Sunday, August 31, 2014

TFBT: Philoctetes by Sophocles

The tragedy study group at Hour 25  selected Philoctetes for our latest project.  I highly recommend the translation by Ian Johnston  Of course; I highly recommend anything by Johnston.

The play is about the wounded warrior Philoctetes abandoned by his comrades. Ten years later they discover they need him after all.  The play begins with the ever-devious Odysseus instructing Achilles’ son Neoptolemus how to entrap Philoctetes “tell him a story.   You have to trick him, lead his mind astray.”  The play ends with Philoctetes willing departure with his comrades in arms. 

In previous re-readings of the Ancient Athenian tragedies I have concentrated on some aspect of the story line other than the main characters.  Under the mistaken impression that Sophocles blamed one of Heracles poisoned arrows for Philoctetes unhealing wound, I thought that those famous arrows dipped in the bile of the Hydra would be my focus.  Rather Philoctetes says,   “I was bitten by a savage deadly snake”, the guardian spirit at the shrine of the nymph Chryse that lamed Philoctetes.  Chryse and her snake get mentioned three times in the play.   In the Oresteia we heard Apollo’s shafts compared to snakes when he threatened the ancient Erinnyes. 


But the word I kept stumbling over was “boy”.  Neoptolemus was 10 years old when the story takes place.  Ludicrous at first glance, but Encyclopedia Britannic, via Wikipedia says the life expectancy of the Ancient Greeks was between 26 and 28.  So maybe the heroes of the Trojan War grew up quickly.   One theory says that Castor and Polydeuces were twelve when the lead the Spartan army that rescued their sister Helen from her Athenian captors.


Around line twenty Odysseus sends the boy to scout out a two mouthed cave where they left the reeking archer a decade before.  I was reminded of Somnus’ two gated cave from which pass the true and false dreams respectively. 


Odysseus starts this education in deciet by saying ” Son of Achilles, to fulfill your mission   you must be loyal to your ancestry, but at line 79, admits that ” My boy, I know your nature is not fit  to make up lies or speak deceitful things tow which the boy replies   “It’s not my nature to do anything    based on deceit. My father, so they say,    was just the same”   This debate is surely a foretaste of things to come.   By line 135 the boy ass, “   But how can anyone control his face when he dares speak such lies?”  Which make me wonder how much of the following dialogue between the apprentice liar and the desperate warrior deserted a decade before is lies on Neoptolemus part, second thoughts about his deceit and truths of another nature.    Particularly when Odysseus admits the only way the city can be captured is with Philoctetes’ bow and arrows. “So I am not the one who’ll take that city, as you told me.”  “It’s not my nature to do anything   based on deceit. My father, so they say…” I would much prefer to fail in something honorable, than to win out with treachery. “Still the boy eventually says at line 120, “All right,   I’ll do it. I’ll set all shame aside.”  Of the Ancient Greek works we’ve read this might be the firmest most passionate commendation of lying and deceit.  I was reminded of Creon and Polydeuces trying to convince or kidnap Oedipus and return him to another place.


Odysseus leaves before Philoctetes returns to his cave and recognizes that deceit is at hand.  Neoptolemus and the chorus hand about.  The boy observes,   “He lies all by himself,    apart from other human beings,   with shaggy goats and spotted deer,    suffering from hunger pangs   and from his painful wound.   It’s pitiful—he has to bear   an agony that has no cure,   and, as he cries in bitter pain,   the only answer comes from Echo,   a distant, senseless babble. “      I was reminded of Polyphemus and the crew of Odysseus at his cave.


The boy introduces himself to the castaway, “My birthplace is the island Scyros…I’m Neoptolemus,    Achilles’ son.  The supplicant responses, “My lad, son of a man I truly loved,   and from a land I cherish, you were raised by old Lycomedes, your mother’s father.   Which makes Philoctetes sound like an old friend of the family and puts Neoptolemus under obligations of family friendship and alliance.  Philoctetes’ pathetic and lengthy self-introduction continues with a listing of all the crimes that the Astresides and Odysseus are guilty of.  The boy replies, “I, too, can testify to what you say.  You speak the truth.  For I’ve experience (380) how bad the sons of Atreus can be and Odysseus’ brutality as well”  Just got to wonder if he isn’t thinking about his father’s armor which he still hasn’t received. 


