Ophion the Serpent Demiurge

Ophion, or Boreas, is the serpent demiurge of Hebrew and Egyptian myth—in early Mediterranean art, the Goddess is constantly shown in his company. The earth—born Pelasgians, whose claim seems to have been that they sprang from Ophion’s teeth, were originally perhaps the Neolithic ‘Painted Ware’ people; they reached the mainland of Greece from Palestine about 3500 BC, and the early Hellads — immigrants from Asia Minor by way of the Cyclades — found them in occupation of the Peloponnese seven hundred years later. But ‘Pelasgians’ became loosely applied to all pre—Hellenic inhabitants of Greece. Thus Euripides (quoted by Strabo) records that the Pelasgians adopted the name ‘Danaids’ on the coming to Argos of Danaus and his fifty daughters. Strictures on their licentious conduct (Herodotus) refer probably to the pre—Hellenic custom of erotic orgies. Strabo says in the same passage that those who lived near Athens were known as Pelargi (‘storks’); perhaps this was their totem bird.

(Robert Graves, The Greek Myths)

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Hesiod’s Five Ages of Man

Some deny that Prometheus created men, or that any man sprang from a serpent’s teeth. They say that Earth bore them spontaneously, as the best of her fruits, especially in the soil of Attica, and that Alalcomeneus was the first man to appear, by Lake Copais in Boeotia, before even the Moon was. He acted as Zeus’s counsellor on the occasion of his quarrel with Hera, and as tutor to Athene while she was still a girl.

These men were the so—called golden race, subjects of Cronus, who lived without cares or labour, eating only acorns, wild fruit, and honey that dripped from the trees, drinking the milk of sheep and goats, never growing old, dancing, and laughing much; death, to them, was no more terrible than sleep. They are all gone now, but their spirits survive as genii of happy rustic retreats, givers of good fortune, and upholders of justice.

Next came a silver race, eaters of bread, likewise divinely created. The men were utterly subject to their mothers and dared not disobey them, although they might live to be a hundred years old. They were quarrelsome and ignorant, and never sacrificed to the gods but, at least, did not make war on one another. Zeus destroyed them all.

Next came a brazen race, who fell like fruits from the ash—trees, and were armed with brazen weapons. They ate flesh as well as bread, and delighted in war, being insolent and pitiless men. Black Death has seized them all.

The fourth race of men was brazen too, but nobler and more generous, being begotten by the gods on mortal mothers. They fought gloriously in the siege of Thebes, the expedition of the Argonauts, and the Trojan War. These became heroes, and dwell in the Elysian Fields.

The fifth race is the present race of iron, unworthy descendants of the fourth. They are degenerate, cruel, unjust, malicious, libidinous, unfilial, treacherous.

Though the myth of the Golden Age derives eventually from a tradition of tribal— subservience to the Bee—goddess, the savagery of her reign in pre—agricultural times had been forgotten by Hesiod’s day, and all that remained was an idealistic conviction that men had once lived in harmony together like bees. Hesiod was a small farmer, and the hard life he lived made him morose and pessimistic. The myth of the silver race also records matriarchal conditions — such as those surviving in Classical times among the Picts, the Moesynoechians of the Black Sea, and some tribes in the Baleares, Galicia, and the Gulf of Sirte — under which men were still the despised sex, though agriculture had been introduced and wars were infrequent. Silver is the metal of the Moon—goddess. The third race were the earliest Hellenic invaders: Bronze Age herdsmen, who adopted the ash—tree cult of the Goddess and her son Poseidon. The fourth race were the warrior—kings of the Mycenaean Age. The fifth were the Dorians of the twelfth century BC, who used iron weapons and destroyed the Mycenaean civilization. Alalcomeneus (‘guardian’) is a fictitious character, a masculine form of Alalcomeneïs, Athene’s title (Iliad) as the guardian of Boeotia. He serves the patriarchal dogma that no woman, even a goddess, can be wise without male instruction, and that the Moon—goddess and the Moon itself were late creations of Zeus.

(Robert Graves, The Greek Myths)

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Aphrodite and Ishtar/Ashtaroth

Aphrodite (‘foam—born’) is the same wide—ruling goddess who rose from Chaos and danced on the sea, and who was worshipped in Syria and Palestine as Ishtar, or Ashtaroth. Her most famous centre of worship was Paphos, where the original white aniconic image of the goddess is still shown in the ruins of a grandiose Roman temple; there every spring her priestess bathed in the sea, and rose again renewed.

She is called daughter of Dione, because Dione was the goddess of the oak—tree, in which the amorous dove nested. Zeus claimed to be her father after seizing Dione’s oracle at Dodona, and Dione therefore became her mother. ‘Tethys’ and ‘Thetis’ are names of the goddess as Creatrix (formed, like ‘Themis’ and ‘Theseus’, from tithenai, ‘to dispose’ or ‘to order’), and as Sea—goddess, since life began in the sea. Doves and sparrows were noted for their lechery; and sea ford is still regarded as aphrodisiac throughout the Mediterranean.

