Ursa Major

The Big Dipper or The Great Bear

Ursa Major Constellation

The Brighter Stars of Ursa Major

The Story

The Bear and Zeus

The Great Bear according to one story is connected with the birth of Zeus along with the Lesser Bear Ursa Minor. According to this story the Great Bear is the tree nymph Adrasteia.

The Princess Callisto

According to another story the Great Bear represents one of the many loves of Zeus, Callisto, the daughter of King Lacaon of Arcadia. Callisto was fond of hunting and joined the retinue of the Artemis, the Goddess of the Hunt. Callisto became a favorite of Artemis, to whom she swore a vow of chastity.

A Divine Seduction

On a visit to the earth, Zeus happened upon the lovely Callisto sleeping in a forest grove. Zeus approached her wearing the guise of Artemis. As he embraced her he revealed himself and had his way in spite of the struggles of the girl. As a result of this encounter, Callisto became pregnant. Artemis was furious at this and banished the girl.

Hera's Revenge

Callisto bore a son, who was named Arcas. Poor Callisto became the target of the wrath of the jealous Hera, the spouse of Zeus. Hera changed the poor girl into a bear. The Great Bear

Arcas Chases the Bear

For fifteen years poor Callisto wandered through the woods in the form of a bear. Now the huntress Callisto was herself the prey pursued by the hunters. Eventually she encountered her son, now grown to the point that he himself could pursue game through the woods. Arcas would have speared the bear, but Zeus intervened by sending down a whirlwind that bore Arcas and the bear into the heavens, where Callisto became the constellation of Ursa Major and Arcas the constellation of Boötes.

Forbidding the Waters to the Bear

Hera had the last of her revenge by arranging that the bear in the sky should never bathe in the cool northern waters. So the bear never sets, at least when seen from the latitudes at which the Greek story tellers lived.  
 


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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