The Tale of Ursa Major, Ursa Minor,
Bootes and Lupus
In the evening the moon rose from the forests of Arcadia; it was
from there that the goddess Artemis began her journey as she drove
the moon across the sky. During the day, while her brother Apollo
carried the sun in his golden chariot, Artemis and her band of nymphs
roamed the Arcadian mountains hunting the wild creatures who made
the forests their home. But at night, when she loosened the reins
on her black stallions and they rose above the earth carrying the
moon high into the sky in her silver chariot, she watched the people
far below and met them in their dreams.
"I'm so unhappy," the goddess overheard Callisto whisper in her
sleep. "My father, King Lycaon of Arcadia, is a tyrant and my fifty
brothers are cruel. I am Lycaon's only daughter and he and my brothers
treat me like a slave. Men are horrible creatures. I can't trust
any of them."
Besides being the daughter of evil King Lycaon, Callisto was also
the granddaughter of the nymph Cyllene. Long before she left to
raise a family, Cyllene had been one of Artemis' band of huntress
nymphs. Remembering this, Artemis said, "Go to your granddaughter,
she needs your advice." Cyllene, still obedient to Artemis' requests,
went to her granddaughter's dream.
"My favorite grandchild," her grandmother said to Callisto, "you
don't need to live in your father's home. Just as I am a nymph,
you are one too. Instead of living with your father you may join
the goddess Artemis and live freely as a nymph with her band in
the Arcadian mountains."
"But how can I do this?" Callisto asked.
"Take my hand, my dear, and I will show you where you need to go,"
Cyllene reached out and held her granddaughter's hand. They flew
over the mountains to an alpine meadow where a pool reflected the
full moon. As they stepped down upon its north edge, in the middle
of a grove of evergreen trees was a flat moss covered rock. "On
the night of a full moon," Cyllene said to her granddaughter, "you
must sit on this rock and wash your feet in the water of the pool.
Then you must say 'I have looked into my heart and, forsaking all
earthly passions, will commit my life to the goddess Artemis.' Soon
she will appear and give you a bow and silver arrows and then you
will be free to join the other nymphs."
"It sounds so easy, grandmother," Callisto said. "But what if Artemis
doesn't come?" She didn't receive an answer, for she opened her
eyes and found that she was in bed and her grandmother had disappeared.
For the first time, Callisto felt a lightness in her heart. Now
she had a plan!
On the night of the next full moon, Callisto silently crept out
of her room, hiding in the shadows when she heard voices. As soon
as the footsteps grew faint, she continued her escape into the chilly
night air. The night felt fresh and free. Meteors shot across the
sky as the band of the Milky Way spread out before her like a map.
As she walked toward the mountains, the full moon lit a path of
white pebbles along her trail. "Oo-how-oo. Oo-how-oo," called an
owl as he punctuated the music of the crickets and frogs. The owl
followed her as she walked and she felt protected by him.
She reached the crest of the mountain range and, looking down into
the meadow, spied the pool where her grandmother had taken her.
The mirror surface of the water reflected the golden moon, making
it look as though the moon rested in the middle of the field. As
she approached the north side, she saw the flat moss-covered rock
within the grove of evergreen trees. She sat upon the rock, just
as her grandmother said and, as she gazed into the clear deep water,
the reflection that looked back at her had the moon as a halo around
her head. Then, just as Cyllene told her, she said, "I have looked
into my heart and, forsaking all earthly passions, will commit my
life to the goddess Artemis." She wiggled her feet in the water,
rippling its mirror surface. As the water ripples stopped and the
calm surface of the pool returned, she was startled to see faces
looking back at her. She turned her head.
Behind her stood a dozen nymphs. They were dressed in tunics and
carried bows and quivers filled with silver arrows. They stepped
aside as the goddess Artemis walked between them and stood next
to Callisto. Artemis had skin the color of the glowing moon and
her hair was in curls as black as the night sky. She was dressed
in a silver tunic.
