5. The myth of Demeter and Poseidon records a Hellenic invasion of Arcadia. Demeter was pictured at Phigalia as the mare-headed patroness of the pre-Hellenic horse cult. Horses were sacred to the moon, because their hooves make a moon-shaped mark, and the moon was regarded as the source of all water; hence the association of Pegasus with springs of water (see 75. b). The early Hellenes introduced a larger breed of horse into Greece from Trans-Caspia, the native variety having been about the size of a Shetland pony and unsuitable for chariotry. They seem to have seized the centres of the horse cult, where their warrior-kings forcibly married the local priestesses and thus won a title to the land; incidentally suppressing the wild-mare orgies (see 72. 4). The sacred horses Arion and Despoena (this being a title of Demeter herself) were then claimed as Poseidon’s children. Amymone may have been a name for the goddess at Lema, the centre of the Danaid water cult (see 60. g and 4).
6. Demeter as Fury, like Nemesis as Fury (see 32. 3), was the goddess in her annual mood of murder; and the story also told of Poseidon and Demeter at Thelpusia (Pausanias; viii. 42), and of Poseidon and an unnamed Fury at the fountain of Tilphusa in Boeotia (Scholiast on Homer’s Iliad xxiii. 346) was already old when the Hellenes came. It appears in early Indian sacred literature, where Saranyu turns herself into a mare, Vivaswat becomes a stallion and covers her; and the fruit of this union are the two heroic Asvins. ‘Demeter Erinnys’ may, in fact, have stood not for ‘Demeter the Fury’, but for ‘Demeter Saranyu’ – an attempted reconciliation of the two warring cultures; but to the resentful Pelasgians Demeter was, and remained, outraged.
HERMES’S NATURE AND DEEDS
WHEN Hermes was born on Mount Cyllene his mother Maia laid him in swaddling bands on a winnowing fan, but he grew with astonishing quickness into a little boy, and as soon as her back was turned, slipped off and went looking for adventure. Arrived at Pieria, where Apollo was tending a fine herd of cows, he decided to steal them. But, fearing to be betrayed by their tracks, he quickly made a number of shoes from the bark of a fallen oak and tied them with plaited grass to the feet of the cows, which he then drove off by night along the road. Apollo discovered the loss, but Hermes’s trick deceived him, and though he went as far as Pylus in his westward search, and to Onchestus in his eastern, he was forced, in the end, to offer a reward for the apprehension of the thief. Silenus and his satyrs, greedy of reward, spread out in different directions to track him down but, for a long while, without success. At last, as a party of them passed through Arcadia, they heard the muffled sound of music such as they had never heard before, and the nymph Cyllene, from the mouth of a cave, told them that a most gifted child had recently been born there, to whom she was acting as nurse: he had constructed an ingenious musical toy from the shell of a tortoise and some cow-gut, with which he had lulled his mother to sleep.
b. ‘And from whom did he get the cow-gut?’ asked the alert satyrs, noticing two hides stretched outside the cave. ‘Do you charge the poor child with theft?’ asked Cyllene. Harsh words were exchanged.
c. At that moment Apollo came up, having discovered the thief’s identity by observing the suspicious behaviour of a long-winged bird. Entering the cave, he awakened Maia and told her severely that Hermes must restore the stolen cows. Maia pointed to the child, still wrapped in his swaddling bands and feigning sleep. ‘What an absurd charge!’ she cried. But Apollo had already recognized the hides. He picked up Hermes, carried him to Olympus, and there formally accused him of theft, offering the hides as evidence. Zeus, loth to believe that his own new-born son was a thief, encouraged him to plead not guilty, but Apollo would not be put off and Hermes, at last, weakened and confessed.
‘Very well, come with me,’ he said, ‘and you may have your herd. I slaughtered only two, and those I cut up into twelve equal portions as a sacrifice to the twelve gods.’
‘Twelve gods?’ asked Apollo. ‘Who is the twelfth?’
‘Your servant, sir,’ replied Hermes modestly. ‘I ate no more than my share, though I was very hungry, and duly burned the rest.’
Now, this was the first flesh-sacrifice ever made.
d. The two gods returned to Mount Cyllene, where Hermes greeted his mother and retrieved something that he had hidden underneath a sheepskin.
‘What have you there?’ asked Apollo.
