Thursday, December 22, 2016

TFBT: The Ongoing Antagonism

 “The confrontation between Apollo and the Fates may echo an ongoing antagonism between the old and new generation of divinities, see Eumenides 723 where the Furies perhaps in solidarity to the Fates, condemn this behavior of Apollo’s Samatia Dova

For those that are unaware “Eumenides” is a euphemism for “Furies” and “Erinyes”.  The Ancient Greeks like many societies had an aversion to accidentally summoning unpleasant things and would use euphemisms instead.  The Erinyes are born of the primordial goddess of the night, Nyx or born from the drops of Uranus’ blood fallen to Earth.  They are older goddess with powers and prerogatives established before Zeus’ reign and the dispensation at Mecone. What Dova is discussing in Greek Heroes in and out of Hades, is;

Eumenides: “You [Apollo] did such things also in the house of Pheres, when you persuaded the Moirai (Fates) to make mortals free from death.”
Apollo: “Is it not right, then, to do good for a worshiper, especially when he is in need?”
Eumenides: “It was you who destroyed the old dispensations when you beguiled the ancient goddesses with wine."

I pondered Dova’s assertion of “ongoing antagonism between the old and new generation of divinities”.
·      I thought of Herakles squeezing the rib cage of Thanatos[i] (Death) until he agreed to give up Alcestis.   (Euripides, Alcestis 839)  But there was no antagonism here prior to the wrestling match.  
·      Hypnos’ fear of Zeus recalled from a previous occasion when Nyx (Night) rescued him.  But what Zeus felt in addition to anger over some trick that Hypnos played was awe of thrice-prayed for, most fair, best beloved Night.  No indication of ongoing antagonism (Iliad 14)
·      Zeus tossed Ate and Momus[ii] out of Olympus,[iii]  but, he tossed other gods Hephaestus for example Hom. (Il. i. 590)  And once again no ongoing antagonism

But then I recalled some research I did “TFBT: The Eumenides of the Oresteia”  This is the story of the first trial in Athenian history.  During the course of the play we hear the Erinyes say;
  • “We are awesome and hard for mortals to appease...we stand apart from the gods” (385)
  • “You, (Apollo) a youth, have ridden down elder female daemons    (150)
  • “These duties were granted to us at birth, and it was also granted that the deathless gods hold back their hands from us”   (349)
  • “ My prerogative is ancient” (389)
  • “Younger gods, you have ridden down the ancient laws and snatched them from my hands!  
Now that sounds like ongoing antagonism!  Particularly when the “younger gods” threaten them.  Apollo threatens them with his little golden arrows.  Athena casually mentions she has the keys to her father’s arsenal.  In case you were wondering the dread daughters of Night are not impressed by their threats.

Further evidence of ongoing antagonism between the old and new generation of divinities, might include;
  • ·      Erinyes checking the voice of Xanthus, son of Zephyrus (god of the West Wind) (Il. xix. 418.)
  • ·      The daughters of Pandareus whose parents the gods had slain were being tended by Aphrodite, “Hera gave them beauty and wisdom… chaste Artemis gave them stature, and Athena taught them skill in famous handiwork.”   Apparently these Olympian goddesses had big plans for these girls, but “the spirits of the storm (Harpies) snatched away the maidens and gave them to the hateful Erinyes to deal with.”  (Homer, Odyssey 20. 61)
  • ·      Lyssa, goddess of madness of noble parents is called upon by the gods to assail Heracles.  She objects to her prerogatives being used in this way and gets a very terse and unsatisfactory response from Iris, messenger of the gods.  (Euripides Heracles 815)
There is ongoing debate as to how much influence the Fates had over the Olympians.  Surely some of it was galling to the children of Cronus and their descendants. 
  • Zeus appointed his mortal son Minos to be a judge in Hades, “yet he could not exempt him from the decree of the Fates." [iv]
  • "The gods were moved; but none can break the ancient Sisters' [the Moirai's] iron decrees." (Ovid, Metamorphoses 15. 781)
  •  "Zeus thundered and brandished his thunderbolt, but the Fates and Themis stopped him." Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 19

In summary, Dova’s suggestion of “an ongoing antagonism between the old and new generation of divinities,” is clearly true when we look at confrontations with the Olympians and the Erinyes, the Olympians stand in awe of Mother Night and often seem to be subservient to the Fates.   

I will have to keep an eye open for other evidence.  Recommendations will be welcome.

