The vulture in mythology
Posted by Fredsvenn on October 2, 2015
Gobekli Tepe/ Portasar
Gobekli Tepe/ Portasar
Gobekli Tepe/ Portasar
Vulture is the name given to two groups of scavenging birds of prey: the New World vultures, including the Californian and Andean condors; and the Old World vultures, including the birds that are seen scavenging on carcasses of dead animals on African plains.
Research has shown that some traditional Old World vultures (including the bearded vulture) are not closely related to the others, which is why the vultures are to be subdivided into three taxa rather than two.
New World vultures are found in North and South America; Old World vultures are found in Europe, Africa and Asia, meaning that between the two groups, vultures are found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.
A particular characteristic of many vultures is a bald head, devoid of normal feathers. Although, it has been historically believed to help keep the head clean when feeding, research has shown that the bare skin may play an important role in thermoregulation. Vultures have been observed to hunch their bodies and tuck in their heads in the cold, and open their wings and stretch their necks in the heat.
A group of vultures is called a wake, committee, venue, kettle, or volt. The term kettle refers to vultures in flight, while committee, volt, and venue refer to vultures resting in trees. Wake is reserved for a group of vultures that are feeding. The word Geier (taken from the German language) does not have a precise meaning in ornithology; it is occasionally used to refer to a vulture in English, as in some poetry.
The Old World vultures found in Africa, Asia, and Europe belong to the family Accipitridae, which also includes eagles, kites, buzzards, and hawks. Old World vultures find carcasses exclusively by sight.
The Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), also called the white scavenger vulture or pharaoh’s chicken, is a small Old World vulture and the only member of the genus Neophron. It is widely distributed; the Egyptian vulture is found from southwestern Europe and northern Africa to India.
With its pure white plumage contrasted by its black flight feathers and its yellow naked face, the Egyptian Vulture is one of the most easily recognizable birds of the Old World. Soaring on warm air currents with its broad wings, its unmistakable presence has been noted and celebrated through the history of human civilization. From southern Europe to Africa and the Middle East to India, this vulture is culturally significant in all the places where it calls home.
Göbekli Tepe (“Potbelly Hill”) is an archaeological site at the top of a mountain ridge in the Southeastern Anatolia Region of Turkey, approximately 12 km (7 mi) northeast of the city of Şanlıurfa. The tell has a height of 15 m (49 ft) and is about 300 m (984 ft) in diameter. It is approximately 760 m (2,493 ft) above sea level. It was excavated by a German archaeological team under the direction of Klaus Schmidt from 1996 until his death in 2014.
The tell includes two phases of ritual use dating back to the 10th-8th millennium BCE. The purpose of the structures is not yet clear. Excavator Klaus Schmidt believed that they are early neolithic sanctuaries.
During the first phase, pre-pottery Neolithic A (PPNA), circles of massive T-shaped stone pillars were erected. More than 200 pillars in about 20 circles are currently known through geophysical surveys. Each pillar has a height of up to 6 m (20 ft) and a weight of up to 20 tons. They are fitted into sockets that were hewn out of the bedrock.
In the second phase, pre-pottery Neolithic B (PPNB), the erected pillars are smaller and stood in rectangular rooms with floors of polished lime. Topographic scans have revealed that other structures next to the hill, awaiting excavation, probably date to 14-15 thousand years ago, the dates of which potentially extend backwards in time to the concluding millennia of the Pleistocene. The site was abandoned after the PPNB-period. Younger structures date to classical times.
At this early stage of the site’s history, circular compounds or temene, a piece of land cut off and assigned as an official domain, especially to kings and chiefs, or a piece of land marked off from common uses and dedicated to a god, a sanctuary, holy grove or holy precinct, first appear. They range from 10 to 30 metres in diameter. Their most notable feature is the presence of T-shaped limestone pillars evenly set within thick interior walls composed of unworked stone. Four such circular structures have been unearthed so far.
