Wednesday, January 14, 2015

TFBT: Sex Slaves in Heaven?

We are familiar with slavery in Ancient Greece;

    • Fair-tressed Hecamede who prepared a cup for Nestor  (Iliad 11. 616 ) along with Chrysies and Briseis, who were slaves to Agamemnon and Achilles (Iliad Book I),
    • Eumaeus Odysseus’s swineherd a slave purchased by Laertes who owned his own slave (Odyssey 14. 450]
    • Eurycleia, Odysseus’ nanny who Laertes bought for twenty oxen (Odyssey 1.425]   and Aethra, handmaiden to Helen; a gift from her brothers the Dioscuri.

Someone at Hour 25 points out that were divine slaves among the Ancient Greeks;

  • As consequence to his rebellion against Zeus “Phoebus, didst herd the sleek kine of shambling gait amid the spurs of wooded Ida, the many-ridged.” (Hom. Il. xxi. 446)
  • When Admetus reigned over Pherae, Apollo served him as his thrall,”   (APOLLODORUS, LIBRARY 1.9.15)  Because he slew the younger Cyclops that forged Zeus’ thunderbolts.
  • While Apollo herded Laomedon’s kine above, Poseidon (and Aecaeus Achilles’ grandfather) “built for the Trojans round about their city a wall, wide and exceeding fair, that the city might never be broken”  But rather then pay the two gods at the end of the term of their hire the Trojan King did send them “away with a threatening word”, said he would  bind them and sell them into slavery, even made as if “he would lop off with the bronze the ears of … both”(Il. xxi. 446)  Not the sort of reward you offer freemen, much less gods.
  • Herakles’ servitude to Queen Omphale (DIODORUS SICULUS 4.31.8]  Apparently Heracles services to his queen included the bed as witness by their son.
    But was there slavery in the heavens above?

    • When Sarah S. and I discussed this the other day we thought of Zeus’ cupbearer. (Iliad 20. 232) Ganymede was abducted and taken to Olympus but his duties were not so inferior that Hera’s own children didn’t perform them, plus in the deal he got immortality and endless youth.  That said, rumor has it the youth was a “favorite” of Zeus
    • The ancient sea-god Proteus was servant of Poseidon and shepherd of Poseidon’s herds. (Iliad 4)
    • an obscure daemon named Menoetius was a guard of the oxen of Hades. (Apollod. ii. 5. § 10.) But every other shepherd on Mt. Ida was a Trojan prince, so a shepherd is not necessarily a slave
    • Hera’s handmaiden help with the horses and chariots, but She and Athena do the duties too.  That said Hera seems empowered to dispose of them as she pleases; as a bribe to Sleep in the Iliad and as a replacement for the faithless Aphrodite to Hephaestus.


Were divine cupbearers, handmaidens and shepherds slaves?




  1. In the Prometheus Bound, Zeus' thug Kratos says that "only Zeus is free".
    The implication is that everyone else has the status of a slave and can at any time be raped, swallowed, tossed off Olympus, chained, thrown into Tartarus, thunderbolted or hanged with anvils on the feet.
    I am surprised how little attention is paid to Iris bullying the Olympians on behalf of Zeus. (There was a quiz at Hour25 and no one recognized her.) This is because no one takes the Olympians seriously. It is always said that humans in Homer have deep and tragic lives while gods are shallow, frivolous and comic. This is because, although both groups of Homeric characters are fictional, we perceive humans as real and gods as unreal. Try a thought experiment - imagine that the gods are real and read Scroll 15 again.

    Given that all gods on Olympus except Zeus have a virtual slave status, and that Zeus has little paternal instinct, it is small wonder that his children (one of them disabled) do chores that in homes of rich mortals are given to slaves.
    Indeed, there is other work that is presumably done by slaves, but no one tells anything about it. Who washes the dishes, the floors, the clothes?
    In my setting, there are nymphs maid-servants who do these things, plus the cooking. In a discussion between a proponent and an opponent of eugenics, the latter says, "You want to see the Earth perfect and cleansed from all sorts of lower creatures, don't you? However, the nymphs now serve you very well, and if things turn the way you wish, you'll have to wash the floor and the toilet yourself. So you'd better think once more whether you really want this."

