Any recommendations for a book on Greek myths and one on Greek matriarchal cultures?

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Any recommendations for a book on Greek myths and one on Greek matriarchal cultures?

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Jan 24, 2011, 1:12pm

Hello, everyone!
I have only a laypersons knowledge of Greek myths (I just typed 'Geek myths' -Freudian slip?!) but I am interested in reading a (fairly recent) book on the Greek myths. I believe that Robert Graves' theories have been questioned so won't start with that, would prefer a more recent one anyway. Read one by one GS Kirk 'The Nature of Greek Myths' rather a disappointment.
Is there anything out there on the matriarchal societies?
Thanks, everyone, in advance!


Edited: Jan 24, 2011, 2:01pm

As far as I know right now, one of the standard texts on Classical Myth is Barry Powell's appropriately titled Classical Myth. It pretty much gives you a rundown on all the various myths from Classical Antiquity, their sources, and meanings. The vast majority of it is accepted scholarship, although I do seem to remember a few hairbrained parts (which thankfully had nothing to do with the myths... so no big deal...)

The good thing too is it is one of those college textbooks which gets a new edition like every year, so you should be able to buy one from like 2007 for 75 cents on :-)

Edited: Jan 24, 2011, 2:08pm

Marija Gimbutas wrote several books about early matriarchal societies. I must admit she has left me unconvinced though.

Touchstone not sticking :

Edited: Jan 24, 2011, 2:36pm

Yeah her views are largely discredited these days as wishful thinking, and thoroughly refuted in many places, such as Cynthia Eller's The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory.

Don't get me wrong, I don't doubt that there were matriarchal cultures, or at least cultures (especially in Europe) which weren't as over-the-top-patriarchal as the ones in the classical period... but the idea that there used to be some pre-patriarchal golden age when everyone lived in peace and happiness whilst dancing around campfires and singing cumbaya is just a vast oversimplification...

EDIT: Though, to be fair, her theory about the "Kurgan cultures" who overran "Old Europe" at the height of its hippy-mother-goddess-praising golden age is --at least in part-- accepted these days as the most likely culture to be identified as the Indo-Europeans who in turn gave their language to most of Europe (though again, the most popular theory these days has them not necessarily a marauding force of patriarchal assholes who conquered the continent, but rather a culture whose ways were very gradually imposed over a large area via small scale localized population displacement coupled with "elite dominance" cultural borrowing).

Edited: Jan 24, 2011, 5:19pm

I assume you are looking for something a bit more challenging than Edith Hamilton. Not a straightforward retelling, but Roberto Calasso's imaginative The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony is worth looking into if you're looking for something that reflects the labyrinthine nature of the myths. You might also, for context, check out the relevant sections of the first volume of Mircea Eliade's A History of Religious Ideas (I haven't looked at this for a long time, it might have something about matriarchal societies in it). These are more recent than the books you've cited, but not particularly new.

Jan 24, 2011, 5:57pm

Of course, you could always read Apollodorus (Loeb) and, for the geographical perspective, Pausanias, in the Penguin translation.

Edited: Jan 24, 2011, 10:57pm

For a reference, you can't go too far wrong with a copy of Pierre Grimal's Dictionnaire de la mythologie grecque et romaine (trans. as the Dictionary of Classical Mythology, pub. by Blackwell). There's a cheaper condensed version, the Penguin Dictionary of Classical Mythology, but get the full version if you can as the Penguin doesn't have references to sources. In the French, the sources are in as footnotes, while the English translation has them as end notes. The other great(er) reference is LIMC (the Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae), a shelf-full of volumes that all but the richest and maddest student will look for in the library, with pages and pages on figures in myth and their representation in ancient art. Entries are in English, French, German or Italian according to the author of the entry.

My university uses Morford and Lenardon's Classical Mythology as a myth textbook, and it's supposed to be ok as a teaching text (I've not used it myself, though). It might be a really good first text for you (buy the US edition as the international edition doesn't have colour plates).

More theoretically you might like Csapo's Theories of Mythology. I can't say I found it that useful, but it sounds as if you might be coming at mythology from a more theoretical direction than me.

And I agree with Makifat: try Apollodorus (there's an Oxford World Classics translation as well as the bi-lingual Loeb). His Library of Greek Mythology is an 'uncritical' guide to classical mythology, written in Greek in the second century AD. And try Hesiod's Theogeny and Ovid's Metamorphoses.

Jan 24, 2011, 10:52pm

I second the vote for Grimal. It's a wonderful resource.

Jan 25, 2011, 4:14am

Thanks, Feicht. Will get one through Amazon.


Jan 25, 2011, 4:27am

Thanks, too, Makifat, Shikari and Feicht again for these helpful suggestions. Looks like I will be doing a lot of reading!


Jan 25, 2011, 5:25am

No problem. Happy reading :-)

Jan 25, 2011, 8:44am

Jessica, there is some evidence to suggest that the indigenous Pelasgasians that inhabited the area known as Greece before the Indo-European Greeks moved in were a martriarchal society, but we have very little information about them.

A fun read on the Greek myths that is also a cool travel book is the recent Zeus: A Journey Through Greece in the Footsteps of a God by Tom Stone that I read not too long ago.

I tend to think most of the literature on these mythical matriarchal societies that imagine some kind of utopia are little more than that: myths -- but of course there's still much we don't know.

Jan 25, 2011, 1:08pm

I would second Ovid's Metamorphoses. He sometimes packs 30 myths into one story! You might try Warrior Women: An Archaeologist's Search for History's Hidden Heroines by Jeannine Davis-Kimball about her search for archaeological evidence of Amazons. Not quite the peaceful, goddess-loving sort, but matriarchal.

Jan 25, 2011, 1:14pm

> 4 EDIT: Certainly. I'm not dissing her as a scholar. Her books on the early Slavs and Balts - though dated - are pretty good too.

Edited: Jan 25, 2011, 1:18pm

That's just it: we really don't know how societies at large functioned in prehistory. We can make educated guesses based on modern anthropology for sure, but the reality is that we can never be completely sure. Anyone who tells you otherwise is just being misleading; unfortunately, I tend to place most matriarchal-only prehistory proponents in this group. In my mind, the reality of the situation could just as easily be "option C": that is, a situation where the societies in question truly bear very little resemblance to any societies with which we can compare them.

Now, I've probably come off as someone with the horse-blinds on who just refuses to believe the possibility for a matriarchal prehistory in Europe; actually though, that isn't the case. Rather, I think there are good arguments to be made for societies with definite matriarchal features (for instance, revering "Great Mother" goddesses, venerating the female form--think of the preponderance of so-called "Venus statuettes" uncovered in prehistoric sites in Europe-- etc). But as I said before, I simply have trouble believing the folks who claim that these signs--many facets of which were sustained well into the historical period--point to a prehistory governed solely by women with no war** or conflict, etc; in my mind, merely stating as fact what one sees as a case diametrically opposed to the one which with which one takes issue (in this instance, the over-abundance of patriarchy in the historical period) is simply not a sound basis for a scientific argument.

