Pausanias 10.12.1–11, Part I: on the Sibyls of Delphi and Cumae

2022.04.18 | By Gregory Nagy

{10.12.1} πέτρα δέ ἐστιν ἀνίσχουσα ὑπὲρ τῆς γῆς· ἐπὶ ταύτῃ Δελφοὶ στᾶσάν φασιν ᾆσαι τοὺς χρησμοὺς <γυναῖκα> ὄνομα Ἡροφίλην, Σίβυλλαν δὲ ἐπίκλησιν. τὴν <δὲ> πρότερον γενομένην, ταύτην ταῖς μάλιστα ὁμοίως οὖσαν ἀρχαίαν εὕρισκον, ἣν θυγατέρα Ἕλληνες Διὸς καὶ Λαμίας τῆς Ποσειδῶνός φασιν εἶναι, καὶ χρησμούς τε αὐτὴν γυναικῶν πρώτην ᾆσαι καὶ ὑπὸ τῶν Λιβύων Σίβυλλαν λέγουσιν ὀνομασθῆναι.

{10.12.2} ἡ δὲ Ἡροφίλη νεωτέρα μὲν ἐκείνης, φαίνεται δὲ ὅμως πρὸ τοῦ πολέμου γεγονυῖα καὶ αὕτη τοῦ Τρωικοῦ, καὶ Ἑλένην τε προεδήλωσεν ἐν τοῖς χρησμοῖς, ὡς ἐπ’ ὀλέθρῳ τῆς Ἀσίας καὶ Εὐρώπης τραφήσοιτο ἐν Σπάρτῃ, καὶ ὡς Ἴλιον ἁλώσεται δι’ αὐτὴν ὑπὸ Ἑλλήνων. Δήλιοι δὲ καὶ ὕμνον μέμνηνται τῆς γυναικὸς ἐς Ἀπόλλωνα. καλεῖ δὲ οὐχ Ἡροφίλην μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ Ἄρτεμιν ἐν τοῖς ἔπεσιν αὑτήν, καὶ Ἀπόλλωνος γυνὴ γαμετή, τοτὲ δὲ ἀδελφὴ καὶ αὖθις θυγάτηρ φησὶν εἶναι.

{10.12.3} ταῦτα μὲν δὴ μαινομένη τε καὶ ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ κάτοχος πεποίηκεν·ἑτέρωθι δὲ εἶπε τῶν χρησμῶν ὡς μητρὸς μὲν ἀθανάτης εἴη μιᾶς τῶν ἐν Ἴδῃ νυμφῶν, πατρὸς δὲ ἀνθρώπου, καὶ οὕτω λέγει τὰ ἔπη·

εἰμὶ δ’ ἐγὼ γεγαυῖα μέσον θνητοῦ τε θεᾶς τε,
νύμφης [δ’] ἀθανάτης, πατρὸς δ’ αὖ κητοφάγοιο,
μητρόθεν Ἰδογενής, πατρὶς δέ μοί ἐστιν ἐρυθρή
Μάρπησσος, μητρὸς ἱερή, ποταμός <τ’> Ἀιδωνεύς.

{10.12.4} ἦν δὲ ἔτι καὶ νῦν ἐν τῇ Ἴδῃ τῇ Τρωικῇ πόλεως Μαρπήσσου τὰ ἐρείπια καὶ ἐν αὐτοῖς οἰκήτορες ὅσον ἑξήκοντα ἄνθρωποι· ὑπέρυθρος δὲ πᾶσα ἡ περὶ τὴν Μάρπησσον γῆ καὶ δεινῶς ἐστιν αὐχμώδης, ὥστε καὶ τῷ Ἀϊδωνεῖ ποταμῷ καταδύεσθαί τε ἐς τὴν χώραν καὶ ἀνασχόντι τὸ αὐτὸ αὖθις πάσχειν, τέλος δὲ καὶ ἀφανίζεσθαι κατὰ τῆς γῆς, αἴτιον ἐμοὶ δοκεῖν ἐστιν ὅτι λεπτή τε κατὰ τοῦτο καὶ σηραγγώδης ἐστὶν ἡ Ἴδη. ἀπέχει δὲ Ἀλεξανδρείας τῆς ἐν τῇ Τρῳάδι τεσσαράκοντα ἡ Μάρπησσος καὶ διακόσια στάδια.

