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HAVING briefly enumerated the gods of Greece, with their chief attributes as described in legend, we come to those genealogies which connected them with historical men.

In the retrospective faith of a Greek, the ideas of worship and ancestry coalesced. Every association of men, large or small, in whom there existed a feeling of present union, traced back that union to some common initial progenitor; that progenitor being either the common god whom they worshipped, or some semi-divine person closely allied to him. What the feelings of the community require is, a continuous pedigree to connect them with this respected source of existence, beyond which they do not think of looking back. A series of names, placed in filiation or fraternity, together with a certain number of family or personal adventures ascribed to some of the individuals among them, constitute the ante-historical past through which the Greek looks back to his gods. The names of this genealogy are, to a great degree, gentile or local names familiar to the people,—rivers, mountains, springs, lakes, villages, demes, &c.,—embodied as persons, and introduced as acting or suffering. They are moreover called kings or chiefs, but the existence of a body of subjects surrounding them is tacitly implied rather than distinctly set forth ; for their own personal exploits or family proceedings constitute for the most part the whole matter of narrative. And thus the genealogy was made to satisfy at once the appetite of the Greeks for romantic adventure, and their demand for an unbroken line of filiation between themselves and the gods.

The eponymous personage, from whom the community derive their name, is sometimes the begotten son of the local god, even if it could be ascertained, we must at once set it historical aside, if we wish to look at the genealogy in the point of view of the Greeks. For to them, not only all the members were alike real, but the gods and heroes at the commencement were in a certain sense the most real; at least, they were the most esteemed and indispensable of all. The value of the genealogy consisted, not in its length, but in its continuity; not (according to the feeling of modern aristocracy) in the power of setting out a prolonged series of human fathers and grandfathers, but in the sense of ancestral union with the primitive god. And the length of the series is traceable rather to humility, inasmuch as the same person who was gratified with the belief that he was descended from a god in the fifteenth generation, would have accounted it, criminal insolence to affirm that a god was his father or grandfather. In presenting to the reader those genealogies which constitute the supposed primitive history of Hellas, I make no pretense to distinguish names real and historical from fictitious creations; partly because I have no evidence upon which to draw the line, and partly because by attempting it I should altogether depart from the genuine Grecian point of view.

Nor is it possible to do more than exhibit a certain selection of such as were most current and interesting; for the total number of them which found place in Grecian faith exceeds computation. As a general rule, every deme, every gens, every aggregate of men accustomed to combined action, religious or political, had its own. The small and unimportant demes into which Attica was divided had each its ancestral god and heroes, just as much as the great Athens herself. Even among the villages of Phocis, which Pausanias will hardly permit himself to call towns, deductions of legendary antiquity were not wanting. And it is important to bear in mind, when we are reading the legendary genealogies of Argos, or Sparta, or Thebes, that these are merely samples amidst an extensive class, all perfectly analogous, and all exhibiting the religious and patriotic retrospect of some fraction of the Hellenic world. They are no more matter of historical tradition than any of the thousand other legendary genealogies which men delighted to recall to memory at the periodical festivals of their gees, their deme, or their village.

With these few prefatory remarks, I proceed to notice the most conspicuous of the Grecian heroic pedigrees, and first, that of Argos.

Argeian genealogy-Inachus

The earliest name in Argeian antiquity is that of Inachus, the son of Oceanus and Tethys, who gave his name to the Argeian river flowing under the walls of the town. According to the chronological computations of those who regarded the mythical genealogies as substantive history, and who allotted a given number of years to each generation, the reign of Inachus was placed 1986 BC, or about 1100 years prior to the commencement of the recorded Olympiads.

