Monday, July 18, 2016

TFBT: Who Give This Maiden?

Who gives this maiden in marriage?

During a recent discussion of Parada’s “Robe and Necklace of Harmonia” article, Maya M observed, “Zeus gave Cadmus Harmonia to be his wife, (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 25) and she brought along her cursed necklace and robe. In the same way, Zeus gave Epimetheus Pandora to be his wife, (Hesiod, Theogony 510) and she brought along her jar, another format of the cursed divine gift setting the human condition.” I applauded her observation and added Helen to the pick whom Aphrodite gave to Paris (Hyginus, Fabulae 92) and we all know what trouble followed. So it would seem that when the gods give divine brides to mortal men, disaster follows.  However, Hera gave Heracles her own daughter Hebe as wife (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4.39.3) and “Happy he! For he has finished his great works and lives amongst the dying gods, untroubled and unaging all his days." (Hesiod, Theogony 950)  But, maybe this is not an exception to the Law of Misalliance because Heracles was already ascended to Olympus as a god. We should probably add the Nereid Thetis to the above list.  Since she was given to the Peleus by Zeus himself (Hesiod, Catalogues of Women Fragment 58) and as a consequence the Trojan War erupted.  These were all the goddesses I could find “given” to mortal men.  But I found one said sub-category I don’t know what to think about;

The gods long before had slain their parents, and the girls were left orphans in their house. But Lady (Dia) Aphrodite had nurtured them with cheese and sweet honey and pleasant wine; Hera had given them beauty and wisdom beyond all other women; virgin Artemis made them tall, and Athene taught them the making of lovely things. But when Aphrodite went up to high Olympus to entreat Zeus to let these girls attain the moment of happy marriage - because Zeus knows all things perfectly, what is fated and what not fated for mortal men - meanwhile the Harpies snatched them away and delivered them to the ministrations of the detested Erinyes."  Homer, Odyssey 20. 68


Who grasps this struggling maiden?

Of course, Peleus still had to wrestle down and abduct Thetis first.  (Pindar, Nemean Ode 3)  So, next I wondered about the heroes who’d snatched up immortal goddess to wed, the old fairy-wife myth.  The answer that came to mind was Peleus’ own father the pious Aeacus

"Aeacus had intercourse with Nereus' daughter Psamathe, although she turned into a seal in her desire to resist him.”  (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3.158)

Naturally this is one of the few examples of a mortal man abducting a goddess. No harm seems to have come to him or his immediate family.   


Like a pure maiden in height and mien…

So, what happens to a mortal hero when a goddess “gives” herself to him?  The answer here can be provide by the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite and the complaint to Calypso in the Odyssey. 


After a tryst with the disguised Aphrodite Anchises famously pleads at line 188 “…don’t let me become disabled don’t let me live on like that among humans! Please, take pity! I know that no man is full of life, able, if he sleeps with immortal goddesses".  Well this doesn’t bode well for consensual goddess/hero co-mingling, particularly because we know from the Aeneid that he was crippled up at a relatively young age.   I have more to say on this scene in a blog post called;


Our other evidence on the outcome of goddesses giving themselves to heroes comes from Calypso at Odyssey 5:116;

“Calypso, the beautiful goddess, shuddered, and she spoke, and addressed him with winged words: “Cruel are ye, O ye gods, and quick to envy above all others, seeing that ye begrudge goddesses that they should mate with men openly, if any takes a mortal as her dear bed-fellow. Thus, when rosy-fingered Dawn took to herself Orion, ye gods that live at ease begrudged her, till in Ortygia chaste Artemis of the golden throne assailed him with her gentle shafts and slew him. Thus too, when fair-tressed Demeter, yielding to her passion, lay in love with Iasion in the thrice-ploughed fallow land, Zeus was not long without knowledge thereof, but smote him with his bright thunder-bolt and slew him. And even so again do ye now begrudge me, O ye gods, that a mortal man should abide with me.”


