The Origin of the Great Bear and Lesser Bear Constellations

If you have a child who is interested in the stars, point them to this video. If you’re teaching ancient Greece to an elementary class, this may be helpful. If you like to share legends from different cultures, this video may interest you as well. The script is below. You are free to use it in any noncommercial venture without permission as long as the author is credited. Please contact the author before using any part of the script or video in any commercial venture.

The Legend of the Constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor

MY NEW VIDEO FOR FUN AND EDUCATION. Simplified story of Callisto’s unfortunate experience with Zeus and Hera resulting in a new constellation. The Greek legend of the creation on the constellations The Great Bear (Ursa Major) and the Lesser Bear (Ursa Minor) told with graphics. Ages 4 and up.


The Legend of the Constellations Ursa Minor and Ursa Major

by Bonnie Ferrante


  1. Hera, wife of Zeus
  2. Zeus, king of the gods
  3. Poseidon, ocean god
  4. Tethys, goddess, ocean god’s wife
  5. Callisto, beautiful woman
  6. Arcas, son of Callisto
  7. Chorus

CHORUS: In ancient Greek theatre, a chorus told the story. The men wore brown masks and the women wore white. Their stories were filled with gods and goddesses and unfortunate humans caught up in all of their drama. This is the story of constellations but it is also a story of jealousy and vengeance. The Big Dipper is not only a constellation by itself, but it is also part of the Great Bear, called Ursa Major. This is the tragic story of the Great and Lesser Bear and how they can into being.

HERA: Zeus, for a king of the gods, you certainly don’t do much.

ZEUS: Hera, my wife, why can’t you find something to amuse yourself?

HERA: My husband, come and do something with me.

ZEUS: I want to relax. I like to watch the beings below. Join me.

HERA: You should concentrate more on Mount Olympus, our home of the gods. The mortals below are nothing to us.

(Exit Hera CL.)

ARCAS: Mother, can I kill the deer by myself?

ZEUS: Who is teaching this boy to hunt?

CALLISTO: Not yet, Arcas, my son. We will fire together.

ARCAS: You never miss, Mother. I won’t either.

CALLISTO: There is nothing crueler than letting a wounded animal escape. If two people shoot, we have twice the chance of killing it quickly.

CHORUS: Zeus became fascinated by Callisto. He disguised himself so he could get to know her. When he was not down below, he spent the rest of his time watching her from Mount Olympus.

ZEUS: I can’t stop thinking about Callisto. I want to be with her all the time.

HERA: What did you say? You’ve been with her! Do you love this mortal woman?

ZEUS: Yes, I do. She is so beautiful, so graceful.

HERA: I will put a stop to this.

ZEUS: I forbid you to kill her.

HERA: I have more imagination than that. (She leaves the mountain and approaches Callisto.) Callisto! Callisto!!

CALLISTO: Yes, great goddess.

HERA: Your beauty and grace, of which my husband speaks so tenderly, will be gone forever.

CHORUS: Using her powers, Hera changed Callisto into a bear.

HERA: In order to make you truly suffer, I will leave you with human feelings. You will be a miserable woman trapped in the body of a bear.

CHORUS: Poor Callisto roamed the forest day and night in constant fear. She was completely alone. She did not understand the other bears.

CALLISTO: I am so frightened. Human hunters think I am a bear and try to kill me. I cannot talk like a human anymore. I am a beast, yet I am afraid of the other animals too.

(Enter Arcas )

ARCAS: A bear! I will shoot it.

CHORUS: Callisto recognized her son, Arcas. She was so happy to see someone she knew that she stood up on her hind legs to hug him.

ARCAS: It is attacking! I will kill it with my spear just like my mother taught me.

ZEUS: I must not let Arcas kill his own mother, but I cannot break the spell my wife has set.

CHORUS: Zeus left Mount Olympus and appeared in the forest below.

ZEUS: My only hope is to turn Arcas into a bear as well.

CHORUS: He cast a spell turning Arcas into a bear.

(Arcas is changed into a bear. Callisto goes to him and comforts him.)

ZEUS: As long as they are in the woods, they will be in danger from hunters. I must send them to safety.

CHORUS: Zeus pulled the bears into the sky by their tails. Callisto became Ursa Major, the Great Bear. Her son, Arcas, became Ursa Minor, the Lesser Bear.

HERA: How dare Zeus give those two an honored place in the sky? I cannot undo his magic, but I can get help. Poseidon! Tethys!

CHORUS: Poseidon was the god of the ocean and Tethys was his  wife.

TETHYS: Hail, great goddess.

POSEIDON: Praise to the queen of Mount Olympus.

HERA: Tethys, Poseidon, I want you to help deliver justice to a mortal woman thinks she is equal to the gods.

TETHYS: Of course, Your Greatness. No mortal woman should challenge us.

HERA: Put these two bears in a pen so that they may never wander. I want them caged and kept away from everyone.

POSEIDON: As you wish great queen. We will cast a spell to ensure they never leave our sight.

TETHYS: They will be not be able to go below the horizon.

CHORUS: So Tethys and Poseidon never allowed the bears to disappear below the horizon as other constellations do.

CHORUS: To this day, both the Lesser Bear, Ursa Minor, and the Great Bear, Ursa Major, are held high in the sky near the Pole Star. The Pole Star, also called Polaris, is the last star in the Lesser Bear’s tail or in the dipper’s handle. It is also the brightest. Sailors and explorers used the Pole Star to navigate because it remains fixed. So, whenever you look at Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, remember the Greek legend of the unfortunate Arcas and Callisto.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

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