Geophysical surveys indicate that there are 16 more, enclosing up to eight pillars each, amounting to nearly 200 pillars in all. The slabs were transported from bedrock pits located approximately 100 metres (330 ft) from the hilltop, with workers using flint points to cut through the limestone bedrock.
Two taller pillars stand facing one another at the centre of each circle. Whether the circles were provided with a roof is uncertain. Stone benches designed for sitting are found in the interior. Many of the pillars are decorated with abstract, enigmatic pictograms and carved animal reliefs. The pictograms may represent commonly understood sacred symbols, as known from Neolithic cave paintings elsewhere.
The reliefs depict mammals such as lions, bulls, boars, foxes, gazelles and donkeys; snakes and other reptiles, arthropods such as insects and arachnids; and birds, particularly vultures. There are so many different types of zoomorphic images that it has so far proved impossible for anyone to interpret or bracket all their intended symbolism, if indeed this is was it is meant to be. However, there seems to be a clear preference of interest in snakes and birds, like the vulture.
Whereas the vulture is associated with death and rebirth, as it is at Çatal Hüyük, the snake played a slightly different role among the PPN communities. The snake is universally a symbol of birth, new life, transformation, cosmic creation and divine knowledge and wisdom.
At the time the edifice was constructed, the surrounding country was likely to have been forested and capable of sustaining this variety of wildlife, before millennia of settlement and cultivation led to the near–Dust Bowl conditions prevalent today. Vultures also feature prominently in the iconography of Çatalhöyük and Jericho.
Clear carvings and depictions of vultures, as well as representations of birdmen, have been found at Göbekli Tepe and other PPN sites in SE Turkey and North Syria. The main relationship between key PPN sites such as Göbekli Tepe and Nevali Çori is the fact that their layout, design and art are the same. They were constructed by the same unique people.
They connect with Çatal Hüyük, the oldest Neolithic city anywhere in the world, situated in southern-central Turkey and dating to 6500 BC, because this was a latter development of the same high culture, and so this city – excavated first in the early 1960s by British archaeologist James Mellaart – can tell us much about the earlier cults at places such as Göbekli Tepe and Nevali Çori.
Like, for example, the Neolithic cult of the dead. At Çatal Hüyük, we find frescoes of vultures accompanying the soul of the deceased into the next world, and also of shamans taking the form of vultures for presumed shamanic practices, such as contacting or journeying into the other world.
Since statues of birdmen, as well as those of vultures, have been found at both Göbekli Tepe and Nevali Çori, we can be pretty sure that the same cult existed here as far back as 11,500-10,000 BP.
There is some evidence to suggest that over time as this culture developed the bird image evolved into that of a vulture-goddess. But most importantly at least one of the murals from Çatal Hüyük apparently shows a human being dressed in a vulture skin.
Taking an eight-thousand year old image of a “human in a vulture skin” and turning it into an early Vulture Shamanism culture could be stretching things a bit… and one should always be careful of making assumptions when the evidence in support of pet theories is tenuous. However, in the last few decades archaeological research has come to light which, when added to the evidence from Çatal Hüyük, begins to lend very strong weight to the idea of a shamanic connection.
The Shaman can “fly” in trance, travelling to the realm of the spirits where he can then either do battle against malign entities, or try and persuade, flatter, cajole or otherwise entreat the spirits to act for the benefit of one or more human beings.
It is believed that in the early Neolithic culture of Anatolia and the Near East the deceased were deliberately exposed in order to be excarnated by vultures and other carrion birds. The Neolithic period’s highly prominent cult of the dead was focused around excarnation, and the use of the vulture as a symbol of both astral flight and the transmigration of the soul in death.
The vulture image appears to represent for them a god-form, responsible for removing the head (i.e. the soul?) of the deceased. They may have practiced sky-burials (where corpses are left to the birds to eat) or the imagery may have been entirely metaphorical, or both.
