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Arethusa, Volume 48, Number 3, Fall 2015, pp. 283-311 (Article)
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THE GREEK MYTHIC STORY WORLD1
SARAH ILES JOHNSTON

I n the last article of Arethusa, I took up the question of how the highly
polished nature of Greek mythic narratives—the vivacity and expressive
power that earned so many of them an enduring place in the pleroma of
world literature and art—contributed to the creation and sustenance of
belief in the gods, heroes, and a divine world more generally. In that article, I focused particularly on how the characters in Greek myths evoked
emotional and cognitive responses from their audience members that were
virtually indistinguishable from those evoked by people in the real world,
and on how the ancient modes of narrating myths (which typically treated
them episodically and through a variety of different media), helped to keep
the stories and their characters alive in an audience member’s mind and
heart long after a narration was over, thus further sustaining the beliefs
that the stories had encouraged.
One issue that I temporarily set aside in that article was why the
narration of a wide variety of myths focusing on a wide variety of characters was appropriate for recitation at a wide variety of festivals dedicated to
a wide variety of gods. In many cases, of course, there is an obvious link
between the myth and the festival: the story of Apollo’s foundation of the
Delphic Oracle makes intrinsic sense for performance at a Delphic festival
in honor of Apollo (as in Aristinous’s paean to Apollo and, probably, the
second part of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo). In other cases, thematic or

1 I thank audiences at the New York Classics Club and Princeton University, as well as Fritz
Graf, Tom Hawkins, and Arethusa’s anonymous referee for suggestions they made as this
article was in developmental stages. I am also grateful to Eric Rudolph for a comment
he made long ago, starting me off on a new line of thought that led to the ideas I present
here. The diagrams were designed and executed by Pelham Johnston.

283
Arethusa 48 (2015) 283–311 © 2015 by Johns Hopkins University Press

284

Sarah Iles Johnston

contextual considerations provide a key: performing a story about Theseus’s
youthful exploits in honor of Delian Apollo (as in the case of Bacchylides’
seventeenth dithyramb) would appropriately draw attention to the god’s role
in protecting young men. In still other cases, we feel tempted to guess that
the tastes of the poet or the patron led to the choice of myth (as in, perhaps, Pindar’s second Olympian ode). Yet there is a stubborn remainder of
myths that resist all such scholarly gymnastics: how did Bacchylides’ story
of Heracles’ accidental murder at Deianeira’s hands, performed in honor
of Dionysus at Delphi (B. 16), help to sustain belief in anyone other than
Heracles? Why perform it to celebrate Dionysus? What was “the point” of
narrating that particular myth at that particular place at that particular time?
Our general answer must be that the Greeks cared less about
always making tightly logical connections between festivals and myths
than we have imagined—or to put it otherwise, that the contributions that
mythic narratives made to creating and sustaining belief in the gods and
heroes could be more broadly based than we have previously acknowledged. More specifically, I suggest that an essential element that enabled
this breadth of applicability was the tightly woven story world that was
cumulatively being created on a continuous basis by the myths that were
narrated. The closely intertwined nature of this story world validated not
only each individual myth that comprised it but all the stories about what
had happened in the mythic past, the characters who inhabited them, and
the entire worldview upon which they rested. Because it was embedded in
this story world, a skillfully narrated myth about Heracles, for example,
had the power to sustain and enhance belief not only in Heracles himself
but in the entire cadre of the divine world of which he was a member,
including those divinities to whom the festival at which the myth was
performed was dedicated.
I will begin with a discussion of what makes story worlds in general coherent and credible and will then move on to ask whether the story
world created by Greek myths fulfilled those criteria or, rather, drew its
coherence and credibility from other characteristics it possessed. Along
the way, I will discuss some characteristics that Greek mythic narratives
share with narratives familiar from more recent centuries, which will
further heighten our appreciation of the way in which the Greek mythic
story world created and sustained belief. Of course, an important backdrop
to my project as a whole, as I present it in this article and its prequel, is
the very fact that the places and times in which Greek mythic narrations
were publicly performed were, in themselves, conducive to creating and

is that an author makes “a Secondary World which your mind can enter. The audiences were primed by these conditions to open their minds to the ideas that the myths conveyed. what he relates is ‘true’: it accords with the laws of that world. cf. inside. . misses the mark completely as far as what well-constructed fiction does to readers according to Tolkien. R. the spell is broken. .” the world in which we live. in his own essay in that collection2). But this suspension of disbelief is a substitute for the genuine thing” (Tolkien 1947. or rather art. S. festival and myth.chapter 14). . Andrews and then published in a 1947 festschrift for fantasy writer Charles Williams that was edited by C. is that they allow us to avoid “real world” and “fantasy world”—terms that obstructed an idea that Tolkien and a number of other authors and scholars wanted to emphasize (including Lewis.The Greek Mythic Story World 285 sustaining belief: the narrations were frequently performed in sanctuaries dedicated to the gods and heroes. has failed. You are then out in the Primary World again. during festivals dedicated to the gods and heroes. Namely. mutually supported one another. looking at the abortive little Secondary World from outside .” which was delivered in 1939 as the annual Andrew Lang Lecture at the University of St. R.” which he invented to discuss poems that included elements of the fantastic such as his own Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1817. Tolkien introduced the term “Secondary World. then disbelief must be suspended. In an essay entitled “On Fairy-Stories. even if that fictional world has fantastic elements. and thus the two. he says.28) to describe this process that Tolkien 2 Lewis 1947. that a well-constructed fictional world elicits responses from us that are almost indistinguishable from the ways in which the real world affects us. Inside it. Tolkien. he suggests.60). Lewis. Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s well-worn phrase.” which he contrasted with “Primary World. Media scholar Michael Saler recently coined the term “willing activation of pretense” (2012. I. the magic. STORY WORLDS One of the first scholars to theorize about how story worlds are created was himself the creator of a very famous story world: J. “willing suspension of disbelief. The moment disbelief arises. remarks made in the essays collected in Lewis 1966. What really happens. You therefore believe it while you are. as it were. The virtue of these terms.

3 Wolf argues. introduced in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz (1908). and claws sharp enough to tear a lion in two. letters written by one character to another. as in the case of the Star Trek universe containing earth. Bram Stoker’s Dracula essentially does what I just described: it introduces vampires into a world that is otherwise identical to that of late nineteenthcentury Europe. It immerses readers or viewers so completely. what it needs is a “distinct border partitioning it from the Primary World. first featured in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) and appearing in other Oz books thereafter. after all. As media scholar Mark Wolf puts it (2012. after all. etc. Mangaboos. the world in which the Oz stories are set has Munchkins. a head like a tiger. but I think that Tolkien means something more than that: a truly well-constructed story world requires no conscious decision at all on the part of audience members who participate in it—neither the suspension of disbelief nor the activation of pretense. talking trees. felt that they had 3 Kalidah: a vicious beast that has the body of a bear. One might nonetheless have created a gripping story. but it also refers to giving the Secondary World a sufficient number of sufficiently striking features—geographical. In addition to credibility.286 Sarah Iles Johnston sketched. technological.” “Partitioning with a distinct border” refers to devices such as wardrobe doors. and distances that only warp-speed vehicles can traverse. yet so subtly. It is connected to the Primary World in some way but also set apart enough to be a world unto itself. But it is doubtful that the original readers of Dracula.25). that they pass into it without even noticing that they are doing so. Kalidahs. botanical.33). even when it is said to exist somewhere in the Primary World. in fact. for instance—into a world that in all other respects aligns with our Primary World (2012. and newspaper clippings. deadly deserts over which cyclones carry houses. the same sorts of Victorian folk who populated the novel. Mangaboos: an underground race of people made of vegetable material. a Secondary World requires something else.—to make it different from the Primary World. or when the Primary World is said to be part of it. zoological. For example. flying monkeys. who were. . that one can’t really be said to have created a truly Secondary World if one simply introduces a single element—vampires or aliens. and a queen who can change her head as easily other women change their hats (to name just a few of its oddities). One might even be able to make that story coherent and credible—Stoker did this through the introduction of diary entries. rabbit holes.

