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Read Libra the Scales for meanings and traits of the star-sign Libra.


Star Lore of the Constellations: Libra the Scales - by Deborah Houlding

Notable stars in Libra: Epoch 2000
Longitude Name Nature Mag. Position Lat. Dec.
15 Sc. 05 Southern Scale /
Zuben Elgenubi
Saturn/ Mars 2.9 Southern Scale 00N 16S
19 Sc. 22 Northern Scale /
Jupiter/ Mercury 2.7 Northern scale 09N 09S

The constellation of Libra the Scales was originally known as the 'horn' or 'claw' of the Scorpion, for which reason early classical authors claimed that although there were twelve divisions of the zodiac, there were only eleven zodical figures.[1] The word Rin, meaning Scales, emerges towards the onset of the classical period, and gained credence through association with the scales of Astraea, the Roman Goddess of justice who was frequently identified with Virgo.[2] Thus the symbolism of this constellation has swung between allegiance with the imagery of the Scorpion and the Maiden, with many early classical writers, including Ptolemy, referring to the group both as the Scales and as Chelae, 'the Claws'. This deserves some reflection: of the two main stars, the Northern Scale, which lies closest to Virgo, carries an influence much in keeping with the stars of Virgo, whilst the Southern Scale, closest to Scorpio, appears to resonate to that constellation's malevolency.

Classical authors acknowledged the influence of Egypt, where 'the scales' were seen as a symbol of justice, and used to weigh the souls of the dead against the Feather of Truth as part of the ritual for gaining entrance to the underworld. The symbol for Libra ( ) appears to derive from the Egyptian hieroglyphic Akhet, 'the place of sunrise', possibly because the full Moon in Libra heralded the return of the Sun to the Vernal Equinox. The integration of Egyptian culture into the Hellenistic world which took place around the 3rd century BC most probably led to the change of name with Manetho, a Greek astrologer of the time, writing: "... the claws, for which holy men have changed the name and call the balance, because it stretches out on both sides like the sides of a balance..." [3] Since the Sun's approach to the stars of this constellation occured at the equinox, astrologers would naturally recognise the symbolic resonance of a season marked by balance, justice and measure. This is the meaning that the 1st century astrologer Manilius attributed to its influence, writing:

Balancing night with the length of day, the Scales will bestow the employment of weights and measures and a son to emulate the talents of Palamedes, who first assigned numbers, and to these numbers names, fixed magnitudes and individual symbols. He will be acquainted with the tables of law, abstruse legal points, and words denoted by compendious signs; he will know what is permissible and the penalties incurred by doing what is forbidden; in his own house he is a people's magistrate holding lifelong office… Indeed, whatever stands in dispute and needs a ruling the pointer of the balance will determine. [4]

The Arabian names for the two main stars reveal an interesting reflection upon the essence of balance: the Southern Scale is termed Zuben Elgenubi, 'the price to be paid', with the Northern Scale, Zubenelschemali, translating as 'the Price to be Received'. Because of the malefic nature of the Southern Scale, astrological influences relating to justice and good fortune through legal skills have tended to be focused upon the Northern Scale, which is considered a very fruitful and prosperous star, associated with riches, honour and good fortune. This is an emerald, 2nd magnitude star, noted for its unusual colour and attributed a Jupiter-Mercury influence by Ptolemy. According to Ebertin and Hoffman, its conjunction with the Sun, Moon or Jupiter favours civil servants, lawyers and scientists.

The stars in the southern scale are given a pointedly malefic and martial influence, much in keeping with the more ancient imagery of the Scorpion's Claw. The brightest, Zuben Elgenubi, traditionally known as the Southern Scale, is a 2nd magnitude double star of pale yellow and grey. Its nature, according to Ptolemy, is like Saturn and Mars and its influence widely reported to be unfortunate and damaging. Robson writes that it causes malevolence, obstruction, an unforgiving character, violence, disease, lying, crime, disgrace and danger of poison. [5] Ebertin and Hoffman agree with the unhelpful influence, adding an indication of danger with water and claiming that this is especially prominent in natives born during the night. They note that it is disadvantageous if Saturn or Neptune is with this star, whilst the conjunction of the Sun or Moon is bad for the health. [6]

Both stars bestow an immortal name, though often through tragedy, and whilst either can indicate a rapid rise in fortune, they can equally foretell a sudden downfall when the planets through which they act are afflicted. This is especially so of the Southern Scale. Of the direction of the Sun to the Chelae, by which he presumably meant the Southern Scale, Lilly wrote:

This direction is averse to the Honour of the Native, and doth impeach the Health of Body, it threatens the Native with a poysonous or very sharp Feaver; if he Navigate, he suffers extreamely by Shipwrack, and shall be in danger of death; yet it promises good from Martiall employments, both Preferment and Estate. [7]

Libra is a faint constellation, best viewed in late spring. The Southern Scale, Zuben Elgenubi, which is the alpha star, can be found to the northeast of Spica and the northwest of Antares, notable for its red colour. If you imagine a line between Spica and Antares, midway along the line, and slightly to the north, you will find the Southern Scale. The Northern Scale lies above it, a few degrees to the east.
The Sun crosses the Southern Scale around 8th November each year; it crosses the Northern Scale around 12th November.

Notes & References:
  1 ] Allen, Star Names, their Lore and Meaning, Dover, 1963; p.107ff.
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  2 ] See: Star Lore of the Constellations - Virgo the Maiden.
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  3 ] Quoted in Ancient Astrology Theory and Practice: The Mathesis of Firmicus Maternus, trans. Jean Rhys Bram; Noyes Classical Studies, 1971; note 22, p.305
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  4 ] Manilius, Astronomica, (c. 10 AD) trans. G.P. Goold, 1997, published by Harvard Heinemann, Loeb classical library, London. 4.203 ff., (Loeb p.239).
Palamedes was a Greek mythological character whose contributions to knowledge were compared to the Egyptians, as being the first to represent thought through symbols and words; he was also said to have invented the dice, several letters of the alphabet and many board games. In Greek myth he outwitted Odysseus, making him join the expedition against Troy, for which Odysseus took his revenge by setting him up on a charge of treason.
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  5 ] Vivian Robson, The Fixed Stars and Constellations, 1923, facsimilie republished by Ascella, London, p.205.
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  6 ] Ebertin & Hoffman, Fixed Stars and their Interpretation, trans. Irmgard Banks (Tempe, AZ: The American Federation of Astrologers, 1971), p.65.
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  7 ] Lilly, Christian Astrology, p.667.
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© Deborah Houlding

Stars & Constellations