Bah, it’s 9 at night and I’m only just starting today’s myth? Despite that I no longer have classes on Thursdays? Something’s not right about that. (I think it’s that I’ve gotten re-addicted to a couple of video games lately…) Uh, yeah, so anyway…I’ll do what I can for now, and I’ll try and come up with some better myths in the future…and try to get them ready ahead of time. (Since that was originally the idea anyway…!)
Koronis, the daughter of Phlegyas, was the most beautiful woman in Thessaly…or that was what Apollo thought every time he looked at her, anyway.
And, since he was the most handsome of the gods (no matter what some of his brothers had to say on the subject), he thought that meant it was only right for the two of them to become lovers.
Naturally, Koronis was delighted to be propositioned by a god, and happily gave in to his seduction.
But once Apollo had returned to Mt. Olympos, Koronis began to doubt. Would he ever come back? Would she be left alone, to raise a fatherless child, spurned by all mortal men for her improper pregnancy? (She knew, after all, that it was impossible for a god to lie with a mortal woman in vain!) How would she raise her child if Apollo and her father both abandoned her? Even if Apollo did come back, how long would it be before he grew bored with her? She was young and fresh now, but would he become disgusted by her when she became old? Would he hate her even before that, when he saw her swollen with his child?
Koronis was deep in these fears when Ischys approached her. “Your father tells me he would be willing to make you my wife,” he said. “But would you be willing to be my wife?”
Astonished by this unheard of kindness, Koronis was struck by a desire to grow old beside an ordinary, aging man like Ischys, rather than to pine away for a perfect god like Apollo. “I would,” she said, “but only if you’re willing to accept me when you hear what I’ve done.”
Ischys looked at her with worry for a moment. “What did you do?” he asked.
“I…I’ve been unchaste,” she admitted. “Just the once…but would you be willing to take to wife a woman carrying another’s child?”
“If it was just the once, you aren’t necessarily pregnant,” Ischys assured her, with a patronizing chuckle.
“The seed of a god isn’t as weak as the seed of a mortal man,” Koronis snapped. “I know Apollo left me with child!”
“A…god…?” Ischys repeated, his face going pale. He looked around fearfully, trembling as he peered up at the clouds. “Apollo…? Did he…did he say he wanted you to…to always be his, and his alone…?”
Koronis bit her lip. “He…he didn’t talk much, after…ah…well, nothing was said. I know a frail mortal like me won’t hold his interest long. The gods always abandon their mortal lovers quickly.”
“I…I have to think about this,” Ischys said, after another long pause.
Then he went away again, and Koronis was left alone and frightened. But soon Ischys returned, because knowing that she was worthy of a god only made her more beautiful in his eyes, and he knew he had to have her for his own.
Still, the pair knew better than to risk an open wedding in the sight of the gods. If Apollo found out and took offense…
…he was not known for being a forgiving god. (In truth, none of the gods were.)
So Koronis and Ischys held a private, quiet wedding, with very few at the feast apart from their families. They didn’t even perform the usual libations to the gods, lest some god or other take note of the proceeding and inform Apollo. Just in case.
But what can be hidden from the god of oracles?
Apollo was planning his next visit to his dear Koronis when he became aware of her infidelity with Ischys, and he fell to his knees, weeping with both sorrow and rage, inconsolate.
Meanwhile, a little white raven heard the feast, and flew with the news to the mistress of all the animals. He only wanted to tell her that there was a wedding being held without the proper offerings to the gods, not even to Hera! (For, no matter how badly her own marriage had gone, she was the goddess of marriage.)
“Mistress, mistress!” the raven chirped, as it entered the clearing where Artemis and her nymphs were hunting. “There’s a wedding being held without due respect to the gods!”
“How dull,” Artemis sighed, shaking her head. “Why should I care? Marriage is when mortal maids start ignoring me, after all.” Besides, she really didn’t want to deal with her step-mother if she didn’t have to…
“But Phlegyas didn’t make any of the proper libations to the gods at his only daughter’s wedding!” the raven objected, baffled by the goddess’ reluctance to act.
“Phlyegyas?” Artemis repeated, shocked. “Not Koronis?” She had been forced to listen to all too much of her brother sighing wistfully about his latest conquest…
“Yes, pretty Koronis,” the raven agreed. “She didn’t do a thing to object to her father’s disrespect.”
“That traitorous…!” Artemis started off towards Olympos.
“Are you going to speak to the other gods? Shall I help?” the raven offered cheerfully.
“I’m going to speak to my brother. A pox on the rest of them — and on you, if you dare speak to anyone about this!”
Artemis departed for Mt. Olympos to tell her brother that he had been cuckolded, leaving the raven confused and alone. Not wanting to see the gods lose the respect of the mortals, the raven decided to ignore the goddess’ threat, and took off for Olympos himself. He flew right up to Hera herself, and perched before her, bowing his head most politely in deference to her great majesty. But when he tried to speak to tell her what was happening, he found his tongue seize up inside his mouth, and suddenly he could make no sounds but a hideous cawing. As he continued trying to speak, his feathers slowly, one by one, turned as pitch as night. The bird was humiliated and horrified — he had always treasured his pretty, snow-white feathers — and flew off again, his message undelivered.
Meanwhile, Artemis found her twin weeping over Koronis’ actions. “You must be joking,” she said, with narrowed eyes.
“You don’t understand!” Apollo insisted. “I’ve been betrayed!”
“Yes, I was told about it. I thought you should know, but obviously you already found out.” There was a slight pause, in which Apollo resumed crying. “Well? Aren’t you going to do anything about it?”
As if the thought of vengeance had never occurred to him in his life — despite how many acts of vengeance he had already and often performed — Apollo suddenly stopped crying, and got to his feet, reaching for his bow.
Together, the deadly offspring of Leto descended to Thessaly, and entered the hall of Phelgyas, where the wedding feast was still underway. Apollo’s first arrow slew his rival, while his sister began to take out the women who had stood by and helped Koronis break poor Apollo’s fragile heart. But when it came time to fire his last arrow, into the heart of the woman he (currently) loved, Apollo’s hands began to shake, and he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Weakly, he begged his sister to take vengeance for him.
The act was swiftly done.
But Apollo mourned, even so, and as he watched Koronis’ funeral pyre, he suddenly realized that his unborn son was still in her womb. Hastily, he snatched the child from the womb, and brought him to Cheiron, the wise centaur who lived on Mt. Pelion. Explaining the child’s origin, he left the baby with Cheiron, giving the infant the name of Asclepios. Apollo insisted that Cheiron give him the finest possible upbringing, because he was to be Apollo’s favorite son.
Then he returned, sadly, to Mt. Olympos.
Yeahhhhh….so, like always, a lot of this is very thinly covered in the ancient sources. Like, all of it. Including that at least one source gives Asclepios a different mother.
So I’ve tried to piece together a decent story out of it, one that actually makes some kind of sense. (Though, really, it’s hard to make much sense of it. Most of the time the gods are kind of “wham, bam, thank you ma’am” so why is he so worked up that Koronis is getting on with her life? Was he really going to come back in the first place? Et cetera…)
I apologize for making him get so ludicrously melodramatic, but…well, I just couldn’t resist the idea of Apollo lying on the floor and crying. It’s too funny to pass up!
Anyway, I’ll do what I can with the rest of Asclepios’ life (and death) next week, or for the next couple of weeks (depending), but I’m pretty sure most of it’s just as fragmentary. It’s the kind of story that we mostly only have references to, rather than full tellings of.