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Psyche and Cupid: Mythology’s Greatest Love Story

by June 10, 2020

Written by Edward Whelan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
There are many beautiful myths from Classical civilization. One of the most beautiful of all is that of Psyche and Cupid. Unlike most ancient legends, it is a romantic tale and has a happy ending. This myth has been enormously influential, and it has helped to shape modern romantic literature and even modern conceptions of love.
Origin of the myth
The main source for this myth is one of the greatest Roman novels, the Metamorphoses by Apuleius, which dates to the second half of the 2nd century AD. The story is narrated by the main character Lucius to a young bride who has been kidnapped by pirates. However, the story is much older and there are depictions of Cupid and Psyche in Hellenistic Greek art. Many believe that there are elements taken from Mystery Religions in the story. These were cults that promised their adherents salvation, which were popular throughout the Classical era.
The story of Psyche and Eros
Psyche was the daughter of a king and queen and she was stunningly beautiful. She was so beautiful that she was even compared to some of the Goddesses. This drove Aphrodite, or Venus in Roman narratives, the Goddess of Love, mad with jealousy. She devastated the kingdom of Psyche’s father with the plague. Aphrodite told the king she would only end the plague if she sacrificed Psyche to a sea-monster. When the King was tying his daughter up, Cupid, the son of Aphrodite, saw Psyche and he instantly fell in love with her. The winged god rescued Psyche and was so enamored with her that he married her, even though she was a mere mortal.

Psyche and Amor, also known as Psyche Receiving Cupid’s First Kiss (1798), by François Gérard: the butterfly hovering over Psyche symbolizes her innocence, prior to sexual awakening.

Cupid asked his new love never to look at his form. He could not let a mere mortal look upon him as she could be harmed. Despite this, the couple was happy and Cupid turned out to be a great husband. Psyche was so happy that she did not ask to see her husband and had no idea that he was a God. Cupid, as a God, could provide his wife with a lavish lifestyle. Now the two sisters of Psyche heard about this and they became insanely jealous. They began to plant seeds of doubt in Psyche’s mind about her husband. They asked her ‘why would he not let himself be seen?’
Psyche could no longer restrain herself and one night when her husband was sleeping, she brought a candle into the darkened bed-chamber. Psyche was transfixed by her husband and his otherworldly good looks. Cupid woke up to see his wife standing over him. She had disobeyed him and in a rage, he flew away. He returned to his mother, who had always hated Psyche and been opposed to her marriage to her son. Psyche was disconsolate and she vowed to do all she could to win her husband back.

Amore e Psiche (1707–09) by Giuseppe Crespi: Lychnomancy, a form of divination or spirit conjuring, is thought to be represented here in Psyche’s use of the lamp to see the god.

Psyche, with great bravery, approached Aphrodite and asked her how she could win her husband back. Aphrodite decided to torment her and set her four tasks. If Psyche could complete these tasks, then she would help her to become reconciled with Cupid. She was able to accomplish the first three tasks, thanks to her ingenuity, but the last task was by far the most challenging.
Aphrodite asked Psyche to descend to the underworld and to retrieve Persephone’s special beauty ointment. This was an impossible task for any mortal. However, Psyche went to a speaking tower who told her how to evade Charon and Cerberus and enter the realm of the dead, unscathed. The voice from the tower also told her how to approach Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld. She was successful and she managed to get the magical cream. Psyche became curious and wondered what the cream would do for her—would it make her perfect?  She opened the box, and when she did, she immediately fell into a deathlike slumber. Cupid heard of this and he immediately went to help his beloved.
Marriage of Cupid and Psyche
Cupid flew to Zeus, or in Latin sources, Jupiter in Olympus, and asked him to intervene. Zeus convened an assembly of the Gods and they decided that Aphrodite had been too harsh. Zeus agreed to bring Psyche back to life and allow her to enter Olympus and drink ambrosia, which made her immortal. Psyche became a Goddess and she and her husband had a daughter, Voluptas, who became the God of Pleasure. The marriage of Psyche and Cupid became a favorite topic of Classical and later Renaissance artists.

