Taurus the Bull

TAURUS THE BULL
I mark, stern Taurus, through the twilight grey, The glinting of thy horn, And sullen front, uprising large and dim, Bent to the starry Hunter's sword at bay.
Taylor.

There is every reason to suppose that the constellation Taurus was one of the first to be invented. In ancient Akkadia it was known as "the Bull of Light/' and before the time of Abraham, or over four thousand years ago, the Bull marked the vernal equinox. For the space of two thousand years therefore, Taurus was the prince and leader of the celestial hosts. The sun in Taurus was deified under the symbol of a bull and worshipped in that form, and evidence of this idolatry is seen in the sacred figures found among the ruins of Egypt and Assyria, in the form of a bull with a human face, or a human shape with the face and horns of a bull. On the walls of a sepulcher excavated at Thebes, Taurus is shown as the first of the zodiacal signs, and the representations of the Mithraic Bull on gems of four or five centuries before Christ prove that Taurus was at that time still prominent in the astronomy and religion of Persia and Babylon. The Egyptians regarded Taurus as the emblem of a perpetual return to life. They identified it with Osiris, the Bull-god, the god of the Nile, and worshipped it under this figure by the name "Apis." Plunket considers that the Apis Bull of Egypt was looked upon as a living representation of the zodiacal Bull, and that this figure may have been known before the building of the Great Pyramid. The Persians also were worshippers of the Bull. They designated the successive signs of the zodiac by the letters of the alphabet, and with them A stands for Taurus, B for the Twins, etc., clearly indicating that they considered the Bull the first sign of the zodiac. Reference to the astrological books of the Jews shows that they, too, considered Taurus the leader of the zodiacal signs. In fact in all the ancient zodiacs that have come down to us Taurus apparently began the year, and it seems to have been regarded as a Bull in all of the ancient Mediterranean countries, and also in countries far distant from Europe, and from the scenes of Hellenic mythology. The constellation is exceedingly rich in myth and legend. According to Grecian mythology, this is the Bull that carried Europa over the seas to that country which derived from her its name. She was the daughter of Agenor, and, it is said, so beautiful that Jupiter fell in love with her. He assumed the form of a snow-white Bull and mingled with the herds of Agenor. Europa, charmed with the sight of the beautiful creature, had the temerity to sit upon his back. The god took advantage of the situation and carried Europa across the seas to Crete. In Moschus, translated by Andrew Lang, we read of Jupiter's achievement and of his journeying with Europa: Swiftly he sped to the deep . . .
The strand he gained and forward he sped like a dolphin, faring with unwetted hooves over the wide waves, and the sea as he came grew smooth, and the sea monsters gambolled around before the feet of Jupiter, and the dolphin rejoiced and rising from the deeps he trembled on the swell of the sea. The Nereids arose out of the salt waters and all of them came on in orderly array, riding on the backs of sea beasts. Tennyson in his "Palace of Art" thus alludes to Europa:
Or sweet Europa's mantle blew unclasp'd, From off her shoulder backward borne; From one hand droop'd a crocus; one hand grasp'd The mild Bull's golden horn.
The kidnapping of Europa has been a source of inspiration to a host of poets and artists in all ages. On the ceiling of the Ducal Palace in Venice there is a celebrated painting by Paul Veronese depicting the Rape of Europa. The following sonnet by Wm. W. Story is descriptive of this picture:
Zephyr is wandering here with gentle sound
The first fresh fragrance of the Spring to seek;
The milk-white steer, whose budding horns are crowned
With flowery garlands, kneeling on the ground
Receives his burden fair, and turns his sleek
Mild head around, her sandalled foot to lick;
Luxuriant, joyous, fresh, with roses bound
About her sunny head, and on her cheek
The glow of morn, Europa mounts the steer.
One handmaid clasps her girdle, and one calls
The hovering Loves to bring their garlands near.
From her full breast the loosened drapery falls,
As borne by Love o'er slope and lea she goes,
Glad with exuberant life fresh as a new-blown rose.

Again we read:

Now lows a milk-white bull on Asia's strand,
And crops with dancing head the daisied land,
With rosy wreaths Europa's hand adorns
His fringed forehead and his pearly horns.
Light on his back the sportive damsel bounds,
And, pleased, he moves along the flowery ground.
Bears with slow steps his beauteous prize aloof,
And, dips in the dancing flood his ivory hoof.

