With few meaningful changes, the Romans adopted much of Greek mythology, as their existing deities—the Numina, the Lares, & the Penates—were largely abstract, vague personifications of the processes of daily life. The most significant Numina were Janus & Saturn, who later represented the Greek Cronus, Zeus’s father.
Pt. 1-Chapter 2 Summary
The Two Great Gods of the Earth
Aside from the 12 Olympians, there are 2 equally important gods who reside on earth:
Demeter & Dionysus (Bacchus).
These 2 are the best friends of humanity:
Demeter, goddess of the harvest & nature, provides fruitful plenty & protects the threshing-floor, while Dionysus, god of wine & revelry, rules the grapevine & so the production of wine. Demeter is celebrated in a festival every September 5th; her prime temple is at Eleusis, & her worship is a central & mysterious aspect of ancient life. Bacchus also comes to be worshipped at Eleusis—a natural pairing of the 2 gods who bring the pleasant gifts of the earth &, significantly, are both overpowered by seasonal change. Just as the frost kills the fields & the vines, these 2 gods—unlike the Olympians—live in a world filled with regular suffering.
Hades, wanting a queen, kidnaps Demeter’s only child, Persephone. Demeter wanders the earth in aimless despair, eventually resting in Eleusis in human disguise. One day, the kind family that has been harboring her accidentally discovers her divine nature & offends her. They build the great temple at Eleusis to appease her anger.
Still, Demeter locks herself in the temple out of sadness, & at that time nothing grows on the earth. Finally, Zeus sends Hermes down to Hades to try to set everything right. Hades agrees to let Persephone return to her mother but slyly makes her eat a magic pomegranate seed that necessitates her return. Eventually a compromise is arranged: Persephone will stay with Hades for 1/3 of the year, Demeter for the other 2/3. When Persephone returns to the underworld at the start of each winter, Demeter’s renewed sorrow makes the Earth barren. Persephone returns each spring, causing Demeter’s joy & thus the springtime’s blossoming.
Dionysus is the only main god who has one human parent: Zeus is his father, but his mother is a mortal named Semele. Enraged at Zeus’s affair, Hera cunningly fixed Semele’s death while she was pregnant. Zeus snatched the baby from his mother’s burning body & implanted it in his own side until birth, when Hermes carried the infant god off to be raised in secrecy by the nymphs of Nysa, a magic valley.
Dionysus is generally a good god, spreading the secrets of wine production everywhere he goes. He even loves the mortal Ariadne after Theseus cruelly abandons her & dares defy Hades & rescue his mother from death. Somehow succeeding, Dionysus leads Semele up to live as an immortal in Olympus. He has another side, however; as one might expect from the lord of wine, he is a god of madness & insanity. The wild, bloody Maenads are his followers. When Pentheus, king of Thebes, defies him, Dionysus drives Pentheus’s mother & sisters so insane that they rip Pentheus apart with their bare hands.
Dionysus is the final component of the Greek pantheon, & as time goes on, his influence grows. He eventually becomes the god of holy inspiration, in whose honor the most famous theater & poetry festival is held.
Taking place every spring, it commemorates his rebirth—according to one story, he is torn to pieces each year either by the Titans or by Hera’s orders, depending on the version of the myth. Like Demeter’s, his story is one of tragedy and death, though he always rises from the dead.
Pt. 1-Chapter 3 Summary
How the World & Mankind Were Created
Chapter III comes mostly from Hesiod, one of the earliest Greek poets.
In the beginning of the universe there is only Chaos. Chaos somehow gives birth to 2 children, Night & Erebus (the primeval underworld) out of the swirling energy. Love is born from these 2, who in turn gives birth to Light & Day.
Earth appears; its creation is never explained, as it just emerges naturally out of Love, Light, & Day. Earth gives birth to Heaven. Father Heaven & Mother Earth then create all other life, first producing a host of terrible monsters:
the 1-eyed Cyclopes & creatures with a 100 hands and 50 heads. Then the Titans are born. One of them, Cronus, kills Father Heaven, & the Titans rule the universe. From the blood of Heaven spring both the Giants & the avenging Furies.
Next comes a dramatic coup. Powerful Cronus, learning that one of his children is fated to kill him, eats each one as he or she is born. His wife Rhea, upset, hides 1 baby by replacing it with a stone for Cronus to eat instead. This infant eventually grows up & becomes Zeus, who forces Cronus to vomit up his brothers & sisters. The siblings band together against the Titans. With the help of 1 sympathetic Titan, Prometheus, & the monsters whom the Titans had enslaved, Zeus & his siblings win. They chain up the Titans in the bowels of the earth, except for Prometheus & Epimetheus, his brother. Prometheus’s other brother, Atlas, is sentenced to forever bear the weight of the world on his shoulders as punishment.
The Greeks viewed Earth as a round disk divided into equal parts by the Mediterranean (the Sea) & the Black Sea (first called the Unfriendly, then the Friendly Sea). Ocean, a mystical river, flowed around the entire disk, & mysterious peoples—the Hyperboreans in the north, the Ethiopians in the far south & the Cimmerians in parts unknown—lived outside Ocean’s perimeter.
There are 3 stories about the creation of humankind. In one, wise Prometheus & his scatterbrained brother Epimetheus are put in charge of making humans. Epimetheus bungles the job & gives all the useful abilities to animals, but Prometheus gives humans the shape of the gods and then the most precious gift of all—fire, which he takes from heaven.
Prometheus helps men by tricking Zeus into accepting the worst parts of the animal as a sacrifice from men. Zeus tortures Prometheus to punish him for stealing fire & to intimidate him into telling a secret: the identity of the mother whose child will 1 day overthrow Zeus (as Zeus had Cronus). Zeus chains Prometheus to a rock in the Caucasus, & every day an eagle comes to tear at his insides. Prometheus never gives in.
In the 2nd creation myth, the gods themselves make humans. They use metals, starting with the best but using ones of progressively worse quality. The first humans were gold & virtually perfect; the next were silver; then brass, each worse than the last. The humans now upon the earth are the gods’ fifth & worst version yet—the iron race. Full of evil & wickedness, each successive generation worsens until, 1 day, Zeus will wipe it out.
There is also an explanation for how the perfect creatures of the Golden Age grew wicked. Zeus, outraged at Prometheus’s treachery in giving humans fire & helping them cheat the gods with their offers of sacrifice, decides to punish men. He creates Pandora, the 1st woman, who, like the biblical Eve, brings suffering upon humanity through her curiosity. The gods give Pandora a box and tell her never to open it. She foolishly does, allowing all the evils of the universe pent up inside to rush out. The 1 thing she manages to retain in the box is Hope, humans’ only comfort in the face of misfortune.
The 3rd creation myth also starts with humans fashioned out of inanimate material. This time, Zeus, angry at the wickedness of the world, sends a great flood to destroy it. Only 2 mortal beings survive: Prometheus’s son, Deucalion, & Epithemeus & Pandora’s daughter, Pyrrha. After the flood, a voice in a temple orders the 2 to walk about & cast stones behind them. These stones become the first ancestors of the humans now inhabiting the earth.
Pt 1-Chapter 4 Summary
The Earliest Heroes
Each story will be summarized separately.
Prometheus and lo
These next stories come from a wide variety of Greek & Roman sources. We pick up again with Prometheus, who, chained up in the Caucasus, has occasion to comfort a dazzling white heifer. It turns out to be no ordinary cow but a woman named Io whom the perpetually unfaithful Zeus has seduced & then transformed into a cow to hide his transgression from Hera.
Not so easily deceived, Hera asks Zeus to give her the cow & then imprisons her. Hermes, sent by Zeus, frees Io. Hera retaliates by sending a gadfly to annoy Io endlessly, forcing her to wander all over the world.
At last encountering Prometheus, weary Io learns she will soon be turned back into a human, will bear Zeus a son, through whom she will be the ancestress of Hercules—the hero who eventually frees Prometheus.
Europa is another victim of Zeus’s lust. He spies the lovely maiden in the fields one day & then transforms himself into a beautiful, friendly bull. Charmed, she climbs on the bull’s back, but he suddenly becomes frenzied & charges over the sea. Taking Europa to Crete, away from Hera’s watchful eye, Zeus returns to his form & seduces her. Her descendants include 2 of Hades’ judges—Minos & Rhadamanthus—& Europe is named for her.
The Cyclops Polyphemus
Another famous casualty of justice is Polyphemus, 1 of the Cyclopes, the 1-eyed monsters who were the only original children of Earth not banished by the Olympians after their victory. They are also the forgers of Zeus’s thunderbolts. Best known for his encounter with Odysseus, Polyphemus is also the victim of a tragic infatuation, as Galatea, the beautiful, cruel sea nymph, never returns his feelings.
Flower-Myths: Narcissus, Hyacinth, Adonis
Several floral-origin myths tell how the narcissus, hyacinth, & blood-red anemone flowers came into being. There are 2 stories of the narcissus.
In the 1st, Zeus creates it as a bait to help Hades kidnap Persephone.
