Thursday, June 24, 2021
Home Blog

The Rival Norwegian Bishop Sigurds At The Turn Of The 11th Century

During the last decade of the 10th century and the first decades of the 11th century, Norwegians must have been familiar with the name, Bishop Sigurd (or Sigurth). A bishop with that name was known to have traveled with King Olaf I Tryggvason of Norway (r. 995-1000). Snorri Sturluson (c. 1179-1241), an Icelandic scholar and saga writer, vividly narrated what it might have looked like to see this first of the Bishop Sigurds sailing with Olaf Tryggvason’s fleet. Snorri wrote, “Bishop Sigurth put on all his vestments and went forward to the prow of the king’s ship, and had tapers lit and incense borne. He set up a crucifix on the stern of the ship, read the gospel and many other prayers, and sprinkled holy water all over the ship” (Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla, Saga of Olaf Tryggvason, chapter 80). Such blessings and rituals, unfortunately, did not save Olaf Tryggvason from being killed at sea in the Battle of Svold (or Svolder) in the year 1000. No monarch immediately succeeded to the throne of Norway after King Olaf’s death, and during this regal vacancy there was a lapse in the power and prominence of the fledgling Norwegian church. Yet, a new claimant would soon take the Norwegian throne and he would align himself closely with the church.

Around 1015, a Norwegian nobleman named Olaf Haraldsson ended a career as a Viking and mercenary to return home to Norway, where he launched a bid for the throne. Through a mixture of persuading, bribing, exiling, killing and otherwise forcing into submission the regional chieftains and jarls of the Norwegian countryside, Olaf Haraldsson was able to have the realm largely under his control by 1016. As King Olaf II (r. 1015-1028), he made it his mission to continue spreading Christianity into holdout regions of the country that were still practicing the traditional Norse religion. It was not a purely spiritual crusade, however, for militantly spreading Christianity helped King Olaf to bolster his own authority as king and to eliminate powerful regional figures who happened to still follow the traditional gods. Nevertheless, Olaf’s alignment with the church was greatly appreciated by the faithful, and for his efforts King Olaf II was eventually renamed Saint Olaf.

As Saint Olaf’s national agenda often involved the church, it is no wonder that a bishop was brought into his inner circle at court. Once again, a (or perhaps the) Bishop Sigurd made a reappearance in the Norwegian royal entourage. Whether this was the earlier Bishop Sigurd or a new Bishop Sigurd, explicit explanations are scarce. Whatever the case, this Sigurd died during King Olaf II’s reign and was succeeded by a Bishop Grimkel. Interestingly, one more Bishop Sigurd would be appointed over Norway during the lifetime of King Olaf II. Yet, this last Sigurd was not set up by King Olaf.

Unfortunately for the saint-king, his throne in Norway was ultimately usurped by powerful Canute (or Knút) the Great, who had been the ruler of England since 1016, and king of Denmark since 1019. Olaf’s dethronement came in 1028, after Canute ramped up enough diplomatic and military pressure on the Norwegian king to force him to flee from his country. As the new ruler of Norway, Canute had the task of appointing new people to oversee the realm’s government and religion. Following the trend, King Canute chose another man named Sigurd (or Sigurth) to be Norway’s next bishop. These events were described by Snorri Sturluson, who wrote: “Knút the Powerful had subdued all of Norway and had set Earl Hákon to rule it. As bishop for his court he had given him a priest called Sigurth. He was of Danish origin and had long been with King Knút. The bishop was a man of vehement temper and unusual eloquence. He gave King Knút all the support he could, and was most hostile toward King Oláf” (Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla, Saint Olaf’s Saga, chapter 217). When Olaf returned to Norway in 1030 for an attempt to reclaim the throne, this Danish Bishop Sigurd joined the anti-Olaf warriors who gathered to repel the invasion and he rallied the troops before the decisive Battle of Sticklestad (c. 1030), in which King Olaf II was killed. Nevertheless, the slain king’s reputation began to soar after the battle and Olaf formally was proclaimed a saint. This put the Danish Bishop Sigurd in an awkward situation, and he was eventually replaced by Grimkel, who had been one of Saint Olaf’s former bishops.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Cropped Illustration by Gerhard Munthe (1849–1929), for an 1899 edition of Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).



  • Heimskringla, by Snorri Sturluson and translated by Lee Hollander. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964, 2018.

