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Rationalizing Myth in Antiquity$

Greta Hawes

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199672776

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199672776.001.0001

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(p.239) Appendix II Translation of Anonymous, Peri Apiston

(p.239) Appendix II Translation of Anonymous, Peri Apiston

Rationalizing Myth in Antiquity
Oxford University Press

As Festa’s edition (1902) makes apparent, the extant text is obviously corrupt in places. My translation aims at accuracy, but makes no attempt to smooth out its idiosyncrasies. I have typically adopted Festa’s editorial suggestions. Notes below each entry provide a rudimentary mythographic commentary.

I. One should know that some say that the Egyptians were the earliest people; others say the Phrygians, but that, of the Greeks, the oldest were the Athenians and the Pelasgians, who are now called Arcadians. Of the cities, they say that the Athenian Acropolis was founded by Cecrops, the dual-formed, autochthonous hero. The second oldest was the city founded by Phoroneus, son of Inachus, and third was Itonus in Thessaly, founded by Deucalion, son of Prometheus.

The ‘city founded by Phoroneus’ is Argos. Sanz Morales (1998) suggests that the content of this passage might derive from Hellanicus of Lesbos via intermediary sources.

II. The seven wonders.

  1. 1. The statue of Zeus at Olympia, 36 cubits tall.

  2. 2. The temple of Artemis at Ephesus.

  3. 3. The altar of horn at Delos, said to have been created from the right horns of victims sacrificed to the god in a single day.

  4. 4. The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus.

  5. 5. The pyramids of Egypt, of which the largest is 400 cubits tall.

  6. 6. The walls of Babylon.

  7. 7. The Colossus of Rhodes, 70 cubits tall, which Chares of Lindus built.

Some include on this list also the Asclepion at Epidauros, the altar at Parion, the hanging gardens, the standing Athena statue in Athens, and the palace of Cyrus.

(p.240) Lists of wonders were a popular catalogue topic from the early Hellenistic period onward. For a survey, see Berndt (2003). As this entry demonstrates, although the number of these wonders was set at seven and several of the wonders were unanimously accepted, no single list of seven became canonical so that there were, in fact, more than seven candidates for inclusion.

III. The golden fleece.

It is a poetic fabrication that the object guarded in Colchis was a truly golden fleece; it was a book written on leather containing instructions on how to produce gold through alchemy. And so, in all likelihood, the men of that time called it ‘golden’ because of the alchemical power it possessed.

This passage shares similar features with John of Antioch FHG IV 548 F15.3 and Suda s.v. Δέρας‎. For the term χυμεία‎ (here χειμεία‎) in relation to alchemy, see Lindsay (1970) 68–9.

For discussion, see ch. 3, pp. 123–5.

IV. How it is said Apollo and Poseidon built the walls of Troy.

Apollo and Poseidon are said to have built the walls of Troy. But this is not so: rather, Laomedon built the city in an impious way. There was an exceptionally revered temple of Apollo and Poseidon on the acropolis; he plundered it and spent the money on building the walls.

Eustathius attributes this rationalization to Palaephatus (ad Od. 1.2–3); Tzetzes attributes it to Herodorus (ad Lycoph. Alex. 522 = fr. 28 Fowler). It also appears in Serv. ad Aen. 2.610. See Appendix I, pp. 237–8.

V. Cerberus.

The dog Cerberus belonged to Aidoneus, king of the Thesprotians. Thieves seized him at night and hid him underground in a dark cave. But Heracles retrieved him and gave him to Eurystheus.

Thesprotia was a centre of Hades’ cult worship in antiquity and the site of an oracle of the dead (Hdt. 5.92). Hades is probably to be identified as the king of this region in Paus. 1.17.4, which describes Theseus’ attempt to abduct his daughter. Plutarch (Thes. 31.4), recording a similar story, names him explicitly and makes him the leader of the nearby Molossians (likewise Tzetz. Chil. 2.406, 748). Eustathius has him king of the Thracians, whose story has became confused because he shared his name with the king of the Underworld (Il. 8.368).

The idea that Heracles retrieved Cerberus, a stolen dog, from a cave is also found in Palaeph. Incred. 39. Festa’s emendation ὁ 〈κύων〉 Ἀϊδωνέως‎ (p.241) is sensible given this parallel. Cerberus’ three-headed appearance is rationalized in Heraclit. Incred. 21, 33; and Palaeph. Incred. 39. A different rationalization appears in Hecataeus fr. 27a Fowler (= Paus. 3.25.5).

