Etymology – In Ancient Greek: Ὑάδες “the rainy ones.” The Greek word: hyein – “to rain.” It may also come from the Greek word hys or hus for “swine.” Latin – Suculae, “Suckling-pigs” or “little pigs.”
In Greek mythology, the Hyades are the five daughters of Atlas as well as the half-sisters of the Pleiades. As minor goddesses or nymphs, they are associated with bringing rain and stormy weather.
In astronomy, the Hyades are one of two star clusters or asterisms found within the Taurus constellation. The Hyades are a V-shape pattern that forms the face of the Bull.
The Hyades star cluster is also known by the names of Melotte 25 and Collinder 50. It is the nearest open cluster to our Solar System and the most well known and studied of all star clusters found so far. From the Earth’s perspective, the Hyades Cluster appears to be part of the Taurus constellation with the red star known as Aldebaran forming the Bull’s Eye. Astronomy has since found that the star Aldebaran is much closer to the Earth than the Taurus constellation, it just happens to be along the same line of sight.
Like many constellations and asterisms, the Hyades have been known since Paleolithic times and have numerous references to them in many classical works from authors such as Homor and Ovid.
The Hyades star cluster was very likely cataloged for the first time in 1654 by Giovanni Batista Hodierna. It should be noted that as often as this asterism has appeared in other star atlases, Charles Messier didn’t include Hyades in his 1781 catalog for deep sky objects. As a result, this star cluster lacks any Messier numbers though the Pleiades stars do have Messier numbers attached to them.
While a number of stars can be seen with the naked eye, the use of binoculars and telescopes show that there are far more stars found within the Hyades asterism. Astronomers estimate these numbers into several hundred stars that lies some 150 light years away from our own galaxy.
The Hyades were known as Raedgastran, Raedgasnan, and Redgaesrum to the Anglo-Saxons. Just what the names meant, isn’t known any more. Another name of the Boar-Throng may have been the name of this asterism instead of the Orion constellation.
The Arabs called the Hyades star cluster by the names of Al Mijdah, a Triangular Spoon or Al Kilas, “Little She-Camels.” Al Kilas referred to the larger star of Aldebaran as the Large Camel.
As Al Kilas, the star cluster features in an Arabic story where they are driven before the Large Camel represented by the star Aldebaran. The Large Camel had tried to woo the Al Thurayya, the Pleiades star cluster. Some of the She Camels turned him down due to his being poor. Later, when the Large Camel has come into wealth, he tries to woo them again. The Al Kilas represent those She-Camels that turned him down and were thus driven away.
The word Al Kallas, meaning the Boiling Sea has also been connected to the Hyades star cluster and connecting it to the Greek and Roman mythos for predicting rain and storms.
More commonly, the Hyades are known as Al Dabaran, from the 1515 Almagest and also found in the Alfonsine Tables dating from 1521.
The name Al Dabaran is identical with the name for the second manzil or Arabic Moon Mansion.
Incidentally, the Moon or Lunar Mansions are the stations of measurement for the elliptic path that the moon moves through as it orbits around the earth.
The Hyades feature in the second sieu, part of the Chinese Moon Mansion. The asterism was known as Pi, Peih or more anciently as Pal, representing a Hand-net or Rabbit-net. It was also known as the Star of the Hunter and among astrologers, as the Drought Car.
The last title seems a misnomer as the Hyades were associated with rain just as they are in the west with ancient Greece and Rome. Among the Chinese, this asterism was seen as Yu Shi, a General or Ruler of Rain and worshipped as such from around 1100 B.C.E. This seems to have been introduced from western Asia where the alignments of the stars do coincide with rainy seasons.
The adjacent stars were seen as Tien Lin, the Celestial Public Granary and the whole of the asterism was known as an Announcer of Invasion on the Border.
In Hindu Astronomy, the Hyades stars are called Rohini and the second nakshatra or Hindu Moon Mansion is also known by this name. To the Hindus, they saw in this asterism a Temple or Wagon. Several allusions are made to it in the Siddhantas, a term used in many differing standard astronomical books.
The Hyades asterism has been identified with that of Mazzaroth, made mention of in Job 38:31, 32; and 2 Kings 23:5. There’s a lot of conjecture as to what star or stars that Mazzaroth represents, but not enough conclusive evidence to make a determination.
Parentage and Family
Atlas is often considered the father of the Hyades. Their mother will be listed as either Pleione or Aethra, one of the Oceanides.
Another version told by ancient Greek scholar Alexander lists Hyas and Boeotia as the Hyades parents and thus the reasoning for their names. Their half-sisters are called the Pleiades due to being daughters of Atlas and Pleione.
The nymphs Thyone and Prodice are mentioned as the daughters of Hyas and Aethra.
Other fathers listed for the Hyades are: Oceanus, Melisseus, Cadmilus or or Erechtheus.
The Greek author Nonnus gives the river god Lamos as being the father of the Hyades.
The Pleiades are frequently mentioned as being half sisters.
The Hesperides are also mentioned as sisters
Hyas is their brother and all versions of the stories typically agree on him being the sources of the Hyades’ name.
So How Many Sisters Are There?