**However I must add that the history (and, well, prehistory) of war within and against other societies is a fascinating one. It can --I believe, rightfully-- be assumed that there was no large-scale war before people started organizing themselves (or at least being organized) into state-societies; one might imagine pre-state peoples carrying out armed raids and other small scale instances of violence against each other, but there was obviously neither the means (not enough concentrated people) nor the reason (take your pick: territorial demands, conflict over resources, the suicidal patriotism of the modern era, etc) to carry out large-scale armed conflict. The interesting connection here to the matriarchal-proponents can be made in the simple fact that by the historical period--i.e., when large scale war had begun taking place--there were zero (as far as we can tell) primarily matriarchal societies in Eurasia. The sort of reverse-logic in this situation goes that, if there has been war ever since "the men took over", then there must have been no war beforehand! Unfortunately, however, no matter who is in charge, humans are still humans; as mentioned, even though pre-state societies are incapable of "war" as we know it, they can still go to the next village over and wreck up the place if they need something, or have a point to prove. To me, the idea that things would have been any different with women in charge simply runs contrary to human nature.

Hmm... anywho now that this footnote is longer than the rest of my post, I guess I'll leave it at that! Plus I guess I've sort of ventured a bit far afield from the original question about good books on mythology... so yeah... my apologies ;-D

Jan 25, 2011, 1:41pm

Wasn't it Jane Goodall who documented that even chimps occasionally go to war? Of course with growing population density, increased organization into larger groups, and increased weapon efficiency we have hugely increased the amount of damage we can cause. But I don't feel we can comfortably think warfare wasn't always simply an aspect of our species.

Jan 25, 2011, 5:04pm

...let's not forget Stanley Kubrick and his Famous Flying Bone.

Feb 2, 2011, 1:56pm

Feicht, Mary'sGirl, BarkingMatt, Makifat and all, sorry for my rude cyber silence, struck down with nasty bug, but recovered have come on to thank everyone for their contributions.
Oh, dear, it would be so NICE if once there was a non-violent prehistory more widespread than not, but I will read with interest. IHave a big choice for sure.
Thanks everyone.
By the way, Feicht, loved that phrase about 'patriarchal a********'! LOL.


Feb 3, 2011, 12:20pm

19> So glad you're feeling better, Jessica!

Feb 6, 2011, 1:20pm

No worries Jessica. Hope the sickness has been kicked to the curb :-)

Feb 9, 2011, 2:43pm

Thanks, everyone, for fascinating recommendations. I've ordered Powell and Ellers' books from the libary - would like to buy them but have no more room on my bookshelves - constant problem. I will then move on to the other books. I think I will need a stronger set of contact lenses at the end of these lol!

By the way, does anyone know if the heroes, particularly Achilles and Theseus (there's a patriarch, I believe!), were at all based on real people or is it all a matter of guesswork?


Feb 9, 2011, 3:03pm

I don't think anybody really knows about them. That doesn't mean there couldn't be some sort of historical truth behind them, but: "mists of time" and all that.

Feb 9, 2011, 9:56pm

Theseus was probably -- although we have no proof -- a real historical person upon whom heroic deeds were later draped. He is said to have united Attica as the proto-Athenian polis and there's no reason to doubt that there is some historicity in that, although his actual existence is not verifiable. Achilles, on the other hand, is a character in Homer's epics -- he may or may not be based upon a real historical figure but there seems no compelling reason to adopt a position supporting one side or another. He lacks all historicity so we really can only guess.

Feb 10, 2011, 4:05am

Barkingmat and Garp, thanks for info, this is intriguing. Excuse my ignorance - I have plenty of it about ancient history - but if they did ever exist, I suppose we are talking about pre 1300 BC?


Feb 10, 2011, 5:35am

This message has been deleted by its author.

Feb 10, 2011, 5:35am

There's very little concensus about dating these events.

Achilles would be dated by the Trojan War, but that was traditionally given dates ranging from the 14th to the 12th century BCE. Many people now believe that the destruction of Troy VIIa is the most likely candidate - which would put it later at c. 1080 BCE.

The unification of Attica - so Theseus - is even harder to date. We do know, however, that Athens had become a Mycenaean centre by 1400 BCE.

Edited: Feb 10, 2011, 5:39am

Note to self: just because the system freezes up doesn't mean the message hasn't been posted.

Feb 10, 2011, 5:38am

You can say that again ... LOL

Feb 10, 2011, 6:14am

Wow, even more ancient Ancient History than I had thought! Thanks for information, BarkingMatt.


Edited: Feb 10, 2011, 11:43am

On the historicity of human or semi-divine figures from Greek mythology, one thing I would add is that there is a fascinating tendency for nearly all of them to have a more or less specific geographical origin. A majority of these characters likely originated in the hero-worship cults of Bronze Age (or earlier) Greece, where individual villages would have myths centered around their founders, or even just especially heroic or brave citizens. Some of our earliest archaeological evidence from Greece suggests that there were long wooden buildings constructed specifically for the purpose of venerating these bygone men, with the locals bringing offerings of various types to their memory (and later, perhaps for purposes of propitiation). It isn't too difficult to see how, over a long enough time span, this sort of cultic practice could morph from veneration of a real person to the worship of an increasingly more mythical version of that person. For instance, think of something like the backstory of Herakles: perhaps one day in a small town in 1500 BCE Greece, some crazy local took it upon himself to kill a lion that has been terrorizing local shepherds for years. Perhaps he succeeds, is hailed as a kind of saviour by the townsfolk, and maybe he even takes to wearing the skin of the beast around town for good measure. Voila! You have a potential kernel of truth in one of the more famous Greek myths.

Naturally, the fates of individual areas rise and fall through time, as well as the fact that with a preliterate, storytelling tradition, the stories which people shared with each other would have had a tendency to evolve ever quicker into what we'd call "tall tales", since after all, these make for a more exciting story! As such, untold numbers of local myths have been lost to the sands of time, but others have been "preserved" for us through the storytelling tradition that we've come to group together (often erroneously, as if it were some sort of definite canon) as "Greek mythology."

So anyway, that is all an over-long way of saying that, yes, I believe that the majority of these figures were "historical" in that they could have originated as real people and only later had the more compelling facets of their stories attributed to them. But at the same time, they are "non-historical" if for no other reason than that *if* they were real people, they lived long before the onset of the written word in Greece, and so any trace of their original identity would be guesswork at best. The best comparison I can make here (hopefully without stepping on too many toes...) is with the Jesus story. Whether you are a Christian or not, the basic tenet that Jesus was at least based on a real person is not really up for debate; what IS, however, are all of the stories attributed to him after his death which the faithful would call "miracles" and everyone else might call "creative storytelling to make a real person larger than life." From the virgin birth, to the feeding of the multitudes, etc, Jesus' story has been augmented enough to shroud the actual historical figure in--dare I say it--a sort of mythological aura... and this all happened in a more-or-less well documented era of history, with empirical written records and so forth. Now imagine this same process taking place in an era before writing! Jesus could very well have been said to have fought dragons, killed women with snaky hair, gone on quests for magical trinkets, flown on flying horses, and so on. In other words, he would have been akin to a Greek mythological hero!

