folklorelei: (the siren)

PHOTO REMOVED AT THE PHOTOGRAPHER’S REQUEST

While recently reading American Folklore by Richard M. Dorson, I came upon a passage relating the curious testimony of John Josselyn from 1638. He’d taken ship to New England and upon arriving in Massachusetts Bay, was catching up on news from those he met on shore, including prodigious tales of earthquakes, mermen, monster births. He went on to say:

Mr. Foxwell came forth and related how he had passed a night at sea in a small shallop, hugging the shore but afraid to land; suddenly at midnight a loud voice called him, “Foxwell, Foxwell, come ashore,” and upon the beach he beheld a great fire ringed by dancing men and women. After an hour they vanished, and next morning Foxwell put ashore and found their footprints and brands’ ends on the sand. But no living Englishman or Indian could he find on shore or in the woods.

The passage is odd in itself, to be sure, and although logical reasons might be found to explain it, they are no fun at all. I reject them soundly. I love the fairy-like creepiness of it, and think it’s a good thing Mr. Foxwell was too timid to put ashore. The story really sets my imagination to quivering.

But the passage has extra resonance, extra quiveration, because it reminds me of a more famous passage, this one from Plutarch, On the Failure of Oracles, 17-1:

The father of Aemilianus the orator, to whom some of you have listened, was Epitherses, who lived in our town and was my teacher in grammar. He said that once upon a time in making a voyage to Italy he embarked on a ship carrying freight and many passengers. It was already evening when, near the Echinades Islands, the wind dropped, and the ship drifted near Paxi. Almost everybody was awake, and a good many had not finished their after-dinner wine. Suddenly from the island of Paxi was heard the voice of someone loudly calling Thamus, so that all were amazed. Thamus was an Egyptian pilot, not known by name even to many on board. Twice he was called and made no reply, but the third time he answered; and the caller, raising his voice, said, ‘When you come opposite to Palodes, announce that Great Pan is dead.’ On hearing this, all, said Epitherses, were astounded and reasoned among themselves whether it were better to carry out the order or to refuse to meddle and let the matter go. Under the circumstances Thamus made up his mind that if there should be a breeze, he would sail past and keep quiet, but with no wind and a smooth sea about the place he would announce what he had heard. So, when he came opposite Palodes, and there was neither wind nor wave, Thamus from the stern, looking toward the land, said the words as he had heard them: ‘Great Pan is dead.’ Even before he had finished there was a great cry of lamentation, not of one person, but of many, mingled with exclamations of amazement.

The sea holds many mysteries and dangers, but let’s not forget that strange shores do as well.

You can find the rest of this Loeb Classics Library translation of Plutarch here.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

horse
 

Here’s another ancient oddity, taken from Pausanias (2nd c. AD). In his “travelogue” called Description of Greece (also known as Guide to Greece) he describes a phenomena which occurs at the chariot racing stadia of Olympia, Isthmos, and Nemea. The translation below is public domain, by W. H. S. Jones , 1918. It can be found in its entirety here. Mr. Jones talks about a type of ghost or demon called a Taraxippus. He doesn’t bother translating that, but Peter Levi who did a Penguin Classics edition in 1971, translates that as “horse-scarer,” and it’s been rendered “horse frighteners” in other places (Theoi.com encyclopedia).

[6.20.15] The race-course [at Olympia] has one side longer than the other, and on the longer side, which is a bank, there stands, at the passage through the bank, Taraxippus, the terror of the horses. It has the shape of a round altar, and as they run along the horses are seized, as soon as they reach this point, by a great fear without any apparent reason. The fear leads to disorder; the chariots generally crash and the charioteers are injured. Consequently the charioteers offer sacrifice, and pray that Taraxippus may show himself propitious to them.

[6.20.16] The Greeks differ in their view of Taraxippus. Some hold that it is the tomb of an original inhabitant who was skilled in horsemanship; they call him Olenius, and say that after him was named the Olenian rock in the land of Elis. Others say that Dameon, son of Phlius, who took part in the expedition of Heracles against Augeas and the Eleans, was killed along with his charger by Cteatus the son of Actor, and that man and horse were buried in the same tomb.

[6.20.17] There is also a story that Pelops made here an empty mound in honor of Myrtilus, and sacrificed to him in an effort to calm the anger of the murdered man, naming the mound50 Taraxippus (Frightener of horses) because the mares of Oenomaus were frightened by the trick of Myrtilus. Some say that it is Oenomaus himself who harms the racers in the course. I have also heard some attach the blame to Alcathus, the son of Porthaon. Killed by Oenomaus because he wooed Hippodameia, Alcathus, they say, here got his portion of earth; having been unsuccessful on the course, he is a spiteful and hostile deity to chariot-drivers.

[6.20.18] A man of Egypt said that Pelops received something from Amphion the Theban and buried it where is what they call Taraxippus, adding that it was the buried thing which frightened the mares of Oenomaus, as well as those of every charioteer since. This Egyptian thought that Amphion and the Thracian Orpheus were clever magicians, and that it was through their enchantments that the beasts came to Orpheus, and the stones came to Amphion for the building of the wall. The most probable of the stories in my opinion makes Taraxippus a surname of Horse Poseidon.