The head of the deceased was sometimes removed and preserved — possibly a sign of ancestor worship. This, then, would represent an early form of sky burial, as still practiced by Tibetan Buddhists and by Zoroastrians in Iran and India.
In India, members of the Parsee religion believe that earth, water and fire are sacred and should not be defiled by corpses – which rules out burial & cremation. They lay their dead out in special funeral sites (the largest in Bombay being “The Towers of Silence”, where the bodies are picked clean by (old world) vultures, in particular the Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus), a large Old World vulture in the bird of prey family Accipitridae, also known as the Eurasian griffon.
Like other vultures, the Griffon Vulture is a scavenger, feeding mostly from carcasses of dead animals which it finds by soaring over open areas, often moving in flocks. It establishes nesting colonies in cliffs that are undisturbed by humans while coverage of open areas and availability of dead animals within dozens of kilometres of these cliffs is high. It grunts and hisses at roosts or when feeding on carrion.
Some cultures like the ancient Iranians, Zoroastrians and Tibetan Buddhists participated in “sky burials” in which they would leave their deceased to be picked over by vultures. This was an honorable process, as the vulture was a symbol of renewal and so, in a creative way, the deceased were given new life by their remains being consumed by the vulture.
Sky burials or jhator is a practice in Tibet, whereby Buddhists will prepare the body of the recently departed and expose it to the elements and animals, namely the Eurasian Griffon or Old World vulture who will consume the flesh, upon a mountaintop.
Depending on how many bodies are available, the birds may have to be coaxed to eat through a ritual dance. If the vultures do not eat the flesh, it is considered a bad omen. Jhator helps to teach the impermanence of life and live out Buddhist principles including compassion and generosity to all beings.
In the same spirit as the Tibetan Buddhists, Zoroastrians also offered their dead up to the vultures upon a raised platform known as a dakhma or Tower of Silence, a circular, raised structure used by Zoroastrians for exposure of the dead, particularly to scavenging birds for the purposes of excarnation. In their belief system, vultures are the ones that help release the soul from one’s body.
Zoroastrian exposure of the dead is first attested in the mid-5th-century BCE Histories of Herodotus, who observed the custom amongst Iranian expatriates in Asia Minor, but the use of towers is first documented in early 9th century. The doctrinale rationale for exposure is to avoid contact with earth or fire, both of which are considered sacred.
In Herodotus’ account (Histories i.140), the rites are said to have been “secret”, but were first performed after the body had been dragged around by a bird or dog. The corpse was then embalmed with wax and laid in a trench.
One of the earliest literary descriptions of such a building appears in the late 9th-century Epistles of Manushchihr, where the technical term is astodan, “ossuary”. Another technical term that appears in the 9th/10th-century texts of Zoroastrian tradition (the so-called Pahlavi books) is dakhmag, for any place for the dead.
This Zoroastrian Middle Persian term is a borrowing from Avestan dakhma, of uncertain meaning but related to interment and commonly translated as “grave”. In the Avesta, the term is pejorative and does not signify a construction of any kind. In the Iranian provinces of Yazd and Kerman, dakhma continues as deme or dema. Yet another term that appears in the 9th/10th-century texts is dagdah “prescribed place”.
The word also appears in later Zoroastrian texts of both India and Iran, but in 20th-century India came to signify the lowest grade of temple fire. In India, the term doongerwadi came into use after a tower of silence was constructed on a hill of that name.
The English language term “Tower of Silence” is a neologism attributed to Robert Murphy, an early 19th-century translator of the British colonial government in India. Towers are a much later invention, and are first documented in the early 9th century. The ritual customs surrounding that practice appear to date to the Sassanid era (3rd – 7th century CE). They are known in detail from the supplement to the Sayest ne Sayest, the two Rivayat collections, and the two Saddars.
