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Category Archives: Unusual Greek Myths

Top Ten: Most Terrifying Monsters Of Greek Mythology

by October 31, 2013

10. The Sphinx
Known from: The Legend Of Oedipus
Confronted by: Oedipus

sphinxThe first creature on our list is the sphinx; a monster that was said to have the body of a lion, the head of a woman, and the wings of an eagle.The sphinx is perhaps known best for her role in the legend of Oedipus.The story goes that as Oedipus was traveling down the road to Thebes, he is confronted by the mysterious creature. The sphinx blocks Oedipus’ path and confronts him with a riddle. Although the exact riddle is not mentioned in early Greek legend, the popular version of the story tells that the Sphinx poses the following riddle to the young traveler…

What is that which in the morning goeth upon four feet; upon two feet in the afternoon; and in the evening upon three?”Oedipus correctly answers the riddle: Man- who crawls on all fours as a child, then on two feet as an adult, and finally (with the help of a cane) on three feet during the sunset of life. Having been bested at her own game, the Sphinx throws herself from a high cliff. In some versions, the Sphinx devours herself out of anger and frustration. Had Oedipus not answered the riddle correctly, he would have been strangled and devoured by the creature, which had been the fate of so many travelers before him.

9. The Cyclops
Known from: The Odyssey
Confronted by: Odysseus

cyclopsThe cyclops were primordial giants that were said to have been born from Gaia, the earth. They were said to possess great strength and ferocity, with one bulging eye protruding from their forehead.  Fearing their power, the cyclops were thrown into the pits of Tartarus by their father Uranus. The monsters remained imprisoned when the titan Cronus overthrew Uranus and took his place as ruler of the universe. It was only when the Olympians came to power did the cyclops find freedom. The mighty Zeus released the monsters, who in turn would craft thunderbolts for the young Olympian.

Perhaps the most famous story involving a cyclops involves Odysseus and his woeful travels. In book 9 of The Odyssey, Odysseus and his crew find themselves trapped in the cave of the mighty cyclops, Polyphemus. The monster blocks their escape and devours the flesh of his captives day after day. Being known for his cleverness, Odysseus devises a plan to escape.

Odysseus offers to Polyphemus wine that the traveler brought along from his ship. The cyclops indulges and is soon very drunk. Feeling joyful,polyphemus the monster asks the man his name. Odysseus replies that his name is “nobody.” When Polyphemus falls asleep from intoxication, Odysseus and him men blind the cyclops by stabbing him in the eye with a sharpened staff. Polyphemus, now enraged, cries out to the other cyclops of the island that “Nobody” has blinded him.

Odysseus and him men then escape from the cave of the monster by harnessing themselves to the under bellies of the numerous sheep that Polyphemus shepherds. Now completely blind, the monster feels the backs of the animals as they leave to graze; the cyclops is unaware that his captives are escaping silently, hiding under his flock. As Odysseus sails away, he boasts to the defeated monster who in turn attempts to sink the man’s ship by hurling boulders from a high cliff. 

8. The Chimera
Known from: The Legend Of Bellerophon
Confronted by: Bellerophon

The Chimera was a ferocious, fire breathing monstrosity that possessed the body and head of a lion with the head of a goat protruding from it’s back and a snake for a tail. The brief description of the Chimera in the text of The Iliad is the earliest surviving record of the creature. The Chimera is traditionally considered to have been a female, and was said to have given birth to the Sphinx and the  Nemean lion. The monster was feared and believed to have been an omen for storms, shipwrecks and other natural disasters.

ChimeraThe Chimera is best known for its role in the legend of Bellerophon. A hero born to the city of Corinth, Bellerophon would be ordered by king Lobates of Lycia to slay the monster in order to atone for his past sins. Bellerophon, knowing he would need assistance for such a task, prayed and then slept in the temple of Athena. Upon waking he saw the goddess before him, leading the mythical horse Pegasus, who possessed the ability of flight.

With Pegasus saddled, Bellerophon flew to the lair of the Chimera in Lycia. Knowing that the creature was ferocious and would not easily be defeated, Bellerophon devised a plan. He attached a large chunk of lead to the end of his spear. Riding Pegasus, he flew towards the monster. Just as the Chimera opened it’s mouth to scorch the hero with fire, Bellerophon drove the lead into the creatures mouth. The fiery breath of the Chimera melted the lead and caused the creature to suffocate and die.

7. The Empusa
Known from: General Mythology

Unlike the other creatures on this list, The Empusa is perhaps little known and does not appear in any traditional epic or popular legend. However her frightening appearance, and her ghastly tendency to feast on human blood and flesh, more than warrants her place as number seven on our list.

The Empusa is often depicted as a beautiful woman, who transforms into a creature with sharp teeth, flaming hair, and (in some interpretations) bat wings. Empusa was said to be a demigoddess under the control of the goddess Hecate, a being that is often associated with crossroads and entrance ways.

The Empusa would often seduce young men traveling alone. Once the unsuspecting youth was fast asleep, the creature would shift to her hideous form and devour the boys flesh and drink his blood for sustenance. The Empusa is probably best known for her appearance in  Aristophanes’s The Frogs, where she terrifies the god Dionysus as he travels to the underworld.

6. The Hydra
Known from: The Legend of Heracles
Confronted by: Heracles

Number six on our list is the deadly Hydra, a serpent like water monster with reptilian traits.  A creature who’s venom was so dangerous, that even the breath exhaled by the Hydra could be lethal to any man. Additionally, the Hydra had the confounding ability to regrow any decapitated limbs with alarming speed. It was said that for every head that was severed, two more would grow in it’s place. Its lair was the lake of Lerna in an ancient part of the Peloponnese . The Hydra would hide in an underwater cave that was said to have been an entrance to the underworld.

The Hydra is known for being the second monster that Heracles encounters during his twelve labors. Before attacking the Hydra, Heracles covers his mouth and nose with cloth so that he willHydra remain safe from the deadly toxins the monster emits from it’s many mouths. Heracles originally attacks the Hydra with either a sickle, a sword, or his trademark club. However the hero quickly realizes that for every head decapitated, the creature quickly grows two more. The battle would appear hopeless.

Heracles then devises a plan to turn the tide against the monster. As soon as the hero decapitates one of the Hydra’s heads, he immediately takes a torch to the stump of a neck. The wound is cauterized and the creature is unable to produce anymore menacing heads. Heracles eventually lobs off the final head of the Hydra, effectively killing the creature and completing his second task.

5. The Charybdis and Scylla 
Known from: The Odyssey
Confronted by: Odysseus

ScyllaYou might argue that because the Charybdis and the Scylla are actually two different monsters, that they should not occupy the same spot on our list of nightmarish creatures. However the two creatures, who lived on opposite sides of a narrow strait, have become so synonymous that it is impossible to talk about one without mentioning the other. The Charybdis is never explicitly described, other than saying it is a ferocious sea monster that lives under a rock on one side of a narrow strait. The Charybdis regularly swallows massive amounts of water which create monstrous whirl pools that are capable of destroying an entire ship.

Similarly, the Scylla lives on the opposite side of the narrow strait and is believed to have been a many headed sea monster that fed on the flesh of sailors who unwittingly traveled too close to the beasts lair. The phrase “between a Charybdis and Scylla” now is understood to mean being stuck between two dangerous decisions with no apparent solution.

The Charybdis and Scylla are found within the pages of The OdysseyOdysseus is forced to navigate the narrow strait during his travels and scylla2decides to travel closer to the Scylla, so as to avoid the massive whirlpool of the Charybdis. As the ship sails past, six of Odysseus’ men are swallowed up by the monster and eaten alive. Homer describes it…

“…they writhed, gasping as Scylla swung them up her cliff and there at her cavern’s mouth she bolted them down raw—screaming out, flinging their arms toward me, lost in that mortal struggle.” -Homer, The OdysseyLater in the story, Odysseus is stranded on a raft and must navigate the strait for a second time. This time he attempts to sail past the side where the Charybdis is waiting. His raft is sucked into the massive whirlpool, but Odysseus himself manages to stay afloat by holding on to a fig tree whose branches are dangling from shore. Odysseus eventually recovers his raft and sails away quickly.

