GREEK MYTH OF PLEIADES IN THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF NATURAL DISASTERS.
DECODING, DATING AND ENVIRONMENTAL INTERPRETATION
the Assessment of Natural Hazards and Proactive Planning
Technical University of Athens)(NTUA), GREECE
The strong multi-symbolic archetype of the Pleiades functions
as a worldwide astromythological system going back to Upper Palaeolithic
Era. The Greek version of the myth seems to embody a wide range
of environmental symbolism, as it incorporates various information
and very archaic elements about: a) the periodicity of the solstices
and the equinoxes, b) the fluctuations on the biochemical structure
of Earth's atmosphere related to the global hydro -climatic phenomenon
of ENSO, c) probable past observations of brightening of a star
(nova) in the cluster of Pleiades, d) the primordial elements
of the mythological nucleus of Atlantis' legend and e) the remnants
of Palaeolithic 'proto-European' moon culture.
El Nino, Archaeomythology, Astromythology, Archaeoastronomy,
The Archaeology of Natural Disasters (Blaikie et al. 1994; Byrne 1997; Torrence and
Grattan 2002; World 2002):
a) defines the identity, the impact and the dynamics of natural
hazards into the evolution of human civilization (biological,
ecological, environmental, socio-economic, political, technological,
geographical and cultural results), b) tries to find and analyze
the kinds, frequency and magnitude of natural hazards that are
hidden in the
"archaeological landscapes", c) searches for
the adaptation process in past human societies and the "unfamiliar
landscapes" formed after natural disasters.
On the other hand, the major task in studying the ancient myths
is to realize the realms of various human mental areas and distinguish
between allegory/ metaphor and imagination, analogy and reason,
folklore tale and legend, fiction/fantasy and fallacy/lie, dream
scientific hypothesis and the truth. In ancient myths, there
is an incredible storehouse of wisdom about human nature collected
over centuries of observation. The myths are stories in which
the surface structure is false, because things did not happen
exactly that way, but the deep structure is true.
In fact, one of the most powerful symbols of all ancient mythologies,
marker of the events recorded by the different cultures of the
world with almost uncanny accuracy, the Pleiades, comprise one
of the oldest known time capsule cryptogram. Furthermore, the
Greek literature suggests strong associations with other ancient
sources from all over the world. Pleiades are characterized as
one of the most sacred astral systems. Let us begin this fascinating
trip. Cave paintings, History, Poetry, Mythology, Astronomy,
all Literature contains recurrent allusions to them ( Jobes and Jobes 1964).
OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL NUCLEUS IN PLEIADES MYTH
A. Cycles, Periodicity
Because of their beauty and astrological significance, Pleiades
were celebrated in the writings of many ancient cultures. According
to some scholars (Allen
1899/1963), one of
the earliest mentions of the Pleiades is found in Chinese annals
referring to an observation made in 2357 BC. However, the earliest
known safe reference of this cluster and their connection with
the agricultural seasons, is a mention by Hesiod (e.g. Works and Days: 384, 616).
In the Odyssey of Homer (v,
272), when Odysseus
wanted to reach Phaeacia, had been told to look at the night
sky the setting Botes, Orion and the Ursa Majoris, and to have
on the left side of its ship the asterism of Pleiades. Homer
mentions them, when he makes description of the buckler of Achilles,
also (Iliad XVIII,
In fact, Pleiades is one of the many names of this star cluster.
The word is supposed to be derived from Greek "pleio",
meaning "to sail". The rising of the Pleiades was the
sign of the opening of the Mediterranean Sea to sailors. Their
"navigation" on the night sky of Temperate Zone opened
and closed the seasons of good and bad weather (Theophrastos On Signs, 6-7). During the 5th c. B.C., in the geographical
coordinates of Athens, the heliacal rising (vMR) of Pleiades
was taking place between the 7th and 19th of May and their cosmical
setting (vMS) c. on the 6th of November.
Moreover, according to reknown scholars, early Greek farmers
used to place little or no reliance on zodiacal constellations,
depending highly on the much brighter stars of the Pleiades,
the Hyades, Orion, Sirius and Arcturus (Reiche 1989).
The movement of the Pleiades was symmetrically opposite to that
of the sun. Consequently, time-keeping has always been associated
with this cluster. In the ancient world, there are many calendar
systems, both agricultural and sacred, that utilize the positions
of the Pleiades. The sacred geometry of megalithic monuments
and ancient places deserves special mention for their correlation
to them (Blomberg
et al. 2003).
