Thursday, March 20, 2014

TFBT; Diomedes, Equal to a God

Recently a co-worker at Hour 25 argued that Diomedes wasn’t “equal to Ares” because in his defeat of Ares the goddess Athena, assisted the mortal.   Diomedes was a Greek hero at Troy.  According to Homer, Diomedes drew blood on the goddess Aphrodite and war god Ares.  Here is my response.


What Diomedes isn’t equal to a god (daemon)?  I cranked up my personal computer rather than normally used iPad to defend our mortal friend.  I want to say that giving Athena the credit for Diomedes victory over Ares is “confusing the issue with facts”.  But clearly that's right.  Still, I so desperately want to believe that a mere mortal like be got the best of an Olympian.  My mind raced immediately to Heracles with his shooting of Hera and Hades, roughing up Apollo in his own temple – but Heracles was no mere mortal.


Then it occurred to me that I peered into the wrong end of the argument.  I recall Diomedes being listed as a mortal who attained godhood.  I remember the story like this; Athena obtained for Diomedes father Tydeus one of the Seven Against Thebes, the gift of immortality.  As Athena rushed from Olympus with the fateful cup of nectar Tydeus received a fatal blow.  Someone convinced Tydeus that with his dying breathe he should eat the brains of his enemy.  How often we heard that line.  Athena arrives on the scene, stumbles in shock, drops the cup and storms off the battle field in disgust.  But the promise had been made by the gods, so Diomedes received the cup when his time came.  I started looking for a source. 


Wikipedia offers this unreferenced report; According to the post Homeric stories, Diomedes was given immortality by Athena, which she had not given to his father. Pindar says that Diomedes became a minor god in southern Italy or the Adriatic. He was worshipped as a divine being under various names in Italy where Statues of him existed at Argyripa, Metapontum, Thurii, and other places.  There are traces in Greece also of the worship of Diomedes. Greek sources say that he was placed among the gods together with the Dioscuri.”

Thebaid 8:[751] “Tydeus raises himself and turns his gaze upon him, then mad with joy and anger, when he saw them drag the gasping visage, and saw his handiwork therein, he bids them cut off and hand to him his foe’s fierce head, and seizing it in his left hand he gazes at it, and glows to see it still warm in life and the wrathful eyes still flickering ere they closed. Content was the wretched man, but avenging Tisiphone demands yet more. And now, her sire appeased, had Tritonia come, and was bringing immortal lustre to the unhappy hero: when lo! she sees him befouled with the shattered brains’ corruption and his jaws polluted with living blood– nor can his comrades wrest it from him –; fierce stood the Gorgon with outstretched snakes, and the horned serpents upreared before her face o’ershadowed the goddess; with averted face she flees from him where he lies, nor enters heaven ere that the mystic lamp and Elisos with plenteous water has purged her vision

Finally, Pindar’s Nemean 10 contains the line ; And once the golden-haired, gray-eyed goddess made Diomedes an immortal god”

So, can we say that Diomedes was “equal to a god”, because in the end, he was one?











  1. I admit I haven't any sympathy for Diomedes at all. At a council of war, he said that no peace was to be made with the Trojans even if they would give back Helen and the stolen treasures, because their doom was already sealed. And he, after coming to Troy as an aggressor, accused the Trojans who were defending themselves in war-mongering. Not to mention his part in the destruction of Thebes in order to avenge his dear brain-sucking father.
    I think Diomedes shows us most clearly the "ecological role" performed by heroes at the end of the Heroic Age. He, Achilles, the Ajaxes and all others are the horsemen of the Apocalypse. They have to decimate their own species because the gods have decided so, and they do this job uncritically. Most of them are kings or heirs to thrones, but I cannot imagine them ruling anything except an invading army. I agree he was equal to Ares, but who needs more "destroying angels"? Give me a hero equal to Hephaestus!

  2. Maya,
    "Equal to Hephaestus". There's a thought. I recently pondered him in relation to athetis. She saves the gods from themselves time after time. What if she saved them from Hephaestus' revenge? In some accounts he was rejected by both parents. But Thetis and Eurynome took him in and raised him with love. He spent the next ten years making jewelry rather than weapons of mass distruction

    1. In my story, Hephaestus is the only Olympian who tries (in vain) to persuade Zeus to leave Thetis alone and not to rape her. All others are still angry at her for frustrating their attempted revolution and do not mind at all if she suffers the natural consequences of her pro-Zeus action.

    2. Maya, You got a source for that version? Often people under estimate "The Power of Thetis". No deity ever holds a grudge against her in epic. Thetis released Zeus bonds which means she is stronger than he. She refused Zeus for sake of her foster mother Hera. She refused Poseidon for the sake of the universe. Why she settled for Peleus I don't know!

