A COUPLE OF SHORT MYTHS IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER
In one myth Amalthea was a goat on whose milk, Zeus as an infant was fed with, in another myth, she was a young nymph that owned the goat. It was said that she had a horn in the middle of her head that was always full of whatever food and drink people around her wished for. Her horn was known as the horn of plenty.
The Amazons were a nation of women, all warriors and men-haters. They used to live around the Caucasus and their chief city was Themiscyra. Strangely enough, they inspired artists to make statues and pictures of them far more than poets to write about them. They invaded Lycia and were repulsed by Bellerophon. They invaded Phrygia when Priam was young and Attica when Theseus was king. He had taken away their queen and they were trying to rescue her, but Theseus defeated them. In the Trojan War, they fought the Greeks under their queen, Penthesilea, according to a story not mentioned in the Iliad, told by Pausanias. He said that queen Penthesilea was killed by Achilles, who mourned for her as she lay dead, so young and so beautiful.
Amymone was one of the Danaids. Her father had sent her to draw water from a spring when a satyr saw her and pursued her. Poseidon hard her cry for help, loved her and saved her from the satyr. With his trident he made her honor the spring which bears her name.
Antiope was a princess of Thebes that bore two sons to Zeus, Zethus and Amphion. Fearing her father’s anger she left the children on a lonely mountain as soon as they were born, but they were discovered by a herdsman and brought up by him. The man then ruling Thebes, Lycus, and his wife Dirce, treated Antiope with great cruelty until she determined to hide herself from them. Somehow they recognized her or she recognized them, and gathering a band of their friends, they went to the palace to avenge her. They killed Lycus and brought a terrible death upon Dirce, tying her by her hair to a bull. The brothers threw her body into the spring which was ever after called by her name.
Arachne was a young maiden from Lydia, who had been gifted the art of weaving. Not only were her finished products beautiful to look at, but the very act of her weaving was a very beautiful sight. People abandoned their own duties to watch over Arachne weaving. When one day she was asked if the Goddess of weaving, Athena had taught Arachne how to weave, she laughed and was offended that her weaving had been mentioned in second to Athena’s weaving and so she answered that her products were more beautiful than the Goddess’. Athena heard the young maiden’s comments and was offended, she decided to give Arachne a second chance and transformed herself into an old beggar and approached Arachne. She advised Arachne not to offend the Gods but Arachne told the old beggar to save his breath and that if Athena was offended by her work then she would agree to participate in a contest against her whenever the goddess wished. Athena accepted the challenge and revealed her true form. The people that had been watching Arachne weaving shrunk back in fear at the sight of the goddess but Arachne held her head up high and stuck to her claim. Athena weaved a beautiful scene of Poseidon and the salt water spring, herself with an olive tree and gifts at her temple in the city of Athens. The bystanders watched this scene appearing out of threads, with wide eyes. Arachne, created a tapestry with scenes of Zeus’ various infidelities: Leda, holding a swan, Europa on the back of a bull, Danae standing in the golden rain shower. The creatures in the tapestry looked alive and even Athena herself was forced to admit that Arachne’s work was much better than her own. Athena was furious at losing Arachne’s challenge and so she tor the tapestry to pieces and destroyed the loom. Athena made Arachne feel so guilty at winning the challenge that she hung herself, but then Athena took pity on Arachne and brought her back to life but not as a mortal, as a spider so that she and her descendants to hang forever from threads and weave for the rest of their time.
Arion is said to be a real person, a poet that lived about 700 B.C, but none of his poems have ever reached us, and all that is well known about him is the story about his escape from death, which is quite like a mythological story. He had travelled from Corinth to Sicily in order to participate in a music contest. He was a master of the lyre and he won the prize. On his return journey, his sailors coveted the prize and planned to kill him. Apollo appeared to Arion in a dream and told him of the danger in front and of how he could save his life. When his sailors attacked him, he begged them for a favor before he died, he asked to be able to play and sing for one last time, the sailors accepted this wish and at the end of his song, Arion flung himself into the sea, where dolphins, who had been drawn to the ship by his enchanted music, bore him up as he sank and carried him to the nearest land.