Cythera was an important centre of Cretan trade with the Peloponnese, and it will have been from here that her worship first entered Greece. The Cretan goddess had close associations with the sea. Shells carpeted the floor of her palace sanctuary at Cnossus; she is shown on a gem from the Idean Cave blowing a triton—shell, with a sea—anemone lying beside her altar; the sea—urchin and cuttle—fish were sacred to her. A triton—shell was found in her early sanctuary at Phaestus, and many more in late Minoan tombs, some of these being terracotta replicas.

(Robert Graves, The Greek Myths)

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The Births of Hermes, Dionysus, Apollo, and Artemis

Amorous Zeus lay with numerous nymphs descended from the Titans or the gods and, after the creation of man, with mortal women too; no less than four great Olympian deities were born to him out of wedlock. First, he begat Hermes on Maia, daughter of Atlas, who bore him in a cave on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia. Next, he begat Apollo and Artemis on Leto, daughter of the Titans Coeus and Phoebe, transforming himself and her into quails when they coupled; but jealous Hera sent the serpent Python to pursue Leto all over the world, and decreed that she should not be delivered in any place where the sun shone. Carried on the wings of the South Wind, Leto at last came to Ortygia, close to Delos, where she bore Artemis, who was no sooner born than she helped her mother across the narrow straits, and there, between an olive—tree and a date—palm growing on the north side of Delian Mount Cynthus, delivered her of Apollo on the ninth day of labour. Delos, hitherto a floating island, became immovably fixed in the sea and, by decree, no one is now allowed either to be born or to die there: sick folk and pregnant women are ferried over to Ortygia instead.

The mother of Zeus’s son Dionysus is variously named: some say ‘that she was Demeter, or Io; some name her Dione; some, Persephone, with whom Zeus coupled in the likeness of a serpent; and some, Lethe.

But the common story runs as follows. Zeus, disguised as a mortal, had a secret love affair with Semele (‘moon’), daughter of King Cadmus of Thebes, and jealous Hera, disguising herself as an old neighbour, advised Semele, then already six months with child, to make her mysterious lover a request: that he would no longer deceive her, but reveal himself in his true nature and form. How, otherwise, could she know that he was not a monster. Semele followed this advice and, when Zeus refused her plea, denied him further access to her bed. Then, in anger, he appeared as thunder and lightning, and she was consumed. But Hermes saved her six—months son; sewed him up inside Zeus’s thigh, to mature there for three months longer; and, in due course of time, delivered him. Thus Dionysus is called ‘twice—born’, or ‘the child of the double door’.

Zeus’s rapes apparently refer to Hellenic conquests of the goddess’s ancient shrines, such as that on Mount Cyllene; his marriages, to an ancient custom of giving the title ‘Zeus’ to the sacred king of the oak cult. Hermes, his son by the rape of Maia — a title of the Earth— goddess as Crone — was originally not a god, but the totemistic virtue of a phallic pillar, or cairn. Such pillars were the centre of an orgiastic dance in the goddess’s honour.

One component in Apollo’s godhead seems to have been an oracular mouse — Apollo Smintheus (‘Mouse—Apollo’) is among his earliest titles — consulted in a shrine of the Great Goddess, which perhaps explains why he was born where the sun never shone, namely underground. Mice were associated with disease and its cure, and the Hellenes therefore worshipped Apollo as a god of medicine and prophecy; afterwards saying that he was born under an olive—tree and a date—palm on the north side of a mountain. They called him a twin—brother of Artemis Goddess of Childbirth, and made his mother Leto — the daughter of the Titans Phoebe (‘moon’) and Coeus (‘intelligence’) — who was known in Egypt and Palestine as Lat, fertility—goddess of the date—palm and olive: hence her conveyance to Greece by a South Wind. In Italy she became Latona (‘Queen Lat’). Her quarrel with Hera suggests a conflict between early immigrants from Palestine and native tribes who worshipped a different Earth—goddess; the mouse cult, which she seems to have brought with her, was well established in Palestine. Python’s pursuit of Apollo recalls the use of snakes in Greek and Roman houses to keep down mice. But Apollo was also the ghost of the sacred king who had eaten the apple — the word Apollo may be derived from the root abol, ‘apple’, rather than from apollunai, ‘destroy’, which is the usual view.

Artemis, originally an orgiastic goddess, had the lascivious quail as her sacred bird. Flocks of quail will have made Ortygia a resting—place on their way north during the spring migration. The story that Delos, Apollo’s birthplace, had hitherto been a floating island may be a misunderstanding of a record that his birthplace was now officially fixed: since in Homer (Iliad) he is called Lycegenes, ‘born in Lycia’; and the Ephesians boasted that he was born at Ortygia near Ephesus (Tacitus: Annals). Both the Boeotian Tegyrans and the Attic Zosterans also claimed him as a native son (Stephanus of Byzantium sub Tegyra).

Dionysus began, probably, as a type of sacred king whom the goddess ritually killed with a thunderbolt in the seventh month from the winter solstice, and whom her priestesses devoured. This explains his mothers: Dione, the Oak—goddess; Io and Demeter, Corn— goddesses; and Persephone, Death—goddess. Plutarch, when calling him ‘Dionysus, a son of Lethe (‘forgetfulness’)’, refers to his later aspect as God of the Vine.

