Thursday, December 28, 2017

TFBT: Aeacus

Aeacus while he reigned in Aegina was renowned in all Greece for his justice and piety, and was frequently called upon to settle disputes not only among men, but even among the gods themselves.” A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology William Smith, Ed.   

 The first of the dictionary’s references agrees that Aeacus was called upon to settle disputes among the gods; (Aegina) “bore to the lord of the loud thunder the best of men on earth, brilliant Aeacus. He was judge among the divinities even,” (Pindar. Isth. 8.48) 

But in all of Greek myth I can find no specific details.

The second and last reference the Dictionary uses for the opening quote is;
Sciron (King of the Megarians) married the daughter of Pandion and afterwards disputed with Nisus, the son of Pandion, about the throne, the dispute being settled by Aeacus, who gave the kingship to Nisus and his descendants, and to Sciron the leadership in war.” Paus. 1.39.6

This might be a fine example of Aeacus’ skill as a mediator among mortals, but that’s not the gods.  It does remind me of Briareus, the Hundred-Hander when he mediated the claims of Helios and Poseidon for Corinth;
"The Corinthians say that Poseidon had a dispute with Helios about the land, and that Briareus arbitrated between them, assigning to Poseidon the Isthmus and the parts adjoining, and giving to Helios the height above the city (the Acropolis of Corinth ." Pausanias, Description of Greece 2.1.6

The nice thing about Briareus’ judgement is it gives to each god what most rightly would be associated with him; the sea-god Poseidon gets the watery channel and low lying land and the Titan of the Sun gets that portion of the community closet to his realm in the sky, the acropolis.  The truly marvelous thing about Briareus wise judgement among the gods is that afterwards; no one’s wings got torn off (Paus. 9.34.3), their river beds didn’t dry up (Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 13), they weren’t skinned alive (Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 24) nor had their plains flooded (Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3.14.1) Assuming,  Aeacus made similar Solomon-like judgements among the gods, what were they? I propose two disputes we know he was involved in.  Maybe his involvement hints at the notion he was the mediator in each case;
1.  "When for marriage with Thetis there arose strife 'twixt Zeus and glorious Poseidon when each of the two gods would have her to be his lovely bride.” (Pindar, Isthmian Ode 8.3)  No admittedly Pindar gives Themis all the credit for judging between the two and picking a mortal as the nymph’s husband.  And according to Aeschylus, maybe it was Prometheus that made them see the light. (Prometheus Bound)  But still the choice of Aeacus’ son Peleus as the spouse of the Nereid, must if not indicate involvement at least indicate close association with all involved.

2.  The revolt of Poseidon and Apollo, against Zeus. The sole reference to this revolt is in Iliad 7; Poseidon speaking to Apollo “the woes that we twain alone of all the gods endured at Ilios, what time we came [445] at the bidding of Zeus and served the lordly Laomedon for a year's space at a fixed wage, and he was our taskmaster and laid on us his commands.” So who mediated this solution to their strife?  No reference to Themis intervening.  Could it have been Aeacus again?  Aeacus, whom wide-ruling Poseidon and the son of Leto, when they were about to build the crown of walls to encircle Ilium, summoned as a fellow worker” (Pindar Olympian 8.34-35)

All this is pure speculations on my part!  But, if some ancient forgot legends say Aeacus settled disputes among the gods I judge two of the disputes were over;
·      the hand of “a girl, just one girl” and 
·      a revolt against Zeus

 Anyone got other suggestions?

