The Scorpion's claws here clasp a wide extent,
And here the Crab's in lesser clasps are bent.
Cancer, in spite of the fact that it is the most inconspicuous of all the zodiacal constellations, is very ancient, and has won almost universal recognition in all ages. Because of its dim appearance it has sometimes been called "the Dark Sign," and described as "black and without eyes," and it has been said that among all the constellations not one has been the subject of more idle opinions and more romantic suppositions than Cancer. Macrobius states that the Chaldeans named the constellation "Cancer" because the crab is an animal that walks backward or obliquely. The sun likewise arriving at this sign begins his apparent retrograde motion and again descends obliquely. According to Chaldean and Platonic philosophy, "the gate of men, " by which souls were supposed to descend into human bodies, was located in this constellation. Plunket tells us that in
Babylonia it seems to be established that a tortoise, not a crab, represents the constellation Cancer. It was so figured there and in in 4000 B.C. Egypt
, as we learn from the zodiacs of Denderah and Esne, it was the scarabaeus, the beetle, emblematic of immortality, that held the place given to the crab in the Grecian Sphere. Burritt thinks that as the Hindus in all probability derived their knowledge of the stars from the Chaldeans, the figure of the crab in this place is more ancient than the beetle. Egypt
The crab, tortoise, and beetle, the creatures selected to represent Cancer, are similar in many respects. They are hard shelled, insignificant in appearance, and sluggish in their movements, and in this latter attribute would well typify the sun's apparent movement when it arrives in this constellation. If it is admitted' says Plunket, "that in Egyptian astronomy the beetle played the important part of marking as a constellation one of the quarters of the ecliptic circle, then the fact that extraordinary honor is paid in Egyptian symbolic art to this lowly and unattractive insect is explained' Aratos called the constellation "xarxinos" Latinised it is found as "Carcinus," in the Alphonsine tables. In some Eastern zodiacs Cancer is represented by the figure of two asses, and some of the mediaeval astronomers represented it as a lobster or crayfish. In these similes we have, as in the case of the crab, tortoise, and beetle, slow-moving creatures used to represent the constellation, so that there is little doubt that this sign was meant to emphasize the apparent movement of the sun when it was in this part of the zodiac. According to the Greek legend, this is the crab that seized the foot of Hercules when he was fighting with the Lernean Hydra. The hero crushed the reptile to pieces under his heel, but Juno in gratitude for the offered service, placed the crab in the heavens. Another legend relates that Bacchus, afflicted with insanity, betook himself to the
. On the way thither he came to a great ' marsh, over which he was carried by an ass, one of two which happened to be near at the time. In return for this service, he transformed both creatures into stars. Still another story respecting these stars claims that they owe their place in the heavens to the fact that they were of service to the gods in their battle with the giants. Silenus and Bacchus rode them, and the loud braying of the asses frightened their enemies. temple of Jove
Allen states that Cancer is said to have been the Akkadian "Sun of the South," perhaps from its position at the winter solstice in very remote antiquity, but afterwards it was associated with the fourth month "Duzu" (our June- July), and was known as "the Northern Gate of the Sun." In
one of the temples was dedicated to Cancer, and the sun when it occupied that sign was sup- posed to descend at noon like a bird of fire, and consume the sacrifice on the altar. Cancer is celebrated chiefly because it contains the great naked eye star cluster "Praesepe," the so-called " Manger," from which two asses, represented by stars near by, are supposed to feed. This cluster is known in English astronomical folklore as "the Beehive," a name we do not know the origin of. This marvelous aggregation of suns presents on a clear night a dim misty appearance. It has often been mistaken for a comet. The "Beehive" is especially interesting historically as it afforded Galileo one of the earliest telescopic proofs of the existence of multitudes of stars invisible to the naked eye. He wrote: "The nebula called Praesepe, which is not one star, only, but a mass of more than forty small stars. I have noticed thirty stars besides the Aselli." The great telescopes of the present day reveal in this cluster three hundred and sixty-three stars. Praesepe has been regarded as representing the Manger in which Christ was born, and Caesius likened it to the Breastplate of Righteousness. Schiller claimed that Praesepe and the Aselli represented Yucatan the Evangelist. The most ancient scientific observation of Jupiter that is known to us was noted by Ptolemy as having occurred eighty- three years after the death of Alexander the Great, when Jupiter happened to pass over the Manger. This was in 240 B.C. St. John
In June, 1895, all the planets except
Neptune were in this quarter of the heavens, and here it was that Halley's celebrated comet appeared in 1531.
