Thursday, November 8, 2012

Nestor's Silence: Why Heracles attacked Pylos

[Added: related tale of Pholos]

There are myriad tales of individual Greek heroes and their mighty deeds, But if we wanted to list the greatest adventures of groups of Greek heroes, it would be a fairly short list. Those that come quickly to mind:
  • The Argonautica
  • The Calydonian Boar Hunt
  • The Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs
  • The War of Troy
Only one human being was actually present at all four moments of glory: Nestor. 

Nestor and Hecamede

Great counselor and historian Nestor is a living link between the greatest names of ancient legend. Which makes it all the more interesting that in Metamorphoses 12 we learn of Nestor's determination to suppress the glory of one of those heroes. As a sort of coda to Nestor's tale of Lapiths and Centaurs, Ovid tells of how Tlepolemus, Heracles' son, was angered by the absence of his father's name:
As the hero from Pylos told of this battle between the Lapiths and the half-human Centaurs, Tlepolemus, son of Hercules, leader of the Rhodians, could not keep his mouth silent in his indignation at Hercules, the descendant of Alceus, being overlooked. He said ‘Old man, it is amazing that your recital forgot to praise Hercules: certainly my father often used to tell me of the cloud-born centaurs he defeated.’ Nestor answered him, sternly. ‘Why do you force me to remember wrongs, to re-open wounds healed by the years, and to reveal hatred for your father and the injuries he did me?
The question came up as to what lay behind Heracles war upon Pylos. A few hints from Parada:
On one occasion, Heracles 1 came to Neleus in Pylos in order to receive purification for having killed Iphitus 1, the man who gave Odysseus his famous bow. However, Neleus refused on account of his friendship with Iphitus 1's father Eurytus 4, the prince of Oechalia who had received the mentioned bow from Apollo. Others say, however, that Heracles 1 wished purification for having murdered his own wife Megara. In any case, later, during his military campaigns in the Peloponnesus, Heracles 1 invaded Messenia (after the conquest of Elis, but before he attacked Lacedaemon) on the ground of Neleus' refusal to purify him. He took Pylos, and killed all the sons of Neleus, except Nestor, who had taken refuge in Gerenia, or just happened to be there receiving education. [Neleus]
The back story of Iphitus 1:
after Heracles 1 finished his LABOURS, he came to Oechalia to compete in archery for the hand of Iole; he won and yet he was refused the bride by Eurytus 4 and his sons (except Iphitus 1 who said that Iole should be given to Heracles 1), on the ground that he could once more kill his offspring as he had done to his children by Megara. Shortly after some cattle were stolen by the notorious thief Autolycus 1, and Heracles 1 was held responsible; but Iphitus 1 did not believe it and, having gone to meet him, he invited him to seek the cattle with him. Heracles 1 promised to do so but suddenly he went mad again and he threw Iphitus 1 from the walls of Tiryns killing him. He later offered compensation for this death but Eurytus 4 rejected it. [Eurytus 4.]
While we might think Nestor need not have mentioned Heracles, who as far as we know wasn't at the Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs, Heracles did in fact have his own encounter with the Centaurs who survived this battle:

PHOLOS (or Pholus) was one of the Peloponnesian kentauroi (centaurs) who dwelt in a cave on Mount Pholoe. He once had cause to entertain the hero Herakles who was passing by in search of the Erymanthian boar. But when Pholos opened his wine-skin to serve the hero, the other kentauroi were thrown into a frenzy by the aroma and attacked. Herakles managed to kill most of them with his arrows, with the few survivors fleeing to far off parts.
With the tale of Pholos (who also accidentally meets his end), Heracles earns the right to be considered the exterminator of the Centaurs -- the very thing Tlopolemus was asserting to Nestor.

Nestor makes clear that as far as he's concerned, Heracles' name (which means "fame of Hera") will not have fame. After describing how Heracles killed his 11 brothers, including Periclymenos in the form of Zeus' eagle, he says:
I look for no other revenge for my brothers
than to be silent about his mighty deeds:
Nec tamen ulterius, quam fortia facta silendo ulciscor fratres
Nestor's determined silence with regard to the name of the most famous Greek hero seems a historian's revenge. He'll strive to erase Heracles just as Heracles tried to erase his world.

The silence might also seems an interesting counterweight to the resonance of Fama's echoing palace, where every name is murmured incessantly.

This might be a good place to explain why Nestor was granted such a long life:
Neleus married Chloris 1, daughter of King Amphion 1 of Thebes, and one of the few NIOBIDS who escaped the wrath of the sweet children of Leto, Apollo and Artemis. It is told that Apollo and Artemis paid back for this slaughter, because they granted Nestor, son of Neleus and Chloris 1, life for three generations, thus compensating for the lives they had shortened when they killed Chloris 1's sisters and brothers.
Nestor is then the sole survivor of his siblings, and his mother seems to have been one "one of the few" who escaped the massacre of her mother Niobe's children which Ovid depicts so powerfully in Book 6. Book 12 begins with a possible survivor, Iphigeneia, and is marked by solitary survivors including Caeneus, Cycnus, Nestor and his mother. It's also preceded by an unwilling survivor bird, Aesacus, and ends with Nestor's memory of his brother Periclymenos who, though emulating the eagle of Zeus, in fact did not survive. Book 13 will also be about lone remnants, one of which is Aeneas.

Aeneas, Anchises, Ascanius

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