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Heroes And Heroines In Greek Mythology

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G. S. Kirk (essay date 1974)

SOURCE: "The Heroes," in The Nature of Greek Myths, Penguin Books, 1974, pp. 145-75.

[In the following essay, Kirk asserts that the narrative complexity of hero myths is much greater than that of the divine myths. He then classifies hero myths as those related to older heroes (in myths set in a "timeless past long before the Trojan War"), those related to younger heroes (in myths set at a time close to or during the Trojan War), and those concerned with "definitely historical figures."]

Powerful as some of the divine myths are, it is the hero myths that constitute the most prominent and varied side of Greek traditional tales as a whole. Many other ethnic collections, perhaps most, are virtually confined to divine tales and contain few heroic ones. Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt exemplify the tendency. The Mesopotamian tales of Gilgamesh are admittedly imaginative, and important from many points of view; Egyptian heroes, on the other hand, are both few in number and predominantly legendary and realistic in character. Yet in Greece there are innumerable heroes, and they are involved in a wide variety of actions. Standard situations proliferate, but even so the total narrative complexity far outweighs that of the divine myths.

The heroes fall into an older or a younger type, according to whether their main activity is set in a timeless past long before the Trojan War, or close to the war itself. Later inventions based on definitely historical figures form another and subsidiary kind.… The first two types, whose nature will become plainer as the chapter proceeds, are at some points hard to separate. Some of the 'older' heroes possess certain later characteristics, since the myths were undergoing continuous development; conversely a few of the younger and quasi-legendary ones have important older associations. Theseus is involved in historicizing and relatively recent actions, but the tale of the Labyrinth makes it eccentric not to treat him as a member of the primary group. Agamemnon on the other hand is connected through Menelaus with Helen, who seems to be descended from an ancient tree goddess; yet the story of the House of Atreus belongs for the most part to the more historicizing and younger set. Jason presents similar difficulties, but I have placed him among the older group in the first instance.

Philologists have sometimes thought that heroic names themselves may give a clue to the age of the heroes and their myths. Those ending in -eus, especially if they have a non-Greek stem, are thought to be among the earliest. That works well for a few less prominent heroes like Tydeus, Neleus, Salmoneus, and perhaps Orpheus. Theseus and Oineus, with Greek stems, might then be secondary developments, but Achilleus (Latinized as Achilles) would be one of the older group and not, as appears from his mythical context, a younger quasi-legendary type. His father Peleus is neutral, since his name is based on that of Mount Pelion, itself probably pre-Greek. Many of the -eus heroes turn out to have sons with specifically Greek compound names; for instance Aga-memnon is son of Atreus, and Neoptolemus of Achilleus. Several of these belong to the younger group of heroes, whereas those with names that are neither Greek nor end in -eus, like Kadmos (Cadmus), Bellerophon(tes) or Tantalos, tend to belong to the older. Yet on the whole this is a speculative and inadequate criterion, especially since some names, like Oedipus, Perseus, Caeneus, Jason (Iason in Greek), could be either Greek or foreign in derivation. The whole matter has been complicated by the relization...

(This entire section contains 22351 words.)

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that Greek was spoken in the peninsula as early as around 2100 B.C., that the Mycenaeans were thoroughly Greek, and that the Linear B tablets suggest that names of all these types were in use towards the end of the Bronze Age. Finally Heracles is beyond dispute an older hero, yet his name is completely Greek in form and means 'glory of Hera' or something similar.

Only a selection of heroes, in any case, can be discussed here. From the older heroes I have chosen Perseus, Bellerophon, Theseus, Cadmus and Jason, in that order, not only because they are (or used to be) household names, but also because they illustrate several different tendencies of heroic myths. Heracles is reserved for special treatment in Chapter 8 [of The Nature of Greek Myths].

This is how Apollodorus (the best of the extantmythographers, even though he wrote no earlier than the second century A.D.) tells of the birth and youth of Perseus:

When Acrisius consulted the oracle about begetting male children, the god said his daughter would have a son who would kill him. As a precaution, Acrisius built a brazen underground chamber and kept Danaë under guard there. But Proetus, as some say, seduced her, and that was the cause of their quarrel. Others say that Zeus changed into gold which poured into Danaë's lap through the roof, and so had intercourse with her. Acrisius, on learning later that the child Perseus had been born from her, refused to believe that Zeus was her seducer, and so cast his daughter with her child into a chest and hurled it into the sea. The chest was carried to Seriphos, and Dictys took it up and brought up the boy. Dictys' brother Polydectes, who was king of Seriphos, fell in love with Danaë … (2.4, 1 ff.)

Acrisius, as well as being brother of Proetus, was king of Argos, and it is there that Danaus had taken refuge from Egypt with his daughters, as described by Aeschylus in his Suppliant Women. That may reflect a memory of conflict between Mycenaeans and Egyptians, and Danaë too, with her similar name ('Danaans' is one of Homer's names for the Greeks), is probably a Bronze Age character. Yet the motif of the oracle must be later. It is common in Greek myths, but all the foundation legends of the great oracles (Delphi, Dodona, Didyma, and so on) point to the early Iron Age, after 1100 B.C., as their time of origin. Curiously enough there was a tale, preserved only by Aelian in the Roman period, that the mother of Sumerian Gilgamesh had been locked up for similar reasons, and that the illicit baby, thrown from her lofty prison, had been caught and rescued by an eagle. This tends to confirm that the idea of keeping one's daughter a virgin by locking her up, quite apart from the overthrow-by-grandson motif, was an ancient one; it has, of course, a marked folktale appearance. Gilgamesh's birth was said to be due to a man getting in; the Greek version is more exotic and poetical ('the son of Danae, who we say was born from gold that flowed of its own accord' as Pindar put it—the gold being Zeus, although later rationalizers typically reduced it to a bribe given to her jailers). Two other odd details are the underground brazen house and the launching on the sea in a chest, both with parallels in other Greek myths. The house reminds one of the bronze jar that is a place of refuge for Eurystheus or imprisonment for Ares, whereas the chest is an almost traditional way of disposing of unwanted relatives or babies (for example Tenes and his sister Hemithea). It is tempting, but not especially plausible, to think of underground grain-silos or huge 'beehive' tombs as precedents for the idea of the brazen house. The floating-chest idea is less susceptible of facile interpretation, and since it is loosely paralleled in Moses and the bulrushes it seems preferable to think of it as a widely-diffused folktale idea (rather than, for instance, a Freudian memory of the embryo).

King Polydectes (his name means 'much-receiving' and resembles a title given to Hades, who receives innumerable dead into his kingdom) sent Perseus, now grown up, to get the Gorgon's head, hoping to be rid of him once and for all and so seduce Danaë without further interference. But with Athena's help the hero forced the Graiai, the old grey women, by stealing the single eye and tooth they shared between them, to tell him the way to certain nymphs. These then gave him winged sandals, the cap of invisibility and a special wallet for the Gorgon's head. Actually there were three Gorgons, Medusa being the mortal one; they were sisters of the two Graiai, and their parents were Phorcys (an old-man-of-the-sea type) and the female sea-monster Ceto. Athena guided Perseus so that he could see Medusa's reflection in his shield and so decapitate her without being turned to stone. Pindar has a pretty tale that Athena imitated the Gorgon's shrieks by playing on the flute the so-called 'many-headed tune':

… the art that Pallas Athena invented when she wove together the deadly dirge of the reckless Gorgons. Perseus heard it flowing in bitter agony from the monstrous snake-heads of the maidens when he put an end to one of the three sisters, bringing doom for Seriphos and its island people. Yes, he annihilated the prodigious offspring of Phorcus, and made a bitter contribution to Polydectes' feast … (Pythians 12, 6 ff.)

On the way back from the Gorgons, who lived at the ends of the earth across the stream of Okeanos, Perseus went northward to visit the Hyperboreans, and also as far south as Ethiopia or Joppa. In one of these the Andromeda adventure took place. She was daughter of King Cepheus and his silly wife Cassiopeia—silly because she boasted that she was prettier than the Nereids. The inevitable consequences followed, this time both a flood and a sea-monster. An oracle said the monster could only be sent away if given Andromeda to devour, but Perseus rescued her just in time on the promise of her hand in marriage. Cepheus' brother Phineus tried to make trouble on the grounds that Andromeda was pledged to him, but the Gorgon's head dealt with him soon enough. Then Perseus returned to Seriphos, petrified Polydectes and his supporters, left for the mainland and accidentally killed Acrisius with a discus, thus fulfilling the original oracle. He finally became king of Tiryns and founder, with Andromeda, of the Perseid dynasty.

It has long been recognized that the Perseus complex is more than usually dependent on folktale-type motifs: the escape as a baby, defending one's mother from a seducer, the meant-to-be-fatal quest, the ingenious devices (tooth-and-eye, magical gadgets for flying and invisibility, avoiding a lethal gaze), rescuing the princess, killing a relative by accident. It also exemplifies an interest in exotic lands (Ethiopia, the Hyperboreans) that is typical of test-and-quest tales. Yet this does not mean that the myth is not substantially an ancient one. Obviously it has been elaborated, as any traditional tale must be—perhaps in respect of the oracle, some of the details of Athena's help, and the magical implements; possibly in respect of the whole Andromeda episode (which must however have had a certain independent status) and some of the events after Perseus' return to Argos and Tiryns. But the birth from Danae, the Seriphos connection and the decapitation of the Gorgon form a substantial nucleus with no special mark of later date. Homer alludes to Zeus' love of Danaë and to Perseus himself, and Hesiod adds that Chrysaor and the horse Pegasus sprang from Medusa's body as Perseus cut off her head; also that Poseidon had slept with Medusa. The location in Seriphos, an utterly unimportant island, is at first strange, but is probably aetiological in a simple way. Seriphos is notable for its rock pinnacles jutting up from the hills, and these were identified with the people turned to stone. Of serious implications there are few signs. The tale is remarkable in its own right, and the death-gazing Medusa, not to speak of the fertile golden shower, a powerful conception. There is a faint possibility, however, that underneath lies a primitive tale of an attack (by Perseus meaning 'destroyer'?) on death itself; for the Gorgons are death-dealing, and they are sisters of the Graiai who represent old age. The possible associations of Polydectes with Hades are also relevant.

Next, Bellerophon, who is connected with the preceding tale not only through Pegasus but also through Proetus the brother of Acrisius. Bellerophon is associated with Tiryns, but also with Ephyra which probably denotes Corinth. I mentioned earlier … Homer's account of his feats against the Chimaera, the Solymi and the Amazons. He first found himself in Lycia because of his innocent involvement with Proetus' voracious wife, and at the end of his successful quests was granted the daughter of the Lycian king (lobates, according to a lost play by Sophocles) and a share of the kingdom. But then he decides to put Pegasus—first tamed with the help of a magic bridle supplied by Athena, an incident that recalls her part in procuring magical aids for Perseus—to an impious use, no longer to rid the earth of menaces but to carry his rider to the very halls of the gods:

If a man sets his eye on things afar, he is not tall enough to reach the brazen-floored home of the gods. Winged Pegasus threw his master, Bellerophontes, when he wished to come to the abodes of heaven and the companions of Zeus; a bitter ending awaits pleasure that lies beyond what is right. (Isthmians 7, 43 ff.)

Apparently Bellerophon was not killed outright, since Homer says that

when at last he became hated by all the gods, he wandered alone over the Plain of Wandering, eating out his spirit, avoiding the steps of men. (Iliad 6, 200 ff.)

Bellerophon's move to Lycia may not have been a particularly early detail. It is integral to the Homeric account, but there are indications that the Chimaera may once have carried out its depredations in the region of Corinth itself. The embroilment with Proetus' wife, too, need not be organic. Like other elements in the Bellerophon complex (the magic bridle, the cryptic message that could not be understood by its bearer, the tasks designed to be fatal, the attempt at ambush, the hand of the princess as reward) it is a familiar folktale motif. In this respect, as well as in several other details, Bellerophon's deeds resemble those of his close countryman Perseus. Even the connection with Corinth may have been primarily intended to relate him to Sisyphus, whose grandson he was shown to be; Sisyphus had tried to outwit the gods by avoiding death, and that, on the most probable interpretation, is what Bellerophon was trying to do in his last ride on Pegasus. Neither in this nor in the Perseus myth are there signs of charter, political or historical overtones. On the other hand there may be an implied association between magic flight and superhuman aspiration, and the hero's eventual fate, vague but sinister, gives the myth in its developed form a distinct moral flavour.

Theseus, by contrast, owes much of his mythical persona to the desire of Athenians, and especially the tyrant Peisistratus in the sixth century B.C., to make of him a great national hero. They did so in two ways: by associating him as closely as possible with Heracles, the beau idéal, and by ascribing to him various political and benevolent acts that were held to be the beginning of Athenian democracy. There can be no question that the myths about Theseus were enormously elaborated at a relatively recent date, particularly during the sixth and fifth centuries B.C., not only by Peisistratus and his sons, but also by the anonymous authors of more than one Theseis, or sub-epic poem about Theseus, and various writers of Athenian local history in the fifth century and after. Yet parts of the Theseus cycle are clearly much older, and the difficulty for the modern critic is to draw the dividing line with reasonable accuracy.

He was born at Trozen, down the coast from Athens and its ancient ally. His mother was Aethra and his father her secret lover, the Athenian King Aegeus, or even Aegeus' patron-god Poseidon himself. Aegeus left a sword and sandals under a rock as tokens, with instructions that when the boy was big enough to shift the rock he should bring them to Athens. At sixteen he did so; but instead of coming the safe way inland he took the coast road in order to dispose of several dangerous brigands—congratulating himself, it is said, that Heracles at the time was under servitude to Queen Omphale and so had left this particular bunch of villains unmolested. The lyric poet Bacchylides imagines Aegeus giving an account of these deeds:

A herald has just arrived after traversing the long road from the Isthmus, and reports the wonderful deeds of a mighty man. He has killed the lawless Sinis, strongest of mortals, child of Kronos' son the Earthshaker; he has slaughtered the man-slaying sow in the glades of Cremmyon, and insolent Sciron too; he has gained possession of Cercyon's wrestling-place; and Procoptes, meeting a better man than himself, has thrown away Polypemon's strong hammer. (18, 16 ff.)

Bacchylides did not need to tell his audience that Sinis tied his victims to pine-trees bent together and then released; that the Cremmyonian sow was notorious for its savagery; that Sciron made travellers wash his feet and then kicked them off the cliffs into the sea, where they were finished off by a giant turtle; that Cercyon lived near Eleusis and made passers-by wrestle with him until he killed them; and that Procoptes, better known as Procrustes, 'The Smasher', caught them on the borders of Athens and by stretching or pruning made them an exact fit to his lethal bed.

