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The Olympians – for the most part, Twelve

Dionysos (greek god of wine and one of twelve Olympians) discovered Ariadne (daughter of King Minos of Crete) on Naxos and wedded her. As a gift he gave her crown which was set in the heavens as the constellation (known also as Corona Borealis).

The Olympians were the twelve most important gods of ancient Greece pantheon who lived on Mount Olympus. Not to be confused with Olympia, Mount Olympus was the highest mountain in Greece at the border of Thessaly and Macedonia.

The Olympians are Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, Hermes, Demeter, Dionysus, Hephaestus, and Ares. The number of Olympic gods was mostly fixed at twelve, but variations were permissible.

Hades and Persephone were sometimes included as part of the twelve Olympians (primarily due to the influence of the Eleusinian Mysteries), although in general Hades was excluded, because he resided permanently in the underworld and never visited Olympus

Greek myth tends to be more important, I think, to Americans than Canadians. And ancient Greek architecture also plays a more important role in the US.

Myself, I didn’t really come to study the Greeks until my mid-twenties.² At that time, the gods served as so-called archetypes in my quest for self-knowledge. I was studying Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, both of whom reinterpret myth to fit within their respective theoretical frameworks. Freud tends to be more psychoanalytic while Jung extends the reach of psychology to the borders of the metaphysical. In my view, it is inadequate to emphasize one perspective without the other.³

English: Group photo in front of Clark Univers...

Group photo in front of Clark University Sigmund Freud, G. Stanley Hall, Carl Jung; Back row: Abraham A. Brill, Ernest Jones, Sándor Ferenczi. Photo taken for Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts publication. Česky: Foto z Clarkovy univerzity roku 1909. Dole (zleva) Sigmund Freud, G. Stanley Hall, Carl Jung, nahoře (zleva) Abraham A. Brill, Ernest Jones, Sándor Ferenczi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


² One of the very first reference books I bought was Zimmerman’s very handy Dictionary of Classical Mythology, which I still have. Little did I know that I was embarking on a career of buying reference books that would only slow down with the growth of Wikipedia!

³ Not to say that these two innovators capture everything. I think they both fall a bit short when it comes to theological ideas like karma transfer and intercession, especially Freud.

Related » Ambrosia



The Sirens of Ancient Greece

Odysseus and the Sirens. An 1891 painting by J...

Odysseus and the Sirens. An 1891 painting by John William Waterhouse. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Greek mythology, the Sirens are usually depicted as bird-like creatures with women’s heads who lure sailors to their doom through their haunting song. They can also tame the wind.

In Homer, Odysseus heeded Circe’s warning to avoid the Sirens’ disastrous call by plugging his crew’s ears with beeswax. Curious to hear their strange song, himself, Odysseus ordered his shipmates to fasten him to the mast so he, himself, would not be entranced.

In another version of the myth, Orpheus overpowers their haunting voices with the power of his lyre.¹

In later accounts, the Sirens drown themselves after failing to destroy Odysseus and his crew. Again they commit suicide in another variant, after losing to the Muses in a music competition. The Sirens have also been depicted in Greek myth as mermaids.

The Greek philosopher, Plato depicted eight Sirens in the myth of Er (toward the end of the Republic) as makers of the music of the spheres.

The Siren, by John William Waterhouse (circa 1...

The Siren, by John William Waterhouse (circa 1900), depicted as a fish-chimera. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Sirens were also with Persephone during her rape. According to Ovid, they were originally humanoid but were transformed into birds with human faces while searching for her.²

So we see, as in most ancient myth, a jumble of stories. This makes it hard, I think, to simplify the story of the Sirens to one archetypal idea.

Along these lines, Gilbert Thurlow, following the lead of Mircea Eliade, C. G. Jung and others, tends to emphasize the universal nature of myth:

What is a myth? In the narrowest sense it is a tale about the supernatural. But in a deeper sense it is also a revelation of the divine in terms of this life, a method of revealing ultimate truth.³

The sirens are found on bronze vases from about 600 BCE.

In early Christian times actual belief in the Sirens was discouraged but they remained as symbols of evil, temptation and womanly seduction. In some instances they were likened to heavenly music.