{10.12.5} τὴν δὲ Ἡροφίλην οἱ ἐν τῇ Ἀλεξανδρείᾳ ταύτῃ νεωκόρον τε τοῦ Ἀπόλλωνος γενέσθαι τοῦ Σμινθέως καὶ ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνείρατι τῷ Ἑκάβης χρῆσαί φασιν αὐτὴν ἃ δὴ καὶ ἐπιτελεσθέντα ἴσμεν. αὕτη ἡ Σίβυλλα ᾤκησε μὲν τὸ πολὺ τοῦ βίου ἐν Σάμῳ, ἀφίκετο δὲ καὶ ἐς Κλάρον τὴν Κολοφωνίων καὶ ἐς Δῆλόν τε καὶ ἐς Δελφούς· ὁπότε δὲ ἀφίκοιτο, ἐπὶ ταύτης ἱσταμένη τῆς πέτρας ᾖδε.

{10.12.6} τὸ μέντοι χρεὼν αὐτὴν ἐπέλαβεν ἐν τῇ Τρῳάδι, καί οἱ τὸ μνῆμα ἐν τῷ ἄλσει τοῦ Σμινθέως ἐστὶ καὶ ἐλεγεῖον ἐπὶ τῆς στήλης·

ἅδ’ ἐγὼ ἁ Φοίβοιο σαφηγορίς εἰμι Σίβυλλα
τῷδ’ ὑπὸ λαϊνέῳ σάματι κευθομένα,
παρθένος αὐδάεσσα τὸ πρίν, νῦν δ’ αἰὲν ἄναυδος,
μοίρᾳ ὑπὸ στιβαρᾷ τάνδε λαχοῦσα πέδαν.
ἀλλὰ πέλας Νύμφαισι καὶ Ἑρμῇ τῷδ’ ὑπόκειμαι,
μοῖραν ἔχοισα κάτω τᾶς τότ’ ἀνακτορίας.

ὁ μὲν δὴ παρὰ τὸ μνῆμα ἕστηκεν Ἑρμῆς λίθου τετράγωνον σχῆμα· ἐξ ἀριστερᾶς δὲ ὕδωρ τε κατερχόμενον ἐς κρήνην καὶ τῶν Νυμφῶν ἐστι τὰ ἀγάλματα.

{10.12.7} Ἐρυθραῖοι δὲ – ἀμφισβητοῦσι γὰρ τῆς Ἡροφίλης προθυμότατα Ἑλλήνων—Κώρυκόν τε καλούμενον ὄρος καὶ ἐν τῷ ὄρει σπήλαιον ἀποφαίνουσι, τεχθῆναι τὴν Ἡροφίλην ἐν αὐτῷ λέγοντες, Θεοδώρου δὲ ἐπιχωρίου ποιμένος καὶ νύμφης παῖδα εἶναι· Ἰδαίαν δὲ ἐπίκλησιν γενέσθαι τῇ νύμφῃ κατ’ ἄλλο μὲν οὐδέν, τῶν δὲ χωρίων τὰ δασέα ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἴδας τότε ὀνομάζεσθαι. τὸ δὲ ἔπος τὸ ἐς τὴν Μάρπησσον καὶ τὸν ποταμὸν τὸν Ἀϊδωνέα, τοῦτο οἱ Ἐρυθραῖοι τὸ ἔπος ἀφαιροῦσιν ἀπὸ τῶν χρησμῶν.