The 2nd & more famous tale concerns a handsome young man named Narcissus. Self-obsessed, he constantly breaks the hearts of others enamored of his beauty, including the nymph Echo—who could only repeat what was said to her, hence the modern meaning of echo. Finally, the goddess Nemesis, who is the personification of righteous anger, punishes Narcissus, allowing him to love no one but himself. He dies gazing at his own face in a pool of water, unable to break free from the sight. The nymphs who have loved him, albeit unrequitedly, create a flower in his name.
The hyacinth is created when Apollo accidentally kills his dear friend Hyacinth with a discus (in another version, jealous Zephyr, the West Wind, caused it to strike Hyacinth). Apollo makes the flower as a remembrance of his companion.
The red anemone has a similar story. Adonis—a youth so handsome that even the goddess of love, Aphrodite, is enamored—is loved by everyone who sees him. Persephone & Aphrodite share him until a boar gores him during a hunt. Adonis goes forever to Persephone’s realm of the dead, & the red anemone springs up where his blood hit the earth.
Pt. 2-Chapter 1 Summary
Cupid and Psyche
This story comes from the Latin writer Apuleius, who, like Ovid, was interested in creating beautiful, entertaining tales.
Apuleius’s protagonist is Psyche, a princess so beautiful that men begin to worship her instead of Venus (the Latin name for Aphrodite). Insulted, Venus sends her son, Cupid (Latin name for Eros), to make Psyche fall in love with the ugliest creature in the world. Cupid falls in love with her himself & magically prevents anyone else from doing so.
Apollo convinces Psyche’s father to leave her at the top of a hill to be wed to a monster. However, Zephyr, the West Wind, carries the waiting Psyche to a majestic palace where she bathes & feasts royally attended by mysterious voices. At night, she feels a man next to her who introduces himself as her husband.
For a while, a pattern develops where Psyche remains alone during the day & then at night sleeps with a husband she never sees. She convinces the mysterious man to allow her sisters to visit her, even though he warns her it will end in tragedy. Psyche’s sisters, jealous of her palace, conspire to ruin her marriage. Knowing she has never seen her husband, they slyly plant the idea in her head that he is a horrendous monster.
Plagued by doubt, Psyche decides she must see what he looks like &, if he is a monster, stab him through his heart. That night, she lights a lamp & sees that her husband is the unbelievably beautiful Cupid. Psyche’s hands tremble, spilling hot oil from the lamp & burning the god, revealing her deception. Cupid flees the house & runs to Venus to heal his wound.
Crushed, Psyche goes to Venus’s home to see Cupid. Venus, enraged that Psyche has once again defied her, forces her to perform 4 seemingly impossible tasks.
1st, she must sort an enormous mound of seeds in one evening, but ants come to her aid & she succeeds. 2nd, she must fetch the golden wool of a flock of vicious wild sheep, but a reed by the riverbank tells her where to find wool that the sheep had snagged on thorns.
3rd, she must fill a flask with water from a treacherous waterfall of the river Styx, but an eagle swoops down & fills it for her. Finally, Psyche must journey to the underworld & convince Proserpine (Latin Persephone) to place some of her beauty in a box, but a tower on the way speaks to her & tells her how to easily complete the task.
On the way back from this final task, Psyche’s curiosity makes her peek into the box to see what Proserpine’s beauty looks like. The box appears empty, but a deep sleep overcomes her. Finally healed, Cupid rushes to her, & he then convinces Jupiter (Latin Zeus) to make her an immortal, which at last persuades Venus to accept her.
Pt. 2-Chapter 2 Summary
Eight Brief Tales of Lovers
Pyramus and Thisbe
Not all tales of love end so happily, as we see in Ovid’s tale of Pyramus & Thisbe. The 2 lovers reside in Babylon, but their parents hate each other & forbid their marriage. Talking through a crack in the wall of the building their families share, they eventually decide to elope, agreeing to meet outside the city walls at a well-known mulberry tree.
Thisbe gets there 1st but flees when she sees a lioness, intending to come back later. She drops her cloak, & Pyramus, finding it bloody & torn by the lion, thinks she has been killed by the lion. Pyramus kills himself, covering the white berries of the mulberry tree with blood.
Returning to find him dead, Thisbe then kills herself with his sword. The berries of the mulberry tree have forever stayed red to commemorate the tragic end of their love story.
Orpheus and Eurydice
The next tale introduces Orpheus, the son of 1 of the Muses & the greatest mortal musician. Orpheus’s music moves any human, god, animal, or object that hears it. His wife Eurydice is killed by a snake, & his music enables him to safely make the perilous journey to the underworld & convince Pluto (Hades) to let Eurydice return to the world of the living. The one catch to Eurydice’s return is that she must walk behind Orpheus on the way back to earth; if he turns to look at her, she must return to Hades forever. Overcome with desire & doubt, Orpheus turns around too soon. Having lost Eurydice, he wanders aimlessly & gets ripped to shreds by Maenads.
Ceyx and Alcyone
Ceyx is a king of Thessaly, & Alcyone is his loving wife. He sets out on a long journey, & his wife prays to the gods, particularly Juno, to protect him. Ceyx’s ship has already been wrecked in a storm, but Juno, pitying Alcyone, sends her a dream in which Ceyx tells what befell him. Alcyone wakes & rushes to the seashore, finding his body borne in on the tide. The gods transform her into a bird & also resurrect Ceyx as a bird, out of respect for their love. These 2 fly together eternally, & the phrase “halcyon days” comes from Alcyone, referring to the 7 days a year when she calms the seas in order to lay her eggs on its smooth surface.
Pygmallon and Galatea
Pygmalion, a sculptor, hates women & finds comfort only in his art. One day he makes a statue of a woman so beautiful that he falls in love with it. Intrigued by this new kind of love, Venus rewards him by bringing the statue to life. Pygmalion names her Galatea. Their son, Paphos, lends his name to Venus’s favorite city
Baucis and Philemon
The love of Baucis & Philemon is also rewarded by the gods. 1 day, Jupiter & Mercury (Latin Hermes) descend to earth in disguise in order to test the hospitality of the people of Phrygia. No one is kind to them except an old couple, Baucis & Philemon, who are very poor. Revealing themselves, Jupiter & Mercury drown the rest of Phrygia’s wicked inhabitants in a flood & offer Baucis & Philemon any wish they desire. Modest & content, Baucis & Philemon ask never to live apart from 1 another. The 2 live to a very old age, when the gods transform them into 2 trees—a linden & an oak—growing out of a single trunk.
Endymion and Daphne
Though they are not lovers to each other, Endymion & Daphne each have an important relation to an immortal. Endymion is a handsome young shepherd loved by Selene, the Moon, who casts a magic sleep over him so that she can visit him whenever she wants. She is always sad, as he can never return her love. Daphne is a beautiful, headstrong huntress-nymph whom Apollo loves. She runs away from him but he pursues her all the way to the waters of her father, the river god Peneus. Appealing for instant help, Daphne finds her arms hardening & twisting—her father turns her into a laurel tree. Apollo proclaims that the laurel will forever be his sacred tree, &, since that time, its leaves signify music, songs & triumphs.
Alpheus and Arethusa
Arethusa is another huntress who disdains marriage & is also pursued by a god—the river god Alpheus. When he is about to overtake her, she appeals to Artemis for help. Changed into a spring of water, Arethusa plunges deep into the earth. Alpheus changes himself into a river, & their waters mingle, forming a connection between the river Alpheus in Greece and Arethusa’s spring in Sicily.
Pt. 2 Chapter 3 Summary
The Quest of the Golden Fleece
Hamilton’s account of the Golden Fleece comes from Apollonius of Rhodes, a Greek poet from about 300 B.C. Athamas, a king, gets tired of his 1st wife, Nephele, & marries a 2nd, Ino. Ino wants Nephele’s son, Phrixus, out of the way so her own son can inherit the throne. Hermes sends a flying golden ram to rescue Phrixus & his sister, Helle, who falls off the ram & dies. Phrixus safely reaches the land of Colchis, where he sacrifices the ram to Zeus & gives its skin—the Golden Fleece—to Colchis’s king, Aetes.
A man named Pelias has usurped the throne of Phrixus’s uncle, a Greek king. Jason, the deposed king’s son, grows up & returns to reclaim the throne. En route to Pelias’s kingdom, Jason loses a sandal. Pelias is afraid when he sees Jason approach, as an oracle has told him that he will be overthrown by a stranger wearing only one sandal.
The wicked Pelias pretends to acquiesce (accept reluctantly), but says that the gods have told him that the Golden Fleece must be retrieved for the kingdom first. This is a lie—Pelias assumes that anyone sent on that dangerous journey will never come back. Jason, intrigued by the challenge, assembles a remarkable group of heroes to help him, including Hercules, Theseus, Peleus, & Orpheus. Their ship is named the Argo, so the group is called the Argonauts.
The Argonauts face many challenges on the way to Colchis. They first meet the fierce women of Lemnos, who have killed their men, but find them atypically kind. Hercules leaves the crew, & the Argonauts meet an oracle, Phineus.