The story of Semele, daughter of Cadmus, seems to record the summary action taken by Hellenes of Boeotia in ending the tradition of royal sacrifice: Olympian Zeus asserts his power, takes the doomed king under his own protection, and destroys the goddess with her own thunderbolt. Dionysus thus becomes an immortal, after rebirth from his immortal father. Semele was worshipped at Athens during the Lenaea, the Festival of the Wild Women, when a yearling bull, representing Dionysus, was cut into nine pieces and sacrificed to her: one piece being burned, the remainder eaten raw by the worshippers. Semele is usually explained as form of Selene (‘moon’), and nine was the traditional number of orgiastic moon— priestesses who took part in such feasts — nine such are shown dancing around the sacred king in a cave painting at Cogul, and nine more killed and devoured St. Samson of Dol’s acolyte in mediaeval times.

(Robert Graves, The Greek Myths)

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Hermes the Divine Child, Egyptian Thoth-Anubis

Hermes was evolved as a god from the stone phalli which were local centres of a pre Hellenic fertility cult—the account of his rapid growth may be Homer’s playful obscenity—but also from the Divine Child of the pre-Hellenic Calendar; from the Egyptian Thoth, God of intelligence; and from Anubis, conductor of souls to the Underworld.

The heraldic white ribbons on Hermes’s staff were later mistaken for serpents, because he was herald to Hades; hence Echion’s name. The Thriae are the Triple-Muse (‘mountain goddess’) of Parnassus, their divination by means of dancing pebbles was also practised at Delphi (Mythographi Graeci: Appendix Narrationum). Athene was first credited with the invention of divinatory dice made from knuckle-bones (Zenobius: Proverbs), and these came into popular use; but the art of augury remained an aristocratic prerogative both in Greece and at Rome. Apollo’s ‘long-winged bird’ was probably Hermes’s own sacred crane; for the Apollonian priesthood constantly trespassed on the territory of Hermes, an earlier patron of soothsaying, literature, and the arts; as did the Hermetic priesthood on that of Pan, the Muses, and Athene. The invention of fire-making was ascribed to Hermes, because the twirling of the male drill in the female stock suggested phallic magic.

(Robert Graves, The Greek Myths)

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Male Trinities of Greece and Vedic India

The brotherhood of Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus recalls that of the Vedic male trinity — Mitra, Varuna, and Indra — who appear in a Hittite treaty dated to about 1380 BC — but in this myth they seem to represent three successive Hellenic invasions, commonly known as Ionian, Aeolian, and Achaean. The pre—Hellenic worshippers of the Mother— goddess assimilated the Ionians, who became children of Io; tamed the Aeolians; but were overwhelmed by the Achaeans. Early Hellenic chieftains who became sacred kings of the oak and ash cults, took the titles ‘Zeus’ and ‘Poseidon’, and were obliged to die at the end of their set reigns. Both these trees tend to attract lightning, and therefore figure in popular rain— making and fire—making ceremonies throughout Europe.

(Robert Graves, The Greek Myths)

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The History of the Myth of Hyperborean Apollo

Apollo’s history is a confusing one. The Greeks made him the son of Leto, a goddess known as Lat in Southern Palestine, but he was also a god of the Hyperboreans (‘beyond-theNorth-Wind-men’), whom Hecataeus (Diodorus Siculus) clearly identified with the British, though Pindar (Pythian Odes) regarded them as Libyans. Delos was the centre of this Hyperborean cult which, it seems, extended south-eastward to Nabataea and Palestine, northwestward to Britain, and included Athens. Visits were constantly exchanged between the states united in this cult (Diodorus Siculus.).

Apollo, among the Hyperboreans, sacrificed hecatombs of asses (Pindar), which identifies him with the ‘Child Horus’, whose defeat of his enemy Set the Egyptians annually celebrated by driving wild asses over a precipice (Plutarch: On Isis and Osiris). Horus was avenging Set’s murder of his father Osiris—the sacred king, beloved of the Triple Moongoddess Isis, or Lat, whom his tanist sacrificed at midsummer and midwinter, and of whom Horus was himself the reincarnation. The myth of Leto’s pursuit by Python corresponds with the myth of Isis’s pursuit by Set (during the seventy-two hottest days of the year). Moreover, Python is identified with Typhon, the Greek Set, in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, and by the scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius. The Hyperborean Apollo is, in fact, a Greek Horus.

But the myth has been given a political turn: Python is said to have been sent against Leto by Hera, who had borne him parthenogenetically, to spite Zeus (Homeric Hymn to Apollo); and Apollo, after killing Python (and presumably also his mate Delphyne), seizes the oracular shrine of Mother Earth at Delphi—for Hera was Mother Earth, or Delphyne, in her prophetic aspect. It seems that certain Northern Hellenes, allied with Thraco-Libyans, invaded Central Greece and the Peloponnese, where they were opposed by the pre-Hellenic worshippers of the Earth-goddess, but captured her chief oracular shrines. At Delphi, they destroyed the sacred oracular serpent—a similar serpent was kept in the Erechtheum at Athens—and took over the oracle in the name of their god Apollo Smintheus. Smintheus (‘mousy’), like Esmun the Canaanite god of healing, had a curative mouse for his emblem. The invaders agreed to identify him with Apollo, the Hyperborean Horus, worshipped by their allies. To placate local opinion at Delphi, regular funeral games were instituted in honour of the dead hero Python and his priestess was retained in office.

