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Names of planets in Greece (1)

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05 Scientific knowledge and scholarly lore

01 Religious and ideological doctrines and imagery

Greek language
Achaemenid Empire
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When the Greeks learned to recognize the five planets known in antiquity, they gave them names derived from their character. Venus, whose brightness Homer had already celebrated, was called “Herald of the Dawn” (Heōsphoros) or “Herald of Light” (Phōsphoros) or on the other hand “Vespertine” (Hesperos), according to as she was considered as the star of the morning or that of the evening. Mercury was named the “Twinkling Star” (Stilbōn), Mars, because of his red colour, the “Fiery Star” (Pyroeis), Jupiter the “Luminous Star” (Phaethōn), Saturn the “Brilliant Star” (Phainōn), or perhaps, taking the word in another sense, the “Indicator”. Now, after the fourth century other titles are found to supersede these ancient names, which are gradually ousted from use. The planets become the stars of Hermes, Aphrodite, Ares, Zeus, Kronos. Now this seems due to the fact that in Babylonia these same planets were dedicated respectively to Nabû, Ištar, Nergal, Marduk, and Ninurta. In accordance with the usual procedure of the ancients, the Greeks substituted for these barbarous divinities their own deities who bore some resemblance to them. The foreign ideas of Babylonian star-worship have come in here, for the ancient mythology of Hellas did not put the stars under the patronage of the Olympians nor establish any connection between them. Thus the names of the planets which we employ today are translations of the Latin translations of the Greek translations of the Babylonian nomenclature.


Cumont 1912, 45-46Cumont, Franz. Astrology and Religion among the Greeks and Romans. American Lectures on the History of Religions 8. New York, London: G. P. Putnam's Sons 1912.

Amar Annus

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