Classical Texts Library >> Hyginus, Astronomica >> Fables 2.1-17




We begin, then as we said above, with the Great Bear. Hesiod says she is named Callisto, daughter of Lycaon, who ruled in Arcadia. Out of her zeal for hunting she joined Diana, and was greatly loved by the goddess because of their similar temperaments. Later, when made pregnant by Jove, she feared to tell the truth to Diana. But she couldn’t conceal it long, for as her womb grew heavier near the time of her delivery, when she was refreshing her tired body in a stream, Diana realized she had not preserved her virginity. In keeping with her deep distrust, the goddess inflicted no light punishment. Taking away her maiden features, she changed her into the form of a bear, called arktos in Greek . In this form she bore Arcas.

But as Amphis, writer of comedies, says, Jupiter, assuming the form of Diana, followed the girl as if to aid her in hunting, and embraced her when out of sight of the rest. Questioned by Diana as to the reason for her swollen form, she replied that it was the goddess’ fault, and because of this reply, Diana changed her into the shape we mentioned above. When wandering like a wild beast in the forest, she was caught by certain Aetolians and brought into Arcadia to King Lycaon along with her son as a gift, and there, in ignorance of the law, she is said to have rushed into the temple of Jove Lycaeus. Her son at once followed her, and the Arcadians in pursuit were trying to kill them, when Jupiter, mindful of his indiscretion, rescued her and placed her and her son among the constellations. He named her Arctos, and her son Arctophylax. About him we shall speak later.

Some, too, have said that when Callisto was embraced by Jove, Juno in anger turned her into a bear; then, when she met Diana hunting, she was killed by her, and later, on being recognized, was placed among the stars.

But others say that when Jupiter was pursuing Callisto in the woods, Juno, suspecting what had happened, hurried there so that she could say she had caught him openly. But Jove, the more easily to conceal his fault, left her changed to bear form. Juno, then, finding a bear instead of a girl in that place, pointed her out for Diana, who was hunting, to kill. Jove was distressed to see this, and put in the sky the likeness of a bear represented with stars.

This constellation, as many have stated, does not set, and those who desire some reason for this fact say that Tethys, wife of Ocean, refuses to receive her when the other stars come there to their setting, because Tethys was the nurse of Juno, in whose bed Callisto was a concubine.
Araethus of Tegea, however, writer of histories, says that she wasn’t Callisto, but Megisto, and wasn’t the daughter of Lycaon, but of Ceteus, and so granddaughter of Lycaon. He says, too, that Ceteus himself was called the Kneeler. The other details agree with what has been said above. All this is shown to have taken place on the Arcadian mountain Nonacris.


Aglaosthenes, who wrote the Naxica, says that she is Cynosura, one of the nurses of Jove from the number of the Idaean nymphs. He says, too, that in the city called Histoe, founded by Nicostratus and his friends, both the harbour and the greater part of the land are called Cynosura from her name. She, too, was among the Curetes who were attendants of Jove. Some say that the nymphs Helice and Cynosura were nurses of Jove, and so for gratitude were placed in the sky, both being called Bears. We call them Septentriones.

But many have said that the Great Bear is like a wagon, and the Greeks do call it amaza. This reason has been handed down: Those who, at the beginning, observed the stars and supposed the number of stars into the several constellations, called this group no “Bear” but “Wain,” because two of the seven stars which seemed of equal size and closest together were considered oxen, and the other five were like the figure of a wagon. And so the sign which is nearest to this they wished to be called Boötes. We shall speak of him later on. Aratus, indeed, says that neither Boötes nor the Wain has these names for the reason above, but because the Bear seems, wagon-like, to wheel around the pole which is called North, and Boötes, is said to drive her. In this he seems to be considerably in error, for later, in connection with the seven stars, as Parmeniscus says, twenty-five were grouped by certain astronomers to complete the form of the Bear, not seven. And so the one that followed the wagon and was formerly called Boötes, was now called Arctophylax [Bear Watchter], and she, at the same time that Homer lived, was called Bear. About the Septentriones Homer says that she was called both Bear and Wain; nowhere does he mention that Boötes was called Arctophylax.

There is a great diversity of opinion, too, as to why the Lesser Bear is called Phoenice, and why those who observe her are said to navigate more exactly and carefully; why, also, if she is more reliable than the Great Bear, al do not watch her. These people do not seem to realize the reason for her being called Phoenice. Thales of Miletus, who searched into these matters carefully, and first called her Bear, was by birth a Phoenician, as Herodotus says. Therefore all those in the Peloponnesus use the first Arctos; the Phoenicians, however, observe the one they received from her discoverer, and by watching her carefully, are thought to navigate more exactly, and suitably call her Phoenice from the race of her discoverer.


This huge serpent is pointed out as lying between the two Bears. He is said to have guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides, and after Hercules killed him, to have been put by Juno among the stars, because at her instigation Hercules set out for him. He is considered the usual watchman of the Gardens of Juno. Pherecydes says that when Jupiter wed Juno, Terra came, bearing branches with golden applies, and Juno, in admiration, asked Terra to plant them in her gardens near distant Mount Atlas. When Atlas’ daughters kept picking the apples from the trees, Juno is said to have placed this guardian there. Proof of this will be the form of Hercules above the dragon, as Eratosthenes shows, so that anyone may know that for this reason in particular it is called the dragon.

Some also say this dragon was thrown at Minerva by the Giants, when she fought them. Minerva, however, snatched its twisted form and threw it to the stars, and fixed it at the very pole of heaven. And so to this day it appears with twisted body, as if recently transported to the stars.