Friday, May 27, 2016

TFBT: Random Comments on the Telemachus


At Hour 25 we were discussing “The Telemachus” that’s the portion of Odysseus’ epic more concerned with the son than the father.   When I read, “Meanwhile lovely Polykaste, Nestor’s youngest daughter, washed Telemachus.” I recalled that according to Eustathius, commentary on Homer (Eustath. ad Hom. l.c.Polycaste by Telemachus became the mother of Perseptolis. Makes me wonder about Helen bathing Odysseus. “I was bathing him and anointing him with oil, and had put on him raiment,” Hmm. I wondered if Menelaus suspected anything. Homer gives not indication. 

“He (Telemachus) still does not know why his father was not granted a safe return like Nestor who was granted a safe nostos.” We discussed this a while back.  Odysseus intially headed out with Nestor and Diomedes. He could have had a safe homecoming, but for some reason he turned around and went back. 

I am always struck at the similiarity between Nestor and Priam. Both elderly heroes, with the former living the life the latter could have had. Both set upon their thrones at young ages by a lion-skin clad demi-god who’d just slaughtered the rest of their family.

• “Take the reins and rule your state, sitting on your father’s throne, but wield the sceptre with better faith.” (Heracles 1 to Priam 1. Seneca, Troades 718ff.).

• Nestor speaking at Hom. Il. xi. 692 “For mighty Heracles had come and oppressed us in the years that were before, and all that were our bravest had been slain. Twelve were we that were sons of peerless Neleus, and of these I alone was left, and all the rest had perished”

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

TFBT: Táin Bó Cúalnge

In “Hesiod’s Cosmos”  Jenny Strauss Clay present the Monsters as an alternative to the Heroes.  “Chrysaor mighty and armed like the Giants, and who also unites with a nymph, the Oceanid Kallirhoe, represents and alternative progenitor to the alternative race of mortals.”  They were the parents of three-bodied Geryon.  I thought Clay’s mention of the Giants interesting.    Most conversation in classical circles about “monsters” center on size and asymetricity.    In the wars of succession, Cronus and Zeus allied with the monstersous Hectaonchires and Cyclopes.  But in the Gigantomachy the Olymians chose to ally with the demi-gods rather than the other hybrid race descended from the gods; the monsters.

Still the gods (and men) had their uses for  monsters.  Three-headed Cerberus was the guard dog of Lord Hades (Hesiod, Theogony 310), two-headed Orthos, who was Geryones' herding dog (Hesiod, Theogony 309) Sphinx was a scourge that held Thebes in suppression, that Hera sent upon them   (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 52 – 55)   "The Nemeian Lion the goddess Hera, the queenly wife of Zeus, trained up and settled among the hills of Nemeia (Hesiod, Theogony 327)    The Lydian King Amisodaros nourished the furious Chimera to be an evil to his enemies.( Homer, Iliad 16. 328)

I mention all the above because  we are currently reading ancient Irish epic tale “Táin Bó Cúalnge  The main character is Cuchulain son of Sualtaim;  Sualtaim Sidech (of the Fairy Mound.)  I assume that  this means Cuchulain's father is of the fay.    Cuchulain is called "This young, beardless elf-man". I assume the phrase elf-man is in reference to Cuchulain being a “halfling”; half mortal, half fairy.  Such men are consider very powerful in fairy lore (King Arthurs’ father was a, er, let’s say “daemon” .)  In Greek mythology the demi-gods were considered very powerful, for example Heracles and Achilles.   

I’ve come to the conclusion that Cu Chulain; the Hound of Chulain is a monster.  I finally realized this in reading the description of  the Brown Bull of Cualnge.    Both show the same disregard for their youth playmates.  The phrase; “he threw off the thrice fifty boys who were wont to play on his back and he destroyed two-thirds of the boys.”  Could easily apply to their.  The seem to have no sense of strategy, their acts of violence are random; their appetites enormous, their strength in human.   The “Hound” has seven digits on each appendage. 


