Friday, June 29, 2012

Hymen, Orpheus, and deviation

Metamorphoses 10 begins with the figure of Hymen, who leaves the surprisingly successful wedding of Iphis and Ianthe to attend the unfortunate marriage of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Hymen and Eros
His hair is flaxen, his torch is sputtering, and his journey to Thrace is described by the verb digreditur -- to depart, but also to deviate, digress. He has come because he was called by Orpheus, whose call can move trees and beasts. All goes wrong.

There's very little in the available sources about Hymen, who is usually cited not as part of a story, but in close connection with the hymenios, the song sung at the procession of the bride to the house of the groom (as in Catullus's famous Hymn to Hymen). I.e., the god and the hymn calling upon the god are in some sense intermingled.

The god and his song were to accompany the bride to the house of the groom -- a rite of passage, a moving across a threshold from daughter/virgin to wife/mother. Eurydice doesn't make it.

While it might be over-reading to attach too much importance to this failure of Hymen, there are some interesting elements in his mythological background.

In some versions, he is the son of Apollo and a Muse, either Calliope, Urania, or Terpsichore. This would make him at least Orpheus's half-brother, since Orpheus is sometimes believed to be the son of Calliope and Apollo.

At least one story links Hymen not to marriage -- the achievement of an intentional union -- but to a homoerotic state of distraction:
Hesiod tells the story in the Great Eoiae . . . Magnes was the son of Argus, the son of Phrixus and Perimele, Admetus' daughter, and lived in the region of Thessaly, in the land which men called after him Magnesia. He had a son of remarkable beauty, Hymenaeus. And when Apollo saw the boy, he was seized with love for him, and would not leave the house of Magnes. Then Hermes made designs on Apollo's herd of cattle which were grazing in the same place as the cattle of Admetus. First he cast upon the dogs which were guarding them a stupor and strangles, so that the dogs forgot the cows and lost the power of barking. Then he drove away twelve heifers and a hundred cows never yoked, and the bull who mounted the cows, fastening to the tail of each one brushwood to wipe out the footmarks of the cows. He drove them through the country of the Pelasgi, and Achaea in the land of Phthia, and through Locris, and Boeotia and Megaris, and thence into Peloponnesus by way of Corinth and Larissa, until he brought them to Tegea. From there he went on by the Lycaean mountains, and past Maenalus and what are called the watch-posts of Battus. (Antoninus Liberalis.)
We met Battus in Metamorphoses 2 - he's turned to stone for trying to outwit Hermes. Battus is a pointer, an index, who promises to point to the truth, and in so doing, proves himself a liar, and so, via divine wit, becomes a literal touchstone. Orpheus will soon speak of how he is not interested in fictions, but only in speaking truth. Nothing is quite what it seems in Ovid.

Hymen, the deliverer of brides to grooms, here seems to be yet another of Apollo's loves, which sets in motion the digression of what is proper to the god, his cattle stolen by the new-born Hermes. That subject is elaborated beautifully in the Hymn to Apollo.

Are there any successful marriages in Metamorphoses 10?

For further digressive pleasure, consider Monteverdi's Orfeo with Jordi Savall:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ovidian tales in Tampa

lekythos 460 BC
If you sometimes wish Ovid's tales could come to life, you might want to visit the Tampa Museum of Art's current exhibit of ancient Greek and Roman vessels and other items, on display under the title Utility and Aesthetics in Ancient Art.

The museum has mounted a captivating display of sculpture, pottery, jewelry, coins and tools -- a strigil, for example, used by athletes to scrape off dust and olive oil after an event.

As we were saying not long ago, the characters and stories that Ovid gathered in his poem were the figurative and decorative commonplaces of the ancient world. The lover of the Metamorphoses will find, in one not very large room, a wide range of mythological figures, from Heracles and Semele to Dionysus, Hermes and Pegasus; Athena appears on vessels of all kinds, designed to hold oil, water, or perfume. There's Apollo and Poseidon in stone and image, as well as Osiris, the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, Theseus and the Minotaur, sirens and a sphinx or two. There are necklaces and a ring with a gorgon bezel, satyrs pouring wine and a maenad holding her thyrsus.

Certain themes recur: On one shard, a fragment of the Judgment of Paris; nearby, a lovely small statuette of Aphrodite holds her prize apple. I'd have taken many photos, but photography is not allowed in the Museum.

