Wednesday, November 11, 2015

TFBT: Looking at his Lineage Rather than the Man, Part I

“Now, that is just the point, Miss Sorenson…Betty.  This is the point of view of John Thomas and his fore-bears.  But there are always at least two points of view.  From the viewpoint of Lummox she…he…was not a pet.  Quite the contrary.  John Thomas was his pet.  Lummox was engaged in raising John Thomases.”   
                     The Star Beast by Robert Heinlein and David Baker

Any day I can start a blog post with a quote from my childhood hero Robert Heinlein, is a good day.  I use it to set a tone for this piece.  The “dragon” Lummox had raised four generations of the John Thomas family while it was still a teenager.  Likewise, several times in the Iliad characters point out that in comparison to the immortals, men are just like leaves on a tree that are there for a season and then wilt and die.  (Iliad 6.144 and 21.461)  How difficult it must be for a god to keep an eye on just one leaf in the flurry of the falling leaves in the autumn.  I wonder if the gods, like Lummox, rather than thinking about an individual “short-lived” hero thought instead of a lineage of “John Thomases” or pious Aeacides? 

The favor of a single god or goddess might be fickle, but the favor “of the gods” seems to be eternal.  I still am unsure where all this is going, but all the examples I have to offer seem to involve heroic lineages who “pious”, “piety”, “favor” and beloved of the gods. 


This brings us to Peleus.  We have odd descriptions of this son of Aeacus and father of Achilles.  Peleus, who was heartily dear to the immortals.”(Iliad 24.59), “blameless”, (Iliad 20.207) “the most chaste of men”[i] and said to be the most pious man living on the plain of Iolcus.[ii]  And yet this pious man (dear to the immortals) murdered his half-brother Phocus , [iii] undesignedly” slew his father-in-law Eurytion,[iv]  diced up Queen Astydamia and lead “his army through her (body parts) into the city”[v] and as a finale raped the goddess Thetis.  (Okay, more accurately he assaulted, abducted and forced the sea nymph to marry him.  Standard fairy-tale motif of the fairy-bride.)   None of the immediate above seems pious in any sense of the word and yet the gods attended his wedding!

You know who was pious?  Aeacus his father.

"Now Aiakos was the most pious of men. Therefore, when Greece suffered from infertility on account of Pelops, (who)  slew King (Stymphalos) under a pretense of friendship, and scattered his mangled limb (just like Peleus a generation later), oracles of the gods declared that Greece would be rid of its present calamities if Aiakos would offer prayers on its behalf. So Aiakos did offer prayers, and Greece was delivered from the dearth." 
                               Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 12. 6

So apparently, because all the Aeacides are interchangeable from the gods’ perspective and because (in my experience) a good reputation is hard to get and harder to lose.  We hear of “ Peleus, who was heartily dear to the immortals and that Achilles too was “very dear to the gods." (Odyssey 24.32 )

Helen North in “Pindar, Isthmian 8 24-38[vi] says that “ in his odes Pindar frequently praises the Aeacidae (that’s Aeacus and his descendants)  and the island of Aegina (where they ruled) for being “just, friendly to strangers and pious or dear to the gods.”  She is talking about Aeacus, Peleus the Argonaut husband of the goddess Thetis and the heroes Achilles and Ajax of the Iliad.

Possibly a more famous proof of the interchangeability of mortals in the eyes of the divine is provided by Pindar Olympian 8.41 

 “Apollo said right away: “Troy is taken, hero (Aeacus) , through the works of your hand, so says a vision sent to me from the son of Cronus, loud-thundering Zeus not without your sons: the city will be destroyed with the first generation (Telamon), and with the third. (Neoptolemus)”

 So, this is the first in a series of examples.  What do you think?  Is it possible that sometimes when the gods find a man “pious” or” dear” they aren’t thinking so much about one specific short-lived hero, but rather his lineage? 

[i] (Plato, Republic 391c)  
[ii] (Pindar Isthiaman 8:44) 
[iii] (Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 38)
[iv] Apollodorus, Library 3.13.2)  
[v] Apollodorus, Library 3.13.7)
[vi] Pindar, Isthmian, 8, 24-28  Helen North The American Journal of Philology Vol. 69, No. 3 (1948), pp. 304-308
Published by: Johns Hopkins University Press  DOI: 10.2307/291361  Stable URL: ttp://


  1. A problem with the lineage is you must decide which to follow, maternal or paternal. Otherwise, tracing all lineages soon becomes hopeless mess.
    It seems that for ancient Greeks all inheritance was patrilineal, as explained by Apollo in the Eumenides.
    On the other hand, sons of divine mothers - Achilles, Aeneas - are special, and it is specifically pointed out that they are special because of their mothers.
    So the Greeks imagined that the germ plasm of goddesses carries heredity while that of mortal women doesn't. Or, alternatively, that goddesses have very special wombs.

    1. Maya,

      This reputation/lineage proposal is a work in progress. I am finding limited examples where the gods confuse a person with his lineage. So, looking maternally might improve my examples. As to divine DNA, you and I tried to track it before with no success.

  2. It seems that bad reputation is also hard to get and harder to lose (the family curses). Pelops does something, then all his descendants are cursed till Orestes. For Orestes, the curse is allegedly lifted. Nevertheless, his son is killed by the Heracleidae, and the lineage comes to a dead end. Maybe the alleged lifting of the family curse was of the same nature as the lifting of Apollo's curse to Cassandra - a final grace before death.
    Or the curse of Laius: his descendants are doomed, no matter what they do. Sophocle's Antigone keeps falling over herself to appease the gods, yet they leave her to rot. Sophocles at least tries to rescue Ismene, but in other versions she also dies.
    The marriage of Peleus to Thetis apparently brings curse to his house. His son dies young at the hands of Apollo, winning kleos by killing Hector, Memnon and Pentesileia. The next in the line, Neoptolemus, dies young at the hands of Apollo without winning kleos (he was allegedly needed to conquer Troy, but his actual "feats" there - killing old Priam, Polyxena and little Astyanax - can hardly bring much kleos).
    Neoptolemus' son or sons, however, survive. I don't know why. In my story, this is because Zeus loses trace of them.

    1. Maya,

      Pelops is an interesting case and that next example I am working on. His father Tantalus was boseum buddies with Zeus and a regular at Olympian dinner parties. Pelops sister was bosdum buddies with the titaness Leto. The gods raised Pelops from the dead and at least one of his sons was a favourite of the gods.

      Laius and company are a good example of the flip side of the coin. Thank you. Wasnt he the first man to rape a boy?

      The curse brought on the wedding of Thetis and Peleus is called "misalliance". Same thing Anchesis worried about when he woke in the arms of a goddess. I have to think about the house of Atreus

      Aeacus was a daemon in Hades. Peleus a god in Nereus' hall. Achilles lived in the White Island and ruled the Black Sea. Neoptolemus a daemon at Delphi who helped defeat the invading Persians. We all should be so cursed!

  3. OT: I've just read at Hour 25 that you dislike Socrates. Why? (I think, this subject is worthy of a separate post.)

  4. Maya,

    Okay, here is the quick summary of the moral of Socrates life, Someone asked Apollo who the smartest man in the world was. The Pythia answered Socrates. So Socrates went around challenging everyone to a battle of witts to see who was smartest. Being smarter he ridiculed and belittled everyone. So they took a vote and killed him. Hubris is the ultimate sin after all