Introduction to Myth
Introduction to Myth: Mythos – Greek word for story (not necessarily true or false) Mythology – the study of myths Primitive people needed to make stories/myths in an effort to understand what was going on in their world. Humans are the only beings with a need to understand things; a dog doesn’t think “why me?? ”. Primitive people, when scared, hurt, depressed, created myths to explain their pain or discomfort.
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All cultures make myths in their early development. Around 1200 B. C. , ancient Greeks began to take written history and to make rational and logical stories. Myth-making came to an end once this began.
Myths “illustrate” the truth, much as Jesus did in his parables. He did not give an exact point, but told a story that showed what he meant. Myths may not tell the literal truth, but they illustrate human nature and human experience. Theories: Max Muller – concluded that all ancient myths are about nature and natural phenomenon. Carl Jung – noted that same kinds of myths turn up in all different cultures, such as each culture having their own version of the Great Flood. He developed his theory of the Collective Unconscious – that all humans are born with these same ideas in their brains, lying deep and unconscious.
He said that myths explore these deep ideas of the collective unconscious. Claude Levi-Strauss – research on human brain, that different sides were responsible for different functions. Noted that the body is binary (2 arms, 2 ears, 2 legs…) and says that we think in pairs with ideas (on & off, right & wrong, good & evil, yes & no). They are pairs of opposites in conflict with each other. Levi-Strauss says that man’s entire experience is based on conflict, and that myths present the conflicts, then resolve them within the story. The 20th century was in ways spent examining and interpreting the ideas of the 19th century.
Despite technological strides, it has been said that no ideas came from the 20th century. For example, 20th century scholars spent their lives working on the 19th century ideas of Darwin, Marx and Freud. Sigmund Freud – all human nature is driven by sex. Freud started psychotherapy. He turned his focus to myths and concluded that all myths are about sex and are a way of revealing sexual fears and desires without having to confront them every day. Characters: Zeus, Semele, Hera Zeus – lord and king of the gods. Constantly making love to females of all kinds. In this story, Zeus is making love to Semele.
But Zeus is married to his sister, Hera, who always finds out about his infidelities. Hera disguises herself as an old human woman and visits Semele, who confesses that not only is she making time with Zeus, but that he love her more than his own wife! Hera says that no, he doesn’t, because with his own wife, he appears to her as he really is – as an almighty god. Usually, Zeus appears as a human – tall, strong, distinguished, a little bit of gray. So the next time Zeus comes around, Semele asks him to appear as he really is. Zeus denies her, saying that she doesn’t want to see that.
So she bitches and moans until he gives in, makes love to her, and appears to her as the god that he is – at which point she is immediately destroyed by a bolt of lightning. That story can be analyzed by the four theories listed above. Is any single theory correct? Are none of them correct? 1. Muller’s Nature Theory – because primitive people are in constant contact and conflict with nature. Zeus is the ultimate god, even over the god of thunder, and they find thunder frightening. Lightning is Zeus’ weapon, and experiencing a lightning bolt is the closest that they could get to Zeus. So to them, a lightning bolt IS Zeus.
Getting struck by lightning is getting hit by Zeus. That’s where nature comes in. Zeus is frequently depicted with a lightning bolt. 2. Jung’s Collective Unconscious – two of his ideas – Anima and Animus. Anima is the male idea of the ideal woman, the universal woman, who makes men crazy and keeps them off balance by nagging and manipulating. Animus is the idea that all women have of men – violent, destructive, aggressive, rapists. So myths provide an expression for these ideas, which lie deep in the unconscious. Both appear in this Zeus story – she nags him like crazy and he destroys her. 3.
