Explore the etymology and symbolism of the constellations

Virgo

the Virgin


Urania's Mirror 1825

Virgo was often drawn with a staff or rod in her right hand and an ear of wheat in her left hand. Virgo is thought to represent Erigone who on finding her father Icarius (Bootes) dead, hanged herself in grief and was raised to heaven for her piety. An alternative story (cf. Aratus, Phaen. 98 ff.) identified her as Astraea, daughter of Jupiter (or Astraeus), who at the advent of the Bronze Age fled to heaven. [Manilius, Astronomica, 1st century A.D, Introduction, p.xxiv].  Astraea has been identified with the Greek goddess Dike, and Roman Justitia.

The word virgo is Latin for virgin. Klein explains the word virgo; "is probably related to virga, 'a young shoot, twig', virgate", virgate (shaped like a wand or rod, also an early English measure of land area), from Latin virgatus, 'made of twigs', from virgo, 'twig, switch, rod', which is of uncertain origin. It stands perhaps for *wiz-ga, from Indo-European base *weis-, 'to turn, twist', whence also Old English weoxian, 'to wipe'". Indo-European base *weis-, gives as derivatives: whisk, from Old English weoxian, 'to wipe', 'quick stroke, sweeping movement' (with a whisk or brush), 'implement for beating eggs, etc' [1], whisker, 'hair of a man's face', originally a playful formation, from Middle English wisker, anything that whisks or sweeps' [2], whiskey (an obsolete word meaning a light vehicle. — Formed from whisk) [Klein, Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary]. [Arista was a Roman title for this constellation from Latin arista, 'beard of grain'. Beard is the hair growing on a man's face as is whiskers?].

Latin virgo or virga, 'twig, rod, wand', has more cognates: verge (edge or margin, also the rod held by a feudal tenant while swearing fealty to a lord), verger (an officer of the church, literally 'one bearing a verge', or rod), virgule (a diagonal mark (/) used especially to separate alternatives, as in and/or). The word verge, 'a rod, wand, or staff carried as an emblem of authority or office', Klein explains; "the sense 'limit, margin, edge', developed from the meaning 'staff of office', through the medium of the term within the verge used in the sense 'within the sphere of authority of the Royal Steward'". The word virgate, from Latin virgo, was an old English land measure, "used also in the sense of measuring rod, a measure of length" [Klein].

"For sense development [of Virgo] compare Greek talis, 'a marriageable girl', is cognate with Latin talea, 'rod, stick, bar'" [Klein].

This word might also be in Virgo's domain because it is related to the word 'detail' and Virgos are well known for paying extreme attention to detail. Derivatives of Latin talea are: tally, detail, entail, retail, tailor, curtail.

The Greek word for virgin is parthenos, and Virgo had the title Parthenos Dios, the Virgin Goddess; parthenic, 'of the nature of a virgin', Parthenon, the name of the temple of the virgin goddess Athena on the Acropolis at Athens. Parthenogenesis means reproduction without fertilization, from Modern Latin, literally 'birth from a virgin', the word is sometimes also used to describe reproduction modes in hermaphroditic species which can self-fertilize.

"In folk etymology the word virgin comes from vir- (Latin for 'man') and -gyne (Greek for 'woman'), a man-woman or androgyne" [3].

“She who is nowadays called a woman (femina) in ancient times was called vira; ... so also woman (vira) from man (vir). Some people believe that the word for 'virgin' (virgo) is from vira. A 'heroic maiden' (virago) is so called because she 'acts like a man' (vir + agere), that is, she engages in the activities of men and is full of male vigor. The ancients would call strong women by that name. However, a virgin cannot be correctly called a heroic maiden unless she performs a man's task. But if a woman does manly deeds, then she is correctly called a heroic maiden, like an Amazon” [p.242.]. “The term 'virgin' (virgo) comes from 'a greener (viridior) age,' just like the words 'sprout' (virga) and 'calf (vitula). Otherwise it is derived from lack of corruption, as if the word were formed from 'heroic maiden,' because she has no knowledge of female desire” [p.242]. “Calves (vitulus) and heifers (vitula) are named from their greenness (viriditas), that is, their green (i.e. 'vigorous') age, just as a maiden (virgo) is. A heifer, therefore, is small and has not yet produced young, for after she has been put to breed, she is called a iuvenca or a cow” [p.249.]. [The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, 7th century AD.]

