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In Greek mythology, Maia (// or //; Greek: Μαῖα; Latin: Maia) is one of the Pleiades and the mother of Hermes. The goddess known as Maia among the Romans may have originated independently, but attracted the myths of Greek Maia because the two figures shared the same name.
Maia is the daughter of Atlas and Pleione the Oceanid, and is the eldest of the seven Pleiades. They were born on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia, and are sometimes called mountain nymphs, oreads; Simonides of Ceos sang of "mountain Maia" (Maia oureias) "of the lovely black eyes." Because they were daughters of Atlas, they were also called the Atlantides.
According to the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, Zeus in the dead of night secretly begot Hermes upon Maia, who avoided the company of the gods, in a cave of Cyllene. After giving birth to the baby, Maia wrapped him in blankets and went to sleep. The rapidly-maturing infant Hermes crawled away to Thessaly, where by nightfall of his first day he stole some of his brother Apollo's cattle and invented the lyre from a tortoise shell. Maia refused to believe Apollo when he claimed Hermes was the thief and Zeus then sided with Apollo. Finally, Apollo exchanged the cattle for the lyre, which became one of his identifying attributes.
Maia also raised the infant Arcas, the child of Callisto with Zeus. Wronged by the love affair, Zeus's wife Hera in a jealous rage had transformed Callisto into a bear. Arcas is the eponym of Arcadia, where Maia was born. The story of Callisto and Arcas, like that of the Pleiades, is an aition for a star formation, the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, the Great and Little Bear.
In ancient Roman religion and myth, Maia embodied the concept of growth, as her name was thought to be related to the comparative adjective maius, maior, "larger, greater." Originally, she may have been a homonym independent of the Greek Maia, whose myths she absorbed through the Hellenization of Latin literature and culture.
In an archaic Roman prayer, Maia appears as an attribute of Vulcan, in an invocational list of male deities paired with female abstractions representing some aspect of their functionality. She was explicitly identified with Earth (Terra, the Roman counterpart of Gaia) and the Good Goddess (Bona Dea) in at least one tradition. Her identity became theologically intertwined also with the goddesses Fauna, Magna Mater ("Great Goddess", referring to the Roman form of Cybele but also a cult title for Maia), Ops, Juno, and Carna, as discussed at some length by the late antiquarian writer Macrobius. This treatment was probably influenced by the 1st-century BC scholar Varro, who tended to resolve a great number of goddesses into one original "Terra." The association with Juno, whose Etruscan counterpart was Uni, is suggested again by the inscription Uni Mae on the Piacenza Liver.
The month of May (Latin Maius) was supposedly named for Maia, though ancient etymologists also connected it to the maiores, "ancestors," again from the adjective maius, maior, meaning those who are "greater" in terms of generational precedence. On the first day of May, the Lares Praestites were honored as protectors of the city, and the flamen of Vulcan sacrificed a pregnant sow to Maia, a customary offering to an earth goddess that reiterates the link between Vulcan and Maia in the archaic prayer formula. In Roman myth, Mercury (Hermes), the son of Maia, was the father of the twin Lares, a genealogy that sheds light on the collocation of ceremonies on the May Kalends. On May 15, the Ides, Mercury was honored as a patron of merchants and increaser of profit (through an etymological connection with merx, merces, "goods, merchandise"), another possible connection with Maia his mother as a goddess who promoted growth.
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