Unmentionable

07 21 artemis of ephesus 2Today, I want to tell you something that is, on the face of it, not brilliant. On this day in the year 356 BC, the temple of Artemis at Ephesus was burned to the ground. But it does give me a chance to tell you about the Artemis of Ephesus, and she’s quite unusual. Here she is, on the right. The Greeks were a bit like the Romans. As they expanded their territories, they met with new gods. But rather than try to replace them with their own, they chose a god from their own pantheon that they thought it most resembled, and renamed it. Artemis was their goddess of the hunt, of animals, of the wilderness and also somehow of both childbirth and virginity. There are certainly lots of animals in this image, but I can’t see her doing much hunting in that frock. Having a column instead of legs isn’t really that uncommon in Greek statues, but those things all around her torso are a bit more mysterious. They have been interpreted variously as breasts, eggs, bulls testicles or some sort of elaborate jewellery. But we don’t really know what they’re meant to be. We know nothing about her cult before the arrival of the Greeks. I can’t even tell you her name.

Artemis, like the two saints I mentioned yesterday, did not have much time for men. It seems she was once in love with Orion, but then accidentally killed him. The river god, Alpheus, loved her but she didn’t love him. He tried to capture her, but she disguised herself by covering her face in mud. There are a couple of other stories about mortal men who tried to rape her. One, she shot with poisoned arrows and the other, she turned into a little girl.

The temple of Artemis was huge and it was famous. It was the most magnificent building in the city and possibly the first Greek temple ever built from marble. It had been built to replace a previous temple which was destroyed by a flood some time in the seventh 07 21 amazons 1century BC. The first temple was reputed to have been built by the Amazons. Not the ones from South America though the, possibly mythical, tribe of warrior women. It was dedicated to their goddess, who later became identified with the Greek goddess Artemis. Little has been found of the original temple, but some gourd shaped drops of amber have been recovered, which may be the breast shaped ornaments that decorated her original statue.

The site was certainly an important one, as archaeological evidence shows that it has been occupied since the Bronze Age. Also, people kept building there despite the fact that it was clearly prone to flooding. The building of the new temple began around 550 BC and held a wooden effigy of the goddess. If you’re wondering, as I was, how a marble temple got burned up in a fire, I understand the roof beams were also made from wood and it possibly contained a library. The whole building was about 377 ft long and 115 ft wide. It was an impressive building that was visited by sightseers, merchants and kings, many of whom paid homage to the Artemis. Ephesus was a large and prosperous city, and it was all due to the protection of their goddess

So when it burned down, it was a disaster. But, even worse than that, someone had set fire to it on purpose. Worse still, he wasn’t sorry. He set fire to his city’s splendid temple because he knew it would make him famous. Afterwards, he went around telling everyone he had done it. He was sentenced to death for his crime, but that was not his only punishment. The Ephesians didn’t want him to be remembered at all. They forbade anyone to ever mention his name again, on pain of death. I’m rather with the Ephesians on this. People who do such things are still a problem to us nearly two and a half thousand years later. Someone who does something spectacularly wicked just so that they will be raised from anonymity deserves to have that snatched from them. Mentioning them over and over and putting them on the front page of every newspaper only encourages others. Unfortunately, not everyone was governed by the laws of Ephesus and it’s perfectly easy to find out his name, but I’m not going to tell you it.

Instead, I’ll tell you that the Ephesians built themselves an even bigger temple. It was around 450 ft by 225 ft and 60ft high. They commissioned a new statue of their goddess from a sculptor named Endoeus, who was a apparently a pupil of Daedalus, the man who built a labyrinth for the Minotaur and made a pair of wings for his son Icarus. So there’s one in the eye for the unmentionable pyromaniac. The new temple was so magnificent that it became one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

07 21 temple of artemis

Of the Seven Wonders, all are now gone, except the Great Pyramid at Giza. The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes and the Lighthouse of Alexandria were all destroyed by earthquakes. The statue of Zeus at Olympia was taken to Constantinople and perhaps lost in a fire. No one is completely sure whether the Hanging Gardens of Babylon really existed. The Temple of Artemis seems to have fallen into disuse with the arrival of Christianity. Perhaps it was destroyed by the Goths. If we believe early Christian sources, it was John the Apostle. He prayed there and cast out all the demons. The altar exploded and half the temple fell down. But if we’ve learned anything in the last year, it is to take the stories told to us by the early Christians with a pinch of salt.

