[The AMAIC considers the Middle East – West comparisons of John R. Salverda as interesting, with some of them we think being very likely. But we do not necessarily agree with all of the following]
Pelops, Ahab and the
by John R. Salverda
Brit-Am Editorial Comment.
Pelops and Ahab.
The Achaeans and Ahab.
Ahab in Greek Records?
Israelites, Arimoi, Kimmeroi (Cimmerians)!
Hittites and Israelites.
The Hurrian Mercenary Chariot Warriors and Olympianism.
Chaldeans and Chaldians.
Was Homer really King Omri of Israel?
Pelops, Hippodameia, and Naboth.
Elijah as Myrtilus.
The Murder of Stymphalus.
The Greek Mount Carmel?
Brit-Am Editorial Comment:
John Salverda has authored a valuable and interesting series of articles showing Israelite Influence on Greek Mythology. The northern Ten Tribes lived separately from Judah. They intermixed with the local non-Israelite populations and adopted their beliefs and practices. It is not certain how literate they were and it may be that only a few actually knew how to read and write Hebrew. It was a violent age punctuated by wars, invasions, and traumatic crises. ….
It was also a period of irrational forces and strong spiritual influences. Under such conditions we may well expect the actual belief system of the common people to have become transformed into something else altogether.
Our studies show that at some stage Israelites (especially from the tribe of Dan) did conquer the Greeks, influenced them and were influenced by them. Also in their movement westward elements from the Ten Tribes sojourned in the Greek sphere. We ourselves do not think there was much of a physical ethnic interaction between Hebrews and Greeks but there was a cultural one.
Archaeological findings show a strong link between Mycenaean (Bronze Age) Greece and Britain as well as between Bronze Age Britain and the area of Ancient Israel and its surroundings. The same applies to Scandinavia. Mycenaean finds in the region of Israel itself are plentiful and may have originated with Israelites. If such was the case then the Israelite component in findings from the British isles and the North of Europe may well turn out to be much greater than is realised.
The article below continues the exposition of John Salverda. The views are those of the author and not necessarily of Brit-Am.
John Salverda in fact says things we would heartily disagree with. Even so, he deserves to be read. It is also important to read properly what he is saying. For instance he claims that Israelite exiles who reached Greece were really Hittites and Chaldeans who had been influenced by Israelite culture. His attributing Gentile origins to Israelite Kings and their followers is doubtful. It could be however that Canaanites and other elements who were driven out or voluntarily left Israel had been influenced beforehand by Hebrew culture and they brought this influence with them to Greece?
This present essay shows parallels between Israel in the time of King Ahab and Elijah and events in Greek Mythology. The author argues his case well and in great detail. For they who may be interested yet find the mass of details a little too much for them we recommend that they at least peruse the Conclusions at the end of this article.
Pelops and Ahab
Nobody would equate, or even compare, the Greek mythological character Pelops with King Ahab from the Scriptural history of Israel. For the stories about Pelops were supposed to have occurred about the same time that the walls of Mycenae were being built. These walls are dated archeologically (through pottery and other items, some even bearing the names of the Pharaohs who lived at the time,) to have coincided with Egypt’s 18th Dynasty, about 1400 BC. Thus long before the days of King Ahab who is said to have died about 850 BC. However, if we adjust events to reflect Immanuel Velikovsky’s reconstruction of ancient history, which omits the so-called “dark ages” of Greece and makes Egypt’s 18th Dynasty to be contemporary with the Kingdom of Israel, then we find that Pelops and Ahab lived at about the same time. This hypothesis is the premise under which the following article was written. Velikovsky makes Ahab to be a contemporary of the Egyptian Pharaohs Amenhotep III and Akhenaton (Velikovsky equates these with the Greek mythological characters Laius and Oedipus, who did incidentally figure in on the myth of Pelops) just before the time that we learn, from Hittite documents, of the arrival on the historic scene of a new people whom they called the “Ahhiyava” (the Greek Achaeans).
[The AMAIC actually identifies Ahab with Akhnaton]
The Achaeans and Ahab
The sons of Danaus and Aegyptus (Danites and Jacobites see http://www.britam.org/salverda/danaan.html
had been established with the Inachids (Anakim) at Argolis for a few generations when the sons of Perseus, arriving from Joppa, joined them. Shortly after the sons of Perseus had completed building the walls of Mycenae, a new group came on the scene, the Achaeans. These Achaeans were, just as were the Perseids a couple of generations earlier, looked upon as royalty and they were given princesses of the royal families of Greece to wed. They were a circumcised people who spoke the same language as the Danaan sons of Perseus, but were never-the-less, in some respects considered to be rivals to the Danaans and proudly claimed Pelops, a foreigner to Greece, as their common ancestor. Considering the time of their arrival, their language, their religious beliefs and their royal status, it is my opinion that the name of this group “Achaeans,” is based upon the Hebrew name of the well known King Ahab, of Israel’s Omri dynasty. Achaab is the Greek Septuagint form of the name Ahab, thus Achaab-ians. The Hittites of Anatolia knew of the Achaeans and called them the ‘Ahhiyava.’ The Egyptians called them the Akaiwasha, (Also written ‘Akwash’ or ‘Ekwesh’ It is from the Egyptian ‘Karnak inscriptions’ where we discover that the Achaeans were circumcised.) the Hebrew ‘H’ being a guttural one, and both the ‘V’ and the ‘W’ are apparently transferred from the letter ‘B,’ while the suffix of the word means ‘the men of’ (the Hittite suffix ‘a’ approximates the ‘oi’ as in the Greek Achaeoi, while the Egyptian suffix ‘asha’ approximates the Hebrew prefix ‘ish,’) thus the word, “Achaean” is a plausible transliteration of the phrase, ‘the men of Ahab.’
The Hittite records of those days make mention of the Achaeans, as a maritime mercantile nation, who inhabited a nearby island or islands, some think Rhodes, but others think some other islands to the west of Asia Minor, for about 150 years (The Achaeans of Rhodes built the famous Colossus of Rhodes, one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the ancient World. It was a huge statue of Helios [Eloah-us]. He drove a fiery chariot across the heavens [as in the story of the apotheosis of Elijah from the story of Ahab].). Hittite figurines have been found in Mycenaean Tiryns, as well as in Thessaly. Although as I will demonstrate, the Achaeans were from the Omri Dynasty of Israel, they were also strongly influenced by the Hittite culture. The Achaeans didn’t have a long history, they came to Greece, just after the sons of Perseus, about two or three generations before the Trojan War, and lasted about as long after the war, until the Dorian Invasion. Their history was short, but it was very eventful indeed. Much of classical Greek Mythology occurred during the short history of the Achaeans. The twelve labors of Heracles, the Calydonian boar hunt, Argonautica, the seven against Thebes, the Epigony, and the Trojan War, all took place while the Achaeans, were in the Peloponnesus (the island of Pelops).
Ahab in Greek Records?
Jehu’s ‘purge’ (c. 842 BC.) was applied to the ‘men of Ahab’ who apparently fled (those who survived the purge) to the city of Pisa in Greece (they probably spent a generation or two in Paphlagonia) from where they later set up the nearby city of Olympia, and instituted the Olympic games (776 BC.) only 66 years later, bringing the stories of King Ahab with them. The original Olympic games were dominated by a death defying chariot race which was probably held in memory of the contest at Mount Carmel and the chariot/foot race between Ahab and Elijah. Evidence for the theory that the ‘Achaeans’ consisted of the ‘sons of Ahab’ can be seen in the remarkable coincidences between the story of ‘Pelops and Hippodameia’ and the story of ‘Ahab and Jezebel.’ Such as the story concerning Ahab and his ivory replacement shoulder; ‘And the right shoulder shall ye give unto the priest for an heave offering of the sacrifices of your peace offerings.’ (Lev. 7:32) Like the ram with its wave offering, (Num. 6:19) Pelops was sacrificed, not to god, but to ‘the gods,’ the Olympians (This is a point worth noticing in the light of associating Pelops with the polytheistic Ahab, Olympus = Elohim-us. The differences between Pelops and Oenomaus were religious in nature, just as were the differences between Ahab and Naboth. The Olympianism of Pelops was the polytheism of Ahab, while on the other hand Naboth was favored by [the ALMIGHTY] like Oenomaus, the grandson of Zeus, was favored by him. Diodorus Siculus says that Oenomaus used to give the contestants a head start, while he would sacrifice a ram to Zeus. Only after Oenomaus had completed this sacrifice, would he pursue and overtake the ill fated suitors. Pausanias also notes; ‘The Eleans say that Oenomaus used to sacrifice to Zeus whenever he was about to begin a chariot-race with one of the suitors of Hippodameia.’ Paus. 5.14.6. See http://www.britam.org/salverda/olympus.html). Pelops was cut into pieces, cooked, then his shoulder was taken out and eaten. (by ‘Demeter’ [a feminine personification of the Levites'], the goddess to whom pigs were sacrificed. The gods were loath to accept a human sacrifice and did not eat, but Demeter didn’t realize what she was doing because she was distraught over the fact that the Earth had just recently opened up and swallowed alive her daughter ‘Core,’ [Korah]. In fact she had been wandering for a long time in search of her daughter and it took the intercession of Zeus himself to get her to join the Olympians at this ‘banquet,’ [the convocation at Shechem]. It was actually Hades, the ‘hidden god,’ [El Olam] that had abducted Demeter’s daughter who was also called, ‘Persephone,’ [the eponymous tutelary of "Beer Sheba"].) The pieces of Pelops were reassembled, he received a replacement shoulder made out of ivory, and he was brought back to life. Not only as good as new but perfected, as Apollodorus puts it; ‘Pelops, after being slaughtered and boiled at the banquet of the gods, was fairer than ever when he came to life again.’ (Epitome book E Chapter 2. 3). That the Achaeans believed in, a sacrificed messiah and his resurrection, is evident by the story that Pelops, their archetypical hero-king, had been sacrificed and resurrected. An entire series of mythological motifs, that are particular to the Greek myths about Pelops, appear to have been borrowed directly from the history and religious customs, not only of Israel, but of the particular “Hittite version” of Israel that existed in the area of Shechem and later Samaria, from the convocation through the Omri Dynasty. The original capital of Israel was a place called ‘Shechem,’ meaning, ‘shoulder.’ This place was destroyed and a replacement capital was built by Omri, the replacement ‘shoulder’ was called, ‘Samaria.’ Samaria was notoriously adorned with ivory panels, and its King, Ahab had famously built an ivory palace to live in. Ginzberg says that each of Ahab’s seventy sons lived in Ivory houses as well. Archaeologists still find carved Ivory pieces all over the place (So called “Nimrud ivories” from the Levant of the 9th and 8th centuries were found, not only in the area of Samaria, but all over the Aegean, in Athens, Corinth, and Sparta, some 200 pieces were found in one Spartan temple alone. This was the “Ivory age” in Israel when King Ahab’s house was paneled with Ivory, and those in Zion slept in Ivory beds see II Kings 22:39 and Amos 6:4). This is a plausible reason for the motif of the ‘ivory replacement shoulder,’ that was granted to Pelops/Ahab and played so prominent a role in his myth.
