One of the twelve Olympians, Apollo was one of the most revered gods in antiquity and one of the last pagan sun gods before Christianity. Apollo, along with the other Olympians, had the power to add people and animals to the constellations in the night sky. Many of the constellations we see today are associated with Greek Mythology. When Claudius Ptolemy, a Greco-Roman astronomer, mathematician, and geographer, wrote his astronomical treatise called the Almagest in 150AD, it documented the most popular myths of ancient Greece.
Apollo’s name is attached to dozens of Greek and Roman myths where he was mostly depicted as a youthful, male protector and healer of the common people. Even though the twelve Olympians were either the protagonist or antagonist in these myths, not one is clearly identifiable in the constellations. Perhaps they’re present in some special way, hidden amongst the constellations representing his symbols.
The Symbols of Apollo in the Constellations
Like many of the Greek Gods, Apollo had many symbols. These symbols were usually associated with the great accomplishments those deities made or pertained to the domains over which they ruled. In this case, Apollo was the god of archery, music and dance, truth and prophecy, healing and diseases, the sun and light, and poetry. The laurel and palm tree were hallowed to Apollo. Animals sacred to Apollo included wolves, dolphins, roe deer, swans, cicadas (symbolizing music and song), hawks, ravens, crows, serpents, mice, and griffins. He was often depicted pulling the sun across the sky with his chariot towed by horses or swans. His weapon of choice was a golden bow and feathered arrows, but he was known to possess a golden sword. Many of these symbols are ancient constellations that were cataloged by Ptolemy and he placed Apollo in an appropriate location for a Sun God, in the Vernal Equinoctial location.
By using the constellations that are considered symbols of Apollo, I believe I have found Apollo himself. He is a series of constellations, which follows Ptolemy’s pattern of grouping constellations according to meaning. All of these symbols correspond to special constellations in one area of the sky and make up the mega constellation of Apollo. These constellations are all grouped together in the same part of the sky to form the figure of Apollo with a sword and shield. The symbols of Apollo are the lyre as the Constellation Lyra; the dolphin as the Constellation Delphinus; the eagle representing his father Zeus as the Constellation Aquila; the swan representing his mother Leto as the Constellation Cygnus; the Constellation Equuleus representing the horses for his Sun chariot; his feathered arrow as the Constellation Sagitta; the Constellation Cepheus representing his golden sword; and the Constellation Aquarius representing the healing springs associated with his temples. The asterism called the Summer Triangle represents the tripod used by the oracle at Delphi.
The 17th Century Polish astronomer, Johannes Hevelius, added two other constellations to Apollo in 1690AD. Hevelius added Scutum, the shield in his left hand because Apollo had his sword (Cepheus) in his right hand. Vulpecula, the Fox was the other constellation added by Hevelius. This either shows previous knowledge of Apollo in this location or very lucky placement by Hevelius. It seems much more than a coincidence. Here is a description of each constellation as it associates with Apollo.
Lyra, the Lyre
The lyre, which is perhaps his most well-known symbol, signifies that Apollo is the god of music and patron of the nine Muses of the arts. It was the god Hermes who constructed the lyre out of a turtle shell and gave it to Apollo in exchange for the rod of health. The lyre was originally bestowed with the qualities to invoke and communicate the messages of the gods. As the harp of the angelic messengers, its tuning and voice are not merely for pleasure, but specifically to harmonically translate divine information into vibration that supports healing and our evolutionary unfoldment. Apollo is generally shown playing the lyre in art from the ancient world through the Age of Enlightenment. The lyre is said to have seven strings, the number of Apollo.
At some point, Apollo gave the lyre to Orpheus, the greatest poet and musician of ancient Greece. In his hands, the magical lyre was said to have the power to charm the birds, fish and wild beasts, coax the trees and rocks into dance, divert the course of rivers and, turn items, like stones, into musical instruments. Without Orpheus and his music, the Argonauts would not have been able to make it past the Sirens, whose song enticed sailors to come to them, which usually resulted in sailors crashing their ships into the islands on which the Sirens lived. When the Argonauts approached the islands, Orpheus drew his lyre and played music that drowned out the Sirens’ calls.
