Circumpolar Stars… …are stars that never set.
The Great Bear:The Big Dipper The great she-bear is the 3rd largest circumpolar constellation in the Northern Sky.
The Big Dipper or Plough… …is called an asterism – a pattern or grouping of stars within a constellation.
Ursa Minor – The Lesser Bear The 7 stars of the Lesser Bear are much fainter than the 7 stars of the Great Bear.
The Many Stories of the Bears • Iroquois Indians • Zuni Indians • Housatonic Indians • Basque • Chinese • Arabian • German • English
censored Artemis - the Goddess of the Hunt. King Lycaon of Arcadia Callisto-"Most Fair"
Arcas – The son of Callisto and Jupiter Hera – The Wife of Zeus "This is the one insult that was lacking, you shameless woman, that you should bear a son. Now the wrong done to me has been made public by the birth of your child and there is proof of my husband’s misdemeanor. But you will not escape unpunished! For I shall rob you of that beauty, in which both you and my husband took such delight, you minx!"
The myths: Ursa Major, the Great Bear and Ursa Minor, the Little Bear, are usually paired together in mythology. King Lycaon of Arcadia possessed a beautiful daughter named Callisto ("Most Fair"). Callisto was very fond of hunting and worshipped Artemis (the Latin equivalent of Diana), the Goddess of the Hunt. "Not one who spent her time in spinning soft fibers of wool, or in arranging her hair in different styles. She was one of Diana's warriors, wearing her tunic pinned together with a brooch, her tresses carelessly caught back by a white ribbon, and carrying in her hand a light javelin or her bow". (Metamorphoses II 412-415). One day Callisto promised Artemis that she would devote her entire life to the goddess, which meant among other things that Callisto had to remain a virgin. All this happened not very long after the fatal ride of the Phaethon (Eridanus) myth. The Earth had been scorched and everything badly damaged. Jupiter descended from Olympus to see for himself what he could do to restore the Earth to its former condition. Seeing that every living thing had been scorched and that the rivers and the lakes were dry, Jupiter applied his godly power to restore the Earth to productive condition. Gradually, the rivers began to fill with water again, the grass stood green once more, and the forest came back to life. Once again, the Earth could pride herself on all her finery and foliage. Jupiter rambled around the woods of Arcadia, a district of Peloponnesus, at that time and looked approvingly at all that he had done. As he was hurrying busily to and fro, he stopped short at the sight of an Arcadian maiden, who was none other than Callisto, resting in the afternoon warmth in a shady part of the forest. The fire of passion kindled the marrow of his bones. She had removed her bow and quiver and, slumbering amidst the heavy scent of the herbs of the forest, did not notice Jupiter's presence. Jupiter, seeing a good opportunity for another of his many secret love affairs, said to himself, "This secret love, my spouse will not know about, and even if she should find out it would be worth her quarrelling". With that he changed himself into the guise of Artemis and spoke to Callisto. "Well, beautiful young woman of my hunting retinue, in what mountains have you been hunting?" Dumbfounded, Callisto jumped up and greeted the goddess. "Greetings, O goddess, whom I put higher in esteem than Jupiter". Jupiter was amused to hear himself being put above himself by the girl. However, unable to restrain himself any longer, he embraced and kissed her, but not in a moderate way as a goddess should kiss a member of her own sex. And so Jupiter gave away his real identity. Callisto resisted him with all her might, but who could resist Jupiter, the highest of all the gods? And so it happened that he lay with Callisto. After he had enjoyed the delights of love, Jupiter returned to Olympus and left Callisto behind in the forest, the only witness to her disgrace. "She resisted him as far as a woman could - had Juno seen her she would have been less cruel, but how could a girl overcome a man, and who could defeat Jupiter? He had his way, and returned to the upper air". (Metamorphoses II).
Callisto was sad because she had broken her vow to Artemis. As Callisto was pondering her sin, Artemis and some of her followers happened to pass where Callisto was sitting. Hearing her name being called, Callisto took fright lest it was Jupiter again. First of all she tried to flee but, seeing that they were really her hunting companions, she joined them. Callisto, however, was no longer the same girl. Usually she was cheerful and sprightly, always had a lot to say, and was ever first in the group. Now she was quiet and distraught, and she could hardly hide the shame in her eyes. Then came the time, after the Moon had been full nine times, that all the nymphs gathered by a spring to refresh themselves with a bath. Callisto tried to stay behind, but the nymphs pulled her playfully with them, undid her garments and, of course, thereby discovered her sin. The nymphs were horrified and spoke to her, "Go far from here and do not pollute the waters of this spring". And so Callisto was driven from the retinue of Artemis. This punishment, however, was not enough for the quarrelsome spouse of Jupiter, who found out that deep in the forest of Arcadia a little boy had been born, named Arcas after his birthplace. Juno reproached Callisto in no uncertain manner and uttered an awful threat, which she carried out instantly as she said, "This is the one insult that was lacking, you shameless woman, that you should bear a son. Now the wrong done to me has been made public by the birth of your child and there is proof of my husband’s misdemeanor. But you will not escape unpunished! For I shall rob you of that beauty, in which both you and my husband took such delight, you minx!" With these words, Juno grasped the poor girl by her locks and threw her face downwards. Suddenly her arms became shaggy with hair, her pleading voice faltered and changed into an awful roaring sound, while her erect gait became a prone walk on four legs. So the beautiful Callisto was changed into a bear, her face, which Jupiter had once praised, was disfigured by wide gaping jaws. She fled into the woods to look for refuge from the hunters to whom she had once belonged. To make matters even worse Juno left Callisto with her human feelings rather than those of a bear. She declared grief with continual lamentations, raising to the stars in heaven such hands as she had and feeling Jupiter’s ingratitude. For many years Callisto lived in the forest, frightened by the bark of the hunting dogs who once were her companions. Many a time, not daring to rest in the lonely woods, she wandered before the home and in the fields that once were hers. Often she forgot what she was and hid when she saw wild beasts; though a bear herself, she shuddered at the sight of bears in their mountain haunts.
