Asclepius was the god of medicine and healing in ancient Greek mythology, according to which he was born a mortal but was given immortality as the constellation Ophiuchus after his death. His name means "cut up," and (perhaps incidentially) shares a root with the word scalpel. He represents the healing aspect of the medical arts, while his daughters Hygieia, Meditrine, and Panacea symbolize the forces of cleanliness, medicine and healing (literally, "all-healing"), respectively. Occasionally he is also linked to his son Telesforos, who represents the powers of recuperation.
Coronis (or Arsinoe) became pregnant with Asclepius by Apollo but fell in love with Ischys, son of Elatus. A crow informed Apollo of the affair and he sent his sister, Artemis, to kill Coronis. Her body was burned on a funeral pyre, staining the white feathers of the crows permanently black. Apollo rescued the baby performing the first caesarean section and gave it to the centaur Chiron to raise. Engraged by his grief, Coronis' father Phlegyas torched the Apollonian temple at Delphi, for which Apollo promptly killed him.
Chiron taught Asclepius the art of surgery, teaching him to be the most well-respected doctor of his day. According to the Pythian Odes of Pindar, Chiron also taught him the use of drugs, incantations and love potions. In The Library, Apollodorus claimed that Athena gave him a vial of blood from the Gorgons. Gorgon blood had magical properties: if taken from the left side of the Gorgon, it was a fatal poison; from the right side, the blood was capable of bringing the dead back to life. According to some, Asclepius fought alongside the Achaeans in the Trojan War, and cured Philoctetes of his famous snake bite. However, others have attributed this to either Machaon or Podalirius, Asclepius' sons, who Homer mentions repeatedly in his Iliad as talented healers. Asclepius, on the other hand, is only refered to in Homer in relation to Machaon and Podalirius.
Asclepius' powers were not appreciated by all, and his ability to revive the dead soon drew the ire of Zeus, who struck him down with a thunderbolt. According to some, Zeus was angered, specifically, by Asclepius' acceptance of money in exchange for resurrection. Others say that Zeus killed Asclepius after he agreed to resurrect Hippolytus at the behest of Athena. In this version, Zeus smote both men with one bolt. Either way, Asclepius' death at the hands of Zeus illustrates man's inability to challenge the natural order that separates mortal men from the gods.
In retaliation for Asclepius' murder at the hands of Zeus, Apollo killed the Cyclopes, who fashioned Zeus' thunderbolts.
After he realized Asclepius' importance to the world of men, Zeus placed him in the sky as the constellation Ophiuchus. The name, "serpent-bearer," refers to the Asclepius' staff, which was entwined with a single serpent. This symbol has now become a symbol for physicians across the globe. However, one should be careful not to confuse the Staff of Asclepius, which features a single serpent, with the Caduceus of Mercury (Roman), or the Karykeion of Hermes. The Caduceus, which features two intertwined serpents (rather than the single serpent in Asclepius' wand), as well as a pair of wings, has long been a symbol of commerce. It is thought that the two were first confused in the seventh century A.D., when alchemists often used the caduceus to symbolize their assosiation with magical or "hermetic" arts.
In honor of Asclepius, snakes were often used in healing rituals. Non-poisonous snakes were left to crawl on the floor in dormitories where the sick and injured slept. Starting about 300 BCE, the cult of Asclepius grew very popular. His healing temples were called asclepieion; pilgrims flocked to them to be healed. They slept overnight and reported their dreams to a priest the following day. He prescribed a cure, often a visit to the baths or a gymnasium.
Hippocrates, the legendary doctor, may have begun his career at an asclepieion on the island of Cos.
Asclepius was married to Salus (or Epione) and with her fathered six daughters: Aceso, Iaso, Panacea, Aglaea, Meditrine and Hygieia, and three sons: Machaon, Telesforos and Polidarius. His most famous sanctuary was in Epidaurus in Northeastern Peloponnese.
Socrates' last words as reported in Plato's Phaedo are a reminder to Crito to sacrifice a cock, a bird sacred to Asclepius.The original, ancient Hippocratic Oath begins with the invocation "I swear | by Apollo the Physician and by Asclepius and by Hygieia and Panacea and by all the gods . . ."The botanical genus Asclepias (known as milkweeds, is named after him, including the medicinal A. tuberosa or "Pleurisy root")
Three goddesses from the Parthenon east pediment, possibly
Hestia, Dione, and Aphrodite, c. 435 BC (British Museum)
Dione in Greek mythology was a Greek goddess primarily known as the mother of Aphrodite in Book V of Homer's Iliad. Aphrodite journeys to Dione's side after she has been wounded in battle protecting her favorite son Aeneas. In this episode, Dione seems to be the equivalent of the earth goddess Gaia, whom Homer also placed in Olympus. Book VI of the Iliad suggests Dione was the mother of many others, though that was lost through time.[verification needed] The Mother of the Gods was shunted aside when the 12 Gods of Olympus came to predominate. Dione has been said to be one of the most important gods, though no votives suggest that she was ever included among them. Dione's parentage is sometimes considered to be Gaia and Uranus, though otherwise she is daughter of nothingness.
Dione's name is really less a name than a title: "The Goddess", etymologically a female form of Zeus. After the Iliad, Aphrodite herself was sometimes referred to as Dionaea and even Dione.The Roman goddess Diana has a similar etymology and was worshipped in a vaguely similar way but is not otherwise connected with Dione.
At the ancient oracle at Dodona, Dione Š rather than Hera Š was the goddess described as accompanying Zeus, as many surviving votive inscriptions show. The birds associated with her at Dodona were doves and her priestesses at Dodona were called peliades or "doves".
Although Dione was not mentioned as a Titan by Hesiod, but she appears instead in his Theogony among the long list of Oceanids. The Bibliotheca includes her among the Titans The Roman mythographer Gaius Julius Hyginus makes her the daughter of the Titan Atlas.
In the sculptural frieze of the Great Altar of Pergamum (2nd century BC), Dione is inscribed in the cornice directly above her name and figures in the eastern third of the north frieze, among the Olympian family of Aphrodite; thus she is an exception to the rule detected by Erika Simon that the organizational principle according to which the gods on the Great Altar were grouped, was Hesiodic: her company in the grouping of offspring of Uranus and Gaia is Homeric, as is her possible appearance in the east pediment of the Parthenon.
Hyginus says King Tantalus of Lydia had Dione as a consort: by her, he was the father of Pelops, Niobe, and Broteas. If a king's consort is "the goddess", a logical conclusion is that he justifies his authority as her earthly, visible consort in a form of sacred kingship.
In Greek mythology the Erinyes or Eumenides (the Romans called them the Furies) were female personifications of vengeance. They were usually said to have been born from the blood of Uranus when Cronus castrated him. According to a variant account, they were born from Nyx. Their number is usually left indeterminate, though Virgil, probably working from an Alexandrian source, recognized three: Alecto ("unceasing"), Megaera ("grudging"), and Tisiphone ("avenging murder"). The heads of the Erinyes were wreathed with serpents, their eyes dripped with blood, and their whole appearance was terrific and appalling. Sometimes they had the wings of a bat or bird, or the body of a dog.
One myth had Tisiphone fall in love with Cithaeron. She caused his death by snakebite, specifically, one of the snakes from her head. Another myth says that the Erinyes struck the magical horse Xanthus dumb for rebuking Achilles.
The Erinyes generally stood for the rightness of things within the standard order; for example, Heraclitus declared that if Helios decided to change the course of the Sun through the sky, they would prevent him from doing so. But for the most part they were understood as the persecutors of mortal men and women who broke "natural" laws. In particular, those who broke ties of kinship through patricide, murdering a brother (Fratricide), or other such familial killings brought special attention from the Erinyes.
It was believed in early epochs that human beings might not have the right to punish such crimes, instead leaving the matter to the dead man's Erinyes to exact retribution. The goddess Nike filled a similar role. When not stalking victims on Earth, the Furies were thought to dwell in Tartarus, where they applied their tortures to the damned souls there.
The Erinyes are particularly known for the persecution of Orestes for the murder of his mother, Clytemnestra. Since Apollo had told Orestes to kill the murderer of his father, Agamemnon, and that person turned out to be his mother, Orestes prayed to him. Athena intervened and the Erinyes turned into the Eumenides ("goodly ones"), as they always did in their beneficial aspects.
Many scholars believe that they were originally referred to as the Eumenides not to reference their good sides but as a euphemism to avoid their wrath by calling them by their true name. This is similar to the taboo on speaking the names of certain spirits in many cultures. The Erinyes were also known as Semnai ("the venerable ones"), the Potniae ("the Awful Ones"), the Maniae ("the Madnesses") and the Praxidikae ("the Vengeful Ones").
The Furies (their Roman name) or Dirae ("the terrible") typically had the effect of driving their victims insane, hence their Latin name furor. Virgil VII, 324, 341, 415, 476.
Eris is the Greek goddess of chaos, strife and discord, her name being translated into Latin as Discordia. Her Greek opposite is Harmonia, whose Latin counterpart is Concordia. Homer equated her with the war-goddess Enyo, whose Roman counterpart is Bellona. The dwarf planet Eris is named after the goddess, as is the religion Discordianism.
Eris is the daughter of Zeus and Hera. Her name translates into Latin as Discordia. Her Greek opposite is Harmonia, whose Latin counterpart is Concordia. In addition to her main activity of sowing discord, she frequently accompanies her brother Ares to battles. On these occasions she rides his chariot and brings her son Strife. Eris is unpopular and frequently snubbed as a guest by the other gods and mankind.
In Greek mythology, Eros was the god responsible for lust, love, and sex; he was also worshipped as a fertility deity. His name is the root of words such as erotic. His Roman equivalent was Cupid, "desire", also known as Amor, "love". He was often associated with Aphrodite. Like Dionysus, he was sometimes referred to as Eleutherios, "the liberator".
Throughout Greek thought, there appear to be two sides to the conception of Eros; in the first, he is a primeval deity who embodies not only the force of erotic love but also the creative urge of ever-flowing nature, the first-born Light that is responsible for the coming into being and ordering of all things in the cosmos.
In Hesiod's Theogony, the most famous Greek creation myth, Eros sprang forth from the primordial Chaos together with Gaia, the Earth, and Tartarus, the underworld; according to Aristophanes' play The Birds, he burgeons forth from an egg laid by Night conceived with Darkness.
In the Eleusinian Mysteries, he was worshipped as Protogonus, the first-born.Alternately, later in antiquity, Eros was the son of Aphrodite and either Ares or Hephaestus, or of Porus and Penia, or sometimes of Iris and Zephyrus; this Eros was an attendant to Aphrodite, harnessing the primordial force of love and directing it into mortals, an apt role for the issue of a union between "Love" and either "War" or "Fire."
In some myths, he is portrayed as being playful, frequently causing trouble for gods and mortals; in others, he is mindful of the power he wields, sometimes refusing the entreaties of his mother and other gods to interfere in the course of some mortals' lives. In some versions he had brothers named Anteros, the embodiment of unrequited love, and Himerus.
In art, Eros was usually depicted as a nude winged boy or infant, with his bow and arrows in hand. He had two kinds of arrows: one was golden with dove feathers that caused instant love; the other was lead with owl feathers that caused indifference. The poet Sappho described him as "bittersweet" and "cruel" to his victims; he was also unscrupulous, mischievous and charismatic. In his ancient identification with Protogones and Phanes he was adorned represented as a bull, a serpent, a lion, and with the heads of a ram. He is occasionally shown blind or blindfolded.
But of course Eros is not always perceived as a child; that is associated more with "Cupid" from the Roman belief system. In the Greek religion he was a young man; a teenager, as opposed to a baby in a diaper.
Worship of Eros was uncommon in early Greece, but eventually became widespread. He was fervently worshipped by a fertility cult in Thespiae, and played an important role in the Eleusinian Mysteries. In Athens, he shared a very popular cult with Aphrodite, and the fourth day of every month was sacred to him.
Eros, angry at Apollo for making fun of his archery skills, caused him to fall in love with the nymph Daphne, daughter of Ladon, who had scorned him. Daphne prayed to the river god Peneus to help her and was changed into a laurel tree, which became sacred to Apollo.
