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Cancer Mythology

In mythology, Cancer is associated with the crab in the story of the Twelve Labours of Heracles (represented by the Hercules constellation). In the myth, Hera sends the crab to distract Hercules while the hero is fighting the Lernaean Hydra, the serpent-like beast with many heads and poisonous breath, represented by Hydra constellation. When the crab tries to kill Hercules, Hercules kicks it all the way to the stars.

Old woodcarving of Cancer - the crab

According to this myth, a giant crab named Crios guarded the sea nymphs in the Greek god Poseidon’s kingdom. He was enormous and strong, and Poseidon himself had blessed him with immortality.

When the god of monsters Typhon terrorised the gods of Olympus; Poseidon, along with most of the other gods, went into hiding. He left Crios in charge of protecting the sea nymphs, who were considered to be Poseidon’s daughters. The crab took his role as protector very seriously, and wouldn’t let any of the sea nymphs outside of his reach. After a while, some of the sea nymphs became restless, and convinced that they were in no danger from Typhon, escaped into the open sea.

Crios could not chase them as he was charged with protecting the other sea nymphs, so he enlisted the help of the giant squid, Vamari. Little did he know that Vamari (whose name translates to “Vampire Squid”) had ill intentions, and when he caught up to the sea nymphs, he devoured them.

When Vamari returned to Crios, he told the crab that despite a valiant effort, he could not find any of the missing sea nymphs. Crios knew that he was lying and attacked him. They battled for hours until the crab finally won. But he had sustained such bad injuries that he was terribly crippled from that time forward. Since he was immortal, though, he could not die, but had to live in pain.

When Poseidon returned he saw the bravery that the crab had shown and relieved him of his pain, but not his immortality, by placing him in the sky as the constellation Cancer.

In another version, the crab gets crushed instead and Hera, a sworn enemy of Hercules, places it in the sky for its efforts. However, she places the crab in a region of the sky that has no bright stars, because despite its efforts, the crab was not successful in accomplishing the task. Cancer does not have any stars brighter than fourth magnitude.

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