Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A (slightly disorganized) Tale of Two Fathers

NaNoWriMo Wordcount Update: 

15031 / 50000 words. 30% done!

Remember that show, My Two Dads?

Yeah, I don't really remember it either. But today I was surfing through Plutarch's Theseus, skimming for reference to the Helen abduction, and, yes, I'll admit it, reading Theseus's entry in Wikipedia, (in my defense I also read about him in Apollodorus) and I came across some things that hadn't fully sunk in before.

For instance: Theseus has two fathers. And he isn't the only Greek Hero suffering from a redundancy of dads.

To understand this, maybe I need to go into the philosophy a little bit. You see, back in the day, men in their infinite wisdom operated under the common misconception that women really weren't more than just an oven. The sperm did all the work of making a baby, and the wife contributed little if nothing at all to the resulting offspring, other than providing the space for incubation. I'm pretty sure that I read this from an excerpt attributed to Aristotle in my Women in History course in college, but I can't promise it so don't quote me. Anyway, semen was the provider of all...well, they didn't really consider it genetic material then, so lets say, life-forming matter. As a result of this understanding (Aristotle did write before Apollodorus, who is a major source for Theseus, and certainly long before Plutarch and Ovid), if a woman had intercourse with two men in the same day, or the same night, the child born COULD be a mix of those two men--fathered by both.

We see the Dual-Dad syndrome in children born of the gods, pretty exclusively as far as I know, which is convenient because it relieves them of the burden of being illegitimate heirs. I have to admit, I'm not exactly sure what the lot of an illegitimate child was, but the fact that the children are labeled as such in works like The Iliad leads me to believe that they were probably not given the privileges of their legitimate brothers and sisters. Certainly Hera had no love for Zeus's bastard children, and legitimacy seems at the very least to be required of one who will inherit any kind of land, wealth, or kingdom.

Theseus, for example, is the son both of Poseidon and Aegeus, because his mother Aethra had sex with both of them on the same night. Apparently neither Aegeus, nor Aethra had any problem with this. (Pirithous also seems like he'd have been an ideal candidate for Dual-fathering, as another great Hero and friend of Theseus, but I'm not sure what his parentage is yet, outside possibly having been fathered by Zeus.)

Helen, too, is a product of this same kind of situation. Leda, her mother, was raped/seduced by Zeus (as a swan, or a goose, or something similar) and then had intercourse with her husband Tyndareus the same night. This resulted in the fabled Egg, from which Helen was born, and also, so it seems, Helen's brothers, Castor and Pollux/Polydeuces, and her sister Clytemnestra. Accounts vary, of course. Some say that it was only Helen born of that particular union, and others say that all four were born. An earlier story names Helen as only the adopted daughter of Leda, born of an egg birthed by Nemesis that was left with her to protect. But all of this aside, there are enough sources that make Pollux/Polydeuces and Helen mixed blood children of their two fathers, Zeus and Tyndareus, that it can't exactly be ignored. The other two children didn't luck out with the divine heritage, somehow.

In Heracles mythology, the story is slightly different. His mother is seduced by Zeus disguised as her husband, Amphitryon and then her husband actually returns later that night, resulting in twins. One mortal, one Hero/Demigod/Immortal. Heracles, however, is adopted by his father, again avoiding the shade of illegitimacy.

Helen's mythology with her siblings seems to be the bridging myth between these two different origins, which I find kind of fascinating in and of itself. There's so much to work with in these stories surrounding the Trojan war. I think I could probably research Helen for the rest of my life and still not learn everything there is to know, or understand all the nuances of the myths.

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