Saturday, December 23, 2017

TFBT: Turned into a Fabulous Island

 Over at the Kosmos Society,  Maya and I discussed goddesses who escaped Zeus’ amorous clutches.  We couldn’t figure out why the Titaness Asteria was able to turn herself, into an island (Delos) and a similar escape wasn’t available to most others. I suggested that she, her sister Leto and nephew and niece Apollo and Artemis were Anatolian deities, a different divine clan than the Olympian, not under the dispensation at Mecone.  So like Hypnos she could escape Zeus because she wasn’t under his authority.  (Iliad 14. 231 ff)

The whole time I am thinking I recall a goddess in a similar situation, but I had to look it up.  Found it;  

Aea; a huntress who was metamorphosed by the gods into the fabulous island bearing the same name in order to rescue her from the pursuit of Phasis, the river god.”  (Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology)

Aea is also the name of the capital of Colchis.  This is the distant and mysterious land where King Aeetes and his daughter Medea lived.  It is near here that Aeetes’ father Helios rested each morning on his couch before the sun-god and his sister Eos, the Dawn launch into the sky. In “The East Face of Helicon” M.LWest (1997) argues Aea was tied to the Akkadian dawn goddess Aya.   “It seems impossible to separate this Aea from the name of the Babylonian goddess Aya, who is the Sun-god’s wife and the goddess of sexual love” (p. 407).  (Thanks to  Jason Colavito  for this insight. 

So here we have it a goddess with a situation very comparable to Asteria, Aea was able to escape a amorous pursuer by turning herself into a rock at the mouth of the river. 
Only problem is I can find no primary source saying Aea turned herself into a rock.  The Dictionary’s reference did not support the idea.  Neither has anyone ever compared Aea to Asteria. 

One little aside Aeetes’ first wife was named Asterodeia. [i]  Hmm



[i] Apollonius Rhodius Argonautica 3.240ff

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

TFBT: December Quotes

“Homer shows us a lot about who we are even today.” Jean d’Ormesson 

“Homer is never boring, amazingly modern…do not let him be forgotten.”   Jean d’Ormesson 

“Knowledge kills my inner child.”  Maya M.

“All right... all right... but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order... what have the Romans done for us?  From "Monty Python's Life of Brian"

To-do list; "The list that lasts forever".  Jason Anderson

“Tereus discovers that his stomach has become the tomb of his own son,” Gregory Nagy

“A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.’”   Isaiah 40.3

“ The company then flew to Salzburg where filming resumed on (Sound of Music) ...Wise faced opposition from city leaders who opposed him staging scenes with swastika banners. They relented after he threatened instead to include actual newsreel footage of crowds cheering Hitler during a visit to the town.”  (Wikipedia; The Sound of Music)

“ she anointed herself with olive oil, ambrosial, very soft, and scented specially for herself—if it were so much as shaken in the bronze-floored house of Zeus, the scent pervaded the universe of heaven and earth.    (Iliad 14: 171-4)


Friday, December 1, 2017

TFBT: Hera & Apollo Go Skinny-Dipping

(Maya,  this needs a little more editing but was ready to be done with it!  Enjoy.)

Goddesses love skinny-dipping. 

Isn’t that a great way to start a conversation about ritual bathing?  Get a group of goddesses out in the woods and the next thing you know they are stripping off the clothes and leaping into a refreshing pool; Hera at Canathus,[i] Artemis at the Bath of Actaeon,[ii] bloody Daphne in the River Ladon, [iii] gray-eyed Athena in the Baths of Pallas (Callimachus), Callisto and huntress Diana “in a deep fountain of cool water",[iv] the Muses washing their tender skin (Theogony 5), and Demeter famously abstaining from bathing for nine days. (HH)  Some goddesses had specific ritual baths like;

“The ritual bath Aphrodite shared with the two other Korai, Athene and Hera. Callimachus devotes a Hymn to the Bath of Pallas. ‘Pallas in her austerity, even when she contends for the prize of beauty, rejects the mirror and gold ornaments and mingled unguents; but, because she is maiden goddess, year by year she must renew her virginity by the bath in the river Inachus. The renewal of virginity is no fancy.  Pausanias saw at Naiiplia a spring called Canathus and the Argives told him that every year Hera bathed in it and became a virgin.’”[v]

But male gods not so much.

