Who Was Hecabe's Mother?

Who was the mother of Hecabe?

The Sources

While this appears to be a straight-forward matter of fact, it is the most vexatious of Tiberius's enigmatic questions, for the parentage of Hecabe finds little space in Homer, who did not fail to speak at length of the lineage of many lesser figures in his epics. Homer (Iliad XVI 715 seq.) says only that Hecabe was daughter of Dymas of Phrygia from the region around the Sangarios River (modern Sakarya), and that Asios was her brother:

The other credible antique source for the genealogy of Hecabe is Euripides, who in his play, Hecabe (3), places in the mouth of the Ghost of Polydorus these lines:

I, Polydorus, a son of Hecuba the daughter of Cisseus and of Priam. Now my father, when Phrygia's capital was threatened with destruction by the spear of Hellas, took alarm and conveyed me secretly from the land of Troy unto Polymestor's house, his friend in Thrace,

The locale

Thus, the two most reliable sources are in apparent disagreement about even the sire of Hecabe, although both agree to omit any mention of her mother. However, the quotations do give us some uncontradicted information with which to begin. Both mention Phrygia. Homer says that Hecabe was from the area of the Phrygian Sangarios, a major river that drains the interior of Anatolia, beginning in ancient Phrygia, passing through Galatia, and looping back through Bithynia before emptying into the Black Sea. It passed through the religiously and economically important city of Gordieum, formerly capital of Phrygia, where was the famous Gordian Knot, from the untying of which depended the kingship of Phrygia and the mastery of Asia. Euripides calls Troy the capital of Phrygia.(Map of Phrygia. 85K)

The Gordian Knot

The Knot, tied in an intricate manner said to have been invented by Gordios, was used by him to tie the yoke to the shaft of his ox-cart. After he became king of Phrygia, fulfilling an oracle that declared the new king would arrive in an ox-cart, the priests of the temple of Zeus placed the Knot (or the whole ox-cart) in the temple, declaring that thereafter he who could untie the Knot was rightful king of Asia. Gordium, founded by Gordios as his capital city, remained important even after the establishment of Ancyra as the principal city of the area. The secret of the Knot and its power to make kings continued, of course, until Alexander solved its difficulty by hacking through it with his sword, thereby resolving the mystery and, incidentally, giving the world a new proverbial method by which to remove old and thorny problems.

Arrian1 reports that the knot was made of cornel bark (Camp. II.3). The Cornel Cherry tree likely would have been meant. Arrian also says that the Knot had no visible ends, which was a notable feature of the so- called Knot of Hercules, mentioned by Pliny2 (Nat. Hist. XXVIII.65) as producing salutary effects when used, the number four, according an authority named Demetrios, being sacred to Hercules. (Apparently the Hercules knot had four loops.) Technically, the Gordian Knot would have belonged to that class of knots termed lashings, because it was used to join two pieces of wood. It is unlikely that it actually was a knot of Hercules, or, presumably, it would have been recognized as such and readily yielded up its authority to any pretenders. Arrian does throw some doubt on the story that Alexander severed the Knot and thereby voided its power, saying that there was another story told wherein Alexander, after studying the yoke and pole, simply removed the linch pin from the pole and slide Knot and yoke from the pole intact, so that the Knot could be unfolded. Arrian reports both stories as equally probable, noting that, whatever the truth of the matter, it was put about generally that the Knot had been loosed and subsequent events (including thunder and lightning later that night, not to mention the successful conquest of the Persians) showed that heaven's favor had been won.

Of course, the secret of untying the Knot would have been a test by which a new king could have ritually proven his divine right to the kingship. The secret was transmitted through the priests to the heir of the throne, thereby ensuring that only the divinely intended and legitimate successor would be able to assume the kingship. Impostors and usurpers would be debarred and exposed by their ignorance. Naturally, this would have placed the priests of the temple in a position of great power, something that Alexander would have understood when he decided to cut the Knot and end the possibility of threat to the stability of his conquest. Without the Knot, the priests could no longer raise the issue of legitimacy. Previous conquerors had used the Knot as a means by which they had assured their legitimacy, either compelling or bribing the priests to reveal the secret. Midas, it will be remembered, who was confident enough to both establish the new cult of Dionysus and to found Ancyra as his new capital, respected the king-making power of the Knot and its sacerdotal protectors. Midas was supposedly adopted by Gordios, a fiction that covered the fact of conquest and preserved the Knot. Thus, even the transfer of power to a new dynasty and new locale did not mean the end of the Knot and the essential power of the priesthood. What, then, does this tell us about Priam and Hecabe?

Because Euripides called Troy the capital of Phrygia, we may assume that another transfer of capital cities and dynasts had occurred, and that Priam had become the new king of Phrygia. Because there is no mention of a conquest, and because the Knot survived down to the time of Alexander, about nine hundred years later, we can also assume that Priam had learned the secret of the Knot peacefully. The most common manner by which this type of peaceable transfer of kingship from one line to another was accomplished was through marriage. Ergo, we are led to conclude that Priam obtained the kingship of Phrygia lawfully and without overt coercion by marrying into the previous dynasty. In fact, we are told that Hecabe was Priam's second wife, he having put away his first wife, Arisbe, who had already given him an heir, Aesacus, in order to marry Hecabe. (Ovid, Metam. XI.763, calls Aesacus the son of the nymph Alexrioè, but he does not call her Priam's wife.) Providing an heir was a matter of primary importance to all ancient monarchs, and that Priam was willing to divorce Arisbe compels us to think that his reason must have outweighed even the assurance of succession. The only logical reason would have been the expansion of his kingdom, and the winning of the throne of all of Phrygia would have been such a reason. It is recorded (Apollodorus) that he gave Arisbe an honorable divorce and arranged for her to marry Hyrtacus, presumably returning or ceding over to her new husband her dower.