I’m not half way through maybe the hound will redeem himself.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

TFBT: I, the Goddess Casandra

Scamander, my native stream! Upon your sandy banks and flowery mead in bygone days, happy maid, was I nurtured with fostering care.[i]   You naiads of Troy, daughters of the god of the river, Lord Xanthus, I oft-times left on your father’s sands the combs that bind your hair, the bracelet that bind your wrists and slim ankles that array you for the dance on Mt. Ida. [ii]  I recall the elms, the willows and tamarisks, the clover, the rushes and the galingale, all those plants that grew in abundance by the lovely stream of the River.  [iii] 

My father was King Priam of Troy. Priam ruled from a magnificent palace, which was fronted by marble colonnades. In the main building there were fifty apartments of polished stone, where his sons lived with their wives. His daughters occupied the chambers in the building on the other side of the courtyard, and there they lived with the sons-in-law of the king. [iv]In his youth my father journeyed to the land of Phrygia, rich in vines, and there he saw in multitudes the Phrygian warriors, masters of glancing steeds, even the people of Otreus and godlike Mygdon, that were then encamped along the banks of Sangarius. Being their ally, he was numbered among them on the day when the Amazons came, the peers of men.[v] My mother was Hecuba, wife of Priam, mother of Hector, the invincible, steadfast pillar of Troy[vi].  My mother Hecuba dreamed once that she had borne a fire-brand.[vii]   

My twin brother Helenus and I were left by our parents in the shrine of the Thymbraean Apollo. There the Thymbrios River flows through the plain and empties into the River Skamandros.[viii]  The festival in honour of our birth was   held in the sanctuary. We fell asleep in the temple. Meantime our parents and their friends, flushed with wine, returned to Troy, forgetting all about us twins whose birth had given occasion to the festivity. Next morning, when they were sober, they returned to the temple and found the sacred serpents purging with their tongues the organs of sense in Helenus and I. Frightened by the cry which the women raised at the strange sight, the serpents disappeared among the laurel boughs upon which we slept. From that hour Helenus and I possessed the gift of prophecy.[ix]   In like manner Melampus is said to have acquired the art of soothsaying through the action of serpents which licked his ears.  He… 

“lived in the country, and before his house there was an oak, in which there was a lair of snakes. His servants killed the snakes, but Melampus gathered wood and burnt the reptiles, and reared the young ones. And when the young were full grown, they stood beside him at each of his shoulders as he slept, and they purged his ears with their tongues. He started up in a great fright, but understood the voices of the birds flying overhead, and from what he learned from them he foretold to men what should come to pass. He acquired besides the art of taking the auspices, and having fallen in with Apollo at the Alpheus he was ever after an excellent soothsayer.[x] 

In due time I would have my own interview with Apollo alongside a lovely river.   

My brother Helenus was a skillful observer of auguries, and knew the counsel of the gods [xi] but he was at the same time a warrior, and with Deiphobus he led the third host of the Trojans against the camp of the Greeks. (Il. xii. 94.)  His original name was Scamandrius, and that he received the name of Helenus from a Thracian soothsayer, who also instructed him in the prophetic art.[xii]  It was Helenus, who predicted that if that fire-brand Prince Alexander brought home an Achaean wife, the Greeks would pursue, and overpower Troy and slay our parents and brothers.[xiii]  Naturally when I heard of my father’s intentions in this regard my voice echoed my twin’s word.  My words told what the Trojans were going to suffer if he should sent a fleet into Greece.[xiv]  “I see thee, hapless city, fired a second time by Aeacide hands.”[xv]

With the war came my suitors; Othryoneus, Coroebus and Thoraiox, Lord of Ptoon

Othryoneus of Cabesus, came upon the rumour of war.  He asked to wed me, whom Homer called “the comeliest of the daughters of Priam”.  He brought no gifts of wooing, but promised he would drive out of Troy’s lands the sons of Achaeans. [xvi]  Some believe that he whispered in my ear about his homeland.  He told me of the sacred River Hebros, which flows, the most beautiful of rivers, past Ainos into the turbid sea, surging through the land of Thrace. And of the many maidens like me that visit the river to bathe their lovely thighs with tender hands; becoming enchanted as we handle his marvelous cleansing waters. [xvii]   Othryoneus was slain by Idomeneus.