Jupiter's exploit was commemorated on earth by the naming of a continent, and in the heavens by the constellation Taurus. There is every reason to suppose, however, that Taurus antedated the period of Greek interest in astronomy, and that the constellation was invented by the Egyptians or Chaldeans. T With the Romans, prior to the reign of Julius Caesar, the year began in March, when Taurus is just visible in the western horizon setting after the sun. "The white Bull opens with his golden horns the year/' is the way Virgil expresses it. The idea of whiteness in connection with Taurus seems to have had a very early origin. It probably arose from the Greek legend of the mythical Bull, which is always described as snow white. Among the ancient Chinese Taurus was known as "the White Tiger"; later it was called "the Golden Ox." Strangely enough we find that the South American In- dians of the Amazon country called this star group "the Ox." Here again is further proof that at a very early date there was a transmigration, or a means of communication unknown to us, between the far east and the far west. Aratos refers to the Bull as "Crouching." Manilius speaks of "the striving Bull," and according to Cicero, the Bull's knees are "bent." The Bull is depicted as in a crouching attitude, in accordance with the legend, that Europa might the more easily mount upon his back. It is not clear why only half the figure is shown, when there was sufficient space and stars were not lacking to depict the entire figure. In the half horse, Pegasus, we have a similar incongruity which is difficult to explain. In the case of Pegasus, as has been explained, the horse is presumed to be flying upwards through the clouds and there- fore but half of the creature appears. In like manner the Bull is supposed to be swimming and half his body is submerged. Jensen identifies Taurus with Marduk, the Spring Sun, which was worshipped as far back as 2200 B.C. He is of the opinion that the constellation was formed as early as 5000 B.C., even before the equinox lay there. The Bull was an important object of worship with the Druids, and their great Tauric festival was held when the sun entered this constellation, a survival of which has come down to us in the festival of May Day. It has been claimed, says Allen, that the tors of England were the old sites of the Tauric worship of the Druids, and our hot cross buns are the present representatives of the early bull cakes, with the same stellar association tracing back through the ages to Egypt and Phoenicia. According to a Scotch myth the Candlemas Bull is seen rising in the twilight on New Year's eve. Mrs. Benjamin has written a most interesting mono- graph on the sun in Taurus which the writer takes the liberty of quoting from, as it reveals much that is enlightening concerning the constellation, and the customs that have survived the ancient worship of this time-honoured star group: 14 In all ages of the world the nations have hailed with delight the return of spring and the revivification of nature under the warmth and heat of the sun. This universal festival we know as May Day and it commemorates the entrance of the sun into the constellation Taurus at the vernal equinox 4000 B.C. It is still. observed in all parts of Great Britain, among us, and in India and Persia. "The old English 'Morris Dance' is a remnant of this festival time, and Maurice says, ' I have little doubt that May Day or at least the day on which the sun entered Taurus has been immemorially kept as a sacred festival from the creation of the earth and man, and was originally intended as a memorial of that auspicious period and momentous event'." In the Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, and Coptic the word for bull means "coming" or "who cometh," and the lucida of the constellation is a first magnitude star called "Aldebaran," which means the "leader." The Masonic Tau Cross, is an expressive symbol of the vernal equinox and of immortality. The emblem is found on many of the ancient monuments of Egypt, and clearly its astronomical significance can be traced to the constellation Taurus, for Brown tells us that the word "Tau" is derived from an Egyptian or Coptic root meaning a bull or cow. The ancient hieroglyphic sign of this constellation Taurus presents the face and horns of a bull. The Greek letter Tau (t) and the English (T) are derived from this symbol by the following steps:

In the Hebrew zodiac Taurus is ascribed to Joseph, and Dr. Seiss asserts that Taurus represents the fabled unicorn. In the so-called "Apostolic Zodiac" Taurus was said to represent St. Andrew, or the Burnt Sacrifice. Astrologically speaking, says Proctor, Taurus gives to its natives (those born from April 19th to May 20th) a stout athletic frame, broad bull-like forehead, dark curly hair, short neck, a dull apathetic temper, exceedingly cruel and malicious if once aroused. It governs the neck and throat, and reigns over Ireland, Poland, part of Russia, Holland, Persia, Asia Minor, the Archipelago, Mantua, Leipsic, etc. It is a feminine sign and unfortunate. The flower is the jonquil, and the stone, agate. It was considered under the guardianship of Venus, and white and lemon were the colours assigned to it
. ... go forth at night. And talk with Aldebaran where he flames In the cold forehead of the wintry sky. Mrs. Sigourney.

