EUHEMERISM



The Greek Myths



William Harris, Prof. Em. Middlebury College



Chapter 3: Domestication of Animals



In the last hundred years we have so completely replaced the horse as a means of locomotion and a source of power, that we have forgotten how really necessary he was to our civilization. The term "horsepower" is retained as a sepulchral reminder of a remarkable animal who helped us for at least a dozen millennia in becoming what we are. The formulae which we still use, such as 750W + 1 Electrical HP, or 550 Ft. Lbs. per Sec., give little idea of what the horse once was, for he carried man on his back at a speed otherwise unthinkable, he alone or in teams hauled loads of twice his body weight, he pulled plows through sticky clay fields, turned grain millstones by the hour day and year, and when times were bad he was even acceptable, if not delicious to eat. His hide made boots and a variety of leathergoods, his hooves and hide boiled out glue, and his tail provided the only suitable material for the musician's bow, without which the violin would have stayed a guitar. The horse has rendered us good service, which is why a certain number of the rich and also the poor keep a horse or two around, just for the reminder, since the horse has also learned to be a good companion to man. We have come a long way together.

The taming of the wild horse who roamed the plains of southern Russia and Mongolia must have taken place. at a remote period. We know from study of Przewalski's wild horse which is still found in Mongolia, how different tamed horses are from the wild prototype, and it is reasonable to assume that several millennia were required to both tame and select tamable examples from the wild horse pool. The prevalence of the horse-root in Greek proper names containing the root "Hippo-", is remarkable, but since the taming of horses took place much earlier than Greek times, we must assume that the names go back a great deal further than the Greeks realized.

Achilles was educated by Chiron, a centaur, which places him some time after the domestication of the wild horse, since in the simplest statement, the Centaur represents a unit consisting of horse and rider. Achilles is stated to have been worshipped as a deity by the colonies on the Euxine (Black) sea, an area rich in grain and fish At an earlier date than the period of the Trojan War, he may have had another biography on the plains of what is now Southern Russia, specifically as tamer of wild horses. Achilles is famous for his pair of horses, Xanthus and Balios; horses come from the distant North East and are best raised on open grasslands, which also produce the newly developed grains; however Thessaly in Greece proper is also a suitable area for horses, and this is actually the place from which the myths tell us Achilles came.

If we search for an etymological connection for Achilles' name, we will find in Hesychius under 'acheilos' a form 'a-chilos' "without grass" or "rich in grass". (We are dealing with either alpha -privative or on the other hand -sm- with sonant -m- giving -a-, an intensifying prefix). Cheilos/chilos (long -i-) means "fodder, feed for animals", by itself this etymology would not be convincing, but taken along with horse breeding which is clearly connected with Achilles, it is worth considering. The old view that Achilles comes from Gr. 'achos' "pain" (in view of his sad end) is unconvincing and rather silly. There are no other linguistic approaches to the hero's name, but of course it may be an ethnic name which does not yield to this kind of analysis.

Achilles' mother disguised her son as a girl and thus kept him from war, which would not have been a natural sphere of activity for an horse-rancher; a grass eating Centaur later educated him, and he is mythically connected with horse breeding in the agrarian areas of the Euxine area. In that capacity he requires social connections for passage in and out of the Euxine Sea. After his death Achilles' ghost proposed to Priam's daughter Polyxena (she of "many guests", etymologically) and she was said to have been sacrificed on his grave. It appears that Achilles may not have been just a hero of the wars, but a hero associated with land and agriculture. Recall that he says in Iliad Book I "they (the Trojans) never hurt my crops or bothered my cattle... ", a remark as well suited to a man living on the extended grasslands north of the Euxine Sea, as to one living on the very similar plains of Thessaly.

If Achilles did have connections with the Euxine area, he would have had connections to pass the Bosporos, which would be furnished by Priam's daughter Polyxena, who provides a safe passport for her host and guest.. If Polyxena was slain on his tomb, from what culture does this custom come? It is certainly not Greek, and must point to a foreign influence from some source.

