Myths of the Moons: Jupiter, Big World, Little Moons – Part 1

We’ve already examined the four major moons of Jupiter; each of these bodies is large enough that if they orbited the sun, we would consider them a planet. But Jupiter has several smaller denizens, some of whom we will consider today.

Jupiter has 60+ moons, which means I could spend over a year just talking about the Jovian planetoids. Instead, we will be skipping many of Jupiter’s less renowned moons, moving outwards to Saturn. But before we leave Zeus, king of the gods, also known as Jupiter, the largest discovered planet in our solar system, let’s look at a few more of his gravity enslaved mini worlds.

None of these moons were large enough for Galileo or Simon Marius to detect, given the limited optics at their disposal. Amalthea wouldn’t be observed until 1892. It would be decades before Himalia, Elara, Pasiphae and Sinope were found. Lysithea, Carme and Ananke all followed, and Leda didn’t make into the sky charts until 1974, with Themisto being added to the Jovian family the following year.

The Voyager probe yielded three more moons: Metis, Adrastea and Thebe.

So, having gone through the myths of Ganymede, Callisto, Io and Europa, let’s begin by looking at the next four moons that were discovered: Amalthea, Himalia, Elara and Pasiphae.


Amaltheia might have been a she-goat, or she might have tended a she-goat. Either way, Zeus’ father, Cronus (Saturn), was in the habit of devouring his children. Cronus’ sister wife, Rhea, was able to smuggle Zeus to safety, having fed her husband a stone wrapped in swaddling; she then gave the baby to the nymph Amaltheia to nurse. To make sure that Cronus didn’t hear young Zeus crying, Amaltheia guarded her cave-lair with Korybantes, worshipers of the goddess Cybele, whose rituals included drumming and dancing.

Amaltheia means the “tender goddess”. As an act of reverence, Zeus wore her goat skin after she shed her mortal coil.


There little to say about Himalia, except that she was a nymph from the island of Rhodes, and that she bore Zeus three sons. What little information we have about her comes from the 1st century C.E. historian Diodorus Siculus, who made a connection between her sons and ancient Greek agriculture.


Much of Elara’s story is lost; what we do know pertains to her son, Tityos. After Zeus impregnated Elara, he hid her deep within the Earth to spare her from his wife, Hera.  Alas, the child she was bearing was a giant, so large that he split his mother’s womb apart, killing her. Gaia, the Earth, finished nursing the child.

Hera would still have her revenge; when he came of age, she convinced Tityos to try and rape Leto, another of Zeus’ consorts (and the mother of Apollo and Artemis). For this crime, he was sentenced to Tartarus, the Greek equivalent of Hell, typically reserved for the Titans, the progenitors of the Olympian gods. There, much like the Titan Prometheus (who created mankind, and stole fire as gift for his progeny), he was tortured by two vultures that constantly devoured his ever-regenerating liver (which in Greek culture was considered the seat of the soul, life and intellect).


Pasiphae and the baby Minotaur, from the Département des Monnaies, Médailles et Antiques de la Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris)

Daedalus, the famed engineer, was trapped on the island of Minoa. Many of us know the tale of the Minotaur and the labyrinth (constructed by Daedalus), but his back-story often goes unmentioned. His mother, Pasiphae, was overcome by her lust for a white bull, so much so that she had Daedalus forge her a cow costume.

The sea god Poseidon is typically given the blame for her desire, though what Pasiphae did to enrage the oceanic deity is unknown (Poseidon is known for his temper; he toyed with Odysseus for ten long years, as recounted in the Odyssey).

Whatever her motivation, be it divine punishment or plain bovine lust, she got her cow kink on, all with the help of Daedalus’ skills as a costume designer.

Yes, Cosplay goes back to the Minoans.

The result: the famed half bull, half man, who would eventually be killed by his sister’s suitor, Theseus. While Theseus proved to be schmuck, the Minotaur’s sister, Ariadne, got a happy ending: she was saved by the god of wine, Dionysus.

Daedalus presenting Pasiphae the cow suit, from the House of the Vettii, Pompeii, 1st century CE.

As for Pasiphae, the queen of Minos, the daughter of Helios (the sun), and the diviner of herbal remedies, not much more can be said.

Except, don’t leave her alone on the farm…

We’re not quite done with Zeus/Jupiter yet. The following Jovian bodies still have secrets to tell: Sinope, Lysithea, Carme, Ananke, Leda, Metis, Adrastea and Thebe are all on our list before we head to Zeus’ father, the Titan known as Time.

Call him Cronus, call him Saturn, call him Trouble: whatever name we give him, he is the slowest of the wanderers (Greek: planētai, meaning wanderer, which is where we get the word planet from). But his story can wait for now (don’t worry, he’s quite patient, especially considering it takes him nearly thirty Earth years to orbit the sun).

Until next time, keep looking up, because the skies are filled with more stories than can ever be shared…

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