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.
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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).