Guide Women and Weasels: Mythologies of Birth in Ancient Greece and Rome

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Given the circumstances, we can imagine that Iole might have preferred a happier story, but Alcmene has decided to relate her own horrifying experiences as an expectant mother, hoping that Iole will not suffer the same fate:. May the gods be kind to you at least and curtail delay when your time comes and you call on Eileithyia, the goddess who watches over fearful mothers-to-be.

The will of Juno turned this goddess against me, for when the birthday of labor-enduring Hercules was at hand and I had been pregnant for nine months, my womb was heavy, and what I bore was so large that you could tell that the father of my concealed burden was Jupiter. I was no longer able to endure the labor pains—indeed, even now, as I speak, a chilling horror runs through my limbs and just remembering it is almost as painful.

For seven nights and as many days I was tortured, and exhausted by my labors and lifting my arms to heaven I called upon Lucina and the matched gods, the Nixi, with a great shout. Lucina did come, but she had been turned against me and intended to give my life to wicked Juno. And when she heard my groans she sat down on that altar there, near the door, and crossed her left knee over her right and interlaced her fingers, and in that way she prevented me from giving birth.

Silently she chanted spells, too, and the spells held back the delivery that had already begun. I struggle and in a frenzy make useless complaints to an indifferent Jupiter. I want to die and my wailing would have moved unfeeling stone. The Theban women stand by me and make vows and encourage me in my agony. One of the helpers una ministrarum came to me, a woman from the people, Galanthis with the fair hair, who carried out orders with zeal and was beloved for her services.

She realized that something was happening because of wicked Juno. While frequently going in and out of the room she saw the goddess sitting on the altar holding her arms around her knees with her fingers interlocked. They say that Galanthis laughed since she had deceived a god, but the cruel goddess pulled her, still laughing, down to the ground by the hair and restrained her as she tried to lift her body up: the goddess changed her arms into forelegs. Her old zeal remains, and her hide did not lose its color, but her shape is different from before, and, because she used her deceitful mouth to help a woman give birth, she gives birth through her mouth, and she still inhabits our homes, as she also did before.

There is some sense of setting in this version of the story—Ovid's Alcmene tells us that there was an altar where Lucina sat with her legs crossed, and a door through which Galanthis went "in and out" of the house—but there is no sense here of the mysterious "apport," the material traces left behind by a mythical event. Unlike Pausanias, Ovid was not lucky enough to have visited the ruins of Alcmene's house at Thebes. He was not a traveler, but a poet, and thanks to the power of his poetry we now have before us a version of the story in which the point of view has changed radically, turning it into a story among women: Alcmene herself is shown telling the story of her adventures to her daughter-in-law Iole, making the myth of Alcmene into a story told by one woman to another.

In this sense, Ovid's version of the story is utterly unlike the version in Homer with which we began, which was pervaded by a thoroughly masculine silence regarding the experience of childbirth a topic to which we will return. Ovid's version of the story is especially rich in details that will be important to the general themes of this book.

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For example, we now know just how it was that Hera and her accomplices were able to prevent Alcmene from giving birth: it was enough for somebody to cross her legs, clasp her hands, and place those clasped hands over the knee that was not already blocked to condemn Alcmene to the agony of a seemingly endless labor, "for seven nights and as many days Lucina is acting here just like a witch, making gestures that "bind" the woman in labor and pronouncing incantations that prevent the completion of the birth.

Like any good midwife, this goddess of childbirth reveals herself to be an expert in the power of magic formulas and spells—it is simply a matter of whether that power is turned to good ends or bad ends. In another episode in Ovid's Metamorphoses , Lucina behaves in an altogether more benevolent fashion, using her knowledge of magic charms to bring about a baby's safe delivery, even if she is not able to save the mother's life.

