Sunday, May 31, 2015

TFBT: Folk-tale Elements in the Cypria

I highly recommend Malcolm Davies article at the Center for Hellenic Studies website.  He analyzes the extant fragments of the Cypria and Proclus’ summary of the epic using standard European folk-tale motifs.    For those unfamiliar with the Cypria, Davies explains that it explains that Zeus and Themis conspired to ignite the wars at Thebes and Troy with their,  inevitable tally of deaths, as part of a cosmic plan to lighten the burden of the earth, which was being trodden under foot by more and more human beings”    

Davies discusses several folk-tale motifs in the myths of the Cypria; one in particular he calls the offended deity syndrome, it can be a crime of commission or omission.  This brings us to the next phase in Zeus’ plan the wedding of the hero Peleus and his reluctant bride, the Nereid Thetis.  The goddess of strife, Eris is not invited.  As Davies points out Eris much like the forgotten fairy at the baptism party in Sleeping Beauty.  It is Eris who tosses the golden apple into the midst of the gods engraved with the fateful words “For the fairest”.    Davies points out that

since Greek sacrifice to gods was originally conceived as a feast to which the gods were invited, there is no significant distinction between the two aspects of failure to sacrifice and failure to invite to a festival.  He adds that “A striking feature of… the offended deity’s anger is regularly vented not directly upon the perpetrator of the crime, but on a member of his or her family, more often than not an offspring, and within that category most often a daughter.” 

 He then proceeds to suggest that Eris’ intent was not just to spoil the reception, but that she was actually arranging “ punishment of the offspring of the offender who failed to invite (her) in the first place, that is, of Achilles. “

The next major event in Themis and Zeus’ plan to “lighten the burden of the earth” is the “Judgement of Paris.”  Athena, Aphrodite and Hera each vie for the apple and ask Zeus to decide.  Zeus being no fool defers to a Trojan prince named Paris (Alexander) and sends his wife and daughters off to him with Hermes.

“…the dilemma which the “hero” faces when, by gratifying one of the trio, he inevitably ensures the life-long enmity of the remaining two. This is, indeed, precisely Paris’ dilemma. The notion that the powerful protection of the favoured party can somehow overcome or outweigh the ill consequences of the fateful choice.... Paris, choosing Aphrodite, is gifted in love but is forever without talent in the civic and military spheres of his life”. A great contrast, one might add, to his brother Hector.” 


(Davies explains it was the) …wrong choice represented by Paris’ preferring of Aphrodite,” Unarguably, Aphrodite was the wrong choice because she could not stop the death of Paris, all his male relatives, enslavement of the women of Troy and the destruction of the city.  Davies and Robert Graves (The Greek Myths, page 19) argue that the winner of such a contest should be the youngest, the “ultimogeniture”.  But Hera was from the generation before Athena and (Dione’s daughter) Aphrodite so by Davies definition the wrong choice.  Athena was Zeus’ first child. (Hesiod, Theogony 885) This makes Aphrodite as the youngest and still according to Davies the “wrong choice”. 

If Paris had free will, which goddess would have been the right choice, I wonder?


 Malcolm Davies, "Folk-tale Elements in the Cypria," Classics@ Volume 6: Efimia D. Karakantza, ed. The Center for Hellenic Studies of Harvard University, edition of December 21, 2010.






Monday, May 18, 2015

TFBT: The Bull

“(The) Bull…mingled with the bullocks in the groves, his color white as virgin snow, untrod, unmelted by the watery Southern Wind. His neck was thick with muscles, dewlaps hung between his shoulders; and his polished horns, so small and beautifully set, appeared the artifice of man; fashioned as fair and more transparent than a lucent gem. His forehead was not lowered for attack, nor was there fury in his open eyes; the love of peace was in his countenance.”  Ovid, Metamorphoses, 846[i]


Minos, the son of a bull,[ii] wished to be king, to prove his lineage to Cretans, he swore that whatever he prayed for the gods would do. He prayed that the Bull might appear from the depths, promising to sacrifice it to Poseidon. The gods did send him up the fine Bull,  it roared forth from the sea.  Minos failed to sacrifice it.   Minos’ queen Pasiphae took a fancy to the Bull too and birthed his son; a monster called Asterius the Minotaur.[iii]


