Wednesday, December 28, 2011

TFBT: Ten Things you did not know from Greek Mythology

1. Helen of Troy had two brothers that were demi-gods and heroes. Maybe you heard of them. The Dioscuri? Castor and Polydeuces? Castor and Pollux? How about the zodiac sign; the Gemini Twins? They went to their reward well before the action in The Iliad, hence their obscurity. The Spartans worshipped all three of the siblings along with their spouses as gods.

2. Achilles should have ruled the universe. We know Achilles from The Iliad along with his tendon, which was struck by Paris’ poison arrow. He was a heartthrob during the medieval ages and Brad Pitt played him in the movie “Troy”. Both Zeus and his brother Poseidon wooed Achilles mother Thetis. Thetis was a Nereid with great influence upon Olympus. (Thetis was Hera’s foster daughter and helped Zeus once during a revolt.) Thetis had her pick of any of the mightiest gods in Greek mythology as husband. Then either Themis or Prometheus let slip that her child would be greater than his father. Which suggested to the Olympians that the Thetis' divine child would overthrow the government of the world and assume Zeus’ throne. Consequently, they forced Thetis to marry a mortal. Rather than the crown that was his birthright, Achilles received unending glory. That is why we are still talking about him three thousand years later.

3. Ares, Hephaestus and Hades were the only strictly heterosexual gods on Olympus. The goddesses Athena, Artemis and Hestia always remained virgins. Which might explain the behavior of the other Olympian males!

4. 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.” – Apollo Rhodius, Argonautica 3.211Read more about the two of them in my essay; “Friendship Among the Gods”
5. Hera was foster mother to most the monsters in Greek mythology; the brood of Echidna. She pretty much created Typhon, Echidna’s husband. Typhon was unbelievably huge and monstrous. (He actually defeated Zeus in some accounts while all the other gods were hiding in Egypt.) She wet-nursed both the multi-headed Hydra and the Lion of Nemea. In addition, she sent the Sphinx to devour the youth of Thebes. An odd little aside here. When she wet-nursed these little beasties, she used her left breast, the one that had been poisoned by one of Heracles’ arrows. Heracles poisoned his arrow tips by dipping them in the blood of the Hydra. Hey, wait a minute….

6. Homer thought the world is round. According to him;
“the Aithiopes, who are divided in two, the most remote of men: Some, where Helios sets, others where he rises“ - Odyssey I 23-24So, Aithiopes lies in the far west and in the far east, which would make it the same country if the world is round. Right? See the full argument at Homer Says the World is Round.

7. Cadmus the founder of Thebes was a god. Well maybe not a god, but you tell me how to describe him. He helped defeat the monster Typhon. He married the Olympian goddess Harmonia; the illicit daughter of Ares and Aphrodite. His daughters included the goddesses Thyone and sailor-saving Leucothea. Another daughter married the god Aristaeus. His grandsons included the sea god Palaemon and the Olympian Dionysius.

8. The Greek gods had a real aversion to death, old age and all those other unpleasant demons that leaped from Pandora’s box. Artemis coldly abandons her favorite Hippolytus at the moment of his death, by saying “Farewell: it is not lawful for me to look upon the dead or to defile my sight with the last breath of the dying. And I see that you are already near that misfortune.” Demeter can command Limos the demon of hunger, but loathes standing near. And Aphrodite refers to the demon Geras as ruthless old-age even dreaded by the gods.

9. The Greek gods did not weep; certainly not for the death of a mortal. Once again Artemis speaking to the dying Hippolytus; “Aye, and would weep for thee, if gods could weep.” (Euripides, Hippolytus). Statius in The Thebiad says of one of the gods, “He spoke and almost his inviolable face was stained with tears.”
10. 1. The beds of the gods are always fruitful. As Deborah Lyons points out in Gender and Immortality, “Zeus' list of conquests reveals … (that)…Inevitably, each one of these encounters results in a child.” Imagine that rate of reproduction! No wonder river gods swim the Grecian creeks, satyrs haunt the wilderness,dryads run through the forests, naiads populate the springs and rivers, limnades the lily pad gilded pools, oreads the mountains, napaea the valleys and alseids the fair groves.

TFBT:Homer Says the World is Round

Gregory Nagy in his odyessean volume “The Best of the Achaeans” presents some excellent Homeric arguments that the world is round. [i] Nagy lays these gold crowns at the reader’s feet and then strolls away without comment.

