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by H. Crosthwaite



FURTHER interesting material concerning the soul and the aither emerges when one looks at the mystery religions, of which Samothrace and Eleusis were important centres.

The Greek mysteries were secret religious ceremonies. Initiations took place at festivals in honour of Demeter (at Eleusis), and of Dionysus (the Orphic mysteries). They satisfied religious yearnings that could not be met by orthodox religion or science, and helped people to face misfortune, old age, and death.

Orpheus came from Thrace, north-eastern Greece. He was said to be the son of one of the Muses, Kalliope. He was a follower of Dionysus, a god associated with Thrace. So great was his skill on the lyre that his playing moved wild beasts, trees and rocks, and on the ship Argo his singing diverted the attention of the crew from the song of the Sirens.

When his wife Eurydice died from a snake bite, he went down to Hades to recover her, but forgot the condition imposed, and on the return journey he looked back, and she was lost, this time for ever. He wandered through Thrace, lamenting his loss, until he was torn to pieces by Maenads.

We have met this phenomenon, the sparagmos, or tearing in pieces of a man or an animal, in The Bacchae of Euripides. The same thing happened in the case of the daughters of Minyas, the eponymous ancestor of the Minyans who lived in Orchomenos. They resisted the worship of Dionysus. The god drove them mad, as he drove mad Agave and other Theban women. They tore in pieces Hippasos, the son of Leucippe, one of the sisters. They were subsequently turned into bats.

This dismemberment of a god is followed in the case of Dionysus by a restoration to life, as in the case of Osiris. It is sometimes explained as a sacrifice to a god; the slaughtered animal is sacred to the god, indeed is the god. It is eaten by worshippers in an attempt to achieve contact, even unity and identity, with the god. It is also generally thought that behind Greek religion lurk ancient fertility rites, aimed at ensuring a good harvest. It seems likely that things are first seen in the sky, and are then copied on earth.

There are plenty of stories about the dismemberment of gods in the sky. Ouranos and Kronos are an obvious early example. One of the sights was a seething pot, Old Testament, Jeremiah I: 13.

The Greek Tantalus killed and cooked his son Pelops, and served the dish to the gods at a banquet to see whether they would be deceived. Pelops was brought back to life, but a curse was on the house. His son Atreus killed and cooked the children of Thyestes, his other son. Thyestes had a son, Aegisthus, by his own daughter, Pelopia. Aegisthus later killed the son of Atreus, Agamemnon, on his return from Troy. We shall see later that a resurrection technique was inspired by the idea of a seething pot.

Kings, priests, and people imitated what they saw in the sky. We have already had an example of this in the word satrap, Set's rod, for a Persian viceroy. In the world of ancient Greece, survival meant imitating on earth what was thought to have happened in the sky, and examples of the influence of such thinking in early times permeated classical civilisation, and are still with us today.

At Eleusis, on the coast west of Athens, the mysteries were associated especially with Demeter and Persephone in association with Iacchos, who was a form of Dionysus. There is a vase painting of a child in a cauldron which suggests the reborn Dionysus.

The other great centre was Samothrace, a rocky and mountainous island off the Thracian coast, not far from the coast of Asia Minor. The name of Mount Phengari suggests light. Not far away is the island of Lemnos, where Hephaistos, the god of fire and smiths, is said to have landed when ejected from Olympus. In Iliad XIV: 230 the goddess Hera goes to Lemnos to meet Hypnos and Thanatos (sleep and death).

One of the Titans, Iapetos, had a son, Prometheus. In one version of the story Prometheus stole fire from the workshop of Hephaistos on the island of Lemnos. In another version he stole it from Olympus and flew down to earth carrying it in the hollowed-out stalk of a narthex. The pith of this plant was used as tinder, and the narthex was the thyrsus of the Bacchic revellers.

Certain 'Great Gods' were worshipped at Samothrace, probably the same as the Kabeiroi of Lemnos, who were companions of Hephaestus and experts in metal working.