Vidal 1977a and 1977b are helpful and insightful. his publishing house.The Greek Mythic Story World 287 entered a wholly new story world in the same way that readers of the Oz books or the viewers of the Star Wars movies do.4 Tolkien’s story world. can be set. is again a good example: it includes not only the country of Oz itself but also some neighboring lands such as Ev and Ix that were explored both in some of the later Oz books and also in books that formally lay outside of the Oz canon. The story world of Oz. is the information at http://en. for instance. the creation of maps and other paratextual materials to accompany a series of stories—lexicons of invented languages. in which twenty-two of his novels are set. as does Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegone. which slowly developed over the course of more than sixty volumes. after his death. and technological features—but they are fully enough described to hold together as discrete places over the span of the different stories. but also for stories narrated in the Silmarillion that take place in lands contingent to Middle-Earth. Potentially more complete. we typically mean something that goes beyond the narratively constructed space in which a single story is set—something that constitutes a space where many stories. all of which are contained in a world called Arda that is itself part of a cosmos called Eä. Frank Baum between 1900 and 1920. they do not differ significantly from the Primary World in their geographic. You can even map them. 4 Fourteen books about Oz were written by L. William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County.wikipedia. including the land called Middle-Earth. Characters travel from one book to others. so far as I can establish.wikia. sometimes travelling from one country within the Oz world to another as they do so. 2014). But what about the word “World”? When we talk about a story world. 2014). whether they be directly connected to each other or not. commissioned twenty-six more. is the setting for not only The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. as Faulkner himself did. These latter two worlds are not distinctively secondary—that is. zoological. timelines. 5 First printed on the end papers of Faulkner and Cowley 1946. botanical. . genealogies. A complete and accurate list. That takes care of the word “Secondary” in Tolkien’s term: a Secondary World must be different enough from the Primary World to merit the adjective. is to be found at: http://oz. In addition. There are story worlds outside of fantasy and science fiction. but also more confusing. Baum published eleven books that many consider canonically part of the Oz World. Reilley and Lee.5 (In fact. and something that is perceived by its audience as consistent and coherent. and others published an additional six books and two short stories. too. qualifies.org/wiki/List_of_Oz_books (last accessed May 14.com/wiki/List_of_Oz_books (last accessed May 14.

Other examples are Noel 1980 and Furth 2012. the Chimaera. maps.153–97. Cyclopes. the Mares of Diomedes. which stopped floating after Leto gave birth to Apollo upon it.” Many editions of John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Chronicles include an extensive family tree in the front material. the Minotaur. and Cerberus. But many of the other creatures who appear in myths are just larger or more vicious versions of creatures found in the Primary World: the Nemean Lion. Typhoeus. a couple of dragons. In their single episodes.) With these two sets of guidelines in place—what it takes to make a story world a world and what it takes to make it secondary—let us turn now to Greek myths and consider what kind of story world underlies them. and other guides to its infrastructure6 —is a sure indication that a story world has taken on an existence of its own. zoological. Sirens. most often. botanical. and technological features. centaurs. to qualify? Let us take stock. Charybdis. Technologically. Are there a sufficient number of sufficiently odd geographic. but I cannot think of other examples. Aside from the zoological catalogue. magical objects and magical forces. the Hydra. And we must remember that the catalogue I just presented is a pasticcio gathered together from different works. we have some remarkable creatures: gorgons. In our bestiary. sphinxes.288 Sarah Iles Johnston bestiaries. Botanically. .. the Erymanthian and Calydonian Boars. As for unusual geographic features. we have the various automata built by Hephaestus. Scylla. trying to be representatively inclusive without becoming pedantically exhaustive. and appendices on such topics as “Mid-World Dialects” and “Gilead Fair-Days. II. the Cretan and Marathonian Bulls. this is not a particularly strong record of weirdness. Harpies. Pegasus. etc. mentioning 6 Wolf 2012. and two floating islands: the one on which Aeolus and his family dwelt and Delos. and Sciron’s giant turtle. THE GREEK STORY WORLD My first question is whether we find strong characteristics of a Secondary World in Greek myths. Perseus’s (or rather Hermes’) winged shoes. myths usually introduce only one remarkable feature—a monster. there is very little going on at all: from the Odyssey we get moly and lotuses. This amounts to a seriatim introduction of vampires and aliens into an otherwise Primary World. which includes a dictionary of characters. and Hades’ cap of invisibility. griffins. the Python. the Crommyonian Sow. I can offer only the Planctae. Sometimes ancient authors seem relatively uninterested in a monster’s remarkable features.

” at Ο. slightly modified). 4. is well integrated into an eventful but otherwise realistic voyage across the Aegean. who allots to her a single adjectival phrase.90). In this and many other cases. if for a different reason. a lion in front. he ordered Bellerophon to kill the furious Chimaera.232–38). And when he saw the evil tokens. the king welcomed him and honored him with entertainment for nine solid days. moreover. and breathing fire. is detailed and chilling: black and utterly abominable. 6. they snore forth repulsive breath and foul ooze drips from their eyes.The Greek Mythic Story World 289 them only briefly. the sheer physical strength that the hero displays while yoking Aeetes’ oxen and guiding their plow merits more attention than the oxen’s fiery breath and brazen hooves (P. for example. Homer does not fail to mention the Chimaera’s triple physiognomy and fiery breath. for instance. But when the tenth dawn spread her rosy light. But that is the point. and a goat in the middle. that which is marvelous is situated squarely within familiar activities or against a familiar backdrop: Bellerophon departs to fight the Chimaera after a series of feasts such as Homeric kings typically serve to important visitors. (trans. after all: the epiphany of these dreadful goddesses is meant to be understood as a sudden irruption of maddened rot into a space of reasoned light. the contrast needs to be striking. Consider this passage from the Iliad in which the story of Bellerophon and the Chimaera is told (Il. And when he reached the river Xanthus. trusting in signs from the gods. a serpent in the rear. Lombardo. Similarly. but he does not take full advantage of their narrative possibilities (nor does Pindar. 13. under the excellent escort of the gods.171–83): So off went Bellerophon to Lycia. in Pindar’s narration of Jason’s exploits on Colchis. Theseus’s visit to the marvelous undersea palace of Poseidon and Amphitrite. Odysseus’s own narrations of the monsters he encountered and their . Bellerophon killed her. “fire-breathing. Similarly. This is not to say that Greek authors could not focus more closely on the wondrous or the horrible when they wished to: Aeschylus’s portrait of the unnamed goddesses who invade Apollo’s Delphic Oracle. as narrated by Bacchylides in his seventeenth dithyramb. a creature that was not human but divine. the king questioned him and asked to see the tokens that his son-in-law Proetus had sent. killing an ox each day.