    3. I think it is Laura Slatkin who overestimates the power of Thetis. E.g. she claims that, when Achilles starts dragging the body of Hector, Zeus was powerless to do anything about it except beg Thetis to intervene. Zeus just solves the problem in the best way possible, summoning Thetis to clear her son's mess (as people call me when any of my sons makes a mess) and at the same time allowing her and her son to save face. Despite everything I have written against Zeus, he is never nasty if he can accomplish his goals in a gentler way.
      About the attempted revolution - I cannot read the original but all translations have the same meaning: Thetis calls Briareus who scares the rebels and saves Zeus. Any weak child could do the same.
      Hera does hold a grudge against Thetis in the beginning of the Iliad. As for the others... they know what Thetis will suffer in the very near future. At her very wedding, Dionysus who had been saved by her gives her as a present an amphora to put her son's ashes!
      Before that, Thetis refused Zeus and Poseidon but Zeus still pursued her. If Themis or Prometheus had not uttered the succession prophecy, she would have been raped like so many others. I also see no reason to think that she cared for the universe, or that continuing the rule of Zeus is necessarily good for the universe.
      She settled for Peleus because she was forced by Zeus to do it. In the Iliad, she clearly states so. I think that, despite Slatkin's opinion, Thetis has little power. And, what may be even worse, she has little intelligence. Throughout the Iliad, she hasn't a single idea of her own. She does only what Achilles begs or Zeus orders.
      My Thetis is actually a remarkable person, but her power is only of character and spirit.

    4. I realize now that part of the tragedy of Thetis is that, in her later life, she does the very same things that she has suffered from or fought against in her youth. Abandoned by her biological parents, she abandons Achilles. Rescuer and caregiver of Hephaestus after his parents attempt to murder him, she kills six of her children. Barely escaping rape by Zeus and later sentenced to marital rape by Peleus, she does not try to prevent Achilles from raping a defenseless woman. So, apart from and before losing her son, Thetis loses the ideals and causes of her youth. She loses everything. And mythographers do not give her any hope for the future. As far as I know, only Euripides in the Andromache tries to mitigate the unhappy ending.

    5. Maya,

      Nereus and Doris didn't abandon Thetis. You got fifty daughters you need help. No indication in myth she didn't get along with Nereus. As to the death of Achilles' brothers, that's a matter of perspective. In Greek myth there is no "death". From peleus' perspective the boys might be dead, but from Thetis' they are in Olympus.

    6. I suppose the 50 Nereids were not born as 50-plets :-), so the older ones no longer needed care and could even help in bringing up their younger sisters. I haven't read any explanation in myth why Thetis ended up in Hera's care. My Thetis says, "When I was born, my mother wanted to get to know herself or to work on herself, or something of this sort, and she definitely wasn't in the mood to care for some ever-crying baby."
      Of course, as soon as Thetis grew up, she discovered that Olympus was no longer healthy for her. Where could she go? To Daddy's home, of course. She just could not afford to hold grudges against her birth parents.
      The myth does not say where Thetis lived after Zeus and Poseidon felt desire for her. I don't think she could remain in her parents' home. I know only of one father who defended her daughter against rape by Zeus - river-god Asopus, father of Aegina. His brother Inachus surrendered Io under threats. Oceanus gave Zeus his daughter and Eurynome after Zeus had swallowed her sister Metis. Atlas could not or would not protect his daughter Maya. So I describe young Thetis as living on a run, taking temporary refuge in homes of courageous friends.
      I don't think Thetis could delude herself that her dead babies were "living" on Olympus - she occasionally visited Olympus and could see for herself that they were not there.
      The myth explicitly says that ambrosia, when applied externally, had protective effect on the skin. Hera and Aphrodite anointed themselves with ambrosia for that purpose. So I think that the babies had no sign of burning on their skin. This misled Thetis to think that she had botched just some minor but fatal detail in the procedure, she would correct it next time and with the next baby everything would be OK. For the same reason, Peleus for a long time didn't suspect what was happening; if he knew the term SIDS, he would think he was losing his babies to this condition.
      However, ambrosia, when applied on the skin, could not protect the deep tissues (if it could, Zeus would forbid this application, as he presumably forbade the oral application). So my interpretation is that the babies were dying of suffocation.

    7. Maya,

      The homeric hymn to Demeter clearly says that the ambrosia fire ritual will work. Thetis passed on Zues' wooing in respect for Hera. Thetis did not live on the run, she and eurynome lived on the great River Ocean where Hephaestus made jewelry for them for ten years.

