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The Mythology BookDK
More than 80 classic myths retold and explained, from early creation beliefs to classical hero narratives and the recurring theme of the afterlife.
The latest title in the bestselling Big Ideas series,The Mythology Book explores the compelling worlds and characters depicted in myths and legends. Delve into each myth and discover the meanings behind these stories, getting to the heart of their significance to different cultures worldwide. More than just stories, myths are testament to the amazing creativity of humans striving to explain and make sense of the world around them.
Revisit your favourite myths and discover brand new ones- discover Zeus, god of the sky and ruler of the Olympian gods, Loki, the cunning trickster with a knack for causing havoc, Thor with his mighty hammer, and Hades, ruler of the underworld. Beyond the gods and goddesses of Ancient Greek, Roman, and Norse myths this book delves into the stories woven by the Australian aborigines, the Cherokee, and Aztecs, each brimming with amazing characters and insights into human existence.
The latest title in the bestselling Big Ideas series,The Mythology Book explores the compelling worlds and characters depicted in myths and legends. Delve into each myth and discover the meanings behind these stories, getting to the heart of their significance to different cultures worldwide. More than just stories, myths are testament to the amazing creativity of humans striving to explain and make sense of the world around them.
Revisit your favourite myths and discover brand new ones- discover Zeus, god of the sky and ruler of the Olympian gods, Loki, the cunning trickster with a knack for causing havoc, Thor with his mighty hammer, and Hades, ruler of the underworld. Beyond the gods and goddesses of Ancient Greek, Roman, and Norse myths this book delves into the stories woven by the Australian aborigines, the Cherokee, and Aztecs, each brimming with amazing characters and insights into human existence.
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CONTENTS HOW TO USE THIS EBOOK INTRODUCTION ANCIENT GREECE Gaia first gave birth to her equal, Ouranos Origin of the universe Rhea swaddled up a stone and passed it to Kronos to swallow The birth of Zeus Zeus in his first youth battered the earthborn Titans The war of the gods and Titans No wind beats roughly here, no snow nor rain Mount Olympus He bound cunning Prometheus in inescapable fetters Prometheus helps mankind Her impulse introduced sorrow and mischief to the lives of men Pandora’s box [image: image] Zeus had many women, both mortal and immortal The many affairs of Zeus Mighty Hades who dwells in houses beneath the earth Hades and the Underworld He slipped a pomegranate, sweet as honey, into her hand The abduction of Persephone The raving ladies streamed out of their homes The cult of Dionysus Turning round, he caught a glimpse of his wife and she had to return below Orpheus and Eurydice A bringer of dreams Hermes’ first day Athena presents the olive tree, Poseidon the wave The founding of Athens I will give infallible counsel to all who seek it Apollo and the Oracle of Delphi One loved; the other fled the name of love Apollo and Daphne Life and death are balanced on the edge of a razor The Trojan War This pair of tyrants. They murdered my father Orestes avenges Agamemnon [image: image] Tell me oh muse, the hero’s story The quest of Odysseus After the labours had been accomplished, he would be immortal The labours of Herakles He had the face of a bull, but the rest of him was human Theseus and the Minotaur Disdaining his father’s warnings, the exhilarated Icarus soared ever higher Daedalus and Icarus Watching the Gorgon’s head in the polished shield, he beheaded her Perseus and Medusa Hate is a bottomless cup, I will pour and pour Jason and Medea Unfortunate Oedipus – of all men, least to be envied! The fate of Oedipus She wants Adonis more than she does heaven itself Aphrodite and Adonis Whatever I touch, may it be transformed into tawny gold King Midas In a single day and night the island of Atlantis disappeared beneath the waves The legend of Atlantis ANCIENT ROME I sing of arms and the man Aeneas, founder of Rome A desire seized Romulus and Remus to build a city The founding of Rome The father of gods spurts red flames through the clouds Numa outwits Jupiter Conceive of Vesta as naught but the living flame Vesta and Priapus The fates will leave me my voice, and by my voice I shall be known The sibyl of Cumae [image: image] [image: image] I love you as I love my own soul Cupid and Psyche I am on fire with love for my own self Narcissus and Echo She yet spins her thread, as a spider Arachne and Minerva I pay the due penalty in blood Cybele and Attis Mithras is the Lord of generation Mithras and the bull He carved a statue out of snow-white ivory Pygmalion For lying with me, take control of the hinge Carna and Janus No wood nymph could tend a garden more skilfuly than she Pomona and Vertumnus Even death shall not part us Pyramus and Thisbe Those whom the gods care for are gods Philemon and Baucis NORTHERN EUROPE From Ymir’s flesh the earth was made Creation of the universe The ash of Yggdrasil is the noblest of trees Odin and the World Tree The first war in the world War of the gods They mixed honey with the blood and it turned into mead The Mead of Poetry Thor might smite as hard as he desired and the hammer would not fail The treasures of the gods Am I wrong in thinking that this little fellow is Thor? The adventures of Thor and Loki in Jötunheim The unluckiest deed ever done amongst gods and men The death of Baldur Brother will fight brother and be his slayer The twilight of the gods When the worm comes to the water, smite him in the heart Sigurd the dragon slayer Wonderful the magic sampo, plenty does it bring to northland The Kalevala The Dagda was eighty years in the kingship of Ireland A complex god As soon as he touched the earth, he was a heap of ashes The voyage of Bran One will be long forgetting Cúchulainn The cattle raid of Cooley He has the name of being the strongest and bravest man in Ireland Finn MacCool and the Giant’s Causeway So they took the blossoms and produced from them a maiden Blodeuwedd Who so pulleth out this sword is the rightwise king born of all England The legend of King Arthur ASIA From the great heaven the goddess set her mind on the great below The descent of Inanna Command and bring about annihilation and re-creation Marduk and Tiamat Who can rival his kingly standing? The epic of Gilgamesh Two spirits, one good, the other evil, in thought, word, and deed Ahura Mazda and Ahriman Brahma opened his eyes and realised he was alone Brahma creates the cosmos Siva placed the elephant’s head on the torso and revived the boy The birth of Ganesha O king, it is wrong to gamble oneself The game of dice Rama is virtuous and the foremost among all righteous men The Ramayana I am the lady, ruler of the worlds Durga slays the buffalo demon O! Meenakshi! Fish-eyed goddess! Grant me bliss! The fish-eyed goddess finds a husband You are to be the king over all the world The origins of the Baiga Yang became the heavens Yin became the earth Pangu and the creation of the world [image: image] The ten suns all rose at once, scorching the sheaves of grain Yi shoots the sun I’ll roam the corners of the oceans and go to the edge of the sky The adventures of the Monkey King Having finished making the lands, they went on to make its spirits Izanagi and Izanami All manner of calamities arose everywhere Susanoo and Amaterasu Your rice of the Skyworld is good Fire and rice There was a man called Dan’gun Wanggeom who created a city and founded a nation The legendary foundation of Korea Hae Mosu made the sun shine and its rays caressed Yuwha’s body Jumong THE AMERICAS The Earth is a giant island floating in a sea of water Cherokee creation It will not be well if they omit it Spider Woman Begin a Deerskin Dance for it because everything will come out well from that The Woge settle a dispute She was the shade of the whale The raven and the whale And the sun belongs to one and the moon to the other The Hero Twins So then the sun went into the sky The legend of the five suns In the beginning, and before this world was created, there was a being called Viracocha Viracocha the Creator The canoe was a wonder The first canoe The creator of the world has always existed The sky makes the sun and earth ANCIENT EGYPT AND AFRICA I was alone with the Primeval Ocean The creation and the first gods Hail to you, Ra, perfect each day! The night barque of Ra Isis lived in the form of a woman, who had the knowledge of words of power Ra’s secret name [image: image] He will not die! Osiris will live a life forever Osiris and the underworld If they built fires, evil would come San creation myth I will give you something called cattle En-kai and the cattle Tie the calabash behind you and then you will be able to climb the tree Ananse the spider The life-force of the earth is water The Dogon cosmos The queen wants to kill you Eshu the trickster OCEANIA Come and hear our stories, see our land The Dreaming Spear me slowly. I still have more to teach you The killing of Luma-Luma The world of myth is never far-off The Déma Master of everything that is Ta’aroa gives birth to the gods Death obtained power over mankind Tane and Hine-titama But the redoubtable Maui was not to be discouraged Maui of a thousand tricks What would you say to our driving the birds to Easter Island? Makemake and Haua When I utter his name, he hears in the heavens Mapusia and the Work of the Gods I do not forget the guiding stars Aluluei and the art of navigation DIRECTORY INDEX CONTRIBUTERS QUOTE ATTRIBUTIONS ACKNOWLEDGMENTS COPYRIGHT [image: image] IN BRIEF THEME Animal tricksters SOURCE Oral tradition recorded in The Eskimo about Bering Strait, Edward W. Nelson, 1899. SETTING The Arctic in ancient times. KEY FIGURES Raven Creator of the world, a trickster god. Whale A sea creature honoured by the Inuit. A woman The inua, the heart and soul, or spirit, of the whale. For the Inuit in Alaska and other parts of the western Arctic region, Raven was a powerful creator god. He created the world, bringing light, man, and animals into being. At the same time, Raven was a trickster and a shape-shifter, concealing his human form inside a bird’s body. This is a common characteristic of other animal heroes in Native American myth. Inuit stories involving Raven and the whale explored the dual nature of Raven’s transformation: he changed his shape, but also learned from the disasters that befell him. In many retellings of the story, the trickster hero was entirely manipulative and self-serving, while other adaptations allowed Raven to redeem himself through healing dances and songs. Central to each story, however, was the sacred sacrifice of the whale, and the honouring of its inua, or soul. [image: image] The Inuit carved masks, such as this 19th-century stylized raven, to wear at ritual dances. Animal masks were popular, but masks could also represent people or characteristics. Raven sees the whale According to one Inuit myth, Raven gazed out at sea from the shore, admiring the world he had created. In the wide expanse of blue, he spied a large, graceful shape moving through the water. Curious, Raven flew closer and realized it was a whale. He had never seen the inside of this mammoth creature and commanded the great beast to open its mouth. When the whale obeyed, Raven flew inside, carrying his fire drill as he always did. He found himself in a room, beautifully lit by a lamp at one end and guarded by a young woman. Raven recognized the woman as the whale’s inua, its heart and soul. The woman told Raven to stand back from the lamp. He did as she asked but noticed that oil dripped into the lamp from a tube running along the whale’s backbone. The raven raised one of its wings, pushed up its beak, like a mask, to the top of its head, and changed at once into a man. The Eskimo about Bering Strait Tempted by the oil The inua offered to fetch berries and oil for her guest. Before she left the room, she warned Raven not to touch the tube from which the oil was dripping while she was out of the room. The same thing happened the next day, and the day after that. Each time the woman fetched food for Raven, she warned him not to touch the oil. [image: image] Carved from wood, this mask takes the form of a whale, but also resembles a canoe with oars. It may have been worn during Inuit ceremonies to ensure a successful hunt. For three days, Raven was patient, but on the fourth day, he could not contain his greed. As soon as the woman had left the room, Raven clawed at the tube and licked the oil as fast as he could. When he ripped the tube from the ceiling to make the oil flow faster the oil gushed