Levi-Strauss – humans are obsessed with conflict and resolution. Each of the three characters in this story are in conflict with every other conflict. But as soon as you get rid of Semele, all conflicts are resolved. 4. Freud – it’s all about sex; Castration Anxiety – a boy has one, a girl doesn’t. The boy thinks she must have cut hers off and worries that she’ll cut his off. Penis Envy – the girl looks, he has something she doesn’t, she knows she’s never had one, and she wants one. In this myth, Semele insists to see Zeus “as he really is”…or naked. She’s obsessed about it (penis envy).
But when he stands there naked, he has to kill her (castration anxiety). Creation Know that myths conflict and contradict each other, and the Greeks did not have them in a logical order. One does, through, give a story of creation, which we compare to Genesis from the Bible. Genesis – God is already in existence at the beginning of Genesis, then he creates the universe; the creation order matches the evolutionary order. The climax of the story is when god creates the first man. But then, man complains that he needs a companion, so woman is created. Greek – starts with chaos, which in Greek means “emptiness” or “nothing”.
So you start with nothing. Then five beings come into existence: * Ge – (pro. ‘gay’) – the earth (feminine; any word that ends in ‘e’ in Greek is feminine) * Tartarus – dark terrible prison located beneath the earth * Eros – passionate love * Erebus – darkness * Night – night Of the five, three are frightening and dark. It’s scary because 90% of human animal information comes from sight, and human animal has poor night vision. So night was scary for primitive humans, because their predators had either excellent night vision or great sense of smell. Night is a time when we’re defenseless.
Only one of the five was imagined by Greeks to be in human form. Eros was an adolescent boy. They knew a 16-year-old boy could impregnate more women at that age than at any other time in his life. When Romans took over Eros, they turned him into the five-year-old boy we know as Cupid. Next, Ge gives birth, with no help from a man, to Mountains, Seas and Heavens: Ge does this without the help of any male. It was assumed for a long time that women made babies all on their own, with no help from men. This gave them a position of importance and prominence in society, while the men were unimportant.
After all, sex was just for fun, and there was no immediate effect. No one put it together until man learned how to count – that was a bad day for women. They figured out the solar year, then the months, then that 9 months after sex, the baby came along. So it was the man involved after all. And eggs were inside and invisible, while the male secretion was obvious. So it was the man that actually parented the child, the woman was just a carrier. So now men were the most important. So later, Ge needed a husband, since men were necessary after all.
She married her son Heaven, or Uranus (Ouranos). Since Uranus was the man and Ge was the woman, Uranus got all the credit. After a long dry spell when the rains came and the land became green again, it was Uranus up in the heavens that fertilized his wife Ge and gave them crops. Also, heaven must be male because he’s on top and above Mother Earth. Primitive people, like children, saw the world in terms of themselves – they thought rain from the sky was male sperm impregnating the earth. Anthropomorphism – the process by which we give human form to things that are not really human.
His current example was Barney, but the Greek gods had the same range of emotions (hatred, jealousy) that Greek humans had. This is man making god in man’s image, since it was the only form they knew well. (i. e. marriage of heaven and earth – putting a human occurrence to the supernatural) (True of Greek gods) So we’ve got Ge and Uranus. But Uranus hated his children – he thought they were ugly. So he stuffed each one of them back into the body of Ge (earth). Ge was in pain so she asked the kids inside of her for help, but only Cronus (youngest child) would help her.
She got some iron from inside herself and formed a sickle (common instrument with curved blade to cut grain), and gave it to Cronus. Cronus hid in the evening until Uranus came back to sleep with his wife, then Cronus jumped out, grabbed Uranus’ genitals, chopped them off, and threw them into the sea, where they floated. A foam formed around the genitals, and out of that foam came Aphrodite, the goddess of passionate love. (Remember: god of love is Eros) How does Cronus get out? Does he stand on his mother Ge, since she is the earth? Is Uranus the heavens or is he a man with genitals?
