Aphrodite did not play fair: by wearing her magic girdle all the time, she persuaded Adonis to give her his own share of the year, grudge the share due to Persephone, and disobey the court-order.6
j. Persephone, justly aggrieved, went to Thrace, where she told her benefactor Ares that Aphrodite now preferred Adonis to himself. ‘A mere mortal,’ she cried, ‘and effeminate at that!’ Ares grew jealous and, disguised as a wild boar, rushed at Adonis who was out hunting on Mount Lebanon, and gored him to death before Aphrodite’s eyes. Anemones sprang from his blood, and his soul descended to Tartarus. Aphrodite went tearfully to Zeus, and pleaded that Adonis should not have to spend more than the gloomier half of the year with Persephone, but might be her companion for the summer months. This Zeus magnanimously granted. But some say that Apollo was the boar, and revenged himself for an injury Aphrodite had done him.7
k. Once, to make Adonis jealous, Aphrodite spent several nights at Lilybaeum with Butes the Argonaut; and by him became the mother of Eryx, a king of Sicily. Her children by Adonis were one son, Golgos, founder of Cyprian Golgi, and a daughter, Beroë, founder of Beroea in Thrace; and some say that Adonis, not Dionysus, was the father of her son Priapus.8
l. The Fates assigned to Aphrodite one divine duty only, namely to make love; but one day, Athene catching her surreptitiously at work on a loom, complained that her own prerogatives had been infringed and threatened to abandon them altogether. Aphrodite apologized profusely, and has never done a hand’s turn of work since.9
1. Homer: Odyssey viii. 266–367.
2. Diodorus Siculus: iv. 6; Scholiast on Pindar’s Pythian Odes viii. 24.
3. Pausanias: ix. 31. 2; Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius: i. 932.
4. Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite 45–200; Theocritus: Idylls i. 105–7; Hyginus: Fabula 94.
5. Servius on Virgil’s Aeneid ii. 649.
6. Apollodorus: iii. 14. 3–4; Hyginus: Poetic Astronomy ii. 7 and Fabulae 58, 164, 251; Fulgentius: Mythology iii. 8.
7. Servius on Virgil’s Eclogues x. 18; Orphic Hymn lv. 10; Ptolemy Hephaestionos: i. 306.
8. Apollonius Rhodius: iv. 914–19; Diodorus Siculus: iv. 83; Scholiast on Theocruitus’s Idylls xv. 100; Tzetzes: On Lycophron 831.
9. Hesiod: Theogony 203–4; Nonnus: Dionysiaca xxiv. 274–81.
2. Priapus originated in the rude wooden phallic images which presided over Dionysian orgies. He is made a son of Adonis because of the miniature ‘gardens’ offered at his festivals. The pear-tree was sacred to Hera as prime goddess of the Peloponnese, which was therefore called Apia (see 64. 4 and 74. 6).
3. Aphrodite Urania (‘queen of the mountain’) or Erycina (‘of the heather’) was the nymph-goddess of midsummer. She destroyed the sacred king, who mated with her on a mountain top, as a queen-bee destroys the drone: by tearing out his sexual organs. Hence the heather-loving bees and the red robe in her mountain-top affair with Anchises; hence also the worship of Cybele, the Phrygian Aphrodite of Mount Ida, as a queen-bee, and the ecstatic self-castration of her priests in memory of her lover Attis (see 79. 1). Anchises was one of the many sacred kings who were struck with a ritual thunderbolt after consorting with the Death-in-Life Goddess (see 24. a). In the earliest version of the myth he was killed, but in later ones he escaped: to make good the story of how pious Aeneas, who brought the sacred Palladium to Rome, carried his father away from burning Troy (see 168. c). His name identifies Aphrodite with Isis, whose husband Osiris, was castrated by Set disguised as a boar; ‘Anchises’ is, in fact, a synonym of Adonis. He had a shrine at Aegesta near Mount Eryx (Dionysius of Halicarnassus: i. 53) and was therefore said by Virgil to have died at Drepanum, a neighbouring town, and been buried on the mountain (Aeneid iii. 710, 759, etc.). Other shrines of Anchises were shown in Arcadia and the Troad. At Aphrodite’s shrine on Mount Eryx a golden honeycomb was displayed, said to have been a votive offering presented by Daedalus when he fled to Sicily (see 92. h).
