Who was Callisto?

Callisto: The Bear-Mother

We turn our sights today to Callisto, a mythical gal who, like many of our favourites, was once a pal of Artemis.

Who was Callisto?

Callisto was the daughter of King Lycaon – yeah, that Lycaon, who later became her wolf-dad – and possibly the nymph Nonacris was her mother. Therefore she has all the genealogy we’d look for in one of Artemis’ huntress gals. She was an Arcadian princess.

So what did she and Artemis get up to?

There are a handful of stories about her but the main one has to do with Artemis’ wrath. The goddess usually kept a big crew around her, and it was pretty easy to get membership, as long as you followed two rules: no men, no sex. Or at least hetero sex. But I digress. Callisto was part of this band of merry ladies.

Did Callisto follow the rules?

Well, depending on the version of the story you read, she either tried to and was raped, or seduced Zeus of her own volition. Either way, she became pregnant. Only so long could she hide this fact from Artemis and the other ladies, since they did everything together – including bathing.

What did Artemis think of this? 

As you might imagine, she wasn’t a big fan. That might actually be putting it lightly. Artemis is so angry at this that she turns Callisto into a big old bear. She clearly didn’t care if Zeus had raped her or not.

What about the baby?

Well, hunters found the bear and the little human baby that she had, and brought them back to her dad, King Lycaon. The boy’s name was Arkas. He grew up fairly normal, apparently unaware that his mom was the bear that roamed around the region.

Did he ever find out?

One could say so. Callisto, being a bear, wandered into a sanctuary of Zeus. Arkas saw this happen and flipped out, going to kill the bear for the great offence.

He killed his mom?!

Nope! Zeus intervened at the last moment and stopped him…by transforming both Callisto and Arkas into stars. This is how we get the two bear constellations in the sky!

Interesting, right?! I love a good story about angry Artemis.

Check out some of the previous Classical Ladies posts here:



Who was Antiope?

Antiope: The Rogue Amazon

Today we are going to meet Antiope. There are a few mythological women by this name, but the one we are looking at was the Amazon.

Who was Antiope?

Antiope (sometimes spelled Antiopa) was a woman of the Amazon race. She was the daughter of Ares, and her mother was perhaps Otrera. She would have had siblings, perhaps Penthesilea, Hippolyte, and Melanippe. Her sisters were Amazonian queens, so we can infer that she held an important role.

Why do you call her a ‘rogue’ amazon?

She is the only Amazon that we know to have gotten married. Her husband was Theseus – yes, that Theseus, who slew the minotaur.

How did she meet Theseus?

Well, there are conflicting stories, but they start the same way: Theseus was accompanying Heracles on his journey to get Hippolyta’s girdle. While in the neighbourhood, he met Antiope. According to Pseudo-Apollodorus, Hyginus and Diodorus Siculus, the men abducted Antiope and took her back to Athens. Pausanias is the dissenter in this regard, and says that she fell in love with Theseus and betrayed the Amazons and followed after him.

And they got married?

Yeah, and had a son, Hippolytus, named after Antiope’s sister (or at least the Amazon was the boy’s namesake).

Then everyone was happy?

You forget this is part of the amazonomachy! The Attic War follows soon after, when the Amazons attack Athens to try and get back the girdle, and presumably Antiope, too. Plutarch tells us that in this battle Antiope was killed accidentally by an Amazon, and then Theseus killed her. Pausanias identified their tombs in his writing.

However, Ovid and Hyginus tell a different tale, which likewise doesn’t end well for Antiope. Theseus turned his attentions towards Phaedra, and intended to marry her instead. Antiope wasn’t here for that and planned to kill all in attendance on their wedding day. But Theseus found out and killed her instead.

That’s a lot of conflicting stories.

Well, the amazonomachy is a rather patchy area. The writers each added their own twists to the legend, and some disagree on large issues. It’s debatable whether these things even happened to Antiope at all, and not another Amazon, or one of her sisters. It’s easiest to just accept that all versions have their own legitimacy.

And what about their son?

You might remember this Hippolytus for his role in a number of plays, including one named after him, and Phaedra. He rejected the advances of his stepmother Phaedra, who then told his father that he had raped her. Theseus used a wish given to him by Poseidon to curse his son, who was killed in one of many interesting reported ways.

Hippolytus has some links to Artemis as well, with suggestions that he dedicated himself to chastity and hunting; this being one of the reasons (of many, I’m sure) that he was very uninterested in his stepmother’s advances.

And so ends the line of Antiope!

Next time…

Next week we’re going to look at Callisto! And as always, you can check out the previous Classical ladies in the meantime:

Who was Semele?


The second series of Classical Ladies has begun! Today we’re introducing everyone to Semele.

Who was Semele?