Following the rapid expansion of the Indian cities, the squat buildings are today in or near population centers, but separated from the metropolitan bustle by gardens or forests. In Parsi Zoroastrian tradition, exposure of the dead is additionally considered to be an individual’s final act of charity, providing the birds with what would otherwise be destroyed.
Myths of vultures and vulture gods come to us from all over the world. In the Middle East, there was a vulture deity known as Nasr (Arabic: نسر “Vulture”) who was also sometimes called an “Eagle God”, mentioned in the Qur’an (71:23) as a deity of the people of Himyr at the time of the Prophet Noah.
In Turkey and Bulgaria, the Egyptian Vulture is commonly referred to as akbuba, “white father”. There is a story about one of these birds saving Muhammad from the claws of the golden eagle; according to this legend, the vulture was rewarded with eternal life and gained its white plumage as a symbol of purity, wisdom, and bravery.
The Egyptian Vulture also appears in the Bible with the name of râchâm, often translated as “gier-eagle”. It is only mentioned as an “unclean” bird that should not be eaten; in actuality, the Egyptian Vulture is a very clean animal, as its feathers are disinfected by the UV light of the sun during flight, and its stomach acid kills off any bacteria it might have ingested.
In spite of this unfair reputation this animal wasn’t considered at all bad. In fact, its name contains the root for “love”: since these birds are almost always seen in mated pairs, the Hebrew thought of them as committed to each other.
Birds in general were held in high regard by ancient Etruscan and Roman culture, where they were considered messengers of the gods. Their attempts to detect the tides of good and bad luck involved a particular form of divination, called augury, based on reading the flight of birds.
One such instance of augury appears in the foundation myth of Rome, when Romulus and Remus were arguing over which hill the new city would be built on and who was to be king; they decided to settle their argument by observing the flight of vultures.
The high regard in which the vulture was held seeps through time to its modern Italian name, “capovaccaio”, which means “master of cows” – a name given because of the bird’s tendency to fly together with cattle.
Although the vulture is often a scavenger, it is also an opportunist that will eat about anything in its reach, including other animals’ excrement. This is why it is particularly interested in following cows. To people, this might seem like a disgusting behavior, but the vulture is equipped with a digestive system that allows it to absorb nutrients from manure, and it is thought that the carotenoid pigments in the excrement are what give the bright yellow color to its skin. In Spain, this gives it the much less reverential names of churretero and moñiguero, “dung-eater”.
A southern Indian temple at Thirukalukundram near Chengalpattu was famed for a pair of birds that reputedly visited the temple for “centuries”. These birds were ceremonially fed by the temple priests and arrived before noon to feed on offerings made from rice, wheat, ghee, and sugar.
Although normally punctual, the failure of the birds to turn up was attributed to the presence of “sinners” among the onlookers. Legend has it the vultures (or “eagles”) represented eight sages who were punished by Shiva, with two of them leaving in each of a series of epochs.
The Sumerians sometimes depicted the Anunnaki in their non-human form with vulture heads and wings, because they had the power of flight. The Stele of the Vultures is a monument from the Early Dynastic III period (2600–2350 BC) in Mesopotamia celebrating a victory of the city-state of Lagash over its neighbour Umma. It shows various battle and religious scenes and is named after the vultures that can be seen in one of these scenes.
The stele was originally carved out of a single slab of limestone but only seven fragments are known today. The fragments were found at Tello (ancient Girsu) in southern Iraq in the late 19th century and are now on display in the Louvre.
Since the ancient Egyptians thought that all vultures were female and were spontaneously born from eggs without the intervention of a male, they linked these animals to purity and motherhood. In actuality, both genders happen to have the same appearance, the only difference being the larger size of the female.
Egyptians recognized vulture mothers as fiercely protective, and amazingly nurturing to their young. They also keep their babies much longer (about three months) than most birds. So, the vulture is often seen depicted with Nekhbet the goddess of childbirth and feminine energies.
