Saturday, February 21, 2015

TFBT: Review of "Murder Among Friends" Part II

This continues my review of Elizabeth Belfiore's amazing book.  Part One can be found here.

Chapters 2-6 examine in detail five of the extant plays in each of which harm to philoi is important in a different way.  

In Chapter 5; "Sleeping with the Enemy", Belfiore discusses much misalliance and mis-yoked marriages.  I can understand these topics as a class issue, but what I don’t understand and a modern audience can’t understand it the Ancient Greek abhorrence to marriage with barbarians.  “Greek custom held that while a man might keep a concubine in a separate establishment, he should never bring her into contact with his legitimate wife. “

Speaking of misalliance, Belfiore gives a very clear explanation of the will of Zeus for Troy.  Staring with the marriage of Peleus and Thetis; “The marriage of Peleus and Thetis is brought about by Zeus (Iliad 18.432-34 and Kypria fragment 2) as part of his plan to cause the Trojan War (Proclus’s summary of the Kypria and Kypria fragment 1).  She marries Peleus against her will (Iliad 18.432-34) following a violent struggle with her future husband (Apollodorus, library 3.13.5).  At the wedding celebration, Eris provokes a dispute among three goddesses that leads, by way of the Judgment of Paris to the Trojan War (Proclus’s summary of the Kypria and Kypria fragment 1) As a result of this war, human impiety is punished (Kypria fragment 1), Troy is destroyed, the demi-gods are either destroyed or settled in the Blessed Isles, and mortals and gods are separated (Hesiod fragment 1 and Hesiod Op 156-171)

I noted an interesting phrase in Belfiore’s wonderful work “Neoptolemus, killed Priam at an altar for which Apollo caused him to be killed Delphi.”  Really?  As if Apollo, famous for his comment that man is as insubstantial as leaves on a tree, cared about Priam?  Isn’t it more likely that Neoptolemus’ death had more to do with his hereditary role in the god/hero antagonism of his father and Apollo?   Wasn’t Apollo’s fear of demi-goddess and gluttony of the Delphians responsible for Neoptolemus being slain on the altar at Delphi?

Something else that specifically made me stop was the following.   I wanted to share was Belfiore’s formula for supplication.  Her primary example is the advice Danaus gave his daughters in Aeschylus’ tragedy “The Suppliants”.  Supplication may occur at a sacred place or at the knees of the supplicated individual.  The suppliant carries hiketeria; suppliant branches.  She crouches by and makes contact with the altar, sacred object, or with the knees, right hand, or chin of the person she supplicates.  To accept a suppliant, the person supplicated uses his right hand to grasp the suppliant’s left wrist and raises her formally for what is technically called the anastais.  Another gesture that often accompanies the anastais is leading the suppliant to a place suitable to a guest.  She crouches by…the knees…right hand … chin of the person she supplicates; made me think immediately of Thetis beginning a favor from Zeus for her son Achilles.   "She sat herself down before him, and with her left hand seized his knees, while with her right she caught him under the chin, and besought him" (Iliad 500)  The scene is made famous in  Jupiter and Thetis  an 1811 painting by the French neoclassical painter  Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.  The painting is used on the cover of The Power of Thetis by Laura Slatkin. In response Zeus neither raised her up nor led her like an honored guest to the circle of gods sitting apart from the Lord of Olympus.  All he did was nod  "his immortal head" at which point "the pair had thus laid their plans, they parted – Zeus to his house, while the goddess left the splendor of Olympus, and plunged into the depths of the sea." (Iliad 1.503)  So maybe this was not a case of supplication.   The next scene that comes to mind is Priam begging Achilles to release the body of his own son Hector.  Tall King Priam entered without their seeing him, and going right up to Achilles he clasped his knees and kissed the dread man slaughtering hands that had slain so many of his sons. “ (475)  Sort of reminiscent of Odysseus’ supplication of Arête in the Odyssey.  Homer describes the tragic king in terms more common to typical supplicants elsewhere in epic, “[480] As when some cruel derangement [atē] has befallen a man that he should have killed someone in his own country, and must flee to a great man’s protection in a land [dēmos] of strangers, and all marvel who see him, even so did Achilles marvel as he beheld godlike Priam.”  After some tear jerking conversation, Achilles  [515] “left his seat and raised the old man by the hand (said)…sit now upon this seat”   Then Achilles and his servants served him dinner (625) and put him to bed (645) with a promise of protection shook his hand good night (670).  Belfiore's examples are much clearer in tragedy, but these were the thoughts I had along the way.

Appendix A examined the remaining 32 extant plays.  While B & C studied lost and fragmental plays.  All of this is incredible research and an amazing resource!


