Study Guide

Callisto Context

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The whole story of Callisto is really all just one big whopping explanation of the origins of the constellations, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor (a.k.a. Great Bear and Lesser Bear). Kind of a convoluted story to get there, huh? The Greeks looked up in the sky, saw a cluster of stars that kind of reminded them of some bears, and then somebody was like, "Ah, dude, I bet I know where they came from." Thousands of years later, we're sitting here thinking about that story—crazy.

That tale of Callisto's seduction by Zeus and her subsequent transformations into a bear and then a constellation has been around for a super long time. In fact, it was around even before people bothered to write stories down at all. Eventually, though, some famous poets took a stab a telling the tale on paper—er, papyrus? One of the earliest versions that we know about was a tragedy by Aeschylus called Callisto, but unfortunately it's been lost. The most complete versions that we still have today are in Hesiod's Astronomica and Ovid's Metamorphoses.

Unfortunately, nobody's ever bothered to make a movie or TV show about Callisto's downfall. (At least not that we know of.) Seriously, TV-movie people, don't you see how juicy this story is? Regardless, Callisto's name has been borrowed for some other popular characters, though. One of Xena's worst enemies was named Callisto on Xena: Warrior Princess, and there's a tough-as-nails mutant named Callisto in the world of X-Men. Would Callisto be proud of her no-joke namesakes? We say, yes. Yes, indeed.

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