"'Vitulus' and 'Vitula', the calf and the heifer, are named from their greenness (a viriditate) i.e. from their greenhorn age, like a virgin's, for a Vitula is a very little maid and not vigorous, though her mother the 'Juventa', i.e. the 'Vacca', is vigorous." [The Book of Beasts: Being a Translation from a Latin Bestiary of the Twelfth Century, p.78]

Viriditas comes from from Latin viridis, 'green', from virere, 'to be green, to flourish', "which is of uncertain origin. Compare verdant, verdantique (a variety of serpentine marble), verderer, verdigris, verdure, verditer, verjuice, vert, 'the color green', virescent, farthingale" [Klein, Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary].

Klein says that the Middle-Latin word vitula is possibly a back formation from Latin vitulari, 'to exult, be joyful', which probably stands for vi-tulari and originally meant 'to lift up one's voice in joy', from *vi, exclamation of joy (compare Greek euoi) + tulo, a secondary form of tollo, 'I raise'. Vitula comes from the Indo-European root *wet-²  'Year'. The originally meaning of these words was 'yearling'. Derivatives: wether (a castrated ram), bellwether, veteran, inveterate (from Latin vetus, old < 'having many years'), veterinary (from Latin veternus, of beasts of burden, of cattle, - perhaps chiefly old cattle), etesian (occurring annually, used of the prevailing northerly summer winds of the Mediterranean, from Greek etos, year), veal (the meat of a calf, from Latin vitellus, a diminutive of vitulus, ‘calf’), vellum (parchment made from calfskin), vitellus (the yolk of an egg), from Latin vitulus, calf, yearling. [Pokorny wet- 1175. Watkins].

The Middle-Latin word vitula also referred to a fiddle, as well as a calf or heifer (might be from where they obtained the gut strings); the word vitula became 'fides' (meaning string or lute) and evolved into 'fidula' and 'fithela' (Old English), finally becoming the modern English 'fiddle.'[4]. The word violin also originates from the Latin vitula, as does viol, and viola. The name Italy is said to derive from this source; from Latin Italia, from Vitelia (compare Oscan Viteliu, 'Italy'), which probably meant originally 'Land of cattle', and is related to Latin Vitulus, 'calf [Klein]. A heifer is virgin, older than a calf and younger than a cow.

“They located the sign Virgo among the constellations because on the days when the sun runs through it the earth is parched by the heat of the sun and bears nothing, for this is the season of the dog days.” [The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville 7th century AD, p.106.]

Vellum is parchment made from calfskin.

"I tentatively suggest that Late Middle English parchen derived through back formation from parchment The noun, parchment was divided into parch-ment and through this division the verb parch in the sense 'to dry' was 'reconstructed'. (The originally meaning of parchment was supposed to have been 'anything dried', and the meaning 'dried skin of animals used for writing' to be secondary). This etymology is supported by the rather striking fact that while the originally form parchemin appears for the first time in English about 1300, the form parchment and the verb parch appear for the first time only about a hundred years later (see OED.)" [Klein, Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary]

In meteorology, virga is precipitation that falls from a cloud but evaporates before reaching the ground.

A Latin title for Virgo was Erigone, — "perhaps from the Homeric Erigeneia, the Early Born, for the constellation is very old" [Allen, Star Names]. Erigone from Greek eri, early, + -gone, from Greek gonos, 'child, procreation, seed'. Greek eri is cognate with our word early from the Indo-European root *ayer- 'Day, morning'. Derivatives: early, ere, erst (as in erstwhile, from Old English aerest, earliest, from Germanic superlative *airista-). [Pokorny aier- 12. Watkins] Klein supplies more cognates: "Compare also the first element in Erigenia, Erigeron (the fleabane, from 'early' + geron, 'an old man'), aristology (Greek ariston 'breakfast')".