Temples in Greece and Ancient Egypt had been built in alignment
with the Pleiades. Parthenon and the Great Pyramid at Giza are
some famous examples (Penrose
1892 and 1893; Lockyer 1893 and 1894). The Greek calendar system was regulated by the
position of them during May and November and reflected to the
cross-quarter holidays, each half-way between an equinox and
The Pleiades are already present in the powerful symbology of
the Upper Palaeolithic. In Upper Palaeolithic cosmographic depictions
(e.g. the "Hall of Bulls" mural at Lascaux Cave, France,
dated c. 15.000 B.C., during summer solstice?), the paint dots
may be analogous to later numerical representations of the seven
stars of the Pleiades (Baudouin
1916; Gingerich 1984; Congregado 1991; Edge 1995; Rappenglueck
1999a, b and 1997; Blomberg et al. 2003).
A new picture of Palaeolithic events has been emerged in the
analyses of scientists who try to reveal the secrets of Archaeomythology.
For instance, Stan Gooch diagnosed the archaic signs of the struggle
between the Old Moon and the New Sun religions in Pleiades symbology.
In other words, Neanderthal religion based on Moon Goddess, was
replaced by the solar "masculine" deity of Cro-Magnon
population. This motif travelled as psychic "kit" with
Cro-Magnon, all the way into the heart of the Neolithic, and
beyond (Gooch 1995). An interesting and promising
The bull as the moon is part of a cluster of images (crescents,
horns, snake coils, concentric circles, U-signs, bucrania, etc.)
that surround the goddess of the Neolithic Era and abstractly
symbolize life, death and regeneration, thus the creative and
fecund powers of nature. Therefore, the bull's representations
in sets of four are lunar notations indicating the waxing moon,
the full moon, the waning moon and the new moon in its four stages,
respectively. In terms of symbolic language, the "epiphany
of the Goddess" would be equivalent to the resurrection
and rebirth of the soul of the individual after death. The horns
of the bull, later known from the famous Minoan horns of consecration,
are found on or inside many of the megalithic monuments of the
Neolithic Era in Western Europe. The similarity of female reproductive
organs with the bull's head is striking (Cameron 1981; Gimbutas 1982, 1989 and 1999;
Mellaart 1989)! In
the Orphic Hymns (IX,
2), evident is the
connection of Selene with the womb, sexuality and fertility,
being characterized as taurus-horned waxing or waning moon (taurokeros
Moreover, the ancient greek story of Pleiades astromorphosis
relates this cluster to the great hunter Orion, son of Poseidon,
and the goddess Artemis. Artemis represents the Moon, travels
the zodiac and comes close to him but can never touch him, although
from time to time she covers up the Pleiades.
The Pleiadian cycle also involves the planet Venus. The Pleiades
is in many languages associated with bird-names. Some scholars
take the bird on the bull's back in ancient coins of Eretria,
Dicaea, and Thurii for the associated constellation of the Pleiades
(Stechert, in: Allen
1899). In ancient
Greek mythology, Aphrodite was the daughter of Zeus and the woodland
goddess Dione. Dione was associated with the ancient oracular
cult at Dodona, presided over by seven high priestesses or peleiadai,
meaning "pigeons" or "doves" (e.g. Herodotus, II.55-57; Sophocles,
Trachiniai, 171 and 472; Pausanias, X.12.10). In the Homeric Hymns to Selene (XXXII, 1) the goddess of Moon is characterized as long-winged
(tanysipteros), indicating her passage, like a bird, through
the sky (Hesiod,
Works and Days, 210).
B. Primordial element: Water
In the Andean regions, rainfall is seasonal and usually starts
in October, but every few years the onset of the rains is delayed
by up to several weeks. For hundreds of years, the farmers have
observed the Pleiades, which become visible in the southern hemisphere
skies in June. If the Pleiades shine brightly in June, they can
start planting their potatoes in October, as there will be adequate
rainfall during the critical months of December through February.
However, if the Pleiades look dim, planting is delayed until
November. Every two to seven years along comes the hydro-climatic
phenomenon known as El Nino, during which thin cirrus clouds
appear very high in the skies over the Andes in June (Hurrell 1995; Svensmark and
Frs-Christensen 1997; Fagan 2000; Koutavas et al. 2002; Roig
et al. 2001; Scott et al. 2002).
These cirrus clouds cause the Pleiades to appear dim to the naked
eye (Orlove et al.
Pleiades - The Greek
Sisters - http://www.aao.gov.au/images/captions/uks018.html (e-permission). Anglo-Australian Observatory
(AAO). UK Schmidt telescope. Photographer David Malin. Top left
is NE. Image width about 100 arc min.
