e. Some, however, say that the scorpion stung Orion to death, and that Artemis was vexed with him for having amorously chased her virgin companions, the seven Pleiades, daughters of Atlas and Pleione. They fled across the meadows of Boeotia, until the gods, having changed them into doves, set their images among the stars. But this is a mistaken account, since the Pleiades were not virgins: three of them had lain with Zeus, two with Poseidon, one with Ares, and the seventh married Sisyphus of Corinth, and failed to be included in the constellation, because Sisyphus was a mere mortal.2
f. Others tell the following strange story of Orion’s birth, to account for his name (which is sometimes written Urion) and for the tradition that he was a son of Mother Earth. Hyrieus, a poor bee-keeper and farmer, had vowed to have no children, and he grew old and impotent. When, one day, Zeus and Hermes visited him in disguise, and were hospitably entertained, they enquired what gift he most desired. Sighing deeply, Hyrieus replied that what he most wanted, namely to have a son, was now impossible. The gods, however, instructed him to sacrifice a bull, make water on its hide, and then bury it in his wife’s grave. He did so and, nine months later, a child was born to him, whom he named Uroin – ‘he who makes water’ – and, indeed, both the rising and setting of the constellation Orion bring rain.3
1. Homer: Odyssey xi. 310; Apollodorus: i. 4. 3–4; Parthenius; Love Stories 20; Lucian: On the Hall 28; Theon: On Aratus 638; Hyginus: Poetic Astronomy ii. 34.
2. Apollodorus: loc. cit.
3. Servius on Virgil’s Aeneid i. 539; Ovid: Fasti v. 537 ff.; Hyginus Poetic Astronomy ii. 34.
1. Orion’s story consists of three or four unrelated myths strung together. The first, confusedly told, is that of Oenopion. This concerns a sacred king’s unwillingness to resign his throne, at the close of his term, even when the new candidate for kingship had been through his ritual combats and married the queen with the usual feasting. But the new king is only an interrex who, after reigning for one day, is duly murdered and devoured by Maenads (see 30. 1); the old king, who has been shamming dead in a tomb, then remarries the queen and continues his reign (see 123. 4).
2. The irrelevant detail of the Cyclop’s hammer explains Orion’s blindness: a mythological picture of Odysseus searing the drunken Cyclops’s eye (see 170. d) has apparently been combined with a Hellenic allegory: how the Sun Titan is blinded every evening by his enemies, but restored to sight by the following Dawn. Orion (‘the dweller on the mountain’) and Hyperion (‘the dweller on high’) are, in fact, identified here. Orion’s boast that he would exterminate the wild beasts not only refers to his ritual combats (see 123. 1), but is a fable of the rising Sun, at whose appearance all wild beasts retire to their dens (compare Psalm civ. 22).
3. Plutarch’s account of the scorpion sent by the god Set to kill the Child Horus, son of Isis and Osiris, in the hottest part of the summer, explains Orion’s death by scorpion-bite and Artemis’s appeal to Asclepius (Plutarch: On Isis and Osiris 19). Horus died, but Ra, the Sun-god, revived him, and later he avenged his father Osiris’s death; in the original myth Orion, too, will have been revived. Orion is also, in part, Gilgamesh, the Babylonian Heracles, whom Scorpion-men attack in the Tenth Tablet of the Calendar epic – a myth which concerned the mortal wounding of the sacred king as the Sun rose in Scorpio. Exactly at what season the wounding took place depends on the antiquity of the myth; when the Zodiac originated, Scorpio was probably an August sign, but in Classical times the precession of the equinoxes had advanced it to October.
4. Another version of Orion’s death is recorded on one of the Hittite Ras Shamra tablets. Anat, or Anatha, the Battle-goddess, fell in love with a handsome hunter named Aqhat, and when he vexatiously refused to give her his bow, asked the murderous Yatpan to steal it from him. To her great grief the clumsy Yatpan not only killed Aqhat, but dropped the bow into the sea. The astronomical meaning of this myth is that Orion and the Bow – a part of the constellation, which the Greeks called ‘The Hound’ – sink below the southern horizon for two whole months every spring. In Greece this story seems to have been adapted to a legend of how the orgiastic priestesses of Artemis – Opis being a title of Artemis herself – killed an amorous visitor to their islet of Ortygia. And in Egypt, since the return of the constellation Orion introduces the summer heat, it was confusingly identified with Horus’s enemy Set, the two bright stars above him being his ass’s ears.
