Explore the etymology and symbolism of the constellations


the chained woman

Urania's Mirror, 1825

Read the drama of the celestial royal family (Andromeda, Perseus, Cepheus, and Cassiopeia) on this Theoi Project webpage

Andromeda, the original "maiden in distress" is daughter of Cepheus, king of Ethiopeia, and his wife Cassiopeia. Cassiopeia was proud of her daughter's beauty and boasted that Andromeda was more beautiful than the Sea Nymphs, the Nereids, who were daughters of Poseidon (Neptune). The Nereids complained to Poseidon who sent a sea monster (Cetus) to ravage the coast. With his kingdom in grave danger Cepheus consulted the oracle of Ammon in Libya for advice. He learned the only way to save his kingdom was to sacrifice his daughter, Andromeda, to the sea monster. Andromeda is chained to a rock and left to the mercy of the monster. The hero, Perseus, riding through the air on winged sandals, arrives at the scene and they fall in love. Perseus has a consultation with Cepheus and Cassiopeia, it is agreed that if he rescues their daughter he could marry her. The sea monster (Cetus) arrives and Perseus kills it by turning it to stone with the Medusa's Head (Algol). Perseus breaks the chains that bound Andromeda to the rock and frees her. The wedding follows.

The English translation of the myth of Andromeda as told by Manilius in Astronomica, 1st century A.D. is not found elsewhere on the web (the Latin text can be found on this page). I am including it here because Manilius tells the myths from an astrological perspective and I think this is the best version of the story:

"There follows the constellation of Andromeda, whose golden light appears in the rightward sky when the Fishes [Pisces] have risen to twelve degrees. Once on a time the sin of cruel parents [Cepheus and Cassiopeia] caused her to be given up for sacrifice, when a hostile sea in all its strength burst upon every shore, the land was shipwrecked in the flood, and what had been a king's domain was now an ocean. From those ills but one price of redemption was proposed, surrender of Andromeda to the raging main for a monster [Cetus, the sea-monster] to devour her tender limbs.

"This was her bridal; relieving the people's hurt by submitting to her own, she is amid her tears adorned as victim for the beast and dons attire prepared for no such troth as this; and the corpseless funeral of the living maiden is hurried on its way.

"Then as soon as the procession reaches the shore of the tumultuous sea, her soft arms are stretched out on the hard rocks; they bound her feet to crags and cast chains upon her; and there to die on her virgin cross the maiden hung. Even in the hour of sacrifice she yet preserves a modest mien: her very sufferings become her, for, gently inclining her snow-white neck, she seemed in full possession of her liberty. The folds of her robe slipped from her shoulders and fell from her arms, and her streaming locks covered her body.

"You, princess, halcyons in circling flight lamented and with plaintive song bewailed your fate, shading you by linking their spans of wing. To look at you the ocean checked its waves and ceased to break, as was its wont, upon the cliffs, whilst the Nereids raised their countenance above the surface of the sea and, weeping for your plight, moistened the very waves. Even the breeze, refreshing with gentle breath your pinioned limbs, resounded tearfully about the cliff-tops.

"At length a happy day brought to those shores Perseus returning from his triumph over the monstrous Gorgon [Perseus is carrying the head of the Gorgon Medusa in his left hand, marked by Algol, the beta star of the constellation Perseus]. On seeing the girl fastened to the rock, he, whom his foe [the Gorgon Medusa] had failed to petrify with her aspect, froze in his tracks and scarcely kept his grasp of the spoil [the Gorgon's head that turned all who looked at it to stone]: the vanquisher of Medusa was vanquished at the sight of Andromeda. Now he envies the very rocks and calls the chains happy to clasp such limbs. On learning from the maiden's lips the cause of her punishment, he resolves to go through war against the sea to win her hand, undaunted though a second Gorgon come against him [Cetus, the sea-monster]. He quickly cuts a path through the air and by his promise to save their daughter's life awakens hope in the tearful parents; with the pledge of a bride he hastens back to the shore.