"Your reflection in the water has a golden halo. It means that you
are one of us," Artemis said softly. As she spoke, a breeze whistled
through the calm branches of the evergreens. "Your grandmother,
Cyllene, told me you were coming to join us. It seems almost as
if she is with us again, for your eyes look like hers. Tell me,
are you like her? Will you regret not having a child?"
"No, goddess," Callisto said emphatically. "I want nothing to do
with men. I wish only to be free and in your company."
Artemis smiled gently and handed the girl a bow and a quiver filled
with silver arrows. Callisto, now one of the nymphs, joined Artemis
and her band as they vanished into the night.
Years passed happily for Callisto as she roamed the forests while
Artemis and her sister nymphs taught her its secrets. For the first
time in her life she felt a sense of belonging. "How lucky I am,"
Callisto thought. Her cheerfulness raised the spirits of everyone
around her, making her a favorite of the goddess. But Artemis was
not the only Olympian fond of Callisto. As he looked out from Olympus,
Zeus spied the lovely girl and fell in love with her charm and innocence.
One day, tired from the hunt, Callisto left the other nymphs and
stopped by a stream to take a nap. She found a quiet spot upon the
bank where the grass was thick and made a soft mat. She put down
her bow and, using her quiver as a pillow, she fell fast asleep.
Zeus' wife, Hera, was away and the god of heaven had spent the day
watching Callisto. When he saw her fall asleep, he hurried to the
stream where Callisto lay. "How can I get near her?" Zeus asked
himself. "With all her time in the woods, she runs fast as a deer
and will escape me." But Zeus was a master of disguises and decided
to take the form of his daughter Artemis to trick the unsuspecting
girl. He used his magic and turned his long white hair to black
curls, his face and body became just like his daughter's, and his
white robes became a short silver tunic. He paid attention to the
smallest of details, for his wrist even had the crease that Artemis
had developed after years of wearing the silver archer's guard.
Looking just like Artemis, he kneeled down and placed Callisto's
head in his lap. He stroked her forehead and asked in his daughter's
voice, "Where has my favorite one been hunting today?"
Callisto opened her eyes slowly and smiled as she saw Artemis. "Oh
my goddess, I was hunting in the far north woods and I am very tired.
You are so sensitive and kind to be concerned about me. I'm certain
that your empathy has made you wiser than even your father, Zeus."
"She is such a sweet and foolish girl," thought Zeus. Her naiveté
amused him and made the king of the gods desire her even more. He
bent over and kissed the drowsy girl and, as he did, his disguise
"Let me alone," Callisto screamed and tried to jump away from her
attacker. It was no use, for Zeus grabbed her tightly, holding her
down. She struggled and cried, but she couldn't get away. In her
terror, she fainted.
As Callisto regained consciousness she heard a voice say, "Where
has my favorite one been hunting today?" and she saw Artemis bending
over her. She gathered the torn tunic around her and dug her heels
into the ground, pushing herself away from the bent figure. Her
fear disappeared as she heard the laughter and approaching steps
of her sister nymphs. Although her eyes were red and swollen from
tears and her tunic was torn, Artemis and the nymphs were too naive
to suspect that anything was wrong. Ashamed and afraid, Callisto
never told them.
Days passed after the attack. They soon turned into weeks and then
into months. Callisto could not concentrate. Beginning each morning
with nausea, her mind daily relived the painful attack. Her smile
was gone. She lost her sense of playful freedom. Nervous whenever
she was alone, she became silent and withdrawn. It was then that
she began to notice changes in her body. Her belly was growing and
her feet were swollen and painful, but in spite of the changes that
affected every part of her, she was surprised that none of her companions
noticed. To their eyes, her tunic hid the changes; but their lack
of awareness made her feel lonelier still.
Her secret was discovered one hot afternoon for, as the nymphs rested
upon a river bank, Artemis called them for a swim. "Let's bathe
here," the goddess said. "The water is cool and lovely." The nymphs
threw off their tunics and jumped into the stream, joining the goddess.