5. The myth of Orion’s birth is perhaps more than a comic tale, modelled on that of Philemon and Baucis (Ovid: Metamorphoses viii. 670–724), and told to account for the first syllable of his ancient name, Urion – as though it were derived from ourein, ‘to urinate’, not from ouros, the Homeric form of oros, ‘mountain’, Yet a primitive African rain-producing charm, which consists in making water on a bull’s hide, may have been known to the Greeks; and that Orion was a son of Poseidon, the water-god, is a clear allusion to his rain-making powers.
6. The name Pleiades, from the root plei, ‘to sail’, refers to their rising at the season when good weather for sailing approaches. But Pindar’s form Peleiades, ‘flock of doves’, was perhaps the original form, since the Hyades are piglets. It appears that a seventh star in the group became extinct towards the end of the second millennium B.C. (see 67. j); since Hyginus (Fabula 192) says that Electra disappeared in grief for the destruction of the House of Dardanus. Orion’s vain pursuit of the Pleiades, which occur in the Bull constellation, refers to their rising above the horizon just before the reappearance of Orion.
HELIUS, whom the cow-eyed Euryphaessa, or Theia, bore to the Titan Hyperion, is a brother of Selene and Eos. Roused by the crowing of the cock, which is sacred to him, and heralded by Eos, he drives his four-horse chariot daily across the Heavens from a magnificent palace in the far east, near Colchis, to an equally magnificent far-western palace, where his unharnessed horses pasture in the Islands of the Blessed.1 He sails home along the Ocean stream, which flows around the world, embarking his chariot and team on a golden ferry-boat made for him by Hephaestus, and sleeps all night in a comfortable cabin.2
b. Helius can see everything that happens on earth, but is not particularly observant – once he even failed to notice the robbery of his sacred cattle by Odysseus’s companions. He has several herds of such cattle, each consisting of three hundred and fifty head. Those in Sicily are tended by his daughters Phaetusa and Lampetia, but he keeps his finest herd in the Spanish island of Erytheia.3 Rhodes is his freehold. It happened that, when Zeus was allotting islands and cities to the various gods, he forgot to include Helius among these, and ‘Alas!’ he said, ‘now I shall have to begin all over again’.
‘No, Sire,’ replied Helius politely, ‘today I noticed signs of a new island emerging from the sea, to the south of Asia Minor. I shall be well content with that.’
c. Zeus called the Fate Lachesis to witness that any such new island should belong to Helius;4 and, when Rhodes had risen well above the waves, Helius claimed it and begot seven sons and a daughter there on the Nymph Rhode. Some say that Rhodes had existed before this time, and was re-emerging from the waves after having been overwhelmed by the great flood which Zeus sent. The Telchines were its aboriginal inhabitants and Poseidon fell in love with one of them, the nymph Halia, on whom he begot Rhode and six sons; which six sons insulted Aphrodite in her passage from Cythera to Paphos, and were struck mad by her; they ravished their mother and committed other outrages so foul that Poseidon sank them underground, and they became the Eastern Demons. But Halia threw herself into the sea and was deified as Leucothea – though the same story is told of Ino, mother of Corinthian Melicertes. The Telchines, foreseeing the flood, sailed away in all directions, especially to Lycia, and abandoned their claims on Rhodes. Rhode was thus left the sole heiress, and her seven sons by Helius ruled in the island after its re-emergence. They became famous astronomers, and had one sister named Electryo, who died a virgin and is now worshipped as a demi-goddess. One
of them, by name Actis, was banished for fratricide, and fled to Egypt, where he founded the city of Heliopolis, and first taught the Egyptians astrology, inspired by his father Helius. The Rhodians have now built the Colossus, seventy cubits high, in his honour. Zeus also added to Helius’s dominions the new island of Sicily, which had been a missile flung in the battle with the giants.
d. One morning Helius yielded to his son Phaëthon who had been constantly plaguing him for permission to drive the sun-chariot. Phaëthon wished to show his sisters Prote and Clymene what a fine fellow he was: and his fond mother Rhode (whose name is uncertain because she had been called by both her daughters’ names and by that of Rhode) encouraged him. But, not being strong enough to check the career of the white horses, which his sisters had yoked for him, Phaëthon drove them first so high above the earth that everyone shivered, and then so near the earth that he scorched the fields. Zeus, in a fit of rage, killed him with a thunderbolt, and he fell into the river Po. His grieving sisters were changed into poplar-trees on its banks, which weep amber tears; or, some say, into alder-trees.5
1. Homeric Hymn to Helius 2 and 9–16; Homeric Hymn to Athene 13; Hesiod: Theogony 371–4; Pausanias: v. 25. 5; Nonnus: Dionysiaca xii. 1; Ovid: Metamorphosis ii. 1 ff. and 106 ff.; Hyginus: Fabula 183; Athenaeus: vii. 296.
