Ursa Major in Greek Mythology

Are you aware of the myth about Ursa Major in Greek Mythology? Did you know that the famous constellation of Big Bear or Ursa Major originates from the Greek mythology?

The constellation of Ursa Major

constellation ursa majorUrsa Major is among the most known and oldest constellations. It has the greatest number of  stars compared to all other constellations.

It is also known with many different names, but the one with the bear is the most predominant and common, although most people fail to see the image of the bear to the stars. Ursa Major is visible almost all year long from the northern hemisphere and its most known asterism is the Big Dipper.

How is Ursa Major connected to the Greek Mythology and the Gods? Ursa Major was actually a beautiful woman who captured the heart of mighty Zeus.

The Myth of Zeus and Callisto

the myth of Zeus and CallistoThe Myth of Zeus and Callisto is another myth of love and jealousy, a common theme in the Greek Mythology. According to the Greek mythology , Zeus had many girlfriends among the humans and one of his most favorite ones was Callisto. He used to visit her often, arousing the jealousy of his wife Hera, who was determined to take revenge against this woman as well.

As Zeus and Callisto were walking through the woods one day, Zeus saw Hera approaching, but he did not know how to hide Callisto in time. Therefore, he transformed her into a huge bear. When Hera approached them, she saw Zeus walking by himself in the forest. She saw the bear, but knowing her husband pretty well, she did not believe that he was alone there. She insisted that they would both return to mt Olympus together. Zeus did not want to leave, because he knew that he had to bring Callisto back to human form before returning to the Olympus. But Hera insisted and so it happened.

Callisto’s Son Arcas

Zeus went back to the mountain with his wife, leaving Callisto as a bear. However, the same day, Arcas, the son of Callisto was also out in the woods hunting. He saw the big bear in front of him and took a shot at her, aiming at the heart. His stroke was successful and the bear was lethally wounded. In front of his surprised eyes the bear started dieing, but it started changing back into his mother, Callisto. Arcas saw his mother with an arrow in her heart, and started crying loudly for what he had done to his mother.

Callisto becomes the constellation Ursa Major

the myth of zeus and callisto

Zeus as Diana and Callisto

Arcas understood that Zeus played a game with his mother transforming her into a bear. He became even angrier and started crying louder. Zeus heard him and understood that Hera could hear the man as well, so he went back to earth to persuade Arcas not to reveal the secret. Zeus changed Callisto back in to a bear and made her the largest constellation in the northern sky, known as the Big Dipper. He also turned Arcas into a smaller constellation, known as small bear 0r Little  Dipper.

Arcas turned to see his mother while being placed on to the skies; this is the main reason why, according to the Greek mythology, the Little Dipper curves towards the Big Dipper.

A variation of the myth of Zeus and Callisto

According to a different version of the myth of Zeus and Callisto, Zeus transformed himself to his sister Goddess Artemis (Diana), the Goddess of Nature and Hunting in order to mate with Callisto. Again Hera, used to her husband’s cheating methods, figured out what was going on and tried to catch them on action, but again Zeus – Artemis transformed Callisto to a bear.


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