Aquila was the eagle owned by Zeus, which carried Ganymede to the heavens to be Zeus’ cup-bearer.
It is said in the old Greek myths that during the ten-year war between the followers of Zeus and the giant Titans, a magnificent eagle, known to us as Aquila, was ever by the side of Zeus waiting to carry his thunderbolts down to kill the monstrous Titans. It was for his loyalty that the eagle was given a position among the stars as the constellation Aquila.
It is also said that at one time those gods were in need of a new waiter, a cup-bearer to carry fresh nectar to the gods. It was only fitting that such a privileged position be held by the most beautiful youth on Earth. So Zeus summoned his faithful Aquila, saying: “Go down to Earth and sweep your great wings over the land until your jewel-like eyes find the most beautiful youth in the land, and then deliver him to the Great Hall of the Gods.”
One day he saw a youth tending a flock of sheep on a mountainside, surely the most beautiful youth in the land. The eagle swiftly dropped out of the sky and ever so gently clasped the youth, Ganymede, in its claws. In spite of being tired from its long journey, the eagle sped upward through the sky and carried Ganymede to Zeus. So delighted was Zeus with Aquila’s choice of a cup-bearer for the gods, he reserved a place among the stars for Aquila on his death.
At least as early as 1200 B.C. this constellation was known as the Eagle. Stone carvings of that age showing the constellation have been found. The constellation also has been called the Bird of Zeus and the King of Birds.
The Arabs have called Aquila the Flying Eagle, also the Crow or Raven.
The Persians called Aquila the Falcon and the Flying Vulture while the Turks called it the Hunting Eagle.
The Chinese have a story about a weaving Princess and her cowherd lover. Chih Nu (Vega) was the daughter of the Sun-God. She was a most clever and deft weaving and spinning artist and could make the most exquisite tapestries. One sunny summer day she happened to look out of the palace window and saw her father’s herdsman driving the flock of the King along the banks of the Milky Way. As so often happens in love stories, their glances met and both knew that this was love at first sight. The King who had been worried about his daughter’s future was delighted when he heard about their romance, especially as the herdsman Ch’ien Niu (Altair) was a very conscientious worker who had always looked after the royal flock with the utmost care.
Chih Nu wove her own wedding dress out of sparkling rays of starlight.
They were very happy together. In fact, they were a little too happy and too devoted to each other. Consequently, they forgot all about their work. The loom stood still and gathered dusty cobwebs while the royal cattle roamed far and wide across the heavenly meadows.
The Sun-King gave them repeated warnings and every time they promised to amend their ways, but soon they lapsed into idleness again. This annoyed the King so much that after several warnings he decided to banish the husband to the other side of the Milky Way again so that he could tend the cattle there. When he had dispatched Ch’ien Niu across the one and only ford, T’ien-tsin, the King had both sides closed by barriers and a guard posted with instructions that neither of them was allowed to pass along this route.
Chih Nu pleaded with her father but to no avail. Finally, she appealed to the magpies who had pity on the couple. The magpies decided that once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month they would help the parted lovers. On that day, all the magpies in China would fly to the Milky Way and make a bridge across it with outspread wings across which the lovers would rush into each other’s arms and spend the rest of the day together. On that day, a soft rain began to fall in the morning, which was their tears of happiness. But at nightfall, the soft rain became a downpour, caused by the tears of having to part again for a year. Having done their duty, the magpies would fly away again.
When on the following day people saw the magpies in the fields once more they would rejoice and say: “Yes, look, the lovers have been together. See how the feathers on the birds are all worn down where their feet have trampled.” If the feathers weren’t trampled down the people would be sad and used to say that bad weather had apparently prevented the birds from building the bridge across the Milky Way.
It is also said the children are told to throw stones at any magpies if the saw them in the fields on the seventh day of the seventh month because those selfish birds were negligent of their duty.