The sons of Inachus were Phoroneus and Egialeus; both of whom however were sometimes represented as autochthonous or indigenous men, the one in the territory of Argos, the other in that of Sicyon. Egialeus gave his name to the north-western region of the Peloponnesus, on the southern coast of the Corinthian Gulf. The name of Phoreneus was of great celebrity in the Argeian mythical genealogies, and furnished both the title and the subject of the ancient poem called Phoronis, in which he is styled “the father of mortal men”. He is said to have imparted to mankind, who had before him lived altogether isolated, the first notion and habits of social existence, and even the first knowledge of fire: his dominion extended over the whole Peloponnesus. His tomb at Argos, and seemingly also the place, called the Phoronic city, in which he formed the first settlement of mankind, were still shown in the days of Pausanias. The offspring of Phoroneus, by the nymph Teledike, were Apis and Niobe. Apis, a harsh ruler, was put to death by Thelxion and Telchin, having given to Peloponnesus the name of Apia: he was succeeded by Argos, the son of his sister Niobe by the god Zeus. From this sovereign Peloponnesus was denominated Argos. By his wife Evadne, daughter of Strymon, he had four sons, Ekbasus, Peiras, Epidaurus, and Kriasus. Ekbasus was succeeded by his son Agenor, and he again by his son Argos Panoptes, a very powerful prince, who is said to have bad eyes distributed over all his body, and to have liberated Peloponnesus from several monsters and wild animals which infested it: Akusilaus and Aeschylus make this Argos an earthborn person, while Pherekydes reports him as son of Arestor. Iasus was the son of Argos Panoptes by Ismene, daughter of Asopus. According to the authors whom Apollodorus and Pausanias prefer, the celebrated Io was his daughter: but the Hesiodic epic (as well as Akusilaus) represented her as daughter of Peiras, while Aeschylus and Kastor the chronologist affirmed the primitive king Inachus to have been her father. A favorite theme, as well for the ancient genealogical poets as for the Attic tragedians, were the adventures of Io; of whom, while priestess of Hera, at the ancient and renowned Heraeon between Mycenae and Tiryns, Zeus became amorous. When Hera discovered the intrigue and taxed him with it, he denied the charge, and metamorphosed Io into a white cow. Here, requiring that the cow should be surrendered to her, placed her under the keeping of Argos Panoptes; but this guardian was slain by Hermes, at the command of Zeus; and Hera then drove the cow Io away from her native land by means of the incessant stinging of a gadfly, which compelled her to wander without repose or sustenance over an immeasurable extent of foreign regions. The wandering Io gave her name to the Ionian Gulf, traversed Epirus and Illyria, passed the chain of Mount Haemus and the lofty summits of Caucasus, and swam across the Thracian or Cimmerian Bosporus (which also from her derived its appellation) into Asia. She then went through Scythia, Cimmeria, and many Asiatic regions, until she arrived in Egypt, where Zeus at length bestowed upon her rest, restored her to her original form, and enabled her to give birth to his black son Epaphos.

Such is a general sketch of the adventures which the ancient poets, epic, lyric, and tragic, and the logographers after them, connect with the name of the Argeian Io—one of the numerous tales which the fancy of the Greeks deduced from the amorous dispositions of Zeus and the jealousy of Hera. That the scene should be laid in the Argeian territory appears natural, when we recollect that both Argos and Mycenae were under the special guardianship of Here, and that the Heraeon near Mycenae was one of the oldest and most celebrated temples in which she was worshipped. It is useful to compare this amusing fiction with the representation reported to us by Herodotus, and derived by him as well from Phoenician as from Persian antiquarians, of the circumstances which occasioned the transit of Io from Argos to Egypt—an event recognized by all of them as historical matter of fact. According to the Persians, a Phoenician vessel had arrived at the port near Argos, freighted with goods intended for sale to the inhabitants of the country. After the vessel had remained a few days, and disposed of most of her cargo, several Argeian women, and among them Io the king’s daughter, coming on board to purchase, were seized and carried off by the crew, who sold Io in Egypt. The Phoenician antiquarians, however, while they admitted the circumstance that Io had left her own country in one of their vessels, gave a different color to the whole by affirming that she emigrated voluntarily, having been engaged in an amour with the captain of the vessel, and fearing that her parents might come to the knowledge of her pregnancy. Both Persians and Phoenicians described the abduction of Io as the first of a series of similar acts between Greeks and Asiatics, committed each in revenge for the preceding. First came the rape of Europe from Phoenicia by Grecian adventurers—perhaps, as Herodotus supposed, by Cretans: next, the abduction of Medeia from Colchis by Jason, which occasioned the retaliatory act of Paris, when he stole away Helena from Menelaos. Up to this point the seizures of women by Greeks from Asiatics, and by Asiatics from Greeks, had been equivalent both in number and in wrong. But the Greeks now thought fit to equip a vast conjoint expedition to recover Helen, in the course of which they took and sacked Troy. The invasions of Greece by Darius and Xerxes were intended, according to the Persian antiquarians, as a long-delayed retribution for the injury inflicted on the Asiatics by Agamemnon and his followers.

Danaos and his fifty daughters

The account thus given of the adventures of Io, when contrasted with the genuine legend, is interesting, as it tends to illustrate the phenomenon which early Grecian history is constantly presenting to us—the way in which the epical furniture of an unknown past is recast and newly colored so as to meet those changes which take place in the retrospective feelings of the present. The religious and poetical character of the whole legend disappears: nothing remains except the names of persons and places, and the voyage from Argos to Egypt: we have in exchange a sober, quasi-historical narrative, the value of which consists in its bearing on the grand contemporary conflicts between Persia and Greece, which filled the imagination of Herodotus and his readers.

To proceed with the genealogy of the kings of Argos, Iasus was succeeded by Krotopus, son of his brother Agenor; Krotopus by Sthenelas, and he again by Gelanor. In the reign of the latter, Danaos came with his fifty daughters from Egypt to Argos; and here we find another of those romantic adventures which so agreeably decorate the barrenness of the mythical genealogies. Danaos and Egyptos were two brothers descending from Epaphos, son of Io: Egyptos had fifty sons, who were eager to marry the fifty daughters of Danaos, in spite of the strongest repugnance of the latter. To escape such a necessity, Danaos placed his fifty daughters on board of a penteconter (or vessel with fifty oars) and sought refuge at Argos; touching in his voyage at the island of Rhodes, where he erected a statue of Athena at Lindos, which was long exhibited as a memorial of his passage. Egyptos and his sons followed them to Argos, and still pressed their suit, to which Danaos found himself compelled to assent; but on the wedding night he furnished each of his daughters with a dagger, and enjoined them to murder their husbands during the hour of deep. His orders were obeyed by all, with the single exception of Hypermnestra, who preserved her husband Lynkeus, incurring displeasure and punishment from her father. He afterwards, however, pardoned her; and when, by the voluntary abdication of Gelamor, he became king of Argos, Lynkeus was recognized as his son-in-law, and ultimately succeeded him. The remaining daughters, having been purified by Athena and Hermes, were given in marriage to the victors in a gymnic contest publicly proclaimed. From Danaos was derived the name of Danai, applied to the inhabitants of the Argeian territory, and to the Homeric Greeks generally.

Akrisios and Proetus

From the legend of the Danaides we pass to two barren names of kings, Lynkeus and his son Abas. The two sons of Abas were Akrisios and Proetos, who, after much dissension, divided between them the Argeian territory; Akrisios ruling at Argos, and Proetos at Tiryns. The families of both formed the theme of romantic stories. To pass over for the present the legend of Bellerophon, and the unrequited passion which the wife of Proetos conceived for him, we are told that the daughters of Proetos, beautiful, and solicited in marriage by suitors from all Greece, were smitten with leprosy and driven mad, wandering in unseemly guise throughout Peloponnesus. The visitation had overtaken them, according to Hesiod, because they refused to take part in the Bacchic rites; according to Pherekydes and the Argeian Akusilaus, because they had treated scornfully the wooden statue and simple equipments of Hera: the religious character of the old legend here displays itself in a remarkable manner. Unable to cure his daughters, Proetos invoked the aid of the renowned Pylian prophet and leech, Melampus son of Amythaon, who undertook to remove the malady on condition of being rewarded with the third part of the kingdom. Proetos indignantly refused these conditions : but the state of his daughters becoming aggravated and intolerable, he was compelled again to apply to Melampus; who, on the second request, raised his demands still higher, and required another third of the kingdom for his brother Bias. These terms being acceded to, he performed his part of the covenant. He appeased the wrath of Hera by prayer and sacrifice; or, according to another account, he approached the deranged women at the head of a troop of young men, with shouting and ecstatic dance—the ceremonies appropriate to the Bacchic worship of Dionysos,—and in this manner effected their cure. Melampus, a name celebrated in many different Grecian myths, is the legendary founder and progenitor of a great and long-continued family of prophets. He and his brother Bias became kings of separate portions of the Argeian territory: he is recognized as ruler there even in the Odyssey, and the prophet Theoklymenos, his grandson, is protected and carried to Ithaca by Telemachus. Herodotus also alludes to the cure of the women, and to the double kingdom of Melampus and Bias in the Argeian land: recognizing Melampus as the first person who introduced to the knowledge of the Greeks the name and worship of Dionysos, with its appropriate sacrifices and phallic processions. Here again he historicizes various features of the old legend in a manner not unworthy of notice.