If we assume all of the above, then we are safe in saying that Hecabe was the daughter of the previous king of Phrygia and that she brought to Priam the secret of the Knot, by which he became the legitimate claimant for the throne. Dymas or Chisseos, then, would have to have been the last king out of the line of Midas, the successor of Gordios. It is further noted that all of the kings of Phrygia styled themselves alternately either Gordios or Midas, which raises an obvious objection to this statement. However, the adoption of a royal name upon accession is a commonplace part of the ritual by which a new monarch is confirmed, being significant of his re birth into the family of the tutelary deity of the kingdom. Therefore, we can assume that Dymas or Chisseos might have been the original name of the last king in Ancyra, or that either one of the names (or both) was a title of the king in addition to his dynastic name of Gordios or Midas. In confirmation of this guess, Priam, we are told, had previously been called Podarces. Priam's new royal name probably indicated that he was the first  (and last, as it turned out) of a new royal dynasty in Phrygia. Still, there remains the conflicting testimony of our primary sources as to the name of that last Gordian-Midan king, Hecabe's father, either Dymas or Chisseos.

Clues to her father

The modern authorities generally agree in making Dymas her father, as he is named by the elder source, Homer. However, Euripides would not have called Hecabe's father Cisseus (or Chisseos) without some good reason. He would have been very much aware of Homer's lines, as would have been his audience, so it is unlikely that he would have chosen to flout the very cogent evidence of Homeric tradition with or without good reason. That is to suggest that he did not, that there is no contradiction. In order for that assumption to be correct, we must accept that Chisseos and Dymas are one and the same, and that the auditors of the play would have recognized this identity, just as a modern audience would recognize that Bill Clinton and the Chief Executive are one and the same. In other words, we have some justification in believing that either Dymas or Chisseos is an alias or title and that both refer to one and the same person. As Phoebus Apollo could be called Far-Darter, or Zeus called Aegis-Bearer, without use of either god's name, and still be generally recognized, so, too, might Dymas be called simply Chisseos and still be known as the father of Hecabe. Which name, then, is the name and which the title? Or, as hinted above, might both be titles of the king of Phrygia?

As it happens, Chisseos, or Cisseos, is a title, an epithet of a very important god in Greek (and Phrygian) myth: Kisseos means "Ivy", and the Ivy God is Dionysus, whose worship was instituted by Midas. The fount or source in which Dionysus was bathed by the Nymphs after his birth was called Cissousa (Callimachus). Dionysus Ivy was a common denomination of the god. He was almost always pictured or written of with Ivy twined about the Thrysus or with Ivy chaplets. And all of the stories of Midas are centered about his relationship with the Ivy-Crowned God. The Euripidean audience would have been as aware of the connection between the cult of Dionysus in Phrygia and the Phrygian dynasty of Midas as the modern American audience of the connection between the Church of England and the Windsors. We are safe in stating, therefore, that Chisseos was a royal prerogative of the house of Midas, and that the reference to Chisseos would have passed unremarked, everyone understanding that Hecabe was descended through her father from Midas.

If we accept that Euripides in speaking of Chisseos was referring to Dionysus or, by metonymy, to the previous king of Phrygia, then we have successfully removed one obstacle in identifying Hecabe's parents. It is quite likely that Dymas was Chisseos, Ivy-Crowned, by association to his tutelary deity. However, it would be more compelling if we could also find some explicit relationship between Dymas and Dionysus. Is it possible. for instance, that Dymas was a local Phrygian name for Dionysus?

Phrygia was an important locale in the mythology of Dionysus. The vine grew wild on the south coasts of the Black Sea, and may have spread from there to other places around the Mediterranean, taking with it the cult of Dionysus. Phrygia is where Dionysus was purged by his grandmother Rhea3 of guilt for the murders that he committed during his mad progress throughout Asia (Asios). The Bacchantes of Euripides are described as Phrygian. Is it possible that the Sangarios was the river in which he was cleansed? Sangarios could be read as "bloody", a term frequently applied to wine, and the river, if the god had washed off the blood of his crimes in its water, might have run red or at least have acquired the name through association with the baptismal ritual4. (Sangarios might also derive from the root for "sacred".)

There is a late antique story told by Nonnos5 (Dion. XLVIII.242) that Aura, daughter of the Titan Lelantos, was raped by Dionysus. In her rage at this crime, Aura threw into River Sangarios the statue of Aphrodite, who had been the tangential accomplice of her ruin; later, having given birth to twins on Mt. Dindymon, one of whom she slew and ate, Aura cast herself into the Sangarios, where she was transformed into the spring whence the river issued. Artemis, who attended all births, but who had provoked the rape and had taunted the pregnant Aura, rescued the second infant, Iacchos, out of guilt. While there does not seem to be any truly ancient authority for this story, some of its elements are suggestive. At the least, it does define a specific instance of relationship between Dionysus and Sangarios.

