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Astrea, the virgin goddess of Innocence and purity, by Salvator Rosa

Astraea, Astrea, Astria or Austräa (Ancient Greek: Ἀστραία, romanizedAstraía;[1] "star-maiden" or "starry night"), in ancient Greek religion, is a daughter of Astraeus and Eos.[2][3] She is the virgin goddess of justice, innocence, purity and precision. She is closely associated with the Greek goddess of justice, Dike (daughter of Zeus and Themis). She is not to be confused with Asteria, the goddess of the stars and the daughter of Coeus and Phoebe. The main belt asteroid 5 Astraea is named after her, and her name was also suggested for the planet Uranus.[4][5]


Astraea, the celestial virgin, was the last of the immortals to live with humans during the Golden Age, one of the old Greek religion's five deteriorating Ages of Man.[2] In the Iron Age, the world was in a chaotic state. People only coveted gold, while family and friends did not trust each other.[6] According to Ovid, Astraea abandoned the earth during the Iron Age.[7] Fleeing from the new wickedness of humanity, she ascended to heaven to become the constellation Virgo. The nearby constellation Libra reflected her symbolic association with Dike, who, in Latin culture is said to preside over the constellation as Justitia. In the tarot, the eighth card (or eleventh, depending on the tarot used), Justice, depicts Justitia, thus making it related to the figure of Astraea on historical iconographic grounds.

According to myth, Astraea will one day come back to Earth, bringing with her the return of the utopian Golden Age of which she was the ambassador.[8]

In literature[edit]

Astraea's hoped-for return was referred to in a phrase from Virgil's Eclogue 4: "Iam redit et virgo, redeunt Saturnia Regna" (Astraea returns, returns old Saturn's reign).[9]

During the European Renaissance, Astraea became associated with the general spirit of renewal of culture occurring at that time, particularly in England, where she became poetically identified in literature[10] with the figure of Queen Elizabeth I as the virgin Queen reigning over a new Golden Age. In Spain, she was often identified with the rule of Philip IV. The French author Honoré d'Urfé wrote a very popular serial novel called L'Astrée, whose titular heroine is named after Astraea, which was published serially between 1607 and 1627 with each installment very much anticipated by the aristocratic public at the time; Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his Confessions (p. 160 Penguin Classics) notes it as one of the novels read with his father and says it "was the one that recurred most frequently to my mind". A spectacle play by the Count of Villamediana and thirteen dramas by Pedro Calderón de la Barca introduce a character named Astraea to highlight the political and astrological concerns.[11] In Russian Empire, Astraea was identified first with Empress Elizabeth of Russia, then with Empress Catherine the Great of Russia.

The English epic poet Edmund Spenser further embellished this myth at the opening of Book V of The Faerie Queene (1596), where he claims that Astraea left behind "her groome | An yron man" called Talus. William Shakespeare refers to Astraea in Titus Andronicus, and also in Henry VI, Part 1. In his most famous play, Life Is a Dream, Calderón has a character named Rosaura (an anagram for "dawns") take on the name of Astraea at Court. This may be a laudatory political allusion to the dawn of a new Golden Age under Philip IV/Segismundo.

Astraea is also referenced in John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost, in Book IV between lines 990 and 1000. When Satan is discovered in the Garden of Eden and brought before the Angel Gabriel, the two are on the verge of war.

"[God (The Eternal)] Hung forth in Heav'n his golden Scales, yet seen
Betwixt Astrea and the Scorpion signe,
Wherein all things created first he weighd,
The pendulous round Earth with ballanc't Aire
In counterpoise, now ponders all events,
Battels and Realms:"
An 1886 bas-relief figure of Astraea in the Old Supreme Court Chamber at the Vermont State House.

The British writer Aphra Behn used "Astrea" as one of her code-names while working as a spy for King Charles II.[12] She subsequently used the name "Astrea" to identify the speaker in many of her poems, and was herself referred to as "The Incomparable Astrea".[13]

"Astræa" is also the title of a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Astraea". Zeno.org (in German). Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  2. ^ a b Aratus, Phaenomena 97–128
  3. ^ Hyginus, Astronomica 2.25
  4. ^ Gallentine, Jay (November 2009). Ambassadors from Earth: Pioneering Explorations with Unmanned Spacecraft. ISBN 978-0-8032-2220-5.
  5. ^ Gingerich, O. (1958). "The Naming of Uranus and Neptune, Astronomical Society of the Pacific Leaflets, Vol. 8, No. 352, p.9". articles.adsabs.harvard.edu. Retrieved 2023-06-01.
  6. ^ Sung, HyunSook. "아스트라이아". terms.naver.com (in Korean). Archived from the original on 2021-03-21. Retrieved 2021-06-20.
  7. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.149–50: See The Metamorphoses. Translated by Frank Justus Miller. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics. p. 6 Book I. ISBN 978-1-59308-276-5.
  8. ^ De Armas, Frederick (January 1986). "The Return of Astraea: An Astral-Imperial Myth in Calderón by Frederick A. de Armas, Louisiana State University". Spanish Literature. Retrieved 6 December 2020.
  9. ^ "Lewis & Short: Virgo". Perseus Latin Word Study Tool. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
  10. ^ cf. Frances Yates, Astraea : The Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century.
  11. ^ cf. Frederick A. de Armas, The Return of Astraea: An Astral-Imperial Myth in Calderon.
  12. ^ "Aphra Behn". About Education. October 17, 2015. Archived from the original on 8 November 2014. Retrieved 30 August 2016.
  13. ^ Stiebel, Arlene. "Biography: Aphra Behn". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 30 August 2016.
  14. ^ Emerson, Ralph Waldo (1847). Poems. Retrieved 24 September 2010.