4. As Goddess of Death-in-Life, Aphrodite earned many titles which seem inconsistent with her beauty and complaisance. At Athens, she was called the Eldest of the Fates and sister of the Erinnyes: and elsewhere Melaenis (‘black one’), a name ingeniously explained by Pausanias as meaning that most love-making takes place at night; Scotia (‘dark one’); Androphonos (‘man-slayer’); and even, according to Plutarch, Epitymbria (‘of the tombs’).
5. The myth of Cinyras and Smyrna evidently records a period in history when the sacred king in a matrilineal society decided to prolong his reign beyond the customary length. He did so by celebrating a marriage with the young priestess, nominally his daughter, who was to be queen for the next term, instead of letting another princeling marry her and take away his kingdom (see 65. 1).
6. Adonis (Phoenician: adon, ‘lord’) is a Greek version of the Syrian demi-god Tammuz, the spirit of annual vegetation. In Syria, Asia Minor and Greece, the goddess’s sacred year was at one time divided into three parts, ruled by the Lion, Goat, and Serpent (see 75. 2). The Goat, emblem of the central part, was the Love-goddess Aphrodite’s; the Serpent, emblem of the last part, was the Death-goddess Persephone’s; the Lion, emblem of the first part, was sacred to the Birth-goddess, here named Smyrna, who had no claim on Adonis. In Greece, this calendar gave place to a two-season year, bisected either by the equinoxes in the Eastern style, as at Sparta and Delphi, or by the solstices in the Northern style, as at Athens and Thebes; which explains the difference between the respective verdicts of the Mountain-goddess Calliope and Zeus.
7. Tammuz was killed by a boar, like many similar mythical characters – Osiris, Cretan Zeus, Ancaeus of Arcadia (see 157. e), Carmanor of Lydia (see 136. b), and the Irish hero Diarmuid. This boar seems once to have been a sow with crescent-shaped tusks, the goddess herself as Persephone; but when the year was bisected, the bright half ruled by the sacred king, and the dark half ruled by his tanist, or rival, this rival came in wild-boar disguise – like Set when he killed Osiris, or Finn mac Cool when he killed Diarmuid. Tammuz’s blood is allegorical of the anemones that redden the slopes of Mount Lebanon after the winter rains; the Adonia, a mourning festival in honour of Tammuz, was held at Byblus every spring. Adonis’s birth from a myrrh-tree – myrrh being a well-known aphrodisiac – shows the orgiastic character of his rites. The drops of gum which the myrrh-tree shed were supposed to be tears shed for him (Ovid: Metamorphoses x. 500 ff.). Hyginus makes Cinyras King of Assyria (Fabula 58), perhaps because Tammuz-worship seemed to have originated there.
8. Aphrodite’s son Hermaphroditus was a youth with womanish breasts and long hair. Like the androgyne, or bearded woman, the hermaphrodite had, of course, its freakish physical counterpart, but as religious concepts both originated in the transition from matriarchy to patriarchy. Hermaphroditus is the sacred king deputizing for the Queen (see 136. 4), and wearing artificial breasts. Androgyne is the mother of a pre-Hellenic clan which has avoided being patriarchalized; in order to keep her magistratal powers or to ennoble children born to her from a slave-father, she assumes a false beard, as was the custom at Argos. Bearded goddesses like the Cyprian Aphrodite, and womanish gods like Dionysus, correspond with these transitional social stages.
9. Harmonia, is, at first sight, a strange name for a daughter borne by Aphrodite to Ares; but, then as now, more than usual affection and harmony prevailed in a state which was at war.
ARES’S NATURE AND DEEDS
THRACIAN Ares loves battle for its own sake, and his sister Eris is always stirring up occasions for war by the
spread of rumour and the inculcation of jealousy. Like her, he never favours one city or party more than another, but fights on this side or that, as inclination prompts him, delighting in the slaughter of men and the sacking of towns. All his fellow-immortals hate him, from Zeus and Hera downwards, except Eris, and Aphrodite who nurses a perverse passion for him, and greedy Hades who welcomes the bold young fighting-men slain in cruel wars.