{10.12.8} τὴν δὲ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ χρησμοὺς κατὰ ταὐτὰ εἰποῦσαν ἐκ Κύμης τῆς ἐν Ὀπικοῖς εἶναι, καλεῖσθαι δὲ [αὐτὴν] Δημὼ συνέγραψεν Ὑπέροχος ἀνὴρ Κυμαῖος. χρησμὸν δὲ οἱ Κυμαῖοι τῆς γυναικὸς ταύτης [ἐς] οὐδένα εἶχον ἐπιδείξασθαι, λίθου δὲ ὑδρίαν ἐν Ἀπόλλωνος ἱερῷ δεικνύουσιν οὐ μεγάλην, τῆς Σιβύλλης ἐνταῦθα κεῖσθαι φάμενοι τὰ ὀστᾶ.

{10.12.9} ἐπετράφη δὲ καὶ ὕστερον τῆς Δημοῦς παρ’ Ἑβραίοις τοῖς ὑπὲρ τῆς Παλαιστίνης γυνὴ χρησμολόγος, ὄνομα δὲ αὐτῇ Σάββη· Βηρόσου δὲ εἶναι πατρὸς καὶ Ἐρυμάνθης μητρός φασι Σάββην· οἱ δὲ αὐτὴν Βαβυλωνίαν, ἕτεροι δὲ Σίβυλλαν καλοῦσιν Αἰγυπτίαν.

{10.12.10} Φαεννὶς δὲ θυγάτηρ βασιλεύσαντος ἀνδρὸς ἐν Χάοσι καὶ αἱ Πέλειαι παρὰ Δωδωναίοις ἐμαντεύσαντο μὲν ἐκ θεοῦ καὶ αὗται, Σίβυλλαι δὲ ὑπὸ ἀνθρώπων οὐκ ἐκλήθησαν. τῆς μὲν δὴ πυθέσθαι τὴν ἡλικίαν καὶ ἐπιλέξασθαι τοὺς χρησμούς […] Ἀντιόχου γὰρ μετὰ τὸ ἁλῶναι Δημήτριον αὐτίκα ἐς τὴν ἀρχὴν καθισταμένου γέγονε Φαεννίς. τὰς Πελειάδας δὲ Φημονόης τε ἔτι προτέρας γενέσθαι λέγουσι καὶ ᾆσαι γυναικῶν πρώτας τάδε τὰ ἔπη·

Ζεὺς ἦν, Ζεὺς ἐστίν, Ζεὺς ἔσσεται· ὦ μεγάλε Ζεῦ.
Γᾶ καρποὺς ἀνίει, διὸ κλῄζετε Ματέρα γαῖαν.

{10.12.11} χρησμολόγους δὲ ἄνδρας Κύπριόν τε Εὔκλουν καὶ Ἀθηναίους Μουσαῖον τὸν Ἀντιοφήμου καὶ Λύκον τὸν Πανδίονος, τούτους τε γενέσθαι καὶ ἐκ Βοιωτίας Βάκιν φασὶ κατάσχετον ἄνδρα ἐκ νυμφῶν· τούτων πλὴν Λύκου τῶν ἄλλων ἐπελεξάμην τοὺς χρησμούς. τοσαῦται μὲν ἄχρι ἐμοῦ λέγονται γυναῖκες καὶ ἄνδρες ἐκ θεοῦ μαντεύσασθαι· ἐν δὲ τῷ χρόνῳ τῷ πολλῷ καὶ αὖθις γένοιτο ἂν ἕτερα τοιαῦτα.

 

{10.12.1} There is a rock [along the Sacred Way of Delphi] that sticks out of the earth. On top of it, say the people of Delphi, there once stood, singing āidein = aeidein] the oracular-sayings [khrēsmoi], someone by the name of Hērophilē. Her name-of-invocation [epiklēsis] was Sibyl [Síbulla]. [In my investigations] I found an earlier one [= an even earlier Sibyl], as ancient as any of the others. The Greeks [Hellēnes] say that she was a daughter of Zeus and of Lamia, who in turn was a daughter of Poseidon, and that she was the first woman to sing [āidein = aeidein] oracular-sayings [khrēsmoi]. And they say that the name Sibyl [Síbulla] was given her by the Libyans.

