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The Mask of the Underworld Daemon—Some Remarks on the Perseus-Gorgon Story*

  • J. H. Croon (a1)

At the VIIth Congress for the History of Religions, held at Amsterdam in 1950, the central question was posed whether a mythical-ritual pattern could be discerned in various ancient and modern civilisations. Reading the Congress Report, one does not get the impression that many final and far-reaching conclusions have been reached. Various conflicting views were brought forward in the section-meetings. But meanwhile the discussion goes on. And it may be not without interest to inquire into some individual cases where a ritual background behind some famous myth can be reconstructed, if not beyond all doubt, at least with a high degree of probability. In the following pages such an attempt is made in the case of the Seriphian Perseus-legend.

The present writer believes that there is a clue to the understanding of this story, which has been overlooked hitherto, namely its connexion with hot springs. A certain number of cults, myths, and legends were connected with such springs in the ancient Greek world; that they all show in origin a chthonic aspect is self-evident. But to dwell upon all of them would fall beyond the scope of this article. Let us for the present moment turn our attention to the thermal springs of that tiny piece of rock in the Aegean round which a major part of the Perseus-story centres.

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1 See Bürchner, , RE II A, 1729sqq.

2 Cf. Plato, Rep. 329 e; Plut. Them. 18.

3 The Cyclades, Chapter I.

4 Also observed by Ross, , Inselr. I, 137, cf. the same writer's Ἀσκλ. Περιόδ II (1837), 167 sqq. (I have not seen the latter quotation.)

5 The best tradition is in Pherecydes, Jacoby, 3 F 10–11 (Müller, fr. 26, vol. i p. 75), ap. schol. Apoll. Rhod. IV 1091, 1515; cf. also Pind., Pyth. X, 44 sq.; a good account also in Apollod. II, 4, 1–3. Only a very broad outline can be given here; fuller treatments, with details of variants, etc., in Roscher and RE s.v. ‘Perseus’; Robert, , Griech. Heidens. I, 222sqq.; a useful collection of the main literary sources and the principal representations in art will be found in Woodward, J. M., Perseus, Cambridge, 1937; cf. also E. S. Hartland, quoted infra note 13.

6 According to Apollod., they are sisters of the Gorgons, cf. Hesiod, , Theog. 270sqq.; Tz., Schol. Lycophr. 838. According to others, they are guardians of the Gorgons.

7 And other weapons, which according to other traditions he gets from Hephaestus, Hermes, and Athena.

8 Thereupon Pegasus and Chrysaor are born from the Gorgon's blood; this is told by Apollod., but it is found as early as Hesiod, l.c.

9 The oldest evidence is a b.f. vase, ed. by Kretschmer, , JdI VII (1892), 38.

10 Hesiod, l.c., especially 274 sqq. This is our most ancient source of knowledge about the story of Perseus and the Gorgon; in Homer, (Iliad XIV, 319sq.) we find just a reference to Danae and Perseus, but his deeds are not yet recorded. The connexion between Gorgon- and Geryon-story is not one of localisation only, but Medusa's son Chrysaor is the father of Geryoneus. For the Gorgoneion apart from Perseus in Homer, cf. infra note 49. For Geryon, the West and hot springs, cf. The Herdsman, Chapter II.

11 The ‘wide-leaping’; the translation is, however, controversial; cf. Robert, l.c. 224.

12 Another reference to the legend in Hesiod, is Aspis 216sqq. On the shield of Heracles we see Perseus with the winged sandals, the Gorgon-head, the pouch, and the Hades-cap. The two sisters of Medusa try to catch him as he flees.

13 This has been observed before, cf. Robert, l.c. 224; Kuhnert, Roscher III, 1989; and especially Hartland, E. S., The Legend of Perseus, London, 18941896, who gives a whole complex of folk-tales from many countries, connected in some way or another with the Perseus story; some additions by Krappe, A. H., Neuphilol. Mitt. XXXIV (1933), 225sqq.