  2. And it is exactly in Iliad, Scroll 15 where you'll find the answer to your question at Hour25:

    "Now Zeus, the Cloud-Gatherer, issued his request to Apollo: ‘Dear Phoebus, Poseidon, the Earth-Shaker and Encircler, has withdrawn to the glittering waves, to escape my wrath. It is better for both that he yielded to my power despite his indignation, before those gods beneath the world with Cronos heard our quarrel, which could not end without much toil and sweat." (220 ff.)

  3. Maya!

    Thank you so much! I knew I had seen it somewhere! Thank you!


  4. I am now reading the Odyssey. Calypso has maids:

    "With this, the lovely goddess swiftly walked away, and he followed in her footsteps. Man and goddess reached the hollow cave, and he sat down on the chair that Hermes had used. Then the Nymph set all kinds of food and drink before him, those that mortals consume. But before her the maids set ambrosia and nectar, as she sat facing divine Odysseus."
    (Book 5, 192 ff.)
    Unfortunately, we are not told who these maids are. But we should not be surprised to find them, because Calypso has no daughters to serve her. In the mortal population, it is normal for older generations to fall and die out and their children to take their place. However, immortals keep their place and assign to their children the place of slaves.

    Another interesting quote from the same scroll:
    "With this the mighty slayer of Argus departed, and the lovely Nymph, mindful of Zeus’ command, looked for valiant Odysseus. She found him sitting on the shore, his eyes as ever wet with tears, life’s sweetness ebbing from him in longing for his home, since the Nymph no longer pleased him." (148 ff.).
    The "no longer" is there also in my Bulgarian translation, hence it must be in the original. So Calypso in the beginning did please Odysseus? I suspected it all along.

  5. Circe also had slaves. Odyssey X, 348 ff.:
    "‘When I had done, she quickly swore an oath not to harm me, as I required. And when she had sworn the oath I went with Circe to her fine bed.
    Meanwhile her four handmaids, who serve her round the house, were busy in the hall. One of those children of springs, groves and sacred rivers that run to the sea threw linen covers over the chairs and spread fine purple fabrics on top. Another drew silver tables up to the chairs, and laid out golden dishes, while a third mixed sweet honeyed wine in a silver bowl, and served it in golden cups. The fourth fetched water and lit a roaring fire beneath a huge cauldron."

    It is unthinkable that anyone who has any importance will wash the dishes and clean the toilet himself!

  6. Maya,

    I'd have to look at the Greek. Handmaiden doesn't necessarily mean slave based my reading of Hera's handmaidens the Graces.

  7. It's here:

    I think the word is δρήστειραι (in verse 249), translated as "laborer, working man".

  8. In this respect, I found something interesting in Thalmann's "The Swineherd and the Bow":
    "Vagueness about slavery and about refinements of status at the bottom of society, the latter an impression given by the multiplicity of terms, is also a way of mitigating, by disguising, the brute fact of servitude, as we shall see the poem trying to do in other ways below. Gschnitzer has made just this point in regard to terminology. He shrewdly explains the notorious rarity in Homer of words formed on the root doul-, in later Greek the most common word for "slave," and the use instead of words that have more to do with function or human relations than with status, as this kind of softening disguise... The noun occurs twice, in the Iliad (3.408-409)... and in the Odyssey (4.12-14)... Andrapoda... later was a common word for slave but occurs only once in Homer... (Il. 7.475)... Its usage and that of the doul- words show that the epic poets knew these terms for slavery, but their rarity reveals a tendency to avoid such blunt designations, except occasionally where appropriate or effective, in favor of softer words. As Gschnitzer says, "epic is reluctant to call slavery by name."

