T HE Greeks did not know that the stars were worlds, but fancied that they were the homes of bright spirits who once had lived on earth. In fact, they often spoke as if the stars were the spirits themselves.
In the northern sky are seven bright stars arranged in a peculiar order, which have been noticed and admired from very early times.
These are sometimes call the "Dipper," but they are part of a group named the "Great Bear."
It was said that Hera was angry with a woman called Callisto and changed her into a bear. Instead of being beautiful she became frightful, and dogs and hunters chased her through the forest. She still kept her human knowledge and feelings, and was afraid, not only of the hunters, but of the wild beasts among whom she must live. For many years she remained in that miserable condition.
When she lived among mankind she had a son whom she dearly loved; but when she was a bear she did not dare go near him. He had grown up, when she met him one day in the woods, and ran toward him, forgetting that she was a wild beast.
The lad was afraid, and was just about to kill her with his hunting spear. Zeus, who saw this, was sorry for both. He caught them up into heaven and set them there. The mother is the "Great Bear," and another smaller group of stars near by is called the "Little Bear."
These stars move always around the North Pole, and never set in the ocean as other stars seem to do. The last star in the tail of the Little Bear is the Polar Star.
Poseidon had a son named Orion. He was a giant and very fond of hunting. His father had taught him how to walk under water, or, as some say, on the water.
He loved Merope, daughter of the king of Chios, who told him that he must clear that island of wild beasts before he could claim his bride. Orion went into the forest every day, and at night carried to the king the skins of the beasts he had killed. When there were no more wolves or bears on the island, he said, "Now, give me your daughter."
But the king made so many excuses that Orion tried to carry off the girl. Her father was angry. He gave wine to Orion, and, when he had taken too much, blinded him with hot irons, and threw him out on the seashore.
When he came to himself he wandered around until he heard the noise of a hammer. He followed it and came to the place where Hephæstus was working. The blacksmith was sorry for the poor blind giant, and sent a man to lead him into the sun. They went eastward until they met Apollo, who gave Orion his sight again.
He then became a hunter for Artemis. She loved him and would have married him, but her brother, the sun-god, did not like that, and determined to prevent it. One day he saw Orion wading in the sea with his head just out of water.
"Sister," said Apollo, "you think you are a good shot with your arrows."
"Yes, I am," she said.
"Well, do you see that black thing bobbing up and down in the sea? I don't believe you can hit that in three trials."
"You shall see," cried Artemis. She shot one arrow, and the black thing disappeared. After a while the waves rolled poor Orion to the shore. Artemis was very sorry, but she could not bring back his life. She could only set him among the stars, where he shines on winter nights. Three bright stars are his belt. Look up into the sky any clear night in December, and you can see his belt, and, hanging below it, his sword.
His dog, Sirius, is at his heels, and the Pleiades fly before him. They were seven sisters who hunted with Artemis. One day in his lifetime Orion chased them, and they prayed to the gods for help. Zeus changed them into pigeons, but afterward set them into the sky as a group of stars. We can only see six now, because, it is said, one of them could not bear to look down and see the burning city of Troy. Her son had founded that city, and she was so sorry for its ruin that she went away, and since then has never been seen. She is called "The Lost Pleiad." Her sisters were so grieved that since then they have shone with a paler light.
There is another group of stars, called the Hyades, of which this story was told. When the god of wine, Dionysus, or Bacchus, was a little child, his mother, [...], died, and he was left helpless. A family of sisters pitied him, and took care of him until he was grown up. The king of the gods was greatly pleased with their kindness, and to reward them took them up to heaven, and made them shine like stars. They are often called "the rainy Hyades."
Other constellations or clusters of stars were supposed to be shaped like animals. Not only were there two bears, but also a lion, a bull, a ram, a goat, a crab, a scorpion, and two fishes. Among these the sun journeyed every day, though his bright light hid them from human eyes.