Quiritis and Quirinus

The Quirinus section of this post is edited from last year’s A to Z post, since it’s hard to find significant deities whose names start with Q. Quetzalcoatl was out of the question, since my intent was to focus on deities who aren’t super-well-known.

Juno, by Jacques Louis Dubois

Quiritis is a Sabine goddess of motherhood, often associated with protection. I can imagine many a woman praying to her in the throes of childbirth, or for help and guidance with learning how to be a mother.

Quiritis is believed to be derived from the Sabine word quiris (spear, lance). She’s often depicted holding that weapon, presumably to defend someone or something. Perhaps because of this, she came to be associated with Juno (Iuno), the Roman equivalent of Hera. Juno is also frequently depicted holding a spear or lance, something which came from the earlier Quiritis.

Roman marriages traditionally included a ritual wherein the bride’s hair was cut or parted by a spear. Some scholars believe this was the influence of Quiritis and Juno’s association with marriage.

Juno was frequently worshipped under the name Juno Quiritis or Juno Curitis, and Juno Quiritis is said to be the only deity worshipped by all thirty curiae (military and political divisions) established by Romulus. By Campus Martius, an area of great religious, political, and military training importance, there was a temple to Juno Quiritis.

The Shepherd Faustulus Bringing Romulus and Remus to His Wife, by Nicolas Mignard, 1654

Quirinus is an alternate name for Romulus. Together with his twin brother Remus, he founded Rome. Later on, Quirinus/Romulus was elevated to deity status. Sources differ on whether the Roman god Quirinus is or isn’t one and the same as Romulus.

There are many versions of the twins’ origins, ancestry, and childhood, but all versions have a servant who can’t bring himself to murder the babies, and instead puts them in a basket on the banks of the Tiber River. The river floods and carries the twins downstream, unhurt. Tiberinus, a river god, makes the basket catch on the roots of a fig tree, and a wolf named Lupa discovers them and serves as their wetnurse. Picus, a woodpecker, feeds them.

The twins grew up as shepherds following their discovery by Faustulus, who took them to his hut and raised them with his wife Acca Larentia. The rest is history.

Quirinus came to stand for the Divine personification of the Roman people.

Quirinus is possibly derived from the Sabine word quiris (spear, lance). Other forms include Quirino (Italian, Portuguese, Spanish), Quirin (German), Quirijn (Dutch), Corin (French), Kyrinos (Greek), Kvirinas (Lithuanian), Kvirinus (Faroese), Kvirin (Russian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Ukrainian, Croatian), and Kwiryn (Polish). A Dutch feminine form is Quirine.

Priapus and Polyxena

Warning: If phallic images in art (beyond regular artistic nudity) offend you, this post isn’t for you.

Priapus (Priapos) is a minor fertility god, and protects livestock, fruit, gardens, bees, merchant sailors, and male genitalia. He’s routinely depicted with a permanent, oversized erection. Indeed, his very name is the origin of the English word “priapism,” an erection lasting over four hours in the absence of sexual activities.

Priapus is variantly described as the son of Aphrodite and Dionysus or Dionysus and Chione, as well as the son of Zeus, Hermes, or Pan. Other sources list him as Hermes’s father. Hera cursed him with ugliness, impotence, and foul-mindedness while he was in utero, in revenge for Prince Paris of Troy having judged Aphrodite as more beautiful than Hera.

The other deities refused to let Priapus live on Mount Olympus, and threw him earthside. He landed on a hill, and was raised by the shepherds who found him. Later, he joined Pan and the satyrs.

Priapus once tried to rape the humble, modest goddess Hestia when she was asleep, but a donkey’s braying made Priapus lose his erection, woke Hestia up, and thwarted the assault. This gave him a burning hatred of donkeys, which became his sacrificial animal.

Another time, he tried to rape the nymph Lotis when she too was asleep, but a donkey’s braying thwarted him yet again. Lotis awoke and ran away, leaving the other deities to laugh at Priapus. In some accounts, the deities turned her into a lotus tree to escape Priapus.

Worship of Priapus was more a rural phenomenon outside of his home region of Lampsakos. People in the countryside saw him as a patron of sailors, agriculture, fishers, and others in need of good luck. His presence was believed to avert the evil eye. In Bithynia (now northwestern Asian Turkey), he was viewed as a tutor to the god Ares in infancy.

