Saturday, October 13, 2012

Pherecydes of Leros [Pherecydes of Athens]

Dionysus leading the Horae.
[Day of Saturn + Hour of Mercury]

Hermes I call, whom Fate decrees to dwell in the dire path which leads to deepest hell
O Bacchic [Bakkheios] Hermes, progeny divine of Dionysius [Dionysos], parent of the vine,
And of celestial Venus [Aphrodite] Paphian queen, dark eye-lash'd Goddess of a lovely mien:
Who constant wand'rest thro' the sacred feats
where hell's dread empress, Proserpine [Persephone], retreats;
To wretched souls the leader of the way when Fate decrees, to regions void of day:
Thine is the wand which causes sleep to fly, or lulls to slumb'rous rest the weary eye;
For Proserpine [Persephone's] thro' Tart'rus dark and wide gave thee forever flowing souls to guide.
Come, blessed pow'r the sacrifice attend, and grant our mystic works a happy end.
- Orphic Hymn to Hermes Kthonios.
 The Oxford Companion to World Mythology, by David Adams Leeming tells us that: “When we speak of Greek mythology, we generally refer to the accumulated body of material that would have been known, for instance, to Aristotle and Alexander the Great at the beginning of the so-called Hellenistic Age in the fourth century BCE, with some augmentation from the later works of such literary figures as Apollonius of Rhodes and Apollodoros, whose works owe much to the stories told by the early-fifth-century B.C.E. Writer Pherecydes of Leros.”

Pherecydes of Leros, was a Historian and Logographer of the Heroic 5th Age of Greece.* He spent the bulk of his time writing from Athens, causing some scholars to mistake “Pherecydes of Leros” and “Pherecydes of Athens” as different people. He was principally known for having written a history of his home island of Leros, on Iphegenia, and On the Festivals of Dionysus, none of which survive except in fragments – which are numerous. He is one of the sources for Homer's Iliad, and provided the account of Thersites and the boar. It is believed that when Apollodorus relied on his (Pherecydes) now-lost mythology to flesh out the genealogy of the Sphinx. Not only that, but he appears to have been one of the first to write a version of the Argonautica: “In the 5th century BCE the mythographer Pherecydes of Athens recorded a full account of the Argonautic tale; details from his version are preserved in the Scholia to Apollonius Rhodius.”

In his Myth and History in Ancient Greece: The Symbolic Creation of a Colony, Claude Calame (translator: Daniel Berman) writes: 
“On the other hand, the heroic genealogy of Pherecydes of Athens, the first writer of a treatise in prose, was called by the ancients Historíai or Theogonía. The interest of Asclepiades of Tragilos in the stories dramatized in tragedy in comparison with more ancient versions determined the title of his work in six books, the Tragoidoúmena. And Andron of Halicarnassus was able to call the work in which he placed in parallel the genealogies of the great families of Greek cities Suggeniká or, more widely still, Historíai. These are indeed the first writings of history, but their design and function remain near to the poetic forms that precede them and that continue to be practiced simultaneously.”

 He was known for having changed the ancient legends, and updated them so that they would be better adjusted to the popular beliefs of his day.

While Pherecydes of Athens and of Leros are indeed the same individual, he should not be confused with Pherecydes of Syros – who was a different individual altogether.

I'm more than proud to give due homage and a hat tip to the long-dead Logographer/Mythographer. I have little doubt that the man knew and forgot, over the course of his life, more about Dionysus and his rituals than I will ever know. Insofar as I'm concerned, he remains a Sainted figure to some of us.
 * The word Historian is technically incorrect, as Pherecydes of Leros preceded Herodotus (the father of History), and is considered the last of the Logographers.


Brother Christopher said...

The hymn to Hermes Kthonios is one of the hymns I like to recite when I am calling upon Hermes. I love that one.

Jack Faust said...

I really enjoy my interactions with Hermes Kthonios to an extreme degree. I used to sing praises to him (before I discovered the hymn) at the Trivium and Quadrivium before walking to grape vineyards and performing the Stele of Jeu... Which was some of the most fun I have ever had with rituals and performing rituals.