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Also known as: Befana, Befanta
Etymology – Epifania or Epiphania – the Italian name for the religious holiday of Epiphany. It is thought by some that Befana’s name comes from the Italian mispronunciation of the Greek word “epifania” or “epiphaenia” which means “appearance” or “surface” and “manifestation.” It certainly is the source for the English word epiphany. Another line of thought is that the name Befana comes from the word Bastrina which refer to gifts given by the Sabine goddess Strina.
Perhaps I’m a bit early in posting for La Befana, the Italian Christmas Witch or Fairy. However with the holiday season, I find it easier to get her in now before January 6th arrives.
For children in Italy, Befana plays a role very similar to Santa Claus, however instead of a sleigh pulled by reindeer, she flies around on a broom, delivering her gifts of candy to good children in the first week of January. Italian children are very lucky, they not only get visited by Befana; they still get visited by Babbo Natale; both of whom bring presents and gifts.
La Befana is described as an old woman wearing a black shawl while riding a broomstick and carrying a bag of gifts. Sometimes Befana is said to ride either a goat or a donkey.
Like her counterpart of Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus, La Befana is also known for coming down the chimney to bring her gifts to children. Presents and candy for those children who have been good and coal for those who have been bad. In more modern times, the coal is actually a piece of black rock candy. Befana’s being dressed in black explains her being covered in soot from going down chimneys, which she will sweep up after she’s done with her visit and leaving gifts.
Where Santa will receive plates of cookies and a glass of milk as a treat or offering left out for him; Italian children will prepare and leave out a plate of soft ricotta cheese for La Befana as she no longer has any good teeth left. Other foods such as a glass of wine or broccoli may be left too.
Another aspect that Santa Claus and Befana share in common is that children will write letters to them, requesting a special need or want. Some cities in Italy will set up a mailbox for letters to La Befana in the same manner that Post Offices such as in the U.S. will have mailboxes set up for Santa. Some children will hide their notes or letters to Befana in their chimney for her to find.
La Befana also doesn’t like to be seen and will smack any child caught spying on her with her broomstick. Obviously this part of the story seems a way of parents keeping children in bed while gifts are left out.
The Basic Story And Legend
There are a few different versions to the legend and story behind La Befana.
On the second hill in Via della Padella, there is a village where La Befana lives. In this story, she is said to be part fairy and part witch. La Befana spends the entire year in the company of her grotesque assistants known as the Befanucci preparing coal, making candy and toys and mending old stockings which are given out during the nights of January 5th and 6th, which is said to be the longest night of the year.
The second story is a Christianized version and probably one of the more familiar ones.
When the three wise men were on their journey to visit the young Christ, they stopped at the home of an old woman with a broom who asked them where they were going. They told her that were following a star that would lead them to the newborn baby and savior Jesus.
The wise men asked the old woman if she wanted to come with them, but she replied that she was far too busy cleaning and didn’t have time to go.
Later when the old woman, La Befana had either finished her cleaning, changed her mind about going or realized that the baby whom the wise men spoke of was the prophesied redeemer, it was too late. She was too late in coming to visit the Christ child, he had already left. Other versions of this story have La Befana getting lost on the way.
Ever since then, La Befana has been searching for the baby Christ and leaving gifts in the homes where children live in hopes that one of them is the young Christ. In some retellings, Befana has come to see and realize over her many years of searching, that in a way, the Christ Child can be found in all children and this is why she will leave her gifts.
Slight variations to this story have Befana running as fast as she could to catch up with the Wise Men that she began to fly on her broom she was still holding onto.
Another variation to the flying broom is that angels appeared, coming from the bright star in the sky and enchanted Befan’s broom so she could search more easily for the Baby Jesus.
Zoroastrian Connection – With this idea in mind, the Magi, Kings in their own right, were fire priests from a privileged caste in Persia. The gifts the Magi carry in the biblical story, represent thre worlds: earthly gold, celestial incense and myrrh from beyond the grave. These three elements were linked to the sacred fires of Vedica, India and Avestica, Persia. There may be a connection between them, their gifts and La Befana with them all arriving on January 6th, the Epiphany.
In a story similar to that involving the wise men, this story too has Christian connections.
With this story, La Befana was a mother who lived during the time of King Herod. When Herod made his decree that all the first born male children and male children born that year were to be killed in his efforts to try and prevent the new king, La Befana’s son was among many of those slain by Herod’s soldiers.
So traumatized by grief with the loss of her son and in deep denial to his death, La Befana became convinced that her son was merely lost. She placed all of her son’s belongings in a sack and went out searching for him, going from house to house. The stress from worry, caused La Befana to quickly age, becoming an old woman.
With what seemed liked forever for the grief stricken mother, yet only a few days, La Befana found a male baby in a manager. Certain that she had found her son, La Befana laid out all of her son’s belongings for the infant. The baby in question was Jesus Christ and he blessed the lady as “Befana,” the giver of gifts.
Every year since, on January 5th, the eve of the Epiphany, La Befana would be Mother to all of the world’s children and care for them by bringing gifts of treats, toys and clothing. While some families will leave out a plate of soft ricotta cheese for her, other families will have a plate with broccoli and spice sausage along with a small glass of wine for La Befana.
In this story, La Befana is benevolent and kindly old Witch who saw the emptiness that children suffered during the long, dark nights of winter. Because of her great love and affection for all innocents, La Befana wanted the children to know that even in the darkness of winter, that kindness and hope could still be found.
Starting with the eve of Yule, typically around December 21st, La Befana would, in secret go from door to door, leaving a basket of gifts. Inside each basket would be bread, cheese, sweets and gifts for the children. A final gift, more important and precious than the others was a colored, scented candle; a Solstice candle. Families would light this candle on the night of the Solstice, the flame of this candle both symbolized and brought the light of hope for the coming year. It is a reminder that even in the darkest cold of winter, the light and warmer days of summer would come again.
Epiphany – Little Christmas
January 6th marks the final day of the holiday season in Italy. This is the day that La Befana arrives, bringing gifts and treats for children, marking the end of the Yule Season. Epiphany or Twelfth Night is also when the 12 Wise Men are said to have finally visited the baby Jesus, bringing with them their gifts.
