The Mythology of Leo
There are two strong contenders as to which mythical lion is represented by the constellation Leo. The first is the Nemean lion which Hercules had to kill as the first of his 12 Labors. This fearsome beast terrorized the land, killing all who ventured near it. Not only was it more fierce, larger and stronger than other lions, but it also had the added advantage of possessing a skin, which was impervious to metal, stone and wood. Since Hercules could not kill the lion with any weapon, he wrestled it with his bare hands, and finally managed to strangle the animal. Seeing at once the unique protective qualities of the pelt, he removed it with one of the lion’s own claws, and thereafter wore it as a cloak. Leo was placed in the sky as a reminder of Hercules’ heroism and bravery.
The second contender is the lion featured in the poet Ovid’s tale of Pyramus and Thisbe. Both sets of parents of this young couple considered them too young to marry and stopped them seeing each other. However, the pair made arrangements to meet secretly by a mulberry tree with white berries. When Thisbe arrived at the appointed place, a lion sprang out from some bushes and she ran away in fright. Unfortunately, her veil fluttered to the ground as she ran and the lion, bloody from its latest kill, pounced on it. A short time later Pyramus arrived, saw his beloved’s bloody veil and believed that she had been killed. Totally distraught, and unable to face life without her, he threw himself on his sword. As he lay dying, Thisbe returned, took his sword and killed herself. The blood of the tragic pair coloured the berries of the mulberry tree red, and so they remain to this day. Some suggest that Zeus placed Thisbe’s veil in the heavens as Coma Berenices.