The Myth Reading Group meets on ‘Zoom’ on Tuesday 29 June, 5:30-6:30 pm (UK time). The link to join will be posted in the comments for this post. All are welcome.
For the final session in our series on Athena, we will focus on her portrayal in the Odyssey and the two brief Homeric Hymns dedicated to her. The Homeric Hymns to Athena give capsule descriptions of her birth and attributes. In the Odyssey, she appears again to assist a ‘hero’ on his quest. The chosen extract from Book 13 of the Odyssey finds Odysseus finally at home in Ithaca. He awakes, having been transported there by the Phaeacians, and meets Athene who is disguised as a shepherd. The man and goddess eventually converse freely, not as equals, but with mutual admiration.
The Myth Reading Group meets on ‘Zoom’ on Tuesday 15 June, 5:30-6:30 pm (UK time). The link to join is posted in the comments for this post. All are welcome.
The gods occasionally appear on the Greek tragic stage: often as part of a prologue or exit scene, but sometimes as participants in the action. This week, our focus is on two stage presentations of Athena. The first is Aeschylus’ Eumenides, where the goddess presides over a homicide court on the Athenian Acropolis, where Orestes faces the Furies (Erinyes) as he stands trial for the murder of Clytemnestra, his mother. The second is the opening of Sophocles’ Ajax, where Odysseus consults with Athena following the contest between Ajax and Odysseus for the armour of Achilles.
The Myth Reading Group meets on ‘Zoom’ on Tuesday 1 June, 5:30-6:30 pm (UK time). The link to join will be posted in the comments for this post. All are welcome.
Pindar’s Pythian Odes celebrate victors in the funeral games sacred to Apollo, held at Delphi. Pythian XII, composed in 490 BCE, honours Midas of Acragas, winner of the flute-playing competition. In the ode, Athene is acknowledged as the inventrix of the flute and of the tune, “The Many-Headed”, which Midas played. The association of the goddess with contests and crafts, discussed in previous sessions, is once more in evidence.
Two short works by the twentieth-century Petersburg poet, Osip Mandelstam, drawing upon the same motif as Pindar, offer an example of the transformability of myth in the modern era.
Pythian XII (Greek original and English translation, from Loeb Classical Library edition of Pindar, Olympian Odes. Pythian Odes; edited and translated by William H. Race (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Mass., 1997)
“Competition [in the games] symbolized an idea of nobility which meant much to Pindar; and in the exaltation of victory he seems sometimes to see a kind of transfiguration, briefly making radiant a world which most of the time seemed, to him as to his contemporaries, dark and brutal.” Richmond Lattimore (1947).
Pindar’s Ode, like ancient Greek poetry generally, was recited or sung chorally to the accompaniment of instruments such as the aulos, the Greek flute. Recent musicological research has allowed for a recreation of the original performance of Pythian XII.
The sound of the Greek flute accompanying a solo rendition of the Pythian Ode may be heard on YouTube in “Recreating the Sounds of Ancient Greek Music” (from 6:52 to 11:22): https://youtu.be/lpIyMVpcSYY?t=411.
For a detailed discussion of ancient Greek music with an account of the aulos (from 3:45 to 5:50), see also” Rediscovering Ancient Greek music”:
Deborah Steiner, “The Gorgon’s Lament”, American Journal of Philology, Vol. 134, no. 2 (2013), pp. 163-208, examines the musicological context of Pindar’s poem.
The Myth Reading Group meets on ‘Zoom’ on Tuesday 18 May, 5:30-6:30 pm (UK time). The link to join will be posted in the comments for this post. All are welcome.
This week we continue our exploration of Athene by looking at the presence of the goddess in the Roman era. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses Minerva punishes mortal women in different ways. In Book 2, she punishes Aglauros by sending Envy to poison her mind. In Book 6, the weaving contest between the mortal Arachne and Minerva ends up with Arachne’s transformation.
Extracts from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Translated by Brookes More (Boston: Cornhill, 1922), available in Perseus Digital Library:
Our theme for this term’s Myth Reading Group is Athene.
The Myth Reading Group is open to all who have an interest in the study of myth. Meetings are held over ‘Zoom’, with texts circulated in advance. Together we read extracts from the selected texts and have an open-ended discussion of them. The discussions are both scholarly and informal, always with a feeling for the power of the myth. Although you are encouraged to join in the discussion, you are also welcome simply to observe.
This term, we will focus on texts which engage with representations of the Olympian goddess Athene/Athena/Pallas/Minerva. She is born fully armed from the head of Zeus, and she bears the terrible, mysterious aegis. She is associated with battles and civilisation, and with owls and olives. She aids heroes in their quests, and (as in Ovid’s Metamorphoses), punishes mortal women. We will look at Athena’s presence on the stage, as seen in Aeschylus’ Eumenides and Sophocles’ Ajax, and in poetry ancient and modern.
We will meet on the following Tuesdays, between 5.30 and 6.30 pm:
4 May: Roberto Calasso’s Athena in The Marriage of Cadmus & Harmony
18 May: Minerva and Arachne in Ovid’s Metamorphoses
The Myth Reading Group meets on ‘Zoom’ on Monday 22 March, 5:30-6:30 pm (UK time). The link to join will be posted in the comments for this post. All are welcome.
Augustus John, Portrait of Jane Ellen Harrison
This week’s text is taken from Jane Ellen Harrison’s Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1903). We will read extracts from Harrison’s chapter on Dionysus. The first extract deals with Dionysus’ introduction to Greek religion and the second one explores the god’s association to the bull.
The Myth Reading Group meets on ‘Zoom’ on Monday 8 March, 5:30-6:30 pm (UK time). The link to join is posted in the comments for this post. All are welcome.
Etruscan Hydria, c. 500 BC.
This week’s text is an extract from the Imagines of Philostratus the Elder (third century AD). The reading covers two sections which recapitulate the mythic accounts in the Bacchae and the Homeric Hymn to Dionysus, affording us the opportunity to see how the myths have been reinterpreted.
Please read section 1. 18 (Bacchantes) and section 1. 19 (Tyrrhenian Pirates), available online in Arthur Fairbanks’ Loeb translation (1931):
Following our discussion of Euripides’ Bacchae (405 BC), we turn to other ancient Greek sources for Dionysus: the three Homeric Hymns to Dionysus (circa seventh to fifth centuries) and Aristophanes’ comedy the Frogs (405 BC).
The Homeric Hymns relate some tales of the god, and further elucidate his character. The extract from the Frogs casts Dionysus as a comic figure, meeting the hero Heracles.
The Myth Reading Group meets on ‘Zoom’ on Monday 8 February, 5:30-6:30 pm (UK time). The link to join will be posted in the comments for this post before the session. All are welcome.
The Death of Pentheus Attic red figure kylix, c. 480 BC Kimball Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
This term’s topic is Dionysus, and we begin with a reading and discussion of Euripides’ tragedy, the Bacchae (405 BC). Dionysus arrives in Thebes, his place of birth, having travelled from Asia Minor. But the present king, Pentheus, rejects the god’s divinity and rites…