Thursday, August 17, 2017

TFBT: My Favorite Myths

I recently worked on a blog-post for the Kosmos Society discussing the reader’s favorite stories from Ancient Greece.  The piece was long enough as is, that I didn’t have to share my favorite myth to fill the page.  May I will share them in the forums, but when I pondered the question what popped to mind surprised me. 

The Countless Tribes of Men

"There was a time when the countless tribes of men, though wide-dispersed, oppressed the surface of the deep-bosomed earth, and Zeus saw it and had pity and in his wise heart resolved to relieve the all-nurturing earth of men by causing the great struggle of the Ilion war, that the load of death might empty the world. And so the heroes were slain in Troy, and the plan of Zeus came to pass." [i]  so that the blessed gods ... as before, may have their way of life and their accustomed places apart from men  [ii]

Often the Theban Wars are added to the story above.  The story explains why there is war in the world, the logic of the “Will of Zeus” and the underlying theme of the mythological timeline and of the Ancient Greek past.  The story below shows us the future of heroes (and all mankind) after the point that the gods pulled the veil between us and them.   

The Man turned God, Diomedes
"[During the War of the Seven Against Thebes:] Melanippos, the remaining one of the sons of Astakos, wounded Tydeus (father of Diomedes) in the belly. As he lay half dead, Athena brought a medicine which she had begged of Zeus, and by which she intended to make him immortal. But Amphiaraus hated Tydeus for thwarting him by persuading the Argives to march to Thebes; so when he perceived the intention of the goddess he cut off the head of Melanippos and gave it to Tydeus, who, wounded though he was, had killed him. And Tydeus split open the head and gulped up the brains. But when Athena saw that, in disgust she grudged and withheld the intended benefit."[iii] 

I like the story above, for what it doesn’t say, the elixir destined for Tydeus, the cup of nectar, life-immortal was passed along to his son Diomedes when the time came, because once the gods make a decision it’s once and for always!  So, “the golden-haired, gray-eyed goddess (Athena) made Diomedes an immortal god[iv] And if Diomedes had a shot at divinity we all do.  

Friendship of Helios and Hephaestus

The Sun once landed on Earth. Helios is probably most famous for rashly allowing his mortal son Phaethon to drive the solar chariot. The boy lost control. The horses ran towards earth, scorching the land and setting the forests ablaze. Zeus threw a lightning bolt at the boy. The steeds of the solar chariot, like good post horses everywhere, found their own way home. However, there was a time when Helios landed his chariot on the earth. It was during the Gigantomachy when all the gods and goddess of Olympus battled the earth-born giants. Hephaestus the smithy-god was taking on three giants at once and not doing well.  “Helios who had taken him up (Hephaestus) in his chariot when he sank exhausted on the battlefield of Phlegra.” (Apollodorus Rhodius, Argonautica 3.211) I like this story because it is about friendship, something rare among the gods.  

Birth of the Mighty Aphrodite

One of my favorite stories is the birth of Mighty Aphrodite.  This probably the sort of story expect me to share.  Here it is, as told by various primary sources at  It happen when; "Cronus cut off his father's male “plowshare” and sowed the teeming deep with seed on the unsown back (surface) of the daughter-begetting Sea." (Nonnus, Dionysiaca 12. 43)  I don’t know if the “Sea” here is Pontus, Nereus or the obscure Thalassa but, the sea bore Aphrodite.  "Aphrodite delighted to be with Nerites (son of Nereus) in the sea (when she was born) and loved him. And when the fated time arrived, at which, at the bidding of [Zeus] the Father of the gods, Aphrodite also had to be enrolled among the Olympians, I have heard that she ascended and wished to bring her companion and play-fellow. But the story goes that he refused."  (Aelian, On Animals 14. 28)