  1. I'd disagree that it is difficult to us to understand "the Ancient Greek abhorrence to marriage with barbarians". Imagine that you have a daughter in her early 20s who wishes to marry some obscure guy from the Caucasus, and in order to be a good wife, she will convert to Islam and cover her head. Wouldn't you be worried? I think you would, or at least you should. (The example I took is Katherine Russell, "Mrs. Boston Bomber".)
    I know a grotesque case at my university. A female teacher working at another department married an Arab immigrant. In such cases, the woman completely obliterates her identity, children are given Arabic names, brought up as Muslims, indoctrinated to identify as Arabs and sent to an Arabic school. This woman's son, however, received no Arabic name. Instead, he was called Adolf. (Many Arabs like Hitler because he killed Jews.) When the poor boy came to be our student, he complained that he had been mocked for his name all his life. Later, he changed his name.

    1. Maya,

      My experiences with foreign brides is not what you shared. I have a Philino aunt and a Lebanese uncle. I grew up in a place where three races lived together for centuries and intermarried freely. Now I live in Alaska where mail order brides are a common thing. So can't relate to the fear of foreign brides

    2. I had actually given examples of foreign husbands, which may be different. (The comment I most often hear when Betty Mahmoody or Cathy Mahone's story is discussed: "The mess was all her fault. She shouldn't have married such a man in the first place.")
      My colleague is a step-grandmother of a child whose mother went as a foreign bride to Lebanon. Life there didn't turn out quite as she hoped... and at one moment, she wanted to go with her child (and without her husband) to a vacation in Bulgaria. All his relations said: "Don't let her! She'll never return!" But he trusted her. Of course his relations were right. So she became the stereotype of the bad foreign bride. The poor guy later made a new, happier family.
      Otherwise, my friends and relations have emigrated to different European countries, the USA or Canada and married there, and I know some ladies from Greece and Poland who have married here. I don't perceive this as truly foreign. More remarkably, once I spent 2 days with the Filipino wife of a Bulgarian immigrant to the USA - she also didn't seem "foreign" to me. Maybe I define "foreign" as having different values.

    3. I am thinking of Jason/Medea vs. Theseus/Ariadne.
      It is a widespread motif that the hero doing some labor abroad awakens love in the heart of some local (i.e. inferior) woman who helps him with the labor or rescues him from trouble. In rare cases, she converts to a superior identity and he marries her. More often, however, he leaves her behind broken-hearted, or takes her with him but something happens and they never marry.
      I remember two Jack London's stories about a Native American common-law wife. She was on a long journey through the snow with her man; they had little food and rationed it; at some point, she fell exhausted, gave to the man a bag of food collected from her uneaten portions and died. In one case, the man was Smoke Bellew, a white, i.e. superior by race and sex. In the other story, he was a fellow Native American, so he wasn't superior by race, only by sex. With these ideas of the woman's function on a journey, I wonder how London's wife dared to travel with him :-).
      Both Medea and Ariadne fell instantly in love with a man out of nowhere and betrayed their natal families for his sake. Well, Ariadne may have had more principal motivation ("Someone must do something - anything - about my cannibal brother.")
      I think I understand Theseus. I wrote of him: "Theseus... didn't want his companion in life to be a maiden able to betray her father's house for the sake of an unknown foreigner, to run away with him and to live with him as his wife without being such." It was nasty of Theseus to abandon Ariadne, but it was common sense. Theseus had a poor luck after it... but not as poor as Jason's.
      Some say that Jason would live happily ever after if he hadn't betrayed Medea. To me, this sounds like, "Everything would be OK if some hotheads hadn't drawn cartoons." A friend of mine thinks that Bluebeard would be a good husband to any woman who wouldn't peep into the forbidden room. I don't know, but I remember the rule about a gun on stage - it will shoot before the play is over.

    4. Maya,
      I agree that there is a common folklore motif where; "he leaves her behind broken-hearted, or takes her with him but something happens and they never marry" It's ironic that your examples don't necessarily match the motif. Medea and Ariadne were princess. Ariadne was a Greek princess, Medea might have been born in Corinth. Not exactly inferior to their lovers. Medea ends up with god-like powers, Queen of Athens and then Colchis and given a place on the Isle of the Blest. Adriane in some versions is deified by her husband Dionysius.

      In Adriane's case it might be a matter of your famous law of "Scholia as Savior". But Medea definitely a stronger more powerful character than Jason.

    5. Maya,

      You wrote "Maybe I define "foreign" (spouses) as having different values." Which is a very interesting point. The values of the universal Hellenistic culture are super-imposed on the Ancient myths. I mean everyone worships Hecate, right? Medea and Adriane speak Greek. (Apparently so did all Trojan warriors.) And in the case of my "foreign" aunt and uncle they were Catholic as is everyone nominally in New Mexico where I grew up.

    6. I don't consider Ariadne entirely Greek, because Minos was son of Europa. Anyway, in the myth of Theseus, I think that Cretans were construed by Athenians as semi-Barbarians even if they were in reality 100% Greek. I wonder for how long the memory of the Minoan (non-Greek) culture was preserved.
      It is quite appropriate for the inferior "indigenous" woman in love to be a princess - this raises the status of the hero. More interesting is the fact that some of these women have divine ancestry and/or future. On the other hand, being of divine ancestry per se doesn't mean being worthy of respect. Remember Polyphemus and some opponents of Theseus and Heracles.
      The Greeks were chauvinists. Be a Barbarian, even a little bit, and they will look at you from above, even if you are divine!
      At the same time, as you mentioned, they make all Barbarian nations around speak Greek. The myths required eloquent international conversations :-). Even at the battlefield, as in the Iliad. The possibility of Barbarians not speaking Greek is rarely discussed. I remember Aeschylus' Agamemnon, two plays by Aristophanes and maybe somewhere in Lucian.

