Mythologies

Ari Silbermann (Bar Ilan)

The Book of Watchers and Enochic material in Second Temple Judaism is deeply tied to notions of astronomy and astrology. The work takes the mention of the descent of angels in Genesis 6 and expands it to include a tale of watchers who descend from the sky, take women and create monstrous beings who are later evil spirits which plague mankind. The texts describe Enoch’s travels in the heavenly spheres and his encounters with heavenly beings. Many different scholarly interpretations have been given behind the text such as a veiled critique of priestly actions in the Jerusalem temple to a critique of Hellenstic control. However, one aspect that has not yet been investigated in-depth is the link between the Watchers' descent and the retrograde motion of planets. In the Book of Watchers it appears that the Watchers, descending against God’s will, are symbolic for the motion of the planets which breach God’s law as it were. Interestingly there is a certain parallel to this in a Sassanian context, which sees planets as tied to evil spirits and witch-craft. I believe that this approach could yield very interesting cross-cultural research.


Giulio Leghissa (Toronto)

In Hesiod's Works and Days (161–3) the fratricide war between Eteocles and Polynices for the succession to the throne of Thebes is characterized as a fight 'for the sheep of Edipus' (μήλων ἕνεκ’ Οἰδιπόδαο): the meaning of the expression, however, cannot be understood straightforwardly. According to the standard view, the word μῆλα in Hesiod does not mean 'sheep' but, more generally, 'livestock', an emblem of Edipus' kingdom: this meaning is conveyed by ancient scholiastic tradition, which evidently had found itself puzzled before the obscure expression. However, such interpretation seems rather an artificial expedient devised by (ancient and modern as well) scholars not able anymore to identify the trace of an antique astronomical myth: in fact, in most ancient times Edipus was not simply the king of Thebes, but the sovereign of the Kosmos as it found itself during the Age of Aries. I suggest that the word μῆλα employed by Hesiod cannot mean but 'sheep' and that its close link with the ram hints at the constellation of the Aries, which marked the Golden Age, according to ancient belief. Through a comparative perspective, Hesiod’s account will be confronted with other (Greek and non-Greek) myths in which the sheep, or the herd of oxen, is associated with the idea of the cyclic nature of the astronomical eras—or the periodical destruction of the world. Perhaps the origins of the myth of Edipus are celestial, and should not be searched for not on earth, but in the skies.