Aristaeus was a bee-keeper; he was the son of Apollo and the water nymph Cyrene. When all his bees died for some unknown cause, he went to his mother for help. She told him that Proteus, the wise old God of the sea could show him how to avoid another similar disaster, but would only do so if compelled. Aristaeus must seize the God and chain him, a very difficult task, as Menelaus on his way home from Troy found out. Proteus had the magic ability to change himself into many different forms, however if his captor was resolute enough to hold him fast through all the changes, he would finally give in and answer the question that he had been asked. Aristaeus followed the directions that his mother had given him and went to Proteus’ favorite haunt, the island of Pharos, or otherwise called Karpathos. There he managed to seize Proteus and not let him go, in spite of all the terrible forms he assumed, until the god was discouraged and returned to his own shape. Then he told Aristaeus to sacrifice to the Gods and leave the carcasses of the animals in the place of sacrifice. Nine days later, he must go back and examine the bodies. Once again Aristaeus did as he had been told, and on the ninth day, he found a marvel, a great swarm of bees in one of the carcasses. He was never again troubled by any blight or disease among his bees.
AURORA AND TITHONUS
Tithonus was the husband of Aurora, the goddess of the dawn and she had bore the dark-skinned prince Memnon of Ethiopia who was killed at Troy while fighting for the Trojans. Tithonus, himself had had a strange fate. Aurora had asked Zeus to make him immortal and Zeus had agreed, but Aurora had not thought to ask also that he remained young. So, it came to pass that he grew old, but could not die. At last, he was helpless, he was unable to move his hands and legs, he prayed for death but there was no release for him. He must live on forever, with old age forever pressing upon him more and more. At last in pity the goddess laid him in a room and left him there, shutting the door. There he babbled endlessly, his words had no meaning as his mind had gone with the strength of his body. He was only the dry husk of a man. He shrank and shrank in size and at last Aurora with feeling for the natural fitness of things turned him into the skinny and noisy grasshopper.
BITON AND CLEOBIS
Biton and Cleobis were sons of Cydippe, a priestess of Hera. She longed to see a most beautiful statue of the goddess at Argos, made by the great sculptor Polyclitus the Elder, who was said to be as great as his younger contemporary, Phidias. Argos was too far away for her to walk and there were no horse or oxen to draw her. But her two sons determined that she should have her wish. They yoked themselves to a car and drew her all the long way through the dust and heat. Everyone admired their filial piety when they arrived, and the proud and happy mother, standing before the statue prayed that Hera would reward her two sons by giving them the best gift in her power. As she finished her prayer the two lads sank to the ground. They were smiling, and they looked as if they were peacefully asleep; but they were dead.
Callisto was the daughter of Lycaon, a king of Arcadia who had been changed into a wolf because of his wickedness. He had set human flesh on the table for Zeus when the God had been his guest. His punishment was deserved, but his daughter suffered as terribly as he and she was innocent of all wrong. Zeus had seen her hunting in the train of Artemis and fallen in love with her. Hera, furiously angry, turned the maiden into a bear after her son was born. When the boy had grown up and was out hunting, the goddess brought Callisto before him, intending to have him shoot his mother, in ignorance of course. But Zeus snatched the bear away and placed her among the stars, where she is called the Great Bear. Later her son Arcas was placed beside her and was called the Lesser Bear. Hera, enraged at this honor to her rival, persuaded the God of the sea to forbid the Bears to descend into the ocean like the other stars. They alone of the constellations never set below the horizon.
Chiron was one of the Centaurs, unlike the others who were violent and fierce creatures, Chiron was known everywhere for his goodness and wisdom. The young sons of great heroes were often entrusted to him so he could train and teach them. Achilles was one of his pupils and so was Aesculapius, the great physician; The famous hunter Actaeon, too and many another. He alone among the Centaurs was immortal and yet in the end he died and went to the lower world. Indirectly and unintentionally Hercules was the cause of his dying. He had stopped in to see a Centaur who was a friend of his, Pholus, and being very thirsty he persuaded him to open a jar of wine which was the common property of all the Centaurs. The aroma of the wonderful liquor informed the other Centaurs what had happened and they rushed down to take vengeance on the offender. But Hercules was more than a match for all of them. He fought them off, but in the fight, he accidentally wounded Chiron, who had taken no part in the attack. The wound proved to be incurable and finally Zeus permitted Chiron to die rather than live in pain forever.
Clytie’s story is unique, for instead of a God in love with an unwilling maiden, here, a maiden is in love with an unwilling God. Clytie loved the Sun-god and He found nothing to love in her. She pined away, sitting on the ground out of doors where she could watch him, turning her face and following him with her eyes as he journeyed over the sky. Sp gazing she was changed into a flower, the sunflower, which ever turns towards the sun.
