From Argolis, the chief seat of the Mycenaean civilization, we proceed to the southeastern province, Laconia. Several important Mycenaean remains are found here, but they cannot be compared with those of Argolis. The bee-hive tomb at Vaphio near Sparta where the two golden cups, the most beautiful products of Minoan art, were found, with various pieces of jewelry, proves that wealthy princes ruled here in the Mycenaean age. Very remarkable are the finds at Amyclae, showing that the cult of the pre-Greek god Hyacinthus was celebrated in the Mycenaean age. The Menelaeion at Sparta also probably goes back into Mycenaean times; it is in fact the sanctuary of Helen at Therapnae.1 Elsewhere Mycenaean finds are unimportant.
Before we enter upon the Laconian myths a preliminary question is to be discussed. In historical times Argos claimed the primacy in the Peloponnese; though it was unable to support these claims, it never bowed down completely to Sparta. Its claims found an expression in the myth that Argolis was the inheritance allotted to Temenus, the eldest son of Aristomachus. We shall see how Sparta in this as well as in other cases tried to change and reshape the myths in its own favor. The claims of Argos correspond to the relation between the two provinces in the Mycenaean age, during which Argos was the most important province and Laconia relatively unimportant, and they go ultimately back into this time, for in later times there is nothing to warrant the predominance of Argos. The reign of King Pheidon about which our information is regrettably scarce and uncertain was too ephemeral to have founded such persistently sustained claims.
In Homer the relation between the two provinces is just this. Lacedaemon appears as a vassalage of the king of Mycenae, or rather as a secundogeniture given to his younger brother. That Agamemnon and Menelaus were co-regents, as the Spartan kings were, is one of a series of ill-founded contentions which try to find traces of the conditions of historical Sparta in the Homeric poems. In Homer and in mythology on the whole, Menelaus is clearly subordinate to Agamemnon. There is, however, a well attested version according to which Agamemnon and his son Orestes were at home in Laconia, and this must be taken into consideration, for it would move the seat of the overlord from Argolis to Laconia.
This was a received opinion, at least among some people, at the beginning of the fifth century B.C. Pindarus says in one of his odes that the Atreides, i.e., Agamemnon, died at Amyclae and calls Orestes a Lacedaemonian; in another ode, which praises a victorious athlete from Tenedos, he says that this athlete's ancestors went with Orestes from Amyclae,2 hinting at the emigration conducted by Penthilus.3 Especially explicit is a passage in Herodotus.4 The Spartan ambassador replies to King Gelon, who claimed the hegemony in the war against the Persians, that Agamemnon would groan, if he heard that the hegemony was taken from the Spartans by the Syracusan Gelon. Stesichorus, whether he is a citizen of Himera from the seventh century B.C. or a Locrian from about 500 B.C.5 proffers the same localization.6 From these passages only one legitimate conclusion may be drawn; viz., that the Spartans tried to appropriate Agamemnon for themselves as the prototype of their hegemony in the Peloponnese, just as the Dorians appropriated Heracles in order to justify their possession of the peninsula. In their war with the Arcadians they transferred the bones of Orestes from Tegea to Sparta.
There seems, however, to be an earlier testimony in a passage in the Odyssey7 which relates that Agamemnon on his voyage homeward from Troy, coming to Cape Malea was driven by storms out on the sea to the extreme part of the country where Aegisthus resided, but that the gods changed the wind and he alighted with joy in his fatherland. But Aegisthus who had put out watchmen to watch his return, invited him to a meal and killed him and his followers. We may observe that these sentences are not coherent; this is a puzzle to which we return presently. In a preceding passage it is related that Aegisthus seduced Clytaemestra and became the ruler of Mycenae, but the murder of Agamemnon is passed over with only two words.8
Now for a person voyaging from Troy to Argolis, Cape Malea is evidently out of the way; whilst it would be on the way for one going to Lacedaemon. Observing this fact scholars have analyzed the passages in question with the tools of logic, assuming that the verse about Cape Malea is based upon the localization of Agamemnon as well as of Aegisthus in Lacedaemon.9 They think that a narrative in which Agamemnon had his residence at Amyclae was worked over in order to make it lit in with the current opinion of his residence at Mycenae. I refrain from criticizing the criticism and remark only that when a poet adapts earlier chants for use in his poems, as certainly has been done here, inconsistencies and errors will be committed very easily and almost unavoidably. Such inconsistencies and errors exist undoubtedly in Homer. In this case they are the words about "the steep mountain of Malea," v. 514, and the two verses 519 and 520. The foregoing verses tell that Agamemnon was driven out on the sea, when he rounded Cape Malea, to the extreme part of the country where Aegisthus resided. The two verses in question add that "when an opportunity for safe return appeared the gods changed the wind again and they came home." The narrative proceeds to tell that they alighted with joy and that Aegisthus laid an ambush for them and murdered them. The two verses are incomprehensible in the given situation and there must be something wrong with them. The reference to Cape Malea was, as Dr. Kunst observes,10 taken over from the description of the calamity befalling Menelaus at the same place on his return. I agree with Professor Schwartz that the two verses 519 and 520 were added later in order to smooth over the discrepancy.11 A transposition of the two verses before v. 517, which is adopted by some editors, does not remove the difficulty.
