19 NOVEMBER

THE GOD OF MONSTERS

SERIES II · EPISODE VIII

On the in-most shore of Ithaca there is cove, that lies between two sharp thrusting walls of stone. On the secret beach, an olive tree throws its wide boughs across the bay.  Mortal men can pass between the beach and the northmost stone; but through the southern slit, only beings of immortal light may pass, as flashing rays of sunlight.

It was in that very place, on those same sands, where Odysseus himself had first awoken on his return to Ithaca years ago: where foreign sailors had lifted him from their boat, still soft and deeply sleeping, had laid him upon the sand...

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The God of Monsters draws on a number of different myths and elements of Greek mythology: the Sea God Phorkus and his progeny, and a cult site devoted to him on Odysseus’ island home of Ithaca; the myth of Agdistis and its links to the cult of the fertility goddess Kybele; the story of the fisherman Glaucus, the sorceress Circe, and the nymph Scylla who was turned into a sea monster; and comedic tales about the men whom Circe turned into animals and beasts on her island of Aeaea.  It questions settled notions about the patterns of nature, the stigmatisation and marginalisation of some characters in Grek myth, and  the assumed superiority of the Olympian gods and humanity over other creatures in the Greek cosmos.

Phorkus and Ceto

Phorkus has been described as the ancient sea-god of the hidden dangers of the deep.  He was married to Ceto, whose name means ‘Whale’ or ‘Sea Monster’.  Together, they were the parents of some of many important monsters in Greek Mythology. These included the three snake-haired Gorgons, the monster Scylla, the Sea Hags known as the Grey Ones, a sea-serpent with 100 heads called the Hesperian Dragon, and Echidna, a goddess of ‘sea scum and sea slime’ who was half-woman and half-dragon, who herself gave birth to famous monsters like the Khimera, Kerberos (Cerberus), the Hydra, and the Sphinx.  Phorkus was named as the father of the monster Scylla, but later, the story that she was a beautiful nymph cursed by the enchantress Kirke became more widely known.

Phorkus was often depicted in ancient art as having a fish’s tail, a crab-like shell and a crab’s foreclaws.  There were many similarities between Phorkus and other sea-gods like Nereus and Proteus, and the Tritons, other sea deities which resembled or had the traits of what we would call Mer-men. While these other mer-men were often depicted with a sea-shell, Phorkus usually carried a torch.

Agdistis

The story of Agdistis and Attis was apparently a Greek translation of a myth about an ancient Phrygian goddess. It was centered on Pessinus, a city in Anatolia (in Modern day Turkey) which lay on the upper Sakarya River (whome the River nymph Sagaris personified in this story).

Uniquely, Agdistis is described as being conceived as the result of a nocturnal emission from Zeus - a wet dream!  So there you go, - never doubt our commitment to covering every kind of dream in Greek mythology!  Although in some more troubling versions, the God was said to have deliberately masturbated over Agdistis’ sleeping mother, who was identified sometimes as Gaia, sometimes as Rhea and sometimes (confusingly) as Cybele, the God Agdistis was later equated with.

As a divine being, Agdistis was double-sexed, having the parts of both men and women, and this created fear amongst the gods. By castrating the god, they created the fertility goddess Cybele, who became the mother of a man called Attis by a miraculous conception. Agdistis is sometimes described as a ‘god of pleasure’, because they were able to use both male and female sex organs.

Agdistic has been described then as a hermaphroditic deity, one of a relatively few such characters in Greek myth, alongside the nymph Hermaphroditus; and they hold particular interest and importance today for the fluid aspect of their sex, sexuality, and gender. Unfortunately, the violence of this myth directly mirrors and represents patterns of rhetoric and violence in responses to queer and LGBTQ+ identities in the real world: the gods are said to actively fear Agdistis’ non-binary existence, and to stigmatise is as transgressive, deviant and dangerous; a binary sex and gender identity is then imposed on Agdistis through a brutal act of mutilation ordered by Zeus, the embodiment of violent and heteronormative patriarchy.

The goddess Cybele may well have been distinct from Agdistis at one time, but later the two were identified together and their myths were combined through the story of Agdistis’ castration. Kybele was a fertility goddess of the mountains and wild nature, and a mistress of animals. The story of her son Attis and his own act of self-castration, were foundational myths for the cult of Kybele, whose priesthood were required to become eunuchs. In many versions of the myth, the relationship between Kybele and her son is romantic and incestuous.

Mythical Geography

The Bay of Phorkus and Raven’s Rock are both locations described in Homer’s Odyssey, where Odysseus lands on his return to his homeland. It is unclear whether the mythic island of Ithaca and the present Greek island of Ithaca are in fact the same place. Significantly, Homer’s Ithaca is described as being ‘the farthest out to sea, rearing into the western dusk’ while the other islands were said to ‘face the east and breaking day’- a description which does not seem to fit with present-day Ithaca, which lies to the east of the island group.  Over the centuries, many scholars have put forward different parts of the Ionian islands as Homer’s Ithaca, and tried to match up locations from the myth with real-world locations. You can follow links from the blog post for this episode to see areas of present-day Ithaki which have been identified with locations from the Odyssey, including the possible site of Phorcus’ harbour at Dexia Bay, and a candidate there for the Cave of the Nymphs.

