Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Yet not the more
Cease I to wander where the Muses haunt
Cleer Spring, or shadie Grove, or Sunnie Hill,
Smit with the love of sacred Song; but chief
Thee Sion and the flowrie Brooks beneath [ 30 ]
That wash thy hallowd feet, and warbling flow,
Nightly I visit: nor somtimes forget
Those other two equal'd with me in Fate,
So were I equal'd with them in renown,
Blind Thamyris and blind Mæonides, [ 35 ]

And Tiresias and Phineus Prophets old Milton's allusion to Thamyris in the Book III invocation is usually traced back to Homer's passing mention of the bard amid the catalog in Iliad II:

and Dorium, [595] where the Muses met Thamyris the Thracian and made an end of his singing, even as he was journeying from Oechalia, from the house of Eurytus the Oechalian: for he vaunted with boasting that he would conquer, were the Muses themselves to sing against him, the daughters of Zeus that beareth the aegis; but they in their wrath maimed him, [600] and took from him his wondrous song, and made him forget his minstrelsy; 
There's a somewhat richer locus classicus in Apollodorus (actually Pseudo-Apollodorus)'s Library 1.3, which offers not just a genealogy of the great singers beginning from Zeus, but also the incidental fact that he was the lover of Hyacinth (remember him from The Wasteland?}:

Now Zeus wedded Hera and begat Hebe, Ilithyia, and Ares,1 but he had intercourse with many women, both mortals and immortals. By Themis, daughter of Sky, he had daughters, the Seasons, to wit, Peace, Order, and Justice; also the Fates, to wit, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropus;2 by Dione he had Aphrodite;3 by Eurynome, daughter of Ocean, he had the Graces, to wit, Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia;4 by Styx he had Persephone;5 and by Memory(Mnemosyne)he had the Muses, first Calliope, then Clio, Melpomene, Euterpe, Erato, Terpsichore, Urania, Thalia, and Polymnia.6 [2]
Now Calliope bore to Oeagrus or, nominally, to Apollo, a son Linus,7 whom Hercules slew; and another son, Orpheus,8 who practised minstrelsy and by his songs moved stones and trees. And when his wife Eurydice died, bitten by a snake, he went down to Hades, being fain to bring her up,9 and he persuaded Pluto to send her up. The god promised to do so, if on the way Orpheus would not turn round until he should be come to his own house. But he disobeyed and turning round beheld his wife; so she turned back. Orpheus also invented the mysteries of Dionysus,10 and having been torn in pieces by the Maenads11 he is buried in Pieria. [3] Clio fell in love with Pierus, son of Magnes, in consequence of the wrath of Aphrodite, whom she had twitted with her love of Adonis; and having met him she bore him a son Hyacinth, for whom Thamyris the son of Philammon and a nymph Argiope, conceived a passion, he being the first to become enamored of males. But afterwards Apollo loved Hyacinth and killed him involuntarily by the cast of a quoit.12 And Thamyris who excelled in beauty and in minstrelsy, engaged in a musical contest with the Muses, the agreement being that, if he won, he should enjoy them all, but that if he should be vanquished he should be bereft of what they would. So the Muses got the better of him and bereft him both of his eyes and of his minstrelsy.13 [4] Euterpe had by the river Strymon a son Rhesus, whom Diomedes slew at Troy;14 but some say his mother was Calliope. Thalia had by Apollo the Corybantes;15 and Melpomene had by Achelous the Sirens, of whom we shall speak in treating of Ulysses.16 [5]
Pausanias describes a painting of the defeated Thamyris:

 In this part of the painting is Schedius, who led the Phocians to Troy, and after him is Pelias, sitting on a chair, with grey hair and grey beard, and looking at Orpheus. Schedius holds a dagger and is crowned with grass. Thamyris is sitting near Pelias. He has lost the sight of his eyes; his attitude is one of utter dejection; his hair and beard are long; at his feet lies thrown a lyre with its horns and strings broken.

 Interestingly, in his invocation to Apollo in Paradiso I, Dante alludes to another challenger of divine poetic power - Marsyas the satyr, who was skinned for his hubris.

O buono Appollo, a l'ultimo lavoro
fammi del tuo valor sì fatto vaso,
come dimandi a dar l'amato alloro.

O good Apollo, for this final task
make me the vessel of your excellence,
what you, to merit your loved laurel, ask.

Infino a qui l'un giogo di Parnaso
assai mi fu; ma or con amendue
m'è uopo intrar ne l'aringo rimaso.

Until this point, one of Parnassus' peaks
sufficed for me; but now I face the test
the agon that is left; I need both crests.

Entra nel petto mio, e spira tue
sì come quando Marsia traesti
de la vagina de le membra sue.

Enter into my breast; within me breathe
the very power you made manifest
when you drew Marsyas out from his limbs' sheath.


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