The sons of Boreas, the North Wind, help Phineus by driving off some terrible Harpies who foul his food whenever he tries to eat. Phineus gives the Argonauts information that helps them pass safely through their next challenge—the Symplegades, gigantic rocks that smash together when a ship sail through them. After narrowly avoiding conflict with the Amazons, bloody women warriors, and passing by the chained Prometheus, the Argonauts finally arrive at Colchis.
Though more trials await here, Hera & Aphrodite help Jason. Like Pelias, Aetes pretends to want to give Jason the Fleece but first demands that he complete two tasks that are designed to kill him. Aphrodite sends Cupid to make Aetes’s daughter, a witch named Medea, fall in love with Jason & help him through the tasks.
The first challenge is to yoke 2 fierce magical bulls with hooves of bronze & breath of fire, & Medea gives Jason an ointment that makes him invincible. The 2nd task is to use the bulls to plow a field & sow it with dragon’s teeth, which causes armed men to spring up from the earth & attack Jason.
Medea tells him that if he throws a rock in the middle of the armed men, they will attack each other, not him. After Jason’s success, Aetes plots to kill the Argonauts at night, but Medea again intercedes, warning Jason and enabling him to steal the Fleece by putting its guardian serpent to sleep.
Medea joins the Argonauts & flees back to Greece. On the way home, she commits the ultimate act of love for Jason: to help evade the ship’s pursuers, she kills her own brother, Apsyrtus.
On the way home, the Argonauts pass more challenges, including safely navigating Scylla, the dreaded rock; Charybdis, the whirlpool; & Talus, the giant bronze man. Upon returning, Jason finds that Pelias has killed his father & that his mother has died of sadness.
Jason & Medea plot revenge—Medea convinces Pelias’s daughters that they will restore Pelias to youth if they kill him, chop him up, and put the pieces into her magic pot. Out of love for their father, they slice him to bits, but Medea leaves the city, taking her magic pot with her after first restoring Jason’s father to life
Medea & Jason have 2 children, but Jason leaves out of personal ambition to marry the daughter of the king of Corinth, who banishes Medea & her children. Infuriated by the unsympathetic Jason, Medea enacts a terrible revenge, sending her 2 sons with a beautiful magic robe as a gift for Jason’s new bride.
When the girl dons the robe, it bursts into flame, consuming her & the king as he rushes to her. Medea then kills the 2 sons she had with Jason & flies away on a magic chariot. This tragic final chapter in the story of Jason & Medea is the subject of Euripides’ play, Medea.
Pt. 2-Chapter 4
Four Great Adventures
The Four Adventures are:
Pegasus and Bellerophon
Otus and Ephialtes
Born on earth, Phaëthon learns that his father is the Sun, so he seeks him out. The Sun, joyous at seeing his son, swears by the river Styx—an unbreakable oath—to grant him any wish. Phaëthon asks to fly the Sun’s chariot across the sky. Though the Sun foresees the horrible end, his oath binds him to grant the wish.
Phaëthon cannot handle the chariot’s wild horses, who rage and set the world on fire. To halt the destruction, Jove kills Phaëthon with a thunderbolt. The magical invisible Eridanus River puts out the flames.
Pegasus and Bellerophon
A beautiful & strong youth, Bellerophon wants more than anything to possess the winged horse Pegasus. He sleeps in Athena’s temple one night, & upon waking finds a golden bridle that enables him to tame the horse. Bellerophon rejects the infatuated wife of a king named Proetus, who accuses him of wrongdoing & sends him on a quest with the intent to kill him.
He kills the Chimera, a monster with a lion’s head, goat’s body, & serpent’s tail; defeats the fierce Solymi warriors & the Amazons; but he finally goes too far by trying to use Pegasus to fly up to Olympus.
The wise Pegasus bucks Bellerophon, who spends the rest of his days a lonely wanderer while Pegasus becomes the pride of Zeus’s stables.
Otus and Ephialtes
Two Giant brothers—sons of Poseidon—Otus & Ephialtes also exhibit pride in the face of the gods, as they claim superiority to the gods and manage to kidnap Ares. They also try to kidnap Artemis, who outwits them, tricking them into killing each other with spears.
The son of master inventor Daedalus, Icarus is also prideful. The architect of the Labyrinth of Minos in Crete, Daedalus is imprisoned with his son. He builds wings for their escape but warns Icarus not to fly too high, as the sun will melt the wings. Icarus does not listen: he flies high, his wings melt, & he plummets to his death in the sea.
Pt. 3-Chapter 1
The story of Perseus comes from the later writers Ovid & Apollodorus. (it was also widely popular among the Greeks.) One day, the Oracle at Delphi tells King Acrisius of Argos that the future son of his daughter, Danaë, will kill him. Acrisius imprisons Danaë to prevent her from ever getting pregnant but, Zeus magically enters the prison. Danaë gives birth to a son named Perseus. Acrisius locks Danaë & Perseus in a chest & casts it to sea.
Danaë & her son eventually wash up at the home of Dictys, a kind fisherman whose brother, Polydectes, is the cruel ruler of the area. Polydectes soon wants to get rid of Perseus & marry Danaë, so he comes up with a plan to kill the young man. He convinces Perseus to go kill Medusa, the horrible Gorgon—an impossible feat for a mortal.
The gods favor Perseus, so he receives a mirrored shield from Athena, a magic sword from Hermes, & information on the location of the nymphs of the North—the only ones who know how to kill the Gorgon—from the Graiae, 3 supernatural gray sisters with only one eye among them. Perseus craftily steals the eye the Graiae share & refuses to return it until they help him.
He eventually reaches the mystical land of the Hyperborean nymphs, who give him winged sandals that allow him to fly, a wallet that expands to hold anything, & a cap that makes its wearer invisible. With these, Hermes’ sword, & Athena’s mirrored shield—which enables him to avoid looking directly at the Gorgons, which would turns him to stone—he creeps into the Gorgons’ cave while they are sleeping.
The 2 gods point out Medusa, the only mortal one. While looking at her in the mirror, Perseus chops off her head & puts it in the magic wallet, then begins to fly home.
Along the way, he comes upon Andromeda, a princess who has been chained to a rock because her mother, Cassiopeia, has offended the gods. A sea serpent is about to eat Andromeda, but Perseus cuts off its head & takes Andromeda as his wife.
He returns home to find that Polydectes has driven his mother & Dictys into hiding. Perseus goes to Polydectes’ palace where all the evil men of the kingdom are gathered. He marches into the meeting & reveals Medusa’s head, turning all the men to stone.
He lives happily ever after, but only after unwittingly fulfilling the prophecy of the Oracle: while participating in a discus-throwing contest, Perseus accidentally hits & kills a spectator, who is, unbeknownst to him, his grandfather Acrisius.
Pt. 3-Chapter 2 Summary
Hamilton’s account of Theseus, the greatest hero of Athens, again draws upon Apollodorus, but it also stitches together details from other writers, some as early as Sophocles. Theseus is the son of the Athenian king, Aegeus, but he grows up with his mother in the south. Aegeus has left a sword & pair of shoes under a giant rock & says that when Theseus gets strong enough to move the rock, he is to be sent to Athens.
Theseus reaches maturity, rolls the rock aside, takes the sword and shoes, & sets out on the journey. The dangerous road to Athens is full of bandits, notably Sciron, Sinis, & Procrustes, who delight in torturing passersby. Theseus kills the bandits in the same methods they have used to kill their own victims.
When Theseus arrives in Athens, the evil Medea senselessly convinces Aegeus, who does not realize the stranger is his son, to kill him. At the last minute, Aegeus sees the sword & recognizes the boy. Medea escapes to Asia. Theseus then saves Athens from its obligation to King Minos of Crete. After a son of Minos was killed while a guest in Aegeus’s household, Minos beat the Athenians in a war, & now, as punishment, every 9 years the Athenians had to send 7 girls & 7 boys to meet their doom in the Labyrinth of the Minotaur.
Theseus offers himself as a victim, promising his father that if he survives, he will replace his ship’s black sail with a white one for the return journey so that Aegeus will be able to tell whether his son is alive.
Like Jason, Theseus wins the heart of the enemy king’s daughter, Ariadne, who defies Minos & helps Theseus escape the Labyrinth with a ball of golden thread that he unwinds as he walks so that he can find his way back.
Theseus finds the Minotaur asleep, beats it to death, & flees to the ship to sail home. Ariadne flees with him, & on the way home, he abandons her when she goes ashore & a fierce wind blows him out to sea. Ariadne dies, which is perhaps what makes Theseus forget to lower the black sail & raise the white one. When Aegeus sees the black sail approaching, he commits suicide by jumping into the sea then named after him—the Aegean.
Theseus becomes king & makes Athens a democracy. He has several minor adventures while king: he helps the Argives after the War of the Seven against Thebes, when the Thebans refuse to allow the defeated to bury their dead; he helps Oedipus & his daughters; & prevents Hercules from killing himself after his insanity.
Theseus fights the Amazons twice—once attacking them, once defending their attack on Athens—& marries their queen, Hippolyta (also called Antiope), who bears him his son Hippolytus. He is one of the Argonauts & a participant in the Calydonian Hunt. He defeats the Centaurs, vicious half-men half-horse beasts, after they kill the bride of his best friend, Pirithoüs.