The horse Xanthos, meaning "tawny", one of the two horses of Achilles, was supposed to have been able to speak, thus preceding " Mr. Ed the Talking Horse" of l950's TV by more than two millennia. Communication between the skilled rider and his trained mount is complex and approaches the basic functions of language within a fairly narrow spectrum of situations. The idea that Achilles' horse talked suggests that there could be a special kind of communication between horse and man at that time. Such psychological sophistication points to a late date for the story in the history of the domestication of the wild horse. The stages of development from wild and untamable horse, to tamable and breedable horse, to rideable horse which works closely with man in hunting and even in warfare, to the horse which is so close to the owner that there exists a special bond of communication, by touch, gesture and even mood.... these stages require a great time span, a good handful of millennia. The talking horse of Achilles is the final point in this long process, at which time the man and his horse virtually communicate with each other.

Although this may appear strained to many of us, professional horsemen and women recognize that such communicative situations exists, and this must be one of the reasons for our continued interest in the horse almost a century after it has ceased to be necessary for draft or travel. It is interesting that the father of Achilles' horses Xanthos and Balios was said to be Zephyros, the West wind. When the horse was the fastest thing imaginable, the wind would seem a natural father to him, although the selection of the West wind does not carry a clear meaning, since it has always been assumed that the horse came from the East. However the much earlier cave paintings in central Europe show portrayals of the horse, which was apparently hunted for meat, so we may have a western as well as an eastern source for wild horse herds.

Achilles was not the only hero taught by a centaur, Asclepios was also entrusted to Chiron the centaur for a time, and learned medicine from him. The centaur baby-sitter and pedagogue appears in many myths, for reasons which are not by any means clear. ESP communications have been posited between animals and sensitive humans, especially the very young, and this may be a part of the picture, of which we have only a part. If the horse had an aversion to plants which are poisonous to men, or showed men where sources of salt, a rare material and a necessity to all mammals, existed, stories about the horse's medical knowledge might arise; perhaps there is something more to be discovered in this area.

Another approach to the problem of the medical knowledge of horses, one which seems sounder all in all, is through the development of veterinary medicine. By the time a society has learned how to tame horses, how to breed selected strains, how to do minor surgery on cuts, how to cauterize wounds with a hot ember, and how to castrate the stallion who thus becomes better at everything except breeding.... by that time society has gone a long way to developing the rudiments of basic veterinary skills. This skill may have outstripped human medicine at some period, and then the magic which surrounds horse-medicine can be switched from the doctor to the horse. The sensitive veterinarian would even sense, or feel he was sensing, information from the horse pertaining to what he should prescribe, and such closeness between horse-doctor and horse would be seen as "horse-medicine" to outsiders, who could easily generate the myth of the medical horse.

Jason was a central figure in this new-frontier drama, he was sent from his home in northern Greece to be cared for at a time of troubles by the centaur Cheiron. "Centaurs" are the first reaction of people who have no experience of horses, in their first viewing with a horse-borne rider, who is assumed to be one with the animal, as his practiced seat and integrated body motions imply. The fact that Jason is entrusted to a Centaur, who does not again appear in the Argonautic myth, implies that horses are already well known and constitute an old technology which is safe and respectable. The great number of Greek personal names which have the '-hippo-' "horse" root, points to the impact which horsebreeding must have had on the Greeks when horses were first introduced from the East.

Bellerophon's story is complicated. Having killed a local hero by mistake, he fled to Argos where the king received and forgave him his sin. But the king's wife fancied him, and when he refused her favors, told the king he had tried to seduce her. Bellerophon was then sent into the imminent dangers of warfare, which were intended to kill him. Riding Pegasos, the winged horse, he fought and killed the monster Chimaera, fended off men instructed to murder him, and finally won the desperate king's daughter in marriage., thus becoming a wealthy and royal landowner. At this point bad luck from the gods started to hound him, his son was killed by Ares, his daughter by Artemis, and his attempt to reach heaven on the winged horse was thwarted by Zeus' gadfly, which made the horse throw its heroic rider. From then on it is all disaster and despair, he is last seen " wandering by himself, eating his heart out, avoiding the ways of men" (Homer. Iliad VI 201).