4. Cerberus
Known from: General Mythology, The Legend of Heracles
Confronted by: Heracles

Cerberus is a popular creature in ancient mythology. Hades’ loyal guard dog, Cerberus was a massive hound with three heads that guarded the entrance to the underworld. It was said that the beast only had an appetite for living flesh and so would only allow the deceased spirits to pass, while consuming any living mortal who was foolish enough to come near him. It is said that the three heads were meant to symbolize the past, present and future. In other versions of the myth the three heads represent youth, adult hood, and old age.

cerberusWhile Cerberus was a notable creature of mythology, he is probably best remembered as the twelfth and final labor that Heracles most perform. Heracles must enter the underworld, wrestle the beast using no weapons, and then bring Cerberus to the surface world, alive, to present to the Mycenaean king Eurystheus, the man who had originally ordered Heracles to perform these tasks as recompense for his past sins.

Heracles manages to tackle the beast; then using his great strength, throws the animal over his shoulder and drags him to the mortal world. It was said that upon seeing Cerberus, Eurystheus was so terrified that he hid in a large vase and begged Heracles to return the hell hound back to Hades.

3. The Minotaur
Known from: The Legend of Theseus
Confronted by: Theseus

MinotaurA grotesque abomination that possessed the body of a man and the head of a bull, the Minotaur is best remembered for his affinity for devouring flesh and his cryptic home, deep within the confines of the twisted labyrinth. The labyrinth was an impossible maze constructed by the inventor Daedalus. It was said to have been located under the palace of Knossos, the home of King Minos of Crete.

The story goes that King Minos, the ruler of Crete, lost his son Androgeus, when the boy was murdered in Athens. Accounts vary, but one version tells that the prince was murdered because the Athenians were jealous of his many victories at the recent Panathenaic Games in Athens. King Minos would subsequently wage war on the Athenians, eventually finding victory. As penance for the murder of Androgeus, every year the Athenians were forced to send seven young men and seven maidens to the island of Crete, where they would be released into the labyrinth and systematically hunted and devoured by the Minotaur.

It is at this time that Theseus, the hero of Athens, volunteers to be sent to Crete as a sacrifice to the monster. Upon arriving Theseus is aided by  Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos. Before the Athenians can be trapped within the labyrinth, Ariadne releases Theseus from his holding cell and brings him to the entrance of the great maze. Theseus navigates the labyrinth and discovers the Minotaur sleeping in the center of the vast dungeon.

Using the element of surprise, Theseus attacks the Minotaur and dispenses the monster with ease. The hero and the other Athenians, along with princess Ariadne, escape Minos’ palace and make a hasty retreat to Athens under the cover of night.

2. Medusa
Known from: The Legend of Perseus
Confronted by: Perseus

A monstrous creature with the ability to turn to stone any person who gazed upon her face, Medusa remains a popular monster of ancient mythology. Interpretations of Medusa differ. Somemedusa accounts describe how Medusa was born to the archaic marine deity, Ceto. In this version of the tale, Medusa is born with a hideous face and a serpents tail where her legs should be. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Medusa was told to have once been a beautiful maiden who was transformed into a hideous monster after being raped in the temple of Athena by the sea god Poseidon. The one aspect of Medusa that remains consistent through various legends his her hair, which was said to have been composed of writhing, venomous snakes.

Medusa is confronted by the hero Perseus, who was bade by his stepfather to retrieve the head of the monster. Using a mirrored shield that was given to him by Athena, Perseus viewed Medusa’s reflection so as not to look directly at the monster. Perseus slays Medusa and chops off her head. From the neck of the dying Gorgon, sprang the winged horse Pegasus. Perseus would use the head of Medusa as a weapon against enemies; until he eventually presented it to Athena who attached it to the front of her shield.

1. Typhon
Known from: The Theogony
Confronted by: Zeus

TyphonWhen making this list, I gave serious thought to who would occupy the seat as the most terrifying monster of Greek mythology. I asked several colleagues and took several polls. However, when we take time to truly consider all the legendary beast, there can be only one clear winner.

Typhon was known as the “Father of All Monsters.” He was birthed from Gaia (the earth) and Tartarus (the depths of hell). He was said to have been the most ferocious creature ever to roam the earth. Typhon was massive. It was said that when he stood upright, his head brushed against the stars. The lower half of his body consisted of two coiled viper tails that constantly were hissing. Instead of fingers, several dragon heads erupted from his hands. He was said to have wings that, when spread, could blot out the sun. Fire flashed from his eyes, striking fear into the heart of any living creature, even the might Olympians.

