Monday, April 18, 2016


Sentenia Antiquae did a great article on the Trojan princess Polyxena.
I can only add that supposedly, Polyxena was Achilles' bride in the other world. (See Philostratus, Her. xx.18; Philostratus, Vit. Apollon.iv.16.). Of course Medeia (Schol. ad Eurip. Med. 10, ad Apollon. Rhod. iv. 814.), Iphigenia (Anton. Lib. 27.) and Helen (Ptolemy Hephaestion, New History Book 4) all claim the title of Mrs. Achilles in the Afterworld too.

Friday, April 8, 2016

TFBT: Enlightened Thinkers' Irreligion

In the introduction of  Loeb Classical Library’s version of “Aeschylus” Herbert Weir Smyth makes the following comment:

 “Aeschylus was the first of the many “enlightened” thinkers who were brough to court for their irreligion; Diagoras (of Melos), Anaxagoras, Protagoras, Socrates, Stilpo(n), Aristotle, and Theodorus (the Atheist); Andocides was tried for violation of the Mysteries.  Euripides had to rewrite the beginning of his Wise Melanippe”

The comment struck my curiosity and I researched the names he listed via A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, William Smith, ed.   Most the charges are trumped up as you will see in the excerpts below.  It is amazing how many of these men accused of impiety received heroic honors upon their death.

“In the accusation of Socrates it was Meletus who laid the indictment before the Archon Basileus… Soon after the death of Socrates, the Athenians repented of their injustice, and Meletus was stoned to death as one of the authors of their folly.”  A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology  William Smith, ed.

Aeschylus was accused of impiety before the court of the Areiopagus, and that he would have been condemned but for the interposition of his brother Ameinias, who had distinguished himself at the battle of Salamis. According to some authors this accusation was preferred against him, for having in some of his plays either divulged or profanely spoken of the mysteries of Ceres. According to others, the charge originated from his having introduced on the stage the dread goddesses, the Eumenides, which he had done in such a way as not only to do violence to popular prejudice, but also to excite the greatest alarm among the spectators. Now, the Eumenides contains nothing which can be considered as a publication of the mysteries of Ceres, and therefore we are inclined to think that his political enemies availed themselves of the unpopularity he had incurred by his Chorus of Furies, to get up against him a charge of impiety, which they supported not only by what was objectionable in the Eumenides, but also in other plays not now extant” William Smith

(The Athenians) uneasy at being disturbed in their hereditary superstitions, soon found reasons for complaint. Anaxagoras, therefore, was accused of impiety. …it was only owing to the influence and eloquence of Pericles that he was not put to death… The philosopher now went to Lampsacus, and it seems to have been during his absence that the second charge of μηδισμὸς was brought against him, in consequence of which he was condemned to death. He is said to have received the intelligence of his sentence with a smile, and to have died at Lampsacus at the age of seventy-two. The inhabitants of this place honoured Anaxagoras not only during his lifetime, but after his death also.”  William Smith

“The impeachment of Protagoras had been founded on his book on the gods, which began with the statement: "Respecting the gods, I am unable to know whether they exist or do not exist." The impeachment was followed by his banishment.”  William Smith

“Whether he (Stilpo) was in earnest in his antagonism to the popular polytheistic faith, and whether and how the Areiopagus in Athens stepped in, cannot be gathered”  William Smith

“whether justly or not, with considerable suspicion, and he (Euripides) had already been assailed with a charge of impiety in a court of justice, on the ground of the well-known line in the Hippolytus (607), supposed to be expressive of mental reservation. (Arist. Rhet. 3.15.8.) He did not live long to enjoy the honours and pleasures of the Macedonian court, as his death took place in B. C. 406. Most testimonies agree in stating that he was torn in pieces by the king's dogs,”  William Smith

“A man named Pythonicus charged Alcibiades with having divulged and profaned the Elensinian mysteries; and another man, Audrocles, endeavoiured to connect this and sismilair offeinces with the mutilation of the Hermae…At Athens sentence of death was passed upon him, his property confiscated, and a curse pronounced upon him by the ministers of religion…a monument erected to his memory at Melissa, the place of his leath, and a statue of him erected thereon by the emperor Hadrian, who also instituted certain yearly sacrifices in his honour.”  William Smith

“Diagoras (of Melos) … was involved, by the democratical party in a lawsuit about impiety (διαβολῆς τνχὼν ἐπ̓ ἀσεβείᾳ), and he thought it advisable to escape its result by flight. Religion seems to have been only the pretext for that accusation, for the mere fact of his being a Melian made him an object of suspicion…There is no doubt that Diagoras paid no regard to the established religion of the people, and he may occasionally have ridiculed it; but he also ventured on direct attacks upon public institutions of the Athenian worship, such as the Eleusinian mysteries, which he endeavoured to lower in public estimation, and he is said to have prevented many persons from becoming initiated in them.”  William Smith