Aegeus and his wife Medea, whom he married when she was thrown out by Jason, were suspicious of the stranger and tried to be rid of him by sending him after the Marathonian bull, perhaps the one that Heracles had caught in Crete and brought to the mainland. Theseus returned successful to Athens, and this time Aegeus thwarted Medea's attempt to poison his son and dismissed her. Soon afterwards Theseus disposed of the sons of Pallas, who welcomed a new heir no more than Medea had, but perhaps before that he had already engaged in his most famous exploit, the killing of the Minotaur, the 'Minos-bull'.

King Minos of Crete, in revenge for the death in Attica of his son Androgeos, had begun to exact a three-yearly tribute consisting of seven Athenian boys and seven girls; they were offered to the Minotaur, half man and half bull, offspring of Pasiphaë's union with the Cretan Bull, a union made possible by one of Daedalus' mechanical devices. This unnatural beast lives in the Labyrinth, a maze usually identified with the intricate Minoan palace at Knossos. Theseus enters the maze and kills its occupant; Minos' daughter Ariadne helps him escape, either with the famous clew or with a magic crown of light that enables him to see in the dark. The tribute is now ended.

The tale is elaborated at its beginning by a contest (also described by Bacchylides) in which Theseus dives down and visits the goddess Amphitrite in the depths of the sea, to prove his divine descent from Poseidon and so match Minos' claim to be son of Zeus. And on the way home from Crete he stops at Naxos, and there, somehow, his mistress Ariadne is left behind. Either he abandons her for another girl, or he is divinely made to forget her, or the god Dionysus desires her and takes her over, or Artemis slays her there at his behest. Theseus next calls at Delos, where he and his companions dance a special 'crane-dance' that reproduces the sinuosities of the Labyrinth. Then, as he approaches Athens he forgets to replace the black sail with the white one that was to announce a successful outcome, and his father Aegeus casts himself from the Acropolis in despair.

Theseus is now king. He wins the friendship of Peirithous King of the Lapiths, and helps defeat the lecherous Centaurs at Peirithous' wedding. Peirithous helps him in his turn in an expedition against the Amazons, modelled closely on one of Heracles' adventures, and also in repelling them when they later attack Athens to regain their queen Antiope, another victim of Theseus' manly charms. For the hero has another side to him, best represented in the curious tale of how he and Peirithous abducted Helen from Sparta when she was only twelve, to keep her in the countryside until ripe for marriage; but her brothers the Dioscuri rescued her. Later he has to help Peirithous win his ideal girl, no less than Persephone herself, from the underworld. They get no further than the Styx in some versions, and are then trapped in magic stone seats—although usually Theseus, but not Peirithous, is later rescued by Heracles. He returns to Athens, unifies the rural communities and performs other politic acts, then is displaced by Menestheus and takes refuge with King Lycomedes of Scyros, who treacherously throws him over the cliffs; and that (though without the turtle) is the end of Theseus.

It's a curious hotch-potch, ranging from the solemn and mysterious (the Labyrinth and Ariadne, 'Very Holy', who seems once to have been a goddess of vegetation not unlike Persephone herself) to the trivial and derivative (Helen, and especially the episode in the underworld). The politically-minded parts, with Theseus as the great democrat, are barely mythical, and the involvement with the Amazon queen, together with the subsidiary tale of his second wife Phaedra and his son Hippolytus, looks like a romantic development. The adventures modelled on Heracles, the disposal of robbers as well as the Amazon expedition as a whole, seem from the literary and artistic evidence to be substantially the creation of the seventh or sixth centuries B.C. The association with the Lapiths is unlikely to be much older, and could be the creation of the tyrant Peisistratus who had Thessalian allies. Several other points are folktale-type elements of almost any date, particularly the tale of the black and white sails on his return from Crete.

The Cretan adventure itself, however, goes back at least to the time of Homer and Hesiod and probably earlier. Indeed the later Bronze Age is plausibly reflected not only in the palace-Labyrinth (labyrinthos being a pre-Greek word based apparently on the term for 'double-axe', a symbol carved on several of the surviving stones of the palace) but also in the bull itself—for bull-worship and bull-games were a prominent part of Minoan culture—and in the idea of Athens as tributary to Crete, which makes sense for the Late Bronze Age but for no subsequent period. It is now known that the Achaean Greeks gained control of Crete around 1500 B.C., and the myth may reflect that, although with special emphasis on Athens. At least the island of Ceos off the Attic coast (home, incidentally, of Bacchylides) was once a Minoan colony, and conceivably parts of Attica too had come for a time under Minoan control.

Curiously enough the rape of Helen and the attempt on Persephone are not particularly recent elements, since they figure on works of art (the throne at Amyclae and the chest of Cypselus at Olympia) described by the traveller Pausanias and belonging to the late seventh or early sixth century B.C.' They must already have been traditional by that date. I doubt, all the same, whether they go back as far as the Mycenaean era, although it is strange that they were not suppressed in the process of making Theseus into an august founder of the state, and this suggests an almost sacrosanct traditionality. Peirithous, too, is an ambivalent figure. He is the son of Ixion, a famous sinner who tried to rape Hera herself, and his efforts with Persephone may therefore be a narrative doublet. Yet he is traditionally associated with the Centaurs, and that part of his myth is probably quite old.

The myths of Theseus seem almost too complex for a brief treatment, yet one conclusion would remain unchanged even after a longer examination: that their main development took place during the literary period. Only the quest against Crete looks undeniably ancient, and it is rightly accepted as one of the most powerful narrative themes in Greek myths. Interestingly enough it seems to reflect, and perhaps to justify, some dimly-remembered historical event, and so provide a model for the political elaborations to which many other parts of the Theseus story owe their existence.

The fourth of our older heroes is Cadmus, an example of a mythical founder figure. Like Pelops, founder of the Pelopid dynasty at Mycenae, he came to Greece from the Near East—not, like Pelops, from Lydia, but from Phoenicia where he was one of the sons of Agenor. He and his brothers were dispatched by their father to look for their sister Europa who had disappeared; actually she had been carried off to Crete for amatory purposes by Zeus in the form of a bull, and so a Cretan bull appears indirectly in this myth as well as in those of Theseus and Heracles. Cadmus arrived in Greece and was directed by the Delphic oracle to follow a cow(!) until it lay down, and there to found the city of Thebes. Euripides tells the tale, allusively as usual, in a choral ode from his great pageant of Theban history, The Phoenician Women:

Cadmus of Tyre came to this land, for whom the four-legged calf sank to the ground of its own accord, so fulfilling the oracle destined to be accomplished where the divine decree announced that Cadmus should settle in the wheat-bearing plains that were to be his home, where too the fair river's moisture spreads over the lands of Dirce … There was the murderous serpent of Ares, a savage guardian, watching the watery rivers and fertile streams with ever-wandering glances. Cadmus as he came for lustral water slew it with a rock, striking the murderous head of the deadly beast with his arm's full throw, and through the counsels of the divine unmothered goddess [that is, Athena] cast its teeth on the ground, into the deep-seeded earth; then the earth sent up a vision of men in full armour that towered over the farthest borders of the land. Ironhearted murder joined them again with the earth that gave them birth … (638-73)

In short, there was a spring where the cow lay down, but it was guarded by a dragon sacred to Ares; Cadmus killed it and sowed its teeth, which produced a crop of armed warriors. By throwing a stone among them he turned them against each other, but the five that stayed alive became ancestors of the chief clans of Thebes.

After a period of expiation Cadmus was allowed to marry Ares' child Harmonia, and they had four daughters: Agaue, Autonoe, Ino and Semele. They were an unfortunate group, in their lifetimes at least. Agaue tore her son Pentheus to pieces, and Autonoe, who also joined in, had a son Actaeon who had already been devoured by his own hounds. Ino was driven mad for plotting against her step-children and threw herself into the sea, whereas Semele spoiled her good fortune as Zeus' mistress by demanding that he come to her in his true shape, and being incinerated as a consequence. Cadmus and Harmonia themselves had a curious later history, predicted to Cadmus by his quasigrandson Dionysus:

You shall be turned into a serpent, and your wife shall change into the savage form of a snake—Harmonia, Ares' daughter, whom you won though yourself a mortal. With your wife, as the oracle of Zeus declares, you shall drive an ox-cart at the head of foreigners. Many are the cities you shall overthrow with your numberless hordes; when they have ravaged the oracle of Loxias [that is, Apollo] they shall have a miserable return home, but Ares will rescue you and Harmonia and transplant your life to the land of the blessed. (Euripides, Bacchae, 1330 ff.)

Euripides, who had strong aetiological interests, seems to combine a number of curious legends, none of them perhaps very early except for the ultimate resort to the Isles of the Blest: that Cadmus and his wife became leaders of a people in the west of Greece called the Encheleis or Eels, that they themselves turned into snakes, that Delphi was destined to be sacked by foreigners. Perhaps the snake-transformation reflected Cadmus' essential connection with the soil of Thebes (rather than with the underworld, another possible association), for the 'house-snake' was a symbol of stability and possession; the birth from the dragon's teeth of the 'Sown Men' who became ancestors of the Thebans likewise stresses their autochthonous nature. If so, this is a good example of a charter myth that is doing its best to confirm a politically desirable but historically dubious idea; for if there is anything we know about the Thebans, it is that they were subject from early times to displacement and migration. As for the foundation itself: its association with the oracle, and the use of the standard theme of founding a city where an animal performs a certain action, are presumably not earlier than the ninth or tenth century B.C., and the fight with the guardian monster, closely parallel with Apollo's fight against the Python-snake at Delphi, need be no older. The sowing of the teeth is reproduced in the story of how Jason dealt with the monster that guarded the Golden Fleece, but the Theban tale seems the earlier of the two.

What is left, then, to suggest that Cadmus goes back even so far as the Late Bronze Age? Partly that Thebes was indeed an important Mycenaean city, its inhabitants known in Homer as 'Cadmeians'; partly the association with the tale of Europa and Zeus, which is related to Bronze Age Crete; partly the mythical connections of his daughters, especially Semele and Ino. (The myth of Ino and Athamas is particularly well established, and is connected in turn with that of Phrixus and the Fleece.) There is also the cleavage between Cadmus and the later history of Thebes (from Labdacus through Laius to Oedipus and his sons), which suggests an archaic element that could not be completely integrated; and finally his Phoenician origins. These last have been doubted. Admittedly he is credited with the introduction of 'Phoenician writing' into Greece, but it is uncertain whether this connotes a Linear-Btype script or the alphabet, the latter a certainly Phoenician invention. Some scholars have thought the term 'Phoinix' to imply Cretan rather than Phoenician in this connection. Yet that seems unlikely, and we know that there were close cultural contacts between Late Bronze Age Greece and the eastern Mediterranean: for instance Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra) on the Syrian coast had a Mycenaean trading-quarter in the fourteenth century B.C.

It would be anwise to press these speculations too hard. The story of Cadmus is a particularly good example of a complex Greek myth that has attracted details from many sources and different eras: folktale motifs, miscellaneous historical details, charter-type elaborations, and so on. Modern scholarship has attacked the problem with all its power, and the result has been confusion and indecision as great as any in the ancient sources. One difficulty is that it is only with Euripides that our evidence becomes at all full for the early part of the Theban cycle. Sporadic earlier references exist, together with sixth-century artistic representations of favourite details like the marriage of Cadmus and Harmonia, but there is little else to guide us through the variants that proliferated by the time Hellanicus and Pherecydes brought their confident but crude scholarship to bear during the classical era.

The last of the selection of older heroes must undoubtedly be Jason. His myth, too, was much embroidered, but he too surely goes back into the Bronze Age. Much of the detail of the voyage of the Argo to Colchis at the eastern end of the Black Sea (the Euxine or 'Hospitable' sea as the Greeks called it to disguise or assuage its terrors) probably belongs to the age of colonization that began around 1000 B.C.; but the voyage itself is older. Iolcus, the Thessalian coastal city from which it started, was important in Mycenaean times but not later (at least, until the third century B.C.); Homer, in his single brief but apparently traditional allusion to the Argo, calls it 'well-known to all'. Hesiod, on the other hand, summarizes the union of Jason and Medea in a list of mixed marriages appended to the Theogony:

Aison's son [that is, Jason] led away Zeus-reared King Aietes' daughter by the will of the eternal gods, after accomplishing the many grievous tasks enjoined on him by the arrogant great king, insolent Pelias, wicked and violent. He accomplished these and came to Iolcus, after suffering much, bringing the slant-eyed maid on his swift ship … (Theogony, 992 ff.)

Unfortunately the poet is richer in epithets than in hard information. Of our fuller sources, Pindar in his fourth Pythian describes part of the Argo's journey quite brilliantly, but at too great length for quotation here, whereas Apollonius of Rhodes, who wrote an epic poem on the theme in the third century B.C., is both too prolix and too infected by Alexandrianism to be of great value for our purposes. Apollodorus depends heavily on Apollonius and is even more prosaic than usual. Even Pindar gives up half-way through the tale and claims that 'time constricts me, and I know a short cut' (Pythians 4, 247 f.); this is to give a rapid summary, and on this occasion I follow suit.

Aison has been cheated of the throne of Iolcus by Pelias, who is warned by the Delphic oracle that he will be deposed by a one-sandalled man. This turns out to be Aison's son Jason, who has been educated by the Centaur Cheiron and arrives in town wearing only one sandal. He is promptly persuaded to set off and recover the golden fleece belonging to King Aietes of Colchis—the one from the ram that had rescued Phrixus and Helle from the wrath of their stepmother Ino. Naturally the mission is meant to be fatal. Jason gathers all the young noblemen of the region for the expedition, and Phrixus' son Argos is commissioned to build a ship. As the myth grew in popularity the expedition became a Panhellenic affair; practically everyone who was anyone joined in, including Orpheus and Heracles. The Argo's distinguished crew sail north-eastward through the Dardanelles and meet various adventures, including a preliminary dalliance with the women of Lemnos.… In the Propontis they kill King Cyzicus by mistake in a night landing and leave Heracles ashore searching for his beloved Hylas; then blind Phineus, in return for the routing of the greedy bird-women called Harpies, tells them how to pass between the Clashing Rocks in safety. The Argonauts seem to be in the Black Sea by now, but probably these rocks are based on a navigator's memory of the dangerous passage through the Bosporus or even the Dardanelles.

