Sunday, August 30, 2015

TFBT: Gayley's Commentaries, Pythagoras' Harmony of the Spheres and Bode's Law

Elsewhere I have spoke with much affection about   Charles Mills Gayley’s  “The Classic Myths in English Literature and in Art, Based Originally on Bulfinch's. It rained heavily this weekend, the ditches are full of running water. Even my Black Labrador dreads going outside for a walk.  With time on my hands and no current book club at Hour 25  I searched my bookshelf for something fun to re-read.  I chose Gayley’s Commentaries.  Keep in mind that Gayley’s master piece was published in 1893.  Believe me when I say that research and thought on Greek mythology has come a long ways since then.  Allegorical interpretation was all the rage in his day.  Gayley without too much comment offers up all the most popular interpretations of each god or myth discussed. However, two thirds of the way through is commentaries he says;

“Of the stories told in these and the following sections no systematic, allegorical, or physical interpretations are here given, because ;

  1.  the general method followed by the unravelers of myth has already been sufficiently illustrated;
  2. the attempt to force symbolic conceptions into the longer folk-stories, or into the artistic myths and epics of any country, is historically unwarranted and, in practice, is only too often capricious; and
  3. the effort to interpret such stories as the Iliad and the Odyssey must result in destroying those elements of unconscious simplicity and romantic vigor that characterize the early products of the creative imagination” 

But it was too late a determination for me as a youthful reader.  My own thoughts on Greek myth were already contaminated by the solar theory of Max Muller’s and Sir G. W. Cox's theories on clouds, forever merged in my mind into “Solare Cattle” theories.


Here are a few insights offered up by Gayley;   

  • “Deucalion was represented as the only survivor of the flood, but still the founder of the race (Greek laós), which he created by casting stones (Greek lâes) behind him."
  • “Overbeck insists that the loves of Zeus are deities of the earth: "The rains of heaven (Zeus) do not fall upon the moon.”
  • “Sprung forth a Pallas, arm'd and undefiled" Byron
  • “Leto, according to ancient interpreters, was night,—the shadow, therefore, of Hera, if Hera be the splendor of heaven.”
  • Aphrodite "she is, also, the sweetly smiling, laughter-loving, bright, golden, fruitful, winsome, flower-faced, blushing, swift-eyed, golden-crowned.”
  • Hestia “She is "first of the goddesses," the holy, the chaste, the sacred.”
  • “Hades is called also the Illustrious, the Many-named, the Benignant, Polydectes or the Hospitable.”
  • “Lower than the sons of Heaven: lower than the Titans, sons of Uranus (Heaven), who were plunged into Tartarus.”
  • The serpents that draw Medea's chariot "are part of the usual equipage of a witch, symbolizing wisdom, foreknowledge, swiftness, violence, and Oriental mystery.”
  • “Preller says Minos "is the solar king and hero of Crete; his wife, Pasiphaë, is the moon (who was worshiped in Crete under the form of a cow); and the Minotaur is the lord of the starry heavens which are his labyrinth.”  To add some support here Aaron Atsma says;  “The Minotauros' proper name Asterion, the starry one.”

He tells the story of the Sibyl.  I re-print  it  for your benefit.  Knowing this tale saved my wife and I $5,000 dollars at the second round of negotiations for our current home;

“The Sibyl. The following legend of the Sibyl is fixed at a later date. In the reign of one of the Tarquins there appeared before the king a woman who offered him nine books for sale. The king refused to purchase them, whereupon the woman went away and burned three of the books, and returning offered the remaining books for the same price she had asked for the nine. The king again rejected them; but when the woman, after burning three books more, returned and asked for the three remaining the same price which she had before asked for the nine, his curiosity was excited, and he purchased the books. They were found to contain the destinies of the Roman state. They were kept in the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, preserved in a stone chest, and allowed to be inspected only by especial officers appointed for that duty, who on great occasions consulted them and interpreted their oracles to the people.” 