Ephesus, which had once been a thriving port, became less important after the river there silted up. By the fifteenth century, it had been completely abandoned. It is now far from the coast. The temple was probably dismantled to build other things. Some of its columns were taken and used in the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople in the sixth century. So they became part of a Christian church which was made a mosque in 1453. The temple of the Lady of Ephesus, whoever she was, has time travelled from the ancient Greeks, through the Christian Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman one. The Hagia Sophia is now a museum.

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Hot Dog

07 03 siriusPerhaps it’s because I’ve been so busy writing this, but it seem to me as though summer is dragging its heels a bit this year. Still, today looks promising and perhaps this will be the start of a run of fine weather. Traditionally, July 3rd is the first of the ‘Dog Days’, hot, sultry summer days that should last, at least here in the Northern hemisphere, from now until August 11th.

The term Dog Days originally referred to the time of year when the Dog Star, Sirius rose just before the sun appeared over the horizon. Should you be interested, I can tell you that this is called a ‘heliacal rising’. Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky. That led ancient people to believe that it added to the power and heat of the sun and made the days hotter. Because of something called the precession of the equinoxes, the heliacal rising of Sirius once happened earlier in the year and now happens later. For the ancient Egyptians, it appeared around the time of the summer solstice and heralded the annual flooding of the Nile. But for the ancient Greeks, it started around this time and was associated with the hottest days of the year. They didn’t like them at all. Pliny considered it to be a time when people were most at risk of being bitten by a mad dog and Hippocrates thought it a bad time to prescribe purging medicines. They were evil days, stagnant and unwholesome. The sea boiled, wine turned sour, dogs went mad, people were more prone to diseases and hysterics and everyone was too hot to do anything about it. Even Homer complained about them in his ‘Iliad’:

Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion’s Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat
And fevers to suffering humanity

07 03 stabbing the vigin maryMaybe it was the evil effects of the Dog Days that affected a Swiss soldier, who found himself in Paris on this day in 1418. According to legend, he had been drinking and gambling in a Paris tavern. He had lost his money, he had lost his clothes, and he was feeling angry. He reeled his way furiously down the street, swearing all the way until, at the corner of ‘la Rue aux Ours’, the Street for Bears, he came upon a statue of the Virgin Mary. He took out his knife and stabbed it. The statue began to bleed. A lot. The authorities were called and he was arrested. The story is probably not true at all, but supposedly his punishment was the be scourged until his eyes fell out, his tongue was skewered with a hot iron and his body cast into a fire. The statue was taken to a church for safety. For hundreds of years afterwards, the people of Paris built a fire, every July 3rd, on the spot where the statue had stood. They also built, carried through the streets, and then burned an effigy of the soldier. In later years, they began to fill him with fireworks too. Luckily, in 1744, someone realized that this was quite dangerous in a narrow street and the fireworks part was banned. But the citizens continued to parade and burn their soldier until around 1807.

Perhaps though, there is another reason why people might have been a bit bad-tempered around the time of the Dog Days. Astrologer’s almanacs, which first appeared, along with printing, in the fifteenth century, were full of helpful advice about where, when and with whom is was advisable to indulge one’s carnal desires. “Restrain your desire…” they advised, “particularly during the dog days of July and August”. It seems many followed this advice as parish records indicated a distinct fall in the birth rates during Spring. Also, a commentator writing in 1662 noted a “high dissatisfaction among women” in July because “men this month observe the rule of astrology too much”. Many wives turned to adultery because “If husband won’t, another must”.

 

Looking Up

05 28 thalesOn this day in 585 BC a Greek philosopher named Thales successfully predicted a solar eclipse. The Greek historian, Herodotus, who was one of his contemporaries, tells us that the eclipse happened during a battle between the Medes and the Lydians. According to him, it began when someone cooked up someone else’s son and served him to the king for dinner. It was a war that had raged for six years without either side gaining any particular advantage. On this day, just as the battle was in full swing it suddenly grew dark. In Ancient Greece, a solar eclipse was taken as a sign that the gods were angry, so both sides put down their weapons and were eager to agree a peace.