Typhon is described in Hesiod’s The Theogony…

“The hands and arms of him are mighty, and have work in them, and the feet of the powerful god were tireless, and up from his shoulders there grew a hundred snake heads, those of a dreaded drakon, and the heads licked with dark tongues, and from the eyes on the inhuman heads fire glittered from under the eyelids.” -Hesiod, The Theogony

Typhon was so mighty, that the only conceivable opponent to defy him was Zeus himself. While the other Olympians ran in fear, Zeus stood firm against the monstrous being. A great battle Typhon and Zeusensued that caused countless earthquakes and tsunamis. The war between Typhon and Zeus was so mighty that it threatened to break the planet in two.

Eventually Zeus would triumph over Typhon. By casting one hundred well aimed thunderbolts to the head of the monster, Typhon was cast down into the pits of Tartarus where he was sealed away for all time. However, the rage of this monster could not be contained. While he was trapped beneath the earth, he occasionally would experience fits of anger . His furry would manifest in the form of volcanic eruptions, and in this way Typhon continues to terrorize humanity from his earthly prison.

Jason and the Quest for the Golden Fleece: The Colchis Days

by June 26, 2013

We’ve been writing for a while about one of the most famous myths of Ancient Greece, Jason and the Quest for the Golden Fleece. It’s a story filled with heroes, monsters, triumph and treachery, all while the main man, Jason, attempts to retrieve his rightful place as king of Iolcos.

So far Jason has gathered his infamous gang, which unabashedly enjoyed the man-free island of Lemnos and accidently killed the kind king of Cyzicus and many of his trusted men. One might not be cheering these fellows at the moment, but nevertheless, they continue on their crusade.

This time the group, named the Argonauts after their speedy boat, land in Thrace, at the court of Phineus of Salmydessus. Due to his keen ability of prophecy and his propensity to reveal too much, the poor King Phineus had incurred the disfavor of Zeus. The God of the Gods responded by blinding the foreseeing royal and placing him on an island in front of a buffet of food. But with his twisted ways, Zeus also sent Harpies, or mythological winged spirits, to steal Phineus’ food everyday.

220px-HarpijWhen Jason chanced on the emaciated king, he took pity on him and killed the Harpies. As thanks for this good deed, Phineus revealed the next set of clues for Jason: the location of Colchis, where Jason would find the elusive Golden fleece, as well as how to pass the Symplegades, or The Clashing Rocks.

This passage was surrounded by huge cliffs which would crash together randomly, making the journey incredibly dangerous, if not impossible. However, it was the only way to get to Colchis.

The clashing rocksFollowing Phineus’ advice, Jason released a dove upon arrival. He was informed that if the dove makes it, they should row with all their might. If their feathered friend dies, however, the Argonauts were doomed. Fortunately the brave bird only lost a few tail feathers and so Jason and his team proceeded with all their strength. They passed, with minor damage to the extreme stern of their ship. From that moment onwards, the clashing rocks stopped clashing.

Finally Jason arrived in Colchis, which is on the modern day Black Sea coast of Georgia. The Golden Fleece was so close… and yet still far away. The precious item was owned by the King of Colchis, King Aeetes. He promised to give Jason his quest’s goal, but only if he could perform three, seemingly impossible tasks. Jason was in despair, as it involved fire, mythical warriors and of course, a dragon.

But here the deities that be stepped in. Queen of the Gods, Hera, convinced Aphrodite and her son, Eros, to ensure that Jason had help, in the form of King Aeetes’ daughter, Medea. With cupid’s arrow, she fell in love with our hero and so was able to aid him in each of the potentially insurmountable tasks.

Khalkotauroi

Jason’s first duty was to plow a field with the Khalkotauroi, or fire breathing oxen, which Jason himself had to yoke. Medea fulfilled her role nicely by providing Jason with an ointment that made him fireproof and so he was able to combat the oxen’s flames.

His second assignment required that he sow the teeth of a dragon into a field. This might seem easy enough, except that the teeth sprouted into an army of warriors or spartoi. Fortunately Medea already had insider knowledge – these spartoi were not particularly intelligent. And so she advised Jason to throw a rock into the group of fighters, who promptly attacked and killed each other, as they did not perceive from where the rock had come.