Israelites, Arimoi, Kimmeroi (Cimmerians)!
Pelops, it is said, came to Greece from Lydia. But Ahab, (whom I suppose to be the inspiration for the Greek character Pelops) never really went to either Lydia or Greece, his descendants and followers went there and took his story with them, transferring the stories of Jezreel to Pisa. Furthermore Lydia, where Pelops is said to have come from, is often confused by the ancient mythographers with Syria, the land of the ‘Syrians’ (Herodotus calls the Syrians, ‘the Syrians of Palestine,’ to distinguish them from the “Leucosyroi” of Cappadocia, he also maintains that they wore the sign of the circumcision.). Israel was considered to be Syrian, and not just by the Greeks. For as the Scriptures say; ‘And thou shall speak and say before THE ALMIGHTY thy God, A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous.’ (Deut. 26:5) We, following the lead of the Greeks, say Syria, but most everyone else says ‘Aram.’ Some Greeks knew of this other term for Syria, but weren’t too certain as to its application, for as Strabo says, “In fact they make this (Strabo is here referring to Lydia) the setting of the mythical story of the ‘Arimoi’ and of the throes of Typhon,” (Strabo, Geography 12. 7. 19) Again Strabo this time quoting Pindar; ‘it was father Zeus that once amongst the Arimoi, ‘smote monstrous Typhon.’ But some understand that the Syrians are Arimoi, who are now called the Arimaians [and it is here that Typhon is buried].” (Geography 13. 4. 6) (Homer and Hesiod describe Typhon as being imprisoned in the land of the Arimoi, also known as the Arimaspoi, or Kimmeroi.) It is well known that Typhon was buried at the southern border of Syria, see Herodotus ‘Histories’ Book 3, Page 5. Thus, the confusion between Lydia and Syria has Typhon buried in both places, and makes both places the home of the Arimoi who the Greeks sometimes referred to as the Kimmeroi (the Cimmerians). Indeed the land of Lydia was undergoing incursions by the Scythians (Aramaeans) and the Cimmerians (Samarians) as early as 710 BC. Thus it is likely that the information, that the mythographers got from those ‘Lydians,’ was heavily laced with the stories about their old king Ahab which we would expect ‘Cimmerians,’ as displaced Israelites from the kingdom of ‘Samaria’ to know well. The language of the Lydians, spoken in the West of Asia Minor until the 1st century BC, was apparently a linguistic descendant of Hittite. This and the fact that one of Lydia’s kings known to the Greeks bore the Hittite royal name Myrsilis (Mursilis) may indicate that this state was the purest cultural and ethnic continuation of the former Hittites. With this in mind, and combined with the fact that the Omri dynasty was known to, and heavily influenced by, the Hittites, it is no wonder that some thought Pelops to be from Lydia while he was actually from “Syria of Palestine.”
Hittites and Israelites
Now, as to the name of Tantalus the father of Pelops. I am of the opinion that the name Tantalus is a Greek version of the Hittite name Tudhaliyas. There was a very famous King Tudhaliyas who started a Hittite dynasty about 920 BC. (this, of course, is in accordance with Velikovsky’s reconstruction of ancient history which I use consistently). It may seem arbitrary to choose the name of an obscure King, the founder of a distant Hittite dynasty to supply the name of the Greek version of Omri of Israel, but I do have my reasons. For the Hittites where not so obscure as the conventional history of the time would lead us to believe. They did in fact have a considerable influence on the Levant during the Dynasty of Tudhaliyas, placing their princes as kings in important cities like Carchemish and Aleppo, and even facing up to the powerful Assyrian, Egyptian and Mitannian Kings of the time. The princes and nobles of the Tudhaliyas Dynasty were a very numerous and restless bunch who, I believe, had hired themselves out as mercenaries, mainly as charioteers and cavalrymen but also in other military roles. The Hittites famously had introduced horsemanship and chariotry skills all over the middle east and could forge and supply weapons of iron, many kingdoms used their expertise, but especially the Israelite nations. The Hittites made treaties with the Hebrews, Abraham became a confederate with Ephron the Hittite for the partial purchase of Hebron. Like the blond haired blue eyed Amorite women had been to the sons of God at Mount Herman in the days of old, so the Hittite women were to the Hebrews in the land of Canaan, irresistibly appealing. Thus Esau married Judith and Basemat, the daughters of the Hittites Beeri and Elon, respectively. And King David himself had Uriah the Hittite killed because he desired his wife Bathsheba. The Hittites were supposed to be completely exterminated out of the land of Canaan by Joshua, but they weren’t, instead the Israelites made deals with them and intermarried with them. …The Assyrian King Esarhaddon in his chronicles referred to Manasseh the King of Judah as a “king the Hittites.”
Brit-Am editorial Comment:
The author below claims that King Omri of Israel was a Hittite. We doubt this very much and do not feel it is right to attribute foreign ancestry to a monarch of Israel when the Bible does not refer to it. Nevertheless in a cultural sense they may be something in what the author is suggesting. The same point applies to other proposals made below.
Therefore I believe that Omri, was a Hittite captain, an adventurous scion of the Tudhaliyas Dynasty who lead a group of Hittite mercenaries, and was hired by the previous Israelite dynasty, the House of Baasha. When Zimri, captain over half of the chariots, overthrew his lord and killed Elah, the son of Baasha, it did not go well for him. For Omri, a capable commander of the Army (Presumably a royal Hittite and captain over the other “half” of the chariots), having the support of not only his troops, but half of Israel, (largely the Hittite half no doubt) was elevated to the throne. A civil war ensued and Omri was victorious. The ancestry of Omri is not disclosed in the Scriptures, we are not even told the name of the Hebrew tribe from which he was descended.
[AMAIC comment: Omri was of the Hebrew tribe of Issachar, according to our identification of Baasha and his son Elah with, respectively, Ahab and Ahaziah (Hiel), making Omri, then, the same as Ahijah of the tribe of Issachar]
Omri built Samaria. No other time period in all of biblical history was so concerned with the skill of chariotry, as was the era of the founding dynasty of Samaria. The three generations of kings from that era, all scions of the house of Omri, namely, Ahab, Jehoram, and Ahaziah, each were fatally wounded while in their chariots. This preoccupation with ‘chariotry’ is just another ‘coincidence’ that the Omri dynasty had with the Achaeans and the story of Pelops.
As to the name of Pelops himself, I spent a lot of time trying to equate his name with the Hittite death and resurrection god Telipinus (There is the Hittite angle, they share some attributes and I considered the names as similar), however Ahab famously followed after the Baalism propagated by his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal, king of Sidon. To quote Josephus; “Ahab’s god was called Baal; … Now this Baal was the god of the Tyrians; and Ahab, in order to gratify his father-in-law, Ethbaal, who was the king of Tyre and Sidon, built a temple for him in Samaria, and appointed him prophets, and worshipped him with all sorts of worship” (from “Antiquities of the Jews”). Josephus further tells us that Ethbaal was the priest of Astarte before murdering the previous king and usurping the Sidonian throne (quoting Menander, this time from “Against Apion,” Book I, par. 18). Ahab built a temple for Baal and set up a sacred pole in honor of Astarte (1 Kings 16:30-33). Therefore perhaps the name Pelops, rather than a corruption of the name Telipinus is simply the usual Greek for the phrase “the face of Baal” (Bel-ops) a common Appellation for Tanit or Astarte, or anyone enamored of Baal.
When the Greek poets wanted to indicate riches they often referred to the wealth of the Lydian King Croesus, but when indicating the vastness of realm they would refer to the wide sway and many kingdoms of King Pelops. (“I would not Pelops’ tilth untold nor all Kroisos’ coffered gold, nor yet t’ outfoot the storm-wind’s breath, so I may sit this rock beneath, pretty pasture-mate, wi’ thee, and gaze on the Sicilian sea.” Theocritus, Idylls The Hebrew legends spoke of Ahab in much the same way, “Ahab is one of that small number of kings who have ruled over the whole world. No less than two hundred and fifty-two kingdoms acknowledged his dominion. As for his wealth, it was so abundant that each of his hundred and forty children possessed several ivory palaces, summer and winter residences.” (from Ginzberg’s ‘Legends of the Jews’).
It is purely conjecture on my part but perhaps Ahab was deified by his descendants after his death as the incarnation of their resurrection god. This theory is not so far fetched after all as Josephus tells us that Ahab’s rival Kings Ben-Hadad and Hazael were both deified, and the descendants of Pelops, the Greek Ahab, did think of their ancestor as a sort of King of Kings, whom it was claimed had been raised from the dead (clearly a Messianic, if not a divine attribute). In accordance with Velikovsky’s reconstruction of history, Ahab lived at the same time as the Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep III. Dr. Velikovsky associated the Theban myth of Oedipus with the history of 18th Dynasty Thebes in Egypt and identified Amenhotep with Laius, the (true) father of Oedipus. Both Laius and Amenhotep III were famous charioteers who were crowned as a child and had a regent rule for them in their minority.
The Hurrian Mercenary Chariot Warriors and Olympianism
The story of Pelops and in fact, much of the myths connected with the Achaeans, are abounding with the skill of chariot driving as well, so much so that modern scholars who have studied the matter such as Robert Graves, have concluded that these Greeks must have had some sort of ritualistic royal sacrifice involving kings being dragged to death as a result of prearranged chariot crashes. ”chariot crashes were staged in the hippodromes.” (‘The Greek Myths 2′ 109. 4, 5). Well, one thing we do know, is that there was an ancient culture that was dedicated to the horse and chariot, it was called the ‘Maryannu.’ An ancient people called the Hurrians were the purveyors of this Maryannu culture and many peoples especially the Hittites had adopted the tenets of their way of life. Although the Scriptures do not use the name ‘Hurrians’ they do mention the Horites, Hivites and Jebusites all of whom archaeologists have identified as Hurrians. Furthermore, the cities of Harran, Nahor, Pethor and Carchemish are considered to be Hurrian settlements, and I would even go so far as to say that Abraham himself was from the land of the Hurrians (Ur) where the Chaldians (not incidentally, the Chaldeans who are perhaps the same people but were supposedly from Babylonia, a different location altogether) of Urartu (Ararat, the homeland of Noah) had lived. The descendants of the Scriptural Midian (son of Abraham by Keturah 1CH 1:32), it can be demonstrated, were the Mitanni, a branch of the Hurrians as well. Thus the land of Canaan was full of Hurrian culture, and those who weren’t Hurrian by blood readily adopted their culture, as did the Hittites.
