Capricornus (♑), a name meaning Horned Goat in Latin, is one of the constellations of the zodiac. It is commonly called Capricorn, especially in astrology. It is commonly called the sea-goat, as it is in an area of the sky known as the Sea. Capricornus is one of the 88 modern constellations, and was also one of the 48 constellations listed by Ptolemy. Under its modern boundaries it is bordered by Aquila, Sagittarius, Microscopium, Piscis Austrinus and Aquarius.
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This constellation is one of the oldest to have been identified, possibly the oldest, despite its dimness. Since it falls in an area of the sky known as the sea, it became considered a sea-goat (in the same sense as a sea-maiden). Depictions of a goat or goat-fish have been found on Babylonian tablets dating back three thousand years. The constellation may owe its antiquity to the fact that at that time, the northern hemisphere's Winter solstice occurred while the sun was in Capricorn. The concern for the sun's rebirth might have rendered astronomical and astrological observation of this region of space very important.
For the same reason, the sun's most southerly position, which is attained at the northern hemisphere's winter solstice, is now called the Tropic of Capricorn, a term which also applies to the line on earth where the sun is directly overhead at noon on that solstice.
Due to early Greek beliefs that sin accumulated throughout the year, causing the darkness to increase, together with the sun's descent and pause at the Solstice, the ancient Greeks referred to this area of sky as the Augean Stable, where they considered the sun stabled during the year. The cause of the association with the location or name of Augeas is not currently known. However, during the classical period of Greek history, this name gradually fell out of use.
Due to the precession of the equinoxes, the December solstice no longer takes place while the sun is in Capricorn, but the astrological period called Capricorn begins at approximately the same time as the solstice.
This constellation is sometimes identified as Amalthea, the goat that suckled the infant Zeus after his mother Rhea saved him from being devoured by his father Cronos in Greek mythology. The goat's broken horn was transformed into the cornucopia, or horn of plenty. Some ancient sources claim that this derives from the sun "taking nourishment" while in the constellation, in preparation for its climb back northward.
However, the constellation is often depicted as a sea-goat, a goat with a fish's tail. One myth that deals with this says that when the goat-god Pan was attacked by the monster Typhon, he dove into the Nile; the parts above the water remained a goat, but those under the water transformed into a fish.
The constellation, together with its early Greek name, associated ideas about sin, and the constellation of Aquarius, who was said to have poured out a river, may represent the origin of the myth of the Augean Stable, which forms one of The Twelve Labors of Heracles.
The astrological sign Capricorn (December 22-January 19) is associated with the constellation. In some cosmologies, Capricorn is associated with the classical element Earth, and thus called an Earth Sign (with Taurus and Virgo). It is also one of the four Cardinal signs (along with Aries, Cancer, and Libra). Its ruling planet is Saturn. Its polar opposite is Cancer. Each astrological sign is assigned a part of the body, viewed as the seat of its power. Capricorn rules the knees, bones, and skin. The symbol for Capricorn has the front half of a goat joined with the back half of a fish. Capricornian qualities include an ability to earn and manage money, a strong sense of responsibility, reliability, steady, unflappable emotions, and cautious sensibilities.
- Wikipedia (2005). Capricornus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capricornus). Retrieved March 1, 2005