Finally they reach the river Phasis and the land of Aietes, whose father is the Sun and whose daughter is Medea skilled in magic. Athena sees to it that she falls in love with Jason, and gives him an ointment that protects him against fire or metal. This enables him to yoke the fire-breathing brazen-footed bulls that Aietes produces as a preliminary test. He then kills the dragon that guards the fleece, sows its teeth and disposes of the armed men that grow out of the ground by throwing a stone among them, exactly as Cadmus did. He rushes back to the Argo with the fleece, Medea, and her young brother Apsyrtus; Aietes pursues, and drops behind only when Medea has the good idea of cutting up Apsyrtus and throwing the bits overboard for his father to gather. Jason is purified from the crime, and they return to Iolcus by devious routes about which the tradition was flexible: usually round the stream of Okeanos somehow, or up the Danube, into the North Sea and then through Libya. Back in Iolcus, Pelias is removed when Medea persuades him to be 'rejuvenated' by being boiled in a cauldron, a process she has just made work with an old sheep. She and Jason are expelled for the murder and find their way to Corinth, where eventually Jason acquires a proper Greek wife.

Medea murders her children in revenge, at least according to Euripides' Medea, and finds refuge for a time with Theseus at Athens; Jason dies when a bit of the now rotting Argo falls on his head.

Plainly the tale as a whole is an amalgam of diverse elements. Folktale motifs are the most prominent: recognition by token (the sandal), disposing of an enemy by sending him on a dangerous quest (both Pelias and Aietes try this), killing a friend by mistake (Cyzicus), the barbarian enchantress, love-charms and magical gadgets, tricks to make enemies fight each other, delaying pursuit by scattering objects that have to be collected (Atalanta had done so more humanely, with golden apples), killing someone under pretence of doing him a favour. Next there is a strong geographical interest, no doubt in response to explorations in and rumours about the Black Sea and Danube. It has been suggested that Miletus on the Asia Minor coast played a part in forming the myth; it was populated by Greeks, including 'Minyans' from Orchomenus near Iolcus, after 1100 B.C., and took a prominent part in the exploration of the Euxine. Finally great care has obviously been taken to connect the myth with as many others as possible, not only through the heterogeneous crew (the Dioscuri and the sons of Boreas the North Wind, as well as Peleus, Orpheus and Heracles), but also through Pelias at Iolcus, the relation of Jason to Cheiron, the fleece connected with Phrixus and so with the Ino-Athamas myth, and through Jason at Corinth and Medea at Athens.

Most of the details of Jason's adventures fail to mark him with any particular clarity as an 'older hero', yet such, at heart, he undoubtedly must be. His name 'Iason', 'Healer', suggests an originally rather different role. He is clearly not on a level with younger legendary heroes like Agamemnon or Achilles, yet in a sense his diversity is typical of the difficulty in distinguishing older and younger traits in the subjects of heavily elaborated myth complexes. Ultimately we have to take the tale of the Argonauts as we find it in our sources: complex in detail but straightforward, almost ordinary, as narrative. It contains few significant overtones (except for those added by specifically literary sources like Apollonius, for example, that Jason is indecisive and unheroic by comparison with Heracles), and the myth as a whole does not respond easily to special interpretations: no charter aspects, no aetiology beyond feeble explanations of place-names in the Propontis and Black Sea, no creative evocation, heavily muted fantasy. It is enthralling but bland, even superficial; and that, in the end, may be a fault in varying degrees of most of the heroic myths as they survive in the literary sources.

The 'younger' heroes must be treated no less selectively. As examples I take Oedipus, Agamemnon, Orestes, Odysseus and Orpheus; they suffice to make certain additional distinctions clear as well as to stress the difference between historicizing and nonhistoricizing myths.

Oedipus is one of the best-known and most powerful figures of Greek myths, and it may be disconcerting to see him labelled as a 'younger hero'; indeed I do not deny that in some respects his origins may go back into the Bronze Age. Yet his 'real' mythical essence is contained in Sophocles' plays: his murder and marriage, his self-discovery, his agony and blinding, his miraculous assumption in the grove of Colonus near Athens. Most of this is likely to be comparatively recent in anything like that form. Homer knows about his killing his father and marrying his mother (although he gives her name as Epicaste not Iocaste), but differs over the aftermath. Here is Odysseus describing the figures he saw in the underworld:

And I saw the mother of Oedipus, fair Epicaste, who committed a dreadful deed in the ignorance of her mind by marrying her own son; and he married her after slaying his own father—deeds the gods immediately made notorious among men. But he in grief ruled over the Cadmeians in lovely Thebes through the destructive counsels of the gods, whereas she went to the narrow-gated strong house of Hades, tying a steep noose from the lofty hall, possessed by her own grief… (Odyssey 11, 271 ff.)

Here is no self-blinding, no immediate and self-imposed exile from Thebes. A passage in the Iliad (23, 679 f.) confirms that Oedipus died not in exile at Colonus but at Thebes itself, and that funeral games were given for him as a still-established monarch. Indeed the whole Theban saga (as one may rightly call it, since it obviously has a legendary and quasi-historical basis) was the subject of considerable elaboration between the time of Homer and the fifth century B.C.

Oedipus does not fit well with the early history of Thebes or the descendants of Cadmus and the Sown Men. His grandfather, who had started a fresh dynasty, is called Labdacus, a curious name which, if it is indeed related to the Phoenician letter labda (Greek lamda), is not particularly old, since the Phoenician alphabet did not reach Greece till around 900 B.C. and had been formed in Phoenicia itself not more than three centuries before that. Oedipus' father Laius incurs a family curse for abducting the beautiful boy Chrysippus—the curse theme was applied to the house of Atreus also, and was an effective device for interrelating tales about different generations. Oedipus himself has a bizarre name redolent of folktale, if indeed it means 'swollen-foot'; his exposure by his parents, his rescue by a shepherd, his winning the kingship of Thebes by solving the Sphinx's riddle—all these, too, are folktale elements. These, rather than the dramatic and deeply evocative tale developed by Sophocles (whose main point is the idea of a man relentlessly exploring his true situation at the risk of his own destruction), are the most traditional elements in Oedipus. He is a mixed figure, therefore, but one who unlike Perseus, Heracles and the rest only became an important hero of myth after the end of the Bronze Age.

There is a similar distinction of dynasties at Mycenae. Atreus is founder of the Atreid dynasty, and his famous son is Agamemnon. Beyond Atreus, but seemingly in a different landscape, stands Pelops, brought to southern Greece from Asia Minor by his father Tantalus, himself a shadowy figure associated with the gods; and behind Tantalus, as one of the earliest kings of Mycenae or its near neighbour Tiryns, is Perseus. Atreus quarrels with his brother Thyestes; the theme of the quarrelling brothers is a folktale one, but is similarly applied to quasi-historical dynastic problems through Proetus and Acrisius as well as Eteocles and Polyneices. Thyestes seduces Atreus' wife Aerope and gets the kingdom by a trick, then Atreus regains it after serving up Thyestes' own children for him to eat. These are the highly indirect consequences of a curse once laid on Pelops by Oenomaus' charioteer Myrtilus. Agamemnon inherits the curse, which is why he has to sacrifice his daughter Iphigeneia on the way to Troy, why he is slain by his wife Clytaemnestra on his triumphant return, and why his son Orestes has to kill his own mother Clytaemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. This all forms the material of Aeschylus' great trilogy, the Oresteia. The curse is finally ended after Orestes, driven mad and so punished for the crime of matricide, is set free by the Furies on the Areopagus (the Hill of Ares in Athens). This is an aetiological and validatory myth of the foundation of the Athenian High Court of historical times. It is obvious that Athens is here appropriating an Argive myth and turning it to her own greater glory, much as she did with Oedipus at Colonus in Sophocles' play, or less effectively with Medea.

Here we have fifth-century developments of the myth, powerful but undeniably recent. Yet Agamemnon himself is a considerably older figure, established as leader of the Achaean forces in Homer's Iliad and indeed as one of the key figures of the Trojan War. Why then should he be classified as a 'younger' hero? The answer is that the Agamemnon of the Iliad is predominantly a realistic character, a historical picture of a man. His actions there are legendary and not mythical in the stricter sense. His direct connection with the era of the older heroes is mainly through his brother Menelaus who married Helen, and superficially by the political inheritance stressed by Homer:

Strong Agamemnon rose, and stood holding the sceptre made by Hephaestus. Hephaestus had given it to Lord Zeus, son of Kronos, and then Zeus gave it to the Messenger [that is, Hermes] … and Lord Hermes gave it to Pelops, whipper of horses, and Pelops again to Atreus, shepherd of the people. Atreus when he died left it for Thyestes rich in sheep, and Thyestes again left it to be carried by Agamemnon, to rule over all Argos and many islands. (Iliad 2, 100 ff.)

But here Homer is trying to bolster Agamemnon's position as a 'Zeus-born' king by tracing his staff of office back to Zeus, and the untraditional nature of the attempt is strongly suggested by his omitting Perseus and ignoring Thyestes' quarrel with Atreus.

With Orestes the case becomes clearer, mainly because he is an explicitly post-Trojan-War figure. His relations to the distant Pelops are not stressed; he is an entirely realistic character whose one fantastic experience, being driven mad by the Furies for his pious matricide, is little more than a pathological interlude. Homer reduces the killing of Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra to a precise and pseudo-realistic chronology:

For seven years Aegisthus ruled over Mycenae rich in gold after killing the son of Atreus, and the people were subjected to him. But in the eighth year Prince Orestes came back as a bane to him from Athens, and slew the murderer of his father… After slaying him he gave a funeral feast to the Argives for hateful Clytaemnestra and cowardly Aegisthus, and on the same day Menelaus came … (Odyssey 3, 304 ff.)

Orestes draws Agamemnon with him, as it were, away from the Bronze-age past, from Pelops and Helen and the Dioscuri, into the historical period that is initiated by the Trojan War itself and develops with the emergence of Athens in the eleventh, tenth and ninth centuries B.C. Homer, around 700, knows that Orestes comes from Athens to take vengeance on Aegisthus; could that detail have formed part of the tradition for long?

One of the difficulties of drawing a distinction between 'older' and 'younger' heroes is that even those suggested by historical associations as belonging to the latter class tend to be involved in folktale-type actions from time to time. For Martin Nilsson that was a sign of great antiquity. I am sceptical. The use of standard motifs, some of them of the kind we associate with folktales, was so deeply rooted in the Greek mythical tradition from its earliest known phases to its latest ones that I doubt whether we can take it as a sure sign of age. Admittedly, where a myth is almost wholly composed of folk-tale motifs, like that of Perseus, we can suspect a highly traditional quality; but Atreus is not necessarily made an ancient figure by cooking his nephews, any more than Oedipus by accidentally killing his father. Conversely a detail about an oracle does not turn the whole of its surrounding myth into a recent creation.

With Odysseus we become involved in a different and rather special situation. He obviously goes back at least as far as the first versions of the Odyssey—and that means, in the light of the long and cumulative oral epic tradition, close to the time of the Trojan War. Yet he is a 'younger' hero in comparison with Perseus and others, since none of his affiliations take him beyond that point by more than a generation or so. He is simply not involved in the elaborate network of mythical events outside the range of Troy. His father Laertes is otherwise devoid of myths, and so to all intents and purposes is his mother Anticleia; his maternal grandfather Autolycus is something of a trickster and lives near Mount Parnassus, but again is not integrated into the general heroic pattern. Odysseus takes full part in the events at Troy and its aftermath; his son Telemachus is incorporated into the later fictional tradition and is even married off to Circe in one unhappy version. But we cannot take Odysseus' feats at Troy as 'mythical' in the same sense as those of Cadmus at Thebes. Admittedly he is represented as being under the special protection of Athena …, and the intervention of gods is something that gives the whole Trojan geste a touch of mythical glamour. But it is no more than a touch, except in the specifically divine parts of the poems, and most of the actions of Odysseus and his fellow-fighters are a mixture of realism and ordinary non-mythical fiction, no doubt with a dash of genuine historical memory.

What makes Odysseus a special case is his involvement in the well-known folktale adventures that he describes to the Phaeacians in the ninth to the twelfth books of the Odyssey. The Lotus-eaters, Polyphemus the Cyclops, Aeolus king of the winds, the huge Laestrygonians, Circe, the journey to the underworld, Scylla and Charybdis, the cattle of the Sun, Calypso's island, the Phaeacians themselves—it would be pleasant to recount these tales once again, but they are too extensive and too familiar for that, and in any case Homer's version is best. Now this is genuinely mythical material. It includes many folktale themes, of disguise and ingenuity and the rest, but they have been formed into homogeneous narratives that are both fantastic and other-worldly. They have a quite different appearance from the automatic and rather tired look of many later mythical complexes, in which quests are accomplished almost as easily as proposed, heiresses are offered by the handful and the air hums with errant discuses fulfilling highly predictable oracles. Yet most critics would agree, I believe, that Odysseus' sea adventures (which begin when a storm blows up soon after he leaves Troy and end when he is set ashore in Ithaca by the semi-divine Phaeacians) are for the most part not only independent from but older than Odysseus himself, or mythical Troy, or Ithaca.

Admittedly these adventures include different strata. Scholars have demonstrated, for instance, that north-eastern details from the exploration of the Euxine have been added to events envisaged as belonging to the western seas. The Homeric poets undoubtedly carried out certain elaborations in this and other respects, and we should not be dealing with oral traditions if it were not so. But these accretions were added to a substantial nucleus that can claim to be far more ancient than the war at Troy. There are folktale elements, too, in the tale of Odysseus' return to Penelope and Ithaca: the theme of the faithful wife, or how to keep one's suitors guessing, or the husband in disguise. But in his more realistic actions, which vastly predominate, Odysseus is based on the conception of a real if provincial chieftain from north-western Greece. The association with the folktale adventures and a powerful vengeance-plot made him a mythical figure in his own right—one that developed into an object of sporadic cult, or a continuing symbol of deviousness in Sophocles' Philoctetes and the post-classical tradition, but one that is not in itself particularly ancient.

One of the most familiar figures of Greek myths is Orpheus, yet he is not even mentioned in Homer or Hesiod. The first surviving reference comes in a two-word fragment of the sixth-century B.C. lyric poet Ibycus: 'famous Orpheus'. Perhaps his omission from the poetry of the late eighth and seventh centuries is accidental, or due to his being a semi-barbarian, a Thracian from across the northern borders of Greece. When he enters literature it is mainly because of his wonderful power of drawing to him birds, beasts, fishes, even stones, by his singing and lyre-playing. Simonides, in the second surviving literary reference, of around 500 B.C., writes:

Over his head fly innumerable birds, and the fishes leap straight up from the dark water at his fair song, (frag. 62 in D. L. Page's edition)

Aeschylus said something similar, as did Euripides, but in his lost play The Bassarids Aeschylus gave a quite different emphasis: that Orpheus resisted the worship of Dionysus and was torn to pieces by the god's female worshippers, the Bacchants. That he died at the hands of women, at least, is a common part of his legend. Roman poetry in particular liked recounting how his scattered limbs were thrown into the sea and his head floated to the island of Lemnos, where it was taken ashore and buried, and thereafter gave oracular responses. A curious connection, this, between the gentle singer and the victim of human prejudice and savagery, and one that seems less than startling only to those familiar with the tale of Jesus Christ.

