Tuesday, March 29, 2016

TFBT: Random Notes on Aesop and the Gods

Our next Book Club selection at Hour 25 will be Aesop’s Fables on Tuesday, April 26, at 11 a.m. EDT.  For my initial reading I read the version at Project Gutenberg,  translation by V. S. Vernon Jones.  As I noted elsewhere, “upon the sandy beach of Playa de los Muertos I skipped through delightful anecdotes often of interest to the classicist in me.”  So this will be a re-reading.  Often when I re-read a book I try to shift my perspective by focusing on something besides the main character or story line.  This time I chose the gods.  G. K. Chesterton in his introduction points out that “…for a fable, all the persons must be impersonal. They must be like abstractions in algebra, or like pieces in chess…”  That said I can’t expect to hear much about the gods as we normally hear about them.  But a close reading might tell us what Aesop thought about the gods.   

In “The Man who Lost his Spade” Aesop’s character, “had no great opinion of the simple country deities” and deemed the gods of the town (Panhellenic?) no shrewder.  On the other hand “The Rogue and the Oracle” makes the gods appear all knowing and shrewd. So I don’t know what Aesop thought of the gods! 

In “The Frogs’ complaint against the Sun”, the Aesop worries about the seemingly endless proliferation of deities, particularly those in the shining lineage of Hyperion.  Admittedly the Theban and Trojan Wars were designed to relieve the earth from the burden of the tribes of men, particularly demi-gods.  And Zeus did pull the veil between gods and men after the war to stop the fraternization of Olympic gods with earthly women and the creation of more demi-gods.  Still that gives us no indication that the divine population would not continue to grow.   That said I think the frogs are safe for three reasons. 
1.    The tradition of female virginity about the Olympians.
2.    The dwindling of powerful divinity among the divine blood lines.  Hades and Persephone are generally consider childless.  Poseidon and Amphitrite produced only minor deities and their greatest child couldn’t even walk.  Zeus and Hera, the power couple of the universe produced only three or four children of no great consequence;
a.     Hebe wed Heracles and they produced two minor daemons.
b.    Ares bedded the mighty Aphrodite and produced only minor daemons and mortal girls.
c.     Hephaestus wed Aphrodite, they produced no children.  
d.    And Eileithyia is another virgin. 
3.    The Hyperion goddesses Selene and Eos were cursed with an obsession with mortal men and their brother for all his bedding of Oceanids sired no sons of significance either. 

In “Mercury and the Woodman” Hermes reprises his role as the luck-bringer (Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes).  In “Mercury and the Tradesmen” Hermes plays a promethean trickster god very much in character that we know. (Hesiod Works & Days 67-68)  Ironically the story damns tradesmen whose god Hermes is.  As Suda says "They say Hermes was responsible for profit and an overseer of the businesses”   .  In “Prometheus and the Making of Man” we see a bit of the trickster in Prometheus and a damnation of much of humanity.  In other books, like  Protagoras” 320c - 322a by Plato, we see Epimetheus messing up the creation of man by giving too abundantly the gifts of claw and fang to the animals and leaving nothing for man.  

Mercury and the Man Bitten by an Ant” suggests that as men are to a hill of ants, so gods are to men.  Here Hermes betrays a sensitivity not at all in keeping with his character or the nature of the gods.

The story of “The Bee and Jupiter” is the story of the Rash Oath.  Zeus “promised to give her anything she liked to ask for”, same mistake that Helios made with his son Phaethon. (Ovid, Metamorphoses 1. 750) and Herod with Herodias (Mark 6:23) In “Jupiter and the Tortoise” it is the tortoise that makes the rash oath.

 In “Jupiter and the Monkey” we see a scenario not comparable to anything in Greek literature; a character who values love over unwilting glory.   

The Snake and Jupiter” offers a scenario very untypical of snakes and very untypical of Zeus’ relationship with snakes.  In “The Peacock and Juno” Hera,  the representative-in-residence of the more conservative faction among the Olympians, responds with a quick retort to the whining peacock as Zeus did to the whining snake.  Ironically the peacock is usually portrayed as Hera’s favorite. (Fulgeneus Mythologi trans. by L.G.WhitBread Book 2.1-Juno) 

In both “The Farmer and Fortune”, “Hercules and the Waggoner” and “The Traveler and Fortune” we see men blaming the gods for their own condition.   
"Ah how shameless--the way these mortals blame the gods.From us alone, they say, come all their miseries, yes, but they themselves, with their own reckless ways,
compound their pains beyond their proper share."

