Thursday, September 11, 2014

TFBT: Saving the Drown Toddler Glaucus

“A prodigy has been born for you. Whoever explains it will restore the child to you.”  (Hyginus, Fabulae 136) 

When Glaucus, child of Minos and Pasiphae disappeared, Minos made a great search of Crete looking for his son.  Finally with not hope remaining he consulted the oracles.  The gods responded as above.  The “prodigy” was found among Minos’ herds.  Wasn’t the first time and won’t be the last; first Zeus as “the white bull, the spotless cloud” (Cox) that sired him on his mother Europa, then the  splendid bull of extraordinary beauty the gods sent him, the wooden cow Daedalus designed because of bull  and the Minotaur that resulted.  )  This prodigy this time was a cow that changes colors; from white, to red to black.    The seer Polyidus, son of Coeranus, explained the prodigy by showing that the bullock was like a mulberry tree.  For a thorough discussion of what happen next see Lenny Muellner’s paper “Glaucus Redivivus

No offence to Polyidus, the gathered seers, Apollodorus (Bibliotheca 3.3.1) or Hyginus, but I can think of a better answer. 

The bullock in question most resembled a cloud.  White with gold tint on a sunny day.  Black when heavy with rain.  Ruddy when following the setting sun to his western home.  Clouds like the Vedic god Indra won.

“Indra shatters Vrtra with his bolt  . He cleaves the  mountain, making the streams flow or taking the cows, even with the sound of his bolt.. He releases the streams which are like imprisoned cows  or  which, like lowing cows, flow to the ocean. He won the cows and Soma  and made the seven rivers to flow.”  AA MacDonell 1

MacDonell’s  “many-horned swiftly moving cows” are what Cox calls “golden tinted clouds or herds of Helios”. 2  Helios cows were white with gold horns3  as were Apollo’s. 4 Geryon’s kine grazing in the far west were red.5    Hades’ grazing nearby were black.6  And finally Hera had a cow named Io which changed in color from white to black to violet. 7

So there you go, whether you prefer mundane clouds or the divine kine, both answers are better than Polyidus’.  
3  Apollonius Rhodius Argonautica 4.965
4  Homeric Hymn to Hermes  and Philostratus Eder 1.16-31
5  Apollodorus, The Library 2.106-108
6  Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.125
7  Suida Isis

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Derby Tales; Run of the Backyard

So, a few weeks back the weather was fine and I had a chance to patch some holes in the backyard fence.  My Black Labrador Derby tested my repairs and ever since had the run of the backyard rather then hooked to the run.  Labor Day was sunny and every time I checked on her, she was rolling in the deep grass at the far corner of the yard basking in the hot sun.  Yesterday, the day after Labor day was foggy, but Derby wanted to be left in the backyard.  She called it right, probably three hours into my day, the sun came out.   

This morning Wednesday, she wanted out again, which seemed like a bad call, because rain is in the air and in the forecast.  So, I put her in the backyard and she bolts for a big hole in the fence.  She stops and gives me the come chase me look and then runs off on her little route of the neighborhood.  I missed her at the front door of the people kitty corner behind us, she got distracted in route to the house three doors up from there where she visits as part of her route, I walked around calling for a bit, sat on the porch and finally gave up and headed to work.  

 I'd walked about a block towards the muskegs when I heard a horn honk somewhere behind, probably in front of my home.  I turned back and saw her in the distance.  It must have been spectacular to see, one of my neighbors driving to work stopped to watch my seven year old  70# dog run, tongue flapping, heavy collar heaving into my arms.  Of course that's not how it happen, she veered off at the last second and ran into a neighbor's carport .  He leaves food and water there for his semi-feral cat .  Derby was glad to finish off the contents of the cat's food dish. That's where I caught her and returned her home after her big adventure.   

Here's the interesting part of the story.  Remember in the beginning, she ran to a hole in the fence.  The hole was already there first thing this morning.  That means that at some point in the last two weeks, she found a weakness in the fence.  She's been getting out, going on her little route and return through the hole in the fence before I noticed.   

To quote my wife, "The little stinker!"