"Now had a heavy surge begun to rise and long lines of breakers were fleeing before the thrust of the massive monster [Cetus]. As it cleaves the waves, its head emerges and disgorges sea, the waters breaking loudly about its teeth and the swirling sea afloat in its very jaws; behind rise its huge coils like rings of an enormous neckchain, and its back covers the whole sea. Ocean clamors in every quarter, and the very mountains and crags quake at the creature's onset.

"What terror then, unhappy maiden, was expressed on your countenance, defended though you were by such a champion! How all your breath fled into the air! How all the blood ebbed from your limbs, when from the cleft in the rocks you beheld with your own eyes your fate, the avenging monster swimming towards you and driving the waves before it, how helpless you a victim for the sea!

"Hereupon with a flutter of winged sandals Perseus flies upwards and from the skies hurls himself at the foe, driving home the weapon stained with the Gorgon's blood. The beast rises to meet him, rears its head, twisting it out of the water, leaps aloft upon its support of winding coils, and towers high in the air with all its bulk. But as much as it rises hurtling up from the deep, always so much does Perseus fly higher and mock the sea-beast through the yielding air, and strike its head as it attacks. Yet not submitting to the hero the monster bites furiously at the breezes, though its teeth snap vainly and inflict no wounds; it spouts forth sea towards heaven, drenches its winged assailant with a blood-stained deluge, and sends in spray the ocean to the stars.

"The princess watches the duel of which she is the prize and, no longer mindful of herself, sighs with fear for her gallant champion: her feelings more than her body hang in suspense.

"At last, its frame riddled with stabs, through which the sea fills its body, the beast sinks, returns once more to the surface, and covers the mighty ocean with its massive corpse, still a fearful sight, and not for a maiden's eyes to look on.

"Having bathed his body in pure water, Perseus, a greater warrior now, flies from the sea to the lofty crags and releases from the chains which bind her to the rock the girl whose betrothal was sealed by his readiness to fight and who could now become a bride thanks to the bridegroom's dowry of her life.

"Thus did Perseus win place in heaven for Andromeda and hallow in a constellation the prize of that glorious battle, wherein a monster no less terrible than the Gorgon herself perished and in perishing relieved the sea of a curse". [Manilius, Astronomica, 1st century A.D., Book 5, p.344-351]

Then Manilius goes on to give the astrological influences:

The man whose birth coincides with the rising of Andromeda from the sea will prove merciless, a dispenser of punishment, a warder of dungeon dire; he will stand arrogantly by while the mothers of wretched prisoners lie prostrate on his threshold, and the fathers wait all night to catch the last kisses of their sons and receive into their inmost being the dying breath. From the same constellation comes the figure of the executioner, ready to take money for a speedy death and the rites of a funeral pyre, for him execution means profit, and oft will he bare his axe; in short, he is a man who could have looked unmoved on Andromeda herself fettered to the rock. Governor of the imprisoned he occasionally becomes a fellow convict, chained to criminals so as to save them for execution. [Manilius, Astronomica, Book 5, 1st century A.D., p.351.]

The wedding ceremony and wedding feast for Andromeda and Perseus as described by Ovid:

"Without a dower he takes Andromeda, the guerdon of his glorious victory, nor hesitates. ... Cupidus [Eros] and Hymen wave the flaring torch, abundant perfumes lavished in the flames. The houses are bedecked with wreathed flowers; and lyres and flageolets resound, and songs – felicit notes that happy hearts declare. The portals opened, sumptuous halls display their golden splendors, and the noble lords of Cepheus' court take places at the feast, magnificently served" [Ovid, Metamorphoses 5.1 - 238]

The prefix andro- in Andromeda's name means 'man' in Greek. The Greeks used the word andreia, for courage, with the sense of manly courage [1]. The drug Androstendione, or simply known as 'andro', is a hormone, a direct precursor of testosterone, the principal male sex hormone. Greek andro-, andr-, 'man', from aner, genitive andros 'man', is cognate with Old Indian naram, 'man', naryah, 'virile', Sabine-Latin Nero, Welsh ner, 'hero', Old Irish nert, Cornish nerth, 'virility'. Compare Andrew, Andrias, andron, dandy, 'a fop', and the second element in Alexander, Ardhanari, Dianira, Leander, philander, sundari. "Compare also the first element in anthropo-" [Klein].