Voluptas is pictured with her parents, Cupid and Psyche, at far right in Banquet of Amor and Psyche by Giulio Romano.

The meaning of the myth
It is widely believed that the myth is an allegory. Psyche was regarded as the personification of the soul. Many believe that it shows how the soul can fall to its death by engaging in sexual love, represented by Cupid. The moral of the story was believed to be the dangers of excessive passion and sexuality. There are other interpretations of the myth. One is that it represents the story of the soul’s death and resurrection, which is central to the Mystery Religions of the Ancient Greeks, such as Orphism.
The influence of the story of Psyche and Cupid
The myth was adapted by many poets and writers. The story inspired many writers to compose romantic love stories. The elements of the myth, the separation of young lovers and their eventual reunification, was repeated in countless love stories. In this way, the myth has been crucial in the construction of modern ideas about romantic love.
The myth is an unusual one, in that it has a happy ending and celebrates romantic love. It is almost certainly an allegory related to the fate of the soul. This fable was important as it greatly influenced romantic literature and these works have changed the way we understand human love and romance.

Deimos, A Most Terrifying God

by May 6, 2020

Written by Katherine Kennedy, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
In the immortal words from the musical Grease, ‘I got chills, they’re multiplying, and I’m losing control…’ and if you’ve ever experienced that sensation, then you’ve met the god of terror.
That skittering chill, which runs the length of your spine, and the gut-wrenching sense of dread which fills you; those sensations are what the ancients believed to be the influence of ‘Deimos’.
But who is this god? How and why did his influence cause humans to lose their minds? To understand this, we must look at Deimos’ parentage and who his siblings were…

Breeding Fear

Deimos was the twin brother of Phobos, both born to Ares and Aphrodite, and grandson to the Olympian god Zeus, and the goddesses Dione and Hera. Deimos’ name translates into English as ‘dread’. Thus, together with his twin, they are ‘dread’ and ‘fear’, making them harbingers of terror.

Aphrodite, Ares and infants Eros and Phobos, Greco-Roman fresco from Pompeii C1st A.D., Naples National Archaeological Museum

These terrifying twins had two counterparts; Eris the goddess of strife, and their aunt, the goddess Enyo, the deity of war and bloodshed. Together, the four would accompany Ares as attendants on the battlefield, striking at the combatants to increase the thrill of battle and blood to be spilled.

Ancient and Classical Influence

Deimos is described as riding along in Ares’ chariot with his brother, as the gods of war took their place on the ancient battlefields in mythology. Deimos is also repeatedly mentioned in the Iliad, where he is described as:
“So he [Ares] spoke, and ordered Deimos (Fear) and Phobos (Terror) to harness his horses, and himself got into his shining armour.” – Homer, Iliad 15. 119 ff
“Also Kytherea (Cytherea) [Aphrodite] bare to Ares the shield-piercer Phobos (Panic) and Deimos (Fear), terrible gods who drive in disorder the close ranks of men in numbing war, with the help of Ares, sacker of towns.” – Hesiod, Theogony 933 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.)
Deimos’ notoriety held throughout civilization and history and the Romans adopted the gods, known as Formido or Metus.
You can also see Deimos’s presence at the monument to Leonidas, at Sparta and Thermopylae, where the king holds onto his shield with its depiction of the god. The god of terror is portrayed with wide eyes and a great bearded-mouth seeking to devour all; an image that would strike fear into the hearts of all mortal men.

On the monument to the Battle of Thermopylae, Leonidas

Deimos Today

Although the ancient gods are distant memories for many of us, Deimos’ influence can still be seen in our world today. He is included as a half-brother to Rick Riordan’s Clarisse La Rue in the popular Percy Jackson series.
The god is also seen in the animated movie Wonder Woman, where he commits suicide after refusing to reveal the location of his father, Ares, to Wonder Woman.
We also see Deimos in the popular TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and Xena: Warrior Princess, where he is ultimately slain by Xena. There are many pop-culture uses of his name for characters that exemplify the god’s characteristics.
Finally, Deimos is the name of one of the twin moons that orbit the planet Mars, named by Asaph Hall, after the god and his twin.