such as this passage from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (2001. the monstrous and the marvelous are treated with relative restraint by ancient authors. a carnivore and a killer. momentarily. rather. and that those events or characters are often integrated into descriptions of the Primary World in such a way as to expand possibilities within the latter rather than highlight the extraordinariness of the former. Ion 184–218). what else would we expect from a talented. a fury of brown and of white. that the secondary qualities that it does possess focus upon single. old instincts kicking in. This is not because the Greeks weren’t able to imagine a sufficient number of sufficiently odd 7 We know. for instance—are integrated into the everyday world in such a way as to be accepted by audience members unhesitatingly. its red eyes bright and peering through the darkness. that visual representations of the monstrous could be striking. it enables them to contribute to an expansion of the narrative world’s possibilities. might stand out as magical or fantastic—ghosts conversing with the living. are that the story world of Greek myths is not a strongly secondary one. undulating gently. The effect is much like that produced in the modern genre of magic realism.214): Upon [Hunter’s] arrival. and extraordinary longevity. My initial conclusions. Eur. it hisses like a snake and.g. self-aggrandizing storyteller?7 Yet overall. in isolation from their narratives. dangerous. This does not rob them of their marvelousness. where elements that. telepathy.. And then it leaps at her. This giant weasel-creature enhances the strangeness of a subterranean world that Gaiman has already painted as weird. too. like a wet-furred snake. its teeth like needles.290 Sarah Iles Johnston dreadful modes of attack are hair-raising. The creature is extinct in the world above. We should note the contrast between this way of narrating the marvelous and that found in many examples of fantasy writing in which remarkable elements are accentuated by vivid description. and utterly disconnected from “normal” existence above ground. from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail. then. circumscribed events or characters. it comes through the underbrush. nothing but hate and sharp teeth. . it freezes. As it passes her. It weighs almost three hundred pounds and is a little over fifteen feet long. not only from what remains to us but also from ancient reactions embedded in literature (e.

C.8 the Planctae became small islands called the Cyaneae at the Bosphorus.The Greek Mythic Story World 291 features or introduce them into tales: two examples that prove they could are Lucian’s True History and the latter parts of the Alexander Romance. the Planctae were identified with the Symplegades. Hellanicus FGrH 4 frag. when Greek heroes come from or journey to exotic places. showing the hero .” however. Ant.” after all. Cf. Harpies.121.317–45. and Books 9 through 12 of the Odyssey. Each includes strange creatures (Cyclopes. Th.g. 9 Hdt. the fantastical lands that Jason and Odysseus visited began to be pulled back into the category of the unremarkable as the Greeks repeatedly tried to map them onto the world that they knew. 77. From at least the fifth century. Cyc. 966.25 and 3.1209. 12 Pf.E. somewhat with tongue in cheek. 6. 4.70. and Ap. Charybdis. the Lemnian women). The Phaeacians’ Scheria became Corcyra. for instance11—but “Hesperides. which were themselves located at the Bosphorus: Soph. odd geographic features (the Planctae. But two other examples that we probably would call myths are those portions of the old Argonautica that are set in Colchis or on the journeys to and from Colchis. fire-breathing bulls. and humans (or at least humanoids) who do strange things (the Laestrygonians. technological wonders created by Hephaestus (Talus in the Argonautica and the Phaeacians’ gold and silver dogs in the Odyssey). they typically are places that nonetheless had a firm location in the world as the Greeks knew it: Cadmus and Europa came from Phoenicia..922–61). 4. We would probably not call either of these “myths. frag. Notably. 11 Heracles in the Garden of the Hesperides: Pherecydes FGrH 3 F 16 and 17. Apollonius of Rhodes later tells of two separate groups of problematic rocks that the Argo negotiates on its way to Colchis and then on its way back (2. Sirens. Perseus and Heracles travel to more fantastical lands for some of their labors—each of them go to the Garden of the Hesperides. for example. 10 Th. Theseus went to Crete. and Scylla. Bellerophon journeyed to Lycia.2. Perseus in the Garden of the Hesperides: attested by a vase dated to 340–30 B. Rh. they are “wonder tales”: deliberately constructed fantasies into which a remarkable number of remarkable things have been purposefully incorporated. leaving aside the travels of Odysseus and Jason. 4. and Iphigenia ended up among the Taurians in Scythia. the floating island of Aeolus). the reception history of these two examples once again demonstrates the Greek preference for keeping the story world of their myths closer in nature to the Primary World than to a Secondary World. Eur. For over time. is nonetheless a firmly 8 E. however. etc.85. Heubeck 1989.10 We should note as well that.9 and the island of the Cyclopes became Sicily. 20–24. the Lotus-eaters. 1. Call. to name a few).

Nonetheless. . One reason for this is that we grew up surrounded by books that corral individual myths into anthologies. Even if no one who told or listened to these myths had themselves been there. III. whether they came through Ovid or not—were among the few appropriate subjects for upper-class décor. as were predecessors such as Pherecydes and Hellanicus. and more important.292 Sarah Iles Johnston geographic name. heroes. If you found the right mode of transportation and just kept going north. and an apple tree (LIMC Hesperides 62). the world of the myths does not comprise a strongly Secondary World in Tolkien’s terms. not only insofar as the artists took particular pleasure in illustrating Ovid. the greatest of all unifiers. Walking today through a museum gallery in which such works have been gathered together is like strolling through a mythographic handbook.29–30). the myths are perforce given cohesiveness. even if on a longer leash. but you could pin Hyperborea to a spatial relationship that was essentially no different from that to which you would pin Oropus if you lived in Athens. THE MYTHIC NETWORK But another. cling to familiar geographic templates and limit the degree to which other strange elements are allowed to intrude. Greek myths. the very word Hesperides insisted that the heroes had gone west and thereby kept them within a world articulated by the familiar cardinal points. and then bound between two covers. you would eventually arrive there. I suspect that many of us feel in our bones that Greek myths do. Pindar has Perseus travel to Hyperborea: P. Centuries of European art cemented the idea. north. The name of the longest running fantasy land that the Greeks invented—Hyperborea—reveals a similar determination to keep exotic realms tethered to the known world. Perhaps. The practice has a long history: Ovid and Apollodorus were already doing it. have a distinct story world. as Pindar once said. Translated or re-narrated by the voice of a single author. 10. and monsters whom we meet with three nymphs. a dragon. 10. north. then. collectively. you couldn’t get to Hyperborea by ordinary means such as walking or sailing (P. reason that the Greeks seem to have a mythic story world is that the gods. illustrated by the pen or brush of a single artist. but also insofar as there was a tacit agreement that Greek myths—virtually any Greek myths.29–36.

