Ophiuchus: The "13th Sign" of the Zodiac?
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Ophiuchus: The "13th Sign" of the Zodiac?

Some have pointed out that a 13th sign, between Scorpio and Sagittarius, was once considered by the Babylonians, as its constellation crosses the plain of the ecliptic in late fall. However, this constellation, Ophiuchus (aka “Serpentarius”), was discarded when the final form of the Zodiac, twelve regions of 30 degrees each, was established

A January article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune caused a stir amongst astrology adherents by claiming that due to the Earth’s wobble about its axis (known as “procession”) over the centuries, the classical twelve signs of the Zodiac no longer line-up with their original placements in the night sky. In addition others have pointed out that a 13th sign, between Scorpio and Sagittarius, was once considered by the Babylonians, as its constellation crosses the plain of the ecliptic in late fall. However, this constellation, Ophiuchus (aka “Serpentarius”), was discarded when the final form of the Zodiac, twelve regions of 30 degrees each, was established. But what/who was Ophiuchus (Greek for “snake holder”), and what was its place in the great mythologies that make up the Zodiac?

Astronomical

Ophiuchus is located between Aquila, Serpens and Hercules, northwest of the center of the Milky Way. The southern part lies between Scorpius to the west and Sagittarius to the east. It is most visible in the northern summer, and is located opposite Orion in the sky. The constellation’s brightest stars include α Ophiuchi, (called Rasalhague) and η Ophiuchi. Barnard's Star, one of the nearest stars to the Solar System, lies inside Ophiuchus, as do numerous star clusters (M9, M10, M12, M14, M19, etc.)

Mythological

Ophiuchus’ mythical history is unclear, but there are several theories to explain its form, including:

  •  It represents the healer Asclepius, son of Apollo, who learned the secrets of avoiding death, and was slain by Zeus either to assuage Hades’ anger, or to keep Asclepius from using those secrets to make mankind immortal. In recompense Zeus then placed Asclepius in the heavens to honor his accomplishments.
  •  It is the figure of Laocoön, the Trojan priest slain by a pair of sea serpents after he attempted to warn the Trojans against accepting the Greeks’ gift of a horse.
  •  It depicts the god Apollo wrestling with a python to take control of the Oracle at Delphi.
  •  It illustrates the story of Phorbas of Thessaloniki who saved the island of Rhodes from a plague of serpents, and was granted a place of honor in the heavens as a result.
  •  Prior to the Greeks, Ophiuchus may have represented the Babylonian constellation known as the Sitting Gods which originally may have been a human figure whose legs were replaced by the tail of a huge serpent.

Below is the astrological symbol for Ophiuchus, known as the Rod of Asclepius:

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