Gayley’s commentaries also discuss the Harmony of the Spheres;

“In the center of the universe (as Pythagoras taught) there was a central fire, the principle of life. The central fire was surrounded by the earth, the moon, the sun, and the five planets. The distances of the various heavenly bodies from one another were conceived to correspond to the proportions of the musical scale.” 

Does this bear any relations to Bode's Law?  The formula suggests that, extending outward, each planet would be approximately twice as far from the Sun as the one before. The hypothesis correctly anticipated the orbits of the asteroid  belt and Uranus, 


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

TFBT: Atsma’s Titanic Theories

If you read my blog regularly you noted references to Aaron Atsma or more probably to his incredible website; .  Atsma has all the primary source materials linked to his site.  He wrote incredibly articles on every god, goddess, demi-god, daemon and divine monster in Greek mythology.  Each entry in his encyclopedic effort is thoroughly referenced with the actual text, thoroughly readable and effectively cross-referenced.  I don’t even have his website bookmarked.  I visit it so often that my Google search field automatically defaults to it.  I am hoping Atsma will accept an invitation from Hour 25  to be a visiting scholar. 

I am sure Mr. Atsma’s finger tips are worn to the bone, putting  together this indispensible site.  Hence, he’s never written anything else that I can find.  I know he has more to share and further insights.   He  offers off-handed little tidbits in his introductions at the beginning of each article and often in the Notes section at the end. (Can’t resist a few quotes here; “The story’s in the details” and “It’s all in the footnotes.”)  While working on an article about “The Combatants of the Titanomachy” I kept running across such interesting things in the footnotes.  I present those “interesting things” here as “Atsma’s Titanic  Theories”.  To be clear this is my interpretation of what I believe is his concept of the first and second generation Titans.


 The first generation Titans were the sons of Uranus (Sky) and Gaia (Earth).  Hesiod named them Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetus and the youngest Cronus.  Conveniently the primordial couple of Sky and Earth also produced six daughters; the Titanesses.  (None of the Titanesses or goddesses actively participated in what happens next.)

“(Cronus) and his brothers conspired against their father, laying an ambush for him as he descended to lie with Earth. Four of the siblings were posted at the corners of the world, where they seized hold of him and held him fast, while Cronus castrated him with a sickle. In this myth the brothers apparently personified the great pillars … holding heaven and earth apart, or sometimes the whole cosmos aloft.” “Hyperion in the east, Iapetus in the west, Coeus in the north and Crius in the south. The fifth Cronus (Time) stood in the centre, and the sixth, Oceanus, circled the world in the form of the river Ocean.”

Not everyone agrees with the identification of Cronus with Chronos  but it has a certain logic.  Time cannot begin until the sun (Hyperion) rises for the first time.  That can’t happen until the Sky and Earth part on a more permanent basis.

“Individually they were apparently responsible for the establishment of the portions of time: Cronus was time, the destroyer; Crius, leader of the constellations, and so regulator of the seasons; Coeus, lord of the axis of heaven, around which the constellations revolved measuring the year; Hyperion, overlord of the day and night, father of sun, moon and dawn; Iapetus Titan-god of mortal life-span and ancestor of man; and Oceanus the earth-encircler, who oversaw the rising and setting of the heavenly bodies. “

Cronus was the Titan  all-devouring time. He was King of the Titans during the first age of man the Golden Age.  “ In fear of a prophecy that he would be in turn be overthrown by his own son, Cronus swallowed each of his children as soon as they were born. His wife/sister Rhea  saved the youngest, Zeus, by hiding him and fed Cronus a stone wrapped in the swaddling clothes. The godling  grew up, forced Cronus to disgorge his swallowed offspring, and led the Olympians in a ten year war against the Titans.  Cronus’ nephew the Iapetides, took over the leadership of the Titanic army.  Eventually the Titans were defeated and tossed into the pit of Tartarus.