In answer, Hermes showed his newly-invented tortoise-shell lyre, and played such a ravishing tune on it with the plectrum he had also invented, at the same time singing in praise of Apollo’s nobility, intelligence, and generosity, that he was forgiven at once. He led the surprised and delighted Apollo to Pylus, playing all the way, and there gave him the remainder of the cattle, which he had hidden in a cave.
‘A bargain!’ cried Apollo. ‘You keep the cows, and I take the lyre.’
‘Agreed,’ said Hermes, and they shook hands on it.
e. While the hungry cows were grazing, Hermes cut reeds, made them into a shepherd’s pipe, and played another tune. Apollo, again delighted, cried: ‘A bargain! If you give me that pipe, I will give you this golden staff with which I herd my cattle; in future you shall be the god of all herdsmen and shepherds.’
‘My pipe is worth more than your staff,’ replied Hermes. ‘But I will make the exchange, if you teach me augury too, because it seems to be a most useful art.’
‘I cannot do that,’ Apollo said, ‘but if you go to my old nurses, the Thriae who live on Parnassus, they will teach you how to divine from pebbles.’
f. They again shook hands and Apollo, taking the child back to Olympus, told Zeus all that had happened. Zeus warned Hermes that henceforth he must respect the rights of property and refrain from telling downright lies; but he could not help being amused. ‘You seem to be a very ingenious, eloquent, and persuasive godling,’ he said.
‘Then make me your herald, Father,’ Hermes answered, ‘and I will be responsible for the safety of all divine property, and never tell lies, though I cannot promise always to tell the whole truth.’
‘That would not be expected of you,’ said Zeus, with a smile. ‘But your duties would include the making of treaties, the promotion of commerce, and the maintenance of free rights of way for travellers on any road in the world.’ When Hermes agreed to these conditions, Zeus gave him a herald’s staff with white ribbons, which everyone was ordered to respect; a round hat against the rain, and winged golden sandals which carried him about with the swiftness of wind. He was at once welcomed into the Olympian family, whom he taught the art of making fire by the rapid twirling of the fire-stick.
g. Afterwards, the Thriae showed Hermes how to foretell the future from the dance of pebbles in a basin of water; and he himself invented both the game of knuckle-bones and the art of divining by them. Hades also engaged him as his herald, to summon the dying gently and eloquently, by laying the golden staff upon their eyes.1
h. He then assisted the Three Fates in the composition of the Alphabet, invented astronomy, the musical scale, the arts of boxing and gymnastics, weights and measures (which some attribute to Palamedes), and the cultivation of the olive-tree.2
i. Some hold that the lyre invented by Hermes had seven strings; others, that it had three only, to correspond with the seasons, or four to correspond with the quarters of the year, and that Apollo brought the number up to seven.3
j. Hermes had numerous sons, including Echion the Argonauts’ herald; Autolycus the thief; and Daphnis the inventor of bucolic poetry. This Daphnis was a beautiful Sicilian youth whom his mother, a nymph, exposed in a laurel grove on the Mountain of Hera; hence the name given him by the shepherds, his foster parents. Pan taught him to play the pipes; he was beloved by Apollo, and used to hunt with Artemis, who took pleasure in his music. He lavished great care on his many herds of cattle, which were of the same stock as Helius’s. A nymph named Nomia made him swear never to be unfaithful to her, on pain of being blinded; but her rival, Chimaera, contrived to seduce him when he was drunk, and Nomia blinded him in fulfilme
nt of her threat. Daphnis consoled himself for a while with sad lays about the loss of sight, but he did not live long. Hermes turned him into a stone, which is still shown at the city of Cephalenitanum; and caused a fountain called Daphnis to gush up at Syracuse, where annual sacrifices are offered.4
1. Homeric Hymn to Hermes 1–543; Sophocles: Fragments of The Trackers; Apollodorus: iii. 10. 2.
2. Diodorus Siculus: v. 75; Hyginus: Fabula 277; Plutarch: Symposiacs ix. 3.
3. Homeric Hymn to Hermes 51; Diodorus Siculus: i. 16; Macrobius: Saturnaliorum Conviviorum i. 19; Callimachus: Hymn to Delos 253.
