Who enjoys reading or listening to the colorful stories of the Greco-Roman mythology he has an essential work for this: Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In this work the prolific poet tells us many cases of transformation or metamorphosis of men, women or mythological characters in other beings.
Among these transformations they are especially interesting the conversions to stars, called Catasterisms, not least because the force to survive.
We call "Catasterismi" the conversion or transformation of gods, heroic beings, mythological events, and even ethical principles later, in stars, celestial bodies in the sky, or clusters of stars.
This is a technical or cult Greek term, composed of the preposition kata, κατά (above, below) and the noun ἀστήρ, aster, (star). The term was used as a title of a booklet attributable to the director of the Library of Alexandria, the mathematician, geographer, astronomer, physician, scholar, literary author, Eratosthenes.
Two constellation or group of stars (that's what the word constellation means, from latin cum, with, and stella, star) most popular and important throughout the history of our hemisphere are the "Ursa Maior", Great Bear,result of the transformation of the nymph Callisto and Boötes, the guardianb of the Ursa, transformation of her son Arcas.
The poet Ovid tells us literally in a long story of more than a hundred and fifty verses in Metamorphoses, Book II, v. 401-550.
Today I let a small license that surely would not bother Ovid; in the ancient world the same mythological subject is recovered and modified, reduced or enlarged again and again by various authors.
Let me make a smaller version of Ovid's story that may be easier to read than the original text for possible current readers, but I will offer at end to the interested reader the complete Latin text of the author with its translation.
The Nymph Callisto
Jupiter, the powerful god, walked vigilant the broad and clear sky and reluctantly watched the land where men live. In his daily trips across the sky stopped many times in Arcadia, fertile region of the earth especially dear to him, governed by Licaón, cultured and religious king, respected by his citizens who he finally civilized, forcing them to abandon their way of primitive and rude life.
Licaón had numerous children and among them a daughter named Callisto. Her extraordinary beauty attracted the loving attention of Jupiter, who too often betrayed his wife Juno.
Lycaon’s daughter neither liked the comfortable life of the palace nor occupied the time carding wool nor perfuming her body of fine forms. Tied her messy hair with a white ribbon and tied her dress with a slight brooch, armed with the curved bow and pointed arrows at her shoulder, she crossed the lush forests accompanying Diana, virgin goddess, free and accurate huntress.
A hot summer day, when the sun was halfway through his walk , Callisto rested lonely lying in the green forest floor, laying her head on the multicolor quiver. When Jupiter saw her so beautiful and defenseless, burning with the passion like only gods can burn, he thought:
— My wife Juno will not know about this secret love
And taking the figure of the goddess Diana she approached to Callisto:
– Beautiful maiden, you have hunted today extraordinarily and in accurate way.
Callisto got up swiftly jumping and responded with grateful words:
– Thank you, my dear and beloved goddess. I think you're bigger and stronger than Jupiter himself, who does not hear us.
Jupiter smiled, listening her and held her tightly against his powerful chest and filled her with lascivious kisses and inappropriate to the virgin goddess whose figure he had supplanted.
Callisto wanted uselessly to released herself out of the divine embrace, conscious of the adulterer deception. But who can beat the mighty Jupiter?
When insensitive Jupiter flew to the ether, Callisto picked up his bow and quiver and ran away fast from the accomplice and forever odious forest.
A certain day, after a good hunt, Diana, happy and contented, call Callisto, who, fearing that she were Jupiter, again disguised, runs away to hide in the thick forest. But when she sees the goddess surrounded by her nymphs preventing the deception, she walked head down and approached to the group. The flush of her face would betray her injured shame to Diana if the goddess was not inexperienced virgin.
Fatigued by the long chase, they reached a fresh stream of clear water. Diana just dipped his virgin foot in the fresh water which ran murmuring and said friendly:
– Rest a while. Nobody sees us here; let us undress and refresh our bodies in these crystalline waters.
All nymphs quickly divest themselves of their hunting clothes, but Callisto, blushing again, dilated her nakedness. When she finally took off his clothes, it appeared evident in his body the guilt that she needlessly wanted to hide with her hands.
