History of the Peloponnesian War – Book I

 

Confusion
Achraf Baznani
source Wikiart

I swore I would never do this again ……. After being completely drained by my The Histories posts, I made a pact with myself NOT to do the same with Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War.  After all, how much brain power can one person have?  But my post for the book is getting longer and longer and longer, and honestly I’m getting more engaged with Thucydides’ narrative, somewhat dry though it may be.  I was admittedly bored until about halfway through, but now it has suddenly become interesting and I’m eager to keep reading.  So, with some renewed energy and in an effort not to overwhelm everyone (including myself!) with an hideously long book review, I’ve decided to take the plunge and travel book by book.  Most of the reviews won’t be as long as Herodotus, in fact, some will be rather short.  I’m certain everyone is sighing in relief!

Continue reading

The Histories by Herodotus

“Herodotus of Halicarnassus here presents his research so that human events do not fade with time.”

Herodotus was born in Halicarnassus in 484 B.C., a city that is now Bodrum, Turkey.  Very little is known about the man or his life, but it is surmised that he was exiled by the tyrant, Lygdamis, and moved to the island of Samos. Later in life, he appears to have migrated to Thurii, Italy, but it is uncertain where he met his death.

Seen as the first historical writing showing cause and effect, The Histories was written by Herodotus in approximately 440 B.C.  The initial words of Herodotus set up the purpose of his narrative:

“Herodotus of Halicarnassus her presents his research so that human events do not fade with time.  May the great and wonderful deeds —- some brought forth by the Hellenes, others by the barbarians — not go unsung, as well as the causes that led them to make war on each other.”

Known as the first “father of history”, treating it as an investigation or “inquiry,” Herodotus begins his account from the rise of the Persian Empire, following the leaders Cyrus the Great, Cambyses, his son, Darius the Great and Xerxes I which comprise books one to six of his narrative.  Books seven to nine account for the Greco-Persian wars in exacting detail, from Xerxes’ initial aggression to the victory of the Hellenes.

Through Herodotus’ lively accounts the reader becomes acquainted with the Lydians and Croesus, the Medes, the Persians, Egyptian customs and geography, Persian conquests, the tyrants vs. the democracy of Athens, the Ionian Revolt, the Battle of Marathon, the alliance of Athens and Sparta, the battle of Thermopylae, the battle at Artemesium, the victory at Salamis, the victory at Plataea and Mycale, and the end of the war, with Xerxes in an embarrassing retreat.

Clio, Euterpe and Thalia (1652-55)
Eustache Le Sueur
source Wikipedia

Reviewing book by book gave me an invaluable anchoring in these ancient times and a more concentrated view of these bygone adversaries and battles.  The links to the books, which are charmingly named after the Greek Muses, are as follows:

Book I – Clio ~ muse of history
Book II – Euterpe ~ muse of music, song & lyric poetry
Book III – Thalia ~ muse of comedy
Book IV – Melpomene ~ muse of tragedy
Book V – Terpsichore ~ muse of dance
Book VI – Erato ~ muse of love poetry
Book VII – Polymnia ~ muse of sacred hymns and poetry
Book VIII – Urania ~ muse of astronomy
Book IX – Calliope ~ muse of epic poetry

Apollo and the Nine Muses (1856)
Gustave Moreau
source Wikiart

Told with a lively and personal tone, Herodotus’ stories range from the practical to the bizarre, causing scholars to disbelieve some of his tales, yet modern findings have tended to support his accounts.  For example, Herodotus recounted a story of fox-size ants that would spread gold while digging their mounds.  Sounds completely ridiculous, doesn’t it?  Except for the fact that in 1984, a French explorer discovered the existence of a fox-sized marmot in the Himalayas that did indeed spread gold dust and of which there was a tradition of it that extended back into antiquity.  Not only that, but the Persian word for “mountain ant” is apparently close to their word for “marmot” so it may have been a translation error instead of a factual one.  Score one for Herodotus! Personally, as I read The Histories I could tangibly feel Herodotus’ strong desire to recount his findings in an entirely truthful way, and if some of his veracity is in doubt, it would only be through honest error and not by intentional fanciful tales or deliberate deceit.

I’m so happy to have finally read The Histories and hope to revisit them again one day. Now on to Thucydides’, The History of Peloponnesian War in which Thucydides follows up Herodotus’ account of the Greco-Persian wars with his own account of the Peloponnesian War which occurred approximately 20 years later.  More wars but more fascinating Greeks.  What could be better?

 

 

Herodotus’ The Histories ~ Book IX

Book IX (Calliope)

“When Alexandros returned and conveyed to Mardonios the response of the Athenians, Mardonios set out from Thessaly and swiftly led his army toward Athens.”

This is the last book in The Histories, and my goodness, I’m glad!  I’ve loved this read, but these posts are taking longer and longer to compile.  I’m not quite sure why.  Is Herodotus’ storytelling getting less compact?  Is there just more action happening?  Or is my brain beginning an Herodotus-overload?

Public Domain

Upon receiving word from Alexandros, Mardonios begins his march.  The Thessalians gladly allow him to pass through their land but the Thebans try to dissuade his advance, counselling him to bribe the Hellene leaders rather than engage a force that he cannot defeat.  Overcome with a raging desire to subdue Athens, Mardonios stubbornly refuses to listen.  He moves forward but finds Attica devoid of Athenians because they are all still at Salamis.  Sending a messenger to Salamis, Mardonios offers them goodwill and land for their willing subjugation.  When an Hellene council member, Lykidas, supports the offer, he is stoned to death by his indignant kinsmen, and their wives, too, stone the wife and children of Lykidas.  The puzzle of the Athenians still being in Salamis becomes clear when we learn that they had been waiting for the Lacedaemonian army to come to their aid, but the Lacedaemonians are celebrating festivals and building their wall, delaying their departure.  In spite of the Athenians sending a terse message to their compatriots to come to their assistance, the Spartans delay for another ten days and Herodotus is puzzled by their conduct.  Are they no longer worried about Persian aggression because their wall is nearly complete? Who knows?  Finally Chileos declares that if they do not help the Athenians, they will be in great danger and a Spartan army of 5,000 is launched, led by Pausanias.  And so Mardonios’ plan failed, as he was hoping the Athenians would accept his offer, but with the Spartans on the move, he demolishes what is left of Athens and burns it, for it is not a good place for battle, being hostile to calvary with only one small route for retreat.  Instead he heads to Thebes.  Upon hearing that the Spartan army are in Megara, he turns his troops that way, hoping to demolish them.  But receiving word that they have united with the Hellenes, he withdraws to Boeotia, beginning to build a fortification there.  A story is told of a banquet in Thebes and a Persian who reveals his belief that few of them will remain alive after this campaign and begins to weep.  They cannot reveal their grief because they must follow orders.  “The most painful anguish that mortals suffer is to understand a great deal but to have no power at all.”

Plain of Plataea
William Miller
source Wikimedia Commons



The Spartans and other Peloponnesians set out from the isthmus and arrive at Eleusis where they are joined by the Athenians who have crossed from Salamis.  Taking position in the foothills of Mount Cithaeron, they refuse to come down to the plain and Mardonios sends his forces, led by Masistios (called by the Hellenes, Makistios) to engage them.  The Hellenes are able to fend off the attack and Masistios is thrown from his horse and killed.  Fighting ensues over the corpse but the Hellenes prevail and emboldened by their victory, move from Erythrai down to Plataea for a better position and better access to water.  An argument develops between the Tegeans and Athenians as to who should lead the left wing: the Athenians win because of their graceful argument that they should be the leaders, however they will fight to their utmost wherever they are placed.  Now Herodotus describes the deployment of the troops, the Hellenes having 110,000 men, the Persians (barbarians) 300,000.  More and more Hellenes join their brothers each day and not much happens as each side is hesitant to begin the conflict because of the oracles they had received at the time of their sacrifices, if either side should initiate battle.  Finally, Mardonios becomes impatient and, ignoring the advice of Artabazos and the oracles, prepares his army for battle.  Late that night, Alexandros of Macedon rides to the Athenians and tells them of the Persian plans, asking for liberation of Macedon if they succeed in victory. The Hellenes line up their armies with the Persians and after some maneuvering, Mardonios insults the Spartans calling them cowardly and when no response is given, he spoils the water source for the whole Greek army.  The Hellenes plan to move their army to an island off Plataea, but after a day of fighting, most of the army goes to Plataea to the sanctuary of Hera.  A Spartan commander refuses to budge though, and Pausanias must stay behind to convince him. Finally, Pausanias takes the Spartan army off through the hills while the Athenians turn to march towards the plain.  The stubborn Spartan commander, when he sees the army moving away, relinquishes his plan and follows.