I can only find two examples of male deities taking a bath.  Apollo cleansed himself in the River Peneus after the murder of the Python.”[vi]  And the god (erotes) Hermaphroditus had a really bad experience when he went skinny-dipping one time. (Ovid, Met 4.373) and when he got out of the water 

cried, his voice unmanned, ‘Dear father [Hermes] and dear mother [Aphrodite], both of whose names I bear, grant me, your child, that whoso in these waters bathes a man emerge half woman, weakened instantly.’”

I would like to compare two different periodic positive ritual baths. Compare Hera’s re-virgination to Apollo’s re-purification;

1)    According to Pausanias; "In Nauplia . . . is a spring called Canathus. Here, say the Argives, Hera bathes every year and recovers her maidenhood.”  The Samians have a slightly different version involving a surrogate, but we will get to that later.  

2)    The Thessalian’s say that in the River Peneus in the Vale of the Tempe, Apollo-Pythius, having slain (the Python) with his arrows, was by Zeus’ command purified. Apollo’s surrogates returned every eight or nine years to reenact the ritual.  

Hera and Apollo return to the place of their birth for this rejuvenating ritual bath.

1)    Several parts of Greece also claimed the honor of being Hera’s birthplace; among them are two, Argos and Samos, which were the principal seats of her worship.[vii] According to Homer  (Il. xiv. 201), she was brought up by Oceanus and Tethys,

2)    On the other hand most traditions agree in describing Delos as the place that Leto finally gave birth to her children after a long search for a safe place.[viii]

However there is a little something wrong with the accounts of their births.  

1) “Baby” Hera came into this world twice; once at birth from her mother Rhea and again born from the stomach of her cannibal father Cronus.[ix] Hesiod does not say where Hera was actually born nor where Cronus “brought up again his offspring”. So maybe

a). on the shores of the Inachus in a spring called Canathus or maybe

b). as “The Samians hold that the goddess was born in the island by the side of the river Imbrasos." [x]

2) Delos was eventually Apollo’s nativity, but maybe that’s not where he was destined to be born;

“(Leto] stretched forth both her arms and spake in vain: ‘Ye Thessalian Nymphs, offspring of a River [Peneus], tell your sire to hush his great stream. Entwine your hands about his beard and entreat him that the children of Zeus be born in his waters...Then shedding tears, Peneus answered her...Here am I! What needeth more? Do thou but call upon Eileithyia (goddess of birth).” (Callimachus, Hymn 4 to Delos) 

Oaths and promises were exchanged between the river god and the daughter of Coeus.  Jenny Strauss-Clay in The Politics of Olympus, 1989, declares that the declarations of the gods are “once and always”.  By that logic Apollo’s birthplace must in some way be the Vale of the Tempe.

So it comes to this;

Every year Hera or her surrogate must return to the place of her birth.  Apollo every Great Year to his place of birth wash in the river there and be re-purified or rejuvenated.  Now as to the ritual baths themselves;  

1)    Hera’s Baths;

a.     Visiting Pausanias again; “a spring called Canathus where, so say the Argives, Hera bathes every year and, by so doing, becomes a maiden; it is this story which is of the secrets connected with the rites which they perform to Hera."  So it doesn’t look like there is much to learn here)[xi]

b.    Joan V. O’Brien gives information on the ritual bath of Hera.  She sees it as a wide-ranging annual event at many Heraia co-located with water.  She describes Hera’s ritual bath at Samos as “The annual procession of her cult statue to the banks of the Imbrasus, its bath in the river and its binding to the lugos tree.[xii]  The statue in question was originally represented by a rough-hewn piece of ancient wood.   The accompanying nude revelers would wear only wreathes of lugos, "The bathing of a statue of a goddess is a commemorative re-enactment of the bath which the goddess took herself.”[xiii]

