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Ancient Greek flood myths

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Greek mythology knows four floods, the flood of Ogyges, the sinking of Atlantis, the flood of Deucalion, and the flood of Dardanus. Two of these ended two of the Ages of Man: the Ogygian Deluge ended the Silver Age, and the flood of Deucalion ended the First Bronze Age.

In addition to these floods, greek mythology says the world was also periodically destroyed by fire. See Phaëton.

Ogyges

"Many great deluges have taken place during the nine thousand years, for that is the number of years which have elapsed since the time of which I am speaking; and during all this time and through so many changes, there has never been any considerable accumulation of the soil coming down from the mountains, as in other places, but the earth has fallen away all round and sunk out of sight. The consequence is, that in comparison of what then was, there are remaining only the bones of the wasted body, as they may be called, as in the case of small islands, all the richer and softer parts of the soil having fallen away, and the mere skeleton of the land being left."
Plato’s Critias (111b) [1]

The Ogygian flood is so called because it occurred in the time of Ogyges,[2] a mythical king of Attica. The name "Ogyges" and "Ogygian" is synonymous with "primeval", "primal" and "earliest dawn". Others say he was the founder and king of Thebes. In many traditions the Ogygian flood is said to have covered the whole world and was so devastating that Attica remained without kings until the reign of Cecrops.[3]

Plato in his Laws, Book III,[4] argues that this flood had occurred ten thousand years [5] before his time, as opposed to only "one or two thousand years that have elapsed" since the discovery of music, and other inventions. Also in Timaeus (22) and in Critias (111-112) he describes the "great deluge of all" as having been preceded by 9,000 years of history before the time of his contemporary Solon, during the 10th millennium BCE. In addition, the texts report that "many great deluges have taken place during the nine thousand years" since Athens and Atlantis were preeminent.[6]

The theory of the flood in the Aegean Basin proposes that a great flood occurred at the end of the Late Pleistocene or beginning of the Holocene. The Holocene is a geological period that began approximately 11,550 calendar years BP (or about 9600 BCE) and continues to the present. This flood would coincide with the end of the last ice age, estimated at approximately 10,000 years ago, when the sea level rose as much as 130 metres, particularly during Meltwater pulse 1A when sea level rose by about 25 metres in some parts of the northern hemisphere over a period of less than 500 years.[7]

The map on the right shows how the region would look about 12,000 years ago, or 10,000 BCE, when the sea level would have been 125 meters lower than today. The Peloponnese was connected to the mainland and the Corinthian Gulf was not formed. Islands around Attica, such as Aegina, Salamis and Euboea, were part of the mainland. The Cyclades formed a big island known as Aegeis, while the Bosporus and Hellespont were not formed yet.

Atlantis

Str. Listen, then, to a tale which a child would love to hear; and you are not too old for childish amusement.

Y. Soc. Let me hear.

Str. There did really happen, and will again happen, like many other events of which ancient tradition has preserved the record, the portent which is traditionally said to have occurred in the quarrel of Atreus and Thyestes. You have heard no doubt, and remember what they say happened at that time?

Y. Soc. I suppose you to mean the token of the birth of the golden lamb.

Str. No, not that; but another part of the story, which tells how the sun and the stars once rose in the west, and set in the east, and that the god reversed their motion, and gave them that which they now have as a testimony to the right of Atreus.

Statesman, by Plato

translated by Benjamin Jowett

Atlantis (in Greek, Ἀτλαντὶς νῆσος, "island of Atlas") is a legendary island first mentioned in Plato's dialogues Timaeus and Critias, written about 360 BCE.

According to Plato, Atlantis was a naval power lying "in front of the Pillars of Hercules" that conquered many parts of Western Europe and Africa 9,000 years before the time of Solon, or approximately 9600 BCE. After a failed attempt to invade Athens, Atlantis sank into the ocean "in a single day and night of misfortune".

Deucalion

The Deucalion legend as told by Apollodorus in The Library has some similarity to other deluge myths such as the Epic of Gilgamesh and the story of Noah's Ark. The titan Prometheus advised his son Deucalion to build a chest. All other men perished except for a few who escaped to high mountains. The mountains in Thessaly were parted, and all the world beyond the Isthmus and Peloponnese was overwhelmed. Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha, after floating in the chest for nine days and nights, landed on Parnassus. An older version of the story told by Hellanicus has Deucalion's "ark" landing on Mount Othrys in Thessaly. Another account has him landing on a peak, probably Phouka, in Argolis, later called Nemea. When the rains ceased, he sacrificed to Zeus. Then, at the bidding of Zeus, he threw stones behind him, and they became men, and the stones which Pyrrha threw became women. Apollodorus gives this as an etymology for Greek Laos "people" as derived from laas "stone".[8] The Megarians told that Megarus, son of Zeus and a Sithnid nymph, escaped Deucalion's flood by swimming to the top of Mount Gerania, guided by the cries of cranes[9].