Mother bird symbolism is also seen in the mother goddess Mut who claims the vulture as her familiar. Both Nekhbet and Mut are protective figures (particularly protective of the young and innocent), so then, logically the vulture is a symbol of protection too.
In Greek and Assyrian mythology, the (old world) vulture was believed to be descended from the griffin, the guardian of the mysteries of life and death. The Vulture is a bird sacred to Hades and Herakles. The reason it is sacred to Herakles is that it is the only bird that does not kill its food (seeing as how they eat the bodies of the dead).
In Graeco-Roman myth the vulture is associated with Pallas, Ares/Mars and Apollo and is the mount of Kronos/Saturn. The vulture was also sacred to Apollo, and picks up symbolism of higher knowing, prophecy and oracular understanding (which plays nicely into the bird symbolism linked to the mental element of air).
Harpies, a female monster in the form of a bird with a human face, were represented as having the body of a vulture with the head and breast of a woman. There was a legend that the vulture, like the eagle, did not lay eggs but gave birth to fully-fledged live young. Aelian says that sweet perfume kills vultures and that myrrh and pomegranates are also fatal. The claw of a vulture, like the horn of a unicorn, detects the presence of poison in food or drink.
In Greek mythology, the Vulture is the descendant of the Griffin. It was a very Buddhist-like, Zen-like symbol of the non-dual oneness of heaven and earth, spirit and matter, good and evil, guardian and avenger. The Vulture is the avenger of nature spirits. Ancient Assyrians believed the Vulture was, like Nagarjuna’s middle way, Sunyata, the encompassing overall non-separated union between the day and night.
In Roman mythology the vulture was the steed of the god Saturn (dominion over justice, agriculture, harvest and strength via control). The vulture was also associated with the god Mars (representative of strategy, military, masculinity, initiations, and protection).
The Egyptian Goddess of Truth, Maat, was often depicted with a vulture feather. The vultures were held sacred to the mother goddess Isis. The bird is an emblem of Isis, who once took this form, and is also sacred to Mut as goddess of maternity. She can be depicted as vulture-headed or with a vulture headdress. Hathor can also be vulture-headed and Nekhabet of Southern Egypt sometimes appears as a vulture.
As its name suggests, the Egyptian Vulture was the sacred animal of the ancient Pharaohs; its appearance is immortalized in the Egyptian hieroglyphic alphabet as the letter A. The bird was known as “Pharaoh’s Hen”, representing the feminine principle associated with the Scarab as the male.
The vultures were elevated to the rank of deity in their own right as Nekhbet, patron of Upper Egypt and nurse of the Pharaoh. The priestesses of Nekhbet wore garments of white vulture feathers, and the goddess herself was often portrayed as a vulture-headed woman, her wings spread to provide protection, a circlet in her claws – the shen, symbol of infinity.
Her cult was in fact linked to the eternal cycle of death and rebirth because of the vulture’s role in the food chain as a scavenger and its supposed parthenogenesis; Nekhbet was venerated as the mother of mothers, who existed from the beginning.
Nekhbet, also spelt Nekhebit, was an early predynastic local goddess in Egyptian mythology who was the patron of the city of Nekheb, her name meaning of Nekheb. Ultimately, she became the patron of Upper Egypt and one of the two patron deities for all of Ancient Egypt when it was unified.
Egypt’s oldest oracle was the shrine of Nekhbet at Nekheb, the original necropolis or city of the dead. It was the companion city to Nekhen, the religious and political capital of Upper Egypt at the end of the Predynastic period (c. 3200–3100 BC) and probably, also during the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3100–2686 BC).
The original settlement on the Nekhen site dates from Naqada I or the late Badarian cultures. At its height, from about 3400 BC, Nekhen had at least 5,000 and possibly as many as 10,000 inhabitants. The priestesses of Nekhbet were called muu (mothers) and wore robes of Egyptian vulture feathers.