Heracles took the “Cretan” Bull to Greece as one of his labors.[iv] The Bull grew wild in Minos’ herds and became, “the crushing terror of a hundred towns.”[v] Heracles took the Bull back to Eurystheus. .  He intended to sacrifice the Bull to  Hera his namesake and divine nemesis, but she wanted not to do with it.  He set the Bull  loose. The Bull wandered to Sparta and then crossed the Isthmus and went as far as Marathon near Athens where it molested the locals.[vi] 

Androgeos, son of Minos, came to Athens to celebrated the Panathenaian Games, in which vanquished all comers.  The prince was sent against the Bull of Marathon, by which he was destroyed.[vii]

Afterwards Theseus, son of Poseidon went out against the Marathonian bull, which was doing no small mischief to the inhabitants of the Tetrapolis[viii] and drove  the Bull  to the Acropolis and sacrificed  him.[ix] 


In summary, the demi-god Minos did not sacrifice the Bull.  The demi-god Heracles captured the bull, but did not sacrifice it.  The hero Androgeus did neither and the demigod Theseus did both. So the story of the Bull should be finished,[x] except for the wrath of King Minos.


Asterius, the Minotaur and Minos stilled reigned in Crete. The Minotaur; half bull, half man, son of the Bull  seemed to be the talisman that insured Minos rule, similar to the Golden Fleece of Colchis[xi], the Palladion at Troy[xii], the Gold Lamb of Atreus[xiii] or maybe even the Sphinx at Thebes who insured the rule of Creon and Jocasta.  In compensation for the death of Prince Androgeus, the Atheneans sent 14 youths as tribute each year to the Minotaur.  Theseus went with them.


Adriane, the Minotaur’s half sister like her Aunt Medea aided this wandering prince to betray her father and slay the monster.  And like her aunt she was abandoned by the prince on Naxos Island.


Once home, Theseus’ wife Phaedra, another daughter of Minos, took a fancy to her step-son.  The son fled in a chariot. Theseus called upon hi father Poseidon to avenge him.  “A huge wave, which overtopped even the Molurian Rock, rolled roaring shoreward; and from its crest sprang a great white bull, bellowing and spouting water.” Hippolytus’ four horses swerved and he, caught in the reins,  the maddened horses dragged him, until he was crushed to death. [xiv]


In summary, the Minotaur, the son of the Bull, talisman and guardian spirit of Crete is slain by Theseus, son of Poseidon. His sister the Princess Adriane assits in the over thwo of the Minoian hegemony and then is abandon.  Her sister Phaedra like their Pasiphae suffer a taboo longing and Hippolytus son of Theseus is slain directly by a bull sent by Poseidon.  So ends the story of the Bull.[xv]



[i] trans. By Brookes More  According to Akousilaos [historian C6th B.C.]  the Cretan Bull carried Europa for Zeus rather than the more common belief that Zeus was in disguise as a bull.  (per Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 94)
[ii] Apollodorus, The Library, [3.1.1] trans. JG Frazer
[iii] [3.1.3-4]
[iv] Along with the a golden-horned deer sacred to Artemis, the Erymanthian boar (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 8183 & trans. Aldrich), Geryon’s  shambling, broad-faced cattle (Hesiod) and the three-headed hound of Hades (Homer, Odyssey 11. 623 ff (trans. Shewring) 
[v] Seneca, Hercules Furens 230 ff (trans. Miller)
[vi] Bibliotheca 2. 94 - 95 (trans. Aldrich)
[vii] Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 15. 7 (trans. Frazer) :
[viii] Plutarch, Life of Theseus 14. 1 (trans. Perrin)
[ix] Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 27. 9 (trans. Jones
[x] Ring Theory and 5 Ages of Man
[xi] Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 47. 1 - 6 (trans. Oldfather)
[xii] Apollodorus, The Library E5.12-13
[xiv] Robert Graves The Greek Myths, pages 95 &210 electronic
[xv] But not the end of Hippolytus (Virbius) see The Golden Bough by Frazer