14 Kuhnert, l.c. calls the Eranos of Polydectes a ‘genuine epic motive’.

15 Paus. II, 16, 3 (Perseus as founder of Mycenae, cf. Apollod. 11, 4, 4); II, 16, 6 (a spring called Perseia in the ruins of Mycenae); and especially II, 18, 1: The text is corrupt; 〈οἰς〉 is the reading of Spiro's Teubner-text, but as there is no other evidence for a Perseus-cult at Athens, K. O. Müller proposed to read See Frazer, , Paus. I, 572.

16 Frazer, , Paus. III, 186: ‘probably copied from a statue’.

17 l.e. some showing Perseus, others the Gorgon-head; Cat. Br. Mus. Aegean Islands 119 sqq.; they date from 300 b.c. and later.

18 IG IV, 493, mentioning a reference to what was probably a very old cult. See Nilsson, , Mycen. Origin of Gr. Myth. 40sq.

19 Kuhnert, l.c. 2023 sq. calls him a pre-Doric hero of Mycenae and Argos, taken over by the Dorians; at the end of this article we shall see that there is linguistic evidence in support of this view of a pre-Doric (I would rather say pre-Greek) character.

20 L.c. 2027. See also Toynbee, A. J., A Study of History I, 406, note 2, who stresses the importance of Seriphos for the dispersion of the legend. He goes even so far as to assume that the whole tale came from Seriphos to the Argolid.

21 It is frequently held that the stony character of the island is a sufficient reason (cf. Robert, l.c. 234); but there are other stony islands as well on the route from Argos to Rhodes; why, then, especially Seriphos? Moreover, this would imply that the story existed already before the people localised it there. But no trace points to variants, let alone old variants, in which the turning of the hero's enemies to stone occurs elsewhere.

22 AJP LXX (1949), 331 sg.

23 A catalogue in Six, J., De Gorgone, Amsterdam, 1885; A. Furtwängler, Roscher I, 1701 sqq.

24 Cf. Furtwängler, l.c., 1719.

25 Coins: Grose, , Cat. McClean Coll. of Greek Coins in the Fitzw. Mus. I, 272; Head, , HN 2146.

26 Coins: Grose, l.c. 302; Cat. Br. Mus. Sicily 135, Head, , HV 2166.

27 Metope of the famous temple C, cf. Benndorf, , Metopen v. Selinunt 44.

28 Coins: Seltman, , Greek Coins, 174, cf. n. 36 below. Terracotta-relief: Six, l.c. 55; Furtwängler 1719.

29 Coins: Head, , HM 2713sq., Hasluck, , BSA XVIII, 267. Stele with Gorgon mentioned by Eust. in Dion. 857, Malalas, Chron. O 4.2 (= ed. in Corpus Scr. Hist. Byz. p. 36), connected with local legend. For the warm ‘spring of Plato’ (this ‘Plato’ being a medieval magician) there cf. The Herdsman, p. 82. Curiously enough, a tale connected with the Gorgon's head was still found near Iconium in medieval times. See Hartland, , The Legend of Perseus III, 139.

30 Coins: Cat. Br. Mus. Troas, etc. LXIII, 151, 157, 177.

31 Bronze relief from Neandria near the most famous hot springs of the Troad; Furtwängler, l.c. 1718.

32 Coin: Cat. Br. Mus. Lycaonia, etc. XIII: uncertain.

33 The oldest coins of both cities all with the Gorgoneion: Cat. Br. Mus. Mysia 8 sq., 94 sqq.; the country around there is full of hot springs, cf. Hasluck, , Cyzicus 141 and his map ‘Environs of Cyzicus’. The attribution of the coins to Apollonia by Six, l.c. 37 sqq. is generally approved.

34 The famous metopes of the temple of Apollo Thermios: Ἐφ. Ἀρχ. 1903, pl. 4; but again the existence of hot springs is not proved; I hope to return to this question in another publication.

35 The pediment of the temple of Sul-Minerva with the male bearded Gorgon-head; but it is doubtful whether this has any connexion with the Greek Gorgon at all, and even so, it may be merely an attribute of Athena-Minerva.