The images here are from the museum's site. Here's what's thought to be a child's doll:

5th c. BC

While the exhibition room is not huge, it's remarkable how many fine pieces it comfortably holds, and the curators have complemented nearly every piece with helpful notes. If you go, you might try a Friday, when the museum is free from 4 - 8 pm. And there's time: the exhibit remains until July 2013.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Later developments of Orpheus

A brief digression forward in time: The figure of Orpheus, concerned as it is with the power of music and poetry, acquired a large and quasi-mystical stature in the Renaissance. The musical efforts of Ficino, the elder Galilei, Monteverdi, and others were only one facet of a broad and deep-rooted preoccupation with the arch-poet. One way to approach this is through getting acquainted with the idea of the prisca theologia, the idea that "a single, true, theology exists, which threads through all religions, and which was given by God to man in antiquity.[1][2]"

A seminal scholarly article about the prisca theologia and the figure of Orpheus that explores some Renaissance thinking on this subject: is Orpheus the Theologian and Renaissance Platonists by D.P. Walker. (We last brushed shoulders with the Cambridge Platonists while reading Milton.) If you're interested in having a look at Walker's article, let me know.

The influence of the figure continues into the modern era, as Jutta noted with Rilke, whose Sonnets to Orpheus are a sustained meditation on poetry, music, and voice. (Translation by Robert Hunter here.)

A poet writing in English who seems fully immersed in Orphic lore would be Yeats. This article takes a look at his esoteric involvement with, among other things, magic.

Orphic shade

From the start of Metamorphoses 10, Orpheus is dealing with shadows. Overcome by Amor, he descends to win back Eurydice, and encounters the umbrarum dominum, Hades, the Lord of Shades. To die in Ovid's world is to become a shadow of who you were, the spent afterimage of your day in the sun.

After he loses Eurydice a second time, Orpheus mourns her. Upon a hill devoid of shade, he begins to play and sing. Ignoring the tradition that his voice attracted wild beasts, Ovid speaks only of trees -- not just any trees, but a mixed wood led by the Dodonian Oak, gather around the poet. Several of these trees are linked to other tales -- the pine, for example, to Attis. (Apollo's loves tend to end up as vegetation: Daphne, Dryope, Cyparissus and Hyacinthus, to name a few.) To sing, to be a poet, is to get out of the solar, too-bright world of action -- the world of Heracles -- to a lunar world of indirection, of words and music, where one can summon what is past.

The juxtaposition of the poet's descent to the Underworld and this silva, (Aristotle's term: hyle) this moving forest of shade, is Ovid's way of linking the realm of reflection, the contemplative life, with a series of images and psychological, poetic, and metaphysical themes -- time, desire, shadows, death, echoes, indirection, memory, representation. Representation, as the word implies, is the presence of a lack, an absence. Usually a grave presence, lacking in light and lightness. The capacity to bring things up, to re-present them, depends upon their absence thanks to time, space, unintelligibility, or death.

Speaking matter-of-factly and without false or ambiguous words, Orpheus asks Hades and Proserpina for the usum of Eurydice -- the use, the loan of her, for a short natural time, before she (and all who live) permanently enter the nether world. We owe Hades a life, and according to this figural logic, our time is borrowed, on loan, from one who never fails to collect in full. Orpheus asks to borrow time:

Per ego haec loca plena timoris,
30per chaos hoc ingens vastique silentia regni,
Eurydicesoroproperata retexite fata.
Omnia debemur vobispaulumque morati
serius aut citius sedem properamus ad unam.
I beg you, by these fearful places, by this immense abyss, and the silence of your vast realms, reverse Eurydice’s swift death. All things are destined to be yours, and though we delay a while, sooner or later, we hasten home. 
To "reweave" the Fates is to rewrite what the Fates have already woven: retexite is linked to the root sense of text as something made, via techne, art. The fate of Eurydice is a text that Orpheus asks Hades to edit.

When Heracles asked more time for Iolaus in Book 9, we saw how Hebe managed to add some years to the sons of Alcmaeon and subtract them from a rejuvenated Iolaus. Orpheus, using his music, almost succeeds in recapturing his lost love, then he bends his eyes back to look directly upon the one thing he must not directly look upon, according to the condition (legem) imposed with the prospect of her return: the original referent of that fatal text. The rewrite fails.

