"Greek mythology was full of stories such as that of the rape of Europa, in which never a suggestion was allowed that the deity in question had acted somewhat less than divinely. In his version of the story of Creüsa Euripides said to his audience, 'Look at your Apollo, the sun-bright Lord of the Lyre, the pure God of Truth. This is what he did. He brutally forced a helpless young girl and then he abandoned her." The end of Greek mythology was at hand when such plays drew full houses in Athens."
I guess the gods were becoming a little tarnished and awe of them was weakening. I really am nearing the end of my reading. In this week's chapter, The Royal House of Athens, there is still the usual violence and drama (not quite so brilliant as the previous few myths), but the stories seem to be losing some of their sting. Or, as Edith Hamilton says, "The old stories had begun by then (the last part of the 5th century that is) to lose their hold on men's minds."
This chapter is broken into short sections concerning several women in one family: Procne and Philomela and their nieces Procris, Orithyia and Creüsa. Unfortunate women all. Procne was married to Tereus who proved to be a liar and cheater. He allowed Procne to incvite her sister Philomela to visit them. When he went to bring her to their home he fell for the beautiful Philomela, told her Procne had died and then forced her to marry him. When she discovered the truth of the matter, that her sister was alive and well, she castigated and threatened him. In reply he cut out her tongue and had her hidden away. He then told his with that Philomela died on the journey.
Things were looking pretty dire for Philomela who could not write and now could not speak, but she had her revenge. She created a beautiful tapestry revealing what had happened to her. When Procne saw it she knew immediately what had happened. In her rage she killed her child who looked so like his father, cooked him up in a hearty stew and served him to his father. When he finished his meal she told him what she had done. Just before he moved to kill her, the gods turned them all into birds. Procne became a nightingale, Philomela a swallow, and Tereus an "ugly bird with a huge beak". Modern day dysfunctional families have nothing on the Greeks.
Now Procris was happily married to Cephalus when the goddess of the Dawn, Aurora, carried him off. Cephalus wasn't much fun for Aurora as he was still in love with his wife, so much so that she finally told him to go back to her. But first she planted in his mind the seed of uncertainty. Was Procris faithful to him while he was away? He of little faith. He returned to his wife in disguise to see if he could catch her up. She would not succumb to this stranger's amorous advances and was angered when she discovered it was Cephalus all along. It took her some time to forgive him. Wouldn't this make for a great romantic movie? It's got all the right elements. Just when the pair made it all up, however, Cephalus managed to murder his wife while out hunting.
Orithyia's story is the tamest of the group, and hers might even have what could conceivably be considered a happy-ish ending. The North Wind, Boreas, fell in love with her, but the family wasn't about to give their consent. After the bad luck Procne and Philomela had (Tereus being from the North, too), they didn't want to let another Northerner into their family. You know what the North Wind is like (I know I do come the bitter month of January), he blew through and carried her away. They had two sons who joined Jason in his Quest for the Golden Fleece.
Creüsa's story is not an unfamiliar one. She was carried off by Apollo and taken to a dark cave against her will. She was but a young girl, and despite his good looks and stature (he being a god), she wanted only to return to her mother. When she bore a son she left him in the cave (because as she well knew no good end came to a single woman with a lover and a child--gods kidnapping unwilling girls being no excuse). Many years later when she was married and unable to have a child she went to Delphi to ask for help. The young man attending the temple was oddly familiar. He had been found wrapped in a veil and a maiden's cloak and left on the steps of the temple. Only later did Apollo admit that he had looked after the boy. What should have been a happy reunion, was for Creüsa, bittersweet--too little, too late it would seem.
Next up are the lesser myths and then tacked on to the end is a bit about Norse Mythology. A mere fifty pages separates me from the end of Edith Hamilton's Mythology. It's been a fun, sometimes even wild, ride. I can see I will have to explore the work of Euripides, Aeschylus, Ovid and others now that I have the basics under my belt. I may not get to them this year, but I am going to have to compile a list of 'must-reads' to expand upon what I've learned.