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The Odyssey
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Homer > Odyssey conjectured to be a sun myth

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message 1: by Lia (last edited May 14, 2018 08:26AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lia | 522 comments Mod
From a dubious source (sorry):
Source: The English Journal, Vol. 11, No. 2 (Feb., 1922), pp. 115-117
Published by: National Council of Teachers of English

The whole framework of the Odyssey has been conjectured to be a sun myth, the archer hero (cf. Apollo and William Tell) being absent from his wife as many years (after the end of the Trojan War) as the sun is hours absent from the earth. Certainly most of the material in Books IX-XII is of this type, even if the Sirens and Scylla and Charybdis be proved to be of Phoenician origin. Scylla and Charybdis are easily identifiable features of the Strait of Messina, and Polyphemus is generally considered a degenerate sun myth (cf. Alfred Noyes's suggestion of the moon in "Forty Singing Seamen").

I’ve been told SO many lies by teachers, I automatically mistrust anything that comes out of “Council of Teachers”. Never the less, I find this VERY EXCITING.

I’ve been wondering about Odysseus’ relation to Apollo even before reading this article. Mostly I think his return to his palace as a bow/lyre savvy archer that alarms everyone, sounds a lot like Apollo’s own initiation into Olympus.

But it’s complicated, the Helios and Apollo are separate figures in Homer’s universe. A “sun myth” might have absolutely nothing to do with Apollo.

But he did run into troubles with Halios. I’ve read other sources that indicate there seems to be two different kinds of deities in Homeric universe: the Olympians, that basically act like humans, and the natural forces personified, like Helios, who can’t directly punish Odysseus, but can blackmail Zeus. They have one job and don’t have much agencies beyond that.

So I find this fascinating, I really wish this were true, I haven’t been able to find any articles on Odysseus as Sun Myth yet. I have read about Helios’ cattle as the numbers of days he had to spend on Calypso’s jail-island, I can’t even begin to comprehend how that arithmetic (or their calendar) works. But so far that’s all the associations I can find.

So... if there’s an encyclopedic faery out there who knows something about this, please speak up!

message 2: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments The article sounds like a (somewhat anachronistic in 1922) reflection of the great nineteenth-century vogue for "Nature Mythology," in which almost every mythological being was "really" a personification of something in the natural world.

This approach is long out of favor in Classical studies (among others), except for obvious cases like "Helios" = Sun and "Selene" = Moon, and Hesiodic personifications of streams and bodies of water, but that doesn't mean it was always wrong.

Solar Mythology was the most popular version, although concealed Moon Gods also had a vogue. The Solar version was championed by the great comparative philologist and Indologist Max Müller, who generalized from commentaries on the Rig Veda to every other Indo-European mythology -- and sometimes to mythology in general. As it happens, several Vedic deities can be viewed as aspects of the sun, while others are described in solar-looking terms of brightness, so he was on to something, even if he used it as a skeleton key to everything else.

Müller is also known for the dictum that "mythology is a disease of language," meaning that the stories of gods and heroes originated in misunderstandings of originally metaphorical terms. (C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien seem to have felt that it would be more accurate to say that "Language is a disease of Mythology" but that is another story.)

It may have something to contribute to the Odyssey, although some of the examples (like traveling from the east to the most distant west, where the sun sets) are pretty obvious, but not particularly helpful. And, to take one possible example, the 350 cattle of the Sun (seven times fifty) don't suggest either a solar (365 days) or a lunar (360 days) year, and, as you noticed, other numerological explanations are abstruse and unclear.

Solar Mythology in general finally collapsed due to its overuse -- for a while there, almost any myth or legend was interpreted as saying something about the sun. Some skeptics applied it to the life of Napoleon, and the competition between Gladstone and Disraeli, claiming that, using the same methods, almost any narrative could be made to fit the theory.

The dispute, including some unfair tactics on both sides,* was summarized by the folklorist Richard M. Dorson in the essay "The Eclipse of Solar Mythology" ( ), which is available for on-line reading.

*For example, reviews in some British journals were anonymous, and Müller sometimes took advantage of that to give glowing reviews to works that adopted his theory, or some variant of it.

