Chapter 16. Victim of the Muses: Mythical Poets

As has been shown previously, the lives of the poets are often composed of legendary and mythical elements, side by side with historical elements. We will now approach the problem from the other side, looking at selected mythical poets, testing these myths for attestations of the same patterns. A more complete survey of mythical poets can be found in Jeno Platthy’s odd book, The Mythical Poets of Greece.

The Musical Agōn

Both Plato and the Aesop Romance assimilated their heroes to Marsyas, the satyr, so he is a logical starting point. Though he is not a poet per se, he is a musician, and poetry and music (separated by modern definitions) were always closely associated in archaic Greece. [1] Furthermore, the structure of his story offers a close parallel to the stories of poetic agōnes we have found in stories of ancient poets, in the cases of Homer, Hesiod, and Aeschylus. Thus Marsyas is an important mythical antecedent to the legends of the Greek poets. In his myth, and in related stories, the hero is explicitly victim of the Muses. [2]
We first hear of Marsyas in Herodotus: “Here, too [at Celaenae, near Phrygia, in Asia Minor], the skin of Marsyas the Silenus is exhibited; according to the Phrygian legend Apollo flayed Marsyas and hung the skin up here in the marketplace.” [3] The oldest reference to an agōn is in Xenophon: “Here it is said that Apollo flayed Marsyas, having conquered him when he was striving [erizonta] with him concerning skillfulness.” [4] There are other early references in Plato, as Alcibiades compares Socrates to Marsyas and emphasizes the sacral sweetness of his music, in contrast to his (and Socrates’) satyrlike, bestial ugliness. [5] Apollodorus gives a standard exposition of the complete story:
Ἀπέκτεινε δὲ Ἀπόλλων καὶ τὸν Ὀλύμπου παῖδα Μαρσύαν. οὗτος γὰρ εὑρὼν αὐλούς, οὓς ἔρριψεν Ἀθηνᾶ διὰ τὸ τὴν ὄψιν αὐτῆς ποιεῖν ἄμορφον, ἦλθεν εἰς ἔριν περὶ μουσικῆς Ἀπόλλωνι. συνθεμένων δὲ αὐτῶν ἵνα ὁ νικήσας ὃ βούλεται διαθῇ τὸν ἡττημένον, τῆς κρίσεως γινομένης τὴν κιθάραν στρέψας ἠγωνίζετο ὁ Ἀπόλλων, καὶ ταὐτὸ ποιεῖν ἐκέλευσε τὸν Μαρσύαν· τοῦ δὲ ἀδυνατοῦντος εὑρεθεὶς κρείσσων ὁ Ἀπόλλων, κρεμάσας τὸν Μαρσύαν ἔκ τινος ὑπερτενοῦς πίτυος, ἐκτεμὼν τὸ δέρμα οὕτως διέφθειρεν.
Apollo also killed Marsyas, the son of Olympus. For Marsyas, having found the pipes which Athena had thrown away because they disfigured her face, [6] engaged in a musical contest [erin peri mousikēs] with Apollo. They agreed that the victor should work his will on the vanquished, and when the trial took place Apollo turned his lyre upside down in the competition [ēgonizeto] and bade Marsyas do the same. But Marsyas could not, so Apollo was judged the victor and killed Marsyas by hanging him on a tall pine tree and stripping off his skin.
1.4.2, translation by Frazer, adapted [7]
In other variants, it is made explicit that the Muses were the judges of the competition. [8]
Ovid tells us that the lamentations of the fauns, satyrs, nymphs, shepherds, and rustics produced such an enormous amount of tears that the river Marsyas resulted. [9] Later, we learn from Pausanias, Phrygians “repelled the army of the Gauls by the aid of Marsyas, who defended them against the barbarians by the water from the river and by the music of his flute.” [10] Both these details strongly suggest hero cult awarded to the satyr.
Though Apollo remained inimical to the pipe because of Marsyas for some time, Pausanias tells us that a Pythian flute tune was played at Delphi; [11] and that Marsyas’ pipes were eventually possessed by Apollo. The river Marsyas carried them to the Maeander, which took them to the Asopus, then they were washed ashore in the Sicyonian territory, and a shepherd gave them to Apollo. [12] Thus, according to the formulation of Burkert, enmity in myth entails unity in cult.
Here we see familiar themes. There is a poetic consecration, of sorts; in a comic story playing on Athena’s puffed-out cheeks and vanity, Marsyas receives his instrument from a goddess, just as Archilochus had received a lyre. (Our earliest iconographic evidence for Marsyas, the statue by Myron, portrays the satyr at this moment. [13] ) The poet-musician is subhuman, animalistic, yet rivalling Apollo himself in making beautiful music. The musical contest amounts to a trial (krisis) with the poet’s life at stake; he is bested unfairly perhaps, thus making the judgment against the poet unjust (perhaps). The death of the poet-musician follows; he is explicitly killed by the god, seconded by the Muses (with the theme of hanging). But the god eventually possesses the pipes that had originally caused the enmity. Finally, the musician receives hero cult, and gives victory in battle.
As has been mentioned, both Aesop and Socrates are explicitly linked to Marsyas in their vitae. The Aesopic parallel is above all linked to the ambivalent enmity with Apollo; the animalistic marginality in appearance is also comparable. The explicit Socratic parallels are the physical animalism, but also the mantic musicality of Socrates’ speech.
Similar stories are told of other figures in Greek myth. Pan also competed with Apollo in a musical contest, pitting rustic pipes against Apollo’s lyre, and the arbitrant, King Tmolus, awarded the victory to Apollo. [14] Interestingly, Apollo learned the gift of prophecy from Pan, [15] and so we have identification of victor with vanquished once again.
Thamyris engaged in a similar foolhardy contest, which is attested as early as the Iliad:
… Δώριον, ἔνθα τε Μοῦσαι
ἀντόμεναι Θάμυριν τὸν Θρήϊκα παῦσαν ἀοιδῆς,
Οἰχαλίηθεν ἰόντα παρ’ Εὐρύτου Οἰχαλιῆος·
στεῦτο γὰρ εὐχόμενος νικησέμεν, εἴ περ ἂν αὐταὶ
Μοῦσαι ἀείδοιεν, κοῦραι Διὸς αὶγιόχοιο·
αἱ δὲ χολωσάμεναι πηρὸν θέσαν, αὐτὰρ ἀοιδὴν
θεσπεσίην ἀφέλοντο καὶ ἐκλέλαθον κιθαριστύν.
… Dorion, where the Muses
encountering Thamyris the Thracian stopped him from singing
as he came from Oichalia and Oichalian Eurytos;
for he boasted that he would surpass, if the very Muses,
daughters of Zeus who holds the aegis, were singing against him,
and these in their anger struck him maimed, and the voice of wonder
they took away, and made him a singer without memory …
Iliad II 594–600, translation by Lattimore
According to Apollodorus, “Thamyris, who excelled in beauty [16] and in lyre-singing, engaged in a musical contest with the Muses, the agreement being that, if he won, he should enjoy them all, but that if he should be vanquished he should be bereft of what they would. So the Muses got the better of him and bereft him both of his eyes and of his lyre-singing.” [17] The blinding is attested as early as Hesiod, apparently. [18]
The theme of the blinding of the poet, evidenced most memorably in the Homer vita, returns again. Demodocus was another poet who was blinded by a Muse, but was given the gift of song as recompense. [19] One thinks in this connection of Tiresias, the seer, who had his eyesight taken away by Hera, as punishment for taking Zeus’ side in the two gods’ famous quarrel as to which of the sexes experiences most satisfaction in love making; in recompense, Zeus gave him the power of prophecy. [20] Here we have a clearly parallel motif shared by poet and prophet. Thamyris, of course, does not fit this mantic pattern, for he loses both his eyesight and his poetic gifts simultaneously. But his musical gifts cause his blindness.
Thamyris seems a somewhat unsympathetic failure, disastrously punished by the Muses in his hubris; he nevertheless received a statue, in the grove of the Muses at Helicon. [21]
The Linus who was the forefather of the Linus killed by Heracles (according to Pausanias), fits into this category of poets. Τhe son of a Muse, Urania, he “ won a reputation for music greater than that of any contemporary or predecessor, and … Apollo killed him for equalling him in singing [exisoumenon kata tēn ōidēn].” [22] After his death the whole world mourns (which seemingly puts Apollo in an unsympathetic light); even in Egypt there was a Linus lament. Here the poet is almost assimilated to the dying god of Frazer and the ancient Near East. As in the case of Hesiod, there is a significant emphasis on the placement of bones after death: “The Thebans assert that Linus was buried among them, and that after the Greek defeat at Chaeronia, Philip the son of Amyntas, in obedience to a vision in a dream, took up the bones of Linus and conveyed them to Macedonia; other visions induced him to send the bones of Linus back to Thebes.” Also in the grove of the Muses at Helicon is a rock sculpture of Linus: “To Linus every year they sacrifice [enagizousi] as to a hero before they sacrifice to the Muses.” [23]
Here we have familiar patterns: close association with the Muses or Apollo, including cultic association after death; the bestness of the poet; enmity with Apollo—agōn and execution by the god; lamentation, emphasis on the bones and grave of hero, and hero cult. We are moving in the same world as the vitae of Aesop, Archilochus, and Hesiod.