In summary;

·      Gents, if Zeus or some other divine father-in-law is walking your bride down the aisle – run!

·      Abducting a divine bride might be done safely, but we have scant evidence.  So, maybe, maybe err on the side of caution and decency.

·      Finally, welcome the advances of a goddess and you get the shaft. 


  1. Thank you!
    I disagree that no harm came to Aeacus or his immediate family from wooing Psamathe. He no longer enjoyed a happy family. His wife instructed her sons to kill Psamathe's son. This led to their exile. So, having three sons, Aeacus finished his life with no son around him.
    Also, the dishonoring by Aeacus of his wife Endeis (Chiron's daughter) with the Nereid Psamathe may have sowed the antagonism between Chiron and Thetis that cast its shadow over the family.

  2. Maya,
    Somewhere I recall a character visiting Aeacus and his two wives in a happy home. Chiron raised Peleus' and Thetis' son so he couldn't have been too mad. You are right about the strife between his sons being a bad thing. Still he became a Judge in the Underworld, Peleus attained immortality in Nereus' Halls and Achillies got Helen on the Isle of Leuce. Maybe you are right, it's sort of mixed bag.


  3. Your observation about the relationship between Chiron and Peleus was eye-opening. I am sorry that I cannot use it in my plot.
    As for "2 wives in a happy home"... this is one of the things I won't believe even if I see them (no matter what some today's Muslims say). Ancient Greeks seem to have been of the same opinion. Clytemnestra kills the other woman, so does Medea (indeed, she has been ordered out of the home and the city), Hermione plots to do the same, Deianeira kills herself. And remember the soap opera on Olympus!

    I initially didn't like the story of Dionysus bringing his mom from Hades to Olympus, but then decided to incorporate it. Semele was special anyway - the only woman ever who voluntarily made love to Zeus, and the only one he loved. He wanted to be loved for who he was, like all of us (poor thing!), but he had no way to prove who he was, except by demonstrating a thunderbolt. Jealous Hera overheard his intention and loosened the weapon's safety lid, leading to its premature discharge inside the palace. In the resulting fire, Zeus ran to save himself and the baby, but made no attempt to rescue his beloved. Then he bitterly regretted and took care to preserve her blood covering the body of Dionysus. Later, using as an excuse Dionysus' wish to resurrect his mother, Zeus orders her cloned, though the divine community already has bitter experience with cloning Eris. The only author who gives details about the resurrected Semele/Thyone is Nonnus and he portrays her as an awful, unbearable parvenu. Poor Zeus just breaks his heart for a second time.

  4. I read today a little more from Holway's "Becoming Achilles". Unlike some other authors, Holway regards Hesiod's Zeus as morally superior to Homer's Zeus, and a good husband and father. And then I understood why, in contrast to other traditions, Hesiod puts Zeus' union with Leto before his marriage to Hera. The poet wishes to negate for his Zeus whenever possible the shameful and destructive situation of having 2 wives together (or impregnating 2 women simultaneously, even if only one of them is official wife).

    1. I have just looked at the catalog of Zeus' loves in Iliad 14. First comes "Ixion's wife" (Pirithous); then Danae (Perseus); then "the daughter of Phoenix" (Minos + Rhadamanthus); then Semele (Dionysus); then Alcmene (Heracles); then Demeter (Persephone, not mentioned); then Leto (Apollo + Artemis, not mentioned); and finally Hera.

      The women are clearly listed in order of importance (of themselves or of their children) rather than in chronological order. It seems that Heracles is considered more important than Dionysus. Dione and her daughter Aphrodite are omitted.

    2. Maya,

      I never thought to contrast the two lists. Someone must have. Homer must be dancing around the Dione/Aphrodite issue because he knew of the other ancestry fir her. I will look at the lists tomorriw


    3. Listing his previous loves to Hera, Zeus is about as tactful as a bull in a china shop. However, maybe he shows some tact by omitting his divine children Persephone, Apollo and Artemis that are superior to Hera's offspring.