Her story, like a number of others, shows how strongly the ancient Greeks disapproved of destroying or injuring a tree. With her sister Iole she went one day to a pool intending to make garlands for the nymphs. She was carrying her little son, and seeking near the water of a lotus tree full of bright blossoms, she plucked some of them to please the baby. To her horror she saw drops of blood flowing down the stem. The tree was really the nymph, Lotis, who fleeing from a pursuer had taken refuge in this form. When Dryope, terrified at the ominous sight, tried to hurry away, her feet would not move; they seemed rooted in the ground. Iole watching her helplessly saw bark beginning to grow upward, covering her body. It had reached her face when her husband came to the spot with her father. Iole cried out what had happened and the two men, rushing towards the tree, embraced the still warm trunk and watered it with their tears. Dryope had time only to declare that she had done no wrong intentionally and beg them to bring her child as often as they could to the tree to play in its shade, and some day to tell him her story so that he would think whenever he saw the spot ‘’Here in this tree trunk my mother is hidden’’. She also begged the men to tell her son never to pick flowers, and to think that every bush could be a Goddess in disguise. Then she could speak no longer, the bark closed over her face. She was gone forever.
Epimenides is a figure of mythology only because of the story of his long sleep. He lived around 600 B.C. and is said as a boy when looking for a lost sheep to have been overcome by a slumber with lasted for fifty seven years. On waking he continued the search for the sheep unaware of what had happened, and found everything changed. He was sent by the oracle at Delphi to purify Athens of a plague. When the grateful Athenians would had given him a large amount of gold and treasures, he refused and asked only that there should be friendship between Athens and his own home, Cnossos in Crete.
He is the same as Erechtheus. Homer knew only one man of that name. Plato speaks of two. He was the son of Hephaestus reared by Athena, half man, half serpent. Athena gave a chest in which she had put the infant to the three daughters of Cecrops, forbidding them to open it. They did open it, however, and saw in it the serpent like creature. Athena drove them mad as a punishment and in the end they killed themselves, jumping from the acropolis. When Erictonius grew up, he became the king of Athens. His grandson was called by his name, and was the father of the second Cecrops, Procris, Creusa and Orithyia.
HERO AND LEANDER
Leander was a young man living in Abydus, a town on the Hellespont, and Hero was Priestess of Aphrodite in Sestus on the opposite shore. Every night Leander swam across to her, guided by the light, some say of the lighthouse in Sestus, some say of a torch that Hero always set blazing on the top of a tower. One very stormy night the light was blown out by the wind and Leander perished. His body was washed up on the shore and Hero, finding it, killed herself.
The Hyades were daughters of Atlas and half sisters of the Pleiades. They were the rainy stars, supposed to bring rain because the time of their evening and morning setting, which comes in early May and November, is usually rainy. They were six in number. Dionysus as a baby was entrusted to them by Zeus, and to reward them for their care he set them among the stars.
IBYCUS AND THE CRANES
He is not a mythological character, but a poet that lived about 550 B.C. only a very few fragments of his poems have ever come down to us. All that is known of him is the dramatic story of his death. He was attacked by robbers near Corinth and mortally wounded. A flock of cranes flew by overhead, and he called on them to avenge him. Soon after, over the open theatre in Corinth where a play was being performed to a full house, a flock of cranes appeared, hovering above the crowd. Suddenly, a man’s voice was heard. He cried out as if he was panic-stricken, ‘’the cranes of Ibycus, the avengers!’’ the audience in turn shouted, ‘’the murderer has informed against himself.’’ The man was seized, the other robbers discovered and all put to death.
She was the daughter of the Titans Phoebe and Coeus. Zeus loved her, but when she was about to bear a child, he abandoned her, afraid of Hera. All countries and islands were afraid for the same reason, and refused to receive her and give her a place where her child would be born. On and on she wandered in desperation until she reached a bit of land which was floating on the sea. It had no foundation, but was tossed hither and thither by waves and winds. It was called Delos and besides being of all islands the most insecure it was rocky and baron. But when Leto set foot on it and asked for refuge, the little isle welcomed her gladly, and at that moment four lofty pillars rose from the bottom of the sea and held the island firmly forever. There Leto’s children were born, Artemis and Phoebus Apollo; And in after years Apollo’s glorious temple stood there, visited by men from all over the world. The barren rock was called ‘’the heaven built isle’’, and from being the most despised it became the most renowned of the islands.