Before looking at Samothrace in detail, it may be useful to review the subject of the Great Mother and her worshippers, since earth, mining, metal-working, electricity and fertility are related in the Greek mind.

The marriage of Ouranos and Gaia resulted in the birth of Rhea, known as the Mother of the Gods. Her name may be linked with the word 'rheo', flow, suggesting Okeanos, or it may be metathesis for 'era', earth. On the whole the latter was the preferred derivation. She was called the Great Mother because she produced Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades; their father was Kronos, himself a child of Gaia and Ouranos. Ouranos was a child of Gaia as well as a consort. Such a relationship seemed inevitable and natural, and made easier the acceptance of the relationship of Zeus and Dionysus which we have already seen in our discussion of Dionysus and the Delphic succession. It also helps to understand how Dionysus can have an alter ego, a child named Iacchos.

Rhea was worshipped in Asia Minor as Meter Oreia, mountain-mother. She has other epithets derived from names of mountains. From Mount Berecyntos in Phrygia she is Berecyntia; from Mount Dindymon in Mysia, sacred to Cybele, she is Dindymene; and from Mount Ida she is called Idaia. In Phrygia she is known as Matar Kybele. According to Kerenyi, 'The Gods of the Greeks', she is the same as the Cretan 'Mistress of Animals', who appears flanked by two lions on top of a mountain. This reminds one of the Lion Gate at Mycenae, and raises the question of the significance of the two animals, and of the column between them which is Cretan in style. 'Kybelis', according to Hesychius, is a double-axe.

Her procession has drums, pipes (or shawms or reed pipes, however one chooses to translate the word aulos), rattles, bull-roarers and male dancers. The latter represented spirits of gods, daimones. In Phrygia they were known as Berekundae, and as Korubantes.

The Greek equivalent of these worshippers of the Great Goddess were the Idaean Dactyls and the Kouretes.

For the story of the Dactyls and the Kouretes, we can turn to Hesiod, Theogony 468. Kronos had decided to devour his new-born children, having heard that one of them would displace him. Rhea was received by Earth in Crete, and taken to a cave in Mount Aegeum. Dicte and Ida were two other mountains in Crete which claimed to be the birthplace of Zeus.

Rhea supported herself on the soil by her two hands, and the mountain produced ten spirits called the Idaean Dactyls (fingers). They were also called Korubantes or Kouretes, but in some versions of the story the Kouretes are sons of the Dactyls. They danced round the child clashing their weapons to drown his cries. The number of Dactyls and Kouretes varies. Originally there were ten Dactyls and three Kouretes. The Dactyls from Rhea's right hand were smiths and discoverers of iron. There is a story of three Dactyls, representing hammer, anvil, and steel. In all the stories they were smiths, magicians, obstetricians, and dwarfs; sinister, like the Nibelungs.

There was a Mount Ida in Phrygia, and it was said that Idaean Dactyls, called the Kabeiroi, came from Phrygia to Samothrace with their secret cult. They were fertility daimons, sexually well-endowed like the statues of Hermes. They came from the region round Mount Berecyntus in Phrygia. It was believed that Rhea had established her sons, the Korubantes, on Samothrace. Kabeiroi also lived on Lemnos, where they were called Hephaistoi.

The name Kabeiro suggests the Hebrew chabhar, sorceror. Kabeiro, mother of the Kabeiroi, i. e. Rhea, had a son, Kadmilos, by the fire god Hephaestus. In one genealogy the father of the Korubantes is Kadmilos, i. e. Kadmilos is both child and husband to the Great Mother. At Samothrace two of the Kabeiroi were the Dioscuri, Castor and Polydeuces. The Greek 'kadouloi' were boys used in the worship of the Kabeiroi; Greek 'doulos' = slave. Servants of Ka? At Rome, boys, called 'camilli', assisted the Flamen Dialis, or priest of Jupiter.