The Arabic name for a Tauri is "Aldebaran," which means the "leader," or the attendant or follower, i.e., of the Pleiades. It was also known to the Arabs as "the Eye of the Bull," and "the Great Camel," "the Stallion Camel," "the Fat Camel," "the Female Camel," and "the Bull's Heart." The Hindus called the star "Rohini," meaning the "Red Deer" probably because of its colour, which is decidedly ruddy. According to Lockyer, Aldebaran rose heliacally at the beginning of spring in Babylon 6900 years ago, and it was thought that its rising at this time unattended by showers portended a barren year. The Babylonians regarded Aldebaran as "the Leading Star of Stars," as it was the brightest star in the first of the zodiacal signs. The Akkadians called it "the Furrow of Heaven” and "the Messenger of Light” although Allen tells us that this latter title was applied to Hamal, Capella, and Vega. Astrologically Aldebaran was a fortunate star, portending riches and honor, and it was one of the four "Royal Stars" or "Guardians of the Sky" of Persia, 5000 years ago, when it marked the vernal equinox. Mrs. Martin sees in these four starry Guardians of the Sky a suggestion of royalty : "As one slips away from our admiring gaze we turn to hail the coming of the other. ' The King is dead: long live the King. 9 " The rising of Aldebaran is thus described by Mrs. Martin: "Along in September a very little north of east it shows its fiery face above the horizon with such unmistakable individuality that it catches the eye of even the least observing…It glows with a rosy light that demands recognition and at once pronounces it one of the most important heavenly bodies."
According to Peschitta the line in the book of Job, " Dost thou guide Ayish and her children ?" refers to Aldebaran and the Hyades. "'Ash" means "moth" and the Hyades are V-shaped, resembling a butterfly or moth. Aldebaran lies along the moon's track and is often occulted by our satellite. Because of its position it is a star much used by navigators in ascertaining their position. It is nearly a standard first magnitude star, lacking only two tenths of a magnitude of so being. Elkins states that Aldebaran is twenty-eight light years distant from us. This enormous distance is perhaps better gauged when we say that if the distance from the earth to the sun, a matter of ninety-three million miles, be considered as one inch, Aldebaran would be twenty-seven miles away. Aldebaran is said to be receding from us at the rate of thirty miles a second, and Prof. Russell tells us that this gigantic sun emits 160 times as much light as our sun. It culminates at 9 p.m., Jan. 10th. Beta Tauri, also known as Gamma Aurigae, a second magnitude star, was called by the Arabs "El-Nath," which means the "Butting One," a reference to its position in the northern horn of the Bull. This star is common to the constellations Taurus and Auriga.
Aratus thus refers to it:
The tip of the left horn and the right foot
Of the near Charioteer, one star embraces.
The star is peculiarly white in color, and Allen tells us that "the sun stood near this star at the commencement of spring 6000 years ago. It has a Sirian spectrum, and is re- ceding from us at the rate of about five miles a second. Between it and Psi Aurigae was discovered on the 24th of January, 1891, the now celebrated Nova Aurigae that has occasioned so much interest in the astronomical world." Among the Hindus it represented Agni, the god of fire, and among the astrologers it portended eminence and fortune. Zeta Tauri, a 3.5 magnitude star, marks the tip of the southern horn of the Bull. The wonderful "Crab Nebula" is situated a little north-west of it, and can be seen in a three- inch glass, though a powerful telescope alone reveals its curious form. Astrologically Zeta Tauri was considered of mischievous influence. Taurus contains the greatest number of stars of any constellation, 141 in all, exclusive of the Pleiades. The celebrated star clusters, the Hyades and Pleiades, are contained in Taurus. As they are specially note- worthy the writer has seen fit to devote a chapter to them.
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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