The Pleiades, the Seven Sisters

This week’s Classical Ladies are the Pleiades!

Who were the Pleiades?

The Pleiades were seven women, sisters, who were nymphs in the train of the goddess Artemis.

Who were their parents?

Their father was the titan Atlas, and their mother was Pleione, a sea-nymph born on Mount Cyllene. Other family members include Calypso, the nymph that detained Odysseus, Hyas, the famous archer, the Hyades, a group of rain nymphs, and the Hesperides, the nymphs of the sunset.

Who were the sisters?

The oldest nymph was Maia, then Electra, Taygete, Alcyone, Celaeno, Sterope/Asterope, and Merope, the youngest.

Did they have any relationships or children?

Zeus had children by the three oldest nymphs: Maia bore the god Hermes, Electra bore Dardanus and Iasion, and Taygete bore Lacedaemon. Poseidon had children with two sisters: Alcyone who bore Hyrieus, Hyperenor, and Aethusa, and then Celaeno bore Lycus and Eurypylus. Ares and Sterope had Oenomaus. The youngest nymph, Merope, was pursued by Orion, and in other myths she was married to Sisyphus and had several sons with him before she became mortal and died.

But I thought they were followers of Artemis?

Yeah, mythology is confusing. Often you’ll find that followers of Artemis do not stay with her forever.

Do they have anything to do with the Seven Sisters constellation?

Yes! It is thought that perhaps these nymphs were invented for the purpose of according with that particular cluster of stars. This constellation was important for navigation on the sea, and so it is supposed that their name came from plein, ‘to sail’.

How did they become stars?

There are several different variations on the way that the sisters became stars. As their father was Atlas, the titan sentenced to carry the heavens on his shoulders, some stories say they committed suicide in their sadness, and Zeus placed them in the sky as stars to immortalize them. Other versions say that Zeus turned them into stars to escape the pursuit of orion.

Have you ever seen the Pleiades in the night sky? They appear as a big hazy cluster unless you have very good eyesight, a telescope, or a steady camera!

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