As he mourns the loss of the usum of his irreplaceable bride, Orpheus turns away from all women. The story thus explains how the arch poet became the "auctor" of human homoeroticism:

Ille etiam Thracum populis fuit auctor amorem
in teneros transferre mares citraque iuventam
85aetatis breve ver et primos carpere flores.
Indeed, he was the first of the Thracian people to transfer his love to young boys, and enjoy their brief springtime, and early flowering, this side of manhood.
Much if not all of Book 10, the stories of Apollo and Cyparissus, Hyacinthus, Attis and Adonis, all flow from this linking of death and unyielding mourning to homoeroticism. The tale of Orpheus, linked with Proserpina, brings us back to Ovid's thinking about art, which began with the songs of the Muses in book 6. This counterweight lends a symmetry to the central five books of the Metamorphoses.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Metamorphoses 10: Outline

As with every book of the Metamorphoses, Theoi's online version offers an outline. The numbers are hyperlinked to its rendering of the stories.


1. Orpheus & Eurydice
2. Attis & Cybele
3. Cyparissus
4. Hyacinthus & Apollo
5. The Propoetides
6. Pygmalion
7. Myrrha & Cinyras
8. Atalanta & Hippomenes
9. Adonis

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Cybele and Sibyl

The Sibyl, with frenzied mouth uttering things not to be laughed at, unadorned and unperfumed, yet reaches to a thousand years with her voice by aid of the god.'[2]

Cybele -  from the Wikipedia entry:
The gigantic remains of such a figure at Mount Sipylus, though lacking inscriptions and much eroded, are consistent with later representations of a seated Cybele, with a supporting or attendant lion beneath each arm. At Pessinos in Phrygia, the mother goddess - identified by the Greeks as Cybele - took the form of an unshaped stone of black meteoric iron,[9] and may have been associated with or identical to Agdistis, Pessinos' mountain deity.[10]
No contemporary text or myth survives to attest the original character and nature of Cybele's Phrygian cult but the ubiquity of her Phrygian name, Matar ("Mother"), image and iconography in funerary contexts suggests her as mediator between the "boundaries of the known and unknown".[11] Her associations with hawks, lions, and the very stone of the wild, mountainous Anatolian landscape, suggest her as mother of the land and its wild, untrammeled nature, with power to dominate, moderate or soften its latent ferocity, and control its potential threats to a settled, civilised life; thus, her enrollment as a protective goddess of the state by Anatolian elites, possibly concurrent with some form of ruler-cult.[12] At the same time, her power "transcended any purely political usage and spoke directly to the goddess' followers from all walks of life".[13] Over time, her Phrygian cults and iconography were transformed, and ultimately subsumed, by the influences and interpretations of her foreign devotees, at first Greek and later, Roman.
More links:
Mt. Ida  
The mountain is the scene of several mythic events in the works of Homer. At its summit, the Olympian gods gathered to watch the progress of the epic fight. But the mountain was the sacred place of the Goddess, and Hera's powers were so magnified on Mount Ida, that she was able to distract Zeus with her seductions, just long enough to permit Poseidon to intercede on behalf of the Argives to drive Hektor and the Trojans back from the ships.
Sibylline Books 
Erythraean Sibyl 
Sibyl Siena Duomo

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Orpheus in Georgics IV

The best-known ancient telling of the Orpheus-Eurydice tale is found in Virgil's fourth Georgic. It's a powerful prior poetic treatment of the story, and can serve as a foil highlighting Ovid's very different telling of  it.

The Georgics have been translated by the astonishingly productive Tony Kline. The entire fourth Georgic is here. The Orpheus tale is nested inside the tale of Aristaeus, which begins here. It's actually Proteus who sings the tale of Orpheus, beginning here.

Aristaeus and Proteus

Friday, June 15, 2012

Orpheus' Attis

Ovid wouldn't be Ovid if he didn't supply a story of male self-emasculation to counterbalance the marvel of Iphis' phallus at the end of Book 9. The mention of Attis in connection with the pine tree in the gathering of shadows (umbras) around Orpheus early in Book 10 of the Metamorphoses points to one exemplary  counterweight:
Attis (Ancient Greek: Ἄττις or Ἄττης) was the consort of Cybele in Phrygian and Greek mythology.[1] His priests were eunuchs, the Galli, as explained by origin myths pertaining to Attis and castration.