Orpheus regarded Apollo, the Sun god, as the supreme deity and would often sit on the summit of Mount Pangaea awaiting dawn so that he could be the first to salute the Sun with his melodies. This didn’t set well with Dionysus, so he sent his manic female followers to tear Orpheus limb from limb. Zeus sent one of his eagles or the nine Muses to retrieve the lyre after his death and he placed them both, the eagle and lyre, in the constellations. Therefore, the Constellation Lyra, with its brightest star Vega, represents Apollo’s Lyre and was at times depicted in stellar illustrations as hanging from an Eagle’s or Vulture’s claws. Lyra stands alone, placed appropriately between Cygnus, Delphinus, and Hercules.
Sagitta, the Feathered Arrow
There are different stories to account for Sagitta, the arrow in the sky. Eratosthenes said it was the projectile with which Apollo killed the Cyclopes because they made the thunderbolts of Zeus that struck down Apollo’s son, Asclepius. According to this story, Asclepius was a great healer with the power to raise the dead, but Zeus killed Asclepius when Hades, god of the Underworld, complained that he was losing business. Asclepius is commemorated in the Constellation Ophiuchus.
Sagitta has been regarded as the Arrow of Cupid. Apollo’s connection to Cupid is through the myth of Apollo and Daphne. Greek Mythology states that Apollo had been mocking the God of Love, Cupid. In retaliation, Cupid fired two arrows: a gold arrow that struck Apollo in the chest and made him fall in love with Daphne, and a lead arrow that made Daphne hate Apollo. Under the spell of the arrow, Apollo continued to follow Daphne, but she continued to reject him. Apollo told Daphne that he would love her forever.
Daphne turned to the river god, Peneus, and pleaded for him to free her from Apollo. In response, Peneus used metamorphosis to turn Daphne into a laurel tree. Apollo used his powers of eternal youth and immortality to make Daphne’s laurel leaves evergreen. It’s believed that Daphne has to sacrifice her body and turn into a tree as this wasthe only way she could avoid Apollo’s advances. The Laurel became the symbol of Apollo and the symbol of poetry.
Cygnus, the Swan
Cygnus is an ancient constellation that might date back to the earliest civilizations and ancient sites. One of these locations is Gobekli Tepe in Turkey that is believed to be the oldest megalithic site in the world.
There are several myths attached to the Apollo and the swan. Apollo’s mother, Leto, is associated with swans because some ancient authors believed Leto was from Hyperborea and the home of Apollo’s swans. Secondly, from the swans described in the myth of Apollo and Artemis in Delos.
In ancient Greek lore the swan was sacred to the god Apollon. Large flocks were believed to inhabit the river Eridanus or Eridanos in mythical Hyperborea where they circled the god’s holy shrine singing hymns. The Hyperborean folk were themselves believed to transform into swans upon reaching old age by bathing in the bitumen swamps of the river. The normally mute swan was further believed to sing a dirge as its death approached–reputedly the sweetest of all bird-songs. Today, we call it someone’s “Swan Song”.
The major asterism found in Cygnus is called the Northern Cross. As Cygnus sets on the northwestern horizon, the head of Cygnus, the star Albireo, sets first and allows the constellation appear to be a crucifix.
Delphinus, the Dolphin
In ancient times, the dolphin was said to be a messenger of the Gods and a type of oracle for the Sons of God. This surname of Apollo derived either from his slaying the dragon Delphine or Delphyne (usually called Python) who guarded the oracle at Delphi, or from his having shown the Cretan colonists the way to Delphi, while riding on a dolphin or metamorphosing himself into a dolphin. Under this name Delphinus, he had temples at Delphi, Athens, Didyma, Massilia, and Cnossus in Crete.
Delphinus and Dolphin comes from Greek delphis, genitive delphinos, ‘dolphin’, whence Greek delphus, ‘womb’, (referring to its shape), Sanskrit garbha, ‘womb’. Greeks called siblings born of the same mother adelphoi (singular), adelphos (brother), and adelphas (sister), literally “from the same womb”. The common dolphin is Delphinus Delphi.
Even though the Constellation Delphinus is one of the smallest constellations, it is home to an asterism called Job’s Coffin. The stars in Delphinus form a diamond shaped figure that resembles a coffin or tomb. The four stars used in the asterism are located at the head of the dolphin. According to Stellarium, the same stars form another constellation called “The Little Cross” in the Romanian culture. It represents “the hand cross” carried from house to house by Orthodox priests on the first day of the year. The constellation was thought to originally have nine stars and were considered to represent the nine Muses in which Apollo was the patron.
