Pleiades ( , also ; from the Greek Πλειάδες , Modern ),
companions of Artemis, were the seven
daughters of the titan Atlas and the sea-nymph Pleione born on Mount Cyllene.
- This article is about Greek mythology.
The Pleiades star
cluster also appears in many other
They are the sisters of Calypso
, and the Hesperides
. The Pleiades were nymphs
in the train of Artemis, and together with the
were called the
Atlantides, Dodonides, or Nysiades, nursemaids and teachers to the
There is some debate as to the origin of the name Pleiades.
Previously, it was accepted the name is derived from the name of
their mother, Pleione. However, the name Pleiades is more likely to
come from (to sail), because the Pleiades star cluster is visible
in the Mediterranean at night during the summer, from the middle of May
until the beginning of November, which coincided with the sailing
season in antiquity.
This derivation was recognized by the
ancients, including Virgil
The Seven Sisters
Several of the most prominent male Olympian gods (including
) engaged in affairs with the seven
heavenly sisters. These relationships resulted in the birth of
- Maia, eldest of the seven
Pleiades, was mother of Hermes by Zeus and
Iris by Thaumas.
- Electra was mother of Dardanus and Iasion by
- Taygete was mother of
Lacedaemon, also by Zeus.
- Alcyone was mother of
Hyrieus by Poseidon.
- Celaeno was mother of Lycus and Eurypylus by
- Sterope (also Asterope) was
mother of Oenomaus by Ares.
- Merope, youngest of the seven
Pleiades, was wooed by Orion. In
other mythic contexts she married Sisyphus
and, becoming mortal, faded away. She bore to Sisyphus several
All of the Pleiades except Merope consorted with gods.
After Atlas was forced to carry the heavens on his shoulders,
began to pursue all of the
Pleiades, and Zeus transformed them first into doves, and then into
stars to comfort their father. The constellation of Orion is said
to still pursue them across the night sky.
In the Pleiades star cluster
only six of the stars shine brightly, the seventh, Merope, shines
dully because she is shamed for eternity for having an affair with
a mortal. Some myths also say that the star that doesn't shine is
; she is said to have left her
place so that she will not have to look down upon the ruin of Troy,
because the city was founded by her son Dardanus.
One of the most memorable myths involving the Pleiades is the story
of how these sisters literally became stars, their catasterism
. According to some versions of
the tale, all seven sisters committed suicide because they were so
saddened by either the fate of their father, Atlas, or the loss of
their siblings, the Hyades
turn Zeus, the ruler of the Greek gods, immortalized the sisters by
placing them in the sky. There these seven stars formed the
constellation known thereafter as the Pleiades.
The Greek poet Hesiod
mentions the Pleiades
several times in his Works and Days
As the Pleiades are primarily winter stars, they feature
prominently in the ancient agricultural calendar. Here is a bit of
advice from Hesiod:
- "And if longing seizes you for sailing the stormy seas,
- when the Pleiades flee mighty Orion
- and plunge into the misty deep
- and all the gusty winds are raging,
- then do not keep your ship on the wine-dark sea
- but, as I bid you, remember to work the land."
(Works and Days 618-23)
The Pleiades would "flee mighty Orion and plunge into the misty
deep" as they set in the West, which they would begin to do just
before dawn during October-November, a good time of the year to lay
up your ship after the fine summer weather and "remember to work
the land"; in Mediterranean agriculture autumn is the time to
plough and sow.
The poet Lord
mentions the Pleiades in his poem Locksley Hall
- "Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising through the mellow
- Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver
- Bulfinch, Thomas Bulfinch's Mythology Barnes and
Noble, 2006, pp. 194-195.