Myths and Creatures of the Past: Greek Hero Iconography: X

15 03 2010

1. Hercules/Heracles:

2. Achilles:

3. Ajax:

4. Agamemnon:

5. Chiron (centaur):

6. Atalanta:

7. Jason:

8. Theseus:

9. Castor/Kastor:

10. Hector (of Troy):


Myths and Creatures of the Past: How the World Began

1 03 2010

Notes from my class:

How the World Began – according to ancient Greeks

  1. Keywords for Today
    1. Polytheism: existence of many gods.
    2. Succession: dynasty.
      1. i.      Doesn’t take place peacefully.
      2. ii.      Gods kill/fight each other.
  2. Conflict
  3. Major Gods
    1. Zeus – King of the gods/weather
    2. Hera – Queen of the gods/family
    3. Aphrodite – Love (son might be Eros)
    4. Ares – War
    5. Athena – Intelligence/crafts
    6. Apollo – Light/oracles/music
    7. Dionysus – Wine
    8. Artemis – Hunting/virginity
    9. Hermes – Communication/travel/thievery
    10. Hephaestus –Fire/metallurgy
    11. Demeter – Agriculture
    12. Poseidon – Ocean/earthquakes
    13. Hades – Underworld
    14. Ancient Greek world was basically the Mediterranean and some of northern Africa.
      1. Asia Minor was considered their second home land.
      2. Traded with Egypt.
        1. i.      Egypt comes up in Greek mythology.
        2. Greek Mythical Periods
          1. Creation – universe emerges; role of Uranus (Heaven) and his castration by Cronus.
          2. Golden – rule of Cronus; rebellion of Zeus, Titans battle the Olympians.
          3. Silver – Rule of Zeus; revolt of the giants; creation of mankind (?); adventures of Prometheus.
          4. Bronze – Deucalion’s Flood; Argonautic expedition; Trojan War (c. 1200 B.C.); Homecoming of the Greek Hermes; Return of the Sons of Hercules (= Doric invasion?): ends around c. 1100 B.C.
          5. Iron (post mythical but not quite “historical”) – Extermination of Bronze Age kingdoms, “Dark Ages” (c. 1100 – 800 B.C.); reintroduction of writing into the Greek world (c. 800 B.C.).
          6. P.78-79
            1. Out of Chaos/Chasm is born Gaea (“Earth”). Gaea gives birth to Uranus (“Sky”). Eros is also born early.
              1. i.      Chaos means “empty” to ancient Greeks.
              2. ii.      Eros means “desire” especially “sexual desire.”
                1. Unclear of whether he is the son of chaos, Gaea, or something else.
  4. Gaea conceives by Uranus, gives birth to natural phenomena and geographic features.
    1. i.      Even though he is her son, they get together.
    2. ii.      Rivers, mountains.
  5. Authoritative (and most common) Greek creation story, first told by Hesiod (c. 8th C.B.C or 750 B.C. in our time).
  6. Hesiod
    1. Style and language similar to Homer, but slightly later.
    2. Wrote long poems on the generations of gods (Theogony) and poetic advice on agriculture (Works and Days in ch.5).
      1. i.      Theogony means “birth of the gods.”
  7. Obscure identity, like Homer.
  8. Literacy just starting in Hesiod’s time.
  9. Uranus and Cronus (p.79-85)
    1. Uranus fathers the Titans (incl. Rhea and Cronus) by Gaea – but doesn’t like them, keeps pushing them back into Gaea’s womb.
    2. Earth (Gaea) gives sickle to Cronus, Cronus castrates Uranus.
  10. Uranus’ severed genitals give birth to Aphrodite as blood mingles with ocean water.
    1. i.      Drips of blood from his genitals give birth to goddesses of vengeance.
    2. Other Earth – Sky Myths of the World
      1. Polynesian Sky -Father and Earth-Mother separated by their children.
        1. i.      The children pushed the sky up as they populated the world.
  11. Egyptian myth of Sky-Mother and Earth-Father, separated by Moisture.
  12. Answers the primitive question: why is the sky so far from earth? Note also parent-children relationships.
  13. The Coming of Zeus and Titanomachy (p.99-92)
    1. Cronus marries Rhea; hates his children, eats them up.
    2. Rhea gives a rock instead of baby Zeus to Cronus; Zeus hidden in Crete while he grows up in a cave.
      1. i.      Popular site of pilgrimage back then.
  14. Cronus vomits up his children; they + Zeus fight against Cronus and the Titans. Zeus’ final victory.
  15. Giants and Monsters
    1. Gigantomache – (giant), they were children of Gaea. Had snakes instead of legs. Gods fought against and subdued them.