{10.12.2} Hērophilē was more recent than that one [= the one I was just talking about], but, in any case, she too was early, early enough to predate, evidently, the Trojan War, since she foretold in her oracular-sayings [khrēsmoi] that Helen would be born-and-raised [trephein in the passive] in Sparta to become the ruin of Asia and of Europe and that for her sake, the Greeks [Hellēnes] would capture Troy. The people of Delos remember also a hymn [humnos] this woman composed to Apollo.  [In her composition,] she calls herself not only Hērophilē but also Artemis; further, in some contexts, she says that she is a woman married to Apollo and, in other contexts, that she is his sister and, in still other contexts, that she is his daughter.

{10.12.3} These things she has said-in-poetry [poieîn], being-in-a-mind-altered-state [mainesthai] and being possessed [katokhos] by the god [theos]. Elsewhere in her oracular-sayings [khrēsmoi], she said that her mother was an immortal, one of the nymphs [numphai] of [Mount] Ida, while her father was a human [anthrōpos]. This is how she speaks her poetic-words [epos plural]:

I am by birth half-way, [born] of a mortal on one side and of a goddess [theā] on the other.
She is an immortal nymph [numphē], but my father was eaten-by-sea-monsters [kētó-phagos, if not kēto-phágos],
On my mother’s side, I am born-from-Ida [Ido-genēs], but my father’s-realm [patris] is red [ἐρυθρή = eruthrḗ]
Marpessos [= a feminine noun], sacred realm of the Mother, and the river Aidoneus.

{10.12.4} Even today, there remain on Trojan [Mount] Ida the ruins of the city Marpessos, with about sixty inhabitants. All the land around Marpessos is somewhat red and terribly parched, so that the light and porous nature of Ida in this place is, in my opinion, the reason why the river Aidoneus sinks into the ground, rises to sink once more, finally disappearing altogether beneath the earth. Marpessos is two hundred and forty stadium-lengths distant from Alexandria-in-the-Troad.

{10.12.5} The inhabitants of this Alexandria say that Hērophilē became the temple-attendant [nēo-kóros] of Apollo Smintheus; also, that on the occasion of Hecuba’s dream [as signaled at 10.12.2], she foretold-in-her-oracular-sayings [khrênai] things that we by now know actually came-to-fulfillment [epi-teleîn passive]. This Sibyl had-her-abode [oikeîn] in Samos for the greater part of her life, but she also came to Klaros in the territory of the people of Kolophon; also to Delos, and to Delphi. Whenever she came to Delphi, she would stand on this rock [of the Sibyl] and would sing [āidein aeidein] [her oracular sayings].

{10.12.6} But that-which-is-by-necessity-to-be-foretold [tò khreṓn, = euphemism for ‘death’] came upon her in the Troad, and her tomb [mnêma] is there, in the grove [alsos] of [Apollo] Smintheus, with this elegiac composition inscribed upon the column [stēlē] [standing over the tomb]:

Here I am, this is I, belonging to Phoebus [Apollo], I, the-one-who-speaks-clearly [saph-ēgoris], the Sibyl,
beneath this stone marker [sêma] am I hidden,
a girl [parthénos] once endowed-with-voice [audē-essa, derived from audē ‘voice’], but now forever without-a-voice [an-audos, derived from audē ‘voice’],
by way of my allotted-destiny [moira], receiving-as-my-lot this shackling [pedē] [of my voice].
But near the nymphs and near this Hermes here is where I have my lair down below,
having as my allotted-destiny [moira] down below what matches what I used to have back then [as my allotted destiny], [which was] a share of royalty [anaktoriā].

The Hermes stands by the side of the tomb [mnêma], a quadrangular figure [skhêma] made of stone. On the left is water running down into a fountain [krēnē], and the statues [agalmata] of the nymphs.

