Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Callisto and Son: A Tragedy of Jealously

Mother Bear and Little Bear, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, Callisto and Arcas, Mother and Son, Safe Among the Stars.

Callisto was another maiden who excited the jealousy of Juno, and the goddess changed her into a bear. Let it be noted here that Callisto did not return the affections of Jupiter, but was in love with the goddess Artemis and was only tricked into making love with Jupiter when he took the form of Artemis.

Juno, however, did not care about any of that. "I will take away," said she, :"that beauty with which you have captivated my husband." Down fell Callisto on her hands and knees; she tried to stretch out her arms in supplication,-- they were already beginning to be covered with black hair. Her hands grew rounded, became armed with crooked claws, and served for feet; her mouth, which Jupiter used to praise for its beauty, became a horrid pair of jaws; her voice, which if unchanged would have moved the heart to pity, became a growl, more fit to inspire terror. Yet her former disposition remained, and, with continued groaning, she bemoaned her fate, and stood upright as well as she could, lifting up her paws to beg for mercy; and felt that Jupiter was unkind, though she could not tell him so.

Ah, how often, afraid to stay in the woods all night alone, she wandered about the neighborhood of her former haunts; how often, frightened by the dogs, did she, so lately a huntress, fly in terror from the hunters! Often she fled from the wild beasts, forgetting that she was now a wild beast herself; and, bear as she was, was afraid of the bears.

One day a youth espied her as he was hunting. She saw him and recognized him as her own son, Arcas, child of her undesired and ill-fated union with Jupiter, now grown into a young man. She stopped, and felt inclined to embrace him. As she was about to approach, he, alarmed, raised his hunting spear, and was on the point of transfixing her, when Jupiter, beholding, arrested the crime, and, snatching away both of them, placed them in the heavens as the Great and Little Bear.

Juno was in a rage to see her rival so set in honor, and hastened to ancient Tethys and Oceanus, the powers of ocean, and, in answer to their inquiries, thus told the cause of her coming; "Do you ask why I, the queen of the gods, have left the heavenly plains and sought your depths. Learn that I am supplanted in heaven,-- my place is given to another. You will hardly believe me; but look when night darkens the world, and you shall see the two, of whom I have so much reason to complain, exalted to the heavens, in that part where the circle is the smallest, in the neighborhood of the pole. Why should any one hereafter tremble at the thought of offending Juno, when such rewards are the consequence of my displeasure! See what I have been able to effect! I forbade her to wear the human form,-- she is placed among the stars! So do my punishments result,-- such is the extent of my power! Better that she should have resumed her former shape, as I permitted Io to do. Perhaps he means to marry her, and put me away! But you, my foster parents, if you feel for me, and see with displeasure this unworthy treatment of me, show it, I beseech you, by forbidding this guilty couple from coming into your waters." The powers of the ocean assented, and consequently the two constellations of the Great and Little Bear move round and round in heaven, but never sink, as the other stars do, beneath the ocean.

Milton alludes to the fact that the constellation of the Bear never sets, when he says,

  "Let my lamp at midnight hour
  Be seen in some high lonely tower,
  Where I may oft outwatch the Bear."
  Il Penseroso

And Prometheus, in James Russell Lowell's poem, says,

"One after one the stars have risen and set,
Sparkling upon the hoar-frost of my chain;
The Bear that prowled all night about the fold
Of the North Star, hath shrunk into his den,
Scared by the blithsome footsteps of the dawn."

The last star in the tail of the Little Bear is the Pole star, called also the Cynosure.  Milton says,

  "Straight mine eye hath caught new pleasures
  While the landscape round it measures.

  *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *
  Towers and battlements it sees
  Bosomed high in tufted trees,
  Where perhaps some beauty lies
  The Cynosure of neighboring eyes."

The reference here is both to the Pole-star as the guide of mariners, and to the magnetic attraction of the North.  He calls it also the "Star of Aready," because Callisto's boy was named Arcas, and they lived in Arcadia.  In Milton's Comus, the elder brother, benighted in the woods, says,

  "Some gentle taper!
  Through a rush candle, from the wicker hole
  Of some clay habitation, visit us
  With thy long leveled rule of streaming light,
  And thou shalt be our star of Aready,
  Or Tyrian Chynsure."

 Compiled From Sources In The Public Domain.

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