Only Callisto remained upon the bank. "Join us, Callisto," Artemis
said. Callisto stood nervously upon the bank, her eyes downcast.
"What's the matter, Callisto," yelled one of the nymphs, "don't
you bathe anymore?" Callisto looked out to the stream. All the nymphs
were pointing at her and laughing. She unfastened her tunic, and
as it fell to the ground showing her round belly, she heard horrified
gasps from her companions.
"You're pregnant!" exclaimed Artemis. Tears streamed down Callisto's
cheeks. She sat down upon the grassy bank with her arms tight around
her. Faulting her, Artemis said sternly, "You're not one of us anymore.
You must leave."
"Please, dear goddess. Please," Callisto begged, "I have nowhere
else to go."
"I'm sorry. You cannot stay with us." Artemis said as she and the
nymphs climbed out of the water, dressed themselves and disappeared,
leaving Callisto alone in the forest. In a thicket of blackberry
bushes growing along the bank, Callisto made a nest of pine needles
and dried grass. There she curled up and cried herself to sleep.
As Artemis' black stallions lunged forward under the weight of the
moon, Callisto awoke with a tingling in her head. Deep within her
she felt a knot, like a fist tightening. When it was so hard and
tight she felt she would break, it released and the pain disappeared
as quickly as it had come. She relaxed and began to return to sleep,
only to be jarred awake with another pain like the last one. Water
passed from her body and wet the grass beneath her. "Oh, I am dying,"
"No," answered Artemis as she watched from her silver chariot, "you
are giving birth and the moon will soon pull another body out of
yours. Help her," Artemis commanded the wind and, as the next pain
came to Callisto, the wind blew hard and gradually subsided to stillness
as the pain ceased.
"Do as I do," said the wind to Callisto. "Breathe with me. Puff
hard as I blow, then relax when I do."
As her next pain began, the girl breathed with the wind, then relaxed
as the pain subsided. As the wind came up again, Callisto puffed
and relaxed once again as the wind grew calm. Through the hours,
as the moon rose to the treetops and the stars glistened overhead,
Callisto calmed herself with the rhythm of the wind. She watched
the moon cross the sky and, as the hours passed, the wind blew faster
and lasted longer. Callisto quietly followed the rhythm.
Cradled in her nest of pine needles and grass and with her head
against the ground, Callisto heard the earth speak to her. "Your
baby has moved," said the earth, "I can feel it. It is positioned
to come out and now you must push."
"Pushhh. Pushhh," said the wind. "Pushhh. Pushhh." Callisto obeyed
her. "Pushhh. Pushhh." Against the dark screen of night, colors
appeared; a spot of yellow lit the bark of a tree and a spot of
red glowed upon a rock. "Pushhh. Pushhh." A green light illuminated
a branch overhead and seconds later was joined by blue and purple.
The spots overlaid one another until they illuminated every direction
and the woods glowed with color and light. As Artemis' black steeds
set foot once again upon the earth and Apollo's golden stallions
stamped restlessly at Dawn's gate, a boy child emerged from the
dark den in his mother's body, into the light. He cried out and
awakened the day.
"What was that?" Hera said awakening with a start. "Ah, so Callisto
has finally had her child. I will not tolerate it," Hera said as
she indignantly crossed her arms and watched jealously while the
new mother held her baby and placed him at her breast. "I will not
have it!" she screamed and her screams echoed throughout the Arcadian
"What was that?" Callisto said to her son as she heard the distant
rumble. "I will protect you from whatever dangers are in this world,
my darling," she said and kissed his forehead. As she looked at
him quietly nursing, she noticed that his body was snuggled against
a mat of black fur. Then she noticed that upon the arm that held
his tiny body, shaggy black fur was also growing. "What is happening
to me?" she cried. She raised an arm to heaven. "Zeus, please, this
is your son. Help me." But no help came as her fingers grew into
claws and her hands became paws. "Help me Zeus," she cried as her
lips turned into a broad hairy jaw. "Help me!" she begged as her
voice turned to a deep growl. Then Hera played the cruelest trick
of all, for though Callisto's body changed into a bear, her heart
remained human and, as the bear cried, her tears fell upon her baby's
"What can I do?" she sobbed. "I can't take care of you," she rubbed
her wet furry cheek against his face. "You must be raised with humans.
