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Monsters Must Bear Monsters: Genealogical Continuity and Poetic Awareness in Theogony 287-94 and 979-83.

Brett Stine

Texas Tech University

The importance of birth within the genealogies of the Theogony has long been recognized (e.g. Angier 1964; West 1967; Arthur 1982; Thalmann 1984; Clay 2003; Scully 2015). As a primary catalyst of both cosmological and narrative development, birth provides the activity necessary to populate the physical and poetic landscape, moving the cosmos from formlessness to particularity by the mingling of both bodies and words. However, for all of birth's obvious significance, little focus has been given specifically to the male appropriation of reproduction within the Theogony apart from that of Zeus (e.g. Arthur 1982; Leitao 2012; Park 2014), and no attention has been given to this phenomenon within the line of Phorkus and Keto, the Catalogue of Monsters (Th. 270-336; West 1967; Gantz 1993; Clay 1993; idem 2003).

In this paper, I explore an instance of masculine procreation in Theogony 287-94, focusing primarily on relationship between Chrysaor and his off-spring, Geryon. I first compare the initial passage concerning the birth of Geryon (Th. 287-94) with a later recapitulation of the same birth (Th. 979-83). Significantly, the comparison proves stimulating because the active agent of the birth has shifted from Chrysaor to Khalliroe, and the subsequent language used to describe the birth has likewise shifted to accommodate the primary progenative agent. In the earlier passage, Chrysaor's monstrous origins are on full display, not only by means of his strange birth (Th. 280-1) but also through his appropriation of a primarily female activity (i.e. birth; Th. 288 τέκε), a detail previously unexplored in scholarship, and subsequently his offspring's bizarre nature (Th. 287 τρικέφαλον). In the later passage (Th. 979-83), by highlighting the Oceanid Khalliroe as the active agent of birth and Chrysaor with a more heroic epithet, the Hesiodic tradition suppresses the previous monstrous qualities and therefore a far less grotesque Geryon emerges (Τh. 981 παῖδα βροτῶν κάρτιστον ἁπάντων).

I then build on the unique connection between Chrysaor and Geryon, and propose a principle of genealogical continuity emerges within the Hesiodic tradition: through descriptive language and activity, the tradition propagates ontological and lexical connections (or resonances) between parents and offspring – in this case, monsters must bear monsters. To support this, I attempt to place the Chrysaor/Geryon episode and genealogical continuity within the broader context of the Theogony (Thalmann 1984; Hamilton 1989; Faraone 2013). First, I focus on two males who similarly assume procreative capacities, Pontos and Nereus (West 1967; Clay 2003). Because males infrequently are the sole active agents of birth language within the Theogony (e.g. Leitao 2012), this study proves fruitful for recognizing subtle associations in language and nature between parents and children. I then move on to highlight instances of parthenogenesis (Park 2014), which also prove as useful lenses through which to observe resonances found between parent and offspring. Here, Gaia emerges as a helpful example of genealogical continuity, particularly because we can observe her children over multiple generations (Arthur 1982; Park 2014).

Through a close reading of Theogony 287-94 and Th. 979-83, Chrysaor's appropriation of a primarily female activity (i.e. birth) and connections to his offspring prove to be useful for clarifying his monstrous place in the line of Phorcys and Keto. Further, by situating the Chrysaor/Geryon episode in the broader context of the Theogony, and observing male entities who appropriate reproductive capabilities, as well as instances of parthenogenesis, the Hesiodic tradition seems to demonstrate a principle of genealogical continuity, particularly illustrated in the subtle connections between parent and offspring. This principle proves useful in clarifying our understanding of the Hesiodic genealogical program, and provides opportunities to draw stronger connections between birth and the rest of the Theogonic narrative via ontological and lexical resonances.  

Session/Panel Title:

Didactic Poetry

Session/Paper Number

28.6

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