The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology

By Robin Hard | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

LEGENDS OF GREEK LANDS

Every part of Greece had its local legends, as did the Greek islands too and the Greek colonies overseas. Many of the most important of these have already been considered, either in connection with the mythical history of major centres such as Thebes and Athens or as we were tracing the tangled histories of the great families of heroic mythology; but there remain many more, some relating to major figures such as Orpheus and Orion who did not belong to any of the great families, and others that never came to be of more than regional significance, and others again that happened to become famous beyond their regional bounds because they were taken up by some notable poet or were especially attractive in themselves. The present chapter will offer a selection of the more interesting of these remaining stories and bodies of myth, particularly the older ones involving mythical figures of venerable origin. We will approach them on a regional basis, starting at the northern fringes of the Greek world and then passing southwards through Thessaly and Central Greece, before finally venturing overseas to the Aegean islands and further abroad.


Orpheus and Harpalyke, two notable Thracians

Although not strictly a part of Greece, Thrace was of some importance in Greek myth as the home of a variety of gods and heroes who were mostly of a violent disposition; the war-god Ares had his home there, as did Boreas, the wild North Wind, and such heroes as Lykourgos, who persecuted the young Dionysos and his nurses (see p. 173), and Diomedes, who fed his horses on human flesh (see p. 262), and Tereus, who raped his sister-in-law and cut out her tongue (see p. 368). Some Thracians were remembered for something other than their brutality, however, such as Rhesos, a colourful but short-lived ally of the Trojans (see p. 466), and the musician Thamyris (see p. 206), and the mythical singer ORPHEUS, who remains to be discussed.

It will not be necessary for us to devote any consideration to the wider and thornier problems that arise in connection with this mysterious figure, who was the apocryphal author of theogonies (see p. 24) and other writings on religious matters, and was thus associated with distinctive ‘Orphic’ teachings; for we are concerned with him solely as a mythical hero who lived a generation before the Trojan War and met an early death after trying to rescue his wife from the Underworld.

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