As Little Christmas, the Epiphany is traditionally a holiday for children in Italy. In the region of Abruzzo and other Southern areas, one festivity that children celebrate is called Pasquetta and commemorates the arrival of the Magi to Bethlehem when visiting the infant Jesus. There are parades held that feature La Befana. She is sometimes accompanied by her male companion, Befano. Children will sing songs to La Befana and leave out dolls in windows. Some families will burn the dolls as a means ending the past year and bring good luck for the coming year. Family and friends will from house to house visiting each other after opening their gifts from La Befana in the morning. Firework displays are also part of many modern Epiphany celebrations. Her arrival is also celebrated with traditional foods such as panettone, a Christmas cake.
The celebration of Befana during Epiphany is huge in Italy where she has become a national icon. In the areas of Marche, Umbria and Lazio, Befana is associated with the Papal States where Epiphany has the strongest presence. Befana’s home is thought to be Umbria.
The stories and traditions of La Befana are older than those of Babbo Natale; Santo Natale, the Italian names for Father Christmas or Santa Claus. She can be found going back centuries with some speculation that La Befana may be the goddess Hecate. Historically, La Befana first appears in writing in a poem written by Agnolo Firenzuola in 1549.
La Befana’s festival has taken over an ancient pagan feast celebrated on the Magic Night, the 6th day of the New Year. One aspect of the Epiphany celebrations as part of an ancient holiday for celebrating the New Year, is a time for purification. This is seen in Befana’s carrying a broom that she uses to sweep around the fireplaces of those whom she visits as a mean of clearing away the old, negative energies of the previous year and cleansing it for the coming New Year.
Other rites used for purification were burning effigy dolls of Befana to symbolize the death of the old year and the birth of the New Year. The end of the long winter nights and the return of the longer days of spring and summer. The coal Befana is known for leaving for naughty children has connections to sacred bonfires and is a symbol of fertility with the renewal of the earth at spring. The sacred bonfires are also seen in the ceppo or yule logs burned at this time of the year. The ashes from the burned yule log would be kept and sprinkled out in the fields for good luck and to ensure a healthy crop.
Sometimes the Ceppo is a pyramid made of wood, a tiered tree believed to have started in the Tuscan region of Italy. This tree would have three to five shelves and the frame decorated. On the bottom shelf is the family’s Nativity scene and the remaining shelves would hold greenery, fruit, nuts and present. The Nativity or Presepio represents the gift of God. The fruit and nuts represent the gifts of the Earth and the presents the gift of man. The top of the tree would have an Angel, star or a pineapple that represents hospitality. Sometimes candles are attached to the outside of each shelf, which is why the ceppo is also called the “Tree of Light.”
In Abruzzo, on the morning of Janurary 6th, sacristans would go from house to house leaving what is known as “Bboffe water.” This water was used for devotions or sprinkled around the house ward off and keep away negative energy or magic.
In the region of Romagna, the celebration of Epiphany was a time for connecting with their ancestors, which would help to ensure a successful crop and fertility for the coming year. This connection is seen in the Befanotti who represented the ancestors going from house to house singing Pasquella and in Befana coming down the chimneys to leave a gift.
The Italian anthropologists Claudia and Luigi Manciocco make a connection of Befana’s origins back to Neolithic times, beliefs and practices. They make a further connection of Befana having evolved into a Fertility and Agricultural goddess in their book “Una Casa Senza Porte” (“House without a Door”).
Ancient Sabine Goddess – Strenua
La Befana is thought to be connected to the Sabine/Roman goddess known as Strenua or Strina who was a goddess of strength and endurance. This connection has been made mention in the book “Vestiges of Ancient Manners and Customs, Discoverable in Modern Italy and Sicily” by Reverend John J. Blunt. Strenua presided over the New Year, Purifications and Well-Being. She would give gifts of figs, dates and honey. Strenua’s festivities were opposed by early Christians who viewed them as too noisy, riotous and licentious.
On January 1st, twigs were carried from Strenua’s grove, likely located in or near Via Sacra where she had a temple, in a procession to the citadel. This particular rite is first mentioned happening on New Year’s Day in 153 B.C.E. This is the year when the consuls first began assuming their office at the beginning of the year. With the switch and change over from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendars, it’s not clear if January 1st had always been the date that Strenua’s New Year celebration had been observed or if it had been held on the original New Year’s Day, a date sometimes thought in this case to have been March 1st.
The name Strenia is thought to be the origin for the word strenae, which were New-Year’s gifts that the Romans exchanged to promote good omens. Various strenae have been branches or twigs and money. Another name for these gifts is Bastrina and it is thought to have given their name to La Befana.
According to a Johannes Lydus, strenae is a Sabine word meaning “wellbeing” or “welfare”. It is unknown how accurate this may be as many words attributed to the Sabines are only singular, one word or there and no surviving scripts or inscriptions have been found. Saint Augustine says that Strenia was a goddess responsible for making a person vigorous or strong. And if you haven’t guessed it, the root for the word strenuous.
There seems to be a lot of strong agreement that Strenua rites and celebrations survive in the festivities surrounding La Befana.
Other Mythological Figures Possibly Connected To Befana
Giubiana – An old woman or crone and festival of the same name held in the Northern Italy region of Lombardy. An effigy of Giubiana and sometimes her male counterpart and spouse, Ginée who is the personification of January. An effigy of Giubiana is burned to ashes to symbolize the burning away of the old year and the end of winter.
Nicevenn – La Befana has been connected to the Scottish figure of Nicevenn as a source of inspiration for her legend and traditions. With Nicevenn or Gyre-Carling as she was also known, it was considered unlucky to leave any unfinished knitting lying around lest she steal it.
Perchta – A southern Germanic goddess from the Alpine countries. She is sometimes identified with the Germanic goddess Holda. Both goddesses are known as a “guardian of the beasts” and making an appearance during the Twelve Days of Christmas; overseeing spinning. Perchta is a goddess who went from being benevolent to more malevolent with the passage of time and rise of Christianity. At one time during the Yule Season and Epiphany, Perchta will leave a silver coin for those who have been good and she reportedly will slit open the bellies of who haven’t and stuff them with straw and pepples. Thankfully, Perchta has become more tempered again and will leave coal instead if someone’s been bad.
Befana Poems And Songs
There a number of different songs sung about Befana with slightly different versions found in different regions of Italy.
