Tuesday, September 13, 2016

TFBT: Part III of Bill’s Geryoneis, The More Esoteric Interpretation of All This

Gee!  Where to start?  In the Ancient Greek world, the Great River Oceanus, a fresh-water stream, surrounded the known world.  Beyond it lay several mythical lands.  Examples include Helios’ palaces.  One in the east where he rose in the morning and one in the west where his work-day is done. Another mythical place is the realm of Hades and dread Persephone on the western edge of the universe.  Hence Odysseus could sail into the underworld


Originally the western edge of the known world was Pylos.  Lord Apollo, son of Zeus, kept his own shambling oxen in goodly Pylos. (HH to Hermes 214)   Above, sandy Pylos Heracles bested Ares. (Hesiod, Shield of Herakles 357) Likewise, “It is said that, when Herakles was leading an expedition against Pylos in Elis, Athena was one of his allies. Now among those who came to fight on the side of the Pylians was Hades, who was the foe of Herakles but worshipped at Pylos…And among them huge Hades suffered a wound from a swift arrow, when the same man, the son of aegis-bearing Zeus, hit him in Pylos among the dead, and gave him over to pains.  (Pausanias, Description of Greece 6.25.2)  In the Iliad Hera appears as an enemy of Heracles possibly at Pylos “So suffered Hera, when the mighty son of Amphitryon smote her on the right breast with a three-barbed arrow; then upon her too came pain that might in no wise be assuaged. And so suffered monstrous Hades even as the rest a bitter arrow, when this same man, the son of Zeus that beareth the aegis, smote him in Pylos.  (v. 392, xviii. 118) East of Pylos is a mountain named after the nymph Minthe.  “Minthe, men say was once a maid beneath the earth, a nymph (daughter) of the Cocytus River, a river of the underworld.  (Oppian, Halieutica 3.485)    She became the lover of Hades. Persephone transformed her into garden-mint.  The mountain   a precinct sacred to Hades.  North of Plyos flows the Acheron.   (Strabo, Geography 8.3.14–15).   The Acheron is one of the five rivers of Hades.   "Circe addresses Odysseus ‘Beach the vessel beside deep-eddying Oceanus and pass on foot to the dank domains of Hades. At the entrance there, the stream of Acheron” (Homer, Odyssey 10. 513) All this to illustrate the belief that Pylos and Acheron were at the entrance of the underworld;   In ancient geography there occur several rivers of this name, all of which were, at least at one time, believed to be connected with the lower world. The river first looked upon in this light was the Acheron in Thesprotia, in Epirus, a country which appeared to the earliest Greeks as the end of the world in the west, and the locality of the river led them to the belief that it was the entrance into the lower world.” [i]


“While Homer speaks only of the gates of Helios in the west, later writers assign to him a second palace in the west, and describe his horses as feeding upon herbs growing in the islands of the blessed”. (Nonn. Dionys. xii. 1, &c.; Athen. vii. 296; Stat. Theb. iii. 407.)  Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.

Pylos where this world and the underworld seem to merge is in the region of Greece called Ellis.    Other people became involved in the war discussed above during the reign of Augeias, King of the Epeians in Elis.  Douglas Frame in “Hippota Nestor” proposes an interesting correspondence between Helios and this Augeias. 

“The Epeian king Augeias, “the shining one” and his daughter Agamede, a specialist in drugs, look like local forms of Helios, the sun god and his granddaughter Medeia, likewise a specialist in drugs.  Augeias and his daughter do not play a prominent role in Nestor’s story,   (Heracles put Nestor on the throne of Pylos after the war.)  but, they are still there in the background.  In post-Homeric tradition Augeias himself was famous for his cattle.  As in the myth of the cleaning of his stables by Heracles, and this further connects him with Helios and his cattle….The name Augeias is from auge, “bright light, radiance”, as in the frequent Homeric formula hup’ augas eelioio, “under the rays of the sun”.  In post-Homeric tradition Augeias is called the son of Helios; this make Agamede, like Medeia, a granddaughter of Helios… (And finally,) The cattle of Augeias are closely equated with the cattle of Helios I Theocritus 25.118-121, 129-131”

In summary, there is correspondence between Pylos and the Western entrance to Hades and correspondence between Ellis in general and the Western Home, the Sunset Home of the sun-god Helios.

The Cattle of Helios

Some scholars said that the herds of Helios were tinged golden because Helios as the sun, lit up the clouds as he rose and set.”  [ii]   Clouds” like the Vedic god Indra won. 