Theseus helps his friend again, when Pirithoüs foolishly decides to pursue Persephone as his next wife. Hades outwits them, tricking them into his Chair of Forgetfulness, which makes their minds blank & paralyzes them. Hercules rescues Theseus, repaying his debt, but Pirithoüs remains there forever.
Theseus’s story becomes tragic. He marries Ariadne’s sister, Phaedra, who subsequently falls in love with his son, Hippolytus. Hippolytus rejects Phaedra, who kills herself & leaves a suicide note accusing Hippolytus of rape. Theseus curses & exiles Hippolytus, who soon dies. Artemis reveals the truth to Theseus. He then goes to visit his friend, King Lycomedes, who mysteriously kills him.
Pt. 3-Chapter 3 Summary
Hercules, was born in Thebes, is the son of Zeus & Alcmene (a mortal whom Zeus deceives by disguising himself as her husband).
Hercules’ demi-god status allows him many liberties. He can challenge the gods & often win, as when he offends the Oracle at Delphi & quarrels with Apollo.
He also helps the gods defeat the giants with his superhuman strength; he is remembered as the strongest man who ever lived. Only magic can harm him. His unequalled strength makes up for deficiencies in intelligence & patience—he can be impetuous, emotional, & careless, & once threatens to shoot an arrow at the sun because it is too hot. He has boundless courage & a noble sense of right & wrong.
Hercules’ strength is evident from his infancy. One night, 2 giant snakes attack him & his half-brother, Iphicles, in their nursery, but Hercules strangles them both at once. While still a youth he kills the legendary Thespian lion of the Cithaeron woods, taking its skin as a cloak he always wears thereafter. In his youth he also demonstrates a tragic weakness that haunts him his entire life—he rashly & unthinkingly kills one of his teachers, not knowing his own strength.
After conquering the warlike Minyans, he marries the princess Megara. He has 3 children with her, but then Hera, jealous of Zeus’s infidelity with Hercules’ mother, uses magic to make Hercules go insane & kill his wife & children. Recovering his sanity & seeing what he has done, he rushes to kill himself, but Theseus convinces him to live.
Knowing he must purify himself, Hercules goes to the Oracle at Delphi for advice. She tells him to visit his cousin, Eurystheus of Mycenae, who will devise a penance. Spurred on by Hera, Eurystheus devises a series of 12 impossibly difficult tasks. The 1st of these Labors of Hercules is to kill the lion of Nemea, a beast that cannot be harmed by weapons; Hercules chokes it to death. Next, he must kill the Hydra, a monster with 9 heads, 1 of which is immortal.
A new head grows whenever one of the other heads is chopped off—a problem Hercules solves by burning the neck-stumps & burying the immortal head. In the 3rd task, Hercules captures the sacred golden-horned stag of Artemis & brings it back alive. The 4th task is to capture a giant boar. The 5th, cleaning the stables of King Augeas in a day.
The king has thousands of cattle whose manure has not been cleaned in years, so Hercules redirects 2 rivers to flow through the stable. Athena helps Hercules with his 6th task, which is to rid the people of Stymphalus of a flock of wild birds that terrorize them.
All the other tasks involve the capture of things extremely resistant to captivity: a beautiful wild bull of Minos; the flesh-eating horses of Diomedes; the girdle of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons; the cattle of Geryon; a 3-bodied monster (it is on the way to fulfill this labor that Hercules balances 2 giant rocks at Gibraltar & Ceuta, on either side of the strait between Spain and Morocco).
The 11th task is to steal the Golden Apples of the Hesperides, the mysterious daughters of Atlas. Journeying to find Atlas, the only 1 who knows the Hesperides’ location, Hercules stops to free Prometheus from his chains. Atlas offers to tell Hercules only if he holds up the world—normally Atlas’s job—while Atlas fetches the Apples for him. Atlas gets the fruit but decides he prefers walking around without the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Hercules tricks him into taking the earth back, saying he needs to be relieved for a moment to place a pad on his shoulders. Finally, for the 12th labor, Hercules has to bring Cerberus, the 3-headed dog, up from the underworld. Before leaving Hades, Hercules frees his friend Theseus from the Chair of Forgetfulness.
Hercules undergoes other various adventures after his labors, defeating Antaeus—a wrestler who is invincible as long as he touches the ground—& rescuing King Laomedon’s daughter, who is being sacrificed to a sea serpent. Hercules also carelessly kills several others along the way: a boy who accidentally spills water on him & a friend whose father, King Eurytus, insults him.
As punishment for this last murder, Zeus sends Hercules to be a slave to Queen Omphale of Lydia, who forces him to dress & work as a woman for a year. Despite his errors, Hercules almost always has a clear sense of right & wrong as well as the need to make things right.
On the way to kill the wicked Diomedes (owner of the flesh-eating horses), Hercules gets drunk at the house of his friend, Admetus, not knowing that Admetus’ wife has just died. When Hercules learns of his friend’s loss, he feels so bad about his inadvertent disrespect that he fights & defeats Pluto (Hades) to bring Admetus’s wife back from Hades.
One time Hercules refuses to see the error of his ways,& this leads to his death. Angered that Zeus had punished him for inadvertently killing King Eurytus’s son, Hercules kills Eurytus & razes his city. One of his captives is a beautiful girl, Iole. Deianira, Hercules’ wife, feels threatened, & recalls some magic she earlier acquired, when Hercules shot a centaur named Nessus who insulted Deianira.
As Nessus died, he told Deianira to take some of his blood as a potion to use if her husband ever loved anyone more than her. Deianira secretly rubs some of the potion on Hercules’ robe. When he puts the robe on, pain surges through his body. He does not die & must end the agony by killing himself, building a giant funeral pyre where he burns himself to death. Ascending to Olympus, Hercules reconciles with Hera & marries her daughter, Hebe.
Pt. 3-Chapter 4 Summary
Atalanta is the greatest female hero, mostly for her role in the Calydonian Hunt—a great hunt for a vicious wild boar Artemis has sent to terrorize the kingdom of a king who forgot to pay her tribute. A large group of heroes hunts the boar, but it is Atalanta who finally causes its death. She first wounds it, & a warrior named Meleager, who is hopelessly in love with her, delivers the mortal blow.
His love for her, results in his death. Meleager’s 2 uncles insult Atalanta, so he kills them. In turn, Meleager’s mother destroys him by burning the magical log that determines the length of his life.
Atalanta has other adventures, most notably beating Peleus, Achilles’s father, in a wrestling match. Some say she is one of the heroes who search for the Golden Fleece, but that is unlikely. `
In another story she has vowed never to marry but has many suitors. To appease them, she agrees to marry anyone who beats her in a race, as she knows she is unbeatable. However, a young man named Melanion (or Milanion or Hippomenes) defeats her with his wits. He carries several golden apples in the race & drops them along the way. Distracted by their beauty, Atalanta loses & marries him. At some point they both offend Zeus & are turned into lions.
Pt. 4-Chapter 1 Summary
The Trojan War
taken from from Homer’s Iliad, Apollodorus, Greek tragedies, and Virgil’s Aeneid.
The war has its roots in the wedding of King Peleus & the sea-nymph Thetis. When the gods decide not to invite Eris, she is angered & introduces Discord to the banquet hall in the form of a golden apple inscribed with the words “For the Fairest.” The vain goddesses argue over who deserves the apple, & the field is narrowed down to Athena, Hera, & Aphrodite. Paris, the son of King Priam of Troy, is selected to judge. All 3 try to bribe Paris: Hera offers power, Athena offers success in battle, & Aphrodite offers the most beautiful woman in the world—Paris chooses Aphrodite.
Unfortunately, the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen, is already married to King Menelaus of Sparta. Visiting Menelaus, Paris, with Aphrodite’s help, betrays his host’s hospitality & kidnaps Helen back to Troy. All the Greek kings have at 1 time courted Helen, so her mother has made them all swear to always support whomever she might choose.
When Helen is abducted, the only men who resist conscription are Odysseus, who does not want to leave his home & family, & also Achilles, whose mother knows he is fated to die at Troy & holds him back. In the end, however, they join the rest of the Greeks & sail united against Troy. En route, the fleet angers Artemis, who stops the winds from blowing. To appease her, the chief of the Greeks, Agamemnon, is forced to sacrifice his own daughter, Iphigenia.
The battle goes back and forth for 9 years. The Trojans, led by Priam’s son, Hector, finally gain an advantage when Agamemnon kidnaps the daughter of the Trojan priest of Apollo. Achilles has warned against this, & he is justified when Apollo’s fiery arrows nearly destroy the Greek army. Calchas, a Greek prophet, convinces Agamemnon to free the girl, but Agamemnon demands a replacement in the form of Achilles’ prize female captive, Briseis.