Atsma says that Coeus is also called Polos (of the northern pole), suggesting he was the Titan of the pillar of the north and Titan  of the axis of heaven around which the constellations revolved.  Atsma supposes he was probably also a god of heavenly oracles, just as his wife Phoebe presided over the oracle of the center of the earth;  Delphi.  Their  grandson Phoebus Apollo eventually inherited the oracle. “  According to Atsma; “in ancient times this point in the heavens was marked by the star alpha Dra in the constellation Draco.”   His wife/sister, Phoebe, was the complimentary goddess of the navel of the earth; Delphi.  “Clearly Coeus functioned as the prophetic voice of his father Heaven, just as Phoebe was the prophetic voice of her mother Earth. Like Delphi, navel of the earth, the axis of heaven was also guarded by a Drakon: the constellation Draco.”

“The daughters of Coeus appear to have represented the two main branches of prophecy: Leto and her son Apollo presided over the prophetic power of light and heaven, whereas Asteria (wife of Perses below) and her daughter Hecate presided over the prophetic powers of night, chthonian darkness and the ghosts of the dead.”   


“Crius' connection with the south is found both in his name and family connections--he is "the Ram," the constellation Aries, whose springtime rising in the south marked the start of the Greek year; his eldest son is Astraios, god of the stars; and his wife is Eurybia, a daughter of the sea. .. Crius was in this sense also the primordial god of the constellations who ordered the measures of the year, Crius' other sons were Perses the Destroyer and the sometimes goat-skinned Titan Pallas the spear-brandishing one,  “

He supposes that the sons were totemic-gods. Pallas, whose skin became Athena's aegis was goatish. Perses,  father of the dog accompanied Hecate, was perhaps dog-like. Astraios was  father of horse-shaped wind-gods.

“Iapetus himself was no doubt the pillar of the west, a position which was later and more obviously held by his son Atlas.  Iapetus "the piercer" may also have been regarded as the Titan god of the mortal life-span. Indeed, his sons Prometheus and Epimetheus were represented as the creators of mankind and other mortal creatures.  Iapetus and his bride Clymene.” 

Note; she was not his sister but rather a water nymph)  might have been conceived with a variety of functions”  Atsma envisions Iapetus and his sons as craftsmen.  “The Awl” being one interpretation of his name. 

“The sons of Iapetus were also described as possessing some of the worst of human traits : on an intellectual level, Prometheus is overly sly and crafty, Epimetheus a guileless fool, Atlas overly daring, and arrogant Menoitios prone to rash and violent actions. Iapetus may be the same as Keuthonymos, a mysterious underworld daemon named as the father of Menoites, herdsman of Hades. It is reasonable to assume that this Menoites is identical to Menoitios, son of Iapetus.”

Without being too clear about it Atsma is following  Homer, (Iliad 8. 479) in making Iapetus of the realm eventually called Hades. 


“He and his brothers also seem to have been viewed as the ancient gods responsible for the creation of man, and who each bestowed a quality. Hyperion as his name suggests ("he who watches from above") was clearly associated with watching and observation, just as his wife, Theia, was the goddess of sight (thea), and so theirs was surely the gift of eyes and sight.”  “Hyperion--father of sun, dawn and moon--ordered the days and months. “

Hyperion was of course the elder Titan of the Sun and represented the East.  Hence, it is not surprising that his son Helios’ primary residence is in the east and that his grandson Aeetes rules the most easterly known human realm. Hyperion sired Helios (the sun), Selene (the moon) and rosy-fingered Eos the Dawn.  


“ Oceanus was the Titan … of the great earth-encircling river Oceanus, the font of all the earth's fresh-water: including rivers, wells, springs and rain-clouds. Oceanus was also the god who regulated the rising and setting of the heavenly bodies which were believed to emerge and descend into his watery realm at the ends of the earth. .. Their children were the … River-Gods and Oceanides, nymphs of springs and fountains. Unlike his brother Titans, Oceanus neither participated in the castration of Uranus nor joined the battle against the younger Olympian gods. ….
Oceanus was depicted in ancient Greek vase painting as a bull-horned god with the tail of a serpentine fish in place of legs, similar to his river-god sons. … His wife Tethys, shown seated beside him, had wings on her brow, in the role of mother of rain-clouds.”

 This pair who lived outside of our known reality maintained their neutrality and offered shelter to the goddesses and Titanesses during the water between the Titans and Cronus children.  Cronus’ children were of course the Olympians led by Zeus. 


