Murdered Immigrant Children and a Plague: A Different Medea Story

Child murder, worries about immigrants, and paranoia about drugs. Why are the ancients so weird?

Scholia B on Euripides, Medea 264

Parmeniskos writes as follows: “The story is that because the Korinthian women did not want to be ruled by a foreign woman and poison-user, they conspired against her and killed her children, seven male and seven female. Euripides says that Medea had only two. When the children were being pursued, they fled to the temple of Hera Akraia and sheltered in the shrine. But the Korinthians did not restrain themselves even there—they slaughtered the children over the altar.

Then a plague fell upon the city and many bodies were ruined by the disease. When they went to the oracle, it prophesied that they should appease the god for the slaughter of Medea’s children. For this reason, even in our day, the Korinthians send seven young men and seven young women from the most illustrious families each year to spend the year in the sanctuary to appease the rage of the children and the divine anger which arose because of them.”

But Didymos argues against this and provides Kreophylos’ writings: “For Medea is said to have killed the leader of Korinth at the time, Kreon, with drugs, when she was living there. Because she feared his friends and relatives, she fled to Athens, but left her sons who were too young and incapable of accompanying here, at the altar of Hera Akraia. She thought that their father would provide for their safety. But once Kreon’s relatives killed them they circulated the tale that Medea not only killed Kreon but murdered her own children too.”

1 Παρμενίσκος γράφει κατὰ λέξιν οὕτως·

« <…>1 ταῖς [δὲ] Κορινθίαις οὐ βουλομέναις ὑπὸ βαρβάρου καὶ φαρμακίδος γυναικὸς ἄρχεσθαι αὐτῆι τε ἐπιβουλεῦσαι καὶ τὰ τέκνα αὐτῆς ἀνελεῖν, ἑπτὰ μὲν ἄρσενα, ἑπτὰ δὲ θήλεα. [Εὐριπίδης δὲ δυσὶ μόνοις φησὶν αὐτὴν κεχρῆσθαι]. ταῦτα δὲ διωκόμενα καταφυγεῖν εἰς τὸ τῆς Ἀκραίας ῞Ηρας ἱερὸν καὶ ἐπὶ τὸ ἱερὸν καθίσαι· Κορινθίους δὲ αὐτῶν οὐδὲ οὕτως ἀπέχεσθαι, ἀλλ᾽ ἐπὶ τοῦ βωμοῦ πάντα ταῦτα ἀποσφάξαι. λοιμοῦ δὲ γενομένου εἰς τὴν πόλιν, πολλὰ σώματα ὑπὸ τῆς νόσου διαφθείρεσθαι· μαντευομένοις δὲ αὐτοῖς χρησμωιδῆσαι τὸν θεὸν ἱλάσκεσθαι τὸ τῶν Μηδείας τέκνων ἄγος. ὅθεν Κορινθίοις μέχρι τῶν καιρῶν τῶν καθ᾽ ἡμᾶς καθ᾽ ἕκαστον ἐνιαυτὸν ἑπτὰ κούρους καὶ ἑπτὰ κούρας τῶν ἐπισημοτάτων ἀνδρῶν ἐναπενιαυτίζειν ἐν τῶι τῆς θεᾶς τεμένει καὶ μετὰ θυσιῶν ἱλάσκεσθαι τὴν ἐκείνων μῆνιν καὶ τὴν δι᾽ ἐκείνους γενομένην τῆς θεᾶς ὀργήν. »

2 Δίδυμος δὲ ἐναντιοῦται τούτωι καὶ παρατίθεται τὰ Κρεωφύλου ἔχοντα οὕτως·

« τὴν γὰρ Μήδειαν λέγεται διατρίβουσαν ἐν Κορίνθωι τὸν ἄρχοντα τότε τῆς πόλεως Κρέοντα ἀποκτεῖναι φαρμάκοις. δείσασαν δὲ τοὺς φίλους καὶ τοὺς συγγενεῖς αὐτοῦ φυγεῖν εἰς ᾽Αθήνας, τοὺς δὲ υἱούς, ἐπεὶ νεώτεροι ὄντες οὐκ ἠδύναντο ἀκολουθεῖν, ἐπὶ τὸν βωμὸν τῆς ᾽Ακραίας ῞Ηρας καθίσαι, νομίσασαν τὸν πατέρα αὐτῶν φροντιεῖν τῆς σωτηρίας αὐτῶν. τοὺς δὲ Κρέοντος οἰκείους ἀποκτείναντας αὐτοὺς διαδοῦναι λόγον ὅτι ἡ Μήδεια οὐ μόνον τὸν Κρέοντα ἀλλὰ καὶ τοὺς ἑαυτῆς παῖδας ἀπέκτεινε. »

It has long been a favorite anecdote that Euripides was paid off by the Korinthians to make Medea look bad. For other accounts of Medea: Here’s one about her saving lives, another about her losing a beauty contest to Achilles’ mother Thetis, another account of it being Jason’s fault, an earlier scholion explaining how much the Korinthian women hated Medea, rationalizing accounts about Medea’s magic and her treatment of Pelias.

Medea by Corrado Giaquinto

Explaining the Cuckoo: Women Know Everything

Scholion on Theokritos, Idylls 15.64

“Women know everything, even how Zeus married Hera.”

Homer has, “They traveled together to bed, avoiding their parents’ notice”. Aristokles in his work “On the Cults of Hermione”, provides something of an odd tale about the marriage of Zeus and Hera. For, as the story goes, Zeus was planning on having sex with Hera when he noticed that she was separated from the other gods. Because he did not want to be obvious and did not want to be seen by her, he changed his appearance into a cuckoo and was waiting on a mountain which was first called Thornax but is now just called Cuckoo.

Zeus made a terrible storm on that day and when Hera was going toward the mountain alone, she stopped at the very place where there is currently a temple to Hera Teleia. The cuckoo, flew down and sat on her lap when he saw her, shivering and freezing because of the weather. Hera saw the bird and pitied him and covered him with her cloak. Then Zeus suddenly transformed his appearance and grabbed a hold of Hera. Because she was refusing him due to their mother, he promised that he would marry her.

Among the Argives, who honor the goddess the most of all the Greeks, the cult image of Hera sits in the temple on a throne holding a scepter in one hand on which a cuckoo is seated.”

πάντα γυναῖκες ἴσαντι, καὶ ὡς Ζεὺς ἀγάγεθ᾽ ῞Ηραν] … ῞Ομηρος «εἰς εὐνὴν φοιτῶντε φίλους λήθοντο τοκῆας.» ᾽Αριστοκλῆς δὲ ἐν τῶι Περὶ τῶν ῾Ερμιόνης ἱερῶν ἰδιωτέρως ἱστορεῖ περὶ τοῦ Διὸς καὶ [τοῦ τῆς] ῞Ηρας γάμου. τὸν γὰρ Δία μυθολογεῖται ἐπιβουλεύειν τῆι ῞Ηραι μιγῆναι, ὅτε αὐτὴν ἴδοι χωρισθεῖσαν ἀπὸ τῶν ἄλλων θεῶν. βουλόμενος δὲ ἀφανὴς γενέσθαι καὶ μὴ ὀφθῆναι ὑπ᾽ αὐτῆς τὴν ὄψιν μεταβάλλει εἰς κόκκυγα καὶ καθέζεται εἰς ὄρος, ὃ πρῶτον μὲν Θόρναξ ἐκαλεῖτο, νῦν δὲ Κόκκυξ. τὸν δὲ Δία χειμῶνα δεινὸν ποιῆσαι τῆι ἡμέραι ἐκείνηι· τὴν δὲ ῞Ηραν πορευομένην μόνην ἀφικέσθαι πρὸς τὸ ὄρος καὶ καθέζεσθαι εἰς αὐτό, ὅπου νῦν ἐστιν ἱερὸν ῞Ηρας Τελείας. τὸν δὲ κόκκυγα ἰδόντα καταπετασθῆναι καὶ καθεσθῆναι ἐπὶ τὰ γόνατα αὐτῆς πεφρικότα καὶ ῥιγῶντα ὑπὸ τοῦ χειμῶνος. τὴν δὲ ῞Ηραν ἰδοῦσαν αὐτὸν οἰκτεῖραι καὶ περιβαλεῖν τῆι ἀμπεχόνηι. τὸν δὲ Δία εὐθέως μεταβαλεῖν τὴν ὄψιν καὶ ἐπιλαβέσθαι τῆς ῞Ηρας. τῆς δὲ τὴν μίξιν παραιτουμένης διὰ τὴν μητέρα, αὐτὸν ὑποσχέσθαι γυναῖκα αὐτὴν ποιήσασθαι. καὶ παρ᾽ ᾽Αργείοις δέ, οἳ μέγιστα τῶν ῾Ελλήνων τιμῶσι τὴν θεόν, τὸ [δὲ] ἄγαλμα τῆς ῞Ηρας ἐν τῶι ναῶι καθήμενον ἐν τῶι θρόνωι τῆι χειρὶ ἔχει σκῆπτρον, καὶ ἐπ᾽ αὐτῶι τῶι σκήπτρωι κόκκυξ.