The Calydonian Boar Hunt, by Peter Paul Rubens (c. 1577 – 1640)

This painting, by the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens (c. 1577-1640), was inspired by the ancient Greek myth of Meleager, Atalanta (or Atalante), and the Calydonian Boar hunt. For backstory, Meleager was the son of King Oineus (or Oeneus) of Calydon and Queen Althaia. Unfortunately, Meleager’s father, King Oineus, was lazy one year in overseeing the sacrificial offerings that he was meant to give to the gods and goddesses after a harvest. Due to the king’s negligence, an error occurred and no offering was given to the goddess, Artemis. Suffice it to say, she was outraged by the incident and she ultimately sent a monstrous boar—the Calydonian Boar—to prey upon the Kingdom of Calydon. King Oineus, to defend the realm, rallied together a band of excellent hunters and warriors who were tasked with taking down the beast. Among the ranks of the hunting party were many demigods and men with divine favor. Yet, not all of the hunters were men—a single woman, Atalanta, also was in the mix. Meleager, Atalanta and the rest of the posse all coveted the prestige that would be gained by being the person to slay the boar. As further incentive, the killer of the Calydonian Boar would be the one to keep the animal’s hide. An ancient scholar known as Pseudo-Apollodorus (c. 1st-2nd century) summarized the result of the hunt:

”When they had surrounded the boar, Hyleus and Ancaious were killed by the beast and, by accident, Peleus struck down Eurytion with his javelin. The first to hit the boar was Atalante, who shot it in the back with an arrow, and the second, Amphiaraos, who shot it in the eye, but Meleager struck the death blow by stabbing it in the side. And when he received the skin, he gave it to Atalante” (Apollodorus, Library, 1.8.2).

Meleager’s rewarding of Atalante with the coveted hide was not just good sportsmanship because she had drawn first blood against the beast. His real reason, so the story goes, was that he had fallen deeply in love with the huntress during their expedition. Whatever the case, he did indeed give away the prize of the hunt to Atalanta, and he became quite defensive when other hunters (especially those from his own family) began to protest against the move. The argument, unfortunately, turned into a deadly physical altercation, and the result of the brawl was that Meleager became a kinslayer. It was the beginning of the end for Meleager. Accounts of his death differ, but in the stories of Meleager’s demise, his own mother, Althaia, usually plays a key role, either killing or cursing her son with magic.

Written by C. Keith Hansley




Euripides (c. 485-406 BCE)

“Men do not judge justly with their eyes when, before they know for sure the true nature of a person’s heart, they hate on sight, though they have suffered no grievance.”

  • From Euripides’ Medea (approximately line 220), translated by James Morwood in Medea and Other Plays (Oxford University Press, 1997, 1998, 2008).

The Rebellion Of Ansfrit Of Ragogna

Ansfrit of Ragogna was a curious figure from 7th-century Italy who was known to have possessed a fortress and a loyal army in northern Italy. Ansfrit was not content with the power and authority that he had, and he wished to expand territorially and politically in Italy. Alas, the regions of northern Italy that he wanted to expand into, as well as Ansfrit’s own fiefdom, were all under the authority of the Kingdom of the Lombards, then ruled by King Cunincpert (r. 688-700), who would not take kindly to self-destructive warfare between his vassals. Therefore, if Ansfrit tried to overtly conquer the realm of one of his neighboring Lombard nobleman, the localized war would be tantamount to rebellion against the entire Kingdom of the Lombards. Ansfrit of Ragogna, however, decided he wanted to do exactly that.

Hoping to conquer as much territory as he could before opposing military forces could respond, Ansfrit secretly readied his troops for war. When he felt it was the right moment to strike, he launched a surprise invasion of his first target—the Lombard dukedom of Friuli, then ruled by Duke Rodoald. Ansfrit’s sudden invasion of Friuli was a success, catching Duke Rodoald completely by surprise. In a quick and easy campaign, Ansfrit’s army swept through the dukedom and forced the unprepared Duke Rodoald of Friuli to flee. Yet, Ansfrit’s inability to capture the fleeing duke was a dire mistake, for Rodoald was able to reach King Cunincpert and alert the royal court of Ansfrit’s aggression.

After hearing the news, King Cunincpert ignited the engines of the Lombard war machine, bringing both its military might, and also its more shadowy forces, into action. Ansfrit, meanwhile, marched toward Verona and began planning his next steps in the incoming war against King Cunincpert. Nevertheless, the conflict had an anticlimactic ending. According to the Lombard historian, Paul the Deacon (c. 720-799), “[Ansfrit] was seized in Verona and brought to the king, his eyes were torn out and he was cast into banishment” (Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombards, VI.3). Ansfrit’s actual power and resources evidently did not compare his boldness and ambition. King Cunincpert, in contrast, used the incident to strengthen his central authority. Instead of sending the humiliated Duke Rodoald back to the dukedom of Friuli, King Cunincpert seized the opportunity to change the way Friuli was governed. The king installed Rodoald’s brother, Ado, over the region and gave the official the new title of Loci servitor (or caretaker).

