It's time for another constellation, and we are moving on to one of the larger ones: the sixth largest of Ptolemy's constellations, in fact. This one represents something that definitely exists: the Po river in northern Italy, or the Istros of Hungry, which was located in the mythical northern land of Hyperborea. The ancient Hellenes called the river 'Eridanos', and that's the name of the constellation as well.
We pick up this third part of the Labours series with the second labour Hēraklēs has to complete: slay the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra. The funny thing about this hydra is that no one is really sure how many heads it actually has. The generally accepted number is nine, but ten, or even a hundred are also mentioned. It's also unclear if there was only one head that was supposed to be immortal (as per Apollodorus) or if the creature itself was immortal. The sequence of events, however, is quite clear.
Oh guys, you know I love you, right? Yesterday I got not one but two e-mail from readers. One was a very sweet note abut the quality of the blog and how much they like reading it, the other was a very simple question, and I really appreciate that the reader (who has opted to remain anonymous) was comfortable enough with me to ask it. The message reads:
In the blog post about sayings which can be traced back to ancient Hellas or Hellenic mythology, I make mention of Oedipus. The saying he is connected to--the Freudian Oedipus complex--introduced Oedipus and explains the saying:
Today, I want to go a little deeper into this myth, to a milestone in the life of Oedipus. I quite recently acquired a little vase with a depiction of Oedipus solving the riddle of the Sphinx. It's a replica of a kylix motif. This seems like a perfect opportunity to tackle this story.
When I first started out with Baring the Aegis, one of the first posts I did was on miasma and katharmos--pollution and purification, respectively. The post can be found here. Nearly a year later, I stand behind what I wrote in that post, but it's time for a revisit. Today, I'm talking about katharmos and miasma, the importance they had in ancient Hellenic religion, and the importance they have in its modern equivalent. From the previously linked post:
A little over a week ago, I introduced a new series for the blog: a short series about the labours of Hēraklēs. In that post, I described the life of Hēraklēs up until the point where he set out to complete the tasks. Today, I'm taking you through the first of twelve labours: Hēraklēs' challenge to slay the Nemean lion.
The Leon Nemeios (Λεον Νεμειος), or Nemean lion has been described with a large variety of parents. Selene is mentioned by Aelian and Seneca, amongst others, but one of the drakons is also possible, especially Echidna. Diodorus Siculus, in his Library of History describes the lion so:
Before I address the title, let me first address a fact that was illuminated in some fairly recent conversations: I am old. Chronologically, I'm just a bit over thirty, which isn't really anyone's idea of old --and contrary to the prevalent misconceptions of ancient longevity (which is an average) generally speaking, people who could survive past the age of 15 all through the Archaic and Classical eras could typically expect to live into their sixties, so this isn't even "old" by historical standards, but I'm old. I'm old because I retain this stubborn identity of "Hellenic reconstructionist" even though many people my age and younger, even (sometimes especially) if they practise by the same general methods I do have long eschewed the term because of reasons. I all get to those reasons very shortly. I'm old because I've acquired greater measures of both patience and cynicism in my approach to dealing with others, largely because of persistent misconceptions of who and what I am and am about, and when I don't have the patience to explain it, I don't get angry, I just shrug and think oh well, this isn't news and frankly I don't think they're worth explaining it to, and then I ask the other person "Hey, let's agree to disagree?" But the good thing about being an ageing cynic (but not really a Cynic, though I do appreciate some of their teachings --my philosophy is based largely on Kyrenaic Hedonism with equal parts Empedocles, Democritus, Kirkegaard, Sartre, Camus, Crisp, and Jarman filling in the gaps, and also a huge stress on aesthetic arts bringing joy and meaning taken from famous Dandies including, but not limited to, Beau Brummel, Oscar Wilde, and Lord Whimsy)... [coughs] Yes, the good thing about being an ageing cynic with a blog, is I get to make things as clear as i need to, update and revise as I need to, and point people to said blog when I don't feel like dealing with them right now.
I want to make clear what religious reconstruction is and is not, because in spite of being pretty active for about the last five years in trying to promote this method of practise as both a perfectly valid and relevant "pagan path", it seems I've been met with more gross and appalling misconceptions in this last year than the previous four combined. Now, I have some suspicions on key players who may be a large part responsible for this, but this isn't about naming names, this is about using the position afforded me on PaganSquare to clarify, perhaps even educate. In this, I also want to stress (though I doubt that I could ever stress enough for some people) that identifying with a reconstructionist method is not synonymous with being ultra-conservative, traditionalist, neo-luddite, or regressionist.
Religious reconstruction is a method of practise, not a religious doctrine in and of itself....
The constellation Draco (from the Greek Drakon, meaning dragon) is identified--funnily enough--with some dragons in Hellenic myth but not others. There are quite a few creatures, after all, who would qualify as a dragon in Hellenic myth. For a dragon or hydra not connected to the constellation, think of the one Kadmos vanquished, for example, or the one Apollon vanquished at Delphi, or even the dragon who guarded the Golden Fleece and was slain by Iásōn. In truth, only two dragons were associated with the myth in ancient times, most notably by Hyginus in his Astronomica: Drakon Hesperios, the Hesperian Dragon, and Drakon Gigantomakhios, the Gigantomachian Dragon.
