THE PLEIADES were seven mountain nymph daughters of the Titan Atlas. Their leader was Maia, the mother of Hermes by Zeus. Five of the others were also loved by gods, becoming ancestresses of various royal families including those of Troy and Sparta. When they were pursued by the lustful giant Orion, Zeus set them amongst the stars as the seven-starred constellation Pleiades. Their name was derived from the Greek word pleiôn, meaning "plenty."
[1.1] ATLAS (Hesiod Astronomy Frag 1, Aeschylus Frag 172, Ovid Metamorphoses 6.172)
[1.2] ATLAS & PLEIONE (Apollodorus 3.110, Hyginus Fabulae 192, Hyginus Astronomica 2.21, Ovid Fasti 4.169 & 5.79)
[1.3] ATLAS & AITHRA (Musaeus Frag, Hyginus Astronomica 2.21, Ovid Fasti 5.164)
[1.1] TAYGETE, ELEKTRA, ALKYONE, STEROPE, KELAINO, MAIA, MEROPE (Hesiod Astronomy, Apollodorus 3.110, Aratus Phaenomena 254, Hyginus Fabulae 192, Hyginus Astronomica 2.21, Ovid Fasti 4.169, Nonnus Dionysiaca 3.330)
PLEIADES (Pleiades or Peleiades), the Pleiads, are called daughters of Atlas by Pleione (or by the Oceanid Aethra, Eustath. ad Hom. p. 1155), or Erechtheus (Serv. ad Aen. i. 744), of Cadmus (Theon, ad. Arat. p. 22), or of the queen of the Amazons. (Schol. ad Theocrit. xiii. 25.) They were the sisters of the Hyades, and seven in number, six of whom are described as visible, and the seventh as invisible. Some call the seventh Sterope, and relate that she became invisible from shame, because she alone among her sisters had had intercourse with a mortal man ; others call her Electra, and make her disappear from the choir of her sisters on account of her grief at the destruction of the house of Dardanus (Hygin. Fab. 192, Poet. Astr. ii. 21). The Pleiades are said to have made away with themselves from grief at the death of their sisters, the Hyades, or at the fate of their father, Atlas, and were afterwards placed as stars at the back of Taurus, where they form a cluster resembling a bunch of grapes, whence they were sometimes called botrus (Eustath. ad Hom. p. 1155). According to another story, the Pleiades were virgin companions of Artemis, and, together with their mother Pleione, were pursued by the hunter Orion in Boeotia; their prayer to be rescued from him was heard by the gods, and they were metamorphosed into doves (peleiades), and placed among the stars (Hygin. Poet. Astr. ii. 21; Schol. ad Apollon. Rhod. iii. 226; Pind. Nem. ii. 17). The rising of the Pleiades in Italy was about the beginning of May, and their setting about the beginning of November. Their names are Electra, Maia, Taygete, Alcyone, Celaeno, Sterope, and Merope (Tzetz. ad Lyc. 219, comp. 149; Apollod. iii. 10. § 1). The scholiast of Theocritus (xiii. 25) gives the following different set of names : Coccymo, Plaucia, Protis, Parthemia, Maia, Stonychia, Lampatho. (Comp. Hom. Il. xviii. 486, Od. v. 272; Ov. Fast. iv. 169, &c.; Hyades; and Ideler, Untersuch. über die Sternennamen, p. 144.)
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
THE NYMPHS PLEIADES
Hesiod, Astronomy Fragment 1 (from Scholiast on Pindar's Nemean Odea 2.16) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"The Pleiades whose stars are these:--‘Lovely Teygata, and dark-faced Elektra, and Alkyone, and bright Asterope, and Kelaino, and Maia, and Merope, whom glorious Atlas begot . . . In the mountains of Kyllene (Cyllene) she [Maia] bare Hermes, the herald of the gods.’"
Pindar, Nemean Ode 2. 10 ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"For near the Pleiades, those mountain maids, needs must Orion follow close behind [i.e. amongst the constellations the Pleiades rise with Orion]."
Simonides, Fragment 555 (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric III) (C6th to 5th B.C.) :
"Mountain (oureias) Maia . . .: Atlas fathered her, outstanding in beauty among his seven dear violet-haired daughters who are called the heavenly Peleiades (Doves)."