The Dios kouroi, sons of Zeus, were the children of Zeus and Leda. Accounts vary, but according to one account Leda laid two eggs (Zeus had taken the form of a swan), from one of which emerged Kastor and Polydeukes, and from the other Helen and Clytemnestra.

In Homer, Iliad III: 243, they are mortals, but they were worshipped as protectors of sailors. St. Elmo's Fire, flickering on the mast of a ship, indicated their presence. They were brave fighters. When Kastor was killed in a fight, Polydeukes asked to be allowed to die too. Zeus said that they should take turns to go to Hades, or spend alternate days in Hades and Heaven. On the island of Rhodes, there were 'Telchines', even more underground and sinister than the Kabeiroi. They went to Crete to help rear Zeus, and also reared Poseidon, helped by an Okeanine named Kapheira.

The Telchines were servants of the Great Mother, and were nine in number. They made images of the gods. They foresaw the Flood, and left Rhodes.

There was a Kabeiros at Thebes also, who resembled Dionysus. There is a full treatment of the Kabeiroi and the Mysteries by Susan Cole, 'Theoi Megaloi: The Cult of the Great Gods at Samothrace' (Leiden 1984).

The story went that Eetion and Dardanus, sons of Elektra (the Okeanine, wife of Thaumas, 'Marvel'), came to Samothrace, where Eetion founded the Mysteries. Dardanus subsequently left for Troy, and founded mysteries there.

The Theban myth of Kadmos and Harmonia eventually stated that Harmonia was the third child of Elektra.

The buildings that survive at Samothrace are mostly from the 4th century B. C.. There was a sacred enclosure with two altars, a bothros, or pit, and an eschara, or hearth altar.

The myesis, or initiation, went as follows: There was a declaration that those with unclean hands were forbidden to take part. This 'praefatio sacrorum', or preface to the rites, is mentioned in Livy 45: 5:

Lucius Aemilius Paulus took charge of the Macedonian campaign that the Romans fought against Perseus. Gnaeus Octavius put in at Samothrace, and Lucius Atilius addressed the people: "Men of Samothrace, is what we have heard true, that this island is sacred and that the ground is holy and inviolate?" When they all agreed that it was sacred, he continued: "Why then has a murderer polluted it, and violated it with the blood of King Eumenes, and, although the preface to the rites excludes from the ceremonies those with unclean hands, you allow your shrines to be defiled by the presence of a blood-stained brigand?"

There was a similar preliminary announcement on the first day of the Eleusinian Mysteries.

There were three stages: myesis, telete, and epopteia. At Eleusis it took over a year to become an epoptes, or one who has seen the highest mysteries, but at Samothrace it could all be achieved in one night.

There was a round structure surrounding a central pit, with a narrow doorway. At the top was a shallow recess, and at the bottom of the pit a stone. Libations may have been poured. Certain rocks in the bothroi or pits were objects of special libations.

There was a frieze of dancing girls at the entrance to the precinct, and before the doors of the sanctuary stood two ithyphallic bronze statues, with their hands stretched to the sky. Herodotus reports, II: 51, that there was a holy tale about them in the mysteries.

It is probable that there were dances round a seated figure. Plato, in the Euthydemus, quoted above, tells of thronosis, or Corybantic dances round a seated figure, and Kadmos, according to Nonnus (Dionysiaca), saw a dance at Samothrace. The diaulos was played, and spears were clashed on bronze shields. A large bronze shield and iron knives have been found.

There was a lodestone, and a ring of magnetised iron. They are mentioned by Lucretius, 'De Rerum Natura' VI: 1044 "It also happens that iron sometimes moves away from this stone, and is accustomed to flee and to follow it by turns. I saw iron at Samothrace jumping, and fragments of iron moving inside the bronze basin, when the Magnesian stone had been put underneath. The iron always seemed to wish to escape from the stone." [1] Rings sometimes had a layer of gold covering the iron. "Even slaves now put gold round the iron, and other things that they wear they decorate with pure gold. The origin of this display reveals by its name that it was instituted in Samothrace." Pliny, Natural History 33: 6: 23.