Apart from the power of Orpheus' music, it is his love for Eurydice that is best known. Yet Eurydice is hardly mentioned in the whole of surviving Greek literature, and her story is told at length only by a Roman poet, Virgil, in his fourth Georgic. Admittedly it is indirectly alluded to by Euripides in Alcestis, produced in 438 B.C., for there the odious Admetus tells his wife, about to die on his behalf:

If I had Orpheus' tongue and song, so that I could bring you back from Hades by charming Demeter's daughter [that is, Persephone] or her husband with my strains, I should have gone down there; and neither Pluto's dog [that is, Cerberus] nor Charon at his oar, the ferryman of souls, would keep me back, until I had set you living once more into the light of day. (Alcestis, 357 ff.)

The tale that becomes clear in subsequent sources is that Orpheus' wife, the nymph Eurydice, dies soon after her wedding as a result of a snake-bite, according to Virgil because Aristaeus, son of Apollo and Cyrene and protector of flocks and bees, had tried to assault her. Orpheus is heart-broken and makes his way down to the underworld, where by the power of his music he persuades King Hades and his consort Persephone to release her. One condition is set: that he shall go ahead of her, and shall not address or look back at her until they reach the world of the living. He almost succeeds, but at the last moment gives in either to love or to fear (because he can see no shadow beside him) and looks round. She departs for ever; he, inconsolable, moves towards his mortal fate at the hands of the women, who are incensed, according to late versions, either because he refuses to join their Bacchic revels, or because he spurns their love in mourning for Eurydice, or because he introduces the practice of homosexuality. We need not bother about these maundering speculations, so typical of the fervent yet arid imaginations of Hellenistic and Roman mythographers. What matters more is that the whole Eurydice tale made so little impression on Greeks of the classical age, and that Aristaeus is neither seen nor heard of in this paradoxical role (since he is usually the placid and benevolent bee-keeper and protector of flocks) until the time of Virgil. This element of the tale is unlikely to be older than the Hellenistic age.

In short, Orpheus is quite definitely a 'younger' hero in the terms I am using. The idea of a singer who could charm birds and animals might go back to the Mycenaean age; some have quixotically professed to see in a fresco from Pylos, depicting a bird flying away from a man with a lyre, a prototype of Orpheus himself.2 But the silence of Homer, Hesiod and the entire epic tradition is suspicious. Other aspects of Orpheus, which do not fit well with this peaceable conception, could be Dionysiac—but then Dionysus himself came comparatively late on the scene. Eurydice appeals to the romantic imagination, but made only a passing impression on classical Greeks. A completely different kind of evidence is provided by the 'Orphics', a mystical sect that as early as the sixth century B.C. propounded a form of immortality under the auspices of the sweet singer, who was already being classed with Homer and Hesiod as the source of anonymous (and usually bad) epic verses.3 That. once again, takes us back a little way in time; but the central fact remains that the Thracian Orpheus, with his barbarically-named father Oeagrus, has no connection with the regular framework of Greek myths, heroic or divine, at least until the time when he was signed on among the crew of the Argo. His quasi-magical powers, his extreme devotion to his wife and his pathetic ill-fortune make him, for us, a powerful and evocative symbol. The Romans felt the same, but the Greeks seem to have been less impressed.

The last category of heroic myths, the later inventions, is a subsidiary one, but is revealing for the way in which a myth-making tradition can persist in fully literate surroundings. Herodotus has already been cited in this respect in Chapter 5 [of The Nature of Greek Myths], and I now offer two further examples of how a historical personage could be turned into a mythical hero. The first of them is the great Croesus of Lydia, the second the boxer Cleomedes from the insignificant Aegean island of Astypalaea.

Croesus was the last king of the Lydian empire, in Asia Minor, that collapsed with the capture of Sardis by Cyrus of Persia in 546 B.C. He made a powerful impression on the Greeks, for after seizing their cities on the Aegean coast he had behaved quite mildly and even made rich offerings at Apollo's shrine in Delphi. Pindar refers to his 'kindly excellence', and the story of his miraculous escape from death was well known, not only to Herodotus and Ctesias but also to the poet Bacchylides:

… when Sardis was captured by the army of the Persians, Apollo of the golden sword protected Croesus, who encountered a day he never expected, and, refusing to wait for tearful slavery, built a pyre in front of his palace with its brazen walls. He mounted it together with his virtuous wife and his daughters with their beautiful hair, who wept most miserably; lifting his hands to steep heaven he cried out: 'Almighty god, where is the divine favour? Where the lord that is son of Leto? The house of Alyattes goes down in ruin … Pactolus with its golden eddies is reddened with blood, the women are shamefully taken from their well-built halls. What was hateful before, now becomes desirable: the sweetest thing is to die!' So saying he bade a soft-stepping servant kindle his wooden abode. The girls shrieked and cast their dear arms round their mother, for the death one can see coming is the most hateful for mortals; but when the terrible fire's bright strength darted through, Zeus set overhead a black cloud and quenched the orange flame. Nothing that the care of the gods creates is beyond belief, for then Apollo, Delos-born, carried the old man with his slim-ankled daughters to the Hyperboreans, and set them to dwell there on account of Croesus' piety, because he had sent to holy Pytho the greatest gifts of all men. (3, 25 ff.)

Bacchylides wrote this in 468 B.C., only two or three generations after the event he celebrates. One might think it a mere poetical exaggeration, the assignment of a mythical fate and a typical folktale reversal as a light-hearted compliment; but Herodotus, too, tells the tale, which was taken quite seriously by many Greeks of the classical age (although Croesus may, in fact, have been killed by Cyrus). There was disagreement about whether he mounted the pyre of his own will, as Bacchylides asserts, or under compulsion from Cyrus. Herodotus also differs in saying that Cyrus decided to spare him and then, when he could not extinguish the pyre, Apollo intervened; and there were of course rationalists like Xenophon who simply made Cyrus pardon Croesus at the last moment and without divine intervention. It is the idea of Croesus going to the land of the Hyperboreans … that is most remarkable in all this. He was accorded no cult by the Greeks—that would have been going too far for a barbarian monarch, however generous—but in other respects seems to have attained a status not far removed from that of a Theseus, an Oedipus or a Menelaus.

From the remote but famous monarch to a more specific and humbler character. The boxing finals at Olympia in 492 B.C. ended with Cleomedes killing his opponent and being deprived of the prize. This is how Pausanias, our only source, continues the story:

… he went out of his mind through grief and returned to Astypalaea. There he attacked a school of about sixty children and overturned the column that held up the roof. The roof fell on the children; he was stoned by the townsfolk and took refuge in Athena's sanctuary, climbed into a chest that lay there and pulled down the lid. The Astypalaeans toiled in vain in their efforts to open the chest; in the end they broke open its planks but found no Cleomedes there, either living or dead, so they sent men to Delphi to ask what had happened to him. This, they say, was the Pythian priestess's oracular reply: 'Cleomedes of Astypalaea is the last of the heroes; honour him with sacrifices, since he is no longer mortal.' So from that time on the Astypalaeans paid honours to him as a hero. (6. 9, 6 ff.)

Admittedly Pausanias is writing some six hundred years later, which is testimony to the myth's persistence if not to its total accuracy. Credulous villagers will believe almost anything, especially a strange event like an apparently inexplicable disappearance. What is especially interesting is that Cleomedes shares some of the characteristics of Heracles himself—his madness, his brute strength and his disappearance from a lethal situation. It is curious, too, that another boxer, who won at Olympia only twelve years later, likewise achieved heroic status. He was Euthymus from Locri, a Greek colony in southern Italy, and he rescued and married one of the maidens offered each year to an unpleasant ghost called simply 'the Hero'.4 Euthymus escaped death, departing 'in some other way', and came to be regarded as the son not of a mortal father but of the local river. He had no cult, but these other typically heroic appurtenances emphasize his Perseus-like performance. And yet he was a real man in origin, a well-known competitor at Olympia who like Cleomedes became involved in an argument over an umpire's decision there.

These later inventions are important not so much because their heroes are strongly imaginative in conception, but because they show how history can be made mythical at almost any stage. They suggest, too, that the tendency to raise certain humans to the status of demi-gods became something of a habit with the Greeks, despite their obsession with the distinction between mortal and immortal. That tells us a little about the formation of the other heroes, too.…


1 Pausanias 3: 18, 6 to 19, 5 (Amyclae); 5: 17, 5 to 19, 10 (Cypselus)

2 T. B. L. Webster, from Mycenae to Homer, 1958, p. 47 and fig. 9; cf. Mabel Lang, The Palace of Nestor II, Princeton, 1969, pl. 126.

3 I. M. Linforth, The Arts of Orpheus, Berkeley, 1941, 167 ff.

4 Pausanias 6: 6, 4 ff.

Deborah Lyons (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: Gender and Immortality: Heroines in Ancient Greek Myth and Cult, Princeton University Press, 1997, 269 p.

[In the following essay, Lyons argues that archaic texts, including the works of Homer and Hesiod, include a feminine form of the idea of the "hero." Lyons reviews the traditional criteria used to identify heroes in texts, applies the same criteria to heroines, and identifies several heroines that satisfy those qualifications.]

"Hero" has no feminine gender in the age of heroes.

—M. I. Finley

What, If Anything, Is a Heroine?

The daunting judgment of a distinguished ancient historian that "'hero' has no feminine gender in the age of heroes" might appear to call into question the very phenomenon I propose to study here: heroines in ancient Greek myth and cult.1 If there is no word for the female counterpart to the hero in the earliest times, how can we speak of the myths and cults of heroines without being anachronistic? How can we speak coherently of heroines at all?

Based on his observation that no word for heroine is attested in archaic Greek, Finley concludes that there is no female counterpart to the hero, that heroism, for the Greeks of the archaic period, is impossible for a woman. He makes this observation within the context of Homeric epic, where it is perhaps true. We must not allow this to deter us, however, given that the object of our study is not only heroism but rather the entire range of cultural meanings and practices associated with the myths and cults of heroines. I will argue, furthermore, that the "feminine gender" of hero is recoverable, if not in Homer, then in other archaic texts.

Homeric epic is famous for its silence on the topic of hero cult, but even so it can be made to yield some evidence. The opinion of earlier scholars such as Wilamowitz, Rohde, and Farnell, that hero cult was unknown to Homer or irreconcilable with the worldview of the poems, has been effectively challenged.2 The most explicit references to cult are in the Catalogue of Ships in the Iliad, which mentions the tomb of Aipytos (2.604) and offerings to Erechtheus in the temple of Athena (2.546-51), but hints of cult may be found in other passages.3 Nagy finds traces of hero cult in the treatment of the dead warrior Sarpedon in Iliad 16, suggesting that the tradition preserves knowledge even of practices that cannot be made explicit.4 It has recently been argued that Homeric epic was directly responsible for the diffusion of hero cult, but this claim has not been universally accepted.5 The generic requirements of epic limit its usefulness for an archaeology of hero cult, but it has a few things to tell us, not only about heroes, but about heroines as well. Other archaic texts are fortunately more forthcoming, and archaeological evidence shows that heroines are included in some of the earliest manifestations of hero cult.6 The shrines of Pelops and Hippodameia at Olympia may be of great antiquity, early hero-reliefs show hero and heroine pairs, and a dedication to Helen is perhaps the earliest known Laconian inscription, dating from the second quarter of the seventh century.7

The difficulties posed by these kinds of early evidence must be confronted, insofar as they call into question the category of heroine as the female equivalent of hero. In the absence of a word for heroine in the earliest texts, we are forced to extrapolate, looking on the one hand toward figures, such as the famous women (called "wives and daughters of the best men") whom Odysseus meets in the Underworld in Odyssey 11, and on the other hand to some of the more powerful female figures of myth, who in fact share many characteristics with male heroes. But "wives and daughters of the best men" may seem to be less than heroes, while figures like Ino-Leukothea, or Helen, for whom we have some of the earliest evidence, are at times worshipped as goddesses (theoi) and hence seem to be more than heroines.8 The category of heroine as female counterpart to the hero, poised neatly between mortal and immortal beings, seems threatened.

Despite Homeric reluctance to speak of hero cult, there are clear epic references to heroes who transcend their heroic status. The Odyssey refers to one of the most famous of all heroes, Herakles, in a way that emphasizes not his status as a heroized mortal, but his apotheosis.9

And after him I saw the powerful Herakles, or rather, his phantom; he himself among the   immortal gods enjoys the feast, and has as his wife lovely-   ankled Hebe, child of great Zeus and golden-sandled Hera.(Odyssey 11.601-4)

Strikingly similar treatment is accorded Leukothea, the divine apotheosis of the heroine Ino: …

But then Kadmos' daughter, slender-ankled   Ino, saw him— Luekothea, who once was a mortal endowed   with human speech but now deep in the sea, has a share of honor among the gods.(Odyssey 5.333-35)

Although the reference to Herakles' phantom has been treated by some as an interpolation, no one has ever challenged the authenticity of the lines about Ino. We can conclude from this that Homeric epic (or at least the Odyssey) has no objection to speaking of heroes—once they have become gods, admittedly a rather exclusive company. The other conclusion to be drawn is that the poet of the Odyssey is at least as willing to speak of divinized heroines, and to speak of them in a way that leaves no doubt about their originally human status. By the same token, the cults of heroines are not likely to have been any more foreign to the Homeric tradition than the cults of heroes.

The phrase "wives and daughters of the best men (aristoi)," which introduces the catalogue of heroines in the Nekyia (Underworld) section of the Odyssey (11.227), provides another clue. The women, who include Alkmene, wife of Amphitryon (266), and Ariadne, daughter of Minos (321-2), are identified by their male relatives, not only husbands and fathers, but also sons (e.g., Herakles 267-68). What is more, all of these male relations—fathers, husbands, sons—are heroes of myth and cult. As Nagy has shown, being "the best" is not merely a characteristic of heroes, but their defining feature. The heroes are the aristoi, the best, and aristos is the functional equivalent of hērōs.10 To see the relevance of this to our elusive heroines, we may now turn to that other more extensive, although fragmentary, catalogue of female mythic figures, the Hesiodic Catalogue of Heroines.…

Now sing about the race of women, sweet-  voiced Olympian Muses, daughters of aegis-bearing   Zeus, sing of those who were the best of their time who loosened their girdles, mingling in union with the gods(frg. 1 Merkelbach-West)11

The poet begins by asking the muses to sing of the gunaikon phulon, the "tribe of women." In the fragmentary lines that follow, these gunaikes are described as "the best of their time" (hai tot' aristai) who "had intercourse with the gods" (misgomenai theosin). In other words, they are not ordinary women, but the same wives and daughters (and mothers) of heroes encountered by Odysseus in the Nekyia, along with others of similar mettle.12 The poet of the Catalogue, however, in referring to them as aristai, has given these figures an appellation that clarifies their heroic status. The word aristai shows that they are the counterparts of the heroic-aristoi of the Homeric poems. A more complete examination of the linguistic field shows that Finley did not look far enough. Here, then, is the "feminine gender" of hero in the age of heroes.