Some of the best epics are not told in a single story, so therefor, I will kick off a mini series today: the labours of Hēraklēs. Hēraklēs (Ἡρακλῆς), from 'Hera' and kleos, 'glory', was born as Alkaios (Ἀλκαῖος) or Alkeidēs (Ἀλκείδης). He became on of the greatest of the divine heroes in Hellenic mythology, and was born the son of Zeus and Alkmene (Ἀλκμήνη), foster son of Amphitryon (Ἀμφιτρύων), king of Tiryns in Argolis. By Alkmene, he is the great-grandson of Perseus, and by Zeus, his half-brother. He is perhaps better known as Hercules, his Roman counterpart. In this first part, I will introduce Hēraklēs and describe his life up until the labours, and then tackle the labours one at a time in coming editions.
Hēraklēs was conceived by Zeus upon Alkmene, as He disguised Himself as her husband, returning early from war. Alkmene accepted Him in her bed gladly, as she was happy to see her husband again. When The real Amphitryon did return later that night, Alkmene realized what had happened, and told her husband. Amphitryon accepted her in his bed, regardless, and so she became pregnant with twins, one fathered by Zeus, and one by her mortal husband. In the words of Apollodorus:
Ancient Hellas is often lauded as the birth place of modern science and philosophy. Certainly in the arts of medicine and healing, this is true. Hippokrátēs of Kos (Ἱπποκράτης) is seen by many as the founding father of medicine, and today--seeing as I'm a little sick with the flue--I wanted to talk about one of his basic understandings about the human body: the internal physician; the body's own ability to determine its illness and cure it where possible.
Hippokrátēs was alive from 460 BC to about 370 BC. In his lifetime, he set about to advancing the systematic study of clinical medicine, summing up the medical knowledge of previous schools, and prescribing practices for physicians through the Hippocratic Corpus and other works (although he Corpus itself was most likely not written by him, but assembled in and slightly after his time). Hippokrátēs separated the discipline of medicine from religion, believing and arguing that disease was not a punishment inflicted by the Theoi but rather the product of environmental factors, diet, and living habits. Much of his theories came from his very basic understanding of the human body: in Hippokrátēs' time, it was forbidden to cut into a corpse, even for research.
Before we get to the inner physician, I must speak about two of Hippokrátēs's most famous ideas about illness: humoralism and the concept of crisis. Humoralism is a now discredited theory of the makeup and workings of the human body, positing that an excess or deficiency of any of four distinct bodily fluids in a person directly influences their temperament and health. The four humors of Hippocratic medicine are black bile (melan chole), yellow bile (chole), phlegm (phlegma), and blood (haima), and each corresponds to one of the traditional four elements.
When you are reconstructing an ancient religion, you will always run into several problems, one of which is the fact that people rarely describe in detail something everyone knew at the time. What would have been the point? Everyone knew it already, or was taught about it by their parents. An example is the eiresiône (εἰρεσιώνη), and its even less famous cousin, the iketiria (ικετηρία). Today, we will give both a closer look.
-- 'Ik hou van Icarus' - Tjitske Jansen (translated from Dutch)
One of my all-time favorite Hellenic myths is about Íkaros; Daidalos' son who escaped the labyrinth on the island of Krete with wings made of feathers and wax. He was warned not to fly too high because the sun would melt the wax, or too low because wet feathers wouldn't carry him, yet Íkaros got too caught up with the marvel of flying, and did fly too high or too low. As a result, he drowned somewhere between the Island and the main land.
Daidalos (Δαίδαλος) was an inventor, a craftsman, who had murdered a gifted student of his--his nephew--in a fit of jealousy. This caused him to flee his home town (most often referred to as Athens, although there are some timeline problems if this was the case) and find refuge on Krete. King Minos saw in Daidalos a gifted man, and asked him to draw and constructed the labyrinth of the Minotaur, son of King Minos. Because he knew the secrets of the labyrinth, and the deformations of the Minotaur, he was never permitted to leave the Island.
I think it's about time I dedicate a full post to the subject of the worship of Hekate in ancient Hellas. Most of what a Google search will find on this magnificent Goddess is based upon later sources, or are moderately recent inventions. Note that I have no problem with that: I believe the Theoi can change--especially in the eyes of the people who worship Them--and one of the ways They do so is by the practice of epithets. So, in my personal practice, this dark version of Hekate is an epithet of Her that I respect, but do not offer sacrifice to. It's 'Threefold Hekate': beautiful and powerful in Her own right, but completely unknown to the ancient Hellenes. Yet, even in the time of the ancient Hellenes, Hekate's domains were entirely re-invented, so to say She would not have changed after the fall of the Hellenic empire seems not only futile to me, but disrespectful to a very adaptable Titan Goddess.