36 I.e. those of Himera are there wrongly assigned to Camarina. For the Melos gorgoneion coin, see Catalogue of the Jameson Collection Pl. LXVI no. 1295.

37 For the rôle of wells and springs in the folk-tales related to the Perseus story cf. Hartland, , The Legend of Perseus II, 175sqq.

38 The Cyclades, p. 2.

39 Summaries of them will be found in Six, l.c. 91 sqq.; Roscher, in his Lex. I, 1698sqq. (cf. the same author's Die Gorgonen und Verwandtes (1879); Ziegler, , RE VII, 1642sqq.; Cook, A. B., Zeus III, 845sqq.

40 Six, l.c.

41 L.c. 847.

42 Following many others. See Ziegler, l.c. 1645 sq.

43 Ziegler, l.c. 1643.

44 AJA 1934, 341 sqq.

45 Observe that the inferences from art-forms to forms of the legend begin here already. The only thing that can be said is that apparently the art-type was not fixed.

46 L.c. 356.

47 Especially by B. Schweitzer, Herakles, cf. Pfister, , Rel. Gr. u. Röm. 156.Cf. also: Levy, G. R., ‘The Oriental Origin of Herakles’, JHS LIV (1934), 40sqq.

48 This was observed already by Furtwängler, , Roscher I, 1704sq.: ‘Durch die schreckbare Maske eines Dämons suchte man die anderen bösen Geister zu vertreiben.’

49 Hom. Od. XI, 633 sqq.

It is not quite clear to me why Nilsson, , Gesch. Gr. Rel. I, 211, calls this passage ‘late’; cf. Wilamowitz, , Hom. Unters, 140sq. At any rate it could hardly be later than Hesiod (quoted note 10).

50 Prolegomena 187 sqq. See especially her excellent summary in Hastings', ERE VI, 330sqq.

51 Cf. Leeuw, G. van der, Religion in Essence and Manifestation, pp. 373sq.

52 Prolegomena 188; there were more, however: see Wrede, W., ‘Der Maskengott’, AM LIII (1928), 66sqq., especially p. 87.

53 Photius and Hesych. s.v.

54 Paus. IX, 33, 3 (Miss Harrison's reference is wrong): Cf. also Paus. III, 22, 2: cult of the same goddesses at Gythium. Persephone is called Praxidice in Hymn. Orph. XXIX, 5 (ed. Abel).

55 Paus. VIII, 15, 1–3: For the meaning of the beating of the soil see Frazer's note ad loc. (Frazer, , Paus. IV, 239): it was a fertility ritual.

56 Ganschinietz, , RE X, 2386, cf. Lawson, , Anc. Gr. Rel. Mod. Gr. Folkl. 85.

57 Böolte, , RE XIX, 1971sqq. This element occurs more often near Hades entrances, cf. The Herdsman, pp. 30, 82.

58 VIII, 14, 9.

59 Mnemosyne IV, 6 (1953), 288 ff.

60 With hot springs; cf. Philippson, , Peloponnes 97; Gell, , Itinerary of the Morea, p. 112. The story in Paus. VIII, 27, 17.

61 Oaths were often taken very solemnly by the gods of the underworld or by the Styx; cf. the author's article on the Palici, Sicel in Mnemosyne IV, 5 (1952), 116sqq.

62 This is beyond doubt; the Homeric Necyia and the later localization in the West are evidence enough for that.

63 On petrifaction through horror in popular beliefs, superstition, and customs see Hartland, , The Legend of Perseus III, 120sqq.

64 They do not attract attention nowadays; on a visit to Pyrgos I could find no one who could tell me where exactly the site was, although everybody knows Skourochorio, as the railway line from Patras to Pyrgos passes just East of these hills; but the hot springs are mentioned by Curtius, , Pelop. II, 73; Boblaye, , Recherches 130sq.; Pouqueville, , Voyage V, 383.