Poet as Mantis / Shaman

The recurrent association of these agōn myths with Apollo leads us repeatedly to think of Delphi, the site of the Aesopic cult myth. Burkert writes, “Music was the primary mode of experiencing the Delphic god’s epiphany, and the musical agōn was the most important at Delphi.” [24] This musical agōn appears faithfully in these myths of poets, as it does in the story of the contest of Homer and Hesiod, [25] because of the close connection between seers and poets. Here one recalls the riddle contest between seers, as in the story of Calchas and Mopsus, where the seer who loses the contest dies of grief or through suicide. [26]
Shamanistic themes begin to be repeatedly associated with all these themes. [27] After path-breaking studies by K. Meuli and Dodds, Burkert, and Bremmer have urged caution in speaking of Greek shamanism. For the purposes of this study, it is less important to determine whether actual extra-Greek shamanism influenced Greece than it is to isolate authentic shamanic themes that appear there. Furthermore, it is clear that shamanism can be broadly or narrowly defined.
The shaman was focused on ecstasy. Eliade defines the shaman as “the great master of ecstasy” who experiences “a trance during which his soul is believed to leave his body and ascend to the sky or descend to the underworld.” Animals often act as helpers. In its pure form, shamanism is found in Central and North Asia. [28]
Often the shaman was a healer. [29] In a similar way, the archaic Greek poet sometimes functioned as healer—Aelian writes, “If ever the Spartans required the aid of the Muses on occasion of general sickness of body or mind or any like public affliction, their custom was to send for foreigners at the bidding of the Delphic oracle, to act as healers and purifiers. For instance they summoned Terpander, Thales [= Thaletas], Tyrtaeus, Nymphaeus of Cydonia, and Alcman.” [30] This links the archaic Greek poet closely to the wandering seer/wise man such as Epimenides, who was a healer and purifier.
Often the shaman used music (chanting and dancing, accompanied by sacred drums) to induce ecstasy and healing. [31] Thus, Dodds writes, “Out of the north came Abaris, riding, it was said, upon an arrow, as souls, it appears, still do in Siberia … he banished pestilences, predicted earthquakes, composed religious poems, and taught the worship of his northern god, whom the Greeks called the Hyperborean Apollo.” [32] In such a figure, we have the healer, the prophet, the poet. And we have seen that ecstasy is an important aspect of poetic creativity (as in the consecration epiphanies of Aesop, Archilochus, Hesiod, and Aeschylus; Archilochus sings the Dionysiac dithyramb when thunderstruck with wine) and of poetic communication (Tyrtaeus instilled enthousiasmos, a state of divine possession, into the Spartan warriors).
Since we have seen the persistent association of poet as cult hero with Delphi, it is worth noting that the poet Olen, a Hyperborean, was one of the founders of Delphi; he became Apollo’s first prophet, and the inventor of hexameter poetry. [33] Thus poetry and prophecy are explicitly associated at the beginning of the Delphic tradition. [34] The Hyperborean background of Olen brings shamanism to mind. [35] Strabo tells us that Delphi kept a staff of poets who versified the oracles. [36] M. L. West notes that, from northern Thrace, “it is not far to Pieria, the region north and east of Mount Olympus” and that in shamanism there is the tradition of a sky god with “seven or nine ‘sons’ or ‘daughters.’” There was an early cult of the Muses at Delphi. [37] The first Delphic Sibyl was reared by the Muses at Helicon, and the Muses were associated with the Castalian spring, close to Delphi. [38]

Epimenides of Crete

Epimenides is firmly in the tradition of poet-prophet, and is curiously half-mythical, half-historic [39] —a philosopher and a seer with shamanic characteristics. I consider him here for his many parallels with Hesiod, for his blame fragment, and for his associations with purification. Huxley remarks that the seers “Melampous and his family stand out, by reason of their skill and percipience, as the true intellectual ancestors of the philosophical pioneers of early Ionia.” Thus Greek philosophy and poetry had their roots in the mantic in archaic Greece. [40] Greek philosophy was never entirely separated from the mantic. [41]
Like Hesiod, Epimenides receives a divine consecration, and like Hesiod, he was a shepherd, and there is a pastoral setting for the supernatural event that gave him his mantic vocation. “One day he was sent into the country by his father to look for a stray sheep, [42] and at noon he turned aside out of the way, and went to sleep in a cave, where he slept for fifty-seven years … so he became famous throughout Greece and was believed to be a special favorite of heaven.” [43] His fifty-seven-year-long dream taught him divine wisdom. [44] Like Hesiod, he wrote a Theogony; [45] he also wrote an Oracles, just as Hesiod wrote a Mantika. [46] Like Hesiod and Aesop, he was reborn after death. [47]
We know, on the basis of one fragment, that he was a blame poet: he wrote, “Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies.” [48] Aside from the echoes of Hesiod and the early blame tradition here, [49] the fragment is interesting for the tension it expresses between the poet and his native land. According to West’s interpretation, this is part of the poetic/mantic initiation theophany (as the Hesiodic a parallel would support)—after Epimenides’ long cave sleep, “Truth and Justice” (attributes of Zeus?) visit him and speak these words. [50]
There is perhaps a hint of the consecration theme in the tradition that he “was never seen to eat” because he had received special food from the nymphs. [51] It is tempting to see these nymphs as Muses, [52] but this is not explicit. Later, Epimenides starts to build a temple to the nymphs, but a heavenly voice advises a temple to Zeus instead. [53]
Thus we have a blame poet critical of his native country receiving the patronage of the nymphs; he receives wisdom from supernatural sources. This poet was also a famous seer; Plato calls him a “divine man” (anēr theios) and describes how he foretold events in the Persian wars. [54] However, according to Aristotle, an important part of his seership involved looking into the past. [55] This would be an important aspect of his function as a famous purifier; in order to purify a city or a person, one had to look into the past and diagnose the cause of the pollution. According to Aristotle, Diogenes, and others, Epimenides was brought to Athens to allay a plague; he diagnosed it as deriving from the murder of Cylon’s associates, who had taken refuge at the altar of Athena. Accordingly, he “purified [ekathēren] the city and stopped the pestilence” (ἐκάθηρεν αὐτῶν τὴν πόλιν καὶ ἔπαυσε τὸν λοιμὸν)—by sacrifices of sheep, according to one account, and of two young men, by another, undoubtedly fictional, account. [56] Epimenides is also said “to have been the first who purified houses and fields, and the first who founded temples.” [57] The prophet also cured individuals: “He professed to purify people by rite from any damaging influence whatever, physical or mental, and to state its cause.” [58] It is possible that Epimenides used music, poetry, and spells in his healing; another Cretan seer or poet, Thaletas, used music to combat a Spartan plague, [59] a theme that has been found in the life of Stesichorus. [60]
Epimenides’ vita has a number of themes that are arguably shamanic: long departure from his body; cave initiation; tattooing; withdrawal into a cave; prophecy, healing; and reincarnation: “Tradition assimilated him to the type of the northern shaman.” [61] Plutarch writes that he was “wise in divine things related to possession [enthousiastikēn] and initiation lore [telestikēn sophian].” [62]
Finally, Epimenides was given hero cult. He was worshipped by the Cretans after his death. “The Cretans sacrifice to him as a god; for they say that he had superhuman foresight.” But “The Lacedaemonians guard his body in their own keeping in obedience to a certain oracle.” [63] Just so, Hesiod’s body is kept at a certain town because of an oracle. [64]


A key poet-prophet figure with shamanic resonances is Orpheus. [65] There is an extensive literature on him and on “Orphism,” so one must be selective in any treatment of him. His associations with music and poetry were proverbial; he was also a magical healer. Pausanias writes, “Orpheus excelled … in the beauty of his verse, and reached a high degree of power because he was believed to have discovered mysteries, purification from sins [ergōn anosiōn katharmous], cures of diseases and means of averting divine wrath.” [66] By his singing, he causes rocks and trees to move; animals are captivated by his singing; his music convinces Hades to allow Eurydice to live again. [67] He was the son of a Muse; [68] by one account, he was the son of Apollo. [69] The god gave him personal lessons in lyre-playing in the woods. [70]
After Orpheus’ visit to the underworld, he suffered a violent death. According to one early account, Dionysus, angered by Orpheus’ tendency to honor the sun over him, had his maenads tear him to pieces. Aeschylus writes, “He [Orpheus] did not honour Dionysos, but accounted Helios the greatest of the gods, whom also he called Apollo … Therefore Dionysos was enraged [orgistheis].” [71] This leads us back to the theme of divine rage in the story of Aesop and Apollo. Since Orphic cult was closely linked to a similar death of Dionysus, [72] we have once again enmity in myth entailing cultic unity. [73] Furthermore, the head of Orpheus is finally enshrined in a shrine of Dionysus, the Bakkheion, at Lesbos. [74] On the other hand, Orpheus’ lyre is preserved in a temple of Apollo. [75] The roles of Apollo and Dionysus in Orpheus’ life recall the beneficent and ambivalently maleficent/beneficent roles of the Muses and Apollo in the life of Aesop.
