Mythology of LIbra: an Overview

Of all the zodiacal constellations, Libra is the only one to honor an inanimate object. Its origin is not clear. Early Mesopotamians saw an altar, a chariot yoke, an incense burner, or a lamp here. The concept of a balance scale most likely arose in Egypt to represent an instrument that measured the flow of the Nile flood waters. About 1100 BC, the Autumn Equinox was located here, also confirming the concept of balance. If Western star lore originated in the southern hemisphere, Libra instead of Aries would have been the first sign of spring due to the reversal of seasons.

Libra Mythology of the Greeks and Romans

Among the Greeks, these stars were seen as the claws of the constellation Scorpius. The Arabic names for the alpha and beta stars of Libra still refer to their ancient position in the claws. This would have made Scorpius the largest zodiac constellation at that time. Astronomers of the time considered this to be a double constellation.

Our modern constellation originates about 44 BCE, the year of Julius Caesar’s assassination. The Romans formed the scales of justice, Libra, from the claws to commemorate Caesar’s wisdom and justice, and at first, depicted him holding them. Perhaps this story was derived from the Greeks who had a starry goddess named Astraea, seen in the neighboring constellation of Virgo. She symbolized justice and held the celestial scales in her hand to weigh the fate of all mankind. Today in our law courts we can still see this symbol of blind justice holding her scales. These stars also indicated to Roman farmers the time for planting the winter grain.

Libra Mythology Around the World

In ancient China these stars were seen as a crocodile or dragon. Later, they were Show Sing, “the Star of Longevity”, whose visibility guaranteed peace. To early Christians the stars of Libra represented Phillip the Apostle. The Jews regarded this as the scales upon which the son of Nebuchadnezzar was judged and “found wanting” (Daniel 5:27).

To the people of India, Libra was “the Gateway” through which the the sun, moon, and planets passed. The Inca portrayed the Male Principle here, with lightning and thunder to symbolize the spring rains which would fertilize the earth. Virgo was the Female Principle.

The symbol for the British Pound is an abbreviation for the Roman unit of weight called Libra.

Observing Libra

Libra’s bright stars form an extended diamond between the two bright stars Antares and Spica. It can be found in the evening from late April to late August and is best seen low in the south in late June at 10pm DT. The traditional astrological dates for Libra are from September 23 to October 22, a span of 30 days. Astronomically, the sun is in front of this constellation from November 1 to November 23, only 23 days. Although Libra has only 13 stars brighter than magnitude 4.8 (12 in the zodiac), it covers 538 square degrees, more than bright Scorpius!

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