The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology

By Robin Hard | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX

LESSER DEITIES AND NATURE-SPIRITS

Before we passon from divine toheroic mythology, there are various lesser divinities who remain to be considered. From among the children who were fathered by Zeus on goddesses other than Hera (see pp. 76ff), three gracious groups of sister-deities, the Muses, Charites (Graces) and Horai (Seasons), have yet to be discussed. Ranking somewhere between deities such as these and the mortal race were the countless nature-spirits who haunted the waters, countryside and wilderness. Of most importance in everyday belief were the female spirits, the nymphs, familiar presences who were very popular in rural cult; their main male equivalents, the Satyrs and Seilenoi, belonged more to the world of art and literature, as mythical attendants of Dionysos. These male nature-spirits had animal features and ill-controlled appetites, as did the rustic god Pan, who originated in Arcadia as a god of shepherds and herdsmen, and figures in characteristic myths as a frustrated lover. The Phrygian myth of Attis and Kybele strikes a more exotic note in so far as it finds a place in the corpus of Greek mythology. We will conclude by examining various minor gods and daimones who are not included in Hesiod’s genealogies, ranging from the Kouretes and Korybantes to the lustful Priapos and the wedding-god Hymenaios.


The Muses

In Hesiod’s account, as we have seen, the MUSES (Mousai) were born to Zeus by Mnemosyne, the personification of Memory; 1 but a rival genealogy, which may have originated in a cosmological poem by Alcman (seventh century BC), claimed that they were born in the very earliest times as daughters of Ouranos and Gaia. 2 Some authors reconciled the two accounts by suggesting that there were two generations of Muses, the ancient Muses who were daughters of Heaven and their later-born companions who were daughters of Zeus. 3

The Muses first appear in the works of Homer and Hesiod as goddesses on whom the epic poet relies for his inspiration, his memory and aspects of his knowledge. In the introductory section of the Theogony, Hesiod tells how the Muses of Mt Helikon once approached him as he was shepherding his flocks under the mountain and granted him his gift of song, breathing a divine voice into him to enable him to celebrate things that will be and things that have been in times gone by. 4 Scholars

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