Further, the name Dymas could be a shortened form of Dindymon, which Nonnos derives from the word for twins, 6, making Dymas the surviving twin, Iacchos. Also, the desecration of the statue of Aphrodite in Sangarios and the suicide of Aura in its waters could have some relation to the river's name. Diodorus7 records another legend that King Meïon (Midas?) of Phrygia married a maiden named Dindymê. This suggests that the personification of this particular mountain was customary, and that the reference to Dymas could have been to the mountain in its masculine form. Diodorus also records that Dionysus was frequently called , Dimeter, "twice-born", on account of his premature delivery from Semele and his re-birth from the thigh of Zeus, lending more evidence to the notion that Dymas refers to Dionysus. Still further, Pausanias8 relates the Achaian town of Dyme to Phrygia, saying that it is unknown whether the town were named after a woman named Dyme or a man named Dymas (The town had originally been called Paleia.) In Dyme, he says, there was a shrine to Athene and a very ancient statue. There was also in Dyme a shrine to the mother of Dindyme and Attis. It was said by the poet Hermesianax that this Attis, who was impotent from birth, was the son of a Phrygian named Kalaos. Attis later went to Phrygia in the service of the Great Goddess of the Lydians, where he was killed by a boar. This story is important, not only in that the names of Dymas and Dindyme occur in juxtaposition to that of Phrygia, but that it links Dymas and Dindyme to the other great religious cult of Asia Minor, that of Cybele and Attis, about which we shall enlarge later.

To conclude the connection to Dionysus, if we examine the murder of Polymestor's children and the blinding of the King himself in Hecabe, we find yet another link between Hecabe and the Phrygian monarchs of Ancyra and Gordium. The murders and blinding were carried out by a group of frenzied women, much in the manner of the murders committed by the frenzied Maenads who attended Dionysus in his revels. The descriptions of the attack upon Pentheus by the Bacchantes and of that of the Trojan women upon Polymestor are strikingly similar. If Hecabe was Phrygian and of royal descent, she probably had been an initiate of the Dionysiac mysteries, and her confidence that she and the Trojan women could overcome Polymestor and his sons was drawn from her knowledge of ritualistic murders in which the cultists of Dionysus participated. It is even possible to derive her name from , "to drive to a frenzy". Although acceptance of this interpretation is not necessary to the argument that her mode was ecstatic and Bacchic, it is undoubtedly an association that a writer such as Euripides or Homer would have expected his audience to apprehend. The simple fact that the resemblance existed would have been sufficient, whatever the actual origination of the name, therewith enriching the context. Could it be that the terrible suffering and eventual madness and death of Hecabe were but the result of a Nemesis which had pursued her because she had not been cleansed of her previous crimes? Whether or not the destruction of Troy was fated as the result of Hecabe's unexpiated Dionysian murders, we can, however, feel some confidence in drawing the conclusion that both Dymas and Cisseus are really names or titles of the Phrygian king, the father of Hecabe.

Candidates for motherhood

Having revealed the underlying unity of the Homeric and the Euripidean accounts of the sire of Hecabe, we can turn our attention to her mother, who must have been the Queen or a concubine of the last Gordian-Midan king. Unfortunately the names of the Queens of Phrygia are not recorded. Not even the maiden seer who directed Gordios to sacrifice at Telmissus, where he was proclaimed King, and whom he married, is named. Frazer, in a footnote to his translation of Apollodorus, states that Pherecydes had found references to Evagora, Eunoe, Glaucippe, and Telechia as possible candidates for motherhood of Hecabe. Apollodorus himself suggests Metope. However, neither Frazer nor Apollodorus gave any argument to support those candidates. We might, therefore, have recourse to the stories of the loves of Dionysus to find a name for the Queen. It is not unusual that the paramours of a god are the queens of one or another royal house. If we were to find among them one of the above mentioned names, then we could assert the likelihood that she were Hecabe's mother. Dionysus, by the standards of his father, at least, was relatively chaste, which makes the search shorter than might otherwise have been expected.

Some accounts relate that Dionysus (or Ares9) had an irregular connection with Althaia, wife of Oineus, to whom the god had given the vine, and that she was delivered of Meleagros as a result. This divine fathering would explain the invulnerability of the hero. Meleager was said to have had a son, Parthenopaeus, by Atalanta before she married Hippomenes (or Melanion). Parthenopaeus later became one of the Seven Against Thebes, but his son does not seem to have formed any Asiatic liaisons. Likewise, Dionysus is said to have loved Beroè to he point of distraction, but she was given to another, older god, Poseidon.

The first real wife of Dionysus, it is generally agreed, was Ariadne, whom the god encountered on Naxos after she had been abandoned by Theseus. According Apollodorus10, Dionysus took her to Lemnos where they were married. She is said to have had four sons, Staphylus, Thoas, Oenopion, and Peparethus by the god. Another story makes Phanus the brother of Staphylus by Ariadne. Both Staphylus and Phanus were sometimes numbered among the heroes of the Argo, assembled by Jason to retrieve the Golden Fleece, although neither Apollonius11 nor Valerius Flaccus12 gives them a place in the epic. Apollonius does put another putative son of Dionysus on board, however, Phlias of Araethyrea, from the vicinity of Asopus. Nonnos records that Ariadne was turned to stone by the shield of Perseus when Dionysus was opposed in his passage through Attica. Again, however, none of these sons seems to have had any female children who married Asian monarchs, nor is it recorded that they married daughters of Midas. Nonnos also says that Dionysus afterwards married Pallene, daughter of Sithon of Thrace, after besting her in a wrestling match. She is said to have been impregnated by Dionysus, but her children are not mentioned, and none were reported to have gone to Phrygia, although Thrace is but a short swim from Anatolia.