out, flooded the whale’s belly, and extinguished the lamp, plunging the room into total darkness. The inua never returned. Raven rolled around inside the whale as it thrashed about in the ocean. The great animal only became still as the waves washed its dead body to the shore. As soon as the people heard about the whale, they ran to the shore to cut away the meat, and Raven escaped unnoticed. He returned as a man and warned the people that if they found a fire drill inside the whale they would die. The sacred whale hunt [image: image] Inuit people traditionally hunted narwhals and other whales, sea otters and seals. They also fished for salmon through holes in the ice. The whale hunt is an ancient Inuit practice, central to the Artic people’s survival and beliefs, a version of which continues today. Whaling communities prepared for the annual hunt by making new clothes and boat covers. Hunters performed cleansing ceremonies, and armed themselves with specially carved amulets and weapons. These rituals showed great respect to the whale and its spirit, and represented deeply held beliefs that the hunters’ success depended on securing the spirit’s cooperation. After the hunt, the Inuit welcomed the dead whale with a gift of fresh water presented in a ceremonial bucket. They sang songs to celebrate the whale’s sacrifice. Honouring the whale in this way ensured success the following year, for the whale’s spirit would return to the sea to tell other whales that it had been well treated. The people ran away in fright while Raven, who transformed back into a bird once more, gave thanks to the whale’s inua for the feast he was about to enjoy. See also: Cherokee creation • Spider Woman • The Woge settle a dispute • The Hero Twins [image: image] IN BRIEF THEME Creation of the world SOURCE The History of the Incas, Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, 1572; An Account of the Fables and Rites of the Incas, Cristóbal de Molina, c. 1575. SETTING The Andes, the beginning of time. KEY FIGURE Viracocha The creator god; god of the sun, and storms. Ymaymana Servant of Viracocha. Tocapo Servant of Viracocha. Lying over 3,800m (12,500ft) above sea level in the Andes mountains, Lake Titicaca straddles the border between Bolivia and Peru. It is the largest lake in South America, and the Inca people viewed its vast waters as the font of all life. The lake existed in the darkness before all things, and from it the creator god Viracocha emerged. In the darkness, Viracocha made a race of giants to populate the void. Realizing they were too large, he destroyed them, and created the human race instead. Viracocha demanded that people should live without pride or greed, but they disobeyed him. Angered, he sent a great flood, which swept his creations away. [image: image] Viracocha the creator god is depicted with his signature white hair and beard in this pottery from the Moche people, who lived in northern Peru from the 1st–7th century CE. Teaching humanity After the land had dried, Viracocha started again from scratch. First he brought light to a dark world. In the southern part of Lake Titicaca lies the Island of the Sun. Sleeping on this island were the sun, the moon, and the stars. Viracocha roused them from their slumbers and gave them their places in the heavens. The sun was jealous of the moon’s brightness, so Viracocha threw ashes over the moon’s face to make it cloudy and dull. He then enlisted the help of two servants whom he had saved from the flood – Ymaymana and Tocapo – who, in other versions of the story, were his sons. Aided by them, Viracocha gathered clay from the shores of Lake Titicaca and used it to make mankind and all of the animals. He assigned each animal its place, and gave the birds their songs. Some were swallowed up by the earth, others by the sea, and over all there came a general flood. The History of the Incas Viracocha and his servants fanned out from Lake Titicaca, walking northwest while calling out and telling people to go forth and settle the world. They named all of the different trees and plants, and informed mankind which fruits were safe to eat or use as medicine. So that he would not overwhelm or frighten any of his human subjects, Viracocha travelled disguised as an old man in a white robe with a long beard, carrying a staff and book. Walking from town to town, he observed the people’s behaviour, punishing all who treated him unfairly, and rewarding all who treated him kindly. [image: image] Lake Titicaca is home to dozens of populated islands, including Isla del Sol, where Viracocha is believed to have commanded the sun to rise. Merciful god All was peaceful until Viracocha arrived at Cacha. There he was attacked by its inhabitants who did not realize who he was. The disguised god brought down flames from the heavens, burning the countryside. The awestruck people pleaded the god for forgiveness, and Viracocha complied, using his staff to make the flames die down. The grateful people of Cacha built a shrine to Viracocha and made him offerings, and later, the Incas would erect the largest of Viracocha’s temples on the site of this miracle. Huacas Huacas are structures, objects, or landscape features believed by the Incas to be charged with spiritual forces. Almost anything can have this sacred property, from an oddly shaped ear of corn to a natural spring. At the most significant huacas are shrines where priests performed rituals. The word “huaca” comes from the Quechua word huacay, which means “to wail”. This is because people prayed to the gods by crying out to them. This allowed the worshipper to interact with the supernatural world, and lobby the gods for favours such as a good harvest, victory in battle, or protection from illness. The most important huacas were in Coricancha, a temple in Cuzco dedicated to the sun god Inti, and Wanakawri, a mountain nearby. After conquering the Inca Empire in 1572, Spain tried to eradicate the huacas and convert the region to Catholicism. However, many huacas survive to this day. Viracocha moved on to Urcos, where the people treated him well. As an act of gratitude, he created a monument – or huaca – there. Then, in Cuzco, which would eventually became the capital of the Inca Empire, he declared that a great empire would form there. The last stop in Viracocha’s journey was Manta, in modern-day Ecuador. From there, he walked west across the water, until he finally disappeared over the horizon. The Incas believed that, in crossing the water, Virococha relinquished his spirit and control of humans to the Inca pantheon and to nature. From this moment on, Virococha no longer took part in the affairs of humanity. See also: Izanagi and Izanami • The legend of the five suns • Makemake and Haua [image: image] In around 4000 BCE, the first large cities emerged in Sumer, in southern Mesopotamia. Soon after, the peoples of the region developed cuneiform writing. This enabled them to record myths – such as that of the fertility goddess, Inanna – that had previously been passed down orally. This region was home to the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest of all surviving literary works, dating to 2100 BCE. The tale was recorded on clay tablets discovered in the Library of Ashurbanipal – named after the 7th-century BCE king – during an archaeological study of the ancient city of Nineveh. The Enuma Elish, a 16th-century Babylonian creation myth, was also recovered there. Another civilization to emerge in the Middle East was that of the Persians. The first Persian Empire flourished from 550–c. 330 BCE. Its myths revolved around the ideas of good and evil – also evident in Zoroastrianism, the imperial state religion from 600 BCE to 650 CE. Myths from major faiths The Hindu faith that developed on the Indian subcontinent from around 1900 BCE created much of the framework for Indian myths. Originally, these were passed on orally – including India’s two greatest epic poems, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, which described the lives of the gods. However, Hinduism was not the only faith to influence mythology in India and across Asia. Siddhartha Gautama was born in modern-day Nepal around the sixth century BCE. Becoming the Buddha, he gained many followers and his teachings spread from India across the continent, influencing the myths of nations such as Japan, China, and Korea. From the 1st century BCE onwards, it became increasingly common for tales to be recorded in these parts of Asia. Myths were recorded in Sanskrit, which became the major written language of Hinduism, Buddhism, and other faiths that originated in this region. Written narratives The first royal dynasty in China emerged around 2200 BCE. Over the centuries, the political reach of these rulers extended from their power base in central China across Asia. During the second millennium BCE, Chinese script was developed. This allowed Chinese scholars to record myths and legends in works such as The Classic of Mountains and Seas and later Xu Zheng’s Historical Records of the Three Sovereign Divinities and the Five Gods. The Japanese chronicle, Kojiki, was written in a form of Chinese, as was the Korean Samguk Yusa. In some parts of Asia, myths were only written down in the 20th century, at the instigation of explorers from the West. The Ifugao of the Philippines, for example, continued to transmit their myths orally for more than 1,000 years, creating many different versions, which only began to be documented by anthropologists in the 1940s. Order and chaos A major theme in Asian mythology is the quest for balance, both in heaven and on earth. Marduk, the Babylonian god, helped to establish order by defeating the demonic forces of chaos and naming all things in the universe. This quest for balance appears in stories such as that of Pangu, who emerges from an egg – a theme that re-emerges in the Korean myth of Jumong – to bring order to a formless universe and ensure balance between the forces of Yin and Yang. The concept of dharma – living in balance with the cosmos and the world – is a major theme in the story of the Hindu god Rama. The Japanese myth of the rivalry between the gods Amaterasu and Susanoo also displays this clash between disorder and harmony. Zoroastrian mythology is based on the idea of cosmic dualism. The god Ahura Mazda created a pure world, which the spirit Ahriman attacked with ageing, sickness, and death. Ahriman and Ahura Mazda are twin deities who are exact opposites: creator and destroyer. Gods and founders The idea of deities taking multiple identities or forms is common in many strands of mythology across the world, but especially in Asia. Vishnu, a principle Hindu god and the preserver in the Trimurti, has multiple avatars that he embodies to restore order to the world. Legendary founding figures are another common theme in Asian mythology. Some are gods who created entire countries, such as Izanagi and Izanami in Japan. Others are mythical human figures, such as Dan’gun Wanggeom, who founded the first Korean Kingdom, or Yi, the fabled archer who saved the world from ten blazing suns. [image: image] IN BRIEF THEME A cursed gift SOURCES Anabasis (“The March of the 10,000”), Xenophon, c. 370 BCE; Metamorphoses, Ovid, 8 CE. SETTING Ancyra (now Ankara), in Phrygia (central Turkey). KEY FIGURES Midas King of Phrygia; cursed with a golden touch. Silenus Half-man, half-horse; god of wine-making and drunkenness; companion and tutor of Dionysos. Dionysus The god of fertility and wine, who brought both ecstasy and rage. King Midas generously entertained Silenus, the companion of Dionysus, for ten days after saving him from a village mob. Although Xenophon’s account claimed Midas captured Silenus to steal his wisdom, in Ovid’s tale Dionysus was grateful for his friend’s safe return and offered Midas anything he wanted. Midas asked that whatever he touched should turn to gold, and the god granted his wish. The king was thrilled and instantly touched everything he saw – a twig, a stone, an ear of wheat, an apple on a branch. All immediately turned into glowing, solid gold. As he reached home, the wooden doors and sills of his own palace were transformed where he touched them. What good fortune! Soon, though, Midas realized how hungry he felt, and told his servants to bring him food. At his touch, the bread turned to gold and the wine turned to molten gold. Could he ever eat or drink again? Midas fled his home, hating what he had wished for. Seeking refuge in the wilderness, he cried out to Dionysus, begging his benefactor to take back his gift. The god told him to bathe up in the hills at the source of the Pactolus; washing away the curse, Midas was freed from his golden touch. [image: image] As Midas bathed at the river’s source, shown here in a work by Bartolomeo Manfredi (1617–19), the gold he washed away was said to have seeped into the