[6.20.19] There is another Taraxippus at the Isthmus, namely Glaucus, the son of Sisyphus. They say that he was killed by his horses, when Acastus held his contests in honor of his father. At Nemea of the Argives there was no hero who harmed the horses, but above the turning-point of the chariots rose a rock, red in color, and the flash from it terrified the horses, just as though it had been fire. But the Taraxippus at Olympia is much worse for terrifying the horses. On one turning-post is a bronze statue of Hippodameia carrying a ribbon, and about to crown Pelops with it for his victory.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

saint anthony abbot meets st paul the hermit by petrus agricola-sm
 

St. Anthony Abbot Meets St. Paul the Hermit by Petrus Agricola
I admit to enjoying a bit of hagiography now and then—not the sanitized (sanctified?) versions of the Catholic Church online, but the older stuff, full of the outlandish and miraculous, from the early and Medieval church. Some really interesting oddments there.

One of my favorite passages is from St. Jerome’s Life of Paulus the First Hermit, translated by W. H. Freemantle, 1893 (the spelling is Freemantle’s).

St. Antony is living in the desert of the Thebaid region of ancient Egypt and he’s thinking he’s a pretty righteous monk, a near-perfect specimen of hermit. But then in the deep of the night, God says to him, “Nuh-uh, there’s this other dude named Paulus that blows you out of the water. Or the desert, as the case may be.” Maybe God didn’t express it in quite that way, but Antony gets the message and nothing will do but he has to seek out Paulus. Now, Paulus is a hundred and one at this point, Antony is ninety-five, but Antony is determined to make this arduous trek anyway. He doesn’t know where Paulus abides, but has faith that the Lord will lead him there.

So, he’s trekking and he’s trekking and as he’s standing out in the noontide sun wondering which way to go next and he says…

“I believe in my God: some time or other He will shew me the fellow-servant whom He promised me.” He said no more. All at once he beholds a creature of mingled shape, half horse half man, called by the poets Hippocentaur. At the sight of this he arms himself by making on his forehead the sign of salvation, and then exclaims, “Holloa! Where in these parts is a servant of God living?” The monster after gnashing out some kind of outlandish utterance, in words broken rather than spoken through his bristling lips, at length finds a friendly mode of communication, and extending his right hand points out the way desired. Then with swift flight he crosses the spreading plain and vanishes from the sight of his wondering companion. But whether the devil took this shape to terrify him, or whether it be that the desert which is known to abound in monstrous animals engenders that kind of creature also, we cannot decide.

Antony was gob-smacked, as you can imagine, but he went in the direction indicated.

Before long in a small rocky valley shut in on all sides he sees a mannikin with hooted snout, horned forehead, and extremities like goat’s feet. When he saw this, Antony like a good soldier seized the shield of faith and the helmet of hope: the creature none the less began to offer him the fruit of the palm tree to support him on his journey and as it were pledges of peace. Antony perceiving this stopped and asked who he was. The answer he received from him was this:

“I am a mortal being and one of the inhabitants of the Desert whom the Gentiles deluded by various forms of error worship under the names of Fauns, Satyrs and Incubi. I am sent to represent my tribe. We pray you in our behalf to entreat the favour of your Lord, and ours, who, we have learnt, came once to save the world, and ‘whose sound has gone forth into all the earth.’”

As he uttered such words as these, the aged traveller’s cheeks streamed with tears, the marks of his deep feeling, which he shed in the fulness of his joy. He rejoiced over the Glory of Christ and the destruction of Satan, and marvelling all the while that he could understand the Satyr’s language, and striking the ground with his staff, he said,

“Woe to thee, Alexandria, who instead of God worshippest monsters! Woe to thee, harlot city, into which have flowed together the demons of the whole world! What will you say now? Beasts speak of Christ, and you instead of God worship monsters.”

He had not finished speaking when, as if on wings, the wild creature fled away.

Can you blame it? He asks for a blessing and a good word put in for him and his kind to God and he gets a screed. But lest anyone’s skepticism assert itself over this encounter, St. Jerome hastens to add:

Let no one scruple to believe this incident; its truth is supported by what took place when Constantine was on the throne, a matter of which the whole world was witness. For a man of that kind was brought alive to Alexandria and shewn as a wonderful sight to the people. Afterwards his lifeless body, to prevent its decay through the summer heat, was preserved in salt and brought to Antioch that the Emperor might see it.

He was alive, but apparently that encounter didn’t go so well for this poor, assaulted then salted being.

Antony and Paulus do hook up eventually, though Paulus seems pretty eager to send this weeping and screeding old guy on an errand so he can die in peace. You can read the whole story here.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

"Because I have heard that for those who enter Fairy Land there is no going back. They must go on, and go through it." —R. Macdonald Robertson, Selected Highland Tales

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