Greek eri, early, Old English aerest, Germanic *airista-; bears a resemblance to Greek aristos, best, and Latin arista 'beard of grain'? Arista was a Roman title for this constellation.

Virgo is the sign of work and service. If the i, and the last e, is dropped in the word Erigone, it gives the Greek word for 'work,' ergon:

"Virgo, virginis, a virgin or damsel. Sometimes, though very rarely, it is said of one married, as in Virg. Eel. 6, 47. As we say Spinster, that is, Spinning woman, for damsel—so the Greeks might say a working woman under the same idea. From Greek ergo might be erganis, (same as ergane), which could produce verginis, virginis. Or Greek ergon, might be used as both masculine and feminine, and from Greek ergon could be vergo, virgo. Alternatively from vireo (green), whence virigo, virgo." [An etymological dictionary of the Latin language, Valpy, 1828, p.512-513]

Greek ergon is cognate with the English word 'work' and derives from the Indo-European root *werg- 'To do'. The Indo-European root *werg-, has the Latin pronunciation verg-, or virg-, as in Virgo. Some derivatives: energy, erg, ergonomics, -urgy, work, wrought, erk, -wright, organ, organize, orgy. [Pokorny 2. werg- 1168.]

Astraea, meaning 'starry', was a Greek title for Virgo which as Aratus says might derive from Astraeus who was her father. Astraea once dwelt on earth among mankind. She became ever critical of the Brazen Age man, for their violence and greed, and for no longer upholding justice. She departed the earth in disgust.

Virgo is also portrayed as Justice (Justitia) or Dike holding the scales of Libra. Aratus says about Virgo:

Beneath both feet of Bootes mark the Maiden who in her hands bears the gleaming Ear of Corn (Spica). Whether she be daughter of Astraeus, who, men say, was of old the father of the stars [Greek astor, star], or child of other sire, untroubled be her course! But another tale is current among men, how of old she dwelt on earth and met men face to face, nor ever disdained in olden time the tribes of men and women, but mingling with them took her seat, immortal though she was. Her men called Justice (Dike); but she assembling the elders, it might be in the market-place or in the wide-wayed streets, uttered her voice, ever urging on them judgments kinder to the people. Not yet in that age had men knowledge of hateful strife, or carping contention, or din of battle, but a simple life they lived. Far from them was the cruel sea and not yet from afar did ships bring their livelihood, but the oxen and the plough and Justice herself, queen of the peoples, giver of things just, abundantly supplied their every need. Even so long as the earth still nurtured the Golden Race, she had her dwelling on earth. But with the Silver Race only a little and no longer with utter readiness did she mingle, for that she yearned for the ways of the men of old. Yet in that Silver Age was she still upon the earth; but from the echoing hills at eventide she came alone, nor spake to any man in gentle words. But when she had filled the great heights with gathering crowds, then would she with threats rebuke their evil ways, and declare that never more at their prayer would she reveal her face to man. "Behold what manner of race the fathers of the Golden Age left behind them! Far meaner than themselves! but ye will breed a viler progeny! [the Iron Age?]. Verily wars and cruel bloodshed shall be unto men and grievous woe shall be laid upon them." Even so she spake and sought the hills and left the people all gazing towards her still. But when they, too, were dead, and when, more ruinous than they which went before, the Race of Bronze was born, who were the first to forge the sword of the highwayman, and the first to eat of the flesh of the ploughing-ox, then verily did Justice loathe that race of men and fly heavenward and took up that abode, where even now in the night time the Maiden is seen of men, established near to far-seen Bootes. [Aratus, Phaenomena, 3rd century B.C., p.237-239]