Orpheus’ death has variants. Pausanias has Orpheus struck dead by a Zeus-thrown thunderbolt (keraunōthēnai). [76] Ovid describes him being stoned to death. [77]
After Orpheus’ death, a plague ensues; the oracle enjoins the burial of the poet’s head, [78] and he receives hero cult. At first, Orpheus’ head is in a hero shrine, but later it becomes a full-fledged divine shrine, and he receives sacrifices typical of the Olympian gods. [79] According to one account, the Muses gather his limbs and bury them. [80] After he was torn to pieces, his head, still singing, floated out the Hebrus, into the ocean, and to the isle of Lesbos, where it was enshrined and delivered oracles. The singing, oracular head has been identified as a shamanic motif. [81]
Fritz Graf has offered an important interpretation of Orpheus that emphasizes his connections with the warrior and Männerbund, discounting the ties with shamanism. [82] But shamanism may be a component of the myth without being its guiding principle, and parallels with archaic Greek poets incline me to accept shamanistic themes in archaic poet-seer miracle-workers.
Graf’s insight into Orpheus’ links with the warrior are still valuable, and provide another example of the ties of warrior with poet. In the Conon narrative, Orpheus is killed while initiating armed warriors in a hall of mysteries from which women are excluded. While celebrating the rituals, the men have to leave their weapons outside, and women, angered at being excluded, seize the weapons, enter the building, kill all the men who oppose them, and tear Orpheus to pieces, throwing his body parts into the ocean. The typical cultic denouement (plague, oracle, and cult for body of wronged hero) follows. [83]
In Pausanias (9.30.5) Orpheus’ death is associated with drunkenness and war: “The women of the Thracians plotted his death, because he had persuaded their husbands to accompany him in his wanderings … flushed with wine, however, they dared the deed, and hereafter the custom of their men has been to march to battle drunk.” [84] The story of the men warriors following the example of the wine-addled murderers of Orpheus is very curious. The death of Orpheus seems to be a charter myth for warriors, though why women are used as charter heroes is not immediately obvious.
The tattooing of the Thracian female killers of Orpheus also suggests warrior initiation. A cylix dated near 500 BC shows a Thracian maenad with a tattoo on her right arm killing Orpheus. [85] According to Plutarch, Thracian men tattoo their wives as punishment for the murder of Orpheus. [86] One would expect that Thracian warriors would tattoo themselves, not their wives, as tattooing is a common feature of initiation. [87] And in fact, Herodotus tells us that “Tattooing is judged to be a mark of high birth” among Thracian men, whose highest values are war and plunder. [88]
Furthermore, Epimenides, parallel to Orpheus in some ways, was found to be covered with tattoos when he died. And Zalmoxis, whom Graf finds close to Orpheus in initiation and Männerbund themes, [89] had a tattoo on his forehead. [90] It appears that the killing of Orpheus (by tattooed women) again provides a charter for a warrior-initiation practice.
Dodds identifies tattooing as a shamanic practice, and he is probably right, though he does not prove that the practice was characteristically shamanic. [91] Here again we find an ambiguity, if we choose shamanism or Männerbund initiation on a either/or basis. But if we see shamanism (possession) and warrior initiation as intersecting at times, there is no necessity for exclusive interpretation.
Though the female/male shift remains obscure, [92] perhaps a key to these issues may be found in the fact that the archaic religious leader gained his prestige by being a leader of warriors, and was also a master of magic, spells, poetry, related ecstatic states, initiation ritual, and Kampfwut. [93] One thinks of Archilochus as servant of Ares, living by his spear, yet also the servant of the Muses, and leading off the dithyramb of Dionysus, “thunderstruck with wine.” (And in addition wielding invective as potent as a warrior’s sword.) Just so, Orpheus has obvious ties with the Muses and Dionysus, but, as Graf has emphasized, he has links with war also. To the archaic mind, these categories created a unity; to the modern mind, the connections are not so comfortable.

The Singing Warrior

The two dominant heroes in Greek myth, Heracles and Achilles, each have some association with poetry. In view of the importance of Heracles for chapter 18, “The Stakes of the Poet,” it will be useful to evaluate the importance of his poetic aspects here. Achilles and his men killed the mythical Pharmakos; he also killed the prototypical blame poet and scapegoat Thersites. Because persecutors are often identified with their victims, he is worth looking at for that reason alone.
Achilles, the greatest hero of the Trojan war, [94] sings to himself in his moments of leisure:
τὸν δ’ εὗρον φρένα τερπόμενον φόρμιγγι λιγείῃ,
καλῇ δαιδαλέῃ, ἐπὶ δ’ ἀργύρεον ζυγὸν ἦεν,
τὴν ἄρετ’ ἐξ ἐνάρων πόλιν Ἠετίωνος ὀλέσσας·
τῇ ὅ γε θυμὸν ἔτερπεν, ἄειδε δ’ ἄρα κλέα ἀνδρῶν.
… and they found Achilleus delighting his heart in a lyre, clear-sounding,
splendid and carefully wrought, with a bridge of silver upon it,
which he won out of the spoils when he ruined Eëtion’s city.
With this he was pleasuring his heart, and singing [aeide] of men’s fame [klea]. [95]
Iliad IX 186–189, translation by Lattimore
Katherine Callen King writes, “Achilles is not the only man in the Iliad to sing … But he is the only one to sing individually.” Achilles had gotten his lyre as war plunder: “There is no opposition between lyre and battle here.” [96] In archaic Greece, every aristocratic man was a warrior; and perhaps every aristocratic man learned the basics of singing. But as King points out, it is worth noting that there is no opposition between the two phenomena in archaic Greece culture and ethos. One is hard put to think of a major modern poet who is also a mercenary soldier or for whom war is a central poetic theme.
Later tradition adds to the portrait. Achilles played the “first” lyre. [97] Philostratus gives the warrior poet a poetic theophany, in the tradition of Hesiod:
ἐπεὶ δὲ θυμοῦ ἥττων ἐφαίνετο, μουσικὴν αὐτὸν ὁ Χείρων ἐδιδάξατο, μουσικὴ γὰρ ἱκανὴ πραύνειν τὸ ἕτοιμόν τε καὶ ἀνεστηκὸς τῆς γνώμης, ὁ δὲ οὐδενὶ πόνῳ τάς τε ἁρμονίας ἐξέμαθε καὶ πρὸς λύραν ᾖσεν. ᾖδε δὲ τοὺς ἀρχαίους ἥλικας … οὐκ ἀδακρυτὶ ταῦτα ᾖδεν. ἤκουσα δὲ κἀκεῖνα, θύειν μὲν αὐτὸν τῇ Καλλιόπῃ μουσικὴν αἰτοῦντα καὶ τὸ ἐν ποιήσει κράτος, τὴν θεὸν δὲ ἐπιστῆναι καθεύδοντι καὶ “ὦ παῖ”, φάναι “μουσικῆς μὲν καὶ ποιητικῆς δίδωμί σοι τὸ ἀποχρῶν, ὡς ἡδίους μὲν τὰς δαῖτας ἐργάζοιο, κοιμίζοις δὲ τὰς λύπας …
When he appeared to yield to anger, Kheiron taught him [Achilles] music. Music was enough to tame the readiness and rising of his disposition. Without exertion, he thoroughly learned the musical modes, and he sang to the accompaniment of a lyre. He used to sing of the ancient comrades [Hyacinth, Narcissus, Adonis, Hylla, Abderus] … not without tears did he sing of these matters.I also heard the following things: that he sacrificed to Calliope asking for musical skill and mastery of poetic composition, and that the goddess appeared to him in his sleep and said, “Child, I give you enough musical and poetic skill that you might make banquets more pleasant and lay sufferings to rest …” [But he should practice war as well.] [98]
On Heroes 45
These details are clearly elaborated from the Iliadic picture of the lyre-playing Achilles, but they show that the fascination with the poetic/musical side of the warrior continued. Ovid would write that the centaur Cheiron taught Achilles the art of the lyre: “He is believed to have employed, in strumming the lyre, those hands which were one day to send Hector to death.” [99]
Cheiron, according to some traditions, invented the art of the lyre, and he was also a preeminent healer and mantis. [100] Achilles functions as a healer on occasion. [101] So Achilles has something of the poet-healer persona, even as early as the Iliad.
His death is voluntary; he chooses to die young, avenging Patroclus, rather than live to a ripe old age. [102] And Apollo, the inimical god whom he resembles so closely, guides the arrow that kills the hero. [103] Pindar represents Achilles’ hero cult as connected with the Muses:
τὸν μὲν οὐδὲ θανόντ’ ἀοιδαί τι λίπον,
ἀλλὰ οἱ παρά τε πυρὰν τάφον θ’ Ἑλικώνιαι παρθένοι
στάν, ἐπὶ θρῆνόν τε πολύφαμον ἔχεαν.
ἔδοξ’ ἆρα καὶ ἀθανάτοις,
ἐσλόν γε φῶτα καὶ φθίμενον ὕμνοις θεᾶν διδόμεν.
Even in death, songs [aoidai] did not leave him,
but, standing beside his pyre and his grave, the maidens
of Helikon let fall upon him their abundant dirge [thrēnon].
