2. Zeus’s violation of the Earth-goddess Rhea implies that the Zeus-worshipping Hellenes took over all agricultural and funerary ceremonies. She had forbidden him to marry, in the sense that hitherto monogamy had been unknown; women took whatever lovers they pleased. His fatherhood of the Seasons, on Themis, means that the Hellenes also assumed control of the calendar: Themis (‘order’) was the Great Goddess who ordered the year of thirteen months, divided by the summer and winter solstices into two seasons. At Athens these seasons were personified as Thallo and Carpo (originally ‘Carpho’), which mean respectively ‘sprouting’ and ‘withering’, and their temple contained an altar to the phallic Dionysus (see 27. 5). They appear in a rock-carving at Hattusas, or Pteria, where they are twin aspects of the Lion-goddess Hepta, borne on the wings of a double-headed Sun-eagle.
3. Charis (‘grace’) had been the Goddess in the disarming aspect she presented when the High-priestess chose the sacred king as her lover. Homer mentions two Charites – Pasithea and Cale, which seems to be a forced separation of three words: Pasi thea cale, ‘the Goddess who is beautiful to all men’. The two Charites, Auxo (‘increase’) and Hegemone (‘mastery’), whom the Athenians honoured, corresponded with the two Seasons. Later, the Charites were worshipped as a triad, to match the Three Fates – the Triple-goddess in her most unbending mood (see 106.3). That they were Zeus’s children, born to Eurynome the Creatrix, implies that the Hellenic overlord had power to dispose of all marriageable young women.
4. The Muses (‘mountain goddesses’), originally a triad (Pausanias: ix. 19. 2), are the Triple-goddess in her orgiastic aspect. Zeus’s claim to be their father is a late one; Hesiod calls them daughters of Mother Earth and Air.
BIRTHS OF HERMES, APOLLO, ARTEMIS, AND DIONYSUS
AMOROUS Zeus lay with numerous nymphs descended from the Titans or the gods and, after the creation of man, with mortal women too; no less than four great Olympian deities were born to him out of wedlock. First, he begat Hermes on Maia, daughter of Atlas, who bore him in a cave on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia. Next, he begat Apollo and Artemis on Leto, daughter of the Titans Coeus and Phoebe, transforming himself and her into quails when they coupled;1 but jealous Hera sent the serpent Python to pursue Leto all over the world, and decreed that she should not be delivered in any place where the sun shone. Carried on the wings of the South Wind, Leto at last came to Ortygia, close to Delos, where she bore Artemis, who was no sooner born than she helped her mother across the narrow straits, and there, between an olive-tree and a date-palm growing on the north side of Delian Mount Cynthus, delivered her of Apollo on the ninth day of labour. Delos, hitherto a floating island, became immovably fixed in the sea and, by decree, no one is now allowed either to be born or to die there: sick folk and pregnant women are ferried over to Ortygia instead.2
b. The mother of Zeus’s son Dionysus is variously named: some say that she was Demeter, or Io;3 some name her Dione; some, Persephone, with whom Zeus coupled in the likeness of a serpent; and some, Lethe.4
c. But the common story runs as follows. Zeus, disguised as a mortal, had a secret love affair with Semele (‘moon’), daughter of King Cadmus of Thebes, and jealous Hera, disguising herself as an old neighbour, advised Semele, then already six months with child, to make her mysterious lover a request: that he would no longer deceive her, but reveal himself in his true nature and form. How, otherwise, could she know that he was not a monster? Semele followed this advice and, when Zeus refused her plea, denied him further access to her bed. Then, in anger, he appeared as thunder and lightning, and she was consumed. But Hermes saved her six-months son; sewed him up inside Zeus’s thigh, to mature there for three months longer; and, in due course of time, delivered him. Thus Dionysus is called ‘twice-born’, or ‘the child of the double door’.5
1. Hesiod: Theogony 918; Apollodorus: i. 4. 1; Aristophanes: Birds 870; Servius on Virgil’s Aeneid iii. 72.
2. Homeric Hymn to Apollo 14 ff.; Hyginus: Fabula 140; Aelian: Varia Historia v. 4; Thucydides: iii. 104; Strabo: x. 5.5.
3. Diodorus Siculus: iii. 67 and 74; iv. 4.
4. Scholiast on Pindar’s Pythian Odes iii. 177; Orphic Fragment 59; Plutarch: Symposiacs vii. 5.
1. Zeus’s rapes apparently refer to Hellenic conquests of the goddess’s ancient shrines, such as that on Mount Cyllene; his marriages, to an ancient custom of giving the title ‘Zeus’ to the sacred king of the oak cult. Hermes, his son by the rape of Maia – a title of the Earth-goddess as Crone – was originally not a god, but the totemistic virtue of a phallic pillar, or cairn. Such pillars were the centre of an orgiastic dance in the goddess’s honour.