Furious, Achilles withdraws his troops from battle. Without Achilles, the Greeks seem doomed. The gods have been evenly split thus far: Aphrodite, Ares, Apollo & Artemis on the side of the Trojans-Hera, Athena, & Poseidon take the Greek side. But Thetis persuades the neutral Zeus to help the Trojans. Menelaus defeats Paris in combat. Aphrodite saves Paris’s life, & the armies agree to a truce. Hera is bent on war, so she makes a Trojan named Pandarus break the truce. When the battle starts again, the great Greek warrior Diomedes nearly kills the Trojan Aeneas, whom Apollo saves. Diomedes even wounds Ares himself.
The Greeks hold their own until Zeus remembers his promise to Thetis & comes down to the battlefield. The Trojans drive the Greeks back toward their ships. That night, Agamemnon agrees to return Briseis, but when Odysseus goes to ask Achilles to accept the apology, he is refused. The next day the Greeks lose again without Achilles & are driven even closer to their ships.
Hera decides to seduce Zeus & give the Greeks an advantage. While the 2 divinities are indisposed, the great Greek warrior Ajax nearly kills Hector. Discovering the deception, Zeus angrily commands Poseidon to abandon the Greeks, & the Trojans press forward. As the Greeks near defeat, Achilles’s best friend, Patroclus, can restrain himself no longer. He convinces Achilles to lend him his armor, thinking that even if Achilles refuses to fight, he himself can help the Greeks by pretending to be Achilles & thus frightening the Trojans.
Leading Achilles’ men, the Myrmidons, into battle, Patroclus fights valiantly but is killed by Hector’s spear. Achilles grieves terribly & decides to return to battle to avenge this death. Thetis, seeing she can no longer hold her son back, gives him armor made by Hephaestus himself.
The Trojans soon retreat inside their impenetrable walls through the huge Scaean gates. Only Hector remains outside, clad in Achilles’ own armor taken from Patroclus’s corpse. Hector and Achilles, the 2 greatest warriors of the Trojan War, finally face 1 another. When Hector sees that Athena stands by Achilles’ side while Apollo has left his own, he runs away from Achilles.
They circle around the city of Troy until Athena disguises herself as Hector’s brother & makes him stop. Achilles catches up with Hector, who realizes the deception. They fight, & Achilles, aided by Athena, kills Hector with his spear. Achilles is still so filled with rage over Patroclus’s death that he drags Hector’s body over the ground, mutilating it.
He takes it back to the Greek camp & leaves it beside Patroclus’s funeral pyre for dogs to devour. Such disrespect for a great warrior greatly displeases the gods, who convince Priam to visit Achilles & retrieve Hector’s body. Priam speaks to Achilles, who sees the error of his ways. The Iliad ends with Hector’s funeral.
Part 4-Chapter 2 Summary
The Fall of Troy
The war does not end with Hector’s funeral, & Virgil continues the account. Hector is replaced by Prince Memnon of Ethiopia, a great warrior, & the Trojans have the upper hand for a time. But Achilles soon kills Memnon as well, driving the Trojans back to the Scaean gates. There, however, Paris kills Achilles with Apollo’s help: Paris shoots an arrow & the god guides it to Achilles’ heel, his one vulnerable spot.
(Thetis tried to make the infant Achilles invulnerable by dunking his body in the mystical River Styx but forgot to submerge the heel by which she held him.) The Greeks decide Achilles’ divine armor should be given to either Odysseus or Ajax, the 2 greatest Greek warriors remaining. When Odysseus is chosen, Ajax plots revenge, but Athena makes him go crazy. Ajax massacres some cattle, then comes to his senses & kills himself.
The prophet Calchas tells the Greeks that they must capture the Trojan prophet Helenus in order to win. They do so & Helenus tells them that Troy can only be defeated by the bow & arrows of Hercules. Hercules gave these weapons to Philoctetes, who set out for Troy with the Greeks, who abandoned him along the way. Odysseus & a few others set out to apologize and get him back. Philoctetes returns & promptly kills Paris. The Greeks learn that the Trojans have a sacred image of Athena, the Palladium, that protects them.
Odysseus & Diomedes sneak behind enemy lines & steal it. Troy still has the protection of its gigantic walls, which prevent the Greeks from entering. Finally, Odysseus comes up with a plan to build a giant wooden horse & roll it up to the gates, pretending they have surrendered & gone home. One man, Sinon, stays behind, acting as if he is a traitor to the Greeks. He says that although the Greeks retreated, they left the horse as an offering to Athena.
He says the Greeks assumed the Trojans would not take it inside the city because of its size, which would thus offend Athena & bring misfortune on the city. Trojans, feeling like they are getting the last laugh, triumphantly bring the horse into the city. The horse is hollow, & Greek chieftains are hiding inside. At night, they creep out & open the city gates. The Greek army, hiding nearby, sweeps into the city & massacres the Trojans. Achilles’ son kills Priam. Of the major Trojans, only Aeneas escapes, his father on his shoulders & his son holding his hand.
All the men are killed, the women & children separated & enslaved. In the war’s final act, the Greeks take Hector’s infant son, Astyanax, from his mother, Andromache, & throw him off the high Trojan walls. With this death, the legacy of Hector & Troy itself are finished.
Part 4–Chapter 3 Summary
The Adventures of Odysseus
From Homer’s great epic, the Odyssey.
Though Athena & Poseidon helped the Greeks during the Trojan War, a Greek warrior violates Cassandra in Athena’s temple during the sack of Troy, so Athena turns against the Greeks & convinces Poseidon to do the same. The Greeks are hit by bad storms on the way home; many ships are destroyed & the fleet is scattered. Odysseus & his crew are blown off course, which starts a decade-long series of adventures for the great Greek chief.
The war & his troubles at sea keep Odysseus away from his home, Ithaca, for 20 years. While gone, his son, Telemachus, has grown into a man, & his wife, Penelope, is besieged by suitors who assume Odysseus is dead. Penelope remains faithful to Odysseus, but the suitors feast at her house all day & live off her supplies.
She holds them off by promising to marry after she finishes weaving a shroud for Laertes, Odysseus’s father. Every night she secretly undoes the day’s work, leaving the job perpetually unfinished. One day, near the end of Odysseus’s voyage, the suitors discover Penelope’s ruse & become more dangerously insistent.
Athena’s anger subsides & her old affection for Odysseus renews, so she decides to set things right. While Poseidon, still angry with Odysseus, is away from Olympus, she convinces the other gods to help Odysseus return home. In disguise in Ithaca, she convinces Telemachus to search for his father.
Telemachus goes to Pylos, the home of Nestor, who sends him to Menelaus in Sparta. Menelaus says he has captured Proteus, the shape-shifting sea god, who says Odysseus is being held prisoner of love by the sea nymph Calypso.
At that moment, Hermes is visiting Calypso & relaying Zeus’s command that Odysseus be allowed home. Odysseus sets sail on a makeshift raft & is in sight of land when Poseidon catches sight of him, unleashing a storm that again wrecks the homesick Greek. The kind goddess Ino sweeps down & gives him her veil, protecting him from harm in the water.
After 2 days of swimming, Odysseus reaches the land of the Phaeacians & their kind king, Alcinoüs. The king’s daughter, Nausicaä, finds Odysseus, naked & filthy from sleeping on the ground, & leads him to the king. Received warmly, Odysseus tells the story of his wanderings.
He & his crew first encountered the Lotus-Eaters, who eat the narcotic lotus flower & live in stupefied bliss. A few men try the drug & do not want to leave, but Odysseus drags them back to the ship. They sail on & dock in front of an inviting cave, where they search for food. There is wine, food, & pens full of sheep in the cave, but the cave’s owner, the giant Cyclops Polyphemus, returns. He seals the entrance with a giant boulder, spots the intruders, and eats 2 of Odysseus’s men.
He keeps the others trapped in the cave & eats 2 more at each meal. Odysseus plans an escape, giving Polyphemus wine until he passes out drunk. The men then take a giant red-hot sharpened stake they have made & poke out the monster’s only eye. Blinded, Polyphemus cannot find the men & finally rolls back the boulder blocking the entrance & puts his arms in front of it, figuring he will catch the men as they try to run outside.
Odysseus has already thought of this, so the Greeks go to the pens & each tie 3 rams together. The next day the Greeks hang onto the undersides of the sheep as they go out to pasture. As they pass the entrance, Polyphemus feels only the sheep’s backs to make sure there are no Greeks riding them, enabling them to escape.
Next, Aeolus, the keeper of the Winds, gives Odysseus a priceless gift, a leather sack that holds all the storm winds. Odysseus can sail home safely as long as he keeps the bag closed, but his inquisitive crew opens the bag, unleashing a fierce storm that blows them to the land of the Laestrygons, cannibals who destroy every ship in the fleet except one.
At their next stop, several men scout ahead & encounter the sorceress Circe, who turns them all into pigs except 1 man lucky enough to escape. Warned, Odysseus sets out for Circe’s house armed with an herb Hermes has given him. When Circe cannot affect him with her magic, she falls in love with him. She returns his crew to human form & they live in luxury at her house for a year.