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

TFBT: Correct Conversation in the Iliad

In preparation for a live discussion on the Language of Heroes Professor Richard Martin asked members of Hour 25 to make sense in context of the speech-acts in three passages of The Iliad;
·      Text A - Iliad 1.1-52,  Chryses and Agamemnon
·      Text B -  Iliad 20.176-258,   Aeneas and Achilles
·      Text C – Iliad 11.618 – 654, Nestor, Machaon and Patroclus

And then try to apply our sense of the overall speech-situation to Text D - Iliad
6.119 -236, Glaucus and Diomedes.  Unfortunately my observations seem to have turned the post and gone back the other way.  But I suppose that is to be expected with discussing conversation and Nestor.

Here’s what I got so far;

In “Text A” the priest Chryses demands the return of his daughter in the name of the god Apollo.  Lord Agamemnon  “spoke fiercely to him”, and maybe with good reason.  Based on the examples of Thetis supplication of Zeus and Priam’s of Achilles, Chryses was not supplicating Agamemnon  properly.  If the priest had maybe Agamemnon’s response might have been similar to Nestor in “Text C”; “he sprang from his seat, seized his (Patroclus’ s) hand, led him into the tent, and bade him take his place among  them”  Of course that didn’t happen, Agamemnon sent the priest away.  “The old man feared him and obeyed.”  But as we know from Hour 24 in HeroesX just because one party goes away, the dialogue doesn’t end, rather “Not a word he spoke, but went by the shore of the sounding sea and prayed apart to King Apollo whom lovely fine haired Leto had borne.”  Chryses continuation of the conversation foreshadows Achilles own prayer apart by the sounding sea.  And we all know how affective that was for Achilles in the Iliad and for Demeter in her Homeric Hymn.

In Text B when I read Aeneas say, “I will, can brag and talk unseemly…We could fling taunts… and talk all sorts of ways” I took this for the normal sort of chest puffing, trash-talk you can witness before some sporting events and on the playground before recess.  It wasn’t until Text D when  I heard the graciousness of the son of Hippolokhos and the son of Tydeus on the battlefield that I realized Achilles barely got a word in edgewise and that Aeneas was disrespectful of Achilles lineage. Maybe if Aeneas hadn’t been talking like Thersites he might have walked away with the much coveted armor of Achilles.

Text C brings us a man who knows how to converse.  Nestor as host takes Machaon to the shore so they can dry their shirts in the breeze, while a wise woman sets a meal for them.  And the mixing of the wine took on such precision and ritual that it conjured up images of Demeter’s sacred drought  then “they fell talking with one another”.  You just know this was a great talk.  Enter Patroclus, greeted graciously as mentioned above.  His response to the offer of wine is almost as curt as Demeter’s had been.  He gets what he wants and is gone.

In Text D two chivalrous Bronze Age nobles exchange gracious respectful words  and part with gifts to amaze their peers for generations to come.  One would have the armor of Diomedes and the other armor of gold.  (As to Glaucus taking leave of his wits; keep in mind these are the words of an envious iron age bard who sings for his dinner singing of two bronze age heroes whose world view was as different from his as ours is of all of them. )

Visit the full text of Professor Martin's book at the Center for Hellenic Studies;

Sunday, August 31, 2014

TFBT: Philoctetes by Sophocles

The tragedy study group at Hour 25  selected Philoctetes for our latest project.  I highly recommend the translation by Ian Johnston  Of course; I highly recommend anything by Johnston.

The play is about the wounded warrior Philoctetes abandoned by his comrades. Ten years later they discover they need him after all.  The play begins with the ever-devious Odysseus instructing Achilles’ son Neoptolemus how to entrap Philoctetes “tell him a story.   You have to trick him, lead his mind astray.”  The play ends with Philoctetes willing departure with his comrades in arms. 

In previous re-readings of the Ancient Athenian tragedies I have concentrated on some aspect of the story line other than the main characters.  Under the mistaken impression that Sophocles blamed one of Heracles poisoned arrows for Philoctetes unhealing wound, I thought that those famous arrows dipped in the bile of the Hydra would be my focus.  Rather Philoctetes says,   “I was bitten by a savage deadly snake”, the guardian spirit at the shrine of the nymph Chryse that lamed Philoctetes.  Chryse and her snake get mentioned three times in the play.   In the Oresteia we heard Apollo’s shafts compared to snakes when he threatened the ancient Erinnyes. 