The Moon-goddess Brizo (‘soother’) of Delos, indistinguishable from Leto, may be identified with the Hyperborean Triple-goddess Brigit, who became Christianized as St. Brigit, or St. Bride. Brigit was patroness of all the arts, and Apollo followed her example. The attempt on Leto by the giant Tityus suggests an abortive rising by the mountaineers of Phocis against the invaders.

Apollo’s victories over Marsyas and Pan commemorate the Hellenic conquests of Phrygia and Arcadia, and the consequent suppression in those regions of wind instruments by stringed ones, except among the peasantry. Marsyas’s punishment may refer to the ritual flaring of a sacred king—as Athene stripped Pallas of his magical aegis—or the removal of the entire bark from an alder-shoot, to make a shepherd’s pipe, the alder being personified as a god or demi-god. Apollo was claimed as an ancestor of the Dorian Greeks, and of the Milesians, who paid him especial honours. The Corybantes, dancers at the Winter Solstice festival, were called his children by Thalia the Muse, because he was god of Music.

(Robert Graves, The Greek Myths)

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The History of the Myth of Dionysus

The main clue to Dionysus’s mystic history is the spread of the vine cult over Europe, Asia, and North Africa. Wine was not invented by the Greeks: it seems to have been first imported in jars from Crete. Grapes grew wild on the southern coast of the Black Sea, whence their cultivation spread to Mount Nysa in Libya, by way of Palestine, and so to Crete; to India, by way of Persia; and to Bronze Age Britain, by way of the Amber Route. The wine orgies of Asia Minor and Palestine—the Canaanite Feast of Tabernacles was, originally, a Bacchanal orgy—were marked by much the same ecstasies as the beer orgies of Thrace and Phrygia. Dionysus’s triumph was that wine everywhere superseded other intoxicants. According to Pherecydes Nysa means ‘tree’.

He had once been subservient to the Moon-goddess Semele—also called Thyone, or Cotytto—and the destined victim of her orgies. His being reared as a girl, as Achilles also was, recalls the Cretan custom of keeping boys ‘in darkness’ (scotioi), that is to say, in the women’s quarters, until puberty. One of his titles was Dendrites, ‘tree-youth’, and the Spring Festival, when the trees suddenly burst into leaf and the whole world is intoxicated with desire, celebrated his emancipation. He is described as a horned child in order not to particularize the horns, which were goat’s, stag’s, bull’s, or ram’s according to the place of his worship. When Apollodorus says that he was disguised as a kid to save him from the wrath of Hera—‘Eriphus’ (‘kid’) was one of his rifles (Hesychius sub Eriphos)—this refers to the Cretan cult of Dionysus Zagreus, the wild goat with the enormous horns. Virgil (Georgics) wrongly explains that the goat was the animal most commonly sacrificed to Dionysus ‘because goats injure the vine by gnawing it.’ Dionysus as a stag is Learchus, whom Athamas killed when driven mad by Hera. In Thrace he was a white bull. But in Arcadia Hermes disguised him as a ram, because the Arcadians were shepherds, and the Sun was entering the Ram at their Spring Festival. The Hyades (‘rain-makers’), into whose charge he gave Dionysus, were renamed ‘the tall’, ‘the lame’, ‘the passionate’, ‘the roaring’, and ‘the raging’ ones, to describe his ceremonies. Hesiod (quoted by Theon: On Aratus) records the Hyades’ earlier names as Phaesyle (?‘filtered light’), Coronis (‘crow’), Cleia (‘famous’), Phaeo (‘dim’), and Eudore (‘generous’); and Hyginus’s list (Poetic Astronomy) is somewhat similar. Nysus means ‘lame’, and in these beer orgies on the mountain the sacred king seems to have hobbled like a partridge—as in the Canaanite Spring Festival called the Pesach (‘hobbling’). But that Macris fed Dionysus on honey, and that the Maenads used ivy-twined fir-branches as thyrsi, records an earlier form of intoxicant: spruce-beer, laced with ivy, and sweetened with mead. Mead was ‘nectar’, brewed from fermented honey, which the gods continued to drink in the Homeric Olympus.

J.E. Harrison, who first pointed out (Prolegomena) that Dionysus the Wine-god is a late superimposition on Dionysus the Beer-god, also called Sabazius, suggests that tragedy may be derived not from tragos, ‘a goat’, as Virgil suggests, but from tragos, ‘spelt’—a grain used in Athens for beer-brewing. She adds that, in early vase-paintings, horse-men, not goat-men, are pictured as Dionysus’s companions; and that his grape-basket is, at first, a winnowing fan. In fact, the Libyan or Cretan goat was associated with wine; the Helladic horse with beer and nectar. Thus Lycurgus, who opposes the later Dionysus, is torn to pieces by wild horses— priestesses of the Mare-headed goddess which was the fate of the earlier Dionysus. Lycurgus’s story has been confused by the irrelevant account of the curse that overtook his land after the murder of Dryas (‘oak’); Dryas was the oak-king, annually killed. The trimming of his extremities served to keep his ghost at bay, and the wanton felling of a sacred oak carried the death penalty. Cotytto was the name of the goddess in whose honour the Edonian Rites were performed.

