This film was made with the support of a research grant from Royal Holloway University's department of Classics with a view to investigating the benefits of artist/academic collaboration. 
This is the story of Callisto, a woman who was a princess, a priestess, a bear and then a constellation. When new cultures joined the Roman Empire, one of the ways that the tales and traditions of the culture were shared with their new citizens was through wordless performances. It seems right to present these new interpretations of old stories in a similar fashion. 
An English version of the story is below. 
Performer: Daryl Jackson
Camera: Georgia Newman
Creator: Howard Hardiman
Consultant: Dr. Liz Gloyn 
With thanks to Lisa Traxler and Linc Miles for the use of their radar bunker as a filming location.
 © Howard Hardiman 2017, All rights reserved
Please contact me if you would like to use this film or text. 
There are many stories that rise and fall from the night sky, but few that are eternal. Even in the Northern lands where sunset and sunrise are stones that skip across the wide, curved sea, one story, one song survives them all.
It is a tale from the time of fire and of bronze, when heroes battled beasts in icy caves and the land would shake like the sea at the whim of the gods.
Callisto was the most beautiful girl in Arcadia. She was also a princess. Like most girls, she knew what happens to beautiful princesses in stories, and like a lot of girls across the ages, she knew that she did not want to marry a prince. Even if he might be handsome or kind, most princes were not, and Callisto did not wish to be a wife.
Her father, the king, sat with her.
“Daughter, you are my most precious thing. We should talk about your marriage.”
“Father. You’ve seen how men look at me. I don’t want to be a prize that they kill for. I do not want to be a wife. I will do your bidding, though, father, because you are my king and I love you.”
The king laughed. “Callisto! Do not consider it for a moment further. Your mother and I thought that you did not care for men since you were a young girl. That boy still has a scar, after all.”
Callisto could not help but laugh.
“Daughter. If you do not marry, men will continue to follow you and I do not think we want to become known as a land of men scarred by your hawks. Perhaps the priesthood would suit you more? No man would dare to follow you there.”
“Thank you, my father. I will do your bidding.”
“Daughter. Will do no such thing. You are for nobody but the goddess. I love you.”
She took to the woods and found sanctuary with the mistress of animals, the mother bear, the huntress and the wild.
There was a temple built where a river flowed past a cleft hewn into the stone, and within this temple sat an image of Artemis that was too dangerous for all but the most carefully trained priestesses to visit. Before whom, the slightest hesitation within a ritual could cause arrows of plague to cut down a nation.
Callisto became a priestess, caring for young girls coming to learn about the adult world she wished to shun. She taught them to hold to their hearts the knowledge that Artemis would watch over them as carefully as a bear protects her cubs.
But, as we said, beautiful princesses in stories tend to be prizes for princes or kings. And Callisto, as the most beautiful, drew the attention of the greatest of all kings.
He came to her first during a storm in the forests, where white fire tore an oak asunder. Once the children were safe, Callisto took her bow and went to investigate, a hawk at her shoulder and a god and a dog at her heel.
The lightning declared:
“I am the high king of the heavens. I am storm and I am raw force. I want you, girl.”
Callisto knelt with her dog, scratching its ear.
“I am not for you, storm.”
On a summer’s day, a man approached along the road, his hair white and wild, a beard as thick as a stormcloud. He was handsome beyond measure and walked with power and assurance that showed no fear or hesitation.
“I am Zeus. I am the father of gods. I am might and I am power. I want you, girl.”
Callisto flattened out a crease in her short dress and turned to the man.
“I am not for you, king above kings.”
Callisto had drawn many suitors, as did many of the priestesses at the sanctuary, but they all met with the same refusal. They withdrew to the river to skin the animals they’d hunted and then to wash their clothes of blood.
Callisto walked downstream with a stag across her shoulders to gut it away from the children.
She knelt with her knife and drew the beast open, then looked up to see her goddess crossing the stream to join her. Artemis set aside her bow and helped to flay the stag, meeting Callisto’s eye with a smile.
“I am your goddess. There are very particular rituals that must be performed for my pleasure.”
A golden hand on Callisto’s shoulder.
A moment of doubt shivered through the priestess, but the goddess’ eyes flared.
“I am yours.”
