Wednesday, September 27, 2017


Descent from Tree or Rock

M.L. West (1937-2015), The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth (1997; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003), p. 431 (on the Odyssey):
19.163. Penelope asks the still disguised Odysseus about his origins, 'for you are not from the oak or rock of ancient story'. There are other passages (especially Il. 22.126 and Hes. Th. 35) where oak and rock are coupled in proverbial-sounding expressions that perplex the modern commentator. As for birth from tree or rock, there are certainly Greek myths about men being born from trees, and in the myth of Deucalion they are born from thrown stones.53 But for the two together the best parallel is provided by Jer. 2.27. He speaks of the shameful kings, priests, and prophets who, turning their back on the true God, 'say to a tree "You are my father", and to a stone "You gave birth to me".' There is no doubt about the nature of the tree and stone in question here: they are the objects of Canaanite pagan worship (cf. Deut. 29.16, Ezek. 20.32, Hab. 2.19), identified as divinities from whom certain of the nobility claimed descent. Cf. pp. 34 f.; also Jer. 3.9.

See further West (1966), 167-9 (where the Ugaritic passage quoted after Dirlmeier, 25, is KTU 1.3 iii 20-5 = iv 13 ff.); Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God, 84 f.

53 I cannot resist relating the apocryphal myth supposed to illustrate the Westphalian character. It is said that the first Westphalian was created by God from a stone. The stone opened its eyes, regarded God with a surly expression, and growled 'Was willst du denn da?'
West (1966) is his edition of Hesiod, Theogony, and KTU is Die Keilalphabetischen Texte aus Ugarit.

Related post: Men Born from Trees.

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