Wednesday, January 6, 2016

TFBT; Thebes versus Olympus

Maya and I were discussing the conflict between Cadmus and Ares.  The dragon that Cadmus slew in founding Thebes was Ares' daughter.  But, Ares' wrath seems to run much deeper than revenging his monstrous daughter death.  The Olympian's anger seem particularly out of place considering that Cadmus is his son-in-law.  Details on their mutual descendants can be found at the link below.  My argument as to why the Olympians hated the royal family  of Thebes is an argument by analogy.  So please be patience.

My theory starts with Norse mythology.  When we discuss Odin, Thor and company we refer to them as the Aesir.  They were the Olympians of Norse mythology.  I think we've discussed that they were NOT really nice people.  Early in their history they tortured and killed a guest at a dinner party.  Just for fun.  She was divine. They killed her three times before she got the hint and went home to her people; the Vanir.  

The Vanir are another group of gods. Generally, they are called fertility gods, but that is simply because the family of Vanir we know are fertility gods.  Anyway the Vanir were pissed!  Apparently there were battle gods among them because the Vanir stormed Asgard and brought Odin, Thor and company to the knees.  The peace treaty involved an exchange of hostages and an alliance against the giants.  

The Thebaid suggests there is internal conflict in Olympus between the gods of eastern origin like Aphrodite and the more traditional Grecian deities like Hera.   The English translation refers to them as the Tyrian gods.  (The conflict here could be manifested too by the Theban theogony versus the Panhellenic theogonies that came more and more. To the forefront. For example  The Theban poet Pindar makes Europe the daughter of the Giant Tityus.  Homer at Iliad 7.324 makes Europa's son Rhadamanthys as a visitor to Tityus) Cadmus and his descendants had a stong streak of the divine in them. These Theban deities represent a clan of gods seperate from the OlyMpians and as distinct from them as the Vanir were to the Aesir.  So Cadmus and Zeus exchanged "hostages". Zeus wed Cadmus' sister.  This was not a one night stand, they had three sons.  Cadmus wed Zeus' grand-daughter.  According to prophecy The Olympians need the Thebans specifically  Heraucles and Dionysus to defeat the Giants.  Meanwhile the Thebans are a threat, so the Olympians curse the robe and necklace, orchestrate two wars, blast Semele, and arrange the deaths of Pentheus and Acteon.  But rather than just dying, Cadmus' nephews become demigods in the afterworld, Ino and her son become marine deities, Acteon's son becomes a agricultural deity, Dionysus storms Mt Olympus kicks in the blue doors of Heaven, boots Hestia to the hearth and enthrones himself with the rest of the twelve.  He brings with him Semele and his wife Adrianne great-grand niece of Cadmus.  The whole conflict between the clans is finally resolved by leaving Dionysus on his throne and with Hera adopting Heracles and wedding him to Hebe


  1. I didn't know about Gullveig. Wow! The Aesir trying to kill a female guest for no apparent reason, and to no avail - reminds me of Lem's Solaris.

    Your text fits excellently some moments of Greek myth but I see contradhiction with others:
    It is difficult for me to see Europa as an exchanged hostage - who exchanged her? Her family had no idea where she was. Her father launched a global search mission.
    I think it was Acteon's father Aristaeus, of Olympian origin, who became god of bee keepers.
    I see no reason to think that Dionysus displaced Hestia. There was never any uniform idea who the twelve gods were and how they came to be chronologically. Hesiod puts Dionysus after Hephaestus, but in the myth of the Return of Hephaestus, Dionysus joins the Olympians before Hephaestus or simultaneously with him. Whom did Hephaestus displace? If Zeus' catalog of loves in the Iliad XIV is chronological, then Semele comes before Leto and Hera. Not to mention that Hestia is a late and quite unreal addition to the pantheon - Homer doesn't know her, and the only story we ever hear about her is that she does not want sex.

    How do you think, if Dionysus could do whatever he wanted on Olympus, why didn't he displace Zeus? Was Semele/Thyone another "kind, gentle" lady disarming her son?

    1. Maya,

      The whole "let's swap brides" concept comes about because in one myth Cadmus helped defeat Typhon. Sorry should have mentioned that before. It's that whole local myth versus PanHellenic thing again. Yes, I agree if you look at my mosaic too close the whole thing fails, but the Thebes versus Olympus premise might help explain other aspects of the mythic cycle that was Thebes.

      Tityus as the ancestor of Europa? That means of Cadmus too. That's a different story!

    2. I don't think there was much of a PanHellenic theogony. Now, we consider Hesiod's theogony as PanHellenic because only it survived in entirety. But from fragments we have here and there, it seems that in the Archaic and Classical Age, every polis had its own package of creation myths.
      Let's try to reconstruct the Theban one: Greece was the arena of the Typhonomachy. Across the sea in Phokia, the wicked giant Tityus had a son who looked promising as an ally against Typhon. To lure the young man in the unsafe land, Zeus kidnapped his sister. Cadmus, once there, helped to defeat Typhon.

      Olympians decided to use him and his sister as human founders (there had never been humans in Greece, and even if they had been, they were destroyed in the Typhonomachy; the land was scorched.) Zeus conceived some important heroes from her. Meanwhile, Cadmus had to found a human population all by himself. The Olympians gave him a wife, then companions from the dragon's teeth. There were no human females around other than Europa, so the Spartoi must have married nymphs.
      As in the Prometheus - Pandora story, we have the origin of human condition tied to an outsider quasi-divine being with illegal aspiration (in this case, Tityus). We also see in both mythic packages the Olympians afraid of might of the nascent human population. In both cases, humans are disabled by ill-intentioned divine gifts delivered through a female at a wedding: Harmonia's robe and necklace analogs of Pandora's box. The same god (Hephaestus) manufactures either the weapon or the weapon deliverer.

  2. Just an idea: when a god born outside Olympus is admitted to Olympus and at the same time perceived as a threat, a woman is needed to tame him. She can be either wife or mother. Apollo never marries, he is disarmed by his mother. Heracles is given Hebe. For Dionysus, double guarantee is needed. Hermes is an exception, maybe he has never been dangerous nor seen as such.

    1. What about Helios? He landed on earth during the Gigantomachy to rescue Hephaestus, just image landing on Mt. Olympus. And his threat to shine in the underworld sure got Zeus's attention. His sisters were conveniently cursed with a hankering for mortal men. But we never hear too much about his various immortal wives or any immortal sons.


    2. Helios is indeed not a person to mess with. If he had landed on Mt. Olympus, this would have been the end of the Olympians, immortal or not! This said, I remember that, after he became founder of some human populations, both Greek and (mostly) Barbarian, he married a daughter of Poseidon. Another daughter of Poseidon was married off to Briareus. It has apparently been Poseidon's policy to make unions with powerful nature gods by intermarriage (his own marriage included), though nothing seems to have come out of it in the end.

      (My heroes, learning that the last of the Hundred-Handers has been neutralized by marriage, are delighted that the monster pillars of Zeus' rule have been reduced in half and now only the Cyclopes remain; so, if good brides are found for them as well, problem solved! However, the Cyclopes are tough nuts, and absolutely unmarriageable.)