This paper argues that the archaeometeorological observations
made by the Andean farmers several centuries ago, had been also
made by peoples of the Mediterranean region, at least two millennia
B.C. The relation among the clearness of the atmosphere and the
amount of clouds, the intensity of seasonal climatic phenomena
and the visibility of Pleiades is recorded in the text of Theophrastos
(On Signs: 29 and
43) dated on 4th
But, there is another striking evidence. Especially ancient Greek
mythology, except for the already above-mentioned arguments of
Levels A and B and the following data of other Levels, offers
significant clues about the implication of the water element
in the Pleiades nucleus. This water element reflects various
information about: a) the fluctuations on the biochemical structure
of Earth's atmosphere related to the global hydro-climatic phenomenon
of ENSO, b) some extra events of deluge related to the Pleiades
(either as source of the event, or as an astronomical correlation)
that gave them a chthonian and malignant character and c) the
periodicity of the hydro-climatic phenomena (e.g. ENSO and NAO)
with their peaks and falls in their dual cycles (Pleiades, Hyades
and Poseidon = mild and wet/Sirius, Orion = hot and dry). Furthermore,
floods and earthquakes (with Poseidon, their representing god)
are the earthen witnesses of destructive sky events.
In the tablets of Linear B' scripture from Pylos, Peleia is also
referred (PY tn 316) among other deities. Peleia is related to
Poseidon, protector god of Pylos, and the sacred trinity of the
female goddesses: Minoan/Mycenaean deity of Doves (pe-re*82),
Iphimedeia (i-pe-me-de-ja) and DiFia (di-u-ja, di-wi-ja). The
ceremonies of sanctification were held in their altars
(e.g. pe-re *82-jo = altar of Peleia ). For Peleia, the
offerings included a golden cup and a woman.
The deity pe-re*82 has been correlated
with Phersephassa (*Persa), namely Persephone in Mycenaean Greek,
but this view is not widely accepted (Palmer 1963, 20, 27, 103, 263; Chadwick 1987). Iphimedeia was a princess of
Thessalian origin, one of the love mates of Poseidon and mother
of the giants Otos and Ephialtes (Odyssey, XI 305; Apollodorus, The Library, 1.53;
Hyginus, Fabulae, 28; Ovidius Metamorphoses, 6.117). In fact, she was also a chthonian
deity who was celebrated in boeotian Anthedona, Naxos and Karia,
probable area of origin. Finally, DiFia was a deity of Pamphylia
or the female alternative of Zeus, later known as Dione (see
sacred peleiai of Dodona). Finally, since the Homeric epos, the
"Pelasgian" god Poseidon was related to the planet
Saturn (Wood 1991).
adapted from Flaxman , inspired by Hesiod's Works and Days:.
When the Pleiades, daughters of Atlas, are rising, begin your
According to the ancient Greek mythology, Pleiades were the seven
daughters of the Titan Atlas and Pleione-an Oceanid nymph, half-sisters
of the Hyades and, perhaps, half-sisters of the Hesperides. The
Pleiadian and Atlantean mating was also mentioned by Greek historian
1-5) who claimed
that Celaino and Alcyone, two of the seven Pleiadian sisters,
had mated with Poseidon, King of Atlantis and their offspring
populated Atlantis. Aeschylus (fr.
172 ), the Greek
writer, attributes their transformation to stars ("phantoms
of the night") as an escape from grief at their father's
burden of carrying the world on his head and his hands.
C. Danger and Disaster
Ancient myths, legends and prophecies from around the world tell
frightening tales of how humanity has suffered through destructions
by fire and flood (La
Violette 1997). These
stories of catastrophe are so extreme and pervasive, that till
recently we tended to discount them as imaginative exaggerations.
There are, indeed, too many traditions connecting the Pleiades,
with some kind of catastrophe to be overlooked. When people talk
about seasonality and Pleiades, they often refer to food, hunger
and destruction also.
In fact, there is the Osiris-Saturn legend in Egypt. The great
and beloved god Osiris is drowned by the devil god, Seth, who
then cuts his body to pieces and scatters its fragments. These
fragments were the Pleiades worshipped on the day of Saturn's
death (de Grazia
1981). Saturn (Khima)
is connected with the Pleiades. For one thing their names
are often confused, as in the King James and other versions of
the Bible where Khima is translated as "Pleiades" instead
of as "Saturn" (Cardona
1978). In the ancient
world, the Pleiades are connected with the Flood of Noah (de Grazia 1983). According to Jewish folktale,
the third Deluge happened when the male waters from the sky met
the female waters which issued forth from the ground (Frazer 1918, I, 143-4). The holes in the sky by which
the upper waters escaped were made by God when he removed stars
out of the constellation of the Pleiades (Ginzberg 1909, I, 162). Some scholars, calculating back from Biblical
references, hypothesize that the Universal Deluge of Noah was
caused by a near passing astral body at 2800 B.C. (Patten 1966; Patten et al. 1973).
Sanskrit literature of ancient and medieval India is rich in
information about environmental sciences (Iyengar 2004).
