The constellation Ophiuchus is Greek for ‘serpent-bearer’ and is depicted as a man grasping a snake, represented by the nearby constellation of Serpens. Ophiuchus is the 13th zodiac constellation and takes up around 19 degrees worth of the ecliptic between Scorpius and Sagittarius.
Despite the fact that between November 30 to December 17, the Sun spends around nineteen days of the year in Ophiuchus, astrologers haven’t formerly accepted the constellation in the wheel of zodiacal signs. A possible explanation for his omission is that the idea of 12 zodiac signs ruling over 12 months was much more appealing for early astrologers. When the zodiacal signs were introduced over 2,000 years ago, the full 360 degrees around the sky was divided up neatly into 12 equal parts of 30 degrees width each, which astrologers still use today.
Ophiuchus contains a number of notable stars, five of which have known planets. The brightest star in Ophiuchus is called Rasalhague (2.08 magnitude), while Barnard’s Star at six light-years distant, is the 4th nearest star to our own solar systemwith only the Alpha Centauri binary star system and Proxima Centauri lying closer. The well documented supernova explosion of 1604 was observed by Johannes Kepler in the constellation of Ophiuchus, and was later used by Galileo to counter the Aristotelian dogma of the changeless nature of the heavens.
The 13th constellation on the zodiac belt Ophiuchus, honours the ancient medical healer known by the Ancient Greeks as ‘Aesclepius’ and Egyptians as Imhotep. Aesclepius was the son of Apollo and the mortal princess Coronis, and was raised and mentored by the centaur Chiron, who instructed him in the art of medicine. Aesclepius later became famous as a medicine man with miraculous healing abilities, and was given by Athena a magic potion made from the blood of the snake-haired Gorgon. However, Aesclepius offended Zeus by using the potion to raise the dead for money and upsetting the natural order of the universe. He was subsequently killed by a thunderbolt from Zeus who later acknowledged the good Asclepius had achieved in his life, and so placed him among the stars as the constellation Ophiuchus.
Today, the symbol for the field of medicine is depicted by Aesclepius’ snake-entwined staff although a staff with two snakes known as a caduceus, is sometimes mistakenly used instead. The origin of the ancient serpent and rod symbol probably relates to the practice used at the time by physicians, for curing infection by “guinea worm,” or Dracunculus medinensis. The filarial worm would crawl around under the skin of the victim’s body, but could be removed by the physician cutting a slit in its path and then carefully winding the worm around a stick until the pest had been removed. It is believed that a sign with the worm on a stick is how physicians advertised their services at the time. Ophiophobia is the name used to describe the fear of snakes or other reptiles.