Odysseus, hiding in the bushes, sends one of his men disguised as a passing merchant to spread the gossip that another ship is looking for Philoctetes is hopes of convincing the stinking archer to climb into their ship all the faster.  Philoctetes, thinks all this odd, then after reminding everyone the Chryse’s snake wounded him suggests they leave quickly.  The boy says at 639 “   We’ll set sail when the wind stops blowing in
   right at our bow. Its course is now against us. “  Is he having second thoughts about betraying Philoctetes? He tells Philoctetes to pack up his stuff; an herb that helps sometimes.  Philoctetes replies that he also needs “Any of the arrows I’ve forgotten  or overlooked.”   The arrows in question are the poisoned arrows of Heracles that did in two centaurs; Chiron and Pholos, when they were left lying around.  Neoptolemus offers to hold onto the sacred bow while the older man gathers his things. 


While they pack the chorus compares the sufferings to Philoctetes to those of Ixion.  Ixion killed his father-in-law and is purified by Zeus.  In gratitude Ixion attempts to rape Hera and ends up bedding Nephele.  Consequently he is tied to a burning wheel and rolled up and down a stygian hill for all of eternity and he became the father  or grandfather of the centaurs Nesus and Pholos who were killed by these poisoned arrows.


As they exit the cave, the snake venom sends the poor man into a fit; “a storm of pain” .  His cries and shrieks remind me of the death of Agamemnon at the hands of that often-deemed “viper” Clytemnestra.  The whole “fit” seemed inappropriate for the stage, based on other readings of the Ancient Greek tragedies.


At 468, the Chorus, Neoptolemus’ sailors pray to Rhea for assistance.  Now, when  the poor man falls asleep the chorus prays again at 1098 to Sleep

  O Sleep who knows no pain,
   sweet Sleep so free of suffering,
   come to us with joy, my king,                                                          
   and bring him happiness.
   Hold before his eyes that lightt                                                                  
   which shines around them now.
   Come down, I pray, and heal him


Neoptolemus assists the ailing archer to his feet but then in the throes of a new round of second thoughts confesses all the conspiracy.  Philoctetes tells the boy  You’re not an evil man,” Which seems to be Odysseus cue to jump out of the bushes. 


Odysseus is at his worse and most abusive.  He leaves the chorus to see to Philoctetes and leaves with Neoptolemus to prepare the ship.  Philoctetes laments his fate to the chorus.  Their debate continues until they see Odysseus coming and bringing with him Achilles’ son.


ODYSSEUS;    Why are you coming back along this path  at such a rapid pace (boy)?

NEOPTOLEMUS;   I was wrong before.    I have to fix all those mistakes I made.

ODYSSEUS;    You sound odd. What mistakes are those?

NEOPTOLEMUS;    When I obeyed you and the entire army.      


Odysseus no longer refers to Neoptolemus as boy.  Neoptolemus returns the bow and apologizes to Philoctetes, promising that he will not force Philoctetes to go anywhere.  He tries to convince Philoctetes to see the wisdom of attaining a cure and glory at Troy, but the archer will not give up his anger at Odysseus and company.  Neoptolemus advices; “My dear man, in such troubles you must learn   not to be so stubborn.”  Although another  translation says “You must learn to extract yourself from this anguish” which I liked better. “  They agree to forget Troy and head to their mutual homes. 


“Not yet…” says the voice of the now divine Heracles, who’s returned to the man who graciously lit his funeral pyre.  He instructs both me that they must go to Troy and promises there you “make your life something men honor.”  The two heroes promise they will.  Philoctetes bides good bye to the place including the nymphs of streams and meadows.  The chorus runs ahead to pray to the Nereids.   

The end.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

TFBT: Apobatic Gods

A while back at Hour 25, Professor Douglas Frame joined us as visiting scholar.  He wroteHippota Nestor  The title means “Nestor, the Charioteer”.  The phrase is famous from The Iliad.  It is also ironic for two reasons.  One, Nestor is famous for giving advice on winning a chariot race, while in fact his advice hand nothing to do with chariot racing and two, he was terrible at driving a chariot!  So Frame’s book is about “twins”.  Also visiting was Professor Kevin McGrath, who studied Charioteers and their therapons in the Indo-European tradition.  Obviously we’ve been discussing two guys in a chariot a lot lately.