Herodotus tells us that Thales had predicted only the year of the eclipse, but it seems impossible to predict the year of a solar eclipse without also knowing the day. In truth, we don’t really know how he did it, history doesn’t tell us. Aristotle regarded Thales as the first Greek philosopher to try to explain the world about him without falling back on mythology. None of his writing survives so we only know what other people said about him. We know that Thales thought the earth floated on water, in the same way that ships do. His theory was supported by the fact that people believed in, and had definitely seen, floating islands. He thought that earthquakes were caused by waves in the water that was holding us all up. He may not have been quite right, but it was a better guess than the ‘angry gods’ explanation that was the ‘go to’ answer for anything bad that happened. He managed to work out that the Earth was round though. He knew it must be spherical, because he had observed ships disappearing over the horizon.

There is a tale that he once fell into a well, because he was so busy looking up at the stars and wasn’t looking where he was going. The moral of the story being, that people should be a bit more practical and not have their head in the clouds. However, it is just possible that Thales got into the well on purpose. The Ancient Greeks knew that the stars were still in the sky during the day, but they were just not visible. Unless there was a solar eclipse of course. But they also knew that if you looked into a very deep well, you could sometimes see the stars reflected in the water. So if you are ever unlucky enough to find yourself at the bottom of a very deep well, look up and you will see that the sky looks dark and full of stars, even in the day time.

Maybe after this incident, he was keen to prove that philosophy had its practical advantages. Thales had managed to pinpoint the dates of the Summer and Winter solstices, and therefore, the length of the solar year. He also noticed the changing of the seasons. He must have kept an eye on the changing weather patterns too, because there was a year in which he managed to predict a particularly good olive harvest. He was so confident that he bought up all the olive presses in his home city of Miletus. These he either used himself or rented them out at a high price when everyone suddenly had loads of olives that needed pressing. Aristotle insists that he did this, not for his own gain, but to prove to people that philosophy was not as useless as they thought.

Mercurial

05 15 mercuryToday is the Ides of May. You’ve probably heard of the Ides of March but there was an ‘ides’ in the middle of every Roman month. On the Ides of May there was a festival in honour of the god Mercury called Mercuralia. Mercury is really the Roman version of the Greek god Hermes. His mother was Maia, and it is after her that the month of May is probably named. His father was Jupiter, who frankly got around a bit. We know that Mercury is the messenger of the gods and that he wears a winged helmet and sandals. He carries a caduceus, a magic, winged staff with two serpents twined around it. Beyond that he’s rather hard to pin down. Mercurial, if you will. He is the god of financial gain, commerce, eloquence, messages, communication, travellers, boundaries, luck, trickery and thieves. That’s quite a diverse range. Though there probably is a link between financial gain and eloquence, luck and trickery. The name Mercury and the word ‘merchant’ probably come from the same root.

All his wings allowed him to travel quickly between the upper and lower worlds. As well as being a messenger he is credited with being a ‘psychopomp’ which is a marvellous word and it means that he guided the souls of the dead to the underworld. A bit like our ‘grim reaper’, but probably a bit more upbeat. His caduceus is a symbol associated with messengers in general and probably pre-dates both Mercury and Hermes. You can see them in images dedicated to the Mesopotamian god of the Underworld dating from the twenty-first century BC. The caduceus belonging to Hermes is supposed to have been a gift from Apollo that had once belonged to his blind prophet Tiresias. Tireseas used his staff to kill one of a pair of copulating serpents a was turned into a woman as a punishment. But that’s a whole other story, that I’m probably not going to have time to get round to. Also as it is sometimes seen as a staff which is dividing two fighting snakes and representing skills in negotiation.

Mercury/Hermes is a clever character but not entirely trustworthy. In Greek mythology, it seems that when he was just four hours old he killed a tortoise, made its shell into a musical instrument, thus inventing the lyre, and learned to play it. Later the same day he stole some cattle belonging to his half-brother Apollo. He managed to cover his tracks by putting the cattles’ hooves on backwards before he drove them away. When asked about it, he denied even knowing what a cow was. Seriously, don’t trust this guy. Hermes and Apollo later made up. Hermes gave Apollo his lyre and Apollo gave him the caduceus.

The Romans adopted a lot of their gods from the Greeks and, as their empire spread, they also got very good at reinterpreting other people’s gods to fit in with their own pantheon. In Gaul and in Britain they encountered a god named Lugh who was similarly represented as a multi-talented fellow who was also a bit of a trickster. So they decided he must be Mercury too. It didn’t really matter that this god had three faces and three penises. The Romans were pretty tolerant like that and they wanted him anyway.