Deimos, although a lesser-known god, certainly has had a lasting impact on our world. His influence can be felt by those courting an adrenalin rush, or for others as a sense of foreboding before a disaster.

Phobos, Ares-Mars and Nike, Greco-Roman mosaic from Orbe C3rd A.D., Roman Villa of Orbe-Boscéaz

It’s interesting to remember that wherever Deimos is, his twin brother will be too. The god Phobos uses his skills to strike fear in all, and together they wield great power to coerce men to act irrationally.
At this time, of a global pandemic, we see the twin’s work; stockpiling of goods, anger and rage, fear and aggression towards others. We must be ever vigilant against these tendencies, and remember that it could well be these gods toying with our minds for their own amusement and vanity.

The Myth of Atlas: Holding up the Heavens

by April 29, 2020

Written by Edward Whelan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Many of us are familiar with stories from the Greek myths. However, our knowledge of them is often imperfect. Many of us hear the story of Atlas, the Titan, but few of us know the full story.  The story of Atlas and his fate is one of the most important in all of Classical Antiquity.  There are many variations of the myth of Atlas and some of them are discussed here.
The Origin of Atlas
It is likely that the story was based on a Pelasgian myth, a myth belonging to the original inhabitants of Greece. Most myths relate that Atlas was the son of Iapetus, a Titan. Iapetus was the son of Uranus and Gaia, and one of the divine beings who ruled the world before the reign of the Olympian deities. The identity of Atlas’s mother is not known but it may have been an Ocean nymph.
Atlas was very strong and one of his brothers was Prometheus. In some accounts, he had many children, mainly daughters. The Titan fathered many nymphs including the Hesperides and the Pleiades.  The nymph Calypso, who played an important role in the Odyssey of Homer was also his daughter.

Statue in Paphos, Cyprus, depicting Atlas bearing the celestial globe.

Atlas was to play a very important role in the Titanomachy. This was a ten-year struggle between the old and the new gods in Greek mythology for the control of the cosmos. On one side was Cronus and his family members, known as the Titans, and on the other side were the Olympians, the children of Cronus, led by Zeus.
Atlas sided with the Titans and proved himself to be one of Zeus’s greatest foes. According to the myth, the Olympians feared him greatly. However, in the end, the Olympians were triumphant, and they utterly vanquished the Titans. Zeus imprisoned Cronus and the other Titans in Tartarus, which in Greek mythology is the underworld or hell.
The Punishment of Atlas
The Olympians gods hated and feared Atlas, so they devised a special punishment for him. Zeus condemned Atlas to stand at the western edge of the Earth. He placed the sky on his shoulder and forced him to hold it up for all eternity. Atlas had to use all his might to bear the weight and he suffered greatly.
Fall of the titans

Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem, The Fall of the Titans, 1596-1598

A misconception arose in later centuries that he was condemned to hold up the earth. This was probably a result of Renaissance-era artworks, based on misinterpretations of the original myths. The Greeks, who lived in a pre-scientific age, believed that Atlas held up the sky in the area where modern Morocco is located. Many believe that the Atlas Mountains are named after the mythological figure, so cruelly punished by Zeus.
Other Versions of the Greek myth
Myths are never fixed, and they are constantly changing and growing. There are a number of myths about Atlas. According to Plato, Atlas was the first king of Atlantis, the legendary kingdom. However, Plato’s myth is a political fable and the story of Atlantis was designed to illustrate the political hubris of kingdoms and city-states.
Another well-known story involving Atlas appears in Ovid. In this, he is a king in a distant land and is visited by the great hero Perseus, who was a son of Zeus. When Atlas heard this, he grew fearful as he was told a prophecy that a son of Zeus would kill him. Thus, he refused Perseus hospitality, which was a serious transgression in Greek culture. Perseus, in retaliation, turned Atlas into a huge block of stone or a mountain. This is believed to have been an origin myth that explained the origin of the Atlas Mountains.
Atlas mountains

View of the saddle under Jebel Toubkal (3,940 m or 12,930 ft elevation), from the final ridge