She uses her magic to tell them how to get home: they must travel to Hades & speak to the dead prophet Teiresias. In the world of the dead, Odysseus & his men lure Teiresias’s spirit with blood—a favorite drink of the dead—and ask his help. He says that Odysseus will eventually reach home. He advises them not to harm the oxen belonging to the Sun, as terrible things would happen. Before departing Hades, the Greeks talk with some of their old war comrades, including Achilles and Ajax.
Circe has also given them another piece of information—that they must not listen to the Sirens, women who lure men to death with singing that makes them forget everything. Passing the island of the Sirens, the crew plugs their ears with wax, but the insatiably curious Odysseus requests to be tied to the mast with his ears left open.
The ship passes between Scylla & Charybdis, the dreaded rock-and-whirlpool duo that destroys many ships. They finally arrive at the island of the Sun, where the famished men recklessly slaughter & eat one of the oxen while Odysseus is away. The Sun destroys their ship, drowning everyone but Odysseus. He is carried to the island of Calypso, where he is held for many years.
After hearing this long account, the kind Phaeacians have pity on Odysseus & quickly prepare a ship to take him home. He falls asleep on board & awakens on a beach in Ithaca. Athena comes to him, tells him he is home, & begins to craft a way for him to reclaim his wife & home with a surprise entrance. She transforms him into an old beggar & sends him to stay with Eumaeus, his faithful swineherd.
Athena then goes to Telemachus & tells him to return home but to stop by the swineherd’s shack on the way. There, Athena transforms Odysseus back to his normal form. The father & son are reunited & come up with a plan to get rid of the suitors. Odysseus again disguises himself as a beggar & goes to his palace. Only Argos, his old dog, recognizes him. Argos dies when Odysseus, trying to preserve his disguise, ignores the dog.
Inside, the boorish suitors mock the beggar & one even hits him. Offended by this breach of hospitality, Penelope orders the old nurse of the house, Eurycleia, to attend to the stranger. As the old woman washes him, she notices a scar on his foot. As she has served the house for many years, she recognizes the scar and the beggar as Odysseus.
He makes her promise not to tell a soul, even his wife. The next day, Penelope decides to hold a contest: whoever can string Odysseus’s gigantic bow & shoot an arrow through 12 rings can marry her. All the suitors try & fail, but then the beggar stands up & asks for a try. The suitors scoff, but the beggar quickly & easily strings the massive bow & shoots an arrow with dead aim.
He then turns & begins shooting the suitors. Taken off guard, they reach for their weapons, but Telemachus has hidden them all. They try to run away, but Telemachus & Eumaeus, to whom Odysseus revealed himself earlier that morning, have locked all the doors.
Soon all the suitors, even a priest, have been killed—only a bard is spared, as Odysseus remembers how much the gods favor song and poetry. Odysseus finally reveals himself to Penelope, & after 20 years of separation, they live happily ever after.
Pt. 4 Chapter 4 Summary
The Adventures of Aeneas
Written during the Pax Augusta, a time of great optimism for Rome, Virgil’s Aeneid chronicles the adventures of Aeneas, the Trojan hero & mythical progenitor of the Roman people.
Due to the help of his mother, he is the lone Trojan able to escape defeat at the hands of the Greeks, fleeing with his father on his back & his son in his hand. Aeneas eventually winds up in Italy, where his son founds the city Alba Longa, the predecessor of Rome. Between the 2 cities, Aeneas has a long journey & many adventures.
In a dream, Aeneas is told that he is destined to sail to Italy, known then as Hesperia, the Western Country. On the way, he & his crew encounter the same Harpies whom the Argonauts battled. Unable to defeat them, they are forced to escape. They next encounter Hector’s widow, Andromache, enslaved by Achilles’ son after the war.
After her captor’s death, she marries the Trojan prophet Helenus. Helenus tells Aeneas that he should land on the western coast of Italy & gives him directions & tells him how to avoid the dire Scylla & Charybdis. He does not know about other dangers along the route. Luckily, when the Trojans land on the island of the Cyclopes, they meet a sailor whom Ulysses (Odysseus) has left behind. They escape just as Polyphemus charges the ship.
Juno is still angry with the Trojans, however, as she still resents Paris choosing Venus over her & has learned that Aeneas’s descendants are fated to found a city that will one day destroy Carthage, her favorite city. Juno recruits Aeolus, King of the Winds, to send a gigantic storm. Though Neptune’s intervention saves the Trojans, they are blown off course all the way to Africa, near Carthage.
Juno conspires to have Aeneas fall in love with Carthage’s queen, Dido, figuring that if he does, he will not leave Carthage. Venus makes her own plan, & sends Cupid to ensure that Dido falls in love with Aeneas & that Aeneas never reciprocates the feelings. Dido lavishes attention on Aeneas & his men, he grows used to the luxury & lingers in Carthage. At last, Jupiter, acting on Venus’s behalf, sends Mercury to Aeneas.
Mercury urges Aeneas to go fulfill his destiny, so he soberly takes his leave of a sobbing Dido. Sailing away, he sees smoke rising from Carthage, never knowing that the source is her funeral pyre.
Helenus had also told Aeneas to find the prophetic Sibyl of Cumae upon reaching Italy. They find the Sibyl, who says she must take Aeneas to the underworld to meet his father, Anchises, who has died earlier in the journey. To travel to the underworld, Aeneas & his friend Achates must find a mystical golden bough that gains them admittance.
Venus eventually leads them to the bough, which Aeneas bears as he & the Sibyl enter the underworld. They pass by many horrors—lost souls, frightening spirits of Disease & Hunger, even Dido herself, who refuses to acknowledge Aeneas. Charon sees the golden bough & ferries them across his river. They mollify Cerberus with cake & finally find Anchises, who shows Aeneas the souls who will 1 day rise to be his future descendants. He also tells Aeneas where & how to establish his new home in Italy.
Aeneas returns to the surface & sails up the Italian coast with his crew. Latinus, king of the Latins, warmly receives them. Latinus plans to marry his daughter, Lavinia, to the majestic Aeneas. Juno, makes Alecto, 1 of the Furies, cause trouble. Alecto convinces Latinus’s wife to oppose the marriage, & Alecto tells Turnus, King of the Rutulians & suitor of Lavinia, about Aeneas.
Alecto makes Ascanius, Aeneas’s son, unwittingly kill a certain stag very popular among the Latins. The advancing army of the Rutulians joins with the Latins to oppose the small band of Trojans. The 2 armies are also aided by Mezentius, a cruel ex-leader of the Etruscans, & Camilla, a renowned female warrior. Aeneas again receives divine help. Father Tiber, god of the famous Roman river, tells him to retreat upstream to find Evander, king of the town that will one day become Rome.
Evander & his son, Pallas, receive Aeneas warmly but can offer no real help. Evander tells Aeneas that he can seek the help of the powerful Etruscans, who are anxious to get revenge against the tyrannical Mezentius. Evander gives the few men, including Pallas, whom he can spare. While Aeneas seeks these allies, the Trojans face a huge offensive from Turnus.
They must get word to Aeneas, but Nisus & Euryalus are the only Trojans brave enough to sneak past enemy lines to send the message. Euryalus is captured & Nisus, rather than run away, tries to save Euryalus, only to be killed alongside him. Aeneas returns with Etruscan reinforcements. After the deaths of Camilla, Pallas, & others, Turnus & Aeneas meet in single combat. Aeneas kills Turnus, marries Lavinia, & founds the Roman people.
Pt. 5 Chapter 1 Summary
The House of Atreus
House of Atreus & the Royal House of Thebes is taken from the works the Greek tragedians Euripides, Aeschylus, & Sophocles.
Euripides wrote of the House of Atreus, which includes Atreus’s son, Agamemnon, his family (Clytemnestra, Iphigenia, Orestes, & Electra), & his brother, Menelaus.
The family is cursed because an ancestor, Tantalus, a son of Zeus who often visited Olympus, mysteriously decided to kill, cook, & serve his son Pelops to the Olympians.
Discerning his heinous crime, the gods send Tantalus to be tormented in Hades, where he stands in a pool of water with fruit dangling above his head. The water sinks away when he bends to drink it, & the fruit rises up when he reaches to eat it. He is eternally tantalized.
Tantalus’s crime initiates generations of violence & tragedy, each crime begetting further bloodshed.
Pelops, restored to life by the gods, seeks to marry the princess Hippodamia. She can only be won by the suitor who beats her father in a chariot race; if the suitor loses, he is killed. In 1 version, Hippodamia & her father’s charioteer, Myrtilus, conspire to give Pelops the victory, but Pelops later kills Myrtilus, bringing further bad luck on his family. Tantalus’s daughter Niobe decides she is the equal of the gods & demands that the people of Thebes worship her.
As punishment, Apollo, & Artemis kill her 7 sons & 7 daughters. Weeping continually, she turns into a rock always wet with tears. Pelops’s son Thyestes seduces the wife of his brother, Atreus, who then kills Thyestes’s 2 children & serves them to their father for dinner.
In the newest generation, Agamemnon, Menelaus’s brother, sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia to placate Artemis & get favorable sailing winds during the Trojan War. Agamemnon’s wife, Clytemnestra, takes a lover—Aegisthus, son of Thyestes—while Agamemnon is away in Troy. Outraged at the sacrifice of her daughter Iphigenia, she plots revenge against her husband, while Aegisthus vows revenge for his father.