Pausanias (2.17.4) describes a statue in a temple to Hera outside of Corinth:

“The statue of Hera—extraordinarily huge—sits on a throne made of gold and ivory, a work of Polykleitos. She has a crown embossed with Graces and the Seasons and carries in one hand a pomegranate fruit and in the other a scepter. I must pass over the reason for the pomegranate, since the tale is protected by sacred rite. But people say that the cuckoo bird sitting on the scepter is Zeus: because he was in love with Hera when she was a maiden and turned himself into this bird which she hunted to have as a pet. I record this story as much as the others of the gods which I offer incredulously—but I record them still.”

τὸ δὲ ἄγαλμα τῆς ῞Ηρας ἐπὶ θρόνου κάθηται μεγέθει μέγα, χρυσοῦ μὲν καὶ ἐλέφαντος, Πολυκλείτου δὲ ἔργον· ἔπεστι δέ οἱ στέφανος Χάριτας ἔχων καὶ ῞Ωρας ἐπειργασμένας, καὶ τῶν χειρῶν τῇ μὲν καρπὸν φέρει ῥοιᾶς, τῇ δὲ σκῆπτρον. τὰ μὲν οὖν ἐς τὴν ῥοιὰν—ἀπορρητότερος γάρ ἐστιν ὁ λόγος—ἀφείσθω μοι· κόκκυγα δὲ ἐπὶ τῷ σκήπτρῳ καθῆσθαί φασι λέγοντες τὸν Δία, ὅτε ἤρα παρθένου τῆς ῞Ηρας, ἐς τοῦτον τὸν ὄρνιθα ἀλλαγῆναι, τὴν δὲ ἅτε παίγνιον θηρᾶσαι. τοῦτον τὸν λόγον καὶ ὅσα ἐοικότα εἴρηται περὶ θεῶν οὐκ ἀποδεχόμενος γράφω, γράφω δὲ οὐδὲν ἧσσον.

 

Jupiter and Juno on Mt. Ida, by James Barry (1773)

 

The Names of Agamemnon’s Daughters and the Death of Iphigenia

The sacrifice of Iphigenia is a pivotal moment in the tale of the House of Atreus—it motivates Agamemnon’s murder and in turn the matricide of Orestes—and the Trojan War, functioning as it does as a strange sacrifice of a virgin daughter of Klytemnestra in exchange for passage for a fleet to regain the adulteress Helen, Iphigeneia’s aunt by both her father and mother. The account is famous in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon and the plays Iphigenia at Aulis and Iphigenia among the Taurians by Euripides. Its earliest accounts, however, provide some interesting variations:

Hes. Fr. 23.13-30

“Agamemnon, lord of men, because of her beauty,
Married the dark-eyed daughter of Tyndareus, Klytemnestra.
She gave birth to fair-ankled Iphimede in her home
And Elektra who rivaled the goddesses in beauty.
But the well-greaved Achaeans butchered Iphimede
on the altar of thundering, golden-arrowed Artemis
on that day when they sailed with ships to Ilium
in order to exact payment for fair-ankled Argive woman—
they butchered a ghost. But the deer-shooting arrow-mistress
easily rescued her and anointed her head
with lovely ambrosia so that her flesh would be enduring—
She made her immortal and ageless for all days.
Now the races of men upon the earth call her
Artemis of the roads, the servant of the famous arrow-mistress.
Last in her home, dark-eyed Klytemnestra gave birth
after being impregnated by Agamemnon to Orestes,
who, once he reached maturity, paid back the murderer of his father
and killed his mother as well with pitiless bronze.”

γ̣ῆμ̣[ε δ’ ἑὸν διὰ κάλλος ἄναξ ἀνδρ]ῶν ᾿Αγαμέμνων
κού[ρην Τυνδαρέοιο Κλυταιμήσ]τρην κυανῶπ[ιν•
ἣ̣ τ̣[έκεν ᾿Ιφιμέδην καλλίσφυ]ρον ἐν μεγάρο[ισιν
᾿Ηλέκτρην θ’ ἣ εἶδος ἐρήριστ’ ἀ[θανά]τηισιν.
᾿Ιφιμέδην μὲν σφάξαν ἐυκνή[μ]ιδες ᾿Αχαιοὶ
βωμῶ[ι ἔπ’ ᾿Αρτέμιδος χρυσηλακ]ά̣τ[ου] κελαδεινῆς,
ἤματ[ι τῶι ὅτε νηυσὶν ἀνέπλ]εον̣ ῎Ιλιον ε̣[ἴσω
ποινὴ[ν τεισόμενοι καλλισ]φύρου ᾿Αργειώ̣[νη]ς̣,
εἴδω[λον• αὐτὴν δ’ ἐλαφηβό]λο̣ς ἰοχέαιρα
ῥεῖα μάλ’ ἐξεσά[ωσε, καὶ ἀμβροσ]ίην [ἐρ]ατ̣ε̣[ινὴν
στάξε κατὰ κρῆ[θεν, ἵνα οἱ χ]ρ̣ὼς̣ [ἔ]μ̣πε[δ]ο̣[ς] ε̣[ἴη,
θῆκεν δ’ ἀθάνατο[ν καὶ ἀγήρ]αον ἤμα[τα πάντα.
τὴν δὴ νῦν καλέο[υσιν ἐπὶ χ]θ̣ονὶ φῦλ’ ἀν̣[θρώπων
῎Αρτεμιν εἰνοδί[ην, πρόπολον κλυ]τοῦ ἰ[ο]χ[ε]αίρ[ης.
λοῖσθον δ’ ἐν μεγά[ροισι Κλυτ]αιμ̣ή̣στρη κυα[νῶπις
γείναθ’ ὑποδμηθ[εῖσ’ ᾿Αγαμέμν]ον[ι δῖ]ον ᾿Ορέ[στην,
ὅς ῥα καὶ ἡβήσας ἀπε̣[τείσατο π]ατροφο[ν]ῆα,
κτεῖνε δὲ μητέρα [ἣν ὑπερήν]ορα νηλέι [χαλκῶι.

This fragment presents what is possibly the earliest account of the tale of Iphigenia and contains the major elements: the sacrifice of Agamemnon’s daughter is tied to vengeance against Helen; the daughter is rescued by Artemis, made immortal and made her servant. [In some traditions she is either made immortal or made into a priestess of Artemis at Tauris]. Orestes kills the murderer of his father and his mother.
Continue reading “The Names of Agamemnon’s Daughters and the Death of Iphigenia”

Achilles’ (Missing) Sister

Reading over Merkelbach and West’s Fragmenta Hesiodea often reminds me of many things I have forgotten. I am too young to blame this forgetfulness on senility; and yet too old to blame it on youthful ignorance.

Today’s particular disturbance comes from fragment 213 which tells us that Achilles, like Odysseus, has a sister (fragment included within the scholia below).

At first, I thought that this was some sort of Lykophrontic fantasy. But, alas, upon looking into the details, she is actually mentioned in the Iliad!

Iliad, 16.173-178

“Menestheus of the dancing-breastplate led one contingent,
son of the swift-flowing river Sperkheios
whom the daughter of Peleus, beautiful Poludôrê bore
when she shared the bed with the indomitable river-god, Sperkheios
although by reputation he was the son of Boros, the son of Periêrês
who wooed her openly by offering countless gifts.”

τῆς μὲν ἰῆς στιχὸς ἦρχε Μενέσθιος αἰολοθώρηξ
υἱὸς Σπερχειοῖο διιπετέος ποταμοῖο·
ὃν τέκε Πηλῆος θυγάτηρ καλὴ Πολυδώρη
Σπερχειῷ ἀκάμαντι γυνὴ θεῷ εὐνηθεῖσα,
αὐτὰρ ἐπίκλησιν Βώρῳ Περιήρεος υἷι,
ὅς ῥ’ ἀναφανδὸν ὄπυιε πορὼν ἀπερείσια ἕδνα.

The confusion, shock and horror of this detail—which I presume the vast majority of Homer’s audiences have overlooked or forgotten as with the sad fate of Odysseus’ sister—can be felt as well in the various reactions of the Scholia where we encounter (a) denial—it was a different Peleus!; (b) sophomoric prevarication—why doesn’t Achilles talk about her, hmmm?; (c) conditional acceptance through anachronistic assumptions—she’s suppressed because it is shameful that she is a bastard; (d) and, finally, citation of hoary authorities to insist upon a ‘truth’ unambiguous in the poem.

I have translated the major scholia below. Note that we can see where the ‘fragments’ of several authors come from here (hint: they’re just talked about by the scholiasts). We can also learn a bit about the pluralistic and contradictory voices to be found in the Homeric scholia. The bastard child bit is my favorite part.

 

Schol A. ad Il. 16.175

“Pherecydes says that Polydora was the sister of Achilles. There is no way that this has been established in Homer. It is more credible that this is just the same name, as in other situations, since [the poet] would have added some sign of kinship with Achilles.”

ὃν τέκε Πηλῆος θυγάτηρ: ὅτι Φερεκύδης (Fr. 61-62) τὴν Πολυδώραν φησὶν ἀδελφὴν ᾿Αχιλλέως. οὐκ ἔστι δὲ καθ’ ῞Ομηρον διαβεβαιώσασθαι. πιθανώτερον οὖν ὁμωνυμίαν εἶναι, ὥσπερ καὶ ἐπ’ ἄλλων, ἐπεὶ προσέθηκεν ἂν τεκμήριον τῆς πρὸς ᾿Αχιλλέα συγγενείας.