Dionysus had epiphanies as Lion, Bull, and Serpent, because these were Calendar emblems of the tripartite year. He was born in winter as a serpent (hence his serpent crown); became a lion in the spring; and was killed and devoured as a bull, goat, or stag at midsummer. These were his transformations when the Titans set on him. Among the Orchomenans a panther seems to have taken the serpent’s place. His Mysteries resembled Osiris’s; hence his visit to Egypt.

Hera’s hatred of Dionysus and his wine-cup, like the hostility shown by Pentheus and Perseus, reflects conservative opposition to the ritual use of wine and to the extravagant Maenad fashion, which had spread from Thrace to Athens, Corinth, Sicyon, Delphi, and other civilized cities. Eventually, in the late seventh and early sixth centuries BC, Periander, tyrant of Corinth, Cleisthenes, tyrant of Sicyon, and Peisistratus, tyrant of Athens, deciding to approve the cult, founded official Dionysiac feasts. Thereupon Dionysus and his vine were held to have been accepted to Heaven—he ousted Hestia from her position as one of the Twelve Olympians at the close of the fifth century BC—though some gods continued to exact ‘sober sacrifices’. But, although one of the recently deciphered tablets from Nestor’s palace at Pylus shows that he had divine status even in the thirteenth century BC, Dionysus never really ceased to be a demi-god, and the tomb of his annual resurrection continued to be shown at Delphi (Plutarch: On Isis and Osiris), where the priests regarded Apollo as his immortal part. The story of his rebirth from Zeus’s thigh, as the Hittite god of the Winds had been born from Kumabi’s, repudiates his original matriarchal setting. Ritual rebirth from a man was a wellknown Jewish adoption ceremony (Ruth), a Hittite borrowing.

Dionysus voyaged in a new-moon boat, and the story of his conflict with the pirates seems to have been based on the same icon which gave rise to the legend of Noah and the beasts in the Ark: the lion, serpent, and other creatures are his seasonal epiphanies. Dionysus is, in fact, Deucalion. The Laconians of Brasiae preserved an uncanonical account of his birth: how Cadmus shut Semele and her child in an ark, which drifted to Brasiae, where Semele died and was buried, and how Ino reared Dionysus (Pausanias).

Pharos, a small island off the Nile Delta, on the shore of which Proteus went through the same transformations as Dionysus, had the greatest harbour of Bronze Age Europe. It was the depot for traders from Crete, Asia Minor, the Aegean Islands, Greece, and Palestine. From here the vine cult will have spread in every direction. The account of Dionysus’s campaign in Libya may record military aid sent to the Garamantians by their Greek allies; that of his Indian campaign has been taken for a fanciful history of Alexander’s drunken progress to the Indus, but is earlier in date and records the eastward spread of the vine. Dionysus’s visit to Phrygia, where Rhea initiated him, suggests that the Greek rites of Dionysus as Sabazius, or Bromius, were of Phrygian origin.

The Corona Borealis, Ariadne’s bridal chaplet, was also called ‘the Cretan Crown’. She was the Cretan Moon-goddess, and her vinous children by Dionysus—Oenopion, Thoas, Staphylus, Tauropolus, Latromis, and Euanthes—were the eponymous ancestors of Helladic tribes living in Chios, Lemnos, the Thracian Chersonese, and beyond. Because the vine cult reached Greece and the Aegean by way of Crete—oinos, ‘wine’, is a Cretan word—Dionysus has been confused with Cretan Zagreus, who was similarly torn to pieces at birth.

Agave, mother of Pentheus, is the Moon-goddess who ruled the beer revels. The tearing to pieces of Hippasus by the three sisters, who are the Triple-goddess as Nymph, is paralleled in the Welsh tale of Pwyll Prince of Dyfedd where, on May Eve, Rhiannon, a corruption of Rigantona (‘great queen’), devours a foal who is really her son Pryderi (‘anxiety’). Poseidon was also eaten in the form of a foal by his father Cronus; but probably in an earlier version by his mother Rhea. The meaning of the myth is that the ancient rite in which mare-headed Maenads tore the annual boy victim—Sabazius, Bromius, or whatever he was called—to pieces and ate him raw, was superseded by the more orderly Dionysian revels; the change being signalized by the killing of a foal instead of the usual boy. 10, The pomegranate which sprouted from Dionysus’s blood was also the tree of Tammuz-Adonis-Rimmon; its ripe fruit splits open like a wound and shows the red seeds inside. It symbolizes death and the promise of resurrection when held in the hand of the goddess Hera or Persephone.

Dionysus’s rescue of Semele, renamed Thyone (‘raging queen’), has been deduced from pictures of a ceremonial held at Athens on the dancing floor dedicated to the Wild Women. There to the sound of singing, piping, and dancing, and with the scattering of flower petals from baskets, a priest summoned Semele to emerge from an omphalos, or artificial mound, and come attended by ‘the spirit of Spring’, the young Dionysus (Pindar: Fragment). At Delphi a similar ascension ceremony conducted wholly by women was called the Herois, or ‘feast of the heroine’ (Plutarch: Greek Questions; Aristophanes: Frogs, with scholiast). Still another may be presumed in Artemis’s temple at Troezen. The Moon-goddess, it must be remembered, had three different aspects: in the words of John Skelton: Diana in the leaves green; Luna who so bright doth sheen; Persephone in Hell. Semele was, in fact, another name for Core, or Persephone, and the ascension scene is painted on many Greek vases, some of which show Satyrs assisting the heroine’s emergence with mattocks; their presence indicates that this was a Pelasgian rite. What they disinterred was probably a corn-doll buried after the harvest and now found to be sprouting green. Core, of course, did not ascend to Heaven; she wandered about on earth with Demeter until the time came for her to return to the Underworld. But soon after the award of Olympic status to Dionysus the Assumption of his virgin-mother became dogmatic and, once a goddess, she was differentiated from Core, who continued heroine-like to ascend and descend.