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Lancelot from BL Royal 20 D IV, f. 260 , [Public Domain] via Creative Commons, Europeana, and The British Library).



  • History of the Lombards by Paul the Deacon, translated by William Dudley Foulke (c. 1904). University of Pennsylvania Press, 1907, 1974, 2003.

Perseus Confronting Phineus With The Head Of Medusa, By Sebastiano Ricci (c. 1659 – 1734)

This painting by the Italian artist, Sebastiano Ricci (c. 1659 – 1734), re-creates a deadly incident from the mythical saga of the Greek hero, Perseus. Chronologically, the scene is set after Perseus took the head of the dangerous Gorgon, Medusa, whose gaze could turn living beings into stone. With Medusa’s powerful head in his possession, Perseus, somehow found himself on the shores of North Africa. There, according to ancient myth and legend, Perseus wandered into the realm of a certain king named Cepheus, whose kingdom was in a state of utter chaos. As the story goes, the kingdom had been doomed by Cepheus’ wife, who had proclaimed for all to hear that she believed herself to be more beautiful than the divine Nereid nymphs. This unwise statement outraged the Nereids, which angered their sea god father, Nereus, as well as the even more powerful sea god, Poseidon. In their shared wrath, these water deities ravaged Cepheus’ realm with floods, and, to top it all off, also sent a sea monster to attack the kingdom. The high-god Zeus, meanwhile, had been observing the situation. While he did not want to contradict his fellow gods’ wishes, he also thought it a shame for the whole kingdom to suffer for the presumptiveness of the queen. Therefore, Zeus let Cepheus know through an oracle that the kingdom would be spared if the king’s daughter, Andromeda, was sacrificed to the sea monster. Zeus, perhaps, might have intended all along to save Andromeda, for it was at the exact moment that the princess was being chained up as a sacrifice that Perseus (Zeus’ son) arrived on the scene. Coincidence? Maybe; maybe not.

Whatever the case—chance, planning, or fate—Perseus reached Cepheus’ kingdom just in time to rescue the damsel in distress and save the kingdom. Perseus, however, did not work for free, and his declared price was Andromeda’s hand in marriage. Cepheus eagerly agreed on his daughter’s behalf, at which point Perseus flew out to sea with the help of his magical winged footwear and slew the sea monster. After that, the anger of the sea deities calmed, and the wedding of Perseus and Andromeda was planned without any interference from waves or beasts.

Although the sea deities were dormant, more trouble was brewing in Cepheus’ kingdom. Instead of gods and supernatural creatures, this time the threat would come from humans. Unbeknownst to Perseus, Andromeda had already been engaged to be wed before she was chained up for sacrifice. Her fiancé was a man named Phineus. Although he had been willing to let Andromeda be fed to a sea monster, Phineus now found that he could not bear to see her marry another man. Unfortunately for the newly-engaged couple, Phineus was a man of high rank and influence, able to pull together a sizable force with which he hoped to overpower Perseus and his supporters.

Details of what happened next differ depending on the ancient source, but the end result is the same. The longest (and most dramatic) ancient telling of this particular section of the myth came from the Roman poet, Ovid (43 BCE-17 CE). In his account, Phineus waited until the time of the wedding banquet to make his move, crashing the party with a small army of armed supporters. When Phineus and Perseus came face to face, it did not take long for blood to spill. It all began when Phineus threw a spear at Perseus. The projectile polearm missed, and Perseus threw it right back at Phineus (and also missed). From then on, all order was lost, and the wedding banquet turned into a deadly brawl between the rival factions supporting the two different men. Ovid lingered long on describing this chaotic brawl within his masterpiece, Metamorphoses. The first spear was thrown in book 5, line 30; the brawl did not conclude until over 200 lines later. During that time, countless heads and limbs had been pierced, severed, crushed (you name it, it was likely done), and the weapons used in the melee varied from typical swords and spears, to the very furniture that had been lying about in the banquet hall. Perseus enjoyed the brawl for a time, getting his fill of swordplay and gratuitous violence, but he eventually decided to put an end to the fight by pulling out his ultimate weapon—Medusa’s head. Phineus and the remaining members of his faction were turned to stone. On Phineus’ demise, Ovid (speaking as Perseus) wrote:

“‘You shan’t be put to the sword, man.
No, I shall make you a lasting memorial for all posterity.
You’ll be on permanent view in the house of my father-in-law,
that my wife may console herself with her former intended’s likeness.’
With that he quickly carried Medusa across to display her
where Phineus had turned his quivering head. As the cowering villain
attempted to shift his eyes away again, his neck
grew stiff and the tears running down his cheeks were hardened to stone.
But still a coward’s face and the suppliant’s look were preserved
in marble, along with the pleading hands and the cringing posture.”
(Ovid, Metamorphoses, 5.226-235)

Such was the end of the wedding banquet brawl, at least from Ovid’s telling of the tale. Another account, preserved by a scholar known as the Pseudo-Apollodorus (c. 1st-2nd century), merely stated, “[Phineus] plotted against Perseus; but when Perseus learned of the conspiracy, he showed the Gorgon to Phineus and his fellow plotters, turning them to stone on the spot” (Apollodorus, Library, II.4). Sebastiano Ricci’s painting re-creates one of these final encounters between Perseus and Phineus. Banquet drama aside, the wedding of Perseus and Andromeda was a success. Perseus brought his bride back to Greece and, unlike many figures from ancient myth, most accounts of Perseus and Andromeda claim that they lived a long and seemingly happy life together.

Written by C. Keith Hansley


Du Zhou (Recorded by Sima Qian)

Du Zhou (c. 2nd-1st century BCE), recorded by Sima Qian (c. 145-90 BCE)

“Whatever the earlier rulers thought was right they wrote down in books and made into laws, and whatever the later rulers thought was right they added as new clauses and stipulations. Anything that suits the present age is right. Why bother with the laws of former times?”

  • Commentary attributed to the official, Du Zhou, preserved in the Records of the Grand Historian (Shi Ji 122) by Sima Qian. Translated by Burton Watson (Columbia University Press, 1993).

The Legend Of Thórir The Hound’s Magical Hide Cloaks

In early 11th-century Norway, a chieftain named Thórir the Hound reigned supreme in the northernmost stretches, known as Halogaland, of the Norwegian countryside. On this influential character, the Icelandic scholar and saga-writer, Snorri Sturluson (c. 1179-1241), wrote, “At that time there lived a man on the Island of Bjarkey called Thórir the Hound—the most powerful man in the North” (Heimskringla, Saint Olaf’s Saga, chapter 106). He originally was said to have backed the ascendance of King Olaf II (later known as Saint Olaf, r. 1015-1028), but the two quickly became fierce enemies as family feuds, political power struggles and trading (and raiding) disputes drove wedges between the chieftain and king. In particular, the dynamics of the lucrative northern fur market was an issue, for the king wished to monopolize the trade route under his legal crown authority, whereas Thórir the Hound had his own stranglehold over the trade due to his positioning as the strongest chieftain in the north.

Thórir the Hound’s access to the fur and hide market not only brought him wealth, but also supplied him with a legendary set of cloaks that left a great impression on his contemporaries. Snorri Sturluson, likely inspired by the accounts of 11th-century court poets, summarized the rumor and gossip about the northern chieftain’s storied wardrobe, stating, “[Thórir the Hound] had many kinds of dealings with the Finns. He had there made for him twelve cloaks of reindeer skin charged with so much witchcraft that no weapon could penetrate them, less even than a coat of chain mail” (Heimskringla, Saint Olaf’s Saga, chapter 192). The magical reputation of these cloaks likely developed because of the noticeable good fortune that Thórir seemed to always have in battles whenever he wore his trademark reindeer-hide gear.

For more information on Thórir the Hound’s accomplishments in war, we must turn back to the fate of King Olaf II. Around 1028, Canute the Great—ruler of England (since 1016) and Denmark (since 1019)—used a powerful mixture of diplomacy and threat of force to usurp the Norwegian throne from King Olaf II. Saint Olaf survived his dethronement and instead fled into exile to fight another day. He returned in 1030, leading an army of allies and supporters into Norway in an attempt to reclaim his kingdom. Yet, the Norwegians were divided over Olaf’s return, and a great host of warriors rallied together to confront the invasion. Among the anti-Olaf army’s leaders was Thórir the Hound, and he played a significant part in the brawl that ensued between the two forces—the Battle of Stiklestad.  During the battle, Thórir was notably wearing one of his cloaks, and the sight stoked the imagination of those present at the battle. To preserve the magical rumors about Thórir the Hound’s gear during the battle, Snorri Sturluson quoted verses written by Sigvat Thordarson (c. 995-1045), also known as Sigvat the Skald, who was a prominent court poet to Nordic kings in the 11th century. On the battle between Thórir and Olaf, Sigavat the Skald wrote:

“The free-handed king found out
full clearly himself, how
the mighty magic of Finns from
maim protect Thórir,
when with slaughterous sword he
slashed across the shoulders
of the Hound, but blunted,
bit not gold-dight Hneitir.