This ancient god apparently didn't make its way to the Roman consciousness until the time of Augustus. Its savagery seized the imagination of Catullus in his #63:

. . . So when she (no longer he) sensed that her manhood was gone,
while still staining the soil of the earth with fresh drops of blood,
she impetuously took up in her snowy-white hands your light tambourine,
Cybele, took up your mysteries, O Mother.
Shaking the hollow ox-hide of the tambourine with delicate fingers,
tremulously she began to sing this exhortation. . .

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The imponderable lightness of weasels

Book 9 of Ovid's Metamorphoses presents some unusual complications even as it repeats a pattern we've seen before -- one that's occurred often in the middle books of the poem (books 6 through 10).

The pattern, which we've noted before, is that the book shifts or breaks in the middle, changing its narrative focus to pursue a new series of tales. In book 7, for example, the arrival of Theseus in Athens puts an end to the lurid history of Medea. Minos enters, and Aeacus and Cephalus then narrate their stories. In book 8, after more Minos material and the tale of Meleager and the Calydonian boar, the book takes up tales told by Achelous and others in his grotto, where the river god is feasting Theseus. And in book 9, after the death and birth of Heracles, we have the central prophecy of Themis, raising the relation of the gods to Fate. The rest of the book is taken up with the two tales of Byblis and Iphis.

Heracles and Achelous

Even as this pattern is developing, other thematic concerns emerge. For example, Book 9 provides multiple perspectives on the relation of language and time, event and narration, or even more broadly, action and reflection. It opens with Achelous (who is asked about his broken horn) telling of his wrestling match with Heracles. It's a tale told after the fact by one of its participants to Theseus and his friends. It's worth noting that we don't see Theseus doing anything heroic, but we do see him, both here and at the end of Book 8, listening to stories that recapture past events. If Heracles is a hero in the mode of pure action (and basically zero reflection), Theseus appears in the Metamorphoses as one whose heroic deeds are mediated in song, but who in this poem mainly contemplates the deeds of others.

At certain moments, the order of cause and effect, or beginning and end, are reversed. We are told of the death of Heracles, (involving a vast pyre on Oeta that burns away the hero's mortal part, leaving a pure immortal form), then of his birth -- a kind of hysteron-proteron (cart before the horse). More interesting still, the hero's very birth is owed to a trick that is attributed to Galanthis, the redhead who is turned into a weasel for it. What's of interest is the nature of the trick. Here's how Alcmene, Heracles' mother, tells it to Iole:
Tortured for seven nights and as many days, worn out with agony, stretching my arms to heaven, with a great cry, I called out to Lucina, and her companion gods of birth, the Nixi. Indeed, she came, but committed in advance (praecorrupta), determined to surrender my life to unjust Juno. She sat on the altar, in front of the door, and listened to my groans. With her right knee crossed over her left, and clasped with interlocking fingers, she held back the birth, She murmured spells (carmina), too, in a low voice, and the spells halted the birth once it began. I laboured, and, maddened, made useless outcries against ungrateful Jove. I wanted to die, and my moans would have moved the flinty rocks. The Theban women who were there, took up my prayers (vota), and gave me encouragement in my pain. 
Tawny-haired Galanthis, one of my servant-girls, was there, humbly born but faithful in carrying out orders, loved by me for the services she rendered. She sensed that unjust Juno was up to something, and, as she was often in and out of the house, she saw the goddess, Lucina, squatting on the altar, arms linked by her fingers, clasping her knees, and said ‘Whoever you are, congratulate the mistress. Alcmena of Argolis is eased (levata), and the prayers (voto) to aid childbirth have been answered.’ 
The goddess with power over the womb leapt up in consternation, releasing her clasped hands: by releasing the bonds, herself, easing (levor) the birth. (Kline trans.)
Alcmene's tale is about weightiness -- heaviness and lightness, both in the physical sense (as Alcmene says, the pondus and gravitas of Heracles in her womb indicated that his father was Zeus), and in the rhetorical sense of uplift or levity.

The quick-witted Galanthis (known in some tellings as Historis) sees the goddess (Eileithyia or Lucina) using spells to hold back the easing of Alcmene's labor, and so she, the handmaid, lies. She tells Lucina that Alcmene's prayers (vota, vows, words that are intended to bring a result) have been answered and that the mother is eased (her womb is levata of Heracles).

