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Nicolas Poussin: "The Infant Bacchus Entrusted to the Nymphs of Nysa; The Death of Echo and Narcissus" (1657). The painting shows Mercury (in Greek, Hermes) delivering the newly born baby Bacchus (in Greek, Dionysus) to the nymphs of Nysa. The Hyades were also called the nymphs of Nysa because they lived on Mount Nysa.
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Image courtesy of the Fogg Art Museum. Gift of Mrs. Samuel Sachs in memory of Mr. Samuel Sachs. To be reproduced only by permission of the Harvard University Art Museums. (c) President and Fellows of Harvard College, Harvard University Art Museums.


For the ancient Greeks, the Hyades were daughters of Pleione and Atlas, a giant who carried the heavens on his shoulders. The Hyades were sisters of the Pleiades and the Hesperides. They were very attached to their brother Hyas. One day, while Hyas was hunting, he was killed by a lion. The Hyades were so overcome with grief they committed suicide. Zeus changed them into a cluster of stars and placed them in the constellation Taurus the Bull.

One of the Hyades, Aldebaran, is the brightest star and represents the Bull's eye. The other Hyades are in a peculiar V-shape,forming the horns and the nose of the bull. Because the Hyades appear during rainy seasons, the Greeks believed them to be messengers of spring rain showers and autumn storms. Their name means in Greek "to rain." The rain was believed to represent their tears of grief for their brother Hyas.

According to a variant of the myth, Zeus changed the Hyades into a group of stars as a reward for having nursed his son, the god Dionysus. Dionysus was the result of a clandestine affair between Zeus and Semele. In order to hide the child from his jealous wife Hera, Zeus gave him to the Hyades, who cared for him. Dionysus lived in a cave on Mount Nysa in Libya, where he invented wine, for which he is mainly celebrated. As a reward for their services, Zeus placed the images of the Hyades among the stars in the heavens.

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