People in urban areas saw him as a joke, not a serious deity. In later antiquity, his worship was seen as a cult of sophisticated pornography. Into the Middle Ages, he was invoked as a symbol of fertility and health. In the 13th century, a lay Cistercian brother erected a statue of Priapus to stop an outbreak of cattle disease.

In the 1980s, in Montréal, D.F. Cassidy founded the St. Priapus Church, a predominantly gay male community focused on worship of the phallus. During services, everyone but the priest is naked. (Warning: Link NSFW or under 18!)

Priapus is of unknown etymology. It may be pre-Greek.

The Sacrifice of Polyxena, by Nicolas Prévost

Polyxena (Polyxene) was the youngest daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy, and the Trojan version of Iphigenia. An oracle said Troy wouldn’t be defeated if Prince Troilos lived to age twenty. With that in mind, Athena encouraged Achilles to seek him out.

Troilos and Polyxena rode out to get water from a well in the town of Thymbra, and Achilles was overcome with lust for both of them. At this time, Achilles was still in mourning for his dear friend Patroklos, who may or may not have been his lover. Polyxena and Troilos ran away, but Achilles caught Troilos by the hair and dragged him off his horse.

Troilos escaped to a nearby temple of Apollo, but Achilles followed him and beheaded him by the altar, then mutilated Troilos’s body. Achilles continued pursuing Polyxena, and struck up a rapport with her. He found her words comforting in the wake of Patroklos’s death. Achilles trusted her so much, he told her of his only vulnerability, his heel.

Polyxena’s brothers Paris and Delphobos ambushed Achilles and shot him in his heel, with an arrow soaked in poison and guided by Apollo. In some versions, Polyxena kills herself from guilt, while in others, Achilles’s ghost demands the Greeks sacrifice her to appease the wind needed to take them home. Polyxena was eager to die as a sacrifice for such a great hero instead of as a slave. Neoptolemos, Achilles’s son, carried out the sacrifice.

Polyxena means “many foreigners,” “many guests,” or “very hospitable.” It’s derived from polys (many) and xenos (guest, foreigner), or xenia (hospitality to guests). Other forms of the name include Polyxène (French), Polyxeni (modern Greek), Poliksena (Russian and Polish), Polissena (Italian), Políxena (Spanish), Pulisena (Medieval Italian), Polikseni (Albanian), and Poleksija (Serbian). My character Alya (Aleksandra) Minina names her daughter Poliksena, Polya for short, since she’s not exactly the type to use an ordinary name like Natalya or Olga.

Nestor and Nike

Achille Donne à Nestor le Prix de la Sagesse aux Jeux Olympiques, by Joseph-Désiré Court, 1820

Nestor was the King of Pylos, assuming the throne after Hercules killed his father Neleus and all of Nestor’s siblings. He was also one of the Argonauts, fought the Centaurs, and participated in the hunt for the Calydonian Boar. Artemis sent this boar to terrorize Calydon after King Oeneus forgot to include her in the annual harvest sacrifices.

Though Nestor was quite old by the time of the Trojan War, he nevertheless went to fight with the Greeks. In The Iliad, he frequently gives advice to the younger soldiers, and advices Achilles and Agamemnon to make up after their falling-out. Nestor was too old to actually serve in combat, but he led the Pylian troops in a chariot, and had a golden shield.

Nestor’s advice is always respected and taken very seriously, due to his age and experience, but there’s also always a subtext of tongue-in-cheek humour at his expense when he speaks. Nestor always prefaces this sage advice by several paragraphs bragging about his heroic past exploits in similar situations. Much of his advice is also ineffective at best and potentially disastrous at worst.

In The Odyssey, Odysseus’s son Telemachus goes to Pylos to ask Nestor for any word of his father. Nestor truly exemplifies xenia (hospitality), but can’t provide any information. Telemachus then goes to Sparta to talk with Menelaus and Helen, but they don’t know anything either.

Upon his return to Pylos, Telemachus begs Nestor’s youngest son, Peisistratos, to let him go straight home to avoid yet another overwhelming show of xenia. Peisistratos agrees to the request, though he says Nestor will probably be really pissed when he discovers Telemachus has left.

Nestor means “homecoming,” and may also be related to nostimos, “blessed.” This name is also used in Russian, Ukrainian, and Georgian. Other forms include Nestore (Italian), Nestori (Finnish), Néstor (Spanish, Galician), Nèstor (Catalan), Nesta (Jamaican Patois), Nestorie (Romanian), Nestório (Portuguese), Nestorio (Spanish, Italian), Nestoriusz (Polish), Nistor (Romanian), Nestoriy (Russian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian), and Nestorije (Serbian and Croatian).