“The Titans were eventually deposed by Zeus and cast into the pit of Tartarus. Hesiod describes this as a void located beneath the foundations of all, where earth, sea and sky have their roots. Here the Titans shift in cosmological terms from being holders of heaven to bearers of the entire cosmos. According to Pindar and Aeschylus the Titans were eventually released from the pit through the clemency of Zeus.”   “Many human generations later, Zeus released Cronus and his brothers from this prison, and made the old Titan king of the Elysian Islands, home of the blessed dead.”

Sunday, August 23, 2015

TFBT: The Transformation of Hera

 A review of "The Transformation of Hera" by Joan V. O’Brien. The first time  I read this definitive book on Hera the scholarship and dense writing overwhelmed me.  Discovering that the work colored my thinking on Hera to this day, I thought it well worth another read.  And a great read it is.  O’Brien leads the reader along a trail of evidence showing the affects of PanHellenism on the character of the goddess Hera.  I offer here some interesting excerpts and minimal comments on my part.


“Herodotus called the temple (of Hera of Samos) the greatest of all he had seen.”


“The changes in the Samian cult around 600 BC…suggest that this goddess (Hera) underwent a redefinition from a goddess of general fertility to the “wife and sister” of Zeus.”


She let’s us know about Hera’s first husband.  “Bathing in the water near the confluence of the river Imbrasos signified the goddess’ union with a river god.” “Imbrasos may have been considered her early Samian spouse.”


 “The goddess Hera, who alone shares Helen’s epithet Argeia (in the Iliad.  It means); Argive or, of Argos.”  “Zeus possess remarkable epithets as suggesting a period in which Hera was the dominate deity of the Argolid (that is the land of Argos a narrow plain commanding the Peloponnesian peninsula in southwestern Greece).  As Zeus is spouse of fair-haired Hera, so Paris is spouse of the fair-haired Helen.  Each is posis of an Argeia 


“marriage was early viewed as a yoking by a horse-taming goddess.” “Early rites presumably understood marriage as the taming of young “horses” both male and female.”  I wondered if this point of view could offer us any insights into Nestor’s advice on chariot races or Admetus misyoked wedding chariot. 


Speaking of Samian Hera’s little-known male babysitters, O’Brien states “An intriguing question remains.  Did the Samians import these “daemons” in the first place because Hera was already perceived as an aloof mother?  She must have been a birth goddess given her associations with Eileithyia and her action as a birth goddess in the Iliad.  She must have been a “kourotrophos”, given her nursing of monsters and her boast of nursing Thetis.  But the Iliadic stories of her relationships with her two sons Hephaistos and Ares and her stepson Heracles would have done little to inspire confidence in her maternal instincts.  The crippled Hephaestus finds a mother’s concern not in Iliadic Hera, but in Thetis.  The belligerent Ares serves his mother all too well.  The popularity of Heracles in the eighth century must have led to a popular view of Hera not as a champion of the young but as their tormenter. “ 


“The lust for raw-eating or omophagia is the epic’s primary image of moral degeneration, just as a meal roasted and shared with others it the primary metaphor for the best of human behavior.” “Hera-like colos and menos (lust for vengeance and rage) on the one hand and Zeus-inspired menis (wrath) on the other.  The sacral menis of Achilles identified with the will of Zeus is suspended in Book 19… (until) Achilles subsequent renunciation of omophagia, signaled at an authentically human meal with his archenemy Priam. “


“the river god (Xanthus) seeks to bury the hero (Achilles) under mud to prevent proper burial.  For the first time in the epic, Achilles is afraid.”   I found the last sentence an interesting observation.


