d. Phaedra disclosed her incestuous desire to no one, but ate little, slept badly, and grew so weak that her old nurse guessed the truth at last, and officiously implored her to send Hippolytus a letter. This Phaedra did: confessing her love, and saying that she was now converted by it to the cult of Artemis, whose two wooden images, brought from Crete, she had just rededicated to the goddess. Would he not come hunting one day? ‘We women of the Cretan Royal House,’ she wrote, ‘are doubtless fated to be dishonoured in love: witness my grandmother Europe, my mother Pasiphaë, and lastly my own sister Ariadne! Ah, wretched Ariadne, deserted by your father, the faithless Theseus, who has since murdered your own royal mother – why have the Furies not punished you for showing such unfilial indifference to her fate? – and must one day murder me! I count on you to revenge yourself on him by paying homage to Aphrodite in my company. Could we not go away and live together, for awhile at least, and make a hunting expedition the excuse? Meanwhile, none can suspect our true feelings for each other. Already we are lodged under the same roof, and our affection will be regarded as innocent, and even praiseworthy.’4
e. Hippolytus burned this letter in horror, and came to Phaedra’s chamber, loud with reproaches; but she tore her clothes, threw open the chamber doors, and cried out: ‘Help, help! I am ravished!’ Then she hanged herself from the lintel, and left a note accusing him of monstrous crimes.5
f. Theseus, on receiving the note, cursed Hippolytus, and gave orders that he must quit Athens at once, never to return. Later he remembered the three wishes granted him by his father Poseidon, and prayed earnestly that Hippolytus might die that very day. ‘Father.’ he pleaded, ‘send a beast across Hippolytus’s path, as he makes for Troezen!’6
g. Hippolytus had set out from Athens at full speed. As he drove along the narrow part of the Isthmus a huge wave, which overtopped even the Molurian Rock, rolled roaring shoreward; and from its crest sprang a great dog-seal (or, some say, a white bull), bellowing and spouting water. Hippolytus’s four horses swerved towards the cliff, mad with terror, but being an expert charioteer he restrained them from plunging over the edge. The beast then galloped menacingly behind the chariot, and he failed to keep his team on a straight course. Not far from the sanctuary of Saronian Artemis, a wild olive is still shown, called the Twisted Rhachos – the Troezenian term for a barren olive-tree is rhachos – and it was on a branch of this tree that a loop of Hippolytus’s reins caught. His chariot was flung sideways against a pile of rocks and broken into pieces. Hippolytus, entangled in the reins, and thrown first against the tree-trunk, and then against the rocks, was dragged to death by his horses, while the pursuer vanished.7
h. Some, however, relate improbably that Artemis then told Theseus the truth, and rapt him in the twinkling of an eye to Troezen, where he arrived just in time to be reconciled to his dying son; and that she revenged herself on Aphrodite by procuring Adonis’s death. For certain, though, she commanded the Troezenians to pay Hippolytus divine honours, and all Troezenian brides henceforth to cut off a lock of their hair, and dedicate it to him. It was Diomedes who dedicated the ancient temple and image of Hippolytus at Troezen, and who first offered him his annual sacrifice. Both Phaedra’s and Hippolytus’s tombs, the latter a mound of earth, are shown in the enclosure of this temple, near the myrtle-tree with the pricked leaves.
i. The Troezenians themselves deny that Hippolytus was dragged to death by horses, or even that he lies buried in his temple; nor will they reveal the whereabouts of his real tomb. Yet they declare that the gods set him among the stars as the Charioteer.8
j. The Athenians raised a barrow in Hippolytus’s memory close to the Temple of Themis, because his death had been brought about by curses. Some say that Theseus, accused of his murder, was found guilty, ostracized, and banished to Scyros, where he ended his life in shame and grief. But his downfall is more generally believed to have been caused by an attempted rape of Persephone.9
k. Hippolytus’s ghost descended to Tartarus, and Artemis, in high indignation, begged Asclepius to revive his corpse. Asclepius opened the doors of his ivory medicine cabinet and took out the herb with which Cretan Glaucus had been revived. With it he thrice touched Hippolytus’s breast, repeating certain charms, and at the third touch the dead man raised his head from the ground. But Hades and the Three Fates, scandalized by this breach of privilege, persuaded Zeus to kill Asclepius with a thunderbolt.