In Rome, the festival of Mercury was celebrated by those connected with commerce. They prayed to him for forgiveness for all the lies they had told in the past and also to ask for success in all the lying they were going to do in the future. If you want to celebrate Mercularia today and you own a ship, merchandise or indeed a head, what you need to do is this… Take some water from the holy well of Mercury, (there is one at Porta Capena in Rome, but maybe you can find another) and dip a laurel branch in it and sprinkle it over your stuff or yourself. If you deal in mainly in electrical equipment though, probably stick with pouring it over your head.

Your Kingdom for a Horse

04 24 burning of troyA couple of days ago, I talked about Rome and mentioned briefly that one of its supposed founders, Aeneas, had fled from Troy following the Trojan War. Well, today is the traditional date given for the fall of that city, in the year 1184 BC. The Trojan War is a massively important event in the mythology of the ancient Greeks. It involves so many gods from the Greek pantheon and so many beings that are half human and half divine that for hundreds years nobody really believed that it had happened in the first place. Now, we think that it does contain at least a grain of truth. I’m not going to tell you any events of the war in great detail, because there are too many names, too many different versions and it would get confusing.

So, the Trojan war supposedly happened because Zeus thought there were far too many people in the world. Particularly, far too many of his demi-god children. Zeus had become king of the gods by overthrowing his father Cronus, who had become king by overthrowing his father Uranus. He did not want the same thing to happen to him. There was also a prophecy that one of his lovers, a sea-nymph called Thetis, would give birth to a divine child that would overthrow him. To stop this from happening he had her married off to a human, a king called Peleus. It was at their wedding that the trouble really started.

04 24 wedding of peleus and thetis

All the gods and goddesses had been invited except for Eris, the goddess of discord. Keeping discord out of a wedding is, of course, desirable but not always possible. She turned up and was stopped at the door, but she still managed to throw in her wedding gift, the Apple of Discord. It carried an inscription which said it was a gift ‘to the fairest’. Of course, then there was a huge row about which of them was the most beautiful. Having narrowed it down to Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, they asked a human too choose. They chose Paris, who was visiting from Troy. Athena offered him wisdom, Hera offered him power and Aphrodite offered him the love of the most beautiful woman in the world. He chose Aphrodite and she offered him Helen. Unfortunately, there was a problem. Helen was already married to King Menelaus. But Aphrodite was angry with Menelaus because he had promised, when he married Helen, to sacrifice a hundred oxen to the goddess, but then forgotten about it.

Of course the gods get what they want, so Helen fell in love with Paris and, after some adventures, he took her back to Troy. Loads of men in Greece loved Helen, many had wanted to marry her, but when Menelaus was chosen, they swore to protect her. So that was when 1,200 Greek ships set sail for Troy to get her back. Some tried to break their promise. The king of Cyprus had promise fifty ships, but sent only one real ship and forty-nine made out of clay. Odysseus, who had just got married himself, tried to convince everyone, unsuccessfully, that he was mad by sowing his fields with salt. Then there was Achilles, he was the son of Thetis and Pelius. His mother disguised him as a girl so he wouldn’t have to go. But Achilles was quite the warrior. He wasn’t very good at being the sort of girl that was expected of him and soon gave himself away.

04 24 achilles

Achilles’ mother knew about the prophecy that had bothered Zeus and she tried very hard to make him divine. In one story, she smeared him with ambrosia and held him over a fire to try and burn away the parts of him that were human. Her husband caught her and stopped her. Apparently she had already killed several of her sons this way. In another, she dipped him in the river Styx to make him invulnerable, but he still had one weak point where she held him by the heel. His Achilles Heel.

The Greeks besieged the city of Troy for ten years. Loads of Heroes died, sometimes they were killed by their own side. Everyone got very fed up and then Odysseus had his idea about the horse. The horse was the symbol of Troy so they quite liked them. The Greeks built a giant horse, then they burned their camps and pretended to go home, leaving the horse and a single soldier called Sinon to explain that was a gift for Athena. A couple of people were quite suspicious of the horse. There was a man called Laocoön who said that he didn’t trust any Greeks, even if they did bring presents. He tried to stab the horse with a spear but the god Poseidon sent a sea serpent to strangle him. Then there was Cassandra, the daughter of the king of Troy. She had been blessed with the gift of prophecy and tried to tell everyone that the horse would bring about the downfall of the city. Unfortunately she was also cursed. Her curse was that no one would ever believe her. Both these things were very unfortunate for the Trojans, as there were actually thirty soldiers, incuding Odysseus hiding inside the horse.