2. One component in Apollo’s godhead seems to have been an oracular mouse – Apollo Smintheus (‘Mouse-Apollo’) is among his earliest titles (see 158. 2) – consulted in a shrine of the Great Goddess, which perhaps explains why he was born where the sun never shone, namely underground. Mice were associated with disease and its cure, and the Hellenes therefore worshipped Apollo as a god of medicine and prophecy; afterwards saying that he was born under an olive-tree and a date-palm on the north side of a mountain. They called him a twin-brother of Artemis Goddess of Childbirth, and made his mother Leto – the daughter of the Titans Phoebe (‘moon’) and Coeus (‘intelligence’) – who was known in Egypt and Palestine as Lat, fertility-goddess of the date-palm and olive: hence her conveyance to Greece by a South Wind. In Italy she became Latona (‘Queen Lat’). Her quarrel with Hera suggests a conflict between early immigrants from Palestine and native tribes who worshipped a different Earth-goddess; the mouse cult, which she seems to have brought with her, was well established in Palestine (i Samuel vi. 4 and Isaiah lxvi. 17). Python’s pursuit of Apollo recalls the use of snakes in Greek and Roman houses to keep down mice. But Apollo was also the ghost of the sacred king who had eaten the apple – the word Apollo may be derived from the root abol, ‘apple’, rather than from apollunai, ‘destroy’, which is the usual view.
3. Artemis, originally an orgiastic goddess, had the lascivious quail as her sacred bird. Flocks of quail will have made Ortygia a resting-place on their way north during the spring migration. The story that Delos, Apollo’s birthplace, had hitherto been a floating island (see 43. 4) may be a misunderstanding of a record that his birthplace was now officially fixed: since in Homer (Iliad iv. 101) he is called Lycegenes, ‘born in Lycia’; and the Ephesians boasted that he was born at Ortygia near Ephesus (Tacitus: Annals iii. 61). Both the Boeotian Tegyrans and the Attic Zosterans also claimed him as a native son (Stephanus of Byzantium sub Tegyra).
4. Dionysus began, probably, as a type of sacred king whom the goddess ritually killed with a thunderbolt in the seventh month from the winter solstice, and whom her priestesses devoured (see 27. 3). This explains his mothers: Dione, the Oak-goddess; Io and Demeter, Corn-goddesses; and Persephone, Death-goddess. Plutarch, when calling him ‘Dionysus, a son of Lethe (“forgetfulness”)’, refers to his later aspect as God of the Vine.
5. The story of Semele, daughter of Cadmus, seems to record the summary action taken by Hellenese of Boeotia in ending the tradition of royal sacrifice: Olympian Zeus asserts his power, takes the doomed king under his own protection, and destroys the goddess with her own thunderbolt. Dionysus thus becomes an immortal, after rebirth from his immortal father. Semele was worshipped at Athens during the Lenaea, the Festival of the Wild Women, when a yearly bull, representing Dionysus, was cut into nine pieces and sacrificed to her: one piece being burned, the remainder eaten raw by the worshippers. Semele is usually explained as a form of Selene (‘moon’), and nine was the traditional number of orgiastic moon-priestesses who took part in such feasts – nine such are shown dancing around the sacred king in a cave painting at Cogul, and nine more killed and devoured St Samson of Dol’s acolyte in medieval times.
THE BIRTH OF EROS
SOME argue that Eros, hatched from
the world-egg, was the first of the gods since, without him, none of the rest could have been born; they make him coeval with Mother Earth and Tartarus, and deny that he had any father or mother, unless it were Eileithyia, Goddess of Childbirth.1
b. Others hold that he was Aphrodite’s son by Hermes, or by Ares, or by her own father, Zeus; or the son of Iris by the West Wind. He was a wild boy, who showed no respect for age or station but flew about on golden wings, shooting barbed arrows at random or wantonly setting hearts on fire with his dreadful torches.2
1. Orphic Hymn v; Aristotle: Metaphysics i. 4; Hesiod: Theogony 120; Meleager: Epigrams 50; Olen, quoted by Pausanias: ix. 27. 2.