In fact, it is difficult to find any evidence to link any of these lines to the Phrygian legends of the god in general or to Hecabe's family in particular. About the only reasonably solid lead between the progeny of Dionysus and the Queen of Troy at the time of its fall is provided by Priam himself. Laomedon's herd of mares had been promised as the payment for the deliverance of Laomedon's daughter Hesione from the monster sent by Poseidon to devour her, but, when Herakles performed the rescue, the miserly king had refused to make good on his promise. Priam (at that time called Podarces) alone of Laomedon's sons argued that the debt must be fairly discharged, and he warned Herakles and his companions of Laomedon's intention to murder the heroes rather than pay them. Herakles then took the city and slew Laomedon and his sons, saving only Priam, to whom he returned the kingship in gratitude for his uprightness. However, whether this event was accomplished during the return voyage of the Argo or later is not certain. At any rate, even if the son or sons of Dionysus participated in the deed, there is nothing to connect directly them with the family of Hecabe. In fact, there is no evidence whatever that any of the descendants of Dionysus married into the royal lineage of Midas.

Other leads

If none of the above women can lend her name to Hecabe's family, perhaps it is possible to divine from Hecabe's own name the name of her mother. The name of Hecabe and that of her first born, Hector, share a common verbal element13, and some have noted the close resemblance between Hecabe and Hecaté.

As described by Hesiod14 (Theog.410 ff.), Hecaté is well nigh the most powerful of all the gods, for she has prerogatives in heaven, on the earth, and in the ocean. Although she is described as the daughter of Asteria (Stars, i.e. Heaven) and Perses15 (Destroyer), Hesiod speaks of her with great praise. She gives great honor and wealth to those whom she favors, and in battle she gives victory to whom she will. In the ocean she raises great waves or makes them smooth. She attends all births. Of course, there is also the other side of favor, which is disfavor, that Hesiod wisely leaves unmentioned. When she gives victory, there are those who must receive defeat. If she smoothes the waves for some, she heaps the waters of the deeps upon others. If to some she gives an easy delivery, to others she brings harsh travail. If some are born with her good will, others are born with her ill will. This appears to be a case of ironic euphemism16, whereby Hesiod seeks to avert the wrath of Hecaté, speaking of her with laudatory phrases, in this case so excessive that they must be taken as flattery. Obviously, there is more to her than one would at first suspect. The daughter of Destruction ought to be more baleful. There is no explanation offered for the exceptional preferment that she receives from Zeus. In later times, to be sure, her darker side is evinced. Hecaté was the goddess of death, of necromancy, of the hounds of Hell17. Could this be the mother of Hecabe?

On the first glance, this etymological similarity seems to be a rather slender reed upon which to support the theory that Hecaté was the mother of Hecabe. One is inclined to treat such derivations with skepticism, and to look anywhere else for other, more promising subjects. If, however, we recall the earlier story cited by Pausanias concerning the town of Dyme in Achaia and its surprising Phrygian connection, then there is the possibility that we have come upon a real clue to the name of Hecabe's mother.

The Great Goddess and Hecaté

To recur to Pausanias: There was in Dyme a shrine to Athene and a very old statue. There was also a shrine to the mother of Dindyme and Attis, whose father was Phrygian. The story of Hermesianax took this Achaian Attis to Phrygia, where he died of a goring by a boar. Pausanias then enlarges on the episode by repeating a story that the Phrygians themselves told of the god Attis.

While sleeping, Zeus dropped his seed on the earth, which caused a dæmonic creature to spawn having both male and female organs. The creature was called Agdistis. The other gods castrated this creature, and an almond tree sprouted from the severed gonads (apparently from the place where they bled into the earth or whence they were buried). The almond tree already bore ripe nuts, and a daughter of the River Sangarios took some of them and placed them in her bodice, causing her to be impregnated. The child Attis was born and abandoned or exposed, but he was cared for by an he-goat. (At this point in the story something has obviously been omitted, probably the adoption of the child by the goatherd and his wife.) Attis grew up to be inhumanly beautiful, and Agdistis fell madly in love with him. (Agdistis was at this time only female.) However, the boy's family (hence the conjectural adoption) sent him away to be married at Pessinous. Agdistis followed and interrupted the marriage ceremony, driving the wedding party mad and causing the unlucky boy and his prospective father-in-law to emasculate themselves and die. Agdistis repented of the crime, and Zeus granted that the body of Attis would never corrupt.

This is a fairly confused version of the basic Cybele and Attis story. In other versions the character Agdistis is called Atargatis (an Astarte) or Magdistis or something similar. Most of the stories contain the impregnation by almond. The site, always near Pessinous, where Cybele had her principal temple, is sometimes Dindymon and sometimes Ida. The name of the androgyne is formed on the basis of the Greek for "almond". The almond is chosen because it possesses both the male and female flowers on the same plant. The emasculation and death of the god and his eventual resurrection or transfiguration is the essence of the myth and is as old in literary form as the Sumerian tale of Inanna and Dumuzi, and is repeated in virtually every Mediterranean culture. The Great Goddess or Mother of the Gods is variously named Ishtar, Astarte, Cybele, Rhea, Mênê, Isis, and Hecaté, while Attis is known as Tammuz, Adonis, Adoon, and Osiris. It is in the form of Hecaté, of course, that we are now interested.

