Saturn is the sixth planet in the solar system, the second-largest after Jupiter, and the most distant to be discovered only with the naked eye (although, now that we know where to look, Uranus is visible with the unaided eye, on a sufficiently clear night from a sufficiently remote location). As a result, most ancient civilizations incorporated Saturn into their astrology and mythology, ranging from a symbol of harvest in Rome (which gave us the name Saturnus, now Saturn) to a judge of good and bad deeds in Hindu India.
- Saturn in the Near East and Mediterranean -
In the Western world, reverence of Saturn is extremely old, beginning at least with the Sumerians and Babylonians, who knew it as Ninurta and Ninib respectively, in both cases a god of farming (though Ninurta was also a healer and exorciser of demons).
Greek mythology filled out this picture considerably. Saturn became Kronos, the original father of the gods who, along with Rhea his sister and wife, led the Titans in the original rule of the world. Kronos, paranoid, allegedly ate most of his children, but was eventually forced by his son Zeus (in Roman, Jupiter) to regurgitate them. Zeus and his restored siblings, such as Poseidon (Roman name Neptune), Hera (Roman name Juno), and Hades (Roman name Pluto) then took their places in the senior ranks of the Greek pantheon, becoming rulers of the world.
Roman mythology tended to have similar figures, although with different names - and it is these Latin names which subsequently were given to the planets. To the Romans, the large planet beyond Jupiter was not Kronos but Saturnus, who was honoured annually by the winter solstice celebration of Saturnalia. It is this belief in Saturnus which eventually contributed the name "Saturn" for the sixth planet in the solar system.
- Saturn in India -
Other cultures also incorporated Saturn into their belief systems, however. In ancient India, for instance, Saturn represented Shani, one of the Navagraha. "Shani," or "one who moves slowly," actually refers to Saturn and its roughly thirty-year orbit, the longest of the visible planets. (In contrast, Jupiter's orbit lasts 10 Earth-years, and Mercury's just 88 Earth-days, but Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, which were never known to the ancient civilizations, all have much longer orbits.) Shani was a brother of the god of death, Yama, and was said to judge one's life after death.