Today I am doing another constellation post, and this time it is about a bit of an oddity: a constellation that the ancient Hellenes saw only as a part of another constellation. Often the names we use for the constellations are Roman, but the ancient Hellenes at least identified the constellation in the same way. Not so with Libra: to the ancient Romans, Libra represented scales, to the ancient Hellenes, the claws of the constellation Scorpio. As such, it was known by two names: Zyygos (the Scales) or Khêlai (the Claws).

The constellation Scorpio--which we will get to at a later date--was placed into the sky because of mythology that connexts him to Orion, the great hunter. In ancient times, the constellation Libra was almost solely identified with the scorpion, but eventually, another connection came to pass--to the constellation Virgo. The above image represents both connections. Hyginus, in his Astronomica, makes the connection between the scorpion and the scales best:

"This sign is divided into two parts on account of the great spread of the claws. One part of it our writers have called the Balance." [II. 26]

Hyginus (64 BC – AD 17), however, was a Latin author. Earlier work--for example by 3rd century BC poet Aratos, reveals nothing about scales. In his Phaenomena, he discusses the placement of Libra repeatedly:

"Toward the Crown leans the Serpent’s jaw, but beneath his coiling form seek thou for the mighty Claws [Libra]; they are scant of light and nowise briljant. [...] There too are the most swift courses of the Ram [Aries], who, pursued through the longest circuit, runs not a whit slower than the Bear Cynosura – himself weak and starless as on a moonlit night, but yet by the belt of Andromeda thou canst trace him out. For a little below her is he set. Midway he treads the mighty heavens, where wheel the tips of the Scorpion’s Claws and the Belt of Orion. [...] The constellation of Centaur [Centaurus] thou wilt find beneath two others. For part in human form lies beneath Scorpio, but the rest, a horse’s trunk and tail, are beneath the Claws. [...] In it [the equater] are the Belt of the well-starred Orion and the coil of the gleaming Hydra: in it, too, the dim-lit Crater and the Crow and the scanty-starred Claws and the knees of Ophiuchus are borne. [...] In it is the Crag; after the Crab the Lion and beneath him the Maiden; after the Maiden the Claws and the Scorpion himself and the Archer and Aegoceros, and after Aegoceros Hydrochoüs. [...] Nor can the rising Claws [Libra], though faintly shining, pass unremarked, when at a bound the mighty sign of Boötes rises, jeweled with Arcturus. Aloft is risen all of Argo, but the Hydra, shed as she is afar over the heavens, will lack her tail. The Claws bring only the right leg as far as the thigh of that Phantom that is ever On his Knees, ever crouching by the Lyre – that Phantom, unknown among the figures of the heavens, whom we often see both rise and set on the selfsame night. Of him only the leg is visible at the rising of both the Claws: he himself head-downward on the other side awaits the rising Scorpion and the Drawer of the Bow. For they bring him: Scorpion brings his waist and all aforesaid; the Bow his left hand and head. Even so in three portions is he all brought up piecemeal above the horizon. Half the Crown and the tip of the Centaur’s tail are upraised with the rising Claws." [88, 225, 436, 511, 544, 607]

About the connection to the constellation Virgo, many later writers have something to say, although very few of those words are in the public domain. Two Goddesses were identified with the scales by (mostly) the Romans: Astraia (Αστραια), daughter of Zeus and Themis, and Tykhe (Τυχη), daughter of Zeus. There is no Hellenic source to tie either of them to the constellation.

Manilius, a Roman poet, astrologer, and author from the 1st century AD, in his 'Astronomica' spoke of the influence of Libra for those born under it, writing:

"Balancing night with the length of day, the Scales will bestow the employment of weights and measures and a son to emulate the talents of Palamedes, who first assigned numbers, and to these numbers names, fixed magnitudes and individual symbols. He will be acquainted with the tables of law, abstruse legal points, and words denoted by compendious signs; he will know what is permissible and the penalties incurred by doing what is forbidden; in his own house he is a people's magistrate holding lifelong office… Indeed, whatever stands in dispute and needs a ruling the pointer of the balance will determine." [Loeb p.239]

Libra, especially for the Hellenes, was a minor constellation--part of another constellation, and barely connected to mythology. In modern times, however, the failt constellation has gained its share of fame. The constellation Libra is visible at latitudes between +65° and −90°, and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of June.