Callias had but little hope in this case, he brought against him (Andocides) the charge of having profaned the mysteries and violated the laws respecting the temple at Eleusis. (De Myst. § 110, &c.) The orator pleaded his case in the oration still extant, On the Mysteries (περὶ τῶν μυστηρίων), and was acquitted.  William Smith

“The movements which commenced in Grecce against Macedonia after Alexander's death, B. C. 323, endangered also the peace and security of Aristotle…. To bring a political accusation against him was not easy…. He was accordingly accused of impiety (ἀσεβείας) … The charge was grounded on his having addressed a hymn to his friend Hermias as to a god, and paid him divine honours .. Aristotle, however, knew his danger sufficiently well to withdraw from Athens…  we have the account, that his mortal remains were transported to his native city Stageira, and that his memory was honoured there, like that of a hero, by yearly festivals of remembrance.” William Smith

Thursday, April 7, 2016

TFBT: Spock, Achilles and Aesop

Captain Kirk provoking Dr. Spock into a fight calls him “a simpering, devil-eared freak, whose father was a computer and his mother an encyclopedia?"[i]  Whether you are a trekkie or no, it is quite the insult.  Hence the first time I heard “gray sea bore you and the sheer cliffs begot you,” in reference to Achilles (Iliad 16:30-34) that too struck quite the chord.  Here is the story of the latter insult; the goddess Leto heavy with the twins Apollo and Artemis having escaped the pursuing Python turned her feet towards Thessaly in search of a place to birth her children.  In horror of being the chosen site and attaining Hera’s eternal wrath, the river-god Anaurus fled as did the great nymph of Larisa and the cliffs of Chiron, too, abandoning to destiny the River Peneus, flowing calmly through the Vale of the Tempe below.[ii] The cliffs of Chiron are on Mt. Pelion in Thessaly, home of the Centaur Chiron.  Here Peleus, father of Achilles, and Achilles himself were raised when not a home in their Kingdom of Phthia.  In describing the rich plains of his homeland Prince Achilles mentions “both mountain and sounding sea." (Iliad 1.155) The background above helps explain the follow reference; “Now, however, he (Hector) kept trying to break the ranks of the enemy wherever he could see them thickest, and in the goodliest armor; but do what he might he could not break through them, for they stood as a tower foursquare, or as some high cliff rising from the gray sea that braves the anger of the gale.”  (Iliad 15: 615-619)  Achilles will someday soon be that cliff. And I end with the quote that got my research started; “May it never be my lot to nurse such a passion as you have done, to the damage of your own good name. Who in future story will speak well of you unless you now save the Argives from ruin? You know no pity; charioteer Peleus was not your father nor Thetis your mother, but the gray sea bore you and the sheer cliffs begot you,” (Iliad 16:30-34)


I have thought more on Aesop’s’  Venus and the Cat; A Cat fell in love with a handsome young man, and entreated Venus to change her into the form of a woman.  Venus consented to her request and transformed her into a beautiful damsel, so that the youth saw her and loved her, and took her home as his bride.  While the two were reclining in their chamber, Venus wishing to discover if the Cat in her change of shape had also altered her habits of life, let down a mouse in the middle of the room.  The Cat, quite forgetting her present condition, started up from the couch and pursued the mouse, wishing to eat it.  Venus was much disappointed and again caused her to return to her former shape.” [iii] Aphrodite in disgust turns the girl back into a cat.  In Greek mythology such things can be rarely undone. I thought specifically of Clay’s analysis of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo  the first epiphany of the new god on the threshold of Olympus and his eternally repeated entrance into this father’s house…as he did the first time and as he will forever.[iv]  Or as I like to say, “Once and for Always”.   Okay Tiresias got changed back into his original form, but that was more of a happy accident than divine intent. He saw two snakes coupling and struck them with his staff and as a consequence was turned into a maiden.  A year later “she” saw another pair of snakes doing the nasty, struck them again and his manhood returned.  When retelling this story he angered Hera, she blinded him.  “immortal deities may never turn decrees and deeds of other Gods to naught, but Jove, to recompense his loss of sight, endowed him with the gift of prophecy.”  (Ovid Metamorphoses 3.4)  However at Odyssey 10.388, Circe returned Odysseus’ men to their original shape.  So it is possible.