In several texts a natural event is mentioned, referring to a
nova or brightening of a star in the cluster of Pleiades (Eggeling 1963; Velankar 1963;
Griffith internet edition. Mahabharata internet edition). There is also a story about
a strange fire associated with this cluster. For example, there
are several different versions of the same celestial event in
Mahabharata, describing the inversion of dual phenomena (the
summer became winter and winter became summer) as a war broken
between gods and demons. Fiery celestial body fallen on Earth,
earthquakes, rise of sea-level, draught of rivers, lakes and
wells, destruction from heaven, severe famine are some of the
implications related to the Pleiades (a demon has born in the
Pleiades).These disasters should have taken place in the north-western
part of India (23.5 N, 71.5 E), where river Sarasvati joined
the sea (Law 1982;
Mc Crindle 2000; Valdiya 2002; Schoff internet edition). The whole plain, now an arid
area known as the Thar Desert, was once a very fertile plain
traversed by this great river. In those days of Mohenjo-Daro
and Harappa, the area was one of the richest places in the world.
A first statement on the dating for these celestial phenomena
would declare the attempt impossible. Nevertheless, some details
of the texts have provided the modern scientists with methodological
tools. Renowned scholars, planetarium softwares and astronomical
calculations date the observation of nova to c. 2500 3000 B.C.
or even earlier. During that time in the geographical coordinates
of India, Pleiades were exactly at the vernal equinoctial point
on their heliacal rising. The impact crater and the falling meteors
could have occured in 1800 - 2200 B.C. (Dikshit 1969; Narahari Achar 2000; Iyengar 2004). Thus, archaeological investigations
in the above-mentioned areas would provide new information on
this interesting scientific issue. Very far away, the Aztecs
of Mexico believed that these stars could prevent the demons
of darkness from descending to Earth and devouring men. For this
reason, they offered their deities human sacrifices (Aveni 1980).
The final word of admiration is reserved for a Mesoamerican legend.
This vision of doom is the matrix of the Aztec legend of the
Five Suns. The universe was not permanent or everlasting, but
coming to an end, like all living things. They pictured time
as a cycle of births, destruction and rebirths. According to
the Aztecs mythology and ritual, this cycle couldn't continue
for ever; there would only be five ages or "Suns" each
of them having its own name, sign and ruling divinity.
The Aztec Legend of the Five Suns has survived in pictographs
painted or carved on stone, in texts of ancient Mexico and scattered
oral traditions kept by the distant descendants of the Aztecs.
The primary source for Aztec mythology is the Codex Chimalpopoca.
The first sun is known as Four Water, the second as Four Jaguar,
the third as Four Rain, the forth as Four Wind and the final
fifth as four Movement. This world, our world, will be destroyed
by earthquakes. Five was for the Aztecs a sacred number, based
on the five directions. These directions were the four cardinal
points plus the centre. The centre was understood to be the star
cluster of the Pleiades.
Ancient disasters under ancient skies. An appealing challenge
for any scientist. Environmental changes involve a complex interplay
of physical, chemical and biological processes of the Earth.
A multidisciplinary approach is necessary for studying past disasters,
because humanities and social sciences have a very important
role to play. Therefore, archaeologically discovered traces that
indicate past disasters, contribute to a broader understanding
of such phenomena.
On the other hand, Astromythology as science of the past finds
a very strong and tempting field of research in the cluster of
the mythology of circum-Mediterranean Pleiades. This is a case
of transporting memory through superpositioned layers that contain
sets of facts, elements, symbols, sectors and matrices travelled
all over the world. As earlier mentioned we met the thought-provoking
ancient myth of Pleiades in light of various scientific and theoretical
perspectives, paying tribute to the enduring legacy of ancient
Greece. We also tried to identify the key attributes of natural
disasters and social resilience, imprinted on the mythology of
circum-Mediterranean areas. The cross-cultural study of cosmic
cataclysmic cycles, along with memorial , significance of the
pleiadean rites provided both a deeper analysis and more dynamic
visual presentation. The discovery of numerous ways of interpretation
related to ancient periodicities and catastrophes opens a new
doorway to the understanding of the collective cultural memory
In my formal academic training I benefited from the expert instructions
of Nicki Goulandris (Goulandris Museum of Natural History
GAIA, Centre for Environmental Research & Education) and
Professors George Ferentinos (Marine Geology & Physical Oceanography,
University of Patras) and Stavros Papamarinopoulos (Applied Geophysics,
University of Patras). All of them have enlightened me in numerous
ways. Many thanks are also due to the persons who kindly permitted
the publication of the photos used in the oral presentation.
It is a pleasure to record the world experts, Nikolaos Kaltsas
(Director of National Archaeological Museum Athens), astrophotographer
David Malin (AAO Observatory), Professor Asko Parpola (Institute
for Asian and African Studies - University of Helsinki) and Madame
Catherine Vigneron (Responsable du Service Photographique, MusÎe
de Bordeaux). Finally, I would like to thank the American scholar
Gary David, who was willing to make some interesting suggestions.
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