Saturday, May 31, 2014

TFBT: Helius, the Titan versus the Hero Peleus

In an article from 1939; Apollo and Sol in the Latin Poets of the First Century B.C. Joseph E. Fontenrose makes the following comments; 

  • Firstly; “All the Latin poets of the first century B .C., distinguish clearly between Apollo and Sol. It is their practice to call both gods Phoebus, and they definitely link Diana with Luna through the medium of Hecate; but wherever the traditional Apollo enters in, he is never connected in any way with the sun, nor is Sol ever endowed with Apolline functions and attributes.”
  • Later in the article; “ Sol and Luna refuse to attend the wedding-feast, though all other gods do, including Apollo… Apparently, the sun and moon have a grudge against Peleus or against both Peleus and Thetis. It is a story known to Catullus, but lost to us.” 

What did Helius and Selene find so disgusting and scornful of the union of Peleus and Thetis?   I suggest several reasons below.


 #1  According to Hesiod, to Nereus and his wife were born in the barren sea fifty daughters greatly beautiful even among goddesses including “Ploto and Eukrante and Amphitrite and Sao, Eudora and Thetis…” (Theogony 240)  Thetis’ father Nereus was the proverbial “Old Man of the Sea” and son of Pontus the primordial sea.  Jenny Strauss Clay and others suggest that he might be “a unique instance of male parthenogenesis.”  (The Generation of Monsters in Hesiod) The uniqueness of Nereus birth is might pre-figure the uniqueness of Thetis’ family; for most of the divine monsters in Greek Mythology are descended from Pontus.  In the same source Clay states the Pontides; “can be considered anti-gods.” 


What I am suggesting here is that Helius and Selene objected to the union of Peleus and Thetis because the brides’ family, the Pontides were not “the right sort of people”. The Olympians and Titans were Ouraniones, descendants of Ouranus; the primordial god of the sky.  Clay suggest that through “intermarriage, the Pontides are rapidly integrated into the Ouranid clan.”  But the intermarriage initially consists of only the marriages of Eos and her father-in-law the Titan Crius who marry descendants of Pontus. (Both Crius and his son seem to disappear after the Titanomachy.) Those marriages resulted in Zeus’ horses and his first allies; the sterile children of Styx.   The rapid part of intermarriage would consist of Poseidon taking Nereid mates to add legitimacy to his lordship over the sea.  In fact for all the talk of the Poseidon and  Zeus competing for Thetis’s hand, none of the other deathless gods who lived upon Olympus chose a lover or a bride from this bevy of prophetic beauties. Possibly, Helios and Selene as the most “skyish” of the Ouraniones most represent this racial bias against the children of Pontus.  


#2 But maybe Helius distaste for Nereus brood is more personal than racial.  According to Aelian, (On Animals 14. 28 ff). To Nereus and Doris were born 50 daughters; the Nereids, and one son; Nerites. Nerites was the most beautiful of men and gods. He served as Poseidon’s charioteer. When he drove his chariot over the waves, great monsters of the deep, dolphins and sons of Triton, sprang up from the deep, galloping and dancing alongside the chariot. His escort would be promptly left behind as over the smooth-spread waves coursed his cerulean steeds. His sisters sported on the peaceful water while he raced across the wine red sea driving a team of four steeds yoked together. His abilities as a charioteer were so great that Helios came to resent the swiftness of the boy and transformed his body into the spiral shell.  Aelian makes it clear he is not speculating any further on this myth


#3 Maybe Helius’ objection wasn’t to the Pontides’ wedding but rather the horror of mésalliance.  As Calypso so elegantly stated in Homer, Odyssey 5. 118;" You are merciless, you gods, resentful beyond all other beings; you are jealous if without disguise a goddess makes a man her bedfellow, her beloved husband.”  The nymph goes on to relate how the gods sent Artemis to slay Helios’ mortal brother-in-law Orion and how Zeus killed Demeter’s beloved Iasion with a thunder bolt.  Aphrodite cursed Helios own sisters with a craving for mortal men and both suffered greatly. ( Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1.)   


#4  Maybe, what Helius found so repugnant in Peleus and Thetis’ marriage was that it was based on rape.  At first blush that might not  be too convincing based on the normal behavior of  the  (male) gods, but please read further.  First, Greek gods rarely resort to physical rape, in the end their charm and beauty are what over powers their lover.  For example, Helios himself and the mortal Leukothea. Fear gripped her heart. Distaff and spindle fell unheeded from her hands. Her very fear enhanced her grace. Sol, waiting no more, resumed his own true shape, his wonted splendor, the girl, astounded by the sudden sight, yet vanquished by the glory of the god, with no complain accepted his assault.” (Ovid, Metamorphoses 4). 