The troublesome indeterminacy found in the earliest texts gives way by the early fifth century. By the time of Pindar at the latest, heroine is clearly a recognizable category. Pindar's use of the word hērōis …, in an ode written for Thrasydaios of Thebes, is generally taken to be the earliest extant example of a female equivalent of hjros.… Thrasydaios, according to the scholia, won two victories, one in the boy's foot-race of 474, and one twenty years later. Most commentators assign this ode to the earlier victory. The word herois … is unlikely to be a Pindaric invention, especially as it appears in an invocation, generally a conservative element in Greek poetry. A fragment of the Boiotian poet Corinna (PMG 664b = Campbell 664b) proclaims her subject as the "merits (or valor) of heroes and heroines." …13 If she was indeed a contemporary of Pindar, as the ancient tradition has it, this is further evidence for the diffusion of a female form of heros (at least in Boiotia) by the first quarter of the fifth century.14 Indeed, the fragment from Corinna may be even older than the Pindaric ode, even if we do not accept the later date for the victory of Thrasydaios which it celebrates.

We may also approach the problem of the heroine by examining the criteria for establishing the status of male heroes. For a male hero, in the absence of archaeological evidence such as a named dedicatory inscription, we rely on textual evidence for myth or cult. Heroes are generally considered to be those who have one or more of the following attributes: heroic or divine parentage; a close relationship—erotic, hieratic, or antagonistic—with a divinity in myth; ritual connection with a divinity, such as a place in the sanctuary or a role in the cult; a tradition or evidence of a hērōon (hero-shrine) or tomb, sacrificial offerings, or other ritual observance. If we consider those figures generally numbered among male heroes, we will find these criteria to cover most instances. The next step is to see whether we can apply the same criteria to heroines.

As a test, let us consider some figures for whom we have the kind of archaeological evidence we spoke of above, and see whether the other criteria apply. Both Herakles and Helen have divine parentage, and both have ample evidence of cult.15 Hyakinthos and Semele are united erotically in myth with divinities, and in each case there is the requisite cult evidence.16 These two figures could fit equally well into our third category, that of ritual connection with a god, but we can supply other examples, such as Hippolytos and Iphigeneia.17 This demonstrates the degree to which the various features of heroic myth and cult coincide, regardless of the gender of the heroized figure. Other heroes and heroines languish in comparative obscurity, and in these instances we do not have the evidence on which to base firm conclusions. We can, nonetheless, learn something about heroines by extrapolating even in circumstances in which we have less than complete documentation.

If "heroine" is clearly a recognized category by the early fifth century, it is also true that the category "hero" is an extremely expansive and inclusive one, which changes through time. The term heros, ostensibly more stable and tangible by virtue of its impeccable Homeric lineage, proves scarcely easier to define than its linguistically more elusive female counterpart. To put our problem in perspective, let us examine attempts by several scholars, all of whom have made considerable contributions to the field, to define hero. For Brelich, the hero is "a being venerated in cult and remembered in the myths of the ancient Greeks."18 That he felt it necessary to defend this definition, stressing the essentially religious character of myth, was a reaction to prevailing tendencies in the study of Greek religion at the time. Kirk offers a more hesitant definition: heroes are "men who had a god or goddess as one parent or who at least walked the earth when such figures existed."19 With time, the balance has shifted. Unlike Brelich, who is concerned to restore myth to its rightful place in the study of religion, Kirk, writing more than a decade later, takes the importance of myth for granted but is somewhat apologetic about cult, and about the fact that many of the heroes have only the most tangential relation to it.20 Burkert recognizes two separate senses of "hero," the first being a character in epic, and the second, "a deceased person who exerts from his grave a power for good or evil and who demands appropriate honour."21 This two-part definition corresponds to the two parts of Brelich's formulation, but the substitution of "epic" for the broader category of "myth" is surprising, given the importance of myth in Burkert's own work.

If heroines, while retaining the right to be called by that name, deviate in various ways from standards of male heroism, it is also true that heroes themselves frequently do so. If female heroized figures frequently slip across the border into divinity, male heroes occasionally do so as well. In other words, although the mass of heroines act or react in ways that deviate from the male heroic norm, nothing they do—allowing for biological difference—is outside the range of possible behavior for heroes.

In what follows, I adopt a flexible definition of "heroine," which corresponds to Brelich's two-tiered definition of "hero." While I insist on the integrity of the category of hero/ine as a distinct religious and mythic phenomenon, I do not consider it to be a privileged one, and in this I follow the usage of the ancient Greeks themselves. While for the purposes of my study, I will admit to finding those heroines who figure in both cult and myth the most interesting, we do not always know who they are. For this reason, the operating definition must be the more inclusive one of "female figure in epic, myth, or cult." As we saw in attempting to bring the heroes of Homer into relation with the practice of hero cult, there is some overlap, and there would likely be more if both archaeological data and literary sources were more complete. Since there is no way of knowing what we are missing, it seems unwise to exclude anything that might allow patterns to emerge. To prevent this inclusivity from becoming imprecision, I will indicate the limits of available evidence for each heroine, signaling those places where conjecture has been allowed to exceed it.

Ancient Sources for Heroines

Where does one go to look for evidence of heroines? The sources consist of material remains—inscriptions, vase paintings, archaeological finds—as well as a great variety of literary sources. These writings range in date from the late eighth or early seventh century B.C.E. to the sixth century C.E. and include the disparate genres of epic, tragedy, guidebook, and lexicon. Not only is our evidence varied in kind, but it also concerns two partly separate matters: the stories told about heroines and heroes, and the cult practices enacted in their honor. The definition of myth and its relation to cult are difficult problems of long standing, which this study does not pretend to solve. In the material at hand, which deals with both myth and cult, the two will frequently be seen to be inextricably entwined. Nonetheless, there is a distinction to be made.

One way of expressing this distinction would be to borrow the terms applied by Jane Harrison to the Eleusinian mysteries, legomena, "things said," and dromena, "things done."34 Inscriptions tell us something about the dromena, as do archaeological sites, when we know how to read them. Our written sources generally concentrate on the legomena, the stories told about gods and heroic figures, which constitute the corpus of Greek myth. It is important to keep in mind, however, that much of what we know about ancient Greek cults and cultic practice comes from written texts, and that in these texts the distinction between myth and cult is frequently pushed to its limits. Here, in the grey area between myths of heroic exploits and descriptions of contemporary cultic practice, we find foundation myths attributing the establishment of these very cults to the heroes and heroines themselves. Thus we have not only myth that may or may not be the reflex of cultic practice, but also myth about that cultic practice, which strives to place it within the heroic context. In this way the hero acts as a pivotal figure, at times being heroized as a direct result of a role in the founding of a divine cult (as was the tragedian Sophocles).35

Sources for the myths of heroines range over many centuries, creating considerable difficulties of interpretation. Most important for this study are Homeric epic and the Homeric Hymns; the Hesiodic corpus, especially the Theogony and the Catalogue of Women; lyric poetry, especially Stesichorus and Pindar; tragedy, especially Euripides; Plutarch; Pausanias; Apollodorus; and Antoninus Liberalis. Ancient commentaries known as scholia provide much useful information. Some valuable citations come also from Byzantine and Alexandrian reference works from the fifth to the twelfth centuries C.E.36 The earliest of these texts, by virtue of their antiquity, may be presumed to provide us with early versions, but the converse is not necessarily true, that later texts must give us only late versions.37 Pindar, for example, frequently uses unfamiliar versions of myths, but these apparent innovations often turn out on further investigation to be earlier traditions he has chosen to revive.38 Euripides, a known innovator, may play fast and loose with the plot but usually seems to conform to contemporary practices when he places an aetiology in the mouth of the deus ex machina at the end of so many of his plays.39 A source like Pausanias reports both on the monuments he sees and on the local traditions and cult practices surrounding them, both the legomena and the drōmena. That he is in fact a reliable witness about what he has seen has by now been well established.40 From this, and from the care he takes to detail his own and other peoples' disagreement with these traditions, we can assume that he is equally reliable about what he has heard.

As the ancient myths and cults become more a focus of antiquarian interest than of piety, authorial emphases change. Later sources are less likely to manipulate the material for political or moral propaganda, although there are some exceptions. (Plutarch is as much a moralist as Pindar.) On the other hand they are more likely to shape it to suit the generic requirements of the project at hand. For example, a compiler of katasterismoi will obviously prefer versions of myths in which the heroine is transformed into a star, even when there may be other traditions of greater antiquity. Such a writer may have rewritten myths to fit his requirements, on the analogy of others he knows, but even this does not render a source useless.41 The late Byzantine commentators and lexicographers are closer in years to our own time than to Homer, but they have nonetheless the benefit of a continuous tradition. Moreover, the genres of commentary and lexicon are inherently conservative, designed as they are to elucidate ancient data. Used with care, they can be illuminating.

The following discussions of specific sources and genres are intended both to provide a brief introduction to some texts that may not be familiar to all readers, and also to indicate my assumptions about the usefulness of these texts for the study of heroines. It includes some works used primarily as sources for the catalogue of heroines at the conclusion of this work.

Catalogue Poetry

The largest archaic source for heroines is certainly the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women, also known as the Ehoiai, from the repeated phrase … "such a one [was] …" which introduces many of the heroines.42 This long (albeit fragmentary) genealogical poem, although in a class by itself, may be compared to other shorter pieces of catalogue poetry in the Homeric corpus, which are also fruitful sources.43 One of these is the catalogue of gods who mate with mortals at the end of the Theogony, long recognized as a bridge to the Ehoiai.44 The possibly interpolated, but certainly archaic, catalogue of heroines in the Nekyia (Underworld) episode of the Odyssey (11.225-332) is also of great interest, together with the scholia containing commentary by the fifth-century mythographer Pherecydes.45 In this passage Persephone sends forth the "wives and daughters of the best men" (… 227) to meet Odysseus. These women are not explicitly called heroines, but neither are their male connections called heroes. Moreover, the use of the key term aristoi has its counterpart in the use of aristai (frg. 1 M-W), as discussed above. Most of their stories involve an encounter with a god, and the inevitable birth of a child. In a short space, Odysseus sees fourteen or fifteen women.46 The passage reflects obvious delight in the stories for their own sake, as one might expect, considering that the narrator is none other than Odysseus himself.

Other comparable passages show a more purely genealogical interest, such as the brief catalogue of Zeus' erotic adventures in Iliad 14, or the Catalogue of Ships in Iliad 2, with its interest in dynastic information.47 In this passage the spheres of men and women in the heroic age achieve their greatest point of contact. The role of women is to produce the sons who will be warriors. The woman's moment of crisis in childbirth is the logical precondition of the hero's moment of crisis on the battlefield. Later in the poem, the pain of a wound suffered by Agamemnon is compared to the pain of childbirth.48 In these texts sons and fathers are important, while heroines are treated quite summarily. Nonetheless, the archaic catalogues are helpful in trying to reconstruct the "prehistory" of the heroine.

From these early examples, it is clear that women have a place in heroic poetry as far back as that tradition is accessible to us. These wives and daughters of heroes are important for dynastic reasons, since they provide access to the divine lineage desired by any noble family. Here "biographies" of heroines are stripped to their essentials. In the few lines allotted each woman are the kernels of the more developed myths of seduction, concealment, and disaster that will be represented on vases, staged by tragedians, and eventually collected by the writers of mythological handbooks.


A look at the titles not only of extant tragedies, but also of lost ones shows how important a role was played by the myths of heroines. Figures like Iphigeneia, Medea, Elektra, Helen, and others are the eponymous protagonists of familiar tragedies. Among the lost works of the tragedians are numerous plays bearing the names of heroines.49 Heroines also play an important role in plays named for the chorus or a male protagonist (e.g., Deianeira in Sophocles' Trachiniai, Phaidra in Euripides' Hippolytos). Sometimes doubt about the actual name of a lost play makes it unclear whether it was named after a female protagonist, a male protagonist, or the chorus: Aeschylus' Semele is also referred to as the Hydrophoroi, and Sophocles' Hippodameia may actually have been called the Oinomaos.50 These uncertainties point nonetheless to the importance of heroines in almost all tragedies, regardless of title. In fact, only one extant tragedy, the Philoktetes of Sophocles, has no female characters, and in many tragedies they are central.

While a general treatment of female characters in the Greek tragedians lies beyond the scope of this study, the female protagonists of tragedy are of interest to us insofar as they are representations of figures of myth and cult. That Greek tragedy deals almost exclusively with the myths of a few important heroic houses is well known. For our purposes, then, these works are valuable as instantiations of the myths. No myth exists in "pure form," but only in its versions—individual attempts to present, and of necessity to interpret, the themes at hand. The more innovative the poet, the farther away we may find ourselves from early mythic material. Poetic license in the plots of tragedy is not uncommon. Familiar examples are the Sophoclean Antigone, radically different from any earlier version, or Euripides' Medea, for the first time a deliberate murderer of her children.51 Neither of these mythic innovations can, however, be assigned with complete confidence to the particular tragedian, who may not have been the first to present the myth in this form. Tragic poets may also, like Pindar, choose at times to exploit an old but less-known variant of the myth in question. Still, tragedians are rarely the sources of first resort for early versions. This is not, however, to dismiss the tragic texts as of no interest for this study. One feature of tragedy that is invaluable for the study of heroine cult, and of Greek religious practice in general, is the frequent use of an aition, a brief narrative establishing some religious rite or custom, to achieve closure. These aitia are usually put in the mouth of the deus ex machina, whose function it is to resolve the tragic conflict, to predict the future, and to establish cult.52

As I have said above, even for a poet like Euripides, whose use of the mythic inheritance is often inventive, the treatment of cultic practice is quite another matter. These cults are in some sense the common property of all Athenians (or all Greeks, where Panhellenic cult is concerned), and a fair degree of accuracy would be demanded by the audience.53 Although Euripides uses the device of deus ex machina and cult aetiology more consistently than any other tragic poet, he is not the only one to do so.54 The ending of Aeschylys' Eumenides provides the earliest extant example of cult aetiology in tragedy, and Sophocles uses the same technique at the end of the Oidipous at Kolonos, to predict the establishment of the hero cult there. The aition most important for us is the one at the end of the Iphigeneia among the Taurians, which specifies dedications to Iphigeneia at Brauron. Other aitia of particular significance are those that close the Helen, concerning the burial of Klytemnestra and the divinity of Helen.