Myrrha had already been turned irreversibly into a tree and was struggling to give birth to baby Adonis when Lucina came to the rescue: "Gentle Lucina stood by the branches of the suffering tree, applied her hands and spoke the verba puerpera , the words spoken to women in labor. In this case, the goddess Lucina was mitis , gentle, whereas she treated Alcmene cruelly, saeva , because in that case she had been corrupted, praecorrupta , by Juno.

In order to rescue the baby Adonis, Lucina turned her magical formulas to good purposes, and instead of placing her clasped hands in a hostile gesture atop her crossed knees, she came close to Myrrha and laid her hands on the suffering mother, which is presumably what is supposed to happen when the goddess comes to protect and assist the woman in labor. Geometric designs on pottery of the eighth century BC depict scenes from the Trojan cycle as well as the adventures of Heracles.

In the succeeding Archaic and Hellenistic periods and various other mythological scenes appear, supplementing the existing literary evidence. Greek mythology has had an extensive influence on the culture and literature of Western civilization and remains part of Western heritage and language. Poets and artists from ancient times to the present have derived inspiration from Greek mythology and have discovered contemporary significance and relevance in the themes. Greek mythology is known today from Greek literature and representations on visual media dating from the Geometric period from c.

In fact and archaeological sources integrate, sometimes mutually supportive and sometimes in conflict. Mythical narration plays an important role in nearly every genre of Greek literature.

The only general mythographical handbook to survive from Greek antiquity was the Library of Pseudo-Apollodorus ; this work attempts to reconcile the contradictory tales of the poets and provides a grand summary of traditional Greek mythology and heroic legends. Apollodorus of Athens wrote on many of these topics, his writings may have formed the basis for the collection.

Among the earliest literary sources are the Iliad and the Odyssey. Other poets completed the "epic cycle", but these and lesser poems now are lost entirely. Despite their traditional name, the "Homeric Hymns" have no direct connection with Homer , they are choral hymns from the earlier part of the so-called Lyric age.

Hesiod, a possible contemporary with Homer, offers in his Theogony the fullest account of the earliest Greek myths, dealing with the creation of the world. Hesiod's Works and Days, a didactic poem about farming life includes the myths of Prometheus and the Five Ages. The poet gives advice on the best way to succeed in a dangerous world, rendered yet more dangerous by its gods. Lyrical poets took their subjects from myth, but their treatment became less narrative and more allusive. Greek lyric poets, including Pindar and Simonides , bucolic poets such as Theocritus and Bion, relate individual mythological incidents.

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Additionally, myth was central to classical Athenian drama; the tragic playwrights Aeschylus and Euripides took most of their plots from myths of the age of heroes and the Trojan War. Many of the great tragic stories took on their classic form in these tragedies; the comic playwright Aristophanes used myths, in The Birds and The Frogs. Historians Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus , geographers Pausanias and Strabo , who traveled throughout the Greek world and noted the stories they heard, supplied numerous local myths and legends giving little-known alternative versions.

Herodotus in particular, searched the various traditions presented him and found the historical or mythological roots in the confrontation between Greece and the East. Herodotus attempted to reconcile the blending of differing cultural concepts. The poetry of the Hellenistic and Roman ages was composed as a literary rather than cultic exercise, it contains many important details that would otherwise be lost. Prose writers from the same periods who make reference to myths includ.

Cultural depictions of weasels Weasels are mammals belonging to the family Mustelidae and the genus Mustela , which includes stoats , least weasels and minks, among others.

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Different species of weasel have lived alongside humans on every continent except Antarctica and Australia , have been assigned a wide range of folkloric and mythical meanings. Weasels were seen as pests in Ancient Greece and Rome. There are more modern claims that the Ancient Greeks and Romans kept weasels as house pets, but they are unsupported by historical sources. Plutarch and Cicero both refer to weasels as household pests in their writing, they were thought to have anti-venom properties: Pliny the Elder details a recipe for an antidote for asp venom made from crushed weasels, writes about a least weasel slaying a basilisk in his Natural History:To this dreadful monster the effluvium of the weasel is fatal, a thing, tried with success, for kings have desired to see its body when killed.

The animal is thrown into the hole of the basilisk, known from the soil around it being infected. In Shin'etsu, there is a folk belief that one could encounter a kamaitaichi by stepping on a calendar; the wounds received from a kamaitachi are deep.

In China , it is considered bad luck to kill a weasel, as they're said to be wandering spirits that can steal and replace people's souls. The ermine was seen as a symbol of purity, for the belief that it would rather die than dirty its white fur: if hunters were chasing it, it would turn around and surrender rather than risk soiling itself.


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Because of this association, ermine fur had been used in heraldry , as a trim on crowns and coronation cloaks, on the garments of prelates of the Catholic Church for hundreds of years; the ermine is the national symbol of Brittany , the Breton flag has an ermine canton. A wedding custom dictates: Therefore, in the house where these are collected and honey are put out to appease her, known as'the necessary spoonfuls,' and a song is sung with much ceremony in which the weasel is invited to partake and spare the wedding array.

In Macedonia , another folk tale posits that if a woman gets a headache after washing her hair with water drawn overnight, it was because a weasel used the water as a mirror. She should refrain from saying the name of the weasel aloud, or it will cause the household's clothing to decay. An ermine was used as a symbol of moderation by Leonardo da Vinci in his painting Lady with an Ermine.

Ermines were used to symbolize pregnancy in Renaissance-era Italy. In Ireland , stoats were thought to behave like humans who had family structures and rituals for the dead. Seeing a stoat at the beginning of a journey was considered bad luck unless you greeted the animal as a neighbor. In 17th century England , weasels were believed to be the familiars of witches; the folklore of several tribes mentions weasels. They are variably depicted depending on the region.

The Shoshone and Paiute describe the weasel as a trickster spirit, the Abenaki and Tlingit associated them with sorcery , while the Anishinaabe associated them with healing and used their pelts for medicine bags. A Chippewa myth details how a least weasel killed a wendigo giant by climbing up its anus and sickening it. Inuit mythology describes weasels as brave. One story describes a hero who would choose to transform into a least weasel when he had to accomplish a task demanding bravery.

In Brian Jacques ' Redwall series of books, weasels are depicted as villainous , living in and leading vermin hordes. In a photograph of a least weasel'riding' on a woodpecker's back went viral; as explained by wildlife experts, the weasel was attacking the woodpecker as prey. Weasel, a smart, successful weasel, was the title character of I Am Weasel , a series of 7 minute animated shorts for Cartoon Network that ran from , he was voiced by Michael Dorn. Long-tailed weasel The long-tailed weasel known as the bridled weasel or big stoat , is a species of mustelid distributed from southern Canada throughout all the United States and Mexico , southward through all of Central America and into northern South America.

It is distinct from the short-tailed weasel known as a "stoat", a close relation which originated in Eurasia and crossed into North America some half million years ago; the long-tailed weasel is the product of a process begun 5—7 million years ago, when northern forests were replaced by open grassland , thus prompting an explosive evolution of small, burrowing rodents. The long-tailed weasel's ancestors were larger than the current form, underwent a reduction in size to exploit the new food source; the long-tailed weasel arose in North America 2 million years ago, shortly before the stoat evolved as its mirror image in Eurasia.

The species thrived during the Ice Age , as its small size and long body allowed it to operate beneath snow, as well as hunt in burrows. The long-tailed weasel and the stoat remained separated until half a million years ago, when falling sea levels exposed the Bering land bridge , thus allowing the stoat to cross into North America. However, unlike the latter species, the long-tailed weasel never crossed the land bridge, did not spread into Eurasia; the long-tailed weasel is one of the larger members of the genus Mustela in North America.

