Monday, October 5, 2015

TFBT: Not Even Zeus Can Stop Me Now!

Recently, at “The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, version 4”  David H asked about some passage dealing with the will of Zeus, and the attitudes of some men toward the will of Zeus. He invited comments on what the role of the will of Zeus was to the narrator, characters, and audience of the Iliad at the time.  My comments are in Italics.  David had quite the list of things to comment on! 

First; Odysseus speaking to Diomedes, Il. Scroll XI “Diomedes answered, “Come what may, I will stand firm; but we shall have scant joy of it, for Zeus the cloud-gatherer is minded to give victory to the Trojans rather than to us.” Throughout the Iliad we see little internal dialogue or self awareness among the characters.  Since they can’t analyze their feels or motivations they just blame it on some daimon or god.  We also throughout the Iliad see some god invisible to them putting thoughts in their heads.

“And now the son of Kronos as he looked down from Ida ordained that neither side should have the advantage, and they kept on killing one another. (line 336 or so).”  According to the lost epic called the “Cypria”  this is the Will of Zeus, depopulation!

(Nestor) lashed his horses and they flew onward holding nothing back towards the ships, as though of their own free will.  You said, “This is speaking of the horses. But does the “as though of their own free will” imply divine purpose?  Nestor’s experience reminds of of Alexander Dumas’ with post horses.   You know after he got rich with “The Three Musketeers” and “The Count of Monte Cristo” he traved all over the world.   I was just reading “My Adventures in the Caucasias”  To quote Dumas, “Evidently the smell of their stable had lent wings to the horses’ legs.” Nothing divine with Nestor’s horses knowing home.

Scroll XII Speaking of the wall and trench the Achaeans built to protect their camp and ships:    David, the wall around the Achaean camp is such a political hot potato here on earth and on Olympus above, that anything said about it can be discounted as exaggeration or motivated by some hidden agenda.  It is sort of like Nestor’s advice on chariot racing that has nothing to do with chariot racing.  The issues surrounding the wall, involved the maritime imagery in the battle scenes, the fact that Poseidon and Apollo were the slaves who built the walls of Troy (along with Achilles’ grandfather) and mortals not performing the appropriate rituals before beginning a big project.    

Scroll XIII line 784 Alexandros to Hector: Now, therefore, lead on where you would have us go, and we will follow with right goodwill; you shall not find us fail you in so far as our strength holds out, but no man can do more than in him lies, no matter how willing he may be.”  So we are back to no self-awareness, if you can’t do something it’s because the daimon of fear entered you.  If you can do something it’s because a god or more likely a goddess is backing you up. 

Scroll XIV Agamemnon to Nestor, line 51 or so…Is Nestor saying that the situation itself will allow no other outcome, and that this is so strong even the gods would be powerless to change it?     This is the usual sort of boast that ends with a lightning bolt, for example; “There Capaneus, because he said he would capture Thebes against Jove’s will, was smitten by a thunderbolt as he was scaling the wall.”  (Hyginus, “Fabulae” 68)  

“Nestor, if the Trojans are indeed fighting at the rear of our ships, and neither the wall nor the trench has served us...”  Is this Agamemnon deciphering the will of Zeus a posteriori. The wall didn't stand the attack, therefore we can conclude that the building of the wall was not Zeus' will?  Again, no self-awareness here, no, “Hmm, maybe the whole wall thing was a bad idea on our part, not as impregnable as we thought.  Maybe we should have put more effort into it.”  Don’t blame yourself, blame the gods.

Scroll XV … I thought this was especially interesting. It covers the whole development in the plot of the Iliad and part of the Odyssey, with all its twists and turns, as the will of Zeus which he will successively carry out, despite the appearance of fickleness on his part with the abrupt changes in fortune for the human parties involved.  David, it also indicates that Zeus was not all that subject to the Fates

In summary, the heroes of the Iliad have some free will, but since they rarely search their souls, they assume any stray thought or errant emotion was the “gift” from a daemon.  daimon ” being the word they use when they are unsure as to which of the immortals is involved.  Keep in mind that the Will of Zeus, is depopulation! Horses have some free will too unless they push it too far like Achilles’ horses did and the Erinyes shut their mouths. (Homer, Iliad 19. 392)  There’s a lot more to the wall and trench the Achaeans built to protect their camp than  meets the eye. Be careful about saying;  “Not even the gods can stop me now!”  Because the gods are not necessarily as subject to the Fates as envious mortals like to think. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

VftSW: Dumas Again

 Recently I had the pleasure of re-reading Alexander Dumas’ “Adventures in Caucasia”.  If you don’t know Alexander Dumas, he is the author of the “Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Musketeers” along with an amazing number of other books.  Once he because rich and famous he traveled the world with the painter Monet.  Every so often he’d send his journals back to Paris, where every word would be printed in the papers. 