When Mardonios sees the deserted camp of the Hellenes, he disparages the Spartan bravery, calling them cowards.  Quickly he marches off after who he thinks are fleeing Athenians, but is really the moving Spartan army.  So eager is he to stop their retreat that his army flies off without any organization.  Pausanias quickly identifies the pursuit and sends a message to the Athenians to come to their aid, but they are delayed by Greek allies of the Persian king and they are unable to reach the Spartans.  At first, the battle seems to swing in favour of the Persians, but soon the sacrifices prove favourable, and lacking the tactical skill, the Persians army begins to fail.  Mardonios is killed along with 1000 of his special contingent, the Persians flee and with Artabazos now in control, he takes his forces towards the Hellespont.  When other Hellenes hear of the rout, they charge after the barbarians in disorder but many are killed and the rest disperse.  The Spartans fight the Persians at their walled camp but as soon as the Athenians arrive, they are overcome and slaughtered.  Out of a force of 300,000, a mere 3,000 survive.  Herodotus lists the heroes on each side.  A concubine woman of a Persian arrives and clasps the knees of Pausanias as a suppliant; he promises protection to her.  The Mantineians arrive and are so upset that they missed the battle they return to their homeland and banish their military leader; so too, the Eleans.

Battle of Plataea (1854)
John Russell
source Wikimedia Commons

In Plataea, a man named Lampon of Aegina advises Pausanias to win great renown by imitating the Persians’ treatment of Leonidas, by cutting off Mardonios’ head and suspending it from a stake.  Pausanias’ response, while polite and diplomatic, echoes of scorn and distaste:

“My friend from Aegina, I commend and appreciate that you mean well and are trying to look out for my future interests, but this idea of yours falls short of good judgment.  After you have raised me up on high, together with exalting my homeland and my achievement, you cast me down to nothing by encouraging me to abuse a corpse, claiming that if I did so, I would have a better reputation.  But this is a deed more appropriate to barbarians than to Hellenes, though we resent them for it all the same.  In any case, because of this, I could hardly please the Aeginetans or anyone else who approves of such deeds as this.  It is quite enough for me to appease the Spartans by committing no sacrilege and by speaking with respect for what is lawful and sacred.  As for Leonidas, whom you urge me to avenge, I tell you that he and the others who met their ends at Thermopylae have already achieved great vengeance by the countless souls of those who lie here dead.  As for you, do not ever again approach me with such a suggestion or try to advise me, and be thankful to leave here without suffering harm.”

The spoils are gathered and one-tenth are given to the god at Delphi.  Pausanias is awed by Xerxes’ tent which was left to Mardonios.  The corpse of Mardonios disappeared and was presumed buried by an unknown person and Artontes, his son, gave rewards for the treatment.  The Hellenes now march against the Thebans who allied with the Persians, asking for them to hand over the conspirators.  The Thebans refuse and battle ensues.  Finally the leaders are given over, but instead of a trial, Pausanias sends them to Corinth to be executed.

The Serpent Column commemorating
the Greek victory
moved from Delphi to Constantinople
source Wikipedia

Fleeing Plataea, Artabazos attempts to conceal the truth of the defeat of Mardonios from the Thessalians, in fear for his life.  He eventually reaches Asia.  Herodotus begins the story of the battle of Mycale in Ionia:  Samian envoys approach the Greeks to encourage them to attack the Persians to commence an Ionian revolt.  The Greek fleet sets sail, but the Persians retreat, beaching their ships to meet with their land forces leaving the Hellenes to land and prepare for battle.  Miracluously, even  though the battle of Mycale and the battle of Plataea took place on the same day, the former in the afternnoon and the latter in the morning, news of the victory at Plataea was able to reach the men at Mycale and inspire them.  The battle is fierce and the Hellenes put the Persians to flight. The Hellenes counter the plan of the Spartans to evacuate the Ionians to Hellas and the islanders are left as allies of the Hellenes.  The Greek fleet then sails to the Hellespont.

While Xerxes is stationed at Sardis, he becomes infatuated with his brother, Masistes’ wife.  Unable to find a way to possess her, he marries her daughter to his son and then becomes enamoured of the daughter.  When he gives the daughter, Artaynte, a robe woven for him by his wife, the game is up and his wife mutilates the mother.  In anger, Masistes leaves to raise a revolt against Xerxes in Baktria, but Xerxes’ forces pursue and kill him.

When the Greek forces find the bridges already broken at the Hellespont, the Spartans return home but the Athenians stay to make trouble for the Chersonese.  When the people in the region who were allies of the Persians hear the Athenians are about, they flee to Sestos and the siege of it by the Athenians is arduous until they finally win victory. The Athenians return home with the spoils.

The history ends with a telling of Cyrus who reprimanded Persians who wished to move to another country for the riches.  He said:

“because soft places tend to produce soft men, for the same land cannot yield both wonderful crops and men who are noble and courageous in war.”

❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊

Wow!  I can’t believe that I actually finished!  While this book took some concentration to get all the factions and states straight, I’ll always be indebted to Herodotus for giving me a much, much better understanding of the Persian Wars.  Now on to Thucydides who, I’ve read, starts where Herodotus left off.  Already it’s a much drier read but nevertheless, fascinating.

Book VIII (Urania)                                                                         

Herodotus’ The Histories ~ Book VIII

Book VIII (Urania)

“These are the Hellenes who were assigned to the fleet.”

Herodotus catalogues the Hellene ships that fought at Artemision.  Seeing the size of the enemy fleets, the Hellenes prepare to desert, but Euboeans bribe Themistokles to remain, who in turn pays off others and the battle begins.  The Persians decide to surround the Hellene ships at Artemision by covertly hiding behind islands and approaching from another direction.  However, a man named Skyllias of Skione, a lauded diver, decides to desert the Persians and, after jumping from a ship, swims nine miles under water to reach the Hellenes.  Herodotus counters this story with his own opinion that Skyllias came by boat .  Nevertheless, he reveals the plans of the Persian fleet and the ships that were sunk in the storm.  The Hellenes decide to sail out to meet the barbarians and become encircled by the superior force of Xerxes, who thinks them mad.  Employing their breakthrough maneuver, the Hellene ships are able to take thirty of Xerxes’ ships and capture a prominent personage, the king of the Salaminians.  As night falls, the two sides withdraws, with some desertions of ships over to the Greek side, however the Hellenes decide to retreat and Themistokles attempts to woo the Ionian and Carian forces who are fighting with the Persians, thinking that bringing them to the side of Hellenes will turn the tide of the fighting.  He puts a plan into motion to burn Euboean flocks to hide their departure, but a messenger arrives from Thermopylae, relating the fate of the Hellenes there.  Deciding it imperative to leave immediately, messages are left for the Ionians and Carians urging their desertion.  The Persians investigate the Hellenes’ flight, then Xerxes, up to his old tricks, conceals the Persians losses at Thermopylae by burying most of his dead and leaving only 1,000 on the battlefield (in actuality there were 20,000 killed) whereas the Hellene losses show 4,000 men.