The Greeks weren’t concerned with realistic details (didn’t think that way) – the more bizarre, irrational and violent the story, the older and more primitive it is. Now, the male is the only real parent, since he provides the visible sperm and the woman is just a carrier. So the male is the head of the family, and a male king rules over all families. So since baby-making was the important part, a castrated male could not be in charge. So Uranus was no longer chief – Cronus, his defeater, became the chief god Once, he became the chief god, Cronus let all of his siblings out of Ge.
And he needed to marry so he could make babies. So he married his sister Rhea. They had kids, but Cronus knew from his own experience that kids could endanger his power. So he swallowed each child whole. Rhea was distressed, him swallowing the kids and all, and went to Ge and Uranus for advice. They said to give him a rock wrapped in baby clothes next time, that he’d never know the difference. So she hid the next child, Zeus, and Cronus swallowed a rock instead. Rhea took Zeus to Crete and hid him in a cave to grow up safely away from Cronus.
Once grown, Zeus tricked Cronus into spitting up all of his brothers and sisters, and there was a war between Cronus and Rhea’s generation and Zeus’ generation. Cronus’ generation (his brothers and sisters) were called the Titans. Zeus’ people chose Mt. Olympus as their war base, and after winning, he and his siblings lived on Mt. Olympus (a mountaintop, where primitive Greeks would expect their gods to live). Zeus and crew were called the Olympians. Zeus used lightning bolts as his weapon to lead the Olympians to victory over the Titans, and Zeus took over as god of the universe until the end of mythology.
Zeus hurled most of the Titans (his aunts and uncles) down to Tartarus (the deep prison) so that they could never challenge his power. But he couldn’t bring himself to do that to Cronus, his father. Cronus was sent west into exile (traveled west because it was the direction of death), never to return to Greece. Cronus went to Italy and hid there, where he used the Latin name Saturn, which “Saturday” was named after. (Hiding place of Cronus: Lateo, Latium, Latini). Cronus was still a god and presided over a golden age in Italy.
Then we went further west , but the Italians recalled the golden age with a mid-winter festival called Saturnalia, in which the high point was December 25th. On that day, no one worked or went to school, and families exchanged gifts with each other. When the Catholic church took over Rome, the took over existing festival days (smoother transition), and Saturnalia was changed to celebrate the Mass of Christ (Christmas). Generations: Ge & Uranus Cronus & Rhea Zeus & Hera Creating People: The creation of the first man (male) was very unimportant.
Myth is not even clear as to who did it. Some versions say Zeus created man out of dirt. Others say Zeus’ cousin Prometheus (son of one of the Titians) created man and had sympathy for humans. But male human life was pathetic and weak and helpless and inferior to animals – humans can only walk better. So Prometheus went to heaven and stole fire and gave it to man. Now, every human had fire for warmth, light and protection. When Zeus found out, he was so angry that he wanted to offset the gift of fire, so he gave man something very terrible – woman. The creation of woman was a big deal.
Hephaestus, the craftsman, constructed the first woman and handed her over to Aphrodite, the goddess of passionate love and the most beautiful. Aphrodite gave woman irresistible beauty and charm, then handed her over to Athena, goddess of wisdom. Athena taught woman important and useful skills, then handed her over to the god Hermes, who among other things is god of the practical joke. Hermes gave woman the character of a thief and the mind of a bitch. Then all of these gods – Hephaestus, Aphrodite, Athena, and Hermes – brought woman before Zeus, who named her “all gifts”, or Pandora. Zeus had a gift for Pandora – a big jar (not a box!! , ceramic, 4 or 5 feet tall. She asked what was in it, but Zeus refused to answer – just take it with you, he said. Zeus took her and her jar down to earth and the society of men. Prometheus had an earthly brother, Epimetheus. Prometheus means “forethought”, and thinking before speaking or acting. His brother Epimetheus…well, not so much. Afterthought. Prometheus had warned his brother not to accept any gifts from gods, but he took one look at Pandora, she of irresistible beauty and charm, and took her and her jar in. Life was good for a while, but Pandora was so curious about the jar.