Helios, the god of the sun is always one of my favorite characters in Greek mythology to research.  At the time I was of the opinion that the only person who ever rode in the solar chariot with Helios was his best friend Hephaestus the smithy of the gods.  If you pressed me would I have recalled that Helios’ sister Selene is sometimes shown in the chariot with him.  Then I started doing research and discovered Helios took all his children and some grandchildren for a ride at some point include Phaeton who famously wrecked the chariot.  I kept looking for references to pairs of deities in chariot and found lots, mostly during the war against the giants.  Although I could find no significance of who was paired with whom I did find something else interesting.  In sculpture and art a surprising number of gods and goddesses are carved and painted in the “apobatic moment”.

Nagy wrote extensively about the apobatic moment.  It is the moment that a warrior leaps in full armor from his chariot.  It use to be a sport in the pan-Hellenic games in memory of the moment when  Achilles in a murderous rage did the same in The Iliad.  It is also the moment when the warrior remounts that chariot.  Some call this “anabatic.”

But, I wonder if a god stepping to earth has some greater significance than foreshadowing events in the Iliad. I wonder if this is not a moment of epiphany for the audience. I wonder if loosing the reins is releasing the abstract forces that often draw divine chariots.  I wonder if taking the reins back is regaining control of those forces.  Nestor and Socrates both have something to say about the importance of reining in and alternately loosing those forces.  And what does it mean when Death himself snatches up Persephone and we see him stepping aboard the chariot drawn by 4 black horses to make his escape?  

Saturday, August 23, 2014

TFBT: Is "Oedipus at Colonus" a Spartan Allegory?

Was Sophocles play “Oedipus at Colonus” an extended allegory about Athens and Sparta’s ongoing conflict? 

Our book club held discussions at Hour 25 on Sophocles' final play; “Oedipus at Colonus”.   The plot centers on what to do with Oedipus, his pollution and the plague it might bring up Thebes.  I discussed this in a previous post or two.   

An active member of our community kaoru9282  pointed out that Sophocles wrote a prequel to this Oedipus at Colonus titled “Oedipus Tyrannous” She wrote, “A year before OT was produced, Athens suffered a terrible plague. Pericles died in that plague.” She further writes of Athens; “In terms of the plague, the historians estimate the death toll to be anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 of the population, and some even say it was close to 2/3.”  She wondered if the audience would have recognized Pericles in the figure of Oedipus. 

The consequences of Pericles reign in Athens were the plague Kaoru describes, eventual conquest by Sparta and the reign of terror of the Thirty Tyrants.  Oedipus at Colonus  was written  when democracy had been abolished and was produced two years after the Athenians threw off the yoke of Spartan rule. 

The comparison of Pericles to Oedipus,  made me wonder if we should compare Sparta to Thebes.  In the play the Athenians fought the Thebans (off stage); in history the Athens of Pericles fought the Spartans.  In the play Thebes had two kings, historically the Spartan constitution required two kings.  

So is “Oedipus at Colonus” an extended allegory?   Was it written at great risk to the playwright and hence in allegorical form.  Was the poet in fact writing about the animosity between Athens and Sparta?   

Discussing inconsistences within the story line and unexpected comments might lead us to look for deeper significance in places.   


 The all-seeing Eumenides the people here would call them: but other names please elsewhere.” (44)  The mention of the Eumenides rather that Erinyes is unexpected because the worship of the Eumenides was not introduced for another two generations.  (The death of Oedipus, ignited the first of the Theban wars where Tydeus died.  Tydeus’ son Diomedes fought at Troy.  After the Trojan War Agamemnon’s son Orestes, helped institute the worship of the Eumenides.)  Would the audience who’d suffered two generations of persecution from the Spartans recall that Orestes, was a Spartan king? 

Threshold for Descending, 

“Threshold for Descending… which was where Theseus  and Peirithoos had made their faithful covenant “   1591-5  Another inconsistency within the story line which might make us suspicious that the poet is pointing us to something else.

