Athene, Hephaistos, and Other Early Myths

Published July 4, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

So I thought I’d discuss some of the problems I’m having trying to sort out the chronology in my myth re-tellings.  (What, you thought I was going to write something about this being the 4th of July?  You don’t know me very well, do you?)

The problem is this:  in some versions, when Zeus swallows the pregnant Metis, and then has the horrible headaches as Metis (or Athene) is forging Athene’s armor within his head, it’s Hephaistos who splits his skull open to let the fully grown Athene out.  (Wow, Zeus has a big head!)  In other versions, Hera has Hephaistos without Zeus’ assistance, because she’s jealous that Zeus produced Athene without female assistance.  Because in some versions he swallowed Metis purely to gain permanent access to her clever wit, not because she was pregnant with his child.  (In fact, there’s a version where Metis was pregnant with Athene by one of the Cyclopes, and Zeus wasn’t actually her father.)

Also, I kind of got carried away at the end of the Titanomachia, and had Zeus and Hera get married right away, instead of having Zeus marry Metis first, even though that’s usually how the story is told.  Now, on the other hand, I’m totally cool with telling the lesser known versions, so I’m cool with having him swallow Metis just to absorb her intelligence–which would help to have him transform from the more teenage-like Zeus of the defeat of Kronos and the Titanomachia–and then having Hera produce Hephaistos unaided in jealousy, but…I don’t know.  Maybe I’m trying to write this too early in the morning.

There also seems to be some disagreement in the sources about Typhon, but not too much, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

Let’s see, what were the other myths I was worried about?  Oh, well, there are also those that have alternate versions where there’s only one myth.  That is to say, something like the birth of Aphrodite.  Because the Hesiodic version has a myth attached, while the Homeric version does not.  Because the Homeric version–daughter of Zeus by Dione–has no story, but being attested in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, it’s either older then or equally as old as the born from seafoam version in Hesiod’s Theogony.  And, frankly, I like the Zeus + Dione = Aphrodite equation better, though perhaps that’s somewhat irrelevant.  Actually, I could perhaps tell a number of slightly salacious tales about Aphrodite–her adultery with Ares and being trapped by Hephaistos, her marriage to Anchises, et cetera–by means of a more unusual narrative structure, like a tale-telling contest among what seems to be merely a group of drunkards, at least one of whom turns out to be someone like Hermes or something.  (Let’s see, Hermes, Odysseus, uh, who else in Greek myth is famous for being a liar?)  The point being that it would be okay that some of them would contradict each other, because at least some of them would have been made up by the contestants.

I guess the main worry, chronologically speaking, was always how to work the major epic strains.  Because the narratives of Heracles and the Theban cycles just don’t cross paths, despite that Heracles is allegedly born and raised in Thebes and keeps going back there.  But if Heracles really was born in Thebes, then there’s no way he or his father, half-brother or nephew wouldn’t become involved in all the stuff with the Sphinx, Oedipus and the warring sons of Oedipus unless they were all dead before all that started, or unless all of that was over before they first arrived.  Neither of those is possible.  Therefore, Heracles cannot actually have been born in Thebes, and Gantz was right in pointing out that Heracles was not originally a Theban hero, and was at some point hijacked by the Thebans and made their own.  (Okay, I may be losing my mind.  I was sure that was in Early Greek Myth somewhere, but I just spent like twenty minutes looking for it, and couldn’t find it.)  Uh, anyway, so I’m thinking of just sort of going back to the birth of Heracles and changing the name of the town where he’s born.  (Maybe Corinth?  It also has a Creon, and not much else going on (until Medea gets there) oh, no, wait, that’s where Oedipus gets found, that’s too…ugh.  Well, I’ll think of something.)  I know that’s horrible, but…seriously!  How are we supposed to believe he and his family don’t get involved in all that mess otherwise?

I still have to figure out some relative chronologies regarding the voyage of the Argo and Heracles’ life–even the order of his Labors isn’t set in stone–but…

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