If the two verses in question are cancelled and if in v. 514 the southernmost cape of the Argive peninsula is put instead of Cape Malea, the narrative proceeds consistently. Agamemnon was driven by the gale from the landing place in Argolis at which he aimed, but succeeded in coming ashore at a far-off place in Argolis where Aegisthus lived; for as a member of the royal dynasty he must have a castle and a town. Thus Agamemnon was by fate brought into the hands of Aegisthus. Why Aegisthus did not reside at Mycenae after having won Clytaemestra is an idle question; he did so after having killed Agamemnon because he therewith took the place of the Great King. Thus the most probable solution is that there is behind this passage a minstrel's error, of which the Spartans have taken advantage in order to appropriate Agamemnon for themselves. Furthermore I am inclined to think with Mr. Harrie12 that the temple of Alexandra at Sparta with Agamemnon's memorial has been of importance in establishing the story.
Thus we shall have satisfactorily answered the question as to how Agamemnon and with him Orestes came to be localized at Lacedaemon. In view of the relative importance of the two provinces in the Mycenaean age it is impossible to take the overlord from Mycenae and to transfer him to Lacedaemon.
If we turn to Laconian mythology a curious circumstance is prominent: we have much less to do with personages of heroic mythology than with old gods who were received into it. Helen is an old goddess whose origin belongs to the Mycenaean age and who always was a goddess at Sparta. On reliefs from the second century B.C. we see her image between those of the Dioscuri in the form of a stiff xoanon from whose wrists fillets hang down and who wears a kind of calathus on her head.13 She had two temples at Sparta: one is the so-called Menelaeion, her famous temple at Therapnae which was built upon a Mycenaean site, while another was situated not far from the Platanistas; with the Helen of this temple tree-cult rites were connected. It is, however, not known to which of these two temples the festival of Heleneia which was celebrated in her honor belonged. Her connection with the tree cult is corroborated by the fact that there was a plant called heleneion, just as the word hyakinthos denotes both a god and a plant. Helen appears in connection with the tree cult on Rhodes also, where Helen Dendritis was venerated.14
In mythology Helen is, however, localized in Attica also. Theseus carried her away with the aid of Peirithous and hid her in the fortress of Aphidna. The attempts to separate this myth from Aphidna in Attica have failed.15 In order to corroborate this statement it is hardly necessary to refer to the island called Helene near the coast of Attica and to other dubious instances.16 That Helen was rescued by her brothers the Dioscuri is, however, rightly considered to be a later addition. We state that Helen was at home in Attica also, and this ought not to be astonishing, for if she was an old goddess she may have been venerated in several places. Although her cult was preserved chiefly at Sparta, she has left traces in myths elsewhere.
If it is asked why this old pre-Greek goddess became the pivot of the Trojan war, I can, I believe, see but one explanation. It was peculiar to Helen to be carried off, by Theseus and by Alexander. The rape of a goddess is a well-known feature in a special cult legend; Pluto carries off Kore. Though at first it may seem astonishing, the rape of Kore and the rape of Helen are in fact kindred, if we look away from the Helen of epics and take her as the old goddess that she was; she is a vegetation goddess, just as Kore is. In the myth of Theseus, to which I shall recur later,17 there is an apparent doublet; he and his friend Peirithous try to carry off Perse-phone, who is identified with Kore. That may be better understood if there was a reminiscence that Helen was originally akin to Kore-Persephone.