Serv. ad Verg. Aen. 6.395; and Fulg. Myth. 1.6 provide allegorical explanations.

VI. The wrestling match between Heracles and Achelous.

They say that Heracles fought Achelous in single combat. But here is how it was: the Achelous flowed between the Aetolians and the Curetes and would cut off great tracts of land, sometimes favouring one tribe and sometimes the other. As a result, a great quarrel arose. Heracles, coming to the Aetolians as an ally, defeated the Curetes and, having confined the river in a single channel and one outlet, he strengthened the land to the advantage of the Aetolians and took away Deianeira, daughter of Oeneus.

Strabo 10.2.19 and Diod. Sic. 4.35.3 record similar rationalizations. For discussion, see ch. 3, pp. 128–30.

VII. Pasiphae.

Pasiphae, having fallen in love with a young local man, made Daedalus her accomplice and assistant in the affair. Even prior to this, she had been in the habit of watching whenever he was working on something, and so, while he was making a very beautiful statue of a cow, which resembled a living one to a very great extent, she continually went to Daedalus’ house to see the cow and have sex with her lover, until the affair was detected. The stories told about this are mythical.

Palaeph. Incred. 2 and Heraclit. Incred. 7 likewise explain the birth of the Minotaur as the result of Pasiphae’s affair with a local man. In similar accounts, Tzetz. Chil. 1.523–30 makes Taurus a general and Serv. ad Verg. Aen. 6.14 makes him Minos’ secretary.

For discussion, see ch. 3, pp. 125–7.

VIII. The Chimaera.

This is what Plutarch says about the Chimaera in his monograph De Mulierum Virtutibus [248c]: ‘The Chimaera was an east-facing hill, and in summer it produced violent and fiery reflections and flares which, spreading across the plain, would cause the crops to wither. (p.242) Bellerophon, recognizing this, cut through the smoothest part of the cliff, which was primarily responsible for sending out the reflections.’

Westerman’s ἀποστέλλον‎ is preferable to Festa’s ἀποστέλλειν‎.

Serv. ad Verg. Aen. 6.288 and Palaeph. Incred. 28 likewise explain the Chimaera as a homonymous mountain. Heraclit. Incred. 15 puts forward a different rationalization. Bellerophon is also the subject of Anon. Incred. 14.

Fulg. Myth. 3.1 allegorizes the Chimaera as a symbol of love.

For discussion, see ch. 3, pp. 127–8.

IX. Narcissus.

It is said about him that, after seeing his own reflection in water and falling in love with it, Narcissus leapt into the water to embrace his reflection, and drowned. This is not true. He drowned not in water, but in this way: having seen his own image in the fluid nature of his physical body, that is, his corporeal existence, which is the image most distant from the true soul, and conceiving a desire to embrace this as a part of himself, that is to say, falling in love with life according to this image, he drowned, submerged, having destroyed his true soul, that is to say the life that truly belongs to it—as the saying goes: ‘fearful of his own shadow’. This teaches us to be wary of enthusiasm for the most distant thing as if it were the most important thing because this brings about the death of the soul, that is, the destruction of true judgement about things and of the appropriate perfection in it in accordance with reality.

So says the author of Proverbial expressions in Plato.

The story of Narcissus appears first in extant literature in Ov. Met. 3.339–510 and Conon, Narr. 24, although P. Oxy. 4711 perhaps preserves a part of Parthenius’ account from his Metamorphoses (see Hutchinson (2006)). It is rationalized in Paus. 9.31.7–8.

This particular interpretation, attributed to an otherwise unknown collection of proverbs, explains Narcissus’ death in terms of Neo-platonic mystical allegory. The phrase ‘fearful of his own shadow’ (presumably the reason for its inclusion) occurs in Pl. Phd 101d.

X. Alexander.

One should know that Alexander, or Paris, did not judge the goddesses but, being clever, he composed an encomium on them. This gave rise to the myth that he decided a contest between Pallas, Hera, and Aphrodite.

(p.243) A seemingly unique rationalization.