Plato, in his 'Ion', mentions the skill of the rhapsodist. It depends on a divine force, which moves the rhapsodist just as the force in the lodestone makes iron move.

Bathing was important, just as it was for the Pythia at Delphi. We have what is probably a description of the procedure in the Clouds of Aristophanes, lines 497 ff.. As Strepsiades, a would-be initiate, is about to enter Socrates's Phrontisterion, or Thinking Shop, Socrates tells him to take off his himation and to step down. Strepsiades asks for a honey-cake as an offering, and says that he is frightened, as if he were descending into the oracle of Trophonius. (There was an oracle in Boeotia, where Trophonius had been swallowed up by the earth. He was consulted there in an underground room under the name of Zeus Trophonius. Enquirers emerged from underground looking sad and uneasy).

At Samothrace there is a drain outlet, so the initiate probably went down, undressed, and was purified by bathing.

We have some indirect knowledge of Samothrace from another site, Thera. There is an open-air temenos dedicated by Artemidorus, a Greek from Perge. It is cut in the rock of a low cliff. There are statues of Hecate, Priapos (a male fertility god), and Tyche (Chance). There are reliefs dedicated to Zeus, Poseidon and Apollo, and altars to other gods. The altar to the Samothracian gods has a hole six inches in diameter cut in the top, and a channel from this to ground level, forty inches, and a shallow depression in front of the altar, in the stone floor of the temenos.

The Dioscuri, Kastor and Polydeukes, were worshipped here. They are represented with tall conical hats, piloi, and with stars carved in relief over their altar. Artemidorus dedicated an altar to Priapus Lampsacenus. Evidently there was a fertility cult at Lampsacus too. Next is an altar to Hecate Phosphorus, Hecate the Light Bringer.

We left the initiate undressed, washed, and shivering in the dark underground. He may have worn a purple sash. At Eleusis, as far as we can tell, the final stage of the initiation consisted in flashes of light revealing glimpses of objects symbolic of fertility, resurrection and immortality, and probably a ritual representation of the birth of Dionysus. Grains of corn, and the phallic symbols carried in processions in the worship of Dionysus, would figure prominently.

At Samothrace, the "Elektria tellus", as Valerius Flaccus describes it (II: 431), and at Eleusis, we see a combination of the worship of Hermes, and physiological stimulation by electricity, wine, and magnetism. Orpheus, with his power to attract animals, trees and stones, is a symbol of the power of music and the magnet. Phanes and Eros, the primal light and passion, and the sky gods whom they created and revealed, are related to the earth deities, and are equated by the Greeks with the action of the aither and of the soul.

Three words often occur when the Greeks write about the mysteries: zetesis, heuresis, and tyche. Of these words, zetesis and heuresis, searching and finding, are straightforward, but chance, tyche, calls for comment. The Greek verb that corresponds to it means to light upon, to hit, to hit the mark. One might say that tyche is the opposite of hamartia, missing the mark or sin, which we have met before in the character of the tragic hero. Electricity is tricky stuff to track down, and who knows where and when lightning and meteorites will strike?


Pausanias IV: 26: 7: He refers to a dream sent to Epiteles. He dug in a certain place and found a bronze jar. Epaminondas opened it and found a leaf of tin inscribed with the mysteries of the Great Goddesses.

The British Museum contains some gold leaf inscribed with Orphic instructions on obtaining immortality after death.

Pausanias IV: 14: 1: The Messenian priests of the Mysteries of the Great Goddesses fled to Eleusis when the war against Sparta ended.

Pausanias VIII: 15: The Phenaeans in Arcadia have a shrine of Eleusinian Demeter. They also have a rock, two great stones fitted together, by which they swear. Once a year they open the stones, take out the sacred writings, read them to the initiated, and replace them.

