Although the role of lions in ancient culture were later mostly confined to being slain with lances and spears, the lioness has been an important symbol to humans for tens of thousands of years and appear as a theme in cultures across Europe, Asia and Africa. The earliest historical records in Egypt present an established religious pantheon that included a lioness as one of the most powerful cultural figures, protecting the people as well as their rulers. The earliest tomb paintings in Ancient Egypt, at Nekhen, c. 3500 BC., include images of lions, including an image of a deity flanked by two lions in an upright posture. The war goddess Sekhmet, depicted as woman with a lioness head, was one of the ancient Egyptian’s major deities. Even before the rise of Skehmet’s popularity, there was already a belief that a sacred lioness was responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile. Although the name sometimes differ from one region to another, a lioness deity was the patron and protector of the people and the land. As the country united, a blending of those deities was assigned to Sekhmet. The image of lions and great goddesses did not stop there. The Babylonian goddess Ishtar has been represented driving a chariot drawn by seven lions. Ishtar’s Sumerian Inanna was frequently depicted standing on the backs of two lionesses and Persian goddess Anahita was sometimes portrayed standing on a lioness.
Archeologists discovered a figurine at Çatal Hüyük, dating back approximately 8,000 years, which depicts the Mother Goddess flanked by two leopards, squatting, while in the process of giving birth. The leopards were replaced by lions centuries later. Cybele was frequently depicted wearing her turreted crown, while she was seated on a throne, with either a lion lying in her lap or with one of them lying on each side of her. She has also been pictured driving a chariot which was drawn by two lions. Her association lions lend more strength to her already formidable image – that her power was so great, that even lions became meek whenever they were in her presence. Later, lions were used in sculpture to provide a sense of majesty and awe, especially on public buildings. Ancient cities would have an abundance of lion sculptures to show strength such as lions at the entrances of cities and sacred sites from Mesopotamian cultures, the Lion Gate of ancient Mycenae in Greece and the gates in the walls of the Hittite city of Bogazkoy, Turkey. “The Lion of Menecrates” is a funerary statue of a crouching lion, found near the cenotaph of Menecrates. Lionesses often flanked the Gorgon, a vestige of the earliest Greek protective deity that often was featured above temples of later eras.
Then, the powerful needs to be conquered. A poem later relates how a eunuch priest of Cybele, sheltering during a snowstorm in a cave, saves himself from a lion’s attack by beating the great kettle-drum which was used in the worship of Cybele and scares it away. This poem was evidently popular enough that ancient writers such as Alcaeus c. 620 – 6th century BC) and Simonides ( c. 556 – 468 BC) paraphrase it with variations and elaborations of their own.
The Dying Lioness, depicting a half-paralyzed lioness pierced with arrows, is a well-known detail from the Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal, a large set of Assyrian palace relief from about 645–635 BC, depicting dozens of lions being hunted, originally in an Assyrian royal palace in Nineveh (modern day Iraq).
Panopeus, hunter of lions and leopards, dies from the sting of a scorpion; the accident is not impossible, though this may be merely a rhetorical exercise, showing how the boldest man may be overcome by the weakest of animals:
Tis in this tomb strong Panopeus rests, Lion-hunter, piercer of rough panthers’ breasts. On the hills a scorpion from earth issuing Wounded his heel with its death-giving sting. Upon the ground lie his poor darts and spear, Alas ! — the playthings of audacious deer.
Hercules, slayer of the Nemean lion, is frequently hymned and brave men like Leonidas have lions sculptured on their tombs. We also have the well-known lines from Aristophanes comparing Alcibiades to a lion-cub which should not have been reared in the city. A figure of Eros, driving a chariot drawn by lions (the “whip” has been noticeably absent from previous depictions of lions and deities) is noted by Marcus Argentarius:
Upon this seal Love whom none e’er withstands I see, guiding strong lions with his hands; One flaunts o’er them a whip, the other holds The reins ; and grace abundant him enfolds. I fear this bane of men; he who wild beast Can tame won’t pity mortals in the least.
