Monday, July 13, 2015

TFBT: Medea and Ino

Over at Hour 25, we are discussing “Medea” by Euripidies.    Kimie, commented “What amazes me about her is her seeming immunity from divine punishment. In the background story told by Nurse, Medea kills her blood-kin brother and engineers to have king Pelias killed by his daughters (another shedding blood of blood relative). She fears Medea will then kills her own children (though not of blood-kin, according to Apollo in Aeschylus). Medea does exactly what the nurse fears, but she gets away with it—no Furies hover over her head screaming revenge”  This question has always disturbed me about the play too.  Who gets away with this sort of behavior?
The answer to my version of Kimie’s question popped into my head last night; Ino!  
Ino and Medea both seem to be immunity from divine retribution. They do terrible things and get away with it. Here is Ino’s story if you don’t know it, I follow Graves here for convenience, but can find references for all his stories.
I am following Graves here for convenience; Athamas ruled over Boeotia. He had three wives.  The cloud-nymph Nephele was his ex-wife, She bore Athamas two sons: Phrixus and Leucon, and a daughter, Helle. He also fell  in love with Ino, daughter of Cadmus, granddaughter of Ares and Aphrodite brought her secretly to his palace installing her as a maid, where he begot Learchus and Melicertes on her. Athamas also married Themisto who, a year later, bore him twin sons.
Ino, persuaded the local women  to parch the seed-corn. When no sprouts appeared, Athamas asked the Oracle at Delphi what was wrong,. The reply was, that the land would regain its fertility only if Nephele’s son Phrixus was sacrificed to Zeus.  Just as Phrixus was to be sacrificed a winged golden ram, flew to the rescue   Phrixus climbed on its back as did his sister Helle .  The ram flew eastward.  Helle lost her hold;  fell into the Hellespont and became the Nereid of the place. Phrixus reached Colchis  sacrificed the ram and married the younger daughter of King Aeetes’,  Chalciope consequently becoming Medea’s brother-in-law.   Aeetes was the son of Helios.
Themisto jealous of Ino’s children instructed the "maid" to dress her twin boys in white and Ino’s children in black garments.  The following day, Themisto ordered her guards to break into the royal nursery and kill the children who were dressed in black, but spare the other two. Ino, however, had put white garments for her own sons, and black garments for her rival’s. Thus Themisto murdered her own  twins
At this point Athamas and Ino went mad.  Athamas stalked and slew his elder son Learkhos thinking him a deer, meanwhile Ino threw Melicertes into a boiling cauldron. (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 28)  Then, carrying the corpse of the boy, she jumped to the bottom of the sea  and became immortal.  She as the Goddess Leucothea and  her son Melicertes as the God Palaemon,
Ino and Medea’s stories have several things in common, the involvement of Helios, both heroines were grand-daughters of important gods, sacrifice of children, tricking someone into killing a family member, someone tossed into a boiling cauldron, miraculous escapes and no retribution from the gods. 
 PS.  I studied  The Genealogy of Greek Mythology by Vanessa James in order to get Ino and Medea’s family relationship right;  Ino’s step-son was Medea’s brother-in-law.  In the process of researching  I noted Ariadne.  Like Medea she was the grand-daughter of an important god who betrayed her father and country for the love of foreign prince.  Like Medea she aided in the death of her half-brother and then sailed away.  In Ariadne’s case the consequences were she took a short nap, was awoken by Dionysus and taken to Olympus to be his immortal wife. 

With Kimie’s encouraging words I kept thinking about ancient Greek girls who betray their nearest and dearest.  I vaguely recall Nisus the King of Megara’s daughter, the lover of Minos betraying her father.  Her name was Scylla.  Her story didn’t end well.  To quote Wikipidea’s article (and,   “Scylla's story is a close parallel to that of Comaetho, daughter of Pterelaus. (She was princess of the Taphians and lover of the Theban Amphitryon.)  Similar stories were told of Pisidice (princess of Methymna and lover of Achilles) and of Leucophrye.”  She was daughter of Mandrolytus and the lover of the invading colonist Leucippus, son of Xanthius from Pherae.     All four betrayed their fathers and fatherland  and their stories “all of which ended tragically for the heroines.”   None of the four are grand-daughters of the gods. 