The story of Cupid and Psyche first attested in Apuleius' Latin novel, The Golden Ass, recounts the love between Cupid and Psyche, whose name means "soul". Aphrodite was jealous of the beauty of Psyche, a mortal, and asked Cupid to make her fall in love with the ugliest man on earth; instead, Cupid fell in love with her himself and spirited her away to his home. Their peace was ruined by the jealousy of Psyche's sisters, and Psyche was forced to complete a number of trials, including descending to the underworld, in order to be reunited with Cupid. Eventually, she bore him a daughter, Voluptas, whose name means "pleasure", and became immortal herself. Psyche's visit to and return from the underworld made her an object of some devotion, like Dionysus and Persephone. She was an object of some mystery religions and was occasionally mentioned in connection with the popular Eleusinian Mysteries.
The Fates have the subtle but, awesome power of deciding a mans destiny. The assign a man to good or evil. There most obvious choice is choosing how long a man lives. There are three Fates. Clotho, the spinner, who spins the thread of life. Lachesis, the measurer, who chooses the lot in life one will have and measures off how long it is to be. Atropos, she who can not be turn, who at death with her shears cuts the tread of life.
In earlier times, the Moirae were represented as only a few - perhaps only one - individual goddess. Homer's Iliad speaks generally of the Moera, who spins the thread of life for men at their birth (xxiv.209) or, earlier in the same book (line 49), of several Moerae. In the Odyssey (vii.197) there is a reference to the Kl™thes, or Spinners. At Delphi, only the Fates of Birth and Death were revered.
In Athens, Aphrodite, who had an earlier, pre-Olympic existence, was called Aphrodite Urania the 'eldest of the Fates' according to Pausanias (x.24.4).The Moirae existed on the deepest European mythological level. It is difficult to separate them from the Norns, the similar age-old fates, older than the gods, of a separate Indo-European tradition.
Despite their forbidding reputation, Moirae could be worshipped as goddesses. Brides in Athens offered them locks of hair and women swore by them. They may have originated as birth-goddesses and only later acquired their reputation as the agents of destiny.
The Moirae can be compared with the three spinners of Destiny in northern Europe, the Norns or the Baltic goddess Laima and her two sisters, also spinning goddesses.
The three witches encountered by Macbeth are loosely based on the Moirae.
In Greek mythology, the Charites were the Graces. Ordinarily they were three: Aglaea, the youngest, Euphrosyne and Thalia (according to the Spartans, Cleta was the third), but others are sometimes mentioned, including Auxo, Charis, Hegemone, Phaenna, and Pasithea (see Pausanius below).
They were the daughters of Zeus and Eurynome, usually, though also said to be daughters of Dionysus and Aphrodite or of Helios and the naiad Aegle. Homer claimed they were part of the retinue of Aphrodite. Their Roman equivalent were the Gratiae (Graces).
The Charites were the goddesses of charm, beauty, nature, human creativity and fertility. They were great lovers of beauty and gave humans talents in the arts, closely associated with the Muses. The Charites were associated with the underworld and the Eleusinian Mysteries.The river Cephissus near Delphi was sacred to them.
In Greek mythology, Hebe is the goddess of youth (Roman equivalent: Juventas). She is the daughter of Zeus and Hera. Hebe was the cupbearer for the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus, serving their nectar and ambrosia, until she was married to Heracles (Roman equivalent: Hercules); her successor was the young Trojan prince Ganymede. Another title of hers, for this reason, is "Ganymeda." She also drew baths for Ares and helped Hera enter her chariot.
In Euripides' play Heracleidae, Hebe granted Iolaus' wish to become young again in order to fight Eurystheus. Hebe had two children with her husband Heracles: Alexiares and Anicetus. In Roman mythology, Juventas received a coin offering from boys when they put on the adult men's toga for the first time. The name Hebe comes from Greek word meaning "youth" or "prime of life". Juventas likewise means "youth", as can be seen in such derivatives as juvenile.
In art, Hebe is usually depicted wearing a sleeveless dress. There is a statue of Hebe, by Robert Thomas; (1966), in Birmingham city centre, England. Antonio Canova also sculpted four different statues of Hebe: one of them is in the Museum of Forli, in Italy.
The Muses are the Greek goddesses who preside over the arts and sciences and inspire those who excel at these pursuits. Daughters of Zeus, king of the gods, and Mnemosyne ("memory"), they were born at Pieria at the foot of Mount Olympus. Their nurse, Eupheme, raised them along with her son, Crotus the hunter, who was transported into the sky as Sagittarius upon his death. Their name (akin to the Latin mens and English mind) denotes 'memory' or 'a reminder', since in the earlier times poets, having no books to read from, relied on their memories. The Romans identified the Muses with certain obscure Italian water-goddesses, the Camenae.