The Bank of Thessaly (1926)
Giorgio de Chirico
source Wikiart

The Thessalians attempted to threaten the Phocians into given them money in exchange for protection from the invading forces, but because of previous resentments between the two, the Phocians refused and that is why the Thessalians gladly guide the barbarians as they advance towards Hellas.  The people flee, but the barbarians ensure that they burn and raze every place to the ground.  While they continue their rape and plunder, another Persian force is heading towards Delphi to capture its wealth for King Xerxes.  When they hear of the advance, all the Delphians leave the city except sixty men and a prophet.  And just as the barbarians approach the temple, thunderbolts shoot out of the heavens and two peaks of Parnassus crack off, crushing the forces under their stones.  Terrified, the barbarians take flight and the Delphian men pursue them, killing a great number.

When the Greek fleet leave Artemision, they decide to anchor at Salamis after learning the Peloponnesians are not joining them but instead are building a wall to protect Peloponnese and they also want to evacuate their women and children from Athens to obey an oracle.  When the Greek fleet at Troizen learns that the others are at Salamis, they set out to join them, making a much bigger fleet than at Artemision and all are commanded by the Spartan, Eurybiades.  Here follows a catalogue of ships from the different states and islands.  As the generals hold council, Xerxes has been trompsing through Boeotia, Attica and finally reaches Athens.  There are a few Athenians left to defend it, but the Persians wrap their arrows in hemp and light them on fire to burn down the barricade.  When held at an impasse, the Persians manage to climb the unscalable cliff to the Acropolis and finally capture it, murdering the suppliants, plundering the sanctuary and setting fire to the whole.  When the Hellenes learn of the ruin of Athens, they are deeply disturbed and Mnesiphilos advises Themistokles not to let the fleet leave Salamis for fear that they will panic and disperse to their various states to protect themselves.  Gathering Eurybiades, Themistokles convenes the generals and convinces them to stay and battle at Salamis.

Themistocles
source Wikimedia Commons

As Xerxes was successful in his march, others joined him so that his loses were hardly visible.  After his victory at Athens, he consults the men on board his ships to see what they advise.  All recommend a battle at sea, yet only Artemisia, the woman commander, advises against it.  While impressed by her response, Xerxes nevertheless follows the majority and gives the order to set sail for Salamis.  Their movement causes terror among the Hellenes, however the Peloponnesians were still completing the wall they had started after learning of Leonidas’ defeat at Thermopylae, and the work continues day and night as a race against time.

As the Hellenes begin to argue again as to the best course of action to take, Themistokles sends his servant, Sikkinos, to Xerxes’ camp to convince the Persians to engage the Greek fleet at Salamis before they flee.  He is victorious in his own right and the Persian fleet leaves for Salamis where the Hellene generals are still arguing, unaware that they are being surrounded by the enemy.  Meanwhile, Aristeides returns from exile, and Herodotus believes that in spite of his circumstances, that he was “the best and most just of all the Athenians.”  Although an enemy of Themistokles, he puts away his enmity and tells him of the encircling of the Persian fleet, whereupon Themistokles asks him to reveal the news to his contemporaries.  Doing as he is bid, Aristeides reveals their position, yet he is not believed by the commanders until a Tenian trireme arrives and confirms his story.  Thus, the battle begins.

Xerxes I
source Wikimedia Commons

Most of the Ionians fight well for the Persians, in spite of Themistokles’ previous attempt to get them to desert.  However, many of Xerxes’ ships are destroyed versus very few Hellene ships because the Hellenes remained in battle formation and fought together whereas the Persian force was disorganized and, more to the point, many of the men did not know how to swim.  Whenever a Hellene ship was wrecked, the men simply swam to shore.  Artemisia wins acclaim for herself in two very suspect manners: 1) she rams a friendly ship, whether by accident or design Herodotus does not know, and the Attic/Hellene ship pursuing her either thinks she is on their side, or has, deserted to their side, and ceases pursuing her, and;  2) as King Xerxes watches from his station at the base of mount Aigaleos, one of his men commends Artemisia for sinking an “enemy” ship and Xerxes, proud of her feats, remarks, “My men have become women, and my women, men!”

With the great confusion of his fighters, the Phoenicians come to Xerxes and attempt to blame the Ionians for treason, yet as Xerxes observes an Ionian act of bravery, he becomes impatient with the Phoenicians and orders their heads to be cut off so they will learn not to “slander their betters”.  In the battle, Persian ships attempt to flee but are pursued by the Aeginetans.  The Aeginetans are the premier naval fighters at Salamis, followed by the Athenians.  There is a story of the Corinthians fleeing the battle, only to be encountered by a ship sent by some god, the crew of which tell them of a Hellene victory.  Finally convinced, they sail back but the battle is over, however this is an Athenian story and the Corinthians tell a story of their courage of which the rest of Hellas is in accord.

Battle of Salamis (1868)
Wilhelm Kaulbach
source Wikimedia Commons

Aristeides gathers hoplite soldiers and proceeds to kill all Persians on the island of Psyttaleia.  Much wreckage from ships washes ashore, fulfilling many oracles and Xerxes eventually grasps the magnitude of the disaster before him and, worried that the Hellenes will break apart the Hellespont and trap him, he makes plans to return home.  To cover his intentions, he begins construction of a causeway to Salamis and also prepares for another battle, fooling everyone but Mardonios who is familiar with the king’s mind.  Xerxes sends a messenger home to announce the Persian catastrophe and the Persians appear to be more worried about the safety of their king than his success.  Mardonios, reluctant to give up the battle, counsels that Xerxes return home with the majority of forces, but if he leaves him 300,000 troops, he will deliver Hellas to him, enslaved.  Xerxes summons Artemisia to consult her and she advises to follow Mardonios’ plan as, if it succeeds, Xerxes will take much of the credit, and if it fails, Mardonios is no great loss.  Such is his terror, Xerxes adopts her counsel, trusts her to take his sons to Ephesus and gives Mardonios his men.  When the Greeks learn of the flight of the Persian fleet the next morning, they set off in pursuit, stopping on the island of Andros.  Themistokles advises that they should sail directly to the Hellespont and destroy the bridges, but Eurybiades goes against his advice, saying that if the Persians are trapped, they will take Hellas little by little.  The other commanders agree to leave them a flight path, and Themistokles then advises the Athenians not to pursue the barbarians.  His advice is intended to gain favour with the Persians if he ever needs their assistance and he sends his servant, Sikinnos, to relate to them that he has convinced the Athenians to let the Persians leave unmolested and with the Hellespont intact.  The manipulator!  He then proceeds to besiege Andros for refusing to pay him, and extorts money from other islands without the other commander’s knowledge.  Xerxes withdraws and Mardonios with him, deciding it is not the time of year to wage war and is content to wait.  The Persian troops suffer starvation and plague and whoever is left is detained at the Hellespont, as the bridge of ships was damaged in a storm.  Another story goes that Xerxes went by sea to Asia and the boat was overcome by a storm.  The helmsman made men jump into the sea to lighten the load and when they reached land safely, Xerxes gifted him with a crown of gold for saving his life, then decapitated him for the destruction of the lives of the men.  Herodotus does not believe this story; if it was true, of course, the rowers would have been thrown overboard, not the notable Persians!

Xerxes at the Hellespont
Adrien Guignet
source Wikimedia Commons

Unable to take Andros, the Hellenes return to Salamis to make offering for their victory.  They then sail to the isthmus to present a prize to the two men who showed the most valour in the war.  Of course, every man places the first vote for himself, but the majority of the second votes go to Themistokles, however because of jealousy, they will not award him a prize.  Themistokles travels to Lacedaemon where they graciously presented him with an olive branch, a fine chariot and a escort of 300 Spartans called “the Knights”, the only time anyone has received such honours.

As the Persian king retreats, some areas revolt, particularly Poteidaia.  After Artabazos finishes his escort of Xerxes, he attempts to subdue the Poteidaians but the people hold out against his siege and discover their general’s treasonous activities.  When the barbarians try to cross the sea at low tide, a flood tide comes and drowns many of them.  Meanwhile, the Persians wait to hear of the success of Mardonios, confident of his victory.

