GREEK MYTHOLOGY

MIDAS


Midas, whose name has today become synonymous for riches and avarice, profited little from his riches. His experience of possessing them lasted for less than a day and curiously threatened him with a rapid demise. He was an example of sinful folly, for he meant no harm; he merely did not give the matter any intelligent thought. His story amply suggests that he was not enriched in this department.


He was the King of Phrygia in West central Anatolia, and he was known for the ornate rose gardens decorating his palace. Once, when Dionysus was leading his army onto India, old Silenus strayed into the King’s rose gardens while drunk. The fat old drunk had fallen asleep in the rose beds and was found by the servants of the palace. The servants bound him with rosy garlands, set a flowering wreath on his head, woke him up and took him to Midas. Midas welcomed him, as he recognised him as being Dionysus’ faithful companion and entertained him for ten days, then he took him back to Dionysus, who was so happy to have him back that he promised Midas that he would grant a wish. Midas, in his avarice, wished that whatever he touched would turn to gold. Dionysus had no other choice but to grant the King’s wish even though he could foresee what would happen at the next meal. Midas tried his new power on all matter of things like stones and walls and saw nothing until the food he lifted to his mouth became a lump of metal. Dismayed and very hungry and thirsty he was forced to return to the God and implore him to retract the favour. Dionysus instructed him to go and wash himself in the River Pactolus and then he would lose the fatal gift. He did so, and that was said to be the reason why gold was found in the sands of the river.


In another tale, Midas acted as the judge of a music contest between the gods Apollo and Pan, the God of the Pastures. Midas declared Pan the winner, and the angry Apollo gave the king the ears of a donkey. Midas wore a hat to hide the ears and made his barber swear never to tell anyone the embarrassing secret. Unable to keep the secret, the barber dug a hole and whispered into it, "King Midas has the ears of an ass." Reeds later grew from the hole, and whenever a breeze blew through them, they whispered the secret to anyone who was nearby.


ASCLEPIUS


Asclepius was the god of medicine and reputed ancestor of the Asklepiades, the ancient Greek doctors' guild.
He was the son of Apollon and the beautiful Trikkaian Princess Koronis. His mother had died in labour and was laid out on the pyre to be consumed, but his father rescued the child, cutting him from her womb. From this he received the name Asclepius "to cut open”. The boy was raised by the kentauros (centaur) Kheiron who instructed him in the school of medicine. Asclepius grew so skilled in the craft that he was able to restore the dead to life. However, because this was a crime against the natural order, Zeus destroyed him with a thunderbolt. After his death Asclepius was placed amongst the stars as the constellation Ophiochus ("the Serpent Holder"). Some say his mother was also set in the heavens as Corvus, the crow (korônê in Greek). Asklepios' apotheosis into godhood occurred at the same time. He was sometimes identified with Homer's Paion, the physician of the gods.


Asclepius was depicted as a kindly, bearded man holding a serpent-entwined staff. He is almost completely absent from ancient Greek vase painting, but statues of the god are quite common.

THE DANAIDS

The story of the Danaids begins before they were born.


Long ago, there were these two brothers who had some serious sibling rivalry afoot. One was named Danaus, and he was the King of Libya. The other was King Aegyptus of Egypt. Anyway, while each brother was officially friendly towards the other - they both coveted the land of the other. What made matters worse was that each brother had fifty children. Aegyptus had fifty sons and Danaus had fifty daughters (now what are the odds of that happening, I ask you!). Aegyptus thought this worked out perfectly - his sons would marry Danaus' daughters (the Danaids), and their children would rule both kingdoms.


Danaus was not a fan of this plan. Aegyptus' sons were rough, coarse and rowdy and wouldn't have made great sons-in-law. Plus, Danaus was getting a touch of empty-nest syndrome - I mean, it's hard to say goodbye to your child, but imagine saying goodbye to all fifty of them at once! The problem was that King Danaus didn't have the power to begin a war against his brother - Aegyptus had the required power (in more ways than one) to bring a serious conflict to Danaus. Thus Danaus feared that Aegyptus' sons would come and take the Danaids away by force. So "secretly" he built a ship, a beautiful ship, with fifty oars, and he fled with his daughters to Greece. They landed in Argos, and the people there saw the ship rowed by the fifty shining princesses and were awed! They made Danaus their king - and since he was trying to avoid publicity this didn't work out so well. But the people believed that Danaus had been sent from the Gods and wouldn't take no for an answer.


Perhaps he was sent from the Gods, for his reign in Argos was a time of peace and prosperity. That is, until the day that another fifty-oared ship landed in Argos. This may shock you, but somehow Aegyptus' fifty sons had found out about the Danaids migration and followed to claim their brides. Danaus was still too afraid to oppose them, so he agreed to their demands and prepared a decadent wedding feast - but before they were married he brought his daughters around him. To each of his fifty daughters he gave a dagger and instructed them to murder their new husbands as soon as they were alone.