{10.12.7} The people of Erythrai, who are more ambitious than any other Greeks [Hellēnes] to lay claim to Hērophilē, adduce-as-evidence [apophainein] a mountain called Korykos, and this mountain has a cave in it. They say that Hērophilē was born inside it and that she was a daughter of Theodoros, a local [epi-khōrios] shepherd, and of a nymph. They also say that the nymph’s name-of-invocation [epiklēsis] was ‘lady of Ida’ [Idaiā] for the simple reason than humans [anthrōpoi] used to name as idā [plural idai] locales [khōria] that were thickly wooded. The poeple of Erythrai have deleted [aphaireîn] [from the text of the oracular sayings of the Sybil] the verse [epos as ‘line(s) of poetry’] about Marpessos and the river Aidoneus.

{10.12.8} After this one, the one who was next-in-time [= the next Sibyl] to speak oracular-sayings [khrēsmoi] in the same way was someone from Cumae [= Kumē in Greek], in the territory of the Opici, and her name was Dēmō. So says Hyperochus of Cumae [FGH 578 F2], a historian, who wrote-a-treatise [sun-graphein] about her. The people of Cumae can point-to [epi-deiknusthai] no oracular-saying [khrēsmos] spoken by this woman, but they show [deiknunai] a water-jar [hudriā] made of stone in a sanctuary of Apollo, and here is where they say are placed the bones of the Sibyl.

{10.12.9} Even later than Dēmō, there was born-and-raised [trephein passive] among the Hebrews in the heights over Palestine a woman who was a speaker-of-oracular-sayings [khrēsmo-lógos] and whose name was Sabbe. They say that the father of Sabbe was Berosus, and her mother Erymanthe. But some call her a Babylonian Sibyl, others an Egyptian.

{10.12.10} Then there is Phaennis, daughter of a king of the Khaones; there are also the ‘Doves’ [Peleiai] in the territory of the people of Dodona. These women likewise were-oracular-seers [manteuesthai], divinely [ek theou] inspired, but humans [anthrōpoi] did not call them Sibyls. To learn the date of the first of the two and to read [epilegesthai] her oracular-sayings [khrēsmoi] […text missing here…]. I say this because Phaennis was born when Antiokhos was establishing his kingship immediately after defeating Demetrios.[1] As for the Peleiades, they are said said to have been born even earlier than Phemonoe and to have been the first women to sing [āidein = aeidein] these verses [epos plural]:

Zeus was, Zeus is, Zeus shall be; O great Zeus.
Earth sends up the harvest [karpoi], therefore sing-the-praise [klēizein] of Mother Earth [Gaia].

[1] 281–280 BCE.

{10.12.11} They say that men who were speakers-of-oracular-sayings [khrēsmo-lógoi] were (1) Eukloûs of Cyprus, (2)  [two] Athenians, Musaeus [Mousaios] son of Antiophemos and Lykos son of Pandion, (3) also Bakis, a Boeotian man who was possessed [kataskhetos] by nymphs. I have read [epi-legesthai] the oracular-sayings [khrēsmoi] of all these except those of Lykos. So then, in a stretch of time that extends into my own time, these are the women and men who are said to-have-been-oracular-seers [manteuesthai], divinely [ek theou] inspired. And in the fullness of time—time being as long as time is, there could be other such things happening all over again.

 

Rock of Sibyl, photograph by Tkoletsis, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Sibyl of Delphi – Sistine Chapel – via Wikimedia Commons.

Comments on Pausanias 10.12.1–11 by GN 2022.04.18

§0. For this compressed essay commenting on Pausanias 10.12.1–11, I have chosen as illustration a combination of two pictures that are both relevant to my overall view of these eleven paragraphs composed by our traveler. One of these pictures is a close-up of the face of the ‘Sibyl’ in Delphi, as painted by Michelangelo, and the other is a photograph showing what is commonly known as ‘the Rock of the Sibyl’ in Delphi. The essay itself is dedicated to Nosa Lawani and Dante Minutillo, two classicists with a keen appreciation of Latin poetry. Such poetry has its own relevance to what I am arguing, since I will be quoting one of the most celebrated verses of Virgil, where he channels, as it were, the oracular voice of the Sibyl herself.