And this is my whole point, basically; laymen tend to look at Greek myth as the silly ramblings of confused and superstitious people who believed in crazy things... when in reality an entire facet of their myth structure (and, I'd argue, the one that is most likely to be native --i.e., predating Indo-European influence--to the area) is based on localized hero-veneration/worship which was embellished to a huge degree by a creative culture of preliterate storytelling. If the alphabet came to Greece a thousand years earlier, instead of unbelievable (to modern thought) stories of larger-than-life heroes, we might instead have more realistic depictions of local celebrities with more or less believable deeds. Of course that said, humans crave a good story, so it is likely that 1) if there were a roughly contemporary account of events, even these would probably have some sort of embellishment and, more sadly I suppose, 2) the more realistic said records were, the less likely they would have survived up until our own time anyway!

After all, who wants to hear about a real person, when you can hear about someone from "back in the day" who killed a hydra? One is too ordinary for the average person to care about, and the other is exciting. The obvious parallel in my mind is modern western television. You can probably count the number of tv shows that are entirely realistic on one hand; instead, most are chock-full of good looking people doing out of the ordinary things. Nobody wants to see/hear about ordinary people; we see them every day!

EDIT: Sorry for yet another overlong post! But I think it's also worth mentioning a few books to look at if you are interested in this sort of thing. Pretty much anything by Joseph Campbell is good for comparative mythology and such, but his stuff on the "hero cycle" is especially pertinent to this discussion; see The Hero with a Thousand Faces. As for the (by definition, pre-historical) hero worship in Greece, an amazing and frankly groundbreaking book on the subject is Adrienne Mayor's The First Fossil Hunters, which describes how the ancients would find huge bones of long dead animals (dinosaurs, mastodons, etc) and assume they were the bones of their legendary forbears. This also helped lead to an assumption by the ancients that people were simply bigger "back in the day", the bygone heroic area of the misty past. Fascinating stuff :-)

Feb 10, 2011, 2:37pm

Two more for my list, then, Fiecht! And thanks for responding so fully, it is really fascinating, how myths evolved.

There's different versions of them, too, which I suppose makes sense with these well loved stories going the rounds. While only a beginner as far as mythology is concerned, I do know that in the Theseus story there are many versions as to how he came to leave Ariadne on Naxos, and also, the fate of the Amazon Queen Hippoylata/Antiope seems to vary, too...Also, the fate of his friend in the underworld, etc.


Feb 10, 2011, 6:00pm

Feicht -- outstanding exposition. I would add by way of a sidenote that while there was indeed literacy in Bronze Age Greece, what evidence we have for it is largely bureaucratic lists for administration rather than epics (though we may way one day come upon these, if they exist). If stories from the heroic cycle were written down, these have been lost to us. Also lost for the Greeks was literacy itself! With the Bronze Age collapse that was fatal to many civilizations (like the Hittites) and saw the deep retreat of others (like the Egyptian New Kingdom) the Bronze Age Mycenean Greeks fell into steep decline and their writing -- what we call Linear B -- was lost to those who survived. Our best guess is that epics tales were handed down in oral tradition for hundreds of years so when the Greeks learn to write again centuries later, they borrow the Phoenecian alphabet, augment it with vowels, and immediately begin writing down epics -- the Iliad & the Odyssey seem to be the first committed to paper. So if Josh's heroic origins theory is correct -- I would heartily support that interpretation -- we have even a greater separation from the alleged historical personage because of this break in literacy that lasted three or four hundred years.

Edited: Feb 10, 2011, 7:06pm

Interesting, Feicht! I must agree with much that you say. But don't forget the great Greek tendency to rationalise myth. By attempting to place a myth in a historical context, you can easily be developing an aetiology that belongs more to the mythographer than his sources. Second, much non-heroic primal myth was, by contrast, borrowed (see M. L. West's The East Face of Helicon or - more easily obtainable - Robin Lane Fox's Travelling Heroes) or dates back to far more ancient myth (see M. L. West's Indo-European Poetry and Myth).

Feb 10, 2011, 8:34pm

All excellent books, Shikari. And indeed, the ancient (and, non-native) origins of much of Greek myth are what I was referencing when I referred to the fact that the hero tales were native, while much of the rest of Greek myth was imported via the Indo-European expansion (whether it was an expansion of people via invasion or ideas doesn't really matter in this context) or trade contacts from the Near East.

And Garp, that's a good rundown on what we know of the history of Greek literacy (and lack thereof). Indeed it is just this break in time which I believe would have exacerbated the effects of the storytelling tradition itself leading to a simultaneous obfuscation of the origin of any tale in particular, and a proliferation of variations on each theme proper. That is to say, some of the hero myths became more popular than others, and even seem to have subsumed some contemporaneous traditions; for instance, while some heroes still had definite places of origin and specific deeds by the historical period, others like Herakles took on a vast array of stories which can likely be explained as other localities in the pre- or inter-literal period identifying their own local hero with the increasingly popular hero in question, and eventually the overall myth appropriated enough of these other traditions to become one of the more pervasive in all of Greek myth.

Indeed this process can be witnessed anew much later, deep into the historical period during the period of Roman conquest of much of temperate Europe (similar to the somewhat earlier absorption of Greek myth), when they came into contact with other (unbeknownst to them) Indo-European traditions of the Celtic and Germanic peoples, when through a process called Interpretario Romana they identified the native deities with their own, even calling them by the same names. A good source for this is Tacitus' Germania, where he refers to, among other things, the Germans east of the Rhein worshiping Mercury; obviously they were propitiating their own Indo-European deity (likely Wotan) and didn't call him "Mercury", but to the Romans, it was a god similar enough to their own to attribute all the same deeds and traditions to him. This is probably a very similar thought process to what was going on in Bronze Age (and earlier) Greece with the proliferation of the various hero stories.

Feb 10, 2011, 9:13pm

Good stuff Feicht. Since the local largely matriarchial-based pelasgian gods were subsumed into the Indo-European patriarchial cosmology when the Mycenean Greeks moved into the peloponnese, I always wondered whether there were once also "heroic" females that were part of that tradition who are lost to us now. Perhaps Ariadne and her ilk are a remnant of that otherwise obliterated trail? That she is clearly identified as Minioan, where there seems to be be some sort of matriarchial tradition as well, certainly fuels this speculation for me.

Feb 10, 2011, 11:46pm

Jean-Pierre Vernant, Myth and Tragedy in Ancient Greece

Feb 11, 2011, 12:18am

I think we touched on this earlier on in this thread, but I remain unconvinced about the "largely matriarchal-based Pelasgian gods", if I'm honest. On the other hand, I think it can certainly be argued that they were "less patriarchal", with a more diverse pantheon of goddesses and heroines than are extant in later "classical" Greek mythology. One interesting lens in which to view this sort of changeover is in the roles of goddesses and heroines themselves, where it can be assumed that they were either entirely stripped of their original purpose, or were morphed into dangerous and scary beings. For instance, it stands to reason that Athena was originally some sort of mother goddess with a primary fertility function, but after the Indo-European changeover, she was imbued with "noble" characteristics like virginity and bloodlust.

One of my favourite examples however is with the so-called "Daughters of the Sun": female descendants of Helios who, it can be argued, were originally mother goddesses, but were then recast as dangerous sorceresses. Think of the likes of Circe, Phaedra, Pasiphae, and especially Medea. These women may have even had an original purpose along the lines of the hero-cults I mentioned a few posts above (though I have no evidence for this), but in any event, in the evolving pantheon towards the time of literate society in Greece, they were considered to be descended from the sun, and most of their potential original purpose was discarded in the new patriarchal-oriented society, which needed convenient foils for some of its heroes and demigods.

