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Star Lore of the Constellations: Crater the Cup, by Deborah Houlding

Notable stars in Crater: Epoch 2000
Longitude Name Nature Mag. Position Lat. Dec.
23 Vir 41 Alkes Venus Mercury 4.2 Base of cup 23S 18S
26 Vir 41 Labrum Venus Mercury 3.8 Body of cup 18S 15S

The constellation of Crater, the Cup or Bowl, lies on the back of Hydra next to Corvus the crow. One of the myths concerning Apollo and Corvus tells how the Crow was sent to fetch a cup of water. During the errand he lazily loitered at a fig tree, eventually returning to Apollo with a water snake in his claws, whom he falsely blamed for his delay. Seeing through his lies, Apollo arranged that the bird would be fixed in heaven along with the cup and the snake. And so that he would know the pains of feeling thirsty, he was to be forever prevented from drinking out of the cup by the folds of the snake.

Crater the Cup, however, though seen here to be the source of elusive pleasure, is not itself an unfortunate constellation; rather it is viewed as a somewhat intangible font of great blessing. As the container of all-precious moisture, (the fertilizing element of life), the constellation is regarded as auspicious and has the capacity to bestow eminence and good fortune upon those who fall under its influence. It is in keeping with the symbolism of this constellation, and that attached to bowls and cups generally, to suggest that it signifies success in pregnancy, creative matters, romantic unions or spiritual quests; and that it represents the sense of honour which accompanies successful completion of long-sought aims (as represented in the bestowing of cups as prizes in contests). The inability of Corvus to partake of its benevolence informs us that it offers a sense of satisfaction which may not be attained by indirect means or sinister motivations: its reward is available only to the deserving, those who have staked their claim through the honest efforts of their past. The classical astrologer Manilius alludes to this when he refers to it as 'the Cup of Bacchus', stating that whoever derives his character from it "will drink without stint the wine he has produced and enjoy in person the well earned fruits of his labours". We are also told in the writings of Manilius that the constellation has particular significance for those whose wares are nourished by moisture or associated with water. "Such are the men to be fashioned by the Bowl, lover of all that is wet".[1]

Ptolemy listed the stars of Crater as like Venus and Mercury. Labrum, though only 4th magnitude, is the brightest. Robson, like many other authors, has associated the star with the myth of the much-sought Holy Grail. He states that, when rising, it brings "ecclesiastical preference or very good fortune", whilst in its general influence it gives "ideality, physic power, intelligence, honour and riches".[2]

In more worldly matters, Labrum, by its lubricating essence, can be expected to facilitate agreement, and foster smooth progress by offering an harmonious environment. A similar interpretation is given to Alkes (from the Arabic Al Kas 'the cup'). It was also referred to as Fundus vasis, describing its position at the base of the vessel; and from this position we would expect it to relate more to philosophical or hidden, rather than worldy, benefits.

As to the effects of the constellation as a whole, Robson writes that it gives:

a kind, generous, cheerful, receptive, passionate and hospitable nature with good mental abilities, but subject to apprehension and indecision. There is a disordered life full of sudden and unexpected events, and great danger of unhappiness, but usually some eminence. [3]


Crater and its neighbour Corvus 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 Alkes around 15th September and Labrum around 18th September each year.

Notes & References:
  1 ] Manilius, Astronomica, (c.10 AD), translated by G.P. Goold, (Harvard Heinemann, Loeb Classical Library, London, 1976), 5.240-251 (loeb p.319).
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  2 ] Vivian Robson, The Fixed Stars and Constellations, (1923), p.173.
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  3 ] Ibid., p.41
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© Deborah Houlding. First published in The Traditional Astrologer Magazine, issue 16; March 1998. Expanded and published online October 2005.

Stars & Constellations