That number can vary. Usually it’s listed as five, but the earliest sources for the Hyades myth will list as few as three with later versions listing as many as fifteen sisters all together. And as there are so many nymphs in Greek mythology with some of them sharing the same name, it can get confusing as to who’s who and matching them up as to what their domain, area or region is, however minor, they belong.
The names of these sisters are given as:
Ambrosia – Also a Maenad, she is among those who followed the god Dionysus on his campaign to India. When they encountered King Lycurgus, Ambrosia hurled a stone at him. Lycurgus tried to catch her and Ambrosia turned into a grapevine and managed to entrap him instead. One of the nurse-maids of Dionysus.
Cleeia – Sometimes spelled Kleeia. ”Famous” or “Illustrious”
Coronis – Also spelled Koronis. “Arched” or “Curved” One of the nurse-maids of Dionysus.
Dione – Or Thyone. One of the nurse-maids of Dionysus. A later addition to the Hyades grouping of sisters. Her name had originally been Semele and in some versions she is the mortal mother of Dionysus before she became a goddess of the frenzy caused by her son.
Eudora – “Well-Gifted” One of the nurse-maids of Dionysus. One of two Eudoras who was a nurse-maid, the second Eudora is listed as a Maenad, one of Dionysus’ followers.
Pedile – One of the nurse-maids of Dionysus and later one of his Maenad followers.
Phaeo – Also spelled Phaio or Phaeote. “Shining” One of the nurse-maids of Dionysus.
Phaisyle – Also spelled Phaesyle, Phaesyla or Aesyle. “Shining” One of the nurse-maids of Dionysus.
Phyto – One of the nurse-maids of Dionysus and later one of his Maenad followers.
Polyxo – One of the nurse-maids of Dionysus. This Polyxo is also listed as one of the Maenads who tried to kill King Lycurgus. This can get confusing as she is one of two Polyxos who was a nurse-maid, the second Polyxo is also one of Dionysus’ Maenad followers.
Prodice – Not much is known other then that she’s listed as a daughter of Hyas and Aethra.
The Roman author Servius gives another list of names for five names of the Hyades. They are: Pytho, Synecho, Baccho, Cardie, Niseis.
Hyginus mentions Idothea, Althaea, and Adraste as names of the Hyades.
Diodorus lists Philia, Coronis, and Cleis.
Suffice to say, that nearly every Greek author and writer mentions and lists a different number or group of names for the Hyades.
The Death Of Hyas
This is one of the main myths and story of the Hyades and accounts for why they are named so.
This group of sisters had a brother by the name of Hyas who is killed in a hunting accident by either a lion or a boar while in Libya.
On the news of his death, these sisters were so grievous and weeping of their brother’s loss, that Zeus took pity on them and placed them up into the heavens, forming the Hyades asterism and the “V-shape” of the Taurus constellation. The tears of their grief became associated with the coming of rain.
As for Hyas, the gods placed him up in the heavens to become the Aquarius constellation and the lion that killed him became the Leo constellation. Both were placed on opposite ends of the heavens in order to protect Hyas. Making for the ancient Greeks explanations of why neither constellation appears together in the night sky, so that as one constellation sets in the west, the other is rising in the east.
A minor variation to the story of Hyas’ death is that he drowned in a well. Though, this could account for a connection to the Aquarius constellation. Another variation of this story has the sisters so over come with grief that they commit suicide.
According to Pseudo-Hyginus’ Astronomica, only five of the daughters of Atlas and Aethra morned the death of their brother Hyas and would become known as the Hyades star cluster. The rest of the sisters are the ones known collectively as Pleiades.
The Hyades were also connected with the Naiades Mysiai, in which their brother is substituted in for a lover (albeit slight name change) Hylas. Which case, the Hyades were grieving the loss of a lover.
Hyas – A Mystical Surname
If the Hyades didn’t get their name for their dead brother and he isn’t their father, then the name Hyas or Hyes has been noted to have been one of the gods Dionysus’ many epitaphs.
Care-Takers Of Dionysus
This is another myth that can get confusing with the Hyades. For one, there is more than one group of nymphs who are associated with having been the care-takers, nurses or tutors for a young Dionysus.
The other groups of nymphs associated with Dionysus’ upbringing are the Nysiads of whom the Hyades are frequently seen as just being the same nymphs. The other nymphs are the Lamides, the Dodonides and the Naxos nymphs.
When Hera, the wife of Zeus died, he appointed the Hyades sisters to care for his infant son Dionysus. Later on, these sisters were immortalized and placed up into the Heavens becoming part of the Taurus constellation by Zeus.
But doesn’t another myth place Dionysus as having been thrown off the side of Olympus by Hera? And another myth mentions Dionysus getting sewn into Zeus’ thigh to rescue him. And then Dionysus has a mortal mother, Semele whom he goes and rescues from Hades and she becomes a goddess, changing her name to Thyone.
A final version or sources for the myths with the nymphs who reared Dionysus is that they were all mortal and would thus age. Dionysus wanting to express his gratitude petitioned the goddess Medea to make them young again and immortal.