 

Schol T. ad Il. 16.175

”  “Daughter of Peleus”: A different Peleus, for if he were a nephew of Achilles, this would be mentioned in Hades when they speak about his father and son or in the allegory of the Litai when he says “a great spirit compelled me there” or “my possessions and serving women” he might mention the pleasure of having a sister. The poet does not recognize that Peleus encountered some other woman. Neoteles says that Achilles’ cousin leads the first contingent and gives evidence of knowledge of war. And he gave countless gifts to marry the sister of Achilles. Should he not mentioned her in Hades? Odysseus does not mention Ktimene [his sister].

Pherecydes says that [Polydore] was born from Antigonê, the daughter of Eurytion; the Suda says her mother was Laodameia the daughter of Alkmaion; Staphulos says she was Eurudikê the daughter of Aktôr. Zenodotos says the daughter’s name was Kleodôrê; Hesiod and everyone else calls her Poludôrê.”

ex. Πηλῆος θυγάτηρ: ἑτέρου Πηλέως· εἰ γὰρ ἦν ἀδελφιδοῦς ᾿Αχιλλέως, καὶ ἐμνήσθη αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ ῞Αιδῃ περὶ τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ ἐρωτῶν (cf. λ 494—537), καὶ ἐν ταῖς Λιταῖς, φάσκων „ἔνθα δέ μοι μάλα <πολλὸν> ἐπέσσυτο θυμός” (Ι 398), „κτῆσιν ἐμὴν δμῶάς τε” (Τ 333), ἔφασκεν ἂν καὶ τῆς ἀδελφῆς ἀπόλαυσιν. Πηλέα τε οὐκ οἶδεν ὁ ποιητὴς ἑτέρᾳ γυναικὶ συνελθόντα. Νεοτέλης δὲ ὡς ἀδελφιδοῦν᾿Αχιλλέως φησὶ τῆς πρώτης τάξεως ἡγεῖσθαι, ὡς καὶ μαρτυρεῖ ἐπιστήμην πολέμου· †ὡς ἀχιλλέως τε ἀδελφὴν γαμεῖν† ἀπερείσια δίδωσιν ἕδνα (cf. Π 178). εἰ δὲ μὴ ἐμνήσθη αὐτῆς ἐν ῞Αιδου· οὐδὲ γὰρ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς Κτιμένης (cf. ο 363 cum λ 174—9). Φερεκύδης (FGrHist 3, 61 b) δὲ ἐξ ᾿Αντιγόνης τῆς Εὐρυτίωνος, Σουίδας (FGrHist 602, 8) ἐκ Λαοδαμείας τῆς ᾿Αλκμαίωνος, Στάφυλος (FGrHist 269,5) ἐξ Εὐρυδίκης τῆς῎Ακτορος. Ζηνόδοτος (FGrHist 19,5) δὲ Κλεοδώρην φησίν, ῾Ησιόδου (fr. 213 M.—W.) καὶ τῶν ἄλλων Πολυδώρην αὐτὴν καλούντων.

Schol. BCE ad Il. 16.175

“They say that she is from another Peleus. For if he were a nephew of Achilles wouldn’t this be mentioned or wouldn’t he ask about his sister in Hades along with his father and son? At the same time, the poet does not know that Peleus encountered some other women. More recent poets say that Menestheus is his nephew and that this is the reason he leads the first contingent and shows knowledge of war and that ‘he gave countless gifts to marry the sister of Achilles’. But if he does not mention it, it is not necessarily foreign to him. For the poet is rather sensitive to certain proprieties.”

ἑτέρου, φασί, Πηλέως· εἰ γὰρ ἦν ἀδελφιδοῦς ᾿Αχιλλέως, πῶς οὐκ ἐμνήσθη αὐτοῦ ἢ τῆς ἀδελφῆς ἐν τῷ ῞Αιδῃ περὶ τοῦ πατρὸς ἐρωτῶν καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ; ἅμα τε οὐκ οἶδεν ὁ ποιητὴς Πηλέα ἑτέρᾳ συνελθόντα γυναικί. οἱ δὲ νεώτεροι ἀδελφιδοῦν αὐτοῦ λέγουσιν· ὅθεν καὶ τῆς πρώτης τάξεως ἡγεῖται καὶ πολέμων ἐπιστήμων μαρτυρεῖται, καὶ ὡς †ἀχιλλέως ἀδελφὴν γαμῶν ἀπερείσια δίδωσιν. εἰ δὲ μὴ ἐμνήσθη αὐτῆς ἢ τούτου, οὐ ξένον· περὶ γὰρ τῶν καιριωτέρων αὐτῷ ἡ φροντίς.

Schol. b ad Il. 16.175

“Since, otherwise, if Polydora were his sister, she would be a bastard and he would not want to mention her. Or, maybe it is because she has already died.”

ἄλλως τε ἐπειδὴ νόθη ἦν ἡ Πολυδώρη αὐτοῦ ἀδελφή, τάχα οὐδὲ μνημονεύειν αὐτῆς ἐβουλήθη. ἢ ὅτι καὶ αὐτὴ ἤδη τετελευτηκυῖα ἦν.

Schol D ad Il. 16.175

“Did Peleus have a daughter Polydôrê from another? Staphulos says in the third book of his Thessalika that she was born from Eurydike the daughter of Aktôr. Pherecydes says it was the daughter of Eurytion; others says Laodameia, the daughter of Alkmaion.”

ἐκ τίνος Πηλεὺς Πολυδώρην ἔσχεν; ὡς μὲν Στάφυλός φησιν ἐν τῇ τρίτῃ Θεσσαλικῶν, ἐξ Εὐρυδίκης τῆς ῎Ακτορος θυγατρός. Φερεκύδης δὲ ἐξ ᾿Αντιγόνης τῆς Εὐρυτίωνος, ἄλλοι δὲ ἐκ Λαοδαμείας τῆς ᾿Αλκμαίωνος.

What happened to Peleus’ first wife—if they were married? According to John Tzetzes (see Fowler 2013, 444) Peleus accidentally killed his father-in-law during the Kalydonian Boar Hunt, so he had to go abroad and in Iolkos the king’s wife tried to seduce him and told Antigone that Peleus would abandon her. Antigone killed herself, leaving Peleus free to marry Thetis. (But who took care of their daughter?).

It can get more confusing: some traditions (Apollodorus, 3.163 and 168) make a Polymele the daughter of Peleus and Patroklos’ mother whereas Polydora is Peleus’ wife in between Antigone and Thetis. Whatever the case, we can do our own scholiastic justification for Achilles not talking about his sister without creating a second Peleus. She must have been a bit older than Achilles since by all accounts Peleus fathered her before (1) the Kalydonian Boar Hunt, (2) the sacking of Iolkos and (3) the Voyage of the Argo. She would likely have been raised in a separate household from Achilles and married off before he went to study with the centaur Cheiron!

(More importantly: In the poetic world of Homer, sisters just don’t matter. Brothers do. Helen does not mention missing her sisters. Hektor talks to multiple brothers, but where are his sisters? In the Odyssey, Achilles asks about his father and son because Odysseus is interested in fathers and sons. This may make it more, not less, appropriate that Achilles says nothing of his sister: Odysseus just doesn’t care about sisters. Nor, it seems, does Homer.)

Works Consulted (apart from the Greek Texts).

Timothy Gantz. Early Greek Myth. Baltimore, 1993.
Robert Fowler. Early Greek Mythography. Vol. 2:Commentary, 2013.

Image result for ancient greek achilles

Father Neleus Had How Many Sons?

Schol. A ad 11.692a

“There were twelve sons of blameless Neleus. According to the Separatists, Homer records that there were twelve children of Neleus in the Iliad but had three in the Odyssey where he provides the genealogy: “And I saw surpassingly beautiful Khloris” and soon after, “Nestor and Khromios, and proud Periklymenos”. It is likely that the children born before came to him from another woman and these three came from Khloris, for Priamos said, “I had fifty children. When the sons of the Achaeans came / 19 of them were from a single womb / the rest women bore to me in my home.”

