The Pleiades and The Hunter

In Greek mythology, the Pleaides represented the Seven Sisters. Greek astronomer Eudoxus of Knidos (c. 400-350 BC) set them apart as a distinct constellation: the Clusterers.

Greek sailors were said to consult the skies before setting sail. If the Pleiades were visible, all was well. Otherwise, storm conditions were likely.

The Sisters:

  • Maia – eldest of the seven Pleiades; mother of Hermes by Zeus
  • Electra – mother of Dardanus and Iasion by Zeus.
  • Taygete – mother of Lacedaemon, also by Zeus.
  • Alcyone – mother of Hyrieus by Poseidon.
  • Celaeno – mother of Lycus and Eurypylus by Poseidon.
  • Sterope – mother of Oenomaus by Ares.
  • Merope – youngest of the seven Pleiades; wooed by Orion.

The Pleiades were seven mountain nymph daughters of the Titan Atlas. Five of the others were also loved by gods, becoming ancestresses of various royal families including those of Troy and Sparta.

After Atlas (their dad) was forced to carry the world on his shoulders, Orion (a giant) 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 Electra, mourning the death of Dardanus, though a few myths say it is Sterope.

One of the most memorable myths involving the Pleiades is the story of how these sisters became, quite literally, stars. 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. In 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. Their name was derived from the Greek word pleiôn, meaning “plenty.”

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