The original number of muses and their names varies in earlier times as their evolution blossomed in Greek mythology. At first, three muses were worshipped on Mount Helicon in Boeotia: Melete ("meditation"), Mneme ("memory"), and Aoede ("song"). Another three were worshipped at Delphi and their names represented the names of the strings of a lyre: Nete, Mese, and Hypate. Several other versions were worshipped until the Greeks finally established the nine muses in mythology as:
Calliope (Epic Poetry)
Erato (Love Poetry)
Polyhymnia (Songs to the Gods),
Euterpe (Lyric Poetry)
Ephialtes and Otus, who also founded Ascra, were the first to sacrifice on Helicon to the Muses and to call the mountain sacred to the Muses. Sacrifices to the Muses consisted of libations of water, milk, or honey. Their companions are the Charities, the Horae, Eros, Dionysus, Apollo, Aphrodite, Harmonia, and Himerus (Desire). Apollo is the leader of the choir of the Muses and consequently he has the surname Musagetes.
Athena caught and tamed the winged horse Pegasus and gave him to the Muses. Some of their disciples included the Sphinx who learned her riddle from the Muses, Aristaeus, who learned the arts of healing and prophecy from them, and Echo, who was taught by them to play music.
In Plato's Phaedrus, Socrates says the locusts used to be men before the birth of the Muses. When song appeared when the Muses were born, some men were so overcome with delight that they sang constantly, forgetting to eat and drink until they eventually died. These dead men became locusts with a gift from the Muses allowing them to sing continuously from their birth until death without the need of sustenance. When they die, the locust go to the Muses and report which men on earth honors each, endearing a worshipper to the Muse he follows.
The Muses could be vindictive like in the story of the contest with Thamyris. Thamyris who excelled in minstrelsy challenged the Muses to a musical contest at Dorium in Messenia, the agreement being if he won he would take pleasure from all of them. The Muses won the contest, and bereft Thamyris of his eyes and minstrelsy.
In another story, the king of Emathia (Macedonia) and his wife Euippe had nine daughters and named them after the Muses. The daughters entered a contest with the Muses, were defeated and were metamorphosed by the Muses into birds called Colymbas, Iynx, Cenchris, Cissa, Chloris, Acalanthis, Nessa, Pipo, and Dracontis. These names were taken from actual names of birds such as the wryneck, hawk, jay, duck, goldfinch, and four others with no recognizable modern equivalents.
In yet another myth, it was said Hera, queen of the gods, persuaded the Sirens, who were described in early Greek mythology as having the bodies of birds and heads of beautiful women, to enter a singing contest with the Muses. The Muses won the competition and then plucked out all of the Sirens' feathers and made crowns out of them.
Many places were dedicated to the Muses such as the famous Valley of the Muses - Thespies on the eastern slopes of Mt. Helikon began it's "Mouseai" festivals in the 6th c. B.C. It was organized every 5 years by the Thespians. Poets and musicians from all over Greece also participated in various games (epic, poetry, rapsodia, kithara, aulos, satyric poetry, tragedy and comedy). It was common for ancient schools to have a shrine to the Muses called mouseion, the source of the modern word 'museum.' The famous Museum of Alexandria, founded by Ptolemy I, was a temple dedicated to the Muses. Before poets or storytellers recited their work, it was customary for them to invoke the inspiration and protection of the Muses.
In Greek mythology, Nemesis was the goddess of divine justice and vengeance. Her anger was seen as directed chiefly toward those guilty of arrogance (Hubris), particularly human arrogance towards the gods and their laws. Nemesis pursued the insolent and the wicked with inflexible vengeance. Her cult probably originated from Smyrna. She was described by Greek writers as the daughter of Oceanus or Zeus, but according to Hesiod she was a child of Erebus and Nyx.In English the meaning of the word nemesis has changed somewhat. It now usually means an ultimate or unbeatable enemy, as in the phrase "to meet one's nemesis." The sense of nemesis being a just punishment for hubris has generally been lost.
