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Aries Mythology

The ancient Babylonians identified Aries as the agricultural worker, the last stop on the ecliptic. The name of the constellation later changed to Ram, but why the Babylonians changed it is uncertain.

In the 7th century BC, Neo-Babylonians did a revision of the Babylonian zodiac that placed Alpha Arietis, Hamal, very close to the vernal equinox, which is how Aries came to be so prominent among the zodiac signs in astrology.

Antique wood cutting image of Aries

In those times, Aries contained the equinox, the point at which the Sun crosses the celestial equator from north to south. Because of precession (slow wobble of Earth’s axis), the vernal equinox is no longer in Aries, but in Pisces. In 130 BC, however, it was located just south of Gamma Arietis (Mesarthim) and was taken to be the starting point of the zodiac.

In Greek myth, Aries is identified with the golden ram that rescued Phrixus and took him to Colchis, where he sacrificed the ram to the gods. The mythology of Aries comes from the story of Jason and the Argonauts, whose main quest was to find the golden fleece of Aries the Ram in order to prove himself to be the rightful king of Iolcos in Thessaly.

Phrixus was the son of a Boeotian king. He had a twin sister, Helle. The children had a stepmother, Ino, who hated them and wanted to get rid of them. She came up with a plan to put the land of the brink of famine by making sure the wheat crops failed. When a man was sent to consult the Oracle at Delphi, Ino bribed him to lie and say the Oracle asked for the king’s children to be sacrificed if they did not want the people to starve.

Phrixus and Helle were about to die when a winged ram with golden wool came to their rescue. The ram was sent by their real mother, the cloud nymph Nephele. It took both children and flew east to Colchis. Only Phrixus survived the journey. Helle fell off the ram and drowned in the Dardanelles. The strait was later renamed to Hellespont, or sea of Helle, in her memory.

Phrixus was welcomed by King Aeëtes of Colchis, to whom he presented the Golden Fleece. In return, the king gave Phrixus his daughter Chalciope’s hand.

The ram Aries has nothing to do with the god Aries (Ares), despite the fact that they are both based on Greek mythology and they share the same name. The god Ares was most often shown as a dog or vulture when in animal form, though one of his more famous exploits involved him turning into the shape of a boar to kill the beautiful Adonis, who was in love with Ares’ lover, Aphrodite. He was not known to take the form of a ram.

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