We have here elements of a story about the "super-hero", who fights the super-monster, riding the super-horse to fame and wealth. But his equipment, new and dazzling as it is, ultimately fails him, presumably as it becomes obsolete, leaving the hero a tired and worn-out old soldier, who is finally not acceptable to the very society which had made him a hero. Jason has this same fate, after a lifetime of grand adventure, he is hit on the head and killed by a falling spar, as he sits in his old age under the rotting hulk of his old super-ship, the Argo. Theseus, a parallel type of hero, suffers a similar fate.

In the finale of these stories we see a philosophical reminder about the futility of fame, which Chuang Tzu was warning people about in China in a world which was developing in remarkably parallel ways.. Is it not curious that the three disasters (the death of his son, his daughter, and himself) which crushed Bellerophon came from three jealous deities, Ares, Artemis and Zeus, who "envied" his fame? "Envy of the Gods", meaning envy on the part of the gods (Gr. 'phthonos theon'),was one of the items which Herodotos listed in his analysis of the stages of fate, cautioning us not to overstep human limits; apparently Bellerophon was thought to have done just this.

One suspects that the winged horse Pegasos represents the first reactions of people to the startling speed. of a horse. Since a man walks at three miles an hour, and runs at eight, a horse which can run for short distances at more than twenty-five miles an hour seems to be moving incredibly fast. In fact the only animal that could be compared with him would be a bird., which explained why the epithet "winged" is used so often of horses. Just so the early steam locomotives of l825, traveling at the unthinkable speed of twenty-five miles per hour, stunned the imagination and an early commentator, projecting himself into the remote future, said he could even imagine trains running at sixty miles an hour! After WW II, when we were accustomed to plane flight of around three hundred miles an hour, we marveled at the idea of crossing the "sound barrier", assuming that 600 miles was the theoretical limit, until we left it far behind in the escalating race for speed. The same sense of sheer wonder exists at any brink of speed which man has not yet crossed, the incredible swiftness of a horse would be as unbelievable to an unhorsed society as a jet plane would seem to an isolated Amazonian Indian. It may well be the speed of the horse, rather than their size and appearance, which so intimidated the Aztecs when the Spanish centaurs appeared on their horseless scene.

The story of how Heracles tamed the wild horses is set in the north of Greece in Thrace, where horses may have been successfully bred at an early Greek date, but much later than the original efforts at taming the original wild horse. Horses have been witnessed as early as the period of the European cave paintings, in which they are drawn as small and stocky, and apparently classified along with the other animals which man hunted for food. Remains of horse bones are commonly found among signs of human habitation, and it may be assumed that horses were a regular source of meat for early hunting man. Within the last two centuries tarpans, the untamable, wild horses of the Southern Steppes of Russia, were still found. They have become extinct, but are identifiable as similar to horses portrayed in the cave paintings, and on incised deer antlers. The Mongolian wild horse, known as "Przewalski's wild horse", is still found in the wild state, it is fiercely protective of its independence and its herd, and has been found completely untamable. From some such primitive stock man selected and bred tamable examples, obviously over a long period of time and with much effort.

Upon such a scene Heracles enters, dedicated to the taming of horses "which ate human flesh", according to the later Greeks myth, although this is impossible considering the nature of equine appetite and the complicated stomachs of ruminants which are specifically designed for the digestion of vegetation. It was the humans who were wild and meat-eating, not the horses!. The long history of equine domestication, with the development of valuable specialized breeds suited for everything from draft to speed, is a historical fact. The interesting thing is that Greek myth recognizes that there was previously a wild, unmanageable horse, which some one person, who is nominally called Heracles, did actually tame. It would have been more facile to propose a divine origin for horses, created by special dispensation for Man's use; but Greek myth has an odd way of cleaving to the historical truth, although generally in covert terms.

A parallel line of information concerning horse-breeding comes from another source. Erichthonius king of Dardania and heir to the Trojan line of royalty, is described as a wealthy horsebreeder. There seems to be some connection between his name and Erechtheus, the ancient legendary king of Athens, who was the grandson of Erichthonios, and so we are presumably dealing with influences which took place through migration, conquest or cultural influence from east to west. Homer knows only of Erechtheus of Athens, but the Trojan horse-breeding Erichthonios is well attested in other legend sources..