l. The Latins relate that Artemis then wrapped Hippolytus in a thick cloud, disguised him as an aged man, and changed his features. After hesitating between Crete and Delos as suitable places of concealment, she brought him to her sacred grove at Italian Aricia.10 There, with her consent, he married the nymph Egeria, and he still lives beside the lake among dark oak-woods, surrounded by sheer precipices. Lest he should be reminded of his death, Artemis changed his name to Virbius, which means vir bis, or ‘twice a man’; and no horses are allowed in the vicinity. The priesthood of Arician Artemis is open only to runaway slaves.11 In her grove grows an ancient oak-tree, the branches of which may not be broken, but if a slave dares do so then the priest, who has himself killed his predecessor and therefore lives in hourly fear of death, must fight him, sword against sword, for the priesthood. The Aricians say that Theseus begged Hippolytus to remain with him at Athens, but he refused.
m. A tablet in Asclepius’s Epidaurian sanctuary records that Hippolytus dedicated twenty horses to him, in gratitude for having been revived.12
1. Apollodorus: Epitome i. 18; Pausanias: i. 22. 2; Ovid: Heroides iv. 67 ff.
2. Pausanias: ii. 31. 6; Ovid: loc. cit.
3. Ovid: loc. cit.; Seneca: Hippolytus 835 ff.; Pausanias: ii. 32. 3 and i. 22. 2; Euripides: Hippolytus 1 ff.; Diodorus Siculus: iv. 62.
5. Apollodorus: Epitome i. 18; Diodorus Siculus: iv. 62; Hyginus: Fabula 47.
6. Plutarch: Parallel Stories 34; Servius on Virgil’s Aeneid vi. 445.
7. Pausanias: ii. 32.8; Euripides: Hippolytus 1193 ff.; Ovid: Metamorhoses xv. 506 ff.; Plutarch: loc. cit.; Diodorus Siculus: iv. 62.
8. Euripides: Hippolytus 1282 ff. and 1423 ff.; Pausanias: ii. 32. 1–2.
9. Pausanias: i. 22. 1; Philostatus: Life of Apollonius of Tyana vii. 42 Diodorus Siculus iv. 62.
10. Ovid: Metamorphoses xv. 532 ff. and Fasti vi. 745.
11. Virgil: Aeneid vii. 775; Ovid: Fasti v. 312 and Metamorphoses xv. 545; Strabo: iii. 263 ff.; Pausanias: ii. 27. 4.
12. Servius on Virgil’s Aeneid vi. 136; Strabo: v. 3. 12; Suetonius: Caligula 35; Pausanias: loc cit.
1. The incident of Phaedra’s incestuous love for Hippolytus, like that of Potiphar’s wife and her adulterous love for Joseph (see 75. 1), is borrowed either from the Egyptian Tale of the Two Brothers, or from a common Canaanite source. Its sequel has been based upon the familiar icon showing the chariot crash at the end of a sacred king’s reign (see 71. 1). If, as in ancient Ireland, a prophetic roaring of the November sea warned the king that his hour was at hand, this warning will have been pictured as a bull, or seal, poised open-mouthed on the creast of a wave. Hippolytus’s reins must have caught in the myrtle, rather than in the sinister-looking olive later associated with the crash: the myrtle, in fact, which grew close to his hero shrine, and was famous for its perforated leaves. Myrtle symbolized the last month of the king’s reign: as appears in the story of Oenomaus’s chariot crash (see 109. j); whereas wild olive symbolized the first month of his successor’s reign. Vir bis is a false derivation of Virbius, which seems to represent the Greek hierobios, ‘holy life’ – the h often becoming v: as in Hestia and Vesta, or Hesperos and Vesper. In the Golden Bough Sir James Frazer has shown that the branch which the priest guarded so jealously was mistletoe; and it is likely that Glaucus son of Minos (see 90. c), who has been confused with Glaucus son of Sisyphus (see 71. a), was revived by mistletoe. Though the pre-Hellenic mistletoe and oak cult had been suppressed in Greece (see 50. 2), a refugee priesthood from the Is
thmus may well have brought it to Aricia. Egeria’s name shows that she was a death-goddess, living in a grove of black poplars (see 51. 7 and 170. l).
2. Hippolytus’s perquisite of the bride’s lock must be a patriarchal innovation, designed perhaps to deprive women of the magical power resident in their hair, as Mohammedan women are shaved on marriage.
3. The concealment of Hippolytus’s tomb is paralleled in the stories of Sisyphus and Neleus (see 67. 3), which suggests that he was buried at some strategic point of the Isthmus.
