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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

More on Kinship, Stupid Heroes, and other Links of Win

I'm swinging into Autumn by playing catch up, so today we have a round-up of related links and such, for my reference and yours!

FIRST some insight from the academic perspective on the Kinship of Greek Heroes, from twitter. With all my own reading and education, I still would kill to go back to school and take all the Classics courses all over again, I'm not going to lie.

Second, another excellent example of things I wish I'd been able to do in my classics program -- Archaeological Researches Go Into Battle to Test Bronze Age Weapons.

Related: You would not believe how much time I spent trying to research what would happen if rubbing alcohol was applied to a bronze dagger. I never did get a definitive answer, even after I spoke to a metallurgist, a physicist, and a metalsmith. Their advice was just to get some bronze and try it for myself.

Also Related: You would not believe how hard it is to find true bronze for craft/testing purposes. Most of what's sold with a bronze appearance is brass instead, so the jury is still out, and when/if I get my hands on some proper bronze, I'll let you know how it goes.

Third: Vicky Alvear Shecter has this fantastic blog post on Stupid Heroes which you should all go read immediately.  Including such classics as Heracles trying to shoot the sun out of the sky.

And finally, "If it looks like a drama, and is structured like a drama, then it is a drama." A website about the Gospels as Dramas, and how different gospels may have been written to evoke the different heroic journeys of a couple of important cultural heroes. Definitely worth an exploration for purposes of comparative mythology.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Kinship and Greek Heroes

I should be forbidden from camera-ing
so many crooked shots of doom.
(Farnese Hercules at The National Gallery)
One of the things I find really fascinating in Classical Mythology is the familial bonds between heroes and how little emphasis is placed upon them. It's so strange to think of these other heroes as siblings and cousins to one another. So often we don't have any understanding of those bonds in the stories that surround them. Pirithous and Theseus are an exception, in some respects, since we know from more than one source that they were like brothers -- but their relationship doesn't have anything to do with their shared lineage or the idea that they're cousins. They bond over their perceptions of one another as honorable and equals in strength and cunning and bravery.

We never hear about Heracles calling up his half-brothers or sisters, or really forming relationships with his blood-relatives on his divine side. Sure, he might have buddied up with Theseus to hit on the Amazons, and there's that whole Jason and the Argonauts thing, about which we will not speak, but even when Euripides showcases the friendship between Theseus and Heracles, there isn't any mention of their familial bond. They were friends and heroes in arms, but not explicitly spoken of as cousins, either.

Of course some of the heroes are from different generations, and not at all contemporaries -- like Pirithous and Perseus, for example, or Heracles and Perseus* -- so in that case, it's a lot less strange that there's no mention of any relationship they might have shared. But Pirithous and Heracles were contemporaries AND brothers, and I'm not sure I know a single myth in which they cross paths at all. So as I read, and write, I wonder: what might Pirithous have thought of his famous brothers, living and dead? Did he consider them kin at all? And if not, why not?

*Perseus is actually an ancestor of Heracles as well as his brother. Alcmene, Heracles' mother was Perseus' granddaughter. So in this case, one would think there would be even more of an acknowledgment of that family connection. But. Not so much. Then again maybe being the great-grandfather and brother of Perseus crossed some incestual line of weirdness for the Greeks, so they just kind of tried to ignore it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Bromance of Theseus and Pirithous

One of my favorite myths is the the story of how Theseus and Pirithous meet for the first time. Somehow, the idea of the young King Theseus, making a name for himself as a hero and an upstanding individual -- a king of great wisdom and honor -- being tested by Pirithous the most piratey of rapscallions, just tickles me.

The story goes that Pirithous, having heard of Theseus' prowess in battle, wanted proof of his courage and strength, and so, as all good heroes do, he went out to rustle some of Theseus' cattle in order to test him. A time honored tradition among demigods, and second only to stealing women-folk! Plutarch tells the rest of the story in his essay on Theseus:

[...]when the news was brought that Theseus pursued him in arms, he did not fly, but turned back and went to meet him. But as soon as they had viewed one another, each so admired the gracefulness and beauty, and was seized with such respect for the courage of the other, that they forgot all thoughts of fighting; and Pirithous, first stretching out his hand to Theseus, bade him be judge in this case himself, and promised to submit willingly to any penalty he should impose.

