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Star Lore of the Constellations: Hercules, the kneeling man - by Deborah Houlding

Notable stars in Hercules: Epoch 2000
Longitude Name Nature Mag. Position Lat. Dec.
16 Sag 09 Ras Algethi Mercury Mars 3.5 (v) Head of figure 37N 14N

The constellation Hercules was not known to the Greeks by that title. Manilius called it Engonasin; Ptolemy, Geniculator, both terms roughly meaning 'the Kneeling Man'. It is a very ancient constellation whose origins were already a mystery by the classical period. Aratus wrote of it in the 3rd century BC:

Of it can no one clearly speak,
Nor to what toil he is attached; but, simply
Kneeler they call him. Labouring on his knees,
Like one who sinks he seems... [1]

Only Eratosthenes put forward an account of its origin - one which modern scholars have associated with the ancient myth or Gilgamesh, the solar hero whose twelve adventures are believed to relate to the Sun's passage through the twelve zodiacal signs. [2] These later formed the basis of the Greek myth of Hercules. An important part of Gilgamesh's quest was to slay the dragon Humbaba, represented in the heavens by the constellation Draco, which is usually depicted under the Kneeling figure, as if in a submissive pose.

Manilius attributed few admirable qualities to Engonasin and saw no semblance of a hero in its features. From it comes the thug who terrorises the heart of the city, whose characteristics include desertion, craftiness and deceit. Sloth and crooked dealings are also implied where he states:

If perchance the mind is moved to consider a profession, Engonasin will inspire him with enthusiasm for risky callings, with danger the price for which he will sell his talents. [3]

By the late 15th century the modern title was becoming popular and some of the more heroic and cunning qualities of Hercules were evident in the constellation's influence. Lilly added 'subtlety and craft', 'spirit and valour' to the qualities of audiciousnesse mixed with cruelty and rashnesse. He said that when the Moon is directed to Hercules, It signifies the Native to be proud, audacious, imperious, powerfull, &c.. But it also indicates an unhealthy time, which is particularly ominous for the native's wife or mother.

Ras Algethi, the main star, located in the head, is a double star shining red, orange and bluish green. It is notable for its variations in brilliance between the 3rd and 7th magnitude. Modern authors Ebertin and Hoffman comment that the star is supposed to give favours from women when well placed but troubles when afflicted, as well as a generally bold nature. Lilly stated that when the Sun is directed to it:

It gives Dignity by reason of the Native's wit and discretion, but it doth threaten Imprisonment or Arrests for or concerning Moneys or Wares entrusted to him, damage in Estate, and usually a sudden burning Feaver. [4]

According to Ptolemy the influence of the constellation is like Mercury, although most subsequent authors have added an influence of Mars to the stars in the head. [5]

Outline of constellation Hercules

Although Hercules is a large constellation (5th largest) many of its stars are quite faint, so it is not particularly prominent. To find it, first locate Wega in Lyra and Arcturus in Bootes. Between these lie two constellations: Corona Borealis (The Northern Crown) and Hercules. Corona Borealis is a small U shaped constellation. A line drawn straight up from the star at the edge opposite from Arcturus, will point towards the constellation Hercules. The best time to view is mid summer (in the northern hemisphere), when Hercules is almost overhead by the time it gets dark.

The Sun crosses Ras Algethi around 8th December each year.

Notes & References:
  1 ] Aratus, Phainomena, II (1st cent. BC), published by Harvard Heinemann, Loeb classical library.
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  2 ] The myth of Gilgamesh was recorded on tablets of the 7th century BC.
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  3 ] Manilius, Astronomica, (c.10 AD), translated by G.P. Goold, (Harvard Heinemann, Loeb Classical Library, London, 1976), 4.180-191 (Loeb p.237).
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  4 ] Lilly, Christian Astrology (1647) Regulus Reprint, pp.537, 690 & 703. See also p.649 where Lilly comments: "If in the 7th, 9th, 10th,, 11th or 1st house, Mars be with Arcturus, and the Moon with Hercules, the Native will dye by suffocation".
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  5 ] Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos (1st cent. AD) published by Harvard Heinemann, Loeb classical library; I.9 (Loeb p.55) - where he refers to the constellation as Geniculator. Ramesey, who called the constellation both Hercules and Engonasin, followed the Mercurial influence for most of the constellation but added the influence of Mars to the head (Astrology Restored, p 102). Ebertin & Hoffman (Fixed Stars and their Interpretations) argue for a Mars/Venus influence for Ras Algethi, with only a slight influence from Mercury (p72).
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© Deborah Houlding. First published in The Traditional Astrologer Magazine, issue 17; September 1998. Published online September 2006.

Stars & Constellations