Lore of the Constellations: Auriga

There are conflicting stories for who or what Auriga represents.  After all, “Auriga” simply means “charioteer” in Latin, so it’s not actually named after a specific person. 

The constellation is said to represent a number of people involved with riding in a chariot of some sort.  One popular story is that Auriga represents Myrtilus, the charioteer of King Oenomaus. 

In this story, the King was jealous of anyone seeking his daughter’s hand in marriage.  He announced anyone suiting for his daughter would have to challenge him in a chariot race.  If they lost, they’d have to pay with their lives. 

King Oenomaus loved horses and was even gifted a horse by the god Ares…so, no one could beat him. 

Well, the gods decided to intervene when Pelops, son of Hermes, came calling.  Pelops was given a golden chariot with winged, golden horses to pull it.  These horses were given by Poseidon, god of the sea.  To further ensure victory, Pelops persuaded Myrtilus to tamper with the king’s wheels.  Myrtilus agreed and the King ended up being dragged to his death, thus leaving Pelops to claim his prize.  Myrtilus was eventually killed.

In other stories, Auriga is meant to represent the inventor of the four-horse chariot.

But one thing we see when Auriga is depicted in artistic form is that the charioteer is holding a little goat.  What’s the deal with the goat?

Well, as the legend goes, Auriga also represents the patron of shepherds.  The constellation is especially prominent in the winter and spring months, a time when shepherds spent nights out in the fields with their flocks.  Actually, according to the Greek myths, there’s no connection to a charioteer riding along while holding a small goat.

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