Even the immortals were pleased to bestow on a brave [eslon] man, though he was dead, the song[humnois] of goddesses. [104]
Isthmians 8.62–66, translation by Lattimore
According to the Odyssey, “All nine Muses answering each other lamented [thrēneon] with their fair voices. Then you would not have seen any of the Argives tearless. For the clear-voiced Muse moved them to such an extent.” [105] Thus, lamentation by the grave, hero cult through immortalizing song, is bestowed upon a poet-warrior by the Muses. He is given the standard timē of hero cult. [106] But he is given poetic immortality in the Iliad. The motif of Apollo murdering the poet connected in cult with the Muses is Aesopic.
It is curious that Achilles and his men killed the original Pharmakos. They also kill Thersites, a sort of epic pharmakos. Thersites’ function is “to make strife against kings” (ἐριζέμεναι βασιλεῦσιν, Iliad II 214); he is the worst (ekhthistos, “most hated,” II 220; aiskhistos, “most base,” II 216) of the Achaeans; he is repulsively ugly and deformed, II 217–219; he reproaches the king, Agamemnon, II 225–242; he is beaten by Odysseus, II 265–268; later he blames Achilles with a sexual taunt, and Achilles himself kills this proto-satirist poet. This killing causes strife in the army, and Achilles must travel to Lesbos for purification, where he sacrifices to Apollo, Artemis, and Leto. [107]
Thus, though Achilles offers a valuable example of hero persecuted by a god he has close ties to, and though he seems to have some kind of connection with the pharmakos cult myth (perhaps because the Thersites myth was primary, and then Pharmakos was assimilated to his story), his ties with poetry are not extensive, though they are intriguing. Singing is at least a part of his persona; the Muses lament him after death; and he is associated with the centaur Cheiron, a healer and singer.
Such hints are even more scanty in the case of Heracles. There was a tradition that linked him with the Muses. He was called mousikos anēr [a man of the Muses—or musical man], Hercules Musarum [Hercules of the Muses]. This was a Roman tradition, but it had its roots in Greece. [108] On black-figure Attic vases, Heracles is frequently pictured playing the kithara, like Apollo. [109] Pausanias saw a statue group of Apollo, the Muses, and Heracles by Damophon of Messene. [110]
According to Theocritus, Heracles was taught to sing by Eumolpus: he “made of him a singer [aoidon] and shaped his hand to the box-wood lyre.” [111] Other accounts make Linus, a descendant of the earlier Linus, [112] his teacher; he misadvisedly hit Heracles, and the young hero struck back with his lyre and killed him—a musical homicide. [113] Here he seems almost an anti-poet.
Though we think of Heracles as a man of the labors, he also had obvious warrior associations. He is taught chariotry by his father Amphitryon, but Castor taught him the skills of fighting:
δούρατι δὲ προβολαίῳ ὑπ’ ἀσπίδι νῶτον ἔχοντα
ἀνδρὸς ὀρέξασθαι ξιφέων τ’ ἀνέχεσθαι ἀμυχμόν,
κοσμῆσαί τε φάλαγγα λόχον τ’ ἀναμετρήσασθαι
δυσμενέων ἐπιόντα καὶ ἱππήεσσι κελεῦσαι
Κάστωρ ἱππελάτας δέδαεν …
Κάστορι δ’ οὔτις ὁμοῖος ἐν ἡμιθέοις πολεμιστὴς
ἄλλος ἔην πρὶν γῆρας ἀποτρῖψαι νεότητα.
And how to abide the cut and thrust of the sword
or to lunge lance in rest and shield swung over back,
how to marshal a company, measure
an advancing squadron of the foe, or give the word to a troop of horse—
all such lore had he of horseman Castor …
till such time as age had worn away his youth,
Castor had no equal in war among all the demigods.
Theocritus 24.125–133, translation by Edmonds [114]
Heracles shares with the other figures in this book a certain persecuted, wronged nature, and dies a horrible death before achieving an extraordinary heroization/deification.
In a theme that links him with athlete-heroes and Archilochus, he is denied a promised wife, an event that leads to his death. After winning the marriage contests for Iole, her father and brothers deny him her hand. He eventually kills them and obtains Iole, but the action is fatal, for then the jealous Deianeira gives him the poisoned robe. [115]
Thus, Heracles’ poetic aspects are not strong, though the pattern of his heroic career offers a few parallels to poetic heroes. It is impossible to tell whether his poetic associations are late embroidery or decayed remnants of a previously stronger tradition. [116]
Thus the myths of Marsyas, Thamyris, Pan, Linus, and Orpheus share important themes with the vitae of Aesop, Hesiod, Archilochus, and the other poets. Often the poet is the earthly champion in his skill; there is enmity between Apollo and the poet, which is sometimes contrasted by the poet’s close alliance to the Muses; there is the agōn, which brings about the poet’s death; after the death of the poet there is lamentation, hero cult, and emphasis on the placement of the hero’s bones. In the cases of Marsyas and Orpheus, the cult of the hero killed by Apollo is identified with Apollo. After the death of Orpheus, a plague results, which can only be assuaged by hero cult paid to the poet.
If we assume the primacy of these myths over the lives of the poets, then, we can reasonably look to them as important sources (at least partially) for the poets’ legendary vitae. These myths gave a framework on which many biographies could have been based.
Such a hypothesis is in no way absolute—it does not rule out other components in the biographies, including an authentic historical nucleus to a biography. Lefkowitz’s thesis that the lives of the poets derive from mistaken interpretation of the poet’s writings is not excluded either, though such accretion would be merely a component of the biographical tradition. Lefkowitz’s method of explaining biography is by no means exclusive of mythical explanation. The biographer combs the extant text of the poet for biographical details; he misunderstands and misinterprets many details, but traditional themes from “the poetic biography” (Marsyas; Pharmakos; Aesop; Archilochus; Socrates) condition his misunderstanding, flesh out his biographical guesses. In fact, the scholiast may look for details in the corpus that fit the mythical “poetic biography.”
However, the historical nucleus of these seemingly mythical tales should not be underrated: the myths were applied to the poets because poets’ lives somewhat fit the structures of the already-existing myths. Poets were seen as sacred and powerful, inspired by god; poets came into conflict with elements of society, political or religious, or a combination of the two (Delphi, for instance, was a powerful political institution); poets were killed or exiled. So in the cases of poets such as Hesiod and Archilochus, no doubt their vitae are mixtures of history and myth; even a late figure such as Socrates, we have seen, has a biography self-consciously filled with mythical themes (Socrates is both Marsyas and Aesop; Aesop earlier had been Marsyas); but he certainly lived and was certainly tried by the Athenians, even if his trial may not have had all of the mythical power captured in Plato’s Apology.
A revealing study in the ambiguous intersection of history, myth, and cult in Greek antiquity is the story of Philip of Croton, found in Herodotus (5.47), and ostensibly historical. Philip is the best—“the handsomest [kallistos] Greek of his day”; [117] he is also an Olympic victor, which puts him in the sphere of Fontenrose’s athlete-heroes. Like Archilochus, he is betrothed, and his betrothal is broken off, causing him great depression. [118] Like many of the poets we have studied, he is exiled, from Croton. Finally, like Archilochus, he is killed in battle. After his death, he is given hero cult by the Egestaeans (whom he had died fighting) [119] because of his beauty; they build a hero shrine for him upon his tomb and worship him with sacrifices. [120] In interpreting this story, we are faced with at least two options: it is historically reliable, and cult was awarded this singularly handsome, but singularly unfortunate man. The other option is that it is simply a traditional hero biography applied to a remarkably handsome Olympic victor to expedite his heroization/deification. A study of the lives of heroes, athletic and otherwise, shows the pattern that heroes must be exceedingly miserable before death. [121] In this case, Philip may have received a similar biography by exactly the same process.
Thus if poets were seen as heroes, superhuman, linked to the divine, they had to submit to the mechanism for heroization (exile; broken engagements; god-induced deaths; foreign deaths; unsympathetic trials [122] ) standard in Greek myth. If we find such themes both in athlete-hero tales and poet-hero tales, it is likely that they came from the same source (mythical hero tale patterns). And of course, athlete-hero tales did not derive from learned conjecture out of the athletes’ writings.
If we have the hero tale pattern applied to athlete, and poet, it is not surprising that we also find it applied to seer, in the case of Carnos, whose military murder becomes an aition for a Doric festival. Apollodorus describes a regular cultic drama in a military context. The Heraclids are attacking the Peloponnese:
ἐφάνη γὰρ αὐτοῖς μάντις χρησμοὺς λέγων καὶ ἐνθεάζων, ὃν ἐνόμισαν μάγον εἶναι ἐπὶ λύμῃ τοῦ στρατοῦ πρὸς Πελοποννησίων ἀπεσταλμένον. τοῦτον βαλὼν ἀκοντίῳ Ἱππότης … τυχὼν ἀπέκτεινεν. οὕτως δὲ γενομένου τούτου τὸ μὲν ναυτικὸν διαφθαρεισῶν τῶν νεῶν ἀπώλετο, τὸ δὲ πεζὸν ἠτύχησε λιμῷ, καὶ διελύθη τὸ στράτευμα.
There appeared to them [the army at Naupactus] a prophet [mantis] reciting oracles in a fine frenzy [entheazōn], whom they took for a magician sent by the Peloponnesians to be the ruin of the army. So Hippotes … threw a javelin at him, and hit and killed him. In consequence of that, the naval force perished with the destruction of the fleet, and the land force suffered from famine, and the army disbanded.
Apollodorus 2.8.3 [123]
The Dorians then gave cult to the enemy prophet after his death.