Aeneid VIII: 454: Vulcan is "pater Lemnius." There was a volcanic peak on Lemnos: Moschylos. (Moschos, Greek, = calf). Cf. Stephane (crown), a mountain in Thessaly.


Pausanias I: 4: 6: In antiquity, Pergamene territory was the sacred ground of the Kabeiroi.

Pausanias IV: 1: 7: Methapos established the initiation of the Kabeiroi at Thebes.

Pausanias IX: 25: 5: Three or four miles from Thebes is a sanctuary of the Kabeiroi. People called Kabeiroi lived there. Demeter entrusted one of them, Prometheus, and his son Aitnaios, with a sacred object. Those of Xerxes's men, and later those of Alexander, who entered the sanctuary, went mad, or were struck by lightning.

Pausanias warns, VIII: 37: 6, that the Kouretes and the Korybantes are of different families. Rhea, or Kybele, or the Great Mother, may have been the same as the Cretan Mistress of the Animals. As such, she appears between two lions on a mountain.

Bull-roarers were used in her procession, together with pipes, cymbals, and rattles.

The Kabeiroi were called Hephaistoi. The Caucasus is referred to as the Mother of Iron. Aeschylus: Prometheus Vinctus 303.

The Telchines forged Poseidon's trident. They had the evil eye. They had a sister, Halia. Rhodos, Rhodes, was the daughter of Poseidon and Halia.

The Dioskouroi: They were among the Kabeiroi at Samothrace, so they may conveniently be mentioned here.

Odyssey XI: 300: Odysseus visits the underworld, and sees Leda, who bore (to Tyndareus) Kastor and Polydeukes. Each is alive and dead on alternate days. They are honoured like gods. Pausanias III: 24: 5: There is a small cape at Brasiae in Laconia, where there are bronzes one foot high and caps on their heads. Some think they are Dioskouroi or Korubantes.

Pindar, Nemean Ode X: 61 ff.: Lynkeus saw the Dioskouroi sitting in the trunk of a tree.

Plutarch, Quaestiones Graecae 296, Question 23: "Who is the joint-hero in Argos, and who are the Averters?

They call Kastor joint-hero and think he is buried with them, and revere Polydeukes as one of the Olympians. Those who drive out epilepsy they call Averters, and think that they are offspring of Alexida the daughter of Amphiaraus." OKEANOS [2]

Early descriptions of Okeanos put him in the sky. Sea, sky, Poseidon, Hephaestus and Athena are interlinked, as some of the following passages suggest.

"Water is ariston (best)." (Pindar). "Pherecydes and some others take the first generator as the best thing." (Aristotle).

Pausanias I: 33: 2 ff.: At Rhamnous near Marathon is a sanctuary of Nemesis. Pheidias carved the statue. She holds an apple branch, and an engraved bowl with figures of Aethiopians. Some say that the river Okeanos is father of Nemesis, and the Aethiopians live beside Okeanos. Okeanos is not a river, however, but the most distant part of the sea which is sailed by human beings. It contains the island of Britain, and has Iberians and Celts on its shores.

Iliad XV: 160: Zeus gives instructions to Iris to go and tell Poseidon to stop fighting and to rejoin the gods, or go to the holy sea, eis hala dian. Homeric Hymn to Demeter: Tyche (Chance) is a daughter of Okeanos.

Pausanias IV: 30: 6: mentions a statue of Tyche holding the sphere on her head and Amalthea's horn in her other hand. Amalthea's horn is the cornucopia; Amalthea, nurse of Dionysus, was a goat.

According to another story, Amalthea's horn was that of a bull; the infant Zeus drank from it. A drinking cup in the form of a bull's horn is called a rhyton. Compare also Thor, who lowered the level of the sea in a drinking contest.

