Callisto (mythology)

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In Greek mythology, Callisto or Kallisto (Greek: Καλλιστώ) was a nymph of Artemis. Transformed into a bear and set among the stars, she was the bear-mother of the Arcadians, through her son Arcas.


Contents

Myth

She was in love with Artemis, Callisto, who Hesiod said[1] was the daughter of Lycaon, king of Arcadia,[2] took a vow to remain a virgin, as did all the nymphs of Artemis. But to have her, Zeus disguised himself, Ovid says, as Artemis(Diana) herself, in order to lure her into his embrace and rape her. Callisto was then turned into a bear, as Hesiod had told it:

...but afterwards, when she was already with child, was seen bathing and so discovered. Upon this, the goddess was enraged and changed her into a beast. Thus she became a bear and gave birth to a son called Arcas.

Either Artemis "slew Kallisto with a shot of her silver bow,"[3] perhaps urged by the wrath of Hera,[4] or, later, Arcas, the eponym of Arcadia, nearly killed his bear-mother, when she had wandered into the forbidden precinct of Zeus. In every case, Zeus placed them both in the sky as the constellations Ursa Major, called Arktos (αρκτος), the "Bear", by Greeks, and Ursa Minor.

According to Ovid,[5] it was Jupiter (the Roman Zeus) who took the form of Artemis/Diana so that he might evade his wife Juno’s detection, forcing himself upon Callisto while she was separated from Diana and the other nymphs.[6] Her pregnant condition was discovered some months later while bathing with Diana and her fellow nymphs. Upon this, Diana was enraged and expelled Callisto from the group, and subsequently she gave birth to Arcas. Juno then took the opportunity to avenge her wounded pride and transformed the nymph into a bear. Sixteen years later Callisto, still a bear, encountered her son Arcas hunting in the forest. Just before Arcas killed his own mother with his javelin, Jupiter averted the tragedy by placing mother and son amongst the stars as Ursa Major and Minor, respectively. Juno, enraged that her attempt at revenge had been frustrated, appealed to Ocean that the two might never meet his waters, thus providing a poetic explanation as their circumpolar positions.

The stars of Ursa Major were all circumpolar in Athens of 400 BCE, and all but the stars in the Great Bear's left foot were circumpolar in Ovid's Rome, in the first century CE. Now, however, due to the precession of the equinoxes, the feet of the Great Bear constellation do sink below the horizon from Rome and especially from Athens — so Ursa Major gets to cool her feet and legs in the sea, in spite of Ovid; however, Ursa Minor (Arcas) does remain completely above the horizon, even from latitudes as far south as Honolulu and Hong Kong.

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