14 Cadmus. but the narrator ties her into the larger family of mythic monsters by mentioning that the Python had been the nursemaid of Typhoeus. but with the important difference that social network theory describes the way in which individuals or groups actively forge connections that facilitate the transmission of materials and knowledge and the establishment of social prestige. which eventually led to the birth of the Minotaur. which I have applied myself at Johnston 2009. Cat. 368.260–68. 140 and Bacch. Hes.27.The Greek Mythic Story World 293 in the individual stories are always part of a network. Sappho 206 LP. 15 Hellanicus FGrH 4 F 51. Il. See also Gantz 1993. meanwhile. 280–83.13 The branches of heroic family trees are at least as entangled as those of the creatures that they kill or subdue: Heracles was the descendant of Perseus. who had been kidnapped by Zeus to start a dynasty on Crete.292 with scholia = Hes.15 Theseus journeyed to the Underworld to help his friend Pirithous kidnap Persephone—a favor in return for Pirithous 12 Cf. 13 HH Apollo 353–54. 6. whose definition of myth includes: “A myth is a story . and 31. and Gantz 1993. and Il.467–68. a dreadful creature about whom Hesiod had a lot to say. whom Theseus killed. Hes.34–37. Musaeus frag. artists. and Gantz 1993. and their audiences.179–82. Pherecydes FGrH 3 F 88. The monstrous Python may have been new to some people the first time they heard the Homeric Hymn to Apollo. 141 and 145. and Bellerophon was the ancestor of the Trojan ally Glaucus—who was the first to tell us the story of Bellerophon and the Chimaera. its cast of characters. who talks about a “network of myths” in a different sense from what I mean. 304–25.12 There is no such thing as a Greek mythic character who stands completely on his or her own. Th. even some of its events with other myths. that is part of a larger group of stories”. 10 SM. he discusses the way in which different myths may share elements or mythemic units. 26. Il. Pherecydes FGrH 3 F 89. and Hes. for example.811.179–82. and the narrators take some pains to tell us that (and.) My approach here resembles “social network theory” as recently used by Eidinow 2011 and Malkin 2011. And the narrator makes Apollo himself tell us a few lines later that the Python was a pal of the Chimaera. 12.321–22. he or she is always related to characters from other myths. frag.xxxix. Th. Cat. it shares its themes. to invent such relationships when they need to). frag. to analyze aspects of ancient civilization. where she clarifies that “a myth cannot function as a myth in isolation. and notes that “a collection of interlocking stories” is necessary to present a culture’s complete worldview. searched for his sister Europa. who first appeared in the Iliad and whom Hesiod said was the child of Typhoeus (as were Cerberus and the Hydra). one assumes. also Doty 2000. (He draws on the work of Scheid and Svenbro 1996. . 100 Bernabé. whereas my model concerns characters whose connections (to our post-classical eyes. the remarks of O’Flaherty 1988. frags.” Cf. by killing a gorgon. . 6. Bacch. Il. 14 Gantz 1993. . Perseus played midwife to the marvelous horse Pegasus upon which Bellerophon rode to kill the Chimaera. 14. at least) were forged by authors.

too. who later tried to kill Theseus and subsequently married Achilles after they both were sent to the paradisiacal White Island. who.255–56. and Lyc. where the elite of the heroic race hung around after their lives were over.46–48. to the latter 16 Od. who was angry with Aphrodite for having contrived the death of Hippolytus. Tethys and Oceanus. Bacch. Pherecydes FGrH 3 F 112 and 31. Hellanicus FGrH 4 F 168a.14. 17 Pherecydes FGrH 3 F 88 and 22. Alcman 21 PMG. 3.153–360 and HH Hermes. Apollod.7. frag. . Bibl. 233 Pf. Gantz 1993. while he was down below.16 To get back to Cadmus: teeth from a dragon that he had slain while looking for his sister were carried to Colchis. thus starting the Trojan War in which Glaucus fought). but in other ways as well: Aphrodite fought with Persephone over Adonis. frag.4. Pi. Zeus made love to Io (thus becoming the great-great-grandfather of Cadmus and Europa. cf. who had been killed by a boar sent by Artemis. Note that there is also a tradition of Theseus meeting Meleager’s ghost in the Underworld according to Hes. impeders and helpers. with the result that Odysseus met Heracles’ ghost in the Underworld. Hermes stole his big brother Apollo’s cattle and then won forgiveness by singing a song about how the whole family of gods had come into existence in the first place. frag. not only in the sense that during the early epochs of creation.14. Astr. there was no one else with whom they could dally and reproduce.294 Sarah Iles Johnston having helped Theseus kidnap Helen (who was later kidnapped again by Paris. Athena helped Bellerophon put a bridle on Pegasus so that he could kill the Chimaera. Hes. but the story is much earlier—see Gantz 1993. 4. . where they later caused problems for Jason. but artistic representations suggest this part of the story is older: Gantz 1993.4. whose sister Deianeira Heracles later married . Sappho 140 LP. 280 and Gantz 1993. frag.291–95. P. and by whom he subsequently was murdered. 1420–22.28. who was aided by Medea. Theocr. Theseus was rescued by Heracles. 14.19 Gods were intertwined with monsters and heroes as well—as their parents and lovers. 9. son of Theseus. Alex.730–31.220–42.102–03.17 Gods were notoriously intertwined with one another. and Call. 11. 3.630–31. Hipp. 191 PMG. also met the ghost of Meleager.3. 5.3 (citing early works now lost). and then she used that charm to seduce Zeus so that Poseidon could cause trouble on the battlefield while Zeus was taking a post-coital nap. Ibycus 291 PMG.601–27. 18 Apollod. Cat. 280 MW.31. 19 Il. .5 and 10. Failing in this quest and trapped in the Underworld. Bibl. Stesich. 174 and 798. 3. and Hyg.18 Hera wheedled Aphrodite into lending her a magic charm under the pretense that she wanted to settle a quarrel between their grandparents. Paus. Hes. frag. 25 MW. Od. 2. Eur. 11.

knowing that the two girls are also linked by shared hubris (6. (But wait—didn’t I just say that Achilles married Medea on the White Island? Well. and then.63–92. W. Helen was kidnapped by Theseus as a girl. the 100-eyed monster that Hera had sent to guard Io. . and by the time I was ten. 124 and 126. eventually.148–49). I could find a way to link them together (and in fewer than six steps. Lycophron mentions that. I was an expert at my own private version of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”: if you gave me two figures from myth. that Arachne was a girlhood friend of Niobe—and if readers are mythically well informed. but still. Hermes killed Argus. Earlier still. Mair’s footnotes to the Loeb edition so kindly informed me: the great-great-granddaughter of Pleuron. includes such morsels of information as the fact that the daughters of Pelops and Hippodamia married the sons 20 Pi. Even if we can’t assume that every ancient individual could have played Six Degrees as adeptly as I do (or Apollodorus did). they get frissons when they read that line. and monsters. as A. on the White Island. finally.199 and 811. the cumulative knowledge of an ancient adult. Hes. O. and as a favor to Zeus. usually). Ovid sewed his Metamorphoses together with the threads of such relationships. must have been substantial. kidnapped again by Paris. I read almost nothing except Greek mythology books.20 The last three paragraphs were far easier for me to compose than anything else I have written. 143. they sounded real. of course. scholiasts and mythographers reported fully on the loves. married to Deiphobus after Paris’ death. given that many of the narratives articulating the relationships amongst the characters in myths were composed for public performance and then were later re-performed in either private or public settings. and it was not meant exclusively for the erudite. The Hellenistic poets played such complex versions of this game that even my precocious talents were at times confounded. properly married to Menelaus. hates. 798.) But the weaving of the net with which these later poets played their games began much earlier. As a child. particularly an adult male. frags. for instance. heroes. and see Gantz 1993. for example. after the end of her earthly life. The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women. married to Achilles. some of which he may have invented. Whom did the poet Lycophron mean when he referred to the “five-times-married frenzied descendant of Pleuron”? Helen. He said.The Greek Mythic Story World 295 of whom he eventually also made love). too: Alex. 171–79. 13. Cat. Such mental gymnastics have a long and respectable pedigree: starting already in late antiquity. and other connections amongst gods.