And that, as they say, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. From that day forth, Theseus and Pirithous were like brothers, allies in everything and according to Ovid's Heroides, inseparable to the point of neglecting their other relationships, including their own sons (but then too, Phaedre isn't the most reliable of narrators, either, and bespelled by the gods in her lust for Theseus' son, besides).

Perithoos Hippodameia BM VaseF272
© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons
Which is Pirithous and which is Theseus
I couldn't tell you, honestly.
Of Pirithous alone, we have very little information. Most of what is preserved is only in relation to his adventures with Theseus, in which, to my prejudiced readings, he comes off as the instigator of some foolish adventures, inevitably resulting in trouble for both of them, the primary example being, as we have discussed on multiple occasions, the abduction of Helen, and the subsequent trip to Hades so that Pirithous might steal Persephone, because that is just the kind of overconfident, arrogant piece of work that Pirithous was. And we've also touched on the Centauromachy, and his wedding to Hippodamia, which was so rudely interrupted by lustful centaurs trying to molest, if not steal outright, his bride.

Personally, I think the bromance of Pirithous and Theseus belongs up there with Achilles and Patroclus, and it's a real shame they don't get more press in pop culture. That um, might account for their continued and repeated presence on my blog. If you were wondering.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Not all Demigods are Created Equal

Just because a person is a son or daughter of a god doesn't mean they're a hero. A lot of their Hero Status really depends on what they do with that divine ichor -- after all, Odysseus is only the great-grandson of Hermes, but he's 100% Hero in the Greekest sense of the word.

So let's talk about a couple of other examples. The guys who don't make the cut.

Tantalus, King of ... well, no one can quite agree where. So let's say--

Tantalus, the Wealthy King
A son of Zeus by Pluto, herself a woman of heavily-ichored blood, Tantalus had a very close relationship to the gods. Some say that he was even invited into Zeus' confidences, and entrusted with divine secrets, which he then betrayed. Others say, he invited the Olympians to his house, and wanting to test them, he killed and cooked one of his sons, serving him to Zeus and the other gods for dinner. The stories say that Zeus, realizing what he had done, restored his son to life (missing a bit of his shoulder, as one of the more hapless gods had not been so discerning in regard to the menu) and cast Tantalus into eternal punishment in Tartarus. He was made to stand in a pool of water from which he could never drink (the water receding every time he bent to take a sip), with the boughs of fruit trees hanging over his head from which he could never eat (the branches pulled away out of reach when he stretched out his arm to grasp the fruit). The story of Tantalus the un-hero was so famous and so well known that we get the word "Tantalize" from his name.

Minos, King of Crete
Pasiphae Minotauros Cdm Paris DeRidder1066 detailA son of Zeus by Europa, Minos is rarely categorized as a hero, and aside from the ever-present flaw of Hubris, he doesn't seem to have much in the way of Heroic characteristics. Like Tantalus before him, he takes advantage of his close ties and kinship with the gods, but doesn't show the proper amount of respect. When Minos asks the gods for a bull in order to take the crown, he's given the gift, but he doesn't follow through on his own promise to offer it back in sacrifice, and as a result, he's punished. And by "he" I mean, his pride more than anything, because it's his wife, Pasiphae who is struck with lust for the bull, and cuckolds him with the bovine -- likely Poseidon himself. As a result, she gives birth to the minotaur, a lasting reminder of Minos' error in judgment and a blight upon his house.

It seems to me that the message of these two stories is clear. Divine Ichor or not, know your place. This is something the real heroes don't seem to have so much trouble with -- they know the gods are above them, and they act accordingly. When they DO overstep themselves, war or punishment follows swiftly. But these guys? Minos and Tantalus? Their errors are so grievous that if they accomplished anything heroic, it's been overshadowed forever by their wrongs.

You might say they're the Cautionary Tales of the ancient world.