Wednesday, December 28, 2011

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.) :

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