2. Cicero: On the Nature of the Gods iii. 23; Virgil : Ciris 134; Alcaeus, quoted by Plutarch: Amatorius 20.
1. Eros (‘sexual passion’) was a mere abstraction to Hesiod. The early Greeks pictured him as a Ker, or winged ‘Spite’, like Old Age, or Plague, in the sense that uncontrolled sexual passion could be disturbing to ordered society. Later poets, however, took a perverse pleasure in his antics and, by the time of Praxiteles, he had become sentimentalized as a beautiful youth. His most famous shrine was at Thespiae, where the Boeotians worshipped him as a simple phallic pillar – the pastoral Hermes, or Priapus, under a different name (see 150. a). The various accounts of his parentage are self-explanatory. Hermes was a phallic god; and Ares, as a god of war, increased desire in the warrior’s womenfolk. That Aphrodite was Eros’s mother and Zeus his father is a hint that sexual passion does not stop short at incest; his birth from the Rainbow and the West Wind is a lyrical fancy. Eileithyia, ‘she who comes to the aid of women in childbed’, was a title of Artemis; the meaning being that there is no love so strong as mother-love.
2. Eros was never considered a sufficiently responsible god to figure among the ruling Olympian family of Twelve.
POSEIDON’S NATURE AND DEEDS
WHEN Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades, after deposing their father Cronus, shook lots in a helmet for the lordship of the sky, sea, and murky underworld, leaving the earth common to all, Zeus won the sky, Hades the underworld, and Poseidon the sea. Poseidon, who is equal to his brother Zeus in dignity, though not in power, and of a surly, quarrelsome nature, at once set about building his under-water palace off Aegae in Euboea. In its spacious stables he keeps white chariot horses with brazen hooves and golden manes, and a golden chariot at the approach of which storms instantly cease and sea-monsters rise, frisking, around it.1
b. Needing a wife who would be at home in the sea-depths, he courted Thetis the Nereid; but when it was prophesied by Themis that any son born to Thetis would be greater than his father, he desisted, and allowed her to marry a mortal named Peleus. Amphitrite, another Nereid, whom he next approached, viewed his advances with repugnance, and fled to the Atlas Mountains to escape him; but he sent messengers after her, among them one Delphinus, who pleaded Poseidon’s cause so winningly that she yielded, and asked him to arrange the marriage. Gratefully, Poseidon set Delphinus’s image among the stars as a constellation, the Dolphin.2
Amphitrite bore Poseidon three children: Triton, Rhode, and Benthesicyme; but he caused her almost as much jealousy as Zeus did Hera by his love affairs with goddesses, nymphs, and mortals. Especially she loathed his infatuation with Scylla, daughter of Phorcys, whom she changed into a barking monster with six heads and twelve feet by throwing magical herbs into her bathing pool.3
c. Poseidon is greedy of earthly kingdoms, and once claimed possession of Attica by thrusting his trident into the acropolis at Athens, where a well of sea-water immediately gushed out and is still to be seen; when the South Wind blows you may hear the sound of the surf far below. Later, during the reign of Cecrops, Athene came and took possession in a gentler manner, by planting the first olive-tree beside the well. Poseidon, in a fury, challenged her to single combat, and Athene would have accepted had not Zeus interposed and ordered them to submit the dispute to arbitration. Presently, then, they appeared before a divine court, consisting of their supernal fellow-deities, who called on Cecrops to give evidence. Zeus himself expressed no opinion, but while all the other gods supported Poseidon, all the goddesses supported Athene. Thus, by a majority of one, the court ruled that Athene had the better right to the land, because she had given it the better gift.
d. Greatly vexed, Poseidon sent huge waves to flood the Thriasian Plain, where Athene’s city of Athenae stood, whereupon she took up her abode in Athens instead, and called that too after herself. However, to appease Poseidon’s wrath, the women of Athens were deprived of their vote, and the men forbidden to bear their mothers’ names as hitherto.4
e. Poseidon also disputed Troezen with Athene; and on this occasion Zeus issued an order for the city to be shared equally between them – an arrangement disagreeable to both. Next, he tried unsuccessfully to claim Aegina from Zeus, and Naxos from Dionysus; and in a claim for Corinth with Helius received the Isthmus only, while Helius was awarded the Acropolis. In fury, he tried to seize Argolis from Hera, and was again ready to fight, refusing to appear before his Olympian peers who, he said, were prejudiced against him. Zeus, therefore, referred the matter to the River-gods Inachus, Cephissus, and Asterion, who judged in Hera’s favour. Since he had been forbidden to revenge himself with a flood as before, he did exactly the opposite: he dried up his judges’ streams so that they now never flow in summer. However, for the sake of Amymone, one of the Danaids who were distressed by this drought, he caused the Argive river of Lerna to flow perpetually.5
f. He boasts of having created the horse, though some say that, when he was newly born, Rhea gave one to Cronus to eat; and of having invented the bridle, though Athene had done so before him; but his claim to have instituted horse-racing is not disputed. Certainly, horses are sacred to him, perhaps because of his amorous pursuit of Demeter, when she was tearfully seeking her daughter Persephone. It is said that Demeter, wearied and disheartened by her search, and disinclined for passionate dalliance with any god or Titan, transformed herself into a mare, and began to graze with the herd of one Oncus, a son of Apollo’s who reigned in Arcadian Onceium. She did not, however, deceive Poseidon, who transformed himself into a stallion and covered her, from which outrageous union sprang the nymph Despoena and the wild horse Arion. Demeter’s anger was so hot that she is still worshipped locally as ‘Demeter the Fury’.6
