Apollo

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Marsyas

Published June 23, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

It’s very late to be starting this — an hour and a half to midnight on the appointed day! — and I’m not really feeling it, but I need to get back into the groove.

Which does suggest that I chose this week’s myth poorly…


Following the death of Medusa, her sisters mourned excessively, and though they were ugly, their song was beautiful, and Athene was moved to emulated it.

Since there were two Gorgons, Athene took two reeds, and fashioned them together to make a single pipe, so that both parts of the melody could be played at once.  After experimenting with it for a short while, she found she could replicate the song perfectly.  She took her new pipe, the aulos, and went to find the other gods, to share the haunting tune with them.

Unfortunately, the first gods she found were Aphrodite and Ares.  So eager was she to share the song that Athene didn’t stop to think about how foolish it was to share something so deep with gods so shallow, and instead lifted the pipe to her lips, and began to blow the haunting tune.

She had hardly started when Aphrodite began to laugh at her, exclaiming that she looked like a frog with her cheeks all puffed out like that.

Enraged by her sister’s idiocy, Athene threw down the pipe in disgust, and returned to Mt. Olympos.

And there the aulos should have remained, had it not been for Marsyas the satyr.

He had seen the exchange, and heard just enough of Athene’s performance to have caught the beginning of the melody, and to understand the beauty of the instrument.

His tail twitching with an impatience that made him tingle from the bottoms of his hooves all the way to the tips of his horns, Marsyas waited and waited for Aphrodite and Ares to finish their — ahem — business and depart.

Once the double pipe, abandoned and forgotten, was all alone, Marsyas dashed out and claimed it for his own.  Then he scampered back to his Phrygian home, where he spent years practicing playing the aulos.

He had heard the beginning of Athene’s tune, but had to invent the rest.  The funeral dirge of the Gorgons gave way to a tune that swelled with the joy and gaiety of a satyr romping through fields of flowers and virgins, caressed on all sides by beauty and wine.  Where Athene’s song had been the sorrow of the dead, Marsyas’ song was the essence of a life most fully lived.

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The Betrayal of Aphrodite

Published May 26, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

Whoa…how long has it been since I did one of these myths?  Seems like forever.  Well, anyway, I picked this one because it seemed relatively stand-alone.  I’m still not mentally up to the challenge of tackling the chronology of the life of Heracles, and I don’t want to do the voyage of the Argo until I finish reading the Argonautica.  And I want to leave the Trojan War for last.  Because.  (And yet…)


It happened one day — as it often did — that Zeus and Hera were quarreling about Zeus’ constant acts of adultery.  However, this time Zeus started the fight, angry at Hera for her constant torment of Alcmene and especially her son.

“Why would you torment a woman who shared her bed with me unwittingly instead of punishing me for my acts?!” Zeus demanded.  “And how could the son born from that bed ever be responsible for his own begetting?  Would you want to be punished for the acts of our father?!”

“You seem to forget that I also have rule over marriage,” Hera pointed out snidely.  “That woman doubly disgraced the noble institution by cheating on her husband with a married god, and as to the son!  He has no respect for marriage, bedding other men’s wives far more eagerly than his own!”

“But Alcmene thought I was her husband,” Zeus pointed out coldly, “and her son had never even imagined betraying the bonds of marriage when you tried to kill him in the cradle!”

Hera smiled coolly.  “But I knew he was going to.  Like father, like son.  And as to the woman’s supposed ignorance of your identity…I don’t believe it.  No woman could mistake another for her husband, no matter how alike they looked.  Even if she hadn’t ever been intimate with him before.  But why do you feel no shame for your actions?  You try to make me out to be the villain, even though you have no respect for anything but your own pleasure!”

“It isn’t entirely his fault,” Apollo suddenly interrupted.  “Sometimes it just happens; the insatiable, irresistible urge — the need — to bed some particular mortal woman.”

“What nonsense!” Hera insisted.

“It’s true,” Hermes agreed, deciding that if his brother had already intervened, then it was probably safe for him to do so as well.  Their step-mother wasn’t likely to take on three gods all at once, surely!  “I think Aphrodite gets a thrill out of forcing us to feel desire like that for mortal women.”