Besides these, there is an anonymous poem praising the Roman Emperor because he emptied Libya of her lions and other prowling monsters, and sent them to Rome to fight in the Circus. In Socrates’ model of the psyche (as described by Plato), the bestial, selfish nature of humanity is described metaphorically as a lion, the “leontomorphic principle”.
One night we were together, you and I, And had unsown Assyria for a lair, Before the walls of Babylon rose in air. How languid hills were heaped along the sky, And white bones marked the wells of alkali, When suddenly down the lion-path a sound . . . The wild man-odor . . . then a crouch, a bound, And the frail Thing fell quivering with a cry!
Your yellow eyes burned beautiful with light: The dead man lying there quieted and white: I roared my triumph over the desert wide, Then stretched out, glad for the sands and satisfied; And through the long, star-stilled Assyrian night, I felt your body breathing by my side.
We often hear that something being dismissed as “just a myth”, which means that it is not true. In fact, myth and truth are often seen as opposites. If it is not analysed, written down in reports and be seen or heard, then it is a myth. For many, mythology is the study of old, meaningless and untrue stories. Some people, repelled by the myths’ more preposterous elements and contradictions, see them as mere fabrications to be discarded in our “enlightened” age. But mythology’s enduring worth is never in its possible historical or scientific accuracy. Some things can be dealt with adequately only in poetry or mythology when recitals of data and observable facts miss the point completely. Love, hate, empathy, aversion, hunger, greed, altruism and all the other positive and negative aspects of being human are also facts. To ignore them by putting everything into numbers is to treat people as insensate objects and their lives as mechanical conditioned responses. This is the statistical perspective and it is as much a distortion of reality as any other limited point of view.
The word “family” is in itself a complicated word containing many combinations of facts, memories, meanings and feelings – it is impossible to describe the concept of “family” by series of facts alone. Every culture’s pantheon of mythical characters was the family in to which every person of that culture was born, as these creatures were as familiar as their parents and grandparents, siblings and cousins. Therefore, a myth is also not a simple proposition that can be judged as true or false propositions. Rather, it attempts to make sense of our perceptions and feelings within our experience of the world in a narrative format. Myths have been there long before art, language or the written word.
Of course, there are certainly many aspects of myths are not literally true. However, we understand the stories about the Greek gods because they share some of our emotions and ambitions – two things we cannot measure even if we tried. The stories of Icarus, for example, resonates with us because we have all experienced within ourselves tendencies to try to fly too high or to force things that has no business happening to begin with, only to crash and burn. Although, as human experience is so multidimensional and varied, no myth can completely represent all of human experience, a myth still captures some important aspects of the domain of human experience it is meant to represent. It is like a map which captures only important features of the terrain but not every detail of the terrain it represents. And just like looking at maps, we learn through imagination, as we feel and visualize the colorful adventures of the deities or heroes. Although mythology is not a literal description of a culture’s history, we can still use myths to explore the culture itself – its viewpoints, activities, and beliefs, and address some of our fundamental and difficult questions that human beings ask: who and what am I, where did I come from, why am I here, how did it all begin?
Truthfully, we are still fascinated by the truths of these mythical stories and we still cry out for magic in our so-called rational world. As human beings are never meant to be totally rational, we crave a bit of mystery to counter our apparent understanding and mastery of the world. To lend this comfort of mystery, humanity have had deities for many aspects of life. The Egyptians had more than 2000 deities while the Hindus have 333 million. The Irish honored both the goddess of rivers (Boann) and the goddess of the Lagan River (Logia). There have been deities for individual cities (Athena for Athens), mountains (Gauri-Sankar for Mount Everest), lakes, tribes, plant species, temples, constellations, and so on. Deities governed not only major phenomena such as agriculture or love or the sun, but also such common matters as leisure, the kitchen stove, guitars, politics, prostitution, singing, doors, virginity, willpower, firecrackers, gambling, drunkenness and the toilet. Deities have governed virtually every possible activity, object, and emotion, lending a bit of their magic into what would have been rather mundane and tedious interactions.