When Agamemnon returns from Troy with Cassandra, the prophetess everyone always ignores, Cassandra foretells her & Agamemnon’s deaths but is unheeded. The 2 enter the palace, & Clytemnestra & Aegisthus kill them. 2 of Agamemnon’s children still live to perpetuate the bloodshed: his daughter, Electra, whom Aegisthus & Clytemnestra treat cruelly, & son, Orestes, whom a family friend has taken to protect him from Aegisthus.
Orestes sets out for vengeance when he comes of age—even though he knows this means the terrible crime of matricide—& the Oracle at Delphi confirms him in this path. Returning to Mycenae, he runs into Electra, who is overjoyed & eager for him to avenge their father. Pretending to be a messenger bearing news of Orestes’ death, Orestes is welcomed into the palace, where he kills his mother & her lover. He instantly sees the terrible avenging Furies pursuing him, & he begins years of frenzied wanderings.
With Apollo’s aid, he appeals to Athena, who pities him & turns the Furies into the Eumenides, “protectors of the suppliant.” The curse of the House of Atreus finally ends.
In another version of the story, Artemis grows horrified just before Iphigenia’s sacrifice & rescues her. Artemis brings Iphigenia to the land of the Taurians & makes her a priestess of her own temple. This job involves sacrificing humans, so Iphigenia goes about her duties very reluctantly. In this version, Athena has not completely absolved Orestes of guilt.
The Oracle at Delphi tells Orestes that for his last cleansing act he must go to the land of the Taurians & procure the image of Artemis from its temple. Orestes & his friend Pylades set out on the quest, but the Taurians capture them almost immediately & intend to sacrifice them. Orestes is taken to Iphigenia, the priestess, but the siblings fail to recognize each other because they have been separated for so long.
Preparing Orestes & Pylades for death, Iphigenia asks where they are from. On hearing they are from Mycenae, she asks them about her family. She offers to set Pylades free if he takes a message to her brother, Orestes, telling him that she is alive and that he must rescue her. Orestes jumps up and reveals his identity. The 3 begin their escape with the image of Artemis. King Thoas of the Taurians pursues, but lets them escape when Athena says they are fated to do so.
Pt. 5 Chapter 2 Summary
The Royal House of Thebes
The House of Thebes is named after a city, not a person. The dynastic head, Cadmus, is a brother of Europa, the woman Zeus kidnaps while she is a cow. After her kidnapping, her father sends her brothers to look for her. The Oracle at Delphi tells Cadmus to break off from the group and establish his own city. Fortune blesses his endeavor, but his children are not so lucky.
He has 4 daughters, all experience tragedy: Semele dies while pregnant with Dionysus; Ino becomes the wicked stepmother of Phrixus (from the story of the Golden Fleece) & commits suicide after her husband kills their son; Agave is driven mad by Dionysus & kills her own son, Pentheus; Autonoë’s son, Actaeon, accidentally sees the naked Artemis, who kills him. In the end, the gods turn Cadmus & his wife, Harmonia, into serpents for no reason.
The family’s greatest misfortune, descends upon Cadmus’s great-great-grandson, Oedipus. The Oracle at Delphi tells Oedipus’s father, King Laius of Thebes, that a son of his will one day kill him & marry his wife. When Oedipus is born, Laius leaves the child tied up on a mountain to die. Years later, Laius is killed by a man he meets on a highway, who everyone believes is a stranger. In Laius’s absence, Thebes is besieged by the Sphinx, a monster who devours anyone who cannot answer her riddle. One day, Oedipus, who has grown up in Corinth as the son of King Polybus, approaches.
He has left home because the Oracle at Delphi told him he would one day kill his father. Like Laius, he too wants to subvert fate. The Sphinx asks, “What creature goes on 4 feet in the morning, 2 in the afternoon, and 3 in the evening?” Oedipus gives the correct answer, “Man”—a man crawls as a baby, walks on 2 legs as an adult, and needs a cane when elderly. The Sphinx, outraged, kills herself. As his reward for freeing the city, Oedipus becomes king & marries the widowed queen, Jocasta.
A terrible plague visits Thebes. Oedipus sends Jocasta’s brother, Creon, to the Oracle at Delphi to ask the gods how to fix the situation. Creon returns to say that the plague will lift once Laius’s murderer is punished. Oedipus searches for the murderer, eventually consulting the seer Teiresias for help. Teiresias uses his powers to see what has occurred, but does not want to tell Oedipus the horrible truth. Oedipus forces him, & the old man says that Oedipus himself is the guilty party. Oedipus & Jocasta piece events together: on the road from Delphi, Oedipus killed a man in a heated argument; they now realize that man was Laius.
A messenger from Polybus enters & Oedipus learns that he is not Polybus’s true son. He realizes that he is Laius’s son & has fulfilled the horrible prophecy. Jocasta kills herself & Oedipus gouges out his own eyes because they are horrified.
Oedipus abdicates the throne but remains in Thebes, & the throne passes to Creon.Oedipus is suddenly exiled & has only Antigone, his daughter, by his side to guide him. He finally rests in Colonus, a place near Athens sacred to the Eumenides.
In the end, the kindly Theseus honors Oedipus for his unwitting suffering, and the tortured old man dies in peace. Meanwhile, his other daughter, Ismene, has remained in Thebes, & his 2 sons, Eteocles & Polyneices, fight over the throne. Eteocles eventually wins, but Polyneices assembles an army to attack the city. He convinces 6 other chieftains to join him, and the 7 attack the 7 gates of Thebes. Teiresias tells Creon that Thebes will be saved if Creon’s son, Menoeceus, dies. Creon tries to protect the boy from battle, but the impetuous youth, believing he must make this sacrifice, rushes out to his death.
Thebes is ultimately victorious, but Eteocles & Polyneices kill each other. Polyneices’ dying words express his wish to be buried in his home city, but Creon decrees that anyone who buries any of the 6 dead enemy leaders—including Polyneices—will be put to death. Antigone, now back in Thebes, is horrified & defies the law, burying her brother. True to his word, Creon executes her.
Though Polyneices is buried, 5 of the 6 dead chieftains still lie unburied. Adrastus, the only survivor of the 7, petitions Theseus for help. When negotiations fail, Theseus marches against Thebes, defeats them, forces them to honorably bury the dead & then nobly retreats, having served justice. The sons of the dead men are not satisfied & eventually band together in a group known as the Epigoni (the “after-born”) & level Thebes. All that is left of the city is a necklace Hephaestus gave to Harmonia upon her wedding to Cadmus.
Pt. 5 Chapter 3 Summary
The Royal House of Athens
The Royal House of Athens is notable in the number & degree of supernatural feats that befall its members. The ancestor is Cecrops, who in some cases is a magical half-man, half-dragon creature. Cecrops is said to have chosen Athena over Poseidon to be the protector of Athens. The angered Poseidon floods the land & the men of Athens, who have voted for the god, take the vote away from the more numerous women. In other stories, Cecrops is merely the son of Erechtheus, a great Athenian king.
Erechtheus has 2 sisters, Procne & Philomela. Procne is married to Tereus, a son of Ares. When Tereus sees the lovely Philomela, he seduces her into a false marriage by telling her that Procne has died. When Philomela learns the truth, Tereus cuts out her tongue & imprisons her to prevent her from telling anyone. He then tells Procne that Philomela has died. But Philomela weaves a beautiful tapestry as a gift for her sister & secretly embroiders into it the story of her troubles.
Procne then rescues her sister and, for revenge, kills Itys—her son with Tereus—& cooks him & serves him to his father. The women escape, but Tereus pursues. As he is about to catch them, the gods take pity on the women & turn them into birds: Procne becomes the beautiful singing nightingale, the tongueless Philomela into the songless swallow. Erechtheus also has a daughter, Procris, who is married to Cephalus. Just after their wedding, Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, falls in love with Cephalus & kidnaps him. He resists her advances & finally she gives up but not before spitefully planting the suggestion that his wife may not have been faithful as he has.
To test it, Cephalus returns home disguised as a stranger & repeatedly tries to seduce Procris, but she always remains faithful to her missing husband. One day, however, she briefly hesitates before rejecting his advances. He becomes angry & reveals his deception–Procris runs away, furious. Realizing his error, Cephalus follows & apologizes. The 2 reunite, but tragedy strikes again later when, while hunting, Cephalus accidentally kills Procris with his javelin.
2 of Procris’s sisters also have tragic love stories. Orithyia, wins the heart of Boreas, the North Wind. Her family opposes the marriage, but Boreas carries the girl off. Creüsa is kidnapped & raped by Apollo.Shamed at the encounter, she bears their baby boy in secret & leaves him to die in the same cave where Apollo assaulted her. Creüsa later feels guilty and goes to retrieve him, but he has vanished. Her father has married her to a man named Xuthus. Unable to conceive a child, the pair go to the Oracle at Delphi for advice.