The following is one version:
“La Befana vien di notte
Con le scarpe tutte rotte
Col vestito alla romana
Viva, Viva La Befana!”
The English translation is as follows:
The Befana comes by night
With her shoes all tattered and torn
She comes dressed in the Roman way
Long life to the Befana!
A poem by Giovanni Pascoli:
“Viene, viene la Befana
Vien dai monti a notte fonda
Come è stanca! la circonda
Neve e gelo e tramontana!
Viene, viene la Befana”
The English translation is as follows:
“Here comes, here comes the Befana
She comes from the mountains in the deep of the night
Look how tired she is! All wrapped up
In snow and frost and the north wind!
Here comes, here comes the Befana!”
Etymology: “Man, male, strife” throng of battle, war, “destroyer” or “avenger”
Other Names and Epithets: Ares Enyalios (the warlike ‘Sparta.’), Ares Hippios (in Olympia where he was also the god of horses.) Aphneius, Areus, Enyalius, Gynaecthoenas, Theritas, “Savior of Cities”, “Defense of Olympus”, “Father of Victory”, “Ally of Themis”, and “Leader of Righteous Men”.
With an often overwhelming, insatiable blood lust for battle and destructive nature, most places and things associated with Ares tend to be seen as being dark, savage and dangerous. There is also a military aspect, though not always a disciplined military aspect. Ares tends towards being a god of war for the sake of war and blood lust and not any righteous or particular cause.
Animal: Alligators, Boar, Dog, Horse, Barn Owl, Eagle-Owl, Serpent, Vulture, Woodpecker
Colors: Red, Crimson
Day of the Week: Tuesday
Patron of: soldiers, warriors
Influences: Retribution, Conflict, War
Symbols: armor, chariot, helmet, spear, shield, blood, weapons, torch
When looking up information for Ares, I came across several different meanings for the name. Traditionally, the name Ares is connected with the Greek word ἀρή (arē), the Ionic form of the Doric ἀρά (ara) that mean: “bane, ruin, curse, imprecation.”
A Walter Burket has noted that the name Ares may come from an abstract noun meaning “throng of battle, war.” The earliest, recorded forms of Ares’ name are found on some Mycenaean Greek script.
The epithet Arejos was often used by the other Olympic deities when they would take on a warrior’s aspect and go to war. Some examples are Zeus Areios, Athena Areia, and even Aphrodite Areia. In Homer’s Iliad, the word ares is used as a common synonym for battle.
The god Ares is one of two Greek gods of war, the other being his sister Athena. The two deities differ in that Ares is more accurately the god of bloodlust and mindless violence for the sake of violence. Whereas, Athena is known more for the use intelligence, wisdom, military strategy and keeping a level head. Ares, due to his inherent blood thirsty and cruel nature, wasn’t very well liked by the other gods of Olympus and even the Greeks.
Ares is often described as being bloody, merciless, fearful and even cowardly. He was not known to possess any moral or ethical values. He was often said to be of giant stature with a loud, booming voice and was faster than all of the other gods in terms of speed. Ares did hold the values and attributes of physical strength and tenacity necessary for being able to win a war.
Early Greek Depictions
In Greek art, such as those on vases and sculpture, Ares was shown as a mature, bearded warrior wearing a helmet and carrying a spear or sword. In art he was often shown in the presence of other deities. Later on, Greek artists depict Ares as being much younger and not so war-like. There are few Greek monuments and statues of Ares, He mostly appeared on coinage, reliefs and gems. And since any image or statute of an armed warrior could depict Ares, he can often be hard to identify.
Thracian Origins and Cults of Ares
Ares was known throughout Thrace where he would be introduced later to the Greeks and become part of the twelve gods of Olympus. He was also known in Macedonia and Sparta.
With Ares not being very well liked by the Greeks, there aren’t very many temples dedicated to him. There is a lot of evidence to point to his being introduced to the Greeks from Thrace and the low regard that Greeks gave towards Thracians whom they saw as a crude, barbaric and warlike. Thrace is also the region where Amazons were typically said to be found. And after his affair with Aphrodite had been exposed, Thrace is also said to be the land where Ares retreated to.
There are few temples dedicated to Ares as not many people wanted to constantly be invoking war. He would have sacrifices from armies just before they went to war. It is known that there was a temple to Ares in the agora of Athens that the Grecian geographer Pausanias testified of. It had been moved and rededicated to it’s location during Caesar Augustus’ rule and had been a Roman temple to Augustan Mars Ultor.
The Areopagus or “Mount of Ares” was located some distance from the Acropolis and was once a site for holding trials. Later, Paul of Tarsus preached Christianity at this place. The connection to Ares may be based on incorrect etymology. There is a second temple to Ares said to have been found at an archaeological site in Metropolis where Western Turkey is today.
The Pisidians of Thrace were noted by Herodotus in his Histories as using small shield made of ox hide with each man carrying two wolf-hunter spears. They also wore bronze helmets and crests with the ears and horns of oxen depicted on them. The Pisidians were also known to hold divinations devoted to Ares.
There is evidence of Ares being worshiped by the Baharna of Tylos though it’s not certain if he was worshipped in the guise of an Arabian god or by his Greek name.
This is the place where the famous golden fleece was hung in a sacred grove to Ares. The Dioscuri are believed to have brought an ancient statue of Ares from here to Laconia. This statue was held in the temple of Ares Thareitas, found on the road between Sparta and Therapnae.
There is an island near the coast of Colchis that the Stymphalian birds were thought to have lived on. This island was also known as the Island of Ares, Aretias, Aria or Chalceritis.
The Pikentines or Picentini, a tribe found in Italy, who were originally from Sabine have a legend how a woodpecker guided their ancestors to their land. They called the woodpecker by the name of pikos and viewed it as sacred to Ares.
The Sabinoi or Sabines also tell another similar story of Cadmus’ founding of Thebes wherein the Sabines had been at war for a long time with a people known as the Ombrikoi. The Sabines vowed to dedicate everything they produced one year. With finally having victory, they did a partial sacrifice and partial dedication of everything they produced and it was agreed by some they should also dedicate all the babies born that year to Ares. When the children were grown up, they were sent away as colonists with a bull leading them and when it finally laid down to rest in the land of the Opikoi, the Sabines settled in the area and sacrificed the bull to Ares.
