I don’t know if you caught it when I initially posted about the Bacchic Fairies & Goblins but the Dwarf King who invites Herla to attend his wedding beneath the Earth in Walter Map’s De Nugis Curiallium is wearing a nebris – and King Herla, of course, is an early form of the Erlkönig, the Elf King who carries off the wife of Orpheus, King of the Britons in Sir Orfeo.

The symptoms she suffers after the snakebite are very much like what we find in certain types of Mainadism and Tarantism:

She slept until the sun had passed its height. And when she woke – God! She screamed and started doing some terrible things! She beat with her hands and her feet and scratched her face with her fingernails so badly that the blood ran down her cheeks. She tore at her frock, ripping the costly material into shreds, and behaving for all the world as though she had gone stark staring mad. Her two maidens were frightened out of their wits! They ran to the palace and urged everyone to go and restrain her. Knights made their way as quickly as they could to the orchard, and ladies and damsels also, more than sixty I think. They arrived at the orchard, took the Queen up in their arms and brought her into the palace and to her bed, where they kept a tight hold on her to prevent her from injuring herself further.

Which we commemorate during the Agrionia and Aletideia, festivals celebrated during the Gold Season.

Although Sir Orfeo gives Heurodis as the name of his wife, Vergil in Georgics IV names her Eurydice and makes the one responsible for her untimely katabasis Aristaeus, who was taught rustic arts by the Nymphs:

Now Apollon begat by Kyrene in that land a son Aristaios and gave him while yet a babe into the hands of the Nymphai to nurture, and the latter bestowed upon him three different names, calling him, that is, Nomios (the Shepherd), Aristaios, and Argeus (the Hunter). He learned from the Nymphai how to curdle milk [i.e. how to make cheese], to make bee-hives, and to cultivate olive-trees, and was the first to instruct men in these matters. And because of the advantage which came to them from these discoveries the men who had received his benefactions rendered to Aristaios honours equal to those offered to the Gods. (Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 4.81.1)


In retaliation, Orpheus curses the bees of Aristaeus and Vergil has the griefstruck demigod consult the Egyptian oracular God Proteus, who instructs him to carry out propitiatory sacrifices:

Choose four bulls of outstanding physique,
that graze on your summits of green Lycaeus,
and as many heifers, with necks free of the yoke.
Set up four altars for them by the high shrines of the goddesses,
and drain the sacred blood from their throats
leaving the bodies of the steers in the leafy grove.
Then when the ninth dawn shows her light
send funeral gifts of Lethean poppies to Orpheus,
and sacrifice a black ewe, and revisit the grove:
worship Eurydice, placate her with the death of a calf.’

Without delay he immediately does as his mother ordered:
he comes to the shrines, raises the altars as required,
and leads four chosen bulls there of outstanding physique,
and as many heifers with necks free of the yoke.
Then when the ninth dawn brings her light,
he sends funeral gifts to Orpheus, and revisits the grove.

Here a sudden wonder appears, marvellous to tell,
bees buzzing and swarming from the broken flanks
among the liquefied flesh of the cattle,
and trailing along in vast clouds, and flowing together
on a tree top, and hanging in a cluster from the bowed branches.

The rebirth of the gold-rich bees from the carcass of cattle reminds one of the Liberalia. Note also that Vergil has Orpheus leave Greece to wander through the Ukraine and Russia:

He wandered the Northern ice, and snowy Tanais,
and the fields that are never free of Rhipaean frost,
mourning his lost Eurydice, and Dis’s vain gift:
the Ciconian women, spurned by his devotion,
tore the youth apart, in their divