Mythology Mondays: Birds and Bull

Sorry for putting another Mythology Monday on a Tuesday, pets. My life has been occupied by watching horrible TV shows, but I’m done that now!

Back to Heracles and his labours (which, speaking of bad television I highly recommend the Hercules series with Kevin Sorbo if you ever want a good laugh!)

The sixth of Heracles’ labours was to drive away the Stymphalian Birds. The Birds were the pets of Ares, the god of war. They were horrid creatures, with wings made of brass and sharp feathers they could launch at their enemies. They had settled near Stymphalos and terrorized the locals.

Now, Heracles couldn’t kill the Birds, since they belonged to Ares. And if you thought angering Artemis was a bad idea, Ares was worse. Artemis had a history of turning men into stags but Ares had a history of turning men into pin cushions. Anyway, this pretty much rid Heracles of all of his usual options- strangling, beating and poisoning. So again, brutish rather than brainish, Heracles was in a predicament.

This time help came in the form of the goddess Athena. She brought Heracles a pair of krotala - sort of like really noisy castanets - made by Hephaestus. Heracles danced around, clattering loudly, to scare away the Birds. They took flight, startled either by the krotala or Heracles’ horrible dancing. Sometimes it says he shot them, other times he just shot at them. Whether he killed them or not is never really mentioned.

Capturing the Cretan Bull was Heracles’ next task. The bull is a major symbol for Crete and the Cretan Bull is a creature with a vast mythology of its own.

The Bull had been sent to Crete by Poseidon on King Minos’ promise that he would sacrifice whatever he was sent as a gift to Poseidon. When the Bull arose from the sea, Minos thought it was too beautiful and so kept it and sacrificed a different bull. Poseidon was outraged and took his revenge twofold. First he caused Minos’ wife, Pasiphae, to fall in love with the Bull. Somehow, she was impregnated by the Bull, and gave birth to the Minotaur. The Minotaur was the monster of the Labyrinth, but that’s a story for another Monday. The second revenge was that Poseidon drove the Bull mad and had it wreak havoc in the streets of Crete. While Cretans were avid bull jumpers, they preferred to leave it to festival and sport and not on their way to the agora (Greek marketplace.)

So when Heracles arrive in Crete, King Minos was happy to let him take the Bull off his hands. Heracles walked right up and took the bull by the horns, literally. He strangled the thing into passivity and shipped it back to Eurystheus. Eurystheus let it escape and the Cretan Bull soon became the Marathonian Bull, later to be killed by Theseus.

Maybe after Heracles, I’ll continue my hero series and do Theseus, Jason and Odysseus. Maybe.

4 Comments

  • By Sebastian, June 3, 2009 @ 9:32 am

    How about that, two mainstays of popular culture from one single event! I had no idea that’s where the Minotaur came from — how did that story lead into the Labyrinth? Or are they unconnected?

    The running of the bulls… scary. Seen some video footage of when it goes wrong? Nasty.

    I vote for Odysseus…!

  • By Eleni, June 3, 2009 @ 3:43 pm

    Ooh, yes, I love these stories, and you provide nice commentary. Perseus, too!

    That Hercules TV show was pretty hilarious. And Xena as well.

  • By Hezabelle, June 3, 2009 @ 6:01 pm

    Oooh now I’m going to have to do the Labyrinth soon - it’s one of my favourite stories and there are so many ties to it. Theseus. Ariadne. Icarus. And of course Minos. Basically, Seb, when the Minotaur is born Minos sticks him in the Labyrinth and forces Athens to send virgins every year the sacrifice to the monster. But I promise I’ll tell the whole story soon.

    Xena was way “better” than Hercules, at least she kicked some ass.. Hercules was quite the womanizer.

    I’m reading Ovid right now and it makes me want to do Odysseus next. Hmmm…

  • By Yamary, July 24, 2011 @ 10:42 pm

    Wham bam thank you, ma’am, my questions are asnerwed!

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