In another myth, Hercules, for one of his labours, had to steal the golden apples in Hera’s Garden. This was guarded by Atlas’ daughters. Hercules asked Atlas to steal the apples and in return, he would hold up the sky for him, for a period of time. Atlas kept his word and stole the apples. In one version of the myth a grateful Hercules built the ‘Pillars of Hercules,’ and these were used to hold up the heavens and free the Titan. In another version of the myth, Atlas tried to trick Hercules into holding up the sky permanently, but the hero was too cleaver and escaped.
Atlas, the First Astronomer
Possibly, because of Atlas’s association with the heavens, he was widely regarded as the first astronomer. In some myths, he is the inventor of the first celestial sphere or body and other astronomical instruments.
The Legacy of Atlas
The myth of Atlas is an enduring one. The popularity of the myth can be seen in its continuing influence. It is widely believed that the name of the Atlantic Ocean is derived from the name of the Titan. This is because his mythical kingdom of Atlantis was located in this great body of water.

Athanasius Kircher’s map of Atlantis, placing it in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, from Mundus Subterraneus 1669, published in Amsterdam. The map is oriented with south at the top.

In the 17th century, cartographers were mapping the world. The great cartographer Gerardus Mercator  (1512-1594) published a collection of maps and he named it in honor of the Titan. Hence, the name for a book of maps is Atlas.
The story of Atlas is one that still fascinates people and remains popular. The story of the Titan was used by the Greeks to explain why the sky was able to stay in place as well as the origin of astronomy. He also played an important role in other myths including that of Atlantis. The figure of the Titan holding up the sky or earth is one that is very influential and has inspired many artists.

A Tale of Zeus as a Goose

by April 8, 2020

Written by Danielle Alexander, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
The night sky inspires awe in most who gaze upon it. Our modern perspectives give us a dim shadow of the spectacular sprinkle of stars that litter the midnight sky, a logical lens limiting the imagination. Sometimes, people will cloud gaze and point out images they see amongst the fluffy white water, but I rarely hear those doing the same to the sky.
The constellation of the big bird was mused upon for millennia, and there are many a tale of its’ origin. From the early Mesopotamians to the Romans, this noticeable constellation flies along the Milky Way, away from the North Pole. This northern hemisphere constellation culminates at the end of July.
Ancient Greek Astronomy
Humans have a natural urge to identify familiar things amongst the twinkling stars of that mysterious abyss above us. These narratives were built from astronomical observations and ancient time tracking. The studying of the sky began long before the earliest Greek sources that (sparsely) discuss them, Homer and Hesiod. The star group narratives adapted per response to generational pressures through time, and they likely developed during the transition from oral to written transmission, but to what extent is unknown.

Cygnus Constellation (Artwork from Cornelius 2005:75)

Even though the Greeks were late to the constellation conversation (500 BC), and received a lot of their knowledge from their Eastern neighbours, they introduced the word ‘katasterismos’ or catasterism; the process of being set in the heavens. Despite knowing many constellations, for navigation and indication of seasonal change, many extravagant mythic connections were added later.
Today, there are 88 constellations officially defined by the International Astronomical Union, and many of them have been accepted since Ptolemy’s The Almagest (A.D 150). Constellations originate in older lands, created by the Mesopotamians between 1300-1000 BC, but the Greek astral mythos canon was solidified by Eratosthenes, in a work now lost to us.
This large Bird of thirteen stars is featured within various ancient constellation charts, but it was the Greeks who granted it the name ‘Kyknos’ or Swan. Hygnius notes within The Mythology that many are ignorant to its’ tale and so they misname it ‘Ornis’, referring to birds in general and it was often seen as a goose, before the swan association. However, this not-so-friendly, starry anserine is associated with Apollo and Zeus. For Apollo, the swan is sacred to him because his soul resides within it. How wonderfully poetic! Yet, this is not the story associated with the stars…
the swan

