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 www.theoi.com. 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)
Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Birth_of_Venus#/media/File:Sandro_Botticelli_-_La_nascita_di_Venere_-_Google_Art_Project_-_edited.jpg
[i] Cypria FRAGMENT 3 - THE PLAN OF ZEUS Scholiast on Homer, Il. i. 5: http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/homer/cypria.htm
[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