In the Secret Teachings of All Ages, Manly P. Hall shows how the Assumption of the Virgin Mary is a parallel to Astraea rise into the Heavens; "and she flew away to the stars" as Hyginus puts it [Astronomy 2.25 (3)]: Concerning the Catholic Feast of the Assumption and its parallel in astronomy, he quotes:

"At the end of eight months, when the sun-god, having increased, traverses the eighth sign, he absorbs the celestial Virgin in his fiery course, and she disappears in the midst of the luminous rays.... This phenomenon, which takes place every year about the middle of August... The Roman calendar of Columella marks the death or disappearance of Virgo at this period. This is where the Catholics place the Feast of the Assumption, or the reunion of the Virgin to her Son, formerly called the feast of the Passage of the Virgin. The ancient Greeks and Romans fix the assumption of Astraea, who is also this same Virgin, on that day.'" http://www.lf8.org/taboo/TheSecretTeachingsofAllAges.pdf

"In Egypt Virgo was drawn on the zodiacs of Denderah and Thebes which Eratosthenes and Avienus identified with Isis, the thousand-named goddess, with the wheat ears in her hand that she afterwards dropped to form the Milky Way" [Allen, Star Names]. (In another myth Hercules is responsible for the formation of the Milky Way)

The astrological influences of the constellation given by Manilius:

"spicifera est Virgo Cereris"  —  "The Virgin with her sheaf belongs to Ceres". [Astronomica, Manilius, 1st century AD, p.117]

"Virginis in propriam descendunt ilia sortem",  —  "the belly comes down to the Maid as her rightful lot"  [Astronomica, Manilius, 1st century AD, p.119]

"At her rising Erigone, who reigned with justice over a bygone age and fled when it fell into sinful ways, bestows high eminence by bestowing supreme power; she will produce a man to direct the laws of the state and the sacred code; one who will tend with reverence the hallowed temples of the gods. [Astronomica, Manilius, 1st century AD, p.265]

The temperaments of those whose span of life she pronounces at their birth Erigone will direct to study, and she will train their minds in the learned arts. She will give not so much abundance of wealth as the impulse to investigate the causes and effects of things. On them she will confer a tongue which charms, the mastery of words, and that mental vision which can discern all things, however concealed they be by the mysterious workings of nature. From the Virgin will also come the stenographer [scriptor crit velox]: his letter represents a word, and by means of his symbols he can keep ahead of utterance and record in novel notation the long speech of a rapid speaker. But with the good there comes a flaw: bashfulness handicaps the early years of such persons, for the Maid, by holding back their great natural gifts, puts a bridle on their lips and restrains them by the curb of authority. And (small wonder in a virgin) her offspring is not fruitful. [Astronomica, Manilius, 1st century AD, p.237 and 239]

Manilius says: "From the Virgin will also come the stenographer [scriptor crit velox]: his letter represents a word" ; the speedwriter, the shorthand writer. Vellum and parchment, derived from the skins of animals, were very expensive commodities. The need to economise had encouraged the use of a highly abbreviated style of writing in Latin. The Celtic ogham, and Germanic runes were written on vellum and parchment. Paper making started in Europe in the 13th century.

© Anne Wright 2008.