248–45. Theseus. 5. they created what was essentially a sequel to the well-known story of Demeter and Persephone.23 Even Orpheus.470–72 for a different view. Hecale frags.242 says the story was told in the epic cycle.296 Sarah Iles Johnston of Perseus and Andromeda. 133 and 134. and Eur. and Hippolytus. that they needed an aition for their cult. existing tapestry: when the ritual bricoleurs behind the new mysteries of Dionysus decided. Cat. Adonis. ended up on that ship. Hipp.21 The comic poet Antiphanes complained that tragic poets had a great advantage because their audiences already knew the basic plot of a play the moment its characters’ names were announced (frag.22 was groomed for the bigtime by being linked to such stars as Medea (who became his evil stepmother) and Heracles (who became his rescuer). 22 Kearns 1989. Aphrodite.143–44. 23 Medea: our first mention of her involvement in Theseus’s story is Call. vases from the mid-fifth century seem to show her attempting to poison him (details at Gantz 1993. The Calydonian boar hunt is a similar 21 Hes. a character who in most ways stood aloof from the great mythic families and from the mythological network itself (and properly so.167). . turning the famously kidnapped daughter into the grieving mother of a kidnapped child herself (Graf and Johnston 2013.66–93). and it’s from the end of Euripides’ Hippolytus that we learn about the tangled web of relationships amongst Artemis. 3. 232 and 233 Pf. It’s from one of Bacchylides’ epinicians that we first learn about Heracles meeting Meleager in the Underworld. frags.487–88).292 and Fowler 2013. 1416–22. understood the importance of tying their threads securely into the familiar. 3.255–56 and see also Sourvinou-Inwood 1979). was drawn into service as an Argonaut (Graf and Johnston 2013. where Theseus’s mother is Helen’s servant. singers were by nature marginal characters in Greek society). 129)—and if we look at a list of tragedies known to have been produced. Those who wished to create new myths.117–24 and Gantz 1993. at some point in the late archaic period. moreover. and a scholium A to Il. Heracles: the earliest evidence is a shield band relief from Olympia dated to about 560 (discussion at Gantz 1993. Theseus’s attempt to kidnap Helen seems to be alluded to at Il. who seems to have been a fairly low-key hero until the sixth century. almost every hero of the generation that lived before the Trojan War (including one woman). Bacch. Indeed. the voyage of the Argo more generally is a perfect example of a story that grew through a type of agglomeration encouraged by the mythic network: over time. we realize how prodigious the mythological knowledge of someone who regularly attended the theater must have been. but see also Fowler 2013.

. 1.16 and Apollod. Phanes or Protogonos. This is one reason that figures and incidents from myths are so powerful as symbols: even when we regard them singly. through 24 Atalanta: Apollod. Each story stands as a guarantor of the existential rules underlying the others and is.24 Studying this network for its own sake is pretty boring. That is.198). is connected vertically to Hermes. guaranteed by them. the relationships not only come to life but help to create a coherent story world that serves to anchor and validate each individual myth in an infinitely reciprocal way. valuable though it be as a reference work. any individual’s cumulative story is also. implicitly. the tale of Odysseus and Polyphemus is but one episode in a closely linked set of tales narrating Odysseus’s travels home. the relationships themselves just aren’t very interesting.9. if you believe Hesiod. in turn. Eco 1985. probably derived from Euripides’ lost Meleager. and stretches “horizontally” to connect each individual to characters in other mythic families or groups (thus Odysseus. Until we hear or see the stories behind the relationships and meet the personalities connected with the names. they are never actually alone. 1. Each of them contributes to a completely furnished world from which audience members may subsequently break off pieces to use as a situation demands—pieces that still refract the authority and allure of the whole (cf. but in hyperseriality.The Greek Mythic Story World 297 case (and it recruited the same woman—but then there weren’t so many to choose from). effective narration of Theseus’s adventure with the Minotaur also lends credibility to Perseus’s defeat of Medusa or to the birth of Erichthonius as a creature half-snake and half-human. because all of these figures are presented as inhabiting the same realm—a realm that is thickly crisscrossed by the relationships that I have been talking about. through to the children of the heroes who fought at Troy. actually study those schematized wall charts that trace every mythic character back to Chaos in exquisite detail. an episode within a far larger story that stretches “vertically” from the very first gods (Gaea and her shadowy siblings. and few. In a sense. But when embedded in myths. Few people read Timothy Gantz’s Early Greek Myth straight through from page 1 to page 743. I suspect. what I am describing is a sort of hyperseriality: an extended version of the seriality common to Greek myths that I described in my earlier article. In simple seriality. Bibl. if you believe Orpheus). Bibl. for example.82–83.

credible. an individual’s story can be enjoyed on its own. but we find it in plenty of other extended narratives as well: John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Chronicles is an example.298 Sarah Iles Johnston his grandfather Autolycus. Pherecydes (FGrH 3 F 120) says that Hermes was Autolycus’s father. an extra pathos. mutatis mutandis. This sort of hyperseriality is very familiar from soap operas. prequels.394–98 says that Hermes taught Autolycus thievery and the art of making slippery oaths in return for generous sacrifices. 19. and draws from a common cast of characters. Snow’s Strangers and Brothers series. And yet The Light and the Dark (which falls fourth in the series’ internal chronology). and Robert Graves’ I. and paraquels (previously unnarrated stories that take place at the same time as an established story but that focus on different characters. too. Lewis Eliot). frag. Stephen King’s Dark Tower octalogy (and the other novels and stories with which King intertwines it).26 And these are just single examples from among many other relationships in which.25 and horizontally to other warriors who fought at Troy and to the strange people he met on his way home). Some hyperserials come into existence when someone (it may even be the original author) gloms onto a good thing and expands it by creating sequels.” Each of the eleven novels in Snow’s Strangers and Brothers (which span five decades in the life of their narrator. Claudius and Claudius the God (the fact that the Julio-Claudians really existed does not exempt them from being prime fodder for the sort of hyperseriality that I am talking about). where Meleager’s ghost promises Heracles her hand in marriage. Similarly. P. midquels (previously unnarrated episodes from the middles of established stories). Within such a hyperserial. knowing that Deianeira will later murder Heracles gives the scene at the end of Bacchylides’ fifth epinician. 26 Deianeira’s accidental murder of Heracles is attested already at Hes. These -quels are not necessarily poor relations to the “original. Our knowledge that Fleur Forsyte’s father had once been married to Jon Forsyte’s mother—which Fleur and Jon do not know when they fall in love with each other in the third book of The Forsyte Chronicles—gives their relationship a pathos it would not otherwise have. some of whom may have already appeared in more minor roles in the established story: Wolf 2012. as are C.205–12). stands as a paraquel to some or all of the ten other books (confounding the very idea that there is an “original” story among them). 25 Od. 25 MW. and just plain interesting as part of the bigger picture that is always shimmering behind it. . but it is more resonant. both Fleur Forsyte and Heracles engage.