“Indra shatters Vrtra with his bolt. He cleaves the mountain, making the streams flow or taking the cows, even with the sound of his bolt. He releases the streams which are like imprisoned cows or which, like lowing cows, flow to the ocean. He won the cows and Soma and made the seven rivers to flow.”  AA MacDonell [iii]
MacDonell’s “many-horned swiftly moving cows” are what Cox calls “golden tinted clouds or herds of Helios”. [iv]  Helios cows were white with gold horns3[v]  as were Apollo’s.  [vi] Geryon’s kine grazing in the far west were red. [vii]    Hades’ grazing nearby were black. [viii]  And finally Hera had a cow named Io which changed in color from white to black to violet.  [ix]

Moving further west in our mundane world we find another locale merging this world and the underworld;

"Near Cumae in Italy is Cape Misenon, and between them is Lake Akherousia, a kind of shoal-water estuary of the sea . . . also Gulf Aornos [Avernus] . . . The people prior to my time were wont to make Aornos the setting of the fabulous story of the Homeric
Nykeia   and, what is more, writers tell us that there actually was an Oracle of the Dead… here and that Odysseus visited it . . . … And the natives used to add the further fable that all birds that fly over it fall down into the  being killed by the vapours that rise from it, …At any rate, only those who had sacrificed beforehand and propitiated the  Underworld Gods  could sail into Aornos, and priests who held the locality on lease were there to give directions in all such matters; and there is a fountain of potable water at this place, on the sea, but people used to abstain from it because they regarded it as the water of the Styx; and the Oracle, too, is situated somewhere near it; and further, the hot springs nearby and Lake Akherousia betokened the River Pyriphlegethon; the underworld river of fire].   Strabo, Geography 5. 4. 5 ff

In summary Strabo discusses another place on the western edge of the universe confounded with the world below.  Lycophron seems to confirm Strabo in Alexandra 681-738, but with the rantings of Cassandra, who can tell for sure. 


Which brings us back to Geryon. He possessed a fabulous herd of cattle whose coats were stained red by the light of the sunset.”[x]Hesiod “Theogony 293) said that Heracles stole the cattle and “killed Orthos and the oxherd Eurytion out in the gloomy meadow beyond the fabulous Oceanus.”  However at Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.108 we find “When he, Heracles reached Erytheaia he camped on Mount Abas.  The dog (Orthros) smelled him there and went after him, but he struck it with his club and when the cowherd Eurtyion came to help the dog, he slew him as well.  Menoites was there tending the cattle of Hades reports these events to Geryon” Which makes Geryon’s domain sound a little bit more mundane.  Finally,

 "The mountain in which the river Baetis is said to rise [in southern Iberia (Spain)] is called ‘Silver Mountain’ on account of the silver-mines that are in it . . . The ancients seem to have called the Baetis River [of Hispania] ‘Tartessos’; and to have called Gades and the adjoining islands ‘Erytheia’; and this is supposed to be the reason why Stesikhoros spoke as he did about [Eurytion] the neat-herd of Geryon, namely, that he was born ‘about opposite famous Erytheia, beside the unlimited, silver-rooted springs of the river Tartessos (Tartessus), in a cavern of a cliff.’ Since the river had two mouths, a city was planted on the intervening territory in former times, it is said,--a city which was called ‘Tartessos,’ after the name of the river . . . Further Eratosthenes says that the country adjoining Kalpe (Calpe) is called ‘Tartessis,’ and that Erytheia is called ‘Blest Island’ (Nesos Eudaimos)."  Strabo, Geography 3. 2. 11

Diodorus Siculus, [xi] seems to agree with the confounding of Hades with Tartessi.  In Summary, in Spain or upon its coast we have a pair of god-like beings with multi-headed dogs raising cattle in the same area, both of whom Hades and Geryon get shot by Heracles in a cattle raid. 


In short what we have here is the ultimate solar myth.  The sun god spend the day herding his cattle (clouds) to the upper pastures of the sky and then brings them down to the western banks of the Great River Ocean for the night.  (Hence their changing colors; white on a sunny day, dark with moisture, scarlet at sunset.  There he defeats the Death god with a few well placed arrows and the slaughtering of his multi-headed dog and watchman. The End, until the next day.


