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Vulcan and Maia, by Bartholomäus Spranger

Maia[1] (pronounced /ˈmeɪ.ə/ or /ˈmaɪ.ə/; Greek: Μαῖα; Latin: Maia, "great") in Greek mythology, was the eldest of the Pleiades, the seven daughters of Atlas[2] and Pleione[3]. She and her sisters, born on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia, are sometimes called mountain goddesses, oreads, for Simonides of Ceos sang of "mountain Maia" (Maia oureias) "of the lively black eyes".[4] Maia was the oldest, most beautiful and shyest. Aeschylus repeatedly identified her with Gaia.

She and her sisters were pursued by Orion, and turned into doves to preserve their safety.[5] According to the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, Zeus in the dead of night secretly begot Hermes upon Maia, who avoided the company of the gods, in a cave of Cyllene. After giving birth to the baby, Maia wrapped him in blankets and went to sleep. The rapidly-maturing infant Hermes crawled away to Thessaly, where by nightfall of his first day he stole some of Apollo's cattle and invented a lyre. Maia refused to believe Apollo when he claimed Hermes was the thief and Zeus then sided with Apollo. Finally, Apollo exchanged the cattle for the lyre.

Maia also raised the infant Arcas[6] to protect him from Hera, who had turned his mother, Callisto, into a bear. Arcas is the eponym of Arcadia.

In Roman mythology, Maia was identified with Maia Maiestas (also called Fauna, Bona Dea (the 'Good Goddess') and Ops), a goddess who may be equivalent to an old Italic goddess of spring. The month of May was named for her;[7] the first and fifteenth of May were sacred to her. On the first of May the flamen of Vulcan sacrificed to her a pregnant sow,[8] an appropriate sacrifice also for an earth goddess such as Bona Dea: a sow-shaped wafer might be substituted. The goddess was accessible only to women; men were excluded from her precincts.

Notes

  1. ^ The alternate spelling Maja uses long i between two vowels, similar to Pompeji or Sequoja.
  2. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 938; Hymn to Hermes
  3. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke 3.110.
  4. ^ Simonides, Fragment 555.
  5. ^ Hesiod, Works and Days 619ff.
  6. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke 3.101.
  7. ^ Ovid, Fasti v.73, makes it the month of the maiores, the "ancients": "The proof that May was the month of the maiores ('ancients' or 'old') lies in the fact that on the first day the Lares were honoured for the anniversary of their altar in their role of Praestites, 'protectors' of the city" observes Robert Turcan, The Gods of ancient Rome: religion in everyday life from archaic to imperial times 2000, p. 70.
  8. ^ See Ambrosius Theodosius Macrobius, Saturnalia I.12; Juvenal, Satires ii.86; Festus 68

References

  • Harry Thurston Peck, Harper's Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, 1898
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911.

External links








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