    7. I wonder if that cultural bias against the Minoans is part of the reason they are considered liars. On the other hand Odysseus often claimed to be a Cretan. Maybe that's what sullied their reputation.

      I forgot until you mentioned it that Ariadne was a descendant of Telephassa.(Mother of Cadmus and Europa) A statistically high number of descendants became gods and goddesses.

      You wrote"The Greeks were chauvinists. Be a Barbarian, even a little bit, and they will look at you from above, even if you are divine!" How true Diomedes didn't hesitate that day on the battlefield to take on Ares, Heracles roughed Apollo at Delphi and shot Hades and Hera, Idas the cousin of the Discouri roughed up Apollo over a woman etc etc. The Iliad might be responsible for the "chauvinism" of Western civilization and our imperial expansion. God! The world could be totally different if Homer had been born about the Aztecs!

      I can't remember where, but Homer does speak about the myriad languages spoken by Troy's allies and then never mentions it again.



    8. I wouldn't charge Homer with originating Western chauvinism. Actually, he is remarkably sympathetic to the enemy. Chauvinism is at least as old as language.

      "Matisoff wrote, "A group's autonym is often egocentric, equating the name of the people with 'mankind in general,' or the name of the language with 'human speech'."For example, various Native American autonyms are sometimes explained to English readers as having literal translations of "original people" or "normal people", with implicit contrast to other first nations as not original or not normal. Exonyms often describe others as "foreign-speaking", "non-speaking" or "nonsense-speaking". The classic example is the Slavic term for the Germans, Nemtsi, possibly deriving from a plural of nemy ("mute")."
      (I can confirm that, indeed, the words for "Germans" and "mute" (plural) in Bulgarian are "nemtsi" and "nemi", respectively.)

      I also wouldn't object about the imperial expansion of Western civilization - rather, about its not finishing yet its job :-). Talking about the Aztecs, an Arab-American blogger once wrote, "The pretensions of multculturalism and political correctness would break down if an Aztec was in the room asking for volunteers to help make the sun come up the next day."

    9. Maya,

      I like that line about ""The pretensions of multi-culturalism and political correctness would break down if an Aztec was in the room asking for volunteers to help make the sun come up the next day."


  2. I think Thetis did supplicate Zeus. He couldn't bring her to the other gods because he wished to keep her visit secret for as long as possible. Why didn't he at least raise her? I don't know. I cannot even imagine him holding someone's hand to raise him, though I cannot say why.

    I don't remember where Apollo compares humans to leaves. However, this comparison is used so often, both by gods and by humans, that I don't find it too significant.
    We know that Apollo originated as god of the plague, and that he is a psychopath. However, he cared about his mortal son Asclepius enough to rebel against Zeus, and he seemed to care about Hector, so it is possible that he cared about Priam as well.
    I find more important the fact that the killing took place at an altar. Gods rarely let a mortal get away with such a sacrilege. Some say that the killing of Troilus at Apollo's altar was the reason, or at least the excuse, for Apollo to became an enemy of Achilles. Priam was killed at a Zeus' altar. We'd expect Zeus to punish Neoptolemus, but it seems that he sent Apollo to do the job, as he did before with Achilles.
    Anyway, I think that if Neoptolemus were a more responsible person, he would not marry after killing someone on an altar.

  3. As to Zeus and suppliants; he purified Ixion and "raised him " up to Olympus.

    Hard to believe that Apollo cared about human blood shed at the altar, since that is the way he had Nepotolemus killed at his own altar.


  4. Good argument!
    I was thinking of suppliants killed at altars. I guess things may be different for sacrilegeous individuals - but I don't know of any other example. Do you?
    I've looked again at Prof. Nagy's "The Death of Pyrrhos". However, it didn't help much. Except that it simplified the story by excluding the version in which Orestes is the agent of Neoptolemus' death. I wonder whether this is just another invention of Euripides: the plot of Agamemnon's death - a hero of the Trojan War killed by a cunning man who hasn't taken part in the war and seduces his wife - is transferred to the next generation.

    BTW, Nagy's text contained the following sentence:
    "...Bones are the basis for establishing the locale of hero cults..."
    It made me wonder about the importance of bones (and other relics) of saints in Orthodox and Catholic Christianity.

  5. Maya,

    Interesting research assignment you gave me!