The Sirens were allegorized by both classical and Christian writers as representing the lusts of the flesh, the insatiable desire for knowledge, the dangers of flattery, or as celestial music drawing souls upwards to heaven. Odysseus bound to the mast even came to be seen as an allegory of Christ on the cross.4

Apparently the Roman Emperor Tiberius teased his court scholars by asking them the impossible question: What song did the Sirens sing? Tiberius is generally understood to be the somewhat moody Emperor who ruled during the life and preaching of Jesus.5

Wikipedia provides a convenient list of the Sirens:

  • Aglaope (Αγλαόπη) or Aglaophonos (Αγλαόφωνος) or Aglaopheme (Αγλαοφήμη)(“with lambent voice”). A daughter of Achelous and Melpomene.
  • Leucosia (Λευκοσία). Her name was given to the island opposite to the Sirenuss cape. Her body was found on the shore of Poseidonia.
  • Ligeia (Λιγεία). She was found ashore of Terine in Bruttium.
  • Molpe (Μολπή). A daughter of Achelous and Melpomene.
  • Parthenope (Παρθενόπη). Her tomb was presented in Naples and called “constraction of sirens”.
  • Peisinoe (Πεισινόη) or Peisithoe (Πεισιθόη). A daughter of Achelous and Melpomene.
  • Thelxiope (Θελξιόπη) or Thelxiepeia (Θελξιέπεια) (“eye pleasing”). A daughter of Achelous and Melpomene.
Ulysses and the Sirens

Ulysses and the Sirens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

¹ “Sirens” in Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd Ed. (2000, CD ROM edition).

² Ibid. and Jenny March, Cassell’s Dictionary of Classical Mythology 2001, p. 705.

³ Gilbert Thurlow, Biblical Myths and Mysteries, Octopus Books, 1974, p. 4. Myself, I think it’s highly debatable that myth necessarily tells us about ultimate truth. Apart from variations in content, context, cultural influence and style, myth may, indeed, point to different kinds of transcendence. But these are many. And, as most responsible scholars and seasoned religious mystics point out, a simple glow or buzz is not necessarily the highest, true light of heaven.

4 OCD, op. cit.

5 M. C. Howatson and Ian Chilvers, The Concise Companion to Classical Literature, Oxford, 1996, p. 497.

Related » The Odyssey, Hero

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Cronus (Saturn) castrates his father Uranus, t...

Cronus (Saturn) castrates his father Uranus, the Greek sky god (before Zeus) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Titans were the first generation of Greek gods, being the 12 children of the primordial Uranus and Gaia.

Massive and powerful, the Titans were the first to be differentiated from their primordial parents. When the Titans were cast out of heaven, Zeus became the head of a second generation of Greek gods.

Titan is also the name of the planet Saturn‘s largest satellite.

Related Posts » Tyche

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Tondo of the Aison Cup, showing the victory of...

Tondo of the Aison Cup, showing the victory of Theseus over the Minotaur in the presence of Athena. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Greek legend Theseus is a national hero and the founder-king of Athens. He appears in the tale of Oedipus, among others. Theseus is probably best known for traveling to Crete and killing the Minotaur. Also popular is the tale of his escaping the labyrinth with the help of Ariadne.

Another hero figure in the annals of ancient myth, we’d do well to remember that hero stories can be inspiring but should not replace the intricacies of modern life. To over identify with an archetypal story can lead to all sorts of psychological and practical problems.¹

¹ See Stuff Jeff Reads’ excellent discussion on this topic »


On the Web:

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Odysseus consulting the shade of Tiresias. Sid...

Odysseus consulting the shade of Tiresias. Side A from a Lucanian red-figured calyx-krater, 4th century BC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Greek myth Tiresias is a Theban, the son of a shepherd and a nymph, who unintentionally sees the chaste Athena bathing. She immediately punishes him with blindness but he is compensated, to some extent, with the gifts of wisdom and prophecy, along with a lifespan of seven generations.

In another mythic cycle Tiresias becomes blind after seeing two snakes coupling. Killing one of the snakes, he is transformed into a woman. Seven years later he again sees two snakes coupling. In one variant of the myth he kills the snakes, in another he leaves them alone. But in both versions he’s changed back into a man.

At this point Zeus and Hera ask him who enjoys sex more, men or women. Tiresias, having experienced both, says women receive nine time more pleasure than men. Hera doesn’t like this answer and strikes him blind. But Zeus gives him the gift of prophecy to compensate for his loss.