Fulg. Myth. 2.1 made Paris’ judgement the choice between active, contemplative, and sensual lives, an allegory which became popular in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

XI. Pan.

Polyaenus, in his Stratagems [1.2], says that Pan was the first to invent a military formation and that he named it a ‘phalanx’. He arranged the wings [lit. ‘horns’] on the right and left, and so they depict him with horns. Furthermore, he was the first to instil fear in enemy forces, using cunning skill. After learning from sentries that a great force of enemy soldiers was attacking him, Dionysus was terrified. Pan, however, was not afraid: by night he signalled to Dionysus’ army to raise a great war cry. They sounded the trumpet and yelled, and the rocks and valleys echoed it back. Stricken with fear, the enemy fled. And so, honouring Pan’s stratagem, we sing of his beloved Echo, and call the empty, night-time fears of armies ‘panics’.

Pan’s name was an obvious target for etymological speculation. It was explained by his adoration by ‘all’ of the gods (Hymn. Hom. Pan., 46–7) or because he was the child of Penelope and ‘all’ the suitors (see Mactoux (1975) 221–3). Likewise, Heraclit. Incred. 25 derives the verb πανεύω‎ from the behaviour of the Pans. Most commonly, he was associated with irrational fears—panics—described typically in military contexts (see Borgeaud (1979) 137–56). His invention of ‘panic’ as a military technique in this passage recalls the description of the discovery of the conch by ‘Aigipan’, the noise of which caused the Titans to flee in Eratosth. [Cat.] 1.27.

XII. Endymion.

Endymion was the first to devote himself to examining the stars and so he would stay awake the entire night and mostly sleep during the day. Because of this, he has been called Selene’s lover, from his attachment to her for that purpose.

So says Plato.

This explanation of Endymion’s sleep was a popular one. It appears in Mnaseas frr. 1, 20 Cappelletto; Plin. HN 2.6.41–3; Artem. 4.47; schol. ad Ap. Rhod. 4.57–8, 4.263–4; Nonnus, Dion. 41. 379–80; Alexander of Aphrodisias, Problemata, 1.134 Ideler.

Endymion is rationalized differently in Heraclit. Incred. 38.

(p.244) The final note is perhaps a reference to Pl. Phd. 72c, which mentions Endymion’s famous sleep, but does not offer this interpretation. Perhaps this rationalization was transmitted as a commentary on this passage.

XIII. Phaethon.

Likewise, it is said that Phaethon was the son of Helius. But here is how it was. Phaethon calculated the course of the sun, as Endymion did with the moon, but these calculations were not precise and he died leaving his account incomplete.

Adapted from Lucian, De Astrologia 19. This entry is obviously suggested by the previous one, although the explanations for Endymion’s relationship to the Moon are slightly different.

An incomplete passage on Phaethon is included in Heraclit. Incred. 22.

Fulg. Myth. 1.16 makes his journey an allegory of the simultaneously destructive and productive aspects of the sun.

XIV. Bellerophon.

Bellerophon’s horse was not winged, as in the myth. Rather, by pursuing astronomy, turning his thoughts to higher things and wandering amongst the stars he went up to the heavens not on a horse but by using his mind.

Adapted from Lucian, De Astrologia 13. Festa’s emendation ὁ Βελλεροϕόντ〈ου ἵππος〉 πτηνός‎ is in keeping with this source (cf. Sanz Morales (2002) 296 n.34).

Bellerophon and Pegasus are rationalized differently in Palaeph. Incred. 28.

XV. Icarus.

Icarus, in the grip of youthful impetuosity and recklessness, seeking unreasonable things, and being excitable in his mind, lost hold of reality, came adrift from all reason, and was carried down into a sea of unfathomable affairs. The Greeks tell this story in another way and create the Icarian Gulf from it.

Follows Lucian, De Astrologia 15.

XVI. Io.

Io, the daughter of Arestor, was a priestess of Hera. When her father discovered that she was pregnant while still unmarried (for she no longer appeared virginal but seemed larger and prettier than usual (p.245) because of her sexual maturity, so that the Argives called her ‘cow’), he was enraged. He put her under guard and appointed an uncle, Argos, to watch over her. Argos, because he did not sleep but remained ever-vigilant and never allowed her the opportunity to escape, was given the name ‘Panoptes’ [‘all eyes’]. But, at Io’s request, a local man named Hermaon killed Argos without being seen. Io, now free, fled with her accomplices and boarded a merchant ship. She was carried by a storm over that sea which is now called ‘Ionian’, and she passed many places until she came safely to Aeria, where she was thought a goddess on account of her beauty.