    Victims who were clearly suppliants at an altar;
    * Kylon an Olympic victor seized the Acropolis with supporters in a bid for tryanny. It failed and his men were slaughter in the sacred precinct where they had take refuge as suppliants.; In most versions the conspirators were being led tot eh Prytaneion to stand trial when they were killed at the altars of the Semnai Theai. The Semnai Theai are the Erinnyes in a nice form, their shrine was in a cave beneath the Acropolis
    * In Euripides’ Heracles, , Lycus intend to pile up a stack of wood all round the altar on either side thereof, and set fire to it and burn them all alive. Heracles maddened by the goddess Lyssa, killed one of his little sons while he cowered 'neath the household altar like a bird
    * Medea’s children in the temple of Hera where she was hiding from an angry mob with pitchforks and torches. Who knows whether she killed her children or the altar or the mob did.
    * Rape of Cassandra in Athena’s temple by Ajax
    * Death of Priam on Zeus altar

    People killed while in temples not necessarily suppliants.
    *In the temple of Apollo Paris and Deiphobus, ambushed Achilles and shot Achilles in the heel with an arrow, supposedly guided by the hand of Apollo himself, steeped in poison.
    *Neoptolemus at Delphi
    *There are vases and alternative myths with Polyxena and her brother Troilos being slain at the altar of Apollo.

    1. You did the research quickly!
      Let's see what happened to the killers:
      - Those of Kylon and his supporters were sent into exile, even the remnants of the deceased were thrown out. (Political rivalry likely "helped" in this historical case.)
      - I had forgotten that Euripides' Heracles killed his children at the altar. The affair was so bad anyway, hardly anything could make it significantly worse :-(. He was ordered to atone for the killings.
      - The Corinthians had to atone for the deaths of Medea's children by establishing a hero cult. Medea herself got away, as always.
      - Ajax paid for his poor choice of crime scene. (Maybe killing at an altar is considered a lesser evil than raping.)
      - Neoptolemus suffered and died, but as far as I know, no one source says explicitly that it was because of killing Priam. Aeschylus' Clytemnestra warns that the Greeks will pay for desecrating gods' temples and altars, but nothing specifically about Neoptolemus.

      - I thought that Achilles was killed at the same gate at which he killed Hector. Apparently, different versions. Paris and Deiphobus did not live for long after killing Achilles. Not that this means much, given the military situation.
      - Some sources ascribe much importance to the killing of Troilos, but not the Iliad.
      - Polyxena was killed at an altar because she was a victim. In this case, the altar was the right place.
      - Moses would approve that Neoptolemus, after killing Polyxena at an alter, suffered the same death. Prof. Nagy sees a connotation of a sacrifice here, but I doubt.

      It seems strange to me that, while in historical Greece people sought refuge at altars and were rarely touched, there are so many mythological cases of slaying at alters with no clear consequences for the doer!

    2. Maya,

      The difference between historical supplication and mythical is explained by Nagy's comments that myth shows us the heroes doing it wrong and establishes the ritual so we do it right.


  6. As to the issue of bones and hero cult... I have written about this before, but not too successfully. I will try again here. Alexander the Great conquered the world. His generals and their descendants ruled the world. The upper classes and educated classes were Greek and spoke Greek. Everyone in the world wanted to be or appear to be Greek. Cleopatra who "conquered" Julius Caesar was surnamed Ptolemy; she was Greek. The Romans adopted the Greek culture. everyone adopted the Greek culture. That said, if you were writing a story in those days you had to write it in terms that your audience could understand. Hero-cults and demi-gods were really big items of cultural significance in the Hellenistic and Roman eras. So, for example, if the gospel writers wanted their "Greek" audience to understand the importance of Jesus, they had to write his story in terms of hero cult. Thereby introducing the theory of "saint worship" into early Christianity.

    1. This tendency is sometimes brought to an extreme. I gasped when I saw inside the Cathedral of Milan some modern, poorly prepared and preserved mummies (of cardinals).
      Here is an amusing story from my country - a claim to possession of John the Baptist's bones:
      The phrase "economic potential of Sozopol as a center of religious tourism" is the key. I think these bones need a thorough DNA testing, which would most likely show that they are of local origin.

    2. Maya,

      Our age isn't the only age to appreciate the economic potential of a high-profile grave. Six different cities claimed the grave of Homer was in their town.


  7. About Thetis and Zeus, again (from Hour 25):

    Homer states that "all the other Olympians sought to bind him" (Zeus) when Thetis rescued him. Why didn't they interfere? Because she was bringing Briareus. So this episode does not prove her strength, as the traitor in a besieged city who opens a gate to the enemy is not necessarily a strong person.
    Did Zeus show any gratitude to Thetis? No, she explicitly says that she was treated by him worse than any other goddess. The succession prophecy prevented him from raping her, so he gave her to a mortal against her wish. At her wedding, he humiliated her by not giving her the apple. And he didn't even allow her son to live his natural life span, but arranged an early death.
    In a word, Zeus treated Thetis like a rag, and she couldn't do anything about it. She must have felt awfully, used and then thrown under the bus. She could say like Aeschylus' Prometheus: "Look upon me... the friend of Zeus, who helped him to establish his sovereign power, by what anguish I am bent by him!" (Prometheus is actually in a far better position - he has earned his fate, and at least he hasn't his son killed by Zeus.)