In Scythia, Ares was worshipped in the form of a sword. In this aspect, horse, cattle and even men would be sacrificed to him.
The Spartans greatly revered Ares, seeing in him a masculine soldier whose resilience, physical strength and military intellect were highly valued. Ares was propitiated before battles and in Phoebaeum where ritual fighting and battles were held. Each company of youths would sacrifice a puppy to Ares as Enyalios before starting their ritual fighting in the Phoebaeum. It was a chthonic, night-time sacrifice of a dog that later became associated with Ares. To the east of the city of Sparta, an archaic statue of Ares in chains was found. This statue was to symbolize that the spirit of war and victory was bound to the city and never to leave.
While its been stated that Ares wasn’t much liked by the Greeks, he appears to have been a major god among the more northern tribes of Aitolia, Phelegyantis and Thesprotia. Though with the invasion of the Romans, there isn’t much that has survived in the records by ancient historians.
Since Ares doesn’t seem to have many temples and shrines dedicated to him, he does have an Iron Fortress associated with him. This palace was adorned with his spoils of war and guarded by a number of various divine beings. The location of this palace is either on Mount Olympus alongside the other mansions of the Olympian Gods or on Mount Haimos in his homeland of Thrace.
Sacrifices To Ares
In the War of Seven Against Thebes, the Spartan, Menoikeus claiming descent from Ares, went so far as to sacrifice to Ares in order to protect the city from invasion.
Sons of Ares such as Cycnus and Lykos were also known to make human sacrifices to their father Ares.
Parentage and Family
It is generally given and accepted that the parents of Ares are Zeus and Hera.
Though slightly varying myths will give it as that both Ares and his sister Eris came into being when Hera touched a flower. It’s very similar to the story where Hera gave birth to the goddess Hebe after touching a lettuce plant.
The direct siblings of Ares are: Eris, Hebe, Hephaestus, Enyo, and Eileithyia
With the goddess Aphrodite, Ares fathered: the Erotes: Anteros, Eros, Himeros and Pothos (though sometimes Pothos is listed as Eros’ son). Other children of theres are: Phobos, Deimos, Phlegyas, Harmonia and Adrestia.
With Otrera , Ares fathered two Amazon Queens: Penthesilea and Hippolyte. For that matter, all of the Amazons were seen as daughters of Ares.
With Eris, Ares is the father of Enyalius. Though in another account, Enyalius is said to be Ares’ son by either Enyo rather than just being another name for the war-god.
With Erinys Telphousia, Ares sired the Aeionian Dracon which guarded his sacred spring in Thebes.
Other accounts will also list a number of other characters (many of whom are mortal) who claimed or are said to also be the children of Ares: Aerope, Alcippe, Alcon of Thrace, the Amazons, Antiope, Askalaphos, Cycnus, Diomedes, Dryas, Euenos, Hipplyte, Ialmenos, Likymnios a Lord of Thebes, Lykos of Libya, Lykastos, Melanippus, Meleagros, Molos, Nisos, Pangaeus, Portheus, Oenomaus, Oiagros, Oxylus, Parrhasios, Parthenopaios, Porthaon, Pylos, Remus, Romulus, Tanagra, daughter of Asopus, Tereus, Thestios and Thrassa (mother of Polyphonte).
With revisionist history and the taking of poetic licenses when retelling stories, many of the mortals listed as Ares children or descendant often have only the barest of links to the God of War and it could very well be that many were said to be the children of Ares in order to emphasize a brutal, blood thirsty nature. And if not that, to try and claim a divine right as rulers when founding a city, empire or noble house.
Ares is counted among the twelve major deities who resided on Mount Olympus, the highest mountain peak in Greece and all of Europe. For the Greeks, this was the perfect location for where the gods would preside at while keeping watch on humankind down below them.
As there are several deities within Greek mythology, just who numbers among the Olympians varies. It’s generally agreed that the twelve major Olympians are: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes, and then either Hestia or Dionysus.
Attendants of Ares
As much as Ares was disliked and despised by the other Gods, he wasn’t without his followers.
Deities and Demigods in Ares’ Company –
His sons, Deimos (“Terror”) and Phobos (“Fear”) often accompanied Ares into war. In some accounts the two are described as being the horses that pulled Ares’ chariot.
Other deities in Ares company were his sister, Eris the goddess of strife or discord, Enyo (“Horror”) an old war goddess of bloodshed and violence. Various demons were also said to accompany Ares into battle. Kydoimos, the demon of the din of battle, the Makhai, the demon of Battles, and the Hysminai, the demon for acts of manslaughter.
Polemos, a minor spirit of war, sometimes used as an epithet for Ares also followed the god. Polemos’ daughter Alala, a goddess or personification of the Greek battle-cry also accompanied Ares and was used as his own battle-cry. Lastly, Ares’ sister Hebe, meaning “Youth” would draw baths for him.
According to the ancient Greek geographer, Pausanias, the local people of Therapne in Sparta, recognized a very local deity or personage Thero, whose name means beastly, feral or savage, as being a nurse of Ares. Outside of the city of Therapne, Thero was largely unknown to the rest of the Greek people.
Ares held a sacred island sanctuary that was founded by the Amazons of the coast of their homeland near the Black Sea. This island was guarded birds who used their feathers as arrows to strike intruders.
Bronze Bulls –
King Aeetes kept a pasture of fire-breathing bronze-hoofed bulls in a field sacred to Ares. Aeetes instructed the hero Jason to use the bulls when sowing the field to create an army of Spartoi
Shrine Guardians –
Few as Ares’ shrines and temples are, they did have protectors and guardians for them. The Sacred Groves of Ares in Thebes and Kholkis each had a Dracon or Dragon guarding them.
These are the earth-born warriors of Ares, they are armed warriors who spring up fully grown from the earth when the teeth of Ares’ guardian Dracons are sown in a field sacred to him. The hero Cadmus most famously known to have created such an army when he founded Thebes.
The Sun-god Helios had spotted the two gods, Ares and Aphrodite in a tryst in the halls of Hephaestus. Helios went to inform Hephaestus of his wife’s affair who then decided to try and catch the two in the act. Being the master smith and craftsman of the gods, Hephaestus created a finely-woven and nearly invisible net to ensnare the two in. Waiting for the right moment, he succeeded in trapping both Ares and Aphrodite within the net.