The angry virgin goddess shouted the embarrassed nymph:
– Get away fast from us, betrayer, and do not tarnish these sacred waters
Museo del Prado. Rubens: Calisto y Diana
The time is passed and the small Arcas was born, fruit of this forced union. Juno, wife of Jupiter knew long time ago what happened. Now, at the right time, she does not delayed longer her cruel punishment. So the powerful goddess angry said:
– It is not possible, adulteress, that you were fruitful and that your son testify before all the gods the shameful outrage of my husband Jupiter. I soon will take off the beauty of your body with which you attracted my adulterous husband.
She said it, and she grabs his blond hair and threw she to the ground with all violence. Callisto tended suppliant her arms, which were covered irredeemably with black hairs; she spread her hands which became twisted claws and sweet mouth, desired by Jupiter, was transformed into deformed animals jaws. No pleading words came out from her hoarse throat which would move the heart, but a hoarse roar that arise in terror.
Become into a bear, she retains her previous soul, as it is evidenced by her constant groans of pain and her hands raised upward, perhaps protesting the unfeeling ingratitude of Jupiter, the father of the gods who intimidates everyone with his rays.
Callisto now wanders the woods in solitude and hazardous fields. Who tirelessly hunted before, how many times now hides herself pursued by the barking of dogs and the arrows of the hunters! Even now being a bear, she is afraid to see the fierce bears on top of the rocks.
Many years passed and Arcas, son of Callisto, whom she did not met, pursues wild animals through the gorges and forests of Mount Erimanto in the fertile Arcadia. At certain day Arcas meets his mother, who seems to recognize him and fixed her black eyes to him. When the mother approaches unsure the son, she is about to die pierced by the arrow that Arcas placed in his tensioned bow, but the powerful Jupiter prevented the terrible sacrilege. Snatched from the hard earth, transported through the space, he placed them in heaven, forever changed in two neighboring constellation with bright stars, the "Big Dipper" and "Boötes" (the guardian ofthe Bear) .
Full text of Ovidius
CALLISTO AND JUPITER
Now after Phaethon had suffered death
for the vast ruin wrought by scorching flames,
all the great walls of Heaven's circumference,
unmeasured, views the Father of the Gods,
with searching care, that none impaired by heat
may fall in ruins. Well assured they stand
in self-sustaining strength, his view, at last,
on all the mundane works of man is turned;—
his loving gaze long resting on his own
Arcadia. And he starts the streams and springs
that long have feared to flow; paints the wide earth
with verdant fields; covers the trees with leaves,
and clothes the injured forests in their green.
While wandering in the world, he stopped amazed,
when he beheld the lovely Nymph, Calisto,
and fires of love were kindled in his breast.
Calisto was not clothed in sumptuous robes,
nor did she deck her hair in artful coils;
but with a buckle she would gird her robe,
and bind her long hair with a fillet white.
She bore a slender javelin in her hand,
or held the curving bow; and thus in arms
as chaste Diana, none of Maenalus
was loved by that fair goddess more than she.
But everything must change. When bright the sun
rolled down the sky, beyond his middle course,
she pierced a secret thicket, known to her,
and having slipped the quiver from her arm,
she loosed the bended bow, and softly down
upon the velvet turf reclining, pressed
her white neck on the quiver while she slept.
When Jupiter beheld her, negligent
and beautiful, he argued thus, “How can
my consort, Juno, learn of this? And yet,
if chance should give her knowledge, what care I?
Let gain offset the scolding of her tongue!”
This said, the god transformed himself and took
Diana's form—assumed Diana's dress
and imitating her awoke the maid,
and spoke in gentle tones, “What mountain slope,
O virgin of my train, hath been thy chase?”
Which, having heard, Calisto, rose and said,
“Hail, goddess! greater than celestial Jove!
I would declare it though he heard the words.”