The Hyades who acted as Nurses for Dionysus are: Ambrosia, Coronis, Dione, Eudora, Pedile, Phaeo, Phaisyle, Phyto, and Polyxo.
Dionysus Versus Lycurgus
Some of the Hyades were known for being part of Dionysus retinue. When they confronted King Lycurgus, a battle broke out. All of the Hyades, except for Ambrosia fled with an infant Dionysus to Thetis or Thebes where they gave him to Ino, daughter of Cadmus who would later become a goddess in her own right. Ino incidentally, is also the sister to Semele, Dionysus’ mortal mother.
Once Dionysus was safe with his aunt for safe keeping, Zeus out of gratitude then places the Hyades up into the heavens to honor them. And it is here too that Dionysus petitions the goddess Medea to restore the Hyades to their youth.
If ancient writers and even more current writers are confusing Ino with Juno, I can see where a lot of the mix-ups are coming from Dionysus’ parentage and just who among the Hyades, other Nymphs and assorted followers were his care-takers. For the Romans equated their goddess Juno with the Greek Goddess Hera.
Out Of Reach!
The Hyades, like the Pleaides are also purposely placed within the heavens to be out of reach of Orion’s lustful advances.
Harbingers Of Rain
The Hyades are associated with rain as they are most visible during the autumn season when it rains. The Greeks believed that the heliacal rising and setting of the Hyades star cluster in November and in April marked the beginning of their rainy season.
In England, Hyades is known as the “April Rainers” from their association with the spring time rains of this month. The folk song: “Green Grow the Rushes, O” makes mention of this connection.
The Romans weren’t immune to mistranslations and assumed that when hearing the word Hyas or Hyein, that it was hus, meaning pig. So when they went to name and catalog the night sky, they called the Hyades star cluster by the name of Suculae, meaning little pigs.
It’s a connection worth noting as a lot of Roman writers refer to the use the word Sus for Sow with the Greek Us and Homer’s Sus. Pliny makes note of the star cluster for the constant rainy season that causes the roads to get muddy or miry as if the stars seemed delight in dirt like pigs do.
Roman rhetorician Cicero knew of this mistranslation and makes commentary in his De Natura Deorum, calling his nation stupid for insisting on still referring to Hyades by the name of Suculae.
The idea has also been put forward that the connection of Pigs with the Hyades star cluster is that shape resembles that of a pig’s jaw. Another connection is that the star Aldebarran and its companion stars were like a sow with her litter.
Another translation is from an Isidorus who says the name Suculae comes from the Latin sucus meaning “moisture” and that this may be a more correct translation and meaning for the Roman name of this star cluster.
The shape the Hyades star cluster forms in the night sky appears as the Greek letter for Upsilon or U. This makes when looking at spelling variations of Uades before it changes to a “cultured” Latin spelling of Hyades. And hyein meaning “to rain” was spelled “uein.” Sort of an ancient Greek U is for Uein in the night sky and making it easy for the ancient Greeks to tell the time of year and when to expect rain. The U shape is also close enough to resemble the Roman’s V symbol. Interestingly, the symbol used for upsilon was also used by Pythagoras for human life.
The Shield Of Achilles
In the Iliad, the Hyades asterism along with Pleiades, Ursa Major and Orion are all described as being on the shield that the god Hephaestus made for Achilles.
The brightest star found in the Taurus constellation is Alpha Tauri or Aldebaran, from the Arabic language meaning: “The follower” (of the Pleiades). It is part of the group of stars known as the Hyades that form the Bull’s face. Aldebaranm being a giant red star, is seen as being the Bull’s bloodshot eye. This eye is often said to be glaring at the constellation of Orion the Hunter. Incidentally, Alderbaran is the 13th brightest star in the night sky.
The Chinese refer to Alderbaran as the Fifth Star of the Net. The Inuit call it the Spirit of the Polar Bear. The Seris of Mexico believe that Alderbaran provides light for seven women giving birth (the Pleiades). The Dakotas of North America saw Alderbaran as a hero chasing a white buffalo, again the Pleiades.
It should be noted, that properly Aldebaran is not a true member of the Hyades cluster and has only been associated with it due to where it appears within the night sky and the whole of the Taurus constellation. Compared to the rest of the Hyades cluster, Aldebaran is located much closer to earth than them.
Sisters In Myth, But Not In Astronomy
While in Greek legends the Hyades and Pleiades are half sisters, when it comes to astronomy, the two star clusters aren’t related at all.
Astronomers have found that the Pleiades star cluster is composed of hot blue-white suns, placing the age of this cluster to be some 100 million years old. The Hyades star cluster is composed of cooler red giant and white dwarf stars that place this cluster being far older at over 700 million years old.
Further, astronomers suspect that the Hyades star cluster and the Beehive star cluster found within the Cancer constellation may be related and have originated from the same gaseous nebula some 700-800 million years ago before drifting apart.
Posted on June 14, 2014, in Anglo-Saxon, Arabian, Camel, Cattle - Bull/Cow, Chinese, Christian, Constellations, Death, Deity, Greek, Grief, Hindu, Immortal, Lion, Love, Maenad, Nurse-Maid, Nymph, Pig, Rain, Roman, Sisters, Storms. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.