Fontenrose wrote perceptively of the application of hero myth to historical athletes:
The hero-athlete tale … belongs to a wider type of hero legend … the legend type tended to attach itself to famous athletes and shape them into legendary heroes; and then the subtype of hero-athlete tale, once it had been formed, sometimes converted legendary heroes into early Olympic athletes … History may be converted into legend, and myth and legend into pseudo-history. [124]
In the same way, the hero myth would attach itself to prominent Greek poets—Aesop, Archilochus, Hesiod, Homer. Thus we have such a curious life of a poet as that of Archilochus’: combining overtly mythical themes (consecration by the Muses) with some solidly historical facts, along with some themes that could be history and could be myth. The fact that many of these themes are shared by other poets and heroes leads one to view many such ambiguous themes as legend, not history. The poet leading a life of disappointment, wandering, and exile, and dying an unjust, divinely engineered death may be the traditional hero myth applied to the poet.
But, as has been noted, we should not underestimate the capacity for reality to imitate myth, since myths reflect cultural reality. A great poet can easily live a life of wandering, exile, and disappointment. There is, as it were, a mythical reality. To compound the problem, such a myth-imitating life would only attract mythical tailoring in the re-telling. In the ancient world, as in the modern, making an exact separation of myth from reality is impossible.


[ back ] 1. Originally, mousikē included poetry, music, and dancing, Gentili 1988:24. The music was combined with poetry at first; later, solo music developed, “Plutarch” On Music 30 (1141d); Gentili 1988:26–28. Finally, in the Hellenistic era, music dominated completely, with the words “accompanying” the music. Gentili 1988:30; Koller 1963; Nagy 1990b:24–26; Nagy 2002:36; Murray and Wilson 2004.
[ back ] 2. For myths relating to music, see Murray and Wilson 2004:2, with further bibliography. Much valuable information on the Muses, Mnemosyne, and Apollo can also be found in this book.
[ back ] 3. Translation by Selincourt, Herodotus 7.26: ἐν τῇ καὶ ὁ τοῦ Σιληνοῦ Μαρσύεω ἀσκὸς [ἐν τῇ πόλι] ἀνακρέμαται, τὸν ὑπὸ Φρυγῶν λόγος ἔχει ὑπὸ Ἀπόλλωνος ἐκδαρέντα ἀνακρεμασθῆναι. See also Plutarch Alcibiades 2.5ff. (192E); Pausanias 1.24.1; Ovid Metamorphoses 6.382ff.; Vogel 1964:34–56; further references in Weiler 1974:37. For fifth-century BC artistic representations of Marsyas, see Gantz 1993:95.
[ back ] 4. Xenophon Anabasis 1.2.8: ἐνταῦθα λέγεται Ἀπόλλων ἐκδεῖραι Μαρσύαν νικήσας ἐρίζοντά οἱ περὶ σοφίας.
[ back ] 5. See chapter 15; Symposium 215a–b, e; 216c–d; 221d–e; cf. 222d. Also, Xenophon Banquet 4.16–19.
[ back ] 6. When Athena had thrown them away, she had laid a curse on whoever should play them.
[ back ] 7. Weiler (1974:37–59) surveys the variants, including Diodorus Siculus 3.59.2; Scriptores Rerum Mythicarum (“Writers on Mythical Subjects”) 2.115; in other versions, the two agonists perform in rounds, and Marsyas wins the first round, forcing Apollo to stoop to trickery to come off victor. In artistic representations, Marsyas is sometimes shown playing a kithara, like Apollo (Weiler 1974:51). For the theme of hanging, see chapter 3 (Archilochus).
[ back ] 8. See Hyginus Fables CLXV 4; Diodorus Siculus 3.59.2; Scriptores Rerum Mythicarum 2.115; cf. Weiler 1974:49–50.
[ back ] 9. Metamorphoses 6.390–400. For the lament and hero cult, see Nagy 1979:114–117 and chapter 6, “Lamentation and the Hero.”
[ back ] 10. Translation by Jones, Pausanias 10.30.9: φασὶ δὲ ὡς καὶ τὴν Γαλατῶν ἀπώσαιντο στρατείαν τοῦ Μαρσύου σφίσιν ἐπὶ τοὺς βαρβάρους ὕδατί τε ἐκ τοῦ ποταμοῦ καὶ μέλει τῶν αὐλῶν ἀμύναντος.
[ back ] 11. Pausanias 2.22.8,9. A flute player, Sacadas, was supposed to have assuaged Apollo’s wrath, probably a secondary aetiological detail.
[ back ] 12. Pausanias 2.7.9. Cf. association of Aesop with the river Aesop, Adrados 1979:104.
[ back ] 13. See Gantz 1993:86; Melanippides of Melos, Page 1962 # 758.
[ back ] 14. Ovid Metamorphoses 11.146–173; cf. Homeric Hymn 19; Gantz 1993:110–111.
[ back ] 15. Apollodorus 1.4.1: Ἀπόλλων δὲ τὴν μαντικὴν μαθὼν παρὰ Πανὸς . . . Cf. Hyginus Fables 191.
[ back ] 16. Cf. Robert 1920 1.414n5; on the whole Thamyris episode, ibid. pp. 413–416; Gantz 1993:55. On the madness of the poet, Hesychius s.v. Thamyris; Robert 1920 1:416n2. See Pausanias 10.7.2; and above chapter 3 (Archilochus). For possible iconographic evidence that Thamyris was also a favorite of the Muses, see Robert 1920 1:414n5. However, this interpretation is not certain, see Roscher 1884 5.478, which includes a drawing of the vase in question. Lucian tells us that Thamyris received his gift of singing from the Muses, Fisherman 6. In Polygnotus’ famous painting of the underworld, the blinded Thamyris is shown with a broken lyre at his feet, Pausanias 10.30.8.
[ back ] 17. Translation by Frazer, modified, Apollodorus 1.3.3: Θάμυρις δὲ κάλλει διενεγκὼν καὶ κιθαρῳδίᾳ περὶ μουσικῆς ἤρισε Μούσαις, συνθέμενος, ἂν μὲν κρείττων εὑρεθῇ, πλησιάσειν πάσαις, ἐὰν δὲ ἡττηθῇ στερηθήσεσθαι οὗ ἂν ἐκεῖναι θέλωσι. καθυπέρτεραι δὲ αἱ Μοῦσαι γενόμεναι καὶ τῶν ὀμμάτων αὐτὸν καὶ τῆς κιθαρῳδίας ἐστέρησαν. For a Freudian interpretation of Thamyris, see Devereux 1987.
[ back ] 18. Hesiod fragment 65 M-W, from the Ehoiai.
[ back ] 19. Odyssey VIII 63–73. “And the herald came near, leading the worthy singer, whom the Muse loved, and gave him both good and evil; she deprived him of his eyes, but gave him sweet song” (Κῆρυξ δ’ ἐγγύθεν ἦλθεν ἄγων ἐρίηρον ἀοιδόν / τὸν πέρι Μοῦς’ ἐφίλησε, δίδου δ’ ἀγαθόν τε κακόν τε· / ὀφθαλμῶν μὲν ἄμερσε, δίδου δ’ ἡδεῖαν ἀοιδήν . . .). Cf. Dodds 1951:80. The ambiguity of the bardic calling is well expressed here; in the same way, Cassandra is given good and evil by Apollo: she is awarded the gift of prophecy, but no one will believe her; see Apollodorus 3.12.5, with further bibliography in Frazer’s edition, 48n2; Halliday 1967:77, 69, 72. Euenius has divination as recompense for blindness, Herodotus 9.92–94. Cf. above, chapter 5 (Homer); chapter 17 below, on Cridenbel and other blind poets.
[ back ] 20. See Hesiod Melampodia fragment 275–276 M-W; Pausanias 3.7.1; further references in Gantz 1993:528–529; Halliday 1967:84. Cf. Löffler 1963.
[ back ] 21. Pausanias 9.30.1.
[ back ] 22. Translation by Jones, Pausanias 9.29.6–9: μεγίστην δὲ τῶν τε ἐφ’ αὑτοῦ καὶ ὅσοι πρότερον ἐγένοντο λάβοι δόξαν ἐπὶ μουσικῇ, καὶ ὡς Ἀπόλλων ἀποκτείνειεν αὐτὸν ἐξισούμενον κατὰ τὴν ᾠδήν. Cf. Iliad XVIII 569.
[ back ] 23. Pausanias 9.29.6–9: τούτῳ [Linus] κατὰ ἔτος ἕκαστον πρὸ τῆς θυσίας τῶν Μουσῶν ἐναγίζουσι . . . Θηβαῖοι δὲ λέγουσι παρὰ σφίσι ταφῆναι τὸν Λίνον, καὶ ὡς μετὰ τὸ πταῖσμα τὸ ἐν Χαιρωνείᾳ τὸ Ἑλληνικὸν Φίλιππος ὁ Ἀμύντου κατὰ δή τινα ὄψιν ὀνείρατος τὰ ὀστᾶ ἀνελόμενος τοῦ Λίνου κομίσειεν ἐς Μακεδονίαν· ἐκεῖνον μὲν δὴ αὖθις ἐξ ἐνυπνίων ἄλλων ὀπίσω τοῦ Λίνου τὰ ὀστᾶ ἐς Θήβας ἀποστεῖλαι. For bones in hero cult, see chapter 6 (Hesiod). Cf. West 1983:56–67; Clay 2004:143.