1. Homer: Iliad xv. 187–93; viii. 210–11; xiii. 21–30; Odyssey v. 381; Apollonius Rhodius: iii. 1240.
2. Apollonius: iii. 13. 5; Hyginus: Poetic Astronomy ii. 17.
3. Tzetzes: On Lycophron 45 and 50.
4. Herodotus: viii. 55; Apollodorus: iii. 14. 1; Pausanias: 24. 3; Augustine: On the City of God xviii. 9; Hyginus: Fabula 164.
5. Pausanias: ii. 30. 6; Plutarch: Symposiacs ix. 6; Pausanias: ii. 1. 6; ii. 15.5; ii. 22. 5.
6. Pindar: Pythian Odes vi. 50; Pausanias: viii. 25. 3–5; Apollodorus: iii. 6. 8.
1. Thetis, Amphitrite, and Nereis were different local titles of the Triple Moon-goddess as ruler of the sea; and since Poseidon was the Father-god of the Aeolians, who had taken to the sea, he claimed to be her husband wherever she found worshippers. Peleus married Thetis on Mount Pelion (see 81. l). Nereis means ‘the wet one’, and Amphitrite’s name refers to the ‘third element’, the sea, which is cast about earth, the first element, and above which rises the second element, air. In the Homeric poems Amphitrite means simply ‘the sea’; she is not personified as Poseidon’s wife. Her reluctance to marry Poseidon matches Hera’s reluctance to marry Zeus, and Persephone’s to marry Hades; the marriage involved the interference of male priests with female control of the fishing industry. The fable of Delphinus is sentimental allegory: dolphins appear when the sea grows calm. Amphitrite’s children were herself in triad: Triton, lucky new moon; Rhode, full harvest-moon; and Benthesicyme, dangerous old moon. But Triton has since become masculinized. Aegae stood on the sheltered Boeotian side of Euboea and served as a port for Orchomenus; and it was hereabouts
that the naval expedition mustered against Troy.
2. The story of Amphitrite’s vengeance on Scylla is paralleled in that of Pasiphaë’s vengeance on another Scylla (see 91. 2). Scylla (‘she who rends’ or ‘puppy’) is merely a disagreeable aspect of herself: the dog-headed Death-goddess Hecate (see 31.f), who was at home both on land and in the waves. A seal impression from Cnossus shows her threatening a man in a boat, as she threatened Odysseus in the Straits of Messina (see 170. t). The account quoted by Tzetzes seems to have been mistakenly deduced from an ancient vase-painting in which Amphitrite stands beside a pool occupied by a dog-headed monster; on the other side of the vase is a drowned hero caught between two dog-headed triads of goddesses at the entrance to the Underworld (see 31. a and 134. 1).
3. Poseidon’s attempts to take possession of certain cities are political myths. His dispute over Athens suggests an unsuccessful attempt to make him the city’s tutelary deity in place of Athene. Yet her victory was impaired by a concession to patriarchy: the Athenians abandoned the Cretan custom which prevailed in Caria until Classical times (Herodotus: i. 173) when they ceased to take their mother’s names. Varro, who gives this detail, represents the trial as a plebiscite of all the men and women of Athens.
It is plain that the Ionian Pelasgians of Athens were defeated by the Aeolians, and that Athene regained her sovereignty only by alliance with Zeus’s Achaeans, who later made her disown Poseidon’s paternity and admit herself reborn from Zeus’s head.
4. The cultivated olive was originally imported from Libya, which supports the myth of Athene’s Libyan origin; but what she brought will have been only a cutting – the cultivated olive does not breed true, but must always be grafted on the oleaster, or wild olive. Her tree was still shown at Athens during the second century A.D. The flooding of the Thriasian Plain is likely to be a historical event, but cannot be dated. It is possible that early in the fourteenth century B.C., which meteorologists reckon to have been a period of maximum rainfall, the rivers of Arcadia never ran dry, and that their subsequent shrinking was attributed to the vengeance of Poseidon. Pre-Hellenic Sun-worship at Corinth is well established (Pausanias: ii. 4. 7 – see 67. 2).