The goddess, who transformed Lucius18 into an ass for his impious invasion of her secrets and who then reformed him, was considered the mistress of witches. In addition to being equated with the orgiastic Phrygian Great Goddess, Cybele and with her Semitic counterpart Astarte, she later was regarded as Selene, an aspect of Artemis, the triple goddess. (Selene is also called Mênê, as is attested in Athenaeus.) One re-telling of the legend of Iphigenia, who had been sacrificed by Agamemnon to ensure the safe passage of the Greek fleet to Troy, said that she had actually been saved by Artemis (another aspect of the Triple Goddess, to whom she had been offered), who transported her to the Tauric Chersonese and translated her into Hecaté (Hesiod). Another legend made Hecaté wife of Aeètes the cruel King of Colchis and mother of Medea, Circe, and Aegialeus. She was reputed to have discovered many powerful poisons and medicinal concoctions, including aconite (wolfbane), which she extracted from the plants that grew, according Pliny, near the entrance to Tartarus in the vicinity of Heraclea on the Euxine. Her secrets she passed to her daughters, with the known deadly results. The cutting into pieces of Aeètes' son by Medea is proof enough that Cybele was present in some form. (Of course, both stories cannot be true. If she were really Iphigenia, then she could bot have been the mother of Medea: the timing is wrong. Medea was fully grown when Jason and the Argo reached Colchis, which was long before the beginning of the Trojan War.) Only the identification of Hecaté with the Great Mother can explain why the younger goddess had such broad and pervasive powers. The cults of Dionysus and of Cybele are drawn together with that demonstration of the identity of Hecaté and Cybele.

There are many corresponding traits in the cults of Cybele and Attis and Dionysus. Both were distinguished by orgiastic and enthusiastic rites in which the devotees (Corybantes of Cybele and the Bacchantes of Dionysus) offered their own blood and the blood of ritualistically dismembered victims to their deity. Dionysus was said to have been rent into pieces in much the same manner as Attis and Osiris, and as was Orpheus, who was credited with establishing the Dionysisac mysteries. Osiris, Attis and Dionysus were vegetation gods. All were resurrected by the Great Mother.

All things taken together, it is clear that the Gordian dynasty must have been devoted to the older chthonic religion of Cybele and Attis, and that Midas, when he became king, took over the inspired rites of the older cult and associated them with his own tutelary god, Dionysus, thereby uniting the worship of two powerful deities in his behalf. It was from this unified cultic background that the titles Dymas and Chisseos grew inextricably together, the titles of the older dynasty being subsumed by the titles of the new . Evidently, in the time of Homer, the older form of address (Dymas) was still used to designate the Phrygian monarch, but, by the time of Euripides, the newer form (Cisseos) had been established, but both were applicable to the same person and may have been used interchangeably or concatenated.

A plausible answer

There is, therefore, abundant evidence that both the Cult of the Great Mother and the Cult of Dionysus were involved in the Phrygian monarchy of the successors of Midas. Having come this far, can we now be certain that we can give a name to Hecabe's mother? It seems quite probable that Hecaté, either the mortal or the immortal, was the benefactress of Hecabe's family, especially if we accept one report that Midas was said to be the son of Gordios and Cybele. While this last may be only a poetic or political fabrication, it is conceivable that, just as the Kings of Phrygia were called Cisseos, the Queens of Phrygia were styled Hecaté, and that the political marriage of Midas ( or Dymas) to Hecaté (or Dindyme) was a metaphoric cultic marriage of the Great Goddess Cybele with the Greek god Dionysus. The mother of Hecuba, therefore, could be called Hecaté or Cybele or even Rhea, depending upon the nation telling her story. The answer for Tiberius, according this theory, would have been Rhea. (This is convenient, because Rhea Silvia, priestess of Vesta, was the mother of Romulus and Remus, and the death of Remus was undoubtedly the Latin version of the death of Attis.)


Why do we hesitate to affirm this theory? There are a number of reasons to suspect that it is in error. First, it is too readily developed. If the question could have been answered by merely noting the similarity between Hecabe and Hecaté, then Tiberius would not have asked it. He delighted in recondite matters, and the evidence that we have examined, though not common knowledge today, would have been known to every casual student of the myths, and would have been dismissed as elementary by the Emperor and his table guests. They would have been aware of stories now lost and of connections now broken by time that are to us invisible. Second, there is the matter of Hecabe's ultimate fate. In Euripides's play and in accepted tradition, it is said that final insults to Hecabe are the foreknowledge that her daughter Cassandra will be murdered by Clytemnestra and that she herself will be turned into a bitch and buried in a tomb that shall forever after be called the Bitch's Tomb. The bitch was a familiar creature of Hecaté, so that it may seem but further confirmation that Hecabe was the daughter of the goddess, who transformed her in the extremity of her torment to render her insensible of the anguish of her situation. However, it is stated that this is not a rescue but a final and crushing insult. It is possible that the mythographers had misconstrued the intent, but that seems unlikely, since the precedents for such metamorphoses were so clear. In every other instance, transformation is a method of escape. In the more pristinely preserved myths, the device is obvious, as in the story of Peleus and Thetis or of Proteus. In later tellings, the device is used as a release, as in the stories of Daphne or Tithonus, but nowhere is it an affront or punishment. For Adonis, even for Narcissus, the change is effected to immortalize or preserve the life of the protagonist. It is difficult to see how the formula could have been misread in this one instance. We must, therefore, accept that the transformation of Hecabe was meant to punish not to preserve. Certainly, she herself regarded it thus, which is sufficient. This is an insuperable obstacle to the acceptance of the conclusion that Hecaté was Hecabe's mother. The resemblance between the names Hecabe and Hecaté must be a red herring. Undoubtedly, many, who when asked the question by Tiberius, fell into the trap that had been prepared for them. One can easily imagine that he listened with patient attention to their long elaborations over much the same material as we have educed and then handily and summarily refuted them.