Mardonios decides to consult oracles and sends Mys to find all that he can, and at the Theban oracle, it gives a prophecy in the barbarian tongue instead of Greek to the surprise of all.  After reading the oracles, Mardonios sends Alexandros of Macedon (not Alexander the Great), to Athens to try to convince the Athenians to desert to the side of the Persians; Herodotus is unsure if this was because of the prophecy of the oracles or not.  He then recounts how the Temenids settled Macedon where Silenos was captured in the garden of Midas (see Metamorphoses – Book XI)  And thus, Alexandros arrives  in Athens and attempts to convince the Athenians to support the Persians, particularly emphasizing the strength of Xerxes and Mardonios’ troops, whereupon the Lacedaemonians, distressed at the Athenians’ possible betrayal, entreat the Athenians to hold firm and not allow the enslavement of the Hellenes.  In a rather elegant speech, the Athenians unequivocally refuse to reach an agreement with Xerxes and chastize the Lacedaemonians for believing that they would ally themselves with such a ruler who has destroyed their city and gods.  The urge the Lacedaemonians to prepare for war.

View of the Acropolis (1849)
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
source Wikiart

Book VII (Polymnia)                                                                           Book IX (Calliope)

Herodotus’ The Histories ~ Book II

Book II (Euterpe)

“When Cyrus died, the kingship was inherited by Cambyses.”

Upon the death of Cyrus, his son Cambyses took power and immediately led an expedition to Egypt, including the conquered Ionians whom he saw as slaves. Herodotus now falls into a long narrative about Egypt’s land and customs.

Architecture and Art of the great Temple of Karnak
David Roberts
source Wikiart

He claims the Phrygians are the oldest people, citing an experiment done with babies to see what the first word uttered would be, however the Egyptians were the first to discover the year by dividing it into twelve parts and adopt names for the twelve gods. Here begins a lengthy description of the land and terrain, the soil and the flooding of the Nile and its channels.  Herodotus claims the Hellenes have three theories about the Nile’s floods: 1) the Etesian winds cause the flooding, which Herodotus says is ridiculous; 2) the Nile flows from the Ocean and the Ocean surrounds the entire world, which Herodotus states is even more ludicrous, and; 3) the floods are caused by melting snow from Libya which pass through Ethiopia.  The last is the most believable explanation, yet the most erroneous.  Herodotus presents his own theory which has to do with the sun being pushed off course by storms, then in spite of Herodotus’ promise to be brief, he offers a rather complex explanation.

The Nile (1881)
Vasily Polenov
source Wikiart

Next, Herodotus launches into a description of Egyptian customs, claiming they are opposite to the customs of other peoples.  Here are a few for your enjoyment:

  • The women go to the market to sell goods, whereas the men stay home and do the weaving.
  • The men carry loads on their heads and the women on their shoulders.
  • Women urinate standing up; men sitting down.
  • They ease themselves (urinate & defacate, I believe he means) inside their houses but eat outside on the streets.
  • Sons do not have to support their parents, but women do.
  • Women cannot be priestesses, only men can be priests
  • They live together with their animals
  • They knead dough with their feet but lift up dung with their hands

….. and so on and so forth.

The Egyptians are pious and Herodotus explains in detail animal sacrifices, then moves on to their understanding of Herakles, which is very different from the understanding of the Hellenes.  In fact, Herodotus proves his dedication for discovering the truth by visiting Tyre in Phoenicia to discover how these people viewed the god, as well as a sojourn in Thaos.  Herodotus finally concludes that the Hellenes myths of Herakles are the most foolish.

The Sanctuary of Hercules (1884)
Arnold Böcklin
source Wikiart

A discussion about where the Hellenes derived the names for their gods follows, and Herodotus is certain most of the names came from barbarians, namely the Egyptians, although Poseidon seems to be borrowed from the Libyans.  As to their origin, Herodotus believes that Hesiod and Homer, who lived no more than 400 years before him (modern scholars believe 200 years before), composed the theogony of the gods along with bestowing them with their attributes, behaviours, skills and descriptions. From there we move to religious rituals and festivals, and the Egyptians care of their animals. Do not intentionally kill an animal or you are sentenced to death.  For the death of a cat, the household will shave its eyebrows, but for the death of a dog they shave their whole body and head.  Many animals get buried in sacred places or tombs.  The crocodile is sacred in some places as is the hippopotamus, and my favourite animal, the otter. Herodotus’s description of the hippopotamus is rather implausible:

” …. it has four feet with cloven hooves like an ox, a blunt snout, a mane like a horse, conspicuous tusks, and a horse’s tail.  It neighs.  It is the size of the largest ox, and its hide is so thick that once it is dried, spear shafts are crafted from it …”

There is a very impolitic footnote stating that obviously Herodotus has never seen a hippopotamus, but honestly who really knows?  I choose to believe him, or at least that he thought he saw one, as later he describes a phoenix but is very careful to reveal that he has never actually seen one.  From this evidence we can conclude that, at the very least, Herodotus is attempting to be accurate and transparent.  In any case, this phoenix carries the body of its father wrapped in an egg of myrrh from Arabia to the sanctuary of Helios when he dies, or so the legend goes.

Hatwell’s Gallopers’: Hippopotamus Hunt
Henry Whiting
source ArtUK

After, Herodotus discusses various themes such as fish, methods of embalming, Egyptian boats, and then begins to share some Egyptian history.  Priests told him that the first Egyptian king was named Min who founded the city of Memphis and dammed the Nile.  After him, 330 kings followed which included one Ethiopian and one woman (Nitokris – different than the Babylonian Nitokris of Book I) who avenged her brother by locking his numerous murderers in a chamber and drowning them before throwing herself into a chamber of ashes to escape retribution.  However, the Egyptians claim these kings were more or less useless except for the last, Moeris (king Amenemhet), who produced a memorial to himself and excavated a lake.  King Sesostris, who came after, marched all over Asia erecting pillars to commemorate his victories and would put on them the genitals of a woman for those whom he thought cowardly.  When his brother plotted his murder, Sesostris used two of his six children as a bridge to cross a flaming pyre, burning them up, and in this way, escaped with the rest of his family.  His son, Pheros, ruled Egypt after him and then came Proteus, with whom Helen and Paris stayed.  Herodotus calls into question Homer’s account of the Trojan War stating in his opinion that Helen was in Egypt the whole time of the war.  After all:

” … considering that if Helen had been in Troy, the Trojans would certainly have returned her to the Hellenes, whether Alexandros (Paris) concurred or not.  For neither Priam nor his kin could have been so demented that they would have willingly endangered their own persons, their children, and their city just so that Alexandros could have Helen.”

Thebes Colosseums, Memnon and Sesostris (1856)
Jean-Leon Gerome
source Wikiart

After Proteus, Rhampsinitos assumed kingship, amassing great amounts of silver for which he built a great vault.  But the builder made a secret entrance which he told to his sons upon his death and they began to borrow from the king.  The king discovered the theft and laid traps for the robbers whereupon one of them was caught, but he convinced his brother to behead him so their identity would not be discovered.  The king then took the headless body and hung it as bait but, upon the urging of his mother, the thief made the guards drunk and stole it.  The king then set his daughter up as bait in a brothel to attempt to identify the robber (Herodotus expresses his disbelief at the veractiy of this account), but although the thief confessed his sin while enjoying the daughter’s favours, he offered the arm of a corpse he had brought along with him when she tried to grab him, and once more eluded capture.  So impressed, the king pardoned the man and gave him his daughter in marriage, then King Rhampsinitos descended to Hades to play dice with Demeter. (Yes, seriously!)