Wanting to make sure the two were properly shamed and punished, Hephaestus called the other Olympian gods to come. All the goddesses declined to come, not wanting to be scandalized while all the gods did come and gawked. Some commenting to the beauty of Aphrodite and other stating they’d gladly trade places with Ares. In versions of the story, the gods agreed on Hephaestus’ right to be angry and in others, they didn’t care. In the end, when released, an embarrassed Ares returned to his home in Thrace and Aphrodite went to the city of Paphos on Cyprus.
Elaborating on this story, a later addition, Ares had the youth Alectryon guarding the door to warn when Helios came by as he would no doubt inform Hephaestus of the affair. However, Alectryon fell asleep and Helios discovered the two’s affair. Ares, embarrassed and infuriated at being caught, turned Alectryon into a rooster and it’s that add-on to the story of Ares and Aphrodite’s affair that roosters always crow, announcing the rising of the sun in the morning.
From their affair, Ares and Aphrodite became the parents of several minor deities: Eros, Arethousa, Phobos, Deimos and Adrestia. Both Eros and Arethousa’s tended to have attributes more in align with Aphrodite. Adrestia tended to be more like her father Ares.
Other Love Affairs
Aside from Aphrodite, Ares also enjoyed romantic liaisons with a host of other goddesses, demi-goddesses and mortals. This list includes: Eos (Goddess of the Dawn), Persephone (daughter of Demeter and wife to Hades), Enyo (Goddess of Strife), Harpinna (Naiad nymph of Pisa), Sterope (one of the Pleiad star-nymphs of Elis), Kyrene (nymph of Bistonia), Triteia (nymph of Einalia), Aerope (Princess of Anatolia), Atalanta (Princess of Arkadia), Othere (Queen of Assyria) and many many more.
As previously mentioned, Ares also had a number of children as well from these affairs. And it would seem that Ares, like his father Zeus got around. Even if all people were trying to do was claim a bit of divine heritage to place legitimacy on a claim for greatness or a right to rule.
The Death of Adonis
In some retellings of this story, Ares is responsible for the death of Adonis and not the goddess Artemis. Ares either sends a boar to kill him or turns into one himself. In the stories of Adonis’ death, it’s because he loved Aphrodite and out of a jealous rage, Ares goes and kills him.
The First To Be Tried For Murder
The Areopagus or the Hill of Ares got its name as a place that became famous for the site where the Olympian Gods had Ares on trial. Poseidon’s son, Halirrhothius had been killed by Ares after he had raped or tried to rape the war-god’s daughter, Alcippe. Ares was acquitted of the crime and the hill where the trial was held at became a site for a Court of Justice in the area of Athens. Orestes, incidentally, was tried for killing his mother at this place..
The Founding Of Thebes
Ares was the father of a water-dragon, the Aeionian Dracon who guarded a sacred spring. The Greek hero Cadmus slew this dragon and with its teeth, sowed them into the ground from which an army of armored warriors sprung and fought each other until only a few were left. In restitution to Ares for the death of his son, Aeionian Dracon, Cadmus agreed to serve the god Ares for eight years. After this time passed, Cadmus took Ares’ daughter Harmonia as a wife, thus bringing harmony and an end to war in founding the city of Thebes.
Even though Cadmus had served Ares for a period of time to atone for the death of the Aeionian Dracon and had married his daughter Harmonia, this still wasn’t enough and long after Cadmus and Harmonia’s children have died, Ares turns the two of them into snakes or serpents.
The Return Of Hephaestus
Getting thrown out a window and crippled for life by a mother who only saw him as ugly can cause a lot of anger. So when the god Hephaestus returns to Olympus, he’s created this golden throne that his mother Hera got stuck on when she sat down. Hera offered the marriage of Aphrodite to the god who could free her from the throne.
Ares was in love with Aphrodite, he made an effort in trying to free Hera by going to Hephaestus and asking for her release. Hephaestus’ response to this was to chase after Ares with firebrands. In the mean time, Dionysus suggested to Hephaestus that he win Aphrodite’s hand in marriage by returning to Olympus and freeing his mother Hera.
Since both Ares and Aphrodite were in love, this is what led to them having the affair mentioned earlier.
Ares versus the Giants
One myth found only in the Iliad is told by the titaness, Dione to her daughter Aphrodite about how two chthonic giants or Aloadae known as Otus and Ephialtes had put Ares in chains and then placed him in a large bronze urn. Ares stayed in this urn for thirteen months, a lunar year incidentally. While he was trapped, the two giants proceeded to attack the gods at Mount Olympus.
Slight variations of this story say the two giants believing themselves superior to the gods tried to build a mountain as high as Olympus. When that didn’t work, they went to attack Mount Olympus.
That probably could have been the end for Ares except that Eriboea, the Aloadae’s stepmother told the god Hermes of what had happened. The goddess Artemis tricked the two Aloadae into killing each other. Some versions of the story mention that the Aloadae each loved a goddess respectively, Hera and Artemis. So it’s probably not that hard to see how they could have been tricked into killing each other.
In Nonnus’ Dionysiacs, Ares is also to have killed Ekhidnades, a giant son of Echidna, reputed to be a great enemy of the gods. Scholars though aren’t sure if this Ekhidnades is a literary invention of Nonnus or not.
In Apollonius Rhodius’ Argonautica, Ares is listed as having slain the giant Mimas.
In the conflict with Typhon, Ares along with other gods fled to Egypt where he changed himself into a fish in order to escape.
Ares versus Herakles
Ares had a number of conflicts with his half-brother Herakles. In both of the stories where Herakles battles and kills two of Ares’ son each of whom bore the name Cycnus, they fought. Hesiod’s “Shield of Herakles” has the famous demigod Herakles telling Cycnus how he’s hurt Ares in battle.
Ares & Sisyphus
In one version of the story of Sisyphus and his chaining the death god Thanatos or Hades; thus preventing people from dying, it was Ares who finally came and freed his Uncle as Ares had gotten tired of not being able to win any battles with everyone being able to get right back up.
Homer’s Illiad is the main source for the gods involvement in the Trojan War. Ares had told both Athena and Hera that he would fight on the side of the Achaeans but Aphrodite convinced him to fight for the Trojans.
