Sunday, December 14, 2014

TFBT: Theban Deities vs the Olympians

  Let's talk about Hebe; the eventual wife of the Theban hero turned god – Heracles.   In Greek myth Hebe passes up cups of nectar; which insured youth and beauty  In Norse myth Iduna passed out apples with the same affect.   In Norse myth the Aesir and Vanir exchanged hostages. In some societies, such hostages are brides. Could Hebe be such a hostage? Heracles could have accomplished a lot of damage if he hadn't be treated nicely and welcomed into the family and even adopted by Hera when ascending to Olympus 

We wonder about Ares and Aphrodite's daughter Harmonia. Zeus weds Cadmus' sister Europa and produces three long-lived demi-gods. After helping Zeus slay Typhon, Cadmus weds Zeus granddaughter and they produce two divine daughters and two divine grandsons. Were these cross-marriages an attempt to keep peace between the Theban and Olympian deities?   

The Theban deities were actually offspring from the Cadmus-Harmonia marriage and possibly became the cause for divine vendetta against Cadmus and his descendants. The divine potentiality of the house of Cadmus in combination with Theban land to breed deities does not seem to be apparent until after Harmonia was given to Cadmus (and his sister Europa’s sons came of age.) There must have been much alarm on Olympus, and then peace was kept by allowing Dionysus into the Olympian family.   

Dionysus does not integrate well. We don't know any story of him having a divine friend. In Homer, he seems to be a minor deity who does not dwell on Olympus or even visit it.  However, he returned Hephaestus to Olympus, was rescue by Thetis (like Hephaestus and their mutual father) and in one relief sculpture, Themis drops off Dionysus at the Gigantomachy. You know that some source said that the first incarnation of Dionysus (Zagreus) was scheduled by Zeus to be his heir - maybe this child was "meant by destiny" to be Zeus' heir. 

Oh by the way, Dionysus rescued and wed Adriane, grand-daughter of Europa, sister of Cadmus. Their mom was Telephassa, wife of Agenor. See the Divine Descendants of Telephassa for further information  Telephassa is said to mean "far-shining". The same lady is also called Argiope, "silver-faced" or "silver-eyed". Looks like the Moon. The Greeks assigned very important descendants to minor lunar quasi-deities such as Io and Telephassa. Some sources say Telephassa was a mere mortal, or the daughter of Nile. (It seems that all mythological figures that are even remotely interesting either descend from water deities or marry them or both. You can see the family tree here listed under her brother-in-law’s name.

Libya, granddaughter of Zeus and Io, has two sons, Agenor (husband of Telephassa) and Belus. Both have a dose of divine genes, both marry daughters of Nile, both live in far-away countries but their children are lured back to Greece. We all know about the royal house of Thebes and Sarpedon's death at Troy. At the same time, the fate of the sons of Aegyptus is rarely discussed. Whose plan were their deaths? Of Danaus and his daughters, or of Zeus himself? It seems that 50 male and 50 female of divine ancestry were too many, and a drastic reduction was needed.   

Even still two of the Theban gods made it into Olympus; four counting Dionysus’ mother Semele (Thyone) and wife Adriane.

This is part of a continuing series of articles passed on conversations between WilliamMoulton2 and Maya M.Delete


  1. Working on Dionysus, I found a curious coincidence:

    "The earliest cult images of Dionysus show a mature male, bearded and robed... Later images show him as a beardless, sensuous, naked or half-naked androgynous youth: the literature describes him as womanly or "man-womanish"..." (Wikipedia page of Dionysus)

    "The following features are as a direct consequence of liver cells not functioning... Gynecomastia, or increase in breast gland size in men that is not cancerous, is caused by increased estradiol and can occur in up to 2/3 of patients...
    Hypogonadism, a decrease in sex hormones manifest as impotence, infertility, loss of sexual drive, and testicular atrophy..."
    (Wikipedia page of liver cirrhosis)

    Like the liver of Prometheus and the fact that the liver regenerates well, though ancient Greeks had no opportunity to observe this phenomenon. (Someone made the effort to seek cases of liver injury in the Iliad - all were fatal.) Or the funny coincidence of 42 as both initial chromosomal number of my humans and answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything in Douglas Adams.