While Xuthus confers with 1 of the priests, Creüsa speaks to a beautiful young priest named Ion, wanting to ask, out of Xuthus’s earshot, what happened to the baby she abandoned. Xuthus suddenly appears & hugs Ion, saying that Apollo has told him that Ion will become his own son.
An older priestess reveals that she found Ion as a baby, wrapped in a cloak & veil. Creüsa recognizes the garments as her own & realizes that Ion is her son. Athena then appears & confirms this revelation, announcing that Ion will one day become a great king of Athens.
Pt. 6 Chapter 1 Summary
Lots of stories
Midas, a king of Phrygia, performs a favor for Bacchus & is granted one wish in return. Midas foolishly wishes for the power to turn everything he touches into gold. As a result he is unable to eat or drink. Bacchus tells Midas to wash himself in the river Pactolus to remove the spell. Midas later serves as the judge of a music contest between Apollo & Pan. When Midas stupidly calls Pan the better musician, Apollo changes his ears to those of a donkey.
Apollo once loved a mortal woman named Coronis who, for a change, cheats on him. He learns of the treachery & kills her but saves her unborn child. He takes the infant boy, Aesculapius, to the centaur Chiron, who raises him & trains him in the arts of medicine. Aesculapius is such a good doctor that he raises a man, Theseus’s son Hippolytus, from the dead. Because this is a power no mortal should have, the angry Zeus strikes Aesculapius dead with a thunderbolt. Apollo, enraged at his son’s death, attacks the Cyclopes, makers of Zeus’s thunderbolts. Zeus condemns Apollo to serve as a slave to King Admetus for a number of years.
The Danaïds –
The 50 daughters of Danaüs, the Danaïds are pursued by their 50 male cousins. Danaüs is opposed to the marriages, but the men somehow capture the women & arrange for a gigantic marriage ceremony. Danaüs gives each daughter a dagger. On the wedding night, each girl except 1, Hypermnestra, kills her new husband. Danaüs imprisons Hypermnestra for her treachery, but the other girls receive worse torment in the afterlife. They must fill a series of jars with water. The jars are full of holes, so their task never ends.
Glaucus and Scylla
A fisherman who eats magic grass, Glaucus becomes a sea-god. He falls in love with the nymph Scylla, who resists his advances. He asks Circe for a love potion, but she falls in love with him. Circe instead makes a magic poison & pours it into Scylla’s bath water. When Scylla touches the water, she becomes the famous rock-monster that later torments the Argonauts, Odysseus, & Aeneas.
Erysichthon dared to cut down Ceres’ (Demeter’s) sacred giant oak tree. As punishment, Ceres condemns him to starve to death, no matter how much food he eats. He sells everything he has, including his daughter, for food. His daughter prays to Poseidon to free her from slavery, and the god helps her by transforming her into a fisherman so that her master will not recognize her. She returns to her father, & they perpetrate the scheme again and again: Erysichthon sells her into slavery, & she then transforms and escapes. Erysichthon remains hungry & he finally dies of starvation.
Pomona and Vertumnus
Pomona, a Roman nymph, loves only her fruit orchards. Vertumnus loves her, but she ignores him. One day, he sneaks into her orchard disguised as an old woman, slips up to her & kisses her. In disguise, he explains that a youth named Vertumnus cares for her & for the same fruit trees she loves. He reminds her that Venus hates women who reject love. He reveals himself as Vertumnus. Pomona relents & the 2 cultivate the orchard for the rest of their lives.
Part 6 Chapter 2 Summary
lesser myth characters
Minerva’s equal at weaving, whom the jealous goddess changes into the ever-weaving spider.
A girl who attracts Zeus’s fancy & whom Hera turns into a bear. Zeus rescues her and makes her into stars.
The great centaur whom Hercules accidentally kills
A man who sleeps for fifty-seven years, then later cures Athens of a plague.
The Hyades –
6 daughters of Atlas who raise Dionysus & as a reward, are transformed into stars.
Impregnated by Zeus, she mothers Artemis and Apollo.
A great hunter, he becomes a constellation after death.
The Myrmidons –
Fierce soldiers whom Zeus creates out of ants, they later serve as Achilles’ soldiers.
The Pleiades –
7 daughters of Atlas whom Orion pursues. Changed into stars, 2 of them have famous children.
He angers Zeus and is punished in Hades with the task of pushing uphill a rock that eternally rolls back down.
Pt. 7 Ch. 1 Summary
The Stories of Signy & Sigurd
The Volsung dynasty’s story is told in the Volsungasaga as well as in the Elder Edda. Signy, a daughter of Volsung, marries an evil man who kills her father, then imprisons & kills all her brothers except Sigmund, whom she is able to rescue. To procure Sigmund a comrade for the vengeance they are planning, Signy disguises herself and spends 3 nights with her brother & conceives a child.
While the boy, Sinfiotli, grows up, Signy keeps quiet & pretends to love her husband. When Sinfiotli comes of age, he & Sigmund kill Signy’s husband & all his children by burning them in a locked house. Seeing her wish done, Signy herself walks into the burning building to die with the family she has killed.
Sigmund later has a son named Sigurd, who braves a ring of fire to free the imprisoned maiden Brynhild, a Valkyrie who has disobeyed Odin, the lord of the gods. Sigurd & Brynhild pledge their love for each other. He leaves her in the same ring of fire, intending to return, & visits his best friend, the king Gunnar. Gunnar’s mother, who wants Sigurd to marry her own daughter, Gudrun, gives Sigurd a potion that makes him forget Brynhild.
Gunnar decides he wants Brynhild for a wife, but he is unable to pass the marriage-test of the ring of fire. Sigurd rides through the flames again disguised as Gunnar & wins Brynhild for his friend. Brynhild marries Gunnar, thinking he legitimately passed the test & assuming Sigurd abandoned her.
When she learns the truth, she falls into a rage of vengeance & falsely convinces Gunnar that Sigurd slept with her when he rescued her from the ring of fire. Gunnar persuades his younger brother to kill Sigurd. After Sigurd’s death, Brynhild kills herself, asking to be placed on the funeral pyre next to him.
Pt. 7 Chapter 2-Summary
The Norse Gods
Odin, the chief Norse gods, rules Asgard from Gladsheim, his palace, attended by the Valkyries & leading the gods in their constant battle against the Giants of Jotunheim. A strange, taciturn god, Odin eats nothing himself but gives his food to his 2 pet wolves under the banquet table. His 2 ravens, Thought & Memory, scour the world for news, on which he meditates while the other gods feast.
Concerned with wisdom, Odin once gave up one of his own eyes and hung for 9 days & nights from a tree in order to gain it. Odin gives this wisdom, along with the Runes—the old Norse written alphabet that has magical powers—& the special liquor that transforms its drinker into a poet, to the race of men.
There are 5 other great gods besides Odin: Balder, Thor, Freyr, Heimdall, & Tyr. Thor is the thunder-bearer & strongest of the gods; Freyr is the god of the crops; Heimdall is the guardian of the rainbow-bridge between Asgard & the world of men; & Tyr is the god of war. There are 3 major goddesses—Frigga (Odin’s wife), Freya, & Hela—but they are not important to Norse myth. Frigga is an indistinct figure, a spinner of secret thread; Freya, like Aphrodite, is a goddess of love; & Hela is queen of the underworld.
In 1 story, Frigga learns that her son Balder is fated to die. In a panic, she persuades every animate & inanimate object on earth never to harm him. They all agree, because Balder is so beloved. But Frigga forgets to ask the mistletoe plant. The other gods make a game of Balder’s invulnerability, throwing things at him because nothing hurts him.
The evil deity Loki tricks Frigga into revealing the 1 object in the world that might harm Balder. Loki convinces Hoder, Balder’s blind brother, to throw a mistletoe dart at Balder. Loki guides it to pierce Balder’s heart. Hela agrees to bring Balder back to life if it can be proved that everything everywhere mourns his passing, but 1 recalcitrant ogress refuses to show sorrow for Balder. Balder, therefore, must remain with the dead. As punishment, Loki is chained to a rock in a deep cavern, where a serpent is placed over his head that drips burning venom on his face.
The Norse Wisdom
In the beginning of the Norse universe, there is only an empty chasm surrounded by Niflheim, the cold realm of death in the north, & Muspelheim, the land of fire in the south. Cold & fire combine in the chasm to form Ymir, the first Giant & grandfather of Odin. Odin & his 2 brothers kill Ymir & make the heavens from his skull, the sea from his blood, & the earth—Misgard, humankind’s realm—from his body.
The gigantic ash-tree Yggdrasil supports the universe. One of its roots goes up to Asgard, & beside it lies the sacred Urda’s well, guarded by the 3 Norns, who, like the Greek Fates, allot lifespans & destinies to men. A serpent gnaws at the roots of Yggdrasil; when he gnaws all the way through, the tree & the universe will topple.
The serpent symbolizes Ragnarok, the inevitable doomsday that ends the universe, when even the gods meet destruction as evil vanquishes good. Eventually, a new good god will rise up and rid the world of evil forever. In addition to myths, the Elder Edda also contains a wealth of proverbs and insights about all manner of aspects of human life, from insomnia to irony.