Nekhbet was the tutelary deity of Upper Egypt. Nekhbet and her Lower Egyptian counterpart Wadjet often appeared together as the “Two Ladies”. One of the titles of each ruler was the Nebty name, which began with the hieroglyphs for [s/he] of the Two Ladies….
In art, Nekhbet was depicted as a vulture. Alan Gardiner identified the species that was used in divine iconography as a griffon vulture, a large Old World vulture in the bird of prey family Accipitridae, also known as the Eurasian griffon. The Griffin Vulture was a royal emblem on the standards of Assyrian and Persian armies.
Arielle P. Kozloff, however, argues that the vultures in New Kingdom art, with their blue-tipped beaks and loose skin, better resemble the lappet-faced vulture or Nubian vulture (Torgos tracheliotos), also an Old World vulture.
In New Kingdom times, the vulture appeared alongside the uraeus on the headdresses with which kings were buried. The uraeus and vulture are traditionally interpreted as Wadjet and Nekhbet, but Edna R. Russmann has suggested that in this context they represent Isis and Nephthys, two major funerary goddesses, instead.
Nekhbet usually was depicted hovering, with her wings spread above the royal image, clutching a shen symbol (representing eternal encircling protection), frequently in her claws. As patron of the pharaoh, she was sometimes seen to be the mother of the divine aspect of the pharaoh, and it was in this capacity that she was Mother of Mothers, and the Great White Cow of Nekheb. In Egypt, Neret is the male counterpart of the vulture goddess Nekhbet.
In some late texts of the Book of the Dead, Nekhbet is referred to as Father of Fathers, Mother of Mothers, who hath existed from the Beginning, and is Creatrix of this World.
After she assimilated many of the roles of Hathor, Isis’s headdress was replaced with that of Hathor: the horns of a cow on her head, with the solar disk between them, and often with her original throne symbol atop the solar disk. Sometimes she also is represented as a cow, or with a cow’s head. She is often depicted with her young child, Horus (the pharaoh), with a crown, and a vulture. Occasionally she is represented as a kite flying above the body of Osiris or with the dead Osiris she works her magic to bring him back to life.
Although the vultures carry the most weight in ancient Egyptian mythology, they are also important in other cultures. They appear in Greek mythology, where Zeus transformed two enemies – Aegypius and Neophron – into vultures: the former became a Bearded Vulture, and the latter an Egyptian Vulture. This became the source of the Egyptian Vulture’s Latin name, Neophron percnopterus. Since these birds are summer visitors to Europe, they are considered a symbol of spring in Greece and in the Balkans.
Prometheus (meaning “forethought”) is a Titan in Greek mythology, best known as the deity in Greek mythology who was the creator of mankind and its greatest benefactor, who gifted mankind with fire stolen from Mount Olympus.
The etymology of the theonym prometheus is debated. The classical view is that it signifies “forethought,” as that of his brother Epimetheus denotes “afterthought”. It has been theorized that it derives from the Proto-Indo-European root that also produces the Vedic pra math, “to steal,” hence pramathyu-s, “thief”, cognate with “Prometheus”, the thief of fire. The Vedic myth of fire’s theft by Mātariśvan is an analog to the Greek account. Pramantha was the tool used to create fire.
The four most ancient sources for understanding the origin of the Prometheus myths and legends all rely on the images represented in the Titanomachy, or the cosmological struggle between the Greek gods and their parents, the Titans.
Prometheus, himself a Titan, managed to avoid being in the direct confrontational cosmic battle between Zeus and the other Olympians against Cronus and the other Titans. Prometheus therefore survived the struggle in which the offending Titans were eternally banished by Zeus to the chthonic depths of Tartarus, only to survive to confront Zeus on his own terms in subsequent climactic struggles.
The greater Titanomachia depicts an overarching metaphor of the struggle between generations, between parents and their children, symbolic of the generation of parents needing to eventually give ground to the growing needs, vitality, and responsibilities of the new generation for the perpetuation of society and survival interests of the human race as a whole.
