The Dag asks:

Why is Aphrodite considered an Olympian instead of a Titan?

Well.  Hesiod doesn’t give a definitive list of “the Olympians” in the Theogony, and it’s the Theogony that claims Aphrodite was born of the blood of Ouranos – Homer says in the Iliad that she’s a daughter of Zeus.  In fact, I don’t think anyone gives a definitive list of “the Olympians” until the Hellenistic period.  The Homeric Hymn to Hermes mentions that there are twelve of them, but doesn’t say which twelve, except that Hermes isn’t one of them (because the Hymn is about Hermes’ ascent to godhood).  The idea that there are twelve of them is persistent in ritual, but it doesn’t seem like anyone thought it was particularly important to come to a firm agreement about who the twelve actually were (Herodorus’ list of the twelve gods to whom Heracles made sacrifices at Olympia includes Kronos, Rheia and Alpheios, who would never make it onto any modern list of “the twelve Olympian gods”).  It’s also perfectly acceptable in Greek poetry to refer to a whole bunch of minor deities, notably the Muses, as “Olympian” (often it’s really just a synonym for “divine”).  So “Olympian” is fuzzy and you can get away with throwing a whole lot of people in there.

“Titan,” on the other hand, is pretty specific.  Hesiod claims that “Titan” was a name given to them by Ouranos, and he derives it from τιταίνω, to stretch or strain, and τίσις, vengeance (which is probably not the real etymology, but it’s what he believed, at any rate), so I think in his mind “Titans” only means the twelve children of Gaia and Ouranos who rebelled against the rule of their father, whom he explicitly lists: Kronos, Rhea, Koios, Phoebe, Hyperion, Theia, Iapetos, Mnemosyne, Kreios, Themis, Okeanos and Tethys.  There are other, different lists of the Titans given by other ancient authors (Apollodorus adds Dione, the mother of Aphrodite in the Homeric tradition, for a total of thirteen; the sixth Clementine Homily seems to think that Demeter was a Titan, but this is a Christian text citing pagan myth in order to discredit it, so it could conceivably have some details muddled).  Today we often consider several of their more famous children to be “Titans” as well – notably Atlas, Prometheus, Epimetheus, Leto, Helios, Selene and Hekate, or even more distant descendants like Calypso – but to be honest I can’t find an ancient source that actually calls any of them “Titans” so I’m not sure when that starts; it could be in the scholia or something.  So the short answer is simply that, despite belonging to an earlier generation than the other “Olympians” in Hesiod’s version of the creation myth, there is no tradition I’m aware of that ever says Aphrodite was part of the rebellion against Ouranos.  It also helps that Aphrodite literally lives on Olympus, which the Titans traditionally didn’t – according to Hesiod they hung out on Mount Othrys (which like Olympus is the name of a real mountain in Greece; it kind of faces Mount Olympus across the plain of Thessaly).

Random Access asks:

No concept of heresy? Wasn’t Socrates put to death for being an atheist though?

It’s not quite the same thing.  Denying the existence of the gods altogether is a problem for them, although in Socrates’ case that was probably just a pretext to get rid of him (as far as we can tell, he wasn’t an atheist at all, at least not in the sense that we understand it).  The late antique and mediaeval notion of heresy, though, presupposes that there are wrong and unholy things to believe about God(s), or wrong and unholy ways to worship God(s), even if no one disputes that he/they exist(s).  For instance, for a 4th century Christian to say that God the Son is inferior to God the Father, when the central authorities of the church believe that they are equal, is heresy (specifically, the Arian heresy) and can get you excommunicated.  There isn’t really any equivalent in the polytheistic religions of the classical period, because they have no dogma and more or less take it for granted that different communities have different ideas about what the gods are, how they act, and how they should be worshipped.

EDIT: An illustrative example.  Hesiod’s Theogony says that Aphrodite was born from the blood of Ouranos, the primordial sky god, when it mixed with the foam of the sea.  Homer’s Iliad says that Aphrodite is the daughter of Zeus and a minor goddess named Dione.  These are two fundamentally incompatible origin stories for one of the most popular goddesses in the Greek world, and they come from the two most respected and authoritative Greek poets.  You can believe either.  Or neither.  Or even both, if you can wrap your head around it (that was Plato’s answer).  No one particularly cares.

Anonymous asks:

Who is/are your favorite Classical mythological figure(s)? Me, I’ve always been partial to Prometheus and Hephaestus (what can I say, I’m a sucker for fiery things, and Fire’s my favorite type! :P)

You know, I don’t think I really have one.  I probably should because I’m a classicist and stuff, and I talked about it with Jim the Editor (who is a classicist as well) for like an hour about it and came to no particular consensus, so I’m just going to go with something interesting and non-obvious and say Helen, just because she’s such a complex and controversial character.  Like, you have Homer’s version in the Iliad, where she is vilified by pretty much all the Greeks and some of the Trojans while simultaneously being the exact thing they’re supposedly all fighting over, and she knows it.  She is well aware that everyone blames her for this terrible war, and she kinda blames herself for it too, because even if she wasn’t really in control of anything that happened, how could you not, in her position?  And there is this one amazing scene where she calls out Aphrodite – the goddess of sexuality, the source of what little power a woman can ever have in Helen’s world – for all the awful bull$#!t she’s been put through over the years because of her beauty.  And true, Aphrodite does immediately slap her down for it, but the thing is, no one else in Homer ever talks back to a goddess the way Helen does; they talk to each other about the awful things the gods do to them, but no one will ever actually say it to their faces (or at least not knowingly), because that’s the kind of thing that gets your ass smited, big time.

Continue reading “Anonymous asks:”