While other dramatic forms also drew on the myths of heroines, too little has survived for these to be valuable sources here. The satyr-play at the end of a trilogy often burlesqued the same myths used in the tragedies that preceded it. Aeschylus' lost Amymone, for example, was a satyr-play. Comedy as well made use of this material, although often as a parody of a particular tragedy. Aristophanes wrote a play called the Danaids, while another practitioner of Old Comedy, Plato, wrote the Europe, Io, and Nux Makra ("The Long Night," a play about Zeus' encounter with Alkmene). We also have suggestive titles by other dramatists, but the use of mythological themes is more a characteristic feature of Middle Comedy, which exists only in fragments.55 Philemon, a writer of New Comedy, seems to have continued the use of mythological themes with his Neaira and Nux, but the practice was on the wane. For visual evidence of this tradition, we can point to a comic scene of the birth of Helen on a fourth-century South Italian vase …56


The second century C.E. travel writer, and a major source of information for ancient cult-sites and religious customs, has a great deal to say about heroines and their role in religious tradition and practice. I have already commented on his reliability, but since he is so frequently cited throughout this study, it is worth saying more about the nature of his contribution. In writing his Description of Greece, he is mainly interested in recording monuments and other sites of interest, and the local traditions about them. (He is only interested in Greek antiquities and does not even record contemporary Roman monuments.) As he travels around, he picks up not only many local versions of myths about known figures, but also traditions about local ritual observances. These traditions typically connect a familiar myth to some feature of the local landscape or history. In his chapter on Messenia, for example, Pausanias describes "a place on the coast regarded as sacred to Ino. For they say that she came up from the sea at this point" (4.34.4).57 The pattern is to "bring the myth home" in some way, and then to use this point of contact as the aetiology for a local monument or observance.

Pausanias faithfully records local claims to the grave of a particular heroine along with the inhabitants' testimony about how she came to be buried there. At times he dissents from the local tradition, usually because he finds an opposing local tradition more plausible:

[The Megarians] say that there is also a hero-shrine of Iphigeneia; for she too according to them died in Megara. Now I have heard another account of Iphigeneia that is given by the Arcadians, and I know that Hesiod, in his poem A Catalogue of Women, says that Iphigeneia did not die, but by the will of Artemis is Hecate. …58 (1.43.1)

The insistence on finding the correct location befits a guidebook, but it also emphasizes a central feature of hero cult, its necessarily local, place-bound quality. The efficacy of the heroine or hero as helper emanates directly from the physical remains. The most explicit example in Pausanias concerns the dispute about where to bury the bones of Alkmene (1.41.1), which brings to mind Herodotus' accounts of struggles over the bones of the heroes Orestes (1.67-8), or Adrastos and Melanippos (5.67).59

As in the passage cited above, Pausanias often bases his judgments about the authenticity of local tradition on something he has read. The works he cites most in this connection are Hesiod, Homer, Pindar, Stesichorus, and other lyric poets. He also makes extensive use of otherwise unknown local writers, both poets and historians. Thanks to his reading habits, Pausanias is a major source for modern reconstructions of both the Catalogue of Women (Ehoiai) and the Great Catalogue (Megalai Ehoiai) attributed to Hesiod.60

Pausanias frequently speaks of the tombs of mythic women, but only occasionally mentions cult observances connected with them, and it is hard to say if they are in fact hero-shrines (hērōa). Pausanias uses the word only occasionally, in most cases preferring the word mnēma, or "memorial," with its overtone of commemoration.61 He frequently uses the word taphos (tomb or burial) interchangeably with mnēma, to avoid repetition, which he is at greater pains to do than classical Greek authors. He also uses these two terms in alternation (presumably to preclude the idea of a joint burial), when he describes the graves of those who, hostile to each other in life, are nonetheless buried in close proximity.62 In fact, we know very little about the form of hero-shrines, and particularly about heroines' shrines. A recent work on three temples to Artemis in Attica argues against the notion of an architectural feature common to all, an inner room that has been called the adyton, with a common function in honor of the heroine Iphigeneia. Even in this case, in which there is some archaeological evidence, interpretation is difficult.63

In Pausanias, mention of heroines is not limited to burial but may include dedications and offerings to them, or the dedications or festivals they themselves established in honor of the gods. Occasionally, the object Pausanias discusses is not only a monument but itself a carrier of mythic information. There are two works of art of particular relevance for heroines, each of which he describes at length. These are the "Kypselos chest" in the temple of Hera at Olympia (5.17.5-5.19.10), and Polygnotos' paintings of the Ilioupersis (Sack of Troy) and the Nekyia (Odysseus' visit to the Underworld) at Delphi (10.25-31), great pictorial summaries of myths of gods and heroes which we know only from his descriptions. Several mythic scenes are also shown on the throne at Amyklai (3.18.9-16). Pausanias only rarely uses works of visual art to support his arguments, tending rather to see them as objects requiring interpretation, although he is at great pains to record the information they contain.64

Pausanias' descriptions are accompanied by a great deal of mythological commentary, which is almost always concretely bound to the physical context. His goal is to describe a landscape, and it is a landscape marked by the works of mortals. But it is also a landscape inhabited by gods and heroes, and most of the human monuments he describes are attempts at communication with the divine, part of the dialogue between mortal and immortal which is an essential feature of Greek religion. Given a general tendency to translate female mythic figures into natural phenomena (e.g., the Pleiades) or features of the landscape (e.g., Niobe), it is instructive to note that for Pausanias they are also firmly embedded in a physical space that is decidedly human in origin.65

Other Graeco-Roman Sources

Sources from the Hellenistic period and beyond fall in general into two main categories: works that are primarily antiquarian in character, like that of Pausanias, and those that deal exclusively with mythology. Among the antiquarian writings, the works of Plutarch, dating from the end of the first to the beginning of the second centuries C.E., are particularly important. Especially valuable for our purposes are the Quaestiones Graecae (Greek Questions), and some of the lives, particularly those of mythic figures, like the Life of Theseus. Innumerable valuable citations from ancient texts otherwise lost are preserved for us by Athenaeus, whose collection of table talk, the Deipnosophistai (Sophists at Dinner), dates to the end of the second century C.E.

Notable among the mythological works is the Bibliothekj (Library), which bears the name of Apollodorus. Apparently compiled in the second century C.E., it is a compendium of familiar myths along with some unusual variations. The considerably more erratic and idiosyncratic Fabulae of Hyginus (2nd c. C.E.) provide intriguing variants, but one is often hard-pressed to know what to make of them. This work shows the Alexandrian influence in its organization into headings such as Quifilios in epulis consumpserunt (Those who ate their children for supper), and the unfortunately missing Quae immortales cum mortalibus concubuerunt (Goddesses who slept with mortals). The Hellenistic interest in collecting and codifying myth also led to the development of specialized genres, among which the two most useful for the study of heroines are the books of Katasterismoi and Metamorphoses. The former genre, accounts of catasterism, i.e., transformation into constellations, goes back at least as far as Eratosthenes (3rd c. B.C.E.), although the fragments that survive under his name are apparently not genuine. The Metamorphosis tradition can be traced at least as far as the second-century poet Nicander, although this part of his work does not survive. Ovid takes off from this tradition in his Metamorphoses, although his poem transcends the dry nature of the genre. More typical is the work of the same name by Antoninus Liberalis, a writer of the second or third century C.E. who frequently cites Boios or Nicander as his source.66

We have alluded above to the problems inherent in the use of these materials for our study. Works centered around metamorphosis or catasterism naturally tend to emphasize the most dramatic aspects of heroic mythology, those involving crises in the mortal sphere which can only be resolved by drastic divine intervention, usually resulting in the translation to another sphere. In such contexts the solution to the problem of mortality is translation into the animal or vegetable world, with species-continuity replacing the continuing life of the individual, or transformation into astronomical phenomena whose enduring nature is obvious.

These specific interests act to narrow the range of action available to a mythic figure. Female figures are especially prone to this kind of presentation, perhaps because of their limited sphere of action in the world outside of myth.67 Orion becomes a constellation, but this is only a small part of his very rich mythic tradition. By contrast, many heroines, deprived of the ability to defend themselves, can hope for nothing better than a transformation as a way out of present difficulties. For those who would interpret mythic treatment of the heroine, such material is especially problematic. That heroines are frequently transformed in this manner is a point to which I will return.68 On the other hand, once books of metamorphoses become popular, these transformations of heroines may take on a certain decorative nature that obscures the degree to which we are in the presence of authentic mythic material.

Categories of Hero and Heroine

For many scholars of Greek religion, the starting point for understanding hero cult is the proper categorization of heroes. There has been no more enthusiastic or influential proponent of this approach than Farnell. In Greek Hero Cults and Ideas of Immortality, he offers the following categories: 1) heroes and heroines of divine origin or hieratic type, with ritual legends or associated with vegetation ritual; 2) sacral heroes and heroines; 3) heroes of epic and saga; 4) cults of mythic ancestors, eponymous heroes, and mythic oecists [cityfounders]; 5) functional and culture-heroes; 6) cults of real and historic persons.69

The list of categories, some based on origin and some on function, recalls Borges' Chinese Encyclopedia, in which the classifications "animals belonging to the Emperor" and "animals which from a distance resemble flies" are given equal weight, and the frame of reference constantly shifts.70 It is nonetheless of great interest as an attempt to describe hero cult and a potential source of information about heroines, compiled by a scholar of profound learning. Unfortunately, the conclusions one can draw from Farnell's work are somewhat limited by the incompleteness of his data. Several of Farnell's categories overlap, and the arbitrary assignment of a figure to one group or another is often unsatisfying, while some heroines whom we would expect to find are excluded. In almost every category, heroes outnumber heroines by a significant margin, as might be expected. Only in the first group, "heroes and heroines of divine origin or hieratic type, etc.," is this trend reversed. Here female figures outnumber male, approximately two to one. Although this finding is suggestive, certain features of Farnell's organization seriously limit the value of his categories. Why, for example, is Helen placed among the "heroes of epic and saga" when she might equally well be considered a hero of divine origin? Why does Penelope appear neither among heroes of epic and saga, nor anywhere else? For that matter, why is Klytemnestra omitted? Hippodameia, here among the ancestors, eponymous heroes, and oecists, could also be placed among sacral heroines as founder of the Heraia (for it is in this category that Farnell has placed Physkoa, whom Pausanias mentions almost in the same breath). And where is Aithra, whose role in the cult of Athena Apatouria ought to give her a place? Many eponymous heroines mentioned by Pausanias are omitted from the list of ancestors, eponymous heroes, and oecists. The task of classification is a difficult one, and one can only regret that Farnell did not make explicit his principles of inclusion.

The problem lies partly in the necessity of integrating information that, leaving aside tremendous variations in antiquity and reliability, simply does not always answer the same questions. How are we to harmonize myth or saga recounting the adventures of heroes and heroines as living beings, with local tradition about the acts of these figures in religious contexts, as founders of cults and festivals, as well as the evidence of honors accorded these figures after their death? This information may take the form of aetiologies of the classical period, or of local traditions recounted by Graeco-Roman antiquarians, or it may come to us from the realia—inscriptions, temples, or other dedications. A heroine of epic like Helen may be the recipient of both heroic and divine cult honors, as we know from a combination of extant inscriptions and local traditions from different parts of the Greek world. Choosing an original version or meaning is futile, and it is therefore usually impossible to assign a single "value" to any heroic figure.

The least ambiguous of Farnell's categories is that of "real and historical persons." While the individual figures, for the most part, fall outside the scope of this study, some useful inferences can be drawn. This list contains 93 heroized individuals, of whom 13 are female. This ratio certainly corresponds to our expectations, given the restricted role of women in the Greek world. Accordingly, the heroines in this list are mainly Hellenistic queens and hetairai. The exception is the poet Sappho, who like other poets of the archaic and classical periods, received heroic honors.71

Pfister, writing a decade before Farnell, makes less of an attempt to categorize types of heroes. His interest is in the cult of relics of heroes (and its similarity to the cults of Christian saints), and so he concentrates on the nature of the remains, and their location. He does list graves of eponymous heroes, but it is interesting to note that none of the heroines in the list appears in Farnell's list of eponymous figures. His larger list of hero-shrines accompanied by a tomb includes figures from four of Farnell's six categories, as well as some, like Penelope, whom Farnell omits entirely. His most inclusive list of heroes' graves includes those of 80 heroines, of whom only 23 coincide with Farnell's 52 nonhistorical heroines.72

The approach of Brelich, instead of seeking to establish the "essential nature" of the hero, examines roles and functions, recognizing that they may be multiple and overlapping. He considers heroes in their relation to a number of mythic and religious themes, both as figures in myth or epic taking part in a variety of relationships—social, familial, and religious—and as the focal points for cults embodying many of the diverse aspects of Greek ritual practice. In considering the relation of a particular hero to healing, to choose one example, he discusses in turn the hero as a healer in myth, and the role of healing in the cult of that hero. His approach stresses both the importance of the distinction and the necessity of bringing together the two kinds of evidence.73 This is an especially important point for the study of heroines, as will become clear if we look at two areas of heroic activity—invention and city-founding. The prestige of both these kinds of activities derives from the special honor accorded to those who did something for the first time.74 So pervasive was the interest in "being the first," that it has been said that in Greek culture, "everything had to have an 'inventor."'75

The range of action permitted heroines in myth is perhaps not as restricted as the actual scope of women's lives in the archaic and classic periods.76 It is, however, more limited than that allowed male heroes. Let us start with the example of city-founding. Founders of cities, as we know, are often honored with burial in the agora and other observances. These honors, also given to mythic and historical ancestors and legislators, were the most notable exception to the general Greek prohibition against burial within the city, and one that lasted until the end of Greek antiquity.77 The sacral aspect of city-founding is reflected in myth and in religious practice.78 It is also the case that glorious enterprises could be made more glorious by the imprimatur of a heroic name, in which case the foundation of a city becomes just another deed easily inserted into the hero's busy program. For these reasons it is difficult to decide if one becomes a hero by founding a city, or if one founds a city because one is a hero and that is what heroes do. When all we have is the name of an eponymous hero, of whom we have heard nothing before, it is tempting to assume that the hero has been trumped up for the occasion.79

This indeterminancy has particular consequences for our interpretation of eponymous heroines. Given the unlikelihood of a woman having led a colonial expedition, we do not expect to find many heroines as cityfounders, nor do we. The inscription in honor of the "Founder Heroines" (Heroissai Ktistai, mentioned above) is suggestive, but relatively late in date, and its use of the plural may also signal a symbolic collectivity rather than any specific historical figures. The degree of women's participation in Greek colonization is a matter of debate.80 Pausanias has two examples of female oecists: Leprea, founder of Lepreus (5.5.5), and Antinoe, daughter of Kepheus (8.8.4), who in obedience to an oracle and guided by a snake, moves the city of Ptolis to a new site. Antinoe, by virtue of not being eponymous, may appear the more convincing of the two. Her foundation story, moreover, is carefully buttressed by sacral and mystical details that would make female participation more palatable. What is more, Pausanias' account suggests that she may have received heroic honors for her role, as he tells us that her tomb was to be found among other famous graves near the theater in Mantineia (8.9.5).