 The faithful covenant that Theseus  and Peirithoos  in their old age was to attain each other new wives.  In the play Theseus is still a viral man.  Sort of odd.  The result of their rash oath was the kidnapping of  an underage princess named Helen, their binding in Hades, a Spartan invasion during their absence lead by the twin princes Castor and Polydeuces to recover their sister. 


“this city (Athens) unscathed by the men born of the Dragon’s teeth.” 1553  Legend has it that Cadmus’ close companions at the founding of Thebes were the men born of the dragon’s teeth he planted at Athena’s suggestion.  These men are called Sparti.  Would the traumatized audience ignore the pun? 

Old Man 

In the opening line of the play Oedipus refers to himself as an old man, “Child of a blind old man, Antigone…”  Old?  He left Corinth a young man, married soon after, has two daughters called maidens rather than women and his first grandchild is still a baby.  He is forty if not younger!  How can Sophocles call Oedipus old?  Easy, if Sophocles is actually talking about Pericles.  Pericles was 66 when he died. 


I have to end my analysis here today.  I am not sure where it leads. Readers please respond with your thoughts.  When time allows I hope to do a word search in the Greek for “ainos” ; a word that often signals a deeper meaning to the text and the “sparti”.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Dear all,
We have exciting news to share from HeroesX, CHS, and Hour 25!

A new session of The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours will start on September 2, 2014. Registration is free and open to all via edX. This new session will be divided up into five manageable units, or "modules." The first is titled "Epic and Lyric." Join us for just one module or all five! We hope to see many of you on the "Discussion Board." Stay tuned for more details!

The Center for Hellenic Studies is delighted to announce these upcoming events with "Visiting Scholars." Please join us for these discussions!

Hour 25 
Currently, two community-organized study groups are inviting new participants to learn "just enough" Greek. 

The Oinops Study Group has posted yet another interesting blog: Hesiodic Advise on OinopsYou can view all the previous blogs by the Oinops Study Group here.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

TFBT: Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles

At Hour 25, the book club that just finished reading The Orestia continued on with the Oedipus at Colonus” by Sophocles.  As with The Orestia, I concentrated on the appearances of the Erinyes, the goddesses of revenge, rather than the human plot. 

If you don’t know the story, elderly, blind Oedipus accompanied by his daughter arrive at a beautiful garden on the outskirts of Athens seeking sanctuary and a place to be laid to rest.  The locales are aghast to discover who he is, because everyone in Greece knows he killed his father and married his mother.  Anyone who shelters this outcast is asking to have their land cursed by the Erinyes.  (As they threatened to do near the end of the Oresteia.)  The catch is that apparently Oedipus accidently sought sanctuary, that is, became  a suppliant at the very altar of the Erinyes themselves.  Oedipus relatives show up to claim his body. (He’s still not dead yet, by the way.)  Apollo told them that if Oedipus is laid to rest in Athens that Thebes will someday be defeated in battle by the Athenians. Not that they want to bury him at home, because then the fated curse falls on them, again.  They just don’t want him buried in Athens.  He double curses them and strolls off with King Theseus to the mysterious secret  spot where he will pass to the other world.  The last anyone sees, Oedipus disappeared into "the sacred tomb where tis my portion to be buried" and Theseus is left mumbling silent praise to the gods below and the gods above. The end. 

In The Orestia, the Eumenides are called everything, but “goddesses” until three quarters of the way through the third play.  Here they are addressed as the goddesses “The all-seeing Eumenides the people here would call them…”  around line 40

At line 85, Oedipus lets it slip out that the seeming accident of his arrival  at this “inviolable” spot, was contrived by Apollo.  Line 665 suggests that Apollo“ has been your escort here.”  In retrospect, just like in “The Oresteia” Apollo was the god that started this whole disaster by his enigmatic response to the Corinthian prince’s question about his paternity.  Just as in the Oresteia the “sweet daughters of primeval Darkness” don’t drink wine (don’t require wine libations) because Apollo tricked the sisters the Fates once by getting them drunk on wine.   We might wonder here was Loriax is up to.