Tyche, fortune, could be either good or bad. Eurynome, daughter of Okeanos, received Hephaestus, with the help of Thetis, when he was thrown out of Olympus. Eurynome and Ophion ruled over the Titans before Kronos and Rhea. They dwelt on Olympus.

In the Prometheus Vinctus of Aeschylus, the Okeanines enter flying, followed later by their father Okeanos on a griffin. A griffin had the head and wings of an eagle, and the body of a lion.

Hesiod, Theogony 790: (Okeanos surrounds earth and sea). Far under the wide-pathed earth a horn of Okeanos flows out of the holy river through night. A tenth part of it is allotted. Okeanos, winding with nine silvery whirling streams round the earth and broad back of the sea, falls into the salt water, and the one (part) flows out from a rock a great trouble to the gods.

"Eis hala piptei" falls into the salt (sea): this may be the waste of waters on which the earth floated, Hebrew Tehom, as opposed to the waters above the earth, Old Testament, Genesis 1: 7.

"Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters." (Old Testament, Psalm LXXVII: 19).

Theogony 292: Herakles crossed the poros Okeanoio, the ford, or passage, of Okeanos. Compare the use of poros' by Alkman, mentioned in Chapter XI supra.

Theogony 265: Thaumas (marvel) married Elektra, daughter of deep-flowing Okeanos. 274: Gorgons who live beyond glorious Okeanos. ('Glorious' is 'klutos').

242: Doris, daughter (koure) of Okeanos, perfect river. 'Perfect' here is teleeis. 'Telos' has the primary meaning of completion, end or boundary. 130 ff.: Earth first bore starry Ouranos... She also bore the fruitless sea (pelagos), Pontus, with raging swell, without desire and love. But then she lay with Ouranos and produced deep-swirling Okeanos, Koeos, Krios, Hyperion and Iapetos .... and then Kronos.

107: "halmuros pontos", the briny sea. Plutarch, Isis and Osiris 364: "The sea is a tear of Kronos," a Pythagorean saying.

Among fragments from the Epic Cycle we have bits of the 'War of the Titans. ' "The poet of the Titanomachy, whether Eumelos the Corinthian or Arktinos, has spoken as follows in his second book: 'In it were floating golden-faced dumb fish, swimming and playing in the heavenly water." ' Athenaeus VII: 277D. 'Heavenly' is in Greek 'ambrosios'. To Homer, fish are 'hieroi', holy (Iliad XVI: 407).

Pausanias VIII: 41: 6: The Phigalians told me that it (the statue of Eurynome) is a wooden idol tied up with gold chains, like a woman down to the waist, and below that like a fish.


He ruled the sea before Poseidon. Nereus, Phorkys, and Proteus are three names of 'The Old One of the Sea'.

Pictures show Nereus with the body of a fish, with a lion, a buck and a snake thrusting their heads out of his fish body.

Herakles wrestled with Nereus, who assumed different frightening shapes.

Hesiod, Theogony 233, describes Nereus as the eldest son of Pontus.

Triton and Rhodos were two famous children of Poseidon and Amphitrite. In Theogony 931, Hesiod speaks of Triton of wide force, at the bottom of the sea, in a golden palace of Amphitrite and Poseidon, holding the foundations of the sea (or: holding the pillars of the sea).


Odyssey III: 6: He is Enosichthon, the Earthshaker, Kuanochaites, of dark hair.

V: 292: He takes up his triaina and stirs up the sea to wreck Odysseus. (Ainos = dread).

Homeric Hymn to Poseidon: He is a great god, mover of earth and sea, Pontios (Lord of the Sea), who has Helicon and wide Aegae. He has a double function, to be a tamer of horses and a saviour of ships.

Hesiod, Shield of Herakles 105: He is a bull-like earth shaker, taureos; he is a guardian of Thebes and its walls.

He was the son of Rhea and Kronos. Rhea gave Kronos a foal to devour. The infant was carried to Rhodes by Rhea, and entrusted to Kapheira, a daughter of Okeanos, to nurse. The Telchines forged his trident.