I have thought more on Aesop’s’ “Mercury and the Man Bitten by an Ant; A Man once saw a ship go down with all its crew, and commented severely on the injustice of the gods.”They care nothing for a man's character," said he, "but let the good and the bad go to their deaths together." There was an ant-heap close by where he was standing, and, just as he spoke, he was bitten in the foot by an Ant. Turning in a temper to the ant-heap he stamped upon it and crushed hundreds of unoffending ants. Suddenly Mercury appeared, and belaboured him with his staff, saying as he did so, "You villain, where's your nice sense of justice now?" This fable suggests that as men are to a hill of ants, so gods are to men.  Here Hermes betrays a sensitivity not at all in keeping with his character or the nature of the gods. Although several gods get emotional about the loss of mortal sons during the Trojan War for example Sarpedon, Achilles, Aeneas.  But, I don’t recall any objecting to the destruction of the city in general, the death of thousands or the Cyprian plot against humanity.  


[ii] Callimachus 4 Hymn to Delos; 104)    
[iii] Quote thanks to;
[iv] Jenny Strauss-Clay (The Politics of Olympus, 1989)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

TFBT: Random Notes on Aesop and the Gods

Our next Book Club selection at Hour 25 will be Aesop’s Fables on Tuesday, April 26, at 11 a.m. EDT.  For my initial reading I read the version at Project Gutenberg,  translation by V. S. Vernon Jones.  As I noted elsewhere, “upon the sandy beach of Playa de los Muertos I skipped through delightful anecdotes often of interest to the classicist in me.”  So this will be a re-reading.  Often when I re-read a book I try to shift my perspective by focusing on something besides the main character or story line.  This time I chose the gods.  G. K. Chesterton in his introduction points out that “…for a fable, all the persons must be impersonal. They must be like abstractions in algebra, or like pieces in chess…”  That said I can’t expect to hear much about the gods as we normally hear about them.  But a close reading might tell us what Aesop thought about the gods.   

In “The Man who Lost his Spade” Aesop’s character, “had no great opinion of the simple country deities” and deemed the gods of the town (Panhellenic?) no shrewder.  On the other hand “The Rogue and the Oracle” makes the gods appear all knowing and shrewd. So I don’t know what Aesop thought of the gods! 

In “The Frogs’ complaint against the Sun”, the Aesop worries about the seemingly endless proliferation of deities, particularly those in the shining lineage of Hyperion.  Admittedly the Theban and Trojan Wars were designed to relieve the earth from the burden of the tribes of men, particularly demi-gods.  And Zeus did pull the veil between gods and men after the war to stop the fraternization of Olympic gods with earthly women and the creation of more demi-gods.  Still that gives us no indication that the divine population would not continue to grow.   That said I think the frogs are safe for three reasons. 
1.    The tradition of female virginity about the Olympians.
2.    The dwindling of powerful divinity among the divine blood lines.  Hades and Persephone are generally consider childless.  Poseidon and Amphitrite produced only minor deities and their greatest child couldn’t even walk.  Zeus and Hera, the power couple of the universe produced only three or four children of no great consequence;
a.     Hebe wed Heracles and they produced two minor daemons.
b.    Ares bedded the mighty Aphrodite and produced only minor daemons and mortal girls.
c.     Hephaestus wed Aphrodite, they produced no children.  
d.    And Eileithyia is another virgin. 
3.    The Hyperion goddesses Selene and Eos were cursed with an obsession with mortal men and their brother for all his bedding of Oceanids sired no sons of significance either. 

In “Mercury and the Woodman” Hermes reprises his role as the luck-bringer (Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes).  In “Mercury and the Tradesmen” Hermes plays a promethean trickster god very much in character that we know. (Hesiod Works & Days 67-68)  Ironically the story damns tradesmen whose god Hermes is.  As Suda says "They say Hermes was responsible for profit and an overseer of the businesses”   .  In “Prometheus and the Making of Man” we see a bit of the trickster in Prometheus and a damnation of much of humanity.  In other books, like  Protagoras” 320c - 322a by Plato, we see Epimetheus messing up the creation of man by giving too abundantly the gifts of claw and fang to the animals and leaving nothing for man.  

Mercury and the Man Bitten by an Ant” suggests that as men are to a hill of ants, so gods are to men.  Here Hermes betrays a sensitivity not at all in keeping with his character or the nature of the gods.

The story of “The Bee and Jupiter” is the story of the Rash Oath.  Zeus “promised to give her anything she liked to ask for”, same mistake that Helios made with his son Phaethon. (Ovid, Metamorphoses 1. 750) and Herod with Herodias (Mark 6:23) In “Jupiter and the Tortoise” it is the tortoise that makes the rash oath.