δώδεκα γὰρ Νηλῆος <ἀμύμονος υἱέες ἦμεν>: πρὸς τοὺς Χωρίζοντας (fr. 5 K.), ὅτι ἐν μὲν ᾿Ιλιάδι δώδεκα Νηλῆος παῖδας λέγει, ἐν δὲ τῇ ᾿Οδυσσείᾳ τρεῖς γεγονέναι, ὡς γενεαλογεῖ· „καὶ Χλῶριν εἶδον περικαλλέα” (λ 281) καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἑξῆς „Νέστορά τε Χρομίον τε Περικλύμενόν τ’ ἀγέρωχον” (λ 286). ἐνδέχεται δὲ προγεγονότων αὐτῷ ἐξ ἑτέρας γυναικὸς παίδων ὕστερον ἐκ Χλώριδος τοὺς τρεῖς γεγονέναι· καὶ γὰρ ὁ Πρίαμός φησι· „πεντήκοντά μοι ἦσαν, ὅτ’ ἤλυθον υἷες ᾿Αχαιῶν· / ἐννεακαίδεκα μέν μοι ἰῆς ἐκ νηδύος ἦσαν, / τοὺς δ’ ἄλλους μοι ἔτικτον ἐνὶ μεγάροισιν <γυναῖ-κες>”

Image result for neleus and pelias
Neleus’ Brother Pelias on a Fresco from Pompeii

Death from the Sea and Cities of Men: Odysseus and Mortality

A re-post in honor of Odyssey Round the World

Homer, Odyssey 11.119–137 [cf. 23.265–284]

“But after you kill the suitors in your home
Either with a trick or openly with sharp bronze,
Then go, taking with you a well-shaped oar,
until you come to people who know nothing of the sea,
men who do not eat food that has been mixed with salt.
These people also know nothing of purple-prowed ships,
Nor well-shaped oars which give the ships their wings.
I will speak to you an obvious sign and it will not escape you.
Whenever some other traveler meets you and asks
Why you have a winnowing fan on your fine shoulder,
At that very point drive the well-shaped oar in the ground
And once you sacrifice a bull a a boar which has loved sows,
Go home again and complete holy hekatombs
To the immortal gods, who live in the broad sky,
All of them in order. And then from the sea death will come
To you in a gentle way, and it will kill you
Already taken by a kind old age. Your people
Will be prosperous around you. I speak these things truly.”

αὐτὰρ ἐπὴν μνηστῆρας ἐνὶ μεγάροισι τεοῖσι
κτείνῃς ἠὲ δόλῳ ἢ ἀμφαδὸν ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ,
ἔρχεσθαι δὴ ἔπειτα, λαβὼν εὐῆρες ἐρετμόν,
εἰς ὅ κε τοὺς ἀφίκηαι, οἳ οὐκ ἴσασι θάλασσαν
ἀνέρες οὐδέ θ’ ἅλεσσι μεμιγμένον εἶδαρ ἔδουσιν·
οὐδ’ ἄρα τοὶ ἴσασι νέας φοινικοπαρῄους,
οὐδ’ εὐήρε’ ἐρετμά, τά τε πτερὰ νηυσὶ πέλονται.
σῆμα δέ τοι ἐρέω μάλ’ ἀριφραδές, οὐδέ σε λήσει·
ὁππότε κεν δή τοι ξυμβλήμενος ἄλλος ὁδίτης
φήῃ ἀθηρηλοιγὸν ἔχειν ἀνὰ φαιδίμῳ ὤμῳ,
καὶ τότε δὴ γαίῃ πήξας εὐῆρες ἐρετμόν,
ἕρξας ἱερὰ καλὰ Ποσειδάωνι ἄνακτι,
ἀρνειὸν ταῦρόν τε συῶν τ’ ἐπιβήτορα κάπρον,
οἴκαδ’ ἀποστείχειν ἕρδειν θ’ ἱερὰς ἑκατόμβας
ἀθανάτοισι θεοῖσι, τοὶ οὐρανὸν εὐρὺν ἔχουσι,
πᾶσι μάλ’ ἑξείης. θάνατος δέ τοι ἐξ ἁλὸς αὐτῷ
ἀβληχρὸς μάλα τοῖος ἐλεύσεται, ὅς κέ σε πέφνῃ
γήρᾳ ὕπο λιπαρῷ ἀρημένον· ἀμφὶ δὲ λαοὶ
ὄλβιοι ἔσσονται. τὰ δέ τοι νημερτέα εἴρω.’

Why does Odysseus leave home again and how does he die? According to the prophecy, he still has to make amends with Poseidon. From this perspective, his journey is a type of expiation. As with many details in the Odyssey, however, we have only Odysseus to trust: he is the one who narrates the prophecy! One slight difference between the two versions of the prophecy gives me pause.

Odysseus does not come straight out and tell the story to his wife. Instead, he merely outlines that there will be more troubles and uses language of toil and suffering which is familiar from the rest of the epic.

Odyssey 23.248–253

“Wife, we have not yet come to the end of our struggles
But toil without measure is still in front of us,
Great and hard toil, all the things which I have to complete.
For the spirit of Teiresias prophesied this to me
On that day when I went to the home of Hades
To inquire about my companions’ homecoming and my own.”

“ὦ γύναι, οὐ γάρ πω πάντων ἐπὶ πείρατ’ ἀέθλων
ἤλθομεν, ἀλλ’ ἔτ’ ὄπισθεν ἀμέτρητος πόνος ἔσται,
πολλὸς καὶ χαλεπός, τὸν ἐμὲ χρὴ πάντα τελέσσαι.
ὣς γάρ μοι ψυχὴ μαντεύσατο Τειρεσίαο
ἤματι τῷ, ὅτε δὴ κατέβην δόμον ῎Αϊδος εἴσω,
νόστον ἑταίροισιν διζήμενος ἠδ’ ἐμοὶ αὐτῷ.

For someone who has suffered so much in this epic with not knowing the outcome of events, with the paralysis that comes from grief that is unresolved, Penelope is compelled to ask Odysseus to tell her (256-262) ending with a gnomic plea that “it is not at all worse to know right away” (πεύσομαι, αὐτίκα δ’ ἐστὶ δαήμεναι οὔ τι χέρειον). Odysseus winds up his story and prepares to recite the prophecy, but he begins differently.

Odyssey 23.265–279

“But I will tell you and I will not hide it.
My heart will not take pleasure in it. For I take no joy
Since he ordered me to go again through many cities of men
Holding a well-shaped oar in my hands…”

…αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ μυθήσομαι οὐδ’ ἐπικεύσω.
οὐ μέν τοι θυμὸς κεχαρήσεται· οὐδὲ γὰρ αὐτὸς
χαίρω, ἐπεὶ μάλα πολλὰ βροτῶν ἐπὶ ἄστε’ ἄνωγεν
ἐλθεῖν, ἐν χείρεσσιν ἔχοντ’ εὐῆρες ἐρετμόν.

After building up the suffering and forestalling any clarification, he seems almost to protest too much that he will not enjoy what the future brings. His curse, he claims, is that he is ordered to go through many cities of men. The absence of this line in the original narration alone would be telling, but it is even more marked because it recalls the third line of the epic’s proem: πολλῶν δ’ ἀνθρώπων ἴδεν ἄστεα καὶ νόον ἔγνω (“he knew the cities and the mind of many people”. This traveling through many cities for which Odysseus is famous enough to be marked at the beginning of the poem does not really happen in our epic.

Note as well, that Odysseus’ tale of the future undoes much of what the Homeric Odyssey accomplishes. His future toils are his alone: there is no room for the lives of his son, elderly father, or wife. So, even though Odysseus is home and reunited with his family, this new revelation is enough to imply, perhaps, that when this story is over, Odysseus returns to himself, the one before the Odyssey brought him home again.

This is, I think, the inspiration behind Cavafy’s startling poem on the topic.

C. P. Cavafy, Second Odyssey [Walter Kaiser, trans.]

A great second Odyssey,
Greater even than the first perhaps,
But alas, without Homer, without hexameters.

Small was his ancestral home,
Small was his ancestral city,
And the whole of his Ithaca was small.

The affection of Telemachus, the loyalty
Of Penelope, his father’s aging years,
His old friends, the love
Of his devoted subjects,
The happy repose of his home,
Penetrated like rays of joy
The heart of the seafarer.

And like rays they faded.

The thirst
For the sea rose up with him.
He hated the air of the dry land.
At night, spectres of Hesperia
Came to trouble his sleep.
He was seized with nostalgia
For voyages, for the morning arrivals
At harbors you sail into,
With such happiness, for the first time.

The affection of Telemachus, the loyalty
Of Penelope, his father’s aging years,
His old friends, the love
Of his devoted subjects,
The peace and repose of his home
Bored him.

And so he left.

As the shores of Ithaca gradually
Faded away behind him
And he sailed swiftly westward
Toward Iberia and the Pillars of Hercules,
Far from every Achaean sea,
He felt he was alive once more,
Freed from the oppressive bonds
Of familiar, domestic things.
And his adventurous heart rejoiced
Coldly, devoid of love.

Another reception of Odysseus that echoes some of these themes is Tennyson’s “Ulysses”. The poem begins with frustration, the complaint that it is useless for a king to sit and rule men less than he with an aging wife, a crowd that cannot understand him (1–5). Tennyson’s Odysseus has retreated into an interior life, rejecting the dismal repetition of his life at home, and imaging him self as he once was. For this hero, a life at home is a life of wasted opportunities. The poem’s Ulysses confesses “I cannot rest from travel: I will drink / Life to the lees…” (6–7). This Ulysses understands his coming transformation: “…I am become a name” (11) and this name is made up of his travels, his suffering, and his joys (11–20). The narrator continues (20–30):

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

Although in the next portion of the poem, Ulysses looks briefly back at the world he leaves to his son (31–42), this passage homes in on the Odyssey’s hero in a different light. Odysseus is looking forward to the boundary of death and although he concedes it is closer than ever before, he seems determined to inhabit it and atomize it, turning what remains of life to something like Zeno’s paradox, as if by filling every portion of it, he may always have another portion to fill. As will become clear from the prophecy itself, boundaries and limits are at the very core of his worry.