While Egypt prospered under Rhampsinitos, the next king, Cheops (Khufu), laid the people under bondage, forcing the people to do labour for him, hauling stones to build causeways and his great pyramid.  His brother, Chephren (Kafre), was not much better and built his pyramid of coloured Ethiopian stone, however, his son, Mykerinos (Menkaure), disliked his father’s policies and enacted change.  He is liked more than any other king but at times his leniency caused him great trouble.  After sexually abusing his daughter who killed herself, an oracle told him that he only had 6 years left to live, therefore he stayed awake twice as long and extended his life to 12 years.  Asychis followed, who built his pyramid of bricks, then a blind king, Anysis, who fled the Ethiopian king who took over, who then fled himself after a dream, whereupon Anysis returned. The Egyptians believe that before the kings, the gods ruled over Egypt.

Great Pyramid of Giza
source Wikipedia

After Ethiopian rule, they divided the kingdom into twelve districts and kings ruled each, forming alliances but promising not to depose each other.  To commemorate them all, they had a marvellous labyrinth constructed that Herodotus claims eclipses the pyramids themselves and he would know as he was shown the upper chambers although denied the lower ones.  Yet even with their pact for peace, a mistake brought about dissent. While meeting together, only 11 golden cups were brought out for libation and Psammetichos had to use his helmet.  A horrified hush came over the rest of the kings as they realized the oracles proclamation was coming true: that the one who drank from a bronze vessel would reign over all the kingdoms.  They decided to exile instead of kill him but Psammetichos returned and with the help of the Ionians and Carians, became sole ruler of the kingdoms.  Nechos, the son of Psammetichos, reigned after, constructing a canal and leading military campaigns, before his son, Psammis took over, followed by his son, Apries.  Due to a failed military campaign, the people blamed his poor leadership and Apries had to send an envoy, Amasis, to quiet them, however they crowned Amasis king, so Apries sent Patarbemis to fetch his disloyal envoy.  Amasis (Ahmose II) refused to return, but Patarbemis was able to determine his intent to attack the king.  However, upon return, Apries was so furious that Patarbemis had returned empty-handed, he seized him to cut off his ears and nose before the man could relate his discovery.  Amasis with his foreign army of the Ionians and Carians who had settled in the land, met Apries’ Egyptian army in battle and Apries was eventually captured. Amasis treated him well, however, yet the citizens complained and Amasis turned him over to them at their request, whereupon they strangled and buried him.

Amasis II
source Wikipedia

The people at first despised Amasis because he was merely a common man, but Amasis won them over.  Yet he was not a serious man and enjoyed drinking with his friends.  Concerned about his reputation, his close friends and family admonished him but Amasis answered:

“When archers need to use their bows, they string them tightly, but when they have finished using them, they relax them.  For if a bow remained tightly strung all the time, it would snap and be of no use when someone needed it.  The same principle applies to the daily routine of a human being: if someone wants to work seriously all the time and not let himself ease off for his share of play, he will go insane without even knowing it, or at the least suffer a stroke.  And it is because I recognize this maxim that I allot a share of my time to each aspect of life.”

Egypt prospered under Amasis and he was also friendly to the Hellenes.

⇐  Book I (Clio)                                                                                Book III (Thalia)

The Oresteia ~ The Eumenides

The Eumenides by Aeschylus
“I give first place of honor in my prayer to her
who of the gods first prophesied, the Earth; and next
to Themis, who succeeded to her mother’s place
of prophecy; so runs the legend; and in third
succession, given by free consent, not won by force, 
another Titan daughter of Earth was seated here. …..”

Time passes and Orestes arrives at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, still pursued by the Furies.  His conflict continues in tormenting unrelief and he appeals to Apollo for alleviation from his guilt.  He has avenged his father, but in doing so has murdered his mother.  Divine command has clashed with divine decree, and he is helpless to navigate his way through the maze of paradoxical possibilities.  The priestess, Pythia, is shocked to find him in the suppliant’s chair with a sword dripping with blood and the sleeping Furies surrounding him.  A spell has been placed upon them by Apollo so Orestes can travel unhampered to Athens, which he does after Apollo absolves him of complicity in his murder of Clytaemestra. But now he must seek Athena for a possible resolution to his dilemma.

Continue reading

Metamorphoses ~ Book XIII

Book XIII

 

Ajax and Achilles’ Armor / Ulysses and Achilles’ Armor / Ajax / The Fall of Troy / Polymestor and Polydorus / Polyxena / Polyxena & Hecuba / Hecuba, Polydorus, Polymestor / Aurora & Memnon / The Voyage of Aeneas / The Daughters of Anius / The Daughters of Orion / The Voyage of Aeneas / Galatea & Acis / Glaucus & Scylla

 

Ajax and Ulysses contend for the armour of the fallen hero, Achilles.  In spite of proclaiming himself a man of action and not one for florid speech, Ajax commences a rhetorical banquet, listing all his ancestors and spewing vitriol against Ulysses.  Ajax’s father is Telamon, who was friend to Hercules as he destroyed Troy’s walls, sailed in the ship with Jason and was born of Aecus.  In fact, he is a descendant of Jove, a honour he shares with Achilles, etc., etc.  Ulysses is nothing but a smooth talking, lily-livered, cowardly, sneaky, dishonest fraud.  Oh, and all his feats are minor.  In fact, he, Ajax, should be the winner of the armour because his own shield is so damaged with fighting, yet Ulysses’ shield is so little used.  He suggests that the armour be thrown among the Trojans and whoever reclaims it, be it him or Ulysses, will be the victor.

The Quarrel Between Ajax and Odysseus (1625-30)
Leonaert Bramer
[Public Domain] source

With his renowned eloquence and gracious speech, Ulysses counters the argument of Ajax, contending that lineage should not be the judge of greatness, but instead a man’s own deeds.  He disputes Ajax’s deprecation of his lineage, saying that he has an equal ancestry to him, and furthermore, none of his ancestors are criminals.  As for deeds, what has Ajax really done?  However, he, on the other hand, has worked wonders, such as finding Achilles for the War, and therefore, all Achilles’ feats are due to him.  He also brought about Agamemnon’s change of heart with regard to the sacrifice of his daughter, and he was responsible for asking for the return of Helen.  For nine years the Trojans stayed within their walls, so open war was impossible, but while Ajax did nothing, he was busy planning objectives.  It was he who turned the troops back to war after they were going to disperse prompted by Agamemnon’s dream.  His further rhetorical examples, reverse Ajax’s argument with stunning guile and perception.  The Greek chieftains are so moved by Ulysses’ reasoning that they award Achilles’ armour to him.

Thetis Bringing Armor to Achilles (1806)
Benjamin West
source Wikimedia Commons

This decision is too much for the undefeated hero’s pride and he encounters the first enemy that will be his destruction:  his own unmitigated anger.  Grabbing his blade, Ajax cries that he is the only one who can claim victory over himself, driving the shaft into his own chest.  As his blood seeps into the rich soil, up springs a purple flower, the same flower from Hyacinth’s wound, with the letters, “AI-AI”, echoing both of Ajax (often spelt Aias, therefore the “AI”) and the lament of Hyacinth. (See Book X)

Ulysses retrieves his arrows from Lemnos, the arrows Hercules gave to Philoctetes, and brought back they haunt the skies of Troy.  The fall of Troy was swift, and with Ilium ablaze, the Trojan women embrace their gods for the last time.  They kiss the soil as they are born away, captive, and Hecuba is found at the graves of her sons.  Ulysses carries her off, clutching ashes of Hector to her bosom.

Dead Hector (1892)
Briton Riviere
source Wikiart

In Thrace lies Polymestor‘s magnificent palace and there he is covertly keeping Polydorus, son of Priam.  But there was gold given in payment and when the fall of Troy begins, the king slits the throat of the boy and tosses him from a cliff into the sea, to hide the body.

Agamemnon’s fleet is moored along the Thracian coast when the ghost of Achilles bursts up, awesome and threatening, incensed that the Greeks would leave without honouring him.  He requests the daughter of Priam and Hecuba, Polyxena, as a sacrifice.  She dies with dignity, asking only that no rough hands touch her and that her body will be given to her suffering mother.  Every one weeps at her sacrifice.

