Explore the etymology and symbolism of the constellations

Cepheus

the Ethiopian King

ceph
Urania's Mirror 1825

Cepheus is a crowned king in royal robes, whose foot is planted on the Pole star (Polaris). On the Farnese globe (2nd century A.D.) he is depicted in the garb of a tragic actor. He was the son of Belus (Belos), king of Egypt. Cepheus is husband of Cassiopeia, and their daughter is Andromeda. His wife was proud of their 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 that the only way to save his kingdom was to sacrifice his daughter to the sea monster. Andromeda is chained to a rock and left to the mercy of the monster. The hero, Perseus, arrives at the scene and falls in love with Andromeda, he has a quick consultation with Cepheus and Cassiopeia, it is agreed that if he rescues their daughter he could marry her. The sea monster arrives and Perseus kills it. Perseus breaks the chains that bind Andromeda to the rock. The wedding follows.

The later Hindus knew Cepheus, or Kepheus, as Capuja, adopted from Greece; but a linguist (George Hewitt) claims that with their prehistoric ancestors Cepheus represented Kapi, the Ape-God, when its stars alpha and gamma, Alderamin and Alrai, were the respective pole-stars of 21,000 and 19,000 B.C. [Allen, Star Names]. A word for 'ape' is common to Greek kepos and Sanskrit kapi, or kapih, these words also link, with k/mute alteration, with Germanic and Celtic words like Old Norse api, Old English apa, Old High German affo, Welsh epa and Irish apa, 'ape'. The Greek word kepos, ape, resembles cepheus or kepheos.

The verb 'to ape' is to mimic characteristics of others which is what actors do and this might relate to the astrological influences given for Cepheus by Manilius (below) who lauds his acting talents. On the Farnese globe (2nd century A.D.) Cepheus is depicted in the garb of a tragic actor.

Cepheus is depicted with one foot on the polar star (Polaris, Alruccabah in the picture above). The Pole star is at the apex of the heavens. His name may be related to the word ape, the word 'ape' might also relate to the 'apex', the highest point?

Aratos called it Iasidao Cepheus to which Germanicus (around 19 A.D.) Latinized it to Iasides; or Iasid by the Harvard translators.

"Nor all unnamed shall rest the hapless family of Iasid Cepheus. For their name, too, has come unto heaven, for that they were near akin to Zeus [Note by translator: "As descended from Io"]. Cepheus himself is set behind the Bear Cynosura (Polaris), like to one that stretches out both his hands. From her tail-tip to both his feet stretches a measure equal to that from foot to foot.'" [Note by translator: Cepheus, King of Aethiopia, father of Andromeda by Cassiepeia. He was descended from Io whose father, according to one version, was Jasus, son of Argos (Apollod. ii. 5)]. [Aratos Phaenomena, 3rd century B.C. p.221.]

The translators of Phaenomena (Professor Mair, Harvard), sees the appellation Iasid (Iasides) as deriving from Io, and Cepheus as the son or descendant of Io. Io had an affair with Zeus who transformed her into a cow to hide her from the jealous gaze of his wife Hera. The goddess was not fooled and sent a gadfly to torment her. It drove her to wander all the way to Egypt, where she gave birth to Epaphus (Epaphos, Epopeos, Apopis, Apophis, Apepi), ancestor of the Pharaohs.

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].

“Libya is so called because the Libs, the African wind, blows from there. Others say that Epaphus, the son of Jupiter and founder of Memphis in Egypt, had a daughter named Libya with his wife Cassiopeia, and Libya afterwards established a kingdom in Africa” [The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, 7th century AD, p.292.]

Isidore may have got his information from Hyginus (circe 19 A.D.) who said that Libya was daughter of Epaphus and Cassiopea [Fabulae 149]. According to Apollodorus, Cassiopea's name was Memphis and the city of Memphis was named after her [1].

Epaphus was married to Cassiopeia, which might make him Cepheus, or Kepheus. In Greek mythology, Epaphus, also called Apis (Egyptian form, Herodotus say that Apis was the Egyptian rendering of the Greek name Epaphus), is the son of Zeus and Io. He was born in Euboea (Herodotus, Strabo) or according others in Egypt [2]. [The word Apis, who also had the Egyptian name Apepi, resembles the word ape, Greek kepos, which may be the root of Kepheus' name].