The locales initiate Oedipus into the rituals to placate the dread goddesses at Lines 125 & 480; a wanderer, not a dweller in the land; otherwise he never would have advanced into this untrodden grove of the maidens with whom none may strive. Their name we tremble to speak, we pass them by with eyes turned away, mouthing the words, without sound or word,”

Another daughter arrives and the audience and chorus are told the situation in Thebes.  “At first it was their decision that the throne should be left to Creon, and the city spared pollution, when they thought calmly about the ancient blight on our family, 370  Creon is the once and forever regent of Thebes generation after generation cleaning up the messes made by the royal family.  The “ancient blight on our family” was caused by the crime of their ancestor Laius.  As Oedipus admits at Line 530, he has two blessing; his daughters and two curses; Laius’ and his own.  However, when things calmed down the royal family designed to retain the throne  And the younger son has stripped the elder, Polyneikes, of the throne, (375)"   Per primordial law as mentioned in Homer, the erinyes will support the elder brother in the fratricidal war to come.

Creon arrives around line 760 and say, “Oedipus, in the name of your ancestral gods, listen to me!”  Sort of ironic and ineffectual calling upon the very gods that laid this curse on his family and chased him to Athens.  “… consent to return to the city and the house of your ancestors, … since it was she that nurtured you long ago.”  In point of fact it was the city of Corinth that nurtured and raised Oedipus.  Creon  is driven by his need to save his people from the grief to come. His heartless stern actions reek of desperation. He is wrong. But at the same time Oedipus is just as heartless and stern. For all his whining and begging, Oedipus is not giving in to Creon’s demands. Oedipus, as "implacable, inexorable" as the Erinyes. He is willing to curse his sons and sacrifice his daughters to get his revenge. This is a battle of titans on a cosmic scale for the sanctity of human life

Next up is his Oedipus’ son who did nothing to save his father from exile, who comes for his father’s blessing in the approving war for the throne called “The Seven Against Thebes”.  Oedipus’ response is to re-double the family curse with all the power latent in his polluted self.  He is as unforgiving and unmovable as the Erinyes themselves.  His doomed son saying  “This path now will be my destiny, ill-fated and evil, because of my father here and his Furies.”  Oedipus can summon the Erinyes just like Clytemnestra did in the “Libation Bearers” of the Oresteia

The son’s parting words are “forgo your fierce mÄ“nis against me, as I go forth to punish my brother, (1330)”  “Menis” is a Greek word for wrath and generally reserved for the gods.  It is anger of cosmic consequence.  In the Oresteia the god Apollo admits to fearing the menis of Orestes “And I will aid the suppliant and rescue him! For the mēnis of the suppliant would be awesome to mortals and gods, if I intentionally abandoned him” The menis of Orestes would have unravelled the divine plot to establish the rule of law amongst mankind.  Of what concern to the gods was the wrath of Oedipus at his sons?  The answer is what happens next in Greek mythology.  The banishment  of Oedipus ultimately ignited the Theban wars.  The Theban Wars, like the Trojan war were arranged by Zeus and Themis to lighten the load of the tribes of demi-gods upon Mother earth.  (Cypria and Works&Days ll. 156-169b)

Oedipus and Theseus go apart from the others.  Oedipus disappears and Theseus performs the required prayers “mouthing the words, without sound or word,”




A little something off topic hear I read in “Oedipus at Colonus”


“I say this because you, son of Kronos, lord Poseidon, have set the city on the throne of these words of praise by inventing, first of all on our own roadways, the bit that cures the rage of horses. Meanwhile the oar, well-shaped for rowing on the sea, is gliding past the land as it leaps to keep time with the singing and dancing of the hundred-footed Nereids.” 714


This is the clearest explantion I’ve seen as to how Poseidon could be the god of the horse and of the sea.  With horse and bit  he rules the roadway.  With boat and oar he rules the sea-ways.  He is master of horses;  the steeds of earth and ships; the steeds of the sea.  

Sunday, August 10, 2014

TFBT: The Five Horseman of Patroclus’ Funeral

An Ancient tradition in Greek mythology and epic is funeral games in honor of the deceased.  The first (literally) and foremost of such games is in honor of the hero Patroclus in Book XXIII of The Iliad.  His best friend and king, Achilles announces a chariot race in honor of the deceased, lays out the prizes, sets the course and makes his retainer Phoenix judge of the event. 