Second we have proof of Helius objection to rape.  Of all the gods, he was the only to speak up when Hades forcibly abducted her.  The conspiracy against the girl initially consisted of her father Zeus, great-grandmother Gaea and rapist Hades.  Surely some of the Oceanides that accompanied her to the fields that day were enlisted to guide her to the right spot.  Surely Zeus messenger Gossip (Homer, Iliad 2. 93) had ready access to the halls of Olympus.  The silence and lack of support that Demeter found in her time of grief can only be explained by the silent involvement of all the Olympians or their fear to speak up.  Only Helius cried rape.


#5  Finally maybe the Hyperionides disgust at the festivities is so much “sour grapes”.  They both had to work that day (drive their chariots) and in disappointment claimed they didn’t want to go in the first place..


In summary, we may never know what Catulus knew about Helius and Selene’s   grudge against  Peleus and Thetis. But their reasons might have included racism, a family feud, fear of mismatched marriages, revulsion to rape or just plain old sour grapes.



Thursday, May 8, 2014

M&R: Country Girl in Manhattan

The doorman in a fancy outfit, with a wide-smile pulled the door open wide upon sighting the artist and the large decoratively wrapped painting under her arm.  In defiance of the local dress code she dressed in the flannel shirt, faded denim and leather hiking boots of those proud to be “country folk”.   The buxom blonde stood a little taller as she turned through the doorway and headed towards the elevators.  She sneered at the over elegance of the interior.  The doorman called to her from his stand in a friendly way to check on her name and made sure she knew which floor the “Siennans” lived on.  Her shoulders fell and as did the haughty expression on her face.  She sucked air at the mention of their name as though she’d forgotten where she was going.  Nervously and rapidly she nodded to reassure him then pressed the button for the elevator.  Or rather she hesitated right before pressing the elevator button.  Here she stood in a white marble lobby before a golden door about to rise to Heaven.  She wondered if selling this painting would be a defining moment in her career. The phrase “endless wealth and unimaginable influence” came to mind.  The doors opened and she stepped forward.

When they reopened, the painter heard music, live music (by the squeak of the guitar strings), feminine chatter in French, the squeal of joyful toddlers and lots of laughter. 

“I’ll get it.” Harmonia peeped when the water colorist rang the doorbell. 

She had to say it again louder to be heard over the general hilarity accompanying the birthday girl’s assault on the latest gift.  Harmonia being so demonstrative was contrary to her normally aloof demeanor and would have been noticed and commented on at any other occasion.  But, today it only received friendly knowing looks from her dark-haired sisters-in-law and winks of encouragement.  Slyph-like in movement and form she crossed the carpet and calmly opened the door with a serene smile on her glacial translucent features.  Harmonia’s smile broadened almost unnoticeably. 

The woman at the door grinned broadly in comparison from a sunburned face, laughing to herself about how Harmonia “reeked” of “old money”.  She was full figured in contrast to Harmonia’s slim frame.  Harmonia’s   long ephemeral hair was so platinum as to be white in contrast the woman with the big wrapped package sported coarse brassy hair.  Outdoorsy clothes versus a new gown almost a negligee just bought for the occasion.

Harmonia waved her in, announcing “Special delivery!” in English.

Her sisters-in-law awaiting their cue also switched to English and echoed the announcement and encouraged their children to say, “Grandma!  Special delivery!” 

“Grandma” sat in the elegant room surrounded by her family and packages from “Galerie Lafayette”.  Roxanne Scamander rose to see who and what was at the door.  She wore a Dolce & Gabbana hibiscus floral gown with a belt of sapphire.  She too was a full figured gal with rosy cheeks and a full head of hair, russet in her case. She smiled at and hallowed the gift bearer.  Then her green eyes focused on what was obviously a painting in the strangress’ hand. 

“Is that..?” she gushed, hand rising to her chest.  “Are you the artist?  Is this from the library?”

Harmonia introduced the woman in the doorway to her Aunt Roxy.  All this happen as the artist and art were being guided into the living room. 

Little voices asked, “What is it grandma?”  “Who’s it from?”

The young woman had been instructed not to say it was the Turkish ambassador’s secretary who’d arranged the sale, and so just said that she’d worked with “someone’s” secretary.  No one seemed surprised and the information gave them no idea who the gift was from.  Roxanne eyed her stern-looking sister and daughters suspiciously but they all remained inscrutable.  The wrapping paper got ripped off by helping little hands.  That’s when the artist noticed the birthday girl’s matching Dolce Vita Suki heels lay under the coffee table.

 The women peeled off the twine and brown paper until it was revealed to their eyes. Roxanne and her daughters burst into tears.  Her husband’s business card lay tucked into the picture frame. The water color itself was of two yellow irises in an open field with low hills beyond.  Roxanne and her daughters began to bubbler in what the artist assumed was “Turkish” but of course was Pontic Greek.

Harmonia’s lithe hand touched the confused blonde’s left shoulder.  “It reminds them of flowers near their village back home on the banks of the Karamenderes.”

