Summary: Part Five, Chapter III —The Royal House of Athens

Hamilton takes these stories from Latin poets, largely Ovid, but also borrows from the Greek tragedians, which increases the stories’ pathos and reduces their sensationalism and gory detail. The Royal House of Athens is notable in the number and degree of supernatural feats that befall its members. The ancestor is Cecrops, who in some cases is a magical half-man, half-dragon creature. Cecrops is said to have chosen Athena over Poseidon to be the protector of Athens. The angered Poseidon floods the land, and the men of Athens, who have voted for the god, take the vote away from the more numerous women. In other stories, Cecrops is merely the son of Erechtheus, a great Athenian king. Erechtheus has two sisters, Procne and Philomela. Procne is married to Tereus, a son of Ares. When Tereus sees the lovely Philomela, he seduces her into a false marriage by telling her that Procne has died. When Philomela learns the truth, Tereus cuts out her tongue and imprisons her to prevent her from telling anyone. He then tells Procne that Philomela has died. But Philomela weaves a beautiful tapestry as a gift for her sister and secretly embroiders into it the story of her troubles. Procne then rescues her sister and, for revenge, kills Itys—her son with Tereus—and cooks him and serves him to his father. The women escape, but Tereus pursues. As he is about to catch them, the gods take pity on the women and turn them into birds: Procne becomes the beautiful singing nightingale, the tongueless Philomela into the songless swallow.

Erechtheus also has a daughter, Procris, who is married to Cephalus. Just after their wedding, Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, falls in love with Cephalus and kidnaps him. He resists her advances and finally she gives up but not before spitefully planting the suggestion that his wife may not have been faithful as he has. To test it, Cephalus returns home disguised as a stranger and repeatedly tries to seduce Procris, but she always remains faithful to her missing husband. One day, however, she briefly hesitates before rejecting his advances. He becomes angry and reveals his deception, and Procris runs away, furious. Realizing his error, Cephalus follows and apologizes. The two reunite, but tragedy strikes again later when, while hunting, Cephalus accidentally kills Procris with his javelin.

Two of Procris’s sisters also have tragic love stories. One, Orithyia, wins the heart of Boreas, the North Wind. Her family opposes the marriage, but Boreas carries the girl off. Creüsa is kidnapped and raped by Apollo. Shamed at the encounter, she bears their baby boy in secret and leaves him to die in the same cave where Apollo assaulted her. Creüsa later feels guilty and goes to retrieve him, but he has vanished. Her father, meanwhile, has married her to a man named Xuthus. Unable to conceive a child, the pair go to the Oracle at Delphi for advice. While Xuthus confers with one of the priests, Creüsa speaks to a beautiful young priest named Ion, wanting to ask, out of Xuthus’s earshot, what happened to the baby she abandoned. Xuthus suddenly appears and hugs Ion, saying that Apollo has told him that Ion will become his own son. An older priestess reveals that she found Ion as a baby, wrapped in a cloak and veil. Creüsa recognizes the garments as her own and realizes that Ion is her son. Athena then appears and confirms this revelation, announcing that Ion will one day become a great king of Athens.

Summary: Part Six, Chapter I — Midas — and Others

  • Midas

  • Midas, a king of Phrygia, performs a favor for Bacchus and is granted one wish in return. Midas foolishly wishes for the power to turn everything he touches into gold. As a result he is unable to eat or drink. Bacchus tells Midas to wash himself in the river Pactolus to remove the spell. Midas later serves as the judge of a music contest between Apollo and Pan. When Midas stupidly calls Pan the better musician, Apollo changes his ears to those of a donkey.