Reassessing the evidence

What, then, are we to make of all the other evidence?What then would have been Tiberius' reply? Who was Hecabe's mother?

To answer the question, lets us first ask another: what crime had she or her family committed that should earn her such fearsome retribution? Or what woman in classical myth committed crimes so horrendous that they would stain her descendants through three generations with the guilt?

It must be remembered that all such classical stories of suffering had at their roots some horrible crime for which the atonement and punishment of the immediate criminal was deemed insufficient by the Fates and Nemesis. It was not enough to punish the murderer of Pelops19: the gods pursued his descendants down through Agamemnon and Menelaus even to their children. Guilt was a thing attached to a family until the gods were sated with their vengeance. To warrant such a terrible punishment as was meted out to Hecabe, who was the source of the destruction of her family, her country, and of so many innocent allies, the crime must have been as unprecedented as was the degree of severity of her sentence.

Supposing for the time that our previous speculations concerning the association of the Gordian-Midan dynasts to the cults of Cybele and of Dionysus were in the main correct, excepting only that Hecaté was not the mother of Hecuba, we are left with a solid foundation upon which to build our present speculative structure. The mother of Hecuba would have been, as we concluded, the Queen of Phrygia or a concubine of the King. She might even have possessed as a royal title the name Hecaté. But, just as Midas was a dynastic name and not a personal name of the King, so too would Hecaté have been a dynastic title and not a personal name for the Queen. At some point, this Queen must have committed a crime so heinous in the eyes of the gods that a curse was laid upon her and her kingdom that passed down through the generations even to her great grandchildren20, resulting not only in the end of her husband's line but in the destruction of his successor through marriage to Hecabe. There were two crimes that required such far-reaching penalties, homicide and impiety.

Another indication that the guilt of some horrible crime followed the footsteps of Hecabe is the change of names of Alexander and Podarces. In ancient myth as in modern day real life, persons hoping to escape the consequences of their crimes changed their names. All great criminals, which is to say homicides or the impious, were pursued by a Nemesis, a kind of personal bounty hunter or heavenly process-server, whose duty it was to apprehend the criminal and to serve the warrant by which punishment was to be administered by the accompanying Fury. It was thought that by fleeing to another land and changing one's name, the Nemesis could be thrown off the trail, as a bloodhound might be diverted from the scent of the fugitive by passage over or through water. While this might have a temporary effect, it was never a permanent solution. Divine justice always prevailed, however long it might be delayed. In this instance, the members of her family have taken the prophylactic measure of changing their names to escape any Nemesis that might be stalking Hecabe. At any rate, we have to look for some woman who committed a terrible crime and who fled to Phrygia and was able to marry the King.

Evidently, only a well-born woman would be suitable for the King of Phrygia. She must have been a woman of great personal qualities as well, qualities that would overshadow the crimes that she had committed, that would argue to a great monarch to receive her when she brought with her no dowry and no honor. Perhaps she was even a pitiable figure, having been wronged greatly. And, as a matter of practicality, she must have been a woman whose history fit into the timeline defined by the length of Priam's lifetime, beginning roughly from the period of the Argonauts. The answer ought to be obvious. Who was the great female figure from the period of the Argonauts who had committed great crimes, who had suffered greatly, and who had great personal qualities?

An unexpected mother

Medea was the mother of Hecabe.

Medea, we are told, abetted Jason and his companions in their numerous murders , was the genius of the patricide of Pelias by his daughters, and later committed murders of her own, including those of Creon King of Corinth, of Glaucé his daughter, and of her own children by Jason, Alcimenes and Tisandrus. Her desertion by Jason was universally regarded as unjust and impious, for he had taken the names of the gods in vain when he put her aside21. She had, thereafter, sought refuge with Herakles in Thebes, who had promised, as the arbiter of the oath, to protect her if ever she were in need. When Herakles had the Labors laid upon him by Eurystheus, she went from city to city, staying briefly with Aegeus in Athens where, before being expelled on the accusation of attempting to poison Theseus, she bore Aegeus a son22. After this, she went, according Diodorus (Hist. 54-56), to Phoenicia and thence into the interior of Asia where she married a "certain king".