sand, later enriching King Croesus. See also: The many affairs of Zeus • The cult of Dionysus • Vesta and Priapus [image: image] IN BRIEF THEME Origin of humanity SOURCES Theogony and Works and Days, Hesiod, c. 700 BCE; Library, Apollodorus, c. 100 CE SETTING Greece, the Aegean, and the Caucasus Mountains, Western Asia. KEY FIGURES Zeus King of the gods. Iapetus The youngest Titan, son of Ouranos and Gaia. Klymene A sea nymph, daughter of the Titan Oceanus. Prometheus Son of Iapetus and Klymene. Deukalion Human son of Prometheus. Pyrrha Wife of Deukalion. Hephaistos The blacksmith god. Zeus’s victory in the war with the Titans had been hard won but decisive. He and his brothers held unchallenged sway over the heavens, earth, and sea. The usurper of a usurper, he had seized supremacy by dethroning Kronos, who had himself toppled the tyrant Ouranos. No ruler could afford to become complacent, however seemingly unassailable their position – and a challenge to the authority of Zeus was fast approaching. Spirit of rebellion Prometheus, a young Titan and therefore a survivor of the old regime, was the son of Iapetus and Klymene, celebrated for quick intelligence, dexterity, and skill. Prometheus’s very name meant “Thinking Ahead”: he was an inventor and a strategist. Different sources disagree on the precise part Prometheus played in the continuing struggle between Zeus and his subjects. Despite this, all sources regard him as a central part of the conflict. Self-confident in his cleverness, Prometheus was independent-minded, irreverent, and defiant. His contempt for Zeus’s authority was all too clear. Worse still, he appeared to pass on this rebellious spirit to Zeus’s human subjects. [image: image] Prometheus Carrying Fire, by Flemish painter Jan Cossiers (1671), shows the young Titan stealing the precious resource for mankind. From clay to stone According to Apollodorus’s Library, Prometheus was the creator of humanity, shaping the first man and woman from moist clay. This first race of humans walked the earth for only a single generation before being swept away by an angry Zeus in a worldwide flood. Prometheus’s human son Deukalion and his wife Pyrrha were the only survivors. Typically, Prometheus had out-manoeuvred Zeus, prompting his son and his daughter-in-law to save themselves by building a floating wooden chest in which to ride out the deluge. Deukalion survived the great flood and its aftermath by showing more tact than his father. He thanked Zeus for letting him and Pyrrha live, built an altar, and offered sacrifice. Zeus was so pleased to see this submissive spirit that he not only allowed Deukalion and Pyrrha to go on living but told Deukalion how he could re-create humanity. He and his wife were told to pick up stones and throw them backwards over their heads. They did so and wherever Deukalion’s stones landed, the bodies of living men immediately took form; where Pyrrha’s came to rest, women sprang up out of the ground. Prometheus shaped men out of water and clay. Library Klymene’s children [image: image] Atlas carries the heavens on his shoulders. Although commonly mistaken for an earth globe, the round structure weighing on Atlas represents the celestial sphere. According to Hesiod’s Theogony, “Iapetus took Klymene, Oceanus’s elegant-ankled daughter to his bed”. Other ancient authors, however, referred to her as “Asia”. With Iapetus, Klymene bore four sons, each of whom was, ultimately, fated for misery. During the war of the Titans, Zeus killed Klymene’s prideful son Menoetius, by hurling him into the underworld with a lightning-bolt. Following the victory of the Olympian gods, another of Klymene’s sons, Atlas, was made to suffer for his role in leading the Titan forces. He was sentenced by Zeus to carry the heavens on his shoulders as punishment for resisting the Olympian ascendancy. Epimetheus, Klymene’s third son, was every bit as foolish as Prometheus was cunning. Against his brother’s advice, he was duped into accepting Pandora as a gift and marrying her. He had no idea that she had been created to be both beautiful and deceitful, and was sent by Zeus to bring all manner of sorrows into the world. A trick backfires Unlike Appolodorus, Hesiod’s genealogy incorporated mortal humans almost from the beginning, though he said little about their origins. They were mentioned as existing during the reign of Kronos, but only incidentally, emerging into the foreground only in the age of the Olympian gods. When Zeus summoned humans for a meeting on the sort of sacrifices they would have to offer him, Prometheus intervened on their behalf. Wrapping some choice beef inside an ugly oxhide, and a bundle of bones inside some of the most delicious meat, he offered Zeus the choice of which sacrifices should be made to him thenceforth. Zeus appeared to have fallen for the trick, asking for the outwardly appealing bag of bones – though Hesiod hints the king of the gods may have chosen this deliberately, to have an excuse for hating humans. Either way, Zeus was enraged. Far from easing people’s plight as he had intended, Prometheus’s cunning made them victims of Zeus’s rage. The angry god hid the secret of fire from his human subjects. This not only deprived them of warmth and comfort but also hindered human progress. [image: image] Mortal men and women sprung up fully formed from the stones thrown by Deukalion and Pyrrha, as shown in Peter Paul Rubens’s 1636 painting, and repopulated the earth. The stones which Deucalion threw became men; the stones which Pyrrha threw became women. Library The Five Ages Kronos’s reign may have been unpleasant for the Titan’s children but was, says Hesiod, a “Golden Age” for mortal humans. Sickness, war, and discord were unknown; men and women lived for centuries, trees and fields yielded their produce freely through an endless Spring. The rise of Zeus saw an immediate decline in human fortunes. The men and women of this “Silver Age” lived only a hundred years, most of it spent in an extended childhood; when they finally grew up, they were foolish and quarrelsome. An “Age of Bronze” came next: its men were warriors, who spent their short lives squabbling and fighting. The “Heroic Age” which followed was an improvement on the Bronze Age in the sense that its perennial wars took on a noble and epic character. This was the age of Homer’s Trojan War, and very different from Hesiod’s “Iron Age” in which he himself lived – and in which we all live now – in fearfulness, scarcity, misery, and toil. Out in the cold Without fire or the technologies it makes possible, mortals existed in a miserable state of subsistence. They foraged for food in darkness, damp, and cold, with only animal skins for clothes, surviving on raw roots, berries, and fruits (when they were in season) and uncooked carrion. They used twigs as rudimentary tools and old bones for weaponry, in what could scarcely be qualified even as a “primitive” existence. As they fought a daily battle to stave off starvation, any possibility of shaping their wider destiny was unthinkable. Stolen fire Prometheus came to humanity’s rescue. He took some glowing embers from a blaze built by the gods high up on Mount Olympus and, secreting this fire inside a hollow fennel-stalk, he carried it down to the little encampments where mortal men and women shivered on the plains below. Soon, “visible from afar”, fires twinkled across the length and breadth of the peopled world. In that moment, human life was instantly and permanently transformed. Heat, warmth, light, and safety from predatory beasts was just the start. In no time at all, mankind began to thrive – smelting metal, fashioning the finest jewellery and the strongest tools, blacksmithing all kinds of weapons, from hoes and hammers to spears and swords. Each new innovation opened the way to others – suddenly, humanity was progressing at a breakneck pace. [image: image] Prometheus was punished by the gods for giving humans fire. He was chained to Mount Caucasus to endure constant torture, as depicted by Jacob Jordaens (1640). Harsh punishment Zeus was enraged by Prometheus’s theft of fire. Not only had he been defied in the most public way, but his power over humanity had been significantly weakened. Zeus decided that Prometheus deserved an eternal and painful punishment. He had the thief seized by his henchmen Bia (“Violence”) and Kratos (“Power”) and carried to a high mountain peak. Here, with the help of Hephaistos, the blacksmith god, they chained Prometheus to a rock. An eagle flew down, tore at his abdomen, then pulled out the living, pulsing liver, and gorged on it. Despite the agony of this torture, it was no more than a beginning for the rebellious Titan. Each night his internal organs and his skin grew back, ready to be attacked afresh by the eagle the next day. For centuries, Prometheus was tied to the rock. He was finally rescued from his torments by Herakles, who found him while hunting for the elusive apples of the Hesperides. Prometheus would only give Herakles the apples’ location after he killed the eagle and set Prometheus free. Prometheus was not the only one punished for stealing fire from the gods. Zeus also inflicted his rage upon humankind, instructing Hephaistos to create the woman Pandora to punish the humans by bringing them hardship, war, and death. [image: image] It stung anew Zeus, high thunderer in his spirit, and he raged in his heart when he saw among men the far-seen beam of fire. Theogony See also: Origin of the universe • The war of the gods and Titans • Pandora’s box • The many affairs of Zeus [image: image] IN BRIEF THEME Marriage SOURCE Tiruvilayaadal Puranam (“The Sacred Sports of Shiva”), Paranjothi Munivar, 17th century CE. SETTING Madurai, Tamil Nadu, South India. KEY FIGURES Meenakshi Divine ruler of the Pandyan Kingdom; avatar (incarnation) of Parvati. Malayadwaja Pandya Second Pandyan king; father of Meenakshi. Brahma The Creator in the Hindu Trinity (Trimurti). Vishnu The Preserver in the Hindu Trinity (Trimurti). Shiva The Destroyer in the Hindu Trinity (Trimurti). Parvati Goddess of fertility; consort of Shiva the Destroyer. Meenakshi is known as the Fish-Eyed Goddess, having been blessed with beautiful fish-shaped eyes. She was regarded as the divine ruler of the city of Madurai by the Pandyan Dynasty – sea traders and sailors who adopted the symbol of the fish on their coins and flags. The legend of the Fish-Eyed Goddess, who has inspired hymns and rituals, tells of a Pandyan king of Madurai named Malayadwaja Pandya, who prayed for a child. The gods brought forth a daughter with three breasts from a pit of fire. A divine voice told the king that the third breast would vanish when his daughter met the husband of her destiny. The king named her Meenakshi, and taught her shastras (traditional sciences) to prepare her for the throne. You shine with the green emerald splendour! You are the spouse of Siva. Your eyes resemble fish! Sacred Songs of India V. K. Subramanian (1998) Holy matrimony Following the death of her father, Meenakshi, now a powerful warrior, travelled north to wage war on his enemies. She conquered the abodes of Brahma, Vishnu, and the Devas, travelling further to the abode of Shiva. She triumphed over Shiva’s attendants and his bull guardian, Nandi. Next in her line of attack was the hermit Shiva himself, but the moment they looked at each other, she realized she must be an incarnation of his consort Parvati, goddess of fertility, love, and devotion. That instant, Meenakshi lost her third breast. Shiva and Meenakshi travelled to Madurai and were married. See also: The Mahabharata • The Ramayana • Durga slays the buffalo demon [image: logo] DK LONDON PROJECT ART EDITOR Duncan Turner ILLUSTRATIONS James Graham JACKET EDITOR Claire Gell SENIOR JACKET DESIGNER Mark Cavanagh JACKET DESIGN DEVELOPMENT MANAGER Sophia MTT PRODUCER, PRE-PRODUCTION Andy Hilliard PRODUCER Alex Bell MANAGING EDITOR Angeles Gavira MANAGING ART EDITOR Michael Duffy ASSOCIATE PUBLISHING DIRECTOR Liz Wheeler ART DIRECTOR Karen Self DESIGN DIRECTOR Philip Ormerod PUBLISHING DIRECTOR Jonathan Metcalf DK DELHI SENIOR ART EDITOR Mahua Sharma ART EDITORS Rupanki Kaushik, Debjyoti Mukherjee ASSISTANT ART EDITOR Mridushmita Bose SENIOR EDITOR Anita Kakar ASSISTANT EDITORS Rishi Bryan, Aishvarya Misra JACKET DESIGNERS Suhita Dharamjit, Juhi Sheth SENIOR DTP DESIGNERS Harish Aggarwal, Shanker Prasad DTP DESIGNER Vikram Singh PICTURE RESEARCHER Aditya Katyal JACKETS EDITORIAL COORDINATOR Priyanka Sharma MANAGING JACKETS EDITOR Saloni Singh PICTURE RESEARCH MANAGER Taiyaba Khatoon PRE-PRODUCTION MANAGER Balwant Singh PRODUCTION MANAGER Pankaj Sharma SENIOR MANAGING EDITOR Rohan Sinha MANAGING ART EDITOR Sudakshina Basu original styling by STUDIO 8 TOUCAN BOOKS EDITORIAL DIRECTOR Ellen Dupont SENIOR DESIGNER Thomas Keenes SENIOR EDITOR Abigail Mitchell EDITORS John