"Fairest." Is sometimes called a daughter of Lycaon in Arcadia and sometimes of Nycteus or Ceteus, and sometimes also she is described as a nymph.1 She was a huntress, and a companion of Artemis. Zeus, however, enjoyed her charms; and, in order that the deed might not become known to Hera, he metamorphosed her into a she-bear. But, notwithstanding this precaution, Callisto was slain by Artemis during the chase, through the contrivance of Hera. Arcas, the son of Callisto, was given by Zeus to Maia to be brought up, and Callisto was placed among the stars under the name of Arctos.2
According to Hyginus, Artemis herself metamorphosed Callisto, as she discovered her pregnancy in the bath. Ovid3 makes Juno (Hera) metamorphose Callisto; and when Arcas during the chase was on the point of killing his mother, Jupiter (Zeus) placed both among the stars.
The Arcadians showed the tomb of Callisto thirty stadia from the well Cruni: it was on a hill planted with trees, and on the top of the hill there was a temple of Artemis Calliste or Callisto.4 A statue of Callisto was dedicated at Delphi by the citizens of Tegea.5
While tradition throughout describes Callisto as a companion of Artemis, Müller6 endeavors to show that Callisto is only another form of the name of Artemis Calliste, as he infers from the fact, that the tomb of the heroine was connected with the temple of the goddess, and from Callisto being changed into a she-bear, which was the symbol of the Arcadian Artemis. This view has indeed nothing surprising, if we recollect that in many other instances also an attribute of a god was transformed by popular belief into a distinct divinity. Her being mixed up with the Arcadian genealogies is thus explained by Müller: the daughter of Lycaon means the daughter of the Lycaean Zeus; the mother of Arcas is equivalent to the mother of the Arcadian people.
An coin from Arcadia (fourth century BCE) depicts the punishment of Callisto. A silver vase (third century BCE) shows Zeus, in the guise of Artemis, approaching the unsuspecting maiden. In the Lesche of Delphi Callisto was painted by Polygnotus, wearing the skin of a bear instead of a dress.6 The same subject is used by Tiziano, Rubes, Poussin, and Boucher.
- Scholiast on Euripides' Orestes, 1642; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 8.2; comp. Hyginus. Poetical Astronomy, ii, 1.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus, l.c.
- Metamorphoses ii, 410 ff.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece viii, 35.7.
- ibid. x, 9.3.
- Die Dorier, ii, 9.3.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece x, 31.3.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.