“By depicting Hera and her menos-filled son (Ares) as those who answer Achilles call to Zeus (for aid against the rising river) Homer is characterizing Hera with a savagery not to be associated with Zeus.  There are several reasons why Hera and not Zeus helps the hero here;

  • First, Achilles’ mutilation of corpses is inconsistent with the restraint to which Zeus’ example later draws him.  Suggesting that Zeus does not support Achilles in his demonic rages …
  • Second, although the hero boasts of his lineage from Zeus, his acts suggest the omophaigia of Hera and the menos of her divine sons, Ares and Hephaestus.  (O’Brien suggests throughout the work that the savagery of Hera is something Achilles inherited through the milk of Thetis, who in turn got of dose of savagery when she was nursed by Hera.)
  • And third, Homer had prepared for her intervention by her earlier plea that Athena and Poseidon stand by Achilles in his terror, when a god, that is Xanthus, pits his strength against him  in the fighting: 

At this moment Hera is clearly the deity for Achilles


“Otherwise Achilles should beware, lest our just anger strike him.”  This is the sole instance in the epic in which nemesis is used of the attitude of the gods toward one who has broken the moral code.”


“Typhon is known to both Homer and Hesiod as a traditional character, as the use of the word pasi “people say” indicates.”   


“Hera is the only Iliadic figure to swear by the Styx.” 


“She (Hera) is also the only one to invoke the Titans or even mentions (them by name.)”  


“The only two characters whom Iliadic Zeus smites or threatens to smite are Typhon and his own wife.”  


“Tradition gave Hera two parthenogenetic sons, each of whom was a fire-god, Typhon and Hephaestus.  Homer replaced monstrous Typhon with the civilized Hephaestus.”


Hence (Hera) soaring down to the Argolid is an adroit deceiver who’s agenda delays Heracles’’ birth in favor of her own heir’s.  The episode virtually identifies her not with the timid dove Eileithyia, but with deceitful Ate1.  The similarity in their titles; one the eldest daughter of Kronos and the other the eldest daughter of Zeus, and the emphasis on their dangerously disruptive feminine agility are hardly coincidental.  With help from infamous Ate, Hera establishes cultic hegemony over the Argolid thereby rationalizing to a Panhellenic audience why Zeus was not always considered supreme in Argolic myth. “


“The Seduction of Zeus depicts an atypical female, a wife who tames her spouse. 

  • The first part of the episode finds Hera completing her elaborate toilet by borrowing the magic charm with which Aphrodite tames all immortals and mortals alike.
  • The mid-point of the episode foreshadows the climax with reference to Night, the tamer of gods and mortal males.  On Mt. Ida, Zeus acknowledges that Eros has never before so tamed him.
  • And after the enthralled spouse is tamed by sleep and sex, Night’s son Sleep leaves his perch to spread the good news to Poseidon on the battlefield below. 

The humorously intertwined pre-Olympian motifs recalls a potnian religion in which the female tames all.”  “Hera, Night and Sleep come from the old divine order in which nature gods tamed all else”


Just a beautiful phrase I wanted to share, “the Argolic motifs are so magnificently woven into the very fabric of the epic that the stitching is discernible only by careful scrutiny of the language and themes.





1. Ate, according to Homer was a daughterof Zeus, was an ancient Greek divinity, who led both gods and men to rash and inconsiderate actions and to suffering  (Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology)  I myself find her easier to envision her as a daemon tempting men (and male gods) to folly


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

TFBT: Eumaneus and Philoetius Help Execute the Suitors

Well this is embarrassing!  Hour 25 participants enjoy a weekly quiz on topics discussed that week in the forums.  One of the questions on the latest quiz ( ) was “In order to prove to his servants Eumaeus and Melanthius that he was Odysseus, he shows the servants the scar on his inner thigh. "Come, I'll show you something—living proof— know me for certain, put your minds at rest. This scar, look," Where'd he get the scar?”   

Maya M, a regular visitor to Hour 25 and contributor to this blog, commented “A correction to your latest quiz - I think it must be Philoetius instead of Melanthius.”    Although it didn’t affect anyone’s score Maya is right! 