 In “Jupiter and the Monkey” we see a scenario not comparable to anything in Greek literature; a character who values love over unwilting glory.   

The Snake and Jupiter” offers a scenario very untypical of snakes and very untypical of Zeus’ relationship with snakes.  In “The Peacock and Juno” Hera,  the representative-in-residence of the more conservative faction among the Olympians, responds with a quick retort to the whining peacock as Zeus did to the whining snake.  Ironically the peacock is usually portrayed as Hera’s favorite. (Fulgeneus Mythologi trans. by L.G.WhitBread Book 2.1-Juno) 

In both “The Farmer and Fortune”, “Hercules and the Waggoner” and “The Traveler and Fortune” we see men blaming the gods for their own condition.   
"Ah how shameless--the way these mortals blame the gods.From us alone, they say, come all their miseries, yes, but they themselves, with their own reckless ways,
compound their pains beyond their proper share."

In “Hercules and Minerva” we see Heracles exercising brawn instead of brains on the apple of discord and in “Hercules and Plutus” we see the typical heroic distaste for Wealth, saying that Plutus was always to be “found in the company of scoundrels."  And both stories remind me of the parable about Heracles’ path in life, “path of virtue or the path of vice” and the goddesses of each vying for his attention (Prodicus by way of Xenophon.)

In “Venus and the Cat” Aphrodite in disgust turns the girl back into a cat.  In Greek mythology such things can be rarely undone.

In summary, as we should have expected from Chesterton, we did not see Aesop’s version of the gods, but impersonal abstractions.  What we did see is motif’s common to Greek myths and some uncommon motifs I shall explore further.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

TFBT: Demeter and Easter

During Lent we hear much about “salvation”. I got to Petersburg Lutheran Church early this morning.  I sat  in the pew awaiting the great announcement that  "The Lord is Risen.  Surrounding me were decorations and flowers with the sunlight streaming in through the stained glass windows.  I wondered about the salvation of the ancients.  All of us know of mortals who thank to their blood-lines, beautiful, divine patroness or heroic deeds attained Olympus. Pausanias tells us that;
"Men of the mythical age of heroes, because of their righteousness and piety, were guests of the gods, eating at the same board; the good were openly honored by the gods, and sinners were openly visited with their wrath. Nay, in those days men were changed to gods, who down to the present day have honors paid to them--Aristaeus, Britomartis of Crete, Heracles the son of Alcmena, Amphiaraus the son of Oicles, and besides these Polydeuces and Castor." Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 2. 3 (trans. Jones)
But, what of us lesser souls, what hope had we of a happy afterlife. One thought is the Eleusian Mysteries founded by Demeter were meant; "to elevate man above the human sphere into the divine and to assure his redemption by making him a god and so conferring immortality upon him." (Nilsson, Martin P. Greek Popular Religion pages 44)  Of course Pausanias (1.38.7) can say nothing on this sacred subject. “My dream forbade the description of the things within the wall of the sanctuary, and the uninitiated are of course not permitted to learn that which they are prevented from seeing.”  According to the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, the goddess found the Eleusian Mysteries while grieving for her lost daughter.
“she showed the conduct of her rites and taught them all her mysteries, to Triptolemus and Polyxeinus and Diocles also, -- awful mysteries which no one may in any way transgress or pry into or utter, for deep awe of the gods checks the voice. Happy is he among men upon earth who has seen these mysteries; but he who is uninitiated and who has no part in them, never has lot of like good things once he is dead, down in the darkness and gloom.”
The hint here is that via the Mysteries normal people can become residences of the Island of the Blest upon their departure from this world.  My question is why did Demeter found the Mysteries?

Saturday, March 26, 2016

TFBT They Were All Gods

My friend Maya said something the other day that I did not exactly relate to, but could not articulate what I was thinking.  She said regarding characters in Greek mythology, “I am more interested in the weak individuals who keep their minds independent and struggle to be free.”  My initial thought is that I can relate, specifically thinking about Achilles and Demeter who sat quietly in their tents sulking,  until they got their way.  But, that's not quit right is it? Their response is meek, its affect it catastrophic; Most of the Achaeans would have died in Achilles case (Iliad 1. 386) and the tribes of men starved to death in Demeter's. (Homeric Hymn 2 to Demeter) These were powerful characters.  But aren't they all?


Maya's Law states that "Zeus Doesn't Like Real Women!"  More accurately stated "Olympian males prefer Ionian and barbarian women." Maya's  points to the fact that by the end of the Heroic Age pretty much ever mortal had a little ichor flowing through their veins.  I am suggesting that at the right place and time most everyone in Greek mythology is a god-like daemon.  




