2021.03.20 | By Gregory Nagy §0. I focus here on a moment in history when the traveler Pausanias, who lived in the second century CE, visited the proud old city of Orkhomenos in the region of Boeotia. As we read in his report of that visit, he took a special interest in the traditional myths and rituals of the city’s inhabitants concerning goddesses worshipped there as the three Kharites or… Read more
Envisioning Aphrodite inside the living wood of a myrtle tree
2021.02.20 | By Gregory Nagy §0. I have long admired what I would call the anthropological insights of Euripides into aetiologies, that is, into myths referring directly to rituals that frame these myths. Of course the very idea of linking anthropology with the poetry of Euripides is quite inaccurate in its anachronism, but the actual insights of this poet into the interweavings of myth and ritual—as anthropologists today tend to… Read more
2020.08.14 | By Gregory Nagy §0. The picture I show for the lead illustration of this essay is a close-up of the face of a dying Amazon. She is Penthesileia, daughter of the war-god Ares. The close-up comes from an ancient Athenian vase painting that pictures this Amazon at the moment of her death, killed by the hero Achilles, with whom she is engaged in mortal combat, one-on-one. And, at… Read more
2020.07.10 | By Gregory Nagy §0. I have run into a problem in trying to come up with an adequate translation of Pausanias when he talks about the Eleusinian Mysteries. Part of the problem, I think, is that Pausanias himself is mystifying in his language about the Mysteries. He seems guarded about giving the impression that he is in any way about to reveal to his readers whatever was periodically… Read more
A variation on the theme of Athena: The Palladium, as viewed by Pausanias on the Acropolis of Athens
2020.06.19 | By Gregory Nagy §0. This excursus is a commentary on a passage in Pausanias, 1.28.9, where our traveler, while visiting the Acropolis of Athens, refers to a statue of the goddess Athena there. He is referring in this case not to Athena Parthénos, that is, to Athena the ‘Virgin’, who was housed in the Parthenon. Nor is he referring here to Athena Poliás, that is, to Athena as… Read more
2020.06.12 | By Gregory Nagy §0. At the very beginning of the Description of Greece as narrated by Pausanias (1.1.1), when the ship carrying our traveler approaches the east side of the akrā or ‘headland’ of Sounion, he must have been struck by the view of a magnificent temple situated at the highest point of the headland—a temple that archaeologists have identified as sacred to the god Poseidon, lord of… Read more
About some kind of an epiphany as pictured in Minoan glyptic art, and about its relevance to a myth as retold by Pausanias
2020.05.29 | By Gregory Nagy §0. In this posting, I start by showing a sketch of a picture carved into a gold signet ring originating from the palace at Knossos in Crete and dating from the Late Minoan era. The sketch, in line with conventions followed nowadays by archaeologists, flips the right-to-left orientation pictured on the signet ring itself, so as to show the picture that the ring would make… Read more
2020.05.22, rewritten 2020.05.23 | By Gregory Nagy §0. In the previous posting, Classical Inquiries 2020.05.15, I highlighted details that I described as signatures of a Minoan-Mycenaean phase in the evolution of the figure known in classical and post-classical times as Athena. In that posting, I concentrated on the ancient acropolis of a city by the name of Phrixa(i) in the region of Triphylia in the Peloponnesus. When Pausanias, who lived… Read more
2020.05.15 | By Gregory Nagy §0. In the previous posting, Classical Inquiries 2020.05.08, I noted the obvious fact that the acropolis of Athens was not at all the only such place that was sacred to the goddess Athena, and that the traveler Pausanias, who lived in the second century CE, visited a wide variety of other places that were likewise sacred, each in its own way, to goddesses likewise named… Read more
Questions while viewing Greek myths and rituals through the lens of Pausanias, IV: Is Athena, viewed theologically, a person?
2020.05.08 | By Gregory Nagy §0. In the previous posting, Classical Inquiries 2020.05.01, I asked this question: is “Athena” the name of a person or of a place? And my answer was: “Athena” is the name of a place that we know as Athens. I backed up that answer by arguing against the assumption that the city of Athens was named after a goddess who was already named “Athena”. Rather,… Read more
Questions while viewing Greek myths and rituals through the lens of Pausanias, III: Is “Athena” the name of a person or of a place?
2020.05.01 | By Gregory Nagy §0. In asking myself whether the Greek proper noun Athḗnē is the name of a person, that is, the goddess known to us as Athena, or the name of a place, that is, the city known to us as Athens, I venture into a way of thinking about the goddess and her city that has never occurred to me before. In all my research till… Read more
Questions while viewing Greek myths and rituals through the lens of Pausanias, II: In Mycenaean times, was Athena a goddess who was worshipped only…
2020.04.24 | By Gregory Nagy §0. In classical Athenian visual art, we find representations of the goddess Athena in the act of conveying the hero Hēraklēs to Olympus in her chariot, as we see in the illustration that I have chosen as the cover for this essay. At first sight, it seems as if such an Athenian visualization of the hero’s apotheosis derives from an exclusively Athenian myth: after all,… Read more
Questions while viewing Greek myths and rituals through the lens of Pausanias, I: Did Athena, goddess of Athens, belong only to the Athenians?
