In ancient Greek mythology, Cassiopeia was a beautiful queen. Her name meant “she whose words excel”. She ruled a kingdom in Phoenicia along with her husband, King Cepheus.

Both Cassiopeia and Andromeda were praised for their beauty, and this made Cassiopeia extremely vain. Tragically, her vanity was to be her downfall. Cassiopeia bragged that both she and her daughter were lovelier than the Nereids, nymphs of the sea. Poseidon, the ruler of the sea, was furious. He unleashed the fury of the sea onto the kingdom.

Stories differ – some say that Poseidon flooded the whole country; others say that the sea monster Cetus was sent to destroy the kingdom. In either case, Cepheus and Cassiopeia were desperate to save their land. They consulted an oracle, who told them that they must sacrifice their beautiful daughter in order to appease the angry sea gods.

Andromeda was chained to a large rock in the harbour. There, she awaited the monster Cetus, arbiter of her fate. But before Cetus could arrive, the hero Perseus arrived, struck off her chains, and rescued her. Perseus and Andromeda married, and lived happily ever after.

Poseidon remained angry at Cassiopeia. As punishment, he lifted her into the heavens. She is now seated on a chair in the constellation of Cassiopeia. As she circles the celestial pole, she is forced to sit upside-down for half the time.

Today, Cassiopeia is a constellation that orbits the Pole. It is also called the “Celestial M”, in honor of its shape. This constellation moves in a counterclockwise direction around Polaris, the pole star, becoming a “Celestial W” by morning.

The king of Ethiopia Cepheus and the Cassiopeia queen thank Perseus for freeing their daughter Andromeda, La Délivrance d’Andromède (1679) Pierre Mignard, Louvre. Courtesy Wikipedia.
The Constellation Cassiopeia.