Fixed stars in Virgo
Star 1900 2000 R A Decl 1950 Lat Mag Sp Orb
nu 22VIR47 24VIR10 175 49 21 +06 48 35 +04 35 19 4.20 M1 34m
Zavijava beta 25VIR45 27VIR10 177 01 21 +02 02 47 +00 41 37 3.80 F8 37m
Zaniah eta 03LIB08 04LIB31 184 20 12 -00 23 21 +02 04 51 4.00 A0 35m
Vindemiatrix epsilon 08LIB33 09LIB56 194 55 18 +11 13 39 +16 12 28 2.95 G6 45m
Porrima gamma 08LIB46 10LIB08 189 46 53 -01 10 32 +02 47 41 2.91 F0 46m
Auva delta 10LIB04 11LIB28 193 16 15 +03 40 07 +08 37 06 3.66 M3 38m
theta 16LIB51 18LIB14 196 50 22 -05 16 21 +01 44 46 5.65 B0 19m
Heze zeta 20LIB29 22LIB52 203 02 09 -00 20 28 +08 38 25 3.44 A2 41m
Spica alpha 22LIB27 23LIB50 200 38 20 -10 54 04 -02 03 03 0.98 B2 65m
tau 26LIB22 27LIB45 209 46 30 +01 47 08 +13 03 58 4.34 A1 33m
Syrma iota 02SCO24 03SCO48 213 20 49 -05 45 46 +07 12 33 4.16 F5 34m
kappa 03SCO07 04SCO30 212 33 33 -10 02 31 +02 54 55 4.31 K2 33m
Khambalia lambda 05SCO33 06SCO57 14h18m -13.08 00 +00 29 00 4.60 A2 29m
109 07SCO08 08SCO31 220 55 46 +02 06 08 +17 06 22 3.76 A0 37m
mu 08SCO45 10SCO08 220 06 19 -05 26 31 +09 40 49 3.95 F3 35m

Hevelius, Firmamentum, 1690

from Star Names,1889, Richard H. Allen

Virgo, the Virgin, is the Anglo-Saxon Maeden, the Anglo-Norman Pulcele, the French Vierge, the Italian Virgine, Bayer's Junckfraw, and the present German Jungfrau, in fact a universal title, — generally has been figured with the palm branch in her right hand and the spica, or ear of wheat, in her left. Thus she was known in the Attic dialect as Kore, the Maiden, representing Persephone, the Roman Proserpina, daughter of Demeter, the Roman Ceres; while in the Ionic dialect Nonnus, of our 5th century, called her stakhuodes Koure {Page 461} (Stachyodes Koure), the Wheat-bearing Maiden, spicifera Virgo Cereris, the Virgo spicea munera gestans of Manilius. When regarded as Proserpina, she was being abducted by Pluto in his Chariot, the stars of adjacent Libra; and the constellation also was Demeter herself, the Ceres spicifera dea, changed by the astrologers to Arista, Harvest, of which Ceres was goddess. Caesius had it Arista Puellae, that would seem more correct as Aristae Puella, the Maiden of the Harvest.

Those who claim very high antiquity for the zodiacal signs assert that the idea of these titles originated when the sun was in Virgo at the spring equinox, the time of the Egyptian harvest. This, however, carries them back nearly 15,000 years, while Aratos said that Leo first marked the harvest month; so that another signification has been given to the word stachyodes (stakhuodes). We read, too, that "In Ogygian ages and among the Orientals, she was represented as a sun-burnt damsel, with an ear of corn in her hand, like a gleaner in the fields;" and, like most of that class, with a very different character from that assigned to her by the classic authors. Is it not this ancient story of the Maiden of the Wheat-field that is still seen in the North English and South Scottish custom of the Kern-baby, or Kernababy, — the Corn, or Kernel, Baby, — thus described by Lang in his Custom and Myth ?

The last gleanings of the last field are bound up in a rude imitation of the human shape, and dressed in some rag-tags of finery. The usage has fallen into the conservative hands of children, but of old "the Maiden" was a regular image of the harvest-goddess, which, with a sickle and sheaves in her arms, attended by a crowd of reapers, and accompanied with music, followed the last carts home to the farm. It is odd enough that the "Maiden" should exactly translate the old Sicilian name of the daughter of Demeter. "The Maiden" has dwindled, then, among us to the rudimentary Kernababy; but ancient Peru had her own Maiden, her Harvest Goddess.

And in Vendee the farmer's wife, as the corn-mother, is tossed in a blanket with the last sheaf to bring good luck in the subsequent threshing. Perhaps Caesius had some of this in view when he associated our sky figure with Ruth, the Moabitess, gleaning in the fields of Boaz.