In a flash, the goddess was gone and the old man’s cold hand was against Callisto’s neck. She slipped back in the tallow of the beast and he fell upon her.
Disgusted and ashamed, Callisto spent the night trying to wash herself clean in the river. She could not speak of what had happened without the words coming forward as sickness and bile.
Weeks passed, and Zeus did not return. Callisto began to doubt herself – had this been a dream? Surely even he would not defile Artemis’ sacred land. Surely not. Surely not.
Weeks became months and Callisto was called to bathe the goddess. Their eyes met and Callisto fell and wept, cradling her belly.
“You may no longer serve as a priestess,” Artemis said, her fingertips on Callisto’s chin. “I see from your shame the truth of what passed. You are defiled. You may no longer serve as a priestess.”
Artemis drew an arrow from her belt and passed its tip along Callisto’s cheek. A tear merged with the scratch and the most beautiful princess was transformed into a giant she-bear.
The goddess smiled. “You do not serve me, Callisto.”
A boy was born to the bear, nested in the cleft in the rocks. The women of the sanctuary made the correct sequences of offerings and prayers, and Artemis saw that the boy survived. They gave him a name, Arcus, “of a bear” and then they gave him to a family of hunters who had lost their own son years before.
The boy was as quick and as strong as his mother, but spent his youth angry that his mother had, to his thinking, abandoned him. The streak of lightning inherited from his father ran fast through his temper and he became a fierce spear-hunter.
Twenty years from his birth, the villagers told Arcus to find himself a wife. Like many boys who stood to inherit little, he saw an opportunity at the festival to Artemis, where young girls danced in yellow robes, worshipping the bear who saw them through the fearful years between child and wife.
The boy bragged about his name, hoping that the girls would be impressed. They laughed and danced into the forest. He followed one girl into a glade and called out.
“They call me the son of a bear – would you dance for me?”
A bear’s disapproving growl shook the trees. The girl held fast to her faith, and with a prayer on her lips, allowed the bear to stand between her and the hunter.
The bear’s eyes met Arcus and he felt a deep flood of recognition and shame.
And then the lightning in his blood struck. He raised his spear. The girl screamed.
The bear paced around him and then stood with a roar.
His arm moved to launch the spear, then was pierced by an arrow and pinned to the bark of an oak that had split twenty years before.
Artemis stepped from the woods. Was the woods.
“Arcus. Your father is my own, and he disgusts me even as he echoes through you.”
The boy wept, knowing that the bear he moved to kill was his mother, moving to stop him from becoming a monster. His memory lit up with moments on hunts where a bear had frightened his quarry into his path. Where this bear had been padding in the shadows of his youth, forever looking out for him, and he had answered her like this.
As his bones slipped from the divine arrow, they knit themselves together in the body of a bear cub.
“Zeus!” Artemis cried, firing an arrow into the sky. “You have defiled my sanctuary.”
The arrow fell to earth as lightning and Zeus stood before her.
Artemis shook her head. “You have defiled my sanctuary. You raped my high priestess and your son would have broken my most fundamental rule.”
“No. You will atone. You will beg.” An arrow to her bow. “I will make all of the women of this land barren. There will be no more daughters for you to pursue and those who live now will come to me and we will hunt men like terrified rabbits until none live to make even the smallest sacrifice to you.”
The bow string tensed, and Artemis met her father’s eyes.
“Atone, father, before this arrow strikes the earth.”
“Daughter!” The bow string sang and Zeus’s anger at his daughter flashed, then flashed again as respect, and a final time as fear. The arrow’s tip brushed through the leaves of a bush.
As fast as only lightning can move, Zeus caught Callisto and Arcus by their tails and brought them up into the heavens. He gave them higher worship than he had given to Herakles. He placed them above the bull, the twins, the scorpion and the archer who roll like waves over the cusps of the months.
And in the sky above you, even now, a young bear cannot face his mother, even as she walks a circle around him to protect him. To defend the son she did not want. The son who shamed her honour.
And from her loyalty and the hidden love she held for twenty years, we find out way home at night. We owe her the lives of every sailor and to Callisto we owe our trade routes finding their path. We owe her so much.
Zeus looked to Artemis as the arrow dove into the earth, hoping for awe, then approval, then forgiveness… or even recognition.
He received nothing. The goddess turned her back.
“I am not for you.”
Back to Top