First Nagy begins by discussing Memnon; son of rosy-fingered Eos and King of the Aethiopians. As he puts it, “king of the realms along the banks of the Oceanus in the extreme East and West”

“the Aithiopes, who are divided in two, the most remote of men: Some where Helios sets, others where he rises “ - Odyssey I 23-24
I would like to pick up this argument by posing a question for the imaginative reader, but first two points. 1) If you travel West from holy Delphi for quite a ways, you will discover a happy people called the “Hawaiians”. They live on the shore of the Pacific Ocean and are ruled by Governor Linda Lingle. 2) If you travel East from holy Delphi for some time you will arrive among a group of islanders also called the “Hawaiians”. This happy race also lives on the shores of the Pacific Ocean and is shepherded by the same Governor Linda Lingle. So here is my question wise reader, with the two facts above disclosed do you assume that I’m talking about two different states of the union or that the world is round? Hint; there is no great freshwater river girdling the ancient world. The earth is not flat. Likewise, Memnon ruled on group of people. The world is round.[ii]

The second of Nagy’s points is that “from the overall plot of the Odyssey, we know that Odysseus is wandering in the realms of the extreme West when he come upon the island of Aiaia …Later on the way back the from the underworld, the ship of Odysseus has to leave the Oceanus before returning to Aiaia, which is now described as situated not in the extreme West but in the extreme East.

“the island Aiaia – and there are the abode and dancing places of early-born Eos and the sunrises of Helios” Odyssey XII XXXX
Aiaia can easily be in the far West and the extreme East at the same time if the world is round.

Thirdly, Homer describes tireless Helios as he rises in the East from Oceanus. (Iliad VII 421) Later poets tell of a most magnificent palace of Helios in the east a gift from his grateful friend Hephaestus. Homer speaks only of the gates of Helios in the west, later writers mention a second palace in the west and the golden barge in which the sun god slumbers upon the earth girdling river in route to the east again. Apparently, for Homer Helios’ only home is Aiaia.

And finally to use a non-Homeric example; Jason’s adventures with Medea take place on the eastern edge for the known world, followed quickly by adventures on the far western edge of the world. Later authors came up with some incredible explanation of how this was possible. Robert Graves explains these theories;
“…at first, to have returned from the Black Sea by way of the Danube, the Save, and the Adriatic; then when explorers found that the Save does not enter the Adriatic, a junction was presumed between the Danube and the Po, down which the Argo could have sailed; and when later, the Danube proved to be navigable only up to the Iron Gates and not to join the Po, she was held to have passed up the Phasis into the Caspian Sea and thus into the Indian Ocean and back by way of the Ocean Stream and Lake Tritonis. The feasibility of this third route too, being presently denied, mythographers suggested that the Argo had sailed up the Don, presumed to have its source in the Gulf of Finland from which she could circumnavigate Europe and return to Greece through the Straits of Gibraltar.”[iii]
An easier explanation is that they simply sailed back into the known world by sailing around the smaller Homeric planet. In short, the world is round.

[i] “coincidentia oppositroum” pages 205-207
[ii] Roll up a map by Anaximander or Hecataeus of Miletus. Compare two points on that map to a world atlas for a ratio. My estimate is a circumference of 3700 miles
[iii] Robert Graves, The Greek Myths Vol. 2 pages 243-244

TFBT; Friendship Amongst the Gods

“Helios who had taken him up (Hephaestus) in his
chariot when he sank exhausted on the battlefield
of Phlegra.” – Apollo Rhodius, Argonautica 3.211

For the purposes of this essay I will define evidence of “friendship” as deities fond of one another’s company and who seem to swap favors. Obvious family groupings will be disqualified, as well as spouses and lovers. The best example of friendships amongst the gods appears to be Helios and Hephaestus.

Helios rides the blazing sun-chariot; he shines upon men and deathless gods. His piercing eyes gaze from within his golden helmet. Bright rays beam dazzlingly from him, and his bright locks streaming from the temples of his head gracefully enclose his far-seen face: a rich, fine-spun garment glows upon his body and flutters in the wind: and stallions carry him. Then, when he has stayed his golden-yoked chariot and horses, he rests there upon the highest point of heaven, until he marvelously drives them down again through heaven to the River Oceanus. [i] Glowing Helios whom mild-eyed Euryphaessa, the far-shining one, bare to the Titan Hyperion For Hyperion wedded glorious Euryphaessa or some say Theia, his own sister, who bare him lovely children, rosy-armed Eos, rich-tressed Selene and tireless Helios who is like the deathless gods.

Like the “deathless gods” but never quite an Olympian. He is close to his sisters. They were presumably raised by loving parents whom Helios and his sisters possibly betrayed during the Titanomachy. He drives the chariot of the sun across the sky each day and is presented as handsome and all seeing.

Hephaestus is the smith of the Olympians. Strong, mighty Hephaestus, bearing splendid light, unwearied fire, with flaming torrents bright: strong-handed, deathless, and of art divine, pure element, all-taming artist,[ii] "Hephaestus goes with the pride of his great strength limping, and yet his shrunken legs move lightly beneath his massive neck and hairy chest."[iii] He is a cripple from birth; born lame and ugly. Both parents brutally rejected him by flinging down from Olympus.