Many see a relationship between the word Cepheus or Kepheus and the Semitic cephas or kephas, a rock. Jesus said to Peter: "Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas". This was translated into Greek Petros, Latin Petrus, a name Jesus gave to apostle Simon Bar-Jona (Matt. xvi:17), historically known as St. Peter. [Son of Jona, or Jonas, is Latin Ionas; similar to Io?)]

A relationship has been suggested between the words Ptah, Egyptian PTH, and Peter.

"Ptah is the father of Atum = Adam, the father of human beings" [4]

Egyptian Ptah (the power of Apis), or Epaphus, is identified with Greek Hephaestus, Socrates in Cratylus examines the name Hephaestus; "the princely lord of light (Phaeos istora) ... Ephaistos is Phaistos, and has added the eta (e) by attraction; that is obvious to anybody". [5]

Allen (below) says that a Phoenician title for Cepheus was Phicares, believed to be the Phoenician equivalent to Flammiger (flame-bearing, flaming, aflame), and identical with Purkaeus, the Fire-kindler, which, transliterated as Pirchaeus, has been used for these stars.

"Again, the power of fire they called Hephaestus, and have made his image in the form of a man, but put on it a blue cap as a symbol of the revolution of the heavens, because the archetypal and purest form of fire is there. But the fire brought down from heaven to earth is less intense, and wants the strengthening and support which is found in matter: wherefore he is lame, as needing matter to support him." [Porphyry, On Images, (c. 232 AD - c. 304), Fragment 8.]

Hephaestus is the son of Zeus and Hera. Sometimes it is said that Hera alone produced him and that he has no father. He was physically ugly (maybe apelike?) and lame (unable to walk upright?). Some say that Hera, upset by having an ugly child, flung him from Mount Olympus into the sea, breaking his legs.

Another Cepheus in mythology was son of Aleus and Naeara (or Cleobule). He succeeded his father as the ruler of Tegea in Arcadia. He is the reputed founder of Caphyae [6], an ancient city of Arcadia [Arcadia is from Arcas identified with Ursa Minor].

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The name Ethiopeia, from Greek aitho, 'I burn' from the verb aithein, 'to burn', and ops, 'face', is believed to derive from the Indo-European root *ai-2 'To burn'. Related words: ember, estival, estivate, from Latin aestas, heat, summer; aestus, 'heat', estuary, aedile, edifice, edify, ether, etheric, ethyl, ethane, Mt Etna. [Pokorny, ai-dh- 11, Watkins]. "Akasha (or Akash) is the Sanskrit word meaning "aether" in both its elemental and mythological senses" [7].

Cepheus and Cassiopeia are king and queen of Ethiopeia. The name Ethiopeia is a cognate of Greek aither, Latin aether, shortened to ether. There are masculine and feminine derivatives from the word 'aether'; the Greek word Aither, Latin spelling Aether is masculine, and may relate to Cepheus; and the feminine Cassiopeia to Aithre, Latin spelling Aithra. Aither was the ancient Greek Protogenos (first-born elemental god) of the bright, glowing upper air of heaven. His female counterpart was Aithre, "Titanis of the Clear Blue Sky, mother of the Sun and Moon."

Aether or ether was understood to be the element itself; and aethra is the glow of the aether; according to Isidore (The Etymologies, p.272.):

"The ether (aether) is the place where the stars are, and signifies that fire which is separated high above from the entire world. Of course, ether is itself an element, but aethra (i.e. another word for ether) is the radiance of ether; it is a Greek word."

The aether (ether) was a general word for the sky, kindle, burn, shine, the regions of space beyond the earth's atmosphere; the heavens (not the same as Ouranos, Uranus, Caelum). Aether was also the element believed in ancient and medieval civilizations to fill all space above the sphere of the moon and to compose the stars and planets [AHD]. The precise nature of the aether is an open question. Scientists in the late 19th century failed to detect the aether because it could not be measured, and concluded that the space was filled with void, or was a vacuum. Some think that what is now called 'quintessence' or 'dark-matter' is what the ancients meant by aether [8].

Kepheus was believed to be Egyptian Khufu by the Arabic astronomers (see Allen below). Khufu was the pharaoh who built the Great Pyramid of Giza which might explain the edifice cognate of *ai-2 'To burn'.

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The astrological influences of the constellation given by Manilius:

"Cepheus will not engender dispositions inclined to sport. He fashions faces marked by a stern demeanor, and moulds a countenance whereon is depicted gravity of mind. Such men will live on worry and will incessantly recall the traditions of a bygone age and commend old Cato's maxims [Cato the censor].