She’d go and listen to it, shake it, smell it. Finally, one day she opened the seal, and out came all of the ills that we face – sickness, death, disease, pain, famine, drought – only hope was left in the jar, and it remained there when she finally got the lid back on. So, hope was left in the jar – what was “hope” doing in a jar full of evils? The Greeks were deeply pessimistic and felt that life was hard and cruel, with no “happy ending”. Note that most myths end unhappily and violent. So to them, hope was the greatest evil of all – hope makes you think none of the evils would happen to you.
But the certain future is that we’re all going to die, so the Greek pessimism is based in reality. But hope makes us think that none of that will happen to us. Second Creation – The Great Flood: In the Old Testament, God wipes out horrible man and saves only Noah’s family. God tells him to build an ark, and despite sure ridicule, Noah does. He puts a male and female of each animal on the ark with his family, and survive when the rains come and flood the land. He sends out doves until one returns with an olive branch – a sign of dry land. The ark sets down on Mt. Ararat and Noah and his family reproductively recreate the human race.
Every culture has a flood story. Were the Biblical stories made up as the myths were to make sense of the world around them? But there are flood stories all over the world – proof of a great flood? The earth goes through warming and cooling periods – did a warmth come through and melt the glaciers, flooding all inhabitable land? Many ancient cities were built in river valleys – at some point or another, every river will challenge its banks and flood, which would create a version of the same story all over the world. So some myths may well be based in reality. The Greek Flood version:
Zeus went down to earth disguised as a human to check out human society and found it disgusting, corrupt, evil and treacherous. So Zeus returned to Mt. Olympus and told the other gods that he was going to flood the earth to get rid of the evil human race. The other gods provided an answer to the question “why does man exist? ” If Zeus destroyed all humans, there would be no one left to worship the gods. That are how humans were perceived in greek myth; they were only there to worship the gods. So Zeus goes back and finds a husband/wife worth saving, Deucalion and Pyrrha.
They were pious and just – they had the right relationship with the gods and they had right in their dealings with other humans. (This parallels Jesus’ two great commandments – love only one god and love thy neighbor). Usually, Greek myth is not concerned with human morality, but here it mattered to Zeus. So Zeus puts Deucalion and Pyrrha in a boat and flooded the land. After the waters subsided, Deucalion and Pyrrha saw that they were the only people left, and they were terrified. Being pious, they prayed to the gods for advice. They were told “Take the bones of your mother and throw them over your shoulder. You often see strange answers when people talk to gods. This was even weirder because the Greeks prioritized proper burial, so digging up bones didn’t sound appropriate. So Deucalion and Pyrrha tried to figure it out, and came up with ‘mother’ was Ge, Mother Earth. So they threw rocks and stones over their shoulders, and where they landed, the new human race formed. But why did they have to throw it over their shoulder? That parallels Lot and his wife leaving Sodom and Gomorrah. She looks back over her shoulder after being warned not to, and is turned to a pillar of salt.
She wasn’t supposed to see the supernatural. So that’s why they threw ‘bones’ over their shoulders – so they couldn’t see the supernatural event. You can’t watch – you’ll destroy yourself (Zeus destroying Semele) or you cancel out the event. Greek religion was not a monotheism (one god), or a polytheism (many gods), but a form of polytheism, henotheism – belief in one god most powerful, but other gods exist. Zeus is the powerful one here, over other gods and humans. Now, Zeus was sleeping with any woman he could get his hands on – human, goddess, nymph – because his power came from baby-making.
Unsentimentally, “father” is like a dog that sires, just a baby-maker. Morality didn’t matter, Zeus was the great father god up in heaven, a carouser (but that’s due to anthropomorphism as well). So Zeus marries his sister Hera and appoints two of his brothers to control parts of the universe, under his command and authority. Poseidon, god of the sea, and Hades, god of the world of the dead. Zeus has control over heavens and the earth Hera is the goddess of marriage – she understands marriage, she’s not nice or sweet, but cunning and cruel, with sexual jealousy being the worst.
