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Myth Monday - Hesiod and the Bestiary

By July 23, 2012

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Perseus on Pegasus; Holding Medusa's Head
Perseus on Pegasus; Holding Medusa's Head: Image ID: 1624079 Perseus auf dem geflügelten Pegasos. (1880-1883)
© NYPL Digital Gallery

For this week's Myth Monday, inspired by Michael K. Kellogg's chapter on Hesiod, from his delightful The Greek Search for Wisdom, I wanted to give the Hesiodic spin on the bulk of the monsters from Greek mythology. Then came another round (see : last week's Myth Monday) of The Clash of the Titans on television, and my plans were postponed -- I thought. The movie showed the Hero Who Looks Away (my nickname for Perseus) decapitating Medusa, but Pegasus and his brother failed to emerge from the severed neck. I figured I had to say something about that this week.

Everything came together when I realized Chrysaor, which is the name of the brother of the winged horse, fell right in line with Hesiodic genealogy of the monsters.

Michael K. Kellogg is trained as a philosopher and lawyer, which led me to assume The Greek Search for Wisdom would be a book on Pre-Socratic philosophy, but once into it, I realized, it's not. It contains a chapter each on Plato and Aristotle, but they're not Pre-Socratic philosophers and he doesn't limit himself to their philosophy. Instead, Kellogg runs through the major ancient Greek literary figures providing his refreshing insight into their contributions. The book is a very readable introduction to the authors covered: the Archaic era epic writers, the great Classical era Athenian tragedians, the two big historians, the great comic playwright, and the two philosophers

[Pop Quiz: Name all 10, divided into categories; post in the comments, if you like],

all preceded by a compact introduction to Greek history.

Kellogg modestly says "I offer this work, in all humility, as a travel journal of sorts, in which I can at least point out those sites I love most and most want to share." Since he picks those about whom we have a large sampling, even if there is some doubt about the historicity of the early poets, and Kellogg gives his opinions there, the selection makes sense. It would make a suitable and insight-filled introduction for, especially, autodidacts -- the self-taught. Some of the material could have been sourced better for use in a more academic setting. Perhaps I'm being too picky, since he does footnote many assertions. Maybe Kellogg left out the specific notes I was hoping for because it seemed common knowledge to him.

Here's a section that highlights one of my pet themes, that the Greek mythological creation story sounds a lot like "in the beginning was the word" plus the Big Bang. Kellogg expresses it more eloquently:

"On one level, the beginning of the Theogony reads like and ancient version of Steven Weinberg's The First Three Minutes, a description of hte big bang and the gradual formation of the planets and stars and, hence, not only the beginning of time but also the separation of earth (Gaia) and sky (Ouranos) and the eventual development of life on earth, all through a massive initial release of energy (Eros). But Hesiod's own attempt to grapple with the mystery of the origins of the universe, like those of many since, involves religion. For Hesiod, Chaos and Eros, earth and sky, night and day, rivers, seas, and stars are not just physical realities; they are divine presences. The mythological stories of the Theogony must therefore be understood on at least two levels: cosmological and pantheistic. The natural world and the divine world for Hesiod are but two sides of the same coin."

Back to topic:

Hesiod and the Monsters

There are other versions of the genealogies, but Hesiod's version in his Theogony is relatively straightforward and compact. There is some confusion at the end as to the parentage of the Nemean lion and the sphinx, but otherwise, it seems coherent.

Chrysaor is grandfather of the major monsters.

When Sea and Earth mated, one of their offsprings was a female named Ceto who mated with a brother named Phorcys to produce a substantial brood. One of their offspring was the lithifier Medusa whose head Perseus took using a mirror so he could keep his head averted. Before Medusa had turned into the monster who turned men into stone, she had been a beautiful maiden whose looks had captivated Poseidon. Poseidon mated with Medusa in Athena's sacred precinct, an act that outraged the virginal goddess and caused her to take revenge on the mere mortal. It was her revenge that turned Medusa into a monster and the god's copulation that made her pregnant with two odd creatures born from her neck at her death. These creatures were the winged horse Pegasus, who flew away and comes back into the mythological picture as the transport of a lesser double of Perseus, Bellerophon [see Interconnectedness of Greek heroes], and the horse's brother, Chysaor, who sometimes has wings -- when he is a boar -- and sometimes doesn't -- when he is a giant.

Chrysaor mated with the "beautifully-flowing" daughter of Ocean named Callirrhoe who produced, among others, Echidna. Edhidna was half nymph and half snake. When she mated with Typhaon "the terrible, outrageous and lawless," she gave birth to the 2-headed guard dog of the Cattle of Geryon, named Orthrus, the Hell hound of Hades, the poisonous Hydra, the fire-breathing Chimaera, possibly the Sphinx and the Nemean Lion, and other monsters.