At Mecone, god and man  alike were granted their powers, prerogatives and privileges.  And no god may thwart another's rights 

  • So if you are the mighty Aphrodite you don't want to show off your divine power on the field of battle ( Iliad 5.334)
  • But, Ino the women-turned-goddess of drowning sailors could rescue the doomed and drowning Odysseus (Odyssey 3.337) with no apparent concern for the wrath of Poseidon. (Odyssey 1.20) as did the unnamed river god of P.... (3.450) and the P....  (8.565. ). 
  • The sea nymph Thetis was apparently the goddess of divine rescue (Homer, Iliad 18.369, 6.135, 1.393 ). So she could rescue Zeus from the rebel Olympians and they could not lift a hand (nor apparently their voices) to stop her.



I am thinking of Macaria,[i] Menippe & Metioche[ii] and Chthonia[iii] princesses who sacrificed their lives to forestall the doom of their people.  For all the appearance of weakness and powerlessness these women have the power to be the savioress or destructrix of their worlds.  If she exercises that power she probably receives heroic honors and presumably a place on the Isle of the Blest; 


"There fair-haired Rhadamanthus [565] reigns, and men lead an easier life than any where else in the world, for in Elysium there falls not rain, nor hail, nor snow, but Okeanos breathes ever with a West wind that sings softly from the sea, and gives fresh life to all men. "  (Homer, Odyssey 4.565)


The counter argument to this is of course Antigone (see play of the same name by Sophocles). This princess of Thebes "sacrificed" herself in a failed attempt to give her brother proper funeral and save her city from the pollution that was bound to occur with all those dead bodies outside the seven gates. But Antigone was not weak and powerless. She was a very strong personality with a powerful uncle as protector.  In fact she did not fail in her quest.  Five minutes after her death her arguments (and an angry mob) convinced Creon to bury the dead.  As Aphrodite's power lies in love not war, just as clearly Antigone's godlike daemonic powers laid in persuasion not sacrifice.  If she and Haemon had waited a few more minutes this would be clearer.  Or as the war-widows did in The Suppliants by Euripides, she could have gone to Athens and used her skills in persuasion to convince Aethra and Theseus to aid her.  




Slaves, like Eumaeus the swineherd and Philoetius the cowherd, are considered weak and powerless (in the face of injustice,) but the Suitors might disagree with that.  (Odyssey 22.200-204) 


Abducted Women


Andromache hears her husband knowingly paint a dreadful picture of the fate awaiting women taken when their city falls;


no, the pain I have on my mind is not as great for them as it is for you when I think of a moment when some Achaean man, one of those men who wear khitons of bronze, takes hold of you as you weep and leads you away as his prize, depriving you of your days of freedom from slavery. And you would be going to Argos, where you would be weaving at the loom of some other woman and no longer at your own loom at home and you would be carrying water for her, drawing from the spring called Messēís or the one called Hypereia. Again and again you will be forced to do things against your will, and the bondage holding you down will be harsh.  (Iliad 6.454-459)


And yet some of the women taken at Troy become the Queen of Sparta[iv], Queen Mother of Athens[v], Queen of Epirus and the islands of her coast[vi]  and even received heroic honors at Peragamon[vii]   and Leuctra in Laconia[viii]


Helpless Little Children


 Maybe Heracles wasn’t so helpless when he strangled to death the  serpents Hera unjustly put in his crib ( Apollodorus,   THE LIBRARY 2.4.8 , trans J. G. Frazer ) However the infant Opheltes was unable to fend off the serpent that killed him (Statius Thebaid 5.499,  trans J. H. Mozley  nor did the young sons of Medea fend off the sacrificial knife their mother used before flying away in a chariot pulled by serpents.( Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 146, trans. Aldrich)   Kind of makes Archemorus, and Mermerus & Eriopis look weak and helpless, and yet all three were given heroic honors and funeral games every four years. (Apollod. iii. 6. § 4.)   (Pausanias [2.3.7]


So whose else?  Who among the sad and downtrodden actually ended up proving to be a god-like daemon.





[i] (Pau 1.32.6)

[ii] (Lib Met 25)

[iii] (Hyginus Fabulae 45)

[iv] (Odyssey 4)

[v] (Paus. x. 25. § 3;)

[vi] (Paus. l. c., ii. 23. § 6.) 

[vii] (Paus. i. 11. § 2; comp. Dictys Cret. vi. 7, &c.; Eurip. Andromache.)

[viii] . (Paus. iii. 19. § 5, 26. § 3.)