b. Ares has not been consistently victorious. Athene, a much more skilful fighter than he, has twice worsted him in battle; and once, the gigantic sons of Aloeus conquered and kept him imprisoned in a brazen vessel for thirteen months until, half dead, he was released by Hermes; and, on another occasion, Heracles sent him running in fear back to Olympus. He professes too deep a contempt for litigation ever to appear in court as a plantiff, and has only once done so as a defendant: that was when his fellow-deities charged him with the wilful murder of Poseidon’s son Halirrhothius. He pleaded justification, claiming to have saved his daughter Alcippe, of the House of Cecrops, from being violated by the said Halirrhothius. Since no one had witnessed the incident, except Ares himself, and Alcippe, who naturally confirmed her father’s evidence, the court acquitted him. This was the first judgement ever pronounced in a murder trial; and the hill on which the proceedings took place became known as the Areiopagus, a name it still bears.1
1. Apollodorus: iii. 14. 2; Pausanias: i. 21. 7.
1. The Athenians disliked war, except in defence of liberty, or for some other equally cogent reason, and despised the Thracians as barbarous because they made it a pastime.
2. In Pausanias’s account of the murder, Halirrhothius had already succeeded in violating Alcippe. But Halirrhothius can only be a synonym for Poseidon; and Alcippe a synonym for the mare-headed goddess. The myth, in fact, recalls Poseidon’s rape of Demeter, and refers to a conquest of Athens by Poseidon’s people and the goddess’s humiliation at their hands (see 16. 3). But it has been altered for patriotic reasons, and combined with a legend of some early murder trial. ‘Areiopagus’ probably means ‘the hill of the propitiating Goddess’, areia being one of Athene’s titles.
HESTIA’S NATURE AND DEEDS
IT is Hestia’s glory that, alone of the great Olympians, she never takes part in wars or disputes. Like Artemis and Athene, moreover, she has always resisted every amorous invitation offered her by gods, Titans, or others; for, after the dethronement of Cronus, when Poseidon and Apollo came forward as rival suitors, she swore by Zeus’s head to remain a virgin for ever. At that, Zeus gratefully awarded her the first victim of every public sacrifice,1 because she had preserved the peace of Olympus.
b. Drunken Priapus once tried to violate her at a rustic feast attended by the gods, when everyone had fallen asleep from repletion; but an ass brayed aloud, Hestia awoke, screamed to find Priapus about to straddle her, and sent him running off in comic terror.2
c. She is the Goddess of the Hearth and in every private house and city hall protects suppliants who flee to her for protection. Universal reverence is paid Hestia, not only as the mildest, most upright and most charitable of all the Olympians, but as having invented the art of building houses; and her fire is so sacred that, if ever a hearth goes cold, either by accident or in token of mourning, it is kindled afresh with the aid of a fire-wheel.3
1. Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite 21–30.
2. Ovid: Fasti vi. 319 ff.
3. Diodorus Siculus: v. 68.
1. The centre of Greek life – even at Sparta, where the family had been subordinated to the State – was the domestic hearth, also regarded as a sacrificial altar; and Hestia, as its goddess, represented personal security and happiness, and the sacred duty of hospitality. The story of her marriage-offers from Poseidon and Apollo has perhaps been deduced from the joint worship of these three deities at Delphi. Priapus’s attempt to violate her is an anecdotal warning against sacrilegious ill-treatment of women-guests who have come under the protection of the domestic or public hearth: even the ass, a symbol of lust (see 35. 4), proclaims Priapus’s criminal folly.
2. The archaic white aniconic image of the Great Goddess, in use throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, seems to have represented a heap of glowing charcoal, kept alive by a covering of white ash, which was the most cosy and economical means of heating in ancient times; it gave out neither smoke nor flame, and formed the natural centre of family or clan gatherings. At Delphi the charcoal-heap was translated into limestone for out-of-doors use, and became the omphalos, or navel-boss, frequently shown in Greek vase-paintings, which marked the supposed centre of the world. This holy object, which has survived the ruin of the shrine, is inscribed with the name of Mother Earth, stands 11¼ inches high, and measures 15½ inches across; about the size and shape of a charcoal fire needed to heat a large room. In Classical times the Pythoness had an attendant priest who induced her trance by burning barley grains, hemp, and laurel over an oil lamp in an enclosed space, and then interpreted what she said. But it is likely that the hemp, laurel, and barley were once laid on the hot ashes of the charcoal mound, which is a simpler and more effective way of producing narcotic fumes (see 51. b). Numerous triangular or leaf-shaped ladles in stone or clay have been found in Cretan and Mycenaean shrines – some of them showing signs of great heat – and seem to have been used for tending the sacred fire. The charcoal mound was sometimes built on a round, three-legged clay table, painted red, white, and black, which are the moon’s colours (see 90. 3); examples have been found in the Peloponnese, Crete, and Delos – one of them, from a chamber tomb at Zafer Papoura near Cnossus, had the charcoal still piled on it.