Apollo laughed bitterly.  “In your case, I think it’s her way of getting you to leave her alone.”

“Why would she want to reject me?” Hermes countered.  “I’m every bit as handsome as you are!”

“You wish you were as handsome as I am,” Apollo spat back at him.  “Besides, even if that were true, I might point out that she’s never deigned to grace my bed, either.”

Zeus cleared his throat, feeling a little uncomfortable at hearing two of his sons arguing about their desire to bed one of their sisters.  (Given that he had married one of his own sisters, and fathered a daughter on one of the other two, this was more than a little hypocritical of him.)  “This is quite the serious accusation you’re making,” he said, turning to Hermes.  “Aphrodite was given those powers with the express understanding that she was only to use them on mortals.  Can you prove that she has indeed done otherwise?”

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R is for Resheph

Published April 21, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

R

I know the headgear looks Egyptian, but this IS Phoenician, and it's probably Resheph...probably. Wikimedia Commons.

I know the headgear looks Egyptian, but this IS Phoenician, and it’s probably Resheph. Wikimedia Commons.

Resheph was a protective Phoenician god who specialized in war and plague.  This might make him the inverse of two of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse…

One of the surviving Ugarit texts refers to him as the “Lord of Arrows,” a title which implies that he could also participate in combat and/or cause plagues.  That might make him an inspiration of those same two Horsemen, since the Phoenicians (AKA the Canaanites) were enemies of the Israelites.  (Wait…are the Horsemen of the Apocalypse actually Biblical?  I here reveal my utter ignorance of all things to do with the religion in which I was supposedly raised…but even if they are Biblical, I’m suddenly thinking they’d actually be New Testament, and therefore likely have nothing at all to do with Resheph, regardless of his ability or inability to cause as well as prevent plagues.  You know what, forget I mentioned any of this.)

In any case, the people of Ugarit associated Resheph with Nergal, a Mesopotamian god of war who also had some associations with plague, so he probably did have non-protective associations with war and plague, as well as protective.  (Sort of like praying to Ares that your town not come under siege, I guess?  Or praying that he defeat your enemies for you before they could actually arrive at your town?  That kind of prayer probably happened…though perhaps more to Athene than to Ares, if we’re talking ancient Greece.)

Resheph was also associated with deer and gazelles, and was popular in Egypt for some time, where his function shifted to being god of horses and chariots.  (This may explain his headgear in the bronze in the photo…)

Anyway, the title of “Lord of Arrows” in conjunction with the whole plague issue brings to mind a certain other ancient deity…

Phoibos Apollo heard his prayer.  Down from Olympos he strode, angry at heart, carrying bow and quiver:  the arrows rattled upon his shoulders as the angry god moved on, looking black as night.  He sank upon his heel not far from the ships, and let fly a shaft; terrible was the twang of his silver bow.  First he attacked the mules and dogs, then he shot his keen arrows at the men, and each hit the mark:  pyres of the dead began to burn up everywhere and never ceased.  [The Iliad, Book I, W.H.D. Rouse translation]

And no, he wasn’t killing them outright:  those were arrows of plague.  (In the following meeting of the Achaian kings and princes, Achilles specifically points out to Agamemnon that “war and pestilence” have joined forces to drive them away from Troy.)

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H is for Hrimthurs

Published April 9, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

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When the Aesir had only first claimed their dominion over the Vanir, the Jotunn and all the other beings, they had no home in which to live.  They needed a place they could fortify against their enemies, and so they contracted a master builder, who would create the magnificent walls of Asgard for them.

But this builder was such a master that he demanded the most astonishing price:  he would only build their walls if they gave him the goddess Freyja for his wife, with a dowry of the sun and the moon!

Not one god was willing to accept that, least of all Freyja!

But they wanted to see Asgard built, and they knew that this was the craftsman who would do the best job.  They argued about it long into the night, and eventually decided that the best thing to do was to get him to build the walls, but make sure they wouldn’t have to pay him.  (Even Freyja agreed to that.)  So they said they would accept his terms, so long as he built it in but a few short seasons — instead of the years he had initially asked for — and without any man’s (or god’s) help.