During the war, Diomedes who fought with Hector, was able to see Ares fighting for the Trojans. In response, Diomedes had his soldiers fall back. Seeing as Ares was winning, Athena asked Zeus for permission to drive Ares off the battlefield. At Hera and Athena’s urging, Diomedes attacked Ares, thrusting his spear at the god. It is told in the Illiad how Ares’ cries causes the Achaens and Trojans to become shaken and that Ares fled back up to Olympus, forcing the Trojans to retreats.
When Ares overheard Hera telling Zeus how his son, Ascalaphus was killed, Ares went back to fight alongside the Achaeans again. As this was against Zeus’ orders, Athena prevented Ares from entering the fray. Though later on, when Zeus rescinded his order, Ares was the first on back on the field of battle, attacking Athena in revenge. Athena still beat him by hitting him with a boulder.
Ares place in the war is meant to represent Ares owing no allegiances to any side and rewarding courage and blood lust for the sake of violence.
Mars – Roman God
As the Greek God of War, Ares is often confused with or identified with the Roman deity of Mars, also a God of War. Thanks greatly to the influence of the Romans, many people will identify and equate the Mars with Ares. While both deities are Gods of War, there are differences in the Roman myths than in the Greek myths.
The Romans were famous for subsuming many deities in their conquest across Europe, particularly the Mediterranean area, and identifying their gods with those of a conquered culture. The most famous being the Greeks, where many deities were renamed to those of Roman gods. Prominent examples like Zeus and Jupiter, Hera and Juno, Ares and Mars and so on down the line.
With the Hellenization of Latin literature, many Greek writers and even Roman writers rewrote and intertwined the myths of these two deities so that would virtually become one and the same. And that’s the tradition passed down through the centuries and has become accepted. Just that there are still some differences that separate the two.
Mars for example has different attributes. One of which is that in addition to being a god of war, he is also a god of Agriculture. An aspect that’s not found anywhere in Ares portfolio for what his domains are.
Ares wasn’t very well liked by the Greeks who saw in him a god of the mindless destruction and bloodlust of violence that war brings about. For the Romans, Mars held more favor and was better liked. For one, Mars was seen as the father of the Roman people, having sired the twins Romulus and Remus who go on to found the city of Rome that would later become an empire. There is also more significance placed to Mars’ agriculture and tutelary attributes.
Alternate spellings – Κύκνος, Kyknos, Cygnus
Etymology – Swan
When researching this name, I’ve found that the name Cycnus can refer to at least four different people from Greek Mythology. Though there are several others who have minor importance when compared to the primary four.
1) The Friend Of Phaethon
The first Cycnus is the son of Shtenelus, the king of Liguria. After the death of his close friend or lover Phaeton, Cycnus went down to the river Eridanos where his friend perished to mourn. Cycnus was in such a deep level of grief over the loss that the gods, in some instances this is specifically the god Apollo who took pity on Cycnus and turned him into a Swan. Even as a swan, Cycnus still remembered Phaethon and would avoid the heat of the sun.
According to Ovid, Cycnus was a distant relative of Phaethon on his mother’s side. According to Virgil, Cycnus grieved the loss of his friend into old age that his graying hair turned into feathers and he was transformed then into a swan at that point.
A couple of different Greeks such as Pausanias and Servius wrote of Cycnus’ musical skill. It is Servius who wrote that after Apollo changed Cycnus into a swan, he was placed up into the heavens as the constellation Cygnus. Servius also mentions that Cycnus had a son by the name of Cupavo. According to Hyginus, Cycnus’ story is the origin of the phrase “swan song” referring to a person’s final act or deed before death or retirement.
2) King Of Kolonai
The name of the second Cycnus is the son of Poseidon and Calcyce, the daughter of Hecaton. This Cycnus ruled the city of Kolonai in southern Troad, a region of Anatolia.
Cycnus married Procleia, the daughter of King Laomedon of Troy. Sometimes Procleia is listed as the daughter of Clytius who is the son of previously mentioned Laomedon. In either event, Cycnus and Procleia had two children Tenes and Hemithea.
When Procleia died, Cycnus married again, this time to a Philonome, the daughter of Tragasus, also known as Polyboea or Scamandria. Philonome fell in love with her stepson Tene and when he rejected her advances, she tried to tell Cycnus that his son tried to rape her.
Angry or despairing, Cycnus ordered that his two children be put in a chest and thrown out to sea. Cycnus soon learned the truth and instead had Philonome buried alive and he was able to discover his children were still alive on the island of Tenedos. He tried to go there to reconcile with his children, but Tenes hearing none of it, cut the anchor rope to Cycnus’ ship, preventing him from being able to dock.
After all this, Cycnus went on to support the Trojans in the Trojan War against the Greeks. He was killed on the first day of war by the hero Achilles and was also changed into a swan. In the Ovid, he is said to have fought valiantly, killing a thousand foes. With Cycnus’ death, the Greeks headed towards Kolonai, seizing it after Cycnus’ surviving children Cobis, Corianus and Glauce be handed over to them.
It should be noted that this Cycnus’ story doesn’t appear in the Iliad but does appear in the Cypria. He’s mentioned twice by Pindar which some historians use to suggest this story had merit by the 5th century B.C.E. In the mid-first century B.C.E., the historian Diodorus Siculus attributes this story of Cycnus to the people of the island Tenedos, whose name is derived from Cycnus’ son Tenes.
Twelfth century Byzantine poet John Tzetzes makes mention of a Scamandrodice who was Cycnus’ mother. She had abandoned Cycnus by the sea shore and he was rescued by some fishermen who named him Cycnus after seeing a swan fly by over head.
Another account says that Cycnus got his name of Swan due to his feminine features of white skin and fair hair.
3) The Son Of Apollo
The son of Apollo and Hyrie (or Thyrie) the daughter of Amphinomus, this Cycnus lived in the country between Pleuron and Calydon. He was considered a rather good looking and handsome though arrogant and often disrespectful especially those youths who admired his great skill at hunting.
Cycnus’ attitude and arrogance eventually drove everyone away except for Phylius. Even Phylius’ deep devotion and admiration wasn’t enough to get through to Cycnus. Wanting to be rid of Phylius, Cycnus challenged to what he thought would be three impossible tasks.
