|Capricornus, which means the Horned Goat,
is one of the older constellations in the sky. He is usually depicted
as a goat with a fish's tail for his hindquarters. It seems to date
from Sumerian (pre Babylonian) times and is connected with the god Ea or
Oannes. Ea had many names, some of them were "the God of Wisdom"
and "the Antelope of the Subterranean Ocean." Ea lived deep in the
ocean as a fish but when he appeared among men he took the form of a man
with a fish-tailed cloak. He taught men to write and build cities,
compile laws and other sciences and arts, as well as how to collect seed
and fruits for cultivation.
The Greeks attached their own mythological
explanation to why there would be a goat with a fish's tail in the sky.
One day the huge sea monster Typhon (represented by Cetus
the Whale in the sky) gate-crashed a party the gods were having.
In a panic, they scattered everywhere. The goat-god Pan jumped into
the river to escape downstream and tried to turn himself into a fish, but
in his haste he only turned the bottom half of himself into a fish's tail.
In the mean time Zeus was attacked by Typhon and had his muscles torn from
his legs and arms. Pan, emerging from the water saw this and blew
loudly on his pipes to frighten Typhon away. This also attracted
attention from the other gods and they restored Zeus so that he was able
to collect his lightning bolts and chase Typhon back to his lair.
In gratitude for Pan's help Zeus placed his half-goat, half-fish form in
An excerpt from Johan van
Keulen's Boeck zee-kaardt, 1709.
The ecliptic (the black-dashed
right through the middle
About two thousand years ago the Sun reached
the southern-most point of it's annual journey within the stars of this
constellation, hence the name of the Tropic of Capricorn. Due to
Precession this point now occurs in neighbouring Sagittarius. This
most southerly aspect offers some other clues as to why such an odd creature
was created. In those ancient times the Solstice for the Northern
hemisphere occurred during Winter (as it still does), the cold and rainy
season. Capricornus, Aquarius and Pisces are all associated with
water and have all contained the Winter Solstice (of the Northern
Hemisphere) at some time in the past.
Algedi, sometimes spelt Algiedi,
Capricorni, means "Goat" or "Ibex." It is an optical double;
that is, there are two stars so close they appear as a double but they
are not physically related to one another. Beta (b)
Capricorni was also known as Dabih, "the Lucky one of the Slaughterers"
which referred to a practice of the "heathen Arabs" who practised ritual
sacrifices at the time of Capricornus' heliacal rising in ancient times.
Capricorni was called Nashira, "the Fortunate One" or "the Bearer
of Good Tidings". This linked in with Deneb Algedi, the two
making a prominent pair in their fairly empty patch of sky. Such
pairings were often known as "The Two Friends," so Nashira is merely
a comment reflecting one half of the pair of friends. The brightest
star in the constellation is Deneb Algedi, delta (d)
Capricorni, which means "the Tail of the Goat."
This article is ©2001