The vine was the tenth tree of the sacral tree-year and its month corresponded with September, when the vintage feast took place. Ivy, the eleventh tree, corresponded with October, when the Maenads revelled and intoxicated themselves by chewing ivy leaves; and was important also because, like four other sacred trees—El’s prickly oak on which the cochineal insects fed, Phoroneus’s alder, and Dionysus’s own vine and pomegranate—it provided a red dye. Theophilus, the Byzantine monk (Rugerus: On Handicrafts), says that ‘poets and artists loved ivy because of the secret powers it contained … one of which I will tell you. In March, when the sap rises, if you perforate the stems of ivy with an anger in a few places, a gummy liquid will exude which, when mixed with urine and boiled, turns a blood colour called ‘lake’, useful for painting and illumination.’ Red dye was used to colour the faces of male fertility images (Pausanias), and of sacred kings; at Rome this custom survived in the reddening of the triumphant general’s face. The general represented the god Mars, who was a Spring-Dionysus before he specialized as the Roman God of War, and who gave his name to the month of March. English kings still have their faces slightly rouged on State occasions to make them look healthy and prosperous. Moreover, Greek ivy, like the vine and plane-tree, has a five-pointed leaf, representing the creative hand of the Earth-goddess Rhea. The myrtle was a death tree.

(Robert Graves, The Greek Myths)

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The Ancient Myth of Atlantis

Later mythographers understood Atlas as a simple personification of Mount Atlas, in North-western Africa, whose peak seemed to hold up the Heavens; but, for Homer, the columns on which he supported the firmament stood far out in the Atlantic Ocean, afterwards named in his honour by Herodotto. He began, perhaps, as the Titan of the Second day of the Week, who separated the waters of the firmament from the ware of the earth. Most rain comes to Greece from the Atlantic, especially the heliacal rising of Atlas’s star-daughters, the Hyades; which part explains why his home was in the west. Heracles took the Heavens from his shoulders in two senses.

The Egyptian legend of Atlantis—also current in folk-tale along the Atlantic seaboard from Gibraltar to the Hebrides, and among the Yorub in West Africa—is not to be dismissed as pure fancy, and seems to date from the third millennium BC. But Plato’s version, which he claims that Solon learned from his friends the Libyan priests of Sais in the Delta, he apparently been grafted on a later tradition: how the Minoan Cretans who had extended their influence to Egypt and Italy, were defeated a Hellenic confederacy with Athens at its head; and whom, perhaps as the result of a submarine earthquake, the enormous harbour works built by the Keftiu (‘sea-people’, meaning the Cretans and their allies) on the island of Pharos and, subsided under seven fathoms of water—where they have lately been rediscovered by dive: These works consisted of an outer and an inner basin, together covering some two hundred and. fifty acres (Gaston Jondet: Les Ports submerges l’ancienne île de Pharos). Such an identification of Atlantis with Pharos would account for Atlas’s being sometimes described as a son of Iapetus—the Japhet of Genesis, whom the Hebrews called Noah’s son and made the ancestor of the Sea-people’s confederacy—and sometimes as a son of Poseidon and, though in Greek myth Iapetus appears as Deucalion’s grandfather, this need mean no more than that he was the eponymous ancestor of the Canaanite tribe which brought the Mesopotamian Flood legend rather than the Atlantian, to Greece. Several details in Plato’s account such as the pillar sacrifice of bulls and the hot-and-cold water systems in Atlas’s palace, make it certain that the Cretans are being described, and no other nation. Like Atlas, the Cretans ‘knew all the depths of the sea’. According to Diodorus, when most of the inhabitants of Greece, were destroyed by the great flood, the Athenians forgot that they have founded Sais in Egypt. This seems to be a muddled way of saying that after the submergence of the Pharos harbour-works the Athenians forgot their religious ties with the city of Sais, where the same Libyan goddess Neith, or Athene, or Tanit, was worshipped.

Plato’s story is confused by his account of the vast numbers of elephants in Atlantis, which may refer to the heavy import of Greece by way of Pharos, but as perhaps been borrowed from the elder legend. The whereabouts of the folk-tale Atlantis has been the subject of numerous theories, though Plato’s influence has naturally concentrated popular attention on the Atlantic Ocean. Until recently, the Atlantic Ridge (stretching from Iceland to the Azores and then bending southeastward to Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha) was supposed to be its remains; but oceanographic surveys show that apart from these peaks the entire ridge has been under water for at least sixty million years. Only one large inhabited island in the Atlantic is known to have disappeared: the plateau now called the Dogger Bank. But the bones and implements hauled up in cod-nets show that this disaster occurred in Paleolithic times; and it is far less likely that the news of its disappearance reached Europe from survivors who drifted across the intervening waste of waters than that the memory of a different catastrophe was brought to the Atlantic seaboard by the highly civilized Neolithic immigrants from Libya, usually known as the passage-grave builders.