Andrews, Guy Croton, Sue George, Larry Porges, Anna Southgate, Dorothy Stannard, Rachel Warren Chadd EDITORIAL ASSISTANT Michael Clark INDEXER Marie Lorimer PICTURE RESEARCHER Sharon Southren PROOFREADER Marion Dent ADDITIONAL TEXT Andrea Jovanovic, Cynthia O’Brien, Joan Strasbaugh First published in Great Britain in 2018 by Dorling Kindersley Limited, 80 Strand, London, WC2R 0RL Copyright © 2018 Dorling Kindersley Limited A Penguin Random House Company 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 001–305931–May/2018 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner. A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN: 9780241301913 This digital edition published 2017 ISBN 9780241353219 A WORLD OF IDEAS: SEE ALL THERE IS TO KNOW www.dk.com [image: image] IN BRIEF THEME Creation SOURCE Oral tradition, recorded in Spider Woman Stories, G. M. Mullett, 1979; A Dictionary of Creation Myths, David Adams Leeming and Margaret Adams Leeming, 1995. SETTING The beginning of time; the southwestern United States. KEY FIGURES Tawa The Sun Father; a creator god. Spider Woman The Earth Mother; a creator goddess. Many of the southwestern tribes of the United States, such as the Hopi, the Keres, the Choctaw, and the Navajo all share similar creation myths explaining how the first humans came to be. The Hopi creation myth states that in the beginning, all that existed was water. It hung between the realm above – the skies – and the realm below, which would become the earth. Tawa, the Sun Father, controlled everything above, and Spider Woman, the Earth Mother, ruled below. Creating nature Spider Woman, also known as “Thinking Woman”, or “Spider Grandmother”, was a creator goddess, said to be as old as time, yet as young as eternity. To the Navajo, Spider Woman is also a teacher who gave the sacred art of weaving to humanity. The Hopi refer to the creator goddess as Kokyangwuti in their language, but also revere the Spider Grandmother as Gogyeng Sowuhti, a spirit of wisdom and medicine. She dwells in the Underworld, which the Hopi see as a place from which all life is born and must emerge. [image: image] Spider Rock is a 250-metre (830-ft) stone spire formed 230 million years ago in Canyon de Chelly, Arizona. It is traditionally regarded as the lair of Spider Woman. Creating nature According to the Hopi, Tawa and the Earth Mother worked together to create the world. Gazing at the empty sky, Spider Woman spun a huge web, laced it with dew, and threw it out into the sky, creating stars above. Then Tawa and Spider Woman decided to populate the earth with animals. [image: image] Spider Woman carries a cross, symbolizing fire, on this Mississipian shell disc (c.1000 CE). The Choctaw believe fire was gifted to humans by Spider Woman after animals refused it. Tawa dreamed of birds flying and fish swimming in the waters, and Spider Woman formed these animals one by one out of clay. They lay still until she covered them in a blanket she had woven. As she murmured over them, the creatures stirred, and Spider Woman gave each a spirit. Tawa and Spider Woman then decided to create humans to care for the animals. Again, Spider Woman fashioned these new beings from clay, and she and Tawa laid the blanket over them. This time, however, they did not move, so, gathering them in her arms, she and Tawa sang until the humans came to life. Tawa would bring light to shine upon them each day and rain would fall. The Sun Father and the Earth Mother now decided that they had fulfilled their roles and would not create any more beings, instead allowing them to multiply. Navajo weaving [image: image] While many historians believe that the Navajo learned the art of weaving from the Pueblos, Navajo mythology teaches that Spider Woman brought spinning and weaving to the tribe, sharing her knowledge with the people. According to the Navajo, Spider Woman’s son made the first spindles from lightning and the first loom from the sun, sky, and earth. Weaving blankets and rugs remains a valuable source of income for the Navajo, but it is also central to their holistic spirituality, which makes no distinction between art and daily life. Through example and their stories, elders still teach this worldview today. Young weavers hear the myth of the art’s origins at the same time as they begin to learn the process. Before they start, elders instruct them to find a spider web in the early morning, still sparkling with dew, and to place their palm on the web without destroying it. In this way, their spirits can receive Spider Woman’s sacred gift of weaving. Together the first gods placed a sacred blanket over the new beings and chanted the song of life. The beings stirred into life. A Dictionary of Creation Myths Parting guidance Spider Woman divided the growing people into tribes, giving them their names and languages. The Hopi, Zuni, Ute, Comanche, and Pueblo people were led from the Underworld by Spider Woman. When they reached the surface, Spider Woman showed her people the power of the soil, running it through her hands and teaching them about growing food. She said that crops would flourish in their lands because Tawa would shine his light and rain would fall. Spider Woman then returned to the Underworld, promising the people that she and Tawa would always watch over their creations. See also: Cherokee creation • The Woge settle a dispute • The raven and the whale [image: image] IN BRIEF THEME Origin of the Olympian gods SOURCES Theogony, Hesiod, c. 700 BCE; Library, Pseudo-Apollodorus, c. 100 CE. SETTING Crete. KEY FIGURES Kronos King of the Titans; son of Gaia and Ouranos. Rhea Sister and wife of Kronos. Hestia Goddess of the hearth. Demeter Goddess of the harvest. Hera Queen of the Olympian gods. Hades Lord of the Underworld. Poseidon God of the seas. Zeus King of the Olympian gods; killer of Kronos. Kronos, Titan son of the earth goddess Gaia and the sky god Ouranos, proved every bit as possessive a patriarch as his father had been. After just one generation, a dismal pattern of godly conduct was emerging; just as Ouranos had dominated Gaia, Kronos required his wife and sister Rhea to be exclusively and endlessly available to him in order to meet his sexual needs. No one else, least of all his children, would be allowed to compete for her attention. Having deposed his own father to become king of the Titans, Kronos knew how dangerous it was to let a child grow in envy and rage. Both Earth and Sky foretold him that he would be dethroned by his own son. Library [image: image] Determined that no one should pose such a threat to him, Kronos ensured that the children Rhea bore him were destroyed just as quickly as they were conceived. As soon as she gave birth to a new baby, he would swallow it whole. Hestia, the first child that Rhea bore, was gone in a single gulp, before her mother could even cradle her in her arms. Another daughter, Demeter, soon followed: she too was swallowed promptly. Hera, the third daughter, went the same way, and Kronos’s sons fared no better. First came Hades – bolted down before he could utter his first helpless cry – swiftly followed by the next son, Poseidon, who met the same fate. [image: image] Kronos, known as Saturn by the Romans, as depicted in Saturn Devouring His Son, Francisco Goya, (1821–23). The work is part of the artist's “Black Paintings” series. The despairing Rhea finally turned to her mother, the elderly Gaia, and her neutered father Ouranos, for help. Together they hatched a devious plan to save their daughter’s next child. Switched with a stone Rhea followed her parents’ advice. As soon as she had given birth to Zeus, the last of her sons, and before his father Ouranos had a chance to see him, she hid the baby away. Then she wrapped a stone in swaddling clothes and handed it to her unsuspecting husband in place of the infant. Kronos, in his rapacious greed, did not even look at the bundle before he tipped back his head, opened his mouth wide, and dropped it in. The “baby” tumbled straight down into his stomach, ready to join the jostling crowd of children already there. Unknown to Kronos, they had all survived in the deep darkness of his belly. There they grew in size and resentment. Brought up in safety Meanwhile, Rhea, on the recommendation of the child's grandmother, Gaia, spirited the infant Zeus away, carrying him across the sea to the fertile island of Crete. There, in a concealed cave on the thickly wooded slopes of Mount Ida (now known as Psiloritis, the highest mountain on Crete), Rhea left her son in the care of a warlike tribe called the Kouretes. They, in turn, gave the baby to a nymph named Adamanthea (Amalthea in some sources), who nursed Zeus in secret. According to Hesiod, the nymph was frightened that Kronos – thanks to his universal authority over the earth, sea, and sky – would be able to see where his son was being hidden. To prevent Kronos from finding him, she hung Zeus from a rope that dangled between the earth and the heavens but was in neither one realm nor the other. Adamanthea cared for Zeus and nursed him with milk from a herd of goats that grazed nearby. Whenever the baby gurgled, squealed, or cried, the Kouretes danced and chanted to disguise the sound. As a result, Kronos was completely unaware that his youngest son was still alive. Zeus seeks his father In no time at all, it seemed, Zeus grew to manhood. He was hungry for revenge against his cruel father. Yet, if Zeus was ever to emerge from hiding, some sort of showdown between them would be inevitable. Kronos could not afford to let a potential usurper live. If he became aware of Zeus’s existence, he would view his son only as a threat to his power. [image: image] Zeus is protected from all-seeing Kronos by his attentive nymph carers and the noise of the Kouretes, as shown in this 17th-century painting The Childhood of Zeus on Mount Ida. Kronos’s fear of being usurped was fully justified. When he finally met his son, whom he believed to be dead, he was forced to yield to Zeus in the most brutal way: Zeus simply turned up one day and, with the help of his grandmother, Gaia, ambushed his father. He kicked Kronos violently in the stomach and forced his father to vomit up the contents of his stomach. First to emerge was the stone Kronos had swallowed, believing it to be the infant Zeus. The young god took this stone and set it upright in the earth as a monument to Kronos’s cruelty, and a symbol of his triumph over the wicked god. Zeus placed the stone at the omphalos or “navel” of the Greek ancient world – at Delphi, in the very centre of Greece. In future ages, the stone would become a shrine, renowned for its oracle. Pilgrims would visit it to seek the guidance of the priestess, or Sibyl, regarding their personal problems, and the Sibyl would provide them messages of wisdom, which were said to come directly from the gods. First he vomited up the stone, which he had swallowed last. Zeus set it up to be a sign … a wonder to mortal men. Theogony Great deities disgorged After vomiting up the stone, Kronos began to disgorge his offspring. One by one, Zeus’s elder brothers and sisters came out of their father’s mouth – no longer babies, now, but fully grown. Once reborn, they became the Olympian gods and were revered for their powers. Soon after their rebirth, the sons and daughters of Kronos went to war with the mighty Titans for control of the cosmos. After their victory, the gods set up their seat of power on Mount Olympus and drew lots to decide who would take which role in ruling the universe. The three sons of Kronos divided the cosmos up between them; one would take control of the sky, another would have the sea, and the third would preside over the Underworld. Zeus, whose weapon of choice was the thunderbolt, became ruler of the sky and leader of all the Olympian gods. Hades, the first son to be born, and the last to be regurgitated, became lord of the Underworld. His name came to stand for both the deity and his unseen realm, where souls go after death. Hades was not happy to have been allocated this dismal domain, but there was nothing he could do about it. Meanwhile, Poseidon, who had been the tiniest baby, became the almighty “Earth-Shaker”, the god of the sea in all its awesome power. Hestia [image: image] Kronos and Rhea’s eldest child, Hestia (“hearth”), was the first to be swallowed by her father – and the last to reappear when Zeus forced him to vomit up his offspring. Given that she was both the oldest and youngest of the children, she was widely referred to as “Hestia, First and Last”. Like the later Roman god Janus, Hestia was seen as the embodiment of all of life’s ambiguities and ambivalences. Like Janus, too, she quickly came to be associated with the home, with domesticity and all its blessings. In particular, her realm was that of the hearth – the fire that was a household’s warm and hospitable centre. The