Pausanias provides other examples of eponymous heroines, particularly in Boiotia, where the cities are more often named for women than men (9.1.1), but he gives them no explicit role in foundation.81 He also considers somewhat critically the tradition of an eponymous Mykene (2.16.3-4), citing both "Homer in the Odyssey," i.e., the Nekyia in book 11, and the Great Ehoiai as sources, and rejects the idea of a male eponym Mykeneus son of Sparton, on the grounds that although the Laconians have a statue of Sparte, they would be very surprised to hear of a Sparton. Here we have a chance to see the material evaluated not by modern notions of plausibility, but by local, more or less ancient ones. From Pausanias' discussion we see that while female founders of cities, mythic or not, may have been rare, the idea of an eponymous heroine caused no trouble. Indeed, in instances such as this, a female eponym could be more credible than a male one, if the sources concurred.82

Perhaps our best evidence for the political and religious importance of an eponymous heroine comes again from Pausanias, in his account of the founding of Messene in 369 B.C.E. after the liberation of Messenia by Epaminondas. The importance of Messene the daughter of Triopas for the community called by her name is both religious and political. She, together with Polykaon, was supposed to have consecrated the precinct of Zeus on Mt. Ithome and for this reason was given heroic honors (4.3.9). While the role of cult-founder is a more frequent one for heroines than that of city-founder, Messene was also given at least a symbolic role in the refoundation of the Messenian polity.83

As Pausanias describes the ritual surrounding the foundation of the city, it is here that Messene assumes preeminence. When the Messenians summoned the heroes to return to their midst, Messene was first and foremost, and only the hero Aristomenes was summoned with greater enthusiasm (4.27.6). Pausanias also records among the sights of Messenia the temple of Messene and her image of gold and Parian marble (4.31.11).

Few if any heroine-inventors are recorded. I have found only three. According to a certain Agallis, a learned Corcyraean woman, Nausikaa invented ball-playing (Athenaeus 1.14d). This is a perfect example of Robertson's dictum: as the first to appear playing ball in Greek literature (Odyssey 6.100), she must be its inventor. The other examples are rather obscure. Boudeia is associated with the invention of the plough (schol. Iliad 16.572). She is also known as Bouzuge, a talking name (Ox-Yoke) apparently related to this invention (schol. AR. 1.185), but the exact nature of her contribution is unclear. The third example, Phemonoe, is doubly important as the first Pythia and the inventor of hexameter (Paus. 10.5.7). But as with city-founding, myths of invention may attract heroines even if only as passive participants. One such tradition links a heroine to the invention of writing. According to Skamon in his fourth-century book on inventions, the alphabet was named by its inventor, Aktaion king of Attica, in honor of his daughter Phoinike who died young.84 In this instance, the letters gain prestige from the name of the princess, while in turn giving honor to her.

In our investigation of the nature of heroes and heroines, two questions alternately claim our attention: "What do heroes do?" and "What does one do to become a hero?" The relationship between these two questions is complicated by the fact that we are dealing with a phenomenon that is already old at the time of our first sources, and that continues to be vigorous into the late Hellenistic period. This means not only that the old traditions about heroes are being maintained, and that observance continues, but that new heroes are still being made throughout the period in which many of our sources were written. It is difficult to say exactly when hero cult ceased in antiquity, especially since it can be seen to reappear in the form of emperor cult in certain parts of the Greek east.85 There are those who would even see its survival in the Christian cult of saints.86

It seems likely that the Greeks were generally comfortable with a flexible notion of what heroes were and did, and that this notion allowed a certain amount of revision and reevaluation backward and forward in time. The earliest and most venerable source of information about heroes was the Iliad, perhaps supplemented by other epics and especially the Hesiodic Catalogues, and it was easy to extrapolate the behavior of later heroes on the basis of these poems. If the Greeks knew their city-founders as the inhabitants of heroic tombs in the agora, then obviously founding cities was something heroes did. Some of this flexibility comes from the fact that, although in the historical period people could only be heroized after their death, the earliest traditions about heroes concerned people who were very much alive.

The prestige offered by a heroic ancestor or antecedent is clear, but when an invention or other "first" is ascribed to a hero the prestige is in some sense reciprocal, as with the Phoinikeia grammata. The same holds true for the establishment of a religious institution: on the one hand, the heroine is magnified by her role in founding a festival or dedicating a temple, and on the other, so important an undertaking as temple-foundation must, of necessity, have been carried out by an important personage. There is little to be gained by trying to establish the order of these events, but taken together they give us a very clear idea of what the Greeks expected of their heroes once they had made them.


1 M. I. Finley, The World of Odysseus, 2d rev. ed. (New York, 1978) 33. The title of this section calls for apologies to Stephen Jay Gould, "What, If Anything, Is a Zebra?" in Hen's Teeth and Horses' Toes (New York, 1983) 355-65.

2 Ulrich v. Wilamowitz, Homerische Untersuchungen (Berlin, 1884); Erwin Rohde, Psyche (London, 1950 [Freiburg, 1898]); L. R. Farnell, Greek Hero Cults and Ideas of Immortality (Oxford, 1921). An early attack on these views can be found in R. K. Hack, "Homer and the Cult of Heroes," TAP A 60 (1929) 57-74.

3 Erechtheus is also mentioned in Odyssey 7.80-81, where Athena is said to enter his pukinon domon (well-built house). The relationship with the goddess is clear, but the passage does not explicitly refer to cult honors.

4 G. Nagy, The Best of the Achaeans (Baltimore, 1979), and "On the Death of Sarpedon," in Approaches toHomer, ed. Rubino and Shelmerdine (Austin, 1983) 189-217, now reprinted in different form in G. Nagy, Greek Mythology and Poetics (Ithaca, 1990) 122-42.

5 The debate can be followed in A. Snodgrass, The Dark Age of Greece (Edinburgh, 1971) and Archaic Greece (Berkeley, 1980); T. Hadzisteliou Price, "Hero-Cult and Homer," Historia 22 (1973) 129-44 and "Hero Cult in the 'Age of Homer' and Earlier," in Arktouros, ed. G. Bowersock et al. (Berlin, 1979); J. N. Coldstream, "Hero-Cults in the Age of Homer," JHS 96 (1976) 8-17, and Geometric Greece (London, 1977).

6 For an important reconsideration of early evidence for hero cult, see C. Antonaccio, An Archaeology of Ancestors: Tomb Cult and Hero Cult in Early Greece (Lanham, Md., 1995).

7 Hadzisteliou Price (1979) 223-24 considers the Pelopeion at Olympia the "earliest reasonably well-attested heroon," along with the nearby Hippodameion (Paus. 6.20.7). Antonaccio (1995) 176 comes to a more negative conclusion. For the shrine of Helen and Menelaos at Therapne and its dedications, see H. W. Catling and H. Cavanagh, "Two Inscribed Bronzes from the Melenaion, Sparta," Kadmos 15.2 (1976) 145-57 and Antonaccio (1995) 155-66. For hero-reliefs, see below, p. 47.

8 As Isocrates says about Helen and Menelaos, they are worshipped not as heroes, but as gods (…, Praise of Helen 10.63).

9 Lines 602-4 were rejected by ancient critics as an interpolation, and many modern critics have held the same opinion. See F. Solmsen, "The Sacrifice of Agamemnon's Daughter in Hesiod's 'EHOEAE,'" A/P 102 (1981) 355nn. 6 and 7. Mark Griffith, "Contest and Contradiction in Early Greek Poetry," in Cabinet of the Muses: Essays on Classical and Comparative Literature in Honor of Thomas G. Rosenmeyer, ed. M. Griffith and D. J. Mastronarde (Atlanta, 1990) 206n. 48 remarks that it hardly matters if the passage was interpolated, since "in either case, the effect of the existing text on the reader/listener is the same."

10 Nagy (1979) esp. 26-41.

11 The Greek text cited is that of R. Merkelbach and M. L. West, Fragmenta Hesiodea (Oxford, 1967). Brackets indicate missing text or conjectural readings.

12 Another text that brings together male and female figures in an epic setting is Hom. Hymn 3 (Apollo) 160, in which the Delian maidens delight their audience by singing a hymn about the women and men of long ago.…

13 The dialect form used by Corinna.…

14 Sources for Corinna: Plutarch Glor. Athen. 4, 347f-348a; Aelian Varia Historia 113.25; Paus. 9.22.3. See J. M. Snyder, The Woman and the Lyre (Carbondale, 1989) 41-54 and M. Lefkowitz, The Lives of the Greek Poets (London, 1981) 64-65.

15 For Herakles, see Chapter 2, n. 93; For Helen, see n. 7 above and Appendix. Also L. Clader, Helen: The Evolution from Divine to Heroic in Greek Epic Tradition (Leiden, 1976) 63 ff.

16 For Hyakinthos, see S. Eitrem, RE 9.1 (1914) 4-16. For Semele's abaton: Paus. 9.12.3; her tomb: Paus. 9.16.7. There is only late inscriptional evidence (3rd c. C.E.) for observances at her tomb (SEG 19.379 Delphi), but sacrifices are recorded for her in the ritual calendar of Erchia (SEG 21.541) discussed below.

17 Hippolytos: Eur. Hipp. 1423ff.; Paus. 3.12.9—hērōon; 1.22.1—grave at Athens. Iphigeneia: Eur. I.T. 1462ff.; Paus. 1.33.1; 2.35.1; 7.26.5; Chapter 5 below.

18 "Un essere venerato nel culto e ricordato nei miti degli antichi greci," Heros: 1l Culto greco degli eroi e ilproblema degli esseri semi-divini (Rome, 1958b) 14.

19 G. S. Kirk, Myth: Its Meaning and Function in Ancient and Other Cultures (London, 1970) 175.

20 "The truth seems to be that cultic association and semi-divine ancestry were felt more and more, from the time of Homer and Hesiod on, to be the hallmark of important heroes; but that many heroic figures of myth, and not only in the developed literary forms of the Iliad and Odyssey, just belonged to aristocratic families that traced their ultimate genesis to a god or goddess. Such heroes would normally have no individual cult, but were nevertheless conceived as belonging to a generation that still enjoyed the protection of the gods and shared, to a varying extent, their supernatural capabilities, in favoured cases their very blood." Kirk (1970) 176.

21 Walter Burkert, Greek Religion, trans. J. Raffan (Cambridge, Mass., 1985) 203.…

34 See Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion (Cambridge, 1927) 42, 329.…

35 He was honored as the H r s Dexi n (the receiving hero) for giving house-room to the cult of Asklepios before a temple was built in Athens (Etym. Mag. 256.6). On his role see H. W. Parke, Festivals of the Athenians (Ithaca, 1977) 135.

36 Hesychios' Lexicon was written in Alexandria in the fifth or sixth century. From Byzantium come the writings of Stephanus Byzantinus, a sixth-century grammarian; Photius' reading notes from the ninth century (known as the "Library"); the Suda, a tenth-century lexicon; the twelfth-century Etymologicum Magnum; and Eustathius' commentaries on Homer from the same period.

37 See Brelich, Gli eroi greci (Rome, 1958) 23-77 for a detailed discussion of the many problems attendant on the use of ancient sources for myth.

38 See G. Nagy, "Pindar's Olympian I and the Aetiology of the Olympic Games." TAP A 116 (1986) 71-88 and Nagy (1979) 71 on Pindar's conservatism.

39 For the debate on this point, see below n. 53.

40 C. Habicht, Pausanias' Guide to Ancient Greece (Princeton, 1985) uses recent archaeological excavations to corroborate Pausanias' assertions. Brelich (1958) 45ff. also considers Pausanias a reliable witness for local traditions.

41 See P. M. C. Forbes Irving, Metamorphosis in Greek Myths (Oxford, 1990) 19-32 for a concurring view. He remarks (32), on the subject of one Hellenistic author, "Everything we have considered so far suggests that if Nicander is innovating he is at least doing it according to the rules and in a framework that does not belong just to his own times, and that therefore even his innovations would be a valuable source for the study of Greek myths."

42 Merkelbach and West's edition (1967) has now been supplemented by the third edition of West's Hesiodi Opera (Oxford, 1990). See also West (1985) for discussion of the character of the work, its structure, and origins.

43 G. McLeod, Virtue and Venom: Catalogues of Women from Antiquity to the Renaissance (Ann Arbor, 1991) 9, aims to analyze "all catalogues as attempts to express or critique cultural attitudes towards women." Unfortunately, despite this interesting approach, the sections on ancient Greek poetry contain inaccuracies that limit their usefulness.

44 Although the Catalogue was traditionally considered the work of Hesiod, West (1985) believes that it cannot be the work of the poet of the Theogony (127). He argues for a sixth-century, Attic origin (130-36; 164-71). For a view of the Hesiodic corpus as emerging from a tradition of oral composition, see R. Lamberton, Hesiod (New Haven, 1988) 11-27.

45 See West (1985) 127-30 on the connection between the Theogony and the Catalogue of Women. He also notes the similarity of the Nekyia passage with these texts (32 with n. 7).

46 Tyro (235-59); Antiope (260-65); Alkmene (266-68); Megara (269-70); Epikaste (271-80); Chloris (281-97); possibly Pero, Chloris' daughter (whose story begins at line 287); Leda (298-304); Iphimedeia (305-20); Phaidra, Prokris, and Ariadne (321-25); Maira, Klymene, and Eriphyle (326-27).