Copyright Marie-Lan Nguyen (2011)

Nike (Roman name Victoria) is the Greek goddess of victory, speed, and strength, and the daughter of Titan Pallas and goddess Styx. She and her siblings, Kratos (god of strength), Bia (goddess of force and raw energy), and Zelos (daimon of zeal, envy, rivalry, emulation, dedication, and jealousy), are very close with Zeus. When Zeus was preparing to go to war against the Titans, Styx brought her kids to him as allies.

Though most Greek deities were no longer depicted with wings by the Classical era, Nike continued to be shown as such. She’s also frequently depicted as a Divine charioteer, flying around battlefields and rewarding the victors with fame and glory. This symbol of victory is the famous crown of laurel leaves. One of the many reasons I chose Dafna (Laurel) as part of my Hebrew name is because of this ancient symbolism.

Statue in Potsdamer Schloßpark, Germany, Copyright Lestat (Jan Mehlich), GFDL, Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5

Nike is also very close to Athena, and is believed to have been the broken statue in Athena’s outstretched hand in the Parthenon. Additionally, Nike is one of the figures most often found on Ancient Greek coins.

In the modern era, the sporting company Nike takes their name from the goddess. The Rolls–Royce hood ornament, Spirit of Ecstasy, is modelled after Nike, as is the Honda motorcycle company’s logo. Finally, Nike has been minted on the obverse of every Olympic medal since the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam.

Nike means “victory,” but could also be related to neikos (strife, quarrel) and neikein (to quarrel with). The word itself may have pre-Greek origins. Related names are Nikian, Nikanor, and Nikon (the latter two of which are also used in Russian).

Danaë and Diomedes

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Painted by the awesome Artemisia Gentileschi

Danaë is the mother of the great hero Perseus (fathered by whom else but the always-horny Zeus), and the daughter and only child of King Acrisius and Queen Eurydice of Argos. Danaë is also credited with founding the now-Italian city of Ardea during the Bronze Age.

Acrisius was really upset he didn’t have any sons, though at least he didn’t pull a Henry VIII by marrying a whole slew of women and then divorcing or beheading them when they failed to produce male heirs. He went to the Oracle of Delphi for help, and was told he’d never have a boy. His daughter, however, would.

The Oracle went on to say Acrisius would be killed by this grandson. Danaë didn’t have any kids yet, so her father locked her up in a bronze chamber. Depending on the story, this chamber was either beneath the palace or in a tower.

Zeus once again couldn’t keep it in his pants, and came to Danaë in the form of golden rain coming through the roof. This golden rain went right into her uterus and created Perseus. Those familiar with Hinduism will recognise parallels to the story of Krishna’s conception following the imprisonment of his parents.

Krishna’s evil uncle Kamsa had been told his sister Devaki’s eighth-born son would kill him, and threw Devaki and her husband Vasudeva into prison, chained to opposite walls, after being told Vishnu is the ultimate trickster, and that any one of those boys could be the eighth if put in a circle. He also murdered the first seven sons. Radiant light poured into the cell, and Krishna was conceived from the power of Devaki and Vasudeva’s thoughts.

Illustration by Walter Crane

Acrisius couldn’t bring himself to murder his own flesh and blood, so he set Danaë and Perseus adrift in a wooden chest. Poseidon calmed the sea, and Zeus saved them. They washed ashore on the island of Seriphos and were taken in by Prince Dictys, brother of King Polydectes. The king had the hots for Danaë, but she wasn’t charmed, and Perseus was very protective of his mother.

Polydectes pretended he was going to marry Princess Hippodamia of Pisa, and ordered everyone to bring wedding gifts. Perseus was held to an earlier boast to bring back the head of a Gorgon, a winged woman with a hideous face and snakes for hair. When Perseus returned with Medusa’s head, the king was among those who turned to stone. In another version, Danaë married Polydectes soon after her arrival.

The name Danaë comes from Danaoi, a word Homer used to designate the Greeks. Other forms are Danaé (French, Czech, Italian, German), Danai (modern Greek), Dânae (Portuguese), Dánae (Spanish), Dànae (Catalan), Danae (Italian), Danaya (Russian, Belarusian, Ukrainian), Danaja (Polish, Serbian, Macedonian, Czech, Slovak, Slovenian, Croatian), and Danaée (French).