The Telchines had a sister, Halia (Greek hals = salt), whom Poseidon married. Rhodos was their daughter.

Poseidon also married Demeter. He was dark haired, and their son Arion was a horse with a black mane.

Poseidon wished to be the patron deity of Athens. At a blow from his trident a horse sprang up from the rocky soil of Attica. The Greek 'hople' is a hoof; 'hoplon' is a weapon. Cf. the story of Pegasus, who struck Mount Helicon with his hoof, thereby creating the spring of Hippocrene. He saw Amphitrite of the Golden Spindle dancing with the Nereids on the island of Naxos, and ravished her. On their marriage he became ruler of the sea.

Pausanias VII: 24: 6 ff., in a passage too long to quote in full here, gives an account of the destruction of Helike by earthquake and tidal wave. He also distinguishes three kinds of 'quake. The usual warnings are continuous rain-storms or droughts for a long time beforehand, sultry weather in winter, haze and red glare of the sun in summer, violent wind-storms, electrical storms in mid-heaven with much lightning, new configurations in the stars that bring terror to observers.

The fortunes of Athene and Hephaestus were linked, and they shared a temple. We will take Athene first.

Pausanias IX: 19: 1: In Teumessos in Boeotia there is a sanctuary of Telchinian Athene. Perhaps a party of Telchinians came to Boeotia from Cyprus.

Iliad IV: 8: Athene has the epithet Alalkomeneis, the Parrier. Zeus notes that two goddesses help Menelaus, namely Argive Helen and Parrier Athene, whereas Aphrodite wards off disaster from Paris. Alcis is a Macedonian name for Athene.

Iliad V: 856: Athene helps Diomedes to wound Ares. He draws blood with a wound to the belly. Brazen Ares gives a shout as loud as nine or ten thousand men joining battle. Brazen Ares is then seen going up to heaven in a mist.

Iliad XXI: 400: Ares strikes Athene's tasselled aegis, which is proof against even Zeus's thunderbolt, with his spear. Athene picks up a big rough boulder, a marker in a field, and hurls it at Ares, hitting him on the neck and making him collapse. His hair is full of dust, his armour rings out, and he sprawls on the ground. Athene taunts him, then turns her brilliant eyes away (phaeinos, shining).

Iliad IV: 70: Zeus sends Athene down to earth. She swoops down from the peaks of Olympus like a meteor (aster) that the Son of Kronos of the Crooked Ways has sent, as a portent to sailors or to a great army on land, blazing and sending out showers of sparks. Just so did Pallas Athene rush down to the earth.


Eurynome, daughter of Okeanos, with the help of Thetis, received Hephaestus when he was flung out of Olympus. It was from a temple shared by Hephaestus and Athene that Prometheus stole fire.

Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 2: 10: 23, refers to furtum Lemnium, the theft at Lemnos (to which island Prometheus brought the fire that he stole from heaven).

Hera was the mother of Hephaestus (without Zeus), and probably of Ares.

Another name of Hephaestus is Palamaon. In Iliad 1: 577 ff., Homer tells us that Hephaestus is the son of Zeus and Hera, and that he makes peace between his parents. Hephaestus assisted at the birth of Athene from the head of Zeus.

Hephaestus was physically abnormal; his soles and heels were turned backwards, and he rolled rather than walked. This recalls a story about the origin of human beings in Plato's 'Symposium'.

Iliad XVIII: 395 gives another version of his fall: Thetis and Eurynome, not the Sintians on Lemnos, saved him.

Hephaestus had the task of making thrones for the Olympians. There was an occasion when Hera sat on her throne and was paralysed. The throne rose into the air. Only when Dionysus made Hephaestus drunk, and led him to Olympus on a mule, could Hera be released. The wife of Hephaestus was Aglaia, the youngest of the Graces (Charites). Charis can mean the charm of art.