2020.04.17, rewritten 2020.04.23 | By Gregory Nagy §0. In conversations about the ancient world, my sorely-missed friend Emily Vermeule was fond of asking this rhetorical question: in Mycenaean times, was Athena a goddess who was worshipped only in Athens? And there can be variations on such a theme. For example, I have an underlying question, formulated from a diachronic point of view. That is to say, I have a question… Read more
2020.04.10 | By Gregory Nagy §0. My essay here concentrates on myths about two Greek goddesses and on their roles as mothers or would-be mothers: (A) The first goddess is Hērā in her role as mother or would-be mother of a serpentine Titan by the name of Typhon, alternatively called Typhoeus, who is destined to become a most dangerous threat to the sovereignty of Zeus. (B) The second goddess is… Read more
2020.04.03 | By Gregory Nagy §0. In a previous essay, Classical Inquiries 2020.03.20, I highlighted some ancient artwork picturing the hero Hēraklēs being breast-fed by the goddess Hērā after he was brought back to life after death. In the present essay, I will analyze the mythological background, showing that the ultimate benevolence of Hērā toward Hēraklēs, as manifested in the act of breast-feeding, had to be preceded by the malevolence… Read more
Thinking comparatively about Greek mythology XVIII, a post-Mycenaean view of Hēraklēs as founder of the Olympics
2019.11.27 | By Gregory Nagy §0. For my brief essay here, TC XVIII in Classical Inquiries, I return to a point I made in an earlier essay, TC V §§4–10, where I highlighted a remarkable sequence of events narrated in the Library of “Apollodorus,” dated to the second century CE, in the course of an overall narrative about the life and times of the hero Hēraklēs. According to this narrative… Read more
Thinking comparatively about Greek mythology XVII, with placeholders that stem from a conversation with Tom Palaima, starting with this question: was Hēraklēs a Dorian?
2019.11.15 | By Gregory Nagy §0. On a most memorable day, 2019.11.08, a special event took place at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, DC. The event, organized by Rachele Pierini, a current Fellow at the Center, was a far-ranging informal conversation about any and all things Mycenaean. The participants, besides the organizer, included a genial guest who was visiting the Center, Thomas G. Palaima; also participating were Roger… Read more
Thinking comparatively about Greek mythology XVI, with a focus on Dorians led by kingly ‘sons’ of Hēraklēs the kingmaker
2019.11.08 | By Gregory Nagy §0. In the logic of ancient Greek myths centering on the hero Hēraklēs, as we have seen cumulatively in the series of essays bearing the title “Thinking comparatively about Greek Mythology” (“TC” I through XVI so far), this hero is always pictured as a kingmaker, never as a king. But what about the sons of Hēraklēs? I ask such a question in view of the… Read more
2019.10.11 | By Gregory Nagy §0. The glory days of Tiryns, a stronghold that once controlled access to Mycenae from the sea, came to an end toward the end of the second millennium BCE, that is, around the same time that marked the collapse of the Mycenaean Empire. But the splendidly massive stone walls of the “palace” at Tiryns endured well after that time, throughout the first millennium BCE and… Read more
2019.08.15 | By Gregory Nagy §0. As I have argued in the posting for 2019.07.26, “Thinking comparatively about Greek mythology I” (hereafter TC I), the myths about the Greek hero Hēraklēs and the Scandinavian hero Starkaðr are cognate, verbalized in cognate languages belonging to a language-family known to linguists as “Indo-European.” Viewed in this light, the term “Indo-European” can be applied not only with reference to cognate language-groupings like Greek… Read more
2019.08.02 | By Gregory Nagy §0. In the posting for 2019.07.26, I argued that the role of the Greek hero Hēraklēs as a boxer was cognate with the role of the Scandinavian hero Starkaðr as, likewise, a boxer. In using the term “cognate,” I was saying, in effect, that the myths about Hēraklēs as transmitted in the Greek language and the myths about Starkaðr / “Starcatherus” as originally transmitted in… Read more
2019.04.19 | By Gregory Nagy §0.This posting, written 2019.04.19, picks up from where I left off in Classical Inquiries 2019.03.22, rewritten 2019.04.17. In the last paragraph of that posting, I focused on a myth that told about a defeat of the Centaurs, beastly hominoids who were half horse, half man. Such a mythological event is pictured in the sculptures of the west pediment of the temple of Zeus in Olympia,… Read more
2019.03.22, rewritten 2019.04.17; further rewritten 2019.07.20 | By Gregory Nagy §0. I have by now lost count of how many times in my life I have visited the Museum at Olympia. And I cannot keep track of knowing what different things I remembered to view, or forgot to view, each time I was there. But there is one thing I know for sure as I look back on it all:… Read more