[ back ] 24. Burkert 1983:130.
[ back ] 25. See above chapter 2, the story of Aesop and Ainos. For the agonistic spirit in Greece, see Huizinga 1955:64, 73; Collins 2004.
[ back ] 26. Apollodorus Library, Epitome 6.2–4, Frazer 1921 2.242–243. This story probably is referred to by Hesiod in Melampodia fragment 278 M-W. See Gantz 1993:702; Halliday 1967:73–74. For Indo-European background, Lindow 1975:319 (the Contest of Wisdom tale, often between a god and a mortal or giant); Clover 1980, on flytings, ritualized exchanges of aggressive verbal attacks, with many examples on p. 446. These are related to the genre of “wisdom dialogue.”
[ back ] 27. For shamanism in general, see Eliade 1964 and 1961; Lewis 1971. For shamanism in Greece, see Meuli 1935; Dodds 1951:140–142; 80–82; Burkert 1972:163–165, 1992:56; Bolton 1962:125–146; Bremmer 1983a:25–51; West 1983:144–150; Eliade 1972:40–42, with further bibliography. For Indo-European shamanism, Miller 2000:298–303. See on Orpheus, below, this chapter. For shamans engaging in contests, Halliday 1967:74.
[ back ] 28. Eliade 1964:4–5. Eliade’s definition has been criticized as too broad, Burkert 1972:164n244. However, an anthropological authority, Lewis, also emphasizes the ecstatic, possession qualities of the shaman (1971).
[ back ] 29. See below on Epimenides and Orpheus. For purification in archaic Greece, see Burkert 1992:55–64. The Thracian followers of Zalmoxis used epōidai (spells, charms, cf. the later poetic genre, the epode) to “heal the soul,” Plato Charmides 156d–157a: “And the cure of the soul, my dear youth, has to be effected by the use of certain charms, and these charms are fair words,” translation by Jowett, Θεραπεύεσθαι δὲ τὴν ψυχὴν ἔφη, ὦ μακάριε, ἐπῳδαῖς τισιν, τὰς δ’ ἐπῳδὰs ταύτας τοὺς λόγους εἶναι τοὺς καλούς. Cf. Burkert 1972:164. One cannot escape thinking of the Aristotelian catharsis in this context, Poetics 1449b, 6.2. If we view the poet as scapegoat, katharma, we have the person who sometimes serves as the expelled societal purification dispensing medical purification to the individual in the form of poetry (spells). One wonders if the magical-medical purification worked through the expulsion of evil, perhaps evil spirits. See also Parker 1983:212n25 on the healing paean; Boyancé 1937:100–115.
[ back ] 30. Aelian Historical Miscellanies 12.50 (translation by Edmonds 1927 3:610, 1:27): εἰ δέ ποτε ἐδεήθησαν τῆς ἐκ Μουσῶν ἐπικουρίας ἢ νοσήσαντες ἢ παραφρονήσαντες ἢ ἄλλο τι τοιοῦτον δημοσίᾳ παθόντες, μετεπέμποντο ξένους ἄνδρας οἷον ἰατροὺς ἢ καθαρτὰς κατὰ πυθόχρηστον. μετεπέμψαντό γε μὴν Τέρπανδρον καὶ Θάλητα καὶ Τυρταῖον καὶ τὸν Κυδωνιάτην Νυμφαῖον καὶ Ἀλκμᾶνα. Cf. Elliott 1960:10n16; see below, this chapter, on Epimenides and Thaletas.
[ back ] 31. See Eliade 1964:175: “musical magic” determined “the shamanic function of the drum.” “The trance, as among the Siberian shamans, is induced by dancing to the magical melody of the kobuz [a stringed instrument]. The dance, as we shall see more fully later, reproduces the shaman’s ecstatic journey to the sky.” Cf. Lewis 1971:134: “Here [among the Veddas of Ceylon], as so widely elsewhere, the shaman’s controlled possession trance is achieved by means of dancing and singing which becomes increasingly frenetic as he works himself up to the point of ecstasy.” See also Nagy 1990b:29–46.
[ back ] 32. Dodds 1951:141. Cf. Burkert 1972:150; Bremmer 1983a:45n85 (who challenges the arrow-riding parallel, cf. below on Orpheus and tattooing); Eliade 1964:388. For more on arrows, Eliade 1968.
[ back ] 33. Boio, ad Pausanias 10.5.7–8; Herodotus 4.35; cf. Fontenrose 1978:215–216; West 1983:53.
[ back ] 34. The combination of poetry and prophecy is a commonplace in world literature; see Chadwick 1952; Kugel 1990; Leavitt 1997, cf. Dodds 1951:100n118; 80–81. Strabo VII fragment 19, “In olden times prophets were wont to practice the art of music . . . ,” as quoted in Harrison 1922:469, Ὅτι τὸ παλαίον οἱ μάντεις καὶ μουσικὴν εἰργάζοντο. The Roman word vates meant both poet and prophet, see Thieme 1968; Watkins 1995:117–118; chapters 18 and 19, on Odin; chapter 23 (Ovid) below.
[ back ] 35. Herodotus 4.36.
[ back ] 36. Strabo 9.3.5, p. 419; Plutarch The Oracles at Delphi No Longer Given in Verse 25 (407b); both cited by Fontenrose (1978:213), who is skeptical of their validity; cf. Edmonds 1927 3:593.
[ back ] 37. West 1983:146, quoting Eliade 1964:9. See Homeric Hymn 27.15; Plutarch Table Talk 9.14 (744c, 745a); Sperduti 1950:218n39. The Muses instructed Aristaeus in the arts of healing and prophecy, Apollonius 2.512. It is possible that Mousa is etymologically related to mania ‘madness’ and mantis ‘prophet’, cf. mainomai, Bie 1884–1937:3238. Aesop takes refuge in a shrine of the Muses at Delphi, above, chapter 2.
[ back ] 38. Plutarch On the Pythian Oracle 8 (398C); Pausanias 10.8.9–10.
[ back ] 39. For his apparent historicity, see Dodds 1951:162n40. Burkert, on the other hand, puts the seer in “the main line of specifically Cretan cult and myth” (1972:150). Parker (1983:209) sees Epimenides as transitional between “shadowy or legendary figures” (i.e. Bacis, Thaletas, and Abaris) and those having “firm historical reality” (i.e. Empedocles). For further on the legendary seers, see Parker 209n11; Culianu 1980; Cornford 1952:62–124; Burkert 1992:41–87.
[ back ] 40. 1969:59. See below, app. A, on phallic cult and Melampus.
[ back ] 41. See Pfeffer 1976.
[ back ] 42. Archilochus is also sent by his father on a pastoral errand when he receives his consecration, see above, chapter 3.
[ back ] 43. Diogenes Laertius 1.109–110 (translation by Hicks): οὗτός ποτε πεμφθεὶς παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς εἰς ἀγρὸν ἐπὶ πρόβατον, τῆς ὁδοῦ κατὰ μεσημβρίαν ἐκκλίνας ὑπ’ ἄντρῳ τινὶ κατεκοιμήθη ἑπτὰ καὶ πεντήκοντα ἔτη . . . γνωσθεὶς δὲ παρὰ τοῖς Ἕλλησι θεοφιλέστατος εἶναι ὑπελήφθη. This cave sleep was known as early as the sixth century, Xenophanes B20 DK.
[ back ] 44. FGH 457 F 2.
[ back ] 45. Diogenes Laertius 1.111.
[ back ] 46. FGH 457 test. 8a; for Hesiod, see above, chapter 6. Abaris and Aristeas also wrote poems entitled Theogony, Suda s.v. Abaris and Aristeas; West 1983:54.
[ back ] 47. Diogenes Laertius 1.114, pollakis anabebiōkenai. See above, chapter 2, the rebirth of Aesop; the same verb is used there. So this is possibly a “shamanic” theme applied to Aesop and Hesiod.
[ back ] 48. FGH 457 F2, from Oracles. Quoted by Paul (Epistle to Titus 1.12): Κρῆτες ἀεὶ ψεῦσται, κακὰ θηρία, γαστέρες ἀργαί.
[ back ] 49. I.e. the derogatory reference to “bellies,” as in Hesiod, see above, chapter 6. For animal symbolism in blame, see above on Alcaeus, chapter 9.
[ back ] 50. Cf. West 1983:47; FGH 457 F2; test. 8a; test. 4f.
[ back ] 51. Demetrius (probably of Phaleron, born about 350 BC), quoted by Diogenes Laertius 1.114: φησὶ δὲ Δημήτριος . . . ὡς λάβοι παρὰ Νυμφῶν ἔδεσμά τι . . . μηδὲ ὀφθῆναί ποτε ἐσθίων.
[ back ] 52. Lefkowitz 1981:2n2. The Muses were probably mountain nymphs originally. Cf. Dodds 1951:99n111.
[ back ] 53. Theopompus (probably of Chios) Marvels, as quoted in Diogenes Laertius 1.115.
[ back ] 54. Laws 642d–e. Cf. Theopompus, FGH 115 F 67.