2. Apollodorus: ii. 5. 10; Athenaeus: xi. 39.
3. Homer: Odyssey xii. 323 and 375; Apollodorus: i. 6. 1; Theocritus: Idylls xxv. 130.
4. Pindar: Olympian Odes vii. 54 ff.
5. Scholiast on Pindar’s Olympian Odes vi. 78; Tzetzes: Chiliads iv. 137; Hyginus: Fabulae 52, 152 and 154; Euripides: Hippolytus 737; Apollonius Rhodius: iv. 598 ff.; Lucian: Dialogues of the Gods 25; Ovid: Metamorphoses i. 755 ff; Virgil: Eclogues vi. 62; Diodorus Siculus v. 3; Apollodorus: i. 4. 5.
1. The Sun’s subordination to the Moon, until Apollo usurped Helius’s place and made an intellectual deity of him, is a remarkable feature of early Greek myth. Helius was not even an Olympian, but a mere Titan’s son; and, although Zeus later borrowed certain solar characteristics from the Hittite and Corinthian god Tesup (see 67. 1) and other oriental sun-gods, these were unimportant compared with his command of thunder and lightning. The number of cattle in Helius’s herds – the Odyssey makes him Hyperion (see 170. t) – is a reminder of his tutelage to the Great Goddess: being the number of days covered by twelve complete lunations, as in the Numan year (Censorinus: xx), less the five days sacred to Osiris, Isis, Set, Horus, and Nephthys. It is also a multiple of the Moon-numbers fifty and seven. Helius’s so-called daughters are, in fact, Moon-priestesses – cattle being lunar rather than solar animals in early European myth; and Helius’s mother, the cow-eyed Euryphaessa, is the Moon-goddess herself. The allegory of a sun-chariot coursing across the sky is Hellenic in character; but Nilsson in his Primitive Time Reckoning (1920) has shown that the ancestral clan cults even of Classical Greece were regulated by the moon alone, as was the agricultural economy of Hesiod’s Boeotia. A gold ring from Tiryns and another from the Acropolis at Mycenae prove that the goddess controlled both the moon and the sun, which are placed above her head.
2. In the story of Phaëthon, which is another name for Helius himself (Homer, Iliad xi. 735 and Odyssey v. 479), an instructive fable has been grafted on the chariot allegory, the moral being that fathers should not spoil their sons by listening to female advice. This fable, however, is not quite so simple as it seems: it has a mythic importance in its reference to the annual sacrifice of a royal prince, on the one day reckoned as belonging to the terrestrial, but not to the sidereal year, namely that which followed the shortest day. The sacred king pretended to die at sunset; the boy interrex was at once invested with his titles, dignities, and sacred implements, married to the queen, and killed twenty-four hours later: in Thrace, torn to pieces by women disguised as horses (see 27. d and 130. 1), but at Corinth, and elsewhere, dragged at the tail of a sun-chariot drawn by maddened horses, until he was crushed to death. Thereupon the old king reappeared from the tomb where he had been hiding (see 41. 1), as the boy’s successor. The myths of Glaucus (see 71. a), Pelops (see 109. j), and Hippolytus (‘stampede of horses’ – see 101. g), refer to this custom, which seems to have been taken to Babylon by the Hittites.
3. Black poplars were sacred to Hecate, but the white gave promise of resurrection (see 31. 5 and 134.f); thus the transformation of Phaëthon’s sisters into poplars points to a sepulchral island where a college of priestesses officiated at the oracle of a tribal king. That they were also said to have been turned into alders supports this view: since alders fringed Circe’s Aeaea (‘wailing’), a sepulchral island lying at the head of the Adriatic, not far from the mouth of the Po (Homer: Odyssey v. 64 and 239). Alders were sacred to Phoroneus, the oracular hero and inventor of fire (see 57. 1). The Po valley was the southern terminus of the Bronze Age route down which amber, sacred to the sun, travelled to the Mediterranean from the Baltic (see 148. 9).
