c. Poseidon decided to take advantage of this ridiculous situation. Disguising himself as the River-god, he invited Tyro to join him at the confluence of the Enipeus and the Alpheius; and there threw her into a magic sleep, while a dark wave rose up like a mountain and curled its crest to screen his knavery. When Tyro awoke, and found herself ravished, she was aghast at the deception; but Poseidon laughed as he told her to be off home and keep quiet about what had happened. Her reward, he said, would be fine twins, sons of a better father than a mere river-god.3
d. Tyro contrived to keep her secret until she bore the promised twins, but then, unable to face Sidero’s anger, exposed them on a mountain. A passing horse-herd took them home with him, but not before his brood-mare had kicked the elder in the face. The horse-herd’s wife reared the boys, giving the bruised one to the mare for suckling and calling him Pelias; the other, whom she called Neleus, took his savage nature from the bitch which served as his foster-mother. But some say that the twins were found floating down the Enipeus in a wooden ark. As soon as Pelias and Neleus discovered their mother’s name and learned how unkindly she had been treated, they set out to avenge her. Sidero took refuge in the temple of Hera; but Pelias struck her down as she clung to the horns of the altar. This was the first of many insults that he offered the goddess.4
e. Tyro later married her uncle Cretheus, founder of Iolcus, to whom she bore Aeson, father of Jason the Argonaut; he also adopted Pelias and Neleus as his sons.5
f. After Cretheus’s death, the twins came to blows: Pelias seized the throne of Iolcus, exiled Neleus, and kept Aeson a prisoner in the palace. Neleus led Cretheus’s grandsons Melampus and Bias with a mixed company of Achaeans, Phthiotians, and Aeolians to the land of Messene, where he drove the Lelegans out of Pylus, and raised the city to such a height of fame that he is now acclaimed as its founder. He married Chloris; but all their twelve children, except Nestor, were eventually killed by Heracles.6
1. Apollodorus: i. 7. 3; Hyginus: Poetic Astronomy ii. 20; Strabo: viii. 3. 32.
2. Diodorus Siculus: iv. 68. 1; Apollodorus: i. 9. 7; Hyginus: Fabula 61.
3. Apollodorus: i. 9. 8; Homer: Odyssey xi. 235 ff.; Lucian: Marine Dialogues 13.
4. Apollodorus: loc. cit.; Eustathius on Homer’s Odyssey xi. 253; Sophocles: Tyro, quoted by Aristotle: Poetics xvi. 1454.
5. Pausanias: iv. 2. 3; Apollodorus: i. 9. 11; Hyginus: Fabula 12.
6. Hesiod: Theogony 996; Scholiast on Euripides’s Alcestis 255; Diodorus Siculus: iv. 68. 6; Pausanias: iv. 2. 3; 36. 1 and x. 29. 3; Homer: Iliad xi. 682.
1. Antigonus of Carystus (Account of Marvellous Things 15) records that a rain-bringing bronze wagon was kept at Crannon: which in time of drought the people drove over rough ground to shake it and make it clang – and also (as Crannonian coins show) to splash about the water from the jars which it contained. Rain always came, acccording to Antigonus. Thus Salmoneus’s charm for inducing thunderstorms will have been common religious practice: like rattling pebbles in a dry gourd, tapping on oak doors, rolling stones about in a chest, dancing, beating shields, or swinging bull-roarers. He was pictured as a criminal only when the impersonation of Zeus had been forbidden by the Achaean central authority (see 45. 2). To judge from the Danaids’ sieves (see 60. 6), and the Argive cow dance (see 56. 1), rain-making was originally a female prerogative – as it remains among certain primitive African tribes, such as the Hereros and the Damaras – but passed into the sacred king’s hands when the Queen permitted him to act as her deputy (see 136. 4).
2. Tyro was the Goddess-mother of the Tyrians and Tyrrhenians, or Tyrsenians, and perhaps also of the Tirynthians; hers is probably a pre-Hellenic name, but supplied Greek with the word tyrsis (‘walled city’), and so with the concept of ‘tyranny’. Her ill-treatment by Sidero recalls that of Antiope by Dirce, a myth which it closely resembles (see 76. a); and may originally have recorded an oppression of the Tyrians by their neighbours, the Sidonians. River water was held to impregnate brides who bathed in it – bathing was also a purifying ritual after menstruation, or child-birth – and it is likely that Tyro’s Enipeus, like the Scamander (see 137. 3), was invoked to take away virginity. The anecdote of Tyro’s seduction by Poseidon purports to explain why Salmoneus’s descendants were sometimes called ‘Sons of Enipeus’, which was their original home, and sometimes ‘Sons of Poseidon’, because of their naval fame. Her previous seduction by Sisyphus suggests that the Corinthian Sun cult had been planted at Salmonia; Antiope was also connected by marriage with Sisyphus (see 76. b).