The first task given to Phylius is that he was to kill a lion threatening their town without the aid or use of any weapons. Phylius’ tactic to win this task was to consume so much food and wine as to vomit it up in the spot where he knew the lion would show up. When it did so, the lion ate up all the refuse, becoming drunk on the wine. Phylius was able to come in and used his own clothing to strangle the beast, killing it.
The second task given to Phylius was to catch two man-eating vultures of immense size who were also threatening their town, again without the use of any weapons. As he contemplated how to peform this task, Phylius saw an eagle drop a dead hare to the ground. Having an idea, Phylius took the hare’s blood and covered himself with it, then lay down in order to pretend to be dead. Eventually the two vultures dropped down to where he lay and Phylius was able to catch both of them by their feet and brought them to where Cycnus awaited his return.
The third and final task was for Phylius to bring a bull to Zeus’ alter with his own bare hands. At a loss on how to perform this last task, Phylius pray to Heracles for aid. Finished with his prayer, Phylius saw two bulls fighting over a cow. He waited until the bulls’ fight was over and one of the bulls fell to the ground. At this, Phylius was able to go over and grab one of the bulls by its legs and drag the bull to Zeus’ alter.
Having performed the tasks set before him, Heracles intervened once more so that Phylius would cease taking orders from Cycnus. Seeing this and feeling disgraced, Cycnus committed suicide by throwing himself into a lake known as Conope. His mother Thyrie also did like and at their deaths, the god Apollo changed both mother and son into swans. The lake became known as Swan Lake and when Phylius eventually died, he was buried near its shores.
The story was recorded by Antoninus Liberalis. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, he has Phylius (or Phyllius) perform the three tasks but at the end, refuse to bring the bull to Cycnus. Feeling scorned, Cycnus jumps off a cliff and is changed into a swan instead of falling to his death. His mother Hyrie, unaware of Cycnus’ transformation and believing her son to be dead, dissolves away in a flood of tears forming the lake Hyrie.
It should be noted too that in both Antoninus and Ovid’s tellings of the stories, that Cycnus and Phylius were lovers and that theirs is the story of love spurned.
4) The Sons of Ares
There are two sons of Ares both named Cycnus and they often get confused together as to who’s who, their specific stories behind them and how similar those stories are. Pseudo-Apollodorus writes of the two Cycnus’ as distinct, separate persons.
Cycnus is one of three children of Ares to have fought the hero Heracles. Four when you remember that there are two sons of the same name. The other children of Ares to have fought against Heracles are Diomedes from Thrake and the Amazon Hippolyte. The Cycnus from Macedonia is often described as being a brother to Diomedes while the Thessalian Cycnus is the son-in-law of King Ceyx who sponsored the hero Heracles’ northern campaigns.
The first son of Ares has Pelopia for his mother. He had set himself up as a bandit prince near the sacred grove of Apollon at Pagasia Itonos along the Thessalian coast. This Cycnus was also the son-in-law of King Ceyx of Trakhis. Cycnus would rob the offerings being sent to the Delphios up north. When Heracles was passing through this region on his way back from his campaign against the Lapithai to visit King Ceyx, Cycnus challenged the hero to a duel.
Heracles quickly killed his challenger and Ares changed his son into a swan at his death. When Ares then went to avenge his son’s death, Zeus prevented the two from fighting by throwing a thunderbolt between them.
The second son of Ares has Pyrene for his mother. This Cycnus was from either Pagasae, Thessaly or by the river Echedorus in Macedonia. He was a giant who was so murderous and blood thirsty that he was building a temple out of bones and skulls from travelers to dedicate to his father Ares. One of the men said to have been murdered by Cycnus is Lycus of Thrace.
When the hero Heracles encountered this Cycnus, they engaged in battle where Heracles killed him. Enraged at the death of his son, Ares sought revenge for this son but was again stopped by a bolt of lightning thrown by the god Zeus. Like so many of the other Cycnus’ he too was also changed into a swan at his death.
According to the ancient Greek writer, Euripides, Heracles shot Cycnus with arrows and that this event takes place near the river Anaurus.
Shield of Heracles
In this poem, both Heracles and Iolaus encounter Cycnus and Ares on their way to Trachis. The goddess Athena appears telling Heracles that Zeus has given power to him to kill Cycnus and how to do the deed. The hero is not to touch Cycnus’ body, not to claim any armor as trophies and that finally he’s to hit Ares using a spear on an unarmored part of his body should the god attack.
Cycnus and Heracles go on about their duel and the hero kills Cycnus. Enraged, Ares is about to get revenge only to have Athena intervene saying that it is not yet Heracles’ time to die. As he’s been attacked, Heracles does attack Ares and the gods’ sons Phobos and Deimos come rescue him, taking Ares back to Olympus. Cycnus was then buried but his tomb later destroyed in a flood sent by Apollo.
Others Named Cycnus
There are a few others in Greek legend, stories and history who also have the same name of Cycnus. Some of them are:
• One of the suitors of Penelope.
• The son of King Eredion of Achaea. In one version he seduced Leda, causing her to become the mother of the triplets the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux) and Helen. In other versions, these children are fathered by Zeus who approached her in the shape of swan.
• A blunder for Guneus in Hyginus’ Fab manuscript, which is a list of the Achaean leaders who were against the city of Troy. This may be a different Cycnus than the King of Kolonai who also participated in the Trojan War.
In Greek mythology, it is Ixion, not Cain who is the first murderer. I suspect, owing to a lot of early stories and histories being passed on orally before getting written down, that there may have been more regarding Ixion’s story that’s been lost. Ixion is still an important figure in Greek mythology. The most complete stories we have of him come from Pindar in his Pythian Odes.
Ixion’s parentage can get a bit muddled depending on the historian and who; in more modern times is drawing from which ancient writer.
Most of the stories seem to agree that Ixion is either the son of Phlegyas, a descendant of Ares or Ares’ son directly. Other stories will place him as the son of Leonteus or of Antion and Perimela. The stories all agree on him having been a king of the Lapiths in Thessaly.
Claim to Infamy
As stated before, Ixion’s importance in Greek mythology is that he is known as the first human to shed kindred blood. That is murder.