The Sacrifice of Polyxena (1733-34)
Giovanni Battista Pittoni
source Getty Open Content

The Trojan women mourn.  Ulysses has won Hecuba but does not really want her, only accepting her because she gave birth to the great Hector.  Hecuba thought that after Achilles death he could threaten them no more, but he has proved her wrong.  Her speech is a dirge:

“…. I gave birth to a funeral offering
to our destroyer.  I must have a heart 
of iron if I still resist, still live.
What am I waiting for?  Endless old age —
what can it hold in store?  O cruel gods
why do you let me live — unless it be
that you have savd saved still other griefs for me? ….”

Priam should be glad he’s gone, unable to witness the atrocity.  She cannot even give her daughter a respectable burial; the only honour Polyxena receives is her mother’s tears on foreign soil.  At least, Polydorus, Hecuba’s son, is sheltered by the Thracian king.  This fact is her only consolation.

Hecuba and Polyxena (c. 1814)
Merry-Joseph Blondel
source Wikimedia Commons

 

Hecuba moves towards the shore but suddenly sees the corpse of her son, Polydorus. The Trojan women wail in lament but Hecuba is arrested in her grief, the tragedy almost too much to bear.  As she views his fate, anger inflames her, burning to revenge.  She meets with Polymestor and promises gold for her son which he agrees to give him. False, lying Polymestor!!  Hecuba grips him and calls her Trojan women, and as she does, she digs her nails into his eyeballs and plucks his flesh.  The Thracians attack the women with stones and lances, but Hecuba attempts to catch the stones, her voice transforming into barks and howls and even the gods admit that Hecuba did not deserve such sorrow.

Hecuba (c. 18th century)
Guiseppe Crespi
source Wikimedia Commons

Aurora did not lament the Trojans’ demise as expected because she was devastated by the death of her son Memnon at the hands of Achilles.  She pleads with Jove for a gift for the honour of her son and from his pyre, flames and ashes soar high then from it a bird ascends, then many.  After circling the pyre three times, they split into two flocks and begin to battle, falling into the ashes of Memnon as an offering.  They do this every time the sun rises but even to this day, Aurora mourns her son with her tears.

Aurora (1614)
Guido Reni
source Wikiart

Even though Troy was destroyed, part of it survived in the figure of Aeneas, hence the voyage of Aeneas begins.  Fleeing his city with his old father, Anchises, his son, Ascanius, and sacred images, he sails first to Thrace, then to Delos.  The kind, Anius, welcomes Aeneas, and it was here that the two tree-trunks opened and Latona gave birth to her twins.  (See Book VI)

Aeneas and his Father Fleeing Troy (c. 1635)
Simon Vouet
source Wikimedia Commons

Aeneas asks if he saw a son and four daughters of Anius when he last visited his city and Anius tells a tale of woe.  His son, Andros, is king of an island that bears his name, but Bacchus gave to his daughters the power to turn anything they touched into wheat, wine, or oil.  Realizing their value, Agamemnon dragged off the girls, to use them to feed the Grecian fleet.  Two daughters escaped to Euboea, and two to Andros, but their brother, fearing war, relinquished them to their fate.  About to be chained, the two girls lifted their arms in plea to Bacchus and were turned into snow-white doves.

At daybreak, the Trojans visit the oracle which tells them to seek out their “ancient mother” — their land of origin.  Anius sees them off with gifts, and an engraved cup he brings tells its own story.  The seven gated city of Thebes was in a disasterous state with fires and pyres and wailing women, bare trees, stony fields and a mighty funeral pyre where Orion’s daughters sacrificed themselves to save the people from the plague.  Out of their virgin ashes rose the Coroni, two youths, the final scene on the cup to commemorate their origin —- their mothers.  The Trojans give fine gifts in return.

The voyage of Aeneas begins.  Seeking the land of Crete, where their ancestor, Teucer came from, an early king of Troy, upon landing they find the land too harsh and sail for Italy.  Sailing on and on, they reach Sicily and land on the sands of Messina.

The Wanderings of Aeneas
source Googlemap

In the straits of Messina, Scylla is watching the east and Charybdis never sleeps in the west.  The latter preys on ships by sucking them into her depths but Scylla’s waist is populated by snapping dogs.  She once was a young girl but disdained her suitors and when the sea nymph, Galatea, heard Scylla’s tale, she related her own story of her interactions with the Cyclops.  She loved Acis, son of a woodland Faun, but Polyphemus the Cyclops wished to possess her, although she hated him with a passion. He composed odes to her beauty, then disparaged her, spewing barely cloaked threats. With a menacing tirade directed towards Acis, he discovered the lovers. Pursuing Acis, he hurled a massive rock and even though it only grazed Acis, its size pressed him into the ground.  But then the rock split and from it came a green reed, then a river rushing and from the waters sprung a river-god …. Acis.  (I hope this is a different Galatea than Pygmalion’s Galatea in Book X)

Galatea (1896)
Gustave Moreau
source Wikiart

Scylla continued on, stopping to rest in a pool to refresh herself.  Glaucus, its inhabitant, desired the girl and pursued her though she fled.  Reaching a mountain peak that rose from the sea, she turned to see that he was part man and part fish, not sure whether to marvel or be terrified.  He was a god as important as Triton or Proteus, but  he used to be a man who worked always near the sea.  One day as he saw fish leave his net and walk back into the sea, he suspected the grass they had laid upon to be the source of their powers.  Chewing it, he felt himself metamorphosing, a desire welling up within him for the ocean.  He would have said more but Scylla had fled and he set out for the isle of Circe.  (See also Scylla in Book VIII)

 

Glaucus and Scylla (1580-82)
Bartholomäus Spranger
source Wikimedia Commons

With the sparring between Ajax and Ulysses, we seem to get more questions than answers.  The reader, as well as the chieftains, are trying to discover who has the most kleos (glory) to be worthy of the armour of Achilles.  Instead, we get two sides of action —- the physical (Ajax) and the mental (Ulysses), and which one is most important?  An answer doesn’t seem to be possible, and in the end, it is Ulysses’ smooth tongue and not kleos that secures the prize.

Ovid does not seem to care for Thracians.  Not much good seems to come from them or be said about them.

Metamorphoses
Ajax’s blood  ❥  purple flower
Hecuba’s speech  ❥  barks/howls
Memnon  ❥  birds {Memnonides}
Daughter’s of Anius’ touch  ❥  wheat, wine, oil
Anius’ daughters  ❥  snow-white doves
Orion’s daughters’ ashes  ❥  Coroni
Acis  ❥  river-god
Glaucus’ lower body  ❥  fish

 

Metamorphoses ~ Book XII

Book XII

Iphegenia / Rumor / Achilles & Cycnus / Caenis/Caenus / Lapiths & Centaurs / Cyllarus / Caenus / Hercules & Periclymenus / The Death of Achilles