Greek name -andros has the female counterparts in -aneira - Leandros/Leaneira, Deiandros/Deianeira [2].

Andere means wife and lady in Basque.

Greek Andromeda is a compound of Greek aner, 'man', + -meda, the suffix -meda is from Greek medesthai, 'to be mindful of, give heed to, think on', or 'to meditate on', from Indo-European *med-, 'To take appropriate measures' [Klein]. The suffix -meda of her name is contained in the names Medusa and the second element in automedon, Diomedes, Ganymedes (Aquarius). From this same *med- root comes the word 'modern'; the name Andromeda might also relate to 'modern man'?

Greek anthropos, from andros opse = "he who has the aspect of human" [2]; her father is Cepheus and his name seems to relate to 'ape', a term used for early man and tailless extinct apes.

Andromeda is featured in an ancient Greek romance or novel called Aethiopica (the Ethiopian Story) or 'Theagenes and Chariclea' written 3rd A.D. by Heliodorus. The heroine, Chariclea ('Glory of Grace'. Charicles was the name of the priest who raised her), is a white woman with two black parents, the king and queen of Ethiopia, King Hydaspes and Queen Persine (Persinna). In the novel Persina explains to Chariclea that after ten unfruitful years of marriage, one hot day while she and her husband were making love in the king’s bridal chamber where the walls were decorated with pictures of Perseus and Andromeda:

"your father had to do with me..., and I by and by perceived myself to be with child... But thou wert born white, which color is strange among Ethiopians. I knew the reason, that it was because, while my husband had to do with me, I was looking at the picture of Andromeda naked brought down by Perseus from the rock, and so by mishap engendered presently thee, white, and very similar to her" [2]

The story goes that Persinna had been looking at an image (an icon) of Andromeda, a white woman, at the moment of conception. The explanation given by Heliodorus attributes the marvel to the power of the imagination [3], or imaging, later commentators suggest maternal impression, or mental imprinting, while others suggest the explanation could be albinism. "The identification of Chariclea with Andromeda is made explicit, and her likeness to a painting of Andromeda forms a key part of the final recognition scene" [4]. The picture was brought out of the bedroom and compared to Chariclea, and this convinced all present that she was the iconic image of Andromeda. Chariclea is the model for the white Ethiopian warrior princess Clorinda in Tasso’s epic poem 'Jerusalem Delivered' (1580) [5]. In the second century of our era there existed a painting by Evanthes of Perseus and Andromeda in the Zeus temple at Pelusium. Achilles Tatius, describes the painting:

"In the picture of Andromeda, the virgin was laid in a hollow of the rock, not fashioned by art, but rough like a natural cavity; and which, if viewed only with regard to the beauty of that which it contained, looked like a niche holding an exquisite fresh from the chisel; but the sight of her bonds, and of the monster approaching to devour her, gave it rather the aspect of a sepulchre. On her features extreme loveliness was blended with deadly terror, which was seated on her pallid cheeks, while beauty beamed forth from her eyes; but, as even amid the pallor of her cheeks a faint tinge of color was yet perceptible, so was the brightness of her eyes, on the other hand, in some measure dimmed, like the bloom of lately blighted violets. Her white arms were extended, and lashed to the rock; but their whiteness partook of a livid hue, and her fingers were like those of a corpse. Thus lay she, expecting death, but arrayed like a bride, in a long white robe, which seemed not as if woven from the fleece of the sheep, but from the web of the spider, or of those winged insects, the long threads spun by which are gathered by the Indian women from the trees of their own country. The monster was just rising out of the sea opposite to the damsel, his head alone being distinctly visible, while the unwieldy length of his body was still in a great measure concealed by the waves, yet so as partially to discover his formidable array of spines and scales, his swollen neck, and his long flexible tail, while the gape of his horrible jaws extended to his shoulder, and disclosed the abyss of his stomach. But between the monster and the damsel, Perseus was depicted descending to the encounter from the upper regions of the air—his body bare, except a mantle floating round his shoulders, and winged sandals on his feet—a cap resembling the helmet of Pluto was on his head, and in his left hand he held before him, like a buckler, the head of the Gorgon, which even in the pictured representation was terrible to look at, shaking its snaky hair, which seemed to erect itself and menace the beholder. His right hand grasped a weapon, in shape partaking of both a sickle and a sword; for it had a single hilt, and to the middle of the blade resembled a sword; but there it separated into two parts, one continuing straight and pointed, like a sword, while the other was curved backwards, so that with a single stroke, it might both inflict a wound, and fix itself in the part struck. Such was the picture of Andromeda".  [Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, 1844, by Various]