When we consider these two personal royal names, Erechtheus and Erichthonius, we should be aware of the existence of the ancient Sumerian city called in Biblical texts Erech, in the Babylonian inscriptions Uruk, and in later Greek references Orchoe. (The traditional etymology of Erichthonius into a hypothetical Ere- + chthon- "earth" is nothing more than modern folk-etymology, and should be forgotten.) Since we know that Babylonian sites and before them Sumerian cities had a continuous history back to the sixth millennium B.C.,, we must consider a westward migration of civilization in which Dardania and then Greece are late cultural colonies. Without a web of cultural techniques and artifacts, such a hypothesis at this point is only an educated guess, but with further investigation it should lead to an expansion of our knowledge of early history of the eastern Mediterranean area. In any case the striking similarities of the etymological pattern should be registered as having meaning, even if we are not sure of the historical succession of facts.

The sea-god Poseidon is often associated with horses, an oddity which can be best explained by the necessity of marine transportation of horses, not only when the horse is first introduced to a new area, but as specialized breeds are moved back and cross across the sea for breeding purposes. The development of totally tamable horses from stock which was originally wild, as well as the breeding of specialized types useful for ploughing, for wagon, carriage and riding purposes, was effected over a long period, during which access to the Mediterranean's whole equine gene-pool would have been necessary. Without genetic variants, effective horse breeding cannot be done, and without Poseidon's favorable winds you cannot get horses from place to place.

When man first began learning how to tame the plains-roaming wild horse, he was a primitive hunter, but by the time he had bred horses in large numbers and integrated them into the many usages of his society, he has clearly emerged as a civilized human being of the modern stamp. In the interval, he learned a great deal about dealing with animals, breeding them, caring for them with such basic medicine as he knew, fencing them in, harnessing them up, yoking them to the wagons which he could now make and use. When he discovered how manure multiplied the output of his newly sown fields, and how the fields could in turn feed the horse, he opened the door to agricultural expansion, which produced the modern type of cities and states. It is not the horse alone which is so important, but rather the difficulty of a hundred and fifty pound man learning to ride and regulate a fifteen hundred pound animal, which with the attendant skills which he must also face, which goads Man into developing a clever and persistent relationship with his environment.

But the horse was just one of the domesticated animals, sheep and goats were also being tamed and bred. Whether the horse or the bull was first tamed and domesticated is not clear; in this paper it has been assumed that the domestication of the horse came first, on the basis of the following argument:

The Centaur is familiar to all as a beast of fable, the half- horse half-man, who is represented by centuries of pictorial artists as a fused personage with part of equine and part of human anatomy, just as Angels have been represented as partly human and partly avian in appearance. We have become so accustomed to this item of Western thought, that we tend to gloss over the origin and the meaning of the Centaur. To the Greek, Centaurs were completely barbaric figures, which may be understood as referring to people residing completely outside the range of pre-Hellenic culture. Since horses originate in the New World, according to the detailed and very convincing fossil record, and migrated across the Bering Straits into Asia at a time when there was a land bridge between the two continents, it is not surprising that the horse slowly filtered down from Mongolia through China, and eventually reached the borders of Europe in the area of southern Russia. This would have been "barbaric" territory fortth Greeks, yet a good breeding ground for wild and semi-wild horses in view of the open grasslands. Hence the Greek view of the barbarism of the Centaurs may best be explained by their extra-Hellenic origins, rather than actual barbarism of character, which is the way the later Greeks took these Horse-Man beings.

The word "centaur" is interesting linguistically, since it embodies a familiar word-stem 'taur-os' meaning "bull, cow". The root occurs again in the compounded name of the Minotaur of Crete, it remains familiar in all phases of later Greek culture, so there seems no reason to doubt its meaning here. But why a word for Man+Horse should contain the root for the word "bull, cow" seems a mystery, and it is possibly a mystery just because the idea of a "centaur" has become so fixedly familiar in our cultural iconology.

If we accept the second part of the word Centaur as containing the Gr. 'taur-os', what can the first part mean? The only word in Greek that seems suitable is the verb "kent-o, kent-ein', which means "to goad, drive on (of animals)". If we put this verbal root together with the noun root for "bull, cow", we come up with a perfectly reasonable compound: "bull-goading, cow-driving".

