A Child's Book of Myths and Enchantment Tales  by Margaret Evans Price

Arcas and Callisto

T HERE was once in Arcady a fair and gentle nymph named Callisto. The gods had given her many graces and blessings, the greatest of which was her little son Arcas.

Jupiter himself was so pleased with Callisto's goodness and charm that he came often to visit her and watch her at play with Arcas.

These visits filled Juno with anger, and she planned a cruel punishment for Callisto. Wrapping herself in her long gray cloak, the goddess descended from Mount Olympus, passing through the dusky cloud gates down to the earth. She found Callisto just awakening in her forest bower. Her rosy little son Arcas lay asleep beside her.

Juno made herself invisible and waited until Callisto rose and came out of her bower. Then, touching the nymph on her shoulder, she changed her into a great furry bear.

Poor Callisto saw her slender white fingers change into long claws, and her arms grow black and hairy. She fell to the earth and began to walk on all fours. Then Juno returned to Mount Olympus.

When the other nymphs came to seek Callisto, they could not find her. Only a great hairy bear stood in the entrance to the bower, trying to fondle the little boy Arcas and turn him over with her paw as he lay asleep.


A great hairy bear was trying to fondle the little Arcas.

The nymphs drove the bear away, although it looked back at them sadly as they flung sticks and stones after it.

Thinking that the bear had killed Callisto, the maidens took Arcas to a shepherd, who loved and cared for him.

Sometimes the shepherd saw a bear prowling around his hut, trying to look in at the window or the door. He drove the beast away and flung his spear at it, until at last the poor thing was afraid to come near the hut, and stayed at the edge of the woods, watching always for a sight of the little boy who lived with the shepherd.

Sometimes Arcas would stray near the forest, gathering flowers or playing with his ball. Then the bear would run to greet him, growling softly and kindly, but the child always screamed and ran back.


Arcas plays with his ball.

When Arcas grew old enough, the shepherd taught him to use a spear and took him hunting.

As long as the shepherd was with Arcas, Callisto hid herself. But one day the youth came alone, holding his spear in his hand and feeling very brave and proud.

Callisto stood on her hind legs and came toward him, holding out her great paws, trying to speak and tell him that she was his mother, enchanted into this wild beast. Arcas saw her coming and raised his spear to kill the bear, but something held his arm and the spear was not thrown.

Jupiter, watching over Arcas on his first hunt, had seen beneath the bear's fur and hairy paws, and knew that this was the nymph Callisto.

He stayed the hand of Arcas, and took away his spear. He could not undo Juno's evil work, so he changed Arcas into a young bear. At once he understood his mother and knew what she had been trying to tell him.


Jupiter stayed the hand of Arcas, and took away his spear.

Callisto and Arcas would have been happy to roam the woods together, but Jupiter thought of something far better for them. As the Great Bear and the Little Bear he took them up into the heavenly realms and gave them the sky for their playground.

Juno was angry when she saw the new constellations placed among the stars, but she could not interfere because Jupiter was the ruler of the heavens.


Juno was angry when she saw the new constellations.

So she went to Neptune, the god who ruled the sea, and made him promise her that he would forbid the bears to rest like the other stars beneath the ocean.

And so the Big Bear and the Little Bear, always moving around near the Pole, stay forever in the sky, but being near each other they are happy, and have learned to rest content among the clouds.