Coroebus, the son of Mygdon came to marry me, and was killed, when Diomedes amid the war-storm met my spearman Coroebus, “and 'neath the left ribs pierced him with the lance …Ah fool! The bride he won not, Priam's child Cassandra, yea, his loveliest, for whose sake to Priam's burg but yesterday he came,  [xviii]

Apollo I spurned from my maiden bed,  the Lord of Ptoön, Ruler of the Seasons, Leader of the Muses, “as one who had taken eternal maidenhood for my portion to uttermost old age, in imitation of her who abhors marriage, even Pallas Athena ” [xix]  Or maybe I choose like Marpessa, because she feared that Apollo might desert her in her old age,  instead she chose Idas (a mortal) for her husband[xx]  Or maybe I chose like Achilles; If I stay here at Troy to await my destiny, then I will attain glory imperishable. Whereas if I go off to some new home, with the Lord of Delphi  then it is my glory genuine as it is, that will be destroyed for me, but my life will then last a long time, and the final moment of death will not be swift in catching up with me.[xxi]  Regardless, I had promised consent to Apollo but broke my word ... and ever after I could persuade no one of the truth of my utterances. [xxii]

Here my brother wisely insured his destiny parted from mine and he went on to attain his best possible fate; husband to the daughter of Eetion and King of Molossus. [xxiii]

That fateful night arrived;

 “So feasted they through Troy, and in their midst loud pealed the flutes and pipes: on every hand were song and dance, laughter and cries confused of banqueters beside the meats and wine. They, lifting in their hands the beakers brimmed, recklessly drank, till heavy of brain they grew, till rolled their fluctuant eyes. Now and again some mouth would babble the drunkard's broken words. The household gear, the very roof and walls seemed as they rocked: all things they looked on seemed whirled in wild dance. About their eyes a veil of mist dropped” [xxiv]

But one heart was steadfast, and one soul clear-eyed, mine!  And I paced as mid the hills a furious lioness with savage heart and abided my time.  [xxv]  That night the Horse birthed and the gates burst open. The city was set afire and flooded with blood.  I suppose you think it not odd, that I still a virgin should take sanctuary in the temple of the virgin-goddess Athena.  Did I know that Athena did not love us? (Iliad 6.310)  Did I know that the Locrian Ajax, would find me there clinging to the wooden image of Athena?  That he would drag me form there knocking the goddess’ image to the ground in the process?[xxvi]     Did I know that consequently the majority of the Danaans would die when gods sent a storm and contrary winds against them?  That my enemies and the enemies of my people upon returning home after the destruction of my home and the division of our wealth would wreck on the Cepharean Rocks thanks to the anger of the gods? 

I am the loveliest of Priam’s daughters so naturally when the loot was portioned out I received as my prize, finally,  a husband the greatest of the Achaean kings; Agamemnon. 

For those who don’t know the story, men die.  So do women, but my husband shall be called Zeus-Agamemnon in Sparta, obtaining highest honours from the descendants of Gorgophone.[xxvii]   Nor shall my name be unsung and unhonored among men, nor fade hereafter in the darkness of oblivion for I shall long be called an immortal goddess.[xxviii]   

And it will be said of me and mine that;

 “Zeus the son of Kronos made a noble and righteous god-like generation of heroes who are called demi-gods throughout the boundless earth. Grim war and dread battle destroyed a part of them, some in the land of Kadmos at seven-gated Thebe when they fought for the flocks of Oidipous, and some, when it had brought them in ships over the great sea gulf to Troy for rich-haired Helen's sake: there death's end enshrouded a part of them . But to the others father Zeus the son of Kronos gave a living and an abode apart from men, and made them to dwell at the ends of earth. They live untouched by sorrow in the Islands of the Blessed along the shore of deep swirling Okeanos, happy heroes for whom the grain-giving earth bears honey-sweet fruit flourishing thrice a year.”[xxix]    