    2. Cerberus – three-headed dog. Gatekeeper of the Underworld. Involved in various stories such as Hercules.
    3. Chimera – Lion with goat’s head on back and snake for a tail.
    4. Typhonomachy (p. 92-94).
      1. Typhoeus another of Gaea’s instruments of revenge.
      2. Typhoeus chases away the Olympians – they change into animals in Egypt to hide from T.!
      3. But Zeus is caught, his sinews cut and imprisoned.
      4. Tricky Hermes rescues Zeus, Zeus subdues T with his thunderbolt.
      5. The Babylonian Enuma Elish (Before 1100 BC).
        1. Tiamat (saltwater) and Apsu (fresh water) slush together – mud, earth and sky are born.
        2. Anu (“sky”) and other younger gods born – Apsu wants them dead.
        3. Clever Ea destroys Anu. Marduk is born.
        4. Tiamat wants to destroy the younger gods – Marduk unites his gods and kills Tiamat and her lover Kingu.
        5. The Hittite Succession Myth (also c. 1100 B.C.).
          1. Outline
            1. i.      Alalush deposed by Anush (sky god)
            2. ii.      Kumbarbi revolts against ANush and bites off his genitals.
            3. iii.      Teshub (storm god) borm from Kumarbi’s genitals defeats Kumarbi, reigns supreme after battling monsters.
            4. iv.      Anush – Uranus
            5. Major Themes
              1. No single, all-powerful.
              2. Three generations of gods culminating in the Olympians (succession myth)
              3. Vicious family conflicts.
              4. Modeled on Near-Eastern (Babylonian and Hittite) myths rather than reflection of historical migrations/invasions?
                1. i.      Indo-Europeans displaced native peoples, this was reflected in the violent successions (more powerful in the 19th century).
                2. ii.      Early 20th century, it was found that these Greek succession myths were very similar to those of the Babylonians. Now think that these are probably just stories of less violent interactions.
                3. Names to Remember (p.108) memorize these for the final
                  1. Ancient author: Hesiod Theogony)
                  2. Greek gods: Aphrodite, Zeus, Hera, Chaos, Gaea, Uranus, Eros, Titans, Cronus, Rhea.
                  3. Greek Monsters: Giants, Cerberus, Chimera, Typhoeus.
                  4. Near-Eastern gods: Marduk, Tiamat, Anu, Kumarbi.
                  5. Hero/mortal: Hercules.
                  6. Zeus/Jupiter/Jove
                    1. Ruler of the Universe.
                      1. i.      Controls thunder, rain, etc.
                      2. ii.      Guards justice, especially rules of hospitality (Zeus Xenios).
  16. Mature bearded make; muscular body; holds thunderbolt and/or scepter; attended by victory and/or eagle.
  17. History of extra-marital affairs.
  18. Physique conforms to the Greco-Roman ideal of the male ruler/patriarch.
  19. Yet even Zeus cannot resist eros or change fate.
  20. Often seems to connive at other deities scheming behind his back (though he typically wins in the end).
  21. Victory (by whom he is oftentimes accompanied) is winged, because news of victory must be fast.
  22. Wearing a “wreath” – crown made of vegetable material.
  23. Zeus the Abductor/Rapist/Adulterer
    1. Numerous stories of Zeus having affairs with mortal women (sometimes against their will) and at least one boy (Ganymedes).
      1. i.      In earlier versions, the boy was just abducted to serve as a winebearer.
      2. Hera/Juno the Queen
        1. Zeus’ sister and consort.
        2. Concerned with conjugal fidelity, childbirth, household harmony.
        3. Statues shown with Zeus; nicely clothed with decorum; bound hair; may hold scepter; may be crowned; favorite animal is peacock.
          1. i.      Carries libations in her statues.
            1. Pouring out of a drink as an offering to a deity.
    2. ii.      Sometimes holds a scepter, has golden sandals, seated on a throne.
  24. Shows up on some Roman coins.
  25. Hera’s Revenge
    1. Not happy with infidelities of Zeus.
    2. Examples of punishment: lo (changed to a cow); Semele (burned up); Hercules (made mad, burns himself up in the end).
    3. Zeus and Hera as a normative couple in ancient Greek thinking?

Myths and Creatures of the Past: A Mythology Diamond

24 02 2010

A special thanks to my cousin Sabrina who gave me permission to upload this (she was a freshman in high school at the time she created it and I just thought it was a fun way of presenting the information):


Had Gaea.

Gaea bore Uranus.
Then arrived the Giants.

Following them were the Cyclopes.

Banished were the Giants and Cyclopes.

Uranus believed they were all too powerful.

Soon after, the Titans were given birth to.

Uranus became King and ruled with force and fury.

The Titans hated their father for he treated them maliciously.

Gaea hid Cronus by the sea and had him kill Uranus.

Due to his immortality, Uranus was not killed, only mutilated.

After marrying Rhea, Cronus ruled just like his father.

The two bore many children, whom Cronus ate.

Cronus feared his children would overthrow him.

Poseidon and Zeus overthrew Cronus.

Zeus then ruled, peacefully.

Life was good.

It was


Myths and Creatures of the Past: Dionysus

23 02 2010

Dionysus – Greek God of Wine

Scholars argue that the myths of Dionysus were the most influential with respect to poetry and religious imagination and creativity. It was Dionysus who taught the art of turning grape juices into wine. The gods jurisdiction did not end with wine, however, his responsibilities encompassed the principle of fertility as well (it might also be pertinent to mention that Zeus was his father).

Dionysus was born out of wedlock, his mother (Semele, princess of the house of Thebes) being a mortal with whom Zeus was infatuated. Hera, Zeus’ wife – as with most of the women whom Zeus had adulterous affairs with – used her cunning to trick Zeus into killing Dionysus’ mother when he showed his true form to her.

Dionysus is often referred to as the twice-born god, the story behind this being that Zeus stitched Dionysus’ fetus into his thigh after Semele was killed. The god of wine was then reborn about three months later. To protect Dionysus from Hera’s jealous ploys, he entrusted Dionysus to the nymphs of Nysa where Dionysus “discovered the vine and the art of making wine” (p. 257,Classical Myth).

Dionysus was followed by male and female followers called maenads and satyrs. He traveled in a chariot drawn by panthers. Another interesting part of Dionysus’ myth was how it was he who was responsible for King Midas’ demise. King Midas was the man who greedily wished that everything he touched be turned to gold. As is standard with Greek myths, the mortal ended up getting screwed after faulting with his foolish nature and even his food and drink turned to gold. All of this took place before Dionysus was immortal or even considered a god.

One of his final journeys involved venturing down into the underworld in an attempt to rescue his mother from Hades’ realm. He did such successfully and even managed to help her transform into a goddess herself as they joined the rest of the Olympians in the sky.

Greek theater and culture was heavily impacted by Dionysus. “Many of the best-known Greek myths are preserved as the plots of tragedies performed in [Dionysus’] honor. Beginning in the sixth century BC, tragedies were performed at spring festivals of Dionysus in Athens…Some elements in Greek drama seem to be traceable to the cult of Dionysus, in whose honor the festivals were held” (p.280-281, Classical Myth). A great majority of the Greek plays we read today were written to be performed at the feast of Dionysus.

I feel like this entry was too dry and informational, maybe I’ll look for some interesting stories on Dionysus and update, because I know they’re out there.

Myths and Creatures of the Past: Males

9 02 2010

The Role of Males in Ancient Greece/Classical Athens

Males were the ultimate authority within their households over their wives and other family members. There were some duties and obligations which accompanied this privilege, however, as males alone were expected to take up arms in times of war.

“As education from early childhood prepared them for these roles. They not only learned to read and write but also to be athletic, in rigorous control of their appetites, and fearless in battle and the hunt….there was no forgiveness for failure” in their society (P.32, Classical Myth by Barry B. Powell).

Now, I advise you to skip over this next part if you typically lead a sheltered life or prefer for your viewpoint of the Ancient Greeks, the fathers of democracy and, to some extent, our American culture, to remain pure and untarnished. Consider this my disclaimer.