Who would call in question—
courage lacked not Thórir—
the Hound’s hardihood when
having it out with Oláf?
The stalwart storm-of-arrows-
starter basely dared ‘gainst
the king himself in cruel
combat to lift his broadsword.”
(Sigvat the Skald, cited in Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla, Saint Olaf’s Saga, chapter 228).

Such was the reputation that formed around Thórir the Hound during the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030. Due to his talent as a warrior, a set of expensive armor, and a helpful dose of luck, Thórir’s defenses that day seemed impenetrable—the only wound he reportedly sustained during the battle was a cut on an unarmored and uncloaked hand. Although it was his defense that was legendary, Thórir’s offensive capabilities were not too shabby either. As the story goes, Thórir the Hound stabbed King Olaf II through the stomach with a spear during the battle and this blow, along with others, led to Saint Olaf’s death on the battlefield at Stiklestad. Ironically, Thórir the Hound did not outlive Olaf for long. After the battle, Thórir allegedly set out on an adventure toward the Mediterranean Sea and he never returned.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (cropped Illustration till “Fjolners saga”. Plansch 18, by Fredrik Wilhelm Scholander (c. 1816-1881), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the National Museum in Stockholm Sweden).



Ulysses At The Palace Of Circe, Painted By Wilhelm Schubert van Ehrenberg (c. 1630-1676) and Carl Borromäus Andreas Ruthart (c. 1630-1703)

This painting, by the artists Wilhelm Schubert van Ehrenberg (c. 1630-1676) and Carl Borromäus Andreas Ruthart (c. 1630-1703), re-creates an episode from Homer’s ancient epic poem, The Odyssey, in which the Greek hero, Odysseus (or Ulysses, as the title calls him), encountered the goddess and sorceress Circe, who lived on an island called Aeaea. As Odysseus and his crew quickly found out, Circe’s island and palace were inhabited by a vast variety of animals. These animals, however, were not ordinary creatures, and their existence on the island was due to a magical secret. Unfortunately, a great portion of Odysseus’ crew did not wait to learn more about Circe and her island before they allowed themselves to be lured in for a banquet that Circe threw for the travelers. What happened next was recorded by Homer (c. 8th century BCE):

“Circe ushered the rest into her hall, gave them seats and chairs to sit on, and then prepared them a mixture of cheese, barley-meal, and yellow honey flavored with Pramnian wine. But into this dish she introduced a noxious drug, to make them lose all memory of their native land. And when they had emptied the bowls which she handed them, she drove them with blows of a stick into the pigsties. Now they had pig heads and bristles, and they grunted like pigs; but their minds were as human as they had been before” (Homer, The Odyssey, book 10, approximately lines 230-240).

Such is the scene that is playing out in the painting above. It shows the chaotic scene of the Greek warriors, mid-transformation, scurrying around to-and-frow on Circe’s palace grounds, likely before they were beaten and prodded into the pigsties. Nevertheless, the beastly affliction of the Greek adventurers was not permanent. Their clever leader, Odysseus, who had not been present for the initial banquet, was later able to convince Circe to turn the crew back into their original humanoid forms. From then on, Circe and Odysseus’ crew were able to coexist.

Written by C. Keith Hansley



The Unflattering Aging Of The Graiai Over Centuries

As told in the tales of ancient Greek mythology, there was a unique group of divine sisters known as the Graiai who were included among the ranks of the gods. These Graiai were daughters of the sea-god, Phorcys, and they inherited his water divinity classification. The collective name of Graiai connotated shades of grey and white, and association with those colors narrowed their watery jurisdiction to seafoam. Yet, from their connection to grey, they also took on qualities of age, experience and knowledge. Keeping with their theme, the Graiai all were born with silvery hair, and due to this attribute, they came to be called the Old Women. The poet Hesiod (c. 8th century), our most ancient known source on the Graiai, claimed that all that was “Old”, per se, about the Old Women was their hair. Hesiod wrote, “with fair faces and gray [hair] from birth…these the gods who are immortal and men who walk on the earth call Graiai, the gray sisters, Pemphredo robed in beauty and Enyo robed in saffron” (Hesiod, Theogony 270 ff, trans. Evelyn-White)). Unfortunately, the writers who succeeded Hesiod would be far less kind in their descriptions of the Graiai.

