The Herdsman or The Bear Driver

Boötes Constellation

The Brighter Stars of Boötes

The Story

What Does the Name Mean?

The origin of the name Boötes is uncertain. It may be connected with a Greek word meaning "noisy" or "clamorous", referring to the shouts of a herdsman to his animals.

Boötes, The Ploughman

Boötes is sometimes called the Ploughman, because the constellation is near to the Big Dipper, which is sometimes seen as a plough. So Boötes is seen to honor the inventor of the plough, whom Zeus placed into the sky at the behest of the goddess Demeter, who was the Goddess of Agriculture.

Boötes, The Bear's Son

The association of the Dipper with the Greater Bear leads Boötes to be identified with the story of Zeus' seduction of the maiden Callisto, who was turned into a bear as result of the jealousy of Zeus' spouse, the goddess Hera. Callisto was the daughter of King Lycaon of Arcadia. She bore the boy Arcas as the result of her liason with Zeus.

It's Not Wise to Put a God to the Test!

Zeus was invited to dine with the father of his paramour. The king was unsure whether his guest was really the mighty god Zeus. So he subjected his guest to a rather grisly test. Lycaon cut up the young boy Arcas, Zeus' son, and served him up to Zeus as the meat for the dinner.

The Herdsman

Of course Zeus recognized immediately what had happened. He hurled his thunderbolts to kill the sons of Lycaon and then turned Lycaon himself into a wolf. He gathered the pieces of Arcas together and resurrected him. Arcas was given to the Pleiade Maia to bring up. (Of course he could not be raised by his mother, because at this time his mother Callisto was roaming through the forest in the form of a bear.)

Hunting the Bear

Later as a teen, Arcas was hunting in the forest and encountered Callisto. Of course he did not recognize her. He proposed to slay the large bear and to take the skin as a trophy. Callisto fled through the woods to the temple of Zeus with Arcas hot on her heels. From the temple Zeus swept Callisto and her son up into the sky, where Callisto became the Greater Bear Ursa Major and Arcas became the Bear Driver Boötes.

Boötes, The Winemaker

Another myth identifies Boötes with Icarius, who was famed for having received the secret of wine making from the Wine God, Dionysius. Icarius was killed by peasants who thought they had been poisoned by his wine. Icarius' loyal dog Maera ran home howling in grief and led Icarius' daughter back to his body. Poor Erigone hanged herself in grief over the death of her father. The gods had mercy on Icarius and his family and transported Icarius into the sky as the constellation of Boötes. Erigone became Virgo, and the dog Maera, the constellation of Canis Minor.  

Copyright © 1998 - 2010 by Arnold V. Lesikar,
Professor Emeritus
Dept. of Physics, Astronomy, and Engineering Science,
St. Cloud State University,St. Cloud, MN 56301-4498

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