Pottery: red-figured bell-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water) with Apollo riding on a swan, accompanied by two women (perhaps Muses) and a satyr. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Zeus has an eggcellent ploy
Zeus was relentless in pursuing his lust-fueled love for Nemesis. The goddess, desperate to keep her chastity and escape his affections, had transformed into different animals (including fish and beaver) before transforming into a swan and flying to Rhamnous, Attica.
The insatiable king of the gods could not take the hint. He shadowed her transformations and trailed her flight, eventually besting the goddess. Some claim that this unwanted union was received as birds, whereas others claim the goddess had returned to normal form.
Nemesis had allowed a swan to rest upon her lap, taking pity in its plea for protection against an eagle. Not knowing the swan’s true identity, she thinks it safe to rest. Zeus, seizing the opportunity, ‘seduced’ the sleeping goddess and escaped.
In his bid to fly away, he did not change form when ascending to the heavens and was spotted by mortals below, who exclaimed at the new image amongst the stars. Zeus had to adhere to their claims to avoid being caught, especially by his constantly jilted and vengeful wife, Hera. Another source states that he placed the imagery of the flying birds in the sky to commemorate the occasion, but this seems particularly ruthless and foolish on Zeus’ part.
The Swan

Leda and the Swan, Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640)

Consequently, Nemesis produced a hyacinth-coloured egg. Swift-footed Hermes swept the egg off to Sparta and plonked it into the lap of Leda. It is said by Cratinos that it was she who had the face that launched a thousand ships, Helen, who emerged – certainly not an ugly duckling. So, Leda welcomed the matrilineal ruse and claimed it was she who had been unwillingly seduced by Zeus. The older tales state Nemesis undergoes multiple metamorphoses before the consummation occurs in the form of geese, and firmly identifies her as the mother of Helen.
The newer tales describe two eggs for Helen and Dioscuri, the ‘sons of god’, Castor and Pollux (or sometimes Polydeuces). It seems that this twin birth correlates with the Leda myth. Leda’s swan story begins with a bath in the river Eurotas, rudely interrupted by Zeus. Consequently, she lay with her husband, King Tyndareus of Sparta, the same night.
This causes debate on the boys’ divine parentage. Furthermore, academia questions Leda’s relation to Leto, mother of Apollo and Artemis. This creates a round connection for this myth, and Helen’s place within it remains undebated.
Quite often sources state one narrative, or the other, or both, and it is presumed that the confusion could be divided slightly if you consider Leda’s mortality; she could not transform and so must lay with Zeus as a mortal whereas Nemesis had the capability and did so. Eratosthenes, who determined the bird constellations origin lay in the swan sexcapades of Zeus, sourced Cratinos, a 5th century BC Athenian. This poet wrote the lost comedy play, Nemesis, when the impressive sanctuary at the cultic centre of Nemesis, Rhamnous, had been freshly rebuilt.
Nemesis and Arno

Nemesis and Arno, Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844): Nemesis Recording Deeds and the God of the River Arno. The Thorvaldsen Museum, Copenhagen.

The goddess Nemesis underwent slight metamorphoses throughout her time as a goddess. Originally, her name meant fortune, neither good nor bad. Eventually, to the Greeks, her name meant ‘dispenser of dues’ and the Romans referred to her as Invidia, or Rivalitas, Jealousy and Jealous Rivalry respectively. By Imperial Rome, she was honoured in the glorified, gory gladiatorial games.
Born as a daughter of Nyx (or sometimes Erebus or Oceanus), she bore her children with the titan Tartarus, of the Great Pit. Nemesis is the personification of the fear of culpable consequence; her actions restore the equilibrium that is dislodged by Tyche (Fortune) or enforce justice, judged by her verdicts and quite often against those guilty of hubris.
First epigraphic evidence of Nemesis emerges from Lemnos in 499BC as an inscription on a bronze helmet. This Rhamnousian act of piety was likely connected to the Nemeseia, the athletic games dedicated to the goddess at Lemnos – not to be confused with a different Nemeseia, a festival for the dead told to us by Demosthenes.