4. Rhodes was the property of the Moon-goddess Danaë – called Cameira, Ialysa, and Linda (see 60. 2) – until she was extruded by the Hittite Sun-god Tesup, worshipped as a bull (see 93. 1). Danaë may be identified with Halia (‘of the sea’), Leucothea (‘white goddess’), and Electryo (‘amber’). Poseidon’s six sons and one daughter, and Helius’s seven sons, point to a seven-day week ruled by planetary powers, or Titans (see 1. 3). Actis did not found Heliopolis – Onn, or Aunis – one of the most ancient cities in Egypt; and the claim that he taught the Egyptians astrology is ridiculous. But after the Trojan War the Rhodians were for a while the only sea-traders recognized by the Pharaohs, and seem to have had ancient religious ties with Heliopolis, the centre of the Ra cult. The ‘Heliopolitan Zeus’, who bears busts of the seven planetary powers on his body sheath, may be of Rhodian inspiration; like similar statues found at Tortosa in Spain, and Byblos in Phoenicia (see 1. 4).
HELLEN, son of Deucalion, married Orseis, and settled in Thessaly, where his eldest son, Aeolus, succeeded him.1
b. Hellen’s youngest son, Dorus, emigrated to Mount Parnassus, where he founded the first Dorian community. The second son, Xuthus, had already fled to Athens after being accused of theft by his brothers, and there married Creusa, daughter of Erechtheus, who bore him Ion and Achaeus. Thus the four most famous Hellenic nations, namely the Ionians, Aeolians, Achaeans, and Dorians, are all descended from Hellen. But Xuthus did not prosper at Athens: when chosen as arbitrator, upon Erechtheus’s death, he pronounced his eldest brother-in-law, Cecrops the Second, to be the rightful heir to the throne. This decision proved unpopular, and Xuthus, banished from the city, died in Aegialus, now Achaia.2
c. Aeolus seduced Cheiron’s daughter, the prophetess Thea, by some called Thetis, who was Artemis’s companion of the chase. Thea feared that Cheiron would punish her severely when he knew of her condition, but dared not appeal to Artemis for assistance; however, Poseidon, wishing to do his friend Aeolus a favour, temporarily disguised her as a mare called Euippe. When she had dropped her foal, Melanippe, which he afterwards transformed into an infant girl, Poseidon set Thea’s image among the stars; this is now called the constellation of the Horse. Aeolus took up Melanippe, renamed her Arne, and entrusted her to one Desmontes who, being childless, was glad to adopt her. Cheiron knew nothing of all this.
d. Poseidon seduced Arne, on whom he had been keeping an eye, so soon as she was of age; and Desmontes, discovering that she was with child, blinded her, shut her in an empty tomb, and supplied her with the very least amount of bread and water that would serve to sustain life. There she bore twin sons, whom Desmontes ordered his servants to expose on Mount Pelion, for the wild beasts to devour. But an Icarian herdsman found and rescued the twins, one of whom so closely resembled his maternal grandfather that he was named Aeolus; the other had to be content with the name Boeotus.
e. Meanwhile, Metapontus, King of Icaria, had threatened to divorce his barren wife Theano unless she bore him an heir withi
n the year. While he was away on a visit to an oracle she appealed to the herdsman for help, and he brought her the foundlings whom, on Metapontus’s return, she passed off as her own. Later, proving not to be barren after all, she bore him twin sons; but the foundlings, being of divine parentage, were far more beautiful than they. Since Metapontus had no reason to suspect that Aeolus and Boeotus were not his own children, they remained his favourites. Growing jealous, Theano waited until Metapontus left home again, this time for a sacrifice at the shrine of Artemis Metapontina. She then ordered his own sons to go hunting with their elder brothers, and murder them as if by accident. Theano’s plot failed, however, because in the ensuing fight Poseidon came to the assistance of his sons. Aeolus and Boeotus were soon carrying their assailants’ dead bodies back to the palace, and when Theano saw them approach she stabbed herself to death with a hunting knife.
f. At this, Aeolus and Boeotus fled to their foster-father, the herdsman, where Poseidon in person revealed the secret of their parentage. He ordered them to rescue their mother, who was still languishing in the tomb, and to kill Desmontes. They obeyed without hesitation; Poseidon then restored Arne’s sight, and all three went back to Icaria. When Metapontus learned that Theano had deceived him he married Arne and formally adopted her sons as his heirs.3