For us the rape of Kore by Pluto looms in the most sacred light of Greek cult legend and religion; the rape of Helen presents itself as a frivolous and scandalous quite profane story; but this difference may be a result of a development under different conditions. The myth told that the old pre-Greek goddess Helen was carried off, but the invading Greeks did not seize the deep sense of the legend, only the feature so common in the heroic age, the feuds of which were caused by the theft either of cattle or of women, that a woman called Helen was carried off. When the familiar motif of the rape of a fair woman was given as the cause of the Trojan war, the woman was called by the name of the goddess of whose carrying off the Greeks had heard but whose cult had fallen into disuse in most places. Or it is perhaps better to say that Helen was in cult legend replaced by Kore, who always retained dignified position, not being drawn, as was Helen, into the heroic mythology. Helen, consequently, came to be treated as a mortal woman, of course a princess. She was made the queen of the city in which she still was especially venerated, and when introduced into the Trojan cycle she sank still lower, to become the woman who eloped with an Asiatic prince.
I pass over Hyacinthus briefly, only calling attention to the well-known and very interesting fact that his name is evidently pre-Greek and that the site of his temple at Amyclae yielded numerous Mycenaean finds.18 He is perhaps the most evident instance of the continuity of a Mycenaean cult in the Greek age, but he was superseded by Apollo. Thus the well-known myth arose that he was killed by the god by accident. His death is without doubt a primary fact originating in the Minoan conception of gods who die, viz., vegetation gods. How old the common myth is, it is impossible to decide; in some respects it seems rather late. Of course it must be later than the coming of Apollo.
The brothers of Helen, the Dioscuri, are both as gods and as heroes the most famous in Lace-daemon. They are perhaps the most complex among the Greek gods.19 Commonly we think of them as youthful horsemen, the models of Spartan youth, and the saviours of men in sudden perils, especially at sea. But they were also house gods and as such widely venerated in Greece. Their symbols are two amphoras with the panspermia, snakes,20 and the dokana, which can only be the beams of a house built of sun-dried bricks. The sacrifices brought to them are meals, theoxenia, which occur particularly in the house cult. They are especially connected with the Spartan kings, who took them with them when taking the field.
On the other hand, the Dioscuri are heroes localized at Lacedaemon, sons of Tyndareus and brothers of Helen. In the only passage in which they are mentioned in the Iliad21 they appear as athletic youths and it is said that the earth already covered them in their fatherland. They are one of the many instances of mythical twins, but they are also venerated as gods. It seems likely that these mythical heroes and these gods were originally separate personages and that they have been united so as to form the Dioscuri as we know them. Homer says that they were dead and buried, i.e., he knows them as heroes only. The discrepancy was later smoothed over by the well-known myths in which one, Pollux, was said to be a god and the other, Castor, a mortal; or that they alternated, living on one day and staying beneath the earth on the next.22
The Dioscuri are perhaps related to the Minoan religion. I have discussed this probability in another place,23 but I am well aware that the matter is uncertain and I have nothing to add here but a few words concerning their fight with the Apharetidae, another pair of twins, for other myths about them are clearly secondary and due chiefly to their connection with Helen, which can hardly be very old. The mythographers differ in regard to the cause of the contest. On one side, it is told that the Dioscuri and the Apharetidae having together stolen cattle in Arcadia quarreled about their booty; on the other, it is said that the Dioscuri carried off the daughters of Leucippus, who were the brides of the Apharetidae. Sometimes the two versions are combined. It is generally acknowledged that the former, ° being the more primitive, is the older version; the uniting of both versions into one myth is due to the epos called Cypria.24 The Apharetidae appear as Messenian heroes and their engagement with the Dioscuri is consequently thought to reflect the strife between the Messenians and the Spartans, but the place of the fight was near Sparta, according to Lycophron, who follows the Cypria.25 Thus it is possible that the myth was originally enacted at Lacedaemon and that it is earlier than the hostility between the Messenians and the Spartans, but it is not possible to surmise how old it is, and above all, there is no evidence whereby to connect it with the Mycenaean age.