In “Hercules and Minerva” we see Heracles exercising brawn instead of brains on the apple of discord and in “Hercules and Plutus” we see the typical heroic distaste for Wealth, saying that Plutus was always to be “found in the company of scoundrels."  And both stories remind me of the parable about Heracles’ path in life, “path of virtue or the path of vice” and the goddesses of each vying for his attention (Prodicus by way of Xenophon.)

In “Venus and the Cat” Aphrodite in disgust turns the girl back into a cat.  In Greek mythology such things can be rarely undone.

In summary, as we should have expected from Chesterton, we did not see Aesop’s version of the gods, but impersonal abstractions.  What we did see is motif’s common to Greek myths and some uncommon motifs I shall explore further.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

TFBT: Demeter and Easter

During Lent we hear much about “salvation”. I got to Petersburg Lutheran Church early this morning.  I sat  in the pew awaiting the great announcement that  "The Lord is Risen.  Surrounding me were decorations and flowers with the sunlight streaming in through the stained glass windows.  I wondered about the salvation of the ancients.  All of us know of mortals who thank to their blood-lines, beautiful, divine patroness or heroic deeds attained Olympus. Pausanias tells us that;
"Men of the mythical age of heroes, because of their righteousness and piety, were guests of the gods, eating at the same board; the good were openly honored by the gods, and sinners were openly visited with their wrath. Nay, in those days men were changed to gods, who down to the present day have honors paid to them--Aristaeus, Britomartis of Crete, Heracles the son of Alcmena, Amphiaraus the son of Oicles, and besides these Polydeuces and Castor." Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 2. 3 (trans. Jones)
But, what of us lesser souls, what hope had we of a happy afterlife. One thought is the Eleusian Mysteries founded by Demeter were meant; "to elevate man above the human sphere into the divine and to assure his redemption by making him a god and so conferring immortality upon him." (Nilsson, Martin P. Greek Popular Religion pages 44)  Of course Pausanias (1.38.7) can say nothing on this sacred subject. “My dream forbade the description of the things within the wall of the sanctuary, and the uninitiated are of course not permitted to learn that which they are prevented from seeing.”  According to the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, the goddess found the Eleusian Mysteries while grieving for her lost daughter.
“she showed the conduct of her rites and taught them all her mysteries, to Triptolemus and Polyxeinus and Diocles also, -- awful mysteries which no one may in any way transgress or pry into or utter, for deep awe of the gods checks the voice. Happy is he among men upon earth who has seen these mysteries; but he who is uninitiated and who has no part in them, never has lot of like good things once he is dead, down in the darkness and gloom.”
The hint here is that via the Mysteries normal people can become residences of the Island of the Blest upon their departure from this world.  My question is why did Demeter found the Mysteries?

Saturday, March 26, 2016

TFBT They Were All Gods

My friend Maya said something the other day that I did not exactly relate to, but could not articulate what I was thinking.  She said regarding characters in Greek mythology, “I am more interested in the weak individuals who keep their minds independent and struggle to be free.”  My initial thought is that I can relate, specifically thinking about Achilles and Demeter who sat quietly in their tents sulking,  until they got their way.  But, that's not quit right is it? Their response is meek, its affect it catastrophic; Most of the Achaeans would have died in Achilles case (Iliad 1. 386) and the tribes of men starved to death in Demeter's. (Homeric Hymn 2 to Demeter) These were powerful characters.  But aren't they all?


Maya's Law states that "Zeus Doesn't Like Real Women!"  More accurately stated "Olympian males prefer Ionian and barbarian women." Maya's  points to the fact that by the end of the Heroic Age pretty much ever mortal had a little ichor flowing through their veins.  I am suggesting that at the right place and time most everyone in Greek mythology is a god-like daemon.  