"Cepheus will also create a man to bring up boys of tender age he will lord it over his lord [dominum dominus] by virtue of the law which governs a minor and, bemused by this semblance of power, will mistake for reality the role of arrogant guardian or stern uncle which he plays.

"Offspring of Cepheus will also furnish words for the buskin of tragedy [on the 2nd-century Farnese globe Cepheus is depicted in the garb of a tragic actor] whose pen, if only on paper, is drenched in blood; and the paper [the audience at a performance], no less will revel in the spectacle of crime and catastrophe in human affairs. They will delight to tell of scarce one burial accorded three [translator's note; Thyestes unwittingly ate his three sons, whom, their extremities cut off, his brother Atreus served up to him as a meal: the burial incomplete because the sons were not completely eaten, took place in the father's stomach - Cicero, who perhaps quotes the Atreus of Accius]. The father belching forth the flesh of his sons, the sun fled in horror, and the darkness of a cloudless day; they will delight to narrate the Theban war between a mother's issue [between Eteocles and Polynices] and one [Oedipus] who was both father and brother to his children; the story of Medea's sons, her brother and her father, the gift which was first robe and then consuming flame, the escape by air, and youth reborn from fire. A thousand other scenes from the past will they include in their plays and perhaps Cepheus himself will also be brought upon the stage.

"If anyone is born with the urge to write in lighter vein, he will compose for presentation at the merry games scenes of comedy about the loves of headstrong youths and abducted maidens, hood-winked old men, and slaves of infinite resource. In such plays Menander made his own day live for all generations: a man whose eloquence surpassed that of his native Athens [and that when its language attained its richest bloom], he held up a mirror to life and enshrined the image in his works.

"Should his powers not rise to such masterpieces, the child of Cepheus will yet be fitted to perform those of others he will interpret the poet's words, now by his voice, now by silent gesture and expression, and the lines he declaims he will make his own.

"On the stage he will take the part of Romans or the mighty heroes of myth; he will assume every role himself, one after another, and in his single person represent a crowd; he will draw over his limbs the aspect of fortune's every vicissitude and his gestures will match the songs of the chorus; he will convince you that you see Troy's actual fall and Priam expiring before your very eyes." [Manilius, Astronomica, 1st century AD, book 5, p.336-341]

© Anne Wright 2008.

Fixed stars in Cepheus
Star 1900 2000 R A Decl 1950 Lat Mag Sp
eta 03ARI17 04ARI40 311 04 08 +61 38 39 +71 46 25 3.59 G7
theta 03ARI30 04ARI53 307 11 11 +62 49 32 +73 55 57 4.28 A5
Erakis mu 08ARI20 09ARI42 325 29 38 +58 33 00 +64 11 34 4.10 var M2
Alderamin alpha 11ARI24 12ARI47 319 20 48 +62 22 24 +68 54 48 2.60 A7
epsilon 11ARI40 13ARI03 333 17 51 +56 47 37 +59 56 39 4.23 A6
zeta 12ARI36 13ARI59 332 16 44 +57 57 15 +61 08 43 3.62 K5
nu 12ARI59 14ARI22 326 00 05 +60 53 22 +65 28 33 4.46 A2
lambda 14ARI34 15ARI57 332 27 09 +59 10 02 +61 53 42 5.19 O6
delta 16ARI14 17ARI37 336 49 38 +58 09 32 +59 32 21 var G0
Kurdah xi 22ARI50 24ARI13 330 36 00 +64 23 11 +64 45 10 4.60 FG
iota 01TAU52 03TAU15 341 58 24 +65 56 14 +62 36 45 3.68 K1
Alphirk beta 04TAU11 05TAU33 322 00 21 +70 20 28 +71 08 55 3.32 B2
pi 22TAU10 23TAU33 346 34 30 +75 07 01 +65 33 31 4.56 G1
Alrai gamma 28TAU42 00GEM06 354 19 09 +77 21 12 +64 39 45 3.42 K1
cepheus
Hevelius, Firmamentum, 1690

from Star Names, 1889, Richard H. Allen

Kepheus is like one who stretches forth both hands.

  — Brown's Arates.