This is interesting because the girl is at once pretending that the prayers of the mother and the Theban women have been answered -- i.e., she claims an event has taken place because a verbal request received a response -- when, in fact, no such event has taken place. The carmina of Lucina were actually still effectual. In the contest of two sets of verbal charms, carmina and vota, Lucina's (backed by Hera) were in fact stronger, but since Lucina is outside the door of the room, she can't actually see what's the case. The moment she believes that the child is born, she opens her clenched legs and hands and ceases her spells, and it is then that Heracles is born. Amid all these magical charms, the joke here is that what actually brings about the birth of Heracles is an act of wit. Galanthis lies by saying Heracles is born when he has not been born, and the deception causes Heracles to be born. A false statement of an effect becomes the cause of itself becoming true.

Ovid underscores the fact that he's talking about the impact of words upon events, and about levity, by immediately showing us Galanthis laughing (and reminding us that this is all a tale):
They say Galanthis laughed at the duped goddess. (numine decepto risisse Galanthida fama est). As she laughed, the heaven-born one, in her anger, caught her by the hair, and dragged her down . . .
Weasel (Lat. mustela)
Galanthis's stroke of wit indeed brings about a desired result, but the moment she laughs at Lucina, she brings upon herself a different effect, her metamorphosis into a weasel. The ponderous plight of Alcmene is lightened, but the cost is precisely the loss of gravitas that often accompanies the entrance of grand personages like heroes. Nothing is less conducive to ponderous solemnity than weasels, otters, or badgers.

A few observations:

Instead of hysteron-proteron (cart before horse) we have the transformation of a lie into truth -- in delivering itself, the lie undoes itself and proves true. (This pattern is repeated with Iphis and Ianthe later in the book, as the puer fictus becomes a boy in fact.)

A story, then, need not be a subsequent re-counting, or mimesis, of an event. A clever or mendacious tale in certain situations can generate events, bring them into being, or release obstructions in shattering laughter. What is cleverness (sollertia - a word Ovid likes to use) if not a certain esprit of surprise, changing the complexion and expectation, the rules of the game, in short, that is underway?

Language has this disruptive power. This might seem an insight that was first brought to us in 1951 by the language philosopher J.L. Austin in his How To Do Things with Words. Austin is credited with a "revolutionary" exploration of "speech acts," the capability of language to do things, as when once says "I now pronounce you man and wife." It seems Ovid and the ancients were examining speech acts and the performative power of language somewhat earlier.

To underscore the point that words can do things, Ovid's Alcmene notes a "fact" about weasels:
because her lying mouth helped in childbirth, she gives birth through her mouth, and frequents my house, as before.
If the notion of the speech act ever needed a mascot, what creature more perfect than the animal that "gives birth through her mouth"? This bit of lore had a long afterlife in the bestiaries of the Middle Ages.

It seems that Ovid's concern with poetics -- his metapoetics, if you will -- extends beyond a sense of poetry as mimesis (description, reflection, retelling) to poetry as action (making new, creating, disrupting). The notion of setting in motion a chain of events which is then broken, altered, set on a new course, is not unlike the pattern we have noticed in which, in the middle of a book, one motif or subject is dropped and another begins.

Book 9, which begins the second half of his poem, seems to be particularly preoccupied with the matter of linguistic power. What does it mean, for instance, that the inaugural moment of the greatest action hero of the Greek world was made possible through the quick thinking of a servant girl?
When Heracles grew up, he built a sanctuary to Galinthias and sacrificed to her; the practice of honoring Galinthias in Thebes lasted down to late times.[2] [Galanthis].
I had hoped to get further in examining the structure of Book 9 at a more macro level. I hope to look at that relatively soon.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Eurystheus: Context for Heracles

This entry from Parada about Eurystheus helps place the tale of Heracles in context -- we are reminded that before Hebe answered Heracles' prayer to rejuvenate Iolaus in Metamorphoses 9, Hera had worked to retard the birth of Heracles while speeding up that of Eurystheus. Parada also notes that prior to Heracles and Eurystheus, their fathers were at loggerheads, opening strife between the Perseids (descendants of Io) and the Pelopides (descendants of Atlas) as to who would rule Mycenae:

Through Hera's agency, the goddess Ilithyia retarded Alcmena's delivery, and Eurystheus, who also was a Perseid, was born a seven-month child before Heracles 1
Agreement of Zeus and Hera 
Now, the words of gods differ from those of mortals in that neither intention nor deed are divorced from them, a circumstance or quality that some call integrity: thought, word and deed constituting what is integrated in harmonious oneness. That is why Zeus did not go against his own word, although he did seize Ate by her hair, and having whirled her round his head, cast her out from Heaven and down to earth, where she may still be found among men. Instead Zeus, wishing to take care of both word and son, persuaded Hera to agree that while Eurystheus should be king (for being the first born Perseid, as he had proclaimed), Heracles 1 would be allowed to serve him and perform twelve LABOURS, to be prescribed by Eurystheus himself. But that after he had performed them, Heracles 1 should be given immortality. 
Previous differences on earth 
This was the nature of the relationship that Heaven established between Eurystheus and Heracles 1. Before them, however, differences had aroused between Heracles 1's stepfather Amphitryon, and Eurystheus' father Sthenelus 3. The background of it all may be said to be the infiltration of the Pelopides, who succeeded, through Sthenelus 3 and Eurystheus, in replacing the dynasty of the Perseids on the throne of Mycenae. For although Eurystheus was a Perseid on his father's side, he opened the way for the dominance of the Pelopides, his mother being daughter of Pelops 1. The conflict expressed by Eurystheus and Heracles 1 continued after their departure from this world, and only ended when the Perseids, renamed HERACLIDES, returned to the Peloponnesus, and took possession of what they regarded as their legitimate inheritance.

Parada's scheme of the three key ancestors -- Deucalion, Atlas, and Io -- is summarized here. Euripides made the Heraclides the basis of his play about the children of Heracles.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Three Key Ancestors

According to Carlos Parada's Greek Mythology Link, the key ancestors of the major Greek families were three: Deucalion (& Pyrrha), Atlas (through his daughters the Pleiades), and Io.

The Pelopides 
Pelops 1 was son of Tantalus 1, son of Zeus and the Pleiad Dione 3, daughter of Atlas. Pelops 1's wife Hippodamia 3 was daughter of the Pleiad Sterope 3. The PLEIADES are daughters of Atlas. The Pelopides ruled Mycenae until the return of the HERACLIDES (descendants of Heracles 1, a descendant of Io). Pelops 1 came from Phrygia to Hellas, whereas Dardanus 1 emigrated from Hellas to Phrygia.
The Trojans 
The Trojans were also descendants of Atlas. Dardanus 1, son of Electra 3, daughter of Atlas, is at the beginning of the house of Troy, for Dardanus 1 is father of Erichthonius 1, father of Tros 1 (after whom the Trojans are called), father of Ilus 2 (founder of Ilium, that is, Troy), father of Laomedon 1, father of Priam 1, who was king when the city was destroyed. 
Some Thebans 
Among the Thebans, the usurpers Nycteus 2 and Lycus 5 were said to have come from Euboea, but they too might be descendants of Atlas, and so could beAmphion 1, grandson of Nycteus 2. Amphion 1 married Pelops 1's sister, the mother of the NIOBIDS.


The descendants of Deucalion 1 (and Aeolus 1) founded and ruled Thessalian cities such as Pherae, Phthia and Iolcus, but were periodically influential inThebes, Argos, Athens, and Messenia
Deucalion 1, the first mortal of this line and son of the Titan Prometheus 1, is father of Hellen 1, eponym of the Hellenes. From Hellen 1 sprang Dorus 1 (eponym of the Dorians), Xuthus 1, and Aeolus 1. Xuthus 1 is father of Achaeus 1 (eponym of the Achaeans), and of Ion 1 (eponym of the Ionians). The Thessalian king Aeolus 1 (different from the keeper of the winds) had many important descendants.

Ancestors and founders of important cities auch as Mycenae, Thebes, and Argos were descendants of Io. These also controlled Crete, Laconia, and perhaps Arcadia. The HERACLIDES were descendants of Io. Their house evolved first in north-east Africa, and in the mideast (Phoenicia). 
Io is the first mortal of this line. She is usually regarded as daughter of the river god Inachus, her other genealogies being more uncertain. After Io comes Epaphus 1, king of Egypt and father of Libya. Her descendants are Agenor 1, Belus 1, and Lelex 2. From Agenor 1 descended Europa and Cadmus, which is to say the houses of Crete and Thebes respectively. From Belus 1 descended Aegyptus 1 and Danaus 1, that is, the houses of Argos, and Mycenae
Perseus 1 (descendant of Danaus 1 and Aegyptus 1), and his own descendants reigned in Mycenae. But during Eurystheus' time or after him Mycenae came under the rule of the Pelopides, who are descendants of Atlas. The Pelopides were expelled by the HERACLIDES after the Trojan War.

