Skyscript home page

Related article:

Read Gemini the Twins for myths, meanings and traits of Gemini.


Star Lore of the Constellations: Gemini the Twins - by Deborah Houlding

Notable stars in Gemini: Epoch 2000
Longitude Name Nature Mag. Position Lat. Dec.
03 Cn. 26 Tejat Mercury/ Venus 2.88 Left foot of Northern Twin 01S 22N
05 Cn. 18 Dirah Mercury/ Venus 3 Left foot of Northern Twin 01S 23N
09 Cn. 06 Al Hena Mercury/ Venus 1.93 Left foot of Southern Twin 07S 16N
18 Cn. 31 Wasat Saturn 3 Middle of the figure 00S 22N
20 Cn. 15 Castor Mercury 1.58 Head of Northern Twin 10N 32N
23 Cn. 13 Pollux Mars 1.14 Head of Southern Twin 07N 28N

Gemini, the most northernly constellation of the zodiac, is dominated by the two bright stars that represent the heads of the Twins. The ancient Babylonians referred to the constellation as Mastabba Galgal, the 'Great Twins', and commemorated within it the mythical friendship of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, who fought against the gods in twelve adventures. Little is known of the Egyptian interest in the constellation (they referred to it simply as the 'Two Stars'), yet we know that the Greek Hero Hercules evolved from Egyptian origins and we can assume that their traditions lingered in the Greek recognition of the two stars as Hercules and Apollo - the tale of Hercules, of course, being closely associated with the labours of Gilgamesh.

It was the Romans who referred to the stars as Castor and Pollux; the names by which they are known today. In myth they are the twin Sons of Leda, born in an egg after Jupiter seduced her disguised as a swan. The seduction took place on the night of her wedding to the King of Sparta. Thus the twins were spawned by different fathers: Castor by a king, and Pollux by a god. Both were great warriors but Castor was renown for his skill in horsemanship (his name has been translated as 'horseman') and his talent for the arts, music and sciences, whilst Pollux was blessed with immortality, powerful strength and ferocity.

Their place in the heavens was secured when Castor was killed and Pollux, grief stricken, declared that he wanted to join his brother in Hades. Zeus took pity on the brothers and allowed both to experience the worlds of Hades and Olympus, provided they shared their immortality by living alternating lives between heaven and earth.

The quest for divine immortality is a main thread of all the ancient myths associated with this constellation. The myth of Gilgamesh is told through twelve adventures and is considered to be a reflection of the solar journey. In the first six he becomes ever stronger and appears invincible but in the seventh he experiences the death of his friend, personal illness, and becomes increasingly concerned for his mortality. In his search for immortality and to demand that his friend be resurrected to life, he travels to the Mountain of the sunset on the western horizon and passes through its portals guarded by Scorpion-men, into the region of darkness which takes him twenty four hours to cross. Ultimately he is denied immortality, the mythological significance being that the sun-god can never become immortal and must perish at sunset, sojourn in the underworld and repeat the cycle again at sunrise. The ongoing battle of vitality and decay is part of the dualism that is the key to understanding the symbolic essence of Gemini. It is emphasized in ancient Euphratean representation of the Twins, where they are frequently depicted as the Sun and Moon, one rising as the other sets. [1] In a strange parallel to the Roman myth, Pollux has experienced an increase in luminosity and become a 1st magnitude star, the brightest of the two, whilst Castor, which held this honour until three centuries ago, has undergone a reversion of brilliance, and is now almost 2nd magnitude.

Another myth tells how Castor and Pollux sailed on the Argo and by their strength and ingenuity saved the lives of their fellow mariners during a terrifying storm. Classical sailors were particularly taken by these stars and prayed to them for protection at sea during storms. Writing in the first century AD, Pliny tells how the sight of the Twins shining together brought comfort to sailors and foretold a prosperous voyage. But one visible without sight of its companion is unlucky: "they drown those ships on which they light, and threaten shipwrack, yea, and they set them on fire...."[2]

The stars were also reputed to offer protection from the phenomenon known today as 'St. Elmo's Fire' - a weird and wonderful celestial light which sailors looked upon as "dreadfull, cursed, and threatening". Pliny reported that "men assigne this mightie power to Castor and Pollux, and invocate them at sea, no lesse than gods". Many ships sought the beneficial patronage of Gemini by using Castor and Pollux as their figurehead. A passage in the Bible tells how Saint Paul travelled on such a vessel, [3] and the constellation was often symbolised by the picture of two stars over a ship, a state of guardianship which Horace referred to in his Odes:

So Leda's twins, bright-shining at their beck
Oft have delivered stricken barks from wreck.