In Greek mythology, a nymph is any member of a large class of female nature entities, sometimes bound to a particular location or landform. Nymphs often accompanied various gods and goddesses, and were the frequent target of lusty satyrs. Nymphs are frequently associated with the superior divinities, the huntress Artemis, the prophetic Apollo, the reveller and god of trees Dionysus, and with rustic gods such as Pan and Hermes.
Pan is the son of Hermes. He is the god of goatherds and shepherds. He is mostly human in appearance but, with goat horns and goat feet. He is an excellent musician and plays the pipes. He is merry and playful frequently seen dancing with woodland nymphs. He is at home in any wild place but, is favorite is Arcady, where he was born. He is always in pursuit of one of the nymphs but, always rejected because he is ugly.
His name is the basis for the word "panic". There are two differing explanations for this. The first is that he was present when Zeus defeated the Titans and claimed that it has his yelling that caused the Titans to flee. However, this seems at odds with his being Hermes son. The second is that he created the noises in the woods at night the scared travelers. He fathered Crotus with Eupheme.
Persephone opening the "Likon Mystikon"
In Greek mythology, Persephone was the Queen of the Underworld, consort of Hades and the daughter of Demeter and Zeus.
The Romans first heard of her from the Aeolian and Dorian cities of Magna Graecia, who use the dialectal variant Proserpina. Hence, in Roman mythology she was called Proserpina, and as a revived Roman Proserpina she became an emblematic figure of the Renaissance.
In Greek art, Persephone/Kore is invariably portrayed robed. She may be carrying a sheaf of grain and smiling demurely with the "Archaic smile" of the Kore of Antenor.
The figure of Persephone is well-known today. Her story has great emotional power: an innocent maiden, a mother's grief at the abduction, and the return of her daughter. It is also cited frequently as a paradigm of myths that explain natural processes, with the descent and return of the goddess bringing about the change of seasons. In a text ascribed to Empedocles describing a correspondence between four gods and the classical elements, the name Nestis for water apparently refers to Persephone. "Now hear the fourfold roots of everything: Enlivining Hera, Hades, shining Zeus. And Nestis, moistening mortal springs with tears".
Of the four gods of Empedocles' elements it is the name of Persephone alone that is taboo, for the Greeks knew another face of Persephone as well. She was also the terrible Queen of the dead, whose name was not safe to speak aloud, who was named simply "The Maiden".
In The Odyssey, when Odysseus goes to the Underworld, he refers to her as the Iron Queen. Her central myth, for all of its emotional familiarity, was also the tacit context of the secret initiatory mystery rites of regeneration at Eleusis, which promised immortality to their awe-struck participants - an immortality in her world beneath the soil, feasting with the heroes beneath her dread gaze (Kerenyi 1960, 1967).
In the Olympian pantheon, Persephone is given a father: according to Hesiod's Theogony, Persephone was the daughter produced by the union of Zeus and Demeter. "And he [Zeus] came to the bed of bountiful Demeter, who bore white-armed Persephone, stolen by Hades from her mother's side".
Unlike every other offspring of an Olympian pairing, however, Persephone has no stable position at Olympus. Persephone used to live far away from the other gods, a goddess within Nature before the days of planting seeds and nurturing plants. In the Olympian telling Citation needed, the gods Hermes, Ares, Apollon and Hephaistos, had all wooed Persephone, but Demeter rejected all their gifts and hid her daughter away from the company of the gods.
Thus, Persephone lived a peaceful life before she became the goddess of the underworld, which, according to Olympian mythographers, did not occur until Hades abducted her and brought her into the underworld.
She was innocently picking flowers with some nymphs - and Athena and Artemis, the Homeric hymn says, or Leucippe, or Oceanids - in a field in Enna when he came, bursting up through a cleft in the earth; the nymphs were changed by Demeter into the Sirens for not having interfered. Life came to a standstill as the depressed Demeter (goddess of the Earth) searched for her lost daughter. Helios, the sun, who sees everything, eventually told her what had happened.
Finally, Zeus could not put up with the dying earth and forced Hades to return Persephone. But before she was released to Hermes, who had been sent to retrieve her, Hades tricked her into eating six pomegranate seeds, which forced her to return six months out of each year. (A month for each seed she had eaten.)