hearth was also the site of the altar where sacrifices were offered to any domestic gods; she presided over these rituals, too. Though herself a sworn virgin, having refused all proposals of marriage, Hestia was considered the protector of the family. The metaphorical family of the state was also part of her realm, and she would look after the public altar or hearth within a city. Disparate goddesses The three female children of Kronos also had important roles to play. Hestia, goddess of the hearth, ruled over people's domestic life. As goddess of the harvest, Demeter was a life-giver to the worshippers who relied on her annual bounty. She proved a fickle protectress, however, ready not just to cross swords with her siblings but to withhold favours from humankind at any perceived slight. Hera’s role was more prominent than that of her sisters, and she became the foremost female deity following her marriage to her brother Zeus. To her great dismay, however, Hera never quite received the recognition and honours she expected as the queen of the gods. As the goddess of women and marriage, Hera was supposed to represent the archetypal wedded state, but she became known for her marital troubles. Nor was Hera the goddess who inspired men’s passions. While Hera was portrayed as a wifely figure, Aphrodite was the goddess associated with feminine beauty, sexuality, and erotic pleasures. The Greeks had these two different deities for what, in ancient times, were considered two separate spheres of affection. One deity represented marital love, the other romantic and erotic love. While this distinction may now be alien to many people, in most cultures and at most times in history, the majority of marriages were arranged – as transactions for the management and transmission of property and land. The idea of “companionate” marriage – in which the love between a husband and wife is the driving factor – is a relatively modern convention. [image: image] Zeus and Hera become man and wife in a scene from a decorative, marble-and-limestone frieze that was part of a temple in Selinunte, Sicily, dating from the 5th century BCE. The Dodekatheon Aphrodite was the only member of this first generation of Olympians who was not a child of Kronos and Rhea; some accounts suggest she was the daughter of Zeus, but Hesiod, Pausanius, and Ovid all described her as Kronos's sister who was born from sea foam after the castration of Ouranos. Despite being the same generation as Kronos and Rhea, she was always considered an Olympian, rather than a Titan, and one of the gods and goddesses who eventually made up the Dodekatheon – the 12 most important Olympians in the Greek pantheon. The Dodekatheon included Zeus, Demeter, Hera, Poseidon, and Aphrodite from the first generation of Olympians. The hearth goddess Hestia was not among them, as she later chose to live on earth to avoid her siblings’ squabbles; Hades, similarly, was not included because he resided permanently in the Underworld. After the war between the gods and the Titans established the Olympians as rulers of the cosmos, the first generation of gods went on to have many children. Many of the gods and other figures in Greek mythology were children of Zeus. Of the second generation of gods, several joined the Dodekatheon, and were powerful deities in their own right. The gods Apollo, Ares, Dionysus, Hephaistos, and Hermes all joined the ranks of Zeus and his siblings on Mount Olympus, as did the goddesses Artemis and Athena. The Dodekatheon met as a council to discuss matters in their ruling of the cosmos, and Dionysus, god of wine, attained his seat at the table only after Hestia left Olympus to reside on Earth. [image: image] Aphrodite had an illicit affair with another Olympian – Ares, the god of war. They were caught in bed by her husband, Hephaistos, the blacksmith god, who threw a net over the pair. [image: image] Athena and her uncle Poseidon did battle over Athens – a family squabble that the goddess won. The struggle is illustrated in this Venetian fresco by Giambattista Mengardi (1787). Human personalities The Olympian gods were all too human in their personalities, and often lacked the lofty transcendence of the supreme beings in later religions. In a dramatic soap opera of fierce rivalries and petty spats, their actions were influenced not by a desire to work for the good of humankind, but by their own selfish desires and whims. The Greeks therefore did not worship the gods by attempting to emulate them, instead treating them as they might a powerful human ruler, by offering sacrifices and celebrating the deities at regular festivals. At its core, this was a system of exchange: people offered gifts to the gods in the hope that the gods would give them what they asked for. The gods often rewarded mortals who treated them well and showed them the appropriate deference and respect. Zeus and his siblings could be needlessly cruel and were often subject to jealousies and petty fights. His brothers Poseidon and Hades often used humans as pawns in these squabbles, which usually stemmed from a reluctance to accept the supreme god's authority as unquestionable. Still more reluctant was his sister Demeter, a strong-willed deity in her own right. After she was pursued and raped by Poseidon, and Hades abducted her daughter Persephone, Demeter wreaked havoc across the world. Infidelity, too, was a major theme in all Greek myths – not just in the affairs (and assaults) committed by Zeus that riled the jealous Hera. [image: image] Marble sculptures from the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis in Athens show the gods – from left to right: Dionysus, Demeter, Persephone, and Artemis – reacting to the birth of Athena. Demeter was wroth with the gods and quitted heaven. Library Twixt god and mortals Despite their power, in many ways Greek deities appear to have an intermediate status, hovering somewhere between the spiritual and the real. Their attributes reflect the countless aspects of Greek everyday life in which the gods played an implicit part. All the gods had specific areas of influence, such as Zeus and Athena, who were among the theoi agoraioi (gods of the agora – the marketplace and people’s assembly). Both Zeus and the goddess Hestia were also gods of the home (theoi ktesioi). Hestia, Dionysius, and Aphrodite were among the theoi daitioi, who presided over feasts and banquets. The gods themselves also needed sustenance. According to Greek tradition, they lived on a diet of nectar and ambrosia, carried up Mount Olympus by doves. To later belief systems, the notion that deities needed material sustenance seems at odds with their divinity. Ancient Greek authorities, however, agreed on the importance of this nourishment for the gods to empower and sustain them. [image: image] See also: Origin of the universe • The war of the gods and Titans • Mount Olympus • The founding of Athens • The sybil of Cumae [image: image] IN BRIEF THEME Olympians take power SOURCES Iliad, Homer, 8th century BCE; Theogony, Hesiod, c. 700 BCE; Library, Pseudo-Apollodorus, c. 100 CE. SETTING The slopes of Mount Olympus and plains of Thessaly, northern Greece. KEY FIGURES Olympians The gods Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Demeter, and Hestia. Titans Oceanus, Hyperion, Coeus, Tethys, Phoebe, Rhea, Mnemosyne, Themis, Theia Crius, Kronos, and Iapetus. Kyklopes The one-eyed giants Brontes, Steropes, and Arges; sons of Ouranos. Hecatoncheires The giants Briareos, Kottos, and Gyges; sons of Ouranos and Gaia. Zeus slipped easily into a position of authority over his brothers and sisters: though the youngest, he had been in the world by far the longest. His siblings supported him as he strove to overthrow his father and assert his primacy across the cosmos. So began the Titanomachy – the War of the Gods and Titans. Zeus, with the support of his siblings, launched a concerted and determined attack against the Titan gods. The siblings were joined by some of Ouranos’s cast-out sons. The three Kyklopes – the one-eyed giants Brontes, Steropes, and Arges – sided with Zeus after he freed them from the Underworld. They were skilled craftstmen who made weapons for the gods: a mighty thunderbolt for Zeus, a cloak of invisibility for Hades, and a trident for Poseidon. The Hecatoncheires – Briareos, Kottos, and Gyges – also fought for the gods. Each of these terrifying giants had 50 heads and 100 hands, and howled as they rampaged across the battlefield. [image: image] Zeus, leader of the gods, stands beside an eagle in this 4th-century statue. The eagle, Zeus’s messenger, remained a symbol of power from ancient Rome to Nazi Germany. Total war The war was fought on the lower slopes of Mount Olympus and across the open plains of Thessaly, but the earth-shattering conflict encompassed the entire world. Huge rocks were hurled around; entire mountaintops were ripped up and sent flying back and forth as projectiles; bolts of lightning flashed like javelins across the sky. Flames rose up to the farthest heights of heaven; the thud of marching feet caused quakes in the most remote reaches of the Underworld; swirling dust clouds darkened the sky, and the din of conflict was deafening. According to Hesiod, the intensity of the fighting “pained the soul”. The advantage tipped back and forth without any real interval for a full ten years. Neither side would yield, so finally Zeus rallied his cohorts. He refreshed the Hecatoncheires with nectar and ambrosia – the divine and exclusive sustenance of the gods, which conferred immortality on any mortal who consumed it. This may not have been the effect it had on the Hecatoncheires, but according to Hesiod, “the heroic spirits grew in all their hearts” after Zeus gave it to the giants. [image: image] The Fall of the Titans by Giulio Romano (1532–35). Depicting the war of the Titans, this continuous fresco covers the walls and ceiling of the Sala dei Giganti in the Palazzo Te, Italy. Ultimate triumph Reinvigorated, the Hecatoncheires proved the tipping point. With such formidable allies and weapons, the gods were at last able to defeat the Titans. They banished them to Tartarus, the lowest pit of the Underworld, where the Titans were imprisoned for all eternity under the watch of the Hecatoncheires. Zeus and his siblings now had full control over the cosmos. They set up their imperial seat on the top of Mount Olympus, from where they ruled the universe. Warfare in ancient Greece After the rise of the city states of Athens, Sparta, and beyond, warfare became a way of life for the people of ancient Greece. The states fought each other for territory, trade, and power in highly ritualized wars – both sides would consult with oracles and sing hymns to the gods before meeting for set-piece battles. Scholars use the term “limited warfare” to describe the ancient Greek model, in which cities were destroyed but the victors were honourable, fighting within a set of rules of conduct. Some city states, such as Sparta, became very militaristic. This perhaps explains the recurrence of the idea of a war in heaven. Such stories dramatized real-life shifts in theological and spiritual thinking in ancient societies: for example, the Titanomachy could explain the shift from an earth-cult, centred around deities who lived in the Underworld, to the more sky-based theology found in ancient Greece. Zeus’s bolts flew thick and fast from his mighty hands, with flash and thunder and flame. Theogony See also: The Olympian gods • War of the gods • A complex god • The game of dice [image: image] IN BRIEF THEME War between relatives SOURCE Mahabharata, Vyasa, c. 4th century BCE–2nd century CE. SETTING The kingdom of Kuru (modern-day Haryana, near Delhi), India. KEY FIGURES The Kauravan brothers Duryodhana and Dushasana. The Pandavan brothers Yudhishthira, Arjuna, and Bhima. Draupadi Wife of the Pandavan brothers. Krishna An incarnation of Vishnu; god of love; one of the most revered Indian deities. The Game of Dice is a pivotal moment in India’s epic, the Mahabharata. Thought to be the longest poem ever composed, the Mahabharata is a collection of stories that reflect the history and culture of Hindu civilization and tell the stories of families feuding for power. The Game of Dice tells of the legendary conflict between two branches of an Indian ruling family, the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Gambling with dice was a sacred ritual: kings could not refuse a game of dice any more than they could a battle. It was linked to the concept of daiva (fate) and the balance between human and divine action. The story of the Game of Dice illustrates dharma (the moral order of the universe) and the chaos that ensues when dharma breaks down. [image: image] Dushasana tries to unravel Draupadi’s sari, but Krishna protects her modesty. She is standing on the cross-shaped board of the dice game, chaupar, still played in India today. Draupadi’s humiliation Duryodhana, the Kauravan prince and eldest son of a blind king, was envious of the Pandavan palace. Although he had inherited the control of much of his father’s kingdom at Hastinapura, he was jealous of his Pandavan cousins. During a tour of their palace, Duryodhana embarrassed himself on several occasions, culminating in his slipping and falling into a pond. Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavan brothers, mocked him. Duryodhana then invited his cousins to a game of dice. One of them, Yudhishthira, played and recklessly gambled away his kingdom, his brothers, and his wife. His loss condemned some of his family to servitude, and others to 12 years’ exile. When a servant was sent to take Draupadi to the slave quarters, the menstruating Draupadi was in the royal bath. She refused to leave, but was dragged by her hair into the court. Draupadi wore only a single layer of fabric – a sari with no underlayers – and was streaked with blood. No one came to her aid to preserve her modesty. To justify this outrage, the men claimed that Draupadi deserved no respect as she had been married to five brothers from a single family. Their mother had decreed that what one brother had won should be shared by them all. A huge mass of cloth wound from Draupadi’s body lay in a heap on one side. But the original sari was still on her. Mahabharata The Kauravan brothers ordered the five Pandavas and their wife to be disrobed. Draupadi prayed to Krishna, and as Duryodhana’s brother Dushasana pulled at the fabric on her body, each yard was divinely reproduced. Try as he might, he could not unravel Draupadi’s never-ending sari. Finally, exhausted, Dushasana admitted defeat, and Bhima, one of the Pandava brothers, vowed to kill him one day in revenge. The Bhagavad Gita [image: image] Mounted on Arjuna’s horse, Krishna encourages the prince to fight in this 17th-century illustration from the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata details the power struggle between the Kauravan and Pandavan families, as well as the role of Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Vishnu, in these events. The Gita, often seen as a spiritual treatise, is an episode in the Mahabharata, and details a conversation between Krishna and Prince Arjuna – leader of the Pandavas – on the eve of battle during the Kurukshetra War. Krishna appeared to the prince as his friend and charioteer. When Arjuna said that he did not want to fight, and believed killing to be wrong, Krishna questioned his logic, and argued that he must fulfil his duty as dharmic protector of his kingdom. In awe of such philosophical knowledge, Arjuna asked his friend who he really was. Krishna revealed his universal form with multiple heads and limbs, and Arjuna saw the universe existing in him. Arjuna then realized his own infinitesimal place in the cosmos, picked up his weapon, and fought the battle. Exile and war Sent into exile for 12 years, the Pandavas used this time to prepare for war. When Krishna discovered their plot, however, they were forbidden from returning to their kingdom. Krishna attempted to mediate, but war was inevitable, and when it came, Bhima killed Dushasana, and all other Kauravan brothers were killed in the battle. With this, the Pandavas were the rulers of Hastinapura. See also: Ahura Mazda and Ahriman • Brahma creates the cosmos • The birth of Ganesha • The Ramayana [image: image] [image: image] IN BRIEF THEME Revenge versus justice SOURCES Odyssey, Homer, 8th century BCE Oresteia, Aeschylus, 458 BCE; Orestes, Euripides, 408 BCE; Electra, Sophocles, c. 400 BCE. SETTING Agamemnon’s palace, Mycenae, Argos, Greece. KEY FIGURES Agamemnon The murdered king of Argos. Iphigenia Agamemnon’s sacrificed daughter. Clytemnestra Agamemnon’s wife. Aegisthus Clytemnestra’s lover; Agamemnon’s successor as king. Orestes Agamemnon’s son, who killed Aegisthus. Electra Agamemnon’s daughter. Agamemnon, King of Argos, was commander of the Greek forces during the legendary Trojan War. His family history was steeped in blood and betrayal. A ruthless feud between his father, Atreus, and his uncle, Thyestes, had already precipitated adultery, multiple murders, and enduring enmity by the time the Trojan conflict in Asia Minor had broken out. That grisly lineage was set to pass on to a new generation. Iphigenia’s sacrifice Agamemnon’s departure for Troy with his fleet of a thousand ships was delayed for weeks by adverse winds, sent by the goddess Artemis, whom he had offended by killing a sacred deer. To banish these winds, the king reluctantly heeded the advice of a prophet, and sacrificed his own innocent daughter, Iphigenia, whom he had lured to the coast with the false promise of a husband. This was an act that his wife, Clytemnestra, would neither forgive nor forget. This man, Agamemnon, my husband, is dead, the work of this right hand. Oresteia The king is murdered While Agamemnon was away at war, his queen took a lover named Aegisthus, who was Agamemnon’s first cousin. They had been bitter enemies since the king’s father had slain Aegisthus’s siblings. Having gained access to the bed of Agamemnon, Aegisthus quickly helped himself to his crown as well: soon he and Clytemnestra were reigning together as king and queen in Argos, openly displaying their adulterous union. Such was the situation to which Agamemnon returned, victorious at last after ten long years of war. No longer lord in his own house, he faced a fight to reclaim what was his. This was a fight he quickly lost, when he was murdered by his wife and her lover. Different versions of the story offer varying details: some say the king was killed at a feast celebrating his return from the war; others say he was murdered while naked and helpless after his bath. [image: image] Orestes slays his mother to avenge his father’s death in this painting by Bernardino Mei (1655). Clytemnestra’s lover, Aegisthus, lies beside her, also slaughtered at the hand of Orestes. Crime and punishment The varying accounts also cite several possible motivations for Agamemnon’s murder. Some place the guilt squarely with Aegisthus, Agamemnon’s longstanding enemy, as an act of vengeance for the crimes of the king’s father. Other versions lay the blame firmly at Clytemnestra’s feet, presenting her as a fearless and defiant woman who murdered her husband as retribution for killing their daughter. Other accounts cite Clytemnestra’s ungovernable female sexuality and her passion. Agamemnon’s children – his son, Orestes, and his daughter Electra – were both away from home when their father was killed. They returned to Argos to find their mother and Aegisthus reigning in his place. Orestes felt it the duty of a son to avenge his father, so – with his sister’s help and encouragement – he disguised himself and gained access to the palace, where he killed Aegisthus. The spirit of vengeance demanded that Clytemnestra too should pay the price for her role in the crime. Orestes slew her also, but carried her dying curse on his head: relentless furies, the Erinyes, hunted him across the face of the earth for the rest of his days for his crime of matricide. Electra escaped the curse, marrying Orestes’s friend and co-conspirator Pylades. Aeschylus [image: image] Revered as the father of tragedy, Aeschylus was an early Greek dramatist – one of three, along with Euripides and Sophocles, whose works survive and are still performed. He was born around 525 BCE in Eleusis, a town northwest of Athens, and grew up to fight against two Persian invasions. When not at war, Aeschylus regularly took part in Athens’s annual “Dionysia” playwriting contest. He claimed that the god of theatre, Dionysus himself, visited him while he was asleep and persuaded him to take up the art. Aeschylus was known to be a prolific playwright, yet only seven of his plays survive, each one believed to have won first prize at the Dionysia. The Oresteia trilogy – Agamemnon, Choephoroi, and Eumenides – are now his best-known plays. Aeschylus was credited with writing Prometheus Bound, though his authorship of that play is now disputed. See also: The many affairs of Zeus • The founding of Athens • The quest of Odysseus [image: image] IN BRIEF THEME Inspiration, poetry, and wisdom SOURCES Homeric Hymn, author anonymous, c. 600 BCE; Description of Greece, Pausanias, c. 150 CE. SETTING Delphi, on the slopes of Mount Parnassus in central Greece. KEY FIGURES Apollo God of the sun and the arts, who was also associated with wisdom. The Pythia Apollo’s high priestess at Delphi. Hera The wife of Zeus. Zeus King of the Olympian gods; father of Apollo. Leto Mother of Apollo and Artemis. Artemis Sister of Apollo. Asclepius Son of Apollo. The Temple of Apollo at Delphi, on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, in central Greece, was the site of the most important oracle in the ancient world. It was believed that the god Apollo channelled prophecies through the Pythia, the high priestess of the temple. Raising a temple Apollo’s association with Delphi began when he was just four days old. Taking the form of a dolphin, he left his birthplace on the island of Delos in the Cyclades, a group of islands in the Aegean Sea, to seek out and kill the feared Python, a huge and ferocious dragon that lived in the innards of the earth, beneath what was regarded as its omphalos, or “navel”, near the town of Delphi. An enraged Hera, the wife of Zeus, had sent the monster to hunt down Apollo’s mother, the goddess Leto, who had become pregnant by Zeus. [image: image] The Pythia sits on a sacred tripod as she receives a message from Apollo in Camillo Miola’s The Oracle (1880). The figures in the foreground shake bay leaves as part of the ritual. Although Leto escaped and gave birth to Apollo and his twin sister Artemis on Delos, Apollo wished to avenge the attempt to destroy his mother. Apollo slayed the Python with a bow and arrows made for him by the blacksmith god, Hephaistos. He buried the creature beneath the omphalos stone, which marked the geographical centre of the earth, and established his temple to symbolize the resounding triumph of heaven over earth. Joy and wisdom By the fifth century BCE, Apollo had supplanted Helios the Titan as the sun god in the Greek pantheon. The Homeric Hymn to Apollo acclaims the “splendour of his radiance”. It also says the god was born to be “the joy of men” and would “declare to men the unfailing will of Zeus”, references to his role as the god of poetry and music, and to his association with wisdom. The invention of medicine was also ascribed to Apollo – although he devolved most of his medical role to Asclepius, one of his sons. He was also a protector of shepherds, who were identified with the pastoral idyll celebrated in Greek poetry. Pan, a god of fertility and shepherds, who played the pipes, challenged Apollo to a musical duel. Apollo, who played a golden lyre (one of the god’s many attributes with which he is often shown) captivated the audience, and was unanimously proclaimed the victor. [image: image] Delphi’s Temple of Apollo dates from the fourth century BCE. According to Pausanias, previous temples on the site were made of laurel leaves, beeswax, or bronze. Apollo communicated his wisdom through the Oracle at Delphi. People flocked to Delphi from every corner of Greece to gain knowledge of future events and discover the will of Zeus, especially in times of national crisis, such as war, when more than one Pythia performed the role of Apollo’s mouthpiece. The people offered animal sacrifices to Apollo, then waited patiently as the Pythia, seated over a cauldron, with volcanic vapour rising around her, channelled his response. The Pythia’s utterances were copious but often incoherent. Shrine officials interpreted and then recorded Apollo’s precious words of wisdom in verse hexameters. The child leapt forth into the light, and all the goddesses raised up a cry. Homeric Hymn to Apollo See also: The war of gods and the titans • Mount Olympus • The many affairs of Zeus • Apollo and Daphne • The Sybil of Cumae [image: image] IN BRIEF THEME Moral conduct SOURCE The Ramayana, Valmiki, c. 5th century BCE. SETTING Ayodhya, India; Lanka, an island fortress. KEY FIGURES Rama Seventh incarnation of Vishnu; prince of Ayodhya. Sita Wife of Rama. Ravana A ten-headed demon. Brahma Creator of the Universe. Dasharatha King of Ayodhya. Lakshmana Rama’s half-brother. Bharata Rama’s half-brother. Kaikeyi One of Dasharatha’s wives; mother of Bharata. Hanuman A divine monkey. The epic poem Ramayana, written in Sanskrit and one of the major works of Hindu literature, tells the story of Prince Rama of Ayodhya and his quest to save his wife, Sita, from her ten-headed captor, Ravana, who is the king of the Asuras, or demons. [Rama], you are famed throughout the three worlds for your