Cepheus, the French Cephee and the Italian Cefeo, is shown in royal robes, with one foot on the pole (Polaris), the other on the solstitial colure, his head marked by a triangle, the 4th-magnitudes delta, epsilon, and zeta; gamma (Alrai) and kappa, near the knees, forming an equilateral triangle with Polaris; and almost universally has been drawn as Aratos described in the motto. Some see in his stars a large K open towards Cassiopeia, — epsilon, zeta, xi (Kurdah), beta (Alphirk), and kappa, with nu and gamma. Achilles Tatios, probably of our 5th century, claimed that the constellation was known in Chaldaea twenty-three centuries before our era, when the earthly King was recognized in that country's myths as the son of Belos, of whom Pliny wrote, Inventor hic fuit sideralis scientiae.

{Page 156) In Greek story, like so many other stellar personages, Cepheus was connected with the Argonautic expedition.

The figure bore our title among all early astronomers and classic authors, but Germanicus added Iasides from the Iasidao of Aratos; Nonnus had Aner Basilelos; from his royal station, which became Vir regius and even Regalus. Others said that he was the aged Nereus and thus also Senex aequoreus, and others strangely called it Juvenis aequoreus.

Cantans, Sonans, and Vociferans show early confusion with the not far distant Bootes; while Dominus solis, Flammiger, Inflammatus, and Incensus are fiery epithets that do not seem appropriate for so faint a figure, unless originating from the fable that the tables of the Sun were spread in Aethiopia, the land where Cepheus reigned when on earth. Someone, however, has suggested that they are from the fact that his head is surrounded and illuminated by the Milky Way, although itself in an entirely bare spot in that great circle of light. This appeared in Horace's lines:

Clarus occultum Andromedae pater

Ostendit ignem.

Cepheus is an inconspicuous constellation, but evidently was highly regarded in early times as the father of the Royal Family, and his story well known in Greek literature of the 5th century before Christ. The name Kepheus compared by Brown to Khufu of Great Pyramid fame, was the source of many queer titles from errors in Arabic transcription — first into Kifaus, Kikaus, Kankaus; later into Fikaus, Fifaus, and Ficares, or Phicares, its usual designation in Persia, and Phicarus. Chilmead suggested that Phicares was a Phoenician title equivalent to Flammiger, and identical with Purkaeus, the Fire-kindler, which, transliterated as Pirchaeus, has been used for these stars. Later on in astronomical literature we find Caicans, Ceginus, Ceichius, Chegnius, Chegninus, Cheguinus, and Chiphus, some of which also are seen for Bootes.

The later Hindus knew Cepheus as Capuja, adopted from Greece; but Hewitt claims that with their prehistoric ancestors it represented Kapi, the Ape-God, when its stars alpha (Alderamin) and gamma (Alrai) were the respective pole-stars of 21,000 and 19,000 B.C.

Dunkin derives our title from the Aethiopic Hyk, a King, but the connection with Aethiopia probably can only be allowed by considering that country the Asian Aethiopia, for our Cepheus is unquestionably of Euphratean origin. Still Bayer's illustration of it is that of a typical African.

In China, somewhere within this constellation's boundaries, was the Inner Throne of the Five Emperors.

{Page 157} Arabian astronomers translated Inflammatus into Al Multahab; but the nomads knew Cepheus, or at least some of its stars, as Al Aghnam, the Sheep, and thus associated with the supposed Fold, a large figure around the pole very visible traces of which appear in the nomenclature of components of this and other circumpolar constellations. Bayer specified certain of these, — eta, theta, gamma (Alrai), kappa, pi, and rho, — as the Shepherd, his Dog, and the Sheep; but Smyth alluded to the whole of Cepheus as the Dog, Cassiopeia being his mate. Riccioli quoted from Kircher, as to these, the Arabic "Raar, Kelds & San: nempe Pastorem, Canem, Oves," more correctly transcribed Rai’, Kalb, and Sham.

A translator of Al Ferghani's Elements of Astronomy called the constellation Al Radif, the Follower, which may have come by some misunderstanding from the near-by Al Ridf in the tail of the Swan, for Cepheus does not seem ever to have been known by any such title. The early Arabs' Kidr, the Pot, was formed by the circle of small stars from zeta, and eta on the hand of our figure extending to the wing of the Swan.

In the place of Cepheus, Caesius wished to substitute King Solomon, or Zerah, the Aethiopian, whom King Asa overthrew, as told in the 2nd Book of the Chronicles, xiv, 9-12; but Julius Schiller said that it should be Saint Stephen.

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