CLA204H5 Chapter 16: CLA204- Chapter 16

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30 Jul 2016
CLA204- Chapter 16: Theseus and The Myths of Athens
Athens greatest hero was Theseus
Cecrops, Erichthonius, and The Daughter of Cecrops
Athenians made 3 claims about their origins: that they were descended from a mortal named Cecrops; that they were
autochthonous, “sprung from the earth”, like grasshoppers and that they were descended from Athena, after whom the city was
In a golden age Cecrops introduced the arts of civilization and monogamous marriage to the people
oHe taught them to worship Zeus, to abandon human sacrifice, to build cities, and to bury the dead properly
oIn his reign Athena and Poseidon competed for recognition as patron of the city, Athena offering the olive and
Poseidon a spring of saltwater on the Acropolis
oCitizens chose Athena which reminds us that the land was for a long time more important to the Athenians than the
The theme of Athenian autochthony appears again in the story about Erichthonius, another early king of Athens
oKing was born: Athena had gone to Hephaestus’ smithy for repair of her weapons
oMissing his ex wife Aphrodite, whom he had divorced for adultery, Hephaestus pursued the goddess lustfully across
the Acropolis
oHe ejaculated on Athena’s leg which she disgusted whipped off on a piece of wool and threw it on the ground from
which sprang Erichthonius, whose name prob means “the man of wool and earth”
oAthena took the kid and placed him in a basket wanting to make him immortal, handed him to the daughters of
oShe warned them on no condition to look inside the basket, two did not obey, saw something in the basket that drove
them mad: a serpent, which sprang them or a child w. serpent’s tail instead of legs or a child entwined by a serpent
oIn terror, they leaped from the Acropolis to their deaths and Athena took back the child and raised him herself
oWhen he grew up he became king of Athens and in honor of his mother, he set up a woodein image of her on the
Observations: The Festival of the Dew Carriers
Two young girls, the Arrhephoroi. Lived all year long in a special house in the Acropolis, weaving a robe offered each year
to the statue of Athena
When the festival came, the priestess of Athena sent them at night into a grove of Aphrodite in the north edge of Acropolis
oHere they took baskets on their heads, carried them down a secrete stairway cut in the rock, and left them at the
The ritual and the myth associated w. it are built on the motif of the maiden’s sacrifice, with its prominent sexual overtones
Entrance into the grove of Aphrodite represents the virgins’ loss of sexual innocence, as does their nocturnal descent
underground, where Hades carried the virgin Persephone to make her his bride
In myth, girls literally die, in ritual the girls die symbolically, to end the virgins’ life of sexual innocence
The serpent could be an emblem of the phallus, and thus the literal death of the maidens in the myth again reflects the death
of sexual innocence- an experience, enacted at the Arrhephoria, which every parthenos must undergo to become a woman
Procris and Cephalus
Ovid makes very different use of the story of the daughters of Cecrops and tells a tale about the harm, to guilty and innocent,
like of uncontrolled sexual passion
In this version, all 3 daughters survived the viewing of the infant Erichthonius
Years later, Mercury (Hermes) noticed Herse (one of the daughters) in a procession and fell in love w. her  when he
searched for her in the Acropolis, Aglaurus offered to lead him to Herse’s bed in return for gold
Mercury gave her the bribe, but Athena, still angry that Aglaurus had looked inside the basket, inspired a ferocious jealousy
in her
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Mercury found Herse and she became pregnant and bore Cephalus, who grew up and married Procris, daughter of
Erechtheus (grandson of Erichthonius) in the desperately confused genealogy of the House of Athens
At firs the marriage of Cephalus and Procris was happy but Cephalus could not belive his good fortune and began to give
way to irrational suspicion
oTo test Procris love, he came to he rin disguise, tempting her w. ever- greater rewards to sleep w. him
oWhen he offered her a golden crown, she at last agreed, he revealed who he was, and Procris, shamed and
frightened, fled to the court of Minos in Crete
oProcris attracted the kings attention, unfortunately, Minos couldn’t consummate his passion, for his wife, Pasiphae
had placed a curse on him: instead of semen, he ejaculated spiders and scorpions that devoured the genitals of his mistresses
oProcris cured him of the curse and in return Minos gave her a magical hound named Lealaps that always caught
what it chased, and a magical spear that never missed its mark  she disguised herself as a boy and fled after getting the
gifts because she was scared of Pasiphae
oProcris, disguised, offered to give up the gifts if Cephalus would sleep w. him/her and he eventually gave in
therefore being guilty of the same thing his wife was. They were reunited and for a while lived happy
Procris still feared that Cephalus was meeting Aurora (Eos), his former mistress, who had carried him away to Syria and
conceived his child, especially b/c every morning he arose at dawn to hunt, a perfect chance to meet one’s lover
oIn the story, Aurora’s name is changed to Aura= latin for “breeze”
oSomeone hears him say “come, gentle breeze, who so often has cooled the heat of my bossom” and told Procris who
thought he was cheating on her
oHowever later on she heard him say it and understood she had taken this sentence in a literate way and thought her
husband was actually cheating. She leaped out to hug her husband but him being a hunter thought it was a panther or
another animal and pierced her heart with a spear
oCephalus was exiled from Athens for life
Procne and Tereus
When Erichthonius died, his son Pandion became king
Pandion had 2 daughters, Procne and Philomela, sisters to Erechtheus
Tereus was the king of Thracians, a son of Mars (Ares)
Procne and Tereus married as an offering of gratitude by Pandion and she bore Itys
In the story both sisters become birds, Procne, the mother, became the nightingale w. its haunting nocturnal song; tongueless
Philomela became the songless swallow
Observations: Ovid’s Literary Myth
When ovid describes the psychology of metamorphosis, his focus is on the anguish of the human being trapped inside the
beast, where its human mind continues to think and feel as it did before the transformation
One type of Ovidian story tells of a deity having intercourse w. a mortal woman, who is then turned into an animal or of a
human who inadvertently offends a god (as Acteon turned into a stag after seeing Artemis naked)
Procris and Cephalus an Procne and Philomela are examples of another type of Ovidian story, in which the conflict is not
between men and gods but within a human family
Procris and Cephalys is a tale of lovers who love too much until suspicion destroys them; lovers should trust one another
Procne and Philomela, the initial acts of impiety are horrendous, but the punishment is equally savage and the avengers as
twisted as their attacker
oMetamorphosis into birds is nearly an after thought, a device allowing Ovid to attach the tale to his general scheme
The Begetting of Theseus
When pandion died, his son Erechtheus brother of Procne and Philomela, became king
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