This came about when Ixion’s father-in-law, Deioneus was invited to come and collect on the price Ixion promised to give for his bride, Dia. Deioneus is also said to have stolen and then kept some of Ixion’s mares as compensation when Ixion didn’t pay what he owed Deioneus. But instead of paying what he owed, Ixion goes and digs a pit, fills it with burning coal, covers it and then waits for Deioneus to fall into it or pushes him in.
A slight spelling variation to Deioneus’ name is Eioneus.
Crime and Punishment
As this is a new crime to the human race and there were no laws that could be used to punish Ixion for this deed, by the same means, there were no rituals that could absolve Ixion of this deed or of any guilt. Ixion ending up in exile in the stories as an outlaw is probably due to no one wanting anything to do with him and his own kingdom ousting him from what ever throne he sat upon.
The Greeks likely wouldn’t be alone seeing murder, particularly of a relative as a rather heinous act. The god Zeus eventually took pity on Ixion and decided that since he’s a god, he could purify Ixion and then after that, invites him up to Olympus to be a guest. That there’s rumor Zeus was probably only interested in Dia, Ixion’s wife, might have been a motivation for even trying to purify Ixion of murder.
If this is true, for a minor note, when Dia gave birth to her son Peirithous, Zeus could have been the father and not Ixion. Incidentally, there is also a daughter, Phisadie who was given in servitude to Helen by the Dioscuri.
More Claims to Infamy
When you are given a chance, you should learn to take it, don’t abuse it.
Once Ixion was in Olympus and probably feeling he’s living the high life, he set his eyes on Hera and became infatuated or enamored with her. We’ll call it lust and Ixion probably began putting the moves on Hera, ones she probably didn’t appreciate. Who can blame her when some of the sources found for this story say that Ixion tried to rape her.
We’ll pretend that this is at an earlier time when Zeus and Hera still enjoyed a good relationship and we don’t have all of these other stories of Zeus having numerous affairs with all these other women and numerous resulting children.
Shocked, Zeus couldn’t believe what he’s hearing from Hera about Ixion. This man whom Zeus has purified is a guest; surely he knows the rules of hospitality when you’re a guest and what’s to be expected. One of them being is that you don’t go putting the moves and unwanted advances on your host’s wife.
Birth of the Centaurs
In an effort to put truth to Hera’s words, Zeus proceeds with making an image of Hera out of a cloud. This cloud is known as Nephele and when Ixion forced himself on the cloud, he impregnated it. Later, Nephele gives birth to either Centaurus, an ugly deformed child who goes on to be the progenitor of the centaurs, or she gives birth directly to the centaurs as a race. Either way, Ixion and Nephele do ultimately sire the centaur race.
Enraged at Ixion’s bragging about having slept with Hera and violating the Guest-Host laws, Zeus had Ixion bound to a winged, flaming wheel that revolved up in the air in all directions. In addition to this, by order of the gods, what the Irish would call a geas, Ixion was to continuously call out: “You should show gratitude to your benefactor.” Or “Repay your benefactor frequently with gentle favors in return.”
As a result, Ixion becomes one of the more famous sinners found in Tartarus and many writers mention him when they describe this place.
Does the Punishment fit the Crime?
Let’s get this straight….
Ixion murders his father-in-law after refusing to pay the promised price for his bride.
No one wants to purify Ixion of this deed or perhaps they can’t.
Zeus says he’ll try and brings Ixion up to Olympus.
If we believe the rumors, Zeus is eying Ixion’s wife Dia.
Hera complains to Zeus about Ixion’s actions and Zeus creates the cloud Nephele in Hera’s image to find out the truth.
Once Ixion is caught in the act or caught bragging that he’s had sex with Hera, an enraged Zeus chains Ixion to a spinning flaming wheel for all eternity.
That seems harsh. It’s okay if Zeus has an affair with Dia, but it’s no okay if Ixion had an affair or attempts to rape Hera. Two guys falling love or lust with the other’s wife.
Let’s not forget the Greek concept of Hubris. Though with the more modern interpretation of hubris, in that Ixion was extremely arrogant in thinking he could do whatever he wanted, taking what he wanted, murder and be equal to the gods…
One could say that Ixion’s punishment does ultimately fit the crime or crimes.
Murder, Hubris and the violation of the Guest-Host Laws known as Xenia.
Xenia – Hospitality Laws
Xenia is the Greek word for the concept of hospitality and forms the ancient customs of Hospitality. Of all the attributes that Zeus is known for, he was originally the deity who presided over this custom of Xenia. For this, he was known as Zeus Xenios and was at one time, the god of travelers.
Xenia consists of three basic rules:
1) The respect from host to guest. The host must be hospitable to the guest and provide them with food and drink and a bath, if required. It was not polite to ask questions until the guest had stated his or her needs.
2) The respect from guest to host. The guest must be courteous to their host and not be a burden.
3) The parting gift (xenion) from host to guest. The parting gift was to show the host’s honor at receiving the guest.
The custom of Xenia was really important in ancient times as people believed that the gods mingled among them. If a person played a poor host to a stranger, there was the risk of inciting the wrath of a god disguised as the stranger.
This custom of Xenia extended to include the protection of traveling musicians, known as Rhapsode who could expect to receive hospitality in the form of a place to sleep, food and possible other gifts in return for a night of entertainment and news from other parts of the world. The protection and safety of these Rhapsode was believed to be enforced by the god Zeus and any harm to them or violation of Xenia was sure to place the offender at the mercy of Zeus or any god he deemed necessary to enforce this rule.
This is why the story of Ixion in ancient Greece was important and why the laws of Xenia, Hospitality were and had to be kept.
Ixion – A possible Dwarf Planet and Astrology
On May 22, 2001, the plutino or possible Dwarf Planet of Ixion was discovered by the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory.
Properly, Ixion’s name is 28978 Ixion and like Pluto, is one of the planetoids that are part of the Kuiper belt. Astronomers are still learning about these Kuiper objects and how best to measure them. Ixion is thought to have a diameter of about 800km, making it the third largest plutino and to be a reddish color in nature.
It’s mentioned here as modern Astrologers are looking at how to interpret Ixion and many, taking the background of his story see a cautionary warning for issues of consciousness, trust and betrayal, abusing second chances, lust and desire in conflict for wealth and power.