Interestingly, tradition says the Athenians were a distinct group:
The Athenians do not belong originally to any of the mentioned primary families. They were the children of Gaia, or else "sons of the soil." Later Aegeus 1 married the daughter of a Pelopid, and Theseus married a descendant of Io. Even later the throne was seized by Melanthus 1, a descendant of Deucalion 1
The Colchians (for example Medea) are descendants of Helius, and so are the first Corinthians [see Corinth]. The Troezenians had their own origin, but afterwards Troezen was ruled by the descendants of Atlas.

Parada's page of ancestors has detailed lists of members from each family.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Writers and storytellers

I wanted to make a few notes while our substantial discussion of the tale of Iphis and Ianthe today was still fresh in mind.

Clearly, Ovid placed this tale next and subsequent to the tale of Byblis and Caunus because he was interested in that juxtaposition. There are a few basic ways in which the two stories are, for all their apparent differences in tone, subject and style, intimately complementary.

The story of Byblis is the tale of a writer possessed by Eros. The tale is the gradual unfolding to consciousness -- first her own, then her brother's -- of her tabooed desire for her twin. The letter, despite elaborate efforts of argument and pathos, fails, and she laments the failure:
She grew pale, hearing that she had been rejected, and her body shook, gripped by an icy chill. But, when consciousness returned, so did the passion, and, she let out these words, her lips scarcely moving: ‘I deserve it! Well, why did I rashly reveal my wound? Why was I in such a hurry to commit things, which were secret, to a hasty letter? I should have tested his mind’s judgment before by ambiguous words. I should have observed how the winds blew; used other lesser sails, in case those breezes were not to be followed; and crossed the sea in safety, not as now, under full canvas, caught by uncertain gusts. So I am carried onto the rocks, swamped, overwhelmed by the whole ocean, and my sails have no means of retreat.’
If we were in doubt about her calling to the republic of letters, this revisionary view, and strategic rethinking of her way of revealing her heart, complete with elaborate Odyssean simile, should lay those doubts to rest. The failure to conquer her brother, her reader, only propels her to a more labored manner of grandiloquence. She now begins to conceive a theatrical encounter in which she would act out before his eyes the plot that failed as narrative. Essentially she's covered the poetic territory from lyric to epic to tragic drama in short order. Byblis of Byblos is nothing if not a producer of biblia.

Isis at Byblos

Several versions of the Isis myth are readily found online. Here's one we have by way of Plutarch, which begins from the point when Isis has learned that Set, or Seth, has killed her brother/husband Osiris:

Isis on [hearing] the news, sheared off one of her tresses, and put on a mourning robe, whence the city, even to the present day has the name of “Copto” (I beat the breast). . . . She learnt by inquiry that the chest had been washed up by the sea at a place called Byblus [Byblos], and that the surf had gently laid it under an Erica tree. This Erica, a most lovely plant, growing up very large in a very short time had enfolded, embraced and concealed the coffer within itself. The king of the place being astonished at the size of the plant, and having cut away the clump that concealed the coffer from sight, set the latter up as a pillar to support his roof. 
They tell how Isis having learnt all this by the divine breath of fame, came to Byblus, and sitting down by the side of a spring all dejected and weeping spoke not a word to any other persons, but saluted and made friends of the maid servants of the queen, by dressing their hair for them, and infusing into their bodies a wonderful perfume out of herself; when the queen saw her maids again, she fell a longing to see the stranger, whose hair and whose body breathed of ambrosial perfume; and so she was sent for, [and] becoming intimate with the queen, was made nurse of her infant. The king’s name they say was Malacander, herself some call Astarte, others Sooses, others Neinanoë, who is the same with the Greek Athenais. 
Winged Isis
Isis is said to have suckled the child by putting, instead of her nipple, her finger into his mouth, and by night she singed away the mortal parts of his body. She turned herself into a swallow and flew around the pillar until the queen watched her, and cried out when she saw her child all on fire, and so took away the boy’s immortality.* Then the goddess, manifesting herself, asked for the pillar of the roof, and having removed it with the greatest ease, she cut away the Erica that surrounded it. This plant she wrapped up in a linen cloth, pouring perfume over it, and gave it in charge of the king; and to this day the people of Byblus venerate the wood, which is preserved in the temple of Isis.