Medea was wise in council, learned, of an indomitable spirit, quick, faithful, and beautiful. She was of a noble house, being descended from Helios. She had suffered greatly and been greatly wronged. She had committed great crimes. She was, in addition, the daughter of Hecaté. And her life fitted very well with the timeline of Priam's lifetime. In every particular she answers to the criteria. There is no doubt that she could have persuaded the King of Phrygia to give her sanctuary. He was powerful enough that he need not fear the Corinthians or the Athenians, the wrath of whom had prevented other states from granting her safe harbor. Besides, the King of Phrygia was under a special obligation to the Great Goddess and would have been compelled to take her daughter under his protection. If, for example, she had gone to Pessinous, the center of the cult of the Goddess, and begged for sanctuary in the goddess' temple, naming herself as the daughter of Hecaté, the King would have had no option but to accept her. And, being in her company, he could not fail to be impressed by her. It is easy to imagine that she became his concubine or Queen and bore him Hecabe. It is also easy to see that Hecabe would have carried with her the stain of the guilt of the various murders committed by her mother and for which she later suffered to expiate. The murders and deaths in battle of Hecabe's children are especially convincing evidence of the Nemesis of Medea at work, for there could be no more apt punishment for Medea's infanticides. The transformation of Hecabe into the bitch is also a fitting punishment, for she would then join her grandmother Hecaté's black hounds and be forced to attend the births and deaths of children into eternity, ever reminding her of the crimes of her mother. Lastly, it is exactly the sort of answer that Tiberius would have approved. It side-steps the deadfall which would have been activated by the equation of Hecabe to Hecaté, while following up on the clew that that similarity suggests. There is every reason to think that it is the correct answer.

Next Question



1 Flavius Arrianus Xenophon, born ca. A.D. 90 in Nicomedia, died ca.180 in Athens. Roman civil servant (Consul A.D.130, afterwards Governor of Cappadocia.) and author of numerous works, including The Campaigns of Alexander.  Knots were considered to have magical properties that could stop the flow of force from a person or impede the influx of luck. They could also delay delivery of a woman in labor. Back to Text.

2 Gaius Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Elder), A.D. 23 - 79, from Como, Gaul. Educated in Rome, served in Germania as a cavalry officer, after which he studied law, was appointed Procurator of Spain, and lastly Prefect of the Fleet at Misenum near Naples, to which post he was elevated by Vespasian, a friend from his military days on the frontier. He was also the author of numerous works of history and rhetoric, none of which survive, and of the Natural History, an encyclopaedic composition in 37 books, in which he collected the scientific knowledge of his time. Science being then in its infancy, the work places fact and observation upon the same footing of credibility as report and rumor, with the result being a rather uneven mixture of fancy and perspicuity. In general, he was a critical, even skeptical author, but he was ready to admit the fabulous if he had received it from a "good" authority. It did not seem to occur to him that even persons of good sense and responsible position might be credulous. It was while attempting to rescue survivors, who had fled to the beaches, and to gather first-hand knowledge during the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79, that he landed a ship at Stabiae and was killed by the toxic vapors. He was the uncle and adoptive father of Gaius Plinius Luci Caecilius Secundus, Pliny the Younger. Back to Text.

3 The Greek name for the Mother Goddess or Great Goddess, known by various names in Asia. Back to Text.

4 Lucian (Greek satirist ca. A.D.120-190 of Samosata, Syria) records in The Goddess of Syria that the Adoon in Lebanon yearly ran red in memory of Adonis who was slain by the boar in that land. Sangarios had generally a bloody repute, for it was also the locale of the slaying of a giant serpent by Herakles. Zeus commemorated the event by placing the constellation Ophiochus in the heavens. Back to Text.

5 Nonnos, Egyptian-Greek, ca. A.D. Fifth Century, author in Greek of a long poem, Dionysiaca, epitomizing in epic form almost all of ancient mythology, quite apart from the story of Dionysus. Back to Text.

6 It is reported by Strabo that, according to Hesiod, Coronis, who lived "hard by Amyrus, rich in grapes", on the Dotian Plain (Magnesia) by Didymous (Twin Hills), bore the Graces (or Muses) to Dionysus. There was an ancient town called Amyron near the headwaters of the Sangarios in Phrygia, and Mt. Dindymon was not far. It is also told that a maid named Coronis coupled with Apollo, who helped Poseidon build the walls of Troy. A temple to Apollo existed in Didymi near Miletus on the southwest coast of Phrygia, south of Ephesus. Apollo, like Ares, often shared mythological attributes with Dionysus. Back to Text.

7 Diodorus Siculus (the Sicilian) ca. 80-20 B.C., Greek author of The Library of History, a compendious narrative of Antique History in 40 books, less than half of which survive. He integrated myth with history, rationalizing mythology as a record of human deeds. Back to Text.

8 Pausanias, Ionian Greek of the early-middle A.D. Second Century, (thus a contemporary of Arrian, Pliny the Younger, and Hadrian), author of a Guide to Greece, a travel book noting the principal sites in mainland Greece and the legends attached to them.  Back to Text.

9 Ares and Dionysus are easily interchanged. Ares was originally a vegetation god such as Dionysus before becoming Greek god of war.  Back to Text.

10 Apollodorus or Pseudo-Apollodorus, possibly Second Century B.C. Athenian. Greek author of the The Library, a prose compilation of Greek Myths drawn from many sources.  Back to Text.

11 Apollonius Rhodius (the Rhodian), Alexandrian, late Third and Early Second Century B.C. Pupil of the poet Callimachus, Librarian of the Alexandrian Library, whom he later succeeded. Author in Greek of the epic Argonautica, relating the story of Jason's quest with the greatest heroes of Greece, including Herakles, for the Golden Fleece and the tragic romance between Jason and Medea of Colchis. Apollonius quarrelled publicly with Callimachus over the epic and removed himself to Rhodes, where the poem gained great success. He was given the honor of honorary Rhodian citizenship for his literary achievement. He afterward returned to Alexandria.  Back to Text.

12 Gaius Valerius Flaccus, late A.D. First Century, Latin poet, author of the incomplete epic Argonautica upon the same subject as the epic of Apollonius Rhodius (q.v.above). The poem exists in eight books, with tradition stating that the remaining, unwritten books perished with the poet, who died sometime prior to A.D. 93. He was contemporary to both Pliny the Elder and Suetonius. Back to Text.