At this point we should consider which was tamed earlier, the horse or the wild cow. Both are animals with strong herd-instincts, but the horse seems to have a stronger tendency for social bonding with humans, at least in the light of the subsequent history of equines in human societies. The intelligence of the horse, coupled with its capacity for imprinting on humans in early training, suggests the earlier domestication of horses. Only two animals that we know of, the horse and the elephant, can grow to maturity in the wild state, and yet when captured, becomes completely tamable in a matter of months. There may be genetic traits in both animals stemming from long period of human domestication before reverting to wildness, but there still remains a strong argument for the tractability of both breeds.

We now approach the cogent center of the argument. Assuming that the horse may have been domesticated first and tamed to the point of being rideable, what would the etymology of the name Centaur mean? If we accept the derivation outlined above, it could have a very clear meaning: "one who goads, directs, herds bulls and cows". With trained horses man can herd bovines effectively, without horses he can only hunt and kills them for meat. Herding them into enclosures, killing some and retaining the more tractable for breeding purposes, Man is well on his way to becoming a stockman. And the one indispensable piece of equipment he needs for this is the trained herdsman riding horse.

Watching the imaginative figurativeness of mythology, we have missed an important stage of historical development. The horse is named not for what it is (Man and Horse), but for what it can do: It can "drive bulls" in herds into enclosures. And with that starting point one of the major developments of civilization begins. But the development in agriculture are not a different path to civilization, since horses require large amount of fodder and especially grain; animal culture and agriculture proceed hand in hand, pari passu as it were.

If any proof were needed for the use of horses in herding, they can be found in the history of the American Western territories, which have been open range-land for more than a century. The dogs which have been useful in the smaller landscapes of Scotland and New Zealand cannot work effectively in the larger lands of the West, the horse has retained its mastery over herds into the present century, although it has in recent years been materially aided by the use of helicopters. But simply put, without horses you could not expect to get the range herd of steers to the market, it is that simple. And the pre-Hellenic peoples must have found it exactly the same. Hence we can say, first Man trained the horse, and with horses to aid him, he could go on to round-up and breed the bovine herds.

Both horse and cow have huge social impact on man's existence, they emancipate him from immediate locales and the restrictions of seasonal food supplies, and they both tax his strength and his ingenuity by the difficulties which both processes present. Perhaps the highly social dog was the first animal to join in man's history, the horse has social traits which may have brought him into human contact next, while the bull-cow is less liable to join in Man's efforts willingly, and may come into his sphere of influence last; however this is a very partial argument indeed.

Amalthea is the name of a nymph, or possibly of a goat who gave goat's milk to the infant Zeus, and he in return gave her the horn of plenty, a device which would produce anything desired. If there is any etymological meaning in the name, it probably connects not with Gr. 'amelgo' "to milk" (although to the Greeks this may have fostered the turn of the story), but with Gr. 'amala' or 'amalla ' "sheaf of wheat", which would be the food of choice for the goat who is preferentially a browsing feeder. We can tentatively if very roughly date Zeus' adaptation from India (where his name, in the Sanskrit form Dyaus, refers to a minor sun god in the Vedic literature) as contemporary with the breeding of goats on Crete, where this story is said to have occurred, which points to a date somewhere in the third millennium B.C.

In the essay on Air Waters and Places, Hippocrates specifically identified goats with Near Eastern peoples, saying that goats are not used in Greece, and he cites problems of disease in the Asian countries which do use goats. This comment is of a much later date, but diseases carried by animals have unusually long and persistent histories. In the historical period goats are found everywhere in Greece, since the mountainous land is suitable for their feeding habits and agile climbing. But the introduction of goats into Greek lands may be early, perhaps earlier (according to the tenor of this myth) than the introduction of bulls from Tyre and horses from an area possibly as far away as the steppes north of the Euxine Sea. Our only piece of evidence is that Zeus, an imported "Indo-European" Eastern deity, is connected in myth with a story about a nourishing goat. Since the cult of Zeus Xenios is of Cretan origin, we may reasonably expect early goat culture on Crete, although they do not appear in the formal Minoan representations at Cnossos. Country people on Crete still offer goat's milk as a friendly gift to the stranger.