At Mecone, god and man  alike were granted their powers, prerogatives and privileges.  And no god may thwart another's rights 

  • So if you are the mighty Aphrodite you don't want to show off your divine power on the field of battle ( Iliad 5.334)
  • But, Ino the women-turned-goddess of drowning sailors could rescue the doomed and drowning Odysseus (Odyssey 3.337) with no apparent concern for the wrath of Poseidon. (Odyssey 1.20) as did the unnamed river god of P.... (3.450) and the P....  (8.565. ). 
  • The sea nymph Thetis was apparently the goddess of divine rescue (Homer, Iliad 18.369, 6.135, 1.393 ). So she could rescue Zeus from the rebel Olympians and they could not lift a hand (nor apparently their voices) to stop her.



I am thinking of Macaria,[i] Menippe & Metioche[ii] and Chthonia[iii] princesses who sacrificed their lives to forestall the doom of their people.  For all the appearance of weakness and powerlessness these women have the power to be the savioress or destructrix of their worlds.  If she exercises that power she probably receives heroic honors and presumably a place on the Isle of the Blest; 


"There fair-haired Rhadamanthus [565] reigns, and men lead an easier life than any where else in the world, for in Elysium there falls not rain, nor hail, nor snow, but Okeanos breathes ever with a West wind that sings softly from the sea, and gives fresh life to all men. "  (Homer, Odyssey 4.565)


The counter argument to this is of course Antigone (see play of the same name by Sophocles). This princess of Thebes "sacrificed" herself in a failed attempt to give her brother proper funeral and save her city from the pollution that was bound to occur with all those dead bodies outside the seven gates. But Antigone was not weak and powerless. She was a very strong personality with a powerful uncle as protector.  In fact she did not fail in her quest.  Five minutes after her death her arguments (and an angry mob) convinced Creon to bury the dead.  As Aphrodite's power lies in love not war, just as clearly Antigone's godlike daemonic powers laid in persuasion not sacrifice.  If she and Haemon had waited a few more minutes this would be clearer.  Or as the war-widows did in The Suppliants by Euripides, she could have gone to Athens and used her skills in persuasion to convince Aethra and Theseus to aid her.  




Slaves, like Eumaeus the swineherd and Philoetius the cowherd, are considered weak and powerless (in the face of injustice,) but the Suitors might disagree with that.  (Odyssey 22.200-204) 


Abducted Women


Andromache hears her husband knowingly paint a dreadful picture of the fate awaiting women taken when their city falls;


no, the pain I have on my mind is not as great for them as it is for you when I think of a moment when some Achaean man, one of those men who wear khitons of bronze, takes hold of you as you weep and leads you away as his prize, depriving you of your days of freedom from slavery. And you would be going to Argos, where you would be weaving at the loom of some other woman and no longer at your own loom at home and you would be carrying water for her, drawing from the spring called Messēís or the one called Hypereia. Again and again you will be forced to do things against your will, and the bondage holding you down will be harsh.  (Iliad 6.454-459)


And yet some of the women taken at Troy become the Queen of Sparta[iv], Queen Mother of Athens[v], Queen of Epirus and the islands of her coast[vi]  and even received heroic honors at Peragamon[vii]   and Leuctra in Laconia[viii]


Helpless Little Children


 Maybe Heracles wasn’t so helpless when he strangled to death the  serpents Hera unjustly put in his crib ( Apollodorus,   THE LIBRARY 2.4.8 , trans J. G. Frazer   http://www.theoi.com/Text/Apollodorus2.html) ) However the infant Opheltes was unable to fend off the serpent that killed him (Statius Thebaid 5.499,  trans J. H. Mozley  nor did the young sons of Medea fend off the sacrificial knife their mother used before flying away in a chariot pulled by serpents.( Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 146, trans. Aldrich)   Kind of makes Archemorus, and Mermerus & Eriopis look weak and helpless, and yet all three were given heroic honors and funeral games every four years. (Apollod. iii. 6. § 4.)   (Pausanias [2.3.7]


So whose else?  Who among the sad and downtrodden actually ended up proving to be a god-like daemon.