Feb 11, 2011, 5:26am

Ah, let me qualify. I am also not convinced that the "societies" or values were necessarily matriarchal as some new age hokey has suggested, but there does seem evidence that at least some of the gods were and that these were the more prominent ones. Athena is a good example of what was probably a local female god who was absorbed into the male-based Indo-European pantheon. I would also agree with you that these goddesses -- such as Athena -- probably morphed quite radically in the process (as they would again when the Romans co-opted them)

Feb 12, 2011, 6:59am

Hey, everyone, apropos this, I have an inexpert query.
I understand that Robert Graves' theories are now questioned. Did he portray Theseus as setting out to overthrow matriarchal society at any point or did any other scholar of Greem myths attribute this goal to him at any point?

Thanks in advance!


Feb 12, 2011, 6:26pm

I have no idea, but it doesn't sound inconsistent with his White Goddess obsession. If I get to it in the next few days, I'll look it up...

Feb 13, 2011, 4:33am

Thanks, Makifat, that would be fascinating.


Feb 13, 2011, 4:42am

Hey, forgot to add - and this is ridiculous - my Powell book just arrived in the library (We have to wait a long time in the back of beyond here). It came from the British Library, which isn't unusual, but what is is that it had instructions on it that it was the only copy they had, and mustn't be taken out of the library. Absurd, when I have seen copies for sale on Amazon for about £4.00. I will have to buy one after all, bookshelf problems or not.

Ellers book arrived too; depressing enough stuff, which I am reading through punctiliously. I feel we have to know awful facts, but I am too soft for history in some ways. When I read about babies being exposed I get upset, though that's daft when I know that is happening in sme parts of the world today...


Feb 13, 2011, 5:38am

Yeah, we humans have done pretty terrible things to eachother over the centuries.

Feb 13, 2011, 10:08am

And when it comes to infant exposure, "ourselves."

I was actually thinking about this the other day when I skimmed a few chapters of Gwynne Dyer's War: The Lethal Custom, which, among other things, details how war was just taken for granted as a way of life (ironically) basically from the dawn of civilization until about the middle of the 20th century: ironically(?) right about the time we developed the greatest capability for destroying each other, we started to think that doing so might actually be morally wrong.

Tangential to this thread as a whole, I realize, but the last two posts on the human condition brought it to mind ;-)

Feb 13, 2011, 11:30am

Ah, true, BarkingMatt and Feicht!

I was just re-reading Feicht's post on Circe, Medea,Pasiphae and Phaedra being morphed into the hero stories and becoming dangerous sorceresses. This sounds fascinating, because all I've heard of Phaedra was as Theseus' wife who was supposedly rejected by her stepson and hanged herself and Pasiphae as her mother who was cursed by Poisedon and became besotted by a bull, leading to the Minotaur?


Edited: Feb 13, 2011, 2:18pm

Yeah there is something funny about all the female descendents of the sun in Greek mythology. Like I say, basically every single one of them has some kind of bizarre trait, whether it is infanticide or bestiality or whatever ;-D This definitely strikes me as a situation where they were all at some point grouped together, and perhaps even in the misty days of prehistory there was something about the sun which was considered to have driven women to madness, much like the moon ("luna-tics", etc) in the historical era. Yet another conjecture, but who knows :-)

But there are also bits of the stories that definitely strike me as compellingly modern, in an almost sort of he-said-she-said sort of way, if you know what I mean. For instance, who knows what the original version of the Phaedra story would have been, but (at least, from a "feminist" perspective, I guess) one could make the argument that the whole situation with Hippolytus was a redaction of the high school variety... i.e. he did something bad, but in retelling the story, it was HE who was the helpless victim of the evil woman who just wanted to get him in trouble. haha

Feb 13, 2011, 4:27pm

#45 Feicht -- What I find interesting is that as much as the Greeks, for instance, celebrated war, there was also a coterminous ambivalence. Ares, the war god, is always portrayed as such a dark, almost hateful being. And while humorous, the Homeric tale of how Hephaestus traps his unfaithful wife Aphrodite and Ares in a net after their lovemaking seems to point to the derisive way the Greeks ultimately viewed him. I was struck most by this ambivalence in The Iliad.

Feb 13, 2011, 4:27pm

In some versions, Hippolytus was being punished for lack of devotion to Aphrodite. He was past the age when he should have been wed. In this case, Phaedra was merely a bystander in the fulfillment of his curse.

Ah, isn't it all too often we are merely bystanders caught in the fallout of someone else's karma?

Edited: Feb 14, 2011, 10:16am

PhaderaB - (fascinating name) I believe that Aphrodite was supposed to disapprove of his celibate vow.

This is off the point to some extent, but what intrigues me too is the bathetic endings of Hercules,Theseus and Jason.

In our own stories, one of the things I have find tiresome in the so many 'heroes' is that they never make a fool of themselves; in the Greek myths they seem to combine doing heroic things with doing just that and there is a grotesquely comic element in the deaths of Jason and Theseus.

Theseus acts surprisingly foolishly when he goes down to the underworld to try and abduct Persephone, and is stuck to a chair by Hades and when Herakles wrenches him off, he leaves part of his bottom behind (ouch!).

Then later I believe he is booted of a cliff by another king in a sort of bathetic rerun of his punishing of that robber - Skyros, was it - when he was young?

Am I right in believing that Jason is killed even more absurdly by a piece of his rotting original ship falling on his head?

I don't know if these things were intended to be tragic, but they come across as bathos...


Feb 14, 2011, 2:01pm

For most heroes there are so many different traditions, it can be hard to keep track; and indeed, as I mentioned before, there was no real "canon" with Greek mythology the way there is with other religions (due in large part to its storytelling origins), so many heroes have multiple "end stories" as such, all of them just as "accurate" as the others. It stands to reason that some stories would have waxed and waned in popularity compared to others, and what ended up as the foremost traditions by the historical period are nothing resembling what the originals were. Hard to say, really!

Feb 14, 2011, 6:00pm

Indeed. Especially as the Greeks were ever adapting their gods to the local gods. This is probably why there are two origin stories for Aphrodite. These kinds of contradictions don't seem to have bothered the Greeks a bit, although it would drive modern believers in the supernatural nuts by the lack of synchronicity (think about the sometimes disharmonious debates over the New Testament synoptic gospels and the scripture that doesn't seem to fit neatly in with their Jesus tradition -- this is nothing like the two competing stories for Aphrodite: one says she arose from the foam that gathered around the severed genitals of Uranus floating in the sea (you do not want to be Uranus! -- no pun intended!); another claims that she was the daughter of Zeus and Dione; and there are more! Some have suggested Aphrodite was a Greek adaptation of the Phoenician Astarte.

It has been postulated that Hera was the local earth goddess that was then "taken in marriage" into the Indo-Aryan tradition by coupling with the storm god Zeus, who though he cheated on her with all kinds of other mortal and immortal chicks maintained a fidelity to their lifetime union.

