Sunday, January 15, 2012

TFBT' Five Reasons for Fighting the Fates

He cried: 'Though all the Olympians banded come in wrath, and rouse against me all the sea, I will escape them!' - Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 14. 594

Classical literature is full of mortals who thought themselves better than the gods, challenged, taunted or attempted to make fools of the gods. Capaneus challenging Zeus on the walls of Thebes, Salmoneus claiming divine honors, Lesser Ajax bragging that Athena couldn’t kill him above, Lycaon testing the divinity of Zeus by serving a slaughtered child--got a thunderbolt as rewards for their hubris. Others, like Tantalus, Niobe and Sisyphus got even worse rewards.

James C. Hogan and David J Schenker in “Challenging Otherness” do a great job of reciting the long list of humans who actually, physically went up against the gods (Olympians). However, their fine paper did not lineate exactly how much over-familiarity or lunacy it takes to face a possible lightning bolt.

I would like to discuss a few specific reasons why “mortals” think they can get away with going to fisty-cuffs with a god. Specifically we will discuss;
 The hero mistakenly thinks he is a god.
 The hero is the strongest man in the world.
 The hero thinks he can win the confrontation because it is only a water deity.
 Or divine monster descended from a water deity
 The hero thinks “It’s only a nature spirit.”

The Theban Deities
The old gods; the Titans challenged the Olympians. The monstrous Typhon and two races of giants, also took a shot at All-Powerful Zeus and his extended family, with various degrees of near success. Shoot, the Aeloids were half-human. The winged daughters of the River God Achelous; the Sirens and the Satyr Marsyas contested the gods. In early classical mythology there seems a thin line between the gods and men. As though gods were just some slightly stronger, slightly more power group of people. The royal house of Thebes seems in particular to over step the bounds of insanity as demonstrated by Niobe’s speech;

“What lunacy makes you prefer a fabled god’, she said, `To gods you see? Latona, why should her shrine be revered, when my divinity lacks incense still? My father’s Tantalus, the only mortal gods in heaven allowed to share their banquet-board. My mother ranks as sister of the Pleiades. That great giant, Atlas, whose shoulders bear the circling sky, is one grandfather; Jupiter the other, my husband’s father too I’m proud to say. The Phrygian nation fears me. I am mistress of Cadmus’ royal house; our city’s walls, built by my husband’s music,” -Ovid, Metamorphoses 6. 165

Niobe makes a valid point. Her father was a drinking buddy with the King of Olympus. Zeus counted as grandfather and father-in-law to her. Her husband was all by a god on the lyre and her mother ranked as a Titaness. Her brother Pelops rose from the dead. Why should she not consider herself equal to the Leto?

Likewise the rest of the royal house has cause to consider themselves a little bit better than mortal. Not only did Cadmus, the founder of Thebes, defeater of Typhon (Nonnus, Dionysiaca 4. 393) and brother-in-law of Zeus, wed the daughter of two Olympians, and two of his daughters were goddesses. Whom Pindar in the Olympian Ode II refers to as, "Daughters of Cadmus; Semele from your high place amidst the queens of heaven, and Ino Leukothea, you who dwell by the immortal sea-nymphs,” Additionally, his grandson Dionysius was an Olympian, grandson Melicertes was worshipped throughout the whole of Greece (Cicero, De Natura Deorum 331) and son-in-law Aristaeus was a god per Chiron and Pindar. (Pythian Ode IX) And of course, Heracles was a member of the royal house of Thebes

That being said, being related to a god doesn’t mean that you are a god as Tantalus, Niobe and Pentheus (bold despiser of the gods) all found out the hard way. But, it might give justification to the belief you can get away with effrontery to the Olympians.

Strongest Man in the World
Heracles beat, shot or generally roughed up a good portion of the Olympic clan as well as the Giants and myriad divine monsters in Greek mythology. He wrestles with Apollo until parted by their father. Pluto and Hera are wounded by his arrows. Heracles was the strongest mortal who ever lived. When Diomedes raged across the battlefield at Troy taking on goddesses, gods and men, he was the second strongest man among the Greeks Homer, Iliad 6.115). Idas when he battled with Apollo for Marpessa was the strongest man in the world at the time.

