Leo: the Lion. Scratchboard and acrylic, 20 x 16 in. Copyright 2010, Tania Nault.
Best time of year to view in the Northern Hemisphere: March, April, May.
The constellation Leo is most readily recognised in western culture as one of the 12 constellations of the zodiac. Leo was one of the 48 constellations listed by the ancient Greeks and it remains today as one of the 88 officially recognised constellations. The constellation is well-known for the large numbers of meteor showers associated with the constellation, the most famous of which are the Leonids. The Leonid meteor shower occurs annually from November 14th to the 20th but seems to “storm” every 33years with thousands of meteors per hour. The next Leonid storm is predicted for 2032.
Leo has long been depicted as a lion by many cultures including the ancient Egyptians, Persians, and Babylonians. Although the constellation is ancient, it is traditionally associated in the west with Greek mythology of the Nemean Lion. According to the myth, the Nemean Lion lived in a cave in the Nemean Forest and terrorised the surrounding countryside. As the first of his Twelve Labours, the hero Heracles was sent to kill the lion and return with its pelt as proof that the animal was indeed dead. However, the Lion had golden fur impervious to metal weapons and Heracles’ arrows bounced off its skin. When Heracles realised the lion could not be harmed by any of his weapons, he changed tactics and killed the lion by strangling it. Removing the lion’s pelt proved equally difficult as Heracles realised that the skin was as impervious to his sword as it had been to his arrows. He was finally able to skin the beast with one of its own claws. Years later, following Heracles’ death, the gods placed both Heracles and Leo in the sky as constellations.
Traditional depictions of the constellation show Leo crouched down. However, because male lions in Africa spend so much time ensuring the safety of their pride by patrolling the boundaries of their territory, I chose to interpret the constellation as though the lion was walking across the sky.