  9. Maya,

    I just hate when I start looking for references to something I know perfectly well, only to discover I don't know it after all!

    Everything I thought I knew about Hera's divine "handmaidens" disappeared like Nephele fading before for the dumbstruck/doomed Ixion.

    The words I was looking for in the Greek were not there when it came to the Graces specific or Iris or Hebe. I'm convinced of Gschnitzer's argument for the use of " function or human relations (rather) than with status" At least in the Iliad.

    The Odyssey discusses slavery in detail. Eumaeus swineherd of Odysseus, was a son of Ctesius, king of the island of Syrie; he had been carried away from his father's house by a Phoenician slave, and Phoenician sailors sold him to Laërtes, the father of Odysseus. (Hom. Od. xv. 403,) Homer even discusses that Eumaeus had a slave of his own. And the famous nurse of Odysseus was Eurycleia was a daughter of Ops, was purchased by Laërtes for twenty oxen (Hom. Od. i. 429)

    That said, it has always amazed me that Helen's handmaidens Aethra and Clymene are slaves, but you'd never know that from Homer. They were doubly enslaved; first from Athens and then stolen from Sparta.

    Thanks for making me think.


  10. I owe the same thanks to you!
    The two Odyssey slaves you mention have puzzled me. Eurycleia is a distinguished woman, and as I read somewhere, the mere fact that her ancestry is mentioned implies high status. How did she fall to being sold, bought and doomed to a life of slavery? Maybe her father defaulted. But we don't know. The poet doesn't tell us, and doesn't seem interested a bit.
    Then, we have Eumaeus. He says that he is a kidnap victim, and nothing seems to contradict his tale. Laertes has bought him from his kidnappers and used him as a slave, without making any effort to check his story and return him to his parents. Yet Laertes is considered a virtuous man.

    As for the divine handmaidens, a problem here is that, to recognize slavery, we need to have free citizens to compare. That is, we must have a class with recognized right to self-determination and bodily autonomy. There is nothing of this sort on Olympus, so doing menial work is our only (if unsatisfactory) criterion to recognize slaves.

  11. Maya,

    so in the play Eumenides at line [824] Athena says, "You are not dishonored; so, although you are goddesses, do not, in excessive rage, blight past all cure a land of mortals. I also rely on Zeus—what need is there to mention that?—and I alone of the gods know the keys to the house where his thunderbolt is sealed. " This description is compared to a good daughter serving as her fathers housekeeper. Gee, if Athena isn't free who is?

    Oh wait, Dionysus! He stormed the blue gates of heaven, deified his mother and wife without the gods permission and seems to have no obligations to the Olympians other than participating in the Gigantomachy.

  12. Dionysus is free indeed, but this is due merely to his father's inability to control him, not to a universal institution of freedom. Likewise, Ramzan Kadyrov is free, because Putin cannot control him, but this does not mean there is freedom in Russia - instead, it shows a complex interplay of two tyrants of different ranks.

    We know very little about what Athena thinks and wants. Does she know about her mother and if so, does she care? Why does she choose to be a virgin, and does she actually, or her father does for her? In the Eumenides, she holds the keys to the thunderbolt and still is Daddy's good girl. However, this is a rather late and atypical text (some Athenians seem to have regarded the play as heretical). In the Iliad, the picture is different:

    8:397ff. "But Father Zeus, watching them from Ida, enraged, sent Iris the golden-winged to take them a message: ‘Away, and swiftly, Iris; turn them back, and keep them far from me, a confrontation will do them no good. Tell them what I say, and would surely do. I’d hamstring the horses that pull their chariot, hurl them from it, and shatter it to pieces. Not in ten years’ circuit would they be healed of the wounds my thunderbolt deals. That would show the bright-eyed goddess what a fight with her father means!"