*Note the strong resemblance of this part to the story of Demeter in the Homeric Hymn
A more detailed version of the story is here.

Osiris Isis Horus

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Enter Isis

Ovid nears the realm of Egypt with his tale of Byblis, but when he returns to Crete to tell of Iphis and Ianthe, the gods of Egypt make their official entrance into the Metamorphoses.

Some myths and tales of Isis and Osiris are found in "an olde boke," as Chaucer might say, entitled The Mythology of All Races, by Gray, Moore, and MacCulloch. Published in 1918, this book is available free from Google Print.

Above: Isis and Harpocrates appear as though in a small temple. Isis wears her traditional lunar disk between two cow horns, with a lotus flower and ears of corn held in her right hand. On the head of Harpocrates is the crown of Lower and Upper Egypt. Temples to the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis were built throughout the Roman empire, including Rome itself. (Source)
A story about Isis:
Isis wasn't just a mother - she was also a great magician. She became one of the most powerful magicians in Egypt when she managed to trick Ra into revealing his secret name to her. 
Thus when she wished to make Ra reveal to her his greatest and most secret name, she made a venomous reptile out of dust mixed with the spittle of the god, and by uttering over it certain words of power she made it to bite Ra as he passed. When she had succeeded in obtaining from the god his most hidden name, which he only revealed because he was on the point of death, she uttered words which had the effect of driving the poison out of his limbs, and Ra recovered. Now Isis not only used the words of power, but she also had knowledge of the way in which to pronounce them so that the beings or things to which they were addressed would be compelled to listen to them and, having listened, would be obliged to fulfil her bequests. (Source)

Isis with lunar disc and horns (temple at Philae):

Philae, Temple of Isis

Words and Things

Telethusa and Isis

The Iphis and Ianthe tale can been seen as a pendant to that of Byblis and Caunus. For Byblis, the central task was to use all the powers of naming and persuasion to overcome a cultural convention that was the obstacle to her desire -- the taboo of incest.

Iphis has avoided death because of the holy lie (pia mendacia) that she is a man. But at the moment that she is to espouse Ianthe, she confronts the reality that no amount of feigning, no sleight of hand, words or dress, can change the truth:

Even now, no part of my prayers has been denied. The gods have readily given whatever they were able, and my father, her father, and she herself, want what I want to happen. But Nature does not want it, the only one who harms me, more powerful than them all.

Iphis is looking at the realm of human conventions and realities from a perspective beyond them -- from that of nature. Between the realm of words, what we call or style things, and the nature of things, there's a substantial gap.

A comment from a conversation with a physicist reminded me of the plight of Iphis:

Ms. Levin: . . . I have a hard time becoming obsessed with internal, um, social norms, how you're supposed to dress or wear your tie or … 
Ms. Tippett: OK. 
Ms. Levin: … who's supposed to — you know, for me, it's so absurd, because it's so small and it's so — this funny thing that this one species is acting out on this tiny planet in this huge, vast cosmos. So I think it is sometimes hard for me to participate in certain values that I think other people have. So in that sense, yeah, I guess there is a shift of what I think is significant and what I think isn't. And if I try to look at that closely, I would say the split is, things that are totally constructed by human beings, I have a hard time taking seriously, and things that seem to be natural phenomenon, that happen universally, I seem to take more seriously or feel is more significant. 
Ms. Tippett: Well, give me an example. I mean, I think sometimes it's hard to draw the line. Give me an example of something for you that would be totally humanly constructed and then the other one. 
Ms. Levin: Actually, this is going to sound really dangerous, but even things like who we elect as an official in our government. Of course, I take very seriously our voting process and I'm, you know, very, try to be politically conscious. But sometimes, when I think about it, I have to laugh that we're all just agreeing to respect this agreement that this person has been elected for something. And that is really a totally human construct that we could turn around tomorrow and all choose to behave differently. We're animals that organize in a certain way. So it's not that I completely dismiss it or don't take it seriously, but I think a lot of the things we are acting out are these animalistic things that are consequences of our instincts. And they aren't, in some sense, as meaningful to me as the things that will live on after our species comes and goes. Does that make any sense? 
Theoretical Physicist Janna Levin from On Being

Bonus link: An animated version of the tale of Iphis and Ianthe.