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: 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+).