In his description of the painting Achilles Tatius describes the cave or hollowed rock where Andromeda was chained as "having the aspect of a sepulchre". According to Allen (see History below) Julius Schiller, a Christian interpreter of the constellations, in 1627, made of her stars Sepulchrum Christi, the "new Sepulchre wherein was never man yet laid."

Her name itself provides few clues to the meaning of this constellation. Libya is a possibility. Andromeda was the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia. An association has been made between Libya's parents and Epaphus and Cassiopeia (Epaphus and Memphis) of another myth. "The husband of Cassiopeia is sometimes said to be Epaphus, by whom she bore Libya. She is also said to have been the wife of Cepheus of Ethiopia" [Grimal]. Cepheus consulted the Oracle of Ammon in Libya where he was advised to sacrifice Andromeda to the sea-monster.

And so Andromeda says to Night;

You who traverse the hollows of sky

With your chariot marked by the stars. [Varro p.19. http://www.sentex.net/~tcc/fvarro.html]

“The Palestinians built the seaside city Joppe of Palestine. There a rock is displayed which still retains traces of the fetters of Andromeda; it has the shape of a sea-monster larger than an elephant.” [The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, 7th century AD, p.302.]

The flowering shrub Andromeda (Pieris japonica) is also called fetterbush, or Lily of the Valley Shrub. "The plant, growing on hummocks in the middle of bogs, reminded Linnaeus of Andromeda. Linnaeus saw the sea monster in the toads that inhabited the bogs in which he found the plant. He named the genus Andromeda after the distressed virgin (Black, 1979) and even drew a picture of her in his notebook" [6].

Olcott quoting Pluche [History of the Heavens, Abbé Pluche, 1739], in Star Lore of All Ages, p.24, says "Pluche accounts for the names of the constellations Perseus, Andromeda, and Cepheus in the following ingenius way:"

"It was an ordinary turn of the Hebrew and Phoenician languages to say that a city or country was the daughter of the rocks, deserts, rivers, or mountains that surrounded her or that were enclosed within her walls. Thus Jerusalem is often called "the daughter of Sion," that is, the daughter of drought or daughter of the barren hills contained within its compass. Palestine originally was nothing more than a long maritime coast consisting of rocks and a sandy flat shore. It was proper to speak of this long coast as the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiope, Cepha signifying a stone. If you would say in Phoenician, a long coast or a long chain or ridge, you would call it Andromeda [Andromeda is the chained woman]. Palestine would have been destroyed had it not been for the assistance of the barks [barques, small sailing ships] and pilots that voyaged to Pharos and Sais to convey provisions. Strabo informs us that the Phoenicians were accustomed to paint the figure of a horse upon the stern of their barks, but there was beside the winged horse (the emblem of navigation - Pegasus) a horseman bearing a peculiar symbol, and, as it were, the arms of the city of Sais (Sais is the Greek name for the Ancient Egyptian city ‘Sa’ in the western Egyptian delta). This was the Medusa's head (the star Algol is on the Medusa's head). Furthermore, a bark in the vulgar tongue was called Perseus, which means a runner or horseman. This then according to Pluche was the meaning of the fabled sacrifice of Andromeda:—Exposed to a cruel monster on the rocks of Joppa, in Syria, Andromeda (or the coast towns of Palestine), owed her deliverance to a flying rider, Perseus (the Phoenician barks), to whom the goddess of Sais had lent the frightful head of Medusa to turn all her enemies into stone with terror. Josephus wrote that in his day the inhabitants of Joppa showed the links and remains of the chain that bound Andromeda to the rock, and the bones of the sea monster (Cetus)."

© Anne Wright 2008.

