Thursday, November 1, 2012

TFBT: Heroes and Hydriades

 The gentleman to the left might not be a hero. And though we have not visual evidence that the ladies are water nymphs (Hydriades), it seems unlikely that they are a troop of Artemis’ Oreads fresh from the hunt.   So, what do wet hink is happening?  I wonder if women and men view the scene differently. According to the Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute, in the painting "a group of nymphs have been surprised, while bathing in a secluded pond, by a satyr...Some of the nymphs …are trying to dampen the satyr's ardor by pulling him into the cold water” The satyr half-heartedly resists the naiads’ fun, bewitched by their beauty. 
William-Adolphe Bouguereau:
Nymphs and Satyr, 1873
Hylas and the Nymphs - 1896 - John William Waterhouse   
In “Hylas and the Nymphs”  on the right the pond in question is not made for rowdy Oreads to romp in.  It is safe to assume these are the naiads of the pond.  Hylas sailed with the Argonauts as Heracles’ squire.  The handsome young man went to fetch a picture of water and met the water goddesses. The nymphs do not attempt to cover or hide their bodies, coyly cocking their heads, reaching and grasping Hylas and toying with their hair.
Neither scene is typical of the response of nymphs surprised at their bath.  For;  the laws of Zeus order thus: Whosoever shall behold any of the immortals, when the god himself chooses not, at a heavy price shall he behold.”(Hymn to the Bath of Pallas, Callimachus 97)  Beside the general running for garments and shielding of the greatest goddess in attendance, the wayward hunter stumbling upon the scene pays the “heavy price”.  Actaeon torn to shreds by his own dogs by order of the skinny-dipping Artemis and Tiresias blinded by the surprised Athena.

Hermaphrodite the handsome son of Hermes and Aphrodite, was the great-grandson of Atlas, whence called by the patronymic Atlantius. (He was raised like his grand-father by the nymphs of Mount Ida.)  As a young man he wandered through the hot woods one day; lying down beside the well of the Naiad Salmacis. Apparently the spring-goddess did not possess the bewitching beauty or wilily ways of the water nymphs above. This daughter of the River Meander fell in love with Hermaphrodite. He failed to appreciate her charms, but found her waters charming.  As he slipped naked into their embrace, Salmacis prayed to the gods that they might remain united forever. Some god granted the request, and when Hermaphrodite rose dripping from the well rather than the tan muscular frame, he found his body white and soft with swelling breasts upon his chest Hermaphrodite’s, anger was so great that a cursed laid ever after on the well, that whatever manly man bathed there would find himself emasculated.  A vaguely similar tale tells about Narcissus at a well and another love sick nymph, but the poets (Homeric Hymn 19 to Pan 1) tells us the nymph in question was an oread.

John William Waterhouse (1849-1917),
''Ulysses and the Sirens'' (1891).
Achelous river-god of Aetolia sired three beautiful daughters; playmates of the famous Persephone.  When the goddess disappeared from the face of the earth.  Persephone’s mother Demeter gave the Achelo′is wings to more rapidly look for their girlfriend.  Eventually, the desperate goddess sought out all-seeing Helios the sun-god, who told her that her daughter now reigned as Queen of the Underworld.  Something went wrong with the Achelo′is at this point.  These Hydriades  flew off to some distance shore and spent their days luring passing sailors to their deaths on a rocky shore.  Sort of like the Sphinx outside of Thebes, except that were more similar to Harpies.  Above; Odysseus

warned by Helios’ daughter Circe, escaped the danger of their song by stopping the ears of his crew with wax so that they were deaf.  Odysseus heard the music by tying himself tied to the mast.  Interestingly, when the Argonauts passed by the rowing heroes were unaffected because (as Sir Francis Bacon explains in “The Wisdom of the Ancients” because the singer Orpheus sat in the bow singing hymns.  The sirens got their comeuppance when they entered a singing contest with the Muses.  They lost the contest and consequently lost their wings. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 34. 3)  (Other sources claim they, again like the sphinx, flung themselves down on the rocks when failing in their task.)
So in general, young heroes and hairy satyrs stumbling across a limpid pool of hydriades might end up enjoying himself, one way or the other, possibly as the boy-toy of a group of goddess immortal and forever young.  Though hunter's stumbling across other classes of classical nymphs haven't scored so well.  Heroic hunters coming across a refreshing spring and a love sick nymph might not end up living happily everafter, but the nymph in question might end up disappearing.  With Hydriades and minor goddesses of a more sinister sort, apparently failing in their seductive water-based role can have fatal consequences. 
All images thanks to Wikipeida. 


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