Aquarius is a constellation of the zodiac, situated between Capricornus and Pisces. Its name is Latin for “water-carrier” or “cup-carrier”, and its symbol is , a representation of water. Aquarius is one of the oldest of the recognized constellations along the zodiac (the Sun’s apparent path). It was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy, and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations. It is found in a region often called the Sea due to its profusion of constellations with watery associations such as Cetus the whale, Pisces the fish, and Eridanus the river.
As of 2002, the Sun appears in the constellation Aquarius from 16 February to 11 March. In tropical astrology, the Sun is considered to be in the sign Aquarius from 20 January to 19 February, and in sidereal astrology, from 15 February to 14 March.
Aquarius is also associated with the Age of Aquarius, a concept popular in 1960s counterculture. Despite this prominence, the Age of Aquarius will not dawn until the year 2597, as an astrological age does not begin until the Sun is in a particular constellation on the vernal equinox.
Aquarius is identified as GU.LA “The Great One” in the Babylonian star catalogues and represents the god Ea himself, who is commonly depicted holding an overflowing vase. The Babylonian star-figure appears on entitlement stones and cylinder seals from the second millennium. It contained the winter solstice in the Early Bronze Age. In Old Babylonian astronomy, Ea was the ruler of the southernmost quarter of the Sun’s path, the “Way of Ea”, corresponding to the period of 45 days on either side of winter solstice. Aquarius was also associated with the destructive floods that the Babylonians regularly experienced, and thus was negatively connoted. In Ancient Egypt astronomy, Aquarius was associated with the annual flood of the Nile; the banks were said to flood when Aquarius put his jar into the river, beginning spring.
In the Greek tradition, the constellation came to be represented simply as a single vase from which a stream poured down to Piscis Austrinus. The name in the Hindu zodiac is likewise kumbha “water-pitcher”.
In Greek mythology, Aquarius is sometimes associated with Deucalion, the son of Prometheus who built a ship with his wife Pyrrha to survive an imminent flood. They sailed for nine days before washing ashore on Mount Parnassus.
In Chinese astronomy, the stream of water flowing from the Water Jar was depicted as the “Army of Yu-Lin” (Yu-lin-kiun or Yulinjun). The name “Yu-lin” means “feathers and forests”, referring to the numerous light-footed soldiers from the northern reaches of the empire represented by these faint stars. The constellation’s stars were the most numerous of any Chinese constellation, numbering 45, the majority of which were located in modern Aquarius. The celestial army was protected by the wall Leibizhen, which counted Iota, Lambda, Phi, and Sigma Aquarii among its 12 stars. 88, 89, and 98 Aquarii represent Fou-youe, the axes used as weapons and for hostage executions. Also in Aquarius is Loui-pi-tchin, the ramparts that stretch from 29 and 27 Piscium and 33 and 30 Aquarii through Phi, Lambda, Sigma, and Iota Aquarii to Delta, Gamma, Kappa, and Epsilon Capricorni.
Near the border with Cetus, the axe Fuyue was represented by three stars; its position is disputed and may have instead been located in Sculptor. Tienliecheng also has a disputed position; the 13-star castle replete with ramparts may have possessed Nu and Xi Aquarii but may instead have been located south in Piscis Austrinus. The Water Jar asterism was seen to the ancient Chinese as the tomb, Fenmu. Nearby, the emperors’ mausoleum Xiuliang stood, demarcated by Kappa Aquarii and three other collinear stars. Ku (“crying”) and Qi (“weeping”), each composed of two stars, were located in the same region.
Three of the Chinese lunar mansions shared their name with constellations. Nu, also the name for the 10th lunar mansion, was a handmaiden represented by Epsilon, Mu, 3, and 4 Aquarii. The 11th lunar mansion shared its name with the constellation Xu (“emptiness”), formed by Beta Aquarii and Alpha Equulei; it represented a bleak place associated with death and funerals. Wei, the rooftop and 12th lunar mansion, was a V-shaped constellation formed by Alpha Aquarii, Theta Pegasi, and Epsilon Pegasi; it shared its name with two other Chinese constellations, in modern-day Scorpius and Aries.
The water carrier (the water carrier is a daughter of Poseidon) represented by the zodiacal constellation Aquarius is Ganymede, a beautiful Phrygian youth. Ganymede was the son of Tros, king of Troy (according to Lucian, he was also the son of Dardanus). While tending to his father’s flocks on Mount Ida, Ganymede was spotted by Zeus. The king of gods fell in love with him and flew down to the mountain in the form of a large bird, whisking Ganymede away to the heavens. Ever since, the boy has served as cupbearer to the gods. Ovid has Orpheus sing the tale.
The Aquarius myth follows the story of Ganymede, a young prince, and supposedly the most beautiful young man of Troy.
One day Ganymede was off tending to his father’s sheep in a grassy area on Mount Ida when he was spotted by Zeus (Greek mythology).
Now, you have to remember that back in ancient Greece, it was the social norm for an older man to take a “young boy” (anywhere from 12 to 19) as a lover. In Ganymede’s case, he was probably around 15 or so when the considerably older Zeus found him irresistibly beautiful and decided that he wanted him for himself.
Zeus transformed himself into the shape of a giant eagle and swooped down from Mount Olympus to Mount Ida. He grabbed Ganymede in his talons and carried him back to Mount Olympus to be his young lover / servant. Now, normally in these kinds of relationships the older man would serve as a sort of mentor to the younger one, but this was Zeus, and he pretty much gets whatever he wants. So Zeus decides that Ganymede will become his personal cup-bearer, basically bringing him drinks whenever he pleases.
Since Ganymede is now essentially Zeus’s slave, Zeus offers Ganymede’s father a herd of the finest horses in the land as compensation for taking his son away. This apparently appeases the father, though it’s doubtful that he had much of a say in the matter either way.
One day Ganymede has had enough, and he decides to pour out all of the wine, ambrosia, and water of the gods, refusing to stay Zeus’s cup bearer any longer. The legend goes that the water all fell to Earth, causing inundating rains for days upon days, which created a massive flood that flooded the entire world.
At first Zeus wants to punish Ganymede, but in a rare moment of self-reflection, Zeus realizes that he has been a bit unkind to the boy, so he makes him immortal as the constellation representing the Aquarius myth.
Aquarius is the fixed air sign, the thought that stayed and became how we define ourselves and our world. It’s the contemplation that we find time for during long and cold nights. Time for reflection. It’s the archetype of the Teacher, who makes sure that we cherish the conclusions of our predecessors and pass them on to posterity. It’s the profundity that makes us dare to call our species Homo Sapiens, the Wise Man. It may not make us cheerful, but it helps us come to peace with the terms of life.