In the Iliad a vineyard is described with youths and maidens singing, as they gather the fruit, ‘’a sweet Linus song.’’ This was probably a lament for the young son of Apollo and Psamathe – Linus, who was deserted by his mother, brought up by shepherds, and before he was full-grown torn to pieces by dogs. This Linus was, like Adonis and Hyacinthus, a type of all lovely young life that dies or it is withered before it has born fruit. The Greek word ailion! Meaning ‘’woe for Linus! ’’ Grew to mean no more than the English ‘’alas!’’ and was used in any lament. There was another Linus, the son of Apollo and a Muse, who taught Orpheus and tried to teach Hercules, but was killed by him.
She was more fortunate than other maidens beloved of the Gods. Idas, one of the heroes of the Caledonian Hunt and also one of the Argonauts, carried her off from her father with her consent. They would have lived happily ever after, but Apollo fell in love with her. Idas refused to give her up; He even dared to fight with Apollo for her. Zeus parted them and told Marpessa to choose which man she would have. She chose the mortal, fearing, certainly not without reason, that the god would have not been faithful to her.
The flute was invented by Athena, but she threw it away because in order to play it she had to puff out her cheeks and disfigure her face. Marsyas, a satyr, found it and played so enchantingly upon it that he dared to challenge Apollo to a contest. The god won, of course, and punished Marsyas by flaying him.
He saved and reared two little snakes when his servants killed the parent snakes, and as pets, they repaid him well. Once when he was asleep they crept upon his couch and licked his ears. He got up in a great fright, but he found what he understood what two birds on his window sill were saying to each other. The snakes had made him able to understand the language of all flying and all creeping creatures. He learned in this way the art of divination as no one ever had, and he became a famous soothsayer. He saved himself, too by his knowledge. His enemies once captured him and kept him a prisoner in a little cell. While in the cell, he heard the worms saying that the roof beam had been almost gnawed through so that it would soon fall and crush all beneath it. At once he told his captors and asked to be moved elsewhere. They did as he said and directly afterward the roof fell in. then they said how great a diviner he was and they freed and rewarded him.
Her husband, Cresphontes, a son of Hercules, and king of Messenia, was killed in a rebellion together with two of his sons. The man who succeeded him, Polyphontes, took her as his wife. But her third son, Aepytus, had been hidden by her in Arcadia. He returned years later pretending to be a man who had slain Aepytus and was kindly received therefore by Polyphontes. His mother however, not knowing who he was, planned to kill her son’s murderer, as she thought him. However, in the end she found out who he was and the two together brought about Polyphontes’ death. Aepytus became king.
These were men created by ants on the island of Aegina, in the reign of Aeacus, Achilles’ grandfather, and they were Achilles’ followers in the Trojan War. Not only were they thrifty and industrious, as one would suppose from their origin, but they were also brave. They were changed into men from ants because of one of Hera’s attacks of jealousy. She was angry because Zeus loved Aegina, the maiden for whom the island was named, and whose son Aeacus, became its king. Hera sent a fearful pestilence which destroyed the people by thousands. It seemed that no one would have been left alive. Aeacus climbed to the lofty temple of Zeus and prayed to him, reminding him that he was his son and a son of the woman he had loved. As he spoke he saw a troop of busy ants. He cried to his father to make these ants people as to fill his city once again. A peel of thunder seemed to answer him and that night he dreamed that he saw the ants being transformed into human shape. At daybreak his son Telemon woke him saying that a great host of men was approaching the palace. He went out and saw a multitude, as many as the ants in the number, all crying out that they were his faithful subjects. So Aegina was repopulated from an ant hill and its people were called Myrmidons after the ant (myrmex) from which they had sprung.
NISUS AND SCYLLA
Nisus, king of Megara, had on his head a purple lock of hair which he had been warned never to cut. The safety of his throne depended upon his preserving it. Minos of Crete laid siege to his city, but Nisus knew that no harm would come to it as long as he had the purple lock. His daughter Scylla, used to watch Minos from the city wall and she fell madly in love with him. She could think of no way to make him care for her except by taking her fathers lock of hair to him and enabling him to conquer the town. She did this; She cut it from her fathers head in his sleep and carrying it to Minos she confessed what she had done. He shrank from her in horror and drove her out of his sight. When the city had been conquered and the Cretans launched their ships to sail home, she came rushing to the shore, mad with passion and leaping into the water, seized the rudder of the boat that carried Minos, but at this moment a great eagle scooped down upon her, it was her father whom the gods had saved by changing him into a bird. In terror she let go of her hold and would have fallen into the water, except that suddenly she too became a bird. Some god had pity on her, traitor though she was, because she had sinned through love.
