Any recommendations for a book on Greek myths and one on Greek matriarchal cultures?
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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!
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 half.com :-)
Touchstone not sticking : http://www.librarything.com/author/gimbutasmarija
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
By the way, Feicht, loved that phrase about 'patriarchal a********'! 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?
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.
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 :-)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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...
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...
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 ;-)
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?
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
Ah, isn't it all too often we are merely bystanders caught in the fallout of someone else's karma?
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...
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.
As opposed to the rosy-cheeked, respirating corpse...
I haven't forgotten!
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
Well, I find this part entirely believable. They're Greek, remember.
#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.
It was those stories that made me wonder if anyone but Renault ever ascribed to the legendary Theseus the overthrow of matriarchal cultures?
#65 Feicht -- Josh, why don't you use that as a research paper topic? I think you are on to something there
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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...
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.
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!
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....
Re; fighting naked heroes, thanks everyone for information too. They did have some sense, then!
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?
What are people's views on this?
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. http://www.librarything.com/author/gimbutasmarija-1
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?
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 ;-)
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.
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.
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.
Considering they ceramic - aren't they? - and intact I don't really go for that theory ;-)
p.s.: please note smileys in both messages