3. Tyro’s ark, in which she sent the twins floating down the Enipeus, will have been of alder-wood, like that in which Rhea Silvia sent Romulus and Remus floating down the Tiber. The quarrel of Pelias and Neleus, with that of Eteocles and Polyneices, Acrisius and Proetus, Atreus and Thyestes, and similar pairs of kings, seems to record the breakdown of the system by which king and tanist ruled alternately for forty-nine or fifty months in the same kingdom (see 69. 1; 73. a and 106. b).
4. The horns of the altar to which Sidero clung were those habitually fixed to the cult-image of the Cow-goddess Hera, Astarte, Io, Isis, or Hathor; and Pelias seems to have been an Achaean conqueror who forcibly reorganized the Aeolian Goddess cult of Southern Thessaly. In Palestine horned altars, like that to which Joab clung (1 Kings ii. 28, etc.), survived the dethronement of the Moon-cow and her golden Calf.
ALCESTIS, the most beautiful of Pelias’s daughters, was asked in marriage by many kings and princes. Not wishing to endanger his political position by refusing any of them, and yet clearly unable to satisfy more than one, Pelias let it be known that he would marry Alcestis to the man who could yoke a wild boar and a lion to his chariot and drive them around the race-course. At this, Admetus King of Pherae summoned Apollo, whom Zeus had bound to him for one year as a herdsman, and asked: ‘Have I treated you with the respect due to your godhead?’ ‘You have indeed,’ Apollo assented, ‘and I have shown my gratitude by making all your ewes drop twins.’ ‘As a final favour, then,’ pleaded Admetus, ‘pray help me to win Alcestis, by enabling me to fulfil Pelias’s conditions.’ ‘I shall be pleased to do so,’ replied Apollo. Heracles lent him a hand with the taming of the wild beasts and presently Admetus was driving his chariot around the race-course at Iolcus, drawn by this savage team.1
b. It is not known why Admetus omitted the customary sacrifice to Artemis before marrying Alcestis, but the goddess was quick enough to punish him. When, flushed with wine, anointed with essences and garlanded with flowers, he entered the bridal chamber that night, he recoiled in horror. No lovely naked bride awaited him on the marriage couch, but a tangled knot of hissing serpents. Admetus ran shouting for Apollo, who kindly intervened with Artemis on his behalf. The neglected sacrifice having been offered at once, all was well, Apollo even obtaining Artemis’s promise that, when the day of Admetus’s death came, he should be spared on condition that a member of his family died voluntarily for love of him.
c. This fatal day came sooner than Admetus expected. Hermes flew into the palace one morning and summoned him to Tartarus. General consternation prevailed; but Apollo gained a little time for Admetus by making the Three Fates drunk, and thus delayed the fatal scission of his life’s thread. Admetus ran in haste to his old parents, clasped their knees, and begged each of them in turn to surrender him the butt-end of existence. Both roundly refused, saying that they still derived much enjoyment from life, and that he should be content with his appointed lot, like everyone else.
d. Then, for love of Admetus, Alcestis took poison and her ghost descended to Tartarus; but Persephone considered it an evil thing that a wife should die instead of a husband. ‘Back with you to the upper air!’ she cried.2
e. Some tell the tale differently. They say that Hades came in person to fetch Admetus and that, when he fled, Alcestis volunteered to take his place; but Heracles arrived unexpectedly with a new wild-olive club, and rescued her.3
; 1. Hyginus: Fabula 50; Apollodorus: iii. 10. 4; Callimachus: Hymn to Apollo 47–54; Scholiast on Euripides’s Alcestis 2; Fulgentius: i. 27.
2. Apollodorus: i. 9. 15.
3. Euripides: Alcestis.
1. The yoking of a lion and a wild boar to the same chariot is the theme of a Theban myth (see 106. a), where the original meaning has been equally obscured. Lion and boar were the animal symbols given to the first and second halves of the Sacred Year, respectively – they constantly occur, in opposition, on Etruscan vases – and the oracle seems to have proposed a peaceful settlement of the traditional rivalry between the sacred king and his tanist. This was that the kingdom should be divided in halves, and that they should reign concurrently, as Proetus and Acrisius eventually did at Argos (see 73. a), rather than keep it entire, and rule alternately – as Polyneices and Eteocles did at Thebes (see 106. b). A circuit of the race-course in a chariot was a proof of royalty (see 64. 3).