As myths are necessary, our modern society develops its own myths. A lack of myths can cause a sense of meaninglessness, estrangement, rootlessness, and the cold brittleness of a life devoid of reverence and awe. Now our “modern” myths seem to rest on certain concepts (such as “progress”) and in our larger-than-life celebrities. We revered Mother Teresa for her compassion and Albert Einstein for his intellect. Marilyn Monroe was a “screen goddess” possessed by the alluring qualities of Aphrodite while Muhammad Ali called on the aggressive instinct of Ares every time he stepped into the boxing ring. Through all these reverence we somewhat conveniently leave out the fact that Albert Einstein failed every exams he had in his school days, Marilyn Monroe was ultimately a tragic and lonely figure and Muhammad Ali was a gentle man off the ring – in short, they were all human, vulnerable and fragile. The media enlarges certain people to mythical proportions. We often project the “hero” archetype onto other people. Corporations myth lies in their “corporate culture.” There is a myth in every group and our mythology changes as our culture changes.
We each have our own mythology which we create. We have things and people which are important and valued to us personally. We are heroes in our “mythic journeys” by which we romanticize our various passages through life. The truly satisfying and exciting myths are those which arise from our own passions and our own visions. It just so happens that some of those myths have existed since the ancient times.
“Hero has no feminine gender in the age of heroes.”
– Sir Moses I. Finley (1912 – 1986)
At the start of the destructive, long-running war between Athens and Sparta in 430 BC, Pericles, a prominent and influential orator and general of Athens, made a moving speech of ancient valour in honour of those who died in the war.
“… for the Athens that I have celebrated is only what the heroism of these and their like have made her … none of these men allowed either wealth with its prospect of future enjoyment to unnerve his spirit, or poverty with its hope of a day of freedom and riches to tempt him to shrink from danger. No, holding that vengeance upon their enemies was more to be desired than any personal blessings, and reckoning this to be the most glorious of hazards, they joyfully determined to accept the risk… Thus, choosing to die resisting, rather than to live submitting, they fled only from dishonour…”
After speaking at length on this rather splendid theme, Pericles finally remembered to mention the women of Athens who had just lost their husbands, lovers and fathers of their children.
“The greatest glory of a woman is to be least talked about by men, whether they are praising you or criticising you.”
And yet, there was more to classical womanhood than Pericles’s silent matrons. Aspasia, for example, Pericles’ own long-term girlfriend was famously clever and sophisticated. She was certainly talked about and said to have influenced him a great deal. Still, although it was concluded for a long time that there is no female counterpart to the hero, archaeological evidence shows that heroines are included in some of the earliest manifestations of hero cult. The shrines of Pelops and Hippodameia at Olympia may be of great antiquity, early hero-reliefs show hero and heroine pairs, and a dedication to Helen is perhaps the earliest known Laconian inscription, dating from the second quarter of the seventh century.
The classical world has given us many strong women such as Antigone, the heroine of Sophocles’s play of the same name, who only wanted to give her brother, Polydeuces, a proper burial despite her uncle king Creon’s orders. Her sister Ismene struggled to persuade her to obey the king’s edict. “We’re girls,” she cried. “Girls cannot force their way against men.” Antigone would not listen to her and proceeded to commit a crime punishable by death, defying the explicit command of her uncle and gave her dead brother, who died a traitor, his proper funeral rites.
Odysseus has received a lot of attention for his journey. However, he was protected by a woman. The goddess of wisdom, Athena, played the role of Odysseus’s protector and was always on hand to provide magical disguises or advice. Draupadi, from Indian Mythology, was an astute strategist who never failed to take revenge against her enemies. Anath, the ancient Canaanite goddess of love and war, was also someone you want on your side as she was famed for her ferocity in battle. An ancient Ugaritic text describes Anat’s revenge against a man who slighted her in no uncertain terms:
Anat seized Mot,
the divine son,
with a sickle she cut him,
with a winnow she winnows him,
with fire she scorches him, with a mill she crushes him,
she scatters his flesh in the field to be eaten by birds.