    My Dionysus has cirrhosis, due to systematic abuse of unmixed wine. I also think I'll make the satyrs die out of it. What else to do with them? There are many tales of nymphs marrying humans and hence integrating in human society, but, as far as I know, none of satyrs.

  2. Maya M,
    I love the idea that Dionysus might have had cirrhosis! But how do we account of the feminization of Apollo and Achilles. Eventually, both are portrayed as smooth skinned young men, whereas Homer describes Achilles as having a "shaggy chest".

    As to the satyrs dying off; I'm not so sure. There were folk tales about satyrs long after the classical era.


  3. Thank you for the link!
    You are quite right that satyrs survive in myth and folklore. However, they are absent from real world. So I must remove them somehow. Zeus and the other Olympians would not want them in the Islands of the Blessed.

  4. Maya M,

    Apparently Dryads and Satyrs aren't immortal. Hesiod in The Precepts of Chiron Fragment 3, produces a fancy formula saying that nymphs live ten thousand years. However at Homeric Hymn 5 to Aphrodite 256 says that the various tree nymphs die when their tree does. Like the dryad Chrysopeleia in John Tzetzes' scholia on Lycophron,

    Meanwhile, we know satyrs die; Pseudo-Apollodorus,says: "Apollon also slew Marsyas". Marsyas being the satyr who lost the music contest. PA also mentions that Argos Panoptes the victim of Hermes and hero to the Argives "ambushed and slew a Satyr that was hurting the Arkadians by stealing their herds."

    Plus there is a Kylix painting with four satyrs repelled by Hermes, Hera and Heracles. You just know it doesn’t end well for the satyrs. Terpon, Babakchos, Hybris and Styon.

    As to the Island of the Blest, if Orpheus wife Eurydice was a dryad, she died and end up in Hades. Not the good part either. I can think of no reference to the nature spirits in the afterlife. But I do recall when Hans Christian Anderson had to say about Nereides (mermaids). As Wikipedia says "humans have a much shorter lifespan than merfolks' 300 years, but that when mermaids die they turn to sea foam and cease to exist, while humans have an eternal soul that lives on in Heaven." (Hmm, somewhere I read a historic account of the death of a triton.)

  5. Thank you! I don't know why you have mixed feelings to science-fiction retelling of myth, after you do it perfectly :-). You are quite right that I need just to speed up the natural degenerative processes of satyrs; and all sorts of accidents can also be deadly.

    Interesting kylix! As far as I know, this story is not preserved in text. Poor satyrs, though they constantly dream of sex and often attempt rape, I don't remember a single successful rape by a satyr. I wonder, in this case, why does an Olympian goddess (and combatant of the Gigantomachy, though she was just a damsel in distress there) need another Olympian, plus the strongest demigod, to defend herself against 4 of these lowly creatures?

    Aeschylus had a satyr play titled "At the Isthmian games" about a bunch of satyrs trying to perform as athletes (and failing miserably, of course). Some fragments have survived, and three students have written a play based on them. I think it is hilarious. The link is here:

  6. Maya m,
    Congrats. Someone finally got me to read a satyr play. There it a line in the play. " Take back your silly dogs, Dionysus,". It struck me because comments on the Kylix mention the four satyrs have dog names. Oh there are satyrs on the other side stealing a sacrifice from Iris.

  7. Ends up it was Iris stealing a sacrifice at Hera's command. It is based on a satyr play . Apparently the Olympians are interrupting a sacrifice that Dionysus is attempt
    Ting to make at an altar.

  8. In my story, satyrs are mentioned in a discussion which spawns Zeus' Human Project:

  9. That's quite the story line you got going