The story of Ajax has been discussed before, as an example of a hero who cannot adjust to group decisions, more specifically the leaders' disposition of the arms of Achilles. Driven insane by his desire for the weapons which were given to Odysseus, Ajax slaughters a herd of sheep, maintaining that they were the evil Greeks who had deprived him of his due. When he recovers and sees what he had done, he kills himself but his sword. What is interesting is the fact that it is sheep that he slaughters, clear evidence that sheep were bred in herds at the time of the later heroes of the time of the Trojan War, and were sufficiently common on the Greek scene to serve as the chance object of a crazed hero's wrath.

On the other hand the story of Jason lies in an earlier stratum, since he was sent to the eastern end of the Euxine Sea to bring back the Golden Fleece, clearly a periphrasis for sheep, to be brought back for breeding in Greece proper. A fuller account of the Argonautic expedition is given in Chapter --- under the heading of heroes and their naval expeditions.

Europa was the daughter of Agenos, king of Tyre. Zeus, by way of wooing her, turned himself into a lovely bull, and persuaded her to climb on his back, upon which he swam away to Crete, where later she bore to him as sons Minos and Rhadamanthos. A less probable story is hard to imagine, unless we read it as a disguised account of the transfer of bull-breeding to Crete. Since the cow was cultivated much earlier in Mesopotamia, and in inscriptions and figurative tablets from that area was often associated with royalty, it may be assumed that Europa represented a cow, who was transported by someone from the East for breeding in the new land of Crete. This must be around 2000 B..C., since shortly thereafter the Minoan culture was well on the way to its independent development, and already depicts bulls on the wall-painting from Cnossos. The secret of the transportation, that a girl was carried over by a bull, rather than a cow carried over by a man, is possibly a token of the kind of the secrecy surrounding such a process, which would have been a most secret mission because of economic implications.

It is interesting to note that the story of Io is virtually the inverse of the story of Europa. Io, beloved by Zeus in Argos, is turned into a calf to hide her from Hera, who steals her and appoints Argos of the hundred eyes to guard her. Hermes, god of merchandising and none too savory in his general business dealings, kills Argos, then Hera send a gadfly to persecute the poor heifer Io, who flees madly over land and sea, settling finally in Egypt. If there is any fact in this second calf-myth, it would suggest that cows originated in the Semitic Near East, after which they were transported to Crete, whence they spread throughout the Minoan-Myceanean world. Egypt,. not having cows, or at least this special breed of cow, got its breeding stock from Greece, not from the cities along the Phoenician coast. A study of bovine bone remains in the various sites would probably make a good deal of this clear, or at least help us rearrange the facts.

Lest this seem completely unlikely from an economic point of view, we can consider the development of sheep-breeding in the l9th century. Rams and ewes were brought from Scotland where they had been highly bred, to Vermont, where a sheep-kingdom overran the state, with over ten million sheep in this small area by l840. Introduction of bred stock from Vermont, and also from Scotland, furnished Australia with the animals needed for starting an extensive sheep culture there, after which Vermont lost its sheep flocks entirely, with not more than five thousand animals carrying over into the 20th century. A future historian might find this as improbable as the story of Europa and Io.

The Bull of Crete can be considered in the first version, in which Europa, daughter of a Tyrian king, was persuaded to ride on the back of Zeus, disguised himself as a bull, thus coming to Crete. But there is also the variant version, according to which Minos, who was the son of Zeus and the Tyrian maiden Europa, married Pasiphae by whom he had two children; but when he refused to sacrifice to Poseidon a beautiful specimen of a bull, Poseidon in revenge had Pasiphae raped by the bull thus producing the "Mino-taur", part bull and part man. Whichever story one follows, it is clear that the bull was imported from the east, that it came over a sea-route, as is evident from the role of Poseidon in the story, as well as the insular location of Crete. Crete would be a convenient stop for a small ship with a large live load of several animals, it would also have been a major civilization at a time when mainland Greece was less developed, specifically in the first half of the second millennium B.C. or a little earlier.