APOLLO’S NATURE AND DEEDS
APOLLO, Zeus’s son by Leto, was a seven-months’ child, but gods grow up swiftly. Themis fed him on nectar and ambrosia, and when the fourth day dawned he called for bow and arrows, with which Hephaestus at once provided him. On leaving Delos he made straight for Mount Parnassus, where the serpent Python, his mother’s enemy, was lurking; and wounded him severely with arrows. Python fled to the Oracle of Mother Earth at Delphi, a city so named in honour of the monster Delphyne, his mate; but Apollo dared follow him into the shrine, and there despatched him beside the sacred chasm.1
b. Mother Earth reported this outrage to Zeus, who not only ordered Apollo to visit Tempe for purification, but instituted the Pythian Games, in honour of Python, over which he was to preside penitentially. Quite unabashed, Apollo disregarded Zeus’s command to visit Tempe. Instead, he went to Aigialaea for purification, accompanied by Artemis; and then, disliking the place, sailed to Tarrha in Crete, where King Carmanor performed the ceremony.2
c. On his return to Greece, Apollo sought out Pan, the disreputable old goat-legged Arcadian god and, having coaxed him to reveal the art of prophecy, seized the Delphic Oracle and retained its priestess, called the Pythoness, in his own service.
d. Leto, on hearing the news, came with Artemis to Delphi, where she turned aside to perform some private rite in a sacred grove. The giant Tityus interrupted her devotions, and was trying to violate her, when Apollo and Artemis, hearing screams, ran up and killed him with a volley of arrows – a vengeance which Zeus, Tityus’s father, was pleased to consider a pious one. In Tartarus, Tityus was stretched out for torment, his arms and legs securely pegged to the ground; the area covered was no less than nine acres, and two vultures ate his liver.3
e. Next, Apollo killed the satyr Marsyas, a follower of the goddess Cybele. This was how it came about. One day, Athene made a double-flute from stag’s bones, and played on it at a banquet of the gods. She could not understand, at first, why Hera and Aphrodite were laughing silently behind their hands, although her music seemed to delight the other deities; she therefore went away by herself into a Phrygian wood, took up the flute again beside a stream, and watched her image in the water, as she played. Realizing at once how ludicrous that bluish face and those swollen cheeks made her look, she threw down the flute, and laid a curse on anyone who
picked it up.
f. Marsyas was the innocent victim of this curse. He stumbled upon the flute, which he had no sooner put to his lips than it played of itself, inspired by the memory of Athene’s music; and he went about Phrygia in Cybele’s train, delighting the ignorant peasants. They cried out that Apollo himself could not have made better music, even on his lyre, and Marsyas was foolish enough not to contradict them. This, of course, provoked the anger of Apollo, who invited him to a contest, the winner of which should inflict whatever punishment he pleased on the loser. Marsyas consented, and Apollo impanelled the Muses as a jury. The contest proved an equal one, the Muses being charmed by both instruments, until Apollo cried out to Marsyas: ‘I challenge you to do with your instrument as much as I can do with mine. Turn it upside down, and both play and sing at the same time.’
g. This, with a flute, was manifestly impossible, and Marsyas failed to meet the challenge. But Apollo reversed his lyre, and sang such delightful hymns in honour of the Olympian gods that the Muses could not do less than give the verdict in his favour. Then, for all his pretended sweetness, Apollo took a most cruel revenge on Marsyas: flaying him alive and nailing his skin to a pine (or, some say, to a plane-tree), near the source of the river which now bears his name.4
h. Afterwards, Apollo won a second musical contest, at which King Midas presided; this time he beat Pan. Becoming the acknowledged god of Music, he has ever since played on his seven-stringed lyre while the gods banquet. Another of his duties was once to guard the herds and flocks which the gods kept in Pieria; but he later delegated this task to Hermes.5