Semele was a mortal woman from mythology, the daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia. She was from Thebes, and had a couple of siblings, too.

What is she known for?

Unfortunately, Semele is one of those ladies we mostly know only for her procreational activities. She is the mother of the god Dionysus, whose father is Zeus.

So she and Zeus were a thing?

For once it seems that she was rather consenting of the relationship. Many of the myths say that they were in a rather loving relationship – though, keep in mind that Hera was still around.

Did Hera mind?

Of course she did! Here we see that Semele’s curiosity, and her ability to be deceived by the goddess, led to her downfall.

Hera tricked Semele into asking Zeus to show her his true godly form, and she basically spontaneously combusted from seeing it. Zeus had previously sworn to Semele to grant her every wish, so when Hera disguised herself as Semele’s old nurse, she convinced the girl to ask the god to show himself to her as he would to Hera.

But what about Dionysus?

After she caught fire and exploded, Dionysus either escaped her womb and jumped out of his own accord, or Zeus saved him. Either way, he survived the moment of his mother’s death – he is a god, after all.

Is that the end of Semele?

Yes, and no. Dionysus eventually went down to the underworld and found his mother’s shade, making her immortal and bringing her up among the gods. From this point on she is known by the name Thyone. She is the goddess of bacchic frenzy, which is a part of her son’s cult.

This myth might have been reverse-engineered, however. Thyone might have existed as a goddess previously, then she was decided to have been Dionysus’ mother, then incorporated with Semele from the myths.

Next week…

We’re going to look at Antiope! In the mean time, check out these posts from the last series of Classical Ladies:

Classical Ladies: Series 1 Masterpost

Tomorrow begins the first post of series 2 from my Classical Ladies collection, so I thought today would be a good day to share a summary post of all the people from the first series. I hope you have fun reading through these again, and checking out any you might have missed!

Tomorrow we’re starting with Semele! I’ve got another 8 interesting mythological figures that we are going to meet, so look forward to it!

Io, Priestess of Hera

This week’s Classical woman is Io! Let’s see what happened in her myths.

Who was Io?

Io was a mythological lady who was a priestess of the goddess Hera.

Who were her parents?

Apollodorus explains a few possibilities for her parentage. He says that she might be the daughter of Iasus, who was the son of Argus and Ismene. She might instead be the daughter of Inachus, or Piren. Different sources give different names.

Did Zeus get his hands on her?

He sure did. The varying accounts see her resisting him before being seduced by his usual wiles. Hera found out, particularly since she was a priestess of this goddess. Zeus then used a number of tricks to try and hide Io from his wife, including transforming her into a heifer.

What happened to her as a heifer?

Hera asked for the heifer and Zeus gave her over. Hera put Io under the guard of Argus, who was a hundred-eyed giant that served the goddess. Zeus then had his son Hermes go and slay Argus, which gained him the title Argos-slayer, which is a common epithet for Hermes in myth.

Did Hera let this pass?

Not a chance! According to Ovid, Hera then sent a gadfly to pester Io as she wandered the earth. Io met Prometheus, who gave her a pep talk, and then she went to Egypt where Zeus turned her back into a lady.

Did she have any children?

Yes, she had a son by Zeus, Epaphus, and also a daughter named Keroessa. Her family tree is rather long and a lot of notable mythological figures could count Io as an ancestor – including Danaë and Perseus, Cadmus and Europa, Semele and Dionysos.

What happened to her after she got to Egypt?

Ovid says that she married the Egyptian king Telegonus, and they were the grandparents of Danaos and his fifty daughters.

What a busy life! Hope you enjoyed reading about this week’s Classical lady.

Admete, Princess of Tiryns

After a brief break, we’re going to resume looking at some interesting women from antiquity and myth! This week we are starting off again with Admete.

Who was Admete?

Admete (sometimes spelled Admeta) was a mythological princess of Tiryns, a Mycenaean stronghold in the Peloponnese. Her father was King Eurystheus, and they were a family line descended from Perseus.

What stories does she appear in?

She is part of the tale of the twelve labours of Heracles. Apollodorus says that she is the one that desired the girdle of Hippolyte the Amazon, and so her father commanded Heracles to go get it. After much hassle the belt is brought back to Admete’s father, who is said to be in Mycenae at the time.

Does she participate in this adventure?

There is some speculation that she actually went along with Heracles on this adventure, to retrieve the girdle.

What else did she do?

Well, according to Athenaeus’ Scholar’s Banquet, she was a priest of Hera at Argos. There’s a very exciting story about her fleeing away with the image of the goddess and being captured by pirates, but the image was too heavy for them to sail with, so she managed to get away and purify the image, and brought it to Samos.

A short story, but an interesting woman nonetheless! One can only imagine what other tales must have existed about her that never got written down!

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!