Virgo also was Erigone, — perhaps from the Homeric Erigeneia, the Early Born, for the constellation is very old, — a stellar title appearing in Vergil's apotheosis of his patron Augustus. This was the maiden who hung herself in grief at the death of her father Icarius, and was transported to the skies with Icarius as Bootes, and their faithful hound Maira as Procyon, or Sirius; all of which is attested by Hyginus and Ovid. It may have been this Icarian story that induced Keats' Lines on the Mermaid Tavern:

{Page 462}

Sipping beverage divine,

And pledging with contented smack

The Mermaid in the Zodiac.

Sometimes she was figured with the Scales in her hands, —

Astraea's scales have weighed her minutes out,

Poised on the zodiac, —

whence she has been considered Dike, the divinity of Justice, the Roman Justa or Jastitia; and Astraea, the starry daughter of Themis, the last of the celestials to leave the earth, with her modest sister Pudicitia, when the Brazen Age began. Ovid wrote of this:

Virgo caede madentes,

Ultima coelestum, terras Astraea reliquit;

when, according to Aratos, she

Soared up to heaven, selecting this abode,

Whence yet at night she shows herself to men.

Thus she is the oldest purely allegorical representation of innocence and virtue. This legend seems to be first found with Hesiod, and was given in full by Aratos, his longest constellational history in the Phainomena, Other authors mentioned her as Eirene, Irene, the sister of Astraea, and the Pax of the Romans, with the olive branch; as Concordia; as Parthenos Dios, the Virgin Goddess; as Sibulla, the Singing Sibyl, carrying a branch into Hades; and as Tukhe, the Roman Fortuna, because she is a headless constellation, the stars marking the head being very faint.

Classical Latin writers occasionally called her Ano, Atargatis, and Derceto, the Syrorum Dea transferred here from Pisces; Cybele drawn by lions, for our Leo immediately precedes her; Diana; Minerva; Panda and Pantica; and even Medusa. Posidippus, 289 B.C., gave Thesbia or Thespia, daughter of Thespius, or of the Theban Asopus; and some said that one of the Muses, even Urania herself, was placed here in the sky by Apollo.

Aspolia is from Kircher, who in turn took it from the Coptic Egyptians, the Statio amoris, quem in incremento Nili du ostendebant. This, however, is singularly like H Polias, designating Minerva as guardian of citadels and the State, already seen as a title for this constellation; and there was a Coptic Asphulia in Leo as a moon station.

In Egypt Virgo was drawn on the zodiacs of Denderah and Thebes, much disproportioned and without wings, holding an object said to be a distaff marked by the stars of Coma Berenices; while Eratosthenes and Avienus identified her with Isis, the thousand-named goddess, with the {Page 463} wheat ears in her hand that she afterwards dropped to form the Milky Way, or clasping in her arms the young Horus, the infant Southern sun-god, the last of the divine kings. This very ancient figuring reappeared in the Middle Ages as the Virgin Mary with the child Jesus, Shakespeare alluding to it in Titus Andronicus as the

Good Boy in Virgo's lap;

and Albertus Magnus, of our 13th century, asserted that the Savior's horoscope lay here. It has been said that her initials, MV, are the symbol for the sign c; although the International Dictionary considers this a monogram of Par, the first syllable of Parthenos, one of Virgo's Greek titles; and others, a rude picturing of the wing of Istar, the divinity that the Semites assigned to its stars, and prominent in the Epic of Creation.

This Istar, or Ishtar, the Queen of the Stars, was the Ashtoreth of the 1st Book of the Kings, xi, 5, 33, the original of the Aphrodite of Greece and the Venus of Rome; perhaps equivalent to Athyr, Athor, or Hathor of the Nile, and the Astarte of Syria, the last philologically akin to our Esther and Star, the Greek Aster. Astarte, too, was identified by the Venerable Bede with the Saxon goddess of spring, Eostre, at whose festival, our Easter, the stars of Virgo shine so brightly in the eastern evening sky; and the Sumerians of southern Babylonia assigned this constellation to their sixth month as the Errand, or Message, of Istar.

