Child of the titan called Atlas and the Oceanid, Pleione, and the oldest of their seven daughters that were known as the Pleiades. Other variations exist where they were born to Erechtheus of Cadmus, the Oceanid, Aethra or a unnamed queen of the Amazons. Out of all her sisters, Maia was considered the most beautiful of all, even though she was extremely shy, preferring to hide away in a cave on Mount Cyllene, where she had been born.
During the dead of night, Zeus came forth and laid with her, leading the nymph to give birth to the god Hermes whom she wrapped in swaddling clothes. When Hermes crawled away, maturing so fast that he could play the lyre he had invented by midday, he went to Piera and stole cattle from Apollo.
He then returned home and acted like an innocent child until Apollo arrived, claiming to Maia that her son was the thief. When she showed Apollo that Hermes was wrapped up in swaddling clothes, they were taken to Zeus who was able to get the truth from his newborn child. In one differing version of a myth, Maia also raised Arcas after his mother had been shot and killed by Artemis after Hera had turned her into a bear due to jealousy.
After the death of their other sisters, the Hyades or their grief over their father’s fate, the Pleiades committed suicide and were placed as stars upon the back of Taurus. A similar tale says that they were the handmaidens of Artemis when they were pursued by Orion who was also chasing their mother. They pleaded to escape and their prayers reached the gods who at first transformed them into doves and then into stars.
In Roman traditon, Maia was an ancient earth goddess who also appeared in Oscan lore and was believed to be linked to Gaia and Bona Dea, who may have been her epithet. She also appeared as the companion of the fire god, Vulcan because of her association with spring. Rituals involving the sacrifice of pregnant sows where also preformed for Maia by the priests of Vulcan. Though she and her Greek counterpart were not originally similar, the myth of her parentage to Hermes was later adopted by the Romans, fusing the two together. Some scholars also believe that month of May itself was named after her.