So says Charax in his Hellenica.

Attributed to Charax of Pergamon (FGrH 103 F13), although there is no other extant reference either to this material in Charax’ work or to his Hellenica.

The Argive lineage derived from Inachus is complex and often contradictory. Nevertheless, the idea of Io’s father being Arestor, nephew of Argos, is unconventional.

The epithet ‘Panoptes’ is also rationalized by Heraclit. Incred. 37 as relating to a particularly observant (or intrusive) person. Io’s escape to Egypt by merchant ship is typical of rationalizing variants. Palaeph. Incred. 42 describes how Io, a priestess of Hera, falls pregnant and flees Argos. She is pursued by the Argives and finally travels with merchants (ἐμπόροις τισὶ ξένοις‎) to Egypt. Hdt. 1.1, 1.5 also has Io transported by Phoenician merchant ship.

‘Aeria’ is a traditional name for Egypt. The similarities in the iconography of Io and Isis were noted by Greek writers (e.g. Hdt. 2.41), and the two were sometimes conflated, so that Io was said to be worshipped in Egypt as Isis (e.g. Callim. Epigr. 58; Apollod. Bibl. 2.9; Hyg. Fab. 145).

XVII. Dionysus.

Charax says that Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, is said to have fallen pregnant while still unmarried. During the birth a thunderbolt struck; she disappeared but the baby survived. The people imagined her to have obtained divine honours, as is said of those struck by lightning, and they called her ‘Thyone’ [‘Offering’]. Cadmus argued that the child was divine because he had been rescued from the fire, and gave him the patronymic of the Egyptian Dionysus.

Alexander of Aphrodisias says the following in his Physica: ‘It is not without reason that they tell these stories: the Bacchant follows Dionysus because dancing results from wine, Satyrs because of lightness of movement, Lydians because some find release through him, (p.246) and a leopard because of the vividly coloured hallucinations experienced in drunkenness: for under the influence of wine each person has his own different, variegated reasoning, and the pelt of the animal is, likewise, densely dappled. A single Bacchant, raving, committed murder since many, intoxicated, also kill. Dionysus is naked because wine provokes the disclosure of drinkers’ thoughts. He lusts after Aphrodite and Ariadne because drinkers are commonly struck by extreme desire for women. He has with him a bald man because large quantities of wine greatly empty the brain and harm and wither the body, and because of this they also call him ‘Maron’. [ …] He was struck with a thunderbolt and placed in a thigh: this means that often wine which has been placed in the sun is then brought to perfection in its blending and strength while hidden in jars. He has four women as his sisters because wine progresses through four changes and transformations.

The explanation of Dionysus’ birth is attributed to Charax of Pergamon (FGrH 103 F14). Other rationalizations appear in Eur. Bac. 286–97 and Diod. Sic. 1.23.1–8, 2.38.4, 3.62.5, 10.

‘Thyone’ was the name of the apotheosized Semele, under which she received cult. The ‘Egyptian Dionysus’ is presumably Osiris, with whom Dionysus was often compared (e.g. Hdt. 2.42; Diod. Sic. 1.11.3, 1.23.4).

The subsequent etymological explanation of the iconography of Dionysus is from Ps-Alexander of Aphrodisias, Problemata 111–13 Kapetanaki and Sharples. This source confirms that the ‘single Bacchant’ is Agave. LSJ (s.v.) makes ϕαλακρόν‎ in this instance ‘bald spot’; it is more likely a reference to Silenus (i.e. ‘the bald man’). ‘Maron’ was a follower of Dionysus whose similar appearance meant he was sometimes conflated with Silenus.

Fulg. Myth. 2.12 and Cornutus, Theol. Graec. 30 present similarly etymologically driven explanations which likewise associate the iconography of Dionysus with the effects of wine and intoxication.

XVIII. The chains in Homer.

Some say that Homer uses the word ‘chain’ allegorically to mean the days, and the rays of the sun.

Zeus’ contention that, even with all of the other gods pulling on a golden chain, he could not be removed from Olympus, such was his strength (Il. 8.18–27) attracted a great deal of philosophical speculation (see Lévêque (1959) and Lamberton (1986) 271–2).