[i] (Pau 1.32.6)

[ii] (Lib Met 25)

[iii] (Hyginus Fabulae 45)

[iv] (Odyssey 4)

[v] (Paus. x. 25. § 3;)

[vi] (Paus. l. c., ii. 23. § 6.) 

[vii] (Paus. i. 11. § 2; comp. Dictys Cret. vi. 7, &c.; Eurip. Andromache.)

[viii] . (Paus. iii. 19. § 5, 26. § 3.) 




Friday, March 18, 2016

TFBT: Francois' Sacrifice of the Trojan Captives

I came across this image.  It is universal identified as “Sacrifice of the Trojan Captive, 200-100 B.C.  From Vulci, Francois Tomb.”  Tineye finds it on-line 25 times, but none of the resulting URLs belong to a museum.  

Wolfgang Helbig describes the image this way in 1896, [i]

“The Museo Etrusco, founded in 1836 by Pope Gregory XVI was originally intended as the depository for the numerous antiquities discovered since 1828…The side walls of this room (VIII) are hung with copies of painting which decorated the interior of a tomb-chamber at Vulci, discovered by Alexander Franciois in 1857. And were afterwards removed to the Museo Trolonia alla Lungara at Rome… (He describes our painting as; ) the grisly sacrifice offered by Achilles a the funeral pyre of his friend Patroclus…Achilles in the presence of Agamemnon thrusts his sword into the throat of a captive Trojan.  The shade of Patroclus is also represented in now way differentiated from the living, either in appearance or armor.  Beside Patroclus is a female daemon with out spread wings.  Vanth; perhaps (an Etruscan) goddess of death.  While on the other side of Achilles  the Etruscan Charon; Charus.

My question is whether we are looking at a photograph of the copy, Helbig saw at Museo Geroriano Etrusco or the original sent to the Torlonia family in Rome?  The website for the Gregorian Etruscan Museum http://mv.vatican.va/3_EN/pages/MGE/MGE_Main.html  makes no mention of this painting, nor does the image the room currently designated by VIII show them hanging on the wall. And;

“Alessandro Torlonia, heir to Giovanni, opened the collection to visitors in their family palace on Via della Lungara, close to the Tiber River, in 1893. In the 1960s, the museum was dismantled and the 77-room palace was converted into a 93-unit apartment building. The collection was put into storage and has not been publicly displayed. In May 2005 the family that owned the collection agreed to sell the collection to the city of Rome”[ii]    

So, what are we looking at and where is it?

[i] Guide to the Public Collections of Classical Antiquities in Rome: by Wolfgang Helbig, provided by Google Books
[ii] Wikipedia

TFBT: Did Baby Heracles Over-react?

I follow Sententiae Antiquae  on Twitter.  If you don’t, you should.  They are great.  Recently they ran a piece about Cassandra’s prophetic powers.  They quoted text from the Introduction to the Scholia to Lykophron’s Alexandra.

“A summary is as follows. Priam, the son of Leukippê and Laomedon, fathered twin children with Hekabê, the daughter of Dumas or Kisseus, Kasandra [and Alexandra] and Helenos, whom they took to the shrine of Helian Apollo in Thumbraion where they made the sacrifices for the occasion of their birth. After they drank together and celebrated all day in the temple, by nightfall they returned to the city and the palace, secretly leaving their children behind them in the temple, something they did (as far as I can see) according to custom to discover this: so they might know from the events what kind of people their children would be. [In the same way, at any rate, had those people around Priam done this concerning what was fated]. When they approached the temple on the next day, they discovered two snakes watching over their children and [purifying their senses?]. but they were not harming them at all.”

In case you are wondering Robert Graves writes as though a “sacred oracular serpent” is a perfectly normal thing. [i]  “…serpents, which were held to be incarnate spirits of oracular heroes.”[ii]

The story of Cassandra, her twin brother and snakes, got me to think about another set of twins and snakes. 

Alcmena bore two sons, to wit, Hercules, whom she had by Zeus and who was the elder by one night, and Iphicles, whom she had by Amphitryon. When the child was eight months old, Hera desired the destruction of the babe and sent two huge serpents to the bed. Alcmena called Amphitryon to her help, but Hercules arose and killed the serpents by strangling them with both his hands.[iii]

Here’s my question.  Did baby Heracles over react?  Don’t get me wrong snakes?  I would have reacted like Iphicles, cried and tried to crawl away![iv]  But if Heracles had waited, would he and his “twin” brother woken as seers?