A third states they range from 11 to 22 inches in length, with the tail measuring an additional 3 to 6 inches, it maintains the long-tailed weasel weighs between 3 and 9 ounces with males being about twice as large as the females. The eyes are glow bright emerald green when caught in a spotlight at night. The dorsal fur is brown in summer, while the underparts are whitish and tinged with yellowish or buffy brown from the chin to the inguinal region; the tail has a distinct black tip.

Long-tailed weasels in Florida and the southwestern US may have facial markings of a white or yellowish colour. In northern areas in winter, the long-tailed weasel's fur becomes white, sometimes with yellow tints, but the tail retains its black tip; the long-tailed weasel moults twice once in autumn and once in spring. Each moult is governed by day length and mediated by the pituitary gland. Unlike the stoat, whose soles are thickly furred all year, the long-tailed weasel's soles are naked in summer; the long-tailed weasel has well-developed anal scent glands, which produce a musky odour.

Women & Weasels: Mythologies of Birth in Ancient Greece and Rome

Unlike skunks, which spray their musk, the long-tailed weasel drags and rubs its body over surfaces in order to leave the scent, to mark their territory and, when startled or threatened, to discourage predators. The long-tailed weasel mates in July—August, with implantation of the fertilized egg on the uterine wall being delayed until about March.

The gestation period lasts 10 months, with actual embryonic development taking place only during the last four weeks of this period, an adaptation to timing births for spring, when small mammals are abundant. Litter size consists of 5—8 kits, which are born in April—May; the kits are born naked and weighing 3 grams, about the same weight of a hummingbird.

The long-tailed weasel's growth rate is rapid, as by the age of three weeks, the kits are well furred, can crawl outside the nest and eat meat. At this time, the kits weigh 21—27 grams. At five weeks of age, the kit's eyes open, the young become physically active and vocal. Weaning begins at this stage, with the kits emerging from the nest and accompanying the mother in hunting trips a week later; the kits are grown by autumn, at which time the family disbands.

The females are able to breed at 3—4 months of age, while males become sexually mature at 15—18 months. The long-tailed weasel dens under stumps or beneath rock piles. It does not dig its own burrows, but uses abandoned chipmunk holes; the 22—30 cm diameter nest chamber is situated around 60 cm from the burrow entrance, is lined with straw and the fur of prey. The long-tailed weasel is a fearless and aggressive hunter which may attack animals far larger than itself; when stalking, it waves its head from side to side.

It kills them with one bite to the head. With large prey, such as rabbits, the long-tailed weasel strikes taking its prey off guard, it grabs the nearest part of the animal and climbs upon its body, maintaining its hold with its feet. The long-tailed weasel manoeuvres itself to inflict a lethal bite to the neck; the long-tailed weasel is an obligate carnivore which prefers its prey to be fresh or alive, eating only the carrion stored within its burrows.

Rodents are exclusively taken when they are available, its primary prey consists of mice, squirrels, shrews and rabbits. It may eat small birds, bird eggs, amphibians, fish and some insects. The species has been observed to take bats from nursery colonies. It surplus kills in spring when the kits are being fed, again in autumn; some of the surplus kills may be cached, but are left uneaten. His most famous work was a representation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen made in , he designed the suite of tapestries of the four contintents.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Galanthis Cultural depictions of weasels. Category:Weasels Category:Fictional weasels. European polecat. Related Images. YouTube Videos. Temple to Heracles in Agrigento , Sicily , Italy. Brand new: lowest price The lowest-priced, brand-new, unused, unopened, undamaged item in its original packaging where packaging is applicable. International delivery varies by country, please see the Wordery store help page for details. Read full description. See details and exclusions.

Buy it now. Add to basket. Be the first to write a review About this product. About this product Product Information The connection between women and weasels is an ancient and favorable one, based in the Greek myth of a midwife who tricked the gods to ease Heracles' birth - and was turned into a weasel by Hera as punishment. With various symbolic associations between weasels and women, the author brings to life one of the most enduring myths of Western culture.