Lamprocles, Fragment 736 (from Athenaeus, Scholars at Dinner) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric IV) (C5th B.C.) :
"Lamprocles, said expressly that the Pleiades have the same name as the doves (peleiades) in these lines: ‘you who are set in the sky, bearing the same name as the winged doves (peleiades).’"
Aeschylus, Fragment 172 (from Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 11. 80. 491A) (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"And they who bear the name of Atlas' daughters seven oft bewailed their sire's supremest labour of sustaining heaven, where as wingless Peleiades they have the form of phantoms of the night."
[N.B. Peleiades is the Greek word for "doves"--the maidens are called "wingless" because they are not actually birds. As stars they are "phantoms of the night."]
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 110 - 111 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"To Atlas and Okeanos' daughter Pleione were born on Arkadian Kyllene (Arcadian Cyllene) seven daughters called the Pleiades, whose names are Alkyone, Merope, Kelaino (Celaeno), Elektra, Sterope, Taygete, and Maia. Of these, Oinomaus married Sterope, and Sisyphos married Merope. Poseidon slept with two of them: first with Kelaino, fathering Lykos, whom Poseidon settled in the Islands of the Blest; and then with Alkyone, who bore him a daughter Aithusa (the mother with Apollon of Eleuther), and sons Hyrieus and Lykos . . . Zeus also slept with the other Atlantides."
Strabo, Geography 8. 3. 19 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"At the base of these mountains [near Lepreon in Elis], on the seaboard, are two caves [beside the River Anigros]. One is the cave of the Nymphai called Anigriades; the other is the scene of the stories of the daughters of Atlas [the Pleiades] and of the birth of Dardanos [i.e. son of the Pleiad Elektra]."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 2. 549 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"[When Memnon, son of Eos the Dawn, was slain at Troy:] These [the twelve Horai (Seasons)] came down from heaven, for Memnon wailing wild and high; and mourned with these the Pleiades [star-nymphs]. Echoed round far-stretching mountains, and Aisepos' stream. Ceaseless uprose the keen, and in their midst, fallen on her son and clasping, wailed Eos (Dawn)."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 2. 658 ff :
"Nor Eos (the Dawn-queen) forgat her daily course [following the death of her son Memnon] . . . Before her went her Pleiades-harbingers, then she herself flung wide the ethereal gates, and, scattering spray of splendour, flashed there-through."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 13. 545 ff :
"[At the fall of Troy:] [The Pleiad] Elektra's self withal, the star-queen lovely-robed, shrouded her form in mist and cloud, and left the Pleiad-band, her sisters, as the olden legend tells. Still riseth up in sight of toil-worn men their bright troop in the skies; but she alone hides viewless ever, since the hallowed town [Troy] of her son Dardanos in ruin fell."
||Good Nursing Mother
||Of Mount Taygetus
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 192 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Atlas by Pleione or an Oceanitide (Oceanid) had twelve daughters, and a son, Hyas. The son was killed by a wild boar or a lion, and the sisters, grieving for him, died of this grief. The five of them first put among the stars have their place between the horns of the bull . . . and are called, from their brother’s name, Hyades . . .
The rest of the sisters, later dying from grief, were made stars, and because they were many, were called Pleiades. Some think they were so named because they are joined together, that is, plesion, for they are so close together that they can scarcely be counted, nor can anyone be sure whether they are six or seven in number. Their names are as follows: Electra, Alcyone, Celaeno, Merope, Sterope, Taygeta, and Maia. Of these, they say Electra does not appear, because of the death of Dardanus and the loss of Troy. Others think that Merope appears to blush because she had a mortal as husband, though the others had gods. Driven from the band of her sisters because of this, she wears her hair long in grief, and is called a comet, or longodes because she trails out for a long distance, or xiphias because she shows the shape of a sword-point. This star, too, portends grief."
[N.B. In Greek longodes means "spear-shaped," not "long," as Hyginus says.]
Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 7 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Others say that when Mercurius first made the lure on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia, he made it with seven strings to correspond to the number of Atlantides, since Maia, his mother, was of their company."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 21 :
"The Pleiades (Many) were so named, according to Musaeus [legendary Greek poet], because fifteen daughters were born to Atlas and Aethra, daughter of Oceanus. Five of them are called Hyades, he shows, because their brother was Hyas, a youth dearly beloved by his sisters. When he was killed in a lion hunt, the five we have mentioned, given over to continual lamentation, are said to have perished. Because they grieved exceedingly at his death, they are called Hyades.