 “First among them all stood up Eumelos, king of men, son of Admetos, a man excellent in charioteering.” Nowhere else in Greek literature or art is there mention of  Eumelos being an excellent charioteer.  But Admetos was famous for driving a chariot. In order to win his bride his future father-in-law Pelias required him to yoke a boar and a lion to his chariot. (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke 1.9.15; Hyginus, Fabulae, 50)  Admetus lived  his own private golden-age existence.  He  “dwelt in ease and peace upon their lands with many good things, rich in flocks and loved by the blessed gods.” (Hesiod Works and Days 120)  He was immune to death (Aeschylus, Eumenides, 728) and dined with the god daily.  So it was Apollo who yoked a lion and boar to Admetos bridal chariot and sent him to Pelias to fetch his future wife Alcestis. 

“Next to him rose mighty Diomedes son of Tydeus” A seer told Tydeus’ future father in law to yoke a lion and a boar to his kingdom.  One night in his entryway he found Tydeus whose shield bore a boar fighting with Polyneices of Thebes whose shield bore a lion. Adrastus married his daughters to the two exiled princes. “(Diomedes)  yoked the Trojan horses which he had taken from Aeneas,” The Trojans were famous for their horses descended from a small herd given them by Zeus.  Diomedes attained some of these horses when he defeated in a duel their master Aeneas, son of Anchises. 

Third arose fair-haired Menelaus, beloved younger brother of the penultimate bronze aged king Agamemnon and  yoked his fleet horses;  his own horse Podargos and  Agamemnon’s mare Aithe, given to Agamemnon by Echepolos son of (another) Anchises.  So, Aithe’s yokemate is Menelaus’ horse Podargos. Admittedly there are a limited number of horse names allowed in Greek mythology, but these two horses share names with Prince Hector’s lead horses Aithon and Podargos. 

“ Fourth in order Antilokhos, son to noble Nestor son of high-hearted Neleus, made ready his horses. These were bred in Pylos, and his father came up to him

to give him good advice”   At which point follows the most famous advise on how to win a horse race, center on how to turn the post at the far end of the race.  Of course, Nestor’s advice had nothing to do with horseracing but came in handy in when god-like Antilochus debated over the prizes after the race.  After the famous and lengthy discourse… 

“fifth in order Meriones got ready his horses”  Meriones, son of Molos,  is a Cretan and squire to Idomeneus.  We are told nothing of his horses here.

 In short two of the charioteers have fathers who were part of a boar/lion/charioteer trio.  Two of the charioteers drove horses that once belonged to Anchises.  One charioteer drove horses that shared a name with his enemy Hector’s horses.  One charioteer received the best chariot driving advice ever and we know nothing about one charioteer’s horses.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

TFBT: The Dragon Slayer, the Traitoress and Dragon

There is a darker side to the Aarne-Thompson folktale type 300 – Dragon Slayer.  This is when the Princess actively betrays her doomed family.  For example; the Hero Theseus and other youths were sent to Crete  as human sacrifice for the Minotaur.  The Minoan Princess Ariadne fell in love with him, betrayed her country, helped him defeat the national monster (which happened to be her half-brother) and they eloped.  In route home to Athens he abandoned her on the island of Naxos.  The god Dionysus (her second cousin) just happen to be passing by heard her lament, fell in love, made her his wife, and raised her among the immortals Olympus.  (Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 20. 3)      

As I pondered this variation on AT-300, Medea came to mind.  She was the Colchian princess who betrayed her country, helped Jason (and the Argonauts) defeat the dragon that guarded the Golden Fleece.  He was born from the blood of Typhon split upon the Earth.  Medea and Jason steal the fleece and elope, he abandons her and she ascends to heaven in a winged chariot sent by the sun-god Helios.   

Princess Scylla fell in love with King Minos while he assaulted her father’s kingdom.  For love of Minos she plucks from her father’s head the sacred lock of purple hair that protects them.   Minos abandons her and the gods turn Scylla into a sea-bird.  (Metamorphoses, Book 8)    

So the darker side of AT-300 would be: A princess betrays her country and helps the hero defeat the male magical element protecting the country.   The hero abandons her and the gods intervene on her behalf.   Betraying your father doesn’t seem like a really good idea if you are a princess in Ancient Greek mythology. 