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Lia | 522 comments Mod
Thanks Ian, that's extremely helpful. It stopped me from digging into another fruitless rabbit hole.

I remember reading about Muller, and "disease of the language," in one of the myth anthologies you've recommended. I can't even remember which book that essay came from, I don't understand how you can remember who represents which theory and saying what about ... Never mind. I need a memory-upgrade.

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Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Lia wrote: "Thanks Ian, that's extremely helpful. It stopped me from digging into another fruitless rabbit hole.

I remember reading about Muller, and "disease of the language," in one of the myth anthologies ..."

You may be thinking of "A Brief History of the Study of Greek Mythology," by Jan N. Bremmer, chapter 28 in Blackwell's "A Companion to Greek Mythology," edited by Ken Dowden and Niall Livingstone. However, a search of the digital text showed that "disease of language" is actually quoted in Chapter 10, Allan Griffiths' "Myth in History," which may have confused the issue.

I also did a quick search of the "Cambridge Companion," but came up with nothing relevant.

I'm not sure where else I should be looking, although I suspect I've forgotten something. My memory is a good deal less effective than I want it to be -- and the correct answer sometimes pops into my mind days later, which is especially frustrating.

In the case of Max Müller, the quotation and Solar Mythology are things I learned while in High School (although not from any High School class), as a Tolkien/Lewis fan, and had reinforced by a Comparative Mythology graduate course at UCLA.

I suspect additional support from reading one of the polemicists against Solar Mythology, Andrew Lang, whose sometimes unfair wit -- and the color "Fairy Books" he edited with his wife, for which he is now best known -- are independently memorable.

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Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Well, I stumbled across another place where you might have encountered Max Müller -- among far too many men also named Müller. But it doesn't seem to include the "disease of language" quotation.

Chapter 25. The Greek Gods in Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century German and British Scholarship, by Michael Konaris, in "The Gods of Ancient Greece: Identities and Transformations," edited by Jan N. Bremmer and Andrew Erskine. (Pages 483-504)

I don't remember if you ever found a copy of this, book or downloaded the PDF I think I recommended.

On the one hand, the article provides a lot of background for understanding where the various theories and approaches came from. On the other, it, correspondingly, goes in for more specific detail than even I would want. (Fortunately, some of it confined to the notes.) It might be worth taking a look at it, if you haven't already. At the least, it is a "heads-up" for recognizing old theories in new clothes.

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Lia | 522 comments Mod
goes in for more specific detail than even I would want. (Fortunately, some of it confined to the notes.)

That should be an excuse for me to shove that to the back of the queue, I don’t know why I moved it to my “reading” pile.

I did download this but haven’t started on it yet. Though I remember it (the one I did read) exactly as you described — a dry essay on the history of various theories and approaches. I imagine it would be far more interesting to me if I recognized the names and knew their polemics and quarrels, but I don’t, and the details of the essay was completely lost on me.

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Lia | 522 comments Mod
Another source that talks about the Sun Myth component of The Odyssey, but within the greater context of an array of myth-making:

One of the things I hope my analysis illustrates is the way the Odyssey evokes different but mutually reinforcing mythological patterns to create what might be called a symphonic effect, with different themes creating a harmonious but complex whole and never converging into monotonous sound.
It is within this framework that I offer my observations regarding the solar themes in the Odyssey, observations that I feel require a special explanation in view of persistent scholarly aversion to solar mythology in the wake of Müller’s excesses.[45] To make explicit what I hope will be obvious, I do not suggest that the Odyssey should be interpreted as a solar myth. But I do think the Odyssey evokes solar myths, and that this evocation is, within the Odyssey, a matter not only of poetic technique but also of ritual speech.
The notion of the sun’s disappearance and return parallels, of course, the basic initiatory scheme of separation and reintegration, as it does the “New Year” scheme of dissolution and restoration, and the basic pattern of departure and return that is undeniable in the Odyssey. And so it may come as no surprise that all these mythic complexes are alluded to in the poem. That this is done at all, however, is only a starting point. My interests lie in how it is done, and to what effect.