      My Hebe says during a party on Olympus:
      "Mom is looking at Kore (Persephone) all the time and getting depressed because others have normal children and she hasn't. You know what Ares is like, I couldn't grow properly..."

      Both Hebe and Persephone are married off strategically by their father against the wishes of their mothers, but Persephone is much more important in cult, and we never see her serving other gods. Ares is good only when you need demolition and the inferiority of Hephaestus is evident. He is the Olympian analog of Thersites.

    4. Maya,

      In some version it was actually Hera who married off her daughter to Heracles. Part of the unification of the Theban deites and Olympian.

      Hera' children by Zeus did not produce much in the way of Olympian status gods, but I would not be so quick to dismiss them. The hand that fills the cups with immortality and eternal youth, might decide to withhold the drink. Ares is a coward, weaking and the most hated of all the gods but he is war. Finally, Hephaestus maker of jewelry for his foster mothers Eurynome and Thetis . How fortunate these two gentle goddesses adopted him, he could have just as easily designed weapons of mass destruction for them.

      Hmm, I just realized that Thetis saved Zeus when he was tied to his throne with Aegon as escort. And Hephaestus rescued Hera bound to her throne with Dionysus as escort. Hmm

    5. I think that, in your latest comparison, Thetis is analogous to Dionysus - the person who rushes from Olympus to bring the only person who could save the day. And Hephaestus is analogous to Briareus in reversing the disaster, though in Hephaestus' case the disaster was of his own making.

    6. Maya,

      Nagy thinks Thetis did the unbinding with Aegon standing by as back up.

      "Homer, Iliad 1. 393 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
      "[Akhilleus (Achilles) addresses his mother Thetis :] ‘You [Thetis] only among the immortals beat aside a shameful destruction from Kronos' (Cronus') son [Zeus] the dark-misted that time when all the other Olympians sought to bind him, Hera and Poseidon and Pallas Athene. Then you, goddess, went and set him free from his shackles, summoning in speed the creature of the hundred hands [Briareus-Aigaion (Aegaeon)] to tall Olympos.’"


    7. Achilles of course emphasizes his mother's role. However, it is clear that this role is in summoning Briareus, the "US Sixth Fleet". I do not even think that the plot progressed to actual binding (and hence, actual unbinding). Translating to English from the Bulgarian translation, 399-406:

      "...Other immortals wanted to put him in shackles: powerful Hera and Poseidon and Pallas Athena. You went, goddess, saving Zeus from shackles, because you yourself brought Aegeon the Hundred-handed to Olympus (mortals call him so, and immortals Briareus; he exceeds even his father in tremendous power). Knowing his glory, he sat down, close to Zeus. Gods were gripped by fear and didn't put Zeus in shackles."

      I checked also the original text and, from the word-to-word translation, it seems there is one line that may imply actual binding, 401, flanked by two stating that the binding remained just an intent, 399 and 406.
      Also, I think that Thetis unbinding Zeus with her hands would contradict with her overall image. She is a hidden potential. Nobody could guess from her appearance that she is fated to produce a mighty son. She has once been defeated by a second-rate mortal hero.

    8. I also think that the majesty of Zeus' power requires him to have never been bound in any way. He is the only 1st generation Olympian who has not been swallowed by Cronus.

      My Zeus is actually bound and then unbound, for dramatic purposes: the gods lose the chance to be free after having almost been there.

    9. Lucian also thinks that Zeus has never been bound.

      [Ares speaking to Hermes] "I remember not so long ago, when Posidon and Hera and Athene rebelled and made a plot for his capture and imprisonment, he was frightened out of his wits; well, there were only three of them, and if Thetis had not taken pity on him and called in the hundred-handed Briareus to the rescue, he would actually have been put in chains, with his thunder and his bolt beside him. When I worked out the sum, I could not help laughing." (Dialogs of the gods; here Ares is more intellectual than in Homer.)