on who is telling the stories and who is hearing them).7. concluding with the words: “This was the penalty Prometheus paid for stealing fire until Heracles later released him—as we shall show in the chapters concerning Heracles. Sometimes it can be difficult to decide whom a given story is even about. Is To Let. coherent plan that avoids repetition (Apollodorus abruptly truncates the story of Prometheus with his arrival in the Caucasus mountains. This kind of movement of a character back and forth between relative prominence and unimportance is essential to hyperseriality as I understand it here: characters fade in and out of one another’s stories in a manner that begins to dissolve any single story into something much larger.The Greek Mythic Story World 299 immerses us so completely in Roy Calvert’s development into one of the first scholars of Manichaeism that we may be surprised. who. CROSSOVERS The specific answers to these and similar questions (which depend. Yet I ask them nonetheless in order to suggest that we should revel in the impossibility of settling such matters. already had begun his career as a hero. . the third book of The Forsyte Chronicles. in Chapter 4. but more specifically about Soames’ problems with his daughter.” 1. on whom the first two books centered. in the abstract. still about Soames Forsyte. they matter very little anyway except to people such as Apollodorus. are beside the point for my purposes and.1). does Europa’s story turn into the story of Cadmus? Has Sophocles hijacked a story that is really about Philoctetes and made it into a story about Neoptolemus? Is a certain tale set in the Caucasus about Heracles releasing Prometheus or is it about Prometheus being released by Heracles? Whose story trumps the other? Who is incidental to whom? IV. to be reminded of how Calvert’s irresponsible homoerotic behavior (an episode for which he is brought on stage very briefly near the start of the second book) once wreaked havoc in the lives of other characters. is the tale of a certain love affair about Jason. who strove to organize his stories according to a single. or is it really about Medea. I want to highlight. according to the tale’s internal chronology. in part. exactly. Fleur? Or is To Let about Fleur and her problems with Soames? Or to return now to Greek myths. whose career as an enchantress and all-around bad woman would continue well beyond the demise of her relationship with Jason? Does Pegasus really “belong” to the story of Medusa and was he only “borrowed” by the story of Bellerophon—or is it vice versa? At what point.

362–69).17–18. 143 and 171–79. Hermaphroditus (D. But intertwining brings us to another. and even Pegasus has four. Pi. Although my description of the mythic network in the previous section was perforce linear—verbal communication is always linear—I want to emphasize that the Greek mythic hyperserial. Athena aided Odysseus during his return home (Od. Odysseus received moly from Hermes. Perseus. and Helen were children of Zeus (Hes. thickly intertwining its participants with one another. Achilles married Helen in the afterlife (Lyc.27 Some characters.6. in fact. 4. Athena and Hermes helped Perseus (Pherecydes FGrH 3 F 11 and even earlier in art: Gantz 1993. the lines would cross more thickly still. I suggested that such intertwining lends credibility to the stories in which these characters participate simply because they all are understood to inhabit the same expanding and yet bounded story world. 27 The additional lines represent the facts that: Apollo helped Paris kill Achilles (Il.1–4. Paris killed Achilles). that it is exactly this intertwining of characters and their stories that cumulatively constitutes the story world of Greek myth. O. Poseidon cursed Pasiphae with the lust that led to the birth of the Minotaur (Eur. 319. Apollo and Artemis were twins. representing each relationship as a line between the two characters involved. Heracles.). Hermes and Aphrodite had a child.S.66–73 and cf. 4. Odysseus won the armor of Achilles after his death (Proclus’s summary of the Little Iliad 1). 135 MW.. etc. Apollo.44–63. 1.13). Were I to add lines representing just some of the other relationships amongst these characters that could not be easily inserted into my linear narrative (e. such as Zeus and Achilles. constitutes a network that stretches in many directions at once. frag. each guarantees and is guaranteed by the others.276–78 and Proclus’s summary of the Aethiopis 3). Poseidon thwarted Odysseus’s return home (Od.. P.74g.5).g. Artemis.S. 82 Aus. 418. Zeus fell in love with Medea. Poseidon sent the bull that frightened Hippolytus’s horses.). 1. and Heracles killed the Hydra and brought Cerberus up from Hades (Hes. 3. 21. probably taken from Eumelus’s Corinthiaca). are particularly well connected to other characters (twelve and six links respectively). Th. One might argue. 943–44. Gantz 1993. 918–19. the dense intertwining of characters and their stories in these sorts of narratives and the difficulty of completely disengaging any one of them from the much larger network of which they are a part. like all hyperserials. etc.). Hera aided Jason (Ap. technique to which I want to draw attention as well.886–900 and 924–26.304–05). Athena. 3.342–43). 12.300 Sarah Iles Johnston once more. and further at Gantz 1993. we would end up with a diagram like the first one that I provide: the lines cross thickly. D. Were we to diagram all of the relationships that I mentioned in the first three paragraphs with which Section 3 began. 313–18. more specific and often deliberately deployed. Alex. . etc.260–61). Paus. Il. 13. Il. and Pi. 278–81 and frag. 43a MW).20–21.19. Hes. A few paragraphs ago. Rhod. Cretans frag. Th. Poseidon sired Pegasus and Bellerophon (Hes. but she refused him out of respect for Hera (Schol.77. Th. 8.

The Greek Mythic Story World Diagram 1 Diagram 2 301 .

Crossovers may also reward audience members with a sense of having special knowledge that makes them feel complicit with the narrator and thus further encourages them to buy into the narrative—as in the case of Heracles meeting Meleager’s ghost in the Underworld. was 28 On crossovers. Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is probably the best-known example from recent years. and Mittell 2012/13.28 Twenty-nine years after introducing Father Donald Callahan as a main character in Salem’s Lot. Mittell 2010. the all-star gathering.29 then this is a perfect example.7. I am not the first to suggest that the Argonautica is the grandfather of them all. 46. As I just emphasized. the ancient audience of the Oedipus at Colonus would have been intrigued to discover him wandering in an Athenian suburb and eventually meeting Theseus.28. . who later became Heracles’ wife. There is also a mode of crossing over that works on the all-star principle. bringing many established characters together into a single new venue. The line between crossovers and what I have been calling hyperseriality can be exceedingly slender. either by authorial intention or through evolution. The use of crossovers. for example..302 Sarah Iles Johnston namely. may better be understood as a special form of hyperseriality for this very reason. hyperserials. Others conjecture that this part of Oedipus’s story was introduced by Euripides in his Phoenissae. on the unexpected introduction of someone from outside.28.chapter 8. the last type of crossover I just described. for example. 29 Paus. at least initially. the answer depends on how one judges some controversial lines: Gantz 1993. The surprise of meeting a familiar character where we don’t expect to generates an additional level of interest in the story.208–09. see.295–97 and Kearns 1989. If we are right in guessing (along with Pausanias) that it was Sophocles who invented the story of Oedipus’s death and burial at Athens. in fact. given that all of the borrowed characters typically meet on narrative ground that is new to some or all of them). thrives. in contrast. but I would like to focus on one difference that is important for my purposes. The unexpected encounter between the two in and of itself rewarded listeners who were familiar with mythological genealogies: they could pride themselves on knowing that Deianeira. the “crossover”: the appearance of a character who is familiar from one context in the middle of another. Stephen King crossed him over into The Dark Tower. where the priest’s deep knowledge of evil was an important backdrop against which a new battle against different monsters played out in a different universe. tend to obscure the priority of any original or dominant narrative and its characters (and. 1. etc.