2)    As to Apollo’s bath let me summarize Frazer.[xiv]  Every eight years at Delphi a model of the Python’s palace is erected (presumably from laurel branches). A lad representing Apollo shots an arrow into the “lordly palace”, after which the palace is torched.  After slaying the dragon the boy leads other youths to the Vale of the Tempe and is purified in the Peneus

Romances are associated with these stories;

1)    O’Brien theorizes that prior to being summoned to Olympus by Hesiod and Homer, Hera was the local goddess on Samos and wedded wife of the river-god Imbrasus.  (Interestingly, Susan A. Stephens[xv] lists “Chesia” as a Samian epithet for Hera.  Atsma reports that the Samian Nymph Chesias bore a son to Imbrasus named Ocyrhoe.)

2)    Famously, Apollo fell in love with Daphne, daughter of Peneus and nymph of the laurel tree.[xvi] She did not return his affection and there is no speculation as to their wedding.  There is a story about another suitor of Daphne’s, named Leucippus.  (Elsewhere another Leucippus is confounded with Apollo as possible father of the Leucippides, spouses of the Discouri.) This Leucippus disguised himself as a girl and followed Daphne and her fellow nymphs into the woods.  Naturally the goddesses decided to go skinny-dipping.  Things didn’t go well for him.   

In summary 

Each deity or their surrogate returns to the place of their “birth” on a river bank for a ritual bath and rejuvenation of some sort on a regular basis.  There is a tree and a little romance in each story.  In no account do we hear specific details (or God forbid) “see” the deity actually skinny-dipping. Which according to Pausanias might be part of a mystery.







[i] Pau. 2.38.2 
[ii] Pau 9.2.3
[iii] Pau 8.20.2
[iv] Ovid, Fasti 2. 155ff
[v] Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, JANE ELLEN HARRISON, pg. 311.  With no intended offense to Harrison, all the references I find to the Baths of Aphrodite are scholarly asides or the subject of tourist guides, ancient and modern.
[vi] Aelian Var Hist III.1
[vii] Strab. p. 413; Paus. vii. 4. § 7; Apollon. Rhod. i. 187, 
[viii] Callim. Hymn. in Apoll.init. 59, in Del. 206, 261; Aeschyl. Eum. 9; Herod. ii. 170.) 
[ix] Theogony 453 ff  
[x] pausanias 7. 4. 4).    
[xi]  I will note the river-god Kaanthos, slain by Apollo. (Pausanias, 9. 10. 4-5) That would make him a chthonic river-god perfect for mysteries. On the other hand bodies of water without genus locii are usually named for someone that drowne in them.
[xii] Transformation of Hera, page 59)
[xiii] G. W. Elderkin, "Aphrodite and Athena in the Lysistrata of Aristophanes" Classical Philology 35.4 (October 1940, pp. 387-396) p. 395.j
[xiv] Frazer’s commentary on Pausanias 7.7. (His references are Plutarch,(  Quaest.Gaec12 & Dedecta Orac. 15,) and Aelian Var.His3.1
[xv] Callimachus: The Hymns 
[xvi] Hyginus, Fabulae 203

Thursday, November 30, 2017

TFBT: Hesiod's Cosmos, Part III

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I read Jenny Strauss Clay’s “Hesiod’s Cosmos”.  Looking at previous blogposts.  Apparently this is my third read-through.  Apparently, her insights are sticking, because as I read through my posts and studied the underlined items in the text, I said to myself, “I knew this already.”   

So the insights I offer here are a little different for a couple of reasons.  1)  My next big article will be about Aeacus and Arbitration in Ancient Greek myth.  2)  Freed from having to follow the now well-known arguments, I could now read for enjoyment alone.  I hope you will do the same. All quotes are from Clay unless noted otherwise.

Aeacus and Arbitration

 To favored kings they (the Muses) dispense the mollifying rhetoric that has the power to resolve even a great quarrel; those who have been wronged are sooth and reconciled.”

 “The people all look to him as he discerns the ordinances with straight judgments and he speaking without stumbling, quickly and expertly makes and end even to a big quarrel.” Theogony 84-87

 “The setting is clearly a communal feast shared by gods and men[i] a dias, whose very name derives from the act of division or apportionment; hence the formulaic expression, dais eish, referring to a fair and equitable distribution.  As a social institution, the dias eish involves two distinct kinds of apportionment; the first is a division into strictly equal parts…the second constitutes the portion of honor the geras, assigned in recognition of particular excellence or esteem.  With his division of the meat, Prometheus honors men by giving them all the edible parts of the ox.  By this very act, he deprives the gods of that part of the dais eish that legitimately belong to them.”   

Random Notes

“The gods in their blissful state needed the presence of inferior creatures to enjoy their superiority fully.”

“Pandora, who is coeval with the hiding of bios” Hey, same as Eve.

μηδέ ποτ᾽ οὐλομένην πενίην θυμοφθόρον ἀνδρὶ  τέτλαθ᾽ ὀνειδίζειν,
Don’t ever dare to blame a man for cursed soul-destroying poverty. 
Theogony 717

“Cereberus will later receive a place and function in the organization of Tartarus, ensuring that the dead cannot escape from the underworld.”  This is wrong.  Cereberus is there to keep the living from accidentally wandering in.  

At the outset, the cosmos came into being when Gaia became oppressed by the burden of her children within; so now in a parallel fashion  the external pressure of human population weighs her down.”   I think a better parallel is that the cosmos came into being when Gaia was oppressed by the constant weight of Uranus upon her and now “the external pressure of human population weighs her down”.  Gee, what does that say about us?  The severing of the demi-gods from their lives at Thebes and Troy constitutes a new dispensation, because the gods like their grandfather Uranus pull back from the earth.  It renders permanent the gulf separating the eternal gods from ephemeral mortals.”  It is the birth of the Iron Age, when Man rules.

I am convinced that meaning inheres in form.”

“The succession of races is not linear but cyclical; at the end of the age of iron…the cycle of races stars again with a new golden age or more likely a new age of heroes as the sequence reverse itself.”

“Thebes, traditionally reputed to be the first city.”

“Thebes and Troy where the heroes demonstrate their valor – and perhaps provide entertainment for the gods.”  

[i] The feast at Mecone celebrating the victory of the Olympians and their allies over the Titans.  It is the time of the Great Dispensation when Zeus allotted each their prerogatives, privileges and powers.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

TFBT:November Quotes

“Porson, while admitting that the critics have many things to say against Euripides as compared, for instance, with Sophocles, answers in his inarticulate way "illum admiramur, hunc legimus"—"we admire the one, but we read the other."   Gilbert Murray.

ISMENE: What? You'd kill your own son's bride?
CREON: Absolutely: there are other fields for him to plow.”
― Sophocles, Antigone  

The British classicist Emily Wilson said. “ I partly just want to shake them and make them see that all translations are interpretations.”

“the relative pronoun hos ‘who’  functioning as a ‘hinge’ that enables the spatio-temporal shift. “.

“When,” asked Aphrodite, “did Praxiteles see me naked?”

“Stay away from negative people. They have a problem for every solution.” Albert Einstein

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

TFBT: Arbitration I

Over at the Kosmos Society we discussed "justice" and a fellow member shared the defining moment in the foundation myth of the juried legal system;

"It is my duty to give the final judgment and I (Athena) shall cast my vote for Orestes. [735] For there was no mother who gave me birth; and in all things, except for marriage, whole-heartedly I am for the male and entirely on the father’s side." (Eumenides) 

My friend added, "To me, this doesn’t sound like a basis for justice, but a foundation for a patriarchal justice system."  I nodded sadly in agreement when she lamented the lack of justice for Ancient women. But, walking my dog Derby last night I recalled Marpessa.  Here is her story:

“Apollodorus [1.7.8] Evenus begat Marpessa, who was wooed by Apollo, but Idas, son of Aphareus, carried her off in a winged chariot which he received from Poseidon.  Pursuing him in a chariot, Evenus came to the river Lycormas, but when he could not catch him he slaughtered his horses and threw himself into the river, and the river is called Evenus after him. [1.7.9] But Idas came to Messene, and Apollo, falling in with him, would have robbed him of the damsel. As they fought for the girl's hand, Zeus parted them and allowed the maiden herself to choose which of the two she would marry; and she, because she feared that Apollo might desert her in her old age, chose Idas for her husband.” 