“My Adventures in the Caucasias” is an amazing adventure story.  He and his party visits the worn-torn countries surrounding the Black Sea (1858-59)  He meets dignitaries of all languages and cultures, spends the night in the dirt, kitchens and palaces.  He shares their stories about the chaining of Prometheus and the grave of Cronus.  He is a passionate, adventurous, humorful and friendly man.  His writing is incredible.  Make sure to read the introduction.  I leave here just a few inspirational quibs and some beautiful writing to tease you with;


  • “A weapon serves not only to defend you, but to prevent your being attacked.”  
  • “This was finer than anything we had ever seen or even imagined in our wildest dreams!”  
  • “To try is one of the first proofs the human spirit can give of its divine essence; to succeed is the last.”    
  • “I’m very much afraid that bravery may be merely a matter of what one is used to.”  
  • “I already had two friend by the name, so it seemed to me a good omen.”  
  • “…the ugliest people on earth, with their yellow color, oily skin, small, slanting eyes, flat nose, unkempt hair and sparse, ragged beards, all proverbially filthy.”  
  • “habitually drinkers start the evening with a hangover from the night before.”  
  • “…we listened, motionless, until the last echoes had died away like the cry of some unquiet spirit of the night.”  
  • “Evidently the smell of their stable had lent wings to the horses’ legs.”  
  • “It was wonderful to to see the love and understanding between those two noble beings (father and son).  Each filled the other’s heart.  
  • “Have you enjoyed your day?” Prince Ivan enquired as he took me to my room.  “It has been quite amazing.” I assured him.” 

And finally;  

“there before my very eyes, lay the Caspian Sea, blue as a sapphire and without a ripple on its surface, as deserted as the steppes which it borders.  Nothing could be more Majestic, more melancholy than this Hyrcanium Sea, little better known today than when Herodotus described it more than four hundred years before the birth of Christ; that mysterious sea whose level is slowly falling, thought it receives the waters of the mighty rivers from the North, West and south.  From the East, all that flows into it is sand.  Who knows through what subterranean channel is pours away the flood brought to it by the Volga, the Kuma and the Trerek?  Will it one day become a great stretch of sand…?”  

Thursday, October 1, 2015

TFBT: There is No Satan in Greek Mythology

Ben recently asked me about Evil in Greek mythology.  There is no Satan in Greek mythology.  No Iblis.  No god of evil or manifestation of such.  No horde of monsters gnawing at the roots of the universe.  There is neither boogey man nor things that go bump in the night.  And ghosts are rarities in the Ancient Greek mind.   

If Death is called “evil” (Iliad 3.172, 22.296, 16.46, etc.) it’s not because Thanatos is a bad guy.  He brings an end to pain and physical suffering.  He is the twin brother of sweet Sleep.  People call Death evil because they are not sure where he will take their disembodied spirits; the Isle of the Blest or Lord Hades’ dreary realm.  If people speak of “hateful” Hades (Pausanias 8.18.3, Argonautica 3.806) and “dread” Persephone (Odyssey 10.490, Iliad 9.454) it’s because they hate and dread ending up in their realm.  Lyssa (Madness) isn’t a baddie either.  She actually objects to maddening Heracles in Euripides’ play of the same ilk.  She is ordered to do so by Hera, Queen of the gods.  

Hera!  Now if we are talking evil, this might be a personification.  She didn’t like her stepson Heracles.  She stole his birthright (Pausanias 9.11. 3) and tossed snakes in crib (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 62) She made him mad several times.  She created the scenario where he had to perform his dangers and horrifying dozen labors of which Ovid calls (Heroides 9. 35) "The acts of (King) Eurystheus, the instrument of Hera's unjust wrath, and the long-continued anger of the goddess."  Not to mention attacks by miscellaneous other monsters and violent storms.   But as usual we can’t judge divine actions by human standards.  This life of suffering and violence, particularly a couple of the Labors are the very things that insured Heracles unwilting glory (kleos) and eventually immorality.  As a matter of fact his name Heracles = Hera kleos = the Glory of Hera.  As a matter of fact "From the time he [Herakles] achieved immortality, Hera's enmity changed to friendship, he married her daughter Hebe." (Bibliotheca 2. 160) 