Jason and the argonauts slay the dragonFinally, his last labour was in front of him. He had to combat a large, fierce, sleepless dragon which was charged with guarding the sacred golden fleece itself. Once again, Medea came to the rescue. She concocted a potion from distilled herbs which put the beast to rest, enabling Jason to thieve the fleece. The quest had been achieved!

However, they still needed to leave Colchis

As they departed, Jason and Medea were chased down by her father, King Aeetes. It is here that Medea does the most extreme, seemingly horrendous, thing in her love and devotion for Jason. She butchers her own brother and spreads his remains into the sea… forcing her father to collect what’s left of his son and abandon the pursuit.

Jason and Medea had finally escaped with the Golden Fleece.

The Mystery of Plato’s Atlantis (part 2)

by June 12, 2013

Platopic2

Plato described the nation of Atlantis in his dialogues Timaeus and Critias

In a previous article we discussed the legend of Atlantis and how the ancient philosopher Plato, left us clues to the rise and fall of this island civilization. It is in Timaeus and Critias, two of Plato’s later dialogues, that we learn about the the nation of Atlantis that existed peacefully for generation,  and how it vanished beneath the waves after a failed invasion of Athens.

It is important to keep in mind that these essays by Plato are not historical texts, objectively verified and confirmed. In the same dialogue where Plato recounts the history of Atlantis, he also retells the story of the Phaëton, son of the god Helios, who drove a chariot of fire across the sky. It would be logical to assume that Atlantis is also myth. After all, it’s history is revealed to us by the character Critias who claims that his grandfather visited Egypt to meet with the the ancient Athenian law giver Solon. It is in Egypt that Solon reveals that the history of Atlantis is scrolled on an ancient piece of papyrus in hieroglyphs.

Essentially we are left with several thousand years worth of spoken history. It is a game of telephone  that has been played throughout countless centuries. And we must simply take it on faith that Plato knew what he was talking about. It leaves most skeptical, if not completely assured that Atlantis is myth. However, there is still one hypothesis that challenges these doubts with real archaeological evidence, and points to a very real location to the lost civilization.

santorini

Santorini is a Greek island that rests atop an ancient caldera

The island of Santorini, classically known as the island of Thera, is a very real land mass located in the southern Aegean sea. Santorini exist now as a crescent shaped island with a massive lagoon surrounded by 300 foot high cliffs. It existed once as a large rectangular island before it was absolutely demolished by an ancient volcanic explosion some 900 or 1000 years before Plato wrote about the lost civilization.

This volcanic explosion would be later known as the Theran eruption. The giant crater that now forms the lagoon of Santorini is actually the remnants of an ancient underground caldera that collapsed after it’s earth shattering eruption thousands of years ago. It is hypothesized that this explosion created huge tsunamis that devastated the neighboring island of Crete and lead to the destruction of the ancient Minoan civilization. The land, and any civilizations, atop the caldera would have collapsed and sunk beneath the sea, just as Plato describes.

fresco

This fresco found in the ancient civilization of Akrotiri. It depicts and early Greek civilization that existed on the island before the volcanic eruption.

The idea that Santorini may have been the location of an ancient Atlantis gained currency in the 1960’s when excavation began on the small town of Akrotiri. Akrotiri is an ancient settlement on Santorini that was destroyed by the Theran eruption and subsequently covered in thick layers of dust and ash. When excavation began, archaeologists discovered perfectly preserved fresco’s that depicted the life of ancient Santorini.

When the ash was peeled away, pictures of ancient people fishing and navigating by boat were discovered. In the backdrop there is an island overrun with vegetation and wildlife, just as Plato described in his ancient texts. Could it be that these ancient fresco’s are the sole remaining evidence of an ancient Atlantis?

Even if it is believed that Santorini is the location of Atlantis, there are still several discrepancies between this island and the one described by Plato. For instance, Plato described that Atlantis existed 9,000 years before his lifetime. Also the island was said to have been more massive than Asia minor and Libya combined. How could Santorini be the island described by Plato? And even for this, there is an answer.