Meanwhile, Callisto’s son, Arcas had reached the age of fifteen and also had taken up hunting. He was quite unaware of what happened to his mother. One day Arcas encountered a bear, which was in fact his mother. Forgetting that she looked like a bear, Callisto rushed forward as soon as she recognized her son whom, of course, she wished to embrace. Arcas, however, thought that he was being attacked and ordered out his dogs while he drew his bow and leveled an arrow. He would have shot with a deadly result had not Jupiter intervened, driven by pity for Callisto. Changing Arcas into a bear too and with a vigorous sweep he grasped each bear by its tail and tugged and tugged until he had managed to swing them both into the heavens, where they landed amongst the stars as neighboring constellations, Callisto as Ursa Major and her son Arcas as Ursa Minor. The ferocious tug at their tails, as they were slung over such a long journey through the sky, caused their normally bushy, stumpy tails to stretch and explains why our celestial bears, unlike earthly ones, have long tails. In time, the tail of Arcas became even longer, we are told, as he was continuously swung around the sky by the end-star in his tail, Polaris. Today we know Callisto and Arcas as the Great Bear and the Little Bear, and in such a way did Jupiter compensate Callisto and Arcas for all the agony he had caused them on Earth. On discovering that her husband had given Callisto and Arcas honored places in heaven, Juno’s wrath knew no bounds, furious at what she perceived to be a circumvention of her punishment for Callisto. She swore at him, "Sure enough! I prevented Callisto from being a human being, but you of course have to make a goddess of her. So this then is the strength of my divine power. Why don't you take Callisto as your wife. Now I have to live with an adulteress in the same Heaven". Deeply hurt, Juno thought of revenge and carried it out without delay. She went down to Earth to visit her friends the Ocean god, Oceanus, and his wife, Tethys, and rages to them: "How dare Jupiter give those two and honored place in heaven? They have now displaced me Queen of Heaven, from my place in the sky, I forbade her to wear human form, she and her hateful son are placed among the stars.... Perhaps my husband means to take her to wife, and put me away! But you, my foster parents, if you feel for me, ... show it, I beseech you, by forbidding this guilty couple from coming into your waters. I ask that you forever keep these two in a pen so that they may never wander far". Naturally, the ancient ones obliged her and so the two bears, the great one and the little one, move around the pole but never sink beneath the ocean. They would see to it that "the couple never would be permitted to enter our waters in their wandering", in other words, that the bears forever would be forbidden to set below the horizon of the sea as other constellations do. To this day both the Lesser Bear and the Great Bear are held high in the sky near the Pole Star, never permitted to sink beneath the sea horizon.
Ovid described Juno's actions beautifully in Book II of the Metamorphoses: "When she beheld Jove's mistress in the skies. Glittering against the night, pale Juno's rage swelled hot and like a meteor in flight, she dropped to Tethys and to ancient Oceanus, two elders of the sea, to whom the Gods gave reverence and awe. They asked her why she came and she replied, 'you ask me why I, the queen of the gods, have left my heavenly abode to come here? It is because another, in my place, holds sway in the sky! Unless I am mistaken, when night darkens the world, you will see two constellations newly raised to the honor of a place in highest heaven, expressly to insult me! Look for them where the last narrowest circle surrounds the tip of the pole. And do you suppose that anyone will hesitate to wrong Juno, or fear to offend her, when I alone actually do good to those I try to harm? Great indeed are my achievements, and mighty my strength; I denied her the rights of a human being, and she has become a goddess! So much for the punishment I inflict on the guilty! So much for my tremendous power! Let Jupiter now restore her former shape, and rid her of her bestial appearance, as he did before in the case of the Argive Io (Taurus myth). Why does he not go so far as to divorce me, and marry this new love, - set her in my wedding chamber and take Lycaon as a father-in-law? 'I implore you, if this contemptuous treatment of one who was your nursling distresses you, prevent the Bear from entering your dark blue waters; repulse those stars which have been received into heaven as a reward for shameless conduct, and do not let my rival bathe in your pure tide'. "The gods of the sea nodded in consent. Then Saturn’s daughter drove off through the clear air in her light chariot, drawn by gaily-colored peacocks". And so it is that of all the constellations, only the Bears never bathe in the ocean-never cool their tired paws in the soothing waters of the sea. ["The Metamorphoses of Ovid", translated by Mary M. Innes, 1955, Penguin. Ovid was born in Rome in 43 BC. , "The New Patterns in the Sky" Julius D.W. Staal 1988, The Macdonald and Woodward publishing Company.]