Equuleus, the Little Horse
In Greek mythology, Equuleus represents the foal Celeris, which means “swiftness” or “speed”. Equuleus is believed to be the offspring or brother of the winged horse Pegasus. Celeris was given to Castor by Mercury. Other myths say that Equuleus is the horse struck from Poseidon’s trident, during the contest between him and Athena when deciding which would be the superior.
Equuleus is one of three horse constellations in the sky. One of the strange facts concerning these three horse is they all rise and set at the same bearing on the horizon. In Greece during the time of Apollo’s oracle, they rose and set following the sun on the equinoxes (90 and 270 degrees). To Apollo, these may represent the horses or swans that pulled his sun chariot across the sky each day.
Aquila, the Eagle
Aquila represents an eagle, the thunderbird of the Greeks and a symbol of Apollo’s father Zeus. In Greek and Roman mythology, the eagle was the bird of Zeus, carrying the thunderbolts which the wrathful god hurled at his enemies. There are several explanations for the presence of this eagle in the sky.
In one myth, to determine the center of the world, Zeus released two eagles from opposite ends of the earth, one from the east and one from the west, and the precise spot where they met, was in Delphi. In the Apollo figure, Cygnus and Aquila meet head to head forming the arms of Apollo. This could be a reference to the two eagles meeting at Delphi.
In ancient times, Delphi was known for the Temple and Oracle of Apollo and considered the center of the world. Zeus placed the Omphalos stone at Delphi to represent the navel of the world. In the ancient world of the Mediterranean, the stone was a powerful religious symbol. An Omphalos stone is an egg shaped stone with a carving of a knotted net covering its surface, and a hollow center, widening towards the base.
Cepheus, the King
Cepheus was catalogued by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd century and one of the most inconspicuous constellations in the sky. Cepheus is a very ancient constellation and first created in 3500 BC. The name, Cepheus, could have been a reference to Cheops or Khufu, the pharaoh that built the Great Pyramid of Egypt. Like the mythology of Cepheus, Khufu was supposed to be the descendant from Io, or Iasion, the son of Zeus and Electra.
Cepheus is part of a group of constellations referred to as the “Royal Family”. This group would include the constellations of Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Perseus, and Andromeda.
Cepheus is considered a circumpolar constellation, because it never dips below the horizon in the northern hemisphere. One of the most striking features of Cepheus, to the observer, is the shape of the constellation. It looks like a house, because, when upright, Cepheus has a roof, walls and a floor. Considering the point formed by the stars of the constellation, it seems to form the golden sword of Apollo.
Aquarius, the Water Bearer
Aquarius’s association with Apollo is through the healing springs that are typically located near his temples. One such spring is the Castalian Spring, in the ravine between the Phaedriades at Delphi. This location is where all visitors to Delphi, the contestants in the Pythian Games, and especially pilgrims who came to consult the Delphic Oracle, stopped to wash themselves and quench their thirst. Roman poets regarded it as a source of poetic inspiration. According to some mythological versions it was here that Apollo killed the monster, Python, who was guarding the spring, and that is why it was considered to be sacred. Springs were traditionally associated with the Apollo at Delphi, and along the Kerna Fault there were at least six springs.
The Greeks linked this constellation with Ganymede, the cup bearer to the gods. According to lore, Ganymede was a good-looking young man who was the object of Zeus’ affection and was brought to Mount Olympus, where he served as cup bearer to the gods and was granted eternal youth.
Ganymede, often riding on Aquila and always carrying the golden cup, accompanied the great god on his travels, impressing him with his kindness. This was made manifest when, realizing how in need of water the people on earth were, he pleaded with Zeus to be allowed to help them and was given permission to send down rain. Eventually he was glorified as Aquarius, god of rain, and placed amongst the stars.
The Constellation Aquarius represents the legs of Apollo in the constellations, When Apollo is standing upright in the eastern sky Aquarius is oriented to appear he is standing on the horizon.
Scutum, the Shield and Vulpecula, the Fox
These two Johannes Hevelius constellations were added late in 17th century when he was preparing his own set of star charts known as Firmamentum Sobiescianum.