[i] Oddly, this was the same technique he used on Death’s co-worker; “And wishing to provide the souls with blood, he slaughtered one of the kine of Hades. But Menoetius, son of Ceuthonymus, who tended the king, challenged Hercules to wrestle, and, being seized round the middle, had his ribs broken. (Apollodorus Library 2.5.12)
[ii] (Children of Nyx or her daughter Eris)
[iii] Iliad 19 and Aesop respectively
[iv] (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 8. 7) 


  1. Does the Thetis - Zeus relationship count?

  2. Maya,

    The Olympians treatment of Thetis represents the second class status of the descendants of Ocenus (and by association all water deities)

    But now that I think of it. All the above examples are Children of Night. Hmm

  3. I used to think that Zeus abuses Thetis however he wants, but I have reconsidered my view. Homer gives no clue that she has ever rejected his advances, so in the world of the Iliad, she has never been threatened by rape. Then comes the only time when Zeus prevails over her by force, that is, when he marries her off to Peleus. But in this affair, he presumably had the support of the entire divine assembly. Even the gods who rebelled against him would most likely prefer him to an immortal version of Achilles.

    After that, every time when Thetis and Zeus are at odds, the divine community is divided. Regardless of what Zeus boasts (the famous golden chain), he doesn't risk imposing his will on Thetis by force without having all the gods at his side. It seems that Thetis has some power and potential for harm independent of her procreative ability. So Zeus uses his intellect. In the beginning of the Iliad, he accepts the plan of Thetis and Achilles, just "silently amends it to include the death of Patroclus". At the end of the poem, Thetis is enraged because of the imminent death of Achilles. It is actually Hector who has died, but the prophecy connects his death to that of Achilles, and Thetis is already mourning. Zeus gives her honors and so appeases her wrath. It seems that she is motivated by honor quite like Achilles.

    1. See what an image I have just found:

      The wedding of Thetis, pyxis by the Wedding Painter, circa 470/460 BC. Paris: Louvre

      I cannot figure out why they are so sure that these are Peleus & Thetis. I see only 3 letters right of the bride that could be "Thet-".

      Anyway, the bride is led like a detainee! Without the inscription, one could suppose that this is some Trojan or Melian woman taken into slavery.

    2. Maya,

      I gotta agree not to much evidence this is Thetis, that can't be Peleus. Maybe the other side would clarify the situation. Grasping a persons wrist rather than hand can be a symbol of rape, but just as likely a sign of leadership.

      But who is that pushing that her? No goddess by the outfit and coloring. I can't think of any handmaiden or sister that helped out with the wedding. Hmm, a mysterdy!


    3. Both Menelaus and Paris are depicted holding Helen by the wrist:

      Ancient Greece wasn't the best place to be a woman!

      Why do you think that the male in the other painting cannot be Peleus?

    4. Maya,

      Sorry for the delayed response. Went to San Diego, California with my wife to celebrate Valentine's Day. I say it can't be Peleus because one way or the other he is under-dressed. Either garlanded and gussied up or in armor.

  4. Maya,

    Keep in mind that Homer and Ahesiod was creating a pan-hellenic pantheon. They have to give a nod to, subtley acknowlegde thay in other Theogonies other gods have priorty. "Oceanus and Tethys are the scource of the gods". Thetis is the creatrix in Alcman''s Spartan theogony and Eurynome in Orphic myth. Regardless of the standard myths that come down to us now, Homer could not ignore the clout of the deities in alternaive and local myths.


  5. Off-topic: I don't remember where, but we surely discussed how the death of Nestor's sons could be regarded as a sacrifice to ensure his continuing survival. I don't know whether this is correct about Nestor, but see what I found about a mythical king at the other (Northern) end of Europe:

    "Aun the Old... mythical Swedish king... Aun... had ten sons, nine of which he was said to have sacrificed in order to prolong his own life..."

  6. Maya,

    Robert Graves is big into the idea that the therapon (Graves uses the Celtic word "tanist" ) or a son can be sacrificed in lieu of the "sacrificial-king". Eventually the honor is passed along to scapegoats and criminals who are treated like kings until their ritualized death.

    The problem is no ancient author mentions this and it is based on the premise that in "pre-history" "the hand the rocked the cradle was the hand that ruled that world " Again no ancient source mentioned a matriarchal society that keeps the same queen and treats her consort like a drone.

    even as a child F&G's logic seemed suspicious. I think I did a blog post on the world Tanist. I should revisit it because something I was reading recently suggested a more antagonist relationship between therapon/hero than Nagy suggests. Graves does suggest more antagonism in the relationship


    PS I am pretty sure Wikipedia got the quote from Graves.

    Frazer and Graves argue there is no evidence in ancient sources because this was before history/writing/oral tradition/songs...

  7. Robert Graves wouldn't make a career in science, with his habit to consider every fancy idea born by his brain a proven truth until specifically refuted with a mountain of evidence - and, I suspect, even after it.