W. F. Albright said that the Maryannu were “chariot-warriors” claiming that “chariots played the same role in warfare that cavalry did later, and the chariot-warriors occupied the same social position that was held by the … feudal knights of the Middle Ages.” He agreed with F. C. Andreas that the root of the word “maryannu” comes from the Vedic term “marya” meaning “YOUNG MAN” but that it developed, through connotation, into “warrior.” Since then R. T. O’Callaghan, relying on Egyptian and cuneiform sources, has come out saying; “… from the Mitanni kingdom down through Palestine beyond Ascalon, the term maryannu is to be understood primarily as A NOBLE WHO IS A CHARIOT WARRIOR.” Now, the Scriptures don’t seem to mention the ‘maryannu,’ by that name. However they do use, as did the Egyptians, the term ‘naarim’ (youths) instead. That the ‘naarim’ were young noble chariot warriors who were active in the Omri dynasty is pretty clear. see 1Kings 20: 13-25 where we see the phrase ‘young men of the princes of the provinces’ used four times in relation to its’ use in a chariot battle. Ramses II used the Naarim as well, they saved him in the battle of Karkar.
Many kings of the Maryannu Age hired these professional chariot-warriors, and they did become a kind of aristocracy among the nations that employed them. King David had a Carian (Hurrian) bodyguard. 1CH 18:17 (therein called Cherethites) ‘And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and the Pelethites; and the sons of David were chief about the King.’ David had also placed Hittite warriors in positions of authority, such as ‘Uriah the Hittite.’ Queen Athaliah the very daughter of King Ahab also had such a body guard, unfortunately for her because they conspired against her and placed their own choice (a scion of David) on the throne. (‘In the seventh year Jehoiada sent and fetched the captains over hundreds of the Carians and of the guard, and brought them to him into the house of [the ALMIGHTY]; and he made a covenant with them, and took an oath of them in the house of [the ALMIGHTY], and showed them the king’s son.’ 2 Kings 11:4 see also 11:19). It is perfectly reasonable to conclude that the Israelites shared good military relations with the Hittites in those days, 2 Kings 7:6: “For the Lord had made the host of the Syrians to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host: and they said one to another, Lo, the king of Israel hath hired against us the kings of the Hittites, and the kings of the Egyptians, to come upon us.”
Another similarity between the Israel of Ahab and the Hittites has to do with the multiplicity of their gods; “He (Ahab) was so devoted to idolatry, to which he was led astray by his wife Jezebel, that the fields of Palestine were full of idols.” (from Ginzberg’s ‘Legends of the Jews’) The Hittite writings themselves allude to ‘the thousand gods of Hatti’, and more than eight-hundred such names have been discovered.
According to conventional historians, a distinction is to be made between two groups of Hittites. The original Hittites who are coordinated chronologically with Egypt’s 18th and 19th Dynasties, 1450-1200 BC. These lived mainly in Asia Minor dipping down a bit into the northern Levant. And another group whom they call the Neo-Hittites, or Syro-Hittites. These are supposed by many to have been those Scriptural Hittites of the 9th and 8th centuries BC. The conventional historians insert a period of “dark ages” into Hittite history for the interim, as they have done to Greek history, to make it fit into traditional (erroneous) Egyptian history. It has been proposed that this distinction, between the two groups of Hittites, is completely artificial. History makes much more sense without its imaginary dark ages forming lacunas in the continuum. Egypt’s 18th and 19th Dynasties fit nicely into the 10th-7th centuries and consequently the Greek mythological age and the early Hittite era, work well as contemporary with the history of the Kingdom of Israel.
In order to understand the connection between Ahab and Pelops one has to be made aware of the impact of the Hittite religion on Israel. While the placement of the Greek mythological era in the time of Israel remains controversial, lining up the Greeks with the earlier Hittites of Asia Minor is taken for granted. Most scholars who have studied Greek myths are quick to point out that the Greeks owe much to the myths of the Hittites. (Anu, Kumarbi, Teshub = Uranus, Kronos, Zeus). But how did the religion of the Hittites from Asia Minor get to Greece? The Hittites are often cited as an influence on Greek mythology this is largely true, but the influence is not a direct one. The Hittite religion got to Greece because the Israelites of the Omri dynasty who were flushed out by the purge of Jehu, were to a large degree of Hittite origin. And these were the propagators of the [Religion] of Samaria that became the Olympianism of Greece.
Chaldeans and Chaldians
The Hittites are not known to have been a major immigrating group to Greece however the so called Phoenicians were. For the most part these Phoenicians were in reality the people of Israel (that is, Hittite Israel) and that is how the Hittite religion was able to have such a great influence over Greek mythology. The Greeks don’t seem to have known about the Hittites, and the Greeks supposed that the land of the Hittites was peopled by a group whom they called the “Phrygians.” (modern scholars discriminate between the Hittites and the Phrygians, some even blaming the destruction of the earlier Hittites, and the imposition of their dark ages, on the incursion of the Phrygians upon their empire.) The Greeks themselves credit the Egyptians and the Chaldeans, (not the Egyptians and the Hittites who predominated in those days,) as the originators of their religion. I propose that exiled Israelites, (largely of Hittite extraction, and also referred to as Chaldeans because of their descent from Arpachshad) brought the Hittite religion to Greece, and that the Phrygians were for the most part the Hittites themselves (Hattian = Chaldian = Gordian). The Hittites are realized as contributing to the makeup of Israel not only under that name but also the Hittites have been identified, by Velikovsky and others, as the Chaldeans, with whom the Hebrews share an ancestor. Arpachshad, was a son of Shem and the ancestor of the Hebrews through his grandson Eber. (Gen. 10:22, 24 ; 11 :10-13 ; 1 Chron . 1 :17-27) The Hebrew for chshad, the second part of his name, is the same as “Casdim” the first part of the word, “Chaldeans.” Therefore he is the supposed eponym of the Chaldeans (otherwise that well known nation is not mentioned in the so called “table of nations” at all). There was a place called by Ptolemy (active c. 130 AD.) “Arrapachitis,” in the area of the Lakes Urmia and Van, in Armenia, the land of the Chaldians (note the difference in spelling) that some (Koehler and Baumgartner, Veteris Testamenti Libros, p. 89) have associated with Arpachshad. This would relate the Chaldians to the Chaldeans.
Was Homer really King Omri of Israel?
King Omri himself, who as we know from the Scriptures, wrote at least one work, therein referred to as, “The Statutes of Omri.” (For the statutes of Omri are kept, and all the works of the house of Ahab, and ye walk in their counsels; that I should make thee a desolation, and the inhabitants thereof an hissing: therefore ye shall bear the reproach of my people. Micah 6:16) Obviously the editors of the Scriptural account did not allow “all the works of the house of Ahab” to be expressed in the Bible. On the other hand the Elohistic view could not be completely expunged from the historic accounts that were relied upon to write the Scriptures. …When an ancient law code (such as the Law of Moses, the Code of Hammurabi, the Noahic Laws or, as in the present case, the Statues of Omri) was written, it was often connected to or sandwiched in between the introduction of a new religious system, complete with a ‘genesis’ (the birth or origin of the gods, a Theogony giving them titles and distributing to them honors and arts, and setting forth their forms. …). This is what gave force to the laws, for it was always insisted that the chief god of the integrated religion, was the actual author of the attached laws. The so called ‘Statutes of Omri’ no doubt, included the story of origins… Furthermore the law code would often authorize a school of priests, such as the Levites for the law of Moses. These would be the “lawyers” so to speak, experts in every feature of the law, able to explain, not only the legal but also the religious aspects of it. Now, I do not suppose that Omri wrote the works that scholars of Greek mythology attribute to Homer, but then on the other hand neither do those scholars think that one man named Homer wrote all that is attributed to him. Many believe that these “Homeric” writings were written by a group of “Poets,” (whom I suppose to be the priests, or lawyers, of the “Statutes of Omri”) thus I am agreeing with the majority opinion on this issue.
It seems to me that Omri must have built his statutes upon the religious concepts that grew out of the convocation at mount Gerizim and degenerated into the apostate belief system that took hold of the area surrounding the old capitol city of Israel at the Shechem of Abimelech. The Israelites had the religion of the Giants (Titans) also known as the “error of the Amorites” (Gen.15:13-16) being overthrown by the Twelve Tribes, the Midianites of Shechem had the Hurrian religion, and Omri had the closely related Hittite religion. These were apparently combined to form the “Olympian” Mythology of Homer. Herodotus helps us to identify the Scriptural “Omri,” with the Greek “Homer,” his helpful quote runs thus; “but whence the several gods had their birth, or whether they all were from the beginning, and of what form they are, they (the Greeks) did not learn till yesterday, as it were, or the day before: for Hesiod and Homer I suppose were four hundred years before my time and not more, (thus about 850 BC.) and these are they who made a Theogony for the Hellenes and gave the titles to the gods and distributed to them honors and arts, and set forth their forms:” (“Histories” Book 2, Page 53) Here Herodotus makes “Homer” (whom, it is supposed, was more ancient than Hesiod,) to have lived about the same time as Omri, and to have been the original purveyor of the Hellenic religion, that is, Olympianism. The “Statutes of Omri” were flushed out of Israel at this same time (c. 842 BC.) by the purge of Jehu. This group, as I hope to convince the reader, were the Achaeans flushed out of Omri Dynasty Israel by the purge of Jehu, the main purveyors of the Olympic system.
Pelops, Hippodameia, and Naboth
King Ahab and his queen were, of course, well known murderers. The infamous murder that they committed, was their conspiracy killing of Naboth for his vineyard. Queen Jezebel gets most of the blame for this act, but Ahab is clearly, implicated as well, it was a team killing. Stories about King and Queen pairs are somewhat rare in ancient history. But, stories that have the pair jointly committing a deceitful murder that prompted a prophet to bring down a curse, not just upon them, but upon their entire house, and descendants as well are even more rare. The two that come to my mind immediately are Ahab with Jezebel and Pelops with Hippodameia. The famous murder victim in the Greek myth of Pelops and Hippodameia, was named ‘Oenomaus,’ this is perhaps a worn down version of the phrase, ‘oino Nomaus,’ meaning, the ‘vines’ of ‘Nomaus,’ (the name Nomaus being a possible corruption of the name ‘Naboth’). The name ‘Hippodameia’ has been interpreted to mean, ‘horse tamer,’ ‘horse subduer,’ or ‘horse conqueror.’ However, according to her identification with Jezebel and what we know about how she was conquered, (trampled by horses, 2 Kings 9:33) we should rather consider ‘tamed by horses,’ ‘subdued by horses,’ or ‘conquered by horses.’ Hippodameia herself was an evil queen not only had she connived, underhandedly, to get her husband Pelops the Kingdom he wanted by bringing about the death of Oenomaus, but afterward she had also falsely witnessed to have Myrtilus killed, and even later ordered the death of her stepson Chrysippus.
