Origin of planetary symbols

For whatever reason, when reading the weather in the paper this morning, I wondered where the symbols for the planets came from. For example, Mars and Venus are symbolized by the glyphs that are currently used to represent male and female respectively. Neptune is a trident.

Are the majority of these derived from the indentifiers of ancient Roman gods? I note that Pluto is a conjoined PL, I understand in respect for the initials of the planet’s discoverer, Percival Lovell.

This cite is one of many I turned up showing the signs, but I could not readily find any comprehensive explanation of the glyphs themselves.

The glyphs for the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are from astrology. Of course, the Earth itself doesn’t have any significance to terrestrial astrology, so when astronomers adopted the symbols, they basically just made one up for Earth. Similarly, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto were unknown to the ancient astrologers who coined the other symbols, so they’re relatively recent, too.

Does your newspaper weather report tell you the positions of the planets or something (cool, if so), or was that leap just a total non sequitur?

Thanks, chronos.

Yes, the Chicago Trib weather page reports the positions of the visible planets, with general directions and times for viewing. In fact, a year or two ago they expanded their weather page, while reducing the font. I am somewhat regularly surprised to find info there that I had not noticed before.

My wife is somewhat of an astronomy buff. When I asked her this question, she said she had known the answer at one time, but forgot.

They’re indeed related to the ancient gods. I don’t have a cite (so for the skeptics among you: stop reading HERE!), but I’m fairly sure the following is true.

Neptune was the Roman sea god, hence the trident, his symbol.
Venus, the goddess of love, was the incarnation of the female gender, so the planet’s symbol is the same as the symbol for the sex. Same applies for Mars, the war god.
The Earth symbol derives from the golden apples with cross on top; they were part of medieval royal insignia employed in coronations and symbolize the soil the monarch rules.
The Pluto symbol is a combination of the letters P and L; after its discovery, the planet was referred to as PL (after Percival Lowell, the astronomer who discovered it). The name Pluto was chosen because it both fits the Roman gods schema and Lowell’s initials.

Can’t say anything about the other ones, but I suppose it goes back to mythology, too.

The symbol for Venus depicts her mirror and Mars is a shield and a spear.

Oooh, oooh!

Wanna have some fun? Look up the ancient chemical symbols for Mercury, Silver, Lead, Tin, Copper, etc. Go on… I’ll wait…

The symbol for Mercury, which looks like a Venus/female glyph with horns on top, is a stylized representation of the caduceus (the staff entwined in serpents, like the symbol of medical professions) which was Mercury’s emblem of office as the herald of the Gods.

The symbol for Uranus incorporates an orb and the letter H, for Herschel, discoverer of the planet.

The Saturnian glyph resembles a scythe or sickle (an attribute of both the Roman Saturn, an agrarian god, and the Greek Chronos, who embodies time)

You know, I was told this as a kid. But as the years go by, the “male” symbol looks more and more like a stylized penis, and the “female” symbol looks and awful lot like an ankh, which I’m told is a stylized vagina. I think they were cleanin’ things up for us kids.

Maybe if the “kids” were ancient Greek epheboi – and they were in no risk of losing any innocence. The ID of the symbols as the “mirror” and the “spear-shield” has been around since classical times. This does not preclude it being the “cultured” reading of an earthier, more primal original meaning ( of course the spear as a symbol of maleness has phallic allusion written all over it. But it is also true that it was males who went around with spears!)

Oh, and also – the symbol for Jupiter is a throne and sceptre: Jove sitting on his throne holding his thunderbolt sceptre.

I don’t know what happened there; I really did type something, but it’s not there. I’m sure it was witty and insightful, but I can’t remember what I said. :frowning:

I’m surprised that no one else jumped on this. While Percival Lowell founded the observatory it was discovered at and even funded the search by a provision in his will, he was quite dead by the time Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto. But the part about the origin of the symbol is correct.

As Spritle hints, the symbols for the planets were also used in alchemical books. This was because there was an equivalence set up between the 7 known metals and the 7 astrological planets. Indeed, when alchemists didn’t use the symbols, they used the planets name for the metals (Sol for gold, Luna for moon, etc.). Because of that, the name of the planet Mercury replaced quicksilver as the name of the metal.

Oops, that should be Luna for silver.

The PL monogram is not the only symbol for Pluto. There is another one, that, if you ask me, looks more like a real planet symbol.

It has a little circle on top, under which is an upward facing semicircle, with a cross on the bottom. Pretty similar to the Neptune symbol, except the middle tine is replaced by a floating circle.

I think it is more preferred in Germany, given the number of German sites that use the alternative Pluto symbol. Perhaps because it is less Americacentric, more universal. Perhaps because it just looks better. I would like to know when and where this alternative symbol was brought into being.