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, 



  1. "Central fire surrounded by the earth" accurately describes Earth's structure. Most likely volcanoes gave the idea.

  2. The rule of Zeus not dating moon-goddesses has an exception: Io.

  3. Maya,

    I wouldnt necessarily arguing yhe point, but was Io really a moon goddess?
    1. I know solar mythology is fond of this interpretation.
    2. Graves made every other demi-goddess a local moon-goddess
    3, i know people are fond of the theory that really famous heroes get divine honors and forgotten gods are remember as heroes,

    But, is there any proof of her divine worship? A cult? Temple?


  4. I've read this interpretation in a number of scholarly works, most of them predating Graves (which of course does not necessarily make them accurate). Io's horns and her wandering make her similar to the moon. I'd add that at one point, she is with hundred-eyed Argus, the starry sky. Atsma claims that the very name Io means "moon".
    You are right that, as far as we can judge, there was never any cult of Io. There are two versions about her fate: she either dies or is immortalized as the goddess Isis. If she is a goddess, she shares the job with Selene and maybe Artemis :-). If she dies, then we have a layer of Greek myth where heavenly bodies are associated with mortals rather than gods (as in Norse myth): Io as the moon, Argus as the stars and Phaeton as the sun.

  5. It is interesting to me that Homer often calls Hermes "Slayer of Argus" but, as far as I know, never mentions Io. Was she originally unconnected with Argus?
    If, however, they were originally collected, then maybe we have a cosmogonic myth. A hundred-eyed giant is guarding a horned maiden. The giant is slain, his eyes are turned into stars, his body becomes the earth, or at least the local part of the earth named after him. The maiden is sent to endless wandering as the moon.
    Only the sun is missing from the picture.

  6. Maya,

    Did you watch the iliad performance recently? They used a translation that translated argophontes as Giant-Slayer. Much better choice for a lay audience. I really cant think of a sun for your theogony.


  7. To me, it is funny how this Giant-Slayer runs away from Leto (even if it is really from Apollo) and cannot suggest a better way of taking a corpse from Achilles than secretly stealing it. Poor Hermes seems to degenerate as mythology develops.

    My idea for the sun in ancient Argos: Hera. The supreme sky god (maybe not yet Zeus) consorts with her at daytime and with Io at nighttime (or longs for a distant Io).
    Hera is never considered a sun-goddess but look at these images of hers and the remark about her "archaic feathered headdress" - like rays. And she is depicted on coins with a wheel.

    The Argive hero Phoroneus introduces both the cult of Hera and the use of fire. And when Argives led by him prefer Hera to Poseidon, the result is drought.
    I've read that in Indo-European myth, the moon and the sun are always siblings of opposite sexes; however, Argive myths may predate the Indo-European invasion.
    BTW, it seems that Gayley was right after all and in the original version of the myth, Io remained horned and wandering forever and there was never any Epaphus "born by touch".

  8. Maya,

    We are approaching dangerous county here. Someone might accuse us of practicing Solar Mythology. If that's the case; the monster Argus-Panoptes as the stars, Io the moon, Hera the earth. That only leaves the river-god Inachus as the sun. (Interestingly her first husband before Zeus was the river-god Imbrasus on Samos.) If we accept that notion we have to accept other heroine/moon goddesses like Phasiphae, whose monstrous son the Minotaur was actually named Asterion (which refers to stars), her mother in law Europa is the acknowledged earth goddess there, leaving Minos as the sun. I will have to look in Graves for other moon-goddesses turned heroine and their hidden local theogony.


    This is really fun, but once again, do we really have any evidence of cult for these characters as gods and goddesses?

  9. Primordial deities and heroes rarely have cults. Have you heard of any cult of Ymir or Purusha? Gaea, Helios and Selene had little cult, and others such as Uranus, Oceanus and Tethys, as far as I know, had none at all. Ancient Greeks seem to have made the same mistake as we do now - to take the natural world for granted and to believe that it will remain forever comfortably inhabitable to us, no matter how many we become and how little we care about it.

    There was surely interesting mythology in Crete, but there is little hope to learn much of it, with the language and Linear A still keeping their secrets. So we are forced to rely on the propaganda of the victors. And why is there no escape of bovines in these local archaic myths :-) ?

    I am of course not too serious in speculating about Hera as a possible solar goddess. Even within my speculation, she can equally well be an earth goddess with her connection to Argus. I would specifically call her the Goddess of Gravity. Other earth goddesses, such as Demeter, bring fertility and death. Hera does little of either, but she binds males, including Zeus, by marriage, and Homer makes her the ringleader of the attempt to bind and depose Zeus.

  10. Maya M,

    Hmm I don't believe in coincides. And above you named three gods with little cult but who are regularly called upon to witness oaths; Gaia, Helios and Uranus. Hmm


  11. Interesting! Little-honored nature deities are invoked as oath witnesses, both by mortals and by immortals. Hesiod says that Zeus honored Styx very much because she came first to be his ally, and therefore he made the blessed gods swear by her. What are the facts? The gods do swear by Styx, because her neurotoxic waters serve better than any polygraph, but she is never invited to Olympus. Instead, she lingers by her dark river in the gloomy realm of Hades.