Perseus and the Gorgons

But Danae, the daughter of Akrisios, with her son Perseus, acquired still greater celebrity than her cousins the Proetides. An oracle had apprised Akrisios that his daughter would give birth to a son by whose hand he would himself be slain. To guard against this danger, he imprisoned Danae in a chamber of brass underground. But the god Zeus had become amorous of her, and found means to descend through the roof in the form of a shower of gold: the consequence of his visits was the birth of Perseus. When Akrisios discovered that his daughter had given existence to a son, he enclosed both the mother and the child in a coffer, which he cast into the sea. The coffer was carried to the isle of Seriphos, where Diktys, brother of the king Polydektes, fished it up, and rescued both Danae and Perseus. The exploits of Perseus, when he grew up, against the three Phorkydes or daughters of Phorkys, and the three Gorgons, are among the most marvelous and imaginative in all Grecian legend: they bear a stamp almost Oriental. I shall not here repeat the details of those unparalleled hazards which the special favor of Athene enabled him to overcome, and which ended in his bringing back from Libya the terrific head of the Gorgon Medusa, endued with the property of turning everyone who looked upon it into stone. In his return he rescued Andromeda, daughter of Cepheus, who had been exposed to be devoured by a sea-monster, and brought her back as his wife. Akrisios trembled to see him after this victorious expedition, and retired into Thessaly to avoid him; but Perseus followed him thither, and having succeeded in calming his apprehensions, became competitor in a gymnic contest where his grandfather was among the spectators. By an incautious swing of his quoit, he unintentionally struck Akrisios, and caused his death: the predictions of the oracle were thus at last fulfilled. Stung with remorse at the catastrophe, and unwilling to return to Argos, which had been the principality of Akrisios, Perseus made an exchange with Megapenthes, son of Proetos king of Tiryns. Megapenthes became king of Argos, and Perseus of Tiryns: moreover the latter founded, within ten miles of Argos, the far-famed city of Mycenae. The massive walls of this city, like those of Tiryns, of which a large portion yet remains, were built for him by the Lycian Cyclopes.

The Perseids

We here reach the commencement of the Perseid dynasty of Mycenae. It should be noticed, however, that there were among the ancient legends contradictory accounts of the foundation of this city. Both the Odyssey and the great Eoiai enumerated, among the heroines, Mykene, the Eponyma of the city; the former poem classifying her with Tyre and Alkmene, the latter describing her as the daughter of Inachus and wife of Arestor. And Akusilaus mentioned an Eponymous Mykeneus, the son of Sparton and grand-son of Phoreneus.

The prophetic family of Melampus maintained itself in one of the three parts of the divided Argeian kingdom for five generations, down to Amphiaraos and his sons Alkmaeon and Amphilochos. The dynasty of his brother Bias, and that of Megapenthes, son of Proetos, continued each for four generations: a list of barren names fills up the interval. The Perseids of Mykenae boasted a descent long and glorious, heroic as well as historical, continuing down to the last kings of Sparta. The issue of Perseus was numerous: his son Alkaeos was father of Alkmene; a third, Sthenelos, father of Eurysthenes.

After the death of Perseus, Alkaeos and Amphitryon dwelt at Tiryns. The latter became engaged in a quarrel with Elektryon respecting cattle, and in a fit of passion killed him; moreover the piratical Taphians from the west coast of Acarnania invaded the country, and slew the sons of Alektryon, so that Alkmene alone was left of that family. She was engaged to wed Amphitryon; but she bound him by oath not to consummate the marriage until he had avenged upon the Teleboae the death of her brothers. Amphitryon, compelled to flee the country as the murderer of his uncle, took refuge in Thebes, whither Alkmene accompanied him: Sthenelos was left in possession of Tiryns. The Cadmeians of Thebes, together with the Lokrians and Phokians, supplied Amphitryon with troops, which he conducted against the Teleboae and the Taphians: yet he could not have subdued them without the aid of Komaetho, daughter of the Taphian king Pterelaus, who conceived a passion for him, and cut off from her father’s head the golden lock to which Poseidon had attached the gift of immortality. Having conquered and expelled his enemies, Amphitryon returned to Thebes, impatient to consummate his marriage: but Zeus on the wedding-night assumed his form and visited Alkmene before him: he had determined to produce from her a son superior to all his prior offspring—“a specimen of invincible force both to gods and men”. At the proper time Alkmene was delivered of twin sons: Heracles, the offspring of Zeus, and the inferior and unhonoured Iphikles, offspring of Amphitryon.