glory, for your prowess, your devotion to your father; integrity and virtue abound in you. The Ramayana When Brahma granted a boon – a sacred wish – to Ravana, as a reward for his 10,000-year fast, Ravana asked Brahma to make him invincible to any god. His wish granted, Ravana began causing havoc across the three worlds – earth, air, and heaven – and the gods asked Brahma to intervene. Meanwhile, on earth, King Dasharatha of Ayodhya, despite taking three wives, still had no son. Anxious for an heir, he arranged a great fire sacrifice (yajna) as an offering to Brahma. [image: image] The birth of Rama When Brahma looked down from heaven at the flames of the king’s ritual sacrifice, it occurred to him that while Ravana had asked for protection from gods and demons, he had forgotten to ask for protection from man. So Brahma decided that he would bring Lord Vishnu to earth in human form to defeat Ravana. King Dasharatha’s prayers were granted, and sons were born to each of his three wives: Rama to Kausalya; the twins Lakshmana and Shatrughna to Sumitra; and Bharata to Kaikeyi. The princes all grew up learning the arts of warfare and reading sacred texts. One day, the sage Vishvamitra came seeking help to defeat the demons that were disturbing sacrificial rites in the forest. Rama and his half-brother Lakshmana accompanied the sage, and learned how to use divine weaponry. Vishvamitra praised Rama’s skill, telling him he had been born to rid the world of evil. [image: image] The marriages of Prince Rama and his brothers are depicted in this miniature (c. 1700-1750). This Pahari (meaning “from the mountains”) art is from India’s Himachal Pradesh region. The prince is banished Twelve years later, the ageing Dasharatha prepared to have Rama crowned as king. Rama was the bravest and most virtuous son, and his father’s favourite. But on the eve of the great event, Dasharatha’s third wife, Kaikeyi, reminded her husband of two boons he had granted her many years earlier. She demanded that Rama be banished to the wilderness for 14 years and that her son, Bharata, be crowned king instead. Duty bound, the king ordered his beloved son Rama into the wilderness. Rama’s wife, Sita, demanded she join her husband in banishment, as did his loyal half-brother Lakshmana. As the three left the palace for exile, King Dasharatha died of a broken heart. The worship of Rama [image: image] Rama battles the superhuman Asura (sometimes referred to as “titans”) on an illustrated Ramayana folio from about 1700. Rama is the seventh incarnation of Vishnu and a major Hindu deity in his own right. From the first millennium BCE, Rama was widely recognized as an avatar of Vishnu and considered “the ideal man”. By around the 12th century ce, he came to be revered as a god. Rama worship strengthened significantly in the late 16th century when Tulsidas, a poet-saint and devotee of Rama, wrote the epic poem Ramcharitmanas, which equated Rama with Brahman, the Supreme Being. Characterized by duty, integrity, and devotion, Rama’s rule over the perfect, utopian society at Ayodhya extended to the whole world and became known as ramraj. Mahatma Gandhi used this ideal to visualize a new age of democracy, religious tolerance, and equal justice for all during India’s independence movement against British rule, which finally ended in 1947. Each year, Rama’s birthday is marked by the spring festival, Rama Navami, and his life is celebrated during the Hindu autumn festival of Navratri. Bharata discovered his mother’s plot and followed Rama into the forest, begging him to return and claim his rightful throne. But Rama was steadfast in his duty to carry out his father’s orders, and so Bharata reluctantly ruled in his half-brother’s absence, keeping Rama’s golden sandals on the throne, ready for his return. Sita’s abduction Thirteen years later, in the forest by the sparkling Godavari River, the demoness Shurpanakha appeared and fell in love with the beautiful Rama. Failing to seduce him, she then pursued Lakshmana. Spurned again, Shurpanakha became incensed and flew towards Sita in a rage. The brothers caught the demoness and cut off her nose and ears. The following day, when Shurpanakha’s brothers came to avenge her, Rama and Lakshmana showered them with arrows. Little did they know that Shurpanaka had another brother, Ravana, who would also seek revenge. [image: image] The vulture Jatayu lies wounded amidst the wreckage of Ravana’s cart, after trying to stop him abducting Sita, in this 18th-century manuscript illustration made in the Kangra style. One day, Sita spotted a golden deer by their forest settlement and became bewitched by it. Rama, intent on pleasing his wife, tried to capture it for her. The deer fled, leading Rama farther into the forest. Lakshmana heard Rama’s voice calling out for help; he drew a protective circle around Sita and left her to follow the voice. Now that Sita was alone, a hermit appeared asking for food. Wanting to uphold her people’s generosity, Sita stepped outside of the circle. The hermit shed his disguise, revealing himself as the demon, Ravana, with 10 heads and 20 arms. He threw Sita over his shoulder, and summoned his flying chariot. The old vulture Jatayu, who had been keeping watch over the three exiles, tried to block the chariot, but Ravana chopped off one of its wings. Ravana’s chariot flew across the seas onwards to the island of Lanka, where the demon was king. Piece by piece, Sita dropped her jewellery from the chariot, leaving a trail behind her. When they landed, Sita refused to live in Ravana’s palace, so he left her in a garden of ashoka trees. Determined to woo her, he sang to her, told her stories, and showered her with compliments, sweet-smelling flowers, and fine jewels – but Sita remained faithful to Rama, who was travelling with Lakshmana in search of Sita. When they passed through the land of the apes, they met the monkey hero Hanuman. The monkeys showed them the fallen jewellery, which formed a trail towards Lanka. The only missing piece, Rama realized, was his wife’s hairpin. He [Rama] may be poor, he may have been turned out of his kingdom, but my husband must retain my respect. The Ramayana Rescue and war Hanuman assumed a gargantuan form and leapt across the sea to Lanka. He crisscrossed the island looking everywhere for Sita, but was unable to find her until he saw a beautiful, solitary woman in a garden, wearing a single hairpin. Hanuman approached Sita, reassuring her of his good character and divine lineage, and gave her Rama’s signet ring as proof he came from Rama. Hanuman told Sita to jump onto his back so he could safely deliver her back across the sea, but she refused, insisting that only her husband should liberate her. Hanuman asked her for a token he could show Rama to help comfort him, and so she gave him her hairpin, which she had kept as a symbol of her status as a married woman. [image: image] The hero Rama and ten-headed Ravana take aim at each other on a late-18th-century ceremonial hanging that is a fine example of kalamkari textile painting from south India. Hanuman then created chaos in Lanka, killing many of Ravana’s warriors before allowing himself to be caught and delivered to the demon. Now face-to-face with Ravana, he urged him to let Sita go, but Ravana set his tail on fire. Hanuman escaped and used his blazing tail to set the citadel aflame. Over the next five days, his army of monkeys built a long bridge to Lanka, made of stones inscribed with Rama’s name. A bloody war ensued between the armies of Ravana and Rama, ending with Rama’s slaying of the demon and reuniting at last with his beloved wife, Sita. On Ravana’s death, his noble brother Vibhishana was crowned the new king of Lanka. Rama tests Sita Now together again, Rama asked Sita to perform a test of fire to prove her chastity after living at the house of another man. Sita plunged into the flames and Agni, Lord of Fire, returned her unscathed, proving her innocence. Now back in Ayodhya after 14 long years in exile, Rama was at last crowned king. In a final book of the Ramayana, likely added later, Sita’s chastity was questioned further. Following town gossip, Rama banished his beloved to the forest. She was watched over by the sage Valmiki, who was, at the time, composing the Ramayana. Sita gave birth to twin boys, who learnt to recite the sage’s poem. When the story was performed to King Rama, he was overwhelmed with grief. Valmiki then brought Sita to him, but she called upon the earth mother, who had once given birth to her, to free her from this unjust world. With this, the earth opened, and Sita vanished into the ground forever. A living text The Ramayana is one of the world’s longest epic poems and in Hindu tradition is considered the first example of poetry. Attributed to the revered poet Valmiki, the core material is dated to c. 500 BCE, but the story is thought not to have been fixed in its current form until a millennium later. The Ramayana’s story is known throughout the Indian subcontinent to Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists. Muslim scholars and poets have a long history of interpreting the text and of painting its various scenes as miniatures. During the 16th century, the Mughal emperor Akbar had the poem translated into Persian and painted on the walls at his court. Locations featured in the Ramayana are still revered as religious and pilgrimage sites, and the story continues to be told in various media – from poetry, drama, song, and dance to puppet shows, films, cartoons, and comics. A 1980s television version was watched by more than 100 million viewers. See also: Brahma creates the cosmos • The game of dice • The birth of Ganesha [image: image] [image: image] The ancient Greeks first entered the territory now associated with them in about 2000 BCE, when Egypt was still a great power and the Minoans of Crete were evolving into a highly sophisticated society. The first migrants, who probably came from Russia and central Asia, settled in the mountainous north and the Peloponnese to the south, where the city of Mycenae was founded c. 1600 BCE. Described by Homer as “rich in gold”, the Mycenaean civilization prospered thanks to trade networks across the Aegean and Mediterranean seas. With the Bronze Age collapse of palace culture and the end of Mycenaean civilization c. 1100 BCE, Greece entered its Dark Age. By the 8th century BCE, poleis (“city-states”) began to emerge as agricultural and trading hubs. Greece became a collection of separate city-states – such as Athens, Sparta, and Corinth – united by a shared language and the worship of common gods. However, Greek religion was not standardized; there was no book of doctrine to tell people how they should worship. Their mythology borrowed from their ancestors – the myth of the Minotaur came from the Minoans in Crete, and the Mycenaean era was the setting for the Trojan War, immortalized in Homer’s Iliad. Athenian dominance The Classical era in Greece began with the fall of the powerful Persian empire in 479 BCE. Having defeated the Persians, the city-states of Athens and Sparta fought each other for dominion over Greece. As the pre-eminent power, Athens was the setting for many Greek myths, from its origins under the care of its patron goddess, Athena, to tales such as Jason and Medea. Many of the surviving Greek myths come to us via Athenian dramatists: from the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides in the 5th century BCE to the comedies of Aristophanes (c.446–c.386 BCE) and Menander (c.342–c.291 BCE). These works told stories about the gods and heroes of Greek mythology and inspired later writers such as Shakespeare (1564–1616), whose A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet borrow from Greek myth. The era of Athenian dominance ended in the 4th century BCE, when the Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great built his empire. Thanks to Alexander’s conquests, Greek culture and mythology were exported as far as Asia Minor, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and India. The major deities It was the poets Homer and Hesiod who imposed order upon the myriad gods and beliefs inherited from earlier times. Homer set down his poetry from oral tradition around 800 BCE, after the migrations that followed the collapse of the Mycenaean culture. His two epic poems, the Iliad and Odyssey, gave the Greeks a history, a pantheon, and guidelines for how to live their lives. As the Olympian family of 12 principal gods dwelling on Mount Olympus gradually replaced older beliefs, Homer and Hesiod gave them distinct characters and appearances. Because Homer’s epic poems were set in an aristocratic and feudal society – which preceded the birth of democracy in Athens in the 5th century BCE – his gods behaved like chieftains, motivated solely by their own desires. Like other ancient agrarian