Justice (Dike, on the left) and Divine Vengeance (Nemesis, right) are pursuing the criminal murderer. By Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, 1808

Worship of her was widespread, and in Adrastus, Patrae and Cyzicus she was honoured as a divine virgin aside her traits of retribution. She was often depicted with an apple and a wheel, or scales and whip/axe/sword and a gryphon-pulled chariot. This imagery is visible from a statue at Rhamnous in Attica, the most famous of her cultic centres, of which was said to resemble Aphrodite in likeness, albeit more serious. This statue rested its left hand on the branch of an apple tree, clasped a patera in its’ right hand and, placed on the head, was a stag-adorned crown.
Her sanctuary at Rhamnous, on the north eastern coast of Attica, was built between 460-420 BC. It seems likely that the architect who designed it also created the Hephaesteum and temple of Ares in Athens and another temple of similar design at Sunium. Due to its’ mild size, the cost of construction was kept minimal and local materials were sourced in. Unfortunately, it was never finished, and the steps outside remained unsmoothed.
The sanctuary was located near to the temple of Themis, providing a union with the pair. This is understandable, when considering Greek culture, for both have chthonic associations and represent divine justice – albeit contrastingly.
The Romans reconstructed the temple and appointed it to Livia, the third wife of Augustus and mother to Tiberius, after her deification as Diva Drusilla. It’s believed that Rhamnous was the locale of her association due to the sanctuary’s prior connection to vengeance against eastern enemies. Unfortunately, the temple was destroyed once more in antiquity. The remains are in good condition today.
Temple of Nemesis

Temple of Nemesis at Rhamnous, today. Photo by Warwick University.

Chasing those swan tales
It is claimed by Robert Graves in The Greek Myths that this myth reflects the conflicts of ancient Cretan and Hellenic ideologies and politics, and mirrors other trickeries pulled by Zeus in other myths. Yet this myth has been carried on the whispered winds from the ancient lands of Mesopotamia.
They called the star cluster Urakhga and its mythos comes down to us in the Arabic, Rukh, represented by Roc in the legend of Sinbad. This is the story of Sinbad discovering a ginormous egg, clinging onto it when its mother carries it to the Valley of Diamonds to return home with untold riches.
Also, within the region, and told by Hyginus, the swan egg dropped like a tear from the moon into the flowing Euphrates where it was guided to safety by fish and nursed to hatching by doves. From this egg, the goddess of Love emerged. This is eerily like the story of Aphrodite, wouldn’t you say?
Within Serbian belief, swans are the manifestations of water spirits (vilas) whereas, in Hindu myth, the sacred swan birthed the cosmic egg and is sacred to Brahma. Similarly, the Egyptians had a tale of the great, life-giving celestial honker!
Leda and the swan

An ancient fresco depicting the mythical rape of Leda by Zeus in swan form was unearthed in a bedroom of a house under excavation in Pompeii, Italy.Credit…Cesare Abbate/Pompeii Archaeological Park, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

It makes one wonder how such changes in the narrative arises from cultures who were communicating – what was it about the socio-political environment that caused the story to be told that way? In our Grecian version, Nemesis distributes her retribution to Zeus through the chaos of the Trojan War, started by the kidnapping of their offspring, Helen. Here, the honking of a bonking swan does not represent cosmic life energy, but rather the reaping of wrath that leads to legendary destruction.

Aeolus: Keeper of the Winds

by February 19, 2020

Written by Jocelyn Hitchcock, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
In Greek mythology the name Aeolus pops up in reference to three different characters: Aeolus, the son of Hippotes, and keeper of the winds; Aeolus, the half-human son of Poseidon; and Aeolus, the son of Hellen (not the Helen of the Trojan War, but a mortal ruler who is the legendary ancestor of the “Hellenic” people) and a nymph Orseis, who’s wife gave birth to a daughter, Arnes, who is said to have given birth herself to the Aeolus of Poseidon.
While the Aeolus of the Odyssey is clearly the god of the winds, later Roman writers such as Ovid conflate the Aeolus’ together. It’s all very confusing, but it wouldn’t be Greek mythology if it weren’t!
Here, we’re going to focus on Aeolus, the keeper of the winds, as he appears most prominent in myths of Odysseus and the larger Greek mythological universe. Aeolus, or Aiolos, was said to reside on the floating island of Aiolia/Aeolia.
In geographic terms, Aeolus is an area in the west and northwestern region of present day Turkey, along the coast, including the offshore islands. Instead of a specific island, the Aeolic region is one of shared cultural and linguistic traits. The island of Aeolia itself, where Aeolus was said to reside, has not been identified and itself is mythological.
Juno and Aeolus

Juno asking Aeolus to release the winds, by François Boucher, 1769, Kimbell Art Museum.