[i] The Greek Myths, Chapter 21, footnote 3, Robert Graves, http://www.24grammata.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Robert-Graves-The-Greek-Myths-24grammata.com_.pdf
[ii] The Greek Myths, Melampus, footnote 1
, Robert Graves, http://www.24grammata.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Robert-Graves-The-Greek-Myths-24grammata.com_.pdf
[iii]    Apollodorus,   THE LIBRARY 2.4.8 , TRANS. BY J. G. FRAZER   http://www.theoi.com/Text/Apollodorus2.html
[iv] THEOCRITUS THE IDYLLS, XXIV. THE LITTLE HERACLES TRANSLATED BY J. M. EDMONDS  http://www.theoi.com/Text/TheocritusIdylls4.html

Thursday, March 10, 2016

TFBT: Homer and the Pretzel

 A fellow club member at Hour 25 just received an internship to work on his Master’s thesis.  The thesis is that there is a correlation between the way the Ancient Greeks built new cities and the way Homer composed the Iliad.  Cool, huh?   

Oh, Homer didn’t write the Iliad, he recited or sang it accompanied by a lyre.  He had to keep a certain beat; dactylic hexameter.  In a possible autobiographical sketch in a lesser work he might have been an inerrant poet singing for his supper before dining aristocrats.  He would pick a tale appropriate for the occasion and using traditional language, style, format, quotes and blocks of text compose their song during a totally oral spontaneous performance. 

His thesis and internship were much discussed in Hour 25.  It has been much on my mind.  What else that has been on my mind is country-swing dancing.  I am teach the class and we are half way through the Spring session. 

Last night one of the girl’s said she preferred dancing with me because I signaled what we were going to do next.  “I do?”  Apparently, to use the literary term I foreshadow what is coming.  It is the nudge of a shoulder when I am spinning her away, the lifting of my arm in anticipation of a Left Tuck or the subtle shift in our hand position.  I never occurred to me that dancing was composition in performance.

For those that don’t “boot scoot” there are several different styles of country and western music.  There are fast melodies with strong beats for swing dancing, slower softer music for “polishing your belt buckles” that is the two-steps and a waltz among others.   The man leads, that is choreographs dance as he and his female partner dance.  The lady’s job is to “follow”.  The “meter” would be pounded out by their feet.  Swing is with both dancers putting their left foot in and their left foot out.  For men the two-steps is “left (foot forward then, bring up your right foot) together, left together, right (foot back the, bring back your left foot) together.  Waltz is the basic 1-2-3, 12-3.  You can’t waltz to a swing song.  Swinging to a two-step is just sad.  And trying to two-step to a waltz gives one a headache.  Lord and Parry the definitive researchers in composition in oral performance say the audience’s trained ear can tell when the poet misses the beat in the poem’s meter.  And trust me your audience can tell you stepped on your partner’s feet when you missed the beat.

The guy choreographs the couple’s routine right there on the dance floor.  They have a set routine or routine moves they like doing and can do without concentrating too much.  These are probably tradition moves they were taught by other.  While waltzing or two stepping they traverse the floor going counter-wise as tradition dictates.  The guy might interrupt their “Five Basic Moves” by whirling them around in one spot or spinning her away should the traffic flow get jammed up.  They will warm up a bit and then advance into more complex swing moves.  The moves are all built of more basic moves “moshed” together, condensed and contracted.  And maybe at the end of the song it will be the elbow-wielding “Pretzel”, sweet “Window” or their signature move; unique to them but composed of all the tradition elements. 

Should they take a break and another gentleman ask the lady to dance.  She and their audience and their fellow dancers will expect him to keep the appropriate beat, perform the appropriate steps and moves, dance the traditional style and use the traditional moves or moves recognizable as from tradition.  If he doesn’t she wouldn’t be able to follow, she and anyone watching will deem him a bad dancer and his fellow dancers will deem him a nuisance. 

You don’t get to be Homer by being a nuisance, and you definitely must know how to do the “Pretzel”