LAPITHS AND CENTAURS
SOME say that Peirithous the Lapith was the son of Ixion and Dia, daughter of Eioneus; others, that he was the son of Zeus who, disguised as a stallion, coursed around Dia before seducing her.1
b. Almost incredible reports of Theseus’s strength and valour had reached Peirithous, who ruled over the Magnetes, at the mouth of the river Peneus; and one day he resolved to test them by raiding Attica and driving away a herd of cattle that were grazing at Marathon. When Theseus at once went in pursuit, Peirithous boldly turned about to face him; but each was filled with such admiration for the other’s nobility of appearance that the cattle were forgotten, and they swore an oath of everlasting friendship.2
c. Peirithous married Hippodameia, or Deidameia, daughter of Butes – or, some say, of Adrastus – and invited all the Olympians to his wedding, except Ares and Eris; he remembered the mischief which Eris had caused at the marriage of Peleus and Thetis. Since more feasters came to Peirithous’s palace than it could contain, his cousins the Centaurs, together with Nestor, Caeneus, and other Thessalian princes, were seated at tables in a vast, tree-shaded cave near by.
d. The Centaurs, however, were unused to wine and, when they smelled its fragrance, pushed away the sour milk which was set before them, and ran to fill their silver horns from the wine-skins. In their ignorance they swilled the strong liquor unmixed with water, becoming so drunk that when the bride was escorted into the cavern to greet them, Eurytus, or Eurytion, leaped from his stool, overturned the table, and dragged her away by the hair. At once the other Centaurs followed his disgraceful example, lecherously straddling the nearest women and boys.3
e. Peirithous and his paranymph Theseus sprang to Hippodameia’s rescue, cut off Eurytion’s ears and nose and, with the help of the Lapiths, threw him out of the cavern. The ensuring fight, in the course of which Caeneus the Lapith was killed, lasted until nightfall; and thus began the long feud between the Centaurs and their Lapith neighbours, engineered by Ares and Eris in revenge for the slight offered them.4
f. On this occasion the Centaurs suffered a serious reverse, and Theseus drove them from their ancient hunting grounds on Mount Pelion to the land of the Aethices near Mount Pindus. But it was not an easy task to subdue the Centaurs, who had already disputed Ixion’s kingdom with Peirithous, and who now, rallying their forces, invaded Lapith territory. They surprised and slaughtered the main Lapith army, and when the survivors fled to Pholoë in Elis, the vengeful Centaurs expelled them and converted Pholoë into a bandit stronghold of their own. Finally the Lapiths settled in Malea.
g. It was during Theseus’s campaign against the Centaurs that he met Heracles again for the first time since his childhood; and presently initiated him into the Mysteries of Demeter at Eleusis.5
1. Diodorus Siculus: iv. 70; Eustathius on Homer p. 101.
2. Strabo: Fragment 14; Vatican Epitome; Plutarch: Theseus 30.
3. Apollodorus: Epitome i. 21; Diodorus Siculus: iv. 70; Hyginus: Fabula 33; Servius on Virgil’s Aeneid vii. 304.
4. Pindar: Fragment 166f, quoted by Athenaeus: xi. 476b; Apollodorus: loc. cit.; Ovid: Metamorphoses xii. 210 ff.; Homer Odyssey xxi. 295; Pausanias: v. 10. 2.
5. Plutarch: loc. cit.; Homer: Iliad ii. 470 ff; Diodorus Siculus: loc. cit.; Herodotus, quoted by Plutarch: loc. cit.
1. Both Lapiths and Centaurs claimed descent from Ixion, an oak-hero, and had a horse cult in common (see 63. a and d). They were primitive mountain tribes in Northern Greece, of whose ancient rivalry the Hellenes took advantage by allying themselves first with one, and then with the other (see 35. 2; 78. 1; and 81. 3). Centaur and Lapith may be Italic words: centuria, ‘war-band of one hundred’, and lapicidae, ‘flint-chippers’. (The usual Classical etymology is, respectively, from centtauroi, ‘those who spear bulls’, and lapizein, ‘to swagger’.) These mountaineers seem to have had erotic orgies, and thus won a reputation for promiscuity among the monogamous Hellenes; members of this neolithic race survived in the Arcadian mountains, and on Mount Pindus, until Classical times, and vestiges of their pre-Hellenic language are to be found in modern Albania.
2. It is, however, unlikely that the battle between Lapiths and Centaurs – depicted on the gable of Zeus’s temple at Olympia (Pausanias: v. 10. 2); at Athens in the sanctuary of Theseus (Pausanias: i. 17. 2); and on Athene’s aegis (Pausanias: i. 28. 2) – recorded a mere struggle between frontier tribes. Being connected with a royal wedding feast, divinely patronized, at which Theseus in his lion-skin assisted, it will have depicted a ritual event of intimate concern to all Hellenes. Lion –skinned Heracles also fought the Centaurs on a similarly festive occasion (see 126. 2). Homer calls them ‘shaggy wild beasts’, and since they are not differentiated from satyrs in early Greek vase-paintings, the icon probably shows a newly-installed king – it does not matter who – battling with dancers disguised as animals: an event which A. C. Hocart in his Kingship proves to have been an integral part of the ancient coronation ceremony. Eurytion is playing the classical part of interloper (see 142. 5).