Her Latin name is Juno, so June weddings are traditional and girls wanted to marry in her month to gain her blessing. Poseidon – god of the sea – Latin name Neptune, often shown as jolly, but he’s not. Poseidon was associated with horror, sea monsters, tidal waves and earthquakes. He also constantly was having affairs, one with a human girl named Scylla. Poseidon’s wife (no name given) finds out about the affair, waits for Scylla to get in the bathtub, then poisons the water. When Scylla stood up, she had a ring of wolves heads growing out of her waist.
Poseidon came back to make love to her – no way, wolfie. She begged him to hide her, so he put her in a cave near the edge of the Mediterranean sea, where she waited for sailors to come too close, where she’d capture them and feed them to the wolf heads. Poseidon is an example of gods being more than just gods. Poseidon is god of the sea, but Poseidon also is the sea. The Mediterranean is violent, like Poseidon. Gods always have the character of what they’re god of. Hades is god of the dead. There were no temples built to Hades to honor him with statues and sacrifices.
Every human makes his individual sacrifice to Hades by their own death. The earth had three layers – the top layer which Greeks walked on, the land of the dead (underworld), and Tartarus, the deep prison in which the Titans were kept. Dead people go to the underworld. The Greeks believed in immortality of the soul, and that the souls of all people go to these dark, unhappy caverns for eternity. Odyssey – Homer – told the stories of the travels of Odysseus, who goes to the entrance of the world of the dead and looks in (the west’s oldest account of death).
He saw that the ghosts of the dead were transparent, recognizable, and too weak to talk or to touch, and they shrieked like bats. Odysseus kills an animal and drains its blood, which they drink to give them the strength to talk to him. This makes sense – the body rots away when you die, leaving only bones and eventually dust. The Greeks knew to love live, because the afterlife had none of the pleasurable experiences of life in the body. To the Greeks, the afterlife had no place of reward nor punishment – all souls went to the same gloomy place, longing for physical life and the pleasures of the body.
Alternatively, Christianity teaches that the pleasures of the soul are better than of the body – that the body is somehow dirty. Gymnasium literally means to take off close in the gym. The Greeks, though, praised nudity. They figured that God made the body, so every part of it, down to the armpits, should be considered beautiful. So the Greeks imagined gods in beautiful human forms, thinking there was no form any higher or more beautiful. Cronus & Rhea Hestia —– Hades —– Poseidon —– Demeter —– Hera —– Zeus Hestia is one of the oldest children, the goddess of hearth (fireplace).
She is elusive in Greek myth. She just stayed home and kept the fire going – never married, just stayed home. The Temples to Hestia always had fire going for people who needed it. Her Roman name was Vesta, as in Vestal Virgins. No real stories about Hestia. Demeter – Zeus’s sister, goddess of Agriculture; recall that the father is the only real parent, but if the mom/female doesn’t feed and nourish the child, it dies. Therefore, the earth, which provides food to people, is female. So Demeter is also the goddess of Motherhood. Anthropomorphic form of mother Ge.
Demeter’s daughter is Persephone, whose father is unclear, maybe Zeus. The father is irreverent between the mother and child relationship. Demeter completely loved her child (an anthropomorphic transference of emotion). Hades was Persephone’s uncle, but he fell in love with her. Being god of the dead, he knew he could not persuade her to love him, so he opened up the earth, rose up in his chariot, swept her up, and took her back with him to the underworld as the earth closed. So Demeter comes back and can’t find her daughter. She goes nuts. Searched and searched.
Finally, the sun, who sees all, tells her that Hades had abducted her. Now, gods cannot interfere with other gods – only Zeus has that power, so she knew there was nothing that she could do, and couldn’t get Persephone back. Demeter disguised herself as an old human woman and went to work for a family with a newborn baby. She transferred the love she had to someone else’s child. She loved the child, and wanted to give the human child a divine gift. So every night, she’d hold him in the fire to make him immortal. One night, the real mother walks in and sees her holding her baby in the fire.