These were farmers and arrived in Great Britain towards the close of the third millennium BC; but no explanation has been offered for their mass movement westwards by way of Tunis and Morocco to Southern Spain and then northward to Portugal and beyond. According to the Welsh Atlantis legend of the lost Cantrevs of Dyfed (impossibly located in Cardigan Bay), a heavy sea broke down the sea-walls and destroyed sixteen cities. The Irish Hy Brasil; the Breton City of Ys; the Cornish Land of Lyonesse, (impossibly located between Cornwall and the Sicily Isles); the French Île Verte; the Portuguese Ilha Verde: all are variants of this legend. But if what the Egyptian priests really told Solon was that the disaster took place in the Far West, and that the survivors moved ‘beyond the Pillars of Heracles’, Atlantis can be easily identified.

It is the country of the Atlantians, mentioned by Diodorus Siculus as a most civilized people living to the westward of Lake Tritonis, from whom the Libyan Amazons, meaning the matriarchal tribes later described by Herodotus, seized their city of Cerne. Diodorus’s legend cannot be archaeologically dated, but he makes it precede a Libyan invasion of the Aegean Islands and Thrace, an event which cannot have taken place later than the third millennium BC. If, then, Atlantis was Western Libya, the floods which caused it to disappear may have been due either to a phenomenal rainfall such as caused the famous Mesopotamian and Ogygian Floods, or to a high tide with a strong north-westerly gale, such as washed away a large part of the Netherlands in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and formed the Zuider Zee1 , or to a subsidence of the coastal region. Atlantis may, in fact, have been swamped at the formation of Lake Tritonis, which apparently once covered several thousand square miles of the Libyan lowlands; and perhaps extended northward into the Western Gulf of Sirte, called by the geographer Scylax ‘the Gulf of Tritonis’, where the dangerous reefs suggest a chain of islands of which only Jerba and the Kerkennahs survive.

The island left in the centre of the Lake mentioned by Diodorus was perhaps the Chaamba Bou Rouba in the Sahara. Diodorus seems to be referring to such a catastrophe when he writes in his account of the Amazons and Atlantians: ‘And it is said that, as a result of earthquakes, the parts of Libya towards the ocean engulfed Lake Tritonis, making it disappear.’ Since Lake Tritonis still existed in his day, what he had probably been told was that as a result of earthquakes in the Western Mediterranean the sea engulfed part of Libya and formed Lake Tritonis. The Zuider Zee and the Copaic Lake have now both been reclaimed; and Lake Tritonis, which, according to Scylax, still covered nine hundred square miles in Classical times, has shrunk to the salt-marshes of Chott Melghir and Chott el Jerid. If this was Atlantis, some of the dispossessed agriculturists were driven west to Morocco, others south across the Sahara, others east to Egypt and beyond, taking their story with them; a few remained by the lakeside. Plato’s elephants may well have been found in this territory, though the mountainous coastline of Atlantis belongs to Crete, of which the sea-hating Egyptians knew only by hearsay.


Map from the Histories of Herodotus

The five pairs of Poseidon’s twin sons who took the oath of allegiance to Atlas will have been representatives at Pharos of ‘Keftiu’ kingdoms allied to the Cretans. In the Mycenaean Age double-sovereignty was the rule: Sparta with Castor and Polydeuces, Messene with Idas and Lynceus, Argos with Proetus and Acrisius, Tiryns with Heracles and Iphicles, Thebes with Eteocles and Polyneices. Greed and cruelty will have been displayed by the Sons of Poseidon only after the fall of Cnossus, when commercial integrity declined and the merchant turned pirate.

Prometheus’s name ‘forethought’, may originate in a Greek misunderstanding of the Sanskrit word pramantha, the swastika, or fire-drill, which he had supposedly invented, since Zeus Prometheus at Thurii was shown holding a fire-drill. Prometheus, the Indo-European folk-hero, became confused with the Carian hero Palamedes, the inventor or distributor of all civilized arts (under the goddess’s inspiration); and with the Babylonian god Ea, who claimed to have created a splendid man from the blood of Kingu (a sort of Cronus), while the Mothergoddess Aruru created an inferior man from clay. The brothers Pramanthu and Manthu, who occur in the Bhagavata Purana, a Sanskrit epic, may be prototypes of Prometheus and Epimetheus (‘afterthought’); yet Hesiod’s account of Prometheus, Epimetheus, and Pandora is not genuine myth, but an antifeminist fable, probably of his own invention, though based on the story of Demophon and Phyllis. Pandora (‘all-giving’) was the Earth-goddess Rhea, worshipped under that title at Athens and elsewhere (Aristophanes: Birds; Philostratus), whom the pessimistic Hesiod blames for man’s mortality and all the ills which beset life, as well as for the frivolous and unseemly behaviour of wives. His story of the division of the bull 1 Since this was written, history has repeated itself disastrously. is equally unmythical: a comic anecdote, invented to account for Prometheus’s punishment, and for the anomaly of presenting the gods only with the thigh-bones and fat cut from the sacrificial beast. In Genesis the sanctity of the thigh-bones is explained by Jacob’s lameness which an angel inflicted on him during a wrestling match. Pandora’s jar (not box) originally contained winged souls.