Diomedes is a great hero in Greek mythohistory, particularly known for his role in the Trojan War. His parents were Aeolian hero Tydeus (one of the Seven Against Thebes) and Princess Deipyle of Argos. Sadly, his dad was murdered when he was only four, during the abovementioned mission to Thebes. By the funeral, Diomedes and the other sons of the Seven Against Thebes vowed to someday vanquish Thebes. They named their little band Epigoni (Offspring).

The Epigoni successfully waged war against Thebes, and many epics (now all lost) were written about this war. Indeed, it was the most important war in Greek history prior to the Trojan War. After the Epigoni War, Diomedes was crowned King of Argos at only fifteen years old.

Diomedes ruled Argos very successfully, and also restored the throne of Calydon to his paternal grandpap Oeneus. He went on to engage in even more heroism during the Trojan War. Though he was the youngest of all the warriors, he was the most experienced fighter and leader. If you haven’t already read The Iliad, I highly recommend the Robert Fagles translation!

Diomedes is derived from the elements Dios (of Zeus) and medomai (to plan, to think).

Ariadne and Argos

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This year, my A to Z theme on my secondary blog is names from Greek mythology. Since the Greek alphabet doesn’t have certain letters, I’ve featured names from other cultures’ mythologies on those days.

Ariadne in Naxos, by Evelyn De Morgan

Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos and Queen Pasiphaë of Crete, granddaughter of Zeus and Europa, and niece of Circe. Minos put her in charge of his famous Labyrinth (build by Daedalus), where reparation sacrifices were made to either Athena or Poseidon. At the center of the Labyrinth was the Minotaur, with the body of a man and the head of a bull. He was the result of bestiality between Pasiphaë and a bull Minos had refused to sacrifice to Poseidon.

According to one version, Minos attacked Athens after his son Androgeos was killed fighting a bull in Marathon. Androgeos had been sent to fight this bull as a result of winning the Panathenaeic Games. After a number of adventures and interventions from Zeus, Minos asked the Athenians to send seven boys and seven girls to Crete for sacrifice to the Minotaur every nine or seven years.

One year, Prince Theseus, son of King Aegeus, took the place of one of the intended victims, with the intent to slay the Minotaur and end this slaughter. He left in a boat with a black sail, promising his father he’d return with a white sail if he succeeded.

Detail of La Légende Crétoise (a.k.a. Thésée et le Minotaure), by Maître des Cassoni Campana

When Ariadne saw Theseus, she fell in instalove, and helped him to escape the Labyrinth by giving him a ball of thread and a sword. Theseus promised to leave with her if he succeeded. Once inside, he followed Ariadne’s instructions from architect Daedalus, to tie the string to the doorpost, and to keep going forward, never left or right.

Theseus got to the center of the Labyrinth and killed the Minotaur, then found his way out by following the string. He escaped with all the other Athenians, as well as Ariadne and her little sister Phaedra. However, on instructions from Athena, he set sail without Ariadne, and she was heartbroken. Sadly, Theseus forgot to replace his black sail with a white one, and his father committed suicide from grief.

The god Dionysus saw Ariadne weeping, and married her out of pity. In other versions, Dionysus, not Athena, was the one who demanded Theseus abandon Ariadne. She either was killed by Perseus at Argos, or hanged herself.

Ariadne means “most holy,” from the elements ari (most) and adnos (holy). Other forms of the name are Ariadna (Russian, Polish, Georgian, Spanish, Catalan), Ariane (French, German, Dutch), Arianne (French), Arianna (Italian), Ariadnė (Lithuanian), Ariadni (modern Greek), and Arijana (Croatian).

Drawn by Louis-Frédéric Schützenberger, 1884

Argos was the famously loyal dog of the great hero Odysseus, waiting twenty long years for his master to finally come home. Since Odysseus’s home has been overtaken by persistent suitors trying to marry Penelope, he disguises himself as a beggar and only tells his son Telemachus of his true identity.

As Odysseus draws near his home, he sees Argos lying on a heap of cow dung, ignored and neglected. He’s a far sight from the young, healthy dog Odysseus left behind. Argos was known for his tracking skills, strength, and speed.

Argos recognises his old master immediately. He drops his ears and wags his tail, but isn’t strong enough to stand up. Odysseus can’t greet him without ruining his disguise, but he sheds a tear as he passes Argos. Shortly after he enters the house, Argos dies, having lived long enough to see his old friend again.

Argos means “swift.”