As I mentioned in my first blog post, I had always been an avid consumer of Greek mythology, history, and culture and it shocks me still how only recently I discovered some of the darker aspects to their lifestyles. So apparently it was not uncommon for Greeks to practice pederasty, or sexual intercourse between a man and a boy.

The men actually courted these young prepubescent boys through gifts and poetry among other things. I won’t go too much farther into detail, but if you want to learn a little more about what exactly happened *cough pervert cough* (totally kidding), just check out the article they have on Wikipedia, though I will tell you it involved fondling, caressing, and other sexual acts.

It’s kinda weird how while these practices were acceptable, there were very few instances of homosexual activities between two grown adults. Their justification for these behaviors were that it was some sort of twisted character building exercise :/

To quote the book: “Pederasty was an aspect of Greek preparation for manhood and war was thought to refine the moral qualities of loyalty, respect, affection, and courage.” To each his own, I suppose. OK, I’m gonna take a break from being judgmental now.

War was an integral part of each male’s life and each man had to pay for his own equipment which, more often than not, was beautifully designed. These men were called hoplites (hoplon = shield). Their principal weapons were the spear and the one-edged sword. Their formations ranged from sixteen ranks deep to phalanxes which were perfect for neutralizing archers. One thing to draw from what I’ve said thus far is how the Greeks relied on their superior equipment in their military conquests.

For some actual art portraying pederasty, click here.

UPDATE (notes from my class):

  1. Men in Classical Greece.
    1. Birth to mid-teens:
      1. i.      Grow up in women’s quarters.
      2. ii.      Physical and mental training in public and private schools.
    2. Late teens: training as ephebe in the citizen army.
    3. Late teens-middle age:
      1. i.      Marry daughters of a fellow citizen, have children.
      2. ii.      Juggle civic (military, political, cultural) and family (including financial) duties.
        1. Cultural contributions go along the lines of somehow participating in the production of a tragedy.
      3. iii.      Profession – agriculture, trade, crafts, etc.
    4. Maybe live to old age (50+).

Politics and the Economy

8 02 2010

While the intents and purposes of this blog remain central to expanding my (and your) knowledge of the realm of mythology, I couldn’t help but to add this contribution. For the last month or so, I’ve been on-and-off reading Hoodwinked by John Perkins (a few of you may know him as the Economic Hit Man) and, with Perkins’ guidance, I’ve had several scattered thoughts on the current state of the economy. Any seemingly random points (I assure you) are actually not as off-topic as they might seem, so bear with me.

  • It seems completely contradictory to me that those in favor of small government can still give the thumbs up for our unprecedented levels of military spending.
  • The Pentagon seeks (or has already attained) a $50 billion budget for their secret fund…I can only hope that these dollars are saving American lives.
  • Yes, there are legitimate threats to our livelihoods, but like we did with communism, we are allowing terrorism to distract us from other very real problems which must be addressed.
    • Look to some of the CEO’s and high-ranking executives of some corporations, perhaps they’re the criminals and terrorists in how they conduct business and achieve their goals of maximizing profits at any expense?
      • We must replace this emphasis on maximizing profits with an intent to still earn profits without compromising our environmental and social values.
    • The balance has swung from the people to corporations.
      • CEO’s and lobbyists are the ones resisting the changes that we need. They are the wall Obama keeps running into in his efforts to take action on issues such as health care, climate change, and our deficit among others.
  • We must set up rules and regulations which prevent us from engaging in activities that melt the glaciers, pollute the oceans, and fill our air with toxins.
    • Did you know that while total carbon emissions in China have recently surpassed the United States, we still have more per capita greenhouse emissions than China?
      • Also, while I am a firm proponent of democracy, their more centralized government allows for them to actually take actions in response to this climate threat, whereas our bureaucratic practices have impeded any efforts made by Congress or the president. And yes, China has taken steps to begin the reversal. Whatever we have accomplished has not been enough, and we cannot continue holding off while using China and other developing countries as an excuse not to reform and act more responsibly. So much for being trendsetters and examples for the rest of the world.
      • Do not forget the actions of Chevron/Texaco in Ecuador. If you’re not familiar with this: Google, Yahoo, or Leapfish it please.
  • We should consider forgiving some of the debts owed to us by developing countries which spend more paying off the interest on their loans than they are able to spend on education and infrastructure.
    • Must stop setting other countries up for failure by bullying them into accepting unjustifiably big loads for relatively unimportant projects.
      • ie. Indonesia.
  • I had some more points to make about how we need to stop being paper pushers and actually be involved in the production of good with importance and substance and include commentary on our consumer practices of purchasing goods from sweat shops *cough Nike cough* but I do not want to distract from my main points.
  • Direct quote from the book: “We are Goliath, and now David has taken us down. Like Goliath, empires eventually collapse.”