Fixed stars in Andromeda
Star 1900 2000 R A Decl 2000 Lat Mag Sp
omicron [ο] 6ARI24 7ARI47 23h 01m 55.3s +42° 19′ 34″ +43 44 57 var B6
Alpherarz alpha [α] 12ARI55 14ARI18 00h 08m 23.3s +29° 05′ 26″ +25 40 53 2.15 B8
lambda [λ] 16ARI54 18ARI17 23h 37m 33.9s +46° 27′ 29″ +43 46 47 4.00 G8
delta [δ] 20ARI26 21ARI49 00h 39m 19.7s +30° 51′ 39″ +24 20 59 3.48 K3
pi [π] 21ARI18 22ARI41 00h 36m 52.9s +33° 43′ 10″ +27 08 46 4.44 B4
Vertex M31 NGC224 Andromeda Galaxy 26ARI28 27ARI51 00h 42m 44.3s +41° 16′ 09″ +33 21 10 4.80 N
mu [μ] 27ARI48 29ARI11 00h 56m 45.2s +38° 29′ 58″ +29 39 20 3.94 A2
Mirach beta [β] 29ARI01 00TAU24 01h 09m 43.9s +35° 37′ 14″ +25 56 31 2.37 M0
phi [φ] 05TAU03 6TAU26 01h 09m 30.2s +47° 14′ 31″ +36 21 56 4.28 B8
Adhil xi [ξ] 06TAU28 07TAU52 01h 22m 20.4s +45° 31′ 44″ +33 49 45 5.00 G9
Almach gamma [γ] 12TAU50 14TAU14 02h 03m 53.9s +42° 19′ 47″ +27 48 08 2.28 K2

Hevelius, Firmamentum, 1690

from Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning, 1889, Richard H. Allen

Andromeda, the Woman Chained, the Andromede of Aratos, and Andromeda of Eratosthenes, Hipparchos, and Ptolemy, represents in the sky the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia, king and queen of Aethiopia, chained in exposure to the sea monster (Cetus) as punishment other mother's boast of beauty superior to that of the Nereids. Sappho, of the 7th century before Christ, is supposed to mention her, while Euripides and Sophocles, of the 5th, wrote dramas in which she was a character; {Page 32} but she seems to go far back of classical times, and we probably must look to the Euphrates for her origin, with that of her family and Cetus. Sayce claims that she appeared in the great Babylonian Epic of Creation, of more than two millenniums before our era, in connection with the story of Bel Marduk and the dragon Tiamat that doubtless is the foundation of the story of Perseus and Andromeda. She was noted, too, in Phoenicia, where Chaldaean influence was early felt.

As a constellation these stars have always borne our title, frequently with the added Mulier Catenata, the Woman Chained, and many of the classical Latins alluded to her as familiar and a great favorite. Caesar Germanicus called her Virgo Devota; a scholiast, Persea, as the bride of Perseus; while Manilius, and Germanicus again, had Cepheis, from her father (Cepheus).

In some editions of the Alfonsine Tables and Almagest she is Alamac, taken from the title of her star gamma (Almach); and Andromada, described as Mulier qui non vidit maritum, evidently from Al Biruni, this reappearing in Bayer's Carens Omnino viro. Ah Aben Reduan (Haly), the Latin translator of the Arabian commentary on the Tetrabiblos, had Asnade, which in the Berlin Codex reads Ansnade et est mulier quae non habet vivum maritum; these changed by manifold transcription from Alarmalah, the Widow, applied by the Arabians to Andromeda; but the philologist Buttmann said from Anroneda, another erroneous form of our word. The Antamarda of the Hindus is their variation of the classical name.

The original figure probably was, as Durer drew it, that of a young and beautiful woman bound to the rocks, Strabo said at Iope, the biblical Joppa [Joppa is a Biblical name for the Israeli city of Yafo, otherwise known as Jaffa, now a part of Tel Aviv - Yafo]; and Josephus wrote that in his day the marks of her chains and the bones of her monster foe (Cetus) were still shown on that sea-shore. But this author, "who did not receive the Greek mythology, observes that these marks attest not the truth but the antiquity of the legend."