2. Artemis was hostile to monogamic marriage because she belonged to the pre-Hellenic cult in which women mated promiscuously outside their own clans; so the Hellenes propitiated her with wedding sacrifices, carrying torches of the chaste hawthorn in her honour. The patriarchal practice of suttee, attested here and in the myths of Evadne (see 106. l) and Polyxena (see 168. k), grew from the Indo-European custom which forbade widows to remarry; once this ban was relaxed, suttee became less attractive (see 74. a).
3. In the first version of this myth, Persephone refused Alcestis’s sacrifice – Persephone represents the matriarchal point of view. In the second version, Heracles forbade it, and was chosen as the instrument of Zeus’s will, that is to say of patriarchal ethics, on the ground that he once harrowed Hell and rescued Theseus (see 103. d). Wild-olive served in Greece to expel evil influences (see 119. 2); as the birch did in Italy and northern Europe (see 52. 3).
ATHAMAS the Aeolian, brother of Sisyphus and Salmoneus, ruled over Boeotia. At Hera’s command, he married Nephele, a phantom whom Zeus created in her likeness when he wished to deceive Ixion the Lapith, and who was now wandering disconsolately about the halls of Olympus. She bore Athamas two sons: Phrixus and Leucon, and a daughter, Helle. But Athamas resented the disdain in which Nephele held him and, falling in love with Ino, daughter of Cadmus, brought her secretly to his palace at the foot of Mount Laphystium, where he begot Learchus and Melicertes on her.
b. Learning about her rival from the palace servants, Nephele returned in a fury to Olympus, complaining to Hera that she had been insulted. Hera took her part, and vowed: ‘My eternal vengeance shall fall upon Athamas and his House!’
c. Nephele thereupon went back to Mount Laphystium, where she publicly reported Hera’s vow, and demanded that Athamas should die. But the men of Boeotia, who feared Athamas more than Hera, would not listen to Nephele; and the women of Boeotia were devoted to Ino, who now persuaded them to parch the seed-corn, without their husbands’ knowledge, so that the harvest would fail. Ino foresaw that when the grain was due to sprout, but no blade appeared, Athamas would send to ask the Delphic Oracle what was amiss. She had already bribed Athamas’s messengers to bring back a false reply: namely, that the land would regain its fertility only if Nephele’s son Phrixus were sacrificed to Zeus on Mount Laphystium.
d. This Phrixus was a handsome young man, with whom his aunt Biadice, Cretheus’s wife, had fallen in love, and whom, when he rebuffed her advances, she accused of trying to ravish her. The men of Boeotia, believing Biadice’s story, applauded Apollo’s wise choice of a sin-offering and demanded that Phrixus should die; whereupon Athamas, loudly weeping, led Phrixus to the mountain top. He was on the point of cutting his throat when Heracles, who happened to be in the neighbourhood, came running up and wrested the sacrificial flint from his hand. ‘My father Zeus,’ Heracles exclaimed, ‘loathes human sacrifices!’ Nevertheless, Phrixus would have perished despite this plea, had not a winged golden ram, supplied by Hermes at Hera’s order – or, some say, by Zeus himself – suddenly flown down to the rescue from Olympus.
‘Climb on my back!’ cried the ram, and Phrixus obeyed.
‘Take me too!’ pleaded Helle. ‘Do not leave me to the mercy of my father.’
e. So Phrixus pulled her up behind him, and the ram flew eastwards, making for the land of Colchis, where Helius stables his horses. Before long, Helle felt giddy and lost her hold; she fell into the straits between Europe and Asia, now called the Hellespont in her honour; but Phrixus reached Colchis safely, and there sacrificed the ram to Zeus the Deliverer. Its golden fleece became famous a generation later when the Argonauts came in search of it.
f. Overawed by the miracle of Mount Laphystium, Athamas’s messengers confessed that they had been bribed by Ino to bring back a false reply from Delphi; and presently all her wiles, and Biadice’s, came to light. Nephele thereupon again demanded that Athamas should die, and the sacrificial fillet, which Phrixus had worn, was placed on his head; only Heracles’s renewed intervention saved him from death.