I will take you to my father's home," she thought. "Since you are
a boy you will probably be treated better than I was. I think you
will be safe there." She licked his body and nudged him onto her
tunic, rolling him until he was wrapped tightly. Then she gathered
the folds of cloth in her mouth and carried her child to her father's
The old cook saw a remarkable sight as she was preparing the evening
meal. A mother bear came out of the woods carrying a parcel in her
mouth which she laid down gently at the kitchen door. She licked
something inside, then growled and ran back to the woods. When the
cook came to the door and looked down, she spied a baby silently
looking back at her. She took the boy to King Lycaon and told him
the story. "We will call you Arcas," the king said as he held him,
"for it means 'child of the bear.'" Through the years the king grew
fond of the boy, but he never recognized him as his grandson.
Zeus had been watching Lycaon through these growing years. "I'm
not sure he's treating my son well," thought Zeus. "I'll visit the
palace and see for myself." Zeus critically looked at his own hands.
"These don't look like the hands of a field worker," he thought
as he turned them rough and callused. Next he turned his white robe
into a brown and torn one held together with an old dirty piece
of rope. His beautiful white hair and beard became a filthy mess
streaked with brown and gray. The skin on his face turned weather-worn
with etched wrinkles. "Now I'm ready," he said as he descended to
"Your majesty," the servant said to King Lycaon, "there is a laborer
at the door who is asking for food and lodging. I told him that
we do not open our doors to field workers, but he insisted that
I tell you directly."
Lycaon greeted the news with suspicion. He had heard that gods occasionally
arrived unannounced to test their mortal hosts. That could be why
the stranger had demanded that he be told. "What should I do?" he
asked his eldest son, Maenalus, who sat with him as the news arrived.
"Invite him in," responded his son. "If he really is a god, you
don't want to offend him."
"Show him in," Lycaon instructed his servant. "Prepare a room for
him to sleep, draw a bath and tell him he will be our guest for
dinner." The servant left to do what he was told. Turning back to
his son, Lycaon said, "How can we know if he is a god?"
"Gods should know what foods they are served," Maenalus said. "Make
a pie of human meat. We can call it a sacrificial offering to the
gods. If our guest identifies what's in the pie, we will know he's
"A logical solution," Lycaon said. "What human meat should we use?"
Maenalus glanced about the room. His eyes came to rest upon little
Arcas, playing in the corner. "How about him?" he asked his father.
Without a thought they murdered Arcas, cut him into pieces and made
a "sacrificial meal" which they offered to their guest. Word had
spread among Lycaon's sons about the special dish that would be
served that evening. They all sat around the room, watching the
stranger as he was presented with his dinner.
Zeus knew something was wrong when he looked at the pie. He quickly
glanced around the room, studying all the eyes that were watching
him intently. He jumped to his feet in anger, suddenly transforming
himself back into the white haired god of Olympus standing tall
and stern before them in his white robes embroidered in gold. His
eyes narrowed into slits as thunderbolts appeared in his raised
hands. The king and all his sons recognized the stranger, just as
Zeus hurled his angry bolts against them and they fell upon the
floor. Like harpoons, Zeus' thunderbolts pierced their hearts, their
clothes smoldering where the lightning bolts had struck, burning
into the bodies of the king and his sons. Lycaon and forty-nine
of his fifty sons lay dead, stacked like cords of wood. The youngest
son, Nyctimus, was spared only because Mother Earth grabbed Zeus'
right hand as he was about to hurl the final thunderbolt. "Don't
kill the entire family," she said quietly. "This one has done nothing.