[i] “Agamemnon” Aeschylus
[iii] Homer, Iliad 21. 211
[iv] (Iliad 6.240)
[v] (Iliad 3.182) 
[vi] Odyssey 2.89
[vii] Lychophron, Alexandra 216, footnote 7
[viii] Strabo, Geography 13. 1. 35
[ix] Pausanias 10.27.1] XXVII
[x] Apollodorus, Library 1.9.11
[xi] (Hom. Il. vi. 76, vii. 44; Apollod. iii. 12. § 5);
[xii] (Eustath. ad Hom. p. 626.)
[xiii] Dares of Phrygia History of the Fall of Troy 7
[xiv] Dares of Phrygia History of the Fall of Troy 8
[xv] Lychophron, Alexandra 31
[xvi] Hom. Il. xiii. 363
[xvii] Alcaeus, Fragment 45a (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric I) (C7th to 6th B.C
[xviii] QUINTUS SMYRNAEUS 13 Quintus Smyrnaeus. The Fall of Troy. Translated by Way. A. S. Loeb Classical Library Volume 19. 190] London: William Heinemann, 1913
[xix] Callimachus, Hymns and Epigrams. (352-353):Lycophron. Aratus. Translated by Mair, A. W. & G. R. Loeb Classical Library Volume 129. London: William Heinemann, 1921.  Book 1
[xx] Apollodorus. The Library. Translated by Sir James George Frazer. Loeb Classical Library Volumes 121 & 122. [1.7.9] Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921
[xxi] Iliad 9.413
[xxii] Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1208
[xxiii] Pausanias [1.11.2]
[xxiv] Quintus Smyrnaeus 13.1 The Fall of Troy. Translated by Way. A. S. Loeb Classical Library Volume 19. London: William Heinemann, 1913
[xxv] Quintus Smyrnaeus. 12.565 & [12.625]]  The Fall of Troy. Translated by Way. A. S. Loeb Classical Library Volume 19. London: William Heinemann, 1913
[xxvi] [Apollodours EPITOME OF THE LIBRARY, TRANS. BY J. G. FRAZERE.5.22]
[xxix] Hesiod, Works and Days 156

Thursday, May 5, 2016

TFBT: Helen on Classical Inquires

A flood of articles on Helen flowed out of Classical Inquires lately!   I would highly recommend them and the website.  Of course, I have opinions to share! 

Darah Vann in Helen of Troy: Unwomanly in Her Sexuality scrutinizes Helen's womanliness.  Her promiscuity and lack of maternal instinct do not make her a candidate for ideal wife, mother, and woman.  But is it right to judge her based on the Ancient Greek notion of womanhood?  Modern womanhood? As a woman at all?  Most authors on the recent series of articles on Helen in Classical Inquires have given a nod to Helen's divinity, maybe this is a place to do it again.  From that light Helen makes a great doublet for the mighty Aphrodite.  The goddess of love came ashore and entered the mythic timeline accompanied by two her two sons Love (Eros) and Desire (Himeros).  (Possible sons of an obscure and minor sea-god Nerites.) She had a short, arranged, "unfruitfull" marriage with Hephaestus. (As Helen did in the marriage the gods arranged for her to Paris.) Aphrodite then proceeded to birth armfuls of erotes by various gods primarily Ares, whom she never wed.  As Helen left her mortal daughter Hermione with Menelaus, so Aphrodite left her mortal daughter Harmonia with Electra to raise (Nonnus, Dionysiaca 3. 373 - 4. 292  ) and Aeneas with the "nymphs" (HH to Aphrodite 247)  Demeter never wed and bore children to two of her three brothers and also to the Titanic Iason.  The sisters Eos and Selene had a thing for mortal men.  Artemis, Athena, Hestia, and Persephone never had children.  Hera was a nightmarish wife.  In comparison Helen makes a pretty good divine mother and goddess.

Gary Smoot wrote “Helenus and the Polyphyletic Etymologies of Helen"; a very thorough and readable survey on the topic; with nine variation on the theme.   I’ve spoken to the ones I found most convincing; #1.   Helen ‘shine’, ‘blaze’  ‘torch’, and ‘shines’.  I like his argument for this meaning.  I think in the process he’s convinced me that all the Spartan goddesses descended from Perseus' daughter Gorgophone can claim epithets of Bright and Shining.  I love the notion that the 'Torch" Helen wed "Paris, the firebrand of Hekabe’s dream," #2. Helen as “Seer and Helen’s supernatural ability to see are well documented by Homer.  I think the fact the male version of the name; Helenus "is the seer among the Trojans" really does support this notion.  I love the fact that Helenus' twin sister Miss Alexandra (Cassandra) is a seeress just like their sister-in-law Mrs. Alexander (Helen as Paris' wife). I might point out that Helen's cousin, Lyncheus, brother of Idas, saw real well too.  Etymology 5 ‘seize’,   So, Marpessa wife of Helen's cousin Ida's got seized just like all the other of the women in that family.  Oh let’s not forget that Helen’s brothers were seizers too. Nagy argues that the names of a hero's sons are often seemly epithets of the hero.  Do the names of the children of Helen, Hillarie and the Phoebes support any of your etymological arguments? 