That may sound like an easy decision: stay with your parents for the rest of your life and murder a beautiful and relatively innocent man who loves you, or marry the beautiful and virile man. But it wasn't so simple. Back then, there were laws and stritures that said people must obey their fathers - especially daughters had to obey their fathers, or risk being turned out without any support whatsoever, which could easily mean death. So when faced with the decision, forty-nine of the Danaids obeyed Danaus and slaughtered their husbands. However, only Hypermnestra, the oldest daughter of Danaus, didn't obey. Lynceus, the oldest son of Aegyptus, honoured her wish to remain a virgin, so by the end of the night, Hypermnestra was pretty clear that murder was not her goal. The two ran away to avoid Danaus' wrath, and to have a happy life together.
They did, too.


But back in Argos, Danaus and his other daughters weren't having such a great time. Despite his efforts, no one really wanted to marry a princess who had slit her last husband’s throat on the marriage bed. That somehow dampened some peoples’ ardour. So basically the rest of the poor Danaids lived the rest of their lives with no companions save each other and remained virgins! Hardly a happy, fulfilled or productive life.
Even Danaus recognised that the whole virginity issue wasn't such a great idea. He needed an heir, and his daughters weren't giving him one. So he had to track down Hypermnestra and Lynceus and bring them back. They ruled Argos after him and had a son named Acrisius. Acrisius had a daughter. And her name was Danae.

GLAUCUS AND SCYLLA


Ovid tells us that Glaucus was a fisherman who had been fishing one day from a green meadow that sloped down to the sea. He had spread his catch out on the green grass and was counting the fish when he saw them all begin to stir and then, moving towards the water, slip into it and swim away. He was amazed. He was not sure if a God had done this or if there was a strange power in the grass. He picked some grass and ate it, an irresistible longing for the sea came over him and he could not deny it. He ran and jumped into the waves. The sea gods accepted him kindly and called on Oceanus and Tetus to take his mortality away and to turn him into a God. A hundred rivers poured their water upon him; he fainted in the rushing flood. When he recovered he had become a sea God with green hair like the sea and fins with a fish-tail body. To the dwellers in the water a familiar form but strange to the dwellers on the earth. Scylla liked his appearance when she was bathing in the sea and he rose from the sea. She was afraid at first and ran to a safe distance away from where she could watch him. Glaucus told her that he was no monster but a God with power over the waters and that he loved her. Scylla ran away from him and was soon gone. Glaucus was in despair as he had fallen in love with Scylla and visited Circe, a sorceress, and beg her for a love potion in order to melt Scylla’s hard heart. As he told Circe his tale of love, Circe fell in love with him, she spoke to him with the sweetest words but Glaucus did not return her love, he could not get over his great love for Scylla. Circe was very angry and jealous of Scylla; she prepared a bail full of poison and poured the poison into the bay where she knew that Scylla often bathed. As soon as Scylla next bathed in the bay, she was turned into a monster, out from her body fierce dogs heads and serpents grew, as the beastly forms were a part of her she could not rid herself of them. She stood there rooted to a rock and in her misery she hated everything and everyone that came within her reach. She was a danger to all sailors that passed close to her, as Jason, Odysseus and Aeneas found out.


ERYSICHTHON


Erysichthon was an arrogant man lacking in reverence. This is the only myth in which Ceres appears cruel and vindictive. Erysichthon cut down the tallest oak in a grove that was sacred to Demeter. His servants did not agree when he ordered them to cut the great tree down, so he seized an axe himself and attacked the great trunk where the dryads used to dance around. Blood flowed from the tree as he struck it and a voice was heard that warned him that he would surely be punished by Ceres for this crime. These marvels did not scare him off but he continued to strike until the great oak fell to the ground. The Dryads rushed to Ceres to tell her what had happened and she was deeply offended and promised to punish the criminal in a way never known before. Ceres dispatched famine to dwell in his stomach so that he would never be able to sate his hunger and that no abundance shall ever satisfy him. He will starve when eating food, Famine obeyed the command and caught Erysichthon while he slept and she wrapped her thin arms around him, she filled him with herself and planted hunger within him. He woke starving and called for something to eat, the more he ate the more he wanted, he ate and ate but was never satisfied. At last he had spent all his wealth on food and had nothing else left but his daughter, so he sold her too, but in the sea where his daughter’s new ship lay, she prayed to Poseidon to rescue her and the Sea God heard her prayer and transformed her into a fisherman. Her new master now only saw a fisherman on the beach, whom he called to and inquired whether he had seen a young girl moments ago. The fisherman swore by the God of the Sea that no man or woman had come to this shore except for himself. When the master left, the girl returned to her previous form, she then returned to her father and told him what had happened; there he saw an endless opportunity to make money this way. He sold her again and again and each time Poseidon transformed her into a different creature and each time she escaped from her master and returned to her father. At last when the money she had earned for her father in order to sate his hunger was not enough, he consumed his own body.


POMONA AND VERTUMNUS


Pomona and Vertumnus were Roman divinities, not Greek. Pomona was the only nymph that did not love the wild woodland. She cared for fruits and orchards alone and gardening was her favourite art. She had shut herself away from all men, alone with her beloved trees. Of all men that sought her Vertumnus, the God of gardens and orchards, was the most ardent, but he could make no headway. At last Vertumnus, persisted, and finally won her by appearing to her in his own true beauty. Pomona and Vertumnus were listed among the Numina, or guardian spirits of Roman mythology, who watched over people or over aspects of the home or fields, in their case, of course, orchards and gardens. She had her own priest in Rome, and a grove sacred to her called the Pomonal that was located not far from Ostia, the old port of Rome.

 

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