Tennyson’s Ulysses returns to the sea just as the Odyssey’s protagonist promises. He narrates a journey through the space of the sea that is also a straining against the bounds of time. This final battle, personal if epic still, culminates in Tennyson’s final, grasping boast: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

But to what is this Odysseus yielding? The story of the prophecy is ultimately that of an externally imposed compulsion. In its simplest form, this is death. In the more complex vision of the poem, this is fate, the very thing Zeus says men make worse through their own recklessness at the beginning of the epic.

Perhaps what is really chilling is that Odysseus is looking forward to the end of his story, to his own death. Few of us embrace the idea of our own ending. And when we know that the milestones of life and perhaps our greatest accomplishments are behind us, we often have little choice but to look toward the end on the horizon. This is a different type of helplessness from what Odysseus endures during his ‘exile’ with Kalypso–when he is stranded on Ogygia he has no where to go and all the time in the world. Once he gets home, he can go anywhere, but where has all that time gone?

In a way, Odysseus continues on the journey of his life rather than stopping and facing the reality around him. In other heroic tales–Bellerophon and Herakles especially, but Gilgamesh too–after a hero completes his great deeds, he metaphorically and literally challenges death only, ultimately, to fail. The fall of a hero is an allegory for what happens to us all when we are no longer young but not yet old: we either scan the horizon for our ending, or run to avoid even looking for it.

But I think there may be another allegory beyond this one. As Alex Purves (2006) and John Peradotto (along with Ann Bergren 1983) note, Odysseus’ emphasis the fact that they are not at “the limits of their suffering” (πάντων ἐπὶ πείρατ’ ἀέθλων) and on the “boundless toil” (ἀμέτρητος πόνος) strains against the limits of the narrative and the poem. But this epic is also about the boundaries of a life as it is lived. To look for the experiences of the life beyond the story we are living is to look for the promise that this story that our story will not end.

And, again, in that oar–as Alex Purves notes–we find a promise of transformation as the relationship between signifier and signified breaks down. The oar becomes a thing it isn’t when it is transported into different lands and, once planted, it is a “clear sign”, a sema of what has been accomplished.  In the Iliad (7.81-91), a sema is the burial mound which will tell the story of what has transpired to future generations. It reduces an active, living thing, to a still, singular sign of the past. Here, of course, is the paradox of kleos perhaps articulated by Achilles’ rejection of the Iliadic ethos when he appears in the Odyssey: the story that continues on and does not change is not the self. The memory of the person is not the person remembered.

And in the Odyssey, it has already been established that an oar can function as the marker for a tomb–this is precisely what Elpenor requests when he meets Odysseus after dying (11.68-78). As a marker, a tombstone is final and, without readers, simple rather than complex. The single sign in the future Teiresias promises in the first version of the prophecy stands at odds with the multiplicity of meanings within the Odyssey and the multiple versions of the man whose tale it tells. So, while others have argued well that the prophecy anticipates a day and a place beyond the bounds of the heroic world, of epic meaning, and the range of epic transmission, I would add that this moment also reflects anxiety about the limits of the self.

(for a longer bibliography see at the end of the post)

Porphyry has an allegorical take Odysseus’ death and the tale of the sea.

Porphyry, On the Cave of the Nymphs 35

“And thus one may not escape from his toils, but when he has emerged from the sea altogether that his thoughts are so untouched of the sea and material matters, that he believes that an oar is a winnowing fan because of his total inexperience of the tools and affairs of the sea.”

ἵνα γυμνωθεὶς τῶν ῥακέων καθέλῃ πάντα καὶ οὐδ’ οὕτως ἀπαλλαγῇ τῶν πόνων, ἀλλ’ ὅταν παντελῶς ἔξαλος γένηται καὶ ἐν ψυχαῖς ἀπείροις θαλασσίων καὶ ἐνύλων ἔργων, ὡς πτύον εἶναι ἡγεῖσθαι τὴν κώπην διὰ τὴν τῶν ἐναλίων ὀργάνων καὶ ἔργων παντελῆ ἀπειρίαν.

Of course, in ancient myth, the “death from the sea” bit was not always considered an allegory. Homeric interpreters struggle over whether the phrase “from the sea” means a death that travels from the sea or one that happens away from the sea. Most versions settle on the first interpretation.

According  to Aeschylus’ fragmentary Psychagogoi, Teiresias prophesied to Odysseus that his death would come from the sea in an avian fecal format:

<ΤΕΙΡΕΣ.> ‘ἐρρω<ι>διὸς γὰρ ὑψόθεν ποτώμενος
ὄνθω<ι> σε πλήξε<ι>, νηδύιος χειλώμασιν.
ἐκ τοῦ δ’ ἄκανθα ποντίου βοσκήματος
σήψει παλαιὸν δέρμα καὶ τριχορρυές’.

“As a heron flies on high, he will strike you with shit from his stomach’s end.
And the thorns from that watery food will rot your old and balding skin.”

This may correspond to the Odyssey‘s cryptic note that “death will come from the sea”. For a great discussion, see Timothy Gantz. Early Greek Myth. 1993. 711-712.

A scholiast to the Odyssey glosses the “death will come to you from the sea” line as follows: “Some also say that Hephaistos at the bidding of Kirkê fashioned a spear from Telegonos from a sea sting-ray’s stinger, which Phorkys had killed while it was trying to eat fish in his harbor. The spear-base was adamantine and the handle was gold and that killed Odysseus.” (καί φασιν ὡς ἐντεύξει τῆς Κίρκης ῞Ηφαιστος κατεσκεύασε Τηλεγόνῳ δόρυ ἐκ τρυγόνος θαλασσίας, ἣν Φόρκυς ἀνεῖλεν ἐσθίουσαν τοὺς ἐν τῇ Φορκίδι λίμνῃ ἰχθῦς• οὗ τὴν μὲν ἐπιδορατίδα ἀδαμαντίνην, τὸν δὲ στύρακα χρυσοῦν εἶναι, τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα ἀνεῖλεν,Schol. ad. Od. 11.134).

This is the story recorded in Apollodoros’ Epitome 7.36:

“Telegonos, after learning from Kirkê that he was the child of Odysseus, sailed out looking for him. After he arrived in Ithaka, he began to steal some of the Island’s cattle and he wounded Odysseus in the hand, who came out to help against him, with a spear that had a point made of a sting-ray’s spine. Then Odysseus died.”

[36] Τηλέγονος δὲ παρὰ Κίρκης μαθὼν ὅτι παῖς Ὀδυσσέως ἐστίν, ἐπὶ τὴν τούτου ζήτησιν ἐκπλεῖ. παραγενόμενος δὲ εἰς Ἰθάκην τὴν νῆσον ἀπελαύνει τινὰ τῶν βοσκημάτων, καὶ Ὀδυσσέα βοηθοῦντα τῷ μετὰ χεῖρας δόρατι Τηλέγονος τρυγόνος κέντρον τὴν αἰχμὴν ἔχοντι τιτρώσκει, καὶ Ὀδυσσεὺς θνήσκει.

This poisonous sting-ray weapon, as you might imagine, is exactly the type of thing Hellenistic authors might get excited about. The fragmentary historian Dictys tells a bit of a more complicated story: he has Odysseus send Telemachus away because dream-interpreters told him he would be killed by his son. According to Dictys, Telegonos struck him in the lung (τιτρώσκει τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα κατὰ τοῦ πλευροῦ) “with a sting-ray’s point given to him by Kirkê” (ὅπερ ἔδωκε κέντρον θαλάσσιον τῆι Κίρκηι, FGH 1a49F fr. 10).

When Eustathius discusses Odysseus’ death from the sea (Comm. ad Od. 1.404) he first makes it clear that what is interesting is that Odysseus doesn’t die on the sea (ἀλλ’ ὁ θάνατός σοι οὐκ ἐν αὐτῇ ἔσται ἀλλ’ ἔξω αὐτῆς.) He then presents features both from the scholia (the special stin-ray spear) and Dictys while also explaining that Oppian tells us more about this in the Halieutica. Eustathius explains that the spear-point made from a sting-ray was considered especially sharp by some (αἰχμὴ δὲ τρυγόνος τὸ ἐπὶ τῷ ἀδάμαντι ὀξύτατον). A basic point to be drawn from his extensive discussion is that the sting-ray spear was a generally well-known motif.

It is so well-known, of course, that the Scholia to Lykophron must present an alternative. There, Telegonos does kill Odysseus but Kirkê resurrects him with her drugs, only after which was Telegonos married to Penelope and Telemakhos was married to Kassiphone, his half-sister. (ἄλλοι δέ φασιν ὅτι ἀναιρεθεὶς ὁ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ὑπὸ Τηλεγόνου πάλιν ὑπὸ τῆς Κίρκης φαρμάκῳ ἀνέστη καὶ ἐγήματο *Κασσιφόνην* Τηλεμάχῳ, Πηνελόπη δ’ ἐν Μακάρων νήσοις ἐγήματο Τηλεγόνῳ, Schol ad. Lykophron 805). But that’s a story for another day.

[updated c. 2 hours later with an assist from Erik (see comments for his addition of the Tennyson poem)]

Some works consulted

Benardete, S. 1997. The Bow and the Lyre: A Platonic Reading of the Odyssey. Lanham.

Bergen, Ann, 1983. “Odyssean Temporality: Many (Re)Turns,” in C. A. Rubino and C. W. Shelmerdine, eds., Approaches to Homer. Austin. 38–73.