Lenny Muellner wrote  Helens Fatal Attraction and Its Inversion.  What a great piece demonstrating Helen's gifts as poetess, singer, lamenter and chorus leader.  My question is about the comment that his whole story started.  The seer Helenus sent his brother Hector into the city?  Why? To send their mother on a futile mission to Athena? So Hector could say goodbye to his wife and doomed son?  To have an aborted conversation with theoretically the most important of the women Helen? Was Helenus in the process of switching sides and wanted Hector off the battle field for the benefit of the Achaeans?  Is it a plot device by Homer to allow for one of the most moving scenes in history?

“The Homecoming Queen” a guest post by Timothy Banks at Hour 25 considering the character of Helen.  Banks worries about how much choice Helen has in obeying Aphrodite when she sends Helen to bed with Paris, “also her original voyage to Troy”  He concludes Helen was “a reluctant tool of the gods”. He describes a Helen with an “amazing power” of quick perception that can recognize a goddes in disguise, Telemachus’ paternity with just a glance and a Greek hero dressed in the rags of a beggar.  “Helen shows another amazing power, the ability to mimic voices.” And finally compares her to the goddesses Circe and Calypso who “possessed of dangerous sexual allure and mysterious knowledge.” 
Hmm, amazing powers, dangerous feminine sexual allure, and mysterious knowledge; sounds like we are talking about a goddess, not a woman.  I would argue that Helen is not a reluctant tool of the gods, but rather one of the gods, herself.  Too often we think of Helen as merely another mortal woman.  Clearly she is not.  We should not judge her in terms of the laws and limitations of mortals, but rather by the nature of the gods.  Can Ate not tempt men and gods to foolishness?  Can Aphrodite not inspire emotion in men and gods?  She can’t even stop being beautiful in disguise.  Likewise, Helen can not stop being who she is; Epic itself.  She is “the face that launched a thousand ships.” She is the Muse of god-like Homer.  If her words and deeds seem to contradict one another, all the better to maintain Homer’s famous neutrality.  All the better to play Achaean and Trojan against one another.  All the better to attain her destiny in the Isle of the Blest and in the pantheon of Sparta.






Monday, May 2, 2016

TFBT: Miss Chryses

One of the reading yesterday at church was Acts 16:14

A certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul." 
The “seller of purple (cloth)” caught my attention because Helen was a famous “weaver” of purple cloth”.  I looked at the Greek and it is definitely “seller” not worker like Helen.  Thyatira is a city in “Lydia” so I doubt the woman’s name is “Lydia” but rather that is title.  Sort of like Briseis and Chryseis in the Iliad not actually being the names of the two women.   

“Briseis” can be translated as Miss Briseus   In honor of her father Briseus, priest of Lyrnessus.[i]  Her real name was Hippodameia. [ii]

 Chryseis can be translated as Miss Chryses. This is the girl whom Agamemnon captured, refusing to give her back to her father Chryses, priest of Apollo.  Later writers give her real name as Astynome.[iii]

Nereids can be called Nereis after their father[iv] and Hesiod (Theog. 945) names the Charis whom Hephaestus wed (after Aphrodite); Aglaia.  She is one of the three Charites (Graces). 

Any other Ancient Greek daughters out there with names and patronymic titles?



[i] [Hom.Il.1.390].
[ii] (Dictys Cret. ii. 17.)
[iii] (Supposedly one of the following references documents the name; Scholia on the Iliad; Hesychius, Lexicon; Malalas, Chronographia 100; Eustathius of Thessalonica, Commentary on the Iliad 1.123.9 van der Valk.)
[iv] (according to the dictionary at Perseus)