By the time of the Eleusinian playwright, Aeschylus (c. 525-456 BCE), and the Lyric poet, Pindar (c. 518-446+ BCE), the reputation and community image of the Graiai had taken a noticeable dive. They were starting to take on the sinister aura of their aquatic clan of supernatural creatures, which had many monsters in the family tree, including Scylla and the Gorgons. Through the latter of these kinswomen, the Graiai became linked into the myth of the hero, Perseus, who slew the mortal Gorgon, Medusa. As the myth of Perseus was told and retold, references to the Graiai became more and more unflattering. Pindar might have made the earliest written reference to the Graiai being blinded by Perseus, writing, “He had made blind the grim offspring of Phorcys” (Pindar, Pythian Ode 12. 14). Aeschylus, however, went further in depicting the total reshaping of the Graiai image. He expanded them to be three in number and introduced the idea that they were largely eyeless and toothless. Additionally, in the playwright’s depiction of the Graiai, their age was not restrained to their hair, but to their bodies too. Instead, in their reimagined form, the Graiai’s only beauty came from their bodies being oddly fused with the shapes of swans. Aeschylus wrote, “[the Graiai are] ancient maids, three in number, shaped like swans, possessing one eye amongst them and a single tooth; neither does the sun with his beams look down upon them, nor ever the nightly moon” (Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 788 ff (trans. Weir Smyth)).

Centuries later, in the time of the scholar, Pseudo-Apollodorus (c. 1st and 2nd century CE), the Graiai’s swan shapes had been erased and all that was left of their image was their designation as largely eyeless and toothless elderly women. Apollodorus did, however, record a new name for one of the Graiai. He wrote, “Enyo, Pemphredo, and Deino. Daughters of Phorcos [aka Phorcys] by Ceto, they were the sisters of the Gorgons, and had been old women from the time of their birth. The three of them had only a single eye and a single tooth, which they exchanged in turn between themselves” (Apollodorus, Library, 2.4.2). Besides Deino, the name Persis also came to be associated with the Graiai troupe. Curiously, in contrast to the increasingly frail and wizened bodies that these names were attached to, the meanings of the Graiai members’ personal names were anything but weak. Enyo’s name harkened to war, while Persis alluded to destruction and Deino reflected terror. Only the Graiai goddess, Pemphredo, had a peaceful-sounding name, with a meaning that loosely translated to “She Who Shows the Way.” Nevertheless, despite their empowering names and sea goddess natures, the Graiai were unfortunately stereotyped as the old crones of Greek mythology that had to share an eye and a tooth.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Cropped Perseus and the Graiai, by Walter Crane (English, 1845 – 1915), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and Artvee.jpg).



Calliope, Muse of Epic Poetry, Painted By Charles Meynier (c. 1768-1832)

This painting, by the French artist Charles Meynier (c. 1768-1832), was inspired by the ancient Greek goddess, Calliope, whose name loosely translates to Beautiful-Voiced. As the title of the artwork divulges, Calliope was one of the Muses, and her usual spiritual jurisdiction was over epic poetry. As the story goes, the Muses were the daughters of the high-god, Zeus, and the goddess, Mnemosyne (Memory). In terms of hierarchy among the sisters, the ancient Greek poet, Hesiod (c. 8th century BCE), claimed that Calliope was “chief among them all” (Hesiod, Theogony, approximately line 75). A later poet, the Roman writer Ovid (43 BCE-17 CE), imagined Calliope playing music and reciting one of her epic tales with the following words:

“Calliope. She, with her flowing hair in ivy wreath,
rose up and strummed a few plangent chords to test her lyre strings,
then firmly plucked them to launch at once on the following lay.”
(Ovid, Metamorphoses, 5.335-340)

Charles Meynier, in his painting of Calliope, agreed with Ovid that a wreath headpiece should be included in the poet-Muse’s wardrobe. Yet, Meynier and Ovid diverged on the Muse’s choice of musical instrument. Whereas Ovid and other ancient sources often described Calliope having a lyre, Charles Meynier’s painting of Calliope features a horn.

Written by C. Keith Hansley