The Sacrifice of Iphigenia (1770)
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
source Wikimedia Commons
While Priam doesn’t realize that his son has been changed to a bird, and mourns his death with Hector, Paris is missing from the funeral rites, as he has gone to Greece, stolen a wife and returned with a war behind him.  But the Greeks chasing Paris, become bound by storms at Aulis, so they kindle fires for Jove in hopes of smooth sailing.  However, a blue-green serpent climbs a sycamore tree, seizing eight fledglings and their mother, and swallowing them in his greedy jaws.  Calchus, the augur, son of Thestor, claims it is a sign that the Greeks will be victorious but only after a long war.  Nereus’ rage though is unrelenting and Calchus claims Diana is aggrieved that Agamemnon slew her sacred stag.  He requires payment in virgin’s blood, and so Agamemnon’s daughter, Iphigenia is sacrificed.  The girl does not die, however, as Diana covers the altar with a dark cloud, exchanging Iphigenia for a hind.  Her wrath appeased, the thousand ships are able to sail for Phrygian shores (Troy).  (For a somewhat different story of Iphigenia’s sacrifice, see Agamemnon).
Where the earth, heavens and sea meet, Rumorlives high upon a peak in a palace with no doors, and everything that is spoken in the wide world is taken in ….  Credulity, Error, Joy, Consternations, Fears, Seditions and unknown whispers.  Rumor knows all.  This is why, as the Greeks reach the shores of Troy, the Trojans are not unaware of their coming.  Under Hector’s deadly spear, Protestilaus is the first to lose his life.  The Danaans pay in death, but the Trojans lose men too and each learn the prowess of the other.
source
Achilles races in his chariot, searching for Cycnusor for Hector. He finds the former and attempts to kill him but Cycnus is the son of Neptune and no weapon can pierce his skin.  Spear after spear glances off him and Achilles is enraged, eventually questioning his own might. Leaping from his chariot, he attempts to stab him without success, finally grabbing Cycnus and choking him until the hero dies.  Or so he thinks, for as he tries to strip his armour, he finds no body.  Neptune has already changed his son into a swan.  This seems a perpetual feat, as Cycnus has already been changed into a swan under different circumstances in Book II and is mentioned again in Book VII.
Achilles is so wonderful that everyone can only speak of courage and bravery around him.  His victory over Cycnus is astonishing, although Nestor relates of another warrior whose body could not be touched by weapons.  His name was Caenus although he was born as a woman.  Shocked, the Greeks beg for the rest of the tale and we hear how Caenis was born fair and famous for her beauty.  Raped by Neptune, he promises to give her what she desires, and vowing never to suffer such outrage again, she wishes to become a man.  She transforms into Caenus, and no weaponry could ever kill her.
Battle Between Lapiths & Centaurs (1735-40)
Francesco Solimena
source Wikiart 
In Thessaly, Pirithous, king of Lapith and son of Ixion, is to be wed to Hippodame (who was supposed to be wed to Pelops in the backstory to Agamemnon, but perhaps this is a different Hippodame) and Caenus attends.   At the feast, the centaurs (bred by Ixion and “Cloud” — it’s a horrendous story if you want to look it up) go mad on lust and wine.  Eurytus snatches the bride, and his brothers begin to snatch women without qualm.  Brave Theseus stands to oppose their evil intentions, throwing a vat into the face of Eurytus, upon which the centaur gushes blood and brains and vomits wine, falling dead to the floor.  War ensues with a descriptive tapestry reminiscent of The Iliad.  Some of the centaurs flee (including Nessus, who met Hercules’ bow in Book IX), yet the war continues with even more elaborate description.
Flawlessly handsome, with a black coat yet a white tail and legs, the centaur, Cyllarus, is loved by a woman, Hylonome. However, he is unable to escape his fate and when a spear pierces his body, his wife runs to him, holding him, and then throwing herself on the spear so they die together.

Lapiths and the Centaurs
Jacob Jordaens
source Wikiart
Nestor continues with his stories, telling of how Phaeocomes threw a log which smashed the skull of Tectaphos, the son of Olenus, his brain matter oozing from his eyes, ears and nostrils. Nestor struck him down, along with other centaurs, his strength in those days equal to Hector’s.  Caenus was killing centaurs as well, and the rest of the bipeds were in a frenzy of irritation because none of their weapons were able to pierce his skin.  Finally, Monycus came up with a plan: if they weren’t able to skewer him, they would smother him.  The centaurs ripped trees from the ground, piling them onto Caenus until he was buried.  A golden-winged bird escaped from the rubble; some say it was Caenus but others claimed that he was pushed right down to the Underworld.

As Nestor’s tale ends, Tlepolemus is disturbed that no mention of his father Hercules’ feats were acknowledged.  Nestor reveals his hatred for the hero, as Hercules was responsible for razing Pylos, Nestor’s homeland, without provocation.  Hercules killed all eleven of his brothers, including his brother, Periclymenus, who was able to change shape, yet as an eagle, Hercules shot him with an arrow.  Yet in spite of his rage against Hercules, Nestor gracefully says that he hold no enmity towards Tlepolemus.

Neptune, still in grief over Cycnus, detests Achilles with a raging passion. He enlists Apollo to covertly bring about the death of Achilles.  Apollo enters the Trojan battle and, as Paris shoots an arrow, the god guides it towards Achilles, felling the hero.  The death is a shameful one, as Achilles is killed by a coward and a debaucher of women.  At his funeral, Achilles’ physical ashes barely fill a small urn, yet his reknown is as large as the whole world.  Ajax the greater and Ulysses prepare to contend over the hero’s armour. 

The Death of Achilles (1630-32)
Peter Paul Rubens
source Wikimedia Commons


Ovid continues to astonish with his vivid description and puzzle with choice of stories and pacing.  The Trojan War itself is nearly skipped through, as we go from an event at the beginning of it, to an event at the end.  Instead of the battles of Troy, the warriors themselves appear more important.  

There is also the parallel theme of the ignorance of fathers: Priam does not realize that his son was changed into a bird, and neither does Agamemnon know that Iphigenia was saved by Minerva.  

Nestor’s treatment of Hercules is very startling.  Fame and glory (kleos) for a Greek warrior is their ultimate purpose in life.  By not mentioning the feats of Hercules against the centaurs, Nestor is suppressing Hercules fame and glory.

“The vengeance that I seek for my dear brothers stops at this:  my speech, in telling of the Lapiths’ victory omitted the great deeds of Hercules….”

Nestor is effectively erasing Hercules, as Hercules obliterated Nestor’s cherished homeland.

And as much as I’m enjoying Ovid’s poetry and stories, he can’t hold a candle to Homer.  Ovid’s poetry can have some beautiful passages but often the underlying tone seems more ghastly and outrageous, whereas Homer’s tone sounds more majestic, with a resonating grandeur.  But, of course, I’m reading poetry in translation, which is always problematic when making judgements.  However, I think the Greeks, at least, would agree with me. 🙂

Metamorphoses
Snake  ❥  stone
Cycnus  ❥  swan
Caenis/woman  ❥  Caenus/man
Caenus  ❥  golden-winged bird
Periclymenus  ❥  many shapes  ❥ eagle

The Oresteia ~ Agamemnon by Aeschylus

The Sacrifice of Ipheginia by Agamemnon (1671)  Jan Steen
The Sacrifice of Ipheginia by Agamemnon (1671)
Jan Steen
source

 

Agamemnon by Aeschylus
 
“Dear gods, set me free from all the pain,
the long watch I keep, one whole year awake …
propped on my arms, crouched on the roofs of Atreus like a dog.”

Agamemnon is the first of a trilogy of plays called The Oresteia, the next two plays being The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides, all performed in 458 B.C., only two years before the death of Aeschylus.  This surviving unified trilogy allows the reader to experience the development of these three-part stories and to observe the common strands of informatiion and enlightenment winding throughout.  Each play would have built support and framework for the others.  However, even though we have all three plays of this trilogy, the satyr play Proteus is lost, as it would have been a type of comic epilogue to finish The Oresteia.