Book 2; 207  “ And I (Odysseus) know that by you two alone of all my thralls is my coming desired, but of the rest have I heard not one praying that I might come back again to my home. But to you two will I tell the truth, even as it shall be. If a god shall subdue the lordly wooers unto me, I will bring you each a wife, and will give you possessions nd a house built near my own, and thereafter you two shall be in my eyes friends and brothers of Telemachus. Nay, come, more than this, I will shew you also a manifest sign, that you may know me well and be assured in heart, even the scar of the wound which long ago a boar dealt me with his white tusk, when I went to Parnassus with the sons of Autolycus.” So saying, he drew aside the rags from the great scar. And when the two had seen it, and had marked each thing well, they flung their arms about wise Odysseus, and wept; and they kissed his head and shoulders in loving welcome. And even in like manner Odysseus kissed their heads and hands. And now the light of the sun would have gone down upon their weeping, had not Odysseus himself checked them, and said: “Cease now from weeping and wailing, lest some one come forth from the hall and see us, and make it known within as well. But go within one after another, not all together, I first and you thereafter, and let this be made a sign. All the rest, as many as are lordly wooers, will not suffer the bow and the quiver to be given to me; but do thou, goodly Eumaeus, as thou bearest the bow through the halls, place it in my hands, and bid the women bar the close-fitting doors of their hall. And if any one of them hears groanings or the din of men within our walls, let them not rush out, but remain where they are in silence at their work. But to thee, goodly Philoetius, do I give charge to fasten with a bar the gate of the court, and swiftly to cast a cord upon it.”


Sorry everyone!  And thanks Maya!



Sunday, August 2, 2015

TFBT: Third Random Notes on Argonautica Book 3

The Hour 25 Book Club will host a discussion on Apollonius Rhodius Argonautica Book 3, via Google+ Hangout on Tuesday, August 11 at 11 a.m. You can find R.C. Seaton’s translation of the text online for free here, or you can read any other edition you prefer.  Here is my first random notes in preparation for August 11;   

Witness the   “mighty oath of the Colchians” in action!  "But swear by Earth and Heaven that thou wilt keep secret in thy heart what I shall tell thee, and be fellow-worker with me. I implore thee by the blessed gods, by thyself and by thy parents, not to see them destroyed by an evil doom piteously; or else may I die with my dear sons and come back hereafter from Hades an avenging Fury to haunt thee.” (III. 705-710) “Thus she spake, and straightway a torrent of tears gushed forth and low down she clasped her sister's knees with both hands and let her head sink on to her breast”.  Boy, those Colchian girls really know how to supplicate! 

Apparently, Medea is youngest of Aeetes’ three children by far.  Who knew?  At 732 Medea says to her sister referring to her nephews;  "for thou didst lift “me to thy breast when an infant equally with them 

Medea at 774 “Would that I had been slain by the swift shafts of Artemis before I had set eyes on him,” Didn't Penelope say something similar?  

Jason supplicates Medea before her temple using other names for Earth and Sky, “I implore thee by Hecate herself, by thy parents, and by Zeus who holds his guardian hand over strangers and suppliants; I come here to thee bot”. “who holds his guardian hand over strangers and suppliants; I come here to thee both a suppliant and a stranger, bending the knee in my sore need  At (ll. 975-1007) & (ll. 1079-1101) Jason in hopes of getting Medea's assistance tells the story of how Medea's cousin Adriane helped out the hero Theseus in like circumstances.  Two things; he fails to mention that Theseus deserted the princess in thanks and secondly that the whole story takes place ten years in the future.  Also lies about Minos and Theseus becoming friends.  

Just a little reminder of why Jason is really in Colchis; (III. 1131-1136) “Thus he spake; and her soul melted within her to hear his words; nevertheless she shuddered to behold the deeds of destruction to come. Poor wretch! Not long was she destined to refuse a home in Hellas. For thus Hera devised it, that Aeaean Medea might come to Ioleus for a bane to Pelias, forsaking her native land.”  

What’s with the gods giving Aeetes odd gifts?  "But the teeth the Tritonian goddess tore away from the dragon's jaws and bestowed as a gift upon Aeetes and the slayer. And Agenor's son, Cadmus,”. Why?  Then  (lll. 1225-1245) “Then Aeetes arrayed his breast in the stiff corslet which Ares gave him when he (Ares) had slain (the Giant )Phlegraean Mimas with his own hands;” Why?