The builder, steadfast in his desire to marry the beautiful Freyja at any cost, agreed, but requested that he at least be allowed the help of his faithful stallion.

The gods were reluctant to allow even that.  (Freyja didn’t want to marry that filthy, unwashed, smelly builder!)

“What can he accomplish with a simple horse?” Loki pointed out.  “You’re all fretting about nothing, like a pack of old women.”

Thor — being Thor — threatened to hit Loki in the face with his hammer for making fun of him, but the rest of the gods reluctantly agreed with him, and told the builder that he could use his horse to aid him in his task.

But the builder’s horse was Svaðilfari, the finest and grandest horse any man — or god — had ever seen.  Svaðilfari could pull many tons of rock without breaking a sweat, and did so without any sign of complaint or strain.  The horse’s feats were so mighty that the gods feared they would have to hand Freyja over to the builder after all!  Loki laughed that maybe she should marry the horse, since it was the horse who had actually built the walls, but no one else found that funny, especially Freyja.  (Though, in truth, she probably would have preferred the horse to its owner.)

As the deadline was nearly up, and the walls were complete except for the gates, the gods began to fret, and demanded that — since he was the one who had gotten them into that situation — Loki must do something to get them out of it.  Otherwise, Odin assured him, he’d let his irritable son do whatever he wanted to Loki, which was likely to involve a magic hammer and Loki’s skull.

Not really wanting to have his head pounded into powder, Loki sighed, and agreed to distract the horse so the builder couldn’t finish his task.

Loki knew better than to try tempting the stallion out of the stable with a few apples.  That wouldn’t work on even a fine mortal horse, and Svaðilfari was anything but mortal.

There was only one thing Loki could do to stop the walls from being completed, much as he was loath to do it.

The next day, the builder was hard at work, when suddenly Svaðilfari stopped pulling the final load of stone, broke free from his harness, and went tearing off into the nearby woods.

Irritated that he might be denied the woman he loved after he had worked so hard for her, the builder chased after his horse, and soon found out that what had distracted his stallion had proved just how alike they two were:  Svaðilfari had run off after a mare in heat, and the mare was doing her very best not to get caught.

Feeling sorry for his horse, the builder rigged up a little surprise for the mare, making sure the stallion would be able to catch her.  He was sure, after all, that it would be over and done with in time for him to get Asgard finished up as agreed.

But it didn’t.

The deadline passed by, and the gates of Asgard still hadn’t been built.

Even worse, the gods were all smirking at the builder, and Thor made a crass comment about men who run off after strange women.  It had all been a set-up!  The builder could see that now, and in his rage, he bellowed his hatred of the Aesir and the Vanir, and threatened to bring his people back and tear down those walls he had worked so hard to build.

For the builder was one of the Hrimthurs, a particularly powerful kind of Jotunn.

Once the gods knew that the builder was really a frost giant, they wasted no time on further niceties.

Thor pulled out Mjöllnir, and shattered the builder’s skull as easily as an ordinary man would crush an egg.  Because, Hrimthurs or not, he was just a builder; he wasn’t a warrior.

The gods were talking and laughing, thoroughly pleased with themselves for having exposed the villain and prevented his evil plot to marry Freyja, when Loki returned.  They laughed further that Loki was still disguised as a mare, and had the passionate Svaðilfari still trailing after him.  Loki rolled his horse eyes at them, but couldn’t retort, since horses can’t talk.  Besides, he knew he would have the last laugh soon enough; Svaðilfari was the finest sire of horse-kind.  (And, indeed, Odin never again laughed at Loki’s dalliance with a horse after the mare-Loki gave birth to the swift Sleipnir!)

Proud of their might, the gods went into the newly built halls of Asgard to feast and celebrate their defeat of the wicked Hrimthurs.


had to include this myth, because it’s the origin of one of my favorite little tidbits of Norse mythology, namely the fact that Loki is Sleipnir’s mother.