3. Whether Ixion or Zeus was Peirithous’s father depended on Ixion’s right to style himself Zeus. The myth of his parentage has evidently been deduced from an icon which showed a priestess of Thetis – Dia, daughter of Eioneus, ‘the divine daughter of the seashore’ – halter in hand, encouraging the candidate for kingship to master the wild horse (see 75. 3). Hippodameia’s name (‘horse-tamer’) refers to the same icon. Zeus, disguised as stallion, ‘coursed around’ Dia, because that is the meaning of the name Peirithous; and Ixion, as the Sun-god, spread-eagled to his wheel, coursed around the heavens (see 63. 2).
THESEUS IN TARTARUS
AFTER Hippodameia’s death Peirithous persuaded Theseus, whose wife Phaedra had recently hanged herself, to visit Sparta in his company and carry away Helen, a sister of Castor and Polydeuces, the Dioscuri, with whom they were both ambitious to be connected by marriage. Where the sanctuary of Serapis now stands at Athens, they swore to stand by each other in this perilous enterprise; to draw lots for Helen when they had won her; and then to carry off another of Zeus’s daughters for the loser, whatever the danger might be.1
b. This decided, they led an army into Lacedaemon; then, riding ahead of the main body, seized Helen while she was offering a sacrifice in the Temple of Upright Artemis at Sparta, and galloped away with her. They soon outdistanced their pursuers, shaking them off at Tegea where, as had been agreed, lots were drawn for Helen; and Theseus proved the winner.2 He foresaw, however, that the Athenians would by no means approve of his having thus picked a quarrel with the redoubtable Dioscuri, and therefore sent Helen, who was not yet nubile – being a twelve-year-old child or, some say, even younger – to the Attic village of Aphidnae, where he charged his friend Aphidnus to guard her with the greatest attention and secrecy. Aethra, Theseus’s mother, accompanied Helen and cared well for her. Some try to exculpate Theseus by recording that it was Idas and Lynceus who stole Helen, and then entrusted her to the protection of Theseus, in revenge for the Dioscuri’s abduction of the Leucippides. Others record that Helen’s father Tyndareus himself entrusted her to Theseus, on learning that his nephew Enarephorus, son of Hippocoön, was planning to abduct her.3
c. Some years passed and, when Helen was old enough for Theseus to marry her, Peirithous reminded him of their pact. Together they consulted an oracle of Zeus, whom they had called upon to witness their oath, and his ironical response
was: ‘Why not visit Tartarus and demand Persephone, the wife of Hades, as a bride for Peirithous? She is the noblest of my daughters.’ Theseus was outraged when Peirithous, who took this suggestion seriously, held him to his oath; but he dared not refuse to go, and presently they descended, sword in hand, to Tartarus. Avoiding the ferry-passage across Lethe, they chose the back way, the entrance to which is in a cavern of Laconian Taenarus, and were soon knocking at the gates of Hades’s palace. Hades listened calmly to their impudent request and, feigning hospitality, invited them to be seated. Unsuspectingly they took the settee he offered, which proved to be the Chair of Forgetfulness and at once became part of their flesh, so that they could not rise again without self-mutilation. Coiled serpents hissed all about them, and they were well lashed by the Furies and mauled by Cerberus’s teeth, while Hades looked on, smiling grimly.4
d. Thus they remained in torment for four full years, until Heracles, coming at Eurystheus’s command to fetch up Cerberus, recognized them as they mutely stretched out their hands, pleading for his help. Persephone received Heracles like a brother, graciously permitting him to release the evil-doers and take them back to the upper air, if he could.5 Heracles thereupon grasped Theseus by both hands and heaved with gigantic strength until, with a rending noise, he was torn free; but a great part of his flesh remained sticking to the rock, which is why Theseus’s Athenian descendants are all so absurdly small-buttocked. Next, he seized hold of Peirithous’s hands, but the earth quaked warningly, and he desisted; Peirithous had, after all, been the leading spirit in this blasphemous enterprise.6
e. According to some accounts, however, Heracles released Peirithous as well as Theseus; while, according to others, he released neither, but left Theseus chained for ever to a fiery chair, and Peirithous reclining beside Ixion on a golden couch – before their famished gaze rise magnificent banquets which the Eldest of the Furies constantly snatches away. It has even been said that Theseus and Peirithous never raided Tartarus at all, but only a Thesprotian or Molossian city named Cichyrus, whose king Aidoneus, finding that Peirithous intended to carry off his wife, threw him to a pack of hounds, and confined Theseus in a dungeon, from which Heracles eventually rescued him.7