Hesiod Passages

Here are the sections from Hesiod:

[233] And Sea begat Nereus [see Triton and the Old Man of the Sea], the eldest of his children, who is true and lies not: and men call him the Old Man because he is trusty and gentle and does not forget the laws of righteousness, but thinks just and kindly thoughts. And yet again he got great Thaumas and proud Phoreys, being mated with Earth, and fair-cheeked Ceto and Eurybia who has a heart of flint within her....

THE BESTIARY

[270] And again, Ceto bare to Phorcys the fair-cheeked Graiae, sisters grey from their birth: and both deathless gods and men who walk on earth call them Graiae, Pemphredo well-clad, and saffron-robed Enyo, and the Gorgons who dwell beyond glorious Ocean in the frontier land towards Night where are the clear-voiced Hesperides, Sthenno, and Euryale, and Medusa who suffered a woeful fate: she was mortal, but the two were undying and grew not old. With her lay the Dark-haired One in a soft meadow amid spring flowers. And when Perseus cut off her head, there sprang forth great Chrysaor and the horse Pegasus who is so called because he was born near the springs (pegae) of Ocean; and that other, because he held a golden blade (aor) in his hands. Now Pegasus flew away and left the earth, the mother of flocks, and came to the deathless gods: and he dwells in the house of Zeus and brings to wise Zeus the thunder and lightning. But Chrysaor was joined in love to Callirrhoe, the daughter of glorious Ocean, and begot three-headed Geryones. Him mighty Heracles slew in sea-girt Erythea by his shambling oxen on that day when he drove the wide-browed oxen to holy Tiryns, and had crossed the ford of Ocean and killed Orthus and Eurytion the herdsman in the dim stead out beyond glorious Ocean.

[295] And in a hollow cave she bare another monster, irresistible, in no wise like either to mortal men or to the undying gods, even the goddess fierce Echidna who is half a nymph with glancing eyes and fair cheeks, and half again a huge snake, great and awful, with speckled skin, eating raw flesh beneath the secret parts of the holy earth. And there she has a cave deep down under a hollow rock far from the deathless gods and mortal men. There, then, did the gods appoint her a glorious house to dwell in: and she keeps guard in Arima beneath the earth, grim Echidna, a nymph who dies not nor grows old all her days.

[306] Men say that Typhaon the terrible, outrageous and lawless, was joined in love to her, the maid with glancing eyes. So she conceived and brought forth fierce offspring; first she bare Orthus the hound of Geryones, and then again she bare a second, a monster not to be overcome and that may not be described, Cerberus who eats raw flesh, the brazen-voiced hound of Hades, fifty-headed, relentless and strong. And again she bore a third, the evil-minded Hydra of Lerna, whom the goddess, white-armed Hera nourished, being angry beyond measure with the mighty Heracles. And her Heracles, the son of Zeus, of the house of Amphitryon, together with warlike Iolaus, destroyed with the unpitying sword through the plans of Athene the spoil-driver. She was the mother of Chimaera who breathed raging fire, a creature fearful, great, swift-footed and strong, who had three heads, one of a grim-eyed lion; in her hinderpart, a dragon; and in her middle, a goat, breathing forth a fearful blast of blazing fire. Her did Pegasus and noble Bellerophon slay; but Echidna was subject in love to Orthus and brought forth the deadly Sphinx which destroyed the Cadmeans, and the Nemean lion, which Hera, the good wife of Zeus, brought up and made to haunt the hills of Nemea, a plague to men. There he preyed upon the tribes of her own people and had power over Tretus of Nemea and Apesas: yet the strength of stout Heracles overcame him.

[333] And Ceto was joined in love to Phorcys and bare her youngest, the awful snake who guards the apples all of gold in the secret places of the dark earth at its great bounds. This is the offspring of Ceto and Phorcys.

Hesiod, Homeric Hymns, Epic Cycle, Homerica, translated by Evelyn-White, H G. Loeb Classical Library Volume 57. London: William Heinemann, 1914.

Related:

Previous 2012 Myth Mondays:

  1. Hercules Hurls His Guest
  2. Scylla
  3. Olympics Origins II: Myrtilos
  4. Hercules the Giant-Killer
  5. The First Tyrant
  6. The King and the Harpies
  7. The Dawn Goddess Loves a Mortal
  8. Vediovis
  9. Even a Boar Wishes to Kiss Adonis
  10. Hero and Leander
  11. Who Were the Argonauts?
  12. The Chimera
  13. Narcissus and Echo
  14. How Perseus Fits In
  15. Hesiod and the Bestiary
  16. The First Olympics Origins I
  17. Dionysus and the Return of Hephaestus
  18. Zeus, the Recent Victor of the Titanomachy, Wins Once More in Hesiod's 'Theogony'
  19. Atlas, the Titan Who Didn't Shrug
  20. Troilus and ... Polyxena
  21. Who Is the Virgo?
  22. Pandora's Box
  23. Achilles and His Heel
  24. Hercules and His Labors
  25. The First Humans
  26. The Death of Pentheus
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