Pisces in the horoscope of Timurid Prince Iskandar, Islamic miniature, 1411, Iran – Wellcome Library, London You can see that the fish are not tied together. We can see the cord (rivers) in the background.
Those who follow my articles will know that I have all the time in the world, but not much for dogma. This is one those short pieces that ask about the origin of things. To get to the root of ideas, we could do much worse than study the Creation myths of a given culture. We will find that there is a great deal more in common across cultures than was once believed,
The interpretation of Pisces is, by and large, cliched and vague. This is in no small part due to the modern astrological mis-association with Neptune. This is regrettable and I find that even some traditional astrologers have not been able to shake off all this misinformation off. It ought to be clear that a sign ruled by the Greater Benefic (Jupiter) and exalted in the Lesser Benefic (Venus) must have better qualities than are usually assigned to Pisces.
There has always seemed to be something not quite right about the assumption and teaching that the Fishes are bound together, causing all manner of difficulties, including psychological and spiritual pathology. I recently read comments on Pisces which claimed that the upper fish was Christ and the other, Antichrist. At very least, the bound fish represent conflicting natures
Turkey – 16th century manuscript – The whale ejecting Prophet Jonah. Ottoman miniature, end of 16th century
that almost always work against each other, in a never-ending tug of war. Yet the venerable Vettius Valens also tells us that Pisces is “in conflict with itself because one Fish is northern, the other
southern.” (Anthologies, Book I. p.6). In the same paragraph, however, he states that the sign is ” scaley, sinewy, humpbacked [and] leprous. He by no means stops there. He adds “lewd, with some limbs missing” to his description. While admitting the great value of his Anthologies in the study of Classical Astrology, I think most of us are baffled by this and numerous other passages in his work. It doesn’t engender great faith in his views regarding the Sign. One has the sense that he’s actually referring to something else or he chose to write like this to put off casual readers.
Moreover, there is no particular myth that would insist on the binding of the fishes. The Pisces myths most familiar to us are variations on one Greek myth. The essence of all the variations is for all intents and purposes the same.
According to different versions of this legend, either Aphrodite and Eros turn into fish, two fish approach them and swim them away to safety, or they turn into fish AND two other fish take them to safety. Whichever version you prefer, truth be told, it doesn’t really matter. One way or another, the two escape from Typhon, thanks to two fish.
Threatened by Typhon, Aphrodite and Eros either turn into fish or else two fish approach and rescue them. In either case, Aphrodite and her son, Eros are saved by fishes. The Greeks were also familiar with the original Syrian story in which the fish of Pisces assisted at the birth of Ashtarte. The theme of Venus born from the sea foam is most famously portrayed in Botticelli’s Nascita di Venere. In other versions of the myth, Aphrodite and Eros are specifically on the shores of the Nile when Typhon, a chthonic force. tried to take them. This points again to an oriental origin of the story. Zeus is in an eternal struggle with Typhon. Again, this sounds more Oriental than Classical Greek.
Typhon corresponds to a significant extent to Seth, an Egyptian god associated with winds, storms, chaos, evil, darkness, strength, war, conflict. Zeus as a perpetual adversary of Typhon Ra shares many of the attributes of Zeus, such as being credited as the creator of all things. He was also the father of other gods like Zeus. Jupiter is of course now associated with Jupiter, but in this myth, he is primarily Solar.
The name for the constellation that has come down to us as Pisces which comes from the Indo-European root *peisk– ‘Fish’. Derivatives: fish (from Old English fisc, fish). Suffixed form *pisk–i; piscary, piscatorial, Pisces, pisci-, piscina. [Pokorny peisk– 796. Watkins]
From Gavin White’s. Babylonian Star-Lore
As Ovid tells the tale “”Piscis [Pisces], heaven’s horses. They say that you and your brother–for your stars gleam together–ferried two gods on your backs. Once Dione [Aphrodite], in flight from terrible Typhon [Typhoeus]–when Jupiter [Zeus] armed in heaven’s defense–, reached the Euphrates with tiny Cupidos [Eros] in tow and sat by the hem of Palestine’s stream. Poplars and reeds dominated the tops of the banks; willows, too, offered hope of concealment. While she hid, the wood roared with wind. She pales with fear, and believes a hostile band approaches. As she clutched son to breast, she cries : ‘To the rescue, Nymphae (Nymphs), and bring help to two divinities.’ No delay; she leapt. Twin fish went underneath them; for which, you see, the present stars are named. Hence timid Syrians think it wrong to serve up this species; they defile no mouths with fish.” (Fasti 2. 458 ff . Trans. Boyle). There’s not a cord in sight.
Fish Avatar of Vishnu – The Universality of the Fish as Salvation
The associations of Babylonia, Sumerian, Assyrian, Greek, Persian Indian, Persian, and Greek were highly significant. We are only now realizing the full extent of this exchange, adoption, adaptation and assimilation. The meaning of Pisces actually becomes clearer the further back we go. In doing so, it becomes increasingly apparent that the Ikhthus with an unbreakable cord forever holding it in thrall is probably both apocryphal and misleading.
“There is every reason to believe that the idea of the cord would only have been applied to these stars in the latter half of the 1st millennium when they came to mark the position of the spring equinox. Before this time the two component parts of the cord would have been envisioned as the two great rivers of Mesopotamia, the Tigris, and Euphrates. The origin of the ‘knot’ that unites the two cords represents the Shat-al-Arab where the two great rivers join together before flowing into the Gulf of Bahrain.” (White, Gavin. Babylonian Star-Lore p 216)
Ancient cultures understood that whatever appeared or happened on the Earth corresponded to the heavens. I have mentioned that the Egyptians referred to the Milky Way as the true Nile. Hindus believe the same of the Ganges. The Tigris and the Euphrates are of up-most importance for creating a fertile land that was home to some of the most ancient civilizations and believed to be the location of the Garden of Eden, variations of which abound in ancient narratives.
Kitab al-Bulhan Persian Miniature. 14th C.
The place of the confluence of the two rivers corresponds to the Fishes, with the fixed star at the point of contact. None of the stars in Pisces are particularly bright. but if you know where to look, this star should easy enough to find. The name that has come down to us through Arabic means knot, but the image we usually see of Pisces with two fishes yoked and swimming in different directions is only one interpretation, unfounded in any definitive source. However, if remember that the cord is actually two rivers supporting civilizations and a great variety of agricultural endeavours.
The symbol of the Cosmic Fish is ubiquitous. I personally `find explorations of how such symbols manifest in various cultures, and even more so of those cultures have influence one another. The Fish is recognizable from Babylonian Cosmology, Greek Myth, and symbols in Hindu Metaphysics. From there, we can take a deeper, more informed understanding of the Sign and Constellation of Ikhthus
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” – T.S. Eliot:
Pisces name sign and glyph on the wishing bridge at Jaffa, Israel