    15:121ff. "Then a greater and angrier quarrel between Zeus and the immortals would have broken out, had Athene, fearful for them all, not left her chair, run to the threshold and snatched Ares’ helm from his head, the shield from his shoulders, and the bronze spear from his great hand, throwing them down and pouring words of rebuke on the angry Ares: ‘Madman, your mind’s astray, you’d be doomed! Why were you given ears to hear? Where’s your sense and self-restraint? Did you not listen to what white-armed Hera said, straight from Olympian Zeus? Do you want a greater measure of sorrow, to be driven back to Olympus, in anguish, and sow the seeds of suffering for us all? He will quit the brave Trojans and the Greeks, instantly, and head to Olympus to wreak havoc. He’ll lay hands on the guilty and the innocent too. So, I beg you, swallow your anger."

  13. Maya,

    I can't believe how I am oblivious sometimes. Iliad 8:397 is some pretty strong language. Sometimes I think Homer isn't telling us something in the Ilad. There moments when everyone is terrified of and others when a sea nymph rescues him. One moment he brags he could win a tug-a-war against all the other Olympians and the next Poseidon brags he is just as powerful Zeus and only the reminder that the Erinyes would side with Zeus tames him. I don't get it


  14. Some commenters say that the abundance of threats in Zeus' speeches in the Iliad reveals his insecurity.
    The Trojan War not only was a victory for the Greeks but in the long run allowed them to develop their Archaic and Classical civilization, because Athens bought wheat mainly from what is now Ukraine, and it is difficult to imagine this supply route with Troy in place.
    However, in the short run, the war seems to have accelerated or even precipitated the Bronze Age Collapse in Greece, putting an end to the Mycenaen civilization.
    Hence, the Greeks construed their victory as Pyrrhic, tantamount to defeat and part of a plan of Zeus to decimate an entire human generation. They also forgot their historic leaders and replaced them with mythic ones. Most important among the latter is the son of Thetis, who could in other circumstances become the new ruler of the Universe. The Trojan War leads, among other things, to stabilization of the rule of Zeus and withdrawal of gods from human affairs. This way, the historical catastrophe became associated in the collective memory with legendary events of cosmic importance, while the dry historical events were forgotten or distorted to the point of being unrecognizable.

    When Bulgaria fell under Ottoman rule in the late 14th century, a legend tells that 40 beautiful maidens cast themselves from a rocky cape so that not to become slaves of the Turks. You can see here a recently built monument:
    The leader of the maidens was called Kaliakra, and the cape was later named after her. Actually, the name Kaliakra dates from the time of the ancient Hellenic colonization of the Black Sea and means "beautiful cape" in Greek.
    In some versions of the legend, the girls simply die. In others, however, they are transformed into gulls, their white shirts with black embroidery becoming the while gull plumage with grey and black ornaments (the main gull species of our coast is the European herring gull, Larus argentatus). This was how gulls came into being.
    So you see here the same pattern: a major war leads to a demise of a civilization, obliteration of historical memory and its replacement by legends with a cosmogonic element.

  15. Maya,

    You got references for those commentator. I am starting a paper suggesting that heroes and demigods are more of a threat to Zeus than Hesoid and Apollo tell us.


  16. My sources refer to threats to Zeus' rule by other gods, not by demigods and heroes.

    One of them is J.A.K. Thomson, The Religious Background of the Prometheus Vinctus:

    "...That the rule of God should be precarious is not so strange a thought
    to the ancient mind as it is to us, although reflective people must
    always have rejected it. The Zeus of Homer does not feel perfectly
    secure; he threatens too much..."
    This is a remark in passing.