She screamed madly and rushed toward Demeter. Demeter became very angry and threw the child on the floor – angry because the fantasy she had built up to battle her own grief had been shattered. Now she had to face the fact that her child Persephone was gone. The family of the baby found out she was a goddess and were very frightened, and built her a temple on that very spot. Demeter walked into the temple and started to grieve. The Earth went barren and would give no fruit, responding to Demeter’s grief. Recall that the goddess of earth IS earth. Without food, people started dying in droves.
Eventually, the other gods went to Zeus to get him to do something – if all the people died, there’d be no one to worship them. Zeus sent a messenger to Hades to give it up. Hades stood before Persephone and handed her a pomegranate. She took one bite and handed it back to him. He then took her in his chariot and brought her back up to earth and set her down next to Demeter’s temple. Demeter saw her and was overjoyed, and the earth bloomed and grew. But because she ate part of the pomegranate, she must go back to Hades for part of each year, and during that time, Demeter grieves for her and the earth does not give food.
This fits into Muller and nature – it explains the seasons and why food does not grow during certain parts of the year. Putting the story in such human terms made it easy for the Greeks to understand that season. In some societies, a man and woman sharing a meal (the pomegranate), especially in his home, means that they’re married. This is still continued with the bride and groom sharing cake, the oldest part of the modern ceremony. New story: Orpheus was the best musician in the Greek world. “Orpheum” theatres are still named after him. He was so good that wild animals would come to listen to him, such as the lion in the statue.
He played a lyre, a stringed harp-like instrument. Trees would also uproot themselves and move closer to him when he played, and rocks would roll over toward him. This shows the power of music – it has no physical benefit, yet it has a tremendous effect on us. On Orpheus’ wedding day to Eurydice, his bride stepped on a poisonous snake, was bitten, and died. So Orpheus went to Hades and pleaded for him to send his dead wife’s soul back to earth. He brought his lyre, and got ready to play to persuade Hades. Orpheus appeared before the court of Hades and began to sing about how much he missed Eurydice.
It was so moving and powerful that even Hades, god of the dead, wept. So Hades allowed the soul of Eurydice to return to earth, but Orpheus was told he must walk back up to earth the way he had come and Eurydice would be sent after him. But – Orpheus could not turn around and look behind him to see if she was indeed following him. Remember, you can’t look at the supernatural, such as the dead coming back to life. So Orpheus starts walking back up the dark, gloomy corridors, excited about getting his Eurydice back. He tries to listen for her behind him – he tries to look peripherally at the walls to detect her shadow moving.
He sees nothing, and begins to doubt. After all, the gods had never allowed the dead to come back to life before – maybe Hades had just told him that to get rid of him. He became convinced he would never get his Eurydice back, and grief overtook him. It seemed so simple when Hades agreed, but now he simply could not believe it was true. So he turned around – and there was Eurydice, right behind him, beautiful as ever. But as soon as Orpheus looked, she was snatched back to the land of the dead – he had cancelled the miracle and had lost her again, but this time it was entirely his own fault!
He ran back down to Hades to beg him to let her return, but Hades said he would not grant it a second time. So Orpheus had to return to earth alone. He became a hater of women – not because they had wronged him, but because Orpheus was afraid of getting hurt again. So now he became famous for two reasons – his music and his hatred of women. He was singing in the woods one day, alone he thought, when a group of women came upon him and killed him, tearing him apart. He then joined Eurydice in the underworld.
The Greeks made this myth to show that, theoretically, it was possible to survive permanent death in some joy, if you did exactly what the gods or priests said. The Great Greek Gods of Olympia: Aphrodite – name means “born from the foam”, that being the foam of her father Uranus’ genitals when they were cast into the sea. Her Roman name is “Venus”, and she is the Greek goddess of love, being the most beautiful of all gods and goddess. But it’s not hand-holding warm and fuzzy love – it’s uncontrollable sexual desire that makes you crazy and not concerned with the risks or consequences of such passion.
