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Leo is one of the oldest constellations in the sky. Archaeological evidence suggests that Mesopotamians had a constellation similar to Leo as early as 4000 BC. The Persians knew the constellation as Shir or Ser, Babylonians called it UR.GU.LA (“the great lion”), Syrians knew it as Aryo, and the Turks as Artan.
Babylonians knew the star Regulus as “the star that stands at the Lion’s breast,” or the King Star. Both the constellation and its brightest star were well-known in most ancient cultures.
The Greeks associated Leo with the Nemean lion, the beast killed by Heracles during the first of his twelve labours. Both Eratosthenes and Hyginus wrote that the lion was placed among the constellations because it was the king of beasts.
The lion lived in a cave in Nemea, a town located to the south-west of Corinth. It was killing the local inhabitants and could not be killed because its skin could not be pierced by any weapons.
Heracles could not kill the lion with arrows, so he trapped the lion in its cave, grappled with the beast and eventually choked it to death. He used the lion’s claws to cut off its pelt, and then wore the pelt as a cloak, complete with the lion’s head. The cloak both protected Heracles and made him appear even more fearsome.
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