Sunday, May 4, 2014

TBFT: Part I, Notes from “The Best of the Achaeans”

With delight,  many other times before I read “The Best of the Achaeans” by Gregory Nagy .  This time through I turned the post and am headed back.  (Halfway along.)  Here are some random notes from my reading.
Through out Homeric Epic metis and bia are contrasted; that is brains vs. brawn.  One of Nagy premises is that the wily Odysseus and mighty Achilles contended for the title of “Best of the Achaeans”, that is the Best of the Greeks at Troy.  One of the most famous episodes of the Iliad is Book IX, called the Embassy.  The Greeks fear that the Trojans will over run their defences in the near future.  Their only solution is to beg Achilles for help.  Nestor orchestrates the meeting.  Nagy points out at  3.7 “Ironically, Nestor's later stratagem, to send the Embassy to Achilles, is also designated in the narrative as mêtis. Ironically too, Odysseus is the one who is pleading for what the Achaeans most sorely need at this point, the might of Achilles.” In response to Odysseus’ arguments, Achilles says,
“Let him [Agamemnon], Odysseus, along with you and the other kings devise a way to ward off the destructive fire from the ships.” ( Iliad  IX 346) 
Nagy points out “In effect, the words of Achilles defiantly and ironically challenge Odysseus, Agamemnon, "and the other kings"  to rely on artifice at the very moment when they are desperately in need of his mightFor the moment, the mêtis 'artifice' of Odysseus (and Nestor) is at a loss, and the biê 'might' of Achilles is implicitly vindicated.”
An observation I never noticed before, Nagy points out in Chapter10§14 concerning a running pun in Achilles destiny.  If you don’t know the story; Achilles for various reason knew his future.  He could either die young in Troy remembered as forever young and attaining unfailing glory, kleos aphthiton or go home to Phthia and live to a ripe old as an obscure king of the place losing his kleos.  Since we are still talking about Achilles three thousand years later, he clearly chose to die young.  Here is the pun; a-phthiton means “un-failing” so Phthia would means “failing”.  Nagy explains, Achilles himself says that the way for him to achieve this kleos aphthiton is to die at Troy, and that the way to lose kleos is to live life as a mortal, at home in Phthîê’
 “Whenever the gods are away at such a (feast) with the remote Aithiopes, the efficacy of a sacrifice by the heroes in the here-and-now of the epic narrative is in question.”  Chapter 7.18  Really, so if the god isn’t in Olympus, watching from afar, at the temple or just doesn’t want to accept it, your sacrifice is for nothing.  Hm
“Achilles and Memnon respectively--are similarly transported after death into a state of immortality by their respective divine patronesses, Thetis and Eos”  Chapter 9.23 (Best of the Achaeans)  Is this another example of the animosity between the children of Hyperion and children of Nereus?
Give, friend! For you seem to be not the worst of the Achaeans, but the best, since you seem like a king.  (Odyssey xvii 415-416)  Nagy says at chapter 2.15, Noblesse oblige, but Antinoos crudely refuses. Later on in the Odyssey, he is the very first suitor to be shot dead by the arrows of an angry Odysseus  
At 5. 19 he argues, “we cannot expect any given composition within the tradition to require any alterations or modifications in the inherited phraseology of its hexameters for the purpose of accommodating the composition's sense of its own unity…The genius behind our Iliad's artistic unity is in large part the Greek epic tradition itself.”
6.9 ” the narrative of Demodokos is interrupted, before it draws to a close, by the weeping of Odysseus. The action stops just when various Achaean heroes are performing their various grisly feats during the destruction of Troy, such as …”  I would suggest the killing of Astyanax by Odysseus.  
  • Nagy points out that “Hektor is the only Trojan  who is described as "equal to Zeus in wisdom"  
  • “Hektor used to call him his son Skamandrios, but the others called him Astuanax; for Hektor alone protected Ilion. This passage is the clearest example of a traditional convention in the naming of heroes: the son is named after one of the father's primary heroic characteristics.”
  • “Hektor, who was a god among men; and he seemed to be the child not of a mortal but of a god. ..the women of Troy are described as  praying to Hektor.  This is the only place in all the Homeric corpus … not a god or a collection of gods."
Demi-Gods and Heroes
  • “In the entire Works and Days, the word “heroes”  is in fact restricted to the Fourth Generation”
  • “…where many cowhide-shields and helmets fell in the dust--as also a generation of demigods… (XII 22-23) This passage marks the only Homeric attestation of not just demigods but also boagria; cowhide shields”.
  • the word demigods occurs also at Hesiod fr. 204.100MW; the is that Zeus plans the Trojan War in order that mortals may die and thus be separated from the immortal gods .
  • the Will of Zeus also entails the permanent separation of gods and men. The crucial lines read as follows: “but so that the blessed gods ... , as before,may have their way of life and their accustomed places apart from men”
“immortal and unaging, just as the gods are. .. These words are the "correct" formula for immortalization; when the words are "incorrect," as in the myth of Eos and Tithonos, then the immortalization is ruined by the failure of preservation.