It's been a while since I last tackled a constellation. Sorry about that. I am happy to announce we have reached the 'O''s, which means there are just fourteen left after this one, and thirty-two behind us. There will, however, be a bonus at the end. The constellation Ophiuchus (Ὀφιοῦχος) has has had its stars interpreted in a number of ways throughout the years, and the Hellenic-era interpretations are mostly lost to us. Hyginus is our primary source on this constellation, and he was a Roman man. Lets hope he built upon existing opinion.

Ophiuchus has known many interpretation, but was almost solely called 'Serpent-holder'. In the night's sky, he is located above Scorpio, and holds in his hands a serpent which coils about his body. Hyginus, in his 'Astronomica' gives us five possible men this snake holder could represent: Karnabon, Herakles, Triopas, Phorbas, and Asklēpiós. I will let Hyginus speak for a moment:

"Many have called him Carnabon, king of the Getae, who lived in Thrace. He came into power at the time when it is thought grain was first given to mortals. For when Ceres was distributing her bounties to men, she bade Triptolemus, whose nurse she had been, go around to all the nations and distribute grain, so that they and their descendants might more easily rise above primitive ways of living. He went in a drgon car, and is said to have been the first to use one wheel, so as not to be delayed in his journey. When he came to the king of the Getae, whom we mentioned above, he was at first hospitably received. Later, not as a beneficent and innocent visitor, but as a most cruel foe, he was seized by treachery, and he who was ready to prolong the lives of others, almost lost his own life. For at the order of Carnabon one dragon was killed, so that Tiptolemus might not hope his dragon car could save him when he realized an ambush was being prepared. But Ceres is said to have come there, and restored the stolen chariot to the youth, substituting another dragon, and punishing the king with no slight punishment for his malevolent attempt. For Hegesianax says that Ceres, for men’s remembrance, pictures Carnabon among the stars, holding a dragon in his hands as if to kill it. He lived so painfully that he brought on himself a most welcome death.

Others point out that he is Hercules, killing in Lydia near the river Sagaris a snake which kept destroying many men and stripping the river banks of grain. In return for this deed, Omphale, the queen of that region, sent him back to Argos loaded with gifts, and because of his bravery he was placed by Jove among the constellations.

Some, too, have said that he is Triopas, king of the Thessalians, who, in trying to roof his own house, tore down the temple of Ceres, built by the men of old. When hunger was brought on him by Ceres for this deed, he could never afterward be satisfied by any amount of food. Last of all, toward the end of his life, when a snake was sent to plague him, he suffered many ills, and at last winning death, was put among the stars by the will of Ceres. And so the snake, coiling round him, still seems to inflict deserved and everlasting punishment.

Polyzelus the Rhodian, however, points out that this is Phorbas, who was of great assistance to the Rhodians. The citizens called their island, overrun by a great number of snakes, Ophiussa. In this multitude of beasts was a snake of immense size, which had killed many of them; and when the deserted land began finally to lack men, Phorbas, son of Triopas by Hiscilla, Myrmidon’s daughter, when carried there by a storm, killed all the beasts, as well as that huge snake. Since he was especially favored by Apollo, he was put among the constellations, shown killing the snake for the sake of praise and commemoration. And so the Rhodians, as often as they go with their fleet rather far from their shores, make offerings first for the coming of Phorbas, that such a happening of unexpected valor should befall the citizens as the opportunity for glory which brought Phorbas, unconscious of future praise, to the stars.

Many astronomers have imagined that he is Aesculapius, whom Jupiter [Zeus], for the sake of Apollo, put among the stars. For when Aesculapius was among men, he so fare excelled the rest in the art of medicine that it wasn’t enough for him to have healed men’s diseases unless he could also bring back the dead to life. He is said most recently, according to Eratosthenes to have restored to life Hippolytus who had been killed by the injustice of his stepmother and the ignorance of his father. Some have said that by his skill Glaucus, son of Minos, lived again. Because of this, as for a sin, Jove struck and burned his house with a thunderbolt, but because of his skill, and since Apollo was his father, put him among the constellations holding a snake.
Certain people have said that he holds the snake for the following reason. When he was commanded to restore Glaucus, and was confined in a secret prison, while meditating what he should do, staff in hand, a snake is said to have crept on to his staff. Distracted in mind, Aesculapius killed it, striking it again and again with his staff as it tried to flee. Later, it is said, another snake came there, bringing an herb in its mouth, and placed it on its head. When it had done this, both fled from the place. Where upon Aesculapius, using the same herb, brought Glaucus, too, back to life. And so the snake is put in the guardianship of Aesculapius and among the stars as well. Following his example, his descendants passed the knowledge on to others, so that doctors make use of snakes." [II.14]

The snake that is being wrangled by our mystery man is actually not part of the constellation Ophiuchus: it's a separate one named Serpens, which we will get to a little later on. Linked to Serpens, the constellation Ophiuchus wasn't known under that name in ancient Roman times, but took the title 'Serpentarius', which also means 'Snake-Holder', or 'Snake-Bearer'.

The Sun passes through the constellation between November 30 and December 17, which is why some astrologers consider Ophiuchus to be the thirteenth sign of the zodiac. It is, however, not included in most astrological zodiacs, and the saying confuses sign with constellation. The constellation is visible at latitudes between +80° and −80°, and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of July.