Τετάρτη, 26 Σεπτεμβρίου 2012

Magical creatures of greek mythology and laography

by Kate Alabasini
Translation: Panagiotis Karousos

republishing from:
PaintBox magazine 6th issue, about imaginary creatures

Magical creatures of greek mythology
Greek mythology is certainly one of the first forms of fiction, complete and impressive in quantity and quality. Its pages are full of dozens of species of creatures that form a complicated, almost strange, family tree. One more reason for starting with our own mythology is its relation to many contemporary creatures, such as fairies, which, as we are soon to discover, continue the story of the nymphs. We can say a lot about Greek mythology, but we can also let its protagonists unravel its profile.

Female Deities
Deities that protected every spiritual and artistic expression. There are many traditions for their origin. They were said to be daughters of Zeus, born to honor his win against the Titans. Other myths claim that they were daughters of Uranus and Gaia or even Harmony. There were nine Muses. Calliope protected arts and poetry, especially the epic genre. Clio protected history. Euterpe protected music and Elegiac poetry. Terpsichore was the protector of choric and orchestral poetry, while Erato protected erotic poetry and love affairs. Melpomeni protected melody and later tragedy, Thalia protected joyful gatherings and comedy, Polymnia-inventor of the lyre, orchestral arts and pantomime-protected religious poetry, and Urania protected astronomy. There is also a claim that the original three muses were Meleti (Study), Mnemi (Memory) and Aoide (Song). Nymphs (Nereids, Naiads, Dryads) Young, beautiful-but not immortal-semi-goddesses, who personified nature’s powers and elements. They loved singing, music and dancing, and were kindhearted creatures with noble powers. They helped the seeds grow, the hunters catch their prey, and they took care of the sick and had the ability to inspire people’s poetic or prophetic powers. Their names varied, depending on the places they lived. Greek mythology included Naiads, Potameides, Crinaeae, Hydriads, Castalides, Acheloides, Orestiads, Parnassides, Nysiads, Limoniades, Alseids, Dryads, Hamadryads and many more. Nymphs were not worshipped in shrines, but in common altars inside rocks or caves, known as Nymphaia. Those altars were spread all over Attica and the rest of the ancient world.

Sea nymphs, daughters of Nereus. They inherited their father’s prophetic ability. Their names remind of the sea; Galini (peace), Cymatolege (wave dropping), Nisso (island), Actaea (Coast) etc. According to ancient sources, there were more than fifty Nereids. They resided in the sea depths with their father and were very similar to mermaids, who are considered to be the evolution of their myth. Nereids were never protagonists in Greek mythology. They, however, helped and rescued humans and gods, and took part in the joys and sorrows of Thetis. They advised Hercules to gather information from Nereus regarding the apples of Hesperides and helped Jason cross the Clashing Rocks. They were also present when Andromeda was freed by Perseus and they rescued Hephaestus when Ira threw him from the sky, and kept him for nine years. They also secured all sails and trades. These sea deities had an important role in religion. They were mainly worshipped on the islands and coastal cities, usually along with Poseidon and Amphitrite.

Sweetwater nymphs that lived in wells, lakes, gargoyles, swamps and rivers. They were usually named after the river where they lived (Asopiads, Acheloids etc). As the rest of the nymphs, they were not immortal. Their lives lasted as long as their wells had flowing water. They were said to have healing powers, however, if someone bathed in their wells, it was considered blasphemy. Those who suffered from a mysterious sickness or frenzy were called Nympholiptoi (Entranced or trapped by the Nymphs). Due to their nature, Naiads favored harvests and fertility. They provided their waters to animals and plains and drew life out of them. The Romans honored them because they thought they protected harvests from fires. Nowadays, they survive in folk legends, but they have transformed in fairies, following the Greek version; Beautiful female creatures of human height, that like to gather around lakes and dance under the moonlight.

Forest nymphs, named after Drys (oak tree). They are also called Hamadryads or Hadryads. Protectors of the trees they lived in, they died when the trees were damaged or destroyed. Homer depicts the Dryads and the Orestiades as naughty creatures that flirted with Silenus and Hermes, and played with Apollo, Pan, Prianus and the Satyrs.

Daphne (Laurel)
The story of Daphne is well known. She was a forest nymph that was transformed into the plant of the same name. Legend has it that Apollo fell in love with her, when he met her in one of his hunts. She tried to avoid him and when she realized that she couldn’t, she begged her mother, Gaia, for help. Gaia pulled her inside a gap, and out of it grew the famous flower. In another version of the myth, Daphne did not disappear, but was transformed into her current form.