Yes there are still some monsters left for other heroes to slay.  There are petty tyrants and foreign invaders.  There is even a witch of two.  But there is no evil of cosmic consequence battling the inherent good of the world. There is no Satan.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

TFBT: Pindar's Great Mother and Pan

Recently The Hour 25 Book Club hosted  a discussion on Pindar Pythian 3, Olympian 1, and Gregory Nagy Pindar’s Homer Chapter 4: “Pindar’s Olympian 1 and the Aetiology of the Olympic Games” I was struck by the lines;

But I will pray to the Great Mother, to whom night after night before my doors, a stately goddess, the maidens dance and to Pan beside her.”  (Pythia 3)

I could think of no myth about the Great Mother, whether Cybele, Rhea or Demeter and the great god Pan.  I recalled a couple of myths about satyrs in Cybele or Dionysus’ train, but neither tale was about Pan.I looked at several resources and found only vague suggestions and nothing specific.  So I went to JSTOR and found a great article “Pindar and Pan: frs. 95-100 Snell” by Joan A. Haldane Phoenix Vol. 22, No. 1 (Spring, 1968), pp. 18-31

Haldane’s article seems well researched.  She says the shrine in question was actually established by Pindar.  “Pindar had a vision of (the Great Mother) descending towards him from the mountains in the form a  of a wooden image.”  So in honor of the epiphany he established the shrine.  Additionally, Pan was seen outside of Thebes singing one of Pindar’s Odes.  In thanks for the rather flattery compliment, Pindar established Pan next to the goddess in the shrine. 

Mystery solved!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

TFBT: You Are What you Eat

Ben and I intend to discuss the illusion  of “Death” in Greek Mythology next week.   Ben is doing the research.  My assignment requires me to “crystalize” the concept .  I wasn’t having much luck there.  Inspiration came from an unexpected “poet”; Alexander Dumas.   I love Dumas.  Of all his amazing books, his biographic, “My Adventures in the Caucasus” is my favorite.  In the introduction he explains how the Caucasus mountain range got its name.   

The Caucasus itself owes its name to one of the first assassinations committed by one of the most ancient gods, Saturn, vanquished by his son Jupiter in the war of the Giants was fleeing through the mountains when he found his way barred by a shepherd, Caucasus, who he slew with a sweep of his scythe.  Jupiter to commemorate this murder gave the victim’s name to the whole range, of which the mountains of Armenia, Asia Minor, Persia and the Crimea are off-shoots.   

As literature moved beyond Hesiod and Homer, Greek faded and was replace by Latin as the universal language.  Hence all the gods' Greek names were replaced with their Latin equavalent.  As the past began to fade mankind began to confound the War of the Giants with the War of the Titans, So, in writing “Saturn” Dumas meant Cronus and rather than the Gigantomanchy he meant the Titanomachy. If the mortal Caucasus barred the Titan's path through the mountain range, is this where Zeus finally avenged himself and his sibling upon their cannibal father?  Is this the spot where  Saturn's tomb is pointed out in the Caucasus”? [i]
 Admittedly, rumor has it that there is a tomb of Zeus on Crete but as the ancients said “All Cretans are liars”[ii]  Still a tomb of Cronus?  In some ways that  seems possible.  Human’s die, but their “yuce”, their souls survive in Hades.  Likewise the giants and Typhon were “buried” under mountains[iii]  and the Titans tossed into a hole in the ground (called Tartarus)[iv].  So maybe the fallen divine foes of the Olympians only survived in shadowy forms beneath the earth.  So how do we address those gods who return to the world?  For “Even immortal Zeus released the Titans”[v] 
Okay that’s easy.  To return these gods to “light and life” just feed them a little nectar and ambrosia. [vi]  Hmm,  just feed them a little nectar and ambrosia.  Over the years Maya M and I explored the genealogies of the heroes and gods trying to determine the “gene for immortality”.  For example,  the descendants of Gorgophone and the descendants of Telephassa   though generally mortal have  tendency to turn into gods.  What if the secret to being immortal and unaging is in what you eat?  

If you lap black blood out of a trench[vii] or eat a pomegranate grown along the banks of the Acheron[viii]  you live in Hades.  If you eat meat; you are a man[ix] .  If you eat bread; you are a deceased hero or demi-god living on the shores of the Great River Ocean.[x]  The apples are always poisoned one way or the other.[xi] If you consume nectar and ambrosia you are a god.[xii] Hence, during the Golden Age the Titans drank & dined with men[xiii]  and consequently lost the Titanomachy to the nectar-swilling Olympians.  The Olympians once shared their divine food with men.  Then Tantalus[xiv] and Ixion[xv] got drunk on  nectar and made such a mess of things, that the gods got real picky about whom they dined with.  