TFBT: The Dragon Slayer, the Princess and the Dragoness

" Jaffa…is situated on a hill, and in front of it is a rock on which they point out the marks made by the chains with which Andromeda was fettered; here there is a cult of the legendary goddess Ceto (the Sea-Monster)."   Pliny the Elder, Natural History 5. 69 


We all know the princess and the dragon motif.  (Aarne-Thompson folktale type 300 – Dragon Slayer)  The knight errant runs across a damsel in distress of noble birth.  He saves her from the local evil monster or ogre and is rewarded with her hand in marriage.  Of course, in Greek Mythology it is a little more complicated than that.   

Bellephron -  Homer tells in  Iliad 6.   About Bellerophontes the blameless. To Bellerophontes the gods granted beauty and desirable manhood”  As an honored guest “…the lord of wide Lykia King Iobates tendered him full-hearted honor. And “he sent him away with orders to kill the Chimaera” …The chimera was a fire-breathing three headed and daughter of Typhon and Echidna.   She was the pet of King Amisodarus, of neighboring Caria, who often used her to abuse his enemies.  With a little help from the gods Bellephron slew the beast and accomplished several other heroic quest.  “.. Then when the king knew him for the powerful stock of the god, he detained him there, and offered him the hand of his daughter,” and gave him half the  kingdom. 

Perseus freeing Andromeda.Perseus - Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 64  "Cassiopea claimed that her daughter Andromeda’s beauty excelled the Nereids’. Because of this, [Poseidon] demanded that Andromeda, Cepheus’ daughter, be offered to a sea-monster. When she was offered, Perseus, flying on [Hermes] winged sandals, is said to have come there and freed her from danger.  The story is that Andromeda was naked and wearing fancy jewelry.  Perseus fell in love instantly and wanted to marry her.  Andromeda did the math; Parents who just sacrificed her to Poseidon or a handsome young “god” (Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 224).  She accepted his proposal.  Her parents objected and violence ensued.  Unfortunately, Perseus carried Medusa’s head in a bag.  Pretty much everyone got turned to stone except him and his wife.  They flew away and lived happily ever after.  Too bad King Cepheus didn’t have a better pet sea-monster. 

Telamon’s story (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 103)  u=is real similar to Perseus    "Poseidon sent a cetos (Sea-Monster) which would come inland on a flood-tide and grab people on the plain. Oracles proclaimed that there would be release from these adversities if Laomedon were to set his daughter Hesione out as a meal for the cetos, so he fastened her to the rocks by the seaside.”  Telamon and his buddies happen by and promise to save her in exchange for some of the famous horses.  A deal is struck.  Hesione is requested and her father reneges on the deal.  He’s famous for this sort of things.  Telamon and company attack Troy.  Everyone there dies except for Telamon’s future brother-in-law Priam.  The baby is set on the throne and Hesione returns home with Telamon.  Again, too bad for the local people that the sea monster lost.

Oedipus - Myriad sources tell the story of this hero.  The old king was dead, another monstrous daughter of Typhon and Echidna, the Sphinx, plagued Thebes.  The once and forever Regent Creon offers the hand  of his sister and crown to whoever can slay the beast.  Oedipus accomplishes the task with his wits and marries Jocasta.  The only complication to this happy ending is several attempts by writers to equate Jocasta and the Sphinx, as though the Sphinx was the darker side of the Queen of Thebes.  (Sorry I have no scholarly reference at hand and can only offer, “ The Identity of Jocasta and the Sphinx” in Approaches to Greek Myth”, Lowell Edmunds page 373   and “the Sphinx and Jocasta synonymous “   Reviewing British Cinema, 1900-1992 Essay and Interviews. )   It is almost as if the Sphinx might be protecting Creon and Jocasta’s rule.

In summary even with complications some Greek myths seem to conform to  folktale  type 300 – Dragon Slayer.  The Hero wanders by, slays the female sea-monster or daughter of Echidna, rescues the Princess and weds here.  It is always a win/win for the Hero and Princess, no so much for her family if they don’t honor the agreement.

image courtesy of NYPL Digital Collection