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MYTHS OF PUNISHMENT OR TRAGEDY
In this chapter , we will focus on those myths whose predominant motiff is one of a bad ending, or of retribution. Of course, a few also involve others themes, such as love, as in "Prometheus and Io".
There are two main myths about King Midas. The most well-known is that of the "Golden Touch".
Silenus, one of the followers in the train of Dionysus, God of Wine, became overwhelming intoxicated, and lost. He was found by the subjects of King Midas of Phygia, who entertained him, before escorting him back to Dionysus.
Dionysus, in appreciation for the return of his former tutor, granted King Midas one wish. Midas, desiring great riches, asked that all he touched be turned to gold..
Unfortunately, even the food and drink that Midas attempted to imbibe also turned to gold. Hungry and Thristy, Midas begged
Dionysus to take away this 'splendid evil'. Dionysus advised Midas to washed his hands in the River Pactolus, which he took away this curse. In fact, this river became abundant with gold thereafter providing a csource of wealth for the Phyrgian King, Croesus.
The other notable myth of King Midas concerns a musical concert. Apollo and Pan, with King Midas the judge, had a contest as to who was the better musician. Apollo played his lyre, and Pan his reeds. Midas, even though Apollo played better, picked Pan, since he was partial to Pan. In revenge, Apollo changed Midas'ears to those of an ass.
Midas attempted to hide these ears under a hat. But, the deformity became evident to Midas' barber, whom Midas swore to secrecy, under penalty of death. The barber simply had to tell someone, and for lack of reliable confidant, dug a hole, and whispered the secret into it. The next season, a crop of reeds grew over this hole, which were said to thereafter say in the wind,
"Midas, King Midas has ass' ears!"
Today, a person who has no appreciation for music is said to be 'ass-eared', steming from this myth.
Son of Iapetus, a Titan, and Clymene, Prometheus is known as the creator of mankind. He aided Zeus in defeating the Titans. In reward, Zeus entrusted to Prometheus the honor of creating man, a being to rule over all other living creatures. Prometheus fashioned man out of clay, training him in the arts of living. But man lacked fire, a weapon that only the Gods possessed. Therefore, Prometheus went to Olympus and , unbeknownst to Zeus, stole fire, which he brought to man on Earth.
This act greatly angered Zeus. He immediately ordered Prometheus to be bound by chains to a steep cliff in the Casucasus in Asia Minor, and sent an eagle to daily feed his liver, which regenerated overnight.
Prometheus was eventually released by Heracles, on his way to retain the Apples of Herespides in oneof his labors. But, to simbolize Zeus punishment, Prometheus had to wear a ring, a remmant of his chains, with a rock setting, simbolizing a piece of the Caucasus mountains. Supposedly, this was the first 'ring' created.
Prometheus represents a champion of mankind against the Gods, subjected to needless suffering , which he bravely endured. Today, the word 'Promethean' means something daringly creative and innovative, as Prometheus had been resourceful in equipping man to survive and to become masters of the animal kingdom.
Io, daughter of the river god Inachus, caught the fancy of philandering Zeus. Zeus attempted to hide his earthly meetings with Io, by covering the area weith a cloud, but Hera ever-suspicious, went to the area to investigate. Zeus knowing that Hera was approaching, transformed Io into a cow, acting as if he were innocent of any wrong-doing.
Hera knew exactly what was going on, but she feigned ignorance, asking if Zeus would give her such a beautiful cow as a gift. Zeus was torn between giving away his newly-found love, or fighting to keep the cow, which, he reasoned , would surely arouse Hera's suspicions as to her true identity. Zeus elected to give Hera the cow, and she proceed to make life miserable to the princess in disguise, by immediately entrusting Io to the safeguarding of the 100-eyed Argus.
Zeus sent Hermes to attemp to abduct the cow. He played the flute, attempting to lull all 100 eyes to sleep, without success. Then , he told Argus the history of the flute, a very dull story apparently, since all 1000 eyes fell asleep, allowing Hermes to behead the monster. But, Hera was aware of this, so she sent a horsefly to plague the cow. The horsefly persued Io around the Mediterranean Sea, including an area which later adopted the princesses' name, the Ionian Sea. They crossed the strait that divide Asia from Europe, called today, the "Bosphorus", meaning 'cow crossing', in honor of this myth. Travelling onward, Io passed Prometheus in Asia Minor, chained to the rock, in punishment for an act against the Gods
The chase terminated on the Banks of the Nile, in Egipt, when Hera lifted the curse, because Zeus promised he would curb his straying, and Io was reconverted to her mortal form.
Atlas, son of the Titan Iapetus and the Oceanid Clymene, and brother of Prometheus ans Epimetheus, was the father of the Hesperides and Pleides. He fought on the side of the Titans against Zeus. After Zeus won, he banished the Titans to the Underworld.but reserved a special punishment for Atlas. He comdemned him to forever hold up the sky, which he did from an area in Noethwest Africa.