65 No doubt the Ἀλφειοῖο πόρος of Hom. Hymn, in Herm. 398.

66 Strabo VIII, 3, 12, p. 343: (N.B. Artemis and Alpheus had a common altar in Olympia: Paus. V, 14, 6; Schol. Pind. Ol. 5, 10),

67 E.g. Nilsson, , Greek Piety 9.

68 E.g. near Heraea, about which see supra, note 60, and probably at Heraclea near Olympia (this spring is nowadays cold), cf. Paus. VI, 22, 7; Strabo VIII, 3, 22, p. 356; Frazer, , Paus. IV, 100; Curtius-Adler, , Olympia und Umgegend 9.

69 Farnell, , Cults II, 427; cf. Nilsson, , GF 210sqq.

70 Paus. VIII, 41, 5, cf. The Herdsman, p. 81.

71 Paus. VI, 22, 8 sq. (There was also a tradition about the bones of Pelops being preserved at Letrini, cf. Lycophr. Alex. 54, and Schol. Tzetzae in vs. 158).

72 In his note ad loc. (Frazer, , Paus. IV, 101); cf. Nilsson, , GF 214sqq.; Farnell, , Cults II, 428.

73 Nonnus, , Dion. VI, 169sqq.; Harpocr. s.v. ἀπομάττων, clearly pointing to an existing practice in mystic ritual.

74 BSA XII (1905–6), 340 sqq.

75 They will be found on Plates X and XI attached to Bosanquet's article.

76 Dithyramb, Tragedy and Comedy, 254. For dances in the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, cf. also Plut. Thes. 31.

77 We may compare the well-known story in Herodotus (VIII, 27), where the Phocians attack the Thessalians by night, smeared with gypsum, a story, which so strikingly resembles the ritual described by Harpocration (cf. note 73). The Thes salians fall into a panic, thinking it a supernatural phenomenon (ἄλλο τι Τέρας).

78 Archiv f. Rel. Wiss. XXVII (1929), 35 sqq.

79 Altheim's further conclusion that ‘persona’ is a diminutive of φersu has met with more opposition; but this is not immediately relevant for us.

80 Also that his costume reminds us of the Roman Atellana and Mimus: significantly enough the Atellana was always played by masked actors.

81 So van der Leeuw, l.c. (see note 51).

82 According to an uncommon tradition reconstructed by Robert, , Griech. Heidens. I, 226, note 6.

83 This root pers(e)- of the name Perseus is commonly derived from πέρθω, to destroy (so e.g. Robert, l.c. 245). But Perseus is not a ‘destroyer’, and although it sometimes means ‘to kill’, this meaning applies in most of the cases to a whole population, an army, etc. (Liddell and Scott9s.v.). Only once it seems to mean ‘to kill’ a single person, Pind. Pyth. IX, 80, and this instance is promptly referred to by Robert, l.c. note 4; but this poetical usage on one occasion does not justify a derivation of Perseus' name from his ‘killing’ of the Medusa; therefore I think Altheim is right in following Wilamowitz, (Pindaros 148, note 1) and rejecting this view.

84 This could be supported by a reference to Eurymedon as a name of Perseus in Apoll. Rhod. IV, 1514, cf. Eurynomos, Eurynome, Eurydice, etc.

85 Which proves that it is not borrowed from the Greek.

86 Cf. also Onians, R. B., The Origins of European Thought (published since this article was written), pp. 114 n. 5, 429 n. 1, 446 n. 4.

* Introductory note. This article is a slightly altered version of a chapter from my dissertation on cults, myths, and legends connected with hot springs in the Greek world, submitted to the University of Cambridge. I have to thank Professor W. K. C. Guthrie for much good advice.

Note on some abbreviations: Ross, Inselr.: L. Ross, Reisen auf den griechischen Inseln des aegaeischen Meeres, 3 vols., Stuttgart, 1840–45; Cat. Br. Mus.: A catalogue of Greek coins in the British Museum; Frazer, Paus.: J. G. Frazer, Pausanias' description of Greece, translated with a commentary, 6 vols., London, 1898. Nilsson, GF: M. P. Nilsson, Griechische Feste., Leipzig, 1906. The Herdsman: The author's The Herdsman of the Dead, Utrecht, 1952.

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