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: 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.