(p.247) On this passage, see Lévêque (1959) 17–18. It is perhaps partially a misreading of Lucian, De Astrologia 22: εὖτ‎’ ἂν δὲ τὴν σειρὴν τοῦ Διὸς ἀπηγέηται‎ [sc. Homer] καὶ τοῦ Ἠελίου τὰς βόας, τὰ δὴ ἐγὼ ἤματα εἶναι συμβάλλομαι‎ […]. The equation of the cattle of the sun with the days of the year goes back at least to Aristotle’s Homerica Problemata fr. 175 Rose (see Buffière (1956) 243–5).

Plato (Tht. 153c–d) described Zeus’ chain as a reference to the sun; for this interpretation in other writers, see Lévêque (1959) 15–20.

XIX. Cronus.

It is not true that Cronus was bound by Zeus. Rather, Cronus travels on an outer orbit far from us which appears slow and is difficult for humans to observe. On this account it is said that he stands still and, in a sense, is bound with fetters. The depth of the lower atmosphere is called Tartarus.

Another example of Zeus’ notorious behaviour (it is paradigmatic of a divine example at odds with conventions of paternal respect in e.g. Aesch. Eum. 640–66, Pl. Euthphr. 6a). This explanation, which follows Lucian, De Astrologia 21, makes this story an allegory of the movement of the planet Saturn.

Cornutus, Theol. Graec. 7 makes Cronus’ binding an allegory for the lengthened duration of the universe.

XX. The fire from Diomedes’ weapons.

What is that incessant fire which would flash from the weapons of Diomedes? Athena is traditionally known as the ‘lightbringer’ and she is the patroness of intellectual activity and true wisdom. She lit a fire in Diomedes’ soul, and took away the mist, that is to say his ignorance, in the presence of which the soul is blind. For it is said: ‘What is more I have taken the mist from your eyes, which before was upon them’ [Il. 5.127].

And that’s what the fire should be thought to be, and it is Athena who provides it. Thus in Proclus.

A commentary on Il. 5.127. Procl. In R. 1.18.25 Kroll has the phrase καὶ ὡς ἀϕαιροῦσα τὴν ἀχλύν, ἧς παρούσης οὐχ ὁρᾷ ψυχή‎.

The image of Athena dispelling the mist from Diomedes’ eyes was a popular analogy for the recognition of higher truths, e.g. Procl. Hymn 4.5–7; Boethius, Consolatio Philosophiae 1.2 (prose) 15–16.

(p.248) XXI. ‘The oak axle creaked loudly’.

‘The oak axle creaked loudly under her weight’ [Il. 5.838]. But how can something weightless cause the effects of weight? They say that the things which participate must be regarded as analogous to whatever it is in which they participate. Although the god being participated in is one, the soul participates in one way, the intellect in another, the imagination in another, and perception in another: they participate untwistedly, indivisibly, in shapes and through experiences respectively. That which is participated in is uniform according to its basic existence but diverse according to its participation [i.e. that which participates in it]. It is imagined by the participants sometimes in one way and sometimes in another owing to their weakness; and that is not all: even weightlessness seems to cause weight.

A commentary on Il. 5.838, which describes Athena mounting a chariot. Aristarchus athetized 5.838–9: οὐκ ἀναγκαῖοι καὶ γελοῖοι‎ (Erbse (1971) 111).

This passage is adapted from Procl. In R. 1.112.4–8 Kroll [Μέγα δ’ ἔβραχε—τὸ μετεχόμενον‎]; 1.111.19–28 Kroll [ἑνὸς γὰρ ὄντος—αἴτιον ϕαίνεται‎]. It explains Homer’s problematic description of divine corporality through the Platonic theory of forms: in the sensory world, beings from the intelligible world seem to take on corporeal existence and are therefore experienced as such.

XXII. ‘Solecism’.

Solon, after questioning Croesus, was in Cilicia and founded the city of Soli, in which he settled some Athenians. Over time they became ‘barbarized’ and spoke ‘solicistically’, from which comes the term ‘solecism’.

Perhaps adapted from Diog. Laert. 1.51.

XXIII. The seisachtheia.

Solon of Salamis was the first to introduce seisachtheia [debt relief] to the Athenians. This was a redemption of human bodies: after all, having borrowed money using their bodies as collateral and having no means to pay, they were enslaved.

Adapted from Diog. Laert. 1.45.