From The Theogony of Apollodorus

According to the Theogony of Apollodorus, Prometheus moulded men out of water and earth and gave them also fire, which, unknown to Zeus, he had hidden in a stalk of fennel. But when Zeus learned of it, he ordered Hephaestus to nail his body to Mount Caucasus, which is a Scythian mountain. On it Prometheus was nailed and kept bound for many years. Every day an eagle swooped on him and devoured the lobes of his liver, which grew by night. That was the penalty that Prometheus paid for the theft of fire until Hercules afterwards released him.

Prometheus had a son Deucalion. He reigning in the regions about Phthia, married Pyrrha, the daughter of Epimetheus and Pandora, the first woman fashioned by the gods. And when Zeus would destroy the men of the Bronze Age, Deucalion by the advice of Prometheus constructed a chest, and having stored it with provisions he embarked in it with Pyrrha. But Zeus by pouring heavy rain from heaven flooded the greater part of Greece, so that all men were destroyed, except a few who fled to the high mountains in the neighbourhood and Peloponnesus was overwhelmed. But Deucalion, floating in the chest over the sea for nine days and as many nights, drifted to Parnassus, and there, when the rain ceased, he landed and sacrificed to Zeus, the god of Escape. Zeus sent Hermes to him and allowed him to choose what he would, and he chose to get men.

At the bidding of Zeus he took up stones and threw them over his head, and the stones which Deucalion threw became men, and the stones which Pyrrha threw became women. Hence people were called metaphorically people (Laos) from laas, "a stone." And Deucalion had children by Pyrrha, first Hellen, whose father some say was Zeus, and second Amphictyon, who reigned over Attica after Cranaus, and third a daughter Protogonia, who became the mother of Aethlius by Zeus. Hellen had Dorus, Xuthus, and Aeolus by a nymph Orseis. Those who were called Greeks he named Hellenes after himself, and divided the country among his sons. Xuthus received Peloponnese and begat Achaeus and Ion by Creusa, daughter of Erechtheus, and from Achaeus and Ion the Achaeans and lonians derive their names. Dorus received the country over against Peloponnese and called the settlers Dorians after himself.

Aeolus reigned over the regions about Thessaly and named the inhabitants Aeolians. He married Enarete, daughter of Deimachus, and begat seven sons, Cretheus, Sisyphus, Athamas, Salmoneus, Deion, Magnes, Perieres, and five daughters, Canace, Alcyone, Pisidice, Calyce, Perimede. Perimede had Hippodamas and Orestes by Achelous; and Pisidice had Antiphus and Actor by Myrmidon. Alcyone was married by Ceyx, son of Lucifer. These perished by reason of their pride, for he said that his wife was Hera, and she said that her husband was Zeus. But Zeus turned them into birds; her he made a kingfisher (alcyon) and him a gannet (ceyx).

Dardanus

This one has the same basic story line. According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Dardanus left Pheneus in Arcadia to colonize a land in the North-East Aegean Sea. When the Dardanus' deluge occurred, the land was flooded and the mountain on which he and his family survived, formed the island of Samothrace. He left Samothrace on an inflated skin to the opposite shores of Asia Minor and settled on Mount Ida. Due to the fear of another flood they didn't build a city, but lived in the open for fifty years. His grandson Tros eventually moved from the highlands down to a large plain, on a hill which had many rivers flowing down from Ida above and built a city, which was named Troy after him.[10]

References

  1. Plato’s Critias 111b
  2. Entry Ωγύγιος at Liddell & Scott
  3. Gaster, Theodor H. Myth, Legend, and Custom in the Old Testament, Harper & Row, New York, 1969.
  4. Plato, Laws, Book III, 677a
  5. The Greek original text is "μυριάκις μύρια ἔτη διελάνθανεν", where μυριάς is the myriad or 10,000 (years)
  6. Luce, J.V. (1971), "The End of Atlantis: New Light on an Old Legend" (Harper Collins)
  7. Weaver, JA, Saenko, OA, Clark, PU, & Mitrovica, JX. (2003). Meltwater Pulse 1A from Antarctica as trigger of the Bølling-Allerød Warm Interval. Science. 299(5613): 1709-1713 DOI: 10.1126/science.1081002
  8. Entry λᾶας at Liddell & Scott
  9. Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1. 40. 1
  10. Plato, Laws, Book III, 682a

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