Hevelius seems to have been aware of Apollo when he placed Scutum, the Shield in Apollo’s left hand considering he had a sword in his right formed by Cepheus. According to Hevelius, Scutum was created to honor King John III Sobieski of Poland, who was a brilliant military leader celebrated throughout Europe for his role in repelling the Ottomans from the gates of Vienna in 1683. This historical event occurred very close to Hevelius’s death in 1687. Did he already have a shield planned for that location in the sky or was it created after the event? We will never know, but, either way, it’s in the hand of a warrior.
Hevelius displayed the shield with a Christian cross and the letters “I.N.R.I” on the top of the cross signifying it as a crucifix in honor of the crusade. The I.N.R.I. reads Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum (Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews), which further associates the cross to the crucifix.
As for the Constellation Vulpecula, it’s a bit of a mystery. Its name is Latin for “little fox”, although it is commonly known simply as the fox. It was originally known as Vulpecula cum ansere (“the little fox with the goose”) or Vulpecula et Anser (“the little fox and the goose”), and was illustrated with a goose in the jaws of a fox. According to Hevelius, he placed Vulpecula because there were some unclaimed stars between Sagitta and Cygnus. However, the stars that form the constellation are very faint. The goose was eventually dropped from the constellation.
Considering Hevelius’s meaningful placement of Scutum in the sky, maybe there is something equal in the placement of Vulpecula. In the Apollo figure, Vulpecula would represent the chest of Apollo, so this may relate to Dionysus. Dionysus, or Bacchus, the god of wine, intoxication and ecstasy. In opposition to Dionysus, Apollo is the god of logic, reason and music. The dichotomy of Apollo and Dionysus was a popular theme in ancient Greece. Although they are both sons of Zeus, they are very different.
Dionysus is often depicted wearing fox skins over his shoulders and chest. In Greek mythology, he is responsible for sending the Teumessian fox, a gigantic fox that was destined never to be caught, to prey upon the children of Thebes as a punishment for a national crime.
The Summer Triangle
The Summer Triangle is an asterism consisting of three bright stars in three separate constellations that make up the figure of Apollo; Deneb in the constellation Cygnus; Vega in the constellation Lyra; and Altair in the constellation Aquila. These constellations make up the head, right and left arms of Apollo.
This triangle could represent the tripod the oracle sat on at Delphi. As I mentioned, the tripod was sacred to Apollo. In Christianity, the Holy Trinity (the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) includes the touching of the head and both shoulders. The triangle’s best time for viewing is during the summer months, which includes the summer solstice.
If this mega-constellation is truly the figure of Apollo, he should not only be visible at his temple and oracle at Delphi, but his visibility should coincide with important times of the year, like the solstices and equinoxes.
Apollo at Delphi 500 BC
The Temple of Apollo at Delphi was the famous oracle and cultural center in the ancient world, with its tectonic features, hydrocarbon gases, and springs. The temple was built in 550BC and oracle was used from 550BC to 300AD, so I have chosen 500 BC as a good time frame for the astronomy at Delphi. If the figure in the constellations is truly Apollo, he must be present at Delphi and be visible in an appropriate time of year that represents the characteristics of a sun deity.
Primarily the winter solstice and vernal equinox would be considered important times of year. During the three winter months (December, January, and February) Apollo is away from Delphi in the land of Hyperborea. His absence starts at the winter solstice, which was December 26th in 500 BC using the Gregorian calendar. The vernal equinox, March 26th in 500 BC was the time of year Apollo is supposed to be returning to Delphi from Hyperborea.
Hyperborea was chronicled as a paradise to the far north, beyond the land of winter. Boreas was the North Wind, and he lived in the land just south of Hyperborea itself. It was behind impassable mountains, and the sacred river Eridanus with its banks lined with amber-weeping poplar-trees and its waters home to flocks of white swans. The Hyperborean capital contained a circular temple dedicated to Apollo where they celebrated in an eternal festival of music, song and dance whose hymns were joined by the sweet song of the circling Hyperborean swans.
Due to Mount Parnassus to the north of the temple, viewing the stars and constellations on the northern horizon from the temple is impossible. Delphi is situated in mountainous terrain, which blocks the sun and stars from viewing at true rising and setting times. I have created a table and two graphs with the Angular Altitude of the Skyline (AAS) for the vantage point at the front of the temple. The AAS is important for determining the angle necessary for viewing celestial
objects without having the terrain blocking their view.