It’s sort of like communion on Sunday, to attain life-immortal I kneel at the railing and eat of the divine food provided by my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.



[i]The Ghebers of Hebronby Samuel Fales Dunlap 1898, pg 161;  who references  Daniel Abrahamic Chwolson, Ssabier und der Ssabismus v1, page 400, 1856 ,   see also “The Seven Beauties” by Nizami of Ganja, “In praise of King Alaud Din” circa 1200
[iii] Apollodorus, The Library 1.6.2 and 1.6.3 Translated by Sir James George Frazer. Loeb Classical Library Volumes 121 & 122. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921
[iv]  Apollodorus, The Library 1.2.1
[v] Pindar,  Nemean 10.59
[vi] Hesiod, The Theogony 617, Translated by Evelyn-White, H G. Loeb Classical Library Volume 57. London: William Heinemann, 1914.  
[vii] Homer, The Odyssey, Book 11,   Translated by Murray, A T. Loeb Classical Library Volumes. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1919.
[viii] Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Translated by Evelyn-White, H G. Loeb Classical Library Volume 57. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914.
[x] Hesiod, Works and Days (trans. Evelyn-White)  "Zeus the son of Kronos made yet another [race of men], the fourth, upon the fruitful earth, which was nobler and more righteous, a god-like race of hero-men who are called demi-gods…they live untouched by sorrow in the Islands of the Blessed along the shore of deep swirling Okeanos, happy heroes for whom the grain-giving earth bears honey-sweet fruit flourishing thrice a year”
[xi] The Fates poinsoned the monster Typhon with “that ephemeral fruit”  Apollodorus, The Library 1.6.3
[xii] Homer. The Iliad 1.595, Translated by Murray, A T. Loeb Classical Library Volumes1. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1924  and Ovid. Metamorphoses 1.595 Translated by More, Brookes. Boston, Cornhill Publishing Co. 1922.
[xiii]   Robert GravesThe Greek Myths pg 26, 1955, revised 1960 “Zeus grew to manhood among the shepherds of Ida, occupying another cave; then sought out Metis the Titaness, who lived beside the Ocean stream. On her advice he visited his mother Rhea, and asked to be made Cronus's cup—bearer. Rhea readily assisted him in his task of vengeance; she provided the emetic potion, which Metis had told him to mix with Cronus's honeyed drink.”
[xiv]   Apollodorus. The Library.  E.2.1   Translated by Sir James George Frazer. Loeb Classical Library Volumes 121 & 122. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921
[xv] Pindar, Pythian Ode 2. 32 ff (trans. Conway)

Saturday, September 5, 2015

TFBT; Iphidamas and Protesilaus

Over at a great MOOC called The Ancient Greek Hero in 24hours we discussed Iphidamas a young Trojan who returned to Troy to attain glory. The conversation reminded me a lot of Protesilaus a young Greek man who did the same. Did we ever talk about the comparison between the two?
Iliad 11.218 “Tell me now you Muses dwelling on Olympus, who was the firstto come up and face Agamemnon, either among the Trojans or among their famous allies? It was Iphidamas son of Antenor, a man both good and great, who was raised in fertile Thrace the mother of sheep. Kissēs in his own house raised him when he was little. Kissēs was his mother’s father, father to Theano, the one with the fair cheeks. When Iphidamas reached the stage of adolescence, which brings luminous glory, Kissēs wanted to keep him at home and to give him his own daughter in marriage, but as soon as Iphidamas had married, he left the bride chamber and went off seeking the kleos of the Achaeans”
Iliad 2. 695 “And then there were those that held Phylake and Pyrasos, with its flowery meadows, precinct of Demeter; and Iton, the mother of sheep; Antron upon the sea, and Pteleon that lies upon the grass lands. Of these men the Arēs-like Protesilaos had been leader while he was still alive, but now he was held down by the black earth that covered him. He had left a wife behind him in Phylake to tear both her cheeks in sorrow, and his house was only half completed. He was killed by a Dardanian warrior while he was leaping out from his ship [on Trojan soil], and he was the very first of the Achaeans to make the leap.
Presumably both are young men, recently married and set out to war to win glory. Both were “first” in someway and quick to die. The only other thing of note I see in their stories is some coincidence of names. We are comparing Kisses’ grandson Iphi-damas to Protesilaus son of Iphi-cles and husband of Lao-damas Coincidence?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