According to Plato, the story of Atlantis was handed down to the Greeks by the ancient Egyptians. It is hypothesized that a translation error would have lead the Greeks to believe that the Egyptian word for “hundred” actually meant “thousand”. If this is true ,then the destruction of  Atlantis would have been only 900 years before Plato. Also, the size of Atlantis would have been shrunk considerably. If a translation error had occurred, the size of Atlantis would have been roughly the size of the crater on the modern island of Santorini.

Whether Atlantis was a real civilization, or if it was merely myth, is a matter of debate. There were several of Plato’s disciples who defended him fiercely and claimed that Atlantis was, in fact, real. A neo-platonist Proclus wrote a response to Timaeus, where he states:

“As for the whole of this account of the Atlanteans, some say that it is unadorned history, such as Crantor, the first commentator on Plato. Crantor also says that Plato’s contemporaries used to criticize him jokingly for not being the inventor of his Republic but copying the institutions of the Egyptians. Plato took these critics seriously enough to assign to the Egyptians this story about the Athenians and Atlanteans, so as to make them say that the Athenians really once lived according to that system.” -Proclus (disciple of Plato).

Still, it is more popular to believe that Atlantis is fictional and may have been inspired by the events on Santorini. Plato told his philosophy through story. he discussed his ideas through the lens of myth and legend. And while the idea of an Atlantis is tantalizing, it is much easier to believe that Plato invented it as a means to discuss ethics of an ideal civilization.

We will never know definitively, even the ending of Plato’s own writings remain a mystery. In Critias, Plato describes the eventual moral downfall of Atlantis. They were once a proud civilization however “…human nature got the upper hand”.  Zeus would notice the decline of Atlantis and make plans to punish them. Plato writes:

“Zeus, the god of gods, who rules according to law, and is able to see into such things, perceiving that an honourable race was in a woeful plight, and wanting to inflict punishment on them, that they might be chastened and improve, collected all the gods into their most holy habitation, which, being placed in the centre of the world, beholds all created things. And when he had called them together, he spake as follows…” -Plato, from Critias

What Zeus said to the other gods, we will never know. The remaining text has been lost. Perhaps he devised a plan to sink Atlantis beneath the waves, punishment for their sins. We will never know what Plato’s final words were about the city of Atlantis. Much like the fabled civilization itself, the truth has been lost to the ages.

 

The War For The Universe and the Rise of the Olympians

by June 4, 2013

In order to properly understand the setting of this myth and to become familiar the birth of the Olympians , be sure you read In Be Beginning, which can be found here. 

Cronus

Cronus as the the King of Heaven

After Cronus overthrew his father and former ruler of heaven Uranus, he married his sister Rhea. Together they ruled over the universe and for a time, things were peaceful. However, the prophecy of Uranus deeply troubled Cronus. It had been predicted that a son of his would one day depose him and take his place as king.

The entire narrative was detailed by the poet Hesiod in his ancient poem, The Theogony. The poet describes how Rhea fears for her children, yet is in love with Cronus. Hesiod writes:

“But Rhea was subject in love to Cronos and bare splendid children”- Hesiod, from The Theogony

Rhea bore several children,  HestiaDemeterHera, Hades, and Poseidon, but Cronus feared that one of these children would be his downfall. And so, with each birth, Cronus captured the young infant and devoured the child to ensure that his reign as king was never opposed.

Rhea was terrified and deeply saddened to see her children mercilessly devoured by her husband. When it came time for Rhea to give birth to her youngest child, Zeus, she hid away to escape the wrath of her spouse. With the help of Gaia, the earth, she delivered her youngest child in a cave on the island of Crete, far from the eyes of her murderous partner.

eating children

Cronus devours his children
painting by. Peter Paul Rubens

The young Olympian Zeus was left on the island. His mother wrapped a stone in a blanket and presented it to Cronus. The titan devoured the substitue, believing it to be his son. Assured that the baby Zeus was no longer a threat, Cronus continued his rule, though unbeknownst to him, his youngest son was being raised in secret under the Aegean mountains. Some versions of the myth describe that the infant Zeus was raised on the island of Crete surrounded by armored dancers. These armored guardians would clap and sing whenever the baby would cry so that Cronus would not hear the screams and come to slay the infant god.