Buchan, M. 2004. The Limits of Heroism: Homer and the Ethics of Reading. Ann Arbor.

Foley, J. M. 1997. “Traditional Signs and Homeric Art,” in E. Bakker and A. Kahane, eds., Written Voices, Spoken Signs: Tradition, Performance, and the Epic Text. Cambridge, Mass. 56–82.

Nagy, G. 1990. Pindar’s Homer: the Lyric Possession of an Epic Past. Baltimore.

Nagy, G. “The Cult Hero in Homeric Poetry and Beyond”

Olson, S. D. 1997. “Odysseus’ ‘Winnowing-Shovel’ (Hom. Od. 11.119–37) and the Island of the Cattle of the Sun,” ICS 22.7–9.

Purves, Alex. 2006. “Unmarked Space: Odysseus and the Inland Journey.” Arethusa 39: 1-20.

Purves, Alex. 2010. Space and Time in Ancient Greek Narrative. Cambridge.

Peradotto, J. 1985. “Prophecy Degree Zero: Tiresias and the End of the Odyssey,” in B. Gentili and G. Paioni, eds., Oralità: cultura, letteratura, discorso. Rome. 429–59.

_____. 1990. Man in the Middle Voice: Name and Narration in the Odyssey.Princeton.

Image result for death of odysseus
A frieze in the new Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace by Alex Stoddard

The Terrible Origin of Oedipus’ Family Curse

Scholion to Euripides’ Phoenician Women 1760 = FGrHist 16 F10

“Peisander records that the sphinx was sent to Thebes in accordance with Hera’s rage from the farthest parts of Aethiopia, because Laios had committed sacrilege in his abnormal lust for Khrusippos* whom he abducted from Pisa but they did not avenge. It was the sphinx, who, as it is written, had the tail of a dragon. She seized and gobbled up great and small men, among whom was Haimon, Kreon’s son and Hippion, the son of Eurunomos who had fought against the Kentaurs. (Eurunomos and Êioneus were sons of Magnêtês the son of Aolos and Phylodikê.) Then Hippios, who was a foreigner, was seized by the Sphinx; but Êioneus, the son by Oinomaus, was killed in the same way along with many suitors [i.e. men who came to solve the riddle].

Laios first conceived of this lawless lust. But Khrusyppos, out of shame, used his sword on himself. Then, Teiresias, because he was a prophet, knew that Laios was hated by the gods, and he sent him on the road to Apollo where it was proper to make sacrifices to the goddess Hera as the maker-of-marriages. He dishonored this. Then, when he was coming home, he was murdered in the narrowest part of the road along with his charioteer after he struck Oedipus with a goad. After killing them, Oedipus buried them with their clothing but stripped Laios’ belt and sword and took it with him. He collected up the chariot and gave it to Polybos. Then he married his mother after solving the riddle.

After that, once he had completed the sacrifices at Kithaira, he was coming home with Iokastê in his carriage. He remembered the place where the events had happened in the narrowest part of the road and he showed it to Iocasta and explained the event and showed her the belt. She handled it poorly but was silent. For she did not know he was her son. After that, an old horse-hand came from Sikyon and told Oedipus everyone: how he found him, took him, and gave him to Meropê. He also showed him the swaddling clothes and goad and asked for a reward for saving him. In this way, the whole truth was understood. They say that after Iokastê’s death and his blinding, he married Euruganeia, a virgin, and that the four children were born from her. Peisander records these things.”

*Khrusippos=Chrysippus, Pelop’s first child before Atreus and Thyestes

laiuschrysippuspelops

ὃς μόνος Σφιγγὸς κατέσχον: ἱστορεῖ Πείσανδρος ὅτι κατὰ χόλον τῆς ῞Ηρας ἐπέμφθη ἡ Σφὶγξ τοῖς Θηβαίοις ἀπὸ τῶν ἐσχάτων μερῶν τῆς Αἰθιοπίας, ὅτι τὸν Λάιον ἀσεβήσαντα εἰς τὸν παράνομον ἔρωτα τοῦ Χρυσίππου, ὃν ἥρπασεν ἀπὸ τῆς Πίσης, οὐκ ἐτιμωρήσαντο. ἦν δὲ ἡ Σφὶγξ, ὥσπερ γράφεται, τὴν οὐρὰν ἔχουσα δρακαίνης· ἀναρπάζουσα δὲ μικροὺς καὶ μεγάλους κατήσθιεν, ἐν οἷς καὶ Αἵμονα τὸν Κρέοντος παῖδα καὶ ῞Ιππιον τὸν Εὐρυνόμου τοῦ τοῖς Κενταύροις μαχεσαμένου. ἦσαν δὲ Εὐρύνομος καὶ ᾿Ηιονεὺς υἱοὶ Μάγνητος τοῦ Αἰολίδου καὶ Φυλοδίκης. ὁ μὲν οὖν ῞Ιππιος καὶ ξένος ὢν ὑπὸ τῆς Σφιγγὸς ἀνῃρέθη, ὁ δὲ ᾿Ηιονεὺς ὑπὸ τοῦ Οἰνομάου, ὃν τρόπον καὶ οἱ ἄλλοι μνηστῆρες. πρῶτος δὲ ὁ Λάιος τὸν ἀθέμιτον ἔρωτα τοῦτον ἔσχεν. ὁ δὲ Χρύσιππος ὑπὸ αἰσχύνης ἑαυτὸν διεχρήσατο τῷ ξίφει. τότε μὲν οὖν ὁ Τειρεσίας ὡς μάντις εἰδὼς ὅτι θεοστυγὴς ἦν ὁ Λάιος, ἀπέτρεπεν αὐτὸν τῆς ἐπὶ τὸν ᾿Απόλλωνα ὁδοῦ, τῇ δὲ ῞Ηρᾳ μᾶλλον τῇ γαμοστόλῳ θεᾷθύειν ἱερά. ὁ δὲ αὐτὸν ἐξεφαύλιζεν. ἀπελθὼν τοίνυν ἐφονεύθη ἐν τῇ σχιστῇ ὁδῷ αὐτὸς καὶ ὁ ἡνίοχος αὐτοῦ, ἐπειδὴ ἔτυψε τῇ μάστιγι τὸν Οἰδίποδα. κτείνας δὲ αὐτοὺς ἔθαψε παραυτίκα σὺν τοῖς ἱματίοις ἀποσπάσας τὸν ζωστῆρα καὶ τὸ ξίφος τοῦ Λαΐου καὶ φορῶν· τὸ δὲ ἅρμα ὑποστρέψας ἔδωκε τῷ Πολύβῳ, εἶτα ἔγημε τὴν μητέρα λύσας τὸ αἴνιγμα. μετὰ ταῦτα δὲ θυσίας τινὰς ἐπιτελέσας ἐν τῷ Κιθαιρῶνι κατήρχετο ἔχων καὶ τὴν ᾿Ιοκάστην ἐν τοῖς ὀχήμασι. καὶ γινομένων αὐτῶν περὶ τὸν τόπον ἐκεῖνον τῆς σχιστῆς ὁδοῦ ὑπομνησθεὶς ἐδείκνυε τῇ ᾿Ιοκάστῃ τὸν τόπον καὶ τὸ πρᾶγμα διηγήσατο καὶ τὸν ζωστῆρα ἔδειξεν. ἡ δὲ δεινῶς φέρουσα ὅμως ἐσιώπα· ἠγνόει γὰρ υἱὸν ὄντα. καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἦλθέ τις γέρων ἱπποβουκόλος ἀπὸ Σικυῶνος, ὃς εἶπεν αὐτῷ τὸ πᾶν ὅπως τε αὐτὸν εὗρε καὶ ἀνείλετο καὶ τῇ Μερόπῃ δέδωκε, καὶ ἅμα τὰ σπάργανα αὐτῷ ἐδείκνυε καὶ τὰ κέντρα ἀπῄτει τε αὐτὸν τὰ ζωάγρια· καὶ οὕτως ἐγνώσθη τὸ ὅλον. φασὶ δὲ ὅτι μετὰ τὸν θάνατον τῆς ᾿Ιοκάστης καὶ τὴν αὐτοῦ τύφλωσιν ἔγημεν Εὐρυγάνην παρθένον, ἐξ ἧς αὐτῷ γεγόνασιν οἱ τέσσαρες παῖδες. ταῦτά φησι Πείσανδρος:

There is a tradition that quotes the Sphinx’s riddle, but few accept it as ‘genuine’.

For a fine discussion of this, see Malcolm Davies’ piece on the Oidipodea.

The Child-Killing Lamia: What’s Really Scary on Halloween is Misogyny

This is the second post about ancient Greek Vampires. The first looked at the Empousa. 

Lucian, Lover of Lies 2

“…these are various and disturbing tales, able to rattle the minds of children who still fear Mormo and Lamia.”

πάνυ ἀλλόκοτα καὶ τεράστια μυθίδια παίδων ψυχὰς κηλεῖν δυνάμενα ἔτι τὴν Μορμὼ καὶ τὴν Λάμιαν δεδιότων.

The Lamia (or, just Lamia to her friends) is one of the figures from Greek myth who seems like a frightening monster but really is a particular distillation of misogyny. She is often called a Greek ‘vampire’ along with Empousa. Unlike the latter, however, Lamia is specifically associated with killing children.

