The Myths of Foundation of Cities
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Myths may be said to be stories that try to give an account on the past account of something. Many myths revolve around heroes, gods or even places. Myths serve a purpose of trying to explain something mysterious or something that is not clearly understood. Many myths are described in Greece and Roman backgrounds. It is important to note that myths are of many different versions, or they may be similar by some aspects. Myths may be very controversial depending on the origin and the evolution it has undergone. This is because there is no single myth that remains strictly the same over time. However, some of the myths have stood the test of time quite well. Some of these are the ancient Greek myths.
One may want to understand why many myths have been put forward in Greece. I tend to think that it is because of the much success of the empire. Reflecting back on the Roman empire, some shreds of power and success may be seen. As a way to try and trace the sources of this great power and prosperity, myths were put forward. Doubtless the two empires had well established cities. For example, Athens, a city in Greece originated today’s famous Olympic Games. History has it that during the time of the foundation of these games, the city was quite powerful and well established.
To be able to explain how these cities came into being, myths have been put forward. Just like any other myth, there is no single myth about the origin of a city may be fully documented. Similarly, these myths differ a great deal depending on who proposed the myth. Because these myths have been passed orally over time, they have undergone some forms of erosion and modification. Therefore, there doesn’t exist a very reliable source from which myths about the origin of ancient sources may be got. One may need to look at the different versions brought forward by different proponents and be able to come up with some material judgment ion their reliability. Different form of myths may be found. Myths can be in the form of songs, poems, hymns or mere narrations.
To illustrate this, let us make a reflection of Greek empire. The origin of heroes and cities has been a great source of fascination by the Greeks. Doughtery, C. (1993) gives an account of the origin of Syracuse. In the first account to explain the origin of Syracuse an account is given as it was put forward by Plutarch.
In this account, a story is given of a man called Melissos. This man had a very handsome son called Aktaion. Another young man, who was handsome and wealthy admired Aktaion and wanted to be in love with him. However, Aktaion declined to be in love with this man; Archias. When Archias learnt that Aktaion had refused to be in love with him, he organized a gang to have the boy carried away. In this conflict, Melissos strongly defended his son. In the process, the boy turned into what may be termed as a tag of war and was torn apart into pieces. Melissos felt bad and in retaliation he carried the corpse of his boy into the market place of the Corinthians. According to Plutarch, Melissos demanded to be paid by those who killed his son. The Corinthians did not assist him, but they just pittiedhim. He proceeded to consult his oracle, Backchiadai. He reminded to the god how His father had done good deeds to god and requested to have his enemies punished. The god punished the Corinthians with plague and drought. When they tried to consult their oracle, they learn that they were being punished because of Aktaion’s death. The mastermind behind Aktaion’s death; Archias learnt this and fled the land of Corinth. He went to Sicily where he founded the colony of Syracuse. He was later to be killed by his lover whom he had brought from Corinth. A very different course of account is given by Thucydides. He presumes that Syracuse was founded by Archias after replacing its initial inhabitants. These two accounts bring for the some similarities such as the characters involved. (Archias, Corinth and the oracle Heracles. For example, in one of the accounts, we do not see Aktaion being murdered. Why this? It is not possible to tell. From these two accounts, we may see that the citizens of the ancient cities partook colonization. They, in particular, use death to be able to conquer new areas and establish new influences. The citizens of the ancient cities are found to strongly believe in their gods and oracles. In these two accounts, we find that cities were founded by people who were punished by being exiled. According to Doughtery (1993), a reflection is still made to the foundation of Callimachus showing a similar process.
During the age of Athenian empire between 4th and 5th BC, the Athenian had a claim of betting an autochthony nation. They claimed they had never changed the place they lived in many years. During this time, Athens was located to a place then known as Attica. They had claimed that due to poverty of the soil, attracted few immigrants.
Their Autochthony was expressed by their face painting, political rhetoric and as a tragic stage. The Athenians claimed that they had literally sprung from the earth. The concept of the Autochthony considers how people of Athens came to think of themselves. The concept has a claim that the people believed that they were born from the earth. The idea that they were born from the earth was used to symbolize that they had lived in their place since time in memorial. The Athenians have always expressed their autochthony by use of myths. This to an assumption that they expressed their “primitive “ideology by saying that they had literally sprung from the soil. They appeared very native.
In Homer’s Iliad, the Athenians in Attica had made an assumption that they had no association with Erechtheus chthonic origins. The idea of autochthony had played a significant role in classical Athens. During the time of “Golden age”, the Athenians were determined to prove that their city was different from other Greek Poleis. Other cities were founded by immigrants and this made Athenians of their true autochthony. They attributed their propensity for democracy. This was reflected in Euripides popular tragedy play, Erechtheus of 422 BC. The play also illustrates how Athens was threatened with destruction from the rival Sparta due to her high naval powers.
Unlike Athenian autochthony, Thebes was founded by Persians during the Macedonian conquest. This was around 480-479 BC. It became the most dominant city -state during the Byzantine period.
Thebes as a city is justified by Cadmus. Cadmus explains how this city was founded. He also tells us about his contributions to the glory of present day Thebes. In Cadmus’ narration, the resilience, the will and the love of Thebes is evidenced. Cadmus himself undergoes tiring travails in shaping and determining the destiny of Thebes. The first journey was meant to retrace his lost sister. Unfortunately, Cadmus never found his sister. His journey seems to be determined by the gods and goddesses of the land. He cannot choose what to do. He cannot choose what not to do. He is a good person who serves his people. He has to respect the orders given to him by the gods. He too cannot object to the orders given to him by his elders, particularly his father who was king of Phoenicia.
This story attempts to stamp and endorse the supremacy of Thebes as an authentic city. Its founding was willed by the gods. This is why this city must be supreme. It is a city, according to the story, that has never and will never object or contradict to the will of the gods. When its inhabitants do a sinful act, they are always ready for forgiveness and repentance from the gods. The story also attempts to reveal the nasty experiences of its ancestors. In justifying a popular dictum that only the strongest will survive, Cadmus is on the opinion that the current inhabitants of Thebes are the survivors. The strong people should rule over the other people in other surrounding cities. Five men, as learnt from the Cadmus story were the only people who survived from the race that sprang from the buried teeth of a dragon. These men were fierce. They formed a race called Spartes. He and the five men built Thebes. Cadmus was among the members of the noblest families in this city.
According to Cadmus story, it is very clear that the people of Thebes hate among other things: laziness, cowardice, and disobedience. This illustrated by Cadmus’ great reference and respect to gods’ will. The courage of These people is illustrated by Cadmus’ actions. He kills the weak men and his left with strongest whom he builds Thebes with them.
On the other hand, Cadmus’ story paint a picture if arrogance, self-appraisal and dangerous nature of Thebes people. The narration itself is very arrogant and does not seem to have any overtones of any apology.
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