with notes). But crossovers frequently serve another important purpose: by evoking a story world that is already familiar and accepted. when the bricoleurs behind the mysteries of Dionysus incorporated Persephone into the story that underpinned their new cult. The sci-fi story world of the British series “Torchwood” (2006–2011). from her existing role in the Eleusinian mysteries and their myths. a crossover is a powerful way of giving verisimilitude to a new tale and its characters.30 given that Medea was on record as having later tried to murder the very heir that she promised to help Aegeus sire.The Greek Mythic Story World 303 Meleager’s sister. for example.255–56. had already been well limned by the older series “Doctor Who” before the character Jack Harkness crossed from the latter into the former. There are subtler uses of the crossover as well. The opening lines of C. For the story of Medea threatening Theseus dating at least as early as the mid-fifth century. The most familiar application of this principle is probably the television spin-off where a character from a well-established show is sent out to start a new show. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew (the sixth entry in The Chronicles of Narnia) read: 30 Eur. Another case is the revision of the local Athenian myth of Erigone that wove characters from the House of Atreus into her tale.219–20. Similarly. a stamp of eschatological authority that helped to validate the new cult’s claims. Euripides’ introduction of a friendly Corinthian encounter between Aegeus and Medea would have been chilling as well. for an Athenian audience. this relatively little-known Attic heroine had panhellenic potential (Johnston 1999. Med. S. But the final lines of the myth as Bacchylides narrates it—in which Heracles asks Meleager whether he has an unmarried sister at home and Meleager says that he does. 663–762. she carried with her. see Gantz 1993. This meant that some of the more fantastic aspects of “Torchwood” (such as rifts in the time-space continuum) were simply accepted by the new show’s audience as givens. transporting parts of the old familiar story world into the new one so as to give it instant credibility. and that she is beautiful—must have sent a chill down their spines. Similarly. I have already mentioned how mythmakers brought Medea and Heracles into the emergent story of Theseus to confirm his place amongst the great heroes. . Sometimes a crossover confirms or reorients a character by bringing him or her into contact with one or more characters who are already well established. Immediately.

narrated by E. whose adventures. whose story takes place in a London that is firmly realistic. he additionally anchors it with crossovers from Victorian fiction with which his readers were sure to be familiar: Sherlock Holmes and the Bastable children. whom the accursed Gello snatched from her .279–87.304 Sarah Iles Johnston This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child. It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our own world and that of Narnia first began.” Aeschylus and Sophocles gave epic flavor and thus epic authority to the local cults whose foundation myths they were re-fashioning in the Eumenides and the Oedipus at Colonus.32 Along somewhat the same lines.” “Trajan” lends the authority of age and the historicity of a well-known figure to what will quickly become a remarkable tale of how the two saints battled a notorious demon to rescue their sister’s babies. see Greenfield 1989. . Lewis uses these crossovers to lay down a solidly rational and believable outer story world in which he can then nest the magical story world that begins to appear in Chapter 2—by extension helping to make that second story world believable as well. original pagination is not available to me). 33 Lardinois 1992 and Johnston 1999. were still popular in the 1950s. which was popular from the Byzantine period onwards. but given that this new installment will be set two generations before the others.31 Lewis chooses to refer to the Bastables. 32 The trick is an old and enduring one. Sherlock Holmes was still living in Baker Street and the Bastables were looking for treasure in the Lewisham Road. These crossovers will not again appear in Lewis’ story. In those days Mr. . One of our earliest versions of the legend of Saint Sisinnios and his brother Saint Senidorus. . but they create a climate in which it will unfold. begins with the statement: “Under the reign of Trajan there was a woman by the name of Melitene. Notably. by renaming local Athenian goddesses “Erinyes. it is a climate that is decidedly rational (Holmes) and quotidian: although Nesbit had written many successful books about children who have magical adventures. who gave birth to seven children.33 31 Including one in which a girl passes through the wardrobe in a spare room of her aunt’s house and enters another world: “The Aunt and Amabel” (included in Nesbit 1912. Nesbit at the turn of the century. Lewis first anchors his story with a reference to the preceding five Chronicles (through the word “Narnia”).

his speech breaks the linearity of the poem (Calame 2003. And.The Greek Mythic Story World 305 Sometimes a crossover character lingers longer in a myth in order to establish climate. but at greater length) also establishes an atmosphere within the myth. . Bacchylides tells us how the seeds of Heracles’ marriage and death were planted. these backstories (some of which are extensive enough to qualify as prequels. How did it happen that both Cadmus and Jason had to fight armed men who sprang from dragon’s teeth sown in the soil? Because (Pherecydes answers) after 34 The holes that narrators leave in stories inevitably prompt others to fill them. sequels. by inventing the conversation between Heracles and the ghost of Meleager. This is no longer just one of many stories about Apollo’s pursuit of nubile virgins or just one of Pindar’s many tales about a colony’s foundation. and the foundation of her eponymous Libyan colony. But as a figure who had been associated with the nurture and training of young heroes since the earliest stages of mythic narration. implicitly claim to reveal “how it all came about”—a perennial object of human curiosity. the birth of their son. midquels. information. Compositionally. Formally. Chiron’s presence subtly helps to make this a narrative about maturation that helps to set the proper ambience for an epinician ode in honor of a young victor who seems to be poised on the verge of adulthood himself (P. lend it credibility and authority by their mere presence. which I use as a comparandum for certain aspects of Greek myths in a forthcoming book. Similarly. Both stories. ethical. and episodes from other established narrations.34 Filling such holes often does more than simply satisfy curiosity. can do a number of things very efficiently: establish the existential. in other words. Crossovers. either formally or informally. By inventing the conversation between Apollo and Chiron about Cyrene. they do one more thing. Chiron (like Holmes and the Bastable children. 9.99–100). by borrowing characters. thrives on such opportunities. he also tells us how the god and the nymph crossed paths in the first place. 9). Thematically. Pindar brings Chiron into the tale of Apollo’s love affair with Cyrene as an advisor and a prophet of what will result from the tryst should Apollo pursue it (P. The world of contemporary fan fiction. and establish a particular climate or mood by gesturing towards other myths. to sum up. sometimes. Pindar not only creates an opportunity to forecast the entire span of Apollo and Cyrene’s courtship. or paraquels) become yet another way of weaving a tale more tightly into the mythic network. Chiron instantiates a balance between the wild and the civilized that the rest of the poem explores as well. and operational rules of a new story.68).

Lovecraft put it when responding to the question of how he felt about fans using materials of their own construction to caulk the gaps in his Cthulhu universe. 2013). bigger picture and thus ratified. events from the Theban cycle were woven into the story of Jason. 1930. THE STORY WORLD OF GREEK MYTH I concluded earlier in this article that the story world of Greek myth is relatively short on the sorts of oddities that typically set a Secondary World apart from the Primary World. Eum. com/creation/necron/letters. giving half to Cadmus to sow immediately and half to Aeetes. a parade of kingly Athenian ancestors springs to life behind Creusa. . and Eur. everything can be understood as part of a single. further legitimating the son she is about to reclaim as an heir to the throne. and monsters by definition things that don’t belong in a Primary World? This is where we most clearly see the difference between a story world created by myths and story worlds created by genres such as fantasy and science fiction—or to put it differently. As H. 36 In a letter to Robert E. Athena and Ares collected its teeth. Ion 985–1010. if only you know where to look for the missing pieces—or how to fashion them yourself. How did Apollo manage to convince the Moirai to trade Admetus’s life for that of another? By getting these famously abstemious goddesses drunk (answers Aeschylus’s chorus in the Eumenides). heroes. And thus. as cited at: http://www. who used them to cause trouble for Jason many years later. events from a Thessalian saga were evoked in a newly emerging Athenian myth. How did Creusa end up possessing gorgon’s blood with which she could try to kill Ion? Because (Euripides tells us) Athena gave it to Creusa’s ancestor Erichthonius.306 Sarah Iles Johnston Cadmus slew the dragon. don’t I need to revise that conclusion? Aren’t gods. if it is provided with enough citations to other works. 727–28. between story worlds inhabited by characters in whose existence a society encourages its members to believe and story worlds inhabited by characters who are not intended to 35 Pherecydes FGrH 3 F 22.hplovecraft. and monsters that I have been describing in this article. dated August 14. heroes. Aes. but if I am right that its coherence and credibility rests on the thickly crisscrossing network of gods. who passed it down through the royal line. even artificial mythology (his term) can be given an air of verisimilitude if it is widely enough cited— or. I would add.aspx (last accessed on November 26.36 V.35 And thus. Howard. And thus. Everything can be made to fit together. P.