Jove heard and smiled, well pleased to be preferred
above himself, and kissed her many times,
and strained her in his arms, while she began
to tell the varied fortunes of her hunt.—
but when his ardent love was known to her,
she struggled to escape from his embrace:
ah, how could she, a tender maid, resist
almighty Jove?—Be sure, Saturnia
if thou hadst only witnessed her thy heart
had shown more pity!—
Jupiter on wings,
transcendent, sought his glorious heights;
but she, in haste departing from that grove,
almost forgot her quiver and her bow.
Behold, Diana, with her virgin train,
when hunting on the slopes of Maenalus,
amidst the pleasures of exciting sport,
espied the Nymph and called her, who, afraid
that Jove apparelled in disguise deceived,
drew backward for a moment, till appeared
to her the lovely Nymphs that followed: thus,
assured deceit was none, she ventured near.
Alas, how difficult to hide disgrace!
She could not raise her vision from the ground,
nor as the leader of the hunting Nymphs,
as was her wont, walk by the goddess' side.
Her silence and her blushes were the signs
of injured honour. Ah Diana, thou,
if thou wert not a virgin, wouldst perceive
and pity her unfortunate distress.
The Moon's bent horns were rising from their ninth
sojourn, when, fainting from Apollo's flames,
the goddess of the Chase observed a cool
umbrageous grove, from which a murmuring stream
ran babbling gently over golden sands.
When she approved the spot, lightly she struck
her foot against the ripples of the stream,
and praising it began; “Far from the gaze
of all the curious we may bathe our limbs,
and sport in this clear water.” Quickly they
undid their garments,—but Calisto hid
behind the others, till they knew her state.—
Diana in a rage exclaimed, “Away!
Thou must not desecrate our sacred springs!”
And she was driven thence.
Ere this transpired,
observed the consort of the Thunder-God
her altered mien; but she for ripening time
withheld severe resentment. Now delay
was needless for distracted Juno heard
Calisto of the god of Heaven had borne
a boy called Arcas. Full of jealous rage,
her eyes and thoughts enkindled as she cried;
“And only this was wanting to complete
your wickedness, that you should bear a son
and flaunt abroad the infamy of Jove!
Unpunished you shall not escape, for I
will spoil the beauty that has made you proud
and dazzled Jupiter with wanton art.”
So saying, by her forehead's tresses seized
the goddess on her rival; and she dragged
her roughly to the ground. Pleading she raised
her suppliant arms and begged for mercy.—While
she pled, black hair spread over her white limbs;
her hands were lengthened into feet, and claws
long-curving tipped them; snarling jaws deformed
the mouth that Jove had kissed. And lest her prayers
and piteous words might move some listening God,
and give remembrance, speech was so denied,
that only from her throat came angry growls,
now uttered hoarse and threatening.
her understanding, though her body, thus
transformed, makes her appear a savage bear.—
her sorrows are expressed in many a groan,
repeated as she lifts her hands—if we
may call them so—repeated as she lifts
them towards the stars and skies, ungrateful Jove
regarding; but her voice accuses not.
Afraid to rest in unfrequented woods,
she wandered in the fields that once were hers,
around her well-known dwelling. Over crags,
in terror, she was driven by the cries
of hounds; and many a time she fled in fear,
a huntress from the hunters, or she hid
from savage animals; forgetting her
transformed condition. Changed into a bear,
she fled affrighted from the bears that haunt
the rugged mountains; and she feared and fled
the wolves,—although her father was a wolf.
When thrice five birthdays rounded out the youth
of Arcas, offspring of Lycaon's child,
he hunted in the forest of his choice;
where, hanging with his platted nets the trees
of Erymanthian forest, he espied
his transformed mother,—but he knew her not;
no one had told him of his parentage.
Knowing her child, she stood with levelled gaze,
amazed and mute as he began approach;
but Arcas, frightened at the sight drew back
to pierce his mother's breast with wounding spear.—
but not permitting it the god of Heaven
averted, and removed them from that crime.
He, in a mighty wind—through vacant space,
upbore them to the dome of starry heaven,
and fixed them, Constellations, bright amid
the starry host.
Juno on high beheld
Calisto crowned with glory—great with rage
her bosom heaved. She flew across the sea,
to hoary Tethys and to old Oceanus,
whom all the Gods revere, and thus to them
in answer to their words she made address;
“And is it wondered that the Queen of Gods
comes hither from ethereal abodes?