    8. Your comment suggests that Thetis at one time took refuge with Oceanus, but knowing him, I doubt it :-). Actually, Hephaestus states in the Iliad that he was hiding at that time. He says that no one mortal or immortal knew about him, only Thetis and Eurynome. And Eurynome is also, by all likelihood, an opposition member. After giving birth to 3 daughters by Zeus, she leaves Olympus for good. Some obscure myths tell about a once-powerful but now disgraced goddess of the same name.
      I don't think the ritual would work with Demophoon. Demeter thought it would work, at least in the beginning. However, I find it significant that she did not continue with it once interrupted, and did not attempt it on another boy but switched to her last-resort Plan B - starvation of mankind. (I still give her credit that it was her Plan B and not Plan A. Actually, your post on this subject clarified it to me.)
      I doubt that Demophoon could have been immortalized even by oral application of ambrosia, because this would depend on his proportion of divine genes. And I don't know how many of his ancestors (if any) were divine. The fact is that Demophoon remained mortal in some versions of the myth and died on the spot in others. The brothers of Achilles all died, only Achilles survived (remaining mortal), because the ritual was interrupted. So we have immortalization rate of 0% in all versions and mortality rate between 0% and 88%, depending on which version we take. Based on these data, FDA would never approve the treatment :-).
      To me, the ambrosia-and-fire is mythological woo, and was originally invented as such. Look that both gods who used it were female!

    9. Your comment helped me tie a loose end. I was slightly worried about how could my Thetis, a defenseless girl with an order of arrest, manage to hide from Zeus for 30+ years.
      Now, I intend to place her in Eurynome's home for most of this period. I had neglected the fact you brought - that Eurynome did not return to her father's home after her "divorce" but managed a home of her own which was an ideal hiding place.
      After finding Hephaestus, Thetis feared (for good reason) that the boy's abusive parents could be powerful and could hurt him again if they found him. So she brought the baby to Eurynome's home rather than her father's home. She cared for him, while Eurynome cared for their subsistence.
      My Eurynome has no love or respect to her ex and regards herself as a rape victim. She says, "The births of my three daughters were less unpleasant than their conceptions, which is hardly the way things should be." So Eurynome has much empathy to other victims of Zeus and is happy to give Thetis any help she needs.

    10. Maya,

      Well thanks for nodding a little to the literary sources. By the way, Eurynome is not a nereid, but an oceanide. Usually they represent a spring, well or are the local manifestation of Gaia. The fact the Eurynome settled pn the shores of the great river ocean means she sort of went home.


  3. Maya M,
    I don't understand your lack sympathy. These guys have battled before the walls of Troy for 10 years. With the exception of one , all are trapped here by the will of Z eus and rash oath at the engagement of Helen. Who they are in the Iliad, is not who they will be after.


  4. Helen of course is also a destroying angel; she even seems to be specifically created and genetically engineered for this role. But at least she has some human quality - she shows remorse.
    If the Achaeans perceived themselves as you perceive them, I would have some sympathy for them. But they are not at all unhappy to besiege Troy, just angry that it endured longer than expected. They think of booty and little else, like a band of pirates. Their conflicts and reconciliations are about booty. What fills Achilles with menis? The fact that his booty is taken from him - a rape victim who should not have been in his hands in the first place.
    I know of course that historical invading armies have been quite like this, but I have no sympathy to them, either.
    I find Diomedes the worst because he does something other Achaeans do not do - he demonizes and dehumanizes the enemy. He seems to be convinced and tries to convince other Achaeans that their cause is just and the Trojans deserve their fate. In this, he is surprisingly un-Homeric and modern - at least as modern as Aeschylus' Agamemnon, 3 centuries later. And why did he attack Aphrodite? If I remember correctly, because she was saving Aeneas. Even Achilles after the death of Patroclus did not go so far.
    I have little information about Diomedes after the war, except that his wife got him exiled, for which I cannot blame her. Information about Menelaus is inconsistent. All others whom I remember - Achilles, the Ajaxes, Agamemnon, Odysseus - become worse after the Iliad.

  5. Maya,

    Agamemnon, both the Ajaxs and Achilles died during or shortly after the war. Odysseus was enslaved by two different gods who keep him as a sex object.


  6. The "destroying angels" just had to die in the later phase of the war or immediately after it. They were not fit for peace. Odysseus was less belligerent than them, and still he began his peacetime life with an indiscriminate slaughter.
    (We see an interesting development in the next generation - Neoptolemus and Orestes. Sons of destroying angels, they are not destroying angels themselves but parodies, history repeated as farce. While their fathers killed armed warriors, they kill old men, babies and women, in the case of Orestes his own mother.)