If Oenomaus is to be identified with Naboth and Hippodameia with Jezebel then it is difficult to understand why, in the Greek myth, Oenomaus is portrayed as a King and the father of Hippodameia. However, some think that Naboth was Ahab’s first cousin, his father’s brother’s son; after all he did own the estate lying next to Ahab’s, and he was set in a ‘high place’ among a gathering of the other nobles; in which case Ahab would have been next in line to inherit the estate of Naboth (It is worth pointing out that the sons of Naboth were put to death with him, and that Ahab did inherit Naboth’s estate after he killed them all.). If this were the case then perhaps, contrarily, Naboth himself was a contender for the throne of Israel, in the event of the death of Ahab and his sons, which actually did occur eventually. Josephus had a commentary on the fact that Naboth was set on a high place among the nobles, he said that it was because Naboth was of “an illustrious descent.” See 1Ki 21:8 ”So she wrote letters … unto the elders and to the nobles that were … dwelling with Naboth.” Here we see that, even before the banquet, Naboth was dwelling among the nobles.
Perhaps the reason why Oenomaus is portrayed as a king in Greek mythology has something to do with the trumped up charge against Naboth by which Jezebel was able to orchestrate his execution. “The disastrous end of Ahab is to be ascribed chiefly to the murder of ‘his kinsman’ Naboth, whose execution on the charge of ‘treason’ he had ordered, so that he might put himself in possession of Naboth’s wealth.” (from Ginzberg’s ‘Legends of the Jews’ Note that Ginzberg’s “Legends” calls the charge “treason” and refers to Naboth as Ahab’s “kinsman.”) The false charge against him may have been that he had denied Ahab’s right to the throne and had claimed himself to be the ‘rightful’ King. And the fact that he was set in a ‘high place’ among the other nobles, may have been done in order to strengthen the bogus charge. For while Naboth may have taken his place at the banquet as innocently accepting an honor that was being bestowed upon him, to others it may have looked as though Naboth was treasonously “positioning” himself as royalty. Unlike in Israel where there was one King over all, in Greece, where they had city-states, every city had a King. Perhaps Naboth, as the owner of the bordering plot of land, was naturally considered to be the King of the place when the story got retold in Greece. He was recognized several times in the Scriptures as Naboth ‘of Jezreel,’ especially in the Septuagint version of the Scriptures where the phrase is used over and over again.
Now, as to why the myth has Hippodameia as the daughter of Oenomaus; as we know Naboth was not the father of Jezebel, although she was the daughter of a King. The ‘maiden’ who was characterized in the Greek myth as Hippodameia was perhaps more than just a human woman, like many female figures who appear in Greek mythology, she may have also been considered to represent a land or a people or a throne, namely, the land, people, or throne of Pisa, the Greek version of the Hebrew Jezreel. This was in fact a common metaphor which was used, not only in mythology, but more than once by King Rib-Addi in the El-Amarna Correspondences, as he used to say when he was besieged in his palace, ‘My field is a wife without a husband.’ (In accordance with Velikovsky’s’ reconstruction of ancient history the El-Amarna Correspondences were written in those exact days by people who lived in the land of Canaan.) The location of this place has never been firmly established, but it obviously lays somewhere in the valley of Jezreel. In the light of the foregoing, one could fairly speculate that the place which we now refer to as ‘Jezreel’ in the valley of ‘Jezreel,’ was at one time known as ‘Naboth’s Vineyard.’ Naboth ‘of Jezreel’ may have built it up to the point where it became a kind of city-state that bordered on Samaria. Naboth inherited this valuable property as a result of his ‘illustrious descent,’ although he could not be considered as its King, it was in his possession. Ahab wanted there to be no question as to the Kingship, or the possession, of the place, and Jezebel, by an underhanded stratagem was able to acquire the spot for him. The site was fortified and Jezebel built a temple to Baalath there, therefore the city was renamed “Jezebel” after her. After her scandalous death, it was once again renamed, ‘Jezreel’ so that people would not say, ‘this is Jezebel.’ (2 Kings 9:37 ‘And the carcass of Jezebel shall be as dung upon the face of the field in the portion of Jezreel; so that they shall not say, ‘this’ is Jezebel.’ I stuck the word ‘this’ in quotes because I believe that we understand it incorrectly to be referring to the ‘carcass of Jezebel,’ when actually it alludes to the ‘field in the portion of Jezreel.’) Naboth was in possession of the place which was, later, to be named after Jezebel, and he inherited it by descent. In the parlance of symbolic poetry, the place was his daughter so to speak, and it was the place itself that was the prize over which Naboth and Ahab were contending. Pelops and Oenomaus were contending to the death, the survivor was to inherit the throne, winning not only the bride but also the Kingdom. In accordance with common mythic symbolism a contender for the throne is often portrayed as a suitor for the Queen. (Such as Cadmus and Harmonia or Perseus and Andromeda) Accordingly, winning the Bride means winning the Kingdom….We clearly understand the symbolism in terms of our own religion, but somehow the same symbolism is a mystery when we read it in a ‘myth.’
We are told by Apollodorus, “Now Oenomaus, the king of Pisa, had a daughter Hippodameia, and whether it was that he loved her, as some say, or that he was warned by an oracle that he must die by the man that married her, no man got her to wife; for her father could not persuade her to cohabit with him, and her suitors were put by him to death.” The versions of the story given by Tzetzes and the Scholiast on Eur. Or. 990 agree closely with each other and with that of Apollodorus, which they may have copied. They agree with him and with the Scholiast on Pindar in alleging an incestuous passion of Oenomaus for his daughter as the reason why he was reluctant to give her in marriage; indeed they affirm that this was the motive assigned for his conduct by the more accurate historians, though they also mention the oracle which warned him that he would perish at the hands of his in-law. The fear of this prediction being fulfilled is the motive generally alleged by the extant writers of antiquity. However it is apparent when studying the Greek myth as it relates to the story of Naboth, that the original tale had nothing to do with incest, it was just a matter of Naboth wanting to keep possession of his land and it was this “land” which was to subsequently become known by the name of the princess “Jezebel” (Hippodameia) to those who would later tell the myth of Oenomaus. Although it was not by the hand of Ahab directly, the death of Naboth was blamed upon the complicity of the King and therefore the warning of the oracle so saying that Oenomaus must die by the man that married Hippodameia rang true. The Achaean tellers of the myth were no doubt a bit biased in denying the oracle and slandering Oenomaus as incestuous instead, thereby granting their ancestor Pelops a measure of justification for the killing.
Elijah as Myrtilus
Myrtilus (a name suspiciously like another Hittite name of the same era, ‘Mursilis’ TISHBITE in Hebrew “Tishbi” implying from the settlement of Teshub. There is a play-on-words here. Tishbi uses the same letters that spell “Tashuv” i.e. return or repent. Elijah exhorted the Israelites to repent. Coincidently, “Teshub” was also the name of the chief god of the Hittites.) also was murdered, and in his case it was said to be accusations, that were lodged against him by Hippodameia, thus manipulating Pelops into committing the crime. This is the method employed by the Biblical Ahab and Jezebel against Naboth, but Jezebel brought accusations against, and called for the death of, someone else as well, one who was a bit more like the Greek Myrtilus, the great prophet Elijah. The greatness of Elijah, as portrayed in the Jewish literature, is not reflected in the mythological figure of Myrtilus, but the myth is a biased version of the Scriptural story, as told presumably, by the sons and followers of Ahab whom, we would not expect to honor Elijah. Even so, the sons of Pelops had to admit that the ‘traitor’ Myrtilus, did have some very Elijah-like attributes. The curse, for instance, that Myrtilus proclaimed against the house of Pelops, turned out to be a true prophecy. Myrtilus was acknowledged as a prophet, he was said to be one of ‘the sons of Hermes,’ (Hermes, the serpent stick carrying messenger of god, has elsewhere been identified as the Greek version of Moses, who in turn was sometimes referred to as ‘Nebo,’ meaning the ‘prophet.’ http://www.britam.org/salverda/io.html ) Similarly Elijah, as many believe, is supposed to have belonged to an organization that was called, ‘the sons of the prophets,’ (2KI 4:1.) .
‘And there came a messenger, and told him, saying, They have brought the heads of the king’s sons. And he said, Lay ye them in two heaps at the entering in of the gate until the morning.’ (2KI 10:8) The Scriptural story about the ‘heads’ is almost certainly true, and it must have had a lasting traumatic effect on the psyche of those followers of Ahab who fled to Greece and told the tale of Pelops, for this morbid display is attested to in the Greek myths as well. Oenomaus, the myth relates, cut off the heads of those who dared to contest him in the chariot chase and lost. These heads he exhibited on the gate of his palace and the story specifically mentions the regret felt by Pelops upon seeing the ‘faces’ on display. (According to Hyginus, Fab. 84, when Pelops saw the heads of the unsuccessful suitors nailed over the door, he started to regret his impudence. He therefore appealed to Myrtilus, the charioteer of Oenomaus, promising half of the kingdom if he would change his affiliation and collaborate with him.) Ahab’s corresponding regret, (appealing to Elijah, just as Pelops had appealed to Myrtilus) famously portrayed in the Scriptures (1 Kings 21:17-29) as an act of true repentance, resulted in a postponement of reckoning for his sin which would be imposed instead upon his sons, the same sons whose heads made up the grisly exhibition here referred to. It could be argued that Ahab himself did not actually ‘see’ the heads, however this argument could be refuted by saying that Ahab was afforded a ‘vision’ of the retribution visited upon his sons through the Prophet (‘seer’) Elijah.
In the Scriptures, the heads were also displayed because of a lost chariot chase, in this case it was Jehu (anointed by Elijah 1Kings 19:15,16) who furiously drove his chariot on behalf of the Almighty to work out His revenge for the death of Naboth. Jehu overtook his opponent’s chariot piercing him through the heart and that is why the heads were on display. These heads were indeed the heads of the other suitors for the throne, the sons of Ahab. The Biblical quote runs thusly; ”And Jehoram king of Israel and Ahaziah king of Judah went out, each in his chariot, and they went out against Jehu, and met him in the portion of Naboth the Jezreelite. … And Jehu drew a bow with his full strength, and smote Jehoram between his arms, and the arrow went out at his heart, and he sunk down in his chariot. Then said Jehu ‘Take up, and cast him in the portion of the field of Naboth the Jezreelite: for ‘Surely I have seen yesterday the blood of Naboth, and the blood of his sons, saith THE ALMIGHTY; and I will requite thee in this plat, saith THE ALMIGHTY. Now therefore take and cast him into the plat of ground, according to the word of THE ALMIGHTY. But when Ahaziah the king of Judah saw this, he fled … And Jehu followed after him, and said, Smite him also in the chariot.’ (II Kings 9:21-28) The chariot killing of Ahaziah the king of Judah and grandson of Ahab even more closely parallels the killing of the suitors by Oenomaus because, although it is difficult to piece together the different accounts, (compare 2 Chron. 22:7-9), it is apparent that Ahaziah fled and was captured by the men of Jehu, then Jehu ordered Ahaziah to be placed in his chariot so that he could be killed in it, then he was granted a head start. Ahaziah was mortally wounded as he fled to Megiddo, where he died of his wounds, he was buried in Jerusalem. So it was a kind of chase, as in the Greek myth.