The remaining ten brooded over the death of their sisters, and brought death on themselves; because so may experienced the same grief, they were called Pleiades.
Alexander says they were called Hyades because they were daughters of Hyas and Boeotia, Pleiades, because born of Pleio, daughter of Oceanus, and Atlas.
The Pleiades are called seven in number, but only six can be seen. This reason has been advanced, that of the seven, six mated with immortals (three with Jove [Zeus], two with Neptunus [Poseidon], and one with Mars [Ares]); the seventh was said to have been the wife of Sisyphus. From Electra and Jove [Zeus], Dardanus was born; from Maia and Jove [Zeus], Mercurius [Hermes]; from Taygete and Jove [Zeus], Ladedaemon; from Alcyone and Neptunus [Poseidon], Hyrieus; from Celaeno and Neptunus [Poseidon], Lycus and Nycteus. Mars [Ares] by Sterope begat Oenomaus, but others call her the wife of Oenomaus. Merope, wed to Sisyphus, bore Glaucus, who, as many say, was the father of Bellerophon.
On account of her other sisters she was placed among the constellations, but because she married a mortal, her star is dim. Others say Electra does not appear because the Pleiades are thought to lead the circling dance for the stars, but after Troy was captured and her descendants through Dardanus overthrown, moved by grief she left them and took her place in the circle called Arctic. From this she appears, in grief for such a long time, with her hair unbound, that, because of this, she is called a comet.
But ancient astronomers placed these Pleiades, daughters of Pleione and Atlas, as we have said, apart from the Bull. When Pleione once was travelling through Boeotia with her daughters, Orion, who was accompanying her, tried to attack her. She escaped, but Orion sought her for seven years and couldn't find her. Jove [Zeus], pitying the girls, appointed a way to the stars, and later, by some astronomers, they were called the Bull’s tail. And so up to this time Orion seems to be following them as they flee towards the west.
Our writers call these stars Vergiliae, because they rise after spring. They have still greater honour than the others, too, because their rising is a sign of summer, their setting of winter--a thing is not true of the other constellations."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 6. 172 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"My [Niobe's] mother [Dione] ranks as sister of the Pleiades. That great giant, Atlas, whose shoulders bear the circling sky, is one grandfather."
Ovid, Fasti 4. 169 ff (trans.Boyle) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"April 2. The Pleiades will start relieving their sire's [Atlas'] shoulders. Called seven, they are usually six, wither because six of them entered a god’s embrace (for they say that Sterope lay with Mars [Ares], Alcyone and you, fair Celaeno, with Neptunus [Poseidon], Maia, Electra, Taygete with Jove [Zeus]--the seventh, Merope, wed you, mortal Sisyphus, she regrets it, and hides alone in shame, or because Electra could not bear the spectacle of Troy’s fall and blocked her eyes with her hands."
Ovid, Fasti 5. 79 ff :
"Pleione couples with sky-lifting Atlas--so the story is--and bears the Pleiades. Of these, Maia surpassed (they say) the beauty of her sisters and lay with supreme Jove [Zeus] . . . You [Hermes] gave the lyre, it's thought, seven strings, the Pleiades number [i.e. in honour of his mother and her sisters]."
Seneca, Hercules Furens 4 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"[Hera complains:] ‘I must dwell on earth, for harlots hold the sky [as constellations]. Yonder the Bear [Kallisto] . . . there the Atlantides [the Pleiades, several of whom were mistresses of Zeus], far wandering, put forth their band dreadful to ships and sea alike.’"
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 3. 330 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"[The Pleaid Elektra addresses Kadmos (Cadmus):] ‘I was ever born myself one of those Pleiades, seven girls whom our mother once carried under her heart in labour, seven times having called Eileithyia at her lying-in to lighten the pangs of birth after birth--I am witness! For my house if far from my father's; no Sterope is near me, no Maia my companion, nor sister Kelaino beside me at my hearth; I have not danced up and down sister Taygete's Lakedaimon at my breast nor held the merry boy on my cherishing arm; I do not see Alkyone's house hard by, or hear Merope herself speak some heart-warming word! . . . I feed a comfortable hope, by the promises of Zeus, that with my other sisters I shall pass from the earth to the stars’ Atlantean vault, and dwell in heaven myself a star with my sisters six.’"