Prometheus and his struggle would be of vast merit to human society as well in this mythology as he was to be credited with the creation of humans and therefore all of humanity as well. The four most ancient historical sources for the Prometheus myth are Hesiod, Homer, Pindar, and Pythagoras.
Prometheus sided with Zeus and the ascending Olympian gods in the vast cosmological struggle against Cronus (Kronos) and the other Titans. Prometheus was therefore on the conquering side of the cataclysmic war of the Greek gods, the Titanomachy, where Zeus and the Olympian gods ultimately defeated Cronus and the other Titans.
Ancient myths and legends relate at least four versions of the narratives describing Prometheus, his exploits with Zeus, and his eternal punishment as also inflicted by Zeus. There is a single somewhat comprehensive version of the birth of Prometheus and several variant versions of his subjection to eternal suffering at the will of Zeus.
The most significant narratives of his origin appear in the late 8th-century BCE Greek epic poet Hesiod’s Theogony (lines 507–616) which relates Prometheus as being the son of the Titan Iapetus by Clymene, one of the Oceanids. He was brother to Menoetius, Atlas, and Epimetheus.
In the Theogony, Hesiod introduces Prometheus as a lowly challenger to Zeus’s omniscience and omnipotence. In the trick at Mekone, a sacrificial meal marking the “settling of accounts” between mortals and immortals, Prometheus played a trick against Zeus (545–557).
In the trick at Mecone, Prometheus tricks Zeus into eternally claiming the inedible parts of cows and bulls for the sacrificial ceremonies of the gods, while conceding the nourishing parts to humans for the eternal benefit of humankind. Henceforth, humans would keep that meat for themselves and burn the bones wrapped in fat as an offering to the gods.
He placed two sacrificial offerings before the Olympian: a selection of beef hidden inside an ox’s stomach (nourishment hidden inside a displeasing exterior), and the bull’s bones wrapped completely in “glistening fat” (something inedible hidden inside a pleasing exterior). Zeus chose the latter, setting a precedent for future sacrifices.
This angered Zeus, who hid fire from humans in retribution. In this version of the myth, the use of fire was already known to humans, but withdrawn by Zeus. Prometheus, however, stole fire back in a giant fennel-stalk and restored it to humanity. This further enraged Zeus, who sent Pandora, the first woman, to live with humanity.
Pandora was fashioned by Hephaestus out of clay and brought to life by the four winds, with all the goddesses of Olympus assembled to adorn her. “From her is the race of women and female kind,” Hesiod writes; “of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who live amongst mortal men to their great trouble, no helpmeets in hateful poverty, but only in wealth.”
Prometheus, in eternal punishment, is chained to a rock in the Caucasus, Kazbek Mountain or Mountain of Khvamli, where his liver is eaten daily by an eagle (or, according to other sources, a vulture), only to be regenerated by night, due to his immortality. So the punishment was endless, until the Greek hero Heracles (Hercules) finally slays the eagle and frees Prometheus from the eagle’s torment. The eagle is a symbol of Zeus himself.
For the greater part, the pre-Athenian ancient sources are selective in which of these narrative elements they chose by their own preferences to honor and support, and which ones they chose to exclude.
The specific combinations of these relatively independent narrative elements by individual ancient authors (Hesiod, Homer, Pindar, Pythagoras), and specific exclusions among them, are often influenced by the particular needs and purposes of the larger myths and legends which they are depicting. Each individual ancient author selectively preferred certain crucial stories depicting Prometheus over others.
Tityos was a giant from Greek mythology. He was the son of Elara, a mortal princess, the daughter of King Orchomenus, and his father was Zeus. Zeus fell in love with Elara and hid her from his wife Hera’s jealousy by placing her deep beneath the Earth. Tityos grew so large that he split his mother’s womb, and he was carried to term by Gaia, the Earth.
