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Maia: A Pleiad Nymph From Greek Mythology

Greek mythology is an umbrella term for literally hundreds of unique tales. Many of these tales detail the exploits of gods, goddesses, and mortal heroes; the Iliad’s account of the Trojan War and the Odyssey’s account of Odysseus’s journey are two examples that have stood the test of time.

On the other hand, numerous Greek myths detail the sexual exploits of the gods, with figures like Zeus and Poseidon always appearing on the lookout for new sexual partners. Maia, a target of Zeus, is the protagonist of one of these tales, but the events of her life also affect those of other deities.

Maia A Pleiad Nymph From Greek Mythology

Continue reading to learn more about Maia’s life and her story.

Maia’s Birth

Maia was the daughter of the Titan Atlas and the Oceanid Pleione, making her one of the seven nymphs known as the Pleiades. His daughters, the Pleiades and Hesperides, were so stunning that they were pursued by gods and men alike in Greek mythology.

In Greek mythology, Maia and the other Pleiades served as attendants to Artemis, the beautiful goddess of the hunt. During their time as Artemis’s attendants, the Pleiades met several Greek pantheon deities, including Zeus and Poseidon.

Maia And Zeus

Aside from being the eldest, Maia was also often regarded as the most stunning of the Pleiades. Maia refused to succumb to the desires of the male gods who came to follow the Pleiades, and she often retreated to a cave on Mount Cyllene.

However, running away was not a strategy that would deter Zeus or Poseidon; it was Zeus who set Maia as his target.

Zeus came to Maia as she slept at night and impregnated her without giving her a chance to escape.

Maia And Hermes

As soon as Maia discovered she was pregnant, she was no longer welcome among Artemis’ entourage, and it was prophesied that after ten lunar cycles, she would give birth to a son of Zeus in the same cave she had conceived him. Hermes was eventually given to Zeus and Maia’s offspring.

When Hera had tucked him into bed and gone to sleep, Hermes snuck out of the cave and traveled to Thessaly, where he stole some of Apollo’s sheep and concealed them in the cave with his mother. This is said to have happened on the night of his birth.

When Apollo found out about the crime, he approached Maia, and she revealed the thief to be Hermes, a child who had no business stealing. But Apollo was not content, so he went to Zeus for help. Zeus agreed with Apollo and said the sheep should be returned to Apollo.

During this discussion, Hermes used a turtle shell to create the first lyre, which he was playing as Apollo came to the cave to retrieve his sheep. Apollo was immediately captivated by the lyre and traded the stolen livestock and other presents for the enchanting instrument.

Hermes, Maia’s son, was the one who uncovered and mastered the skill of magic. Hence she is also sometimes called the “Grandmother of Magic.”

In addition to Hermes, Maia was responsible for raising Zeus’s son Arcas when Hera transformed Arcas’s mother, Callisto, into a bear after learning of her adulterous relationship with Zeus. Arcadia, a region in the Peloponnesus of Greece, is commonly believed to be named after the city of Arcas.

Maia And Arcas

In the Greek pantheon, several goddesses, like Leto and Tethys, are related to maternity, and Maia would be recognized as the goddess of nursing mothers. Nevertheless, Maia was held in such high respect that the Romans continued to use her name, eventually leading to the English month of May being named after her.

In the myth of Arcas, Maia plays the role of a mother goddess. Zeus’s daughter Callisto gave birth to his son Arcas, but Hera threatened to have her turned into a bear unless Zeus took Arcas away.

Zeus then gave Hermes the task of delivering Arcas to Maia, and the Pleiades nymph was responsible for raising Zeus’s son.

Maia And Orion

Maia And Orion

Maia played a role in the legend of Orion the Hunter as a member of the Pleiades sisterhood. According to legend, Orion had a secret desire to make love to all of the Pleiades.

Reportedly concerned for the safety of her servants, Artemis asked Zeus to intercede to stop Orion from taking advantage of Maia and her sisters. But of course, Zeus would turn the nymphs into doves first, but Orion’s observing abilities were so sharp that he tracked them even after they took flight.

Therefore, Zeus changed the seven sisters into stars, and now we know them as the Pleiades cluster in the Taurus constellation, though Orion continues to hunt after them to this day.

Maia’s Name Meaning

The Greek goddess Maia can be described as a “wonderful mother,” “midwife,” “female doctor,” “nurse,” “good mother,” “foster mother,” “aunty,” or any variation thereof. In Roman mythology, Maia is known as the “good goddess,” “great or mighty,” “more,” or “she who is great,” thus her many other names.

Maia, also known as Bona Dea, Fauna, or Ops in Roman mythology, is honored as the season’s patron deity on May 1st and occasionally on May 15th—the latter day marking the dedication of Mercury’s temple. Hermes was given the Roman name Mercury.

Closing Thoughts

Maia was more than just another nymph from Greek mythology that a mighty deity wooed.

She is one of the Pleiades sisters, and they are significant in various mythologies. For example, Orion tried to kill them, Heracles saved them from Egyptian pirates, and after Dionysus’s mother died, they raised him as their own.

Despite her introverted and modest demeanor, Maia rose to prominence as the family’s most recognized sibling. But, of course, her closeness to Zeus was a major factor in this.

The ancient world held Maia in high regard since she was the mother of an Olympian deity and one of the Pleiades. The Romans acknowledged her as a significant mother goddess in their own pantheon based on her tales and a linguistic coincidence.

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