In canons of Greek Mythology, moral ambiguity colored many iconic figures in an interesting light. Unlike other cultures, Ancient Greeks weren’t shy to speak about the negative aspects of their deities. Stories of jealousy, unjust punishment, and worse, add a more humanistic side to tales of heroism and wonder.
Even still, some immortal beings were the personification of perfection! One such figure was Astraea.
Astraea is the virgin god of justice, innocence, purity, and precision. Often referred to as the “Star Goddess” or “Star Maiden,” Astraea was a beloved deity. She represented all that was good in the world. Later on, she symbolized the fall of humanity and the hope that a new age of innocence would one day return.
The Origins of Astraea
There are a couple of different versions of Astraea’s history. The most commonly accepted myth is that she was the daughter of the descendants of Titans. According to Hesiod’s Theogony, her father was the second-generation Titan, Astraeus. Astraeus was the astrological god of dusk.
Astraea’s mother was Eos, who was the goddess of the dawn. As nightfall and daybreak, the two deities produce many children. Astraea was one of them. Others include the four Anemoi winds, Boreas, Notus, Eurus, and Zephyrus. Astraea was reportedly the only daughter of Astraeus.
In some accounts, Astraea didn’t come from Astraeus and Eos. Instead, those stories said that she was the progeny of Zeus and Themis. However, those versions of the tale could confuse Astraea with her Dike, with whom she has a strong association.
There is no shortage of artwork inspired by Astraea. In Ancient Greece, she was the subject of many paintings, sculptures, and vases. In most cases, artists depicted her as a beautiful winged maiden. She often donned a partially see-through dress or cloak, putting her pure body on display.
Astraea’s strong connection to justice also led to some aggressive accessories. She often carried a flaming torch and the implement of divine justice: Zeus’ lighting bolts.
Stories of Astraea
There are many tales involving Astraea. While she wasn’t the most well-known Greek goddess, her reputation of purity and justice stuck with many throughout Ancient Greece and beyond. Her story grew into prominence during the European Rennaisance, representing the concepts of renewal.
Astraea is most known as the last of the immortals to live among humans during the Golden Age of man. The Golden Age was one of the five Ages of Man in the old Greek religion. In mythology, the ages represented the history of human existence and its subsequent deterioration.
During the Golden Age, humankind was at its peak. During this time, the Golden Race of humanity lived. Some legends say that the Titan Cronus presided over the Golden Age. However, Astraea is accepted as its most popular ambassador.
Unfortunately, the utopian Golden Age did not last forever. Disgusted by how much the human race had fallen. Misery and wickedness rang throughout humanity, leaving the innocence of the former paradise a thing of the past.
Some versions of Astraea’s legend say that she left during the Bronze Age when humans became hardened by war. However, others say that the goddess held out until the final Iron Age. Either way, she was one of the last to stick by the sides of humans. It was when things became unfixable that she fled and never returned.
Ancient Greeks, and the many civilizations who retold Astraea’s tale after that, believe that the goddess of innocence will return to Earth someday. When she does, they hope she’ll usher in a new Golden Age for humanity.
Astraea and the Constellations
When Astraea left and abandoned humanity, she reportedly ascended to the heavens and became the constellation Virgo. Most accounts say that she was transformed by Zeus himself, serving as a celestial symbol to remind humans of their failure.
That’s not Astraea’s only connection to the cosmos.
The goddess was forever linked to Dike, the goddess of justice. The two deities had a close connection, and their relationship is evident in the stars. The Virgo constellation, which depicts the virgin, is close to the Libra constellation. Libra represents a set of scales, which symbolizes justice and the goddess dike. The proximity of the two constellations further cements the strong relationship the immortals shared.
Astraea’s impact is long-lasting and far-reaching. She became a symbol of hope, inspiring many works of art throughout history. In addition to appearances from the works of Ovid and Hesiod, she appeared in poems from the likes of Virgil, Edmund Spencer, and John Milton.
The goddess was heavily covered by Latin author Gaius Julius Hyginus, French author Honoré d’Urfé, and more. Of course, the beautiful virgin goddess also appeared in paintings. Some of the most popular include a piece by the Italian artist Salvator Rosa and a mural at the Old Royal Naval College by James Thornhill.
Her name also inspired the names of many scientific discoveries. Her name was suggested for the planet Uranus. While that didn’t come to fruition, astrologists did select her name for a main-belt asteroid. It’s referred to as “5 Astraea.” The goddess also lends her name to a genus for plants and sea snails!
Astraea’s dedication to justice even inspired modern-day non-profit organizations. For example, the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice is an organization that works to advance human rights worldwide. Astraea may not be the most known of the Greek gods, but her story continues to resonate.
Astraea was the virgin goddess of justice, purity, innocence, and precision.
Alternative spellings of Astraea’s name include “Astria” and “Astrea.” The spelling of “Astraia” is common in Romanized Greek.
Astraea was the daughter of Eos and Astraeus.
Astraea has a close association with the goddess of justice, Dike.
Astraea was the last of the deities to live with humans during the Golden Age.
She appears in the Latin poem “Metamorphoses” by Ovid.
In some accounts, Astraea flees humanity and turns into the constellation of Virgo.
Astraea’s name roughly translates to “Star Maiden.”
Astraea served as inspiration for many films, including a recent 2015 sci-fi picture by Kristjan Thor.
Many believe that the eighth Major Arcana tarot card, Justice, features symbolism related to Astraea.
More Facts About Astraea
• Astraea was the daughter of Eos, the goddess of the dawn, and Astraeus, the god of dusk.
• Some writers said she was the daughter of Zeus and Themis – which would have made Dike her sister and not just a companion.
• Astraea’s name means “starry night” or “star-maiden.”
• She was the last of the immortals to live among humans during the Golden Age.
• As humans became increasingly wicked during the Iron Age, Astraea fled Earth to the heavens and transformed in the constellation Virgo.
• According to one story, Zeus turned her into Virgo.
• Virgo’s nearness to the constellation Libra (the Scales) is said to represent Astraea’s association with Dike.
• According to legend, Astraea will return to Earth one day and usher in a new Golden Age.
• Astraea is mentioned in the works of the Roman poet Ovid (43 BC – 18 AD) and the scholar Hyginus (64 BC – 18 AD).
• During the Renaissance, people viewed Astraea as a symbol of cultural renewal.
• Some English writers, for example, identified her with Elizabeth I, the virgin queen who was credited with bringing a new Golden Age to England.
• Honoré d’Urfé (1568-1625) wrote an extremely popular romantic series called “L’Astrée” that featured a heroine named after Astraea.
• The Italian artist Salvator Rosa (1615-1673) depicted the goddess in his painting “Astraea.”
• Aphra Behn (1640 – 1689) was an English writer and spy who used “Astraea” as one of her code names.
• 5 Astraea is a large asteroid in the asteroid belt that was discovered in 1845.
• The British Royal Navy has built several ships named after Astraea over the years.
• The French Navy has built ships and submarines called “Astrée.”
• One of them was captured by the Nazis during World War II.
• Astraea is also the name of a plant genus and a sea snail genus.
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