Literature Study GuidesMythologyPart 6 Chapter 1 Summary

Mythology | Study Guide

Edith Hamilton

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic
MLA

Bibliography

Course Hero. "Mythology Study Guide." Course Hero. 14 Feb. 2017. Web. 17 July 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Mythology/>.

In text

(Course Hero)

APA

Bibliography

Course Hero. (2017, February 14). Mythology Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved July 17, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Mythology/

In text

(Course Hero, 2017)

Chicago

Bibliography

Course Hero. "Mythology Study Guide." February 14, 2017. Accessed July 17, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Mythology/.

Footnote

Course Hero, "Mythology Study Guide," February 14, 2017, accessed July 17, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Mythology/.

Mythology | Part 6, Chapter 1 : Midas—and Others | Summary

Share
Share

Summary

Midas

Midas is a king of Phrygia who takes in a drunken man named Silenus. When Midas returns Silenus to Bacchus, the god grants Midas a wish. Midas wishes for everything he touches to turn to gold. After a few days, unable to eat or drink, Midas asks the god to take back the gift. Bacchus sends Midas to wash away the gift in the river Pactolus.

Apollo later gives Midas a set of donkey's ears for his stupidity. Midas chooses Pan as the winner in a musical contest between Pan and Apollo. Midas wears a hat to conceal the ears, but he whispers his secret into a hole he digs in the ground. The reeds growing near the hole whisper Midas's secret to the world.

Aesculapius

Apollo falls in love with a woman named Coronis, but she prefers a mortal. When Apollo learns of her faithlessness, Coronis is killed. However, Apollo saves their child and takes the child to be raised by a Centaur named Chiron. The child, Aesculapius, is an eager student who learns how to cure all illnesses and injuries. Zeus punishes Aesculapius for raising a man from the dead, which causes a bitter feud with Apollo. On earth, Aesculapius is honored as a great physician and receives prayers for healing.

The Danaïds

These 50 maidens are the descendants of Io by way of their father, Danaüs. Their cousins, sons of Aegyptus, want to marry them, but the Danaïds refuse and flee to Argos. The city defends the Danaïds when the cousins arrive in pursuit. For reasons lost in the story, the marriages do eventually take place. On the wedding night all the Danaïds, except Hypermnestra, kill their grooms with daggers. Stories vary about Hypermnestra's fate. In some versions, she is punished with death for parting with her sisters; in others, she lives happily with her groom, Lynceus. The other 49 sisters are condemned in Hades to carry water in constantly leaky jars.

Glaucus and Scylla

Glaucus is a fisherman who one day sees his catch drawn back to the sea. He eats some of the grass near the fish and finds himself drawn to the sea as well. The sea-gods pity him and make him one of them. He falls in love with the sea nymph Scylla, but she refuses him.

Glaucus goes to Circe for help winning Scylla, but Circe falls in love with Glaucus. He refuses Circe, and Circe takes revenge on Scylla, turning the nymph into a monster with serpents' and dogs' heads, rooted to a rock and threatening all sailors who pass by.

Erysichthon

Erysichthon cuts down an oak sacred to Ceres, and Ceres retaliates by sending Famine to him. Erysichthon spends the rest of his life eating huge quantities of food but starving to death. He spends his fortune and sells his daughter to get more food. Poseidon rescues the girl from her buyer by changing her into a fisherman. The girl returns to her father, but he only sells her again, starting a cycle. Erysichthon sells his daughter; Poseidon transforms her so she can escape her buyer; Erysichthon sells his daughter again. Erysichthon eventually devours his own body in his hunger and dies.

Pomona and Vertumnus

Pomona is a nymph who prefers orchards to the forest. She has no interest in men, but Vertumnus woos her anyway. He visits her disguised as an old woman and kisses her. Pomona is startled, but she listens when the old woman compares Pomona to the vine that needs a tree for support and cautions her that Venus often has revenge on "hard-hearted maidens." Then Vertumnus reveals himself, and Pomona yields to "such beauty joined to such eloquence."

Analysis

Midas

The story of king Midas is one of the most famous to come from classical mythology, giving rise to the English phrase "the Midas touch," which usually applies to someone with exceptional luck or skill in financial matters. The English phrase belies the mythical Midas's monumental foolishness, wishing for a gift that, had he been unable to wash it away, would have killed him. This lack of wisdom comes to the fore again when he is ignorant about the quality of music, and his inability to keep quiet about the donkey ears that become his punishment for his inability to recognize musical talent. Taken in the context of the full story, the Midas touch should refer to a lack of critical thought about the consequences of one's actions.

Aesculapius

The fate of Coronis provides a demonstration of the gods' ruthlessness when they feel dishonored or slighted. In other stories, the sins of the mother might be visited on her son as well. As seen in the story of Creüsa and Ion in Part 5, Chapter 3, Apollo tends to take care of his children, so Aesculapius is blessed with his father's intelligence, which he uses for the good of humankind. He only receives punishment when he runs afoul of Zeus, who kills him for raising a man from the dead. Aesculapius's fate recalls Zeus's punishment of Prometheus in Part 1, Chapter 3 when Zeus severely punishes Prometheus for showing mankind too much favor. Humans should strive for greatness, but not so much greatness that the gods feel threatened.

The Danaïds

Women who resist marriage are not generally treated well in mythology. In Part 2, Chapter 3, Daphne is turned into a tree and Arethusa is transformed into a spring as they attempt to evade marriage. These fates are presented as a kind of salvation for both women, but they are still no longer allowed to be human women living their lives. Turning into a spring or a tree is certainly preferable to the eternal torment of carrying water in leaking jars, but Daphne and Arethusa never killed anyone. The Danaïds are forced into their position because they are forced into marriages they don't want, which emphasizes how pervasive the expectation to marry is, and how dangerous forced marriage can be for all parties involved.

Glaucus and Scylla

Love is incredibly hazardous in classical mythology. As is the case for the Danaïds in the previous story, Scylla faces eternal punishment for refusing to marry a man who wants her. Glaucus has no idea Circe will punish Scylla because he rejects Circe's attentions, but as a woman with magical powers, Circe demonstrates the kind of whimsical revenge befitting a goddess such as Hera, who always punishes the women Zeus seduces (instead of Zeus himself). Women represent as great a threat to one another as men represent to women.

Erysichthon

Erysichthon is an unusual case because he comes to deserve the punishment he receives. He cuts down the sacred oak by accident, but the gods do not tend to recognize accidents for what they are. They punish actions that offend them in equal measure; intent is not important to the gods. To a mortal reader, famine may seem an excessive consequence for an unintentional act, but Erysichthon's decision to sell his daughter for money to buy food is sufficiently heinous to warrant a severe consequence. Poseidon is often presented as a vengeful god himself, as seen in Part 4, Chapter 3 when he refuses to forgive Odysseus for slighting his son, but here, he emerges as protector of an innocent girl and prevents her from suffering too much for her father's sins.

Pomona and Vertumnus

Pomona's story reverses the arc of the Danaïds and Scylla seen in previous sections of this chapter. When Vertumnus makes his case, he directly references the tendency the gods, especially Venus, have for punishing women who refuse the affections of their suitors. The analogy of the tree and the vine serves as a reminder of how women need men for survival—the tree has no such dependence on the vine. When Pomona relents and marries Vertumnus, her decision reinforces the cultural expectation for women to marry in a positive way, showing the reward of marriage rather than the punishment of continued resistance.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Mythology? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!