  1. Good research!
    It seems to me that Medea and Ino are not just granddaughters of gods but goddesses themselves, and so are free of the divine retribution reserved for mortals. Their mortal life is just a disguise. Ino's destruction of the crop, though realistic, closely parallels the rage of Demeter. And was Ino deified after she jumped into the sea, or just passed a test that revealed her true nature?
    As for Medea, some sources portray her in the Islands of the Blessed, but normally heroes go there after death, and no source known to me ever describes her death. She may be still around :-).

  2. Maya,

    Iagree with all you say here. I will have to think about Apocapltic Heroes


  3. Thinking of Medea and Ino, it seems to me that Greek gods of mortal origin tend to kill their kin. Let me catalog them (without doubtful cases like Medea and Diomedes):

    Ariadne - yes (accomplice in the killing of the Minotaur);
    Asclepius - no;
    Dionysus - yes;
    Dioscuri - Castor, no; Polydeukes, yes (his cousin Lynceus); we can remember that Polydeukes is "more immortal" than Castor;
    Ganymedes - no;
    Heracles - yes;
    Leucothea (Ino) - yes or attempted, depending on the version;
    Palaemon (Melicertes) - no;
    Thyone (Semele) - no.

    So, by most conservative estimates, 40% of gods of mortal origin have killed a kin - first cousin or closer. The killer may be male or female, but the victim is invariably male - brother, son or (for absence of these) 1st cousin.

    1. Add; Glaucous no, Helen no, Bolina no, Phoebe&hilaria the discouri's wives no, helle no, hippolytus no. That said; it aint easy to become divine; dirt nap, lightning, ripped apart and eaten by Titans, snatched up, burnt alive, leapt off cliffs, fell from golden ram, wioed to death by erinyes, dragged to death, only Polydeuces, Phoebe, Hilaria and Glaucus made it easily into godhood


  4. To me, these are what I call doubtful cases. No evidence of cult, and not even an image as immortal. Have you ever seen the Dioscuri portrayed with the Leucippides? Only in the process of rape, i.e. in their mortal lives.
    An exception is Helen. Some authors speculate that she is an ancient vegetation goddess. Thinking of Medea, it seems to me that the golden fleece was a red herring (it is of no use to anybody) and the important thing was getting her. Apollodorus writes this directly (1.9.16):

    "When Pelias saw him, he bethought him of the oracle, and going up to Jason asked him what, supposing he had the power, he would do if he had received an oracle that he should be murdered by one of the citizens. Jason answered, whether at haphazard or instigated by the angry Hera in order that Medea should prove a curse to Pelias, who did not honor Hera, “I would command him,” said he, “to bring the Golden Fleece.” "

    Medea, Ariadne, Helen: three exceptional women, goddesses by some accounts, eloping with strange men. Medea and Helen brought disaster. We do not know what Ariadne would do in Athens, because Theseus dropped her at a safe distance.

  5. Maya,

    As to the Leucippides;

    Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 22. "[In the city of Argos there is] a temple of the Dioskouroi (Dioscuri). The images represent the Dioskouroi themselves and their sons, Anaxis and Mnasinous, and with them are their mothers, Hilaeira and Phoibe (Phoebe). They are of ebony wood, and were made by Dipoinos and Skyllis. The horses, too, are mostly of ebony, but there is a little ivory also in their construction."

    Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 12. 8 : "Beside the Hellenion [at Sparta in Lakonia] is a sanctuary of Arsinoe, daughter of Leukippos (Leucippus) and sister of the wives of Polydeukes (Polydeuces) and Kastor (Castor)."

    Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 16. 1 : "[At Sparta in Lakonia] is a sanctuary of Hilaira and of Phoibe (Phoebe). The author of the poem Kypria calls them daughters of Apollon. Their priestesses are young maidens, called, as are also the goddesses, Leukippides (Leucippides). One of the images was adorned by a Leukippis (Leucippis) who had served the goddesses as a priestess. She gave it a face of modern workmanship instead of the old one; she was forbidden by a dream to adorn the other one as well. Here there has been hung from the roof an egg tied to ribbons, and they say that it was the famous egg that legend says Leda brought forth."

    Both couples and all four sons are carved on to the throne of Amyclae both were represented riding on horseback. Pausanias, Description of Greece, iii. 18. ~ 7

    As to Helen being an ancient vegetation goddess, I think the explanation is a confounding of names; two goddesses, both named Helen. At any rate the Spartans worshipped the whole crowd above. Sailors worshipped the Discouri and Helen as a triad.

    I love the quote you found about Hera wanting Medea to be a curse to Pelias. What an insight!