When we speak of shipping, we must consider the deities who directly affect sea transport. Aeolus, "King of the Winds", the son of Hellen (ancestor of the Hellenes, Hellenic etc.) is described as the founder of the Aeolian or Eastern-Greek ethnic group. In the Odyssey he ties up adverse winds in a leather bag which he gives to Odysseus to assure a safe home-voyage, and later myths refer to him as controller or king of the winds, in which role he persists through the ages. Magical control of the winds only becomes important when seafaring is an critical part of a nation's life. If Aeolus is representative of the Aeolian islands and western Asia Minor, and also controller of the winds, he must be pivotal in some major trade route, probably the passage of ships from the Mediterranean into the economically valuable Euxine Sea. He thus fulfills the role of the priest who performs wind-magic, as well as a king who has the power to manipulate naval trade routes, and may be less a mythic symbol than a real figure in the historical record.

Aristaeus is a minor deity concerned with hunting, farming in general, and bee-keeping, which last regard would be especially sensitive to changes in the annual sugar supplies coming from the flowering plants or Compositae. Aristaeus sacrificed to Sirius, the "dog-star" who presides over the hot period of July, and to Zeus, ruler of the sky, who sent the Etesian Winds which came in from the moisture laden countryside of southern Germany and Hungary to ease the drought. Rhys Carpenter, in his suggestive book on climatological problems involving the Greeks of the second millennium B.C., maintains that during the period of prolonged desiccation, the inhabitants of Greece went north to the very regions from which myth says the Winds came, and returned centuries later when the climate had become more humid. In such an area it would seem wise to invite a panel of climatologists to discuss the general trends of climate in the Mediterranean over the past five thousand years. Problems of this sort need expert scientific information, which can be connected with the historical record only after serious conference. History can no longer afford to be a science which restricts itself to the spotty accounts of the ancient historians. Archaeology has done a great deal to reify ancient history, and the sciences can do a great deal more..

If the Minotaur represents a man-animal confusion, it would be parallel to the early Greek views of the Centaurs as having a similar double nature, but in reality both would have been nothing more than an animal ridden by a man. Castrating the normally savage and dangerous bull would have been necessary for such a venture, as well as for creating the ox as a sturdy draft animal, but still the image of a man riding on an ox would be powerful for someone who had never seen a bovine before.. The wall paintings from Cnossos attest the presence of bulls in Crete before the l3th century B.C., so it seems reasonable to push the original introduction of bull breeding stock back at least a few centuries before that time. The bull was bred and considered an emblem of royalty from remote times in the Near East, as regal sculptural tableaux from Assyria show. It was inevitable that the technology of bull-rearing should spread to the new lands in the west, the only obstacle being the sea. We can assume that boats capable of carrying several bovines were available at that time, since only one animal would obviously be useless for breeding, while one bull and three or four cows would be much better for experienced breeders' purposes. The story in the Old Testament of Noah stowing pairs of all animals into his "boat" during the flood, would seem to reflect knowledge of transmarine animal shipping, or at least an intuition that such a process could one day be useful.

Although the domestication of the horse and cow have many things in common, there is one thing which sets the bovine breed apart: Although sheep and goats do produce milk, the milk of the cow is far more plentiful, and the sheer volume of the milk which comes from a fair sized herd of cows makes the discovery of cheese, sooner or later, inevitable. Milk is perishable in hot countries, although its life is prolonged by introduction of the bacilli which make various kinds of yogurt possible. But cheese when dipped in a bath of melted beeswax to keep off the air, will last through a year's cycle, and thus provides, along with the grains, some elements of a year-round food supply. Only with a fairly even supply of victuals can large populations exists, this is one of the clearest pre-conditions for mega-societies and for civilization as we know it. The cow provides everything that the horse offers except riding, and it gives beside leather, meat, and glue, milk for the daily need and cheese for the needs of the coming winter. With horse and cow and sheep, man can now think of riding fast to distant places, eating regularly of meat and cheese, and clothing himself in a weave-able material called wool. These are among the basic necessities of life and of living, with these assets civilization can think of moving forward.

Return to Greek Myth index

William Harris
Prof. Em. Middlebury College
www.middlebury.edu/~harris