Obviously the men of Ahab (the Achaeans) held Elijah (Myrtilus) in low esteem, considering him to be a traitor. However Ahab, as was true of all Hittite rulers, (in accordance with a known Hittite document restricting the absolute power of Hittite kings, called the “Edict of Telipinus”) did not have absolute power (Jezebel, the daughter of a different kind of King, did not seem to understand this.). He was required to justify his decisions to the royal clan (comprised of princes, royal cousins, the priesthood, elders of the state, and others of prestige). Elijah was highly respected and Ahab could not hate him openly. When Elijah admonished Ahab, the King had to clearly and visibly display his repentance, not just out of fear of the curse but also in order to maintain the loyalty of the clan. Pelops as well is said to have regretted his treatment of Myrtilus, and after the death of the seer, Pelops is said to have introduced and enforced the worship of Hermes (the Greek Moses), the supposed father of Myrtilus, among the Achaeans. Pelops built a few shrines to Hermes, and even instituted some of the rites and rituals that were advocated by Hermes, such as maintaining an ark which contained the fleece of the sacrificed golden lamb (indicating the lamb of god no doubt) the purpose of which was to justify the Pelopid dynasty (an obvious parallel to the Mosaic Ark of the Covenant, containing the Messianic promise and justifying the Davidic dynasty). And in fact, there was a more honorable opinion of Myrtilus that was known to the ancient Greeks. Pindar, and other early writers, say that it was Poseidon’s gift of the flying chariot that won the race for Pelops, not the treachery of the seer Myrtilus. Pindar describes how god bestowed on Pelops a chariot with winged steeds. ‘Honoring him, the god gave him a golden chariot, and horses with untiring wings. He overcame the might of Oenomaus, and took the girl as his bride.’ (Pindar, Olympian 1. 85) On a chest at Olympia the horses of Pelops in the chariot race were represented with wings (Paus. 5.17.7). The earliest mention of Myrtilus’ treachery is to be found in the writings of Pherecydes in the 5th century BC. and, at any rate, Myrtilus was respected by many and was not unanimously despised even by the Achaeans (the men of Ahab).
It may be argued by some that Naboth was not like Oenomaus in that he is not associated with driving a chariot, and that his death did not involve a chariot race. True enough, for although the portion of the Scriptures that involves Ahab, is full of chariotry, and Ahab is portrayed as “contesting” with Naboth over his vineyard, the particular chapter of Naboth’s murder does not involve a chariot. However, that argument overlooks the fact that the foremost clash, and overarching theme outlined in that section of the Scriptures is the contest between the polytheism of Ahab against the Monotheism of Elijah and incidentally of Naboth, whom Elijah had sided with against Ahab. The climax of this clash was the contest at mount Carmel which culminated with a very famous chariot race between Ahab and Elijah (in which Elijah miraculously succeeded although on foot). A more careful reading of the Greek myth reveals that Oenomaus, the Greek Naboth was not the driver of his own chariot he was merely riding along, and that his chariot was actually driven by his charioteer Myrtilus, the Greek Elijah, ‘the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.’ Notice that Elijah is referred to Scripturally as the “horseman of the chariot,” not just a rider in the chariot, but its horseman. Thus it is not unreasonable to conclude that Elijah was envisioned in his heavenly translation as not merely being picked up by it, but rather that he was ensconced in the heavenly chariot as its charioteer. “And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.” (2 Kings 2:11,12) Oddly Josephus himself seems to doubt the story of the heavenly chariot, saying of Elijah only, that no one knows of his death, “Now at this time it was that Elijah disappeared from among men, and no one knows of his death to this very day; but he left behind him his disciple Elisha, as we have formerly declared. And indeed, as to Elijah, and as to Enoch, who was before the deluge, it is written in the sacred books that they disappeared, but so that nobody knew that they died.” (Antiquities, 9). At any rate it does seem reasonable for some to blame (or credit as the source may be) Jezebel, who called for his death and caused his exile, for his “disappearance.”
After the chariot/foot race from Mount Carmel of Ahab and Elijah, Jezebel called for the immediate death of Elijah. Elijah himself prayed for his own death at that time (never-the-less the Scriptures have Elijah out living Ahab). Likewise the death of the seer Myrtilus was called for by Hippodameia. In both cases the last day of the great prophet/seer was spent in a flying chariot supplied by God/god. However in the myth told by the Achaeans the flying chariot was supplied to Pelops and it was he who invited the seer to take a ride in it. As they were flying high in the heavens Pelops killed Myrtilus by kicking him out.
The prophecies of Myrtilus continued to come true for generations after his earthly departure. Like Elijah, Myrtilus did not lose consciousness after death, he even, again like Elijah, came back occasionally to preside over the death of the cursed dynasty, especially royal chariot deaths, for as some say, that the ghost of Myrtilus was the ‘horse scarer’ in the Hippodrome at Olympia. Myrtilus, also like Elijah, was translated into heaven at his death, where he was placed in the heavenly chariot which is known to this very day as the constellation called, ‘Auriga,’ or as we say, ‘the charioteer.’ Here perhaps, the Greek myth has a more ‘logical’ explanation for the story of Elijah’s apotheosis and the fiery chariot of the Heavenly God.
The Murder of Stymphalus
Another famous murder committed by the Greek King Pelops, (It’s the same story from a slightly different source, a source that was apparently more favorable to the monotheistic view of Elijah, who in this version of the story is referred to as Aeacus.) was the myth about the murder of Stymphalus (This name is perhaps a derisive parody applied by the Achaeans to the older Arcadian name ‘Staphylus,’ which means, ‘a bunch of grapes,’ and thereby, is plausibly in reference to Naboth’s vineyard.).
The story of the sacrifice and resurrection of Pelops was told in order to display him as the archetypical King of Kings of the Achaeans. However, there was a very similar rival religion in the neighboring kingdom of the Arcadians. To them, it was Arcas, the eponym of their kingdom, who was to be the dynastic King of Kings. The Arcadians told the same story that the Achaeans told about the death and revival of Pelops but they applied it to their own hero Arcas. Lycaon, the grandfather of Arcas, Killed him, cut him into pieces, stewed him in a cauldron and served him to Zeus, whereupon the god brought Arcas back to life. This gruesome tale served as the prerequisite for the Arcadian ‘messiahship,’ in the same way that the sacrifice, eating of the body, and resurrection of Pelops was to the Achaeans. The two neighboring rival Kingdoms were contesting with each other in order to see which of their two very similar religions would be accepted as the true Pan-Hellenic dynasty. An interesting theological distinction can be gleaned from the fact that Arcas was sacrificed and served to only the ‘one god,’ Zeus. The sacrifice of Pelops, on the other hand, was served to the ‘gods’ of Olympus (Elohim). Thus the Arcadian religion was to the Achaean religion, as the religion of Elijah and Naboth was to the religion of Ahab.
According to Greek mythology, largely composed by the Achaeans themselves, Pelops and the religious views of his Achaeans superseded the older Arcadian beliefs. They succeeded in this way; Arcadia, a kingdom that bordered the Kingdom of Pelops, was ruled over by a descendant of Arcas called Stymphalus. Pelops decided to take over this adjoining kingdom, but was unable to do so in neither a forthright manner nor in a fair fight, although he did try (compare 1 Kings 21:1-3). Forestalled, he contrived to take the land in a sneaky and underhanded way (compare 1 Kings 21:7). Pelops pretended friendship with Stymphalus and invited him to a banquet in his honor (compare 1 Kings 21:8,9 and10). Once at the banquet Pelops had the gullible King murdered, cut into pieces and scattered over the land (See 1 Kings 21:12 and 13, compare 2 Kings 9:26 where we are informed that Naboth and his sons were killed, and that the just retribution for the sons of Ahab was to be killed, dismembered and cast into Naboth’s field.). Zeus was horrified at this most heinous act and accordingly cursed the now enlarged kingdom of Pelops to a very severe and wide spread drought (compare 1 Kings 17:1 and 18:2). The drought itself was so great that it became even more famous than the act that caused it, (thus there were several other proposed causes for the dearth, but only the prayers of Aeacus worked against it.) kings all over Greece asked their prophets and oracles what could be done about it and were told that only the supplications of Aeacus, the most pious man in Greece, (the son of Zeus and Aegina) could terminate it. Accordingly the numerous Kings of Greece, representing many varying religious concerns, came together and agreed to send a petition to the widely known holy man (compare 1 Kings 18:10 and 11).
The Greek Mount Carmel?
The Greeks even had their own Mount Carmel. ‘Complying with their petition, (1 Kings 18:1) Aeacus ascended the Hellenic mountain (Mount Panhellenius), and stretching out pure hands to heaven he called on the common god, and prayed him to take pity on afflicted Greece (compare 1 Kings 18:20 and 42 especially the phrase in verse 20, ‘all the children of Israel’ with the term ‘Panhellenius,’ meaning ‘all the Hellens’). And even while he prayed a loud clap of thunder pealed, and all the surrounding sky was overcast, and furious and continuous showers of rain burst out and flooded the whole land (compare 1 Kings 18:41 and 45). Thus was exuberant fertility procured for the fruits of the earth by the prayers of Aeacus’ (Clement of Alexandria, Strom. vi.3.28, p. 753). In gratitude Aeacus built a sanctuary of Zeus on Mount Panhellenius (Paus. 2.30.4) (compare 1 Kings 18:31 and 32). Mount Panhellenius, the highest mountain of Aegina, is a conspicuous landmark viewed from all the neighboring coasts of the gulf, and in antiquity a cloud settling on the mountain was regarded as a sign of rain (Theophrastus, De signis tempestat. i.24) (compare 1 Kings 18:43). It is indeed remarkable how nicely this Greek myth compares with the Scriptural prototype.