Once grown, Tityos attempted to rape Leto at the behest of Hera and was slain by Artemis and Apollo. As punishment, he was stretched out in Tartarus and tortured by two vultures who fed on his liver, which grew back every night. This punishment is comparable to that of the Titan Prometheus.
In the early first century, when the geographer Strabo visited Panopeus (ix.3.423), he was reminded by the local people that it was the abode of Tityos and recalled the fact that the Phaeacians had carried Rhadamanthys in their boats to visit Tityos, according to Homer.
There on Euboea at the time of Strabo they were still showing a “cave called Elarion from Elara who was mother to Tityos, and a hero-shrine of Tityos, and some kind of honours are mentioned which are paid him.”
It is clear that the local hero-cult had been superseded by the cult of the Olympian gods, an Olympian father provided, and the hero demonized. A comparable giant chthonic pre-Olympian of a Titan-like order is Orion.
The poet Lucretius restyles the figure of Tityos in book iv of De rerum natura, a demythologized Tityos who is not in the underworld, eternally punished, but here and now, “the prototypical anguished lover”, plagued by winged creatures that are not vultures, as E.J. Kenney argues but cupids.
Virgil responds to Lucretius with a retrospective simile of Tityos in the Aeneid (6.595ff), which compares his torment of desire with the unrest of Dido, whose flame of love is eating her marrow.
The traveler Pausanias (2nd century A.D.) reports seeing a painting by Polygnotus at Delphi that depicts Tityos among other figures being tormented in Hades for sacrilege: “Tityos too is in the picture; he is no longer being punished, but has been reduced to nothing by continuous torture, an indistinct and mutilated phantom.”
The Stymphalian Birds
The Stymphalian Birds are man-eating birds with beaks of bronze, sharp metallic feathers they could launch at their victims, and poisonous dung. They were pets of Ares, the god of war. They migrated to a marsh in Arcadia to escape a pack of wolves. There they bred quickly and swarmed over the countryside, destroying crops, fruit trees, and townspeople.
The Stymphalian birds were defeated by the hero Heracles (Hercules) in his Sixth Labour for Eurystheus. Heracles could not go into the marsh to reach the nests of the birds, as the ground would not support his weight. Athena, noticing the hero’s plight, gave Heracles a rattle which Hephaestus had made especially for the occasion.
Heracles shook the rattle and frightened the birds into the air. He then shot many of them with arrows tipped with poisonous blood from the slain Hydra. The rest flew far away, never to plague Arcadia again. Heracles brought some of the slain birds to Eurystheus as proof of his success. The surviving birds made a new home on an island in the Euxine Sea. The Argonauts later encountered them there.
The Garuda is a large bird-like creature, or humanoid bird that appears in both Hinduism and Buddhism. Garuda is the mount (vahana) of the Lord Vishnu, also known as Narayana and Hari, who is one of the five primary forms of God in the Smarta tradition, where he is conceived as “the Preserver or the Protector”.
Garuda is the Hindu name for the constellation Aquila. The brahminy kite and phoenix are considered to be the contemporary representations of Garuda. Indonesia adopts a more stylistic approach to the Garuda’s depiction as its national symbol, where it depicts a Javanese eagle (being much larger than a kite).
The story of Garuda’s birth and deeds is told in the first book of the great epic Mahabharata. According to the epic, when Garuda first burst forth from his egg, he appeared as a raging inferno equal to the cosmic conflagration that consumes the world at the end of every age. Frightened, the gods begged him for mercy. Garuda, hearing their plea, reduced himself in size and energy.
Throughout the Mahabharata, Garuda is invoked as a symbol of impetuous violent force, of speed, and of martial prowess. Powerful warriors advancing rapidly on doomed foes are likened to Garuda swooping down on a serpent. Defeated warriors are like snakes beaten down by Garuda. The field marshal Drona uses a military formation named after Garuda. Krishna even carries the image of Garuda on his banner.