But the word I kept stumbling over was “boy”.  Neoptolemus was 10 years old when the story takes place.  Ludicrous at first glance, but Encyclopedia Britannic, via Wikipedia says the life expectancy of the Ancient Greeks was between 26 and 28.  So maybe the heroes of the Trojan War grew up quickly.   One theory says that Castor and Polydeuces were twelve when the lead the Spartan army that rescued their sister Helen from her Athenian captors.


Around line twenty Odysseus sends the boy to scout out a two mouthed cave where they left the reeking archer a decade before.  I was reminded of Somnus’ two gated cave from which pass the true and false dreams respectively. 


Odysseus starts this education in deciet by saying ” Son of Achilles, to fulfill your mission   you must be loyal to your ancestry, but at line 79, admits that ” My boy, I know your nature is not fit  to make up lies or speak deceitful things tow which the boy replies   “It’s not my nature to do anything    based on deceit. My father, so they say,    was just the same”   This debate is surely a foretaste of things to come.   By line 135 the boy ass, “   But how can anyone control his face when he dares speak such lies?”  Which make me wonder how much of the following dialogue between the apprentice liar and the desperate warrior deserted a decade before is lies on Neoptolemus part, second thoughts about his deceit and truths of another nature.    Particularly when Odysseus admits the only way the city can be captured is with Philoctetes’ bow and arrows. “So I am not the one who’ll take that city, as you told me.”  “It’s not my nature to do anything   based on deceit. My father, so they say…” I would much prefer to fail in something honorable, than to win out with treachery. “Still the boy eventually says at line 120, “All right,   I’ll do it. I’ll set all shame aside.”  Of the Ancient Greek works we’ve read this might be the firmest most passionate commendation of lying and deceit.  I was reminded of Creon and Polydeuces trying to convince or kidnap Oedipus and return him to another place.


Odysseus leaves before Philoctetes returns to his cave and recognizes that deceit is at hand.  Neoptolemus and the chorus hand about.  The boy observes,   “He lies all by himself,    apart from other human beings,   with shaggy goats and spotted deer,    suffering from hunger pangs   and from his painful wound.   It’s pitiful—he has to bear   an agony that has no cure,   and, as he cries in bitter pain,   the only answer comes from Echo,   a distant, senseless babble. “      I was reminded of Polyphemus and the crew of Odysseus at his cave.


The boy introduces himself to the castaway, “My birthplace is the island Scyros…I’m Neoptolemus,    Achilles’ son.  The supplicant responses, “My lad, son of a man I truly loved,   and from a land I cherish, you were raised by old Lycomedes, your mother’s father.   Which makes Philoctetes sound like an old friend of the family and puts Neoptolemus under obligations of family friendship and alliance.  Philoctetes’ pathetic and lengthy self-introduction continues with a listing of all the crimes that the Astresides and Odysseus are guilty of.  The boy replies, “I, too, can testify to what you say.  You speak the truth.  For I’ve experience (380) how bad the sons of Atreus can be and Odysseus’ brutality as well”  Just got to wonder if he isn’t thinking about his father’s armor which he still hasn’t received. 


Odysseus, hiding in the bushes, sends one of his men disguised as a passing merchant to spread the gossip that another ship is looking for Philoctetes is hopes of convincing the stinking archer to climb into their ship all the faster.  Philoctetes, thinks all this odd, then after reminding everyone the Chryse’s snake wounded him suggests they leave quickly.  The boy says at 639 “   We’ll set sail when the wind stops blowing in
   right at our bow. Its course is now against us. “  Is he having second thoughts about betraying Philoctetes? He tells Philoctetes to pack up his stuff; an herb that helps sometimes.  Philoctetes replies that he also needs “Any of the arrows I’ve forgotten  or overlooked.”   The arrows in question are the poisoned arrows of Heracles that did in two centaurs; Chiron and Pholos, when they were left lying around.  Neoptolemus offers to hold onto the sacred bow while the older man gathers his things. 


While they pack the chorus compares the sufferings to Philoctetes to those of Ixion.  Ixion killed his father-in-law and is purified by Zeus.  In gratitude Ixion attempts to rape Hera and ends up bedding Nephele.  Consequently he is tied to a burning wheel and rolled up and down a stygian hill for all of eternity and he became the father  or grandfather of the centaurs Nesus and Pholos who were killed by these poisoned arrows.


As they exit the cave, the snake venom sends the poor man into a fit; “a storm of pain” .  His cries and shrieks remind me of the death of Agamemnon at the hands of that often-deemed “viper” Clytemnestra.  The whole “fit” seemed inappropriate for the stage, based on other readings of the Ancient Greek tragedies.