Greek islanders still carry fire from one place to another in the pith of giant fennel, and Prometheus’s enchainment on Mount Caucasus may be a legend picked up by the Hellenes as they migrated to Greece from the Caspian Sea: of a frost-giant, recumbent on the snow of the high peaks, and attended by a flock of vultures.

The Athenians were at pains to deny that their goddess took Prometheus as her lover, which suggests that he had been locally identified with Hephaestus, another fire-god and inventor, of whom the same story was told because he shared a temple with Athene on the Acropolis.

Menoetius (‘ruined strength’) is a sacred king of the oak cult; the name refers perhaps to his ritual maiming.

While the right-handed swastika is a symbol of the sun, the left-handed is a symbol of the moon. Among the Akan of West Africa, a people of Libyo-Berber ancestry, it represents the Triple-goddess Ngame.

(Robert Graves, The Greek Myths)

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Indo-European Oracles

All oracles were originally delivered by the Earth-goddess, whose authority was so great that patriarchal invaders made a practice of stealing her shrines and either appointing priests or retaining the priestesses in their own service. Thus Zeus at Dodona, and Ammon in the Oasis of Siwwa, took over the cult of the oracular oak, sacred to Dia or Dione—as the Hebrew Jehovah did that of Ishtar’s oracular acacia—and Apollo captured the shrines of Delphi and Argos. At Argos, the prophetess was allowed full freedom; at Delphi, a priest intervened between prophetess and votary, translating her incoherent utterances into hexameters; at Dodona, both the Dove-priestesses and Zeus’s male prophets delivered oracles.

Mother Earth’s shrine at Delphi was founded by the Cretans, who left their sacred music, ritual, dances, and calendar as a legacy to the Hellenes. Her Cretan sceptre, the labrys, or double-axe, named the priestly corporation at Delphi, the Labryadae, which was still extant in Classical times. The temple made from bees-wax and feathers refers to the goddess as Bee and as Dove; the temple of fern recalls the magical properties attributed to fern-seed at the summer and winter solstices (Sir James Frazer devotes several pages to the subject in his Golden Bough); the shrine of laurel recalls the laurel-leaf chewed by the prophetess and her companions in their orgies. Daphnis is a shortened form of Daphoenissa (‘the bloody one’), as Daphne is of Daphoene. The shrine of bronze engulfed by the earth may merely mark the fourth stage of a Delphic song that, like ‘London Bridge is Broken Down’, told of the various unsuitable materials with which the shrine was successively built; but it may also refer to an underground tholos, the tomb of a hero who was incarnate in the python. The tholos, a beehive-shaped ghost-house, appears to be of African origin, and introduced into Greece by way of Palestine. The Witch of Endor presided at a similar shrine, and the ghost of Adam gave oracles at Hebron. Philostratus refers to the golden birds in his Life of Apollonius of Tyana and describes them as siren-like wrynecks; but Pindar calls them nightingales (Fragment quoted by Athenaeus). Whether the birds represented oracular nightingales, or wrynecks used as love-charms and rain-inducers, is disputable.

Inspection of entrails seems to have been an Indo—European mantic device. Divination by the throw of four knucklebone dice was perhaps alphabetical in origin: since ‘signs’, not numbers, were said to be marked on the only four sides of each bone which could turn up. Twelve consonants and four vowels (as in the divinatory Irish Ogham called ‘O’Sullivan’s’) are the simplest form to which the Greek alphabet can be reduced. But, in Classical times, numbers only were marked—1, 3, 4, and 6 on each knucklebone—and the meanings of all their possible combinations had been codified. Prophecy from dreams is a universal practice.

Apollo’s priests exacted virginity from the Pythian priestesses at Delphi, who were regarded as Apollo’s brides; but when one of was scandalously seduced by a votary, they had thereafter to be about fifty years old on installation, though still dressing as brides. Bull’s blood was thought to be highly poisonous, because of its magical potency: the blood of sacred bulls, sometimes used to consecrate a tribe, as in Exodus, was mixed with great quantities of water before being sprinkled on the fields as a fertilizer. The Priestess of Earth however, could drink whatever Mother Earth herself drank.

Hera, Pasiphaë, and Ino were all titles of the Triple-goddess, interdependence of whose persons was symbolised by the tripod which her priestess sat.

The procedure at the oracle of Trophonius—which Pausanias self visited—recalls Aeneas’s descent, mistletoe in hand, to Tartarus, where he consulted his father Anchises, and Odysseus’s earlier consultation of Teiresias; it also shows the relevance of these myths to a common form of initiation rite in which the novice suffers a mock-death, receives mystical instruction from a pretending ghost, and is then reborn in new clan, or secret society. Plutarch remarks that the Trophoniads mystagogues in the dark den—belong to the pre-Olympian age of Cronus, and correctly couples them with the Idaean Dactyls who formed the Samothracian Mysteries.

Black poplar was sacred to the Death-goddess at Pagae, and Persephone had a black poplar grove in the Far West (Pausanias).

(Robert Graves, The Greek Myths)

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