Saturday, 29 September 2012

Half Humans Centaurs and Satyrs

Half Humans Centaurs and Satyrs

The Centaurs disrupting the Lapith wedding feast is a story depicting the Centaurs as strange hybrids of human and horse, man and beast, with the Centaurs having equine ears and lower torsos.

Satyrs however are also depicted as having horse tails and ears.

The idea that Satyrs are part goat dates to the Roman era.

The Romans seem to have thought Satyrs and Fauns were the same.

So what underlies these images.

Animal features as symbols of lust?

Depictions of nature spirits possessing male cultists during Dionysiac rituals?

Old  stories about mountain tribes so primitive they wore fur rather than wool ?

Perhaps a sly dig at randy aristocrats behaviour during parties since horse ownership was a luxury for the wealthy?

Given the antiquity of these myths perhaps all the explanations are equally valid?

Bear in mind when you're looking at art featuring myths that the original artist's intentions may differ from your interpretations.

Monday, 24 September 2012



One theory about the origin of Centaurs is that the legends are based on the
 (mis) behaviour of mountain tribes living in remote areas.
Another is that they were the last Neanderthals?

However the earliest Archaic art often shows a very human torso.

530 B.C.

Note the carefully combed beard and hair

Vase painting Note how the centaurs have ears and snub noses like Satyrs.

One of the oldest images of a Centaur.

Certainly different from this famous Renaissance painting.

So why so many different ways of depicting these legendary beings?

Part of  the reason is the tendency of later artists to decide to use monsters and non humans as symbols of lust or drunkness and violence in the case of Centaurs.

The main stories we have in the literature however depict Centaurs as living in remote mountainous and forested areas and only misbehaving when exposed to alcohol as in the Tale of the Weddings of the Lapiths. 

The other main story is that of Chiron the Wise and his daughter depicted as healers.

So what's going on?

A  minority group demonized for the sake of a moral lesson?

The earliest Satyrs are often shown with horse tails.

A topic for another blog.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Greek Prepositions One

Here's a simple list of Greek prepositions you can save and edit and then add your own notes.






εἰς ἐς

ἐκ ἐξ












I will be discussing these prepositions individually in later posts.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

A Very Feminine Adjective

A Very Feminine Adjective

θῆλυς θῆλεια θῆλυ

Some adjectives combine the features of the First and Third Declension particularly those with u stems like this one θῆλυς θῆλεια θῆλυ which means female, of female sex, feminine, belonging to women, tender, delicate, nourishing, and sometimes effeminate.

The Masculine and Neuter are declined like ἄστυ but the feminine is declined like a First Declension adjective ending in α.

So Masculine and Neuter Singular

Nominative θῆλυς Accusative θῆλυν Genitive θῆλέος Dative θηλεῖ

The Classics example is the declension of γλυκύς which you can see in Goodwin's Grammar Pages 67-8 or in whichever Grammar you are using as a reference for further details.

There are however some minus differences between θῆλυς θῆλεια θῆλυ and γλυκύς.

Note how the genitive singular ends in - ος and the – έα Neuter Plural with both Adjectives.

θῆλεια has more differences in the accusative forms. The Epic and Ionic forms end in α instead of ια so that θήλεα θεός is a goddess.

The original feminine ending of this adjective and possibly of the other genders may have been – eu or ewo changing and contracting to u in one gender and eu then e in the other.

It seems off that there would be a masculine and neuter at all but there exists such phrases as θήλειαι ἵπποι meaning mares or female horses and τὸ θῆλυ the female (gender).

Some other u- stem adjectives that follow the γλυκύς pattern are:

βραχύς short brief εὐρύς broad wide ἡδύς sweet pleasant pleasing

ἥμισυς half ὀξύς pointed sharp ταχύς swift fast

Friday, 14 September 2012

Amphitrite in Art Two

Amphitrite in Art Two .
Here's two more vase paintings.
The first one features Theseus Athena and Amphitrite.