In Virgil’s Aeneid, Dido, the queen of Carthage, was doing very well for herself and founded a new city in what is now Tunisia before Aeneas, an exile from defeated Troy, turned up. He was an unemployed loser, but he was pretty. The pair fell in love before Aeneas left for Italy and committed one of the most brutal dumpings in literature which led Dido to commit suicide by stabbing herself with his sword. Dido’s handling of her breakup is admittedly rather weak compared to others. In Buddhist mythology, the beautiful, rich and resourceful Kundalakesa of Therigatha saved a young thief from execution one day and then married him, because she thought she loved him. As the thief then tried to kill her and steal all her jewels, Kundalakesa pushed him off a hill and casually moved on with her life. Hidimbi from Indian Mythology is the modern day version of a single mother who raises a son with all the right values and qualities, with no help from anyone. Hidimbi was a rakshasi (demon) who fell in love and married Bhima, one of the famed Pandava brothers. They lived together only for a very short time, enough for Hidimbi to get pregnant, before Bhima left. Hidimbi later gave birth to Ghatotkacha, Bhima’s son, and raised him alone.
These are all important accomplishments. However, according to Pericles and Finley, these ladies were no heroes. Medea is referred to as a goddess in a forgotten Mycenaean slate. She was worshiped in Corinth until the Historic Ages. Ancient craters depict her as a priestess in Eleusis. The Greeks of South Italy honored her with hymns. Even Apollonius of Rhodes praised her as a “treasure” that saved the Argonauts, equal to Jason. But she is forever known as the sorceress who killed her children.
To understand how or why these female accomplishments were dismissed, it is useful for us to understand the ancient concept of heroism. Some historians came to the obvious conclusion that heroines don’t often go on quests or engage in combat with monsters or gods. But there is a lot more to heroism than punching monsters. There’s independence, fortitude, humility and sacrifice. The female heroic figure is often free from male assistance in her quest to achieve status. Despite the various under-telling of heroines, the majority of them are independent. It is usually female characters who help male heroes. Ariadne helped Theseus slay the Minotaur, Medea helped Jason in his quest for the Golden Fleece, and Nausicaa was the advisor of Odysseus. While male heroes require female assistance at times, female heroes do not require male assistance, making them independent from their counterparts and highlighting the concept of female heroism in ancient literature.
Euripides’ play Erechtheusis about Erechtheus and Eumolpos who found themselves continuing the rivalries of their divine patrons Athena and Poseidon. After consulting the oracle at Delphi to learn how he might protect Athens from the impending siege, Erechtheus was told that he must sacrifice one of his daughters to save the city. Erechtheus shared the news with his wife, Praxithea, who says:
“If there were a harvest of sons in our house rather than daughters and a hostile flame were engulfing the city, would I not have sent my sons into battle, fearing for their death? … I hate women who in preference to the common good choose for their own children to live.”
From modern eyes, this may not make much sense. Sacrifice seems to just mean certain death for women while when men go off to war there is always a small chance of them coming home. However, women were often the last line of defense in times of war. An example of this happened in 1467, in the warring states period of Japan. It was a desperate time where everyone was swept up into war and almost all healthy men were drafted into armies or slaughtered in battle. This period gave accounts of bands of women led by the wives of warlords dressed in armors. Appalled by the mass suicide of the surviving women and children in her husband’s besieged castle, the wife of Mimura Kotoku armed herself and led eighty-three soldiers against the enemy. She challenged a mounted general Ura Hyobu, who edged backwards muttering, “She is a demon!”. Heroines, therefore, had to defeat the enemies who were evidently strong enough to kill their husbands and many other strong men – it is no surprise then that, as Rudyard Kipling says, “the female of the species is more deadly than the male” and that the heroines had to be more skilled than their male counterparts for not even half of the glory he would have received had he managed to survive. This endures to a common lament modern women are familiar with today by Charlotte Whitton, “Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good.” Odysseus’ last line of defense was his wife, Penelope. If Penelope had married one of her suitors, that man would have had claim over her (Odysseus’ wife), Telemachus (Odysseus’ son) as well as Odysseus’ house and fortune. A simple “yes” from Penelope would have costed Odysseus everything. – the point is that, in desperate times, good men and women will always step up and do their parts according to their abilities. If it wasn’t for the ancient Greeks’ silly insistence for women to be docile and less educated, Iphigeneia might have picked up a spear.