When the time came for Aeacus to die, it is said in his mythology, that he didn’t really die, but instead, with the consent of Zeus, he bypassed death and was translated directly into the afterlife where he retained his consciousness and was appointed to be one of the three judges in the land of the dead. According to Isoc. 9.15, Aeacus enjoyed the greatest honors after death, sitting as assessor with Pluto and Proserpine. Plato represents him as judging the dead along with Minos, Rhadamanthys, and Triptolemus (Plat. Apol. 41a), Lucian depicts Aeacus as a sort of ticket-collector of the dead, examining the new arrivals from Charon’s ferryboat and making sure they had their fare. (See Lucian, Cataplus 4; Charon 2.) Elsewhere he speaks of Aeacus as keeping the gate of Hades (Lucian, Dialog. Mort. xx.1). Now, compare these legends of the Greeks with the ‘Legends of the Jews’ from Ginzberg; ‘In heaven he (Elijah) goes on living for all time. There he sits recording the deeds of men and the chronicles of the world. He has another office besides. He is the Psycho pomp, whose duty is to stand at the cross-ways in Paradise and guide the pious to their appointed places; who brings the souls of sinners up from Gehenna at the approach of the Sabbath, and leads them back again to their merited punishment when the day of rest is about to depart; and who conducts these same souls, after they have atoned for their sins, to the place of everlasting bliss.’
For those who may wonder why there were two versions of the same story of Ahab’s infamous murder, I offer this speculation. The Achaeans had their version of the story which was heavily tainted with the Hittite tradition of chariotry, while the Arcadians, not so Hittite in their traditions, told a story that followed more closely the Israelite point of view. It is the treatment, of each their own version of the character of the prophet Elijah, that gives away the two differing perspectives. The Achaeans give Elijah a Hittite character, with a Hittite name, “Myrtilus,” and making him out to be a charioteer (this is not completely foreign to the Scriptural Elijah the “Tishbite” the “chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.’) On the other hand, the Arcadians seem to know much more about the deeds of Elijah, especially the tale of his going to the mountain where he offers prayers to lift the drought. Rather than the Achaean “traitor” Myrtilus, the Arcadians make Elijah to be Aeacus, the most pious man in the nation. To them Aeacus was considered to be the descendant of Asopus through Aigina (Jacob through Dinah see http://www.britam.org/salverda/sisyphus.html).
The Arcadians seem to be much more influenced by the Corinthian (Shechemite) school of Greek mythology who considered Sisyphus (Joseph) to be their great patriarch. Each version of the story had its own kernel of truth to it, and neither could be completely dismissed, so the mythographers took the, originally two versions of the same tale, and made the Arcadian one subsequent to the Achaean. This solution to differing versions of the same tale, was often used in Greek mythography and many other examples could be cited.
The Greeks told the story of an unscrupulous King and his conniving Queen, who increased his realm by the underhanded murder of his neighbor, the treachery of the Queen herself who manipulated the murder. A deceitful banquet was arranged, the body of a victim, who rightfully owned the coveted property, was chopped up and strewn across the land. A murder so heinous that it brought down a curse by god, not only upon him but also his descendants and even the nation itself was blighted. A great prophet was sent to deliver the curse. The story included a famous and miraculous chariot race, dissevered heads that were displayed at a gate, and the king had a famous episode of regret for his deeds. The drought was very severe, and the most pious man in the nation, although reluctant and hard to find, was searched out and beseeched to pray to the chief god for rain. The divinely favored man went to a mutually located mountain where he prayed for god to alleviate the drought and his prayers were granted. There was an episode involving a divinely provided flying chariot where the great prophet was killed. But he didn’t really die, he was translated into the heavens where he can be seen driving the heavenly chariot known today as the constellation called Auriga (the charioteer). The man of great piety is said, instead of unconscious death, to continue as the gate keeper and judge in the land of the dead. Now where did the Greeks get such a story, if not from the Israelite story of King Ahab? The Greeks are in debt for the so called “myth” of King Pelops, almost certainly, to the well known Scriptural story of the infamous Israelite King Ahab. And this is without a doubt due to a strong cultural connection between Israel and Greece in the 9th century BC.
-John R. Salverda
For more articles by John R. Salverda on the Hebraic Connections of Greek Mythology, see:
And, from: http://www.dgdclynx.plus.com/lynx/lynx68.html
William Oxley: The Shoulder of Pelops
A brief reminder of the myth. Tantalus, beloved of the Gods, invited them to dinner: determined on a meal with a difference. Every host will know the feeling – hostesses perhaps even more so – but none are likely to go as far as Tantalus who killed his son Pelops, cut him up, boiled and served him as a ragoût extraordinaire. The Immortals – heavenly palates untitillated – knowing all things, refused to touch the meal; all save Demeter that is who, distracted with grief at the recent loss of her daughter, inadvertently tucked into the meal before the other Gods could stop her, and ate Pelops’ shoulder. Then Zeus had Tantalus arrested and jailed forever among the immortal dead. After which the Olympian chief ordered Hermes – with whom Pelops’ soul now was – to collect the dismembered pieces and place them in a cauldron, re-heat same, and thereby bring Pelops back to life. When this remarkable process of re-heating was over, Clotho – she of the three Fates whose job it is to spin the thread of a man’s life – took the restored Pelops out of the cauldron and, as one shoulder was missing, fitted him up with an ivory replacement. Thereafter, all his descendants, the Pelopidae, as a mark of their origin were supposed to have one shoulder as white as ivory. Which mark became known as the curse of the Pelopidae. And it was a curse that was to have a profound influence on shaping the destiny of Ancient Greece and, by implication, that of us all.
Now, like any myth, that of Pelops operates on a number of levels; has many strands. For example, it is not difficult to interpret this myth in `historical’ terms, it being easy enough to trace the influence of the curse (which the ivory shoulder symbolises) down through the House of Atreus to the fall of Troy, and beyond to the death of King Agamemnon by the hand of his wife at Mycenae. It is central, in fact to the aetiology of a number of misfortunes that afflicted the Greece of the ancient world: and was obviously of such significance – or, rather the Pelopidae were – that the afflicted gave their name eventually to the whole Peleponesus.
Certain features of the myth, however, clearly indicate that this is also a myth of process. A deep structural representation of the process of poetic creativity: the key to which interpretation lying in the use of the cauldron of re-birth or inspiration. This subject I have dealt with at greater length in my book The Cauldron of Inspiration (1), where I trace the recurrence of the cauldron motif in many different literatures and myths. For example, its appearance in the Celtic myths as recorded in The Mabinogion, whereby the men of the Island of the Mighty (Britain) use it as a means of restoring dead warriors to life, clearly signifies it as the cauldron of re-birth. Then its use by the witches in MacBeth as a means of prophecy or inspiration indicates another mythological dimension of it. But most of all the cauldron operates in these literatures of myth as a symbol of poetic creativity.
For every poem is a re-birth of the poet’s self in words; which is why poetry – indeed every art – is regarded as creative. A poem is not born – only poets are born – but is a ritual re-birth out of the imagination. The story of the transformation of Gwion into Taliesin, again in The Mabinogion, is a further and very precise myth of the process, and involves a cauldron. In Celtic literature the cauldron vies easily with the fountain as chief symbol of inspiration and the imagination. In Hellenic literature the fountain is the more frequent symbol; but as the myth of Pelops shows, the cauldron does occur as well. It is even possible that this, among the most ancient of all the Greek myths, shows a direct Celtic influence; for it is an established fact that, in the third millenium B.C., the great Celtic migrations began in Eastern Europe – possibly in the region of the Caucasus – so that the original Pelasgian inhabitants of Greece, which included the tribe of the Pelopidae, may well have been Celtic. Consequently, it may be historically true – or mythologically correct, if it is preferred – that the cauldron is actually older than the fountain as symbol of the imagination.
Be that as it may, the cauldron of re-birth is certainly the key to the poetic interpretation of this particular myth. But what of the ivory shoulder? This is equally interesting and suggestive, for two reasons. Firstly, because of the idea of its being a curse. Secondly, because earlier Tantalus had been expelled from Phrygia in Asia Minor and had settled at Pisa in Elis on the Greek mainland. At first sight these two factors may not seem to be linked; but if it be recalled that Greek philosophy was born in Ionia, the coastal strip of Phrygia, and if one reads the following passage from The White Goddess of Robert Graves, the connection should become plainer:
`What interests me most … is the difference that is constantly appearing between the poetic and prosaic methods of thought. The prosaic method was invented by the Greeks of the Classical age as an insurance against the swamping of reason by mythographic fancy. It has now become the only legitimate means of trnsmitting useful knowledge. And in England, as in most other mercantile countries, the current popular view is that “music” and old-fashioned diction are the only characteristics of poetry which distinguish it from prose: that every poem has, or should have, a precise single-strand prose equivalent. As a result, the poetic faculty is atrophied in every educated person who does not struggle to cultivate it … From the inability to think poetically – to resolve speech into its original images and rhythms and recombine them on several simultaneous levels of thought into a multiple sense – derives the failure to think clearly in prose. … This simple need is forgotten, what passes for simple prose nowadays is a mechanical stringing together of stereotyped wordgroups, without regard for the images contained in them. The mechanical style, which began in the counting-house, has now infiltrated into the university, some of its most zombiesque instances occuring in the works of eminent scholars and divines.’ (2)
What Graves is clearly hinting at in this passage is the curse of Pelops – the ivory or mechanical shoulder of Greek and, by implication, of Western poetry (I leave aside the further twist of the decline of prose as well, with which the latter part of the passage is concerned). It is Graves’ view that the philosophical and `prosaic method’ of thought is a blemish on the otherwise perfectly created corpus poetica. Furthermore, he traces the continuance of this blemish, as the passage indicates, down to the present day. And the very choice of phrases he uses in the passage, even when speaking of prose (though prose he says should be poetry-nourished), like `mechanical stringing together’, the `most zombiesque instances’, have a remarkable affinity with the idea of the mechanical or false shoulder of Pelops. But I will stretch the point no further. Now, while I am convinced that there is a distinct tendency – when it suits them – on the part of poets to discount the role of philosophy; just as there is an equal tendency for poets to play up the importance of prose (c.f. Eliot: `To have the virtues of good prose is the first and minimum requirement of good poetry’); I am, nevertheless, convinced that Graves is basically right in what he says. Except for the fact that I am of the opinion that philosophy is the necessary sister – or perhaps I should say brother – discipline of the Muses, I agree that prose is the ivory shoulder of Pelops, as far as poetry is concerned. For there is only one subject – which, in truth, is not so much a subject as an attitude – that has no part in poetry and that is prose. Prose is the curse of poetry that runs through all the ages down to the present. The Pelopidae live, and have perhaps never been more prevalent than today – as Graves suggests.
Having said that prose is the only subject that is unfit for poetry, I think I should add that poetry, or the poem, is no fit subject for a poem either. To adopt a particularly unpleasant image coined by that lovely lyric poet Patrick Kavanagh, poems about poems are `masturbations in ashes’ beside true poems. Why? Because poems about poems, or more correctly about the poetic process, are inevitably in some degree prosaic speculations. And, as Graves has demonstrated, such involve a way of thinking that is different from that required for the making of true poems. In brief, poems about poems are too necessarily self-conscious to ever be more than versified prose. So that any age abounds in such `poems’, as does ours, is an age in which the shoulder of Pelops is clearly visible.
