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Elihu Vedder - The Pleiades, 1885

The Pleiades (1885) by the Symbolist painter Elihu Vedder

In Greek mythology, the Pleiades were seven sisters:

  • Maia "Mother" "Nurse"
  • Alkyone "Queen who wards off evil [storms]"
  • Elektra "Amber" "Shining" "Bright"
  • Kelaino "Swarthy"
  • Taygete "Long-necked"
  • Sterope or Asterope, "Lightening" "Twinkling" "Sun-face"
  • Merope "Eloquent" "Mortal" "Bee-eater"

Their parents were Atlas, a Titan who held up the sky, and the oceanid Pleione, the protectress of sailing.

Myth

After a chance meeting with the hunter Orion, the Pleiades and their mother became the object of his pursuit. Enamoured with the young women he pursued them over the face of the Earth. In pity for their plight, Zeus changed them into a flock of doves, which he set in the heavens. Thus the olympian added the penalty of the absence of his wife and family to the Titan's original punishment of eternally supporting the heavens from the Earth.

In an alternative myth, the Pleiades were the virgin companions of Artemis, to the ancient Greeks, the goddess of hunting and the Moon. Whilst stalking a hind, the great hunter Orion crept into a sunlit glade, disturbing the innocent play of the sisters. They fled in alarm. His immoderate passions enflamed by their beauty and grace, he pursued them relentlessly, as was fitting for the greatest mortal hunter. In frustration, Artemis pleaded with Zeus to for his intervention. With characteristic olympian sarcasm, he did. As the hunter closed in on his prey, Zeus transformed the sisters into a flock of doves. They flew into the heavens, beyond the reach of their pursuer, but also removed from earthly companionship with the goddess!

Artemis, enraged by these twofold masculine affronts, revenged herself on Orion. Apollo, her brother, having been affronted by the mortal hunter's prowess, was persuaded to set a monstrous scorpion to attack Orion. Not to be outdone in this, in another characteristic display of mordant wit, Zeus set the dead hunter in the heavens in a vain pursuit of the Pleiades through the night sky for eternity, with the constellation Scorpio ever chasing after Orion. Even so the Olympian had some compassion for his daughter: the path of the Moon in the heavens passes close to the Pleiades, and thus Artemis – as the goddess of the Moon – had the solace of their frequent reunions.

Parents

Pleione (an Oceanid) and Atlas

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