My rival sits upon the Throne of Heaven:
yea, when the wing of Night has darkened
let my fair word be deemed of no repute,
if you behold not in the height of Heaven
those new made stars, now honoured to my shame,
conspicuous; fixed in the highest dome of space
that circles the utmost axis of the world.
“Who, then, should hesitate to put affront
on Juno? matchless goddess! each offense
redounds in benefit! Who dreads her rage?
Oh boundless powers! Oh unimagined deeds!
My enemy assumes a goddess' form
when my decree deprives her human shape;—
and thus the guilty rue their chastisement!
“Now let high Jove to human shape transform
this hideous beast, as once before he changed
his Io from a heifer.—Let him now
divorce his Juno and consort with her,
and lead Calisto to his couch, and take
that wolf, Lycaon, for a father-in-law!
“Oh, if an injury to me, your child,
may move your pity! drive the Seven Stars
from waters crystalline and azure-tint,
and your domain debar from those that shine
in Heaven, rewarded for Jove's wickedness.—
bathe not a concubine in waters pure.”—
(Ovid. Metamorphoses. Brookes More. Boston. Cornhill Publishing Co. 1922.)
At pater omnipotens ingentia moenia caeli
circuit et ne quid labefactum viribus ignis
corruat explorat. Quae postquam firma suique
roboris esse videt terras hominumque labores
perspicit. Arcadiae tamen est impensior illi
cura suae: fontes et nondum audentia labi
flumina restituit dat terrae gramina, frondes
arboribus, laesasque iubet revirescere silvas.
Dum redit itque frequens, In virgine Nonacrina
haesit et accepti caluere sub ossibus ignes.
Non erat huius opus lanam mollire trahendo
nec positu variare comas; ubi fibula vestem,
vitta coercuerat neglectos alba capillos,
et modo leve manu iaculum, modo sumpserat arcum,
miles erat Phoebes: nec Maenalon attigit ulla
gratior hac Triviae. Sed nulla potentia longa est.
Ulterius medio spatium sol altus habebat,
cum subit illa nemus, quod nulla ceciderat aetas.
Exuit hic umero pharetram lentosque retendit
arcus, inque solo, quod texerat herba, iacebat
et pictam posita pharetram cervice premebat.
Iuppiter ut vidit fessam et custode vacantem,
“hoc certe furtum coniunx mea nesciet” inquit,
“aut si rescierit sunt o sunt iurgia tanti.”
Protinus induitur faciem cultumque Dianae
atque ait: “O comitum, virgo, pars una mearum,
in quibus es venata iugis?” De caespite virgo
se levat et “salve numen, me indice”, dixit
“audiat ipse licet maius Iove.” Ridet et audit,
et sibi praeferri se gaudet et oscula iungit
nec moderata satis nec sic a virgine danda.
Qua venata foret silva, narrare parantem
impedit amplexu, nec se sine crimine prodit.
Illa quidem contra, quantum modo femina possit
(adspiceres utinam, Saturnia: mitior esses !),
illa quidem pugnat: sed quem superare puella,
quisve Iovem poterat? — Superum petit aethera victor
Iuppiter: huic odio nemus est et conscia silva.
Unde pedem referens paene est oblita pharetram
tollere cum telis et quem suspenderat arcum.
Ecce, suo comitata choro Dictynna per altum
Maenalon ingrediens et caede superba ferarum
adspicit hanc visamque vocat: clamata refugit,
et timuit primo, ne Iuppiter esset in illa.
Sed postquam pariter nymphas incedere vidit,
sensit abesse dolos numerumque accessit ad harum.
Heu quam difficile est crimen non prodere vultu!
Vix oculos attollit humo, nec, ut ante solebat,
iuncta deae lateri, nec toto est agmine prima,
sed silet et laesi dat signa rubore pudoris;
et nisi quod virgo est poterat sentire Diana
mille notis culpam; nymphae sensisse feruntur.