He was a young man of gigantic stature and great beauty and a mighty hunter. He fell in love with the daughter of the king of Chios, and for love of her, he cleared the island of wild beasts. The spoils of the chase he brought always home to his beloved, whose name is sometimes said to be Aero, sometimes Merope. Her father Oenopion, agreed to give her to Orion, but he kept putting the marriage off. One day when Orion was drunk, he insulted the maiden, and Oenopion appealed to Dionysus to punish him. The god threw him into a deep sleep and Oenopion blinded him. An oracle told him however that he would be able to see again if he went to the east and let the rays of the rising sun fall on his eyes. He went as far east as Lemnos and there he recovered his sight. Instantly he started back to Chios to take vengeance on the king, but he had fled and Orion could not find him. He went on to Crete, and lived there as Artemis’ huntsman. Never less in the end the goddess killed him. Some say that Dawn also called Aurora loved him and that Artemis in jealous anger shot him. Others say that he made Apollo angry and that the god by a trick got his sister to slay him. After his death he was placed in heaven as a constellation, which shows him with a girdle, sword, club and lions skin.
They were the daughter of Atlas, seven in number. Their names were Electra, Maia, Taygete, Alcyone, Merope, Celaeno, and Sterope. Orion perused they but they fled before him and he could never seize any of them. Still he continued to follow them until Zeus pitying them, placed them in the heavens as stars. But it was said that even there Orion continued his pursuit, always unsuccessful, yet persistent. While they lived on earth, one of them, Maia was the mother of Hermes. Another, Electra was the mother of Dardanus, the founder of the Trojan race. Although it is agreed that there were seven of them, only six stars are clearly visible. The seventh is invisible except to those who have especially keen sight.
Rhoecus, seeing an oak about to fall, prompt it up. The dryad who would have perished with it told him to ask anything he desired and she would give it. He answered that he only wanted her love and she consented. She bade him keep on the alert for she would send him a messenger, a bee to tell him her wishes. But Rhoecus met some friends and forgot all about the bee, so much so when he heard one buzzing he drove it away and hurt it. Returning to the tree, he was blinded by the Dryad, who was angry at the disregard of her words and the injury to her messenger.
This man was another example of how fatal it was for mortals to try to imitate the gods. What he did was so foolish however those in later years it was often said that he had gone mad. He pretended to be Zeus. He had a chariot made in such a way that there was a loud clanging of brass when it moved. On the day of Zeus’ festival, he drove it furiously through the town, scattering at the same time fire brands and shouting to the people to worship him because he was Zeus, the thunderer. Instantly there came a crash of real thunder and a flash of lightning. Salmoneus fell from his chariot, dead
The story is often explained as pointing back to a time when weather magic was practiced. Salmoneus, according to this view was a musician trying to bring on a rain storm by imitating it, a common magical method.
He was a king of Corinth. One day he chanced to see a mighty eagle, greater and more splendid than any other bird, bearing a maiden to an island not far away. When the river god Asopus, came to him to tell him that his daughter, Aegina had been carried off, he strongly suspected by Zeus and asked his help in finding her, Sisyphus told him what he had seen. Thereby he drew down on himself the relentless wrath of Zeus. In Hades he was punished by having to try forever to roll a rock uphill which forever rolled back upon him. Nor did he help Asopus. The river god went to the island but Zeus drove him away with his thunderbolt. The name of the island was changed to Aegina in honor of the maiden and her son Aeacus was the grand father of Hercules who was called sometimes Aeacides, descendant of Aeacus.
Tyro was the daughter of Salmoneus. She bore twin sons to Poseidon-but bearing her father’s displeasure if he learned of the children’s birth, she abandoned them. They were found by the keeper of Salmoneus’ horses, and brought up by him and his wife, who called once Pelias and the other Neleus. Tyro’s husband Cretheus discovered, years later, what her relation with Poseidon had been. In great anger he put her away and married one of her maids, Sidero who ill-treated her. When Cretheus died the twins were told by their foster mother who their real parents were. They went at once to seek out Tyro and discover themselves to her. They found her living in great misery and so they looked for Sidero, to punish her. She had heard of their arrival and she had taken refuge in Hera’s temple. Nevertheless Pelias slew her, defying the goddess’ anger. Hera revenged herself, but only after many years. Pelias’ half brother, the son of Tyro and Cretheus, was the father of Jason whom Pelias had tried to kill by sending him on the quest of the golden fleece. Instead, Jason was indirectly the cause of his death. He was killed by his daughters under the direction of Medea, Jason’s wife.