47 The heroines mentioned in Iliad 14 (discussed at length in Chapter 3) are Dia (317-18), Danaë (319-20), Europe (321-22), Semele and Alkmene (323-25). In the Catalogue of Ships, we find the heroines Astyoche (513-15), Astyocheia (658-60), Aglaia (672), Alkestis (714-15), and Hippodameia (742-44). On the relation of the Iliad's "little catalogues" to larger free-standing ones, see R. Hope Simpson and J. F. Lazenby, The Catalogue of the Ships in Homer's Iliad (Oxford, 1970) 166.

48Iliad 11.268-72. This comparison is given a different emphasis by Euripides' Medea, who says, "I would rather stand three times in the front lines than give birth once." (… Medea 250-51). See N. Loraux, "Le Lit, la guerre," L 'Homme 21.1 (1981) 37-67, now translated as "Bed and War" in The Experiences of Tiresias, trans. Paula Wissing (Princeton, 1995) 23-43. For a contemporary feminist analysis of this theme, see N. Huston, "The Matrix of War: Mothers and Heroes," in The Female Body in Western Culture, ed. S. Rubin Suleiman (Cambridge, 1985) 119-36, esp. 130-31.

49 Known titles of plays by Aeschylus contain the names Alkmene, Atalanta, Europe, Helen (three titles), Hypsipyle, Iphigeneia, Kallisto, Penelope, and Niobe; Sophocles: Andromache, Andromeda, Danae, Erigone, Eriphyle, Hermione, Hippodameia, Iphigeneia, Kreousa, Nausikaa, Niobe, Polyxene, Prokris, Tyro, Phaidra, and possibly others; Euripides: Andromeda, Antiope, Hypsipyle, Ino, Melanippe (two titles), and Stheneboia.

50 See Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta, 2d ed., ed. A. Nauck with suppl. by B. Snell (Hildesheim, 1964).

51 Sophocles' tragedy is the first extant text in which Antigone dies for the crime of burying her brother. Iliad 4.394, where Maion is said to be the son of Haimon, may reflect an earlier tradition in which they live to marry. For Medea, it is impossible to be certain that Euripides was indeed the innovator. See R. Seaford, "Dionysos as Destroyer of the Household: Homer, Tragedy, and the Polis," in Masks of Dionysos, ed. Carpenter and Faraone (Ithaca, 1993) 123n.38.

52 See B. M. W. Knox, "The Medea of Euripides," YCS 25 (1977) 206. Nagy (1979) 279n.2 stressing the important distinction between explanation and motivation, defines an aition as "a myth that traditionally motivates an institution, such as a ritual."

53 The argument over the reliability of Euripides' descriptions of ritual continues. See R. Eisner, "Euripides' Use of Myth," Arethusa 12 (1979) 153-74 and Christian Wolff, "Euripides' Iphigeneia among the Taurians: Aetiology, Ritual, and Myth," CA 11 (1992) 308-34. Francis M. Dunn, "Euripides and the Rites of Hera Akraia," GRBS 35 (1994) 103-15 takes a particularly sceptical view, concluding that Euripides rewrites "not only character and legend but the 'real world' of cultural practice and belief." I am more in sympathy with Richard Seaford's cautions against underestimating Euripides' traditionalism, Reciprocity and Ritual: Homer and Tragedy in the Developing City-State (Oxford, 1994) 285n.21.

54 W. S. Barrett, ed. Hippolytos (Oxford, 1964) 412 notes that every Euripidean play for which we possess a satisfactory ending, except the Trojan Women, ends with an aition.

55 Some known titles for Old Comedy: Epicharmos' Atalantai and Medea (possibly by Deinolochos), Strattis' Atalante and Medea, and Theopompos' Althaia and Penelope; Middle Comedy: Alexis of Thurii's Anteia (possibly by Antiphanes), Galateia, Helen, Hesione; Antiphanes' Alkestis, Anteia (possibly by Alexis), Omphale; Euboulos' Antiope, Auge, Europe, Laconians or Leda, Medea, Nausikaa, Prokris (known to be a parody of a tragedy), Semele or Dionysos; Nikostratos' Pandrosos; Philetairos' Atalanta; Timokles' Neaira.

56LIMC s.v. "Helene" 5. See A. D. Trendall, Phylax Vases, 2d ed. (BICS suppl. 19) 1967, 27-28.

57 Trans. W. H. S. Jones and H. A. Ormerod, Pausanias' Description of Greece, vol. 2 (Cambridge, Mass., 1920). Pausanias himself reports a conflicting tradition at 1.42.7, where the Megarians claim that it was on their shores that Ino was washed up. See Gregory Nagy, "Theognis and Megara: A Poet's Vision of His City," in Thomas J. Figueira and G. Nagy, Theognis of Megara: Poetry and the Polis (Baltimore, 1985) 79-80 on this variant tradition.

58 Translation adapted from Jones.

59 See D. Boedeker, "Hero Cult and Politics in Herodotos: The Bones of Orestes," in C. Dougherty and L. Kurke, eds., Cultural Poetics in Archaic Greece: Cult, Performance, Politics (Cambridge, 1993) 164-77.

60 See Habicht (1985) 132-34, 142-44, on Pausanias' literary tastes and sources of information.

61 In Pausanias only the following heroines are explicitly said to have a hērōon: Andromache (1.11.2), Ino (1.42.7), Iphigeneia (1.43.1), Hyrnetho (2.28.7), Kyniska (3.15.1), and Plataea (9.2.7).

62 For example, he speaks of the tomb (taphos) of Phaidra, located near the monument (mnēma) of Hippolytos (2.32.4). In the same way, at 2.21.7, he distinguishes the grave (mnēma) of Gorgo from that (taphos) of Gorgophone, who, as the daughter of Perseus, is presumably opposed to her by reasons of etymology as well as lineage. (Her name, "Gorgonslayer," commemorates her father's most famous exploit and calls ironic attention to their proximate burial.)

63 See M. B. Hollinshead, "Against Iphigeneia's Adyton in Three Mainland Temples," AJA 89 (1985) 419-40.

64 For a reconstruction of Kypselos' chest, see K. Schefold, Myth and Legend in Early Greek Art, trans. A. Hicks (New York, [1966]) 72-73. See also H. A. Shapiro, "Old and New Heroes: Narrative, Composition, and Subject in Attic Black-Figure," CA 9 (1990) 138-40. On Polygnotos, see M. D. Stansbury-O'Donnell, "Polygnotos' Iliupersis: A New Reconstruction," AJA 93 (1989) 203-15.

65 F. Pfister, Der Reliquienkult im Altertum (Giessen, 1909) 1:328-65, lists natural phenomena connected with heroes. These are for the most part not the results of actual transformations but are landmarks connected with and occasionally created by the heroes themselves. Heroines are frequently associated with springs, which they create either deliberately, like Atalante striking her spear against the rock (Paus. 3.24.2), or inadvertently, like the weeping Niobe (Pherec. in schol. T Iliad 24.167). For Niobe herself as a rocky outcropping, see Paus. 1.21.3. See Forbes Irving (1990) passim.

66 For a discussion of this tradition, see Forbes Irving (1990) 19-36.

67 F. I. Zeitlin, "Configurations of Rape in Greek Myth," in Rape, ed. S. Tomaselli and R. Porter (Oxford, 1986) 122-51, 261-64 (notes) explicitly connects metamorphosis with the woman's flight from sexual violence (123).

68 See Chapter 3, below, pp. 96, 101.

69 Farnell (1921). See discussion throughout, and the lists on pp. 403-26.

70 Jorge Luis Borges, Other Inquisitions, trans. Ruth L. C. Simms (New York, 1968) 103.

71 See Farnell (1921) 367 on the cult of Sappho on Lesbos. For poets as heroes, see Brelich (1958) 320-22 and Nagy (1979) especially 279-308. Other female poets who might have received cult honors are Telesilla and Corinna, who are not mentioned here. See Paus. 2.20.8-9 for the bravery of Telesilla, and the relief commemorating it, and 9.22.3 for the tomb of Corinna.

72 Pfister's list of heroes' graves seems to include every instance in which Pausanias records a mnēma or a taphos (two words he uses almost interchangeably for "grave"). Farnell applies a more complicated, and at times elusive, standard. For eponymous heroes and heroines, see Pfister (1909) 1:279-89; for hero-shrines with tomb, Pfister (1912) 2:450-55; for graves of heroes and heroines, 2:627-40.

73 See Brelich (1958) 79 for elucidation of this principle; 113-18 for its application to healing. See also Deborah Lyons, "Manto and Manteia: Prophecy in the Myths and Cults of Heroines," in Sibille e linguaggi oracolari, ed. I. Chirassi Colombo and T. Seppilli (Pisa, forthcoming).

74 See Brelich (1958) 27 for the importance of the first time; 166-77 for the hero as protōs heuretēs, "inventor" or "originator."

75 Robertson, "Adopting an Approach I," in Looking at Greek Vases, ed. T. Rasmussen and N. Spivey (Cambridge, 1991) 4.

76 The topic of the position of women in archaic and classical Greece lies for the most part outside the scope of this study. For an account of the debate on seclusion, see I. Savalli, La Donna nella societá della Grecia antica (Bologna, 1983), and M. Arthur, "Review Essay: Classics," in Signs 2.2 (1976) 382-403. Overviews of women's economic and legal status include D. M. Schaps, Economic Rights of Women in Ancient Greece (Edinburgh, 1979); R. Just, Women in Athenian Law and Life (London, 1989); and R. Sealey, Women and Law in Classical Greece (Chapel Hill, 1990).

77 Roland Martin, Recherches sur l'agora grecque (Paris, 1951) 194-95. F. de Polignac, La Naissance de la cité grecque (Paris, 1984) 132, argues that these founder-tombs need not all have been new installations. Some may have been ancient burials rediscovered and attributed to hero-founders. See Antonaccio (1995).

78 See Marcel Detienne in the Annuaire. Ecole pratique des Hautes Etudes 94 (1985-86) 371-80, on Apollo as the city-founding god. For the role of Delphi in colonization, see H. W. Parke and D. E. W. Wormell, The Delphic Oracle (Oxford, 1956) 1:49-81; Joseph Fontenrose, The Delphic Oracle (Berkeley, 1978) passim; Carol Dougherty, The Poetics of Colonization: From City to Text in Archaic Greece (New York, 1993).

79 According to Martin (1951) 195, the eponymous hero is "le produit d'une réfection de la tradition religieuse" (the product of a remaking of the religious tradition) in response to internal political events or major external ones. De Polignac (1984) 132ff. also suggests that sometimes it was necessary to invent the mythic founder.

80 See A. J. Graham, "Religion, Women and Greek Colonization," in Religione e citta nel mondo antico (Rome, 1984) 293-314.

81 Heroines who give their names to cities include Abia, Alalkomenia, Amphissa, Andania, Araithyrea, Arene, Arne, Boura, Dyme, Eirene, Ephyre, Harpina, Helike, Hyrmina, Ismene (?), Kombe, Kyrbia, Kyrene, Lampsake, Larisa, Larymna, Messene, Mothone, Mykene, Myrine, Nemea, Nonakris, Oichalia, Oinoe, Physkoa, Psothis, Side, Sparte, Tanagra, Thebe, Therapne, Thespia, Thisbe, Thyia (2), Triteia. Others are said to give their names to demes (Aglauros, Hekale, Melite), tribes (Hyrnetho, Milye), and the gates of Thebes (Elektra). On the eponymous heroines of demes, see E. Kearns, The Heroes of Attica. BICS suppl. 57 (1989) 101-2.

82 Pfister (1912) 2:279-89, lists about 60 examples of graves of eponymous heroes, 10 of whom are actually heroines.

83 The subject of heroines as cult-founders is discussed in Chapter 5 (with appendix). See Carolyn Dewald, "Women and Culture in Herodotus' Histories" in Reflections of Women in Antiquity, ed. Foley (New York, 1981) 91-125, especially p. 110-12; 122.

84FGrH 476 F 3 = Photius and Suda s.v.… See J. Svenbro, Phrasikleia: An Anthropology of Reading in Ancient Greece, trans. J. Lloyd (Ithaca, 1993 [Paris, 1988]) 8-9, 82-86.

85 On cults of emperors, see S. R. F. Price, Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor (Cambridge, 1984).

86 Pfister, for example, follows pagan examples with Christian ones throughout his study of Reliquienkult. It is precisely in the matter of relics that the comparison is most tempting. See P. Brown, The Cult of the Saints (Chicago, 1981) 5-6 for a critique of this idea.


Journals and Compilations

L'Antiquité Classique
American Journal of Archaeology
American Journal of Philology
Antike Kunst
Antike Welt
Bulletin de Correspondence Hellenique
Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies
Classical Antiquity
Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum
Classical Journal
Classical Quarterly
Classical Review
Classical World
Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker ed. F. Jacoby (Berlin/Leiden, 1923-64)
Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum ed. C. Muller and T. Muller (Paris, 1841-51)
Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies
Harvard Studies in Classical Philology
Harvard Theological Review
Inscriptiones Graecae
Journal of Hellenic Studies
Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae
Fragmenta Hesiodea ed. R. Merkelbach and M. L. West (Oxford, 1967)
Poetae Melici Graeci ed. D. L. Page (Oxford, 1962)
Parola del Passato
Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica
Realencyclopddie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft
Revue des études anciennes
Revue des études grecques
Rheinisches Museum
Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum
Studi e Materiali di Storia delle Religioni
Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association
Yale Classical Studies
Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigrafik

Ancient Authors Frequently Cited

Ant. Lib.:
Antoninus Liberalis
Apollonius of Rhodes
Cert. Hom. et Hes.:
The Contest between Homer and Hesiod
Diodorus Siculus
Catalogue of Women attributed to Hesiod
Works and Days
Hom. Hymn:
Homeric Hymns
Hyg. Fab…:
Hyginus Fabulae
Plutarch (see below for individual titles)
scholia (ancient commentaries)

All others may be found in the Oxford Classical Dictionary or A Greek-English Lexicon, ed. Liddell, Scott, and Jones.

Plutarch Moralia:
Titles of Individual Works
Amat. narr.:
Love Stories
Apotheg. Lac.:
Sayings of Spartans
De def orac.:
On the Obsolescence of Oracles
De frat. am.:
On Brotherly Love
De gen. Socr.:
On the Sign of Socrates
De Herodot. malig.:
On the Malignity of Herodotus
De mul. virt.:
On the Bravery of Women
Glor. Athen.:
On the Fame of Athens
Parallel Stories
Praec. coniug.:
Advice to Bride and Groom
Quaest. conviv.:
Quaest. Gr.:
Greek Questions
Quaest. R.:
Roman Questions
Sept. sap. conviv.:
Dinner of the Seven Wise Men
Plutarch Lives:
Titles of Individual Works

Cosmogonies And Divinities In Greek Mythology


Women In Greek Mythology