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 3. 425 ff :
"[Hermes addresses his aunt the Pleaid Elektra:] ‘Good be with you, my mother’s sister [Maia], bed-fellow of Zeus! . . . along with Maia my mother you shall shine with the Seven Stars in the sky, running your course with Helios (Sun), rising with Selene (Moon).’"
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 13. 411 ff :
"As the armed host gathered to Dionysos [for his war against the Indians] with his thyrsus, Elektra's star rose with her six sisters in the sky in happy augury of the conflict; and the echoing voice of the Pleiades resounded for victory, doing gave to Dionysos who shared their sister's blood, giving equal confidence to the host."
[N.B. The Pleiad Elektra was the foster-mother of Harmonia, grandmother of Dionysos, and so in a sense his ancestress.]
||Daughters of Atlas
||Born of Atlas
THE CONSTELLATION PLEIADES
Hesiod, The Astronomy Fragment 1 (from Athenaeus 11. 491d) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"And the author of The Astronomy, which is attributed forsooth to Hesiod, always calls them Peleiades (Doves): ‘but mortals call them Peleiades’; and again, ‘the stormy Peleiades go down’; and again, ‘then the Peleiades hide away.’"
Hesiod, Works and Days 383 ff :
"When the Pleiades Atlagenes (born of Atlas) are rising [early May], begin your harvest, and your ploughing when they are going to set [November]. Forty nights and days they are hidden and appear again as the year moves round, when first you sharpen your sickle."
Hesiod, Works and Days 618 ff :
"But when the Pleiades and Hyades and strong Oarion begin to set [i.e. at the end of October], then remember to plough in season. But if desire for uncomfortable sea-faring seize you; when the Pleiades plunge into the misty sea [i.e. again towards the end of October] to escape Oarion's (Orion's) rude strength, then truly gales of all kinds rage."
Homerica, Of the Origin of Homer and Hesiod and of their Contest Fragment 1 (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic B.C.) :
"When the Pleiades Atlagenes (born of Atlas) begin to rise begin the harvest, and begin ploughing ere they set. For forty nights and days they are hidden, but appear again as the year wears round, when first the sickle is sharpened."
Alcman, Fragment 1 (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric II) (C7th B.C.) :
"For the Peleiades (Doves), as we carry a plough to Orthria, rise through the ambrosial night like the star Seirios." [N.B. Orthria is Eos goddess of the dawn, or Artemis as the goddess of morning twilight.]
Aratus, Phaenomena 254 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek astronomical poem C3rd B.C.) :
"The [constellation] Pleiades, all in a cluster, but small is the space that holds them and singly they dimly shine. Seven are they in the songs of men. Albeit only six are visible to the eyes. Yet not a star, I ween, has perished from the sky unmarked since the earliest memory of man, but even so the tale is told. Those seven are called by name Halkyone, Merope, Kelaino (Celaeno), Elektre (Electra), Sterope, Taygete, and queenly Maia. Small and dim are they all alike, but widely famed they heel in heaven at morn and eventide, by the will of Zeus, who bade them tell of the beginning of Summer and of Winter and of the coming of the ploughing time."
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 5. 367 ff (trans. Way) (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
"The Pleiades, fleeing adread from glorious Orion, plunge beneath the stream of tireless Okeanos."
Philostratus the Younger, Imagines 10 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
"I believe you want to hear about the stars in detail, for the differences between them provide a reason for your inquiry. Here are the Pleiades, signs for sowing and for reaping when they set or when they appear once more, as the changing seasons bring them; and opposite them are the Hyades."
Ovid, Fasti 4. 169 ff (trans.Boyle) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"April 2. The Pleiades will start relieving their sire's [Atlas'] shoulders [i.e. they rise into the heavens]."
Ovid, Heroides 18. 187 ff (trans. Showerman) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"What when the seas have been assailed by the Pleiad, and the guardian of the Bear, and the Goat of Olenos?" [N.B. These constellations were associated with storms.]