13 The usual derivation is from "HEKAS" the word for "Far" or "Distant".  Back to Text.

14 Hesiod, Greek poet from Cyme in Ionian Greece, of unknown dates, but assumed anciently to be a contemporary of Homer (Eighth Century B.C.). Moved early in life to Boeotia in Central Greece, where he was a farmer, until called  to Poetry by the Muses on Mt. Helicon. Author of Theogeny, the story of the creation of the Greek gods, and Works and Days, a poetical book of agricultural lore and advice. Also thought to have written certain Homeric Hymns to the gods. Primary source for Greek myth. Back to Text. 

15 There was a Cappadocian and Cilician goddess named Perasia or Artemis Perasia, whose rites were basically the same as those of the Great Goddess. Perhaps the title harks back to Perses. It is an interesting coincidence, to say the least, that Hesiod's prodigal brother, who allegedly had stolen from Hesiod his rightful portion of their patrimony, was named Perses. Back to Text.

16 It was common practice to avoid using the name of a possibly dangerous spiritual being, lest that being be summoned to one's own destruction. The sense is continued in the later phrase "Speak of the Devil, and there he is." Similarly, it was customary to "speak well of the dead", lest they take offense and work some mischief upon their denigrator. See also the relevant passages in the discussions of the maidenly name of Achilles, the song of the Sirens, and the secret name of Rome. Back to Text.

17 It is interesting that Hecaté was, in northern myth, sometimes thought to be the mother of Hel, the Goddess or Angel of Death. The interior of Anatolia was conquered by Gauls who had been driven from mainland Greece. It is possible, therefore, that the Gauls found a resemblance between the local god Attis and their own Balder, and they very naturally took Cybele to be none other than Hecaté. Most accounts make the Giantess Angabroda the mother of Hel, and Fenris Wolf. Hel was represented pictorially as being longitudinally half white and half black, a curious dichotomy that reflects a double nature.

Hecaté is sometimes represented as having the heads of the cultic animals the horse, the lion, and the dog. The horse is the Nightmare, the steed upon which Death rides and which prefigures death in night terrors. The Lion is the beast that draws the Car of Cybele or upholds her throne. The Dog is the Hound of Artemis, that leads the Hunt and rends the body of the vegetation god. The story of Diana and Actaeon is illustrative, wherein the dogs betray their true allegiance. Back to Text.

18 Lucius, the protagonist of the picaresque tale Lucius or The Ass, extant in two forms, in Latin, The Metamorphosis of Lucius Apuleius, commonly known as The Golden Ass, and in Greek by Lucian, which is generally regarded as a redaction of the original work of Lucian or of another original story which was also the model for the work by Apuleius. Apuleius (b. A.D. 125) was a sophist from Madaura in Africa, from which he is sometimes given the cognomen Africanus.  Besides the adventure story, the book contains what is probably the earliest romantic, allegorical fairy tale, Cupid and Psyche. There is also a genuinely moving religious epiphany of Isis, the Great Goddess. The Magna Mater was worshipped in Rome, the first Asian goddess admitted to the Roman pantheon (not counting Aphrodite who had become thorughly Hellenized). She was brought to Rome to help the descendants of Æneas win the Punic Wars. Her icon, apparently an aerolite of the kind typically worshipped among ancient peoples (The Kaaba, the holiest site in Islam, is built around one such black meteroite.), was placed in a barge and ferried to Ostia. When her barge became stiuck on a mud flat or sand bar at the mouth of the Tiber, Claudia Quinta, an ancestor of Tiberius, who, because she liked cosmetics and fashionable dress had been slandered by the Romans as a wanton, prayed to the goddess to allow her to draw the barge off the shoal only if she were chaste. She then single-handedly succeeded, where teams of men had failed, thereby proving her rectitude. This was April 204 B.C. Her temple was dedicated in 191, rebuilt in 111, and restored in A.D. 3. The sanctioned worship of Isis did not come to Rome until much later under Caligula. Back to Text.

19 Tantalus, his father, who cut Pelops into pieces and served him to the gods in a stew. The victim was later restored in the expected manner, by cooking him in the same pot. This is a recipe used in many stories, including that of Medea. Tantalus was punished in Tartarus by being suspended for eternity from a fruit tree, the fruit of which he could not reach, above a pool of water that retreated from him whenever he stooped to drink. Back to Text.

20 Astyanax, the infant son of Hector by Andromache, was hurled from the battlements of Troy in order to eradicate the entire male line of Priam so that no warrior might arise who could seek retribution for the sack of the city. Back to Text.

21 Jason had sworn by the names of all the gods to keep Medea as his wife for as long as he lived, if she would agree to help him obtain the Golden Fleece. When he broke that oath, he committed an affront to the gods whom he had called to witness the oath, the greatest of all crimes. Back to Text.

22 Medus, (or Medeus) whom she took in her flight from Athens and who, supposedly, became the founder of the Medians. His father could also have been that "certain" Asian king whom Medea was said to have married, but one supposes that the King of Phrygia had adopted him, as Midas had been adopted by Gordios. It is not necessary to suppose that Medus would have been eligible to succeed him, however. One supposes that Medus was sent as general of a military expedition to conquer or quell the people who were later to bear his name and that he decided to remain among them, first as military governor and later as king in his own right. Back to Text.