Some scholars believe that Ancient Ithaca was in fact the present-day island of Cephalonia. In 2005 the researcher Robert Bittlestone proposed that Paliki, a peninsula in north-west of Kefalonia was originally a separate island, and that this was ancient Ithaca, a location which would match the description of Ithaca in the Odyssey as lying ‘the farthest out to sea, rearing into the western dusk’ while the other islands were said to ‘face the east and breaking day’. Bittlestone further identified the Bay of Phorkus with Atheras Bay in Paliki, a crescent of beach enfolded by two jutting headlands, and terraced groves of olive trees.

 

Animal Dialogues

In this episode, Phorkus becomes the interlocutor for a conversation between humanity and the animal kingdom, drawing on a tradition of semi-comedic dialogues between humans and animals, which explored philososphical ideas about the differing states of men and beasts. The original text in this tradition was by the second century philosopher Plutarch, who wrote on philosophy and mathematics as well as working as a magistrate, diplomat, and religious priest.  His text, Do Animals Reason? imagined a conversation originally between Odysseus and one of his sailors whom Circe turned into a pig in the Odyssey. Called ‘Gryllus’ or ‘Grunter’ by Kirke, this became the most common and famous name for the text.

The point of the dialogue was to question or unsettle the assumption that human life is superior to animal life, by suggesting that many of the supposed ‘virtues’ or good qualities of humans are arguably more evident and purely motivated in the behaviour of animals.  Many future writers referred back to the Gryllus, and copied and sometimes expanded upon its premise.  For instance, Phorkus’ subsequent conversations with different kinds of men and women transformed into animals, is taken from a book written in 1549 by the Italian Giovan Battista Gelli called The Circe, which expanded the concept of the original Gryllus into a series of dialogues betwen Odysseus and a similar expanded cast of transformed animal characters.

Rick Scott
STORYTELLER

SOURCE MATERIAL

Source Texts

Homer, The Odyssey, Book XIII, l. 95-440 on Perseus Digital Library

"Agdistis." on Theoi Greek Mythology Database, Web. 16 Nov. 2020.

Bruta animalia ratione uti by Plutarch in Vol. XII Loeb Classical Library edition, 1957

The Circe by Gelli, Giovanni Battista (1498-1563) Pub. 1744  (London: J. Bettenham)

Geography

"Homer's Ithaca" on Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 4 Nov. 2020. Web. 16 Nov. 2020.

"Cephalonia" on Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 9 Nov. 2020. Web. 16 Nov. 2020.

"Videos of sites around Ithaca" on Homeric Sites. Web. 16 Nov. 2020.

"Odysseus Unbound" on Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 14 Oct. 2020. Web. 16 Nov. 2020

'Odyssey’s End? - The Search for Ancient Ithaca' on Smithsonian Magazine

"Paliki" on  Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 6 Nov. 2020. Web. 16 Nov. 2020.

"Pessinus." on Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 25 Jul. 2020. Web. 16 Nov. 2020.

"Aeaea." on Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 24 Oct. 2020. Web. 16 Nov. 2020.

Research Sources

Phorcus and Ceto

 

"Phorkys" on Theoi Greek Mythology Database

"Phorcys." on Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 9 Jul. 2020. Web. 16 Nov. 2020.

 "Ekhidna" on Theoi Greek Mythology Database 

Agdistis

"Agdistis." on Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 9 Jul. 2020. Web. 16 Nov. 2020.

"Cybele." on Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 23 Jul. 2020. Web. 16 Nov. 2020.

 "Cybele, Agdistis, and Attis." on Paleothea Mythology Database. Web. 16 Nov. 2020. 
 

Reasoning Animals

'Reasoning Beasts' in "Circe" on Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 25 Oct. 2020. Web. 16 Nov. 2020.

"Giambattista Gelli." on Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2 Oct. 2020. Web. 16 Nov. 2020.

"Plutarch." on Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 22 Oct. 2020. Web. 16 Nov. 2020.

'On the accusation of sophistry in Plutarch’s “Beasts are Rational”' on Dyssebeia

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EPISODE CREDITS

Story interpreted by Rick Scott.
Sound editing, audio design and original illustrations by Rick Scott.
Podcast hosting by Anchor. Video and audiogram creation using Headliner.

Additional sound and effects sourced from the community at Freesound.org.

AUDIO CREDITS

 

Licensed/Approved Music

'The Trance of Terpsichore' by Michael Levy on Album: Ancient Dreamscapes
'The Visions of Morpheus' by Michael Levy on Album: Ancient Dreamscapes
'The Magic of Hekate' by Michael Levy on Album: Ancient Dreamscapes
'Seek Comfort in the Arms of Mother Nature' by Michael Levy on Album: New Ancestral Music

MICHAEL LEVY: https://ancientlyre.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/beautifullyre
Twitter: @ancientlyre

'Charon's River' by Caleb Henessey on Album: Mediterranean
'Judas, Through Death, Pugatorio and Inferno' by Caleb Henessey on Album: Mediterranean
'A Coin on the Cobblestone' by Caleb Henessey on Album: Mediterranean

CALEB HENESSEY: https://calebhennessy.bandcamp.com/music
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/calebhennessyscompositions

'ΨYXOΠOMΠOΣ' by Seikilo on Album: τo Káλεσµa τnς Moύσaς
ΎMNOΣ ΣTON  ΆΛΩNI by Seikilo on Album: τo Káλεσµa τnς Moύσaς
'O XOPOΣ  THΣ NAΛΛAKIΔAΣ' by Seikilo on Album: τo Káλεσµa τnς Moύσaς

 SEIKILO: https://seikilo.com/
LUTHERIOS MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS: https://luthieros.com/

 

Incidental music, background ambience and sound effects by multiple authors sourced from Freesound.org. See below for the full list of audio files and attribution credits:

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