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Head of Leda by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519).
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Leda

For the ancient Greeks, the constellation Cygnus, which means "swan", was related to the myth of Zeus(called Jupiter by Romans) and the goddess Nemesis. In order to escape from Zeus, Nemesis changed herself into many different animals. When she changed into a goose, Zeus immediately transformed himself into a wonderful swan and won the love of Nemesis.

The goddess became pregnant, delivered an egg and then abandoned it. Fortunately, a shepherd found the egg and gave it to Leda, the wife of Tyndareus, the king of Sparta. From that egg came Helen of Troy. Helen was so beautiful that Leda claimed her as her own child. The constellation Cygnus was formed to celebrate the lovely swan.

According to a variant of the myth, Zeus transformed himself into a swan to court Leda, the queen of Sparta. and from that relationship, Leda had two children: Polydeuces and Helen.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF