The Greek Myths, Volume2Robert Graves
THE GREEK MYTHS
Robert Graves was born in 1895 in Wimbledon, son of Alfred Percival Graves, the Irish writer, and Amalia von Ranke. He went from school to the First World War, where he became a captain in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. His principal calling was poetry, and his Selected Poems have been published in the Penguin Poets. Apart from a year as Professor of English Literature at Cairo University in 1926, he earned his living by writing, mostly historical novels, which include I, Claudius; Claudius the God; Sergeant Lamb of the Ninth; Count Belisarius; Wife to Mr Milton (all published in Penguins); Proceed, Sergeant Lamb; The Golden Fleece; They Hanged My Saintly Billy; and The Isles of Unwisdom. He wrote his autobiography, Goodbye to All That, in 1929 and it rapidly established itself as a modern classic. The Times Literary Supplement acclaimed it as ‘one of the most candid self-portraits of a poet, warts and all, ever painted,’ as well as being of exceptional value as a war document. His two most discussed non-fiction books are The White Goddess, which presents a new view of the poetic impulse, and The Nazarine Gospel Restored (with Joshua Podro), a re-examination of primitive Christianity. He translated Apuleius, Lucan and Suetonius for the Penguin Classics, and compiled the first modern dictionary of Greek mythology, The Greek Myths. His translation of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (with Omar Ali-Shah) is also published in Penguins. He was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1961, and made an Honorary Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford, in 1971.
Robert Graves died on 7 December 1985 in Majorca, his home since 1929. On his death The Times wrote of him, ‘He will be remembered for his achievements as a prose stylist, historical novelist and memoirist, but above all as the great paradigm of the dedicated poet, “the greatest love poet in English since Donne”.’
THE GREEK MYTHS
Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in Pelican Books 1955
Reprinted with amendments 1957
Revised edition 1960
Reprinted in Penguin Books 1990
Copyright © Robert Graves, 1955, 1960
All rights reserved
Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
CONTENTS OF VOLUME TWO
106. THE SEVEN AGAINST THEBES
107. THE EPIGONI
109. PELOPS AND OENOMAUS
110. THE CHILDREN OF PELOPS
111. ATREUS AND THYESTES
112. AGAMEMNON AND CLYTAEMNESTRA
113. THE VENGEANCE OF ORESTES
114. THE TRIAL OF ORESTES
115. THE PACIFICATION OF THE ERINNYES
116. IPHIGENEIA AMONG THE TAURIANS
117. THE REIGN OF ORESTES
118. THE BIRTH OF HERACLES
119. THE YOUTH OF HERACLES
120. THE DAUGHTERS OF THESPIUS
122. THE MADNESS OF HERACLES
123. THE FIRST LABOUR: THE NEMEAN LION
124. THE SECOND LABOUR: THE LERNAEAN HYDRA
125. THE THIRD LABOUR: THE CERYNEIAN HIND
126. THE FOURTH LABOUR: THE ERYMANTHIAN BOAR
127. THE FIFTH LABOUR: THE STABLES OF AUGEIAS
128. THE SIXTH LABOUR: THE STYMPHALIAN BIRDS
129. THE SEVENTH LABOUR: THE CRETAN BULL
130. THE EIGHTH LABOUR: THE MARES OF DIOMEDES
131. THE NINTH LABOUR: HIPPOLYTE’S GIRDLE
132. THE TENTH LABOUR: THE CATTLE OF GERYON
133. THE ELEVENTH LABOUR: THE APPLES OF THE HESPERIDES
134. THE TWELFTH LABOUR: THE CAPTURE OF CERBERUS
135. THE MURDER OF IPHITUS
138. THE CONQUEST OF ELIS
139. THE CAPTURE OF PYLUS
140. THE SONS OF HIIPOCOÖN
143. HERACLES IN TRACHIS
145. THE APOTHEOSIS OF HERACLES
146. THE CHILDREN OF HERACLES
148. THE ARGONAUTS ASSEMBLE
149. THE LEMNIAN WOMEN AND KING CYZICUS
150. HYLAS, AMYCUS, AND PHINEUS
151. FROM THE SYMPLEGADES TO COLCHIS
152. THE SEIZURE OF THE FLEECE
153. THE MURDER OF APSYRTUS
154. THE ARGO RETURNS TO GREECE
155. THE DEATH OF PELIAS
156. MEDEA AT EPHYRA
157. MEDEA IN EXILE
158 THE FOUNDATION OF TROY
159. PARIS AND HELEN
160. THE FIRST GATHERING AT AULIS
161. THE SECOND GATHERING AT AULIS
162. NINE YEARS OF WAR
163. THE WRATH OF ACHILLES
164. THE DEATH OF ACHILLES
165. THE MADNESS OF AJAX
166. THE ORACLES OF TROY
167. THE WOODEN HORSE
168. THE SACK OF TROY
169. THE RETURNS
170. ODYSSEUS’S WANDERINGS
171. ODYSSEUS’S HOMECOMING
Map showing the sites mentioned in text
LAIUS, son of Labdacus, married Iocaste, and ruled over Thebes. Grieved by his prolonged childlessness, he secretly consulted the Delphic Oracle, which informed him that this seeming misfortune was a blessing, because any child born to Iocaste would become his murderer. He therefore put Iocaste away, though without offering any reason for his decision, which caused her such vexation that, having made him drunk, she inveigled him into her arms again as soon as night fell. When, nine months later, Iocaste was brought to bed of a son, Laius snatched him from the nurse’s arms, pierced his feet with a nail and, binding them together, exposed him on Mount Cithaeron.
b. Yet the Fates had ruled that this boy should reach a green old age. A Corinthian shepherd found him, named him Oedipus because his feet were deformed by the nail-wound, and brought him to Corinth, where King Polybus was reigning at the time.1
c. According to another version of the story, Laius did not expose Oedipus on the mountain, but locked him in a chest, which was lowered into the sea from a ship. This chest drifted ashore at Sicyon, where Periboea, Polybus’s queen, happened to be on the beach, supervising her royal laundry-women. She picked up Oedipus, retired to a thicket and pretended to have been overcome by the pangs of labour. Since the laundry-women were too busy to notice what she was about, she deceived them all into thinki
ng that he had only just been born. But Periboea told the truth to Polybus who, also being childless, was pleased to rear Oedipus as his own son.
One day, taunted by a Corinthian youth with not in the least resembling his supposed parents, Oedipus went to ask the Delphic Oracle what future lay in store for him. ‘Away from the shrine, wretch!’ the Pythoness cried in disgust. ‘You will kill your father and marry your mother!’
d. Since Oedipus loved Polybus and Periboea, and shrank from bringing disaster upon them, he at once decided against returning to Corinth. But in the narrow defile between Delphi and Daulis he happened to meet Laius, who ordered him roughly to step off the road and make way for his betters; Laius, it should be explained, was in a chariot and Oedipus on foot. Oedipus retorted that he acknowledged no betters except the gods and his own parents.
‘So much the worse for you!’ cried Laius, and ordered his charioteer Polyphontes to drive on.
One of the wheels bruised Oedipus’s foot and, transported by rage, he killed Polyphontes with his spear. Then, flinging Laius on the road entangled in the reins, and whipping up the team, he made them drag him to death. It was left to the king of Plataeae to bury both corpses.2
e. Laius had been on his way to ask the Oracle how he might rid Thebes of the Sphinx. This monster was a daughter of Typhon and Echidne or, some say, of the dog Orthrus and the Chimaera, and had flown to Thebes from the uttermost part of Ethiopia. She was easily recognized by her woman’s head, lion’s body, serpent’s tail, and eagle’s wings.3 Hera had recently sent the Sphinx to punish Thebes for Laius’s abduction of the boy Chrysippus from Pisa and, settling on Mount Phicium, close to the city, she now asked every Theban wayfarer a riddle taught her by the Three Muses: ‘What being, with only one voice, has sometimes two feet, sometimes three, sometimes four, and is weakest when it has the most?’ Those who could not solve the riddle she throttled and devoured on the spot, among which unfortunates was Iocaste’s nephew Haemon, whom the Sphinx made haimon, or ‘bloody’, indeed.
Oedipus, approaching Thebes fresh from the murder of Laius, guessed the answer. ‘Man,’ he replied, ‘because he crawls on all fours as an infant, stands firmly on his two feet in his youth, and leans upon a staff in his old age.’ The mortified Sphinx leaped from Mount Phicium and dashed herself to pieces in the valley below. At this the grateful Thebans acclaimed Oedipus king, and he married Iocaste, unaware that she was his mother.
f. Plague then descended upon Thebes, and the Delphic Oracle, when consulted once more, replied: ‘Expel the murderer of Laius!’ Oedipus, not knowing whom he had met in the defile, pronounced a curse on Laius’s murderer and sentenced him to exile.
g. Blind Teiresias, the most renowned seer in Greece at this time, now demanded an audience with Oedipus. Some say that Athene, who had blinded him for having inadvertently seen her bathing, was moved by his mother’s plea and, taking the serpent Erichthonius from her aegis, gave the order: ‘Cleanse Teiresias’s ears with your tongue that he may understand the language of prophetic birds.’
h. Others say that once, on Mount Cyllene, Teiresias had seen two serpents in the act of coupling. When both attacked him, he struck at them with his staff, killing the female. Immediately he was turned into a woman, and became a celebrated harlot; but seven years later he happened to see the same sight again at the same spot, and this time regained his manhood by killing the male serpent. Still others say that when Aphrodite and the three Charites, Pasithea, Cale, and Eurphosyne, disputed as to which of the four was most beautiful, Teiresias awarded Cale the prize; whereupon Aphrodite turned him into an old woman. But Cale took him with her to Crete and presented him with a lovely head of hair. Some days later Hera began reproaching Zeus for his numerous infidelities. He defended them by arguing that, at any rate, when he did share her couch, she had the more enjoyable time by far. ‘Women, of course, derive infinitely greater pleasure from the sexual act than men,’ he blustered.
‘What nonsense!’ cried Hera. ‘The exact contrary is the case, and well you know it.’
Teiresias, summoned to settle the dispute from his personal experience, answered:
‘If the parts of love-pleasure be counted as ten,
Thrice three go to women, one only to men.’
Hera was so exasperated by Zeus’s triumphant grin that she blinded Teiresias; but Zeus compensated him with inward sight, and a life extended to seven generations.4
i. Teiresias now appeared at Oedipus’s court, leaning on the cornel-wood staff given him by Athene, and revealed to Oedipus the will of the gods: that the plague would cease only if a Sown Man died for the sake of the city. Iocaste’s father Menoeceus, one of those who had risen out of the earth when Cadmus sowed the serpent’s teeth, at once leaped from the walls, and all Thebes praised his civic devotion.
Teiresias then announced further: ‘Menoeceus did well, and the plague will now cease. Yet the gods had another of the Sown Men in mind, one of the third generation: for he has killed his father and married his mother. Know, Queen Iocaste, that it is your husband Oedipus!’
j. At first, none would believe Teiresias, but his words were soon confirmed by a letter from Periboea at Corinth. She wrote that the sudden death of King Polybus now allowed her to reveal the circumstances of Oedipus’s adoption; and this she did in damning detail. Iocaste then hanged herself for shame and grief, while Oedipus blinded himself with a pin taken from her garments.5
k. Some say that, although tormented by the Erinnyes, who accused him of having brought about his mother’s death, Oedipus continued to reign over Thebes for a while, until he fell gloriously in battle.6 According to others, however, Iocaste’s brother Creon expelled him, but not before he had cursed Eteocles and Polyneices – who were at once his sons and his brothers – when they insolently sent him the inferior portion of the sacrificial beast, namely haunch instead of royal shoulder. They therefore watched dry-eyed as he left the city which he had delivered from the Sphinx’s power. After wandering for many years through country after country, guided by his faithful daughter Antigone, Oedipus finally came to Colonus in Attica, where the Erinnyes, who have a grove there, hounded him to death, and Theseus buried his body in the precinct of the Solemn Ones at Athens, lamenting by Antigone’s side.7
1. Apollodorus: iii. 5.7.
2. Hyginus: Fabula 66; Scholiast on Euripides’s Phoenician Women 13 and 26; Apollodorus: loc. cit.; Pausanias: x. 5.2.
3. Apollodorus: iii. 5. 8; Hesiod: Theogony 326; Sophocles: Oedipus the Tyrant 391; Scholiast on Aristophanes’s Frogs 1287.
4. Apollodorus: iii. 6.7; Hyginus: Fabula 75; Ovid: Metamorphoses iii. 320; Pindar: Nemean Odes i. 91; Tzetzes: On Lycophron 682; Sosostratus, quoted by Eustathius: p. 1665.
5. Apollodorus: iii. 5. 8; Sophocles: Oedipus the Tyrant 447, 713, 731, 774, 1285, etc.
6. Homer: Odyssey xi. 270 and Iliad xxiii. 679.
7. Sophocles: Oedipus at Colonus 166 and scholiast on 1375; Euripides: Phoenician Women, Proem; Apollodorus: iii. 5. 9; Hyginus: Fabula 67; Pausanias: i. 20.7.
1. The story of Laius, Iocaste, and Oedipus has been deduced from a set of sacred icons by a deliberate perversion of their meaning. A myth which would explain Labdacus’s name (‘help with torches’) has been lost; but it may refer to the torchlight arrival of a Divine Child, carried by cattlemen or shepherds at the New Year ceremony, and acclaimed as a son of the goddess Brimo (‘raging’). This eleusis, or advent, was the most important incident in the Eleusinian Mysteries, and perhaps also in the Isthmian (see 70. 5), which would explain the myth of Oedipus’s arrival at the court of Corinth. Shepherds fostered or paid homage to many other legendary or semi-legendary infant princes, such as Hippothous (see 49. a), Pelias (see 68. d), Amphion (see 76. a), Aegisthus (see 111. i), Moses, Romulus, and Cyrus, who were all either exposed on a mountain or else consigned to the waves in an ark, or both. Moses was found by Pharaoh’s daughter when she went down to the water with her women. It is possible that Oedipus, ‘swollen foot’, was origi
nally Oedipais, ‘son of the swelling sea’, which is the meaning of the name given to the corresponding Welsh hero, Dylan; and that the piercing of Oedipus’s feet with a nail belongs to the end, not to the beginning, of his story, as in the myth of Talus (see 92. m and 154. h).
2. Laius’s murder is a record of the solar king’s ritual death at the hands of his successor: thrown from a chariot and dragged by the horses (see 71. 1). His abduction of Chrysippus probably refers to the sacrifice of a surrogate (see 29. 1) when the first year of his reign ended.
3. The anecdote of the Sphinx has evidently been deduced from an icon showing the winged Moon-goddess of Thebes, whose composite body represents the two parts of the Theban year – lion for the waxing part, serpent for the waning part – and to whom the new king offers his devotions before marrying her priestess, the Queen. It seems also that the riddle which the Sphinx learned from the Muses has been invented to explain a picture of an infant, a warrior, and an old man, all worshipping the Triple-goddess: each pays his respects to a different person of the triad. But the Sphinx, overcome by Oedipus, killed herself, and so did her priestess Iocaste. Was Oedipus a thirteenth-century invader of Thebes, who suppressed the old Minoan cult of the goddess and reformed the calendar? Under the old system, the new king, though a foreigner, had theoretically been a son of the old king whom he killed and whose widow he married; a custom that the patriarchal invaders misrepresented as parricide and incest. The Freudian theory that the ‘Oedipus complex’ is an instinct common to all men was suggested by this perverted anecdote; and while Plutarch records (On Isis and Osiris 32) that the hippopotamus ‘murdered his sire and forced his dam’, he would never have suggested that every man has a hippopotamus complex.
4. Though Theban patriots, loth to admit that Oedipus was a foreigner who took their city by storm, preferred to make him the lost heir to the kingdom, the truth is revealed by the death of Menoeceus, a member of the pre-Hellenic race that celebrated the Peloria festival in memory of Ophion the Demiurge, from whose teeth they claimed to have sprung. He leaped to his death in the desperate hope of placating the goddess, like Mettus Curtius, when a chasm opened in the Roman Forum (Livy: vii. 6); and the same sacrifice was offered during the War of the ‘Seven Against Thebes’ (see 106. j). However, he died in vain; otherwise the Sphinx, and her chief priestess, would not have been obliged to commit suicide. The story of Iocaste’s death by hanging is probably an error; Helen of the Olive-trees, like Erigone and Ariadne of the vine cult, was said to have died in this way – perhaps to account for figurines of the Moon-goddess which dangled from the boughs of orchard trees, as a fertility charm (see 79. 2; 88. 10 and 98. 5). Similar figurines were used at Thebes; and when Iocaste committed suicide, she doubtless leaped from a rock, as the Sphinx did.