      [A mortal philosopher speaking to another] "But I should be glad to hear which parts of Homer you pin your faith to. Where he tells how the daughter, the brother, and the wife of Zeus conspired to imprison him? If Thetis had not been moved to compassion and called Briareus, you remember, our excellent Zeus would have been seized and manacled; and his gratitude to her induced him to delude Agamemnon with a lying dream, and bring about the deaths of a number of Greeks. Do you see? The reason was that, if he had struck and blasted Agamemnon’s self with a thunderbolt, his double dealing would have come to light." (Zeus Tragoedus)

    10. Maya,

      I just love that phrase, “She has once been defeated by a second-rate mortal hero.” The irony being that the “second-rate mortal hero” in question (Peleus) had previously lost a similar wrestling match to a girl. (Atlanta) The image of Thetis unbinding Zeus by hand does not have that whole aura of mystery and divinity one would expect. Maybe the shackles just fell off as when Pentheus arrested Dionysus.

      “The majesty of Zeus' power requires him to have never been bound.” As to the Majesty of Zeus, it needed;
      • "Herakles great conquerer of the Gigantes." (Pindar, Nemean Ode 7.5)
      • To be rescued by Hermes and Pan from Typhon and assisted by the Fates (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 39 - 44) before he could famously strike the Father of Monsters with “thunder, lightning, and the glowering thunderbolt” (Hesiod, Theogony)
      • And was “led astray by (Aphrodite); though he is greatest of all and has the lot of highest majesty, she beguiles even his wise heart whensoever she pleases, and mates him with mortal women, " (Homeric Hymn 5 to Aphrodite)

      Thanks for so many great conversations over the years and really making me think!

    11. Thanks! I always enjoy our discussions.
      You are quite right that "almighty" Zeus fully depends on help from others. This reminds me of a character of E.T.A. Hoffmann, Zaches. He is a disabled young man deprived of any abilities and attractive qualities who receives a gift by a fairy to be given credit for other people's achievements. With time, he becomes a little tyrant, and only his death abolishes the abuses. Anna Akhmatova, a Russian poetess (1889-1966), said privately that Stalin was quite like Zaches. The novel's title is "Klein Zaches, genannt Zinnober" (Little Zaches called Zinnober). It seems that no English translation has ever been printed, and this is a shame. I found one online:

  5. Hera hates Heracles. She deprives him of his throne, inflicts madness on him and repeatedly tries to murder him. And suddenly, when he arrives on Olympus all in burns resulting from his stupid philandering, she appreciates him so much that she decides to marry off her daughter to him! Psychologically, the ends stay loose. Maybe Heracles was such a threat that Hera realized the need to appease him. Yet, when several years earlier gods are clearly threatened by the giants, we do not see Hera too concerned for the common good.

    To me, the goddess of youth hasn't in Greek myth the important place she has in Norse myth. She is a servant, a position she shares with the mortal-born sex slave Ganymede and the ugly, disabled Hephaestus. We would value Hephaestus highly, but the Olympians do not. They force him to serve them, the non-disabled, and laugh at him for being awkward because of his disability. They laugh at him after he reminds the physical abuse he has suffered in the past, and so the hard feelings are cleared. Down on Earth, hard feelings are cleared when Achaeans laugh at ugly, disabled Thersites suffering physical abuse in real time. All this reminds the Athenian ritual Thargelia.
    As for Ares, his mind seems quite confused. He supports the Trojans, forgetting that his son Ascalaphus is fighting against them. And when the latter is killed, the loving father is ready to rebel against Zeus to death. I wonder, if Athena had not restrained him, what demands he would present to Zeus? To impose global peace immediately :-) ?

  6. Maya,

    I finally found the Peleus quote! “Peleus, a second-rate hero with the dubious distinction of having been defeated in a wrestling by a woman Atalanta.” Richard Caldwell “The Origin of the Gods.” Page 169