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Mixanthrôpoi

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Emma Aston

Section Two : Movement, absence and loss

Introduction

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1In the Introduction to this book, it was shown that the characterisation of non-divine mixanthropes in Greek myths followed certain flexible but meaningful patterns. In particular, it was shown that mixanthropic monsters are almost without exception the adversary of humans (and sometimes of gods); and that in this position of foe they are doomed to suffer defeat and removal, sometimes even death. It was remarked that this motif of defeat and supersession is not limited to Greek culture, but also dominates the rôle of monsters in the myths of the Near East. The foe-status and removal of mixanthropes is a strikingly pervasive motif.

2Are mixanthropic gods entirely immune to this characterisation? Do they occupy an entirely different position in ancient thought? Clearly not; not only does their physical depiction connect them with it, but several of them, such as the Sirens, are explicitly described as monstrous adversaries of man, defied and defeated. But a closer examination of the ancient material reveals that the discourse of the defeated monster finds a subtle counterpart in the depiction of mixanthropic deities, a complex adaptation of motifs which makes itself felt both in myths and rituals. Section Two lays out the dominant themes at work, and the way in which divinity and monstrosity accomplish a consistent implicit dialogue.

3By far the most prominent motif in the ancient material is that of expulsion (and the closely associated motif of withdrawal). This is therefore the subject of the ensuing Chapter 4. It will be shown that mixanthropic deities are consistently depicted as being expelled, or as being caused to withdraw, from their cult site and/or their sphere of influence. In ancient thought, there are two chief ways in which the theme of expulsion or withdrawal is delineated. Both of them are spatial. Sometimes it is a matter of movement within a landscape fraught with symbolic significance, a landscape of imaginary topography dominated by certain physical features. At other time the focus is narrower: the physical setting of a cult, and the movement of a mixanthropic image within that setting. In both types, however, we find the same motif: the mixanthropic deity is made absent from its position of power or influence, and this absence is attended by a high degree of anxiety and regret.

© Presses universitaires de Liège, 2011

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