Causation, Local Myths & Variations Greek

There are also aetiological (causation) myths. Many explain specific phenomena, either natural or man-made. One tells how, when Apollo inadvertently killed the beautiful youth Hyacinthus, he caused the letters ‘ai ai’ (representative of wailing) to appear on the petals of the hyacinth; another recounts how the same god’s anger caused crows to have black feathers.

Cities used local myths to proclaim their own status or the origins of rites. Thus Thebes boasted of its foundation by the legendary Cadmus, while Athens claimed that it was so loved by the gods that Poseidon and Athene fought one another to possess it. Elsewhere, mythology was used to bolster sanctuaries such as Delphi, Delos and Eleusis, while hymns performed there heightened ties between worshippers and mythology.

Causation, Local Myths & Variations Greek Photo Gallery

At its peak the Greek world stretched from Spain to India and from the Black Sea to the Nile. A common language and shared religious beliefs provided a sense of unity, but travel could be difficult and the world was physically fragmented. So it is not surprising that localized legends and variations of more widespread myths sprang up – made possible not only by a combination of chauvinistic pride and vivid imagination, but by the fact that throughout much of antiquity there was no concept of religious (or mythological) orthodoxy. No one version of a story – even of a god’s birth – took precedence over another.

Equally, myths could be reshaped and revised, and new versions coexisted happily with old. Thus the sixth-century bc lyric poet Stesichorus (from Metaurus in South Italy) could write in his Palinode that the Spartan Helen never went to Troy, but instead the gods hid her in Egypt and sent a phantom in her place. A century later the Athenian Euripides used both this and the older, still more common version of the myth interchangeably in his dramas.

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