04 24 trojan horse

They dragged the horse into the city, gave it a big party and then went to bed. That was when Odysseus and his soldiers climbed out and let the rest of the Greek Army, who hadn’t gone home at all, into the city and they completely destroyed it. They captured Helen and took her home. She and Menelaus didn’t really live happily ever after. In fact, he was pretty sorry about the whole thing. During the attack on Troy, the Greeks had behaved appalingly, they burned loads of temples and the Gods were very upset. They wreaked their revenge and hardly any of the Greeks involved in the Trojan War ever made it home. Or if they did, it took them a really, really long time. Some were killed, some founded other colonies elsewhere. Many european rulers have claimed descent from the survivors of the Trojan War. Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, the Habsburgs, even our own Royal Family.

But, by the 1870s, pretty much everyone thought that the whole thing was complete made up nonsense and there was never even any such place. But then, a man called Heinrich Schliemann discovered the ruins of a Bronze age city exactly where Troy was supposed to be. Since then, several cities have been identified on the same site. Troy has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. But at some point, possibly in the thirteenth century BC, it certainly looks as though it was destroyed by a war.

Vague

04 21 capitoline wolfThis day in 753 BC is the traditional date for the founding of Rome… or it might have been a different year but everyone seems pretty sure that it was definitely 21st April. It was a day sacred to the Roman deity Pales, who looked after shepherds and livestock. No one is certain whether Pales was male or female, or even a pair of deities. At the festival in honour of Pales, Parilia, a shepherd would drive his flock through a bonfire to purify the animals and offer prayers to protect them from evil during the coming year. Over time, as the population became more urban, it turned into a celebration of the birth of Rome.

So Rome began with twin brothers called Romulus and Remus… or just Romulus… or maybe someone completely different, a Trojan named Aeneas. The Romans had two completely different foundation myths; the one about Romulus and Remus is from Italy, the one about Aeneas, clearly Greek in origin. Aeneus is a mythological figure who was half human and half divine. His mother was Venus, if you’re and ancient Roman, or Aphrodite, if you’re an ancient Greek. Aeneus and a band of followers fled Troy after it was attacked by some Greeks who had been hiding out inside a giant horse. After much wandering and adventures, they wound up in Italy. Aeneus married the daughter of the king of that country, whose name was Lavinia, and their son Ascanius founded a city called Alba Longa, about twelve miles south east of Rome.

The Romans liked the idea of the founder of their people being part god and, in order to reconcile the two myths, they recorded a long line of legendary kings which show Romulus and Remus to be direct descendants of Aeneus. The Emperor Augustus would enjoy claiming kinship to the gods through Romulus. Incidentally, this is not just a Roman thing. Our English mythological King Arthur was also supposed to be descended from Aeneus.

04 21 romulus and remusRomulus and Remus, as you know, were abandoned at birth, in the way that heroes often are. This was either because their uncle was a king who had been told they would overthrow him when they grew up, or because their mother, niece to the king, was a Vestal Virgin who was impregnated by the god Mars… or Hercules… or her uncle…They were either exposed as infants… or thrown in the Tiber to drown… or left on the river bank in a basket and carried away by a flood. They were found by a she wolf who suckled them… or by a wolf goddess named Luperca. They were also fed by a woodpecker. The woodpecker usually gets left out of tthe story, but you can see him in this painting. The twins were found and raised by a shepherd and his wife, Acca Larentia.

Now let me tell you some things about Acca Larentia. She might have a shepherd’s wife. She might have been a beautiful woman with a notorious reputation who was won by Hercules in a game of dice. She may, after that, have married someone rich, inherited all his property when he died and bequeathed it to the Roman people. Or maybe she was neither of those, but a prostitute who bequeathed all her earnings to Rome. It is interesting to note that Romans called their prostitutes ‘Lupa’, which means she-wolf. So maybe there was no real wolf at all.