Zeus grew quickly, and when he came of age, he became determined to confront his father and take his place as ruler of the heavens. His grandmother, Gaia, gave him an emetic that would force Cronus to regurgitate the children he had devoured. Cronus bent over in agony and threw up all the children he had devoured. Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Hestia, and Demeter were brought to life again, now fully grown.  In some versions it is told that Zeus cuts open his fathers stomach with a dagger and his siblings come pouring out.

fall of the titans

The Olympians casts the Titans into Tartarus
painting by. cornelis van haarlem

It was at this point that a violent war waged for ten long years. On one side was the Olympians who were aided by the Cyclops, the Titans Prometheus and Epimetheus as well as the hundred armed  Hecatonchires. They waged war against the original Titans and the Giants that had been born from the blood of Uranus.

The violent war was fought for ten years with no clear victor. Zeus and his allies took up a stronghold on mount Olympus where Zeus cast his thunderbolts upon his enemies. After much battling, the Olympians were victorious over the Titans. Zeus cast his father and the other Titans into the depths of Tartarus, the prison of the underworld.  There they would remain for eternity, while their children ruled the universe. The prophecy of Uranus had been fulfilled, the age of the Olympians had arrived.

Hesiod’s Theogony: The Creation Of The World

by June 3, 2013

Gaia

Gaia, by. Anselm Feuerbach (1875)

The telling of the creation of existence and the rise of the gods is a tale that has survived through the writings of Hesiod, in his epic poem The Theogony. For the ancient Greeks this was their answer to the most fundamental question of existence. And as with all Greek mythology, the story of the creation of the world is shrouded in fantasy and wonder.

 It was said that in the beginning of time there was chaos. Chaos existed without form or purpose. And from chaos there came Gaia who was the earth and who created all the land. She was the primordial being of the earth and she would give birth to the heavens, who was known as Uranus. Gaia and Uranus who were the earth and the sky became husband and wife and together had many children.

The earth, Gaia, gave birth first to the mighty Titans. These creatures were immortal and possessed great strength and power. As Hesiod describes it:

“she lay with Heaven and bare deep-swirling Oceanus, Coeus and Crius and Hyperion and Iapetus, Theia and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne and gold-crowned Phoebe and lovely Tethys. After them was born Cronos the wily, youngest and most terrible of her children, and he hated his lusty sire.” – Hesiod, from The Theogony

Gaia then gave birth to the Cyclops’s, who were monstrous creatures with one bulging eye in the center of their foreheads. Then Gaia birthed the hideous  Hecatonchires, who were creatures with broad shoulders, fifty heads, and one hundred arms. Uranus saw the Cyclops’s and the Hecatonchires’s as vile creatures. With the birth of each, he would imprison them away beneath the earth. The imprisonment of her children saddened Gaia and she devised a plan to seek vengeance.

thecyclops

The Cyclops

Gaia gathered her children, the mighty Titans, and told them of her plan to overthrow her husband, Uranus. In Hesiod’s own words, Gaia declares:

`My children, gotten of a sinful father, if you will obey me, we should punish the vile outrage of your father; for he first thought of doing shameful things.’

However the Titans were very afraid of their father; at first, none would volunteer to overthrow the ruler of the heavens. Then it was Cronus, the youngest of the Titans who hated his father Uranus, who stepped forward to do the deed. Gaia gave to the youngest titan a sickle and told him to lie in wait for his unsuspecting father.

While Cronus hid away from his father,  Uranus was crossing the earth bringing the night. Uranus then appeared before Gaia, planning to lay with her, and it was then that Cronus struck. The young titan approached from behind and used the sickle to cut off the genitals of his father. He then flung them across the earth before they landed in the sea.

cronus and Urans

Cronus attacks Uranus

The blood from the detached member of Uranus mixed with the foam of the ocean. From the mist and the foam rose a beautiful figure. She was a goddess unmatched in beauty and grace, she stepped upon the land and the flowers and vegetation grew around her. She was Aphrodite, one of the original Olympians.

It was said that as Uranus lay bleeding upon the earth as Cronus stood over him. The blood spilled from the now deposed ruler of heaven and mixed with the earth, Gaia. Instantly several creatures were born from Gaia as her husband lay dying.

From this blood sprang the Giants, the Erinyes (the avenging Furies), the Meliae (the ash-tree nymphs). These creatures sprang from the blood of Uranus and then began to wander the earth.

