Monday, 31 March 2014

The Lemnian Gods

The Lemnian Gods

The Muses: tellers of stories and makers of memories

Gaia and Ouranos had a daughter called Mnemosyne, a goddess whose name means ‘Memory’. She was the mother of the nine Muses. All of them were skilled singers, and dancers. Together with the Graces they would lead processions to Mount Olympus.

Their names were,

Kleo, ‘the giver of fame’; she was also the mistress of history.
Euterpe, ‘the giver of joy’; she was the mistress of the flute.
Thalia, ‘the festive’; she was associated with comedy.
Melpomene, ‘the singer’ was the muse of elegies and tragedy.
Terpsichore, ‘she who enjoys dancing’; was known for her skill on the lyre. Earato, ‘the awakener of desire’, was known as goddess of dance.
Polymnia, ‘she of many hymns’, was connected with story-telling.
Kalliope, ‘she of the beautiful voice’, was associated with heroic song. Urania, ‘the heavenly’, was the muse for astronomy.

Hephaestus – the god who lived in Lemnos 

Hephaestus was the god of fire and iron. He was born deformed ugly and bad tempered. He was thrown out of heaven by his mother Hera. Nine years later he was brought back after she discovered how skilled he was at making jewellery. She arranged for him to marry Aphrodite. But then, by siding with Hera in an argument, he angered Zeus who again threw him out from Mount Olympus. This time he landed in Lemnos on Mount Mosichlos, breaking both legs. He had very little life in him, but the islanders nursed him and helped him set up a metalworking smithy there. He was later pardoned and restored as an Olympian, but he could only walk with golden leg-supports. /

The Sinties, the island’s first inhabitants who lived nearby in Poliochni, looked after him and in return Hephaestus taught the Sinties to work in metal.

One time Hephaistos was ordered by Zeus to make a clay model of a woman. After the four winds had breathed life into her and all the goddesses of Olympus adorned Pandora was very beautiful, however she was also foolish, mischievous. She was given a great vessel with a lid on it, and told not to open it, but Pandora was curious and she opened the lid of the great vessel. Out flew all the spites of mankind which were hidden there. Many horrors escaped, such as Old Age, Labor, Sickness, Insanity, Vice. Gloom and Death. These ills stung Pandora and then spread out upon the earth. Pandora tried to replace the lid quickly, but when she did only hope was left inside. Yet this is a strange story as the name Pandora can be correctly interpreted as ‘the one rich in gifts’, ‘the all-giving’.

Another time Hephaestus made a throne for his mother but one that magically held her down. The other gods pleaded with Hephaestus to let her go. He did but demanded, as a reward, to be given as a wife Aphrodite. This was against her will.

Aphrodite presented him with three children however the true father of Pheobus, Deimus, and Harmonia was Ares, the straight-limed, impetuous, drunken, and quarrelsome God of War. Hephasestus knew nothing of the deception until, on night, the lovers stayed too long together in bed at Ares’s Tracian palace. As Helius, the sun, rose he saw them at their sport and told Hephaestus. Hephaestus then made a snare out of chains that fell over the couple as they made love. He then called the other gods to come and see the couple.

Metalurgy first reached Greece from the Aegean Islands. Lemnos is a volcanic island and it seems a jet of natural asphaltic gas issued from a summit of Mount Moschylus. It had burned steadily for centuries and it was still alight in 1801AD. It was here that Hephaestus set up his smithy. As a Bronze Age metalworker he would have been seen as something of a sorcerer, and his tools, and the weapons and utensils he made would have been seen to have magical qualities. 

It could even have been that in primitive times smiths were purposely lamed to prevent them from running off and joining and helping enemy tribes. (One story told of coinmakers, who used real gold, was that the gold was measured exactly, and if there was any weight loss the smith had his hand cut off. )

Aphrodite – the wife of Hephaestus

The goddess of love, Aphrodite, was born in Cythera. In Cythera she rose naked from the foam of the sea riding on a scallop shell. When she came ashore grass and flowers spring from the soil wherever she trod, and wherever she went sparrows and doves accompanied her. Finding Cythera only a small island she passed on through the Peloponese to Crete, and eventually took up residence at Paphos, in Cyprus.