Aeneid VIII: 424 ff.: The Cyclopes, Brontes the Thunderer, Steropes the Lightner, and Pyrakmon the Fire-Anvil, were making a thunderbolt. They had given it three spokes of twisted rain, three of rain-cloud, and three of red fire and winged South wind. Now they were mixing in it terror-flashes, thunderclaps and fear, and rage, with flames that pursue. Elsewhere they were working on a chariot for Mars with the flying wheels with which he inflames men and cities; also the aegis that fills with horror, the weapon of angry Pallas .... They were competing to polish it with golden scales of serpents, with snakes intertwined, and on the breast of the goddess the Gorgon's head rolling its eyes.

Pallas was said to be the father of Athene. He was winged. Athene killed him and wore his skin.

The Cyclops Brontes (Thunderer) is one of those named as a father of Athene. The Cyclopes were close to the Idaean Dactyls, phallic and primordial.

Itonos also was Athene's father, and supervised her education. Athene bore a son, Apollo, to Hephaestus. Athene and Leto (mother of Apollo) were connected, according to stories current in Athens and at Delos.

The Greeks had a tradition of unusual things happening in the sky, the sea, and on earth at the time of the birth of Athene.

Pindar. 0l. VII: 32 ff.: To him the golden-haired one from the sweetly scented shrine said that he should sail directly from Lerna's shore to a pasture set in the sea, where once the great king of gods drenched a city with golden snowflakes, at the time when, by the arts of Hephaestus, with his axe wrought in bronze, Athene, shooting up from the top of her father's head, gave a great long war cry. Heaven and mother Earth shuddered at her. Iliad II: 653 ff.: In the catalogue of ships (of those who went to Troy) we meet Tlepolemus, a son of Herakles, who brought nine ships from Rhodes. He had killed his great-uncle Licymnius (a son of Ares), so fled to Rhodes, where he was favoured by Zeus, king of gods and men; and the son of Kronos poured down on them divine wealth.

'Divine' here is thespesios. It implies sent from a god, mighty, awful.

Iliad XV: 669: Athene removes the "thespesion" mist that had covered the eyes of the Achaeans.

Odyssey VII: 42: Odysseus lands in Phaeacia. Athene, disguised as a wondrous, young girl, leads him to the town. She does not allow the Phaeacians to see him, for she pours a divine 'achlys', mist, round him.

Odyssey IX: 68: Zeus sends a north wind against their ships, with a storm from heaven (thespesie).

In Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1154, 'thespesios' means prophetic. Homeric Hymn to Athene 7 ff.: At her birth, Athene stood before Zeus, shaking a sharp spear. Great Olympus raised a loud battle-cry at the wrath of the bright-eyed one, and earth gave a terrible echoing cry. The sea was moved, tossed with purple waves; foam suddenly poured forth. The bright son of Hyperion stopped his swift horses for a long time, until Pallas Athene had taken the heavenly armour from her immortal shoulders. Wise Zeus rejoiced (gethese).

The break in the sun's routine marks an exceptional occurrence.

Notes (Chapter Twelve: Mystery Religions)

1. The entry under 'Pytho' in the Lexicon of Suidas states that at Delphi there was a bronze tripod, with a bowl on top, containing divination pebbles which jumped when questions were put to the god. The Pythia, supported on it or inspired, said what Apollo answered (literally: what Apollo brought out). Suidas, Lexicon, s. v. Pytho, in Adler, ed., IV: 268-9, quoted by Kerenyi in 'Dionysus: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life' translated from German by R. Manheim; Routledge & Kegan Paul, London). One of the phrases used for an oracle responding is 'ho theos aneile, ' literally 'the god raised'.

2. Akkadian 'uginna' is a circle. Hebrew 'chugh' tch as in Scottish 'loch') means circle, horizon, vault of heaven. Compare the Greek 'hugros', wet.

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