Please spare him." Zeus put down the bolt and it disappeared as
Nyctimus ran away crying with relief that his life had been saved.
"My poor son," Zeus said as he gathered the pieces of Arcas. "I
will take care of you now." As he kissed each part, they grew together
again. Arcas looked up at his father and smiled as though nothing
had happened. "Let me take you to your new home," Zeus said as he
gently took his son's little hand. "It will be a happy place for
a growing boy." With that Zeus carried him to the home of Maia,
where she raised him as she had her own son Hermes so many years
before. Zeus also restored Lycaon to life again, but changed him
from a human into a wolf. "You will roam alone through the forests
of Arcadia," Zeus commanded, "and be hated as the scavenger you
Many years later, when Arcas was fourteen years old, he decided
one day to go hunting in the forests of Arcadia. "This forest must
have excellent hunting or Artemis and her nymphs wouldn't stay here,"
he thought. He had seen rabbits and quail, but he wished to test
himself on bigger game. He wandered through the forest all morning
before coming to a meadow where birch trees shimmered as the breeze
rustled their leaves. Remembering that Maia had taught him the landmarks
of the forest when he was young, he said, "This must be the Temple
He also remembered her warning, "You must never enter the Temple
of Zeus. Zeus built it for his rests when he travels through the
forest," she continued, "and anyone who goes there surely will die."
He approached cautiously but soon was distracted when he heard a
rustle in the bushes to his right. Crouching behind a tree, he carefully
surveyed his surroundings. Then he saw it! A huge black female bear
was leaning against a large moss-covered rock. She cocked her head
and fixed her eyes upon him. The bear made no move to run or to
attack, but gazed peacefully into his eyes as though he were familiar.
"How odd," he thought, "I have never seen a bear do that before."
She took a few steps into the open and hesitated. Then again she
came toward him until she was so close that he could see a tear
fall from her eye.
"No bear has ever watched me like that before," he thought nervously.
"She could attack at any moment." He picked up his bow and drew
an arrow from the quiver.
The bear was his mother, Callisto. "He doesn't recognize me," she
thought sadly. "Oh why can't I talk to him?" Then she had an idea.
"I will go to his father's temple. He will not kill me there and
perhaps Zeus will take pity on me and give him a sign that I am
Callisto moved slowly toward the temple as Arcas followed, still
holding the bow tightly in his hand. He paid no attention to where
they were going and, when the bear entered the temple, the hunter
Arcas drew his arrow and, just as he was ready to let it go and
pierce his mother's heart, Zeus froze him. "Those who enter my temple
must die," Zeus said as he lifted the bear and her son into his
hands and placed both of them in heaven. "You will be Ursa Major,
the big bear," he said to Callisto as he made her stars bright and
spread them wide across the sky. "You, my son, I will place twice
by your mother," he said to Arcas. To allow her to be with a son,
Zeus gave her Ursa Minor, her own little bear and to recognize the
trials that had driven her through life, he placed Arcas as Bootes,
or Arctophylax, the bear driver. Together with them, to ensure that
cruelty and arrogance do not go unpunished, he placed Lycaon as
Lupus, the wolf.
As Hera saw the new stars light the sky she again felt a jealous
rage. Of all the stars in heaven, the bear was the highest and brightest
in the sky, holding a place of honor. "You shame me," Hera screamed
at Zeus. "Everyone will know of your infidelity. Well, I will do
something about this! I'll talk with Tethys."
Tethys had been Hera's nurse and was the wife of Ocean. "It's disgraceful
how Zeus placed that bear in the sky," Hera snidely said to Tethys,
"you must never receive her as a guest or all husbands will think
infidelity is acceptable. I just can't have it!" To keep peace,
Tethys agreed; and to this day, when other stars are received into
the Ocean, Ursa Major is not allowed to come there but must always
remain outside, visible in the sky.
the Immortal Night ©2003, J.J. Kuhl