History and mythology
Cygnus as depicted in Urania's Mirror
, a set of constellation cards published in London c.1825. Surrounding it are Lacerta, Vulpecula and Lyra.
In western-classic astronomy
In Greek mythology, Cygnus has been identified with several different legendary swans. Zeus disguised himself as a swan to seduce Leda, Spartan king Tyndareus's wife, who gave birth to the Gemini, Helen of Troy, and Clytemnestra; Orpheus was transformed into a swan after his murder, and was said to have been placed in the sky next to his lyre (Lyra); and the King Cygnus was transformed into a swan.
The Greeks also associated this constellation with the tragic story of Phaethon, the son of Helios the sun god, who demanded to ride his father's sun chariot for a day. Phaethon, however, was unable to control the reins, forcing Zeus to destroy the chariot (and Phaethon) with a thunderbolt, causing it to plummet to the earth into the river Eridanus. According to the myth, Phaethon's brother, Cycnus, grieved bitterly and spent many days diving into the river to collect Phaethon's bones to give him a proper burial. The gods were so touched by Cycnus's devotion to his brother that they turned him into a swan and placed him among the stars.
In Ovid's Metamorphoses, there are three people named Cygnus, all of whom are transformed into swans. Alongside Cycnus, noted above, he mentions a boy from Tempe who commits suicide when
Phyllius refuses to give him a tamed bull that he demands, but is transformed into a swan and flies away. He also mentions a son of Neptune who is an invulnerable warrior in the Trojan War who is eventually defeated by Achilles, but Neptune saves him by transforming him into a swan.
Together with other avian constellations near the summer solstice, Vultur cadens and Aquila, Cygnus may be a significant part of the origin of the myth of the Stymphalian Birds, one of The Twelve Labours of Hercules.
In non-western astronomy
In Hinduism, the period of time or the Muhurta which lasts from 4:24 AM to 5:12 AM is called the "Brahma Muhurta" translating to "The moment of the Universe" and the Star system in correlation is the Cygnus constellation. This is a highly auspicious time to do any task or start the day.
In Polynesia, Cygnus was often recognized as a separate constellation. In Tonga it was called Tuula-lupe, and in the Tuamotus it was called Fanui-tai. Deneb was also often given a name. The name Deneb comes from the Arabic name dhaneb, meaning "tail", from the phrase Dhanab ad-Dajājah, which means “the tail of the hen”. In New Zealand it was called Mara-tea, in the Society Islands it was called Pirae-tea or Taurua-i-te-haapa-raa-manu, and in the Tuamotus it was called Fanui-raro. Beta Cygni was named in New Zealand; it was likely called Whetu-kaupo. Gamma Cygni was called Fanui-runga in the Tuamotus.