The ancient Minoan Civilisation of Greece centred in Crete is where many of the legends of the Greek islands find their source. The great and colourful Minoan city-state spread its trading tentacles far and wide around that part of the Mediterranean, even up into the Northern Aegean. In those ancient times Cythera was an important centre of trade between Crete and the Peloponnese.  

Dancing with Love       
Love came to announce the day
As the morning star, 
And lead us through the dark
As the evening star.

While Haephastus broke stones
Aphrodite danced.
He made the iron work,
She sparkled and danced and danced.

The gods approved his efforts, 
Saw in her actions little use.
They’d say, ‘Dancing has no purpose.
Working with iron, that has use.’

Though in winter naked she lay
Each year she sparkled anew. 
In spring and summer she danced 
And the landscape awakened anew.

Her seeded flowers appeared,
Shaking their petalled colour.
As Aphrodite turned and swirled 
The hillsides erupted with colour.

With flowers, and with a star,
Aphrodite embroidered the world to life.
So gods, what is it that women desire?  
With beauty to colour their life!

Julia Catton 

Venus, the star of night, can be observed by the naked eye better than any other star, and it is possible to follow almost continuously the course of this star through the heavens. 

The Kavira – the fire spirits, children of Hephaestus.

Near Hefestia is Kavira where the three daughters and three sons of Hephaestus and Kavira (a fire spirit) were worshipped.

An Australian Aboriginal Story of the Fire Spirits

Moatah told her mother the story of her friend, the fire spirit, and how she flew with Nanginya. Nanginya leapt into the night sky when she heard Moatah ...

Ulysses and Philoctetes – and the siege of Troy

Philoctetes, a famous archer, went with Ulysses to wage war against Troy. He wished to receive the blessing of the goddess Hera to help in the siege and made a stop at Lemnos to offer a sacrifice at the temple of the Kavira. Here he was bitten by a snake and Ulysses decided to leave him on the island of Lemnos to recover. Ten years later Ulysses decided they needed his skill and went back to collect him. Philoctetes helped win the battle by shooting Achilles in the ankle.

At the siege of Troy, according to Homer in his book the Iliad, the ships of the Greek expeditionary force lined up on the beach near the ancient town of Troy. This town we think is Hissarlik, an ancient settlement near the coast of the Aegean in the north-west corner of Asia Minor and almost opposite Lemnos. Homer tells us that the armies of Agamemnon and his brother Menelaus encamped in huts beside their ships. With them were other forces whose princes owed allegiance to these more powerful kings, and included Ulysses. The fighting took place on the rolling plains between these huts and the city walls (though maybe not for as long as ten years!

And Another Two Important Lemnian Goddesses

Artemis – the goddess of Myrina

The island women who lived around Myrina worshipped Artemis, and Aphrodite became jealous and cursed them so that they developed a bad smell. This caused their husbands to sleep with their maids, women from Thrace. In revenge the Lemian women killed their husbands and sons. They lured them up to the top of the outcrop, Petassos, they pushed them over and onto the rocks below.

Athene - the main goddess of the conquering Athenians 

 Athene was known as the goddess of war but she got no pleasure from battle and would rather settle disputes and uphold the law by peaceful means. The God of Lemnos, Hephaestus, loved her and when she came to him to ask him to make her a bow and spear he tried to make love to her. Poseidon had tricked him and told him that this is what she wanted, but she repulsed him. Myths differ about whether or not she bore him a child.

Athene was a feminist for, although in Classical Greece an artisan had to be a man, it was known that some of the finest pots were made by women and it was said that Athene was their teacher. She taught all kind of sciences including the arts and crafts of the household, cookery, spinning and weaving and pottery making. 

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