    Archaeologist Maria Gimbutas (credited with locating the ancestral land of Indo-Europeans) had some pseudo-feminist theories that before the violent invasion of said Indo-Europeans, Europe was a paradise of peaceful cultures where males and females were equal; in fact, she clearly thought that these "old European" societies were led by females and this made them superior, but was afraid to say it.
    The highest known achievements of Old Europe have been found in my country, in the Varna Necropolis:

    There, males have been buried with pounds of gold and other prestige goods, and with weapons. I guess you aren't surprised, but I wonder how Gimbutas could stick to her theory in the face of such contrary evidence.
    (Besides, I wouldn't call superior a culture that has proven unable to repel invaders.)

    Of all societies past and present, I know of only one (1) matriarchal, described by Thor Heyerdahl. It had been founded relatively recently on an island by a group of female refugees and their children. Growing in the absence of adult men, the boys accepted women as leaders.
    Maybe there are a few more such societies, but definitely not a universal matriarchal stage. It makes me suspect Aristotle's theory reversed. As far as I know, he thought that degenerated men become women and, upon further degeneration, animals. So for modern sexist male scientists it was only too natural to think that, after evolving from non-human animals, humanity had a primitive matriarchal stage.

  8. Maya,

    I researched the notion that a knight-errant or banished prince couldn't be king until he wed the local queen, princess or eponymous nymph. Sure it happens in Greek myth but not consistently enough to be "Law"

    I have wondered if Hesiod confused us about the "King of the Gods" being a role passed from father to son, when it fact it is also mother to son.

    I've wondered about Hera and Gaia (Queens of the Gods) always representing the more conservative faction, but that too is not consistent.

    but there is no a mountain of evidence for all this.

    Gotta check out Varna before my 1:30 meeting.



  9. This said, I think that wife-killing is taboo in Greek myth and this is strange.
    Cephalus kills Procris, but this is unintentional, like Deianeira killing Heracles. Apollo murders Coronis, but he is a god and she is a mortal (and some say that he actually sent Artemis to kill Coronis). There are at least two instances of first-degree murder of a husband: Clytemnestra and the Danaids. Any opposite examples? There are some where a husband is expected to kill his wife but doesn't. Amphiaraus wants to kill his Eriphyle, but doesn't dare and entrusts the task to his son instead. Diomedes, whose affinity for slaughter and destruction would make him good ISIS material, after seeing his wife's infidelity, quietly raises the white flag and goes into exile.

    1. Maya,

      People want the Erinyes (the enforcers of taboos) to do a lot of things but in "Eumenides" here is what they have to say;

      Erinyes; We drive matricides from their homes.
      Apollo; What about a wife who kills her husband?
      Erinyes; That would not be murder of a relative by blood.

      So there is no taboo on killing a wife, but it would require a man's sons (or a daughter like Electra) to seek revenge. Now I got to find an example.


    2. Following Carlos Parada at Greek Mythology Link I could only find two guys that murdered their wives. Periander and Leucus
      • Periander of Corinth (625-585 BC) killed his wife Melissa, daughter of Procles 3, the tyrant of Epidaurus
      • “Like other Achaean women Meda 2 took a lover while her husband was fighting at Troy. Her lover Leucus 1 usurped the throne of Crete and, having become a tyrant, murdered both Meda 1 and her daughter Clisithyra whom she had by her husband Idomeneus 1, [Apd.Ep.6.10].”

      But Meda’s case reminded me of all those princesses who betray their country for love of the attacking prince and get their comeuppance. “But also those who benefit from treason despise traitors; for Minos 2 killed Scylla 2, who, during the siege of Megara, fell in love with him and for his sake murdered her father, King Nisus 1, causing, through her treachery, the defeat of the city. But once Minos 2 had taken Megara, he tied the girl by the feet to the stern of the ship and drowned her. Likewise Amphitryon killed Comaetho 1, who, having fallen in love with him, betrayed his father and the kingdom of Taphos to the invader. And Pisidice 4, princess of Methymna in Lesbos, fell in love with Achilles when he was besieging the city, promising to put the town into his possession if he would take her to wife. Achilles—like Minos 2 and Amphitryon before him—consented, but when the city was in his power he bade his soldiers stone her. Also Tarpeia 2—the woman who betrayed the Roman citadel to the Sabines for the sake of their bracelets—was killed by those whom she assisted.”

    3. Good research! So Ariadne and Medea should consider themselves lucky!

  10. When brothers marry sisters, it is difficult to say who inherits whom, but Hesiod seems to have borrowed from the Eastern succession myth of Alalu - Anu - Kumarbi - Teshub, and there the power struggle is entirely between males. So I think he inserted into the original myth ambitious, powerful, disloyal and cunning wife/mothers, an image which apparently triggered paranoic fears in ancient Greek men.

    About the "rule only after marrying a local woman", maybe the best example is Poseidon. In historical invasions and usurpations, the usurper often comes with male companions only, so he just has to marry a local woman. But the two best-known Greek foundation myths do not involve a local woman. Cadmus is given Harmonia by the gods, and the usurper Lynceus marries another foreigner, Hypermnestra.