Cronus was now the king of heaven. He had deposed his father and taken his place as ruler of the universe. However with the dying breath of Uranus, he prophesied a terrible fate for his traitorous son. Uranus predicted that one of Cronus’s children would overthrow him one day, just as he had overthrown his father. The prophecy would hang heavy on the head of the Titan.

The Myth of Daedalus and Icarus

by May 28, 2013

Theseus_Minotaur_Mosaic

Theseus slays the Minotaur
Ancient Greek mosaic

The story of Daedalus and Icarus is a popular myth that recounts the escape from Crete by the crafty inventor Daedalus and his son Icarus. It is a story that is often attributed to the Roman poet Ovid in his magnum opus Metamorphoses.

The general theme of the story involves the ingenuity and brilliance of man, and the misuse of that brilliance that can often lead to our own downfall.

Daedalus is mentioned in the story of Theseus as the inventor of the labyrinth that housed the Minotaur. He was described as an inventor and a scholar whose ingenuity and intelligence was unmatched by any other.

The labyrinth was said to have been one of his greatest creations. It was constructed in such a way so that any man sent into the labyrinth would become hopelessly lost and unable to escape. It was only with the help of Ariadne, the princess of Crete, that Theseus was able to navigate the labyrinth, slay the Minotaur and escape. Ariadne had been told the secrets of the labyrinth by Daedalus and in this way Theseus was able to leave the maze.

Icarus 1

Daedalus constructs wings for Icarus
painting by. Andrea Sacchi

After Theseus escaped the island, King Minos was so enraged that he locked the inventor away in a tower for his part in helping the Athenian hero escape. Other versions of the story tell that Daedalus was put away long before the arrival of Theseus, so the secrets of the labyrinth would not be known to the public.

Daedalus and his son, Icarus, spent their days locked up in a tower, unable to escape by land or sea. All the ships leaving the island were carefully monitored by King Minos, who was determined to not let Daedalus escape. So the inventor decided that if he could not escape by sea, then he would escape the island of Crete by riding on the winds. The original Roman poem describes this inspiration when Daedalus states:

“Tho’ Earth and water in subjection laid,
O cruel Minos, thy dominion be,
We’ll go thro’ air; for sure the air is free.”

Daedalus collected the feathers of the numerous birds that roosted in his tower prison. He constructed a set of wings that could be worn by a man by using candlewax and thread to hold the feathers in place. He then constructed wings for his son Icarus, who had been cast away in the tower as well. When the wings were complete the father and son prepared to jump from the tower and fly to freedom. Before they did so, Daedalus warned his son not to fly too low to the sea, as the mist would dampen his wings and cause him to fall. He also warned the young boy not to fly too high as the warmth from the sun would melt the wax that held the feathers and cause him to fall to earth. Daedalus warns:

To wing your course along the middle air;
If low, the surges wet your flagging plumes;
If high, the sun the melting wax consumes:

Daedalus and his son leaped from the tower and soared across the land and out to sea. The farmers and herders stopped their work and looked up at the duo flying like birds. The citizens of Crete thought that the pair were gods, never before had they seen such a miraculous sight.

icarus 2

Mourning for Icarus
painting by. Herbert James Draper

The two flying men traveled at peace for some time. They passed the islands of Samos and Delos and eventually flew past Lebynthos. All the while they were careful not to fly too low or too high. However, Icarus eventually would leave the guidance of his father and begin to fly higher and higher as if too reach heaven.

True to his father’s predictions, Icarus flew too high and the heat from the sun began to melt the wax holding the feathers in place. Soon, the wings disintegrated entirely and Icarus plummeted down through the air. He screamed in fear as he tried to fly away, yet his wings were no longer capable of flight. He splashed into the sea and drowned.

Daedalus looked for Icarus diligently. He would cry out “Icarus, Icarus where are you?!” He finally found his body floating among the waves, feathers strewn about the surf. Daedalus lamented the death of his child and buried his body in the nearby land. Daedalus named the land Icaria, in memory of his son.

The inventor would later travel safely to Sicily, where he would build a temple to Apollo. He hung up his wings to the god as an offering. He never took them down; Daedalus would never fly again.