Continue reading

Metamorphoses – Book VIII

Book VIII
Scylla, Nisus, Minos / Daedalus, the Minotaur, Theseus & Ariadne / Daedalus & Icarus / Daedalus & Perdix / The Calydonian Hunt / Althaea & Meleager / Theseus & Achelous The Echinades & Perimele / Baucis & Philemon / Erysichthon’s Sin / Erysichthon & FamineErysichthon’s DaughterAchelous
  
Minos & Scylla
17th century etching
source Wikimedia Commons
Minos, the son of Europa and king of Crete, besieges Alcathous and the coast of Megara, and its king, Nisus, amid his grey hairs, has a gleaming purple tuft which holds the security of his kingdom.  Now, his daughter, Scylla, climbs to the top of the tower of the king to watch the siege and falls madly in love with Minos.  She convinces herself that if she is taken hostage, the war will end. With such thoughts, she sneaks into her father’s bedroom, tears off his tuft, and hurries out to find Minos.  King Minos, however is appalled at her present, and claiming her a disgrace, calls for her banishment.  Imposing just wars on the Megarians, Minos set sail for home, leaving lovelorn Scylla spewing poison and lamenting her fate.  Finally, she decided to follow Minos, diving into the waves and holding fast to his ship.  Yet, her father now is a tawny osprey, and he dives at her, dislodging her from the stern.  Scylla transforms into a bird, called the Ciris, meaning to cut, for she had shorn her father’s tuft.
The Minotaur (1884)
George Frederick Watts
source Wikimedia Commons
Minos arrives home and sacrifices to Jove, but there is a shame lurking in Crete.  The adulterous liaison of Mino’s mother and a bull, has produced an hideous offspring which must be concealed.  Minos gets the famed builder, Daedelus, to construct a labyrinth that is so intricate, the monster will never get out.  In this maze, the Minotaur is imprisoned, but Theseus kills it three years later, with the help of Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, who gives him a thread to find his way out.  While Theseus took Ariadne with him, he left her on Naxos, but in her desolation and tears, Bacchus gave her a place in the constellations as the Northern Corona, her crown a diadem of stars.
Daedalus, weary of his sojourn in Crete, decides to escape, and “at once he starts to work on unknown arts to alter nature”.  Constructing wings make of reeds, twine, feathers and wax, he cautions his son, Icarus, that he must follow him and not fly too high nor too low to avoid being wetted by the ocean or scorched by the sun.  At first, the boy flies right behind his father but then, delight and audacity come upon him and he soars up into the open sky.  The wax on the wings melt and he plunges to the sea and to his death.  Daedalus finally discovers his son’s plight and builds a tomb for him on an island now called Icaria.

Lament for Icarus (1897)
Herbert James Draper
source Wikimedia Commons

As Daedalus builds the tomb, an irate partridge comes out of a muddy ditch to scold him.  This bird is Perdix, his nephew, who at twelve years old was trusted to his care and teaching.  But the boy proved too clever and bright, and in his envy of the child, Daedalus threw him from Minerva’s sacred citadel, lying and saying that he’d fallen.  Minerva, however, scooped the child up in mid-air and transformed him into a partridge.  Now Daedalus, spent and ragged, arrives as a suppliant near Aetna (Sicily) where King Cocalus gives him refuge but wisely prepares his troops for an invasion by Minos.
The Calydonian Boar Hunt (1611-12)
Peter Paul Reubens
source Wikimedia Commons
Because of Theseus’ bravery and success, Athens is relieved of paying tribute to Crete and all lands praise him and ask for his assistance in peril.  Oenus, king of Calydon requires his assistance when a massive boar is sent by the goddess Diana, who is incensed because all the gods had been given a gift of the harvest, yet her alter lay bare.  A legion of men gather, some of whom are familiar, including Achilles’ father (Peleus), Jason, Telamon, and wise Nestor in his youth (from The Iliad), and the Calydonian hunt begins.  The men charge the boar who becomes enraged and nothing seems to be able to slow his frenzy. Finally, Atlanta, the only woman in the hunt, manages to draw blood, and Meleager praises her bravery.  The rest of the men, however, are angered at being bested by a woman, and rather forcefully, yet thoughtlessly, attempt to kill the animal.  Finally Meleager kills the massive beast, and all applaud him, but when he gives part of the his glory to Atlanta, dissent rumbles through the hunters.  His uncles emerge to reclaim his gift, angering Meleager who kills them both.
Althaea, Meleager’s mother, is in the process of giving gifts to the gods for his victory, when she sees the bodies of her brothers being borne into the city. Agonized over their deaths, she recalls a prophecy where the Fates assigned the same life to a log as to Meleager.  His mother had secreted the log away, but with this murder she resurrects it.  Her agony as to whether or not to burn it is riveting:
” ……Within Althaea, mother wars with sister;
those two names tear apart her single heart.
First she grows pale with fear of what she plans,
a crime so foul; but then her seething wrath
inflames her eyes with its own color, red.
Now she appears to be most menacing —
a horrid thing —- and now you’d swear that she
was merciful.  When savage frenzy dries
her tears again.  Althaea cries.  She’s like
a ship that, driven by the wind and by
a current running counter, is the prey
of both and — in uncertainty — obeys
two forces ……”
After a Gollum-like conversation with herself, finally she calls on the Furies to witness her deed, hurling the log into the fire.  As the log burns, so does Meleager until he is only ash.  His sisters are distraught, his father is agonized, his mother commits suicide and Diana is content.  She turns his sisters into guinea hens.
Theseus, sailing away from Calydon and the carnage, is warned by the river-god Achelous, to take refuge in his house.  Heavy rains have swelled the Achelous river and he is in danger if he attempts to cross.  Aegus’ son accepts the hospitality and he is given a feast.  
Theseus asks Achelous about an island that he sees far off and the river god informs him that it is not one, but five islands.  They used to be five Naiads, but when they sacrificed ten bulls for a festival dance and forgot to invite Achelous, he swelled with rage, sweeping the nymphs away and tearing away a piece of land to form five parts, now called the Echinades.  There is yet another island, Perimele, named for his love, who he, by force, took her virginity.  Her father threw her from a cliff into the sea, however Achelous bore her up, calling on Neptune, who changed her into an island.
Mercury & Jupiter in the House of Philemon & Baucis (c. 17th century)
Jacob an Oost
source Wikimedia Commons
Pirithous, the son of Ixion, scoffed at the river god’s tale, feeling that the gods were given too much power, but Lelex countermands his profession with a story to tell.  In the Phrygian hills, there once was a devolted old couple named Baucis and Philemon.  One day, the gods Jupiter and Mercury came seeking shelter in the guise of men.  The poor doddering couple gave them lodging and the best of the food they had to offer.  When they saw that their wine bowl was magically being replenished they were frightened that their food was not good enough and went to kill their only goose who guarded their land.  But the poor goose gave them a chase and they gave up exhausted, when finally the gods revealed themselves.  They took the couple on a long walk and when they looked back, their house was turned into a temple.  When asked for their desire, they asked to become priests of the temple and die together when their time came.  All came to fruition, but as their lives faded, one was transformed into an oak tree and the other, a linden.
Theseus is quite stirred by these tales and wishes to hear another.  Achelous tells of the transformations of Proteus, then relates a story of Erysichthon, who scorned the gods, chopping down a sacred grove of Ceres, including a sacred oak, causing the tree to bleed as the nymph inside is killed.  She utters a prophesy of punishment for Erysichthon’s sin, but still Erysichthon is heedless.

In punish for Erysichthon’s heartless deed, Ceres sends her nymph to Famine (as she cannot go herself for their purposes are opposed), and Famine pays the sinner a visit, breathing on him until he dreams of gnawing, burning hunger, but he can only eat air.  

Erysichthon Sells His Daughter (1650-60)
Jan Havicksz Steen
source Wikimedia Commons
Erysichthon’s hunger becomes so unbearable that he sells his daughter, but she escapes her master by changing herself into the shape of a man.  When father sees daughter again, he sells her to master after master, all of whom she eludes by changing form.  Finally, the ravenousness of Erysichthon causes him to eat all he has and, in desperation, he “began to rend his flesh, to bite his limbs, to feed on his own body.”

Achelous wonders why he tells of the metamorphoses of others when he, too, has undergone many changes.  In fact, he removes his head-wreath showing not two, but one horn upon his head.  Then he groans.



Metamorphoses
King Nisus  ❥  osprey
Scylla  ❥  bird
Ariadne  ❥  Northern Corona constellation
Perdix  ❥  partridge
Meleager’s sisters  ❥  guinea hen
Five Naiads  ❥  the Echinades islands
Perimele  ❥  island
Baucis & Philemon  ❥  oak and linden trees
Proteus  ❥  boar, serpent, bull, stone, plant, stream, fire
Erysichthon’s daughter  ❥  man, mare, bird, deer, etc.
Achelous  ❥  river, snake, bull