The Pleiades (/ˈpliːədiːz,ˈpleɪ-,ˈplaɪ-/;Greek: Πλειάδες, Ancient Greek pronunciation: [pleːádes]), were the seven sister-nymphs, companions of Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. Together with their seven sisters, the Hyades, they were called the Atlantides, Dodonides, or Nysiades, nursemaids and teachers of the infant Dionysus. The Pleiades were thought to have been translated to the night sky as a cluster of stars, the Pleiades, and were associated with rain.
The name Pleiades ostensibly derived from the name of their mother, Pleione, effectively meaning "daughters of Pleione". However, the name of the star-cluster likely came first, and Pleione was invented to explain it. According to another suggestion Pleiades derived from πλεῖν (plein , "to sail") because of the cluster's importance in delimiting the sailing season in the Mediterranean Sea: "the season of navigation began with their heliacal rising".
After Atlas was forced to carry the heavens on his shoulders, Orion began to pursue all of the Pleiades, and Zeus transformed them first into doves, and then into stars to comfort their father. The constellation of Orion is said to still pursue them across the night sky.
One of the most memorable myths involving the Pleiades is the story of how these sisters literally became stars, their catasterism. According to some versions of the tale, all seven sisters committed suicide because they were so saddened by either the fate of their father, Atlas, or the loss of their siblings, the Hyades. In turn Zeus, the ruler of the Greek gods, immortalized the sisters by placing them in the sky. There these seven stars formed the star cluster known thereafter as the Pleiades.
The Greek poet Hesiod mentions the Pleiades several times in his Works and Days. As the Pleiades are primarily winter stars, they feature prominently in the ancient agricultural calendar. Here is a bit of advice from Hesiod:
And if longing seizes you for sailing the stormy seas,
when the Pleiades flee mighty Orion
and plunge into the misty deep
and all the gusty winds are raging,
then do not keep your ship on the wine-dark sea
but, as I bid you, remember to work the land.
— Works and Days 618–623
The Pleiades would "flee mighty Orion and plunge into the misty deep" as they set in the West, which they would begin to do just before dawn during October–November, a good time of the year to lay up your ship after the fine summer weather and "remember to work the land"; in Mediterranean agriculture autumn is the time to plough and sow.
The poetess Sappho mentions the Pleiades in one of her poems:
The moon has gone The Pleiades gone In dead of night Time passes on I lie alone
Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising through the mellow shade, Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid.
The loss of one of the sisters, Merope, in some myths may reflect an astronomical event wherein one of the stars in the Pleiades star cluster disappeared from view by the naked eye.
Although most accounts are uniform as to the number, names, and main myths concerning the Pleiades, the mythological information recorded by a scholiast on Theocritus' Idylls with reference to Callimachus has nothing in common with the traditional version. According to it, the Pleiades were daughters of an Amazonian queen; their names were Maia, Coccymo, Glaucia, Protis, Parthenia, Stonychia, and Lampado. They were credited with inventing ritual dances and nighttime festivals.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Pleiades (mythology).
Apollodorus, Apollodorus, The Library, with an English Translation by Sir James George Frazer, F.B.A., F.R.S. in 2 Volumes. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921. ISBN 0-674-99135-4. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
Homer, The Iliad with an English Translation by A.T. Murray, Ph.D. in two volumes. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1924. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
Homer, The Odyssey with an English Translation by A.T. Murray, Ph.D. in two volumes. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1919. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
Hyginus, Gaius Julius, Fabulae in Apollodorus' Library and Hyginus' Fabulae: Two Handbooks of Greek Mythology, Translated, with Introductions by R. Scott Smith and Stephen M. Trzaskoma, Hackett Publishing Company, 2007. ISBN 978-0-87220-821-6.