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Star Lore of the Constellations: Corvus the Crow, by Deborah Houlding

Notable stars in Corvus: Epoch 2000
Longitude Name Nature Mag. Position Lat. Dec.
10 Lib 44 Al-Janah Mars Saturn 2.8 Right wing 14S 18S
12 Lib 15 Alchiba Mars Saturn 4.2 Beak 22S 25S
13 Lib 27 Algorab Mars Saturn 3.1 (v) Right wing 12S 17S
17 Lib 22 Kraz Mars Saturn 2.8 Claw 18S 23S

Corvus is the Latin name for both the raven and the crow and these two birds are usually paired together in mythology. From the same family, their obvious intelligence and ingenuity, as well as their distinctive caw, has given them a widespread association with trickery, storytelling, the relaying of messages, and the serving of self-interest. But the colour of their plumage has also drawn a universal connection with malevolence, sinister forces, and ominous warnings. The stars of Corvus share this reputation and the classical myths that relate to the constellation speak of mistrust, shameful motives, insincerity, glorification in the misfortune of others, and the bearing of bad news.

J.E. Cirlot, in his Dictionary of Symbols,[1] writes that in classical cultures the crow was believed to hold "certain mystic powers and in particular the ability to foresee the future: hence its caw played a special part in rites of divination". Others have suggested that the Romans dwelt upon the importance of its cry because it sounds like cras, cras, which in Latin means 'tomorrow, tomorrow'.

In view of its prophetic reputation, the Raven was said to be the sacred bird and messenger of Apollo, (the Roman god of prophecy), who cast favour upon it after the Sungod triumphantly assumed its shape during a contest of the gods. Manilius, even in referring to this nobler myth, implies an element of deception where he writes:

"Corvus, winner of spoils and a name, aided in combat by a bird which hides beneath a birds exterior the godhead of Phoebus". [2]

Most universal crow-myths speak of the bird being originally white or silver, and cursed black on account of its dark deeds. Such is the case in the myth of Apollo and the Raven, for as the 1st century poet Ovid narrates:

"The bird was once of a silvery hue, with such snowy feathers it could rival any dove."

According to his tale, Corvus was tasked with keeping a watchful eye over Apollo's pregnant wife Coronis, and spied her with a lover:

"the bird of Phoebus detected her in wrongdoing and, a pitiless informer, determined to reveal her guilt". [3]

In a fit of fury and despair Apollo killed his wife. The unborn child was rescued and raised as Aesculapius (aka Ophiuchus) under the care of the centaur Cheiron. This did not spare Apollo's hated of the bird who was the bearer of such a malicious report. He cursed it to the darkness of hell for taking pleasure in informing him of his wife's betrayal, as eloquently expressed by the 19th century American poet, J. C. Saxe:

Then he turned upon the Raven,
"Wanton babbler! see thy fate!
Messenger of mine no longer,
Go to Hades with thy prate!
Weary Pluto with thy tattle!
Hither, monster, come not back;
And - to match thy disposition -
Henceforth be thy plumage black" [4]

In Ovid's account, the Raven had been advised against revealing his sorry piece of news by a crow who had suffered a similar fate after spying on the daughters of his master. "The punishment I suffered may serve as a warning not to court danger by telling tales". But the warning was ignored and - lest we should miss its significance - repeated upon the raven.

Other myths, such as that embedded into the constellation of Crater the Cup, perpetuate the theme of selfishness and mistrust. Indeed, such is the popular view of crows and ravens as malicious messengers in folklore, that whilst we may refer to 'a pride of lions' or a 'drove of cattle', the collective terms applied to these birds are 'a murder of crows' and 'an unkindness of ravens'!

The most notable star of Corvus is Algorab, which simply means 'The Crow' in Arabic. This is a double star, located on the wing of the figure, variable in brilliance (from 2.94 + 8.4) and notable for its contrasting colours of purple and yellow. It is widely reported as having an unfortunate influence and - like all the stars of Corvus - it is listed as of the nature of Mars and Saturn by Ptolemy. Robson's description of this star, that it gives "destructiveness, malevolence, fiendishness, repulsiveness and lying, and is connected with scavenging" touches upon some of the principles that apply, at least in some measure, to all the stars of this group.[5]

Although Algorab is accorded the greatest astrological note, it is often superceded in brilliance by the 3rd magnitude stars Al-Janah (the wing), and Kraz (the claw). The location of the latter augments its symbolic connection to wilful destructiveness.

Alchiba (the beak), was once the brightest star of the constellation and is thus noted as the alpha star, but it is now much less brilliant than it was. Its position on the beak heightens the symbolic connection to the principle of mistrusting information, being mistrusted, or the dangers attached to being loose with words or taking shameful pleasure in gossip.

Corvus and its neighbour Crater are contained within a loop of Hydra the water snake and lie towards the south of Leo and Virgo. The top of Corvus lies to the west of the bright star Spica. (How to find Spica). The best time to view is mid-spring.

The Sun crosses Al Janah around 3rd October, Alchiba around 5th October, Algorab around 6th October, and Kraz around 10th October each year.

Notes & References:
  1 ] J.E. Cirlot, Dictionary of Symbols, translated by Jack Sage, (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1962), p.71.
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  2 ] Manilius, Astronomica, (c.10 AD), translated by G.P. Goold, (Harvard Heinemann, Loeb Classical Library, London, 1976), 1.785, (Loeb p.67). Manilius also refers to Corvus at 1.417 but gives no detailed astrological meaning.
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  3 ] Ovid, Metamorphoses, (17 AD), translated by Mary M. Innes, (Penguin Classics, Middlesex, England, 1955), p.64 ff.
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  4 ] Quoted in R.H. Allen's Star Names, Their Lore and Meaning; (Dover Publications, 1899), p.180. Back to text

  5 ] Vivian Robson, The Fixed Stars and Constellations, (1923), p.125.
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© Deborah Houlding. First published in The Traditional Astrologer Magazine, issue 16; March 1998. Expanded and published online September 2005.

Stars & Constellations