a great flood that washed over the earth. Deucalion had been told by his father, Prometheus in some versions of this story, to build a boat and to fill it with provisions. The two did and they floated in the boat over the sea for nine days and nights before coming to ground on Mount Parnassus.
Safe now, the two found that they were the only survivors and began to wander more as the flood waters receded. Deucalion and his wife couldn’t have been the only survivors of this flood if they were able to consult an oracle who told them to “throw over your shoulders the bones of your mother.”
The solution seemed pretty easy to Deucalion who guessed that the bones of Mother Earth must be stones and so he and Pyrrha began picking up stones to toss over their shoulders. After a bit of this, they looked back and saw that there were now people. The stones thrown by Deucalion had become men and the stones thrown by Pyrrha had become women.
In this myth, Aquarius is seen or becomes a taker as well as giver of life. This myth of a world flood and the rebirth of life on Earth is a very common myth that can be found in numerous cultures around the world.
Sometimes in an effort to have the Grecian Flood myth story parallel the Biblical Flood story of Noah and the Ark, it is Zeus himself who tells Deucalion to build a boat and not Prometheus.
The Arabs depicted the constellation of Aquarius as a bucket due to their religion forbidding the depiction of humans in art. Sometimes a mule was used in place of showing a human as being the one carrying the buckets or urns of water.
Some of the stars that make up Aquarius also have alternative names in the Arabic language. There is beta Aquarri known as Sadalsuud, from an Arabic phrase “sa’d al-suud,” meaning “luck of lucks.” Then there is alpha Aquarri or Sadalmelik and comes from the expression “sa’d al-malik,” meaning “luck of the king.” As well as, gamma Aquarii or Sadalachbia from another Arabic expression “sa’d al-axbiyah,” meaning “luck of the homes.” And finally there is zeta Aquarri, known as Sadaltager, from the Arabic phrase “sa’d al-tajir,” meaning “luck of the merchant.”
Why is there so much luck? In the Middle Eastern world, when the sun enters Aquarius, that marked the beginning of the New Year and Spring was on it’s way. This would be a time of the life-giving rains that so many depend on, especially the farmers.
The constellation of Aquarius was well known to the Babylonians who identified it as GU.LA, “The Great One.” There are many Babylonian entitlement stones and cylinder seals dating to the second millennium marked with the astrological symbol of Aquarius, saying it represented the god Ea shown to be pouring water from an urn or holding an overflowing vase. In Babylonian astronomy, Ea is the ruler of the southern quarter of the Sun’s path, the “Way of Ea” and corresponds to a period of 45 days to either side of the winter solstice.
For the Babylonians, the time of Aquarius marks a time of destructive flooding and rainfall, so they often viewed this constellation unfavorably.
The Sumerians viewed Aquarius as responsible for a great flood that covered the earth. The Sumerians also have the story of Etana, a legendary hero-king whose story has been found on several Akkadian seals. According to the Sumerian king list, Etana is one of the kings who ruled the city of Kish after a great deluge or flood. This king’s list also refers to Etana as “the shepherd, who ascended to heaven and consolidated all the foreign countries.”
The Legend of Etana
In this story there is a tree with the eagle’s nest at the top and a serpent at its base. Both creatures have promised the sun god Utu that they will be civil with each other and share their food with their children.
One day, the eagle eats one of the serpent’s children and the serpent cries over this. Utu tells the serpent to hide inside the stomach of a dead bull. When the eagle flies down to eat the dead bull, the snake is able to capture the eagle and throws him in a pit to die of hunger.
Utu then sends a man, Etana to help the eagle and saves it. Etana asks the eagle to help him find the “plant of birth” so that he can sire a son. In gratitude, the eagle helps carry Etana up to the heavens where the god Anu presides. Fearful, Etana has the eagle take him back to the ground. Once he’s gotten his courage up, Etana makes another attempt to go up to the heavens and is successful this time in getting the “plant of birth” and is able to sire his son Balith.
In Chinese astrology, the constellation of Aquarius is found in the northern part of the heavens and symbolized by the Black Tortoise of the North.
In modern Chinese, Aquarius is known as bǎo píng zuò, meaning: “the precious pitcher constellation”. The stream of water flowing out of the Water Jar is depicted as the “Army of Yu-Lin-Kjun,” where “Yu-lin” means “feathers and forest” that represent numerous light-footed soldiers seen in the fainter stars of Aquarius. The stars 88, 89 and 98 Aquarii represent the portion of the constellation called Fou-youe, representing the axes used for weapons and hostage executions. Also found in the constellation of Aquarius is Loui-pi-tchin that represents a rampart stretching out and depicted with the stars 29 and 27 Piscium and 33 and 30 Aquarii through Phi, Lambda, Sigma, and Iota Aquarii to Delta, Gamma, Kappa, and Epsilon Capricorn.
For the ancient Egyptians, the god Hapi, the god of the Nile River was often identified with Aquarius. He was depicted as carrying a tray of food or pouring water from two large urns. With these urns, Hapi distributed the waters of life as the urns represented good fortune. Sometimes Hapi is shown holding a rod called the Norma Nilotica, that was used for measuring the depths of the Nile River. The time of Aquarius marked the annual flooding of the Nile when the life giving waters from Hapi would be poured out and the people could till their farms along the river’s borders. This annual flooding of the Nile for the ancient Egyptians marked the beginning of spring.
The name of Aquarius in the Hindu zodiac is kumbha meaning: “water-pitcher.” Some feel that this is proof or shows that the influences of the Greek zodiac reached as far as India from Grecian travelers. That might be a bit of a stretch as it may be that the Indian or Hindu story of Varuna, god of the sky and waters is who is represented by the constellation of Aquarius.
This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius
The constellation of Aquarius will be forever immortalized by the counterculture of the 1960’s with the Hippies and their proclamations for the Age of Aquarius and the musical Hair. Truth be told, they were a bit premature by about 600 years for when this time will actually begin.
The astrological age is determined by the name of the constellation in which the Vernal or Spring Equinox occurs, which is close to around March 21st. Right now, we’re still in the Age of Pisces, which will continue until about 2600 C.E. depending on the source.
Or beta Aquarri, mentioned up above in the Arabian Mythology section, is the brightest star in the Aquarius constellation. That it is a supergiant star probably helps.
Other notable mentions are some globular clusters of stars of Messier 2 and Messier 72, the asterism Messier 73, along with the Aquarius Dwarf Galaxy. There is also the Saturn Nebula, known as the Waterbearer
There are a series of four meteor showers associated with the constellation of Aquarius. These are the: the March Aquariids, Eta Aquariids, Delta Aquariids, and Iota Aquariids.
The constellation of Aquarius is the eleventh sign of twelve signs that form the Zodiac. For those who study and are into the classical Greek Zodiacs, this time is typically said to be from January 20 to February 18. Due to the changes of the earth’s orbit and tilt, the best time to see this constellation is during October around 9 p.m. The planets Saturn and Uranus are said to rule this Zodiacal sign and constellation. Its element is Air, an extroverted sign and is one of four fixed signs.
Aquarius people are said to be inquisitive, unpredictable, independent, friendly, outgoing, artistic, intellectual, social, stubborn, altruistic and even progressive. At their best, Aquarians are great humanitarians, thinking of others and how to help them. They have an easy with people and are able to interact with a lot of people and relate well with them. At their worst, Aquarians can come across as know-it-alls and become argumentative when trying to get others to see their viewpoints and ideas as correct instead of listening to others or realizing they may have been incorrect.