The power of Aeolus rested in his control and desires of the winds. According to myth, Kronion or Zeus had made Aeolus ‘warden’ of the winds, so that at his pleasure he could order them to rise or fall or shift, whatever suited him.
He kept the violent storm winds locked away inside a cavern on the island, only releasing them upon order of one of the greatest gods. Aeolus knew of their power and knew he held the potential to wreak havoc on the world.
Appearance in the Odyssey
In the Odyssey, book 10, Odysseus describes the island as “a floating one,” and with a “wall of bronze, unbreakable, and rock[s rising] sheer above it.” Odysseus claims that Aeolus has 12 children living in his palace, six daughters and six sons, all paired off to one another.
“Then to the Aeolian isle we came, where dwelt Aeolus, son of Hippotas, dear to the immortal gods, in a floating island, and all around it is a wall of unbreakable bronze, and the cliff runs up sheer.”
According to the epic, Aeolus welcomed Odysseus and his men for a month, offering hospitality and encouraging Odysseus to relay the story of Ilium and the Argives. When it was time for Odysseus and his men to begin on their way again, Odysseus asked for help from the god of the winds, with Aeolus granting Odysseus a bag made of ox hide, filled with every wind that blows, regardless of the direction.
Aelous giving the winds

Aeolus Giving the Winds to Odysseus by Isaac Moillon, (1614 – 1673).

To this, Aeolus placed the bag in Odysseus’ ship hold, “tied with a glittering silver cord,” and gave the westward wind instruction to blow alone, carrying Odysseus and his men home.
“But when I, on my part, asked him that I might depart and bade him send me on my way, he, too, denied me nothing, but furthered my sending. He gave me a wallet, made of the hide of an ox nine years old, which he flayed, and therein he bound the paths of the blustering winds; for the son of Cronos had made him keeper of the winds, both to still and to rouse whatever one he will. And in my hollow ship he bound it fast with a bright cord of silver, that not a breath might escape, were it never so slight. But for my furtherance he sent forth the breath of the West Wind to blow, that it might bear on their way both ships and men. Yet this he was not to bring to pass, for we were lost through our own folly.”
It wouldn’t be the Odyssey, though, if there wasn’t some snap in the plan. Odysseus himself claimed that it was their own “folly” that ruined them. According to the epic, the ship was in sight of their land on the 10th day sailing from Aeolus. They could see the fires of their shores.
However, the crew, positive that Odysseus was bringing home riches from Aeolus, opened the bag of winds to see for themselves. At this, the winds rushed out all at once and hurled the ship back to the open waters and to the shores of Aeolus once again.
Cave of winds

Odysseus in the Cave of the Winds by Stradanus (possibly 1590-1599)

When the keeper of the winds questioned Odysseus as to why they had returned, Odysseus admitted it was the result of his foolish crew. Aeolus said he was forsaken by the gods and banished him from the island, without any further help.
“`How hast thou come hither, Odysseus? What cruel god assailed thee? Surely we sent thee forth with kindly care, that thou mightest reach thy native land and thy home, and whatever place thou wouldest.’
“So said they [Aeolus with his wife and children], but I with a sorrowing heart spoke among them and said: `Bane did my evil comrades work me, and therewith sleep accursed; but bring ye healing, my friends, for with you is the power.’
“So I spoke and addressed them with gentle words, but they were silent. Then their father answered and said: `Begone from our island with speed, thou vilest of all that live. In no wise may I help or send upon his way that man who is hated of the blessed gods. Begone, for thou comest hither as one hated of the immortals.’”
Artistic depictions of Aeolus were not very popular, perhaps due to the muddled nature of the three Aeolus’, or perhaps due to the more attractive subjects of greater gods and stories. Roman and Sicilian renderings of Aeolus show a male face with the lips blowing at the earth, a tree, the ocean, etc. More paintings and drawings of Aeolus became common during the Renaissance, but still they are not copious.
After all, the wind isn’t something you see, it’s something you feel. And no painting can capture the power of the god of the winds!