If Athena was the original virgin female goddess of Attica before the Greek incursion, then the Hellenes did a great job of absorbing her in their tradition by inventing the story of Hephaestus’ obsession with Athena that involved ejaculating on her leg, which she wiped off by tossing it into the air so it could land on Athens, where it miraculously spawned Erectheus, the first king. Neat how we got a male patriarchal sovereign from a female goddess!

All this is great speculation, but I would urge caution to all who read this that much of what is hypothetical here is indeed highly hypothetical! Fascinating nonetheless.

Feb 14, 2011, 6:09pm

Intellectual archaeology is a perilous venture. Ask the lifeless corpse of Sir James Frazer over there in the ditch.


Feb 14, 2011, 7:01pm


Feb 14, 2011, 7:10pm

Ask the lifeless corpse..

As opposed to the rosy-cheeked, respirating corpse...

I haven't forgotten!

Edited: Feb 14, 2011, 7:35pm

>52 Garp83:: Actually Stan, I always found that to be one of the "clunkier" of the "amalgamation myths", personally! What seems to be the case is that the local area originally had Athena as their "mother goddess" or whatever you like, but there was also the tradition of Mr. Erechtheus being the founder of the city, so by the historical period, the Attic locals realized they needed to find some way to synthesize the two wildly competing foundation myths (basically Athena vs Erechtheus), and they dreamed up the scenario whereby the (by then, virgin) goddess Athena was ejaculated upon by horny old Hephaestus. This way, both stories could be ostensibly correct, similarly to how the Romans would later combine two rival (though, IMO, unequal) origin myths of Romulus/Remus and Aeneas. But as I said, it has always struck me as rather haphazard in its composition, and I'd be curious to know (if we CAN know) precisely when it became fixed as such in tradition.

EDIT: Though I must say, I find the "original" founding story of Athens much more compelling; that is, the one about Poseidon and Athena vying for the city's patronage, them striking the akropolis rock, and Athena giving forth the olive tree as opposed to Poseidon's brackish water. One could even go so far as to claim this as another layer of matriarchal vs patriarchal obfuscation in Greek myth, but I would caution against this for a number of reasons, not least of which is the plain fact that even if a society is "matriarchal", they would still have male gods (just as the reverse is true in the Greece of the historical period). Also, I believe that even within Poseidon's cult belief is hidden a few clues as to his mixed origins that point to him being worshipped in some capacity before Indo-European arrival (whether it was population transfer, or just transfer of belief). Specifically, if one peruses through the various things that are "sacred" to Poseidon, there are a few notable variances which, though they aren't contradictions, are far enough apart that they suggest the Poseidon of the historical period is a fusion of 2 or more gods of varying traditions. For instance, one of his epithets is "Earth Shaker", which tends to make sense in tectonically active Aegean; likewise, he is considered overall to be the king of the sea, which makes sense in Greece, with its plethora of islands and endless coastline (though, to be fair, even this might represent two different gods of the distant past being consolidated). The bit that strikes me, however, is the fact that he is also sort of the god of horses. While they certainly had horses in ancient Greece, they were nowhere near as prominent in the region's rocky valleys as they were further north, or even beyond to the northeast, the posited site of the ancient Indo-European homeland. It could very well be that some aspect of Poseidon as a horse god of the Pontic-Caspian steppe was transferred into Greece during the PIE expansion period, along with horse domestication itself. Just a theory, but not out of the realm of possibility.

And there I go again making a footnote longer than my original post. Oh well ;-D

Feb 14, 2011, 7:24pm

goddess Athena was ejaculated upon by horny old Hephaestus

Well, I find this part entirely believable. They're Greek, remember.

Edited: Feb 14, 2011, 7:36pm

No comment.... HAHAHA :-D

Feb 14, 2011, 7:53pm

Nice David Foster Wallace tradition, Feicht, with the footnote.

Feb 14, 2011, 8:14pm

PS All night I have been trying (with the two bottles of champagene I imbibed with the wife celebrating V-Day) to come up with the correct term for the combining of two religious traditions into one. Is it "synecretion" (as Bob from Bob's Furniture would say: "I doubt it!") or what? I can't remember and it is really pissing me off.

Feb 14, 2011, 11:23pm

"Syncretism." :-)

Feb 15, 2011, 4:34am

This sounds intriguing. What sort of variations of the ends of Theseus, Jason etc are there? Are some tragic, some tragi comic, etc?


Feb 15, 2011, 4:43am

Hey, for some reason my pc didn't give me the last posts about the assault on Athena, etc.when I was typing my response to the post about the ends of Theseus, etc. More synchronicity...


Feb 15, 2011, 9:18am

#61 Feicht -- Thanks. Yes "syncretism." My post at #60 makes me laugh this morning as I even misspelled "champagne" HAHA

#56 Feicht -- your point about a mix of male and female deities being the norm is spot-on. Thus in "syncretism" one simply loses or gain emphasis based upon who is more dominant.

And I think that you are correct to remind us that the theories of peaceful, loving, matriarchal societies have little basis in fact. Moreover, the female goddesses could be quite sanguinary and have a lust for human sacrifice, as was most likely the case in Minoan Crete. In Carthage, where a goddess was the most important deity in the pantheon, child sacrifice seems to have played a significant role, although there is controversy in that. Mary Rennault highlights this alleged uncomfortable aspect of matriarchal Pelasgian religion in her wonderful novel of Theseus The King Must Die.

Finally, you mention Poseidon: many have suggested that his role was far more prominent in the Mycenaean period than in the later Classical Age, which would indeed make sense since his roots indeed seem to be as the Indo-Aryan god of horses and the Bronze Age would be much closer to the time when horses -- think chariot warfare! -- were more central to Greek identity than they would be later (they don't even bring cavalry on the Sicilian expedition in the Peloponnesian War, a dumb move as it turns out, but that does seem to suggest how horses lost a paramount role for the Greeks over time.)

Caution in all of this is indeed the byword, because what we know is much less than what we don't know.

Feb 15, 2011, 10:06am

Re: the diminished importance of horses over time to the Greeks: I've always had the impression that this is one of the factors that allowed Macedon to be so successful with its relatively swift takeover of the peninsula. Much is made of their modified phalanx infantry, but without the requisite cavalry to swoop in and smash the opposition's flank, it wouldn't have been nearly as successful. Since Greece proper by the 300s BCE wasn't too concerned with cavalry, generally speaking, the Macedonians could exploit this weakness to expert effect.

Feb 15, 2011, 12:52pm

Oh, dear, Garp, so many people love Renault's 'Theseus' novels but I was disappointed in them. I was upset at the misogyny - not of the progatonist, which I would expect in a partiarchal king of Ancient Greece, and I've been fond of some dreadfully patriarchal protagoists - but that of Renault,so I wasn't really surprised to read in Sweetman's biography of her that she despised women, for all she lived with one, and saw herself as a sort of 'honourary man'.

It was those stories that made me wonder if anyone but Renault ever ascribed to the legendary Theseus the overthrow of matriarchal cultures?


Feb 15, 2011, 1:00pm

#66 Funny, Jessica, but I didn't care much for The King Must Die -- highly recommended by Brian Fagan in a Teach Co. lecture -- but I have come to appreciate it in retrospect. It is purely fanciful, of course, and no real basis for a historical foundation, but fascinating in a purely speculative way, to my mind.