It also reminds me of a very similar tale from Norse myths, namely that of the dwarven smith Alvis, who had created masterful weapons for the gods.  His price had been the hand of Thor’s daughter in marriage, and all the gods had agreed to that price up front.  But when it came time to pay Alvis, Thor suddenly realized that he really didn’t want a dwarf for a son-in-law.  So he sits down with the dwarf, and starts grilling him, peppering him with questions.  Alvis assumes that he’s just trying to be a responsible father (responsibility in non-combat situations being something rather alien to Thor) and answers them all, determined to let his knowledge and eloquence prove that he’s an ideal husband, despite being a dwarf.

But that hadn’t been Thor’s plan.  He kept Alvis talking all night, waiting for the sun’s first light, because he knew that as a dwarf, Alvis would turn to stone as soon as the light of the sun hit him.  (That would have changed a lot in The Hobbit!)  So here’s poor Alvis, looking to win himself a bride after he’s worked really hard making divine weapons, and what happens?  He’s betrayed to death, without having done anything wrong.  It’s not as though the weapons were faulty — I’m not sure, off-hand, if they included Mjöllnir, but I’m pretty sure they did include Gungnir, Odin’s spear — and it’s not as though he had demanded Thor’s daughter at the last minute, after the work had been finished.  It was an agreed-upon price up front.  Thor just stabbed him in the back because he could, and because he could get away with it.

It’s the same thing with the Jotunn who built the walls of Asgard.  He’s doing what he promised, despite them doing everything they can to hobble him, and he’s doing it for a price they already agreed to.  But they find a way to stop him from succeeding, and when he accidentally reveals he’s a frost giant, they kill him.  (Even though Odin himself is half frost giant, and Loki is either all frost giant or half frost giant.  (I’ve seen it said both ways.))  So, basically, in both of these stories — in which as far as I can tell we’re supposed to be rooting for the Aesir — we have the Norse gods bilking and killing someone who’s done them some very solid, important work.  And we’re supposed to laugh and cheer at this?  Because I get the feeling that’s how the Vikings reacted to it.

But let me set that aside for a moment, and get to the comparison part.  There’s a tale that’s very familiar to me about a city with magnificent walls, where the builders were bilked of their payment.  One of my sources for the Norse story even made the comparison for me, despite that it made it in a completely bass-ackwards way.  So, let me give you a summary of the story first, before I discuss the comparison further.

The city — as you might guess, coming from me — is Troy.

The builder is Poseidon, with a side-order of Apollo.  (In some versions, Apollo was only looking after King Laomedon’s flocks, whereas in other versions he, too, was doing the building.  From a Greek perspective, the former makes more sense, but since he may have originated as a gateway-guardian god of Troy, the latter might well be the older version.  In one version they’re also joined by Aiakos, a mortal son of Zeus, but that’s more to make the building of the walls of Troy directly predict its downfall at the hands of Aiakos’ descendants.)

The price is unknown (to us), but agreed upon in advance.

And Laomedon refuses to pay.  He even threatens his divine workers when they want to be paid.

Apollo sends a plague to his otherwise beloved Troy, and Poseidon sends a sea monster to attack the very walls he just built.

That might have been the end of Troy, if it hadn’t been for Heracles, who decided to slay the the sea monster, in exchange for either Laomedon’s fine horses or for one of his daughters.  (Or possibly both.  This is Heracles we’re talking about here.  He didn’t believe in being “small time.”)

But Laomedon didn’t pay him, either.  So Troy still fell, but to Heracles instead of to a sea monster, and the only one of Laomedon’s sons who survived became King Priam, having been ransomed by his sister Hesione.  (That’s a Greek pseudo-etymology for the non-Greek name Priamos, btw, as having come from the word for “I buy.”  It’s baloney, but the kind of thing that got repeated a lot.  To the extent that you can probably find it as a “true” etymology in some sources today.)

In the long run, Laomedon’s double refusals to pay are often regarded as the first step towards Troy’s destruction in the Trojan War.  (Though obviously there’s a lot more going on there, needless to say.  Especially since Apollo is Troy’s staunchest supporter…aside from Aphrodite, anyway.)