If at the very least I’ve drawn attention to these topics, I will be pleased, though we only really effect change with direct actions. If you’re interested in learning about more about anything I’ve mentioned you can either leave a comment or check out the novel by John Perkins.

Good night and good luck.

UPDATE: Click here for a related article from BBC News.
UPDATE #2: China (this is not entirely accurate) actually produces goods of value, skyrocketing their exports. Click here for the BBC article covering a recent report.

Myths and Creatures of the Past: Minotaurs

1 02 2010


I thought it fitting that I begin with the minotaur, which was one of the first creatures from Greek mythology I was exposed to. Some of you might be familiar with the creatures somewhat disturbing origins. Then again, fewer and fewer things evoke disgust these days, so maybe not.

To be concise, there once was a king by the name of Minos who was contending with his brothers for the rule of Crete. Poseidon sent him a white bull from the sea. Minos had promised the god of the seas (and horses and earthquakes) that he would sacrifice the animal but grew greedy and used a different bull from his herd. Unsurprisingly, Poseidon figured it out and grew angry – as the Greek gods and goddesses were quick to do – and basically cursed Minos’ wife by making her fall  truly, madly, deeply in love with it. Basically, she tricked the bull into mating with her.

Their offspring (science and the restrictions to reproduction can just shut up) was a monstrous beast: THE MINOTAUR!

With the body of a man and the head and tail of a bull, you can imagine the reaction it drew from the people of Crete as it wrought chaos and destruction on the small island.

If you want to read more on the creature and his Greek adversary, Theseus, click on this link.

I remember reading a whole series of fantasy books which took place from a Minotaur’s perspective which I thoroughly enjoyed. The series was called The Minotaur Wars byRichard A. Knaak. I read them awhile ago though, so I couldn’t tell you what age I recommend them for, though I was at least thirteen.

See if this aligns with your view of what these creatures looked like:

Some creative writing (criticism welcome):

It took him no time to crest the hill, his muscular legs pounding away at the ground in complete sync with those of his warrior brothers. Without pause, he pushed forward, unslinging his heavy axe as he ran towards the human ranks ahead. He silently praised the brilliant innovator who had come up with the coverings for their hooves. This invention, tailored specifically to the needs of their current undertaking, would forever change his people’s warring abilities. What he and his unit were doing was in complete breach of the treaty his king had made with the human leaders many moons ago, but Alhmas was simply a soldier and did not concern himself with such matters.

Of his unit, he was the most senior and thus was given command. While he may not have paid much attention to politics and diplomacy, one craft in which he did excel was that of war. As such, it was no great surprise to him that his superiors had chosen this night for their operation. Minotaurs were not much better suited for these winter conditions than their human counterparts, their nighttime sight just as useless. In these conditions, an attack was the last thing the humans could have expected.

Dispatching the sentry posts, few as they were, was simple enough, though he had not seen any action and ached for his opportunity to repay the humans for their ambition and arrogance. Quick to anger, Alhmas snorted but regained control of himself quickly lest his men follow his example and give away their intent.

From his elevated height, Alhmas had a perfect view of the city which lay at the bottom of the valley. A tactical nightmare, he thought pleasantly as his units closed the distance between themselves and the city. It seemed the entire city was sleeping, none privy to the danger that charged upon them from above. They were within the last fifty yard stretch when all hell broke loose around him. Following a volley of arrows from the walls, men camouflaged in white sprung from the ground and delivered death to those in his unit. Their plans of climbing the walls unnoticed and opening the gates from within were now moot. Alhmas grabbed his horn and blew it mightily, sounding a retreat. He cleaved an unwitting human with his axe and made short work of two more before backing off himself.

As far as he could tell, their casualties were still at a minimum as he himself joined his fleeing comrades. He faltered in his step as he saw a horde of enemies rush down at him from the trees. He roared as he charged at them, his body and mind yearning for human blood.