Besides their benevolence to sailors, the Twins were also protectors and inspirers of all soldiers and military men. Legend claims that they appear at the head of armies, inciting men forward as they march into battle. But they were also great lovers of art, science, love and beauty. According to Manilius the Twins lived a life of ease and unfading youth spent in the arms of love. They have great affinity with music and study and such is their genius that they outstrip the flight of the stars in their ability to predict the movement of heaven.[4]

Castor's skill with horses is said to be shared by those born under the influence of the star. Generally, Pollux was renown for strength and ferocity, while Castor excelled in the muses, wisdom, prophecy, logic and artful negotiation. Pollux, a fiery red star, was listed by Ptolemy as having a nature like Mars; Castor, a bright white star, like Mercury. Astrologically, Pollux denotes a spirited nature and encourages violence, rashness and a love of sport; Castor promotes the intellect and endows success in study. Both stars are considered beneficial, but they can promote sickness, great upset and trouble when afflicted.

Of the remaining stars in Gemini, Ptolemy claimed that those in the feet are of the nature of Mercury with a moderate influence of Venus, and those in the thighs like Saturn. Alhena (or Al Hena), the third brightest star of the constellation, is a brilliant white star located in the left foot of Pollux. The name has been translated by various authors as a reference to a wound or affliction, with Vivian Robson relating it to "the wound in the tendon of Achilles". The Arabic term is loosely translated to mean a brand or burnt-in mark and it is surprising that more has not been made of its symbolic association with a point of sensitivity and affliction, (admittedly Robson attributes a liability to accidents affecting the feet). More generally, Alhena's influence is reputed to bestow eminence in art, literature, science and persuasive diplomacy. Eric Morse reported artistic skills, "especially with the written or spoken word and ability to negotiate a peaceful settlement in disputes" while Ebertin-Hoffman note that this star confers a spiritual orientation and "an artistic inclination, with interest in the sciences".[5]

Tejat and Dirah are both located in the left foot of Castor, so traditionally share the Mercurial/Venus nature. Tejat, or Tejat Prior ('forward foot'), appears to reflect the martian qualities however, in its reputation for relaying "violence, pride, over-confidence and shamelessness".[6] Dirah, also known as Tejat Posterior ('latter foot'), repeats a similar martian theme. Robson claims that it is symbolically called "the Abused or Beaten One", while suggesting that its influence offers "force, energy, power and protection". [7]

Wasat, whose name means 'Middle', is a double white and purple star which has suffered recent confusion over its placement on the constellation figure. Some locate it on the right arm of Castor, while others place it near the central waist area of Pollux, which seems more relevant to its name. It is listed by most authors as having a nature like Saturn. Robson says of Wasat: "It gives violence, malevolence, destructiveness as a first principle, and is connected with chemicals, poisons and gas".[8] More recently, Dr Eric Morse has observed an influence more in keeping with communicative command: "Because of the Saturnine quality of this star, it gives a heaviness and tendency to pessimism. Apart from that however, Al Wasat does show up a quality of being able to speak with clear authority when others are waffling and prominence in public affairs or management is often the result". [9]

The best time to view Gemini is December. Look out for the Geminid meteor shower which appears every year in mid-December.
The Sun crosses Tejat around June 25th / Dirah around June 28th / Al Hena around July 2nd / Wasat around July 11th / Castor around July 13th / Pollux around July 16th.
The twin stars of Gemini are easily identifiable to the northeast of Orion.

Notes & References:
  1 ] R.H. Allen, Star Names, Their Lore and Meaning; 1899, Dover Publications, pp. 224-225
Back to text

  2 ] Pliny, Natural History, II, XXXVII. A reproduction of Pliny's 1st century text is available online at Bill Thayer's site external link
Back to text

  3 ] Acts, 28:11. "And after three months we departed in a ship off Alexandria, which had wintered in the isle, whose sign was Castor and Pollux."
Back to text

  4 ] Manilius, Astronomica, (c.10 AD), Harvard Heinemann, Loeb Classical Library; 4.152, (Loeb p.235).
Back to text

  5 ] Vivian Robson, The Fixed Stars & Constellations, 1923; p.126.
Dr Eric Morse, The Living Stars, 1988, Amethyst Books; p.44.
Ebertin & Hoffman, Fixed Stars and their Interpretation, trans. Irmgard Banks (AFA, 1971), p.38.
Back to text

  6 ] Robson, p.213
Back to text

  7 ] Ronbson, p.163
Back to text

  8 ] Robson, p.216
Back to text

  9 ] Morse, p.44.
Back to text

© Deborah Houlding

Stars & Constellations