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