"Cleopatra daughter of sweet-stepping Marpessa, child of Euenos and Idas, who was the strongest of all men upon earth in his time; for he even took up the bow to face the King's onset, Phoebus Apollo, for the sake of the sweet-stepping maiden; -Homer, Iliad 9. 556 ff

Aloadai versus the Gods (They would have won if they’d started the war when the were a little older.)   Homer, Odyssey 11. 30 I saw Aloeus' wife; she was Iphimedeia, whose boast it was to have lain beside Poseidon. She bore him two sons, though their life was short--Otos the peer of the gods and far-famed Ephialtes; these were the tallest men, and the handsomest, that ever the fertile earth has fostered, save only incomparable Orion; at nine years of age their breadth was nine cubits, their height nine fathoms. They threatened the Deathless Ones themselves--to embroil Olympos in all the fury and din of war. And so indeed they might have done had they reached the full measure of their years, but the god that Zeus begot and lovely-haired Leto bore [Apollon] destroyed them both before the first down could show underneath their brows and overspread and adorn their cheeks."

In short the “Strongest Man in World” could get away with challenging divinity, could actually come to blows with a god and survive.

Water Deities
Mortals who challenged water deities seemed to have little to fear. If Peleus and Menelaus can get away with roughing up one of these deities why not any other god?

Then with a shout we rushed upon him and locked our arms about him; but the ancient god had not forgotten his craft and cunning. He became in turn a bearded lion, a snake, a panther, a monstrous boar; then running water, then a towering and leafy tree; but we kept our hold, unflinching and undismayed, and in the end this master of dreaded secrets began to tire. So he broke into speech and asked outright: `Son of Atreus, which of the gods taught you this strategy, to entrap and overpower me thus? What do you want from me?’ -Homer, Odyssey 4. 448

A mortal thinks he can win the confrontation because it’s only a water deity.

Divine Monsters
Argus slew the Mother of All Monsters; Echidna. The King of Thebes Oedipus defeated the foster child of Hera; the Sphinx. Both the above being descendants of the sea deities Pontus, Porcus and Ceto. Odysseus and Orpheus trumped the Sirens, the (no longer winged) daughters of the River god Achelous. Perseus roughed up the Graea and Gorgons, grand-daughters of Pontus.

Raising their swords, the two sons of Boreas flew off in pursuit. Zeus gave them indefatigable strength; indeed, without his aid, there could have been no chase, for whenever the Harpies came to Phineus’ house or left it they outstripped the storm winds from the West. But Zetes and Calais very nearly caught them. They even touched them, though to little purpose, with their finger-tips, like a couple of keen hounds on a hillside, hot on the track of a horned goat or a deer, pressing close behind the quarry and snapping at the empty air. Yet even with Heaven against them, the long chase would certainly have ended in their tearing the Harpies to pieces when they overtook them at the Floating Isle, but for Iris of the swift feet, who when she saw them leapt down from Olympus through the sky and checked them -Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 2:262-

Zetes and Calais could have chased the Harpies to death, daughters of another ancient water deity called Thaumas. All these monsters were intellect beings, often friends or minions of the Olympians. Myths and legends abound of heroes slaying monsters; hence other men might think it possible.

Minor Nature Deities
The lower classes of gods did not appear so threatening. Haven’t men slain violent tritons?

"[At Tanagra, Boeotia] …It says the Triton would waylay and lift all the cattle that were driven to the sea. He used even to attack small vessels, until the people of Tanagra set out for him a bowl of wine. They say that, attracted by the smell, he came at once, drank the wine, flung himself on the shore and slept, and that a man of Tanagra struck him on the neck with an axe and chopped off his head. -Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 20.5

Have not mortal men subdued centaurs, defeated satyrs and ravished nymphs. If these gods were not invincible why would mortal men be sure the Olympians were?

A hero can boldly challenge a god in hopes of victory for five possible reasons;
Ÿ His connection to a divine family justifies the belief he can get away with effrontery to the Olympians.
Ÿ The “Strongest Man in World” could get away with challenging divinity, could actually come to blows with a god and survive.
Ÿ A mortal thinks he can win the confrontation because it is only a water deity.
Ÿ Myths and legends abound of heroes slaying monsters; hence other men might think it possible
Ÿ If these minor nature deities were not invincible, why would a hero be sure the Olympians were?

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