Diodorus Siculus, 20.40

“At the rock’s root there was a very large cave which was roofed with ivy and bryony in which the myths say the queen Lamia, exceptional for her beauty, was born. But, because of the beastliness of her soul, they say that her appearance has become more monstrous in the time since then.

For, when all her children who were born died, she was overwhelmed by her suffering and envied all the women who were luckier with their children. So she ordered that the infants be snatched from their arms and killed immediately. For this reason, even in our lifetime, the story of that women has lingered among children and the mention of her name is most horrifying to them.

But, whenever she was getting drunk, she would allow people to do whatever pleased them without observation. Because she was not closely watching everything at that time, the people in that land imagined that she could not see. This is why the myth developed that she put her eyes into a bottle, using this story a metaphor for the carelessness she enacted in wine, since that deprived her of sight.”

 περὶ δὲ τὴν ῥίζαν αὐτῆς ἄντρον ἦν εὐμέγεθες, κιττῷ καὶ σμίλακι συνηρεφές, ἐν ᾧ μυθεύουσι γεγονέναι βασίλισσαν Λάμιαν τῷ κάλλει διαφέρουσαν· διὰ δὲ τὴν τῆς ψυχῆς ἀγριότητα διατυπῶσαί φασι τὴν ὄψιν αὐτῆς τὸν μετὰ ταῦτα χρόνον θηριώδη. τῶν γὰρ γινομένων αὐτῇ παίδων ἁπάντων τελευτώντων βαρυθυμοῦσαν ἐπὶ τῷ πάθει καὶ φθονοῦσαν ταῖς τῶν ἄλλων γυναικῶν εὐτεκνίαις κελεύειν ἐκ τῶν ἀγκαλῶν ἐξαρπάζεσθαι τὰ βρέφη καὶ παραχρῆμα ἀποκτέννειν. διὸ καὶ καθ᾿ ἡμᾶς μέχρι τοῦ νῦν βίου παρὰ τοῖς νηπίοις διαμένειν τὴν περὶ τῆς γυναικὸς ταύτης φήμην καὶ φοβερωτάτην αὐτοῖς εἶναι τὴν ταύτης προσηγορίαν. ὅτε δὲ μεθύσκοιτο, τὴν ἄδειαν διδόναι πᾶσιν ἃ βούλοιντο ποιεῖν ἀπαρατηρήτως. μὴ πολυπραγμονούσης οὖν αὐτῆς κατ᾿ ἐκεῖνον τὸν χρόνον τὰ γινόμενα τοὺς κατὰ τὴν χώραν ὑπολαμβάνειν μὴ βλέπειν αὐτήν· καὶ διὰ τοῦτ᾿ ἐμυθολόγησάν τινες ὡς εἰς ἄρσιχον ἐμβάλοι τοὺς ὀφθαλμούς, τὴν ἐν οἴνῳ συντελουμένην ὀλιγωρίαν εἰς τὸ προειρημένον μέτρον μεταφέροντες, ὡς τούτου παρῃρημένου τὴν ὅρασιν.

Euripides, fr. 472m (=Diodorus Siculus 20.41.6)

“Who does not know my name, most hateful to men,
The Lamia, a Libyan by birth?”

τίς τοὐ<μὸν ὄ>νομα τοὐπονείδιστον βροτοῖς
οὐκ οἶδε Λαμίας τῆς Λιβυστικῆς γένος;

The story of why Lamia killed children gets a little more depressing in the Fragments of the Greek Historians

Duris, BNJ 76 F17 [= Photios s.v. Lamia]

“In the second book of his Libyan History, Duris reports that Lamia was a fine looking woman but after Zeus had sex with her, Hera killed the children she bore because she was envious. As a result she was disfigured by grief and would seize and kill the children of others.”

ταύτην ἐν τῆι Λιβύηι Δοῦρις ἐν δευτέρωι Λιβυκῶν ἱστορεῖ γυναῖκα καλὴν γενέσθαι, μιχθέντος δ᾽ αὐτῆι Διὸς ὑφ᾽ ῞Ηρας ζηλοτυπουμένην ἃ ἔτικτεν ἀπολλύναι· διόπερ ἀπὸ τῆς λύπης δύσμορφον γεγονέναι καὶ τὰ τῶν ἄλλων παιδία ἀναρπάζουσαν διαφθείρειν.

Elsewhere, the evidence of narratives about Lamia are rather limited. She becomes just another negative, female monster.

Suda, Lambda 85

“Lamia: a monster. The name comes from having a gaping throat, laimia and lamia. Aristophanes: “It has the smell of a seal, the unwashed balls of a Lamia.” For testicles are active—and he is making a fantasy image of Lamia’s balls, since she is female.

Λάμια: θηρίον. ἀπὸ τοῦ ἔχειν μέγαν λαιμόν, λαίμια καὶ λάμια. ᾿Αριστοφάνης· φώκης δ’ εἶχεν ὀσμήν, λαμίας ὄρχεις ἀπολύτους. δραστικοὶ γὰρ οἱ ὄρχεις. εἰδωλοποιεῖ δέ τινας ὄρχεις λαμίας· θῆλυ γάρ.

Unlike Empousa and some others, Lamia is interestingly integrated in some other genealogical traditions.

Schol. G ad Ap. Rhodes 4.825-831

“Stesichorus says in his Skylla, regarding her form, that Skylla is the daughter of Lamia.”

Στησίχορος δὲ ἐν τῇ Σκύλλῃ †εἶδός τινος† Λαμίας τὴν Σκύλλαν φησὶ θυγατέρα εἶναι.

Pausanias on Phocis, 12

“There is a crag rising up over the ground on which the Delphians claim that a woman stood singing oracles, named Hêrophilê but known as Sibyl. There is the earlier Sibyl, the one I have found to be equally as old as the others, whom the Greeks claim is the daughter of Zeus and Lamia, the daughter of Poseidon. She was the first woman to sing oracles and they say that she was named Sibyl by the Libyans. Hêrophilê was younger than here, but she was obviously born before the Trojan War since she predicted Helen in her oracles, that was raised up in Sparta as the destruction for Asia and Europe and that Troy would be taken by the Greeks because of her.”

XII. Πέτρα δέ ἐστιν ἀνίσχουσα ὑπὲρ τῆς γῆς· ἐπὶ ταύτῃ Δελφοὶ στᾶσάν φασιν ᾆσαι τοὺς χρησμοὺς γυναῖκα ὄνομα Ἡροφίλην, Σίβυλλαν δὲ ἐπίκλησιν. τὴν δὲ πρότερον γενομένην, ταύτην ταῖς μάλιστα ὁμοίως οὖσαν ἀρχαίαν εὕρισκον, ἣν θυγατέρα Ἕλληνες Διὸς καὶ Λαμίας τῆς Ποσειδῶνός φασιν εἶναι, καὶ χρησμούς τε αὐτὴν γυναικῶν πρώτην ᾆσαι καὶ ὑπὸ τῶν Λιβύων Σίβυλλαν λέγουσιν ὀνομασθῆναι. ἡ δὲ Ἡροφίλη νεωτέρα μὲν ἐκείνης, φαίνεται δὲ ὅμως πρὸ τοῦ πολέμου γεγονυῖα καὶ αὕτη τοῦ Τρωικοῦ, καὶ Ἑλένην τε προεδήλωσεν ἐν τοῖς χρησμοῖς, ὡς ἐπ᾿ ὀλέθρῳ τῆς Ἀσίας καὶ Εὐρώπης τραφήσοιτο ἐν Σπάρτῃ, καὶ ὡς Ἴλιον ἁλώσεται δι᾿ αὐτὴν ὑπὸ Ἑλλήνων.

Dionysus of Halicarnassus, On Thucydides 6

“Foremost he differed from previous authors in this, by which I mean how he took on a subject that was not a single thread nor one divided in many different and also disconnected parts. And then, because did not include mythical material in his work and he did not use his writing for the deception and bewitchment of many, as every author before him did when they told the stories of certain Lamiai rising up from the earth in groves and glens and of amphibious Naiads rushing out of Tartaros, half-beasts swimming through the seas and then joining together in groups among humans, and producing offspring of mortals and gods, demigods—and other stories which seem extremely unbelievable and untrustworthy to us now.”

πρῶτον μὲν δὴ κατὰ τοῦτο διήλλαξε τῶν πρὸ αὐτοῦ συγγραφέων, λέγω δὲ κατὰ τὸ λαβεῖν ὑπόθεσιν μήτε μονόκωλον παντάπασι μήτ᾿ εἰς πολλὰ μεμερισμένην καὶ ἀσυνάρτητα κεφάλαια· ἔπειτα κατὰ τὸ μηδὲν αὐτῇ μυθῶδες προσάψαι, μηδ᾿ εἰς ἀπάτην καὶ γοητείαν τῶν πολλῶν ἐκτρέψαι τὴν γραφήν, ὡς οἱ πρὸ αὐτοῦ πάντες ἐποίησαν, Λαμίας τινὰς ἱστοροῦντες ἐν ὕλαις καὶ νάπαις ἐκ γῆς ἀνιεμένας, καὶ Ναΐδας ἀμφιβίους ἐκ Ταρτάρων ἐξιούσας καὶ διὰ πελάγους νηχομένας καὶ μιξόθηρας, καὶ ταύτας εἰς ὁμιλίαν ἀνθρώποις συνερχομένας, καὶ ἐκ θνητῶν καὶ θείων συνουσιῶν γονὰς ἡμιθέους, καὶ ἄλλας τινὰς ἀπίστους τῷ καθ᾿ ἡμᾶς βίῳ καὶ πολὺ τὸ ἀνόητον ἔχειν δοκούσας ἱστορίας.