In some versions, Ascalaphus informed the other gods that Persephone had eaten the pomegranate seeds. When Demeter and her daughter were together, the Earth flourished with vegetation, but for six months each year, when Persephone returned to the underworld, the earth once again became a barren realm.
In an alternate version, Hecate rescued Persephone. In the earliest version the dread goddess Persephone was herself Queen of the Underworld. This myth can also be interpreted as an allegory of ancient Greek marriage rituals. The Greeks felt that marriage was a sort of abduction of the bride by the groom from the bride's family, and this myth may have explained the origins of the marriage ritual. The more popular etiological explanation of the seasons may have been a later interpretation.
Persephone, as Queen of Hades, only showed mercy once, because the music of Orpheus was so hauntingly sad. She allowed Orpheus to bring his wife Eurydice back to the land of the living as long as she walked behind him and he never tried to look at her face until they reached the surface. Orpheus agreed but failed, looking back at the very end to make sure his wife was following, and lost Eurydice forever.
Persephone also figures in the story of Adonis, the Syrian consort of Aphrodite. When Adonis was born, Aphrodite took him under her wing, seducing him with the help of Helene, her friend, and was entranced by his unearthly beauty. She gave him to Persephone to watch over, but Persephone was also amazed at his beauty and refused to give him back. The argument between the two goddesses was settled either by Zeus or Calliope, with Adonis spending four months with Aphrodite, four months with Persephone and four months of the years with whomever he chose. He always chose Aphrodite because Persephone was the cold, unfeeling goddess of the underworld.
When Hades pursued a nymph named Mintho, Persephone turned her into a mint plant.Persephone was the object of Pirithous' affections. Pirithous and Theseus, his friend, pledged to marry daughters of Zeus. Theseus chose Helen and together they kidnapped her and decided to hold onto her until she was old enough to marry. Pirithous chose Persephone. They left Helen with Theseus' mother, Aethra, and travelled to the underworld, domain of Persephone and her husband, Hades. Hades pretended to offer them hospitality and set a feast; as soon as the pair sat down, snakes coiled around their feet and held them there.
Persephone and her mother Demeter were often referred to as aspects of the same goddess, and were called "the Demeters" or simply "the goddesses." The story of Persephone's abduction was part of the initiation rites in the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Many modern scholars have argued that Persephone's cult was a continuation of Neolithic or Minoan goddess-worship. Among classicists, this thesis has been argued by Gunther Zuntz (Zuntz 1973) and cautiously included by Walter Burkert in his definitive Greek Religion.
More daringly, the mythologist Karl Kerenyi has identified Persephone with the nameless "mistress of the labyrinth" at Knossos.
On the other hand, the hypothesis of a universal cult of the Earth Mother has come under increasing criticism in recent years. For more on both sides of the controversy, see Mother Goddess.
Life-Death-RebirthInspired by James Frazer, Jane Ellen Harrison and modern mythologers, some scholars have labeled Persephone a life-death-rebirth deity.
In Greek mythology, Thanatos ("death") was the personification of death (Roman equivalent: Mors), and a minor figure in Greek mythology. Thanatos was a son of Nyx (Night) and Erebus (Darkness) and twin of Hypnos (Sleep). In early mythological accounts, Thanatos was perceived as a powerful figure armed with a sword, with a shaggy beard and a fierce face. His coming was marked by pain and grief. In later eras, as the transition from life to death in Elysium became a more attractive option, Thanatos came to be seen as a beautiful young man. Many Roman sarcophagi depict him as a winged boy, much like Cupid.
According to mythology, Thanatos could occasionally be outwitted, a feat that Sisyphus twice accomplished. When it came time for Sisyphus to die, he succeeded in chaining Thanatos up with his own shackles, thereby prohibiting the death of any mortal. Eventually Ares released Thanatos and handed Sisyphus over to him, though Sisyphus would trick Thanatos again by convincing Zeus to allow him to return to his wife. Other than being outwitted, Thanatos was sometimes outwrestled by Heracles. A prime example is when Heracles wrestled the deity at Admetus' house and won the ability to have Alcestis revived.
Thanatos is sometimes depicted as a young man carrying a butterfly (the ancient Greek word for butterfly is psyche which in modern Greek means soul), wreath or inverted torch in his hands. He has also been depicted as having two wings and a sword attached to his belt.
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