[ back ] 55. Aristotle Rhetoric 1418a 23–26; see also Dodds 1951:143n52. Cf. the Hesiodic knowledge of things in the past and future, above at chapter 6 (Hesiod), with its mantic parallels.
[ back ] 56. Diogenes Laertius 1.110, cf. FGH test. 4b, Aristotle Constitution of Athens 1 (ἐκάθηρε τὴν πόλιν). For the sacrifice of the two young men, Diogenes Laertius 1.110; Neanthes of Cyzicus, 84 FGH F 16 at Athenaeus 13.602c–d; Parker 1983:259. This version of the story is a thoroughgoing inversion of the pattern of this study: the poet-prophet is summoned to the city to allay the plague, not exiled or killed; while there, he has others killed in atonement. He is the purifier, not the katharma.
[ back ] 57. Diogenes Laertius 1.112 (translation by Hicks): λέγεται δὲ καὶ πρῶτος οἰκίας καὶ ἀγροὺς καθῆραι καὶ ἱερὰ ἱδρύσασθαι. Cf. Culianu 1980:292.
[ back ] 58. FGH 457, test. 4e: οὗτος Κρὴς μὲν ἦν τὸ γένος, ἱερεὺς Διὸς καὶ Ῥέας, [καὶ] καθαίρειν ἐπαγγελλόμενος παντὸς οὑτινοσοῦν βλαπτικοῦ, εἴτε περὶ σῶμα εἴτε περὶ ψυχήν, τελεταῖς τισι καὶ τὸ αἴτιον εἰπεῖν. Cf. Parker, who emphasizes the backward vision implied in the diagnosis of the disease (1983:210n17). Like Empedocles, Epimenides wrote a book called Purifications (Katharmoi), FGH 457 test. 7. Evidently, Empedocles also practiced as a healer, B111 DK; cf. Lloyd 1979:34–37; Parker 1983:208n9. Diogenes Laertius (1.112) describes Epimenides gathering herbs instead of sleeping. On the “healerseer” (iatromantis), see Parker 1983:208–211, bibliography, 209n11, Burkert 1992:41; for Epimenides as iatromantis, ibid., 210nn17, 18; for military prophecy, 210n21; Pritchett 1979 3:47–90; for seers as outstanding warriors, 57–58.
[ back ] 59. Pratinas, in Page 1962 #713 (iii) = “Plutarch” On Music 42 (1146b); Pausanias 1.14.4; Plutarch Lycurgus 4 (where Thaletas has characteristics of the Greek lawgiver, cf. Solon as poet-lawgiver); Aelian Historical Miscellanies 12.50; Edmonds 1927 1:34–37. See above, where Spartans use historical Greek poets to offset pestilence, another striking evidence for the close correlation of seer and poet in archaic Greece.
[ back ] 60. See above, chapter 7.
[ back ] 61. Dodds 1951:141, 143. See also Burkert 1972:150–152; Eliade 1964:389.
[ back ] 62. Plutarch Solon 12.4: ἐδόκει δέ τις εἶναι θεοφιλὴς καὶ σοφὸς περὶ τὰ θεῖα τὴν ἐνθουσιαστικὴν καὶ τελεστικὴν σοφίαν. Graf (1987), who interprets elements of the Orpheus myth as a reflection of initiation and Männerbund cult, would probably be able to find data for a similar interpretation here. However, shamanism and war initiation are not exclusive spheres. Obviously, there is elaborate ritual for shamanic initiation; furthermore, madness, enthusiasm, and possession are important attributes for the archaic military Männerbund. See above, chapter 11 (Tyrtaeus).
[ back ] 63. Diogenes Laertius 1.114–115: Κρῆτες αὐτῷ θύουσιν ὡς θεῷ· φασὶ γὰρ καὶ <προ>γνωστικώτατον γεγονέναι . . . καὶ τὸ σῶμα αὐτοῦ φυλάττουσι Λακεδαιμόνιοι παρ’ ἑαυτοῖς κατά τι λόγιον.
[ back ] 64. See above, chapter 6.
[ back ] 65. For shamanism in the Orpheus myth, see Dodds 1951:147; Eliade 1964:391. Cf. Graf 1987; Burkert 1962b and 1972:63; Freiert 1991:43–45; West 1983:3. For the Orpheus myth generally, an introduction in Gantz 1993:721–725.
[ back ] 66. Pausanias 9.30.4: ὁ δὲ Ὀρφεὺς . . . ὑπερεβάλετο ἐπῶν κόσμῳ τοὺς πρὸ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐπὶ μέγα ἦλθεν ἰσχύος οἷα πιστευόμενος εὑρηκέναι τελετὰς θεῶν καὶ ἔργων ἀνοσίων καθαρμοὺς νόσων τε ἰάματα καὶ τροπὰς μηνιμάτων θείων. See also Coman 1938:146 for music; for poetry, 153; for medicine, 157. Cf. Eliade 1964:391; Harrison 1922:455–460.
[ back ] 67. Simonides fragment 567 Page; Aeschylus Agamemnon 1629–1631; Euripides Bacchae 650; Graf 1987:84; Frazer 1921 1.17n6; Dodds 1951:147, with shamanistic parallels; for the underworld singing, Ovid Metamorphoses 10.16. See Freiert 1991:32–35; Robert 1 1920:398–399.
[ back ] 68. See Apollodorus 1.3.2, with Frazer’s note.
[ back ] 69. Scholia in Pindar Pythian Odes 4.313.
[ back ] 70. Hyginus On Astronomy 2.7.
[ back ] 71. Aeschylus, in Eratosthenes Constellations 24, see Radt 1985 3.138 = (as quoted in Harrison 1922:461): τὸν μὲν Διόνυσον οὐκ ἐτίμα, τὸν δὲ Ἥλιον μέγιστον τῶν θεῶν ἐνόμιζεν εἶναι, ὃν καὶ Ἀπόλλωνα προσηγόρευσεν . . . ὅθεν ὁ Διόνυσος ὀργισθεὶς . . . This theme can be dated at least to 490 BC, West 1983:4n6. See also Plato Symposium 179d; Republic 620a; Pausanias 9.30.5; further references in Apollodorus 1.3.2, Frazer’s note.
[ back ] 72. Proclus (ad Plato Republic p. 398, as quoted in Harrison 1922:461) says this explicitly: “Orpheus, because he was the leader in the rites of Dionysos, is said to have suffered the like fate to his god” (Ὀρφεὺς ἅτε τῶν Διονύσου τελετῶν ἡγεμὼν γενόμενος τὰ ὅμοια παθεῖν λέγεται τῷ σφετέρῳ θεῷ). In another variant, Aphrodite was responsible for Orpheus’ death, Robert 1 1920:405–406.
[ back ] 73. The death of the child Dionysus, torn apart by the Titans, was the central cult myth of “Orphism,” Linforth 1941:315–325. For the death of Orpheus, cf. Harrison 1922:460–464.
[ back ] 74. Faraone 2004; Gantz 1993:724–725; J. Nagy 1990. The first full literary source is Philostratus On Heroes 5.3, 28.7–12, see Maclean and Aitken 2002, cf. Rohde 1925:556–557, but there are portrayals of Orpheus’ head as oracle in classical Attic iconography. See also Philostratus Life of Apollonius 4.14; Lucian Against Ignorance 11–12.
[ back ] 75. Lucian Against Ignorance 11–12.
[ back ] 76. Pausanias 9.30.5; Alcidamas Odysseus 24.
[ back ] 77. Ovid Metamorphoses 11.18–19; Visser 1982:409. Further references on Orpheus’ death in Graf 1987:103n16; Robert 1 1920:406.
[ back ] 78. Conon FGH 26 F 1.45, cf. Harrison 1922:468; a similar story in Pausanias 9.30.9–12 (when the grave of Orpheus is disturbed, a plague afflicts the land).
[ back ] 79. Conon FGH 26 F 1.45. Cf. Kerényi 1959:285, Harrison 1922:464–471. The emphasis on the grave(s) is central to hero cult, Kerényi 1959:286. For Orpheus as hero, see also Freiert 1991:38–43.
[ back ] 80. Eratosthenes Constellations 24; cf. Robert 1 1920:408n8; for Orpheus raised in Pieria, the Muses’ country, see Kerényi 1959:280n917. Harrison attempts to show that the Maenads and the Muses are connected, though her evidence is not entirely convincing (1922:463–464). For the association of Muses and hero cult, cf. on Achilles below.
[ back ] 81. See Faraone 2004; Dodds 1951:147; Eliade 1964:391; Kerényi 1959:286. See below, chapter 17, the poet as prophet (mantic heads); chapter 19 (Mimir’s head).
[ back ] 82. See Graf 1987; Kershaw 2000.
[ back ] 83. Cf. Graf 1987:89.
[ back ] 84. Translation by Jones, τὰς δὲ γυναῖκάς φασι τῶν Θρᾳκῶν ἐπιβουλεύειν μὲν αῦτῷ θάνατον, ὅτι σφῶν τοὺς ἄνδρας ἀκολουθεῖν ἔπεισεν αὐτῷ πλανωμένῳ . . . ὡς δὲ ἐνεφορήσαντο οἴνου, εξεργάζονται τὸ τόλμημα, καὶ τοῖς ἀνδράσιν ἀπὸ τούτου κατέστη μεθυσκομένους ἐς τὰς μάχας χωρεῖν. See above, ch. 3 (Archilochus).