peoples, the Greeks were local in their focus. They ordered their religious life around local places, identifying different hills, streams, and plains with different deities. This mythic lore invested every corner of the land with spiritual significance. The earth was the source of existence: divine power originated in its depths, as did the crops. Myths sought to explain aspects of agrarian life. The tale of Persephone – daughter of the harvest goddess Demeter – and her imprisonment in the Underworld by Hades was a way of accounting for the changing cycles of the agricultural year. The rise of the cult At the end of the 5th century BCE, various mystery cults arose in the Greek-speaking world. Chief among these were the Eleusinian mysteries, an ancient agrarian cult honouring Demeter and Persephone and promising paradise for the dead. The Dionysian cult, which originated in Asia, worshipped Dionysus and involved wild dancing, drinking, and ecstasy. Unlike the public worship of the gods, which was well documented, these mystery cults consisted of secret rites and doctrines that remain enigmatic to this day, but would go on to influence the beliefs and myths of ancient Rome. [image: image] IN BRIEF THEME Mortality SOURCES Tablets found in the Library of Ashurbanipal, king of Assyria (c. 668–627 BCE), at Nineveh; The Epic of Gilgamesh, Benjamin Foster, 2001. SETTING Uruk, a city in Sumer, southern Mesopotamia, after the Great Flood. KEY FIGURES Gilgamesh King of Mesopotamia. Enkidu Close friend of Gilgamesh. Shamash God of the sun and of justice. Ishtar Goddess of fertility and war. Utnapishtim An immensely wise, immortal man. The story of Gilgamesh follows the eponymous hero as he wrestles with the inevitability of death, discovers true friendship, and comes to understand the responsibilities of kingship. The long poem known as The Epic of Gilgamesh is among the world’s earliest known works of great literature, and weaves together a series of tales thought to have been inspired by a king who ruled the Sumerian city of Uruk between 2800 and 2500 BCE. The goddess Aruru, she washed her hands, took a pinch of clay, and threw it down … in the wild, she created Enkidu. The Epic of Gilgamesh Taming the tyrant King Gilgamesh loved to walk the walls of Uruk, measuring the size of his kingdom. It was said that a king who knew the extent of his walls was noble and good. In reality, however, Gilgamesh was abusive towards his subjects and was a sexual predator who knew no bounds. When the people appealed to their gods for help in restraining their king, Anu, the sky god and supreme ruler of heaven, decided Gilgamesh needed a companion who could tame his wild nature. Anu handed the task to Arura, the goddess of creation, who made Enkidu. At first, Enkidu was a savage man who ran with the animals, ate grass, and lived apart. In ancient Mesopotamia, if you lived outside the city walls or as a nomad, you were considered not only uncouth but dangerous. Until Enkidu was inducted into civilized society, he could not fulfil his role of taming and aiding Gilgamesh. [image: image] Gilgamesh and Enkidu wrestle with lions to show their strength in an impression made by a third millenium BCE Sumerian cylinder seal. When Enkidu upset the traps of a local hunter, the man went to the king and urged him to provide Enkidu with a prostitute who would be able to subdue his wild temperament. Gilgamesh sent a temple prostitute called Samhat to have sex with Enkidu for seven days. After this, when Enkidu tried to run with the animals, they ignored him. Enkidu realized that something had changed – through his sexual awakening, he had started to become civilized. Samhat then took Enkidu to the city of Uruk, where she clothed him, fed him bread, and gave him beer to drink. Treated like a man for the very first time, Enkidu’s transformation from animal to human was complete. Meanwhile, Gilgamesh had dreamed of a being whom he would love more than a woman – someone as strong as himself. Gilgamesh’s mother, Ninsun, a minor goddess and a priestess in the temple, interpreted the dream and told him he would meet a man who would be an equal to him and a companion in his adventures. [image: image] Gilgamesh and Enkidu eventually met when Enkidu blocked Gilgamesh from entering the quarters of a new bride. The two men wrestled, and although Gilgamesh beat Enkidu, the king acknowledged Enkidu as an equal and as a brother. Humbaba’s mouth is fire; his roar is the floodwater; he breathes and there is death. The Epic of Gilgamesh Hunting Humbaba Gilgamesh had long wanted to go on a quest to prove his strength. He set his sights on vanquishing Humbaba, the divinely appointed demon-protector of the cedar forests, and stealing the tallest trees to take back as valuable timber for Uruk. Both man and beast, Humbaba was a formidable opponent: his strength was immense and he could breathe fire. Gilgamesh armed himself to the teeth and sought blessings from the temple priests. Alarmed, the city elders warned Gilgamesh that he was overestimating his abilities – for the king even to reach the forest, let alone fight Humbaba, he had to take Enkidu with him. Heeding the advice, Gilgamesh enlisted Enkidu’s help, and the pair left for the forest. They were protected by Shamash, the god of the sun and of justice, invoked by Gilgamesh’s mother. On reaching the forest, Gilgamesh and Enkidu were taunted by Humbaba, but before the demon could harm the pair, Shamash blew winds to trap Humbaba, and Gilgamesh and Enkidu gained the upper hand. Although Humbaba begged for his life, Gilgamesh killed him, cut down the cedars, made a raft, and sailed home to Uruk. Written in clay [image: image] Part of The Epic of Gilgamesh is reproduced in this plaster cast dating from the 9th–7th century BCE. This tablet, the 11th of the famous 12, recounts the story of Utnapishtim and the Great Flood. The clay tablets from which the fullest version of the Gilgamesh epic have been pieced together were found in 1853 during excavations of the Library of Ashurbanipal II, in the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh. Building on an oral tradition, and earlier written versions of the myth, the 12 tablets combine many different stories about Gilgamesh into a single epic poem. While some verses from the epic date to c. 2100 BCE, the most recent version of the text, composed in Akkadian cuneiform, an ancient Semitic language of Mesopotamia, dates to the Neo-Assyrian period (9th–6th century BCE). Gaps in the Ninevite version of the poem have been filled by text from the Middle Babylonian period (15th–11th century BCE) found in other locations. The discovery of the tablets changed the way scholars understood daily life in ancient Mesopotamia. [image: image] Clay masks of Humbaba, the demon giant slain by Gilgamesh, have been discovered in the ancient city of Sippur, on the river Euphrates in modern-day Iraq. Ishtar’s fury Back in Uruk, Gilgamesh washed off the filth of battle and put on fresh robes. The Akkadian goddess Ishtar was watching and asked Gilgamesh to be her new husband. If he agreed, she said, he would gain riches beyond his dreams. Gilgamesh refused, referencing the fate of her previous husband, Dumuzid, whom she had sent to hell. Enkidu, whom I so loved, who went with me through every hardship, the fate of mankind has overtaken him. The Epic of Gilgamesh Angered by this insult, Ishtar went to her father, Anu, the god of the sky. She pleaded with him to give her the Bull of Heaven, so that she could send it to punish the people of Uruk for Gilgamesh’s decision. Anu eventually relented, but warned his daughter that the beast would bring seven years of famine to Uruk. When the Bull of Heaven reached the city, the earth was torn open, and hundreds of people fell to their deaths through the cracks. The third time that the Bull attacked the city, Gilgamesh and Enkidu butchered the animal. After sacrificing its heart to Shamash, the two of them contemptuously threw a piece of the animal’s hind leg at Ishtar, heedless of the disrespect this showed to the gods. The dream has shown that misery at last comes to the healthy man, the end of his life is sorrow. The Epic of Gilgamesh That night Enkidu had a dream in which Anu, Shamash, and Enlil (the god who granted kingship and had been Humbaba’s master) discussed the deaths of Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven. In the dream, Anu and Enlil decided that either Enkidu or Gilgamesh should be killed. Shamash protested, saying that the pair had only gone to the cedar forest under his protection. Despite Shamash’s best efforts, the gods decided that Enkidu must die. Death and the quest Coming to grips with his own mortality, as foretold in the dream, Enkidu desperately prayed to Shamash and cursed Samhat, the temple prostitute, for showing him the way to Uruk. Shamash rebuked him and told him to be glad of the adventures he had experienced. He assured Enkidu that Gilgamesh would give his body the finest resting place. Soon after, Enkidu fell ill and died 12 days later. [image: image] Lamenting his friend’s death, Gilgamesh enlisted all of the people and animals to mourn with him. Calling together the finest craftsmen in the land, Gilgamesh built a golden statue of Enkidu in his honour. He then abandoned civilization, put on animal skins, and wandered the wilderness in mourning. In doing so, Gilgamesh mirrored the early life of Enkidu. Enkidu had been a wild man who learned to become civilized; upon Enkidu’s death, Gilgamesh, once civilized, became wild. Gilgamesh then left Uruk on a quest for immortality, anxious not to die like his soulmate. When he followed the path that Shamash took through the sky at night, he found the tunnel to the heavens. By speaking to the guardians of the tunnels, he learned the story of Utnapishtim, a survivor of the Great Flood who, together with his wife, had achieved immortality and sat at the assembly of the gods. Determined to discover the secret to eternal life, Gilgamesh set out to find Utnapishtim. What can I do, Utnapishtim? Where can I go? Death lives in the house where my bed is. The Epic of Gilgamesh On his way to the Underworld, Gilgamesh met an innkeeper called Siduri, who tried to convince him to turn back. She told the king that the journey was not safe for mere mortals. When he insisted on continuing, she reluctantly gave him directions to Urshanabi, who ferried people across the River of the Dead. Gilgamesh found Urshanabi, who agreed to help him on his mission. As they crossed the river, Urshanabi asked Gilgamesh why he had made the journey to the Underworld. Gilgamesh told him how his grief at the death of Enkidu had driven him to find immortality. His words convinced Urshanabi to take him to Utnapishtim. When Gilgamesh eventually reached Utnapishtim, the man who had achieved immortality remarked on how worn out the king looked. Gilgamesh explained his pain at watching his friend die and said he was afraid of his own mortality. In response, Utnapishtim asked why Gilgamesh would go on a futile quest instead of enjoying what he had been given in life: “Why, O Gilgamesh, did you prolong woe?” Utnapishtim told Gilgamesh that humans could not be immortal. The gods, he said, decided the length of each human life, and did not reveal the time of death, so there was no point in searching for a way to avoid it. [image: image] Utnapishtim and his wife are believed to be the subjects of this devotional gypsum sculpture from 2600 BCE, excavated from beneath a shrine at Nippur, Iraq. The immortal man Utnapishtim told Gilgamesh that he had earned immortality by saving humanity during the Great Flood. Such a thing could happen only once; Gilgamesh would never gain immortality that way. Seeking to prove this point to Gilgamesh, who still believed himself worthy of immortality, Utnapishtim challenged the king to stay awake for a total of six days and seven nights, instructing his wife to bake a loaf of bread for every night that Gilgamesh slept, so that he could not deny his failure. Gilgamesh accepted the challenge, but immediately fell asleep. When he finally woke up, Utnapishtim rebuked the king for his arrogance, noting that while he wanted to overcome death, he was not even able to overcome his desire for sleep. So that no one could find him again, Utnapishtim banished the ferryman Urshanabi, and sent Gilgamesh away. The eternal life you are seeking you shall not find. When the gods created mankind, they established death for mankind, and withheld eternal life for themselves. The Epic of Gilgamesh A parting gift Before Gilgamesh and Urshanabi left, Utnapishtim’s wife, who was also immortal, convinced her husband to give Gilgamesh a present. He told the king that if he wanted youth, a flower at the bottom of the lake could provide it. Hungry for this gift, Gilgamesh tied stone weights to his feet, dive