Later the Greek hero, Perseus, petrified Atlas, by showing him to the head of the Gordon Medusa. In this manner, he was converted to , what is today, the Atlas Mountain Range, in North Africa. Atlas also took part in one of the Labors of Heracles, which will be later discussed.
Erisichton, King of Thessaly, known as a ruthless reler, needed wood to build a banquet hall. With characteristic arrogance, he proceeded to cut down trees in a grove, sacred to Demeter. The goddess attemted to stop him, but he persisted, even though the trees started oozing blood, from the death within of the 'dryads', or tree nymphs.
In punishment, demeter cursed Erisichthon to perpetual hunger. Erisichton proceeded to eat, until he exhausted all his wealth. Then, he used his daughter, Maestra, to aid him in obtaining food. Maestra had been a mistress of Poseidon, and had been given the ability to change her bodily forms, at will. Therefore, after Erisichton had sold her to someone, she would metamorphose to another form, and scapee back to her father, tobe sold again. This allowed Erisichton to stave off his hunger for a while.
But, eventually, his hunger became to great. He began to eat his own limbs, and, in this manner, died a horrible death.
Phaeton was the son of Apollo and Clymene. His brother would frequently point out to Phaeton his father, Apollo, blazing across the skies in his Sun Chariot, as he lit up the world every mornin, this bein one of the duties of the sun god.
The playmates of Phaeton did not believe that Apollo was his father, and frequently ridiculed him, causing Phaeton to question whether or not Apollo was, truly, his father. Therefore, his mother, Clymene, sent Phaeton to see Apollo at his Sun Palace, which was located in the Far East, near India. From here, Apollo would set out in his Sun Chariot every morning, heading east, to light up the skies.
When Phaeton encounterd Apollo there, he explained the purpose of the journey. Apollo, to demonstrate his fatherhood, told Phaeton that he would grant any wish of his,and swore by the River Styx to uphold this promise. Phaeton knew this propositon was serious, since, if a god did not abide by a promise ensured by the River Styx, the god would be struck dumb for one year, followed by nine years of exile from Mt. Olympus, losing all the power of being god.
Phaeton fooolishly asked to drive the Sun Chariot fro one day, since it was well known that only Apollo could guide these wild horses. But, being youthful and impetuous, Phaeton stuck by his request, and Apollo was beholden to grant it.
Phaeton set out early in the morning at the rigns of the chariot. He soon lost control, veering low to the earth, scorching the trees, and turning the people of the territory, known as Ethiopia, black. Matter of fact, this myth is thought to be the reason that balck people originated from North Africa
.At any rate, Phaeton and his chariot were totally out of control. Before he could destroy more of the Earth, Zeus hurled a thunderbolt, burning Phaeton to a crisp, hurling him down to earth, where he landed in the river Po, in Italy.
His sisters, the Heliades, went there to mourn for him, and eventually were turned into poplar trees, which today inhabit the riverbanks of this river. Their tears are said to be preserved as amber, which flows regularly from their trunks and limbs. His good friend, Cycnus, went also to mourn him, where, he, too, was transformed into a swan, which, thereafter, was known to sing a song before its death, called the 'swan song'.
Ibycus was well-known poet in his day. He was travelling to a poetry contest in Corinth, when he was robbed and killed by a few bandits. Before dying, however, he cried out to a flock of cranes evehead, to avenge his death.
Word spead at the contest about the account of Ibyscus' unfortunate demise. During the readings in the stadium, the same flock of cranes flew overhead. A voice was heard in the audience,
"Look...it's Ibyscus cranes!"
Only the bandits would have known this, so they were summarily removed from the grounds and executed.
Niobe , Queen of Thebes, and wife to King Amphion, had much of which to be proud. She had seven handsome, strong sons, and seven beautiful daughters. But, Niobe fell, due to her extreme arrogance to the Gods, much like her father, Tantalus.
Niobe insisted that the Thebans should worship her, rather than Leto, mother to Apollo and Artemis. After all, she reasoned, had she not fourteen children to Letos's two? And were not Apollo womanish, and Artemis mannish?
The Gods were quick to punish such insolence. First Apollo shot arrows to kill all seven sons. Even then, Niobe cried out that she still had more than Leto. Artemis then proceeded to also kill the seven daughters with arrows.
Niobe fled to her fathers's home on Mt. Sipylus, in Asia Minor, to grieve. There, she was turned to stone by the Gods. Today, there is a crag in the mountain, which, when covered with snow, drips water, as Niobe shed tears in her last hours.
The poet Byron compares the fall of Rome with the myth of Niobe, both comparable in arrogance and insolence.
On the first day after his birth, Hermes stole 50 of Apollo's cattle. While Hermes was driving the cattle to a safe spot, he was observed by an old man, Battus. He bribed Battus to keep quiet. In fact, Battus said that "...a stone would tell more than him."
Later, to test Battus, Hermes returned to BAttus in disguise, offering him him another brive to tell him if he had seen any of Apollo's stolen cattle. The old man immediately betrayed Hermes, so, appropiately, Hermes transformed him into a stone.