Aries the Ram

Abbreviation : Ari
Genitive case : Arietis
Brightest Star : a Arietis, Hamal

Aries the Ram has retained an air of importance in the sky despite being a rather small constellation.   It traditionally leads the 'flock' of the Zodiac and in ancient Greek times the Sun was placed among it's stars at the Vernal Equinox, which then marked the start of the calendar year as well as the arrival of Spring.  The Ram is usually depicted with his head turned back looking over his right shoulder, perhaps to admire his lovely coat.  The Egyptian god Ammon Ra, god of Fertility and Creative Life (think of the return of the Sun from winter and the burst of new growth in Spring)  was also drawn with a rams head.  There are two Greek stories connected to Aries, the first the story of the how the Golden Fleece came to be and second is part of the Odyssey. 

Phrixus and Helle were the two children of King Athamas of Boeotia, in Asia Minor.  Their step-mother, Ino, wished to be rid of them but their mother, the goddess Nephele, arranged for a golden fleeced ram to rescue them.  The golden ram flew high above the Earth with the children in his back.  Helle looked down and became dizzy at the great height they flew at, lost her grip and fell back to Earth to her death.  The place where she fell has been known ever since as the Hellespont, the place where Europe and Turkey meet.  Phrixus stayed on the ram's back and when they landed safely in Colchis he sacrificed the ram to Zeus and nailed the fleece to a tree.  There it stayed until Jason and the Argonauts came searching for it.

The second tale relates to when Odysseus and his men found themselves stranded on the Isle of the Cyclops.  To escape the cave of Polyphemus they had to trick the cyclops, who had blocked off the cave entrance with a great stone.  They gave him drugged wine then were able to blind his single eye with a tree trunk hardened in the fire.  The remaining men that hadn't been eaten by the cyclops only escaped by tying themselves to the underside of Polyphemus' flock.  The cyclops felt each sheep as it left the cave to graze in the morning, but he didn't detect the Ithacans and they escaped.  This tale is a symbolic one of the return of the sun from it's winter home at the Vernal Equinox (the ram emerging from the dark cave). 
An excerpt from Johan van Keulen's Boeck zee-kaardt, 1709.
Aries the Ram admiring his golden fleece.
The horizontal dashed line is the celestial equator.
The dashed line running through Aries is the Ecliptic,
the path the sun takes through the sky during the year.
Below is the gaping mouth of Cetus the Whale.

The First Point of Aries was the point on the Ecliptic where the Sun crossed the celestial equator at the March Equinox.  This point was within the boundaries of Aries back in Greek Times but now the First Point is well across the other side of Pisces, approaching Aquarius.  The equinoctial sun was in Aries during the years 1730 BC to 420 AD approximately.

Hamal, alpha (a) Arietis, is a shortened form of "the Head of the Sheep".   Sheratan, beta (b) Arietis, means "a Sign."  Gamma (g) Arietis, a nice double star when viewed by telescopes, is known as Mesartim (or Mesarthim) which may be connected to the Hebrew word for Ministers.  The fourth star of note in Aries is delta (d) Arietis, Botein or "the Belly", although on most modern charts it marks the tail of the reclining Ram. 

This article is ©2001 Stargazers Astronomy

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