26 February 2010

Legend Has It

A favorite memory of mine from my home schooled days is when my Mom would sit down with my sister and brother and I and read to us from big books about Greek and Norse mythology. I always loved to hear the intricate and sometimes scandalous stories of the gods and goddesses and how they would not only get into trouble themselves, but the way they often meddled in the affairs of us humans.
Now, I have to say, I have not read up on my mythology for a few years...since I took a class called Introduction to Classical Mythology circa 2006. But my interest was piqued once more while reading the Bible yesterday. I had been reading the story of Cain and Abel when I came upon Genesis 6:4, which talks about the Nephilim, supposedly fallen angels, who "saw how beautiful the daughters of men were, and so took for their wives as many of them as they chose." I was really intrigued by this, and reminded of how often this theme of immortal beings mingling with mortals appears throughout classical mythology. After reading this Genesis passage, I immediately began to dig through my Mom's old books and happily uncovered quite an extensive collection of literature on the subject.
I thought I'd share some of my favorite findings:

Mirror, Mirror on the wall
At the wish of Zeus, Thetis, the sea goddess, and Peleus, son of Aeacus, were married. But during the wedding feast, Eris, the goddess of strife, became angry that she had not been invited. So in an effort to spoil the day, she threw down a golden apple which said, "To the Fairest."
The apple landed at the feet of the three lovely goddesses, Athena, Hera and Aphrodite, who began to bicker over who the golden fruit was intended for. Immediately Zeus appointed Paris, a young prince, to judge to contest. Each goddess promised Paris wonderful gifts if he named her the winner, but when Aphrodite pledged that she would make Helen of Troy his wife, he quickly gave the apple to Aphrodite...and went on to elope with Helen, which was the single act that brought about the Trojan War.

Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring
(This story doesn't have to do with mortals, but it is one tale that I always enjoyed hearing retold.)
Even Hades, god of the Netherworld, was not immune to love. The legend has it that as he drove his iron chariot through the land one day, he spotted Persephone, the beautiful daughter of Demeter, goddess of fertility. Falling instantly in love with her, Hades swiftly scooped the girl into his chariot and whisked her down into the Netherworld to be his bride. Demeter soon realized that her daughter was missing and frantically began a search. After days of scouring the land, she finally learned of her daughter's fate from a sea nymph called Arethusa, who had witnessed the abduction. Demeter immediately began to grieve her lost child, and the whole world became barren because of her sadness.
But Zeus, seeing Demeter's distress, commanded that Hades return the girl to the arms of her Mother...however, this could only take place if Persephone had not eaten anything while in Hades' kingdom. Alas! The girl had been tempted to eat the juicy seeds of a pomegranate there, and thus was bound to her unsavory spouse.
Demeter once more became miserable and filled the earth with her wrath. But Zeus had pity on her and decreed that Persephone's life would henceforth be split between her Mother and her husband--each spending half the year with her. So now when Demeter and Persephone are united, the earth is lush and beautiful in springtime and summer. But when Hades comes to claim his bride, Demeter's sorrow covers the earth in a wintery blanket of wind, rain and snow.

A Galaxy is Born
The mythological origin of our Milky Way Galaxy involves Zeus, Hera, a woman named Alcmene, and the infant Hercules.
Zeus, though married to Hera, queen of heaven, was quite the womanizer, and would go to great lengths to woo the women he desired. One of his conquests was a woman named Alcmene. This mortal queen had Zeus so infatuated that he disguised himself as her husband and bedded her. The result of this union was the hero Hercules. After his birth, Alcmene feared that Hera would find the boy and know he was a child of Zeus, so she brought him to a nearby field and left him, sure that Zeus would find a way to care for their child. It was then that Hera stumbled upon the infant, and not knowing who he was, she pitied the babe and attempted to nurse him herself. But the little one was incredibly strong, and when Hercules began to suckle, Hera pulled back her breast in pain. As a result, some of her milk went shooting into the heavens, producing a new galaxy, a word that is derived from the greek gala, which means milk.

Lady in the Water
Hylas was a young man who kept company with the Argonauts, a group of heroes who sailed with Jason after the golden fleece. Known for his youthful beauty, Hylas was soon taken under the wing of the mighty Hercules, who loved him like a son.
During one their many exploits, a great storm hit their vessel. As the Argonauts attempted to maneuver through the turbulent waves, Hercules broke his oar, which had been made especially to match the strength of his arms. The next day they went ashore and Hercules withdrew into the forest to cut himself a new one from a tall pine tree. With him went the beautiful Hylas, who had been instructed to draw water from the stream for their supper. But in said stream dwelt a bevy of water nymphs, known for their curious and often jealous tendencies. Seeing the youth approaching their waters, and taken with his beauty, the nymphs decided that they would have him for their own. So as he tipped his pitcher into the stream, they cast their arms about him and dragged the young man into their underwater lair, never to be seen again.


Heather said...

love this... and I totally share your intrigue with mythology... oh yeah he just saw her disguised himself as a tree and then slept with her.... no biggie... just greek mythology.

Claire said...

Yeahhhh like Zeus' infatuation with Danae, a princess who was locked in a tower. He wanted her so bad that he transformed himself into a golden rainfall...cascaded through the roof...and impregnated her.