Hekate's (Ἑκατη) worship was most likely imported from Thrace or Anatolia, where--especially at the latter--records were found of children being named after Her. This version of Her is single-faced, rules in heaven, on the earth, and in the sea, is a Theia of childbirth--to both animals and humans--and it is She who bestows wealth on mortals, victory, wisdom, good luck to sailors and hunters, and prosperity to youth and to the flocks of cattle. Yet, if mortals do not deserve Her gifts, she can withhold them from them just as easily. After the Titanomachy, Zeus bestowed upon Her the highest of honors. This is the Hekate found in Hesiod's Theogony, written around 700 BC:
Administering justice is often placed in the sphere of influence of either Athena or Nemesis, and both Goddesses do, indeed, have connections to it. There is one Theia, however, who is the personification of the phenomenon of justice. Dikē (Δικη) is the Goddess of justice placed upon mortals, fair judgements and the rights established by custom and law. According to Hesiod, She was born from a joining of Zeus and Themis, the Titan Goddess of divine law, custom and prophecy. She has five sisters, Eunomia (Ευνομια, Goddess of good order and lawful conduct) and Eirênê (Ειρηνη, Goddess of peace and spring), with whom Dikē forms the Horai (Ὡραι), the Goddesses of the seasons and the natural portions of time; and the Moirai, the Goddesses of fate. Their names are Kloto (Κλωθώ, spinner), Atropos (Ἄτροπος, unturnable), and Lakhesis (Λάχεσις, Alotter).
This post is the first of a new series, a series on places where worship took place in ancient Hellas. In future installments, I will talk about the household, about temples, about caves, springs, and other special places. A little while ago, I spoke about nature religions, and how I feel Hellenismos is not a nature religion in the Neo-Pagan sense. Because I like to make life difficult for myself, I will now write a post which basically says that the ancient Hellenes practiced much of their worship in nature, partly in sacred groves. Before reading this post, it might be good to read the post about Hellenismos and nature religions first.
For me, the most famous of groves is one written about by Sophocles, in Oedipus at Colonus, amongst others, the grove of the Erinyes, which is entered by a spiritually polluted Oedipus, for a rest, and to relieve his suffering. It is here that his daughters tend to him and perform sacrifice to the Erinyes in his name:
A little over a week ago, I introduced part one of this new series-within-a-series. Like Andromeda and her family, crater belongs to a group of constellations linked together by a single myth. The first part of this series, on the constellation Corvus, introduced the basics of the myth:
"Corvus represents a raven or crow in service to Apollon, who was sent out on an errant for the Theos. He was asked to bring water to Him, but instead, he paused in his quest, most commonly assumed is that he stopped for a meal of figs. When the raven returned without water, Apollon questioned him. Instead of giving a straight answer, the raven lied, and said he had been kept from the water by a snake. In some accounts, he actually had a snake in his talons as he said this. Apollon, however, saw that the raven was lying, and flung the raven, the krater with which the raven was supposed to collect water, as well as the snake into the sky, where they remain to this day. To punish the bird further, Apollon made sure the krater would forever be just out of reach of the bird."
Today we will look into the little talked about practice of the washing of feet within the context of xenia. It's something I have been curious about ever since I first read the Odysseia. I had completely forgotten I wanted to post about it, however, until I discovered a post by Robert of Doing Magick, who wrote about his recent experience with the practice--though for different reasons.
Giving gifts to friends, family members, or even acquaintances and complete strangers is a long standing tradition. It existed long before ancient Hellas, but was, indeed, a vital part of its culture. It was tied to both kharis and xenia. Gifts were exchanged between monarchs of city-states to create good will, and were thus an important part of diplomacy.
All votives, thank-offerings, and pinakes were gifts from mortals to Theoi. Athletic competitions always concluded with a price--a gift--awarded to the winner. Gifts were given to the submissive partner in a pederastic relationship, and to favored prostitutes and serfs. Gifts played a much more significant role in ancient Hellenic society as a whole than they do in ours today. The giving of gifts in ancient Hellas was not just a social event, however. There was far more to the practice than one might assume, and today, we will look at the tradition of gift giving in greater detail.
A few days ago, PaganSquare blogger Gus diZerega posted a blog post on nature religions within Paganism, a reply to a lovely post by Joseph Bloch. Paganism--as used by Gus--seems to include any pre-Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic religion, and is separate from Neo-Paganism, which he classifies as 'modern revival of Pagan spirituality by people coming from within modern society'. The focal point of Gus' post was that, whether the ancient or modern Pagan cultures agree or not, they were, and are, nature worshippers. As such, reconstructionists of said religions are also nature worshippers. I'm paraphrasing here, so please, read Gus' words for yourself.
I disagree with Gus' conclusions, but I will not go into his writing here. I simply introduce Gus and his post to introduce PaganSquare reader Trine, who commented on one of my replies to Gus with a question I would love to dedicate a blog post to. Her post went as follows:
It's been a little while since the last constellation post, so here we are again. This time, I'm tackling a little one, Corvus, the Latin word for 'raven' or 'crow'. It comes from the Hellenic 'korax'. It's one of three constellations linked to a myth I will only partly reveal today, as it makes much more sense to place it with the constellation Crater, which will be the next one I tackle.