Virgil, Georgics 1. 204 ff (trans. Fairclough) (Roman bucolic C1st B.C.) :
"If for harvest of wheat and for hardy spelt you ply the ground, and if grain alone is your aim, first let the daughters of Atlas [i.e. the Pleiades] pass from your sight in the morn, and let the Cretan star of the blazing Crown withdraw ere you commit to the furrows the seeds due, or hasten to trust the year’s hope to a reluctant soil. Many have begun ere Maia’s [i.e. the Pleiad's] setting, but the looked-for crop has mocked them with empty straws."
Virgil, Georgics 4. 232 ff :
"So soon as Taygete the Pleiad has shown her comely face to the earth [i.e. in spring], and spurned with scornful foot the streams of Oceanus, and when that same star, fleeing before the sign of the water Fish, sinks sadly from heaven into the wintry waves [i.e. in late autumn]."
Seneca, Medea 95 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"So does starlight splendour wane . . . and the huddled flock of the Pleiades vanish away when Phoebe [i.e. Selene the moon], shining with borrowed light, with encircling horns encloses her full-orbed disk."
Seneca, Troades 438 ff :
"Two portions of her course had kindly night well-nigh passed, and the seven stars [i.e. the Pleiades] had turned their shining car."
Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 1. 646 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"[Poseidon:] ‘Neither my son Orion nor the Bull fierce with his train of Peliades is the cause of this [storm].’" [N.B. The setting of these constellations in late autumn marked beginning of the stormy season.]
Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 2. 356 ff :
"By heaven's law Jove [Zeus] had drawn the Pleiades stormy constellation down from the firmament as he rolled the earth upon its everlasting course, and straightway rain stream everywhere." [N.B. The setting of the Pleiades in November marked the beginning of the stormy season.]
Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 5. 304 ff :
"As when Jupiter [Zeus] darts the lightning from his high citadel, ay, when he stirs the Pleiades and mingled rain and thunder or freezing snow, when the whole plain is hidden by the white downpour."
Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 5. 408 ff :
"[Depicted on the walls of the palace of King Aeetes:] There iron Atlas stands in Oceanus, the wave swelling and breaking on his knees; but the god himself [Helios the Sun] on high hurries his shining steeds across the old man's body . . . behind with smaller wheel follows his sister [Selene the moon] and the crowded Pleiades and the fires whose tresses are wet with dripping rain [i.e. the Hyades]."
Statius, Silvae 1. 6. 21 (trans. Mozley) (Roman poetry C1st A.D.) :
"With such torrents do stormy Hyades o'erwhelm the earth of Pleiades dissolved in rain."
Statius, Silvae 3. 2. 1 :
"But when they spied vessels, the billows swelled with rage, and the hurricane arose against man. Then the Pleiades and the Olenian Goat grew dark with storm, and Orion was more wrathful than his wont."
[N.B. "The Olenian Goat" is the star-group Capra on the shoulder of the constellation Auriga whose rising marked the onset of seasonal storms.]
- Hesiod, Astronomy Fragments - Greek Epic C8th-7th B.C.
- Hesiod, Works & Days - Greek Epic C8th-7th B.C.
- Homerica, Of the Origin of Homer & Hesiod - Greek Epic B.C.
- Pindar, Odes - Greek Lyric C5th B.C.
- Greek Lyric II Alcman, Fragments - Greek Lyric C7th B.C.
- Greek Lyric III Simonides, Fragments - Greek Lyric C6th-5th B.C.
- Greek Lyric V Lamprocles, Fragments - Greek Lyric B.C.
- Aeschylus, Fragments - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
- Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Aratus, Phaenomena - Greek Astronomy C3rd B.C.
- Strabo, Geography - Greek Geography C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy - Greek Epic C4th A.D.
- Philostratus the Younger, Imagines - Greek Rhetoric C3rd A.D.
- Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Hyginus, Astronomica - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Ovid, Fasti - Latin Poetry C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Ovid, Heroides - Latin Poetry C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Virgil, Georgics - Latin Bucolic C1st B.C.
- Seneca, Hercules Furens - Latin Tragedy C1st A.D.
- Seneca, Medea - Latin Tragedy C1st A.D.
- Seneca, Troades - Latin Tragedy C1st A.D.
- Valerius Flaccus, The Argonautica - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
- Statius, Silvae - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
- Nonnos, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th A.D.
Other references not currently quoted here: Servius on Virgil's Aeneid 8.130