Source: Eve of the Festival: Making Myth in Odyssey 19

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Lia | 522 comments Mod
Penelope as solar consort and death-wish as leap-for-solar-lover motif

“just as Odysseus’ return operates on a solar metaphor and Odysseus himself, in one part of his complex identity, can be seen as a solar hero, so Penelope in her prayer to Artemis hints at the role of a solar consort. When Penelope prays to Artemis she addresses the goddess as ‘daughter of Zeus’, an epithet that is applied to Aphrodite in her abducting function and that has an exact cognate in Vedic, where it applies exclusively to the dawn-goddess Uṣas. While the epithet is much less restricted in Homer and applies to a number of goddesses, this is the only instance of its use about Artemis.[68] Praying to a thus markedly characterized Artemis, Penelope expresses a wish to follow her husband into the underworld, precisely by being carried away by the snatching winds and falling into Okeanos, like the heroes abducted by Dawn. Most importantly, Penelope wishes not simply for death, but specifically to follow Odysseus underneath the earth (20.80–81), and in this desire for an Oceanic leap after her husband, she emerges as a figure similar not only to Alkyone, but to Aphrodite and Sappho with their leaps off the White Rock for love of their solar partners. Penelope’s prayer with its references to the fate of the Pandareids evokes the solar regions, and the twin themes of falling into the Okeanos and going beneath the earth recall the movements of the sun.

In this way, while Penelope speaks only of death, the solar themes hint at rebirth as well, and this is confirmed by the context of the prayer...just as Odysseus falls asleep, Penelope wakes up. It is at this moment that she utters her prayer, and so soon as she speaks her last word, the dawn comes:
So she spoke, and the golden-throned Eos came at once.
While Penelope speaks of disappearance and loss, her diction and the context of her prayer hint that there is a possibility of re-emergence and return. The day of the contest is Penelope’s chance to regain what she has lost or to lose it forever, and the two possibilities are reflected in Penelope’s prayer, signaled by the fruitless Pandareids on the one hand, and a suddenly vivid recollection of Odysseus on the other. At the moment, both possibilities are open, though the solar theme implicit in the scene presages, at least for the external audience, the outcome of the coming trial.”

Excerpt From
Eve of the Festival Making Myth in Odyssey 19
Levaniouk, Olga

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Penelope’s avian namesakes and Solar Myth

“the most salient and therefore the least variable feature of the myth: that Penelope falls into the sea but returns to shore, thanks to her avian namesakes.

The plunge into the sea is yet another link between Penelope and Alkyone, and for both of them it has to do with birds. If that is so, then it seems that Penelope has deep ties to the theme of solar-like disappearance and re-emergence that is so prominent in the Odyssey. There is, in other words, a diachronic dimension to her complexity and her very name signals not only her fidelity to her husband, but her intrinsic connectedness to the cyclic sequence of darkness, disappearance, and lament, followed by light, return, and rebirth. The effects of this diachronic depth are felt synchronically in the Odyssey as we have it, where Penelope is both a figure of lament and a figure of return to light and life. Her tears are more visible than her links to the theme of rebirth, but both aspects of her mythic personality are active in the Odyssey.”

Excerpt From
Eve of the Festival Making Myth in Odyssey 19
Levaniouk, Olga

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Lia | 522 comments Mod
Eumaeus’s abduction as a version of Solar Myth

when people in the city grow old,
Apollo of the golden bow comes along with Artemis
and approaches and kills them with his gentle arrows.

The description of Eumaeus’ Syria fits its location at the ends of the earth: it is reminiscent of blissful golden age lands like that of the Phaeacians or Hyperboreans. One aspect of the inhabitants’ charmed existence is a gentle death by the arrows of Artemis and Apollo, comparable with Odyssey 5.123–126, where Orion is the victim of the goddess’s shafts. Ortygia evidently belongs to this environment. Moreover, the island is again associated specifically with the solar theme, since it is located near the ‘turning places of the sun’, presumably a reference to the solstices. What happens to Eumaeus in this setting is abduction by a Sidonian woman. She dies shortly after, and the manner of her death is significant:

And then Artemis of the arrows struck down the woman,
and she fell with a thud into the bilge, like a diving sea bird [kex].