    Another, more important source (possibly you'd like to find and read it) is B. Satterfield's Burial of Hektor, p. 163:

    "It is important to note, however, that within the framework of the epic itself... the sack of Troy is significant for more than itself; and in reflecting on why it might be important vis-a-vis the burial of Hektor, in particular, it is worth considering the role its fall plays in the cosmic history of the Olympian order. For as we know from many sources, Homer included, that order is not timeless, but has a beginning, an evolution, and (potentially) an end. As Homer stresses throughout the Iliad, and as the role of Thetis reminds us in particular, moreover, Zeus' rule at the beginning of the Iliad is precarious: having seized rule from his own father, committing epic atrocities in the process, he is - to borrow a Machiavellian metaphor - a new prince in a new principality won by force of arms. And like new princes generally, his legitimacy is questioned by those who experience his rule as detrimental to their interests - and not least, those who before saw themselves as his equals. All of this, moreover, is very much on the surface: for the foundation of Zeus' rule is raised as a problem in precisely the same episodes where Zeus' "plan" seems to be described or alluded to. Zeus' statement of his aims in Book XV, for instance, is... followed immediately by a political confrontation with Poseidon which re-raises fundamental issues at the heart of the Zeussian order: Why, asks Poseidon, should he obey one who is, after all, no more than his equal (XV.185-99)?

  17. Next page (p. 164) from the same book:

    "Something similar is true of the other passage where Zeus articulates his plan, or at least a major part of it, in Book XVIII (470-83). For despite of the boastfulness of Zeus' speech there, in which he says that his power is so great that he could hang all of the other gods from a golden chain and still outpull them (VIII.18-27), his rule emerges as in fact rather precarious. And even if what Zeus says about his own might is literally true (as it was not in the past when Thetis' help was required in order to bring the pre-Olympian Briareus to Olympus to free Zeus from his imprisonment (I.393-412)), there is always the possibility that one or several of the other Olympians will form an alliance with one of the pre-Olympians... Hera... does in fact manage to win over Aphrodite and Sleep, thus subverting Zeus' rule, if only temporarily. Zeus' decision in Book XV to reveal the remaining steps of his plan (XV.64-7) thus appears to be... a conclusion, in effect, that he is not strong enough to rule tyrannically but must win the consent of the other gods. In spelling out the sequence of future events, thus, Zeus effectively binds the other gods to a kind of contract."

  18. Maya,

    Thanks again for the quotes. The Burial of Hector might tie in nicely with "1177". Here is the link to the lecture. Good stuff.


  19. Thank you!
    It is strange for me that in the ancient world, coasts seem to have been all but unguarded. This allowed the "Sea Peoples" do their job, and later allowed the Greek colonization.
    To me, the author seems to downplay the role of the Sea Peoples. I even initially thought that he was from Britain, because it is the Europeans who love to insist that the uncontrolled influx of barbarians cannot harm anyone.
    At the end, however, he uttered half a word about ISIS being a modern analog of the Sea Peoples. Of course, this is still in the mind-stifling limits of political correctness. Because the territories currently held by ISIS were only marginally more civilized before ISIS took control over them; and anyway ISIS is in no respect worse than our dear old ally Saudi Arabia. The real danger, however, comes from those "Sea Peoples" who have already settled in Europe. Many of them are no better than ISIS, as shown by the fact that thousands actually joined it. We have recently commented how these nice folks established a new hero cult in Copenhagen.

    The bit about the lost civilizations becoming subject of myths during the Dark Ages made me think of the notorious golden apple. It carries an inscription. So, besides Bellerophon's tablet, we have a second appearance of written text in the myths of a supposedly oral culture. I must do a search about this.

  20. Maya,

    I think there is a distinct difference between ISIS and the sea people. The latter, like the Dorian, Heraclides and Israelites brought their families and cattle with them.

    As to the anachronism of writing in Greek myth; don't forget Phaedra's suicide note. But maybe not. According to Wikipedia "The oldest Mycenaean writing dates to about 1450 BC." That's 150 years before the fall of Troy and long before Achilles' parent's wedding. Phaedra's stepson sons took part in the war, so writing was around for her suicide note. Bellephrontes was around two or three generations before the war If I remember Glaucus genealogy correctly. Plus Cadmus wrote in Phoencian. So maybe writing isn't an anachronism and I wasted time trying to figure out how to spell the word!