"To Sea-set Kypros the moist breath of the western wind (Zephryos) wafted her [Aphrodite] over the waves of the loud-moaning sea in soft foam, and there the gold-filleted Horai (Seasons) welcomed her joyously. They clothed her with heavenly garments: on her head they put a fine, well-wrought crown of gold, and in her pierced ears they hung ornaments of orichalc and precious gold, and adorned her with golden necklaces over her soft neck and snow-white breasts… And when they had fully decked her, they brought her to the gods, who welcomed her when they saw her, giving her their hands. Each one of them prayed that he might lead her home to be his wedded wife, so greatly were they amazed at the beauty of violet-crowned Kythereia."  (Homeric Hymn 6 to Aphrodite (trans. Evelyn-White) “And with her went Eros (Love), and comely Himeros (Desire) followed her at her birth at the first and as she went into the assembly of the gods. This honour she has from the beginning, and this is the portion allotted to her amongst men and undying gods,--the whisperings of maidens and smiles and deceits with sweet delight and love and graciousness."  (Hesiod, Theogony )  

[i] Cypria FRAGMENT 3 - THE PLAN OF ZEUS Scholiast on Homer, Il. i. 5:

[ii] Hesiod fr. 204.102-103MW  The Best of the Achaeans, Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry, Revised Edition, Gregory Nagy, Chapter 11

[iii] Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 6. 8 (trans. Frazer) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :

[iv] Pindar Nemean 10.10-11

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

TFBT: ““It's Human-True, it Hits me Right” Cafe

Gregory Nagy wrote on the magic of song and story telling in reference to Odyssey xii 184–191; 

 “The Sirens, as false Muses, tempt the hero by offering to sing for him an endless variety of songs about Troy in particular and about everything else in general….” 

δεῦρ᾽ ἄγ᾽ ἰών, πολύαιν᾽ Ὀδυσεῦ, μέγα κῦδος Ἀχαιῶν,

(185) νῆα κατάστησον, ἵνα νωιτέρην ὄπ ἀκούσῃς.

οὐ γάρ πώ τις τῇδε παρήλασε νηὶ μελαίνῃ,

πρίν γ᾽ ἡμέων μελίγηρυν ἀπὸ στομάτων ὄπ᾽ ἀκοῦσαι,

ἀλλ᾽ ὅ γε τερψάμενος νεῖται καὶ πλείονα εἰδώς.

ἴδμεν γάρ τοι πάνθ᾽ ὅσ᾽ ἐνὶ Τροίῃ εὐρείῃ

(190) Ἀργεῖοι Τρῶές τε θεῶν ἰότητι μόγησαν,

ἴδμεν δ᾽, ὅσσα γένηται ἐπὶ χθονὶ πουλυβοτείρῃ.

184 ‘Come here, Odysseus, famed for your many riddling words [ainoi], you great glory to the Achaean name, [185] stop your ship so that you may hear our two voices. 186 No man has ever yet sailed past us with his dark ship 187 without staying to hear the sweet sound of the voices that come from our mouths, 188 and he who listens will not only experience great pleasure before he goes back home [neesthai] but will also be far more knowledgeable than before, 189 for we know everything that happened at Troy, that expansive place, [190] —all the sufferings caused by the gods for the Argives [= Achaeans] and Trojans 191 and we know everything on earth, that nurturer of so many mortals—everything that happens.’ [i]

The sheer pleasure of listening to the songs of the Sirens threatens not only the homecoming of Odysseus, who is tempted to linger and never stop listening to the endless stories about Troy, but also the ongoing song about that homecoming, that is, the Odyssey itself.”[ii]

So, what is your favorite story from Ancient Greece?  What tale, whether mythical or historical tempts you to “linger and never stop listening”?

(Maya, another mock-up of potential blogpost for the Kosmos Society Cafe

[i] (Odyssey xii 184–191, translated by Samuel Butler, Revised by Soo-Young Kim, Kelly McCray, Gregory Nagy, and Timothy Power)

[ii] .”   (BA Preface §17n; EH §50).  (Homer and Greek Myth, Gregory Nagy [The printed version is published in The Cambridge Companion to Greek Mythology (ed. R. D. Woodard; Cambridge University Press 2007) 52–82. See also the companion piece, “Lyric and Greek Myth,” pages 19–51)