Birth of Herakles

When Alkmene was on the point of being delivered at Thebes, Zeus publicly boasted among the assembled gods, at the instigation of the mischief-making Ate, that there was on that day about to be born on earth, from his breed, a son who should rule over all his neighbors. Hera treated this as an empty boast, calling upon him to bind himself by an irremissible oath that the prediction should be realized. Zeus incautiously pledged his solemn word; upon which Hera darted swiftly down from Olympus to the Achaic Argos, where the wife of Sthenelos (son of Perseus, and therefore grandson of Zeus) was already seven months gone with child. By the aid of the Eileithyiae, the special goddesses of parturition, she caused Eurystheus, the son of Sthenelos, to be born before his time on that very day, while she retarded the delivery of Alkmene. Then returning to Olympus, she announced the fact to Zeus: “The good man Eurystheus, son of the Perseid Sthenelos, is this day born of thy loins: the scepter of the Argeians worthily belongs to him”. Zeus was thunderstruck at the consummation which he had improvidently bound himself to accomplish. He seized Ate his evil counselor by the hair, and hurled her for ever away from Olympus: but he had no power to avert the ascendency of Eurystheus and the servitude of Herakles. “Many a pang did he suffer when he saw his favorite son going through his degrading toil in the tasks imposed upon him by Eurystheus”.

The legend, of unquestionable antiquity, here transcribed from the Iliad, is one of the most pregnant and characteristic in the Grecian mythology. It explains, according to the religious ideas familiar to the old epic poets, both the distinguishing attributes and the endless toils and endurances of Heracles—the most renowned and most ubiquitous of all the semi-divine personages worshipped by the Hellenes—a being of irresistible force, and especially beloved by Zeus, yet condemned constantly to labor for others and to obey the commands of a worthless and cowardly persecutor. His recompense is reserved to the close of his career, when his afflicting trials are brought to a close: he is then admitted to the god-head and receives in marriage Hebe. The twelve labors, as they are called, too notorious to be here detailed, form a very small fraction of the exploits of this mighty being, which filled the Herakleian epics of the ancient poets. He is found not only in most parts of Hellas, but throughout all the regions then known to the Greeks, from Gades to the river Thermodon in the Euxine and to Scythia, overcoming all difficulties and vanquishing all opponents. Distinguished families are everywhere to be traced who bear his patronymic, and glory in the belief that they are his descendants. Among Achaeans, Cadmeians, and Dorians, Heracles is venerated: the latter especially treat him as their principal hero—the Patron Hero-God of the race: the Herakleids form among all Dorians a privileged gens, in which at Sparta the special lineage of the two kings was included.

His character lends itself to myths countless in number, as well as disparate in their character. The irresistible force remains constant, but it is sometimes applied with reckless violence against friends as well as enemies, sometimes devoted to the relief of the oppressed. The comic writers often brought him out as a coarse and stupid glutton, while the Keian philosopher Prodikos, without at all distorting the type, extracted from it the simple, impressive, and imperishable apologue still known as the choice of Hercules.

After the death and apotheosis of Heracles, his son Hyllos and his other children were expelled and persecuted by Eurystheus; the fear of whose vengeance deterred both the Trachinian king Keyx and the Thebans from harboring them. The Athenians alone were generous enough to brave the risk of offering them shelter. Eurystheus invaded Attica, but perished in the attempt by the hand of Hyllos, or by that of Iolaos, the old companion and nephew of Heracles. The chivalrous courage which the Athenians had on this occasion displayed on behalf of oppressed innocence was a favorite theme for subsequent eulogy by Attic poets and orators.

All the sons of Eurystheus lost their lives in the battle along with him, so that the Perseid family was now represented only by the Herakleids, who collected an army and endeavored to recover the possessions from which they had been expelled. The united forces of Ionians, Achaeans, and Arcadians, then inhabiting Peloponnesus, met the invaders at the isthmus, when Hyllos, the eldest of the sons of Heracles, proposed that the contest should be determined by a single combat between himself and any champion of the opposing army. It was agreed that if Hyllos were victorious, the Herakleids should be restored to their possessions—if he were vanquished, that they should forego all claim for the space of a hundred years, or fifty years, or three generations,—for in the specification of the time accounts differ. Echemos, the hero of Tegea, in Arcadia, accepted the challenge, and Hyllos was slain in the encounter; in consequence of which the Herakleids retired, and resided along with the Dorians under the protection of Egimios, son of Dorus. As soon as the stipulated period of truce had expired, they renewed their attempt upon Peloponnesus, conjointly with the Dorians, and with complete success: the great Dorian establishments of Argos, Sparta, and Messenia were the result. The details of this victorious invasion will be hereafter recounted.

Sicyon, Phlios, Epidauros, and Troezen all boasted of respected eponyms and a genealogy of dignified length, not exempt from the usual discrepancies—but all just as much entitled to a place on the tablet of history as the more renowned Eolids or Herakleids. I omit them here because I wish to impress upon the reader's mind the salient features and character of the legendary world,—not to load his memory with a full list of legendary names.