Now the Greeks through the powers of the weather came from heaven, that the sea’s power was from the gods, and even the earth can feed or starve – they personify the powers of nature in gods. So why sex? They thought that inside you there are also powerful forces, and Greeks needed to understand why sexual wantonness was so powerful, so there’s a goddess for it. Now since gods are what they represent, Aphrodite is sex – a real slut. Humans are not instinctively monogamous – promiscuity was instinctive, and Aphrodite is the goddess of the promiscuity. She did sleep around a lot, with human and with god.
But Aphrodite was married to Hephaestus, the god of craftsmen who crafted Pandora. Hephaestus is the only physically imperfect god, having crippled legs. So the only imperfect god is married to the most perfect goddess. The Greeks that only a disabled person would stay inside all day (outside good to Greeks! ) and make things with his hands. Manliness was defined by fighting and hunting, but Hephaestus cannot fight. Now Hephaestus had a brother, Ares (Roman – Mars), the god of war, and because war was hated, Ares was the most hated god, even among the other gods. But he was a perfect physical specimen.
As soon as Hephaestus would leave for his shop, Ares would sneak in the back door for a little lovin’ from Aphrodite. Eventually, the sun, who sees all, told Hephaestus about the affair. So Hephaestus made a giant, strong net and concealed it above the bed. The next day after he left for work and Ares came in, the net came down and held them in place, so tightly that they could not even move out of their lovemaking position. So Hephaestus comes in, but gods cannot harm one another – so he went out and invited all the other gods and goddesses to come in and take a long look.
The goddesses were too modest, but the gods came in. They laughed, pointed, measured, discussed what they would do if they were in Ares position, which many of them probably had been. So there was no physical violence, but lots of laughing and humiliation. Hephaestus freed them, and Ares never entertained Aphrodite again. So sexuality was beyond the Greeks control – that’s why they had to have a god for it. Pygmalion – a rare Greek happily-ever-after myth. Pygmalion (a guy) was a sculptor, but he was very lonely. So he carved a statue of a beautiful woman and eventually fell in love with the statue.
So he went to the temple of Aphrodite, made sacrifices, and prayed for the statue to be a real woman. So he gets home, and the statue comes alive. They lived happily ever after. So how does this parallel Greek life? The man who finds the perfect woman is the man who creates her himself. This reflects the frustration that the Greek people had in finding someone to love. This myth was a fantasy – not of coping with reality, but of escaping from it. Cybele – not a Greek myth, but a Near-Eastern legend on which a Greek myth was based, but changed and adjusted, as we’ll see.
Most Greek culture was adapted from ancient near east. The story is violent and bizarre. Cybele was the great mother goddess, who was both male and female. She decided that she’d be much better off just being female, so she cut off her male genitalia and threw it away. Where it landed, the first almond tree grew. Along came Nana, a nymph (Greek for “bride”) – nymphs are half-human and half-divine, they live forever and are always young and beautiful, but they have no god-like power and cannot leave the area where they’re assigned. Nana took a white blossom off that first almond tree and put it between her breasts.
It disappeared there and she turned up pregnant. She named her son Attis, and he was a perfect example of a young man. So much so that Cybele, mother goddess, fell in love with him. But Attis loved someone else, so Cybele’s love drove him insane until finally he castrated himself and died from the wound. Cybele was so distraught that she asked the other gods to bring him back to life. They agreed, but with the condition that he’d have to be castrated and die every year. The Greek version: Myrrha – Myrrha was a human girl whose only real parent was her father, since her mother died when she was very young.