4. Diodorus Siculus: iv. 84; Servius on Virgil’s Eclogues v. 20; viii. 68; x. 26; Philargyrius on Virgil’s Eclogues v. 20; Aelian: Varia Historia x. 18.
1. The myth of Hermes’s childhood has been preserved in a late literary form only. A tradition of cattle raids made by the crafty Messenians on their neighbours (see 74. g and 171. h), and of a treaty by which these were discontinued, seems to have been mythologically combined with an account of how the barbarous Hellenes took over and exploited, in the name of their adopted god Apollo, the Creto-Helladic civilization which they found in Central and Southern Greece – boxing, gymnastics, weights and measures, music, astronomy, and olive culture were all pre-Hellenic (see 162. 6) – and learned polite manners.
2. Hermes was evolved as a god from the stone phalli which were local centres of a pre-Hellenic fertility cult (see 15.1) – the account of his rapid growth may be Homer’s playful obscenity – but also from the Divine Child of the pre-Hellenic Calendar (see 24. 6, 44. 1, 105. 1, 171. 4, etc.); from the Egyptian Thoth, God of Intelligence; and from Anubis, conductor of souls to the Underworld.
3. The heraldic white ribbons on Hermes’s staff were later mistaken for serpents, because he was herald to Hades; hence Echion’s name. The Thriae are the Triple-Muse (‘mountain goddess’) of Parnassus, their divination by means of dancing pebbles was also practised at Delphi (Mythographi Graeci: Appendix Narrationum 67). Athene was first credited with the invention of divinatory dice made from knuckle-bones (Zenobius: Proverbs v. 75), and these came into popular use; but the art of augury remained an aristocratic prerogative both in Greece and at Rome. Apollo’s ‘long-winged bird’ was probably Hermes’s own sacred crane; for the Apollonian priesthood constantly trespassed on the territory of Hermes, an earlier patron of soothsaying, literature, and the arts; as did the Hermetic priesthood on that of Pan, the Muses, and Athene. The invention of fire-making was ascribed to Hermes, because the twirling of the male drill in the female stock suggested phallic magic.
4. Silenus and his sons, the satyrs,, were conventional comic characters in the Attic drama (see 83. 5); originally they had been primitive mountaineers of Northern Greece. He was called an autochthon, or a son of Pan by one of the nymphs (Nonnus; Dionysiaca xiv. 97; xxix. 262; Aelian: Varia Historia iii. 18).
5. The romantic story of Daphnis has been built around a phallic pillar at Cephalenitanum, and a fountain at Syracuse, each probably surrounded by a laurel grove, where songs were sung in honour of the sightless dead. Daphnis was said to be beloved by Apollo because he had taken the laurel from the orgiastic goddess of Tempe (see 21. 6).
APHRODITE’S NATURE AND DEEDS
APHRODITE could seldom be persuaded to lend the other goddesses her magic girdle which made everyone fall in love with its wearer; for she was jealous of her position. Zeus had given her in marriage to Hephaestus, the lame Smith-god; but the true father of the three children with whom she presented him – Phobus, Deimus, and Harmonia – was Ares, the straight-limbed, impetuous, drunken, and quarrelsome God of War. Hephaestus knew nothing of the deception until, one night, the lovers stayed too long together in bed at Ares’s Thracian palace; then Helius, as he rose, saw them at their sport and told tales to Hephaestus.
b. Hephaestus angrily retired to his forge, and hammered out a bronze hunting-net, as fine as gossamer but quite unbreakable, which he secretly attached to the posts and sides of his marriage-bed. He told Aphrodite who returned from Thrace, all smiles, explaining that she had been away on business at Corinth: ‘Pray excuse me, dear wife, I am taking a short holiday on Lemnos, my favourite island.’ Aphrodite did not offer to accompany him and, when he was out of sight, sent hurriedly for Ares, who soon arrived. The two went merrily to bed but, at dawn, found themselves entangled in the net, naked and unable to escape. Hephaestus, turning back from his journey, surprised them there, and summoned all the gods to witness his dishonour. He then announced that he would not release his wife until the valuable marriage-gifts which he had paid her adoptive father, Zeus, were restored to him.
c. Up ran the gods, to watch Aphrodite’s embarrassment; but the goddesses, from a sense of delicacy, stayed in their houses. Apollo, nudging Hermes, asked: ‘You would not mind being in Ares’s position, would you, net and all?’
