Pleiades: mythology of the Seven Sisters4 min read
In Rome and in Greece, in this period, the Pleiades were remembered, and predictions were made on the illnesses of the season.
In short, the Pleiades were the seven sisters who, at the time of their death, were transformed into stars from Zeus.
After the spring equinox, the ancients were careful not to expose themselves to the unstable climate of the period to avoid the seasonal ills.
Since the ascent of the Pleiades coincided with this period, it was common opinion that the constellation was somehow linked to the climate.
In this regard, hippocrates recommended to pay attention to the upper and sunset of the Pleiades because “these days the diseases are decided.”
For millennia the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades, immortalised in the famous Pleiades star cluster, have been objects of wonder and fascination across the globe. They have been the subject of myths and legends in almost every culture on the planet.
These are amongst the first stars mentioned in literature, appearing in Chinese annals of about 2350BC. The earliest European literature references are in a poem by Hesiod in 1000BC and in Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad.
People has always looked up to the Pleiades star constellation for guidance: sailors have relied on the stars for navigation, and farmers for when to sow and harvest their crops. The Zuni tribe in New Mexico, for instance, called the stars the ‘Seed Stars’, and when the cluster disappeared every Spring, and this was the time to sow.
Other cultures believe they seeded the planet and are the original seven mothers of the earth.
According to Greek Mythology, the Pleiades were seven sisters: Maia, Alcyone, Merope, Asterope, Celaeno, Taygete and Electra.
Their parents were Atlas, a Titan commanded by the god Zeus to hold up the earth, and the sea-nymph Pleione, the mythical protectress of sailors.
After a meeting with the hunter Orion and after Atlas was forced to carry the heavens on his shoulders, the Pleiades and their mother became the objects of his pursuit. To protect them from Orion’s relentless amorous advances, Zeus transformed them first into doves, and then into stars to comfort their father.
The constellation of Orion is said to still pursue them across the night sky.
Maia is the eldest sister and known for her outstanding beauty as well as her solitary life. Her name means ‘mother’ in Latin and in other translations, it also means ‘nurse’ or ‘Great One’. Maia was seen by the Romans as their Spring Goddess which is why our fifth month is called ‘May’. At one time, her star shone brighter than any of the others. However, the next sister’s star, Alcyone, now shines brighter, and some say symbolises sibling rivalry between the two sisters in the past.
In Greek mythology, Alcyone, was known as the leader. During the Halcyon days, when the world was filled with joy, prosperity and tranquillity, she watched over the Mediterranean Sea, making it calm and safe for sailors.
Merope (The Lost Sister), is more commonly accepted as the ‘lost Pleiad’ because hers was the last star to be mapped by astronomers and is the faintest star in the cluster, not visible to the naked eye. Some legends suggest that she became lost because she hid her face in shame at marrying a mortal, King Sisyphus, while others say that Merope hid her face out of shame because her husband was a criminal, whose punishment was to roll a heavy stone up a hill to the edge of heaven though it always rolled back down.
Then there is Asterope. Her Greek name translates to ‘Star’ and she is traditionally portrayed as one of the weaker sisters, perhaps because this star is one of the two that shines less brightly than the others, followed by Celaeno, commonly translated as meaning ‘melon’ or ‘swarthy’. Celaeno, like Asterope, shines less brightly than the others, supposedly because she was once struck by lightning. However she had many children including sons Lycus (wolf) and Chimaereus (part lion, dragon and goat) by the Titan Prometheus, and sons Lycus and Nycteus by Poseidon, the god of the sea.
In the myths Taygete, the following sister, like Maia, valued her independence and lived alone in the mountains while Electra, known as the third brightest star Electra had four children, one of which was Dardanus, who later became the founder of the ancient city of Troy.
The Pleiades in Japanese culture are known as ‘Subaru’ and are usually referred to as being seven stars. ‘Subaru’ also means ‘unite’ or ‘unity’ in Japanese. However, when the car company Subaru chose the name for their business, they decided to depict only six stars in the company logo, supposedly because only six of the stars are visible to the naked eye.