#65 Feicht -- Josh, why don't you use that as a research paper topic? I think you are on to something there

Edited: Feb 15, 2011, 4:51pm

#65 - I've understood that by classical times Greece was dependent on imported grain, possibly due to the degradation of their soil by centuries of unsustainable agricultural practices.

Could it be that cavalry had become not so much less important but more expensive - too expensive, in fact? If they couldn't grow enough grain, would they have been prepared to spare land for grazing and hay for creatures that weren't food?

Edited for 'calvary' - don't know what was going on in my subconscious there.

Feb 15, 2011, 4:33pm

The Greeks indeed damaged their soil primarily by deforestation,but contrary to some claims, the Greek mainland was always a rocky soil that was poorly suited to agriculture, with the exception of olives. (There was an old saying that the gods distributed gifts to all the nations of the world out of a bag but when they got to Hellas all that was left in the bag was rocks!) This is one of the primary reasons for so much colonization in the archaic age: no polis could afford to feed a large population. The Greeks were Indo-European people who came down from the steppes where horses -- and chariot warfare -- were paramount. It was never teneble to maintain large herds of horses in Greece.

Feb 15, 2011, 6:07pm

Stan, it is just one of many "back burner" things I think about now and then that I should be able to drag out and dust off for a master's thesis or something if need be ;-)

As for Greek geography being antithetical to farming, I would tend to agree. The deforestation claim is a sound one, and one that is valid for almost every place in Europe; I think this is one reason why after the turn of the 20th century, places with mountains and extant ancient forests on the continent became such hotbeds of tourism: by then there were almost no "old" forests left, and this coincided with the rise of the West's "environmental conscience" to some degree.

The difference is, though, that Greece generally has really craggy soil that is really bad for farming, and led by the historical period to the larger poleis having to import grain just to stay alive; beyond the low-subsistence level, it just wasn't feasible to farm in Greece proper, and as you point out Garp, this is why so many cities sent out colonies overseas.

As for Greek "origins", as always I would be careful not to suggest any massive influx of population coinciding with the "Indo-European expansion", but rather a "cultural infiltration", if you like; a difference of opinion, I suppose, but either way, the horses got there somehow, whether it was by marauding invaders, or a few "franchisers" moving into new turf and bringing their attractive new way of life with them.

Feb 15, 2011, 7:31pm

Yeah, I agree, more or less. If the Dorians were not already present as an underclass that rose up to supplant the Mycenaeans after the Bronze Age collapse, as some have suggested, then it was likely that they were simply another branch that took their turn in that infiltration. Anthony does a great job in his brilliant (but tedious to read) Horse, Wheel and Language thesis emphasizing the gradual spread of Indo-Aryans into Europe to eventually -- over time -- replacing or absorbing the Cucuteni/Varna Old Europe agriculturists that were in resident. Fascinating stuff!

I tend to think it was more violent than we want to imagine, of course, just simply based upon the general nature of humanity when entering a new environment.

Feb 15, 2011, 7:55pm

Yeah I'm with you there... I find the "franchising" theory attractive though simply because it is a bit hard to imagine a band of marauders imposing their will over such a broad stretch of turf in what would have been an insanely short period of time. And given how thinly populated Europe would have been at the time, even if there WERE a massive population movement, I'd imagine there would have been plenty of low-conflict routes for them to take.

Feb 16, 2011, 7:28am

Well I don't believe it's barbarians leaping over the city walls (or local livestock fences in this case) but I think vast population movements -- driven primarily by a scarcity of resources, climate change, etc. -- are the real story of the ancient world that are often overlooked. Movements that take decades or longer often don't leave visible traces of gradualism in the record, but rather what we find is some kind of break in material culture (as in Old Europe) that cannot be dated to one single point. The Puritans don't show a big footprint all at once in New England, but within a century their relations from abroad are the only real story on the ground.

Feb 16, 2011, 11:17am

Oh, certainly, real migrations must have happened too. But those Pontic steppes could never have provided enough "barbarians" to actually conquer the entire Indo-European language area. So I agree the "franchising" theory makes sense.

Feb 16, 2011, 12:00pm

I'm with you, Matt. Don't get me wrong, Stan, there must have been some level of population transfer, in some instances, at least, almost certainly violent. But I actually think that "vast population movements" are quickly becoming a less-attractive way of describing events in the ancient world. Even the ideas of the later "volkerwanderungen" around the end of the western Roman Empire have become a bit passé these days. These used to be the main way that archaeologists could describe changes in culture (material or otherwise) in the ancient world, but today the consensus seems to be that things were quite a bit more nuanced than that.

Feb 16, 2011, 3:36pm

Nuanced or not, if you read Anthony's book -- and I know you did because you recommended it -- it seems clear that the agricultural people of Old Europe who had once migrated in from Turkey were indeed supplanted on a wide scale by Indo-European people. Of course, this took place over many years, but it seems to represent a real break in material culture, though certainly not as clear of a break as a burned city might represent. I found Anthony's research with horse bit teeth wear especially brilliant, where he demonstrates one culture primarily consuming horses for food and another riding them. The material culture of the Cucuteni or Varna have nothing in common with the culture that replaced them, although there is a bit of evidence for the two existing briefly coterminous in the same region.

Feb 16, 2011, 5:23pm

Like I said: real migrations must have happened too. But not in numbers great enough to actually conquer and occupy the rest of the world between Ireland and India.

Feb 16, 2011, 11:28pm

I thought the horse-teeth bit (no pun intended) was brilliant as well. But the point is that a new culture supplanted the Cucuteni culture of the Balkans, not necessarily the people, you know? Again I reiterate that it is not out of the question that certain enclaves experienced genocidal violence; we obviously are still addicted to this as a species even today. But in all reality, unless we could get in a time machine and land in 4000-ish BCE Romania to see what's going on, there is virtually no way we can tell whether the people were physically replaced, or simply adopted a new way of life.

Feb 17, 2011, 9:11pm

Oh I would agree with you there if that is what you mean by franchising. I doubt much of it occured without some violence, but that doesn't mean they were all slaughtered.

Feb 17, 2011, 11:12pm

>78 Feicht: I think you are right Feicht. Resources should be committed to developing such a time machine!

Feb 18, 2011, 4:17am

Hello, everyone, still ploughing on with 'The Myth of Matriachal Prehistory'. One must know the truth, but how NICE it would be had there been stronger evidence that the matriarchal thesis WAS true.
Re; time machines, I suppose one would be stuck in some time warp where you could see but not intefere, - or then there would be all sorts of difficulties as you might change the present -and might get Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the horrors witnessed?


Feb 18, 2011, 11:08am

It is troubling to consider the psychological risk to time travelers. But damage to history due to temporal paradoxes? Not to worry; these are impossible.


Feb 18, 2011, 11:13am

What about this?

Edited: Feb 18, 2011, 11:19am

Oh, waaaaay too funny! Thanks for the laugh.

Feb 18, 2011, 11:27am

Now that is something to worry about!

Feb 19, 2011, 4:16am

Sadly missed the laugh, colukben, as my IT not up to par! Read another chapter of the Eller book last night.