In Assyria Virgo represented Baaltis, Belat, Belit, and Beltis, Bel's wife; while some thought her the Mylitta of Herodotus. But this was a very different divinity, the Babylonian Molatta, the Moon, the Mother, or Queen, of Heaven, against whose worship the Jews were warned in the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, xliv, 17, 19, and should not be confounded with Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Zidonians, that our figure symbolized.

In India Virgo was Kanya, the Tamil Kauni, or Maiden, — in Hyde's transcription, Kannae, — mother of the great Krishna, figured as a Goddess sitting before a fire, or as a Gul; and in the Cingalese zodiac as a Woman in a Ship, with a stalk of wheat in her hand. Al Biruni thought this ship marked by the line of stars beta (Zavijava), eta (Zaniah), gamma (Porrima), delta (Auva), and epsilon (Vindemiatrix), like a ship's keel. Varaha Mihira borrowed the Greek name, turning it into Parthena, Partina, or Pathona.

In Persia it was Khosha, or Khusak, the Ear of Wheat, and Secdeidos de Darzama, this last often translated the "Virgin in Maiden Neatness"; but Ideler, doubting this, cited Beigel's conjecture that it was a Persian rendering of Stachys, one of the Greek titles of Virgo's star Spica. Bayer had it Seclenidos de Darzama.

The early Arabs made from some members of the constellation the {Page 464} enormous Lion of their sky; and of others the Kennel Corner, with dogs barking at the Lion. Their later astronomers, however, adopted the Greek figure, and called it Al 'Adhra' al Nathifah, the Innocent Maiden, remains of which are found in the mediaeval titles Eladari, Eleadari, Adrendesa, and in the Adrenedesa of Albumasar. But as they would not draw the human form, they showed the stars as a sheaf of wheat, Al Sunbulah, or as some stalks with the ripened ears of the same, from the Roman Spica, its brightest star. Kazwini gave both of these Arabian names, the last degenerating into Sunbala, found in Bayer, and Sumbela, still occasionally seen. The Almagest of 1515 says Virgo est Spica.

The Turcomans knew the constellation as Dufhiza Pakhiza, the Pure Virgin; and the Chinese, as She Sang Neu, the Frigid Maiden; but before their Jesuit days it was Shun Wei, which Miss Clerke translates the Serpent, but Williams, the Quail's Tail, a part of the early stellar figure otherwise known as the Red Bird, Pheasant, or Phoenix.

It appears as Ki, the 20th in the Euphratean cycle of ecliptic constellations, and considered equivalent to Asru, a Place, i. e. the moon station that Spica marked; but Jensen thinks that the original should be Siru, or Shiru, perhaps meaning the "Ear of Corn"; much of this also is individually applied to Spica.

In the land of Judaea Virgo was Bethulah, and, being always associated with the idea of abundance in harvest, was assigned by the Rabbis to the tribe of Asher, of whom Jacob had declared "his bread shall be fat." In Syria it was Bethulta.

Thus, like Isis, one of her many prototypes, Virgo always has been a much named and symbolized heavenly figure; Landseer saying of it, "so disguised, so modernized and be-Greek'd . . . that we literally don't know her when we see her."

In astrology this constellation and Gemini were the House of Mercury, Macrobius saying that the planet was created here; the association being plainly shown by the caduceus of that god, the herald's trumpet entwined with serpents, instead of the palm branch, often represented in her left hand. But usually, and far more appropriately, Virgo's stars have been given over to the care of Ceres, her namesake, the long-time goddess of the harvest. For her astrological colors Virgo assumed black speckled with blue; and was thought of as governing the abdomen in the human body, and as bearing rule over Crete, Greece, Mesopotamia, Turkey, Jerusalem, Lyons, and Paris, but always as an unfortunate, sterile sign. Manilius asserted that in his day it ruled the fate of Arcadia, Caria, Ionia, Rhodes, and the Doric plains. Ampelius assigned to it the charge of the wind Argestes, that blew {Page 465} to the Romans from the west-southwest according to Vitruvius, or from the west-northwest according to Pliny.