Helios and Hephaestus don’t appear to have been childhood friends nor share many myths until the adultery of Hephaestus’ wife; Aphrodite with Ares. All-seeing Helios must have seen a lot but no myths report him blabbing, until cornered by Hecate and Demeter searching for Persephone and “the bright goddess enquired of him”. [iv] But in the case of Aphrodite and Ares, “…Helios the sun god had seen them in their dalliance and hastened away to tell Hephaestus”[v] In revenge Aphrodite “loads the whole race of Phoebus (Helios) with shame unspeakable”[vi], when it comes to affairs of the heart. In revenge Hephaestus curses the whole race of Harmonia (the produce of that illicit affair) with the Necklace of Harmonia[vii].

During the Gigantomachy when it was Hephaestus that “sank exhausted on the battlefield of Phlegra” it was Helios who took him up in his chariot. (Oddly enough Hephaestus is the only deity that could have ridden in the blazing sun chariot.) Hephaestus gave many gifts as a thank-offering to Helios[viii] [ix]" For example, the palace of Helios,[x] his high chariot, [xi] the boat that carries him home and the marvels that Hephaestus the great Engineer contrived for the palace Aeetes, son of Helios.”[xii]

The only other myth they share is the blinding of Orion and strange curing. Blinded by King Oinopion, Orion found his was to Hephaestus’ forge. Hephaestus gave him an apprentice named Cedalion to guide him to the dawn where Helios cured the giant’s blindness

So, why were Helios and Hephaestus friends? They have a little in common: certain solar attributes. Both sink from Heaven only to rise again and then repeat the process. Helios could present celestial fire while Hephaestus’ subterranean forges light the underworld. And when Helios steps from the edge of knowing each evening and rides the golden boat home on the River Oceanus, Hephaestus replaces him in the sky by ascending to his palace on Olympus. Some authors name one or the other as the source of Promethean fire.[xiii] If Helios wanted a day off could he have called upon Hephaestus? There are no myths to support that and Nonnus says specifically not.[xiv] This leaves us with two marginalized brotherless, fatherless friends indebted to one another.

Hecate also is brotherless an only child, the goddess receives not less honour, but much more still, for Zeus honours her.[xv] He gave her splendid gifts, to have a share of the earth and the unfruitful sea. She received honour also in starry heaven, and is honoured exceedingly by the deathless gods. Hekate, lovely dame, of earthly, watery, and celestial frame, sepulchral, in a saffron veil arrayed, pleased with dark ghosts that wander through the shade;solitary goddess, hail! The world’s key-bearer, never doomed to fail; in stags rejoicing, huntress, nightly seen, and drawn by bulls, unconquerable queen; Leader, Nymphe, nurse, on mountains wandering, hear the suppliants who with holy rites thy power revere, and to the herdsman with a favouring mind draw near." [xvi] Few are then myths about the Hecate, she who is honoured exceedingly by the deathless gods. The prime exception being the “Hymn to Demeter” where bright-coiffed Hekate came near to Demeter and Persephone, and often did she embrace the daughter of holy Demeter: and from that time the lady Hekate was minister and companion to Persephone."[xvii] This is all I have to say on the classically and scholarly assumed friendship of Hecate and Persephone, except to point out that Persephone too was brotherless.

Likewise Leto was brotherless, dark-gowned Leto, always mild, kind to men and to the deathless gods, mild from the beginning, gentlest in all Olympos.[xviii] Leto rich-haired[xix] "Neat-ankled Leto[xx], goddess of the gold spindle."[xxi] According to Deborah Lyons in Gender and Immortality; “A fragment of Sappho (frg. 142 L-P) calls Niobe and Leto true companions (hetairai), pointing to a time before Niobe's hybris shattered their friendship”,

[i] Homeric Hymn 31 to Helius
[ii] Orphic Hymn 66 to Hephaestus
[iii] Homer, Iliad 20. 37 ff
[iv] Homeric Hymn 2 to Demeter
[v] Homer, Odyssey 8.260
[vi] Seneca, Phaedra 124
[vii] Statius, Thebaid 2.265
[viii] Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 3.211
[ix] American Journal of Archaeology; Vol 86, No 2 pp 227-229
[x] Ovid, Metamorphoses 2. 1 ff
[xi] Ovid, Metamorphoses 2. 104
[xii] Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 3. 215 ff
[xiii] Michael Grant, Myths of the Greeks and Romans, pp108
[xiv] Nonnus, Dionysiaca 38. 90 ff :
[xv] ." Hesiod, Theogony 404 ff

[xvi] - Orphic Hymn 1 to Hecate
[xvii] Homeric Hymn 2 to Demeter 436 ff :
[xviii] Hesiod, Theogony 404 ff
[xix] Homeric Hymn 3 to Delian Apollo 177 ff :
[xx] Homeric Hymn 27 to Artemis 14 ff
[xxi] Pindar, Nemean Ode 6. 36 ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :