No BULL In This Story- The Story Of Taurus

Because of my training in mythology and history, I like this blog to not only be a window into the night sky, but also a glimpse into the past. Before science, people used myths and legends to explain how the world works, and they have always had ideas about what is going on in the heavens. I am proud to begin this new page to explain some of the myths that connect us with the stars and with the past.

No Bull- Here: The Story of Taurus the Bull

Image of Taurus the Bull, taken from 15th century Norman astrology book.

Image of Taurus the Bull, taken from 15th century Norman astrology book.

Taurus is a bright constellation in the western sky that is very important in many western and middle eastern cultures. For many ancient cultures, the bull was beloved of the gods, so myths about sacred bulls (and sacred cows) go back thousands of years. The most ancient story still told in the western world centers around the image of a Bull of Heaven. Taurus is also an astrological sign which runs from April 21 to May 22.The Facts Are These: Constellation Taurus

– The constellation Taurus contains two star clusters- the Hyades, which make up its nose and its horns, and the Pleiades, which make up part of its body.

– As an astrological sign, Taurus rests along the path of the ecliptic; the imaginary line that marks the path of the Sun and the planets.

– Taurus’ brightest star is called “Aldeberan,” a very bright star that appears orange in hue in the picture on the left.

– Also in Taurus is the Crab Nebula- the remnant of a star that exploded into a supernova over 1,000 years ago.

– During the winter months, the planet Jupiter is often in the position of the eye of Taurus.

– Taurus is easily visible during December and January.

– During spring and summer months, Taurus is visible in the western sky.

– Taurus is nestled between Orion to the left, and the constellations Aries and Perseus to the right.

– To see where Taurus is right now, click on the Mini-Astro Viewer below.

Please enable JAVATM to use the Mini-AstroViewer night sky map.
The Mythology Behind Taurus
Greek (story 1)- The Bull that protects.
The star sign Taurus is associated with the planet Venus. Appropriately enough, many of the myths that surround Taurus have to do with love.  The first story behind Taurus is one I’ve written about before. It goes back to Orion the Hunter. The story goes that Orion became infatuated with not one, not two, but SEVEN beautiful maidens known as the Pleiades, and pursued all of them at once. Unable to defend themselves from his unwanted advances, the sisters prayed to the god Jupiter and he turned them into doves and let them fly away, making a home among the stars. However, Orion was able to pursue them even into the sky, so Jupiter sent Taurus the Bull to protect them, which is why Taurus always stands between Orion and the Pleiades, and why Jupiter forms the eye of the Bull itself.
Greek (story 2)- The Bull that kills.
"The Abduction Of Europa" by Rembrandt, 1632.
“The Abduction Of Europa” by Rembrandt, 1632.

Although Jupiter protected the Pleiades from unwanted advances, in another myth the god himself became just such an amorous intruder. According to the myth, Zeus transformed himself into a snow-white bull to seduce a beautiful princess named Europa, and carried her off on his back to the island of Crete. She fathered a son who later became Minos, king of Crete. For centuries, bulls were revered in Crete, and Minos decorated his palace with their horns.

Minos was incredibly proud and cruel as a result of being a demi-god, so to punish him Venus made Minos’ wife fall in love with a bull. The  give birth to a terrifying monster, half-human half bull, known as the Minataur. This creature was so bloodthirsty it could only be fed by a yearly sacrifice of 14 virgins. To contain the beast, Minos built a giant maze called the Labyrinth, and placed the beast in the center. Eventually Theseus, the son of Poseidon would hunt down and kill the Minataur, becomming the king of Athens. This story became an allegory for wisdom and cunning overcomming man’s bestial nature, especially rampant unchecked desire.

 >Above Right- Clash Of the Gods- Theseus (History Channel).
Middle Eastern Myths of Taurus- Gilgamesh
The concept of a sacred bull actually goes back to the very dawn of history.
The first ever written myth, the story of Gilgamesh, mentions how the hero Gilgamesh conquered a bull sent from heaven that was creating a reign of terror on Earth. Gilgamesh’s story dates from about 1800 BC, in modern-day Iraq.
Gilgamesh was the first human ever created and was 2/3rds divine. He was wise, strong, and as beautiful as all the Babylonian gods. Consequently the goddess Ishtar, (goddess of love and war), wanted him for her husband. Gilgamesh knew she would never commit to only one man, so he rejected her. In her rage, Ishtar asks her father, the Air god Anu to send the Bull of Heaven to destroy Gilgamesh.
If you refuse to give me the Bull of Heaven [then] I will break in the doors of hell and smash the bolts; there will be confusion [i.e., mixing] of people, those above with those from the lower depths. I shall bring up the dead to eat food like the living; and the hosts of the dead will outnumber the living – Ishtar speaking to Anu (The Epic of Gilgamesh. Trans. N. K. Sandars. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985).
Like Theseus, Gilgamesh survives the bull’s attack and destroys the Bull of Heaven, but he is punished with mortality as a result. He then goes on a spiritual quest to figure out why we have to die. Once again, bulls stand for desire and terror, which can only be overcome through strength of mind and heart. The Greeks probably borrowed details from this story when constructing their own myths.
Although there are sacred bulls all over the world in countless variations, I wanted to summarize some of the myths that surround this particular constellation. If you would like to read more, leave a comment below and I’ll happily amend this page.
Till next time, Happy Stargazing!

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