Orbe resurgebant lunaria cornua nono,
cum dea venatu, fraternis languida flammis,
nacta nemus gelidum, de quo cum murmure labens
ibat et attritas versabat rivus harenas.
Ut loca laudavit, summas pede contigit undas:
his quoque laudatis “procul est” ait “arbiter omnis;
nuda superfusis tingamus corpora lymphis.”
Parrhasis erubuit. Cunctae velamina ponunt:
una moras quaerit. Dubitanti vestis adempta est;
qua posita nudo patuit cum corpore crimen.
Attonitae manibusque uterum celare volenti
“i procul hinc” dixit “nec sacros pollue fontes”
Cynthia; deque suo iussit secedere coetu.
Senserat hoc olim magni matrona Tonantis
distuleratque graves in idonea tempora poenas.
Causa morae nulla est, et iam puer Arcas (id ipsum
indoluit Iuno) fuerat de paelice natus.
Quo simul obvertit saevam cum lumine mentem,
“scilicet hoc etiam restabat, adultera” dixit,
“ut fecunda fores, fieretque iniuria partu
nota, Iovisque mei testatum dedecus esset.
Haud impune feres: adimam tibi nempe figuram,
qua tibi, quaque places nostro, importuna, marito.”
Dixit et adversa prensis a fronte capillis
stravit humi pronam. Tendebat bracchia supplex:
bracchia coeperunt nigris horrescere villis
curvarique manus et aduncos crescere in ungues
officioque pedum fungi, laudataque quondam
ora Iovi lato fieri deformia rictu.
Neve preces animos et verba precantia flectant
posse loqui eripitur; vox iracunda minaxque
plenaque terroris rauco de gutture fertur.
485Mens antiqua tamen facta quoque mansit in ursa,
adsiduoque suos gemitu testata dolores
qualescumque manus ad caelum et sidera tollit
ingratumque Iovem, nequeat cum dicere, sentit.
A quotiens, sola non ausa quiescere silva,
ante domum quondamque suis erravit in agris!
A quotiens per saxa canum latratibus acta est
venatrixque metu venantum territa fugit!
Saepe feris latuit visis, oblita quid esset,
ursaque conspectos in montibus horruit ursos
pertimuitque lupos, quamvis pater esset in illis.
Ecce, Lycaoniae proles, ignara parentis,
Arcas adest, ter quinque fere natalibus actis:
dumque feras sequitur, dum saltus eligit aptos
nexilibusque plagis silvas Erymanthidas ambit,
incidit in matrem; quae restitit Arcade viso
et cognoscenti similis fuit. Ille refugit
inmotosque oculos in se sine fine tenentem
nescius extimuit propiusque accedere aventi
vulnifico fuerat fixurus pectora telo.
Arcuit omnipotens pariterque ipsosque nefasque
sustulit, et celeri raptos per inania vento
imposuit caelo vicinaque sidera fecit.
Intumuit Iuno, postquam inter sidera paelex
fulsit et ad canam descendit in aequora Tethyn
Oceanumque senem, quorum reverentia movit
saepe deos, causamque viae scitantibus infit:
“Quaeritis, aetheriis quare regina deorum
sedibus huc adsim? pro me tenet altera caelum.
Mentiar, obscurum nisi nox cum fecerit orbem,
nuper honoratas summo, mea vulnera, caelo
videritis stellas illic, ubi circulus axem
ultimus extremum spatioque brevissimus ambit.
Est vero, cur quis Iunonem laedere nolit
offensamque tremat, quae prosum sola nocendo?
O ego quantum egi! quam vasta potentia nostra est!
Esse hominem vetui: facta est dea. Sic ego poenas
sontibus impono, sic est mea magna potestas.
Vindicet antiquam faciem vultusque ferinos
detrahat, Argolica quod in ante Phoronide fecit.
Cur non et pulsa ducit Iunone meoque
collocat in thalamo socerumque Lycaona sumit?
At vos si laesae tangit contemptus alumnae,
gurgite caeruleo septem prohibete triones
sideraque in caelo, stupri mercede, recepta
pellite, ne puro tingatur in aequore paelex.”