So, Marpessa got a little justice (avoided an undesirable marriage) thanks to arbitration by Zeus. Pausanias describes Briareus as adjudicator or arbitrator between Helios and Poseidon for dominion over Corinth. (2.4.5 & 2.1.5)The River Inachus with the Rivers Cephisus and Asterion judged concerning the disputed land of Argolis between Poseidon and Hera. (Pausanias 1.15.4) 

I am seeing adjudication here as a third way to justice, rather than just vendetta (violence) or jury. Odysseus adjudicated the conflict between the suitors of Helen, via the Oath of Tyndareus[i].  An adjudication which insured that Marpessa’s cousins Helen[ii] and Penelope[iii] also had a say on who they wed. 


[i] Pausanias 3.20.9 & Hyginus Fables 78
[ii] Hyginus Fables 79
[iii] Pausanias 3.20.10-11

Sunday, November 5, 2017

TFBT: The Seven Wives of Zeus: Part V

The Seven Wives of Zeus: Iasion


“So again when Demeter of the lovely hair fell in love with Iasion, and yielded to him in a thrice plowed fallow field, Zeus came to hear of it before so long and killed Iasion with his thunder-bolts“  (Odyssey 5.125,   Kosmos Society)


I wonder why Iasion got the shaft?  I have three considerations on the topic so far;


  1.  First, Calypso who told the tale above also says with a shudder “and her words came forth in rapid flight: “You are merciless, you gods, resentful beyond all other beings; you are jealous if without disguise a goddess makes a man her bedfellow,” (Homer, Odyssey 5.115) So Iasion’s death would be the result of an Olympian taboo on misalliance.  The problem with this argument is that her own lover Odyssey didn’t get the struck by a lightning bolt on account of sleeping with the goddess.


  1. Second, several scholars will tell you that the myth reflects the fact that “the cutting of three furrows was part of fertility rites performed to inaugurate the new agricultural year.” (Aaron Atsma)  They will say that the re-enactment of the myth took place between the goddess/priestess and the “agricultural hero” (Atsma) or “the sacred king” (Graves) or “corn spirit” (Frazer).  And that his blood fertilized the fields.   Only none of the scholars can offer literary references.  Surely, if it was a tradition back then Hesiod would have mentioned it in Works and Days.


  1. The third consideration in understanding Iasion’s death is something that should have crossed my mind somewhere in the last half century of research.  The phrase “a thrice plowed fallow field” is a euphemism.  To share and example of this euphemism I turn to Sophocles in the Antigone;    


 ISMENE: What? You'd kill your own son's bride?
CREON: Absolutely: there are other fields for him to plow.”


Plowing the field is a euphemism for sex.  Iasion may have been slain for his hubristic threat to Zeus’ notorious hyper-masculinity.  Clearly Zeus had lain with Demeter, but he had to turn them both into snakes in order to rape her.  His brother and peer Poseidon had to turn Demeter into a mare in order to rape her.  Now comes along a silver-tongued mortal who not only convinces her to join him for a roll in the hay of her own free will, but Demeter enjoys their tryst so much that they “plow the field” three time before returning to Harmonia’s reception.  In short  a jealous Zeus strike shim dead not for  violating Olympic taboos, nor  to make him the prototype for human sacrifice  but rather out of jealousy of  Iasion’s sexual prowess

Any things else I should be considering in my analysis?