I have been reading the Powell one in the library, as the British Library attached a note saying it mustn't be removed from the library building, ridiculous. It is interesting but does seem a bit superficial, as none of them seem to give alternative versions of the myths that I think Feicht touched upon.


Feb 20, 2011, 7:18pm


Feb 22, 2011, 5:01am

Everyone - I've always had a query about fighting heroes depicted in ancient Greek pottery, etc, but been to shy to ask (blushes).
Is it only artistic licence (forgotten which spelling is appropriate - Freudian pun not intended) which makes them fight naked? It would appear to be a bad idea for obvious reasons about which I would not, of course, wish to be too graphic...


Feb 22, 2011, 6:44am

The Greeks were enamored of the male form -- artistically, idealistically and sexually. Greek men exercised naked and competed in the games naked. However, in battle they wore an extensive panoply of heavy armor and did not fight naked -- or even half naked as depicted in "300"

Feb 22, 2011, 11:02am

Yeah, it is merely artistic/heroic-ideal convention. It is debatable whether the majority of fighting men would have been able to equip themselves as heavy infantry, but either way, they certainly wouldn't have gone into battle "artistically naked" if they felt like being alive afterward, haha

Feb 22, 2011, 11:18am

So what did the Spartans wear into battle? I'm sure all you classicists know this, but I'm fearfully underinformed.

Feb 22, 2011, 2:11pm

All hoplites wore a helmet, breastplate and greaves (for their legs) that weighed about 60 pounds. He carried a large shield or hoplon designed to protect his left side as well as the right side of the man to his immediate left in a very tightly ranked formation that formed an almost impenetrable shield wall. While courage remained a critical virtue – the post of honor was the extreme right, where there was no shield to shelter one’s right side from the enemy – devotion to the phalanx was more essential, for a break in rank endangered the entire effort. The width of the rows varied, but the depth was usually eight ranks deep. While hoplites carried a short sword, this was of less importance than their primary weapon, a long spear that the first few ranks thrust forward as the highly disciplined military formation marched forward at a slow, measured pace, maintaining taut discipline, usually on an open plain, as their opposing numbers approached them in similar fashion. When the clash came, discipline remained the most considerable element of success or failure, with each hoplite holding his ground – and his shield in place – as men from the ranks in back moved forward to replace those in front who fell. The importance of not breaking ranks under any circumstances is reflected in Plutarch’s report that Spartan mothers admonished their sons leaving for battle to return with their shield or upon it.

Feb 22, 2011, 3:21pm

Thanks, Garp! It sounds similar in many ways to the little I know of the Roman phalanx. I love the opening scene of the first season of Rome, which had that marvellous overhead shot of the rotation of the front rank. Followed, of course, by Pullo's breaking of the ranks and subsequent flogging.

Feb 22, 2011, 3:57pm

Still haven't seen "Rome" but Feicht keeps threatening me if I don't watch it so it is indeed on my list. Got the complete set of the Tudors on DVD for V-Day so that is my current evening pleasure (for the third time)

Feb 22, 2011, 4:21pm

Rome was indeed a good series and I highly recommend it. A little too much focus on sex, but what can you expect.... I credit the series with my deep(er) dive into ancient history. First I wanted to learn how accurately the show depicted Roman life, which led to listening to audio lecture series from the library on the Roman Empire, then the Greeks, a dip into Mesopotamia then back to Rome.

I couldn't watch the Tudors... at least Henry VIII. I confess I did watch "The Other Boleyn Girl", but in my defense it did have Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson for me and Eric Bana for my wife.

Feb 22, 2011, 9:02pm

I stumblerd upon the Tudors and found the acting outstanding. It is a historical novel on screen of course, but the historical period stuff is pretty damned accurate and Jonathan Rhys-Davies an incredible actor. As for Rome, I ask about this as I asked about Deadwood -- did everyone use the F-word the way we did in 1960's? Seriously? Works with Sopranos, stretches credibility elsewhere. There's plenty of sex, violence and bad language in the Tidors, but it does not suffer from this malady.

Feb 22, 2011, 10:33pm

ROME is basically my favourite show ever. Yeah it's HBO so they showed sex a lot, but what the hell, everyone does it, so whatever. The timeline is terribly compressed in the show, but I mean you can only ask so much, you know? And unlike most shows/movies with Romans, the military stuff is actually surprisingly accurate, right down to the fighting styles. The very first episode actually opens with the end stages of Caesar's war in Gaul, and instead of mixed up "Braveheart" style fighting, you for the most part see the historically accurate "shield wall" tactic, right down to the "line changes" that would happen every 45 seconds or so to keep the troops fresh. This is still the only place I have EVER seen this happen in a Hollywood (well ok, BBC) show about Romans.

Feb 23, 2011, 4:57am

This is still the only place I have EVER seen this happen in a Hollywood (well ok, BBC) show about Romans.

The credit has to be given to the BBC. Hollywood would screw it up. Hmmm... Fathers Day is coming, I could get the Rome series or another book or two. I'm conflicted!

Feb 23, 2011, 8:44am

That's what I liked about the series; BBC acting and monomaniacal attention to detail, combined with an HBO budget (and sexy/violent bits, of course). The making-of featurette is quite wonderful - all the armor they had to make, all the period costumes; the senators were mostly Italians who had no clue what the English dialogue was saying; the commoners' set got fleas, so they became very unpopular with the nobles.

Feb 23, 2011, 12:09pm

Loved Rome! And yes the time line was compressed and several of the higher level love hook ups probably never happened, but the sets and costumes were marvelous. Dirty, gritty, grafitied republican Rome before Augustus clad it in marble.

Feb 23, 2011, 7:12pm

OK OK OK I'll watch it ... I promise ...

Feb 23, 2011, 7:51pm

See post 40: I understand that Robert Graves' theories are now questioned. Did he portray Theseus as setting out to overthrow matriarchal society at any point or did any other scholar of Greem myths attribute this goal to him at any point?

I foolishly offered to respond to Jessica's inquiry, then promptly drifted to other things. I got around to it this afternoon and sent her a PM, but though I might as well make a note here for completeness' sake.

I checked Graves' The White Goddess, but did not find much with relation to Theseus. Better luck in the first volume of his The Greek Myths.

Graves addresses the Theseus narratives toward the end of the volume. In particular, there is a discussion of the antagonism between Theseus and Medea upon Theseus' arrival in Athens. Aegeus had given Medea sanctuary after the unfortunate episode with Jason, and she came to expect that her son (by Aegeus) Medus was next in succession. Theseus' arrival, for course, confounded that expectation and Medea, true to form, attempted to poison him although Aegeus knocks the poisoned cup to the ground. Athens rejoices and Medea flees. There is also a subsequent revolt by Pallas and his fifty sons, who likewise had designs on the Athenian throne, challenging Aegeus's legitimacy. The revolt was violently surpressed by Theseus...

Here (slightly amended) are Graves' notes on the episode:

Medea's expulsion forth from Corinth, and then from Athens, refers to the Hellenic suppression of the Earth-goddess's cult - her serpent chariot shows her to be a Corinthian Demeter. Theseus's defeat of the Pallantids similarly refers to the suppression of the original Athene cult, with its college of fifty priestesses - pallas can mean either 'youth' or 'maiden'.