The Manger was a celebrated weather portent, as early as the days of Aratus and Homer. Aratus thus speaks of it in this connection:
And watch the Manger like a little mist
Far north, in Cancer's territory, it floats,
Its confines are two faintly glimmering stars,
One on the north, the other on the south,
These are two asses that the Manger parts,
Which suddenly, when all the sky is clear,
Sometimes quite vanishes, and the two stars
Seem closer to have moved their sundered orbs.
No feeble tempest then will soak the leas.
A murky Manger with both stars
Unaltered, is a sign of rain.
If while the Northern Ass is dimmed
By vaporous shroud, he of the south gleams radiant
Expect a south wind. Vapour and radiance
Exchanging stars, harbinger Boreas.
Pliny wrote: "If Praesepe is not visible in a clear sky it is a presage of a violent storm."
In China the Manger was known, says Allen, by the unsavoury appellation, "Exhalation of Piled-up Corpses," and within one degree of it Mercury was observed from that country on June 9, 118 a.d. One of the Chinese names for Cancer was "the Red Bird," and it was supposed to mark one of the residences of the Red or Southern Emperor.
In astrology, like all clusters, the Beehive threatened mischief and blindness. In this constellation was located the 6th lunar station of the Hindus, known as "Pushya," meaning "Flower." It was sometimes figured as a crescent, and again as the head of an arrow. If lines are drawn through the stars Gamma Delta and Theta on the diagram it will be seen that these figures are well named. The Hindu figure of a "flower" in this region of the sky reveals a strange coincidence, to say the least. In Peruvian astronomy Cancer was known as "Cantut Pata," or "Terrace of the Cantut," the cantut being the sacred flower of the Incas. Surely there is more than a coincidence in the fact that two nations, as widely separated as the Hindus and Peruvians, should see in this inconspicuous group of stars a resemblance to a flower. This fact would seem to indicate that at some time in the remote past there was intercommunication between these two great nations. The cantut flower of the Incas was of a deep red colour, and in June and July the fields around
Cuzco in are ruddy with the blooms. The ritual of the Peruvian festival of the sun included the Great Copper Dance, named from the use by the dancers of objects of that dark red metal. At that festival sacred cakes were eaten called "Cancu," made of crushed maize reddened with the blood of animals. The keynote of the ceremonials seems to have been to place emphasis on the colour red, the dark red hidden fire, the colour of the distant but returning sun. The red colour attributed to Cancer accords with the astrological allusion associating Cancer with violent deaths or accidents by fire. The Arabs knew Cancer as "the mouth and muzzle of the Lion,' as to them Leo was a more extensive figure than that known to us, and included Cancer. The Germans call the constellation "der Krebs," the French "le Caned" or "l'Ecrevisse." The astrological significance of Cancer has generally been malign. It was called "the House of the Moon" from the early belief that our satellite was located in Cancer at the Creation. It governs the breast and stomach, and reigns over Peru Scotland, Holland, Africa, Tunis, Tripoli, Constantinople, and . Those born under the sign, that is between June 21st and July 22d, will have a great love of home and family, be quick to feel the mental condition of those around them. Their natures will be quiet and placid, opposed to haste, yet fond of amusement and social pleasures. They dislike quarrels and are slow to change their ideas. New York
The star Alpha Cancri is a double. It was known to the Arabs as "Acubens," meaning "the Claws" and marks the Crab's southern claw. It culminates at 9 p.m. v March 18th. The two fourth magnitude stars north and south of the Manger, Gamma and Delta Cancri, were called by the Greeks "the Aselli," the asses feeding at the manger. The Arabs knew them by the same name. Bailey, in his Mystic of 1858, calls them "the Aselline Starlets." The Chaldaic name for the ass may be translated "muddiness," and Burritt thinks that this alludes to the discolouring of the
Nile, which river was rising when the sun entered Cancer.
Pliny wrote: "Sunt in Signo Cancri duae stellae parvae, aselli appellati."
In astrology these stars were portents of violent death to such as came under their influence. They are said to be of a burning nature, and to give great indications of violent and severe accidents by fire. The start Cancri is a ternary or triple star. Two of the stars can be seen with a small telescope. I quote Allen's reference to this star: "This is a system of great interest to astronomers, from the singular change in colour, the probable existence of a fourth and invisible component, and for the short period of orbital revolution -"sixty years” of the two closer stars."
The symbol of the sign probably denotes the claws of the Crab. It is also referred to the Aselli. '
Source: ”Star lore of all ages; a collection of myths, legends, and facts concerning the constellations of the Northern Hemisphere”, 1911 by Olcott, William Tyler
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