The myths’ representations of gods. Cf. Heracles.38 The point is also made by off-hand remarks such as those that Socrates and Phaedrus exchanged as they strolled along the Ilissus river: “Isn’t this the place where they say that Boreas snatched away the princess Oreithyia?” asked Phaedrus. Th. “No. There was no single moment at which the mythic world decisively changed into the world that we know today. or that record gifts made to Athena by Cadmus. (And if you weren’t a native. especially if you were a native. or that closely analyze the manner in which Agamemnon acquired his wealth and power as part of the deep background of the Peloponnesian War. therefore. there were always natives from whom you could learn the local lore as you strolled.29. . where you cross to the sanctuary of Agra. Medea. 1. heroes. the deeds described by the myths existed on a continuum that flowed uninterruptedly into the time of the listeners. and. halfhuman early king of Athens) and figures such as Peisistratus. 1. 2. entries 1. and 45. and monsters existing in a world that looked very much like the Primary World is a reflection of two things: a belief that the gods and heroes continued to exist in.The Greek Mythic Story World 307 become objects of belief (even if they later do become such objects). as I explore in my first article). both of whom treat the story of Procne and Philomela as an established part of Athenian history. IG XII. Cf.1–4. meant being constantly reminded by the monuments and landmarks that surrounded you of what was said to have happened there before. Pausanias’s many descriptions of places that evoke myths—here is the well where Demeter sat disguised as an old woman. and the Greek understanding that ta palaia (the things. 60. and Helen. an altar dedicated to Boreas close by” (Pl.2 = SEG 39. 2. and Helen alongside those made by Phalaris. also Hdt. Par. which relates a popular account of the origin of the Persian Wars (dismissed by Herodotus himself) that traces the enmity between the Greeks and eastern nations back to the abductions of Io. Phdr. and events of an earlier age during which the actions of the myths were set37) had melted into those of the present age without an abrupt change.” replied Socrates. 229b4–c3). and to affect.1 Lindos II. I believe. Darius. Th. the world in which those myths were being narrated (a belief that was sustained by the ways in which the myths were narrated. Walking through an ancient city. “and there is. there is the chasm through which Heracles dragged Cerberus up 37 Discussion of ta palaia at Calame 2006 and 2011.3 and Dem. Alexander. for example. Europa. people.30. 38 Marm. This latter point is made well by Greek histories that embrace within a single document both figures such as Cecrops (a half-snake. Minos. I think it was about a quarter-mile further along. and Ptolemy.3–13.

Generally on the Lindian Chronicle.8.37. who later turned into a wolf—are particularly meticulous examples. Some of the monuments that our ancient sources describe provide tantalizing glimpses of myths that we no longer have in any narrative form: Philochorus tells us about a tomb in the Delphic precinct on which was inscribed “Dionysus.2. 24. cf. .C. The myths also.171–84.. D. Pomp. and generally on manifestations of the gods (epiphanies). see Johnston 2008. Div. “Heracles dwells here. And so it was: Heracles warded off evil from houses that displayed an image of his club and a phrase.9. 4.E. Other gods and heroes. and 8. 42 Lindian Chronicle = IG XII. Heracles and the other heroes had cleared the land of such creatures). in 490 B.S.g. while they still dwelt on earth. Pan: Hdt.—helped by local heroes and perhaps his sisters Artemis and Athena. 22. Trog.2 = SEG 39. 2.42 Greek myths provided templates against which such manifestations of gods and heroes could be shaped and measured. or to expect gods to transmogrify people into new animals and plants (the natural world had been holding steady for some centuries). or felt by their worshippers. 41 For an overview of Asclepius and Amphiaraus.308 Sarah Iles Johnston from Hades..39) According to such a view.105–06.E.90–95. 10.35.11. Apollo: Cic. as her temple’s chronicle recorded. provided a story world that bound their 39 Paus.1–4. Paus. son of Semele” (FGrH 328 7)—how we wish we knew more about the story behind that.1.40 it would be reasonable to expect the heroes and the gods to remain an active part of the contemporary world. Asclepius arrived dressed in shining golden armor.41 Athena manifested herself to her worshippers several times in Lindos. e. Asclepius and Amphiaraus regularly worked cures in their sanctuaries while their clients slept. 6.39.23–24 and 1. H. see Higbie 2003. were seen. 1 Lindos II. I discuss in more depth metamorphosis in myths and how it is to be read against the “real” world. 1. Bravo 2003.C. although it might not be reasonable to expect to encounter more nine-headed snakes in Lerna or three-bodied monsters in Spain (the passage of time was understood to have changed some things. 1. and Versnel 1987.” claiming his protection.4. Call. this is the city founded by Lycaon. Meeting Asclepius face-to-face. 40 In a chapter of my forthcoming book. heard. on many other occasions. Pan spoke to Phidippides in the mountains and Apollo fought alongside his worshippers against the barbarian Gauls in 279 B. as I suggest in this article. SIG 398. Isyllos’s paean to Apollo and Asclepius 67–76. she brought rain to the thirsty people when they were besieged by the Persians. and sometimes even met their patients face-to-face—on one occasion.727. Graf 2004. The description of Athena bringing rain is at D 1–59. after all. Henrichs 2010.

was the ideal companion for a religious system whose conceptualizations of divinity were never anchored by sacred texts or canons of doctrine. and human—into a larger network. keeping the stories and their characters vigorously alive (it was by getting the Moirai drunk—of all things!—that Apollo won back Admetus’s life). too.39–49.The Greek Mythic Story World 309 protagonists—divine. 20002. and be accredited by. 1985. Each bond of this network was tight enough to secure. Eidinow. their Daughters. Early Greek Mythography II: Commentary. “Heroic Epiphanies: Narrative. midquels.9–38. Yet the bonds were also supple. Claude.3–12 (rpt.” ICS 29.” Ktèma 31. “Networks and Narratives: A Model for Ancient Greek Religion. Biographia Literaria. issue 47. 2003.” Kernos 24.1–19. Visual. William G. 2011. Robert L. Myth and History in Ancient Greece: The Symbolic Creation of a Colony. and be secured by. 2013. Umberto. sequels. the other bonds. ———. Jorge. Oxford. that interesting prequels. each story could thereby accredit. Calame. William.1. “La fabrication historiographique d’un passé héroïque et classique: ἀρχαῖα et παλαιά chez Hérodote. Faulkner. 2006.” CP 106. and Malcolm Cowley. New York 1986. allowing the sort of revision that kept Greek myths in step with changing beliefs about the gods and changing practices in their honor (Dionysus could become Persephone’s son and thereby underwrite a new mystery cult). New York. but rather by shared beliefs created by the exchange of opinions. 2011. “Casablanca: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage. Erechtheus. Tuscaloosa. The story world of Greek myth. Supple enough. ———. 1946. and the Etiology of Autochthony.197–213). Travels in Hyper Reality. the others. Esther. Fowler.” in SubStance 14. Doty. . The Ohio State University BIBLIOGRAPHY Bravo. and Cultic Contexts. and paraquels could emerge. in U.2. “Myth and Performance on the Athenian Stage: Praxithea. 2003.63–84. Princeton (= Lausanne 1996). Eco. Mythography: The Study of Myths and Rituals. in sum. Samuel Taylor. The Portable Faulkner. Eco. heroic. Coleridge. 1817.

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