Gorgophone stood before the flames with her eldest boy Tyndareus, daughter Arene and the rest of the little children. She faced the end of life as she knew it. It ended with the cackling of the fire racing through the wood, with the whoosh as bowls of olive oil were flung into the hungry flames, with the boiling and billowing of thick black smoke rising from the pyre, with the screams of animals wild and domesticate tossed into the holocaust, with tokens of her husband’s life and gifts to the departed King Perieres. And over all; the pale, the aura, the hair-twitching stench that universally our primordial senses can identify and which my father told me still hangs over Dachau.
It ends with Marpessa befouled, hysterical and wailing beside her husband’s funeral pyre. Finally, facing the fears of her youth which forced her to flee the embrace of the god Apollo to avoid this very hoary old age and this abandonment.
It ends with Cleopatra standing in doomed Calydon. Within and without the ruined gate lay all her kinsmen, killed in a fratricidal war. The fields lay trampled and the land polluted. She stands beside the searing flames, fist upraised in anger, cursing the Fates and a traitorous mother-in-law who slew her own son. Another army approaches.
In ends with weeping Polydora the wife of Protesilaus, the first Achaean slain at Troy. With her husband’s death begins the first war to enflame the entire known world, then come the betrayals and the revolts in Greece, the Dorian Invasion and the attacks of the Sea People. Civilization will fall and her culture will be destroyed. Not since the sinking of Atlantis will so many mortals die. That leap from the bow of his boat to the sands of Troy, was one small step for Protesilaus and one giant leap for the ancient world into the Dark Ages.
And it could have been the end of Gorgophone. But, Perseus’ daughter chose neither the flame nor rope nor knife. She chose life. And from that decision arose two powerful new family of gods; the gods of Sparta and Aescupalides.
“Gorgophone (Gorgon-slayer), the daughter of Perseus. As soon as you hear the name you can understand the reason why it was given her. On the death of her husband, Perieres, the son of Aeolus, whom she married when a virgin, she married Oebalus, being the first woman, they say, to marry a second time; “ Pausanias 2.21.7
But, the widow Gorgophone brought more to the marriage with her brother-in-law than her children and the legacy of Perseus. She also brought the crown of Sparta, beside the River Eurotas. The Eurotas springs from Mt Taygetos, a range of limestone horst heavily forested in Greek Fir. The river runs through wide, lovely Sparta; a shining hollow broken by ravines. In this land of lovely women Gorgophone bore to her second husband; Leucippus, Aphareus (who wed his half-sister Arene), and others.
Aphareus became King of Messene. Foreshadowing the traditions of historic Sparta, he shared the throne with his brother Leucippus. Among Aphareus and Arene’s sons stood the inseparable brothers Idas and Lyncheus. Lyncheus’ eyesight was superhuman sharp. Idas was the strongest man alive, so strong indeed that when battling with Apollo for the affections of his future wife; Idas would have bettered the archer god if Zeus had not intervened.
Tyndareus eventually replaced his step-father/uncle as King of Sparta. Legend states that Tyndareus forgot to make due sacrifice to Aphrodite once, in revenge she cursed his daughters and made them unfaithful wives. How odd that, though cursed two of them became goddesses. He was the father of “the admitted first cause of all time and all history”1; Helen of Troy. It was Tyndareus who demanded the oath of Helen’s suitors before he allowed her to choose a husband. It was the oath that obligated most of Greece to sail to Troy.
From the walls of Troy Helen wondered where her brothers, the Discouri, were in the sea of warriors crashing up against the walls of Ilium. They were called Discouri as sons of Zeus and Tyndaridae as sons of Tyndareus. They were Castor the tamer of swift horses and glorious Polydeuces, both of whom surpassed all men in valor. Whether over women or cattle, Castor and Polydeuces died fighting with their cousins Idas and Lyncheus. Or had they?
What most the world does not know even now and did not then, was that glorious Polydeuces and lovely Helen were actually the children of Zeus, King of the Gods.
Helen never went to Troy, Zeus sent a phantom in her place. Helen whiled away the decade upon the sun-drenched shores of the Nile. Eventually she and Menelaus (promised the Isles of the Blest as a son-in-law of Zeus) rejoined one another and sailed home. With the passing of more years Helen died; her mortal parts sailed off to the Island of the Blessed, where she wed Achilles and bore him the winged demigod Euphorion; named for the fertility of the land. Her divine part returned to Sparta as goddess of trees and the savior of sailors at sea. And she brought her brothers with her.
The divine grandson of Gorgophone; the god Polydeuces could not bear to be separated from his mortal brother Castor. Zeus granted Castor immortality so that he also would ride the meadows of Olympus . They became gods of boxing and horsemanship . They aided their sister the goddess Helen in rescues at sea . When they returned as gods to wide-lovely Sparta, they brought their wives too, the goddesses Phoebe and Hilara; granddaughters of Gorgophone through her son Leucippus.
Helen and the Discouri had a younger sister Philinoe, who was made immortal by Artemis, when she snatched the lass up to be one of her companions.
Phoebe and Hilara had a sister Arsinoe who bore Apollo a son; Aesculapius, the smoother of cruel pain. Aesculapius was such a skilled physician that with a vial of the Gorgon’s blood he brought his great-uncle Tyndareus back to life; making him immortal “as he did the first time, as he will forever”.2 For this blasphemy Zeus struck Gorgophone’s great-grandson with a thunderbolt. In revenge for his son’s death, Apollo slew the Cyclopes who’d made the weapon.
That’s when Aesculapius returned from the dead. He carried a snake sheaved club and became a god of almost Olympian stature. Aesculapius continued Gorgophone’s bloodline by siring a host of gods and goddesses dealing with health and medicine;
"By him [Aesculapius] were fathered Makhaon and Podaleirios and Iaso (Healer)--ie Paian!--and fair-eyed Aigle (Radiance) and Panakea (Panacea, Cure-all), children of Epione, along with Hygieia (Health), all-glorious, undefiled." Greek Lyric V Anonymous, Fragments 939
Image of Aesculapis provided by NY Public Library.
1 Helen in Egypt Hilda Doolittle
2 The Politics of Olympus, Jenny Strauss Clay, 2nd edition, page 28