    "Theseus dropped her at a safe distance." Great line! Theseus had person experience with the grand-daughters of Helios so he would have know better. Good call.

  6. Thank you! I had actually forgotten that, shortly before his expedition, Theseus was almost killed by Medea.
    I admit that you are right about the Leucippides. The presence of a god in images seems to me a good criterion of his authenticity, but it produces false negatives because it is dependent on the survival of the images. You cite convincing evidence of their past existence, though they have not survived.
    I've just used this criterion to check what I've long suspected and I'm sure now - that Prometheus' wife, made so prominent by Shelley, does not really exist. I am also not surprised that his brother Menoetius also does not exist. Iapetus is a "false negative": he is definitely expected to exist (though not necessarily as father of the 2nd generation Titans ascribed to him by Hesiod), but he is never depicted.

  7. Maya,

    Iapetus existed (maybe only in Hesiod's mind) as a counter point to Cronus. First as the patriarchs of the major two faction in the Titanomachy, then as rulers thereafter. Ispetus might've been the Titan of the Underworld and then Cronus again in the Iske of the Blest. Aaron tsma at has some interesting theories on TItans. I hope he will do an interview with Center for Hellenic Studies


  8. He was a counter point to Cronus even before Hesiod, as he is mentioned next to him in the Iliad. In Scroll 8, Zeus, angry at disobedient Hera, tells her to go "to the undermost limits of earth and sea, where Iapetus and Kronos seated have no shining of the sun god Hyperion to delight them" (479 ff.). It is noteworthy that both here and in the Theogony, Iapetus is mentioned before Cronus. N. Yasumura thinks that "Iapetus and Cronus" was a standard formula in the Archaic age.
    There was a proverb, "as old as Iapetus" (found in Lucian). In the Biblical tradition, we say "as old as Adam" or "as old as Methuselah", i.e. we take names of human ancestors. Iapetus may have been ancestor or creator of human race.
    I believe that, by using patronymic "Iapetonides" for Prometheus to stress that he is son of Iapetus (and, likely, by making him son of Iapetus in the first place), Hesiod is alluding to an important story that has since been forgotten. You know that, of the three sons of Cronus, only Zeus is called by patronymic, and usually in special situations.
    For Aeschylus, the tradition of Iapetus was unacceptable. He preferred to leave his Prometheus fatherless.

    1. Maya,

      Iapetus being listed first might indicate he is the eldest. Cronus is stated by Hesiod as the youngest. Cronide, Cronion are used almost almostfor Zeus, but Think for Poseidon and Hera too. Its like Atreides; thats almost always aAgamemnon but could be Menelaus. I can only find one example of Prometheus as Iapetude


    2. In the Theogony, "Son of Iapetus" (in different forms) as reference to Prometheus is found at 528, 543, 559, 565 and 614. There is also one such reference to Atlas at 746.
      In the Works and Days, Prometheus is called "son of Iapetus" at 50 and 54.

  9. I also bet that Hesiod invented Hyperion. I disagree with Atsma that "Homer uses the name in a patronymic sense applied to Helios, so that it is equivalent to Hyperionion or Hyperionides". I think that in Homer, "HELIOS HYPERIONOS" means nothing more than "Helios who watches from above". Hesiod took the epithet and constructed a personality around it.

  10. This deliberation about invention of characters and their names in Greek mythology helped me suggest an explanation about the name of Deucalion.
    Graves writes that this name ("new-wine sailor") shows a role in introduction of wine which was later suppressed to make space for Dionysus. This sounds logical, but... you may have mentioned that if you agree with Graves on something not quite trivial, you must see where you are mistaken. In the chronology of myth, Deucalion of course preceded Dionysus. However, in the surviving records, Dionysus is much older, mentioned by Homer and maybe even by Mycenaean tablets.
    Deucalion was imported rather than invented. The Greeks apparently did not want to keep his foreign name. So the question that remains is, when they decided to give him a Greek name, why exactly this?
    Generally, they preferred to recycle an old name than introduce a new one. The name Deucalion already had a venerable history. Deucalion was a king of Crete, son of Minos and father of Idomeneus. The Iliad mentions him, as well as an unfortunate Trojan with the same name whose head is chopped off by Achilles in Scroll 20.
    Why was the name Deucalion found suitable for the flood survivor? He has no apparent relation to wine-making. Maybe it alluded to the sea, with its constant epithet "wine-dark". The sea which Deucalion sailed was indeed new, and as different from ordinary sea as new wine is from ordinary wine.