The practice of burning or burying women alive with their deceased husbands was first mentioned in 510 CE, when a stele commemorating such an incident was erected at Eran, an ancient city in the modern state of Madhya Pradesh, India. There are also accounts of widow sacrifice among Scandinavians, Slavs, Greeks, Egyptians and Chinese. This practice usually began among warriors or warrior clans because, as the warriors’ duty was to protect the bodies and honor of their people on the war field, their wives’ duty was to protect their family’s body and honor at home. Therefore, the death of a husband, even while he was away at war, would be seen as the wife’s responsibility. She was the one person entrusted to protect her warrior husband from harm and dishonor – as futile as this may be. The death of her husband would have been seen as her fault.
The advantage of female heroism in ancient literature is that it really takes an extreme situation for these ladies to die and it is mostly due to the fact that the men failed at their own heroic attempts. Agamemnon was a powerful king and warlord who should be fully capable of defending his own city, but it was his daughter Iphigeneia who had to die to enable the Greek fleet to set sail from Aulis to Troy. The reason all those Japanese women had to step up and fight was because their men were somewhere else or otherwise overwhelmed by the enemy and it was up to them to defend their family. Not making a big fuss, these women were there when they were needed and, if they somehow survived, quietly went about their business when it was over. However, it was this advantage that became the heroines’ downfall in retellings of their heroics. As Anne Elliot in Persuasion says, “Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story . . . the pen has been in their hands.” Ancient Greece was a male dominated society and literature was written for males by males in order to inspire males, hence the concept of male heroism was by far much more established. Women are only witches and harlots or submissive and modest because their stories are written by men who, despite their best intentions, did not understand and never experienced power as women.
In Lycurgus against Leocrates, Euripides says
“if women bring themselves to act like this, men should show towards their country a devotion which cannot be surpassed, not forsake it and flee, as Leocrates did, nor disgrace it before the whole of Greece.”
In other words,if women were willing to sacrifice themselves for their people and countries, so should the men, otherwise they would be shamed as cowards. If heroes were there to inspire, influence the people and infuse them with their qualities as a reflection of heroic attributes, heroines were there to inspire the heroes. Through heroines in Euripides, Homer and Apollodorus, the authors are expressing the heroine’s lack of pride and ego which men are often governed by, and trying to bestow these self sacrificing qualities on their readers, the heroes and the society.
I would like you to be among the first to know that my new course, called “Ancient Marketing Practices for the Modern World”, is now live on Udemy.
I started researching modern business practices in the ancient world since 2011 out of interest, looking at things such as taxation in ancient Mesopotamia, trades in ancient Egypt, etc. However, I found branding and marketing in the ancient world particularly intriguing and my research took me to a wide range of places and times from ancient Greek cults to Roman propaganda.
I got the opportunity to speak about this in Yoohcan early in 2017, and decided to build a course explaining this subject in greater detail. At this time, the course has only been live for less than 24 hours and has accumulated more than 700 students without hardly any promotion on my part (it was the weekend, after all)
To celebrate the launching of this new course, I am opening the course free for everybody until 8 October 2018. An enrollment will give you a lifetime access to the materials to this course.
to enroll in this course, you can follow this link.
I hope to see some of you there.