Concluding these considerations we may state that Laconia on the one hand has Mycenaean remains but fewer and less important remains than those of Argolis, and that on the other hand it has some myths but fewer and less important myths and especially fewer heroic myths, than Argolis.
68:1 Annual of the British School at Athens, XV (1909), pp. 108 et seq.
69:2 Pindarus, Pyth., xi. vv. 24; 47 et seq.; and Nem., xi. v. 44 resp.
70:4 Herodotus, vii, 159.
70:5 Wilamowitz is inclined to think so ("Die griech. Heldensage," I, Sitzungsberichte der preuss. Akad. der Wissenschaften 1925, p. 46, n. 1).
70:6 In the Schol. Eurip. Orestes, v. 46.
70:7 Od. iv. vv. 514 et seq.
71:8 Od. iii. vv. 243 et seq.
71:9 Ed. Schwartz, "Agamemnon von Sparta and Orestes von Tegea in der Telemachie," Strassburger Festschrift zur xlvi. Versammlung deutscher Philologen, 1901, pp. 23 et seq. Cp. K. Kunst, "Die Schuld der Klytaimestra," Wiener Studien, XLIV (1924-25), pp. 18 et seq.
72:10 Kunst, loc. cit., p. 23.
72:11 Schwartz, loc. cit. p. 25.
72:12 I. Harrie, "Zeus Agamemnon," Archiv 'fir Religionswissenschaft, XXIII (1925), pp. 366 et seq.
73:13 Tod and Wace, A Catalogue of the Sparta Museum, pp. 117 and 158. I am now a little more inclined than in my Minoan-Mycenaean Religion (p. 458 n. 1) to identify this head-dress of Helen with the basket ἑλένη, in which according to Pollux, x. 191, unspeakable sacred things were carried at the Ἑλενηφόρια. The head-dress looks really more like a basket than like a common polos which, according to K. Val. Müller, Der Polos (Dissertation, Berlin 1915), was originally a decorative head-dress without any peculiar signification. The Ἑλενηφόρια were formerly said to be an Attic festival, but since Kaibel has established the reading of the manuscripts Δίφιλος δ᾽ ἐν Ἐλαιωνηφοροῦσι in Athenaeus, vi. p. 223 A, this supposition is groundless; our only information is the passage in Pollux.
74:14 For references for the above statement see my Minoan-Mycenaean Religion, pp. 456 et seq.
74:15 See J. Toepffer, "Theseus and Peisistratos" in his Beiträge zur griech. Altertumswissenschaft, pp. 153 et seq., reprinted from the volume Aus der Anomia (1890), pp. 36 et seq. V. Costanzi, "Il culto di Teseo nell’ Attica," Religio, I (1920), pp. 315 et seq. Cp. Wilamowitz, "Die griech. Heldensage II," Sitzungsberichte der preuss. Akad. der Wissenschaften, 1925, p. 236.
74:16 As Pfuhl does in Pauly-Wissowa's Realencyklopädie der klass. Altertumswissenschaft, s.v. Helena, p. 2829.
76:18 See my Minoan-Mycenaean Religion, pp. 403 and 485 et seq.
76:19 The problem is more complex than appears in Farnell, Greek Hero Cults, pp. 175 et seq.; e.g. he passes over the very important house cult without a word.
77:20 In this they resemble Zeus Ktesios, a veritable house god; see my paper, "Zeus Ktesios," Athen. Mittheilungen, XXXIII (1908), pp. 279 et seq., and my Griech. Feste, pp. 417 et seq.
77:21 Il. iii. vv. 237 et seq.
77:22 Od. xi. vv. 303 et seq.
77:23 In my Minoan-Mycenaean Religion, pp. 469 et seq.
78:24 These results attained by G. Wentzel in his excellent dissertation Ἐπικλήσεις θεῶν (Göttingen 1890), V., pp. 18 et seq., are generally recognized.
78:25 Lycophron, Alexandra, v. 559. Paus. iii. 11. 11, mentions the memorial of Aphareus on the market place of Sparta, and (iii. 13, 1) near the Skias of the same city the tombs of Idas and Lynceus, but himself finds it probable that they were buried in Messenia.