    1. These days, I have read a little more about Odysseus, and I see I was wrong by calling him "less belligerent" than the other Iliad heroes. While he often avoids killing by his own hands, he is a personality with extraordinary destructive potential.
      Unlike his victim Palamedes, he never uses his intelligence to create anything (except the Trojan horse).
      He organizes the murder of Palamedes, indirectly causing the destruction of the Achaean fleet on the return journey. He is behind the Trojan horse and the destruction of Troy. He destroys Ajax. On the way home, his incompetent command brings the doom to his men. And he kills the suitors, plus some of his slaves. This "peacemaking" perhaps serves to relieve the population burden of Ithaca, which may not have been relieved enough by the Trojan war itself.
      He enjoys the support of Athena. I cannot find any logic in the actions of this goddess during the war and immediately after it, except to maximize the human loss (of all sides).
      However, after the dirty job has been done, the gods may not want anymore those who have done it. Judas also has a divine-ordered function... but once he fulfills it, the only thing you can do with him is, literally, to send him to hang himself. I learned that a lost poem (Telegony) tells about a son of Odysseus by Circe who kills his father by mistake. Odysseus survived enemy armies, monsters and even the anger of Poseidon... until he finished his job and his illegitimate son, a mere kid, came out of nowhere to become his nemesis.

  7. I do not know exactly what to think of Odysseus. I haven't read the Odyssey, just short digests. Nevertheless, the facts are strange. As far as I know, Odysseus does not rape any woman and has no male lover. Is he indeed so loyal to his Penelope? Then we have not one but two goddesses irresistibly attracted to him. The claim is that he was totally innocent and they just liked him. Women can be attracted to a man without his participation if he impresses them with his appearance, strength, courage, nobility of character, or socio-economic status. Odysseus, however, has none of the above. His only way to capture a woman's heart is by clever talk, as we see with Nausecaya. However, this can never happen against his will.
    To be just to him, he may have acted in self-defense, fearing for his life, and possibly for good reason. However, I suspect also that he considered himself something more than a mortal. The slaughter of the pretenders, and the intention to deal the same way with unruly citizens, looks to me like emulation of Zeus himself. The latter also cannot tolerate any actual or potential dissenters and thinks he is safe only if all other adult males (with the possible exception of some of his sons) are exiled far away, thrown into Tartarus or disabled.

  8. Maya,

    Interesting discussion last week at Hour 25. Our visiting scholar flat out said "I hate Odysseus" and called him a cyclops in his own cave by the end of the epic.

    As for emulating Zeus, please recall that it was Zeus and Athena who stopped Odysseus intended slaughter of the suitors relatives.

    As to Zeus's dislike of potential male dissenter; what do you think about Zeus and Helios? The children of Hyperion are some of the few non-Cronides that remained in power after the Titanomachy. When Odysseus' men eat Helios's cattle... How do you eat steak when the steak's hide is still moving around? Ugh... Helios is real firm with Zeus that the offenders will be punished or else there would be day light in Hades. I recall myth that Selene and Eos were cursed with an obsession with only mortals, so they couldn't raise up great male gods I suppose, sort of like Thetis. But, Helios seemed to be free in whom he wed. I wonder why Zeus so no threat from that family?

  9. I think that the Hyperionides remained neutral in the Titanomachy and likely were required to do so. Whichever side would win, it would need sun, moon and dawn.
    Nature-gods, once assigned to their functions, were very important of course, could ask things of Zeus and even impose conditions on him, could show some opposition (e.g. Helios revealing to Demeter the whereabouts of Persephone), but it seems to me that they were constrained in their domains and were no longer a threat to the throne. This is apparently the case with Helios, Nereus, Oceanus, the winds, the rivers etc.; for Poseidon it may be only partly valid.
    I have never seen any explanation why Helios has no immortal consort. In our folklore, there is a story that the Sun once wanted to marry. Then the hedgehog went to a stony place with his children and told them to eat stones. The Sun asked him why he was doing this, and the hedgehog answered, "You are only one now and yet your heat leaves little to eat in the summer. When you marry and have children, they will burn out everything and there will be only stones to eat. So we are preparing for the near future." The environmentally-conscious Sun cancelled the wedding. Maybe it is a widespread motif in mythology/folklore that the Sun (god) must not have progeny resembling him.

  10. I guess the gods stopped Odysseus from further mass murders because if he had turned Ithaca into an uninhabited island, this would mean less sacrifices.
    BTW I wonder what happened to the gods and their relationships with humans after the return of Odysseus and the adventures of Orestes. They seem to have disappeared from human lives.

  11. Maya,

    I love the hedgehog story!

    The disappearance of the gods from human affairs is explained in a lost epic named the Cypria. The Earth complained about the weight og the tribes of man upon her surface. Specifically the demigods. The heroic age only lasted two generations. In addition to their "weight' upon the earth, the gods and goddesses found the deaths of their mortal children. Aphrodite was arranging all these hook ups and bragging about it. So Zeus arranged for her to fall in love with a mortal and she learns her lesson. So the gods out of heartbreak fade fromhis world

  12. Thank you! I only do not understand why the Heroic age is said to have lasted only 2 generations. E.g. Epaphus should be considered a hero, and between him and Heracles there are 12 generations.