Asclepius: Modern Medicine in Ancient Times

by February 12, 2020

Written by Jocelyn Hitchcock, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Medicine may often seem like a miracle. People are quick to praise god and marvel at the outcome of the doctor’s skill and training, with families often turning to hope of divine intervention of a higher power to save their loved one. This is not new to the modern age—nor should this come as a surprise.
Throughout history, the skill of doctors and their results have often been touted as the work of gods, or even magic depending on the healer and the time. And, just like today, entire cultures and regimes grew out of the notion of medicine and healing; just take a look at the ancient Greeks.
Asclepius, while not often depicted in common Greek receptions, is undoubtedly one of the more important of the gods and demigods. As the god of medicine, Greeks would find themselves lifting up sacrifice and prayer to him at one point or another. He was the son of Apollo and Coronis, with Apollo himself being the god of healing, plagues, and prophecy (amongst other things, of course).
Asclepius’ birth was traumatic, with Apollo killing Coronis for being unfaithful to him. As she was thrown on the funeral pyre, myth has it, Apollo realized she was pregnant and cut Asclepius from her womb. From there, Apollo took the baby to a centaur, Chiron, who raised him and taught him the art of medicine and healing.

The extraction of Asclepius from the abdomen of his mother Coronis by his father Apollo. Woodcut from the 1549 edition of Alessandro Beneditti’s De Re Medica.

His marriage to Epione, the goddess of soothing, made their union and offspring particularly suited to cover the ailments of the Greek world. Together they had five daughters and three sons. One of these was Hygieia, the goddess of health and cleanliness, and the source for our word ‘hygiene.’
Amongst Asclepius’ powers was the ability to heal all humans, even the dying and dead. His ability to help humans cheat death, or even resurrect them, enraged Hades, who didn’t like to see souls leaving his realm. Hades then went to Zeus to gripe about this, and Zeus took on the feud as his own, angered himself that Asclepius did not ask permission to revive the dead. To this end, Zeus struck down Asclepius with a thunderbolt and placed his body in the sky.
Asclepius’ symbol is a staff with a serpent wrapped around it. If this depiction sounds familiar, it’s because it is. This symbol adorns most ambulances and pharmacies, as well as hospitals. However, it’s also common to see a staff with two serpents entwined around it, the Caduceus staff, which is most closely related to Hermes and not Asclepius.
In ancient art, Asclepius is portrayed in sculpture, pottery, mosaics, and coins. He is shown with a full beard, his staff, and a simple himation (an outer garment worn by the ancient Greeks over the left shoulder and under the right.). Since the honoring of Asclepius attracted patrons from all over the Greek world, his presence in art throughout the city states and regions is quite common and uniform.

Asclepius with his serpent-entwined staff, Archaeological Museum of Epidaurus.

One of the most famous temples of Asclepius is found at Epidaurus, originally founded in the 6th century BCE but with most of the buildings now dating to the 4th century BCE. This sprawling sanctuary worked to cater to the needs of any of the ill and feeble.
The Sanctuary of Asclepius at Epidaurus is a UNESCO world heritage center and is located in a valley in the Peloponnese. In the sanctuary is a theater and tholos (a large ceremonial tomb) dating to the 4th century, hospital buildings, hotel style convalescent buildings, baths, libraries, and sports arenas.
The columned Abato, or Enkoimeterion, building was designed for overnight visitors, after they had gone through a series of purification rituals. In their dreams, Asclepius was to appear to them and offer insight to cures and remedies for their ailments, to later be administered and carried out by themselves or priests. At the temples and for sacrifices, small replicas of the injured body parts (like feet or arms) would be offered to the god during sacrifice with a prayer lifted up asking for healing and attention.
The theater at Epidaurus is said to be one of the best of its kind, the acoustics shocking visitors even today. In the summer, you can still catch plays and concerts put on for the public.