§1. The paragraphs of Pausanias that I analyze here (10.12.1–11) are mostly about khrēsmoi ‘oracular sayings’ recorded in scrolls actually read by our traveler (10.12.11), who occasionally makes quotations from these scrolls (10.12.3, 10.12.6, 10.12.10) and who refers to these quotations as sayings that had once been performed by way of ‘singing’, as signaled by way of the verb āidein (= aeidein) ‘sing’ (10.12.1, 10.12.5, 10.12.10). In speaking of such oracular performances, Pausanias (10.12.1) focuses on one particular performer, a woman whose name was said to be Hērophilē and whose epiklēsis ‘name-of-invocation’ was said to be Síbulla = Σίβυλλα, conventionally translated as ‘Sybil’ in English. In this context, Pausanias (again, 10.12.1) reports a myth, attributed to the people of Delphi, that tells how this Sybil used to perform oracular utterances while standing on top of a so-called Rock of the Sibyl, situated along the Sacred Way leading up to the temple of Apollo in Delphi. Borrowed from the Greek form Síbulla = Σίβυλλα is the Latin form Sibylla, most famously attested in Virgil’s Aeneid 6, where the ‘Sibyl’—to use again the corresponding English form—speaks oracular words to Aeneas in the context of that hero’s descent to the underworld. Writing well over a century after Virgil’s creation of the Aeneid, Pausanias seems not to know about the Roman poet—but he does not ignore a figure who matches Virgil’s Sibyl. Pausanias (10.12.8) speaks of a variant Sibyl, by the name of Dēmō, who is supposedly to be dated later than the Sibyl of Delphi and who performed oracular utterances in the Greek city of Kumē/Kyme—the same city known as Cumae in Virgil’s Aeneid 6. The fame of this Cumaean Sybil of Virgil, whose identity had eventually become differentiated from the Sybil of Delphi and from other such figures, led to a transformation: with the christianization of Virgil’s poetry in the European Renaissance, the various differentiated Sibyls became prophetesses of Christ: that is how they are represented on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel as painted by Michelangelo

§2. But my interest here is focused not on the reception of Virgil’s Sibyl in his own era or in later eras extending all the way into the Renaissance. Rather, I focus on the evolution of such a figure in earlier eras that predate Virgil. And, as we will see, the reportage of Pausanias about the very idea of a Sibyl will be most relevant, even though our traveler postdates Virgil himself. Still, I must start with Virgil. I quote here the very first words of Virgil’s Sibyl, which she voices as she begins to speak her oracular words to Aeneas:

Sate sanguine divum,
Tros Anchisiade, facilis descensus Averni;
noctes atque dies patet atri ianua Ditis;
sed revocare gradum superasque evadere ad auras,
hoc opus, hic labor est.

You, born from the blood of gods,
you Trojan, you son of Anchises. Easy is the descent [descensus] of Avernus;
night and day it stays open, the door of the dark underworld [Dis];
but, to unsay the path taken there, to escape, coming back up for air,
this is the task [opus], this is the labor [labor].

Virgil Aeneid 6.125–129

 

§3. As we consider the medieval transmission of the Latin text here, we find that we have to make a choice between two textual variants at line 126: Averno or Averni. In the text as I have just quoted it, I have adopted the variant Averni, not Averno, agreeing with the linguist-and-classicist Neville Collinge (1959), who disputed the common understanding of descensus Averno as ‘descent to Avernus’ by arguing against the grammatical interpretation of Averno as a “dative of the goal of motion.” Such a dative, I should note, is in fact attested elsewhere, as for example in collocations involving caelo in the sense of ‘to the sky’ in the Aeneid; the most famous example is it clamor caelo ‘the clamor reaches the sky’ at 5.451; other such examples can be found at 2.688, 8.591, and so on. On the other hand, as Collinge shows (p. 72), the use of Averni as a genitive in a collocation like descensus Averni would be perfectly grammatical, and he cites a parallel collocation descensus speluncae used by Pliny the Elder: in Creta insula ipso descensu Iovis speluncae…‘on the island of Crete, at the actual descent [descensus] of the Cave of Zeus…’ (Natural History 16.26.46). Pliny is speaking here about a species of seed that could be found at a place where one descends into what he names simply as the Cave of Zeus. I should add, with regard to my vague translation of descensus speluncae as ‘descent of the Cave’, that I think we see in this expression the use of the genitive case in its broadest syntactical function—what I have sometimes playfully called the genitive of connection. To make more clear, then, such a function of the genitive case, I could offer a more awkward but more accurate translation of descensus speluncae: ‘descent connected to the cave’ or even ‘descent having to do with the cave’ instead of simply ‘descent of the cave’. So also in the case of descensus Averni in Aeneid 6.126, I could translate—awkwardly but more accurately—‘descent connected to Avernus’ or even ‘descent having to do with Avernus’. After all, as Collinge points out (again, p. 72), Avernus is described in the wording of Virgil himself as a spelunca ‘cave’ at Aeneid 6.257.