    If Thetis was powerful after all, this means that all those things were with her consent: she was happy to marry a mortal, to have her wedding hijacked to create a casus belli, and to watch her son die. This seems absurd to me. It is very likely that, once Achilles was mortal, she (subconsciously?) wished him to die young and handsome (remember her laments about Peleus' "mournful old age". However, she surely wished him to be immortal and unaging.

    Why, then, did Zeus grant her request to give Trojans a temporary victory? I see two possible explanations. First, after giving her so much unmerited suffering, he wished to do her a favor that didn't threaten him with more than a family quarrel. In other words, he gave her power over unimportant things.
    Second, maybe the temporary reversal of his plan was actually a key element of the plan. The Anger of Achilles was a result of Apollo granting Chryses' request. In the Iliad, Apollo is maybe most instrumental in imposing the Will of Zeus, more than the professional messengers Hermes and Iris. It is Apollo who kills Patroclus, and we are told that he will kill Achilles as well. Before the Anger, Greeks had so little success with their siege that Thucydides supposes they were busy with agricultural work most of the time. The Anger sets wheels in motion, and Troy is doomed. As we are told at the very beginning of the Iliad, the will of Zeus is fulfilled by the anger of Achilles.

  8. Zeus may actually have done Thetis another favor by letting Achilles get away with going into Lycomedes' palace under false identity and seducing and impregnating the host's daughter without marrying her - the gravest possible violation of xenia short of killing one's host. However, I don't remember these events to be mentioned or even hinted in the Iliad.

    1. Maya,

      Neoptolemus was not mentioned in the Iliad neither are the Isles of the Blest. Apparently, the Iliad and the Odyssey were the most humanist of the epics in the cycle. The others had flights of fantasy typical of "Scholia as Savior". Bill

  9. I am keeping an eye on the continuing discussion at Hour 25. I'd agree with Kimie that Thetis received no reward after rescuing Zeus. (You - and Slatkin - are most likely right that Thetis is "goddess of divine rescue". My Thetis at one point becomes also rescuer of mankind. However, being a rescuer is a job rather than a reward, and not a light job; Thetis needs the help of Eurynome to care for the disabled boy she has rescued.)
    However, should we expect Zeus to be grateful? It is said that he honors Styx for becoming his early ally. However, Zeus is himself bound by Styx' oath. To me, this indicates that the binding quality of the oath is due to intrinsic power of Styx, rather than to Zeus' gratitude. The description of Styx in the Theogony implies natural neurotoxicity of her water.
    According to Hesiod, Zeus gave enormous honors to Hecate. Some are quick to conclude that this was in gratitude for help provided by Hecate in the Titanomachy. However, as far as I know, there is not a word about Hecate doing something for Zeus either in the Titanomachy or later. The only work known to me that connects the two gods - the Homeric Hymn to Demeter - shows Hecate in apparent opposition to Zeus. So my explanation is that Hecate was powerful pre-Olympian or extra-Olympian goddess in Hesiod's region, and because he wanted to glorify Zeus regardless of the mytho-facts but at the same time didn't want to abandon the good old goddess, he invented a story how Zeus gave honors to her. (Once I suggested another possible explanation - that Zeus compensated Hecate after destroying her mother - but I admit that there is no textual evidence to support this idea.)
    As for the other allies of Zeus, he shows his "gratitude" by giving them homes and jobs as best suits him. He sends the Hundred-Handers back to the depths of the Earth, makes the Cyclopes his weapon-manufacturers, deprives Styx' children of any individuality and swallows Metis. It is not Zeus but Poseidon who gives one of his daughters to one of the Hundred-Handers.

    1. Maya,

      Thetis' "reward" is getting to keep her intrinsic power as "goddess of divine rescue". Yeah it was a sucky job, but it was hers. She could have ended up with job like Hades and Persephone! Ugh! I agree that Thetis rescue us all at some point. I remember a discussion about that. I was reading Graves yesterday. He points out that the rebel gods were all supporters of the Achaian forces at Troy. Odd that the very gods who will fulfill the will us Zeus are the ones who rebel. I don't know what to make of that.

      I agree that Hecate was an Anatolian goddess and family favorite for Hesiod.

      The fact that Zeus was bound by the Oath of Styx, suggests to me a contractual agreement between the two. Styx position as the only female river might be suggestive of something more. I sometime wonder if we aren't looking at Hecate, the Hundred-handers, Cyclopes and Styx incorrectly. The males were in Tartarus and goddesses firmly correlated with Hades. Maybe it isn't them so much, as the fact that the represent the chthonic forces. Hecate is the closest he gets to allying with the children of Night.


    2. Let's see Thetis' opponents now and then.
      Then, she aborted their revolt and got her way. But at the end of the day this caused her much grief, because Zeus in "gratitude" threw her under the bus (or, for unavailability of buses, into Peleus' bed).
      Now, she stands against the same three gods and gets her way. But at the end of the day this causes her much grief, because Patroclus is killed and Achilles is doomed.
      Someone pointed out that the same three oppose the burial of Hector. Thetis, at Zeus' request, stands against them again. This time, however, she does not seem to suffer. Or does she? Maybe she values the pleasure and presumed kleos Achilles gets by desecrating the body?