Another indication of the curse is the invention – or I should say, the particular prevalence today – of the academic poem (which does not necessarily mean a poem by an academic). That is, the perfect, or professional, imitation poem. A poem very difficult to distinguish from an original; a poem which as I.A.Richards, in his book Science and Poetry, says,: `By every intellectual test may succeed. But unless the ordering of the words sprang, not from knowledge of the technique of poetry … but from an actual supreme ordering of experience … a closer approach will betray it. Characteristically its rhythm will give it away’. (3) Even so, such as poem is easier to isolate in theory than in practice.
Not unrelated to the previous, and the latest manifestation of the Pelopsian curse, is the invention of what is known as `sub-texts’. This is largely an importation from France; and it is the first, perhaps the only, fruit of the Structuralists’ theories. It has affinities with certain scriptural commentaries – especially in the Hindu and Islamic religions – where the commentaries of theologians have acquired a status on a par with original scripture. So, likewise, among critics of an academic and structuralist persuasion (and also now among post-structuralist or even de-constructionist critics) there is a movement towards the elevation of certain commentaries on poetry and on other forms of literature, to an equal status with their ostensible subject. I say `ostensible’ because it is clear that the poem or novel is no longer being criticised so much as being used as the point of departure for the critic’s own supposedly `creative’ theorisings.
All these things have come about, are a consequence of the curse of Pelops in literature. And have been immeasurably aided in our century by the blurring of the distinction between poetry and prose, as, again, Graves has rightly suggested.
One of the most interesting and perhaps influential books of criticism bearing on our subject, of the last thirty years, has been Donald Davie’s Purity of Diction in English Verse. I repeat, one of the most interesting works of criticism; it is also, I suspect, one of the most subtly subversive. In it Davie speaks of what he terms `strength of statement’; which quality, of course, is absolutely central to good prose. He says: `This strength of statement is found most often in chaste or pure diction … it goes together with economy of metaphor’. (4) He then adds: `The poet who tries for such chastity and strength will never have his reader’s love, but he may have his esteem’. A recipe for the psychology of the academic poem, if ever I heard one.
In my notebook for 1969, the year I first read Purity of Diction in English Verse, I included further quotes. For example, just about the first thing that struck me was where Davie says (and it should be remembered that he was writing in about 1950): `With most of my contemporaries, I thought that the surest sign of poetic greatness was the ability to organise experience by apt and memorable metaphor’. He then goes on to urge a move away from a poetic diction relying on or making much use of `apt and memorable metaphor’ (a process which he terms `refining’): `We are saying that the poet who undertakes to preserve or refine a poetic diction is writing in a web of responsibilities’. What a fine metaphor is that `web of responsibilities’ – strange not to have to take it as a sure sign of poetic greatness?
Apart from the minimisation of tropes, such refining of the poetic diction was to be achieved by the aforementioned lean towards statement; by the avoidance of neo-Wordsworthian fashion-mongering: `There are fashions in words for poetry, as in words for conversation, and out of these words that are fashionable every age constructs willy-nilly its own poetic diction which the bad poets (unconsciously) adopt’ (the logic of this is totally self-contradictory: it seems to be saying that every age constructs its own poetic diction in this way, but only produces bad poets by so doing!); and, lastly, by a reconsideration of the question of `taste’: `The word Imagination has been overstrained, from impulses honourable to mankind, to meet the demands of the faculty which is perhaps the noblest in our nature. In the interest of Taste, the process has been reversed; and from the prevalence of dispositions at once injurious and discreditable, being no other than that selfishness which is the child of apathy – which, as Nations decline in productive and creative power, makes them value themselves upon a presumed refinement of judging’. A further and incidental criticism of this last is that it appears to proceed from a confusion of the habits of the Augustan period in English poetry, when `taste’ was, indeed, both a valid and exalted concept, with the England of the late Forties, early Fifties, a time of nations declining `in productive and creative power’.
But what Davie appears to be really saying is that although an age’s poetic diction is fashioned `willy nilly’ from `those words that are fashionable everyday constructs’, that is to be avoided because it leads to bad poetry. In other words, unlike with the Wordsworth of Lyrical Ballads, the adoption of the demotic is out, as being an impure procedure. Yet, how can this be squared with the second quote: the implied attack on the notion of an aureate diction – such as all `poets of taste’, as it were invariably adopt?
Michael Schmidt, himself a poet and critic somewhat influenced by Davie’s ideas, has defined the `diction’ in `purity of diction’ to mean: `The selection of words and deliberation behind that selection’; which I think a fair enough definition in context. The only question is: what sort of diction does Davie leave available to poetry, if he has closed off all traditional `poetic’ avenues to traffic? Frankly, I don’t know; and I don’t think Davie did either, in this monumentally ambivalent – but immensely stimulating – book of his. Though to be scrupulously fair there is a sort of clue to be had in two further quotes from Purity of Diction in English Verse.
One lesser avenue still available, apparently, is that followed by certain `… minor modern poets on both sides of the Atlantic (who) have employed succesfully for their limited ends a personal diction deliberately impure, eccentric and mannered. Robert Graves, Marianne Moore and John Crowe Ransom are examples.’ The other is not so much an avenue to be followed, as an inference of one that has been followed and a statement of its consequences: `Finally, of course, one cannot avoid the fact that the poet’s churches are empty, and the strong suspicion that the dislocation of syntax has much to do with it’. The phrase `dislocation of syntax’ leads us stright to the matter of prose.
Prose is the antithesis of traditional poetic metres – in fact, is the antithesis of all metre. Indeed, this phrase has to mean the dislocation of metre because it is only in poetry that syntax is markedly ordered, and that according to prosodic strictness. The principal ordering of syntax in prose is semantic; in poetry rhythmic. Consequently, as Davie suggests, many modern poets having broken the rhythmic mould of poetry – which is true – have thereby availed themselves of the chief virtue of prose which is, of course, fluidity or absence of form (save in the widest sense).
I believe that the `subtle perversity’ or ambivalence of Purity of Diction in English Prose, sprang from the fact that principally Davie could not solve the contradictions which his chosen mentor Ezra Pound – the first to preach the doctrine of `break the iambus’ – had set up. The unadmitted resolution to which conflict, of course, being to turn poetry into prose – or make the shoulder of Pelops yet more visible in our time.
It is curious that Davie should have described Robert Graves as one of those `minor modern poets’ who had employed `a personal diction deliberately impure … etc’. Because Graves, in his turn, in an essay of his entitled `Dame Occupacyon’ has this to say of poetry: `Personally, I expect poems to say what they mean in the simplest and most economical way; even if the thought they contain is complex. I do not mind exalted language in poetry any more than I mind low language, but rhetoric disgusts me’. (5) A statement that certainly would seem to incline towards some `purification of diction’.
More important, however, is the further question raised of `rhetoric’; more important because all good poetry employs some sort of rhetoric, no matter how personal. And not a rhetoric of inflation – such as one must presume Graves to be hitting at – but the operation of a rhetor that enables the elevation of the poem’s feeling experienced (its primum mobile) into some degree of aural `visibility’. Also, it is this quality and functioning of rhetoric which is one of the factors that both unites and distinguishes poetry from prose. However, while it is sometimes difficult to avoid calling a passage of prose `poetic prose’; and while `poetic’ poetry is a tautology; and prosy poetry a non-existence, being merely a label for bad poetry: the problem of distinguishing poetry from prose can always be overcome by remembering a simple rule. And this is: that while prose can sometimes evince feeling, hence poetical prose; poetry must always be the product of feeling and not of the intellect – which latter is what prose is mostly an expression of.
It is in the discouragement of all forms of rhetoric (and not just of the inflated rhetoric of argument, persuasion or sentiment) that modern poetic practice has erred. Has let graze on the slopes of Parnassus a cart horse of prose, in place of the traditional Pegasus. So that, again, we see poets – even one so aware of the dangers as Graves – unwittingly falling under the curse of Pelops.
`Rhetoric disgusts me’, as also did the Augustan poet Alexander Pope, whom Graves termed `that sedulous ape’. Yet speaking in Pope’s defence this is what Lytton Strachey had to say: `That Pope’s verse is artificial there can be no doubt. But then there is only one kind of verse that is not artificial, and that is bad verse’. One understands, in its context, that Strachey draws no distinction between verse and poetry; yet one suspects it is a statement which would have horrified more or less equally Wordsworth, Pound, Graves or Donald Davie. But it shouldn’t. For a good poem – a true poem – is very much a verbal artefact: something that is at a considerable remove from either the casual utterance of speech or even the most deliberative passage of prose. And it is precisely differentiated by its artistically worked-up rhythm and its carefully chosen phraseology: the latter so chosen as to aim to be the sole particular way, the unique way of saying or expressing something. But no such musical monumentality is aimed at in speech or prose: even if, occasionally, they may create just such a durable verbal event.
The ambivalence at the heart of Davie’s book appears in his apparent condemnation of both the Wordsworthian dictum of fashioning poetry from common speech (not that I misunderstand his point about the making of a `fashion’ of common utterance, but think it subordinate to his main point), and the `splendid diction’ that is the product of Augustan eras. But it is an ambivalence arising from a certain misconception. Poetry, like language itself, like anything living requires nourishment. That nourishment poetry draws from a number of sources. From active or common speech: the customary or fashionable way of saying at any time; from traditional, even outmoded forms of expression – especially other poetry of the past; indirectly from other disciplines like philosophy and science, as well as from the more nebulous knowledge of myth: all of which sources form its fund of shaping-ideas; and, lastly, from actual experience of life itself in both its sacred and profane aspects. But the mistake – small at first and big later – is to narrow one’s appetite, so to speak, to any single source of nutriment. This is Davie’s error; and there has been a distinct tendency among poets to do this – Pope was maybe one, Wordsworth another – with the result that poetry, like Pelops, is impaired or in constant danger of being so.
Before moving on to consider individual poems, one thing should be firmly stressed. There is no exhaustive test of poems other than that they be proved to be alive. Poems must have some quantum of genuine life in them, otherwise they are simply dressed up corpses: the sort of academic or pseudo poems that I.A.Richards referred to earlier. But a sound critical tuning-fork should be able to detect the inner vitality that every poem must possess. Beyond this single requirement, the argument begins. Though it is not an argument that is furthered by imposing limited stylistic concerns or notions of a personal philosophy upon. For example, a reader may prefer Larkin’s outlook on life to that of Dylan Thomas, but such is not a sufficient test of the respective quality of their poetry. Though that such an `imposing upon’ is an ingrained critical habit of our times, the continuing debate between Romanticism and Classicism, for example, is sufficient proof of.
Let us now, following those remarks, consider briefly three celebrated and fairly well established Twentieth Century poems. Each, in its way, is a minor masterpiece: Yeats’ `An Irish Airman Foresees His Death’; Dylan Thomas’s `My Craft And Sullen Art’; and Larkin’s `At Grass’.