The evil ones
Demonic beings with a human head and the body of a predatory bird, related to water, love and death. They are originally referred at in Homer’s Odyssey. Their magic song enchanted and trapped travelers, leading them to forget everything and follow them. Odysseus, following Circe’s advice, put beeswax on his men’s ears, and ordered them to tie him in the mast. Argonauts were saved by Orpheus, who covered the sirens song with his own. There are many speculations concerning their evil nature and their end. Accor ding to one of them, Sirens were initially friends of Persephone, and were punished by Demeter for not stopping her abduction. In another version, the Sirens asked the gods to give them wings, in order to search for their friend in land and sea. A totally different story claims that Aphrodite was the one that took away their beauty, because they despised the joys of love. A dominant version claims that their end would come when someone escaped their song. Odysseus became the first man that heard their song, while tied in the mast, and was not carried away by it. Another interesting version is that they once competed with the muses in singing and they lost. This caused them to lose their wings, fall to the sea and drown.

Half men-Half beasts
Demonic beings, with a goat-like lower body and a human upper body that included some eerie characteristics, such as sharp ears, wide nose, thick leaps and a beard. They are very often related with the Sileni, which are similar beings. In most cases it is difficult to divide the two species. Their main hobby was to hunt the nymphs in the woods. However, in Greek mythology, some Satyrs or Sileni stood out for their wisdom, musical talents and their variety of knowledge concerningnature and spirit. They often appear as teachers. Since the sixth century, they are related with Dionysus, with whom they played music and drank wine. After originally being his companions, they turned to his servants, serving wine and helping in the wheat, preparation and storage of the wine. At the same time, they appear in the bacchic orgies, playing music and dancing with the Maenads. Later on, they gradually lost their animal characteristics and became independent and more human. However, they are mostly known with their initial form. Lyre and pipes were their most representative instruments.

Beings with a human form and a horse’s body. They often intervened in stories, playing an important part in the plot. Chiron saved Peleus from a certain death and helped him win Thetis. He even contributed in the raising and education of distinguished heroes such as Achilles and Jason. However, mythology mostly presented them as villains. Centauri were related to Lapiths and lived in Thessaly. They disagreed over their paternal reign, part of which a Lapith called Pirithous denied to hand over to the Centauri. A war began, leading to the divide of the Centauri, who later came to terms with the Lapiths. During Pirithous and Hippodamia’s wedding, the Centauri got drank, and led by Eurution they attacked the bride and the rest of the women, in order to rape them. Pirithous got furious and killed some of them. The others were thrown out of the land, with the help of Theseus. The survivors settled in Pheneo, Arkadia and Malea, where they robbed and killed the villagers. Centauri had also turned against Hercules, Theseus and Atalante. Centauri appear sexually aggressive. There are common references of abductions of teenage virgins by them. Those abductions are depicted in ancient coins from Macedonia and Thrace. Some could say that, from a moral point of view, Centauri and the Satyrs have a lot in common.

The trademark Greek dragon often appears on Greek mythology, but also in religious stories and local traditions. Descriptions agree on an image with few elements of a Western dragon, such as legs and wings. Some bear a crest and a long tongue with three edges, while their eyes give a burning impression. Their eggs are normal, and often described as gold. It usually guards treasures, but does not collect them for itself. The legend has it that dragons were related to the gods. A dragon named Python lived near a well in Parnassus, until Apollo killed it and built the Oracle of Delphi in the exact location. This oracle advised Cadmus in order to choose where to build the city he wanted to establish. He was led to a well, where a dragon lived. He killed the dragon, and following goddess Athena’s order, he planted the dragon’s teeth to the ground. Those teeth gave birth to brave warriors. Those who survived helped him build Thebes. Some of those teeth were given to Jason, who used them in order to steal the Golden Fleece of Kochlida from the dragon that protected it.

Fairies that were nymphs
Someone who knows the story of the Nymphs can fully understand the features of Fairies, as we know them in Greece. Through the years, of course, and after this conversion, fairies got their own features, like wings, that appear very often, yet not always. Contemporary fairies live wherever there’s nature. They mostly appear around lakes, but exist everywhere in nature. Another common thing with nymphs is that, although they live long, they are not immortal. These magical beings avoid artificial light, preferring that of the moon, candles, sunshine and sunset. Whoever hears the song of a fairy, can never forget it. If someone sees them dance they can turn into trees, rocks, or-something very common in folklore-they take him with them in the woods. British traditions and legends are very similar to ours. They include many stories about people that got lost at night and found themselves inside fairy circles, until someone of their trust set them free. There are also references about people who were trapped inside a fairy circle and in the morning, they realized that they had been in there not for hours, but for years.

Elves in Greek Folklore
In our own tradition, the exact word generally refers to all demons, such as the cunning demons in Andros, the pixies of Tinos, the ghosts of Peloponnesus, Crete, Kos, Melos and Skiros, the spooks of Evvoia and Aitoloakarnania and the fairies of Crete. Especially the female version of the word is an alternative name for the fairies in many places. It is a general term, referring to supernatural forms of life.

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