So while it’s true that there’s a strong parallel here of supernatural builders making mighty walls and the payment agreements being reneged upon, there’s also a phenomenal difference of tone.

In the Norse tales, we’re supposed to be — as far as I can tell — on the side of the ones refusing to pay.

In the Greek tale, we’re supposed to be on the side of the ones who are being bilked.

I think that tells us a world of details about the cultural differences between Vikings and ancient Greeks.

(Not that we really needed these myths to point out those differences.  But it’s always interesting to have things highlighted in unusual ways, right?)

 

Apollo and Koronis

Published February 4, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

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.

Hyacinthos

Published January 21, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

I’m afraid this is a bit last minute, because I had to rush off this morning to an emergency dentist appointment, and then ended up staying out and doing some stuff and wasting the whole day, even though I was supposed to be cleaning the house today.  (The dentist appointment wasn’t actually as serious as I had thought:  rather than my tooth breaking in half, it turned out a crown had fallen off, and had to be replaced, which was time-consuming, but I’d already had a root canal on the tooth, so at least there was no chance of pain.)

Uh, anyway, given that I’ve been reading Plato’s Symposium today, which myth to retell this week seemed obvious.


In the land of Laconia dwelled a handsome youth named Hyacinthos.  Even though he was greatly loved by all the people of Sparta, most kept a respectful distance from him, because his father, Amyklos, was the king.

Because the many men and women who were enamored of him feared to woo him, Hyacinthos was alone, until he suddenly found himself with two immortal suitors.

Apollo played his lyre for the youth, and impressed him with his skill as well as with his own beauty.  Zephyros, however, had no such convenient talents to delight the boy, and his own face was nowhere near as fair as Apollo’s.

And so Hyacinthos chose to return Apollo’s affections, and soon both had forgotten that there had ever been a rival.

But Zephyros had not forgotten being spurned, and he nursed a quiet grudge.  He dared not strike at Apollo himself; despite his youthful appearance and slender frame, he was one of the twelve Olympian gods, and far more powerful than a mere wind.  And he was a favorite son of Zeus, increasing the risk to any immortal who dared rise up against him.

Hycanthos, though…he could be punished.  He could be made to suffer, and his suffering would cause Apollo anguish.

Zephyros waited impatiently for the right opportunity.  If Apollo realized his former rival was plotting something, he might strike first, and convince his father to throw Zephyros into Tartaros.  He had to be cautious not to let Apollo realize he was up to something.  And he had to make sure that he wouldn’t be punished afterwards.  Revenge was no good if he had to suffer for taking it.

Alas for poor, unwitting Hyacinthos!  Zephyros found his opportunity much too soon for the tastes of the lovers.  (Who, of course, would have preferred that he never find such an opportunity.)

Athletic contests were being held outside Sparta, and Apollo wanted to impress his young boyfriend, so he was competing, even though no mortal had any hope of matching him.  (Indeed, few even tried!)

When it came time for the athletes to throw the discus, Zephyros waited out of sight, watching events with eager eyes.  As Apollo stepped up to make his throw, Zephyros prepared his winds.

The golden-haired god hurled the discus into the air, and Zephyros released the wind, blowing the discus off course, and causing it to strike Hyacinthos in the head.

No mortal could survive such a blow from a god, and the boy breathed out his last.

Distraught, Apollo did all he could to revive the boy.  He tried healing poultices, but it was far too late for that.  When Thanatos arrived to take the boy’s soul away, Apollo tried reasoning with him to let Hyacinthos live, and he tried threatening him, and he tried bargaining with him, but Thanatos was implacable, as always, and even Apollo had to admit defeat before him.

As he wept over his lost love, Apollo gently touched his fingertip to each drop of Hyacinthos’ blood that had fallen to the ground.  In each spot, a hyacinth rose up from the earth to commemorate the beautiful youth whose life had been cut so short.  Upon each leaf of the flower was written the god’s lament.


