MYTHOLOGIA – The story

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Pan - Photo ©Richard de ChazalSome of the earliest accounts of the Olympic Games come from the Greek poet Pindar (early 5th century BC) who was renowned for his Odes celebrating victors of the games at Delphi, Nemea, Isthmus of Corinth and Olympia. In these victory odes, sung by a choir, Pindar names the great hero-god Heracles as the founder of the Olympic Games and the ultimate champion to which all others aspire.

In Mythologia we have created our own Olympic Ode in the manner of Pindar, but with Heracles himself as both champion and main subject. Like Pindar, the amazing exploits of Heracles are sung by a choir, and like Pindar we digress into other myths and tales linked directly or indirectly to the hero. As Heracles is already famous for his great achievements such as his Twelve Labours’, we have chosen to present in Mythologia some of the lesser-known myths surrounding this paradoxical figure.

Pindar’s victory odes usually took the form of a choral hymn (Mythologia follows this tradition). Commissioned by the winning athletes or their families, they were sung by a choir of men and boys either at the closing ceremony of the Games or once the victor had returned home at a gathering of his family and friends.

Pindar’s challenge was to glorify his victor’s achievements, by cultivating a link between the victor and a mythical hero (Heracles was perhaps Pindar’s favourite). The odes masterfully tied in the victor’s achievements with pre-existing myths, moral maxims and praise of the gods. Sometimes a number of tales were woven together to present a unified moral message. In this way Pindar’s subjects grew to embody the ideals and values of the ruling aristocracy – beauty and strength, wealth and power (so long as wealth was not carried to excess), restraint and temperance.

According to tradition, the first Olympic Games were held in the early 8th century BC, and were the province of the pre-democratic aristocracy. By the time of Pindar, victory was pursued for glory and immortalisation in song, not only for the victor himself but also for his family and polis. There is historical evidence to suggest that the Games continued unbroken on a four-yearly basis through the changing forms of society and governing powers until the end of the 4th century AD at which time they were abolished by the Christian Emperor Theodosios I as being a pagan religious festival.

 

Hylas (Christopher Harris) - Photo ©Richard de ChazalPRELUDE

The great ship Argo sets sail. Hylas, filling a pitcher at the Lake of Pegae, is pulled to a watery grave by nymphs appearing from the deep.

Sources:
Sappho fr. 31 (LP) – Phainetai moi
Theocritus – Idyll 13
Apollonius Rhodius – Argonautica 1.1207-1272

 

SCENE I – The First Olympic GamesHeracles (Simon Turner) - Photo ©Richard de Chazal

Heracles, spurred on by a crowd who Pindar gather to admire his physical prowess, declares the commencement of the first Olympic Games in the name of Zeus and becomes the first Olympic champion.

Sources:
Pindar – Nemean 1.60-72
Olympian 1.1-8
Olympian III . 25-30
Homeric Hymn – 23.4

 

Zeus (Josef Brown) - Photo ©Richard de ChazalSCENE II – Zeus & Ganymede

In the guise of a magnificent eagle, Zeus swoops down on Ganymede and carries him up to Olympus to act as his cupbearer, serving nectar to the gods.

Sources:
Homer – Iliad 20. 231-5
Homeric Hymn – 5. 202-6

 

 

SCENE III – The Cerynean HindArtemis (Lea Francis) - Photo ©Richard de Chazal

While hunting a golden-horned hind, Heracles is confronted by Artemis, Goddess of Dance and Hunting. The stag is revealed as Callisto, favourite of Artemis.

Sources:
Pindar – Olympian 3. 25-30
Apollodorus – Bibliotheca 2.5.3
Callimachus – Hymn to Artemis 3. 108-9
Virgil – Aeneid 6. 802
Homeric Hymn – 27. 1-10, 15-17

 

SCENE IV – Zeus and Callisto

Callisto is alone in the woods. Disguised as Artemis, Zeus seduces Callisto then brutally rapes her, despite her defiant strength.

Sources:
Ovid – Metamorphoses 2. 409-507
Apollodorus – Bibliotheca 3.8.2

 

SCENE V – Eurytus’ Banquet

Eurytus throws a lavish banquet to honour Heracles. In a drunken state Heracles forces Iphitus, Eurytus’ son, to drink until he drowns in wine. Zeus calls on Omphale, Barbarian Mistress and Queen of Lydia to take Heracles into slavery.

Sources:
Homer – Odyssey 21. 27-44
Alcaeus – fragment 346 (Drinking Song)
Sophocles – Trachiniae 248 ft
Ovid – Fasti 2.310

 

SCENE VI – Heracles and Omphale

Omphale whips the disgraced Heracles into submission. The lurking Pan is smitten by Omphale’s strength and control and is eager to experience the joys of the dominatrix.

Sources:
Apollodorus – Bibliotheca 2.6.2
Sophocles – Trachiniae 248 ft
Ovid – Fasti 2.303-58
Ovid – Heroides 9.55
Lucian – Dialogues of the Gods 13

 

SCENE VII – Callisto Exiled

The secret of Callisto’s pregnancy is revealed. Artemis, outraged, exiles Callisto from her troupe.

Sources:
Ovid -Fasti 2.155 ft
Ovid – Metamorphoses 2.409-507
Apollodorus – Bibliotheca 3.8.2

 

Heracles & Hylas (Simon Turner & Christopher Harris) - Photo ©Branco Gaica

SCENE VIII – Heracles and Hylas

The choir sings the story of Heracles finding Hylas, and how with Eros’ assistance, the two are never apart.

Sources:
Apollonius Rhodius – Argonautica I. 1211-1214
Theocritus – Idyll 13. 5-15

 

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SCENE IX - Bacchanalia

Pan is joined by a band of Maenads, Nymphs and Satyrs. Enraged with lust, a full-scale Bacchanalia ensues.

Sources:
Euripides – Bacchae 142 – 165

 

SCENE X – Finale

The Argo once more emerges from the mist. Heracles and Hylas disembark. Hylas approaches the Lake of Pegae -and his watery grave. Heracles, realising his beloved has disappeared, accepts his destiny and ascends to Olympus to become immortal with the gods.

Sources:
Apollonius Rhodius – Argonautica I. 1151 – 1180
Theocritus – Idyll 13
Sappho fr. 31 (LP) - Phainetai moi