The latter said that the appearance of a comet within its borders implied many grievous ills to the female portion of the population.

Virgo was associated with Leo and with the star Sirius in the ancient opinion that, when with the sun, they were a source of heat; Ovid alluding to this in his Ars Amatoria:

Virginis aetherus cum caput ardet equis.

And John Skelton, the royal orator of King Henry VII, wrote:

In autumn when the sun in Virgine

By radiant heat enripened hath our corne.

A coin of Sardis, the capital of the kingdom of Lydia, bears her figure with the wheat ear in her left hand and a staff in her right; and the stateres of Macedonia have much the same. The Alfonsine Tables showed her as a very young girl with wings; the Leyden Manuscript and the Hyginus of 1488 as a young woman with branch and caduceus, and the Albumasar of 1489, as a woman with a fillet of wheat ears. The old German illustration also gave her wings, but dressed her in a high-necked, trailing gown; and Durer drew her as a lovely winged angel.

Julius Schiller used her stars to represent Saint James the Less, and Weigel, as the Seven Portuguese Towers.

But all these figurings, ancient as some of them may be, are modern when compared with the still enduring Sphinx generally claimed as prehistoric, perhaps of the times of the Hor-she-shu, long anterior to the first historical Egyptian ruler, Menes; and constructed, according to Greek tradition, with Virgo's head on Leo's body, from the fact that the sun passed through these two constellations during the inundation of the Nile. Some Egyptologists, however, would upset this astronomical connection of the Virgin, Lion, and Sphinx, Mariette claiming the head to be that of the early god Harmachis, and others as of an early king.

Ptolemy extended the constellation somewhat farther to the east than we have it, the feet being carried into the modern Libra, and the stars that Hipparchos placed in the shoulder shifted to the side, to correct, as he said, the comparative distances of the stars and members of the body. Upon our maps it is about 52° in length, terminating on the east at lambda and mu, and so is the longest of the zodiac figures. It is bounded on the north by Leo, Coma Berenices, and Bootes; on the east by Serpens and Libra; on the {Page 466} south by Hydra, Corvus and Crater; and on the west by Leo, Crater, and Corvus.

While the beautiful Spica is its most noteworthy object to the casual observer, yet the telescope shows here the densest nebular region in the heavens, in the space marked by its beta (Zavijava), eta (Zaniah), gamma (Porrima), delta (Auva), and Denebola of Leo; while other nebulae are scattered all over this region of the sky. Sir William Herschel found here no less than 323, which later search has increased to over 500, — very many more nebulae than naked-eye stars in the constellation. Argelander gives 101 of the latter, and Heis 181.

It is for these four stars in Virgo, forming with epsilon (Vindemiatrix) two sides of a right-angled triangle open towards Denebola, gamma (Porrima) at its vertex, that Professor Young uses his mnemonic word Begde to recall their order. They extend along the wings through the girdle, and were the Kennel Corner of the Barking Dogs of the Arabs, often considered as the Dogs themselves.

Von Zach, of Gotha, rediscovered here on the last day of the first year of this century the minor planet Ceres, whose position had been lost some time after its discovery by Piazzi on the previous New Year's Day; Olbers repeating this, and independently, the next evening, the first anniversary of the original discovery. Here, too, Olbers found, on the 28th of March, 1802, another minor planet, Pallas, the second one discovered, and appropriately named, for the thirty-first of the Orphic Hymns described this goddess as "inhabiting the stars."

The sun passes through the constellation from the 14th of September to the 29th of October; and during this time

the Virgin trails No more her glittering garments through the blue.

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