h. Ino snatched up Melicertes, her younger son, and fled; but would hardly have escaped Athamas’s vengeance, had not the infant Dionysus temporarily blinded him, so that he began to flog a she-goat in mistake for her. Ino ran to the Molurian Rock, where she leaped into the sea and was drowned – this rock afterwards became a place of ill repute, because the savage Sciron used to hurl strangers from it. But Zeus, remembering Ino’s kindness to Dionysus, would not send her ghost down to Tartarus and deified her instead as the Goddess Leucothea. He also deified her son Melicertes as the God Palaemon, and sent him to the Isthmus of Corinth riding on dolphin-back; the Isthmian Games, founded in his honour by Sisyphus, are still celebrated there every fourth year.
i. Athamas, now banished from Boeotia, and childless because his remaining son, Leucon, had sickened and died, enquired from the Delphic Oracle where he should settle, and was told: ‘Wherever wild beasts entertain you to dinner.’ Wandering aimlessly northward, without food or drink, he came on a wolf-pack devouring a flock of sheep in a desolate Thessalian plain. The wolves fled at his approach, and he and his starving companions ate what mutton had been left. Then he recalled the oracle and, having adopted Haliartus and Conorea, his Corinthian grand-nephews, founded a city which he called Alos, from his wanderings, or from his serving-maid Alos; and the country was called Athamania; afterwards he married Themisto and raised a new family.1
j. Others tell the tale differently. Omitting Athamas’s marriage to Nephele, they say that one day, after the birth of Learchus and Melicertes, his wife Ino went out hunting and did not return. Bloodstains on a torn tunic convinced him that she had been killed by wild beasts; but the truth was that a sudden Bacchic frenzy had seized her when she was attacked by a lynx. She had strangled it, flayed it with her teeth and nails, and gone off, dressed only in the pelt, for a prolonged revel on Mount Parnassus. After an interval of mourning, Athamas married Themisto who, a year later, bore him twin sons. Then, to his dismay, he learned that Ino was still alive. He sent for her at once, installed her in the palace nursery, and told Themisto: ‘We have a likely-looking nurse-maid, a captive taken in the recent raid on Mount Cithaeron.’ Themisto, whom her maids soon undeceived, visited the nursery, pretending not to know who Ino was. She told her: ‘Pray, nurse, get ready a set of white woollen garments for my two sons, and a set of mourning garments for those of my unfortunate predecessor Ino. They are to be worn tomorrow.’
k. The following day, Themisto ordered her guards to break into the royal nursery and kill the twins who were dressed in mou
rning, but spare the other two. Ino, however, guessing what was in Themisto’s mind, had provided white garments for her own sons, and mourning garments for her rival’s. Thus Themisto’s twins were murdered, and the news sent Athamas mad; he shot Learchus dead, mistaking him for a stag, but Ino escaped with Melicertes, sprang into the sea, and became immortal.
l. Others, again, say that Phrixus and Helle were Nephele’s children by Ixion. One day, as they wandered in a wood, their mother came upon them in a Bacchic frenzy, leading a golden ram by the horns. ‘Look,’ she babbled, ‘here is a son of your cousin Theophane. She had too many suitors, so Poseidon changed her into a ewe and himself into a ram, and tupped her on the Island of Crumissa.’
‘What happened to the suitors, mother?’ asked little Helle.
‘They became wolves,’ Ino answered, ‘and howl for Theophane all night long. Now ask me no more questions, but climb on this ram’s back, both of you, and ride away to the kingdom of Colchis, where Helius’s son Aeëtes reigns. As soon as you arrive, sacrifice it to Ares.’
m. Phrixus carried out his mother’s strange instructions, and hung up the golden fleece in a temple of Ares at Colchis, where it was guarded by a dragon; and, many years later his son Presbon, or Cytisorus, coming to Orchomenus from Colchis, rescued Athamas as he was being sacrificed for a sin-offering.2
1. Pausanias: i. 44. 11; ix. 34.4–5 and 23. 3; Apollodorus: i. 7. 3 and iii. 4. 3; Hyginus: Fabulae 2 and 4; Poetic Astronomy ii. 20; Fragments of Sophocles’s Athamas; Nonnus: Dionysiaca x. 1 ff.; Scholiast on Homer’s Iliad vii. 86; Eustathius on the same; Ovid: Metamorphoses iv. 480–541; Etymologicum Magnum 70. 8; Stephanus of Byzantium sub Athamania.