TFBT: Gayley's Commentaries, Pythagoras' Harmony of the Spheres and Bode's Law

Elsewhere I have spoke with much affection about   Charles Mills Gayley’s  “The Classic Myths in English Literature and in Art, Based Originally on Bulfinch's. It rained heavily this weekend, the ditches are full of running water. Even my Black Labrador dreads going outside for a walk.  With time on my hands and no current book club at Hour 25  I searched my bookshelf for something fun to re-read.  I chose Gayley’s Commentaries.  Keep in mind that Gayley’s master piece was published in 1893.  Believe me when I say that research and thought on Greek mythology has come a long ways since then.  Allegorical interpretation was all the rage in his day.  Gayley without too much comment offers up all the most popular interpretations of each god or myth discussed. However, two thirds of the way through is commentaries he says;

“Of the stories told in these and the following sections no systematic, allegorical, or physical interpretations are here given, because ;

  1.  the general method followed by the unravelers of myth has already been sufficiently illustrated;
  2. the attempt to force symbolic conceptions into the longer folk-stories, or into the artistic myths and epics of any country, is historically unwarranted and, in practice, is only too often capricious; and
  3. the effort to interpret such stories as the Iliad and the Odyssey must result in destroying those elements of unconscious simplicity and romantic vigor that characterize the early products of the creative imagination” 

But it was too late a determination for me as a youthful reader.  My own thoughts on Greek myth were already contaminated by the solar theory of Max Muller’s and Sir G. W. Cox's theories on clouds, forever merged in my mind into “Solare Cattle” theories.


Here are a few insights offered up by Gayley;   

  • “Deucalion was represented as the only survivor of the flood, but still the founder of the race (Greek laós), which he created by casting stones (Greek lâes) behind him."
  • “Overbeck insists that the loves of Zeus are deities of the earth: "The rains of heaven (Zeus) do not fall upon the moon.”
  • “Sprung forth a Pallas, arm'd and undefiled" Byron
  • “Leto, according to ancient interpreters, was night,—the shadow, therefore, of Hera, if Hera be the splendor of heaven.”
  • Aphrodite "she is, also, the sweetly smiling, laughter-loving, bright, golden, fruitful, winsome, flower-faced, blushing, swift-eyed, golden-crowned.”
  • Hestia “She is "first of the goddesses," the holy, the chaste, the sacred.”
  • “Hades is called also the Illustrious, the Many-named, the Benignant, Polydectes or the Hospitable.”
  • “Lower than the sons of Heaven: lower than the Titans, sons of Uranus (Heaven), who were plunged into Tartarus.”
  • The serpents that draw Medea's chariot "are part of the usual equipage of a witch, symbolizing wisdom, foreknowledge, swiftness, violence, and Oriental mystery.”
  • “Preller says Minos "is the solar king and hero of Crete; his wife, Pasiphaë, is the moon (who was worshiped in Crete under the form of a cow); and the Minotaur is the lord of the starry heavens which are his labyrinth.”  To add some support here Aaron Atsma says;  “The Minotauros' proper name Asterion, the starry one.”

He tells the story of the Sibyl.  I re-print  it  for your benefit.  Knowing this tale saved my wife and I $5,000 dollars at the second round of negotiations for our current home;

“The Sibyl. The following legend of the Sibyl is fixed at a later date. In the reign of one of the Tarquins there appeared before the king a woman who offered him nine books for sale. The king refused to purchase them, whereupon the woman went away and burned three of the books, and returning offered the remaining books for the same price she had asked for the nine. The king again rejected them; but when the woman, after burning three books more, returned and asked for the three remaining the same price which she had before asked for the nine, his curiosity was excited, and he purchased the books. They were found to contain the destinies of the Roman state. They were kept in the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, preserved in a stone chest, and allowed to be inspected only by especial officers appointed for that duty, who on great occasions consulted them and interpreted their oracles to the people.” 

Gayley’s commentaries also discuss the Harmony of the Spheres;

“In the center of the universe (as Pythagoras taught) there was a central fire, the principle of life. The central fire was surrounded by the earth, the moon, the sun, and the five planets. The distances of the various heavenly bodies from one another were conceived to correspond to the proportions of the musical scale.” 

Does this bear any relations to Bode's Law?  The formula suggests that, extending outward, each planet would be approximately twice as far from the Sun as the one before. The hypothesis correctly anticipated the orbits of the asteroid  belt and Uranus,