Two strange sounding stories, they point to the idea that losing things in life is often replaced or rewarded by something else of a higher or subtler nature.

In Homer‘s Odyssey, the seafaring hero Odysseus asks Tiresias, who’s departed and in the underworld, about his return sea journey home. Tiresias warns Odysseus of many dangers, facilitating his safe return.¹

In pop culture the British progressive rock band Genesis speaks of “father Tiresias” in the song, The Cinema Show (1973):

Take a little trip back with father Tiresias,
Listen to the old one speak of all he has lived through.
I have crossed between the poles, for me there’s no mystery.
Once a man, like the sea I raged,
Once a woman, like the earth I gave.

On the Web:

¹ See Wikipedia for more variations and depictions in art »

Related Posts » Hephaestus, Seer, Wisdom

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Relief known as "the three Tyches"—T...

Relief known as “the three Tyches”—Tyche is the Greek goddess of Fortune; since the Hellenistic period, each city has its own Tyche, represented with a crown of ramparts. This relief, found at the Via Appia, is known since the 18th century and belonged to the Borghese collections. It may come from the Triopius, the funeral complex built by Herodes Atticus for his wife Annia Regilla. Marble, ca. 160 CE. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tyche (Greek: luck) is the Greek goddess of chance or fortune. Her Roman equivalent is the goddess Fortuna. Personifications of Tyche are unclear in the preSocratic period, but the abstract idea of Tyche is found throughout ancient literature.

Her imprint appears on ancient Hellenistic coins about three centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ.

Tyche is often described as one of the Fates or as a daughter of Zeus. Temples for Tyche were, for the most part, built around cities. They offered protection or good luck. Alternately, Tyche was often blamed for natural disasters like floods, frost and drought. Even political misfortunes could be attributed to Tyche.¹

One source says she’s an Oceanid, one of a group of 3,000 nymphs who are daughters of Oceanus, the oldest of the Titans. In art she’s sometimes depicted as blind but her influence goes further than that.

Istanbul Archaeological Museum - Goddess Tyche...

Istanbul Archaeological Museum – Goddess Tyche holding in her arms Plutus (god of wealth) as a child (detail). Hellenistic art, Roman period, 2nd century AD. The coloring of the hair is remarkably well preserved. — Picture by : Giovanni Dall’Orto, May 28 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In medieval times

she was depicted as carrying a cornucopia, an emblematic ship’s rudder, and the wheel of fortune, or she may stand on the wheel, presiding over the entire circle of fate. In the Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara, Tyche became closely associated with the Buddhist ogress Hariti.²

As evident in the related articles, below, the name Tyche also appears in various marketing and media projects.

Related Posts » Taboo


² Ibid.

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You are Here by Chris Christner

You are Here by Chris Christner

Uranus (Gk: Ouranos [úːranos] = “sky” or “heaven“)

In astronomy Uranus is the 7th planet orbiting our sun, between Saturn and Neptune.

In Greek myth Uranus personifies the sky or possibly the Greek view of Heaven, although most scholars emphasize the idea of the physical sky.

Uranus’ cultic worship is rare, but Hesiod makes ample reference to him in the Theogony. With Gaia, Uranus’ offspring are the Titans, the Cyclops and the Hecatonchires.

Not exactly the best father, Uranus generally despised his offspring and thrust them down to Tartarus, a dark and gloomy underworld. Uranus was later overpowered and castrated by his son Cronus, on the insistence of Gaia. This act separated Heaven and Earth.

Mutilasi Uranus

Mutilasi Uranus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some variants of the myth say that Uranus’ castration by Cronus led to the birth of Aphrodite because his genitals fell to and churned up the sea.

Pierre Grimal notes another variant of the Uranus tradition recorded by Diodorus Siculus. Here Uranus is portrayed as the first king of the Atlantes. The Atlantes apparently were a fair, God-fearing race living on the shores by an ocean. In this version of the myth, Uranus was also a skilled astronomer. He devised the first calendar that predicted major events. After fathering 45 children and receiving divine honors at his death, he eventually came to be identified with the sky.¹

Related posts » Aphrodite, Aquarius, Athena, Furies, Hesiod, Titans

¹ Pierre Grimal, The Dictionary of Classical Mythology p. 463.