Eumaeus’ story presents a non-fabulous version of abduction and also a realistic, even comic, version of the plunge into Okeanos. These details are part of Eumaeus’ supposed biography, but they are also a variation on an already familiar theme, and again Artemis’ arrow is combined with a watery fall and the fall is compared to the dive of a sea bird (kex).

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Lia | 522 comments Mod
Myth of Idas and Marpessa told by Simonides

In Simonides (PMG 563), Idas abducts his bride Marpessa from Ortygia, (the one located in Chalcis, on the island of Euboea). Her father, Euenos, pursues them up to the river Lykormas in Aitolia, where he commits suicide by casting himself down into the river, which henceforth is called Euenos. Next, Apollo appears and takes hold of Marpessa, but Idas resists and lifts his bow against the god. The duel is judged by Zeus, who gives the choice to Marpessa, and she chooses Idas.

The first thing to observe about this myth is its striking structural similarity to the story of Odysseus and Penelope, if the latter story is considered as a chronological whole, including parts that are not mentioned in the Odyssey. In both cases, the hero has to win his bride not once, but twice. When Idas abducts Alkyone from her father that is not the end of the story because he still has to face Apollo.
Similarly, Odysseus first has to win Penelope’s hand in marriage and then to regain her with his bow.

message 12: by Lia (last edited May 26, 2018 04:00AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

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Amber associated with Solar Myth

Source: Eve of the Festival: Making Myth in Odyssey 19 by Levaniouk, Olga

The myth of Phaethon is, of course, full of solar themes since Phaethon is Helios’ son, and is driving his father’s chariot when he dies and falls into the streams of Eridanos, (an image that seems to be a parallel to the sun’s setting into Okeanos). In keeping with the solar theme, Phaethon’s sisters are turned into amber-producing trees. In Sophocles, a similar fate befalls Meleager’s sisters: according to Pliny, Sophocles located them in countries beyond India, in other words, in the far East rather than the far West, and instead of turning into trees they are turned into birds, but like Phaethon’s sisters they eternally shed tears, which become amber.[32] Meleager’s sisters are turned into meleagrides, the birds that share Mnases’ amber-bearing lake with penelopes. Meleagrides, in other words, have a reason for swimming in the amber lake, and presumably so do penelopes. If penelopes come from the ends of the earth in Alcaeus and are set in a typical ends-of-the-earth solar landscape in Mnases, this suggests that there was an association between the penelops and the ends of the earth, and this association probably had something to do with the sun. If so, a connection to this bird would not be amiss for a heroine of the Odyssey

Also “penelopes” live near the place where amber arises:

Mnases mentions Sicyon, a place in Africa, and the river Crathis, which flows into the Ocean out of a lake, in which there live birds, called meleagrides and penelopes. It is said that amber arises there in the same way as described above

But then, Pliny scoffed at that:

Pliny is quick to debunk the Greek notion that amber is to be found in the Eridanus, or that there are islands in the Adriatic known as “Electrides” because the amber is carried there by the water. He concludes that the Greek poets are terribly ignorant both of amber and of geography (Natural History 37.11)

Nagy on Dawn, Hearth, and Shine

It is noteworthy that the solar theme is present in both (Phaethon and Meleager) cases, since the life of Meleager himself is inextricably joined with fire of the hearth, and thus with the theme of the celestial fire. Nagy (1992:148–150) suggests that Greek words for dawn (Ionic ἠώς/Aeolic αὐως) and for hearth (ἑστία) ultimately go back to the same root meaning ‘shine’ and observes that “the semantic connection between the macrocosm of dawn and the microcosm of the sacrificial fireplace is explicit in the Rig- Veda, where the coming of the dawn is treated as an event parallel to the simultaneous kindling of the sacrificial fire.” Pliny (Natural History 37.11) is amusingly outraged by the notion that so respectable a character as Sophocles could entertain a notion that amber is produced (and in large quantities) from birds’ tears

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