Aries is one of the constellations of the zodiac. It is located in the northern celestial hemisphere between Pisces to the west and Taurus to the east. The name Aries is Latin for ram, and its symbol is (Unicode ♈), representing a ram’s horns. It is one of the 48 constellations described by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy, and remains one of the 88 modern constellations. It is a mid-sized constellation, ranking 39th overall size, with an area of 441 square degrees (1.1% of the celestial sphere).
Although Aries came to represent specifically the ram whose fleece became the Golden Fleece of Ancient Greek mythology, it has represented a ram since late Babylonian times. Before that, the stars of Aries formed a farmhand. Different cultures have incorporated the stars of Aries into different constellations including twin inspectors in China and a porpoise in the Marshall Islands.
The First Point of Aries, the location of the vernal equinox, is named for the constellation. This is because the Sun crossed the celestial equator from south to north in Aries more than two millennia ago. Hipparchus defined it in 130 BC. as a point south of Gamma Arietis. Because of the precession of the equinoxes, the First Point of Aries has since moved into Pisces and will move into Aquarius by around 2600 AD. The Sun now appears in Aries from late April through mid May, though the constellation is still associated with the beginning of spring.
In ancient Egyptian astronomy, Aries was associated with the god Amon-Ra, who was depicted as a man with a ram’s head and represented fertility and creativity. Because it was the location of the vernal equinox, it was called the “Indicator of the Reborn Sun”. During the times of the year when Aries was prominent, priests would process statues of Amon-Ra to temples, a practice that was modified by Persian astronomers centuries later. Aries acquired the title of “Lord of the Head” in Egypt, referring to its symbolic and mythological importance.
Aries was not fully accepted as a constellation until classical times. In Hellenistic astrology, the constellation of Aries is associated with the golden ram of Greek mythology that rescued Phrixus and Helle on orders from Hermes, taking Phrixus to the land of Colchis. Phrixos and Helle were the son and daughter of King Athamas and his first wife Nephele. The king’s second wife, Ino, was jealous and wished to kill his children. To accomplish this, she induced a famine in Boeotia, then falsified a message from the Oracle of Delphi that said Phrixos must be sacrificed to end the famine. Athamas was about to sacrifice his son atop Mount Laphystium when Aries, sent by Nephele, arrived. Helle fell off of Aries’s back in flight and drowned in the Dardanelles, also called the Hellespont in her honor. After arriving, Phrixus sacrificed the ram to Zeus and gave the Fleece to Aeëtes of Colchis, who rewarded him with an engagement to his daughter Chalciope. Aeëtes hung its skin in a sacred place where it became known as the Golden Fleece and was guarded by a dragon. In a later myth, this Golden Fleece was stolen by Jason and the Argonauts.
Historically, Aries has been depicted as a crouched, wingless ram with its head turned towards Taurus. Ptolemy asserted in his Almagest that Hipparchus depicted Alpha Arietis as the ram’s muzzle, though Ptolemy did not include it in his constellation figure. Instead, it was listed as an “unformed star”, and denoted as “the star over the head”. John Flamsteed, in his Atlas Coelestis, followed Ptolemy’s description by mapping it above the figure’s head.Flamsteed followed the general convention of maps by depicting Aries lying down.
Aries depicted in an early medieval manuscript, c.1000
Aries as Archetype
As the spiritual new year begins at the spring equinox, Aries is typically associated with new beginnings. This seems appropriate with the cycle of the seasons beginning with a fresh sprouting of new vegetation each spring. The Aries archetype can be used as a powerful means of breaking from the past and initiating new activities in our spiritual quest.
Astrologically, Aries has been associated with the head and its humors. It was considered to govern Western Europe and Syria, and to indicatea strong temper in a person. Mythologically, the Greek god Ares is equivalent to the Roman god Mars. “Ares is the personification of bold force and strength, and not so much the god of war.” “Ares did whatever possible to incite war and turmoil, and was probably the most single-minded of all the deities.” Interestingly, Mars in Roman tradition does not have the fickleness that Ares possessed. Additionally, Mars was originally considered the god of fertility and vegetation. Aries is the cardinal fire sign, bursting out at the spring equinox, when nature boldly renews itself, like the mythical bird Phoenix, rising out of its own ashes. Each of these descriptions go right to major archetypical influences from Aries. That death-defying strength is the sign of the Warrior, the archetype of Aries, who jumps to a challenge and fears no adversary. It’s the character of seeing life as a challenge and gladly taking it on. Without it, bold endeavor would never occur. So Aries is also the archetype of the explorer and adventurer, be he Indiana Jones or Captain Kirk.