The table lists important azimuth bearings around the temple. Each bearing in the first column has an AAS in the second column considering height of the terrain at that bearing. The last column lists the celestial object(s) being viewed for the first or last time considering the azimuth bearing, the AAS, and the elevation. I used Google Earth Pro’s elevation profile tool, the Pythagorean Theorem, and Calculus to calculate the AAS. I have recorded the “Azimuth from Temple” at 5° intervals and skipped azimuth bearings that are unaffected by the geography or fail to have celestial objects rising or setting at that particular bearing.
Constellations at Zenith
The zenith line in the picture shows all the constellations that passed over Delphi during the time period of 500 BC. There are many important constellations that pass directly over the temple at zenith. Lyra (Lyre), Cygnus (Swan), Corona Borealis (Laurel crown worn by Apollo), Hercules, Auriga, Bootes, and Perseus are the major constellations that pass over Delphi. Many of these constellations are symbols of Apollo or at least associated with him.
The Constellation Gemini passes very close to zenith at an altitude of approximately 82°. The Gemini twins were first known as Apollo and Hercules rather than Castor and Pollux. Castor (Apollo) passes the closest to the zenith point.
Hercules and Perseus are half-brothers to Apollo and are both tied to the oracle at Delphi through their adventures. In one myth, Hercules became angry when he was refused advice from the oracle, so he attempted to steal Apollo’s prize tripod from the Pythia. It was the oracle that started Perseus’s adventure to retrieve medusa’s head and the rescue of Andromeda from the sea monster.
The Constellation Auriga, the Charioteer, represents the chariot races that took place during the Pythian Games at Delphi. The “Charioteer of Delphi” is one of the best known ancient Greek statues, and one of the best preserved examples of classical bronze casts. It is one of the few remaining statues that has survived from that time period.
Auriga may be a charioteer, but he is also portrayed as a shepherd. Apollo is the patron of herdsmen and shepherds. Two named stars in Auriga are Haedus and Hoedus II (The Kid Goats) refers to a shepherd tending his flock and could be the reason for Auriga significance over the temple.
The entrance to Apollo’s temple is approximately at an azimuth bearing of 50°, which is 9° too far north of the rising sun on the summer solstice. Furthermore, the sun doesn’t appear fully until the 75° due to mountainous skyline to the northeast. This has been a mystery concerning the temple considering Apollo is a God of light and the sun. Another possible explanation for the temple entrance oriented so far north is the zenith constellations, Lyra and Cygnus. They rise close to the azimuth bearing of the entrance and are first seen at an altitude of 20° between the azimuths bearing of 55-60° degrees as seen in the table. In this picture, the green line is aligned with the entrance to the temple and Vega is already above the 23° altitude and Deneb will rise to that point in approximately two hours. This could be a possibility for the entrance in that direction.
The relationship between the constellations associated with Apollo’s symbols and the Temple at Delphi is significant. This demonstrates the knowledge the ancient Greeks possessed concerning the constellations and their ability to build structures with these constellations in mind. Other than the constellations that pass over the temple and oracle at zenith, let’s examine the figure of Apollo in the constellations with the structures at Delphi.
The Theater of Apollo
One structure at Delphi is the Theater of Apollo on the temple grounds. The amphitheater is one of these structures that aligns with the Apollo figure formed by his symbols in the constellations. The amphitheater faces the southeast at approximately 140-145°, the same part of the sky Apollo reaches full height with the star Vega of the Constellation Lyra is at zenith directly over the temple. The blue line in both pictures are at the same 140° bearing.
The picture below shows what the sky looked like on the Vernal equinox at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The Vernal equinox is an important time for any sun god, because the sun would be gaining strength until the summer solstice. The sun is about to rise in the east as Vega is at zenith.
The next series of pictures shows the progression of the Apollo figure rising in the east prior to sunrise. The figure gradually rises a bit further above the horizon each month after the winter solstice to the vernal equinox when the Apollo figure rises to full height with Vega at zenith.
On the winter solstice, Lyra is the only constellation visible before sunrise.
One month later, Lyra, Cygnus, Sagitta, and Aquila are visible.
In February, Lyra is working its way toward zenith, but it’s not quite there.
During the three months prior to the vernal equinox, the gradual rise of the constellations of Apollo simulates his approaching arrival back to Delphi.
There is evidence that the Greeks at Delphi were aware of the constellations representing the symbols of Apollo. Several pass over at zenith and the figure of Apollo aligns with the theater at an important solar event, the Vernal Equinox, during the year at Delphi.