§4. But the question remains, how are we to visualize a descensus connected to a cave, whether it be the cave of Zeus in Crete or the cave of Avernus in the territory of Cumae? Here is where the evidence collected by Pausanias about ancient Greek myths and rituals having to do with imagined openings into the world below become relevant. I cite my commentary on Pausanias 3.25.5–6 (Nagy 2022.04.04), where our traveler reveals his own rationalizing skepticism when it comes to various mutually contradictory local myths that tell of the entrance and the exit of the hero Hēraklēs into and then out from Hādēs. According to each local myth propagated in each such locale mentioned by Pausanias, there will be some special place where Hēraklēs reportedly made his entrance and his exit. In one such case, at Tainaron, Pausanias (again, 3.25.5–6) cannot resist engaging in a most revealing moment of rationalization: he says that caves such as the one he saw at Tainaron cannot simply be viewed as bottomless holes in the earth. Descent into a cave can lead only so far downward. So, how could Hēraklēs have descended into the cave at Tainaron and then have brought up from Hādēs the infernal hound Cerberus? Or, to say it in Greek, how could Hēraklēs have experienced a katabasis or ‘descent’ to Hādēs at Tainaron—let alone come back up again for air, bringing with him the infernal hound Cerberus?

§5. Here is where the Sibyl of Virgil becomes relevant again: the descensus of which she speaks in Aeneid 6.126 is in Greek terms a heroic katabasis, just like the deed of Hēraklēs when he makes his own descent into Hādēs. And that deed of Hēraklēs is one of his Twelve Labors, āthloi, performed in compliance with twelve pros-tagmata ‘tasks’, which have all been set for him by the unworthy overking Eurystheus—and which, all twelve, had been sanctioned by Zeus together with Hērā. In a detailed essay (Nagy 2019.08.15, §§2, 4, 6, 7, 12), I have analyzed these tasks set and these labors performed. For now I add only this: in Virgil’s Aeneid, I see an indirect reference to the heroic task of having to make a descent, descensus, to Hādēs. And the performance of such a task, opus, is indeed a heroic Labor, labor. So, hoc opus, hic labor est.

 

Bibliography

 

Collinge, N. E. 1959. “Facilis Descensus.” Phoenix 13:69–72.

H24H = Nagy 2013 (The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours)

Hawes, G. 2021. Pausanias in the World of Greek Myth. Oxford.

Nagy, G. 2013. The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours. Cambridge, MA. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_NagyG.The_Ancient_Greek_Hero_in_24_Hours.2013.

Nagy, G. 2019.08.15. “Thinking comparatively about Greek mythology IV, Reconstructing Hēraklēs backward in time.” Classical Inquirieshttps://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/thinking-comparatively-about-greek-mythology-iv-reconstructing-herakles-backward-in-time/.

Nagy, G. 2022.03.28. “A sampling of comments on the Herakles of Euripides: ready for annotation.” Classical Continuum. https://continuum.fas.harvard.edu/a-sampling-of-comments-on-the-herakles-of-euripides/.

Nagy, G. 2022.04.04. “Pausanias 3.25.5–6, with translation and comments.” Classical Continuum. https://continuum.fas.harvard.edu/pausanias-3-25-5-6-with-translation-and-comments/.

[1] 281–280 BCE.



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