I’d like to think I could have done a better job of that if I’d had more time….but I may only be fooling myself.  (The original doesn’t give me a lot to work with, after all.)

Anyway, that last line is referring to the marks on the leaves of the hyacinth plant (which was not, apparently, the same plant as the one we call a hyacinth), which looked like the Greek letters AI, and “ai ai” was the mourning cry, like “alas!”  (This comes up again in many texts dealing with the death of the greater Aias, of course.)

 

Daphne

Published January 8, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

Sorry the myth is a day late this week.  It’s been a weird, blah kind of week where I can’t focus on anything.  (Though I’ve done a bit better where dolls are concerned.)  I may remain in these doldrums until classes resume on the 20th.  (Okay, technically they start on the 19th, but I don’t have any Tuesday classes.)

Fair warning on the following myth:  as always, I’m trying to use less familiar, preferably older variants to spice things up a bit, so this is not the Ovidian version, though it’s obviously got certain similarities.


In Arcadia, the river Ladon had fathered a beautiful daughter on Gaia herself.  They named the child Daphne, and she grew to maturity along her father’s banks.  She had many companions among the Arcadian nymphs, and their favorite pastime was to go hunting in the forests, challenging each other to run further and faster, trying to catch a stag on foot.  The Arcadian men were all sick with love for Daphne and her companions, but they would have no man near them, and threatened to shoot any man who came near.

Perhaps it was their skill at archery that led to a divine contest of archery nearby.  Apollo and Eros were testing their skills in Arcadia, each denigrating the other’s ability, despite that neither ever missed his target.  Finally, Apollo lost his temper, and began to shout at Eros.  “You’re no archer!” he insisted.  “You’re just your mother’s slave, and your arrows are an insult to all true archers!  Nothing is an arrow that cannot kill.  The bow is my weapon, and a pathetic waste like you has no right to carry one!”  With that, Apollo began to storm away, still fuming.

“Oh, is that so?” Eros muttered, getting out one of his arrows.  “Let’s see if you think differently after suffering their effects,” he added quietly, aiming at his uncle’s departing back.  He unleashed his arrow, and it flew truly, striking Apollo and disappearing into his body, just as Apollo came to the top of a ridge, from which he could see Daphne and her companions chasing after a stag.

Daphne outshone her companions as the moon outshines the stars, and thanks to the effects of Eros’ powers, Apollo was instantly smitten with her.  (Though, in truth, he probably would have been anyway.)

He would have immediately presented himself to the girl and begged her favors, had he not noticed that one of her followers was not like the others.  Among Daphne’s companions was Leucippos, one of the Arcadian men, dressed as a woman to allow him the chance to be near Daphne.

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Prometheus Ticks off Zeus, Part 2

Published August 6, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Okay, technically, this should be called “Zeus tries to get revenge” but…I’m tweaking the story a lot to make it less misogynistic, and because I was hoping to give Prometheus more of a hand in how it turned out, so…sticking with this title.  Anyway, this picks up right from the end of part one.


“That was a pretty clever trick,” Hermes said, looking at the smoke rising from the mortal village.  “Maybe I could actually learn from this guy…”  It wasn’t often that he met someone who was almost as accomplished a thief as he was!

“Don’t pick up any more bad habits, little brother,” Apollo said, glaring at him.  “I don’t want you stealing any more of my possessions.”

“I’ll steal from someone else, then,” Hermes laughed.

“I won’t let him get away with this outrage,” Zeus growled.  “He must be punished!”

“It’s only a tiny flame,” Hestia said, stroking his arm consolingly.  “And fire always grows to make up for the loss.  The winter’s coming on, and the mortals must be cold down on the surface.  I’m sure he only wanted to protect them.”

“I had the fire taken away from them to protect Demeter’s forests from those foolish mortals!” Zeus bellowed, making Hestia back away from her brother in terror.  “I won’t allow that prattling Titan to get away with defying my will!”

“You were eager enough to listen to him when you thought he had a warning for you about how to keep your uncontrollable lust from getting us all locked up in Tartaros,” Hera snarled at him.  “How quickly you change your tune!”