    3. Maya M,

      Interesting perspective on the Iliad by looking at "Thetis' Opponents"
      1) She stopped the rebellion of Hera, Athena and Poseidon without any objections.
      2) Later she thwarts their will and delays the destruction of Troy. She gets away with it and Zeus gets blamed.
      3) Contrary to their objections, she arranges for the ransom of Hector's body. I love how "they" have to beg her to do it arrange it, apparently none of the other gods can convince a mere mortal to do something. Hmm.

      And yet, Hera was her foster mother and Poseidon her lover. The gods are odd.


  10. Why doesn't Thetis ask Zeus to make her son immortal and unaging but tries instead a do-it-yourself immortalization?
    Homer doesn't say anything about this. In his world, even Heracles is dead, let alone Ariadne and Asclepius.
    Scholars think that the immortalization attempt of Achilles was copied from that of Demophoon. I think they are right. Demeter acts logically. She cannot ask Zeus to give Demophoon immortality, because Zeus would figure out what she is planning. And she believes that her immortalization procedure, about which Zeus knows nothing, will work - why not?
    Thetis does not act logically. If she thinks that Zeus would accept an immortal Achilles, she could go to him and supplicate him: "If I ever have done a thing for you..." (It seems that Zeus never gives things unprompted, as seers always wait to be asked to talk.)
    However, Thetis knows that Zeus would hardly accept an immortal Achilles. (Let's remember why Achilles got conceived in the first place.) So we understand why she doesn't supplicate Zeus. But why trying the do-it-yourself procedure? Doesn't Thetis understand that, if it had any chance to work, Zeus would ban it?
    Well, let's say that Thetis is not the most logical and rational person in the world. Yet Zeus, if he knew what gratitude is, could give her son long life AND kleos.

  11. Maya,

    I like your phrase, "do-it-yourself immortalization" First off; that never works! It doesn't matter if you dip 'em in the Styx or baste them with ambrosia and roast 'em over an open fire, they die anyway. You have to have the consent of the Olympians and cup of nectar. A notable except is Dionysus who with wife and dead mother in hand stormed the blue gates of Olympus. At which point I am guessing the gods "gave" their consent.

    As to what Demeter and Thetis were thinking...I've questioned Demeter's motivation before. She was the grandmother of Zagreus/Demeter. Zagreus was presumed heir apparent and as discussed above Dionysus stormed heaven. I think we can imagine a "son" of Demeter being a serious threat to the throne, particularly with the sacrifices being cut off to the gods.


  12. Zeus lets Semele burn and then stay in Hades with all the rest. Dionysus brings her from Hades and then to Olympus. What's happening?
    Is Dionysus stronger than Zeus? Did Zeus regret saving him as a baby? If Dionysus is stronger than Zeus, why doesn't he depose Zeus? Generally, Dionysus behaves like there are no other gods. In Eurypides' Bacchae, it seems that Zeus and all true Olympians are dead.
    Or does Dionysus just have an ability to bring back from Hades (i.e. to defy the laws of nature) that Zeus hasn't?
    Or possibly Olympus is after all a "presidential republic" where the supreme god can rule only with the consent of the majority - a consent which Zeus could obtain but Dionysus (and Apollo) couldn't?

    1. Maya M.

      You asked if Dionysus was more powerful than Zeus. Per he was the heir apparent; ZAGREUS was the "first-born Dionysos," a god of the Orphic Mysteries. He was a son of Zeus and Persephone, who the god seduced in the guise of a serpent. After he was Zeus set him upon the throne of heaven armed with lightning bolts. The Titanes, inspired by the jealous goddess Hera, sneaked into Olympos, tricked the godling into setting aside the lightning bolts with the temptation of toys, then seized and dismembered him with knives. Zeus recovered the child's heart and making it into a potion, fed it to his love Semele. From the drink she conceived the younger Dionysos, as a reincarnation of the first."

      But by his nature, ruling doesn't appear natural.


    2. Yes, you are right. Zeus at least settles over the scorched land and rules, well or not quite. Dionysus lays Thebes in ruin and leaves with his migrating locusts.

  13. The rescue of Zeus is, to my opinion, so irrational that I had to invent some brand new explanation for it. Here is the result:
    Thetis has overheard Apollo's words, has concluded - rightly or not - that Zeus is the lesser evil and has helped him to keep his power. This is why Aphrodite is angry at her.

  14. Hattip to Hour 25 for "tell me tell me true", of course.

  15. I've just read the latest Kimie's comments to the "Silver-footed Thetis" thread and I admit this is an entirely new to me, and very interesting, argumentation.
    We've previously discussed that marrying Thetis off to Peleus does not, per se, neutralize her danger because she could conceive a son from some immortal after the death of Peleus, or even before it. I suggested that gods other than Zeus are too squeamish to make sex with a female who has had a mortal partner, to which you rightly objected that this rule has exceptions.