[ back ] 85. Harrison 1888, 1922:463.
[ back ] 86. Plutarch On the Delays of Divine Vengeance 12 (557D); Phanocles, in Powell 1925:106–108, v. 13.
[ back ] 87. Van Gennep 1960:84 (in a warrior and plundering society, candidates are tattooed differently as they pass from level to level); Eliade 1975:18, 31, 43. See also Bremmer 1978.
[ back ] 88. Herodotus 5.6.2: τὸ μὲν ἐστίχθαι εὐγενὲς κέκριται. “To make a living from war and plunder is considered best” (τὸ ζῆν ἀπὸ πολέμου καὶ ληιστύος κάλλιστον).
[ back ] 89. Graf 1987:91.
[ back ] 90. Dionysophanes, in Porphyry Life of Pythagoras 15; Dodds 1951:163n44.
[ back ] 91. Dodds 1951:163n44. Some examples of shamanic tattooing in Hambly 1925:131. The arrow is one of the common tattooed symbols among some North American Indians, cf. Abaris above, this chapter. Often the guardian spirit/animal is tattooed on the shaman. For archaic Europe, see Hambly 1925:285–287. Cf. Wolters 1903.
[ back ] 92. Perhaps Orpheus had to be killed by Dionysus, his tutelary god, through his servants; and his characteristic servants were simply Maenads, possessed women. Cf. Henrichs 1984.
[ back ] 93. See Lewis 1971 passim, but e.g. 151, “competition for power within Macha society is couched in the idiom of possession”; Culianu 1980. Cf. James 1955:27, on “the prestige of supernatural power.”
[ back ] 94. For an introduction to Achilles, see King 1987. For the broader context of epic heroes, see Dumézil 1973b; von See 1978; Nagy 1979; Honko 1990; Reichert and Zimmermann 1990; Miller 2000 (a splendid and insightful survey).
[ back ] 95. For the significance of this word, see Iliad XXII 303–305, cf. VII 87–91, IX 413; Nagy 1979:28–29, 184n2, 175–189; King 1987:10–11. See below, chapter 17 on Cuchulainn-Achilles parallels.
[ back ] 96. See King 1987:10–11. See also Frontisi-Ducroux 1986; Rocchi 1980; Notopoulos 1952; Bloomfield and Dunn 1989:18, 19.
[ back ] 97. Scholia on Iliad IX 188; Eustathius p. 745.55; Aelian Historical Miscellanies 14.23; Athenaeus 14.624a. Cf. Diodorus Siculus 5.49.1, 4.
[ back ] 98. Trans. from Maclean and Aitken 2001:137. Cf. Platthy 1985:43. For hero cult in Philostratus, see Dué and Nagy 2004.
[ back ] 99. Fasti 5.385: ille manus olim missuras Hectora leto / creditur in lyricis detinuisse modis. Eustathius 2:463, 33.
[ back ] 100. Iliad IV 219; XI 841; Orphic Argonautica 370–380, cf. Platthy 1985:65. Cheiron, the wisest being in the world, gives up his immortality to Prometheus so he can die and gain relief from a poisoned wound (Apollodorus 2.5.4). He receives hero cult after death.
[ back ] 101. Iliad XI 830–832; Cypria, see Proclus Chrestomathy, in Allen 1919 5.104.9–11; West 2003b:72; Apollodorus Epitome 3.20; Hyginus Fables 101; King 1987:8–9; Kerényi 1959:340. A vase painting by Sosias shows Achilles treating the wounded Patroclus, cf. Kerényi 1959:340, 1945:33.
[ back ] 102. Iliad IX 413; Kerényi 1959:351; see below, chapter 17 (DoDera and Lugard MacCon).
[ back ] 103. Iliad XXI 277ff.; XXII 359; XIX 404-417; Arctinus Aethiopis, in Proclus Chrestomathy 2, see Allen 1919 5:106.7–10; West 2003b:112; further references with variants in Frazer 1921 2:214–215. For the enmity of Apollo and Achilles, see Iliad XXIV 42; cf. Burkert 1985:147, who comments on the near identity of god and victim; Colombo 1977; Nagy 1979:62, 1990a:12.
[ back ] 104. Cf. Nagy 1979:176.
[ back ] 105. My translation. Odyssey xxiv 60: Μοῦσαι δ’ ἐννέα πᾶσαι ἀμειβόμεναι ὀπὶ καλῇ / θρήνεον· ἔνθα κεν οὔ τιν’ ἀδάκρυτόν γ’ ἐνόησας / Ἀργείων· τοῖον γὰρ ὑπώρορε Μοῦσα λίγεια.
[ back ] 106. Odyssey xxiv 80–84; Herodotus 5.94; Pliny Natural History 5.125; Diogenes Laertius 1.74; Philostratus On Heroes 53.8–18; Diodorus Siculus 17.17.3. At Elis, we find a cenotaph, and annual lamentation by women, Pausanias 6.23.3. Cf. Hedreen 1991:314; Escher-Bürkli 1894:222–223; Farnell 1921:284, 340–342; cf. Hommel 1980; Hooker1988; Nagy 1979:118.
[ back ] 107. Aithiopis, Proclus summary, in Allen 1919 5.105–106; West 2003b:110. For interpretation of Thersites as pharmakos, see Wiechers 1961:44n2; cf. Gebhard 1926:58–60; Thalmann 1988; Nagy 1979:260–262, 279. Obviously, there is no question of viewing Thersites as a righteous blame poet like Aesop, though Garland notes that he has a certain clear-sighted view of the psychic problems facing the Greeks that was lacking elsewhere (1995:80–81). See ch. 17 on ambiguously malevolent poets in Ireland. Curiously, at one point, Achilles is threatened with stoning, when he refuses to return to battle, Aeschylus fragment 132c Radt. Perhaps this reflects the aggression of the Männerbund directed against members of their own group when they are perceived as less than adequate.
[ back ] 108. Cf. Gratwick 1982:63; Robert 1 1920:622n2; cf. Roscher 1884 1:2189–2190, 2184 line 43 (a Hellenistic Attic votive relief shows Heracles eating at table with Apollo and the Muses); Dumézil 1983:137.
[ back ] 109. Roscher 1884 1.2189. Gantz 1993:379.
[ back ] 110. Pausanias 4.31.10.
[ back ] 111. Theocritus 24.109 (translation by Edmonds): αὐτὰρ ἀοιδὸν ἔθηκε καὶ ἄμφω χεῖρας ἔπλασσε / πυξίνᾳ ἐν φόρμιγγι Φιλαμμονίδας Εὔμολπος. This is admittedly Hellenistic evidence. Cf. Lucian Herodotus 3, in which Heracles/Ogmios drags a number of men tethered by their ears with straps connected to his tongue.
[ back ] 112. Apollodorus 2.4.9 (Frazer 1921 1:177n2); cf. Pausanias 9.29.6–9; Diodorus Siculus 3.67.2; Kerényi 1959:135. He was also the brother of Orpheus, Apollodorus 2.4.9. One account has Orpheus as Heracles’ teacher, Robert 1920 1:408n7.
[ back ] 113. Apollodorus 2.4.9. Pausanias (9.29.6–9) speaks of two Linus figures. Though this story is found late in literature, it is quite widely attested by fifth-century art, Gantz 1993:379.
[ back ] 114. See also Robert 1 1920:2.644n4. Castor is closely associated with poetry, war poetry in particular: Theocritus 22.215–220 (all singers are dear to the divine twins and to the heroes of the Trojan war); Pausanias 3.16.1–2. Cf. Plato Laws 796b; Burkert 1985:212nn6,7. For the comparative background of the Dioscuri, see Ward 1968; West 1975; and Burkert 1985:433n2.
[ back ] 115. See Apollodorus 2.6.1; 2.7.7; Sophocles Trachinian Women 248ff., cf. Jebb 1893 ad loc.
[ back ] 116. Heracles is also the weak link in the warrior triptych studied by Dumézil in Stakes of the Warrior. See below, chapter 18.
[ back ] 117. κάλλιστος Ἑλλήνων τῶν κατ’ ἑωυτόν. Cf. Thamyris, “who excelled in beauty,” above, this chapter.
[ back ] 118. Fontenrose 1968:86. The theme is found on a more obviously mythical plane in the story of Heracles, see above.
[ back ] 119. Thus qualifying him for inclusion in Visser’s “Worship Your Enemy,” 1982:410.
[ back ] 120. See Ekroth 2002:197–198.
[ back ] 121. Fontenrose 1968:76–77.
[ back ] 122. The trial theme is important in the athlete-hero tales, see Fontenrose 1968:76–77: the Hellanodicai deny the boxer Cleomedes his deserved victor crown because he killed his opponent; Theagenes is fined two talents; the sprinter Euthycles is unjustly convicted of bribery and betrayal of his city, and dies in prison. Oibotas is denied his proper honor by the Achaeans. Ajax, when denied (unjustly, he feels) the arms of Achilles after a contest (see Sophocles Ajax 442–449) is perhaps comparable.
[ back ] 123. Pausanias 3.13.3, translation by Jones; Gebhard 1926:19, cf. Roscher 1884 2.967, s.v. Karnos.
[ back ] 124. Fontenrose 1968:87.