“Maybe if you really want to punish him, you should give him a wife,” Apollo commented, shaking his head.  After seeing what his step-mother was like, Apollo had quickly decided that he was never going to marry.  In fact, he had decided to stop himself from ever reaching full physical maturity, so no one would ever expect him to marry.  If he always looked like a youth, then he’d never look old enough to be a husband.  Plus he’d look prettier, which was always nice.

“That’s not a bad idea,” Zeus agreed, with a cold glare at his own wife.

“I don’t think he was serious,” Athene pointed out, but her father wasn’t listening, having immediately leaped upon and embraced the idea.

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The Birth of the Divine Twins

Published July 9, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

I really didn’t want to do this one yet, but…I couldn’t think of any others to do, since all the other early myths seem fraught with even more complications.  This project just getting more and more complicated…


 

Leto was no fool; she had known that it would not be easy to accept Zeus’ love.  Hera was a jealous goddess, and she would make things difficult for the pregnant Titaness and the new god when he was born.  That was why Leto had surreptitiously left Olympos before it became too noticeable that she was going to have a baby, and why she was going to make a new home for her son until he was grown.  Let him not go to his father’s divine home until he was strong enough to defend himself from his step-mother’s jealousies!

But as she traveled through the land, she found no place that wanted to become the home of her new son, and the longer she traveled the more pregnant she became, until she was terribly worried that she shouldn’t become quite that swollen with child.

Unbeknownst to Leto, as she passed by the earthen shrine Delphi, its guardian and prophet Python awoke.  Python, an enormous serpent, had unfailing visions of the future, and it had seen a vision of Leto’s still-unborn son killing it with an unknown weapon.  Few prophets, even divine ones, were willing to sit by idly and just accept visions of their own deaths, so Python set out to hunt down and kill Leto before she could give birth.

Seeing the danger his mistress and unborn children–for by now Leto had realized she was carrying not a son but a son and a daughter–were in, Zeus sent Boreas to whisk Leto away from Python’s grasp, to the island of Ortygia.  Poseidon lowered the island and hid it beneath the waves so that Python couldn’t find Leto and had to give up his hunt.

Once Leto had safely given birth to her twins, Artemis and Apollo, Poseidon once again raised the island above the surface of the ocean, and it was renamed Delos, and it became Apollo’s home, with a fine temple built to the twin gods, but especially to Apollo.

The precocious young gods soon invented the bow and arrow as a plaything, and the prophetic Python broke out in a cold sweat in distant Delphi at the first step of the realization of his vision’s truth.


 

Meh. That sucked.

I have no idea where I went wrong there, but I definitely did.

Maybe I tried to incorporate too many unusual variations?  Apart from the bit at the end about inventing the bow and arrow, it’s all genuine, just from an assortment of different sources of different ages.   The most familiar version (Leto being forbidden to give birth in any land) doesn’t actually seem to be genuine at all, according to Gantz.  I’m not sure where it came from, seems to be a modern version.   (That’s weird.  Same thing happened when I was contemplating doing Prometheus creating man:  I looked it up, and the version I thought I’d seen in all the storybooks about him making mankind out of clay wasn’t in there at all, meaning it’s not actually an ancient Greek creation myth at all.)

The Birth of Hermes

Published May 14, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

I know I should get to the rest of the Theban cycle, but I haven’t had time to research it yet.  (Outside of the contents of Sophocles’ Antigone, my knowledge of the rest of the story is somewhat sketchy.)  So here’s a quickie I didn’t have to research.


Though you wouldn’t think it to look at her dainty little figure, Maia was a daughter of the colossal Titan Atlas.  Everyone said she was the very prettiest of her sisters.

Even Zeus agreed with them…

…and that’s how Maia found herself pregnant.

Zeus had brought her to a cave in the middle of nowhere, and warned her against leaving it:  “If Hera finds out what we’ve been up to, she’ll be angry at me.  And she’ll take it out on you.  So keep hidden in here for a few years until she stops being suspicious.”

Then he left again.

With no other options, Maia had stayed in the cave until she gave birth to a healthy boy she decided to call Hermes.

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