    Slatkin thinks that "Thetis and Achilles together have, like Demeter, brought Olympus to submission." However, I don't see any submission. Olympians just make some nice gestures and say some nice words to Thetis. Zeus gets his way without giving anything, as usual.
    Slatkin is, however, right after all that Thetis has a potential for retaliation. And it is not that she might refuse to tell Achilles to behave. Achilles could very well continue to make a fool of himself and the pro-Achaean and pro-Trojan gods on Olympus could continue to pull each other's hair - would it be any disaster to Zeus? He hates family quarrels but he has already endured a string of them after the request of Thetis.

    Thetis' potential for retaliation is in her womb. Now, after her husband is abandoned to spend alone his sad old years, and Achilles is to die soon, she may start a new reproduction cycle.
    As she is sitting with her sisters, mourning her still-alive son, she is not in mourning clothes. When Achilles dies, she could say - like David - that she has wept to soften Zeus' heart to pardon her child, but now the child is dead, weeping is no good. And she could think of conceiving another Achilles, this time with a divine father.
    However, when Iris summons her, Thetis obeys and takes a very dark cloak. All comments I've read so far about this are that this dark cloak is threatening, like that of Demeter. Now, however, I think the opposite. The dark cloak shows not only grief, it shows submission and "modesty". Blind obedience to the stronger male (who may be stronger only because she does not resist him) and renouncing even the thought of sexual activity unauthorized by this male. Much like today's Islamic burqa, to which I guess that cloak was also similar in appearance. In the Islamic world, the female must of course obey the ruler but interacts mostly with males of her family and owes obedience to them. The way Athena and Hera welcome Thetis on Olympus, and she sits beside Zeus, may be ritual adoption or marriage.

    Will Thetis always wear this nasty rag? The gesture with which she takes it may have "once and always" implication. The Iliad ends this way. My story ends with Thetis putting on ordinary clothes and announcing that she will no longer hide in her father's cave like an wounded animal but will seek her old friends again, and maybe also find new friends.

  16. "The marriage of Peleus and Thetis is brought about by Zeus... as part of his plan to cause the Trojan War."

    I found the same thought in "Io's World: Intimations of Theodicy in Prometheus Bound" by S. White. I admit I couldn't read it to the end. The authors intends to acquit Zeus without blaming Prometheus and dismissing Io (as earlier pro-Zeus writers have done) but of course does exactly what he has promised not to do. So, when the work started to sound quite as if written by a German scholar during the years of awaiting Hitler, I put it aside.
    Nevertheless, there were some interesting bits. White claims that marrying Thetis off to Peleus was not a result of the disclosure by Prometheus but of Zeus' plan to decimate mankind by the Trojan War - i.e. Zeus by this marriage "engineered" Achilles as superior destroyer.
    The author of course does not discuss how, had Prometheus not disclosed Thetis' identity, Zeus would know which goddess to marry off to a mortal to produce a destroyer of cities. However, the more important question is: why does everybody think that Thetis' son would be not just mighty but destructively mighty?
    Aeschylus' play endorses the libertarian view that the more power a government has, the worse it becomes. So it is logical that Zeus, who became mightier than his father, became also a worse ruler than him, and (by extension) any son of Zeus mighty enough to depose his father would be a disaster for this very reason, an equivalent of a nuclear bomb - which may be the reason why this son is, at the end, prevented from being conceived.
    Pindar, however, shares the same opinion. "...The sea-goddess should bring forth a son, of strength mightier than his father, whose hand should launch a shaft more powerful than the bolt of thunder or the fearsome trident..."
    So it may be an universal Greek opinion than an immortal son of Thetis would be "Shiva the Destroyer".

  17. We've discussed before that there is a curious contradiction between Thetis (esp. before her marriage) and her potential immortal son. She is weak (to my opinion, at least) - he would be the mightiest being in the Cosmos. She is a professional rescuer of gods in distress - he would be a WMD.
    In many cultures, women are blamed for what comes out of their wombs, even if they have no control over this. This could explain the strange malice of Pindar's Themis - she doesn't just say "Let Thetis' son die in war, the sooner the better, and we be safe", she says, "Let her (Thetis) see her son dying in war".

    In the Iliad's world, no mortal has ever become immortal - Heracles, Asclepius and the Dioscuri are all dead. Maybe this should indicate that no mortal can ever become immortal, under any circumstances - including Achilles.
    If, however, we acknowledge the potential of Thetis to conceive another, immortal son, this brings a new perspective.
    We see now why the Olympians, while calling each other nice names such as "arrogant" and "bitch", are very respectful to Thetis and nobody hints at her inferior status. She may be a non-Olympian, but she is holding the gun. And presumably this is why they beg Thetis to intervene for Hector's body. They could easily subdue Achilles by force - we've seen that even a minor river god can do it - but they fear the revenge of his bear mama.
    I'd mentioned before that Thetis does everything Achilles asks her, no matter how unreasonable, so I thought she was not too smart. Now I am thinking, what if she deliberately lets him express himself and lends her power to him, to see how a son of hers would behave?
    It is an entirely new idea of Thetis for me - a scientist or engineer setting an experiment and taking notes.