At 468, the Chorus, Neoptolemus’ sailors pray to Rhea for assistance.  Now, when  the poor man falls asleep the chorus prays again at 1098 to Sleep

  O Sleep who knows no pain,
   sweet Sleep so free of suffering,
   come to us with joy, my king,                                                          
   and bring him happiness.
   Hold before his eyes that lightt                                                                  
   which shines around them now.
   Come down, I pray, and heal him


Neoptolemus assists the ailing archer to his feet but then in the throes of a new round of second thoughts confesses all the conspiracy.  Philoctetes tells the boy  You’re not an evil man,” Which seems to be Odysseus cue to jump out of the bushes. 


Odysseus is at his worse and most abusive.  He leaves the chorus to see to Philoctetes and leaves with Neoptolemus to prepare the ship.  Philoctetes laments his fate to the chorus.  Their debate continues until they see Odysseus coming and bringing with him Achilles’ son.


ODYSSEUS;    Why are you coming back along this path  at such a rapid pace (boy)?

NEOPTOLEMUS;   I was wrong before.    I have to fix all those mistakes I made.

ODYSSEUS;    You sound odd. What mistakes are those?

NEOPTOLEMUS;    When I obeyed you and the entire army.      


Odysseus no longer refers to Neoptolemus as boy.  Neoptolemus returns the bow and apologizes to Philoctetes, promising that he will not force Philoctetes to go anywhere.  He tries to convince Philoctetes to see the wisdom of attaining a cure and glory at Troy, but the archer will not give up his anger at Odysseus and company.  Neoptolemus advices; “My dear man, in such troubles you must learn   not to be so stubborn.”  Although another  translation says “You must learn to extract yourself from this anguish” which I liked better. “  They agree to forget Troy and head to their mutual homes. 


“Not yet…” says the voice of the now divine Heracles, who’s returned to the man who graciously lit his funeral pyre.  He instructs both me that they must go to Troy and promises there you “make your life something men honor.”  The two heroes promise they will.  Philoctetes bides good bye to the place including the nymphs of streams and meadows.  The chorus runs ahead to pray to the Nereids.   

The end.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

TFBT: Apobatic Gods

A while back at Hour 25, Professor Douglas Frame joined us as visiting scholar.  He wroteHippota Nestor  The title means “Nestor, the Charioteer”.  The phrase is famous from The Iliad.  It is also ironic for two reasons.  One, Nestor is famous for giving advice on winning a chariot race, while in fact his advice hand nothing to do with chariot racing and two, he was terrible at driving a chariot!  So Frame’s book is about “twins”.  Also visiting was Professor Kevin McGrath, who studied Charioteers and their therapons in the Indo-European tradition.  Obviously we’ve been discussing two guys in a chariot a lot lately.

Helios, the god of the sun is always one of my favorite characters in Greek mythology to research.  At the time I was of the opinion that the only person who ever rode in the solar chariot with Helios was his best friend Hephaestus the smithy of the gods.  If you pressed me would I have recalled that Helios’ sister Selene is sometimes shown in the chariot with him.  Then I started doing research and discovered Helios took all his children and some grandchildren for a ride at some point include Phaeton who famously wrecked the chariot.  I kept looking for references to pairs of deities in chariot and found lots, mostly during the war against the giants.  Although I could find no significance of who was paired with whom I did find something else interesting.  In sculpture and art a surprising number of gods and goddesses are carved and painted in the “apobatic moment”.

Nagy wrote extensively about the apobatic moment.  It is the moment that a warrior leaps in full armor from his chariot.  It use to be a sport in the pan-Hellenic games in memory of the moment when  Achilles in a murderous rage did the same in The Iliad.  It is also the moment when the warrior remounts that chariot.  Some call this “anabatic.”

But, I wonder if a god stepping to earth has some greater significance than foreshadowing events in the Iliad. I wonder if this is not a moment of epiphany for the audience. I wonder if loosing the reins is releasing the abstract forces that often draw divine chariots.  I wonder if taking the reins back is regaining control of those forces.  Nestor and Socrates both have something to say about the importance of reining in and alternately loosing those forces.  And what does it mean when Death himself snatches up Persephone and we see him stepping aboard the chariot drawn by 4 black horses to make his escape?