Others, who very naturally thought her too far from home at that spot, located Iope in Aethiopia and made her a negress; Ovid expressing this in his patriae fusca colors suae, although he followed Herodotus in referring her to India. Manilius [author of the Astronomica] on the contrary, in his version of the story described her as nivea cervice; but the Aethiopia of this legend probably was along the Red Sea in southwestern Arabia. {Page 33}

Arabian astronomers knew these stars as Al Marah al Musalsalah, their equivalent of the classical descriptive title, — Chilmead's Almara Almasulsala, — for Western mythological names had no place in their science, although they were familiar with the ideas. But they represented a Sea Calf, or Seal, Vitulus marinus catenatus [The common seal is Phoca vitulina], as Bayer Latinized it, with a chain around its neck that united it to one of the Fishes; their religious scruples deterring them from figuring the human form.

The Spanish edition of the Alfonsine Tables pictures Andromeda with an unfastened chain around her body, and two fishes, one on her bosom, the other at her feet, showing an early connection with Pisces; the Hyginus, printed at Venice anno salutifere incarnationis, 7th of June, 1488, by Thomas de blauis de alexandria, with some most remarkable illustrations, has her standing between two trees, to which she is bound at the outstretched wrists; in the Leyden Manuscript she is partly clothed on the sea beach, chained to rocks on either side.

Caesius [author of Coelum Stellatum Christianum (1627)] said that she represented the biblical Abigail ("her Father's joy") of The Books of Samuel; and Julius Schiller, in 1627, made of her stars Sepulchrum Christi [This appeared in the Coelum Stellatum Christianum, which, according to its title-page, was the joint production of Schiller and Bayer, an enlarged reprint of the Uranometria of 1603], the "new Sepulchre wherein was never man yet laid."

[Page 34 } The apparently universal impulse of star-gazers to find earthly objects in the heavens is shown in the Cross which is claimed for some of Andromeda's stars; ß beta (Mirach), gamma (Almach) and delta, marking the upright, a alpha (Alpheratz) and k kappa the transverse. But a much more noticeable group, an immense Dipper, is readily seen in following up its gamma (Almach) and ß beta (Mirach) to the Square of Pegasus, far surpassing, in extent at least, the better-known pair of Dippers around the pole.

Andromeda is bounded on the north by Cassiopeia and Perseus; on the east by Perseus; on the south by Pisces and Triangulum; and on the west by Lacerta and Pegasus.

Milton's passage in Paradise Lost, where Satan surveys our world from eastern point of Libra to the fleecy star that bears Andromeda far off Atlantic seas Beyond the Horizon, seems to have puzzled many; but the poet was only seeking to show the comprehensive view had by the arch-fiend east and west through the six signs of the zodiac from the Scales to the Ram (Aries) with the golden fleece; Andromeda, above the latter, apparently being borne on by him to the westward, and so, to an observer from England, over the Atlantic. Kingsley's Andromeda well describes her place:

"I set thee High for a star in the heavens, a sign and a hope for the seamen, Spreading thy long white arms all night in the heights of the aether, Hard by thy sire and the hero, thy spouse, while near thee thy mother Sits in her ivory chair, as she plaits ambrosial tresses; All night long thou wilt shine;

these members of the royal family, Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, and Perseus, lying contiguous to each other, wholly or partly in the Milky Way.

The stars that mark her right arm may be seen stretching from delta to iota and kappa and zeta marking the left arm with the end of the chain towards Lacerta; but in early days she was somewhat differently located, and even till recently there has been confusion here; for Smyth wrote: Flamsteed's Nos. 51 and 54 Andromedae are psi and upsilon Persei, though placed exactly where Ptolemy wished them to be — on the lady's foot: so also alpha (Alpheratz) in this asterism has been lettered delta Pegasi by Bayer, and beta (Mirach) has been the lucida of the Northern Fish (in Pisces).

La Lande and Dupuis asserted that the Phoenician sphere had a broad Threshing-floor in this spot, with stars of Cassiopeia as one of the Gleaners {Page 35} in the large Wheat-field that occupied so much of that people's sky; its exact boundaries, however, being unknown to us.

[Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning, Richard H. Allen, 1889.]