From here, Graves passes on to Theseus's adventures in Crete and his participation in Heracles's campaign against the Amazons.

Not to cast any great doubt on this, but I've previously expressed my leeriness of Graves' scholarship. This doesn't sound particularly controversial, but bear in mind my previous caveat concerning intellectual archaeology.

It just strikes me that Eliade's History of Religious Ideas may have something to say on the subject. I'll report back anything interesting.

PS: "Rome" was indeed fantastic, but I found the decadence of the second season just a tad overdone....

Feb 23, 2011, 8:30pm

Ja, the second season was (sadly) not as good as the first, though still worth watching.

Feb 24, 2011, 3:57am

Thanks so much, Makifat, for looking into this for me.
It's fascinating...
Re; fighting naked heroes, thanks everyone for information too. They did have some sense, then!


Mar 4, 2011, 7:50am

Hi, PC down at home, using one at library (allowed onefor half an hour) so just reporting finished Eller and Powell, going on to order one of the others, I thought maybe The Marriage of Cadmus...Found one on Greek mythology in Newtown library by one Kershaw, weirdly a penguin hardback.


Mar 4, 2011, 5:00pm

Much luck to you in your continued research :-)

Mar 15, 2011, 8:33am

Thinking on the discussion above (still love that 'patriarchal a......s.' Feicht!) Cynthia Eller's book 'The Myth of Matriarcahl Prehistory' I wonder...I suppose there wasn't dead silence but some sort of comeback? I have only a layperson's understanding, but didn't she attack easy targets a bit, and leave some out? It made for amusing reading at times, but I had the feeling that she wasn't always being fair (is anyone, ever, in a debate?)
I haven't been able to get hold of 'The Marriage of Cadmus' yet. Meanwhile, I read a book by one Stephen P Kershaw, 'A Short History of Greek Myths'.
Too superficial, I thought. Someone leant me one by Robert Graves a year ago, forgot its exact title, but it must have been intended for kids, it was so sanitized. Surely even in the 1930's adults can't have bene that prudish?
I was just thinking, re; Bronze Age literary, what did they write on? Was it wax or evne stone tablets?
Thanks all.


Mar 15, 2011, 10:25am

Don't skip Edith Hamilton, even if everybody reads it

Mar 16, 2011, 6:07am

Next on my reading list, Garp!


Mar 26, 2011, 11:12am

Everyone, re the possibility of matriarchies, the 'burnt house' (?) era and the figureines mentioned in Cynthia Ellers' book, I can certainly make no claims myself to be an expert - just starting out - but I have read some articles saying that Cynthia Ellers misquoted Gambitas (spelling?) and other in her book, and that the evidence she brought forward was a bit unfair.

What are people's views on this?


Edited: Mar 26, 2011, 11:31am

I'm not sure I understand what the "burnt house era" is. If I remember correctly there was certainly an abundance of female figurines in some places - so-called Old-Europe for instance. Female figurines don't constitute matriarchy though.

But I would gladly support that they at least suggest that those people were less patriarchal than some of the succesor cultures.

p.s.: correct spelling is Gimbutas. Even though she failed to convince me (but who am I to judge), I do recommend you read some of her work if you're that interested in the possibility of early matriarchal societies.

Mar 27, 2011, 4:20am

Thanks, Matt, will look into that. 'Gimbutas' eh, I couldn't have got the spelling more wrong...A bad night and my dyslexia comes out proud.

Don't know if 'burnt house' was the term, but read somewhere that there was evidence (how, after all this time, I don't know) of wholesale burnings round the time of the supposed invasion of 'patriarchal
a********* (as Feitch termed them) mentioned above?


Edited: Mar 27, 2011, 4:59am

Ah yes, there certainly is some evidence that the westward movement of people from the Pontic steppes didn't go entirely peacefully. The horse, the wheel, and language: How bronze-age riders from the Eurasian steppes shaped the modern world by David W. Anthony deals with that too some extent - it's essentially about those people from the steppes, who he identifies as early Indo-Europeans.

The same author recently edited the exhibition catalogue (book really) The lost world of old Europe : The Danube Valley, 5000-3500 BC about the society they supplanted to their west. But since I haven't read it yet I'm not sure if I can recommend it (or even if it really touches on your inquiry).

Re spelling: you wouldn't believe some of my errors in that field ;-)

Mar 27, 2011, 7:19am

I've read both of those books, and both are great :-)

The "burnt house" phenomenon you're referencing is probably the Cucuteni-Tripolye/Trypillian culture, which is documented in-depth in the essays in The Lost World of Old Europe, and given significant page-time in The Horse, the Wheel, and Language. As best as we can tell, the residents of the proto-cities in Southeast Europe would essentially torch every house at intervals of about 80 years, for reasons that are not entirely understood; it could have been evidence of anything from a religious belief which considered each house a sort of living being with a specific lifespan, to something as relatively mundane as a sanitary measure to keep everyone from getting sick.

This culture is also well known from its various "goddess figurines", but as has already been mentioned, this need not be taken that they had a "matriarchal culture" (they had male statuettes as well), but rather can be seen as a portrayal of just one part of this prehistoric people's cult life. After all, the über-patriarchal Romans had goddess statuettes as well.

Edited: Mar 27, 2011, 7:31am

I'm probably way off topic here because this has nothing to do with the ancient world but if you are interested in the lives of Greek Women Greek Women in Resistance by Eleni Fourtouni is an interesting and quirky little book. Personally, I'd sooner take on a Panzer division than a Greek mother any day.

ETA - Before that last remark gets me accused of racism I would like to add that it is said with huge affection and admiration for both the race and, especially, its women.

Mar 27, 2011, 9:16am

113/114 - I too read both books (well, I'm not yet done with "Horse" yet, but soon ...) and I visited the Cucuteni exhibit at NYU last year. The artifacts of this culture is fascinating, especially the tiny female figurines, some seated in chairs. I recall kind of shocking some of those visitors gathered round when I said out loud to my family: "For all we know, these were toys some little girl played with."

Feicht is absolutely right -- we know some things about these people but there is a lot of conjecture. We know they had female figurines and they may well have been goddesses. We know they burned their houses down every 70-80 years and they may indeed be ritual burnings. We just don't know. We also have no physical remains of these people because they did not utilize inhumation for their dead. We know they did not use horses domestically, but they sometimes used them for food. We know they lived in the largest proto-cities anywhere until the Mesopotamian cities were constructed, but they had no monumental architecture and no written language. We know they were agricultural people that most probably originated in Anatolia, moved through the Aegean and settled there, and were later supplanted by Indo-Europeans from the north who did ride horses and had a different material culture, but this break occurred over time.

Upon this, Gimbutas constructed the framework to demonstrate that these were a peaceful, matriarchial culture, a huge leap that is now mostly disputed to the rest of academia.

Mar 28, 2011, 2:39am

"For all we know, these were toys some little girl played with."

Considering they ceramic - aren't they? - and intact I don't really go for that theory ;-)

Mar 28, 2011, 8:15am

well I was just being facetious to make the larger point ... it did amuse my family though

Edited: Mar 28, 2011, 11:00am

Sure. But kids are capable or breaking almost anything. I have some myself. ;-)

p.s.: please note smileys in both messages

Aug 15, 2011, 2:01am

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