‘That is all very well,’ Hephaestus replied gloomily. ‘But if Ares defaults, you will have to take his place under the net.’
‘In Aphrodite’s company?’ Apollo asked, laughing.
‘I cannot think that Ares will default,’ Poseidon said nobly. ‘But if he should do so, I am ready to pay the debt and marry Aphrodite myself.’
So Ares was set at liberty, and returned to Thrace; and Aphrodite went to Paphos, where she renewed her virginity in the sea.1
d. Flattered by Hermes’s frank confession of his love for her, Aphrodite presently spent a night with him, the fruit of which was Hermaphroditus, a double-sexed being; and, equally pleased by Poseidon’s intervention on her behalf, she bore him two sons, Rhodus and Herophilus.2 Needless to say, Ares defaulted, pleading that if Zeus would not pay, why should he? In the end, nobody paid, because Hephaestus was madly in love with Aphrodite and had no real intention of divorcing her.
e. Later, Aphrodite yielded to Dionysus, and bore him Priapus; an ugly child with enormous genitals – it was Hera who had given him this obscene appearance, in disapproval of Aphrodite’s promiscuity. He is a gardener and carries a pruning-knife.3
f. Though Zeus never lay with his adopted daughter Aphrodite, as some say that he did, the magic of her girdle put him under constant temptation, and at last he decided to humiliate her by making her fall desperately in love with a mortal. This was the handsome Anchises, King of the Dardanians, a grandson of Ilus and, one night, when he was asleep in his herdsman’s hut on Trojan Mount Ida, Aphrodite visited him in the guise of a Phrygian princess, clad in a dazzlingly red robe, and lay with him on a couch spread with the skins of bears and lions, while bees buzzed drowsily about them. When they parted at dawn, she revealed her identity, and made him promise not to tell anyone that she had slept with him. Anchises was horrified to learn that he had uncovered the nakedness of a goddess, and begged her to spare his life. She assured him that he had nothing to fear, and that their son would be famous.4 Some days later, while Anchises was drinking with his companions, one of them asked: ‘Would you not rather sleep with the daughter of So-and-so than with Aphrodite herself?’ ‘No,’ he replied unguardedly. ‘Having slept with both, I find the question inept.’
g. Zeus overheard this boast, and threw a thunderbolt at Anchises, which would have killed him outright, had not Aphrodite interposed her girdle, and thus diverted the bolt into the ground at his feet. Nevertheless, the shock so weak
ened Anchises that he could never stand upright again, and Aphrodite, after bearing his son Aeneas, soon lost her passion for him.5
h. One day, the wife of King Cinyras the Cyprian – but some call him King Phoenix of Byblus, and some King Theias the Assyrian – foolishly boasted that her daughter Smyrna was more beautiful even than Aphrodite. The goddess avenged this insult by making Smyrna fall in love with her father and climb into his bed one dark night, when her nurse had made him too drunk to realize what he was doing. Later, Cinyras discovered that he was both the father and grandfather of Smyrna’s unborn child and, wild with wrath, seized a sword and chased her from the palace. He overtook her on the brow of a hill, but Aphrodite hurriedly changed Smyrna into a myrrh-tree, which the descending sword split in halves. Out tumbled the infant Adonis. Aphrodite, already repenting of the mischief that she had made, concealed Adonis in a chest, which she entrusted to Persephone, Queen of the Dead, asking her to stow it away in a dark place.
i. Persephone had the curiosity to open the chest, and found Adonis inside. He was so lovely that she lifted him out and brought him up in her own palace. The news reached Aphrodite, who at once visited Tartarus to claim Adonis; and when Persephone would not assent, having by now made him her lover, she appealed to Zeus. Zeus, well aware that Aphrodite also wanted to lie with Adonis, refused to judge so unsavoury a dispute; and transferred it to a lower court, presided over by the Muse Calliope. Calliope’s verdict was that Persephone and Aphrodite had equal claims on Adonis – Aphrodite for arranging his birth, Persephone for rescuing him from the chest – but that he should be allowed a brief annual holiday from the amorous demands of both these insatiable goddesses. She therefore divided the year into three equal parts, of which he was to spend one with Persephone, one with Aphrodite, and the third by himself.