From concubines to emperors, even the people in the ancient world have had to market themselves. “Ancient Marketing Practices for the Modern World” takes you through the practice of marketing and promotion in the ancient world – practices we recognize in today’s age of the internet, social media and personal branding has been perfected by for thousands of years by everyone from graceful Chinese concubines, powerful Roman Emperors to pious priests of ancient Greece.
If you are looking for more ideas on how to market yourself and your products, this course is for you. For complete beginners, you will also gain ideas on how and where to start your marketing journey. After all, what better way to start than from the beginning?
What do you, a concubine and an emperor have in common? You are all passionate about something that not many people understand. This makes introducing what you do and getting people interested in what you offer more challenging. Entrepreneurship and promoting your passion is a timeless practice. Mythographer Martini Fisher will take you through the basics of finding your niche, establishing your authority and building your audience the way they have been done for thousands of years.
1. learn from the ancient courtesans about the dangers of being “ordinary” and the necessity of finding your niche.
2. learn from the first Roman Emperor Augustus about using simple visual imagery to establish your brand.
3. learn from worshipers of ancient deities about building your platform, targeting your audience and make them as passionate about your product as you do.
Moving back and forth between the modern day to the ancient times in 30 minutes, you will learn from our elders about how to establish ourselves using our passion and our existing audience.
The live stream can be accessed through Yoohcan on Friday 7 April 2017 at 15.00 CEST.
Some time ago, I conducted a group interview on how to make history interesting to learn . The interview was very well received, and I personally learned a great deal. I therefore decided to expand my questions and give these creative, thoughtful experts a room to do what they do best: think, consider and write.
The first expert is David Leonhardt, an author and blogger, sharing with me his thoughts of history, especially how it impacts his work.
Q. If I say the word “history”, what would come immediately to your mind?
When I hear the word “history” I think of storytelling. In fact, that’s what the word means. Go back a couple centuries, and nobody was using the modern truncated “story” form of the word.
I am a storyteller. When I blog, I am almost always recounting some story, rather than just listing the steps to follow to get some task done. So I am a big fan of history.
I recently ghostwrote a non-fiction novel. It’s not history in the sense that most people would think of it, but it was a series of events that happened, and that is history. I blogged about the research tools I used to bring the story to life. One of those tools is Weather Underground’s weather hindcast tool. It is aptly named “Historical Weather”.
Weather has its own history, and it has played an immensely powerful role in human history. It has been the decisive factor in many battles. It has been the cause of the rise and fall of agriculture-based empires. It has served as a portent to many decision-makers.
In the book I wrote, I used weather history to set the mood.
When the weather was dim and overcast, it set a sombre tone to the story.
When clouds kept the stars out of site, it helped confirm the hopelessness the protagonist felt.
When things were looking bleak, the sunny day was…not mentioned. No, a good storyteller doesn’t tell the whole story. I used historical weather only when it confirmed the emotions and the mood of the human history. I left it out when it would have spoiled the mood. Weather as a metaphor for mood.
In that same novel, I included well-known historical events as points of reference for the readers. For example, including Hurricane Katrina and the attack on the Twin Towers gave readers a sense that this story is real, that it fits into history as they know it. There are plenty of dates in the novel, but people remember the stories better than the dates.
What people seem to dislike most about history is remembering dates. Dates are only numerical markers of a timeline of events. They are important for comparing multiple events, what happened first, what happened last. But all those numbers spoil a good story.
Imagine Lord of the Rings full of dates.
Imagine The Firm full of dates.
Imagine 1984 full of dates. OK, bad example.
History teachers are too often guilty of bogging down the story with dates. Only storytellers should teach history. The dates should be used only as a teaching aid, not as something to memorize.
We seldom look at mythology as something that has practical lessons to make our life easier. Yet, it is closer to real life than we imagine. The Five Pandava Brothers of the ancient Hindu Epic Mahabharata represents many facets of ancient and modern lives from imperfections to ideal business leaders.
Martini Fisher introduces a different way to look at the Ancient Epic Indian Literature that is Mahabharata and presents its practical lessons for the modern audience.