  18. I think now that you may be right that Thetis does not really supplicate Zeus, because he is in a weak position and hasn't the option to refuse. She still keeps the etiquette of supplication, but he doesn't bother to do the same.

  19. Maya,

    I enjoyed the progression of your logic and process with each additional blog. I as I read and heard your words I began to think of other women who bore a son greater than his father to Zeus or Poseidon

    Homer, Odyssey 11. 305 “I saw Aloeus' wife; she was Iphimedeia, whose boast it was to have lain beside Poseidon. She bore him two sons, though their life was short--Otos the peer of the gods and far-famed Ephialtes; these were the tallest men, and the handsomest, that ever the fertile earth has fostered…at nine years of age their breadth was nine cubits, their height nine fathoms. They threatened the Deathless Ones themselves--to embroil Olympos in all the fury and din of war.”

    Homeric Hymn 3 to Pythian Apollo 300 "She it was who once received from gold-throned Hera and brought up fell, cruel Typhaon to be a plague to men. Once on a time Hera bare him because she was angry with father Zeus, when Kronides bare all-glorious Athene in his head.” (Admittedly Zeus was not the father of his wife's son, but it sort of fit. But there are other goddess with the same power at Thetis to produce sons greater than their father; Rhea who bore Zeus, Aphrodite who bore Eros whose shafts even immortal Zeus succumbed to, Metis, Nyx who produced Sleep, maybe the Fates. I always wondered if the virginity of Hestia, Athena and Artemis along with Eos, Demeter and Selene's fondness for mortal men wasn't just a pretext to avoid them producing sons greater than their fathers.

  20. Thank you!
    So it seems that the Iliad has (at least) 3 storylines:
    1) The most obvious one, the menis of Achilles.
    2) The attempts of Hector and other Trojans to save their city, with the rise and crushing of false hope after Thetis' request. (Quite like the rise and fall of George and Lennie's dream for their own farm in Of Mice and Men; Steinbeck once commented that all humans have such dreams that have no chance to come true, and dreamers deep down know this, yet in these dreams lies the majesty and tragedy of human race. I wonder how some dare to say that the title "Iliad" is misleading!)
    3) The relationship between Thetis and Zeus. Will she leave him and the current "cosmic order" in place, or will decide to wreak havoc?
    It seems that, in such a situation, most immortals will decide to spare the world and sacrifice their ego instead, while most heroes (Oedipus, Polyneices, Antigone, Ajax - exception: Philoctetes) will stick to their ego, utter a curse and die.

  21. Of the females you listed, I got interested in Metis.
    Homer says nothing about her, calls Athena "Tritogeneia". Hesiod tells her story. Then, she is again forgotten until Apollodorus. We know that Hesiod had no inhibitions to invent gods and stories about them, and that he was obsessed with the dangers of the female and how to control her.
    Some think that the story of Thetis as would-be mother of a son stronger than Zeus was modeled after Metis. I think it was the other way round. Hesiod invented an abstract personification of cunning intelligence, Metis the smartest among gods and men, and portrays Zeus outwitting and destroying her. The idea apparently is: 1) this is the way to deal with females if you want an inhabitable Cosmos; 2) see how intelligent Metis, Cronus and Prometheus were, yet Zeus crushed them, so he is the smartest of all! (Actually, the intelligent can acquire power only in societies with elaborate institutions; otherwise, the intelligent are subdued by thugs, as we see in most countries.)

  22. Maya M,
    I agree that Metis sees like nothing but an abstraction.

    1) To have a habitable universe you can't have unbridled reproduction. And since the males can't be relied on that leaves it up to the females.
    2) As to Zeus' defeat of Prometheus, Cronus and Metis... If you've watched the three "musketeers" video on the Odyssey you heard some discussion on Calypso's power over Odysseus. One of them used the word "enchanted". A less politically correct statement might be "bewitched". I don't see how the goddess of wisdom could be outwitted no matter how crooked Zeus' wisdom was. What if it was something else, some sort of magic, like Odin was credited with.

  23. Pindar, Pythian 3:
    "Yet a life free from care came neither to Peleus Aeacus' son, nor to Cadmus that godlike king; though they of all men won, so men say, the highest bliss... when one took for his bride Harmonia, the dark-eyed maid, the other glorious Thetis, daughter of wise Nereus. And the gods shared their marriage feasts..."

    100% juxtaposition of Harmonia and Thetis. Maybe Harmonia was also given to a mortal hero to be neutralized (not quite successfully - her son was unremarkable, but see her daughters!). Maybe her conception violated not only the marital rights of Hephaestus but also some order by Zeus.

  24. Maya ,

    I have always assumed that Europa and Harmonia were hostage-brides swapped between the Theban and Olympian gods.

    Let me think on the Harmonia Theis angle