  21. The "Sea Peoples" in Europe have birth rates exceeding those of natives. This, combined with the continued immigration, results in a constantly growing percentage of Muslims. The ethnic Albanians, who are an old European population but behave much like the newcomers, have a strategy to grab lands: a few settle somewhere, have very large families and, when their number grows, start harassing the host population until it flees and the territory becomes Albanian. This process is completed in Kosovo and ongoing in Macedonia.
    As for the lands of ISIS proper, they are already overpopulated, yet their population continues to grow. Islam seems to interfere with the demographic transition.
    The New World should take a lesson and prevent a repetition of the same things.

  22. The myth of Hippolytes is rather isolated (unlike that of the apple which is integrated in the Trojan War cycle). We know it primarily from Euripides' play, and we do not now how much of it is "authentic". Pausanias describes tombs of Hippolytes and Phaidra in Argos. Has Theseus ever lived in Argos? It seems that the locals had a variation of the myth where Hippolytes was son of someone else. We cannot know if the original myth contained a suicide note at all.

    You are right that there was the Mycenaean script and, besides, the entire Anatolia and Middle East was writing. However, this was lost in the age when the myths of the Trojan War are thought to have developed. I doubt whether memory of the existence of writing could survive with centuries the writing itself.

  23. My quick search produced an amazing result:
    No ancient source seems to mention a writing on the apple.

    Wikipedia article on the Apple of Discord ( states: "An apple of discord is a reference to the Golden Apple of Discord... on which... the goddess Eris... inscribed "to the fairest" and tossed in the midst of the feast of the gods at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis...[1] The word ΤΗΙ ΚΑΛΛΙΣΤΗΙ (Ancient Greek: τῇ καλλίστῃ tē(i) kallistē(i), Modern Greek: τη καλλίστη ti kallisti; "for/to the most beautiful")[2] was inscribed on the Golden Apple of Discord by Eris."
    References 1 and 2 are both Apollodorus' Library Epitome 3.2, but there is nothing of this sort there. The translation at is:
    "[E.3.2] For one of these reasons Strife threw an apple as a prize of beauty to be contended for by Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite; and Zeus commanded Hermes to lead them to Alexander on Ida..."

    I even struggled with the original text at Perseus:

  24. Other sources at

    Stasinus of Cyprus or Hegesias of Aegina, Cypria Fragment 1 (Greek epic C7th or C6th B.C.) :
    "...Eris (Strife) arrives while the gods are feasting at the marriage of Peleus and starts a dispute between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite as to which of them is fairest..."

    Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 92 ((Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
    "Jove [Zeus] is said to have invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis all the gods except Eris, or Discordia. When she came later and was not admitted to the banquet, she threw an apple through the door, saying that the fairest should take it..."

    Colluthus, Rape of Helen 38 ff (Greek poetry C5th to C6th A.D.):
    "...Thence Eris took the fruit that should be the harbinger of war, even the apple, and devised the scheme of signal woes. Whirling her arm she hurled into the banquet the primal seed of turmoil and disturbed the choir of goddesses..."

    As you see, so far I cannot find a single ancient source about the inscription on the apple.

  25. However, such a source exists after all: "The Judgement of Paris" in Lucian's Dialogues of the Gods:

    `These dames,' good Paris, are Hera, Athene, and Aphrodite; and I am Hermes, with a message from Zeus. Why so pale and tremulous? Compose yourself; there is nothing the matter. Zeus appoints you the judge of their beauty. `Because you are handsome, and wise in the things of love' (so runs the message), `I leave the decision to you; and for the prize,—read the inscription on the apple.'

    Let me see what it is about. FOR THE FAIR, it says."

  26. I tried to correct the mess in the Wikipedia article. However, I couldn't find a source for the "te kalliste" inscription. Lucian uses other words.

  27. Maya, Amazing! What great research!