There is a story that Minos tested Theseus' claim to be a son of Poseidon by throwing a ring into the sea. Theseus dived in after it. Aided by dolphins he swam down to Amphitrite's underseas palace and retrieved not only the ring but also a golden crown.

Given the presence of dolphins and Triton supporting Theseus plus Athena appearing this suggests to me that there may have been another lost version of this story in which Athena sponsors and protects Theseus as he encounters his father's wife and given how mnay dramas did NOT survive even perhaps a play in which Athena argues for the need for wives to be kind to sons their husbands had by other women?

The other story we have about Poseidon and Amphitrite is that she was reluctant to marry him and this image seems to show Iris messenger of the gods acting as a matchmaker between the two gods?

Sometimes when written versions don't surivive as more than summaries in the mythographers vase paintings and other art give us more of the story.

But don't forget the ancients may have perceived these images differently!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Amphitrite in Art One

Amphitrite Goddess of the Sea

There are very few surviving stories featuring her as much more than a name  but her appearances in art suggest there may be missing stories that have not survived.

She is mentioned by Hesiod, Apollodoros, and Ovid and some other writers.

She was an Oceanid a daughter of  the Titans Oceanus and Tethys who married Poseidon and together they ruled the seas. Take a look at these images.

The striking thing about them is that although Poseidon ? Neptune got all the temples in popular art used in homes, mosaics, frescos, and lastly this vase painting, Poseidon and Amphitrite seem to be shown as co-equal consorts?
You rarely seen images of other gods together as married couples.

The other striking feature is how often Amphitrite is semi naked and always from the waist down. This is perhaps not so odd givne other deities being depicted this way but when she is shown as semi naked its always from the waist down.

But there is another way of depicting Amphitrite. There are vase painting images that refer to a story of her meeting her husbands son Theseus.

That's the topic for my next post!

Friday, 7 September 2012

Kosmos the Ordered World


Chaos and Cosmos are two excellent examples of ancient Greek words that have changed meanings over the centuries in both Greek and English usage.

We think of Chaos and Order as being opposites but its more that one comes forth from the other.

Κόσμος has several meaning Order Good order and hence government also mode or fashion and ornamament or decoration and world or universe.

While when we hear the words Cosmos and cosmic we think often of outer space to a Greek κοσμικός meant earthly or worldly.

Cosmos is reality arranged or ordered into beauty.

Note these related verbs κομέω and κομάω the first meaning to take care of or tend and the second to wear or arrange long hair on a human or a horse. In the preclassical period both men and women especially aristocrats arranged their long hair into elaborate curls and plaits and braids and mixture of both.

Chaos the great opening or space (see my previous post) becomes an ordered place the Cosmos.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012



Khaos is how Χάος was pronounced by the ancientGreeks.
The letter Χ “Chi” was an aspirated / kh /.
We tend to think of Chaos as the opposite to order but the actual word originally meant a wide open open or a wide opening and SPACE might be a more accurate translation.

How do scholars know this?

For those of you who don't have access or ownership of the Lidell online or in print here's some words to consider as proof.

Χάσμα a chasm or gulf then these verbs Χάσκω Χασκάζω Χαίνω open wide gape yawn.

Hesiod in his Theogony wrote first (πρώτιστα ) Chaos came into being γένετ̓ (Line 116) next Gaia widebreasted and her siblings Erebos and Night (123)n Heaven and the Mountains and Ocean and the Titans and much more.

Notice how Hesiod uses geneto not poieo become be born not made.

The world comes into being by change in the earliest Greek myths though later versions such as that in Ovid's metamorphoses means a possible creator. There's a process from a primordial unity into complexity and multiplicity from oneness to many.

You might want to read the beginning of Ovid's metamorphoses and contrast the two.
Hesiod's version judging from authors philosophers and poets between his time and that of Ovid's wasn't the ONLY version known to the Greeks. Mythmaking was an active process. Stories change.

The opposite of Chaos is Cosmos the Ordered arranged world but that's another story!