[i] (Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.  See Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 17. 4 on this topic. )
[ii] (Tamra Andrews “Dictionary of Nature Myths: Legends of the Earth, Sea and Sky ).
[v] Apollonius Rhodius Argonautica 4.965
[vi] Homeric Hymn to Hermes  and Philostratus Eder 1.16-31
[vii] Apollodorus, The Library 2.106-108
[viii] Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.125
[ix] Suida Isis
[x] (Aaron Atsma) 
[xi] Library of History 4. 18. 2 :


  1. Without knowledge of America, the Western edge of dry land is the end of roads and hopes, a suitable place for a portal to the underworld.

    "Hades and dread Persephone" is an interesting formula. Makes one think that Persephone is primary.

  2. Ironically, "dread Persephone" was the one who released Eurydice to her husband Orpheus, she was the symbol of Spring too, of the pair she was the one to whom mortals could pray. Lord Hades himself was implacable, unmoved by tears and healous of every soul (psyche) that escaped his cold icy grasp.

    As to the western edge edge of America; that's where I live in Alaska


  3. Have you read Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books? In them, Olympians have power over the Western world, and their current headquarters is located in America. But they have no power over Alaska. It is "the Land Beyond the Gods" :-).

    1. Maya,

      I tried reading one of the books. As a classicists I just couldn't stand it. With the films I could suspend my disbelief. I loved the scene where are young heroes were trapped in Hades. Lord Hades was about to take over the universe. He was giving a dramatic speak on the topic when Persephone knocked him over the head and fell unconscious. "I love the big lug, but get stuck here in Hades with him for ever....


    2. I liked the bit about some unidentified sinner souls condemned to listen to opera.

  4. "Hades and dread Persephone" is a Homeric formula, isn't it? Homer's Persephone is very different from later versions. "Homer describes her as the wife of Hades, and the formidable, venerable, and majestic queen of the Shades, who exercises her power, and carries into effect the curses of men upon the souls of the dead, along with her husband... The story of her being carried off by Pluto, against her will, is not mentioned by Homer." I cannot imagine this Persephone receiving pomegranate seeds from Hades - rather, she may have liked Hades and manipulated the lots in order to bring him to her domain.

    As far as I remember, Homer doesn't even mention Persephone's parentage, though he lists Demeter among Zeus' loves in the Iliad XIV. Maybe in his theogony Persephone was one or two generations up.

    In later myth, Persephone evolved into a death-rebirth seasonal deity, initially a maiden with mental development arrested by her control freak mother (my Prometheus, in the line of duty, once gives young Kore an IQ test); then an abducted damsel in distress; and finally a kind-hearted queen, the last hope of heroes. Nevertheless, the original nature occasionally shines through. In Euripides' Heracleidae, "the daughter of Demeter" demands a human sacrifice.

    Indian Yama underwent the opposite evolution: from a good-hearted former human, now presiding over the endless party in Paradise, to a mighty and dreadful god of death.

  5. If you do not have a ship at your disposal, the edge of dry land is frustrating. Reaching it, Tolkien's Noldor resort to stealing ships after killing their rightful owners.

    The edge of earth (but the southern, not western edge) is used by one of my humans as an argument why they need fire:

    "Why do you think that if you refuse the fire, you surely remain alive? Listen what awaits the Ants [the tribe's name] without fire: Earlier or later, several cold winters happen in a row. Water in buckets covers with ice, livestock dies... Many go to Hades, children and elderly do not remain at all. Finally, those who survive seek rescue. They yoke the oxen, if still have any, put the luggage in wagons, if have not forgotten the wheel, and head southwards. Men already living there are not happy, the Ants have to fight them. And what do they do if they reach the sea and the cold is still following them?"

    (My humans, like the Hittites, have no future tense.)

  6. Maya,

    I think the change in Persephone's character is not so much evolution but syncretization. There was the Persephone of Homer, the Persephone of the Eulisian Mysteries and the Persephone of the Orphic Mysteries. Over time the relation of the three had to be rationalized and explained.

    AS to going to Aethopia for the winter - recall that the world is round, you can also go north and reach the land of the Hyperboreans.


  7. Actually, my humans would not be allowed to migrate to Aethiopia at all. Before the flood, they are confined and guarded within Thessaly. As is said at one point, "nobody wants his experimental objects to run away in all directions".

    It is an interesting speculation whether humans could survive at this real-world latitude without fire. It has never been tested. The first hominin migrating out of Africa was Homo erectus, who controlled fire.