Anyway, when Romulus and Remus grew up they decided to build a city. Romulus thought the Palatine Hill would be a good place to start but Remus thought the Aventine Hill would be better. They fell out about who was right, who had seen the most auspicious birds and who had seen them first. Then Remus told Romulus that the wall he was building was rubbish and jumped over it. That was when Remus somehow died… or was hit in the head with a spade.

So Romulus won and the city was named after him. He ruled for thirty-seven years and no one really agreed on what happened to him after that. He disappeared, or died in a mysterious way, or ascended to heaven or something…

From a Land Far Away

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday is the first day of the Ancient Roman festival of Bacchanalia. It was held in honour of Bacchus, the god of wine. The festival seems to always have been a pretty wild occasion, but by the time it became popular in Rome, things had got rather out of hand. Bacchus was very much the same entity as the Greek god Dionysus and his cult arrived in Rome via Southern Italy some time around 200 BC.

The Greek Dionysia was originally a rural festival, celebrating the cultivation of vines, which was held in the month of Poseideon. It seems to have involved a large procession through the countryside, with people carrying vessels of wine and water, baskets of fruit and also, oddly, men carrying long poles with fake penises attached to them. Also, women wearing gloves made out of flowers who were pretending to be drunken men. Many of the participants were dressed in animal skins and were playing the parts of Pan and other satyrs. All were garlanded with vines and ivy and they were accompanied by pipes and drums. It all sounds a bit raucous but basically harmless.

Over time the celebrations seem to have become more and more debauched and by the time the cult arrived in Rome it was also rather secretive. The Romans really managed to make the whole thing much worse. To begin with, they decided rather than having an annual celebration, they would have a Bacchanalia five times, every month, and they would have them at night. We cannot be sure exactly what went on. The historian Livy gives an extremely colourful and lurid account of the ceremonies when he wrote about the time they were banned in 186 BC. But what we need to know is that Livy was pretty down on anything that he perceived as ‘foreign’ and also that he was writing 200 years after the events he describes. According to him the screams of the initiates were barely drowned out by the drums and cymbals that accompanied the rites. He tells us that only those under the age of twenty were admitted, as they were thought more pliable. He goes on to say that the initiation rites involved violent sex acts which were often performed on men by other men and that those who refused to take part were killed. This is probably not true at all.

03 16 thomas couture romans during the decadence

Livy didn’t like anything that he perceived as degenerate. What he particularly didn’t like was the idea of free-born Romans of both sexes meeting at night and drinking lots of wine. As to the awful foreignness that he feels is to blame, there is really no evidence that the Romans were very bothered about it. It was always pretty much a cornerstone of their foreign policy that they embraced and assimilated the religious beliefs of other countries and it worked quite well for them. Bacchanals continued to happen but with smaller groups of people. Eventually Bacchus had his festival combined with that of another Roman god of wine Liber.

03 16 maerten van heemskerck triumph of bacchus

It seems Bacchus has always been thought of as a god who came from somewhere else. Even in Greece, when he was Dionysus, he was thought to have come from either the east, in India or the south in Egypt. He is often represented triumphantly and chaotically arriving from some far off destination beyond the limits of the known world. He brings with him a procession of wild women and satyrs. He is a protector of those who do not belong to conventional society. He represents freedom. All the wine, the music and ecstatic dancing associated with his cult freed people from self-consciousness, from fear, from care. But he also represents everything that is chaotic, dangerous and unexpected and there are lots of stories about people who got on the wrong side of him. My favourite at the moment is one about the time he hired a pirate ship to take him to Naxos. But instead they tried to take him to Asia so they could sell him as a slave. He turned the masts and oars into snakes and filled the ship with ivy and the sound of flutes. This drove the pirates mad and they jumped into the sea and were turned into dolphins.

03 16 pirate ship

Dionysus/Bacchus was the last god to be admitted to Olympus and the only one to have a human mother. The circumstances of his birth are unusual. Perhaps his father Zeus rescued his unborn body from his mother, who was blasted into oblivion by the sight of an undisguised god in all his splendour. Alternatively, he was torn apart as a baby by a race of giants called the Titans. After that, they boiled him and then roasted him. It is a story that reminds me of some of the tales I’ve read about early Christian martyrs. In the second version, his father managed to rescue only his heart. Zeus then sewed the baby, or his heart into his own thigh until the child was either ready to be born or had been remade. Either seem equally plausible. It is the sort of story that Lucian was making fun of in his ‘True History‘ that I mentioned last week.