“he would not heal your eye”: [this is because] he does not want to, not because he is not capable. For Poseidon did not want to help his own son because he believed that it is right for him to be paid back for his wickedness. So the thought is ‘Poseidon will not heal you because you are evil’
Why did Odysseus so thoughtlessly demean Poseidon in saying “not even the earth-shaker will heal your eye?” Is it because he knowns that Poseidon is not a healer, but Apollo is? Or is it because he will not help him because of his wickedness?”
Why did Odysseus so thoughtlessly demean Poseidon when he said to the Kyklôps “not even the earth-shaker will heal your eye”? Antisthenes says that it is because he knows that Poseidon is not a doctor, but Apollo is; Aristotle says that it is not because he is not capable but because he is not willing, due to the Kyklôps’ wickedness.
Then why was Poseidon angry? Surely he is not upset because of the statement but because of the blinding, as the epic says “He was angry over the Kyklôps, because he had put out his eye” (Od. 1.69) even though he was completely wretched and had eaten Odysseus’ companions? Aristotle solves this problem in saying that [in terms of behavior] [responsibilities] are not the same for a free man toward a slave or for a slave toward a free man, nor again for those near to the gods toward those far away. Therefore, the Kyklôps deserved a penalty, but he didn’t need to be chastised by Odysseus, but by Poseidon, if he had any thought to help his son as he was harmed—it was the companions who started the wrongdoing.”
Bellerophon is an interesting figure to consider from Greek myth because his story changes over time (and because we have mostly only fragments and hints about his narrative). In early accounts he is clearly a classic beast-slayer who kills a princess, but he is also an over-reacher who suffers for hubris.
The most famous account of Bellerophon (typically called the first as well) is in the Iliad (6.152-206) where Glaukos describes his grandfather’s flight from Proitos the ruler of the Argives whose wife accused Bellerophon of rape. Bellerophon goes to Lykia and defeats three challenges (the Khimaira, Amazons and Solymoi) and also evades an ambush. Bellerophon wins a princess and a kingdom. Cryptically, Glaukos describes Bellerophon as falling out of favor with the gods and wandering alone.
Homer, however, does not mention Pegasos. In Hesiod, there is a close connection between the monster, the flying horse, and the Hero:
“She gave birth to the Khimaira who breathes unquenchable fire,
A terrible, large beast who is swift and strong.
She has three heads: one from a sharp-toothed lion,
The other of a goat, and the third is from a powerful serpent.
The lion is in front, the snake at the end, with the goat in the middle:
She exhales the terrible fury of burning fire.
Pegasos and noble Bellerophon killed her.”
This fragment does not tell a significant part of this heroic narrative witnessed elsewhere by Hesiod, Bellerophon’s magical birth. This is recounted in the fragmentary Catalogue of Women (Hes. Fr. 43a 81-91).
“She [Eurynomê, daughter of Nisus] after having sex in Poseidon’s embrace
Gave birth to Glaukos blameless Bellerophon
Who excelled all men on the boundless earth in virtue.
His father […] gave him the horse Pegasos,
The swiftest one […]
With him he [overcame the] fire [of the Khimaira]
And he married the child […]
Of the revered king […]
The master […]
She gave birth to […]”
In this fragment we find the core elements of his story (Pegasos and the killing of the Khimaira) combined with two typical elements of the heroic narrative (divine parent, winning of princess) but without the elaborations of the Homeric narrative where Bellerophon is an exile and eventually falls out of divine favor.
Bellerophon’s fall from grace becomes a major aspect of his narrative presentation in the fifth century. The Epinician poet Pindar from Thebes presents him as an example to be avoided:
Pindar, Isthmian 7.40-49
“In seeking whatever pleasure each day gives
I will arrive at a peaceful old age and my allotted end,
For we all die the same, though
Our luck is unequal. If someone gazes
Too far, he is too brief himself to reach the bronze threshold of the gods.
This is why winged Pegasos threw his master
When he wanted to ascend the terraces of the sky.
When Bellerophon reached for Zeus’ assembly.
The bitterest end lies in wait
for injustice however sweet.”
This passage assumes some basic knowledge on the part of its audience, for instance: the connection between Bellerophon and Pegasos and how the former was in a position to fall from the latter. It is clear from the use of the figure as a negative example that the story had both broad currency and a typical understanding. A Scholiast in writing on Pindar’s 13th Olympian ode elaborates on the details of the fall (Schol. In Pindar Ol. 13.130c)
“For it is reported that when he planned to fly up on Pegasos and put himself in danger on high, he fell when Pegasos was bitten by a fly according to Zeus’ plan and he was crippled. So Homer says that he wandered crippled on the Alêion plain (Il. 6.201).
The story of Bellerophon’s exile, told in Homer, is clarified or re-envisioned with the story of his downfall as articulated as a moral in Pindar. In Athenian Tragedy, Bellerophon became a popular figure (we have fragmentary plays by Sophocles and Euripides). Bellerophon’s eventual vengeance upon Sthenboia (an alternative for Anteia, Proitios’ wife) is the man story in Euripides’ play of that name that starts with a rumination on the trouble women cause for men:
Euripides, Stheneboia Fr. 661-662
“There is no man who is lucky in all things.
Either a man born noble has no livelihood
Or the baseborn ploughs fertile fields.
And many who boast of their wealth or birth
Are shamed by a foolish woman in their homes.”
Just as Pindar uses Bellerophon as a vehicle to deliver a moralizing message, so too Euripides uses the hero to voice general concerns. In a second play on Bellerophon, Euripides returns to the moral content of Pindar’s complaint but, rather than simply portraying an instance of hubris, he offers a hero challenging the nature of divinity.
Here are two fragments from the lost Euripidean Bellerophon in which the eponymous hero denies that the gods exist. He does not seem to say that there are no gods at all, but his complaints are like those of Xenophanes who complains about the misbehavior of Homer’s gods.
Instead, Bellerophon’s complaints are based on the fact that since the world seems unjust and the gods are supposed to ensure justice, therefore they must not exist (either totally or in the form man makes them).
Euripides, fr.286.1-7 (Bellerophon)
“Is there anyone who thinks there are gods in heaven?
There are not. There are not, for any man who wishes
Not to be a fool and trust some ancient story.
Look at it yourselves, don’t make up your mind
Because of my words. I think that tyranny
Kills so many men and steals their possessions
And that men break their oaths by sacking cities.
But the men who do such things are more fortunate
Than those who live each die piously, at peace.
I know that small cities honor the gods,
Cities that obey stronger more impious men
Because they are overpowered by the strength of their arms.”
In this dialogue, Lucian imagine the gods assembling to debate the strange and countless gods worshipped throughout the world and the concomitant loss of Olympian dignity and human reverence. The gods vote to clean out the divine ranks.
The verb ἐγκιλικίζουσ᾿ means “to be mean or treacherous like the Cilicians”. Obviously, the reference is lost on a modern audience. I went colloquial. I thought that “the gods are always messing with us” might be less abrasive, but “screwing” has a nice sense of “meanness” and the double entendre… Any other suggestions?