The Mythology Behind the Constellations: Stories of the Gods and Heroes

The Mythology Behind the Constellations: Stories of the Gods and Heroes

The night sky has always been a canvas for human imagination. From the earliest times, people have looked up at the stars and seen patterns, sometimes forming pictures of animals, sometimes taking the shapes of human figures. These patterns have been given names, and in many cultures, they are associated with stories and myths that explain their origins.

The Mythology Behind the Constellations: Stories of the Gods and Heroes

The Zodiac Signs

Perhaps the most famous of these patterns are the twelve signs of the Zodiac. In Western astrology, each sign corresponds to a period of the year, and is said to influence the personality traits of people born at that time. But in ancient times, the constellations that make up the Zodiac were associated with specific myths and gods. For example, Aries, the Ram, was said to be the embodiment of the golden-fleeced Ram that carried Phrixus and Helle across the sea. Scorpio was associated with the giant scorpion that stung Orion, while Leo was said to be the Nemean Lion that Hercules slayed as one of his twelve labors.

The Seven Sisters

Another well-known cluster of stars is the Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters. In Greek mythology, the Pleiades were the daughters of Atlas and Pleione, and were pursued by Orion. To protect them, Zeus transformed them into stars, and placed them in the sky. Other cultures have their own stories about the Pleiades. In Japan, they are known as Subaru, and are associated with a group of Shinto deities. The Maori people of New Zealand call them Matariki, and consider them a sign of the coming new year.

Other Constellations

There are many other constellations in the night sky, each with their own stories and myths. Cygnus, the Swan, was associated with the story of Zeus and Leda, in which Zeus transformed himself into a swan to seduce Leda. Draco, the Dragon, was said to be the dragon that guarded the Golden Apples in the Garden of the Hesperides. Pegasus, the Winged Horse, was said to have sprung from the neck of the decapitated Gorgon, Medusa. And the Milky Way itself was considered by some cultures to be the path of souls on their journey to the afterlife.


From the stories of the constellations, we can see how closely intertwined human culture has always been with the night sky. The myths and legends associated with the stars and planets reveal our eagerness to make sense of the world around us, and to connect with something greater than ourselves. Today, we may no longer believe in the gods and heroes of Greek and Roman mythology, but the stories they have left behind continue to fascinate us, and to inspire our imagination.