Monday, September 19, 2011
Cecrops, a son of the soil, with a body compounded of man and serpent, was the first king of Attica, and the country which was formerly called Acte he named Cecropia after himself. In his time, they say, the gods resolved to take possession of cities in which each of them should receive his own peculiar worship. So Poseidon was the first that came to Attica, and with a blow of his trident on the middle of the acropolis, he produced a sea which they now call Erechtheis. After him came Athena, and, having called on Cecrops to witness her act of taking possession, she planted an olive tree, which is still shown in the Pandrosium. But when the two strove for possession of the country, Zeus parted them and appointed arbiters, not, as some have affirmed, Cecrops and Cranaus, nor yet Erysichthon, but the twelve gods. And in accordance with their verdict the country was adjudged to Athena, because Cecrops bore witness that she had been the first to plant the olive. Athena, therefore, called the city Athens after herself, and Poseidon in hot anger flooded the Thriasian plain and laid Attica under the sea.The story of the contest between Poseidon and Athena is well known, from Herodotus (8.55) to Ovid (Metamorphoses 6.70-82) and beyond. Less well known is the reaction of Poseidon's son Halirrhothius to his father's defeat, as preserved in a late scholium on Aristophanes, Clouds 1005. I don't have access to W.J.W. Koster, ed., Scholia Recentiora in Nubes (Groningen: Bouma's Boekhuis, 1974) = Scholia in Aristophanem, Pars I, Fasc. III 2, so here is the text of the scholium from Friedrich Dübner, ed., Scholia Graeca in Aristophantem (Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1883), p. 123, col. 1, lines 30-35:
Αἱ ἱεραὶ ἐλαῖαι τῆς Ὰθηνᾶς ὲν τῇ ἀκροπόλει μορίαι ἐκαλοῦντο. λέγουσι γὰρ ὅτι Ἁλιρρόθιος, ὁ παῖς Ποσειδῶνος, ἠθέλησεν ἐκκόψαι αὐτὰς, διὰ τὸ τῆς ἐλαίας εὑρεθείσης κριθῆναι τῆς Ἀθηνᾶς τὴν πόλιν. ὁ δὲ ἀνατείνας τὸν πέλεκυν καὶ ταύτης ἀποτυχὼν ἔπληξεν ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἀπέθανε. καὶ διὰ τοῦτο μορίαι αἱ ἐλαῖαι ἐκλήθησαν.I understand this to mean:
The sacred olive trees on the Acropolis used to be called moríai. For they say that Halirrhothius, the son of Poseidon, wanted to cut them down, because the city was judged to belong to Athena after the discovery of the olive tree. When he raised his axe and was hewing a tree, he struck himself and died. And for this reason olive trees were called moríai.Presumably the scholiast saw a connection between the Greek words μορία (moría = sacred olive tree) and either μοῖρα (moîra = fate, doom, death) or μωρία (mōría = folly).
See also Servius Danielis on Vergil, Georgics 1.18, in Georg Thilo, ed., Servii Grammatici qui feruntur in Vergilii Bucolica et Georgica Commentarii (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1887), p. 135:
cui fabulae hoc additur, quod, postquam Minerva inventa olea Neptunum vicerit, indigne ferens Halirrhothius, Neptuni filius, oleas coepit excidere: cui, dum hoc facit, ferrum de manubrio decidit et ei caput amputavit.In English:
To this story the following is added, that, after Minerva bested Neptune by the discovery of the olive tree, Neptune's son Halirrhothius was aggrieved and began to cut down olive trees. While he was doing this, the iron axe blade flew from the handle and cut off his head.On the danger to an impious woodcutter from his own axe, see Lucan 3.429-431 (tr. J.D. Duff):
But strong arms faltered; and the men, awed by the solemnity and terror of the place, believed that, if they aimed a blow at the sacred trunks, their axes would rebound against their own limbs.
sed fortes tremuere manus, motique verenda
maiestate loci, si robora sacra ferirent,
in sua credebant redituras membra securis.