There is another variant name–she might get her own entry some day

Suda, s.v.Μορμώ 

Mormô, in the genitive Mormous, declined like Sappho. There is also the form Mormôn, genitive Mormonos. Aristophanes says “I ask you, take this Mormo away from me”. This meant to dispel frightening things. For Mormo is frightening. And again in Aristophanes: “A Mormo for courage”. There is also a mormalukeion which they also call a Lamia. They also frightening things this.

Μορμώ: λέγεται καὶ Μορμώ, Μορμοῦς, ὡς Σαπφώ. καὶ Μορμών, Μορμόνος. Ἀριστοφάνης: ἀντιβολῶ σ’, ἀπένεγκέ μου τὴν Μορμόνα. ἄπο τὰ φοβερά: φοβερὰ γὰρ ὑπῆρχεν ἡ Μορμώ. καὶ αὖθις Ἀριστοφάνης: Μορμὼ τοῦ θράσους. μορμολύκειον, ἣν λέγουσι Λαμίαν: ἔλεγον δὲ οὕτω καὶ τὰ φοβερά.

 In some traditions, Lamia became proverbial

Plutarch, De Curiositate [On Being a Busybod y] 516a

“Now, just as in the myth they say that Lamia sleeps at home, putting her eyes set aside in some jar, but when she goes out she puts them back in and peers around, in the same way each of us puts his curiosity, as if fitting in an eye, into meanness towards others. But we often stumble over our own mistakes and faults because of ignorance, since we fail to secure sight or light for them.

For this reason, a busybody is rather useful to his enemies, since he rebukes and emphasizes their faults and shows them what they should guard and correct, even as he overlooks most of his own issues thanks to his obsession with everyone else. This is why Odysseus did not stop to speak with his mother before he inquired from the seer about those things for which he had come to Hades. Once he had made his inquiry, he turned to his own mother and also the other women, asking who Tyro was, who beautiful Khloris was, and why Epikaste had died.”

Lamia is not well-attested in art and myth

νῦν δ’ ὥσπερ ἐν τῷ μύθῳ τὴν Λάμιαν λέγουσιν οἴκοι μὲν εὕδειν τυφλήν, ἐν ἀγγείῳ τινὶ τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ἔχουσαν ἀποκειμένους, | ἔξω δὲ προϊοῦσαν ἐντίθεσθαι καὶ βλέπειν, οὕτως ἡμῶν ἕκαστος ἔξω καὶ πρὸς ἑτέρους τῇ κακονοίᾳ τὴν περιεργίαν ὥσπερ ὀφθαλμὸν ἐντίθησι, τοῖς δ’ ἑαυτῶν ἁμαρτήμασι καὶ κακοῖς πολλάκις περιπταίομεν ὑπ’ ἀγνοίας, ὄψιν ἐπ’ αὐτὰ καὶ φῶς οὐ ποριζόμενοι. διὸ καὶ τοῖς ἐχθροῖς ὠφελιμώτερός ἐστιν ὁ πολυπραγμονῶν· τὰ γὰρ ἐκείνων ἐλέγχει καὶ προφέρεται καὶ δείκνυσιν αὐτοῖς ἃ δεῖ φυλάξασθαι καὶ διορθῶσαι, τῶν δ’ οἴκοι τὰ πλεῖστα παρορᾷ διὰ τὴν περὶ τὰ ἔξω πτόησιν. ὁ μὲν γὰρ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς (λ 84 sqq.) οὐδὲ τῇ μητρὶ διαλεχθῆναι πρότε- ρον ὑπέμεινεν ἢ πυθέσθαι παρὰ τοῦ μάντεως, ὧν ἕνεκ’ ἦλθεν εἰς ῞Αιδου, πυθόμενος δὲ οὕτω πρός τε ταύτην ἔτρεψεν αὑτόν, καὶ τὰς ἄλλας γυναῖκας ἀνέκρινε, τίς ἡ Τυρὼ καὶ τίς ἡ καλὴ Χλωρὶς καὶ διὰ τί ἡ ᾿Επικάστη ἀπέθανεν…

Image result for Ancient Greek Lamia vase
Skylla, relative of Lamia. More Misogyny.

Some other misogynistic tales from myth with telling variants

The Lemnian Women and their Terrible Smell

The Privileging of Klytemnestra’s Infamy

The Terrible Tale of Asclepius’ Two Mothers

Pretty Much Everything about Medea

Kassandra’s Prophecy and Life

Kassandra’s Children

The Death of Hecuba

Helen and Iphigenia

The Cyclops Had Three Eyes and They Were His Brothers

John Malalas, Chronographia, V

“The wise Euripides put in his poetic drama about the Cyclops that he had three eyes, indicating by this that he had three brothers and that they cared for one another and kept a watchful eye on one another’s places in the island, fought together, and avenged one another.

And he also adds that he made the Cyclops drunk and unable to flee, because Odysseus made that very Cyclops “drunk” with a ton of money and gifts so he would not “eat those with him up”, which is not actually to consume them with slaughter.

He also says that Odysseus blinded his one eye with torch fire, really meaning that he stole away the only daughter of Polyphemos’ brother, a maiden named Elpê, with “fire”, which means he seized her on fire with burning lust. This is what it means that he burned Polyphemos in one of his eyes, he really deprived him of his daughter. The very wise Pheidias of Corinth provided this interpretation saying that Euripides explained this poetically because he did not agree with what the wisest Homer said about the wandering of Odysseus.”

ὁ γὰρ σοφὸς Εὐριπίδης <ποιητικῶς> δρᾶμα ἐξέθετο περὶ τοῦ Κύκλωπος, ὅτι τρεῖς ἔσχεν ὀφθαλμούς, σημαίνων τοὺς τρεῖς ἀδελφοὺς (50 F 2) ὡς συμπαθοῦντας ἀλλήλοις καὶ διαβλεπομένους τοὺς ἀλλήλων τόπους τῆς νήσου καὶ συμμαχοῦντας καὶ ἐκδικοῦντας ἀλλήλους. (2) καὶ ὅτι οἴνωι μεθύσας τὸν Κύκλωπα ἐκφυγεῖν ἠδυνήθη, διότι χρήμασι πολλοῖς καὶ δώροις ἐμέθυσε τὸν αὐτὸν Κύκλωπα ὁ ᾽Οδυσσεὺς πρὸς τὸ μὴ κατεσθίειν τοὺς μετ᾽ αὐτοῦ, <τουτέστι μὴ καταναλίσκειν σφαγαῖς>. (3) καὶ ὅτι λαβὼν ᾽Οδυσσεὺς λαμπάδα πυρὸς ἐτύφλωσε τὸν ὀφθαλμὸν αὐτοῦ τὸν ἕνα, διὁτι τὴν θυγατέρα τὴν μονογενῆ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ Πολυφήμου ῎Ελπην, παρθένον οὖσαν, λαμπάδι, πυρὸς ἐρωτικοῦ καυθεῖσαν ἥρπασε, τουτέστιν ἕνα τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν τοῦ Κύκλωπος ἐφλόγισε τὸν Πολύφημον τὴν αὐτοῦ θυγατέρα ἀφελόμενος. (4) ἥντινα ἑρμηνείαν ὁ σοφώτατος Φειδίας(?) ὁ Κορίνθιος ἐξέθετο, εἰρηκὼς ὅτι ὁ σοφὸς Εὐριπίδης ποιητικῶς πάντα μετέφρασε, μὴ συμφωνήσας τῶι σοφωτάτωι ῾Ομήρωι ἐκθεμένωι τὴν ᾽Οδυσσέως πλάνην.

Ok, this story might be totally nuts, but there was a scholiastic debate about how many eyes Polyphemos had.

A Shot in the Gut not the Foot!

Eustathius, Comm. ad Hom. Odyssey, 11.538 1696, 50

“The story is that Paris killed Achilles by shooting him with his bow. Sôstratos records that Alexandros was lusted after by Apollo and was his student in Archery. He was holding an ivory bow he got from Apollo when he shot Achilles in the stomach.”

᾽Αχιλλέα δὲ ὅτι ΙΙάρις ἀνεῖλε τοξεύσας καθωμίληται. Σώστρατος δὲ ἱστορεῖ ᾽Αλέξανδρον ᾽Απόλλωνος ἐρώμενον καὶ μαθητὴν τοξείας, ὑφ᾽ οὗ τόξον ἐλεφάντινον σχόντα τοξεῦσαι ᾽Αχιλλέα κατὰ γαστρός.

From the Decembrists’ “July July”

And I say your uncle was a crooked french Canadian
And he was gut-shot runnin’ gin
And how his guts were all suspended in his fingers
And how he held ’em
How he held ’em held, ’em in

Image result for paris shooting achilles vase

I talk a little bit about the symbolic value of foot wounds in “Diomedes’ Foot-wound and the Homeric Reception of Myth.”