The Yeats’ poem begins thus:
`I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor…’
The tone is wistful; the diction straightforward; the measure fluent but not facile; the effect to convey a feeling of sad wisdom, as it were:
`A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.’
It is perfectly expressive of the `lonely impulse of delight’ which `drove to this tumult in the clouds’. It meets at most points Graves’ demand for poems to `say what they mean in the simplest and most economical way; even if the thought they contain is complex… etc.’ Yet it has a rhetoric; not just one of its own; but one that employs traditional rhetorical devices of parallelism:
`My country is Kiltartan Cross
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor
and, later, in the oratorical sweep of the driving negatives:
`No likely and could bring them loss…
Nor law nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds…’
As a result one must suppose that the anti-rhetoric lobby would view this poem with some suspicion. Though for me the rhetoric acts as a binding agent in the poem’s chemistry, to control rather than to exaggerate the airman’s feelings. And an exquisite balance is struck throughout the poem. A similar rhetoric emerges in Dylan Thomas’s `My Craft Or Sullen Art’;
`Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Not for the towering dead… etc.’
Here the rhetoric is more emphatic, more `gesture’ than in the plainer, less romantic Yeats; but it serves the same technical purpose of rhythmic agent. True, the poem is more lush with imagery than the `purer dictioned’ Yeats’ poem; but its meaning is still efficiently conveyed, beautifully conveyed, not despite the cluster of imagery but because of those images:
`When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms
I labour by singing light’.
Such images provide a remarkable concretisation of both abstraction and feeling, giving such intangibles as `griefs’ or `light’ a greater immediacy. In fact the rhetoric is less criticisable in this poem than in the Yeats, for the greater `plainness’ of `Those that I fight I do not hate’ and `Those that I guard I do not love’ makes them, such lines, more open to logical rebuttal (e.g. how can one fight without hate, protect without love? etc.) and the charge of rhetorical hollowness. So that, in a sense in Thomas’s `sullen art’ Davie is effectively answered. Diction may well be purified by hacking away metaphor and imagery, but it is also made more limited thereby. My third poem, Philip Larkin’s `At Grass’, is also characterised by directness and simplicity. But it is perhaps the least `direct’ of the three, having little actually to say. Unlike the Yeats’ and, to a lesser extent, the Thomas’ poem, it lacks philosophical content or paraphrasable `message’. Essentially it is a poem of mood, with a touch of nostalgia:
`The eye can hardly pick them out
From the cold shade they shelter in,
Till wind distresses tail and mane;
- The other seeming to look on -
And stands anonymous again.’
Such is `descriptiverse’ of the very finest kind:
`Do memories plague their ears like flies?
They shake their heads. Dusk brims the shadows.’
Actually, the theme of `At Grass’ – two horses eating in a field – cannot be made other than fairly trivial; but Larkin employs all his considerable resources – i.e. many of the traditionally accumulated resources of English poetry – to convert a simple scene into an immortalised moment. This poem is less about the poet and more about externality, than either of the other two. The poet’s voice tends to hover more in the background than Dylan Thomas’s foregrounded personal pronoun, or Yeats’ disguised ego in the mask of the airman. Also, the language of `At Grass’ is much closer to prose – the rhetor being absent. But the solid turns of phrase, the deft measurement and movement so smooth and inevitable from the first two lines:
`The eye can hardly pick them out
From the cold shade they shelter in’
to the last:
`Only the groom, and the groom’s boy
With bridles in the evening come.’
make it a most distinctive and pleasing poem. Indeed, one could expatiate at some length on this quietly subtle technique – which only falters in the line `The other seeming to look on’, which is a trifle clumsy – but to no purpose: it is as firmly a poem in its own way as the other two. And it is so because it employs music and imagery which, however low-key, easily distinguish it from prose. The first lurch into prose by English poetry in our century came, in fact, with Pound’s breaking of the iambus; and it caused such a shock that there was an immediate retreat into imagism.
That, of course, as is the way with all critical generalisations, is something of an oversimplification. But I find it a remarkable co-incidence that Pound could publish something like `Near Perigord’ and, virtually simultaneously, people like T.E.Hulme, H.D., Amy Lowell, etc., should have founded a school (ironically, with Pound’s active help) to produce poems many of which, like Hulme’s for instance, consisted of nothing but single or multiple images. So, I repeat, it does appear an inevitable, if unconscious, reaction to Pound’s `prosyfying’ of poetry. Especially, if one remembers that any poem hinges on imagery (which can’t be `broken’, as such) and sound (which Pound broke), does this seem a plausible theory.
Despite, however, this recurrent curse of Pelops, good poetry continues to be written and good poets persist. It may well be true that often these poets prove better practitioners than their theories might suggest: Eliot I consider one such; but, still, the list of Hopkins, Sassoon, Owen, Graves, Eliot, Yeats, Auden, Dylan Thomas and, somewhat grudgingly, Philip Larkin, plus several others, is an impressive list. Even so, they were and are always flanked by a number of lesser outriders for whom prose was and is poetry: men with one shoulder whiter than the other.
That this curse is now very much a settled feature of the poetry landscape, a glance at any current and representative anthology will confirm. However, it would be invidious to select any of the recently emerged younger names for especial condemnation: for all but the most outstanding young poets in any generation need time to properly emerge from the chrysalis. So that just as it can be fatal to call young poets `promising’ (as Cyril Connolly said: `Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising’), equally, it is a mistake to condemn too soon. But I would like to conclude this essay by drawing attention to just one of the most recent generation of poets who, as the author of at least seven widely-reviewed books of poetry over the last dozen years or so, ought to be able to bear closer scrutiny by now.
Seamus Heaney as a critic is very sound in my view; cautious perhaps, careful certainly, but most perceptive in his analyses of poetry and the creative act. But his poetry itself, I find a more mixed achievement. This principally because of the hyper-concrete nature of much of his poetry.
In Heaney’s work, two strands are now distinct. One strand, and the earliest and most persistent, is that of a rural Irish bog-praising equivalent of the American William Carlos Williams. A poem like `Widgeon’, from his collection Station Island, I would class with such well-known pieces of Williams’ as `A Red Wheelbarrow’ and `Fine Work In Pitch and Copper’. `Widgeon’ is as plain a piece of objectivist description as it is possible to come by.
The other strand in Heaney’s poetry, and more recent development, emerges in things like the `Glanmore Sonnets’ or the `Station Island’ sequence, and is an attempt to break away – principally through narrative – from the exceedingly restrictive practice of `tactile’ descriptivist pieces which form the fundament of his earlier achievement.
However, I would add – so as not to be thought to deliberately undersell Heaney’s technique in, say, most of A Lough Neagh Sequence or Door Into The Dark - he strains hard most of the time to give a tellurien and mythic gloze to his descriptions: endeavours to make his readers feel the rooted livingness of things. The trouble is the process doesn’t fire properly: many of the pieces come out of the kiln either not properly baked, or overdone and unsaleable, like perfectly finished cups without handles. It is alright in theory to insist that a poem should never `state’ but only `suggest’; but the best poems are really a subtle interplay between statement and suggestion: and many of Heaney’s poems are so involuted by their preoccupation with things, objects, that the `suggestion’ never arises, the music lies dormant. There is no real sense of going beyond the immediate. Lines like these from `Sloe Gin’:
`When I unscrewed it
I smelled the disturbed
tart stillness of a bush
rising through the pantry’
could have been written by any one of the New York objectivists. True the lines take one `beyond’ the immediacy of the kitchen; but when I read a poem like `Sloe Gin’ (even noting the pun of its title), I am still left with a distinct sense of `Yes – but so what?’ One needs to be taken from the obvious to beyond the obvious, and not from bottled gin to its obvious source in a bush … as in this poem. Equally, a poem like `An Ulster Twilight’ is a boring reminiscence of childhood to everyone save the poet, who is unable to make it less boring to anyone else precisely because of the fact it is prose masquerading as poetry:
`The bare bulb, a scatter of nails,
Shelved timber, glinting chisels:
In a shed of corrugated iron
Eric Dawson stoops his plane… Where is he now?
There were fifteen years between the two
That night I strained to hear the bells
Of a sleigh of the mind and heard him pedal
Into our lane, get off at the gable,
Steady his Raleigh bicycle
Against the whitewash, stand to make sure
The house was quiet, knock at the door…
A doorstep courtesy to shun
Your father’s uniform and gun,
But – now that I have said it out -
Maybe none the worse for that.’
The whole tone of that is prose; the last line of it `Maybe none the worse for that’ is prose; the exact, the indifferent, the boringly dull scene-setting of the opening `The bare bulb… etc.’, is prose; the stanza beginning `Into our lane, get off at the gable’ is visibly prose in its awkwardness; even the feeling that motivated the piece (if `feeling’ is not too grand a word for it), is so insufferably dull that one wishes Heaney had risked becoming properly sentimental … So, yes, this is scarcely a real poem at all – even `bells/ of a sleigh of the mind’ don’t redeem it. One needs only to compare `An Ulster Twilight’ with Patrick Kavanagh’s `Inniskeen Road, July Evening’ – a poem which, incidentally, Heaney discusses in a fine essay called `From Monaghan to the Grand Canal’ – a poem composed of just as ordinary materials, yet with so different a result, to perceive the sort of distinction I am driving at:
`Inniskeen Road, July Evening
The bicycles go by in twos and threes -
There’s a dance in Billy Brennan’s barn tonight,
And there’s a half-talk code of mysteries
And the wink-and-elbow language of delight.
Half-past eight and there is not a spot
Upon a mile of road, no shadow thrown
That might turn out a man or woman, not
A footfall tapping secrecies of stone. I have what every poet hates in spite
Of all the solemn talk of contemplation.
O Alexander Selkirk knew the plight
Of being king and government and nation.
A road, a mile of kingdom, I am king
Of banks and stones and every blooming thing.’
In Kavanagh’s ordinary down-to-earth piece the glow of the ember is clearly visible: and the quotidian is transfigured. Great art converts the colloquial prose of `every blooming thing’ into poetry’s `language of delight’ and `half-talk code of mysteries’. Whereas all I see in `An Ulster Twilight’ are a few strips of prose transfixed to a page – a page that is as white as Pelops’ ivory shoulder. And the presence of such `poems’ and such pages in Heaney’s volumes – indeed in many more books besides – seems to me not so much eloquent as boringly irritating proof of the working of an old and rather unpleasant myth.
1. William Oxley, The Cauldron of Inspiration, 1983, University of Salzburg.
2. Robert Graves, The White Goddess, 1956, Faber and Faber.
3. I.A.Richards, Science and Poetry, 1935, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubnor.
4. Donald Davie, Purity and Diction in English Verse, 1952, Chatto and Windus.
5. Robert Graves, The Crowning Privilege, 1955, Penguin.
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