She loved her father dearly and deeply – too much, because she realized that she wanted to sleep with him, even though she knew it was wrong. She eventually became physically lovesick and depressed over it. When the nanny who raised her noticed that Myrrha was sick, she asked why. Myrrha tried to hide it, but eventually blurted out the truth. Well, the old woman nanny was only concerned with Myrrha’s happiness, so she went to the father and told him that a young girl in town wanted to sleep with him – but the girl was shy and wanted her identity to be concealed, so there must be no lights.
He agreed. So the old woman told Myrrha that she had arranged it, and Myrrha was horrified! She had wanted it, yes, but now that it was possible…. Eventually, she decided to go ahead with it. So she started to visit her father repeatedly in his dark room. She got pregnant. In the meantime, the father was getting curious about who his lover was, tried to recognize her around town and couldn’t, so one night he hid a lantern in the cupboard and closed the door. While his lover was in his dark room, he took out the lantern, saw his own daughter, and realized what he had done.
He was furious that he had been tricked and tried to kill Myrrha, who prayed to Aphrodite. Aphrodite transformed her into a myrrh tree (which is where the name came from). Myrrh trees give off an aromatic sap that was used in embalming – the symbolism of Jesus getting a gift of myrrh signified that he would die. This myth helps explain why myrrh sap is used in embalming – death is associated with sadness, and the sap is the sad tears of Myrrha. But Aphrodite saved Myrrha’s baby – a boy child named Adonis. Adonis was a perfect young man, and Aphrodite herself fell in love with him.
It was a dangerous world, and Aphrodite was concerned about Adonis, but he didn’t care, and he went boar hunting. Boar hunting was very challenging and dangerous because the boars are smart and would hunt their hunters. So boar hunting was done in groups – they’d use dogs to track and corner a boar into a cave. The hunters formed a semicircle around the cave and the dogs would drive the boar out. The plan was that when the boar came out and saw all the hunters, it would freeze for just a second – long enough for the hunters to kill it. But some boars didn’t freeze – they just charged out and killed a hunter or two in the process.
Charge – bye Adonis. Aphrodite grieved and asked the gods to bring Adonis back. They agreed, but once a year Adonis would have to be killed by a boar and come back again. Both Attis and Adonis are called ‘resurrection gods’. With a woman loving both of their dead bodies, we saw a statue of how that resembles Mary holding the body of crucified Jesus. A whole religion grew out of Adonis. Now, for a god to fall in love with a human was considered disgusting to the gods, much like a human falling in love with a chicken. But Aphrodite delighted in making gods fall in love with humans for her amusement.
So Zeus decreed that Aphrodite would fall in love with the next human she saw. That human was a shepherd named Anchises. It was summer, and in the summer shepherds worked naked. So she transformed herself into a beautiful human girl and approached him – told him that she was under a spell and the only way to break the spell was for him to sleep with her. Anchises became uneasy…he could tell she was a god because 1) gods were tall, where Greeks were short, 2) gods were blonde, where Greeks were dark, and 3) gods smell good, not like meat-eating Greeks who stank.
Anchises thought it was too good to be true, but still he agreed. Afterward, he rolled over and went to sleep. Aphrodite didn’t care about him any more – she had conquered and the novelty was gone, so she decided to tell him her real identity. She woke him up and told him and Anchises was filled with terror – thinking she had used him up and that he’d be impotent. She laughed at him and assured him it would still work. So she went back to Olympus, and he, like any other guy, went to the nearby city of Troy and bragged that he had made love to the goddess Aphrodite.
Bad move, he should’ve kept quiet. Zeus was angry with him and struck him with a lightning bolt which crippled him. Aphrodite, on the other hand with it being revealed that she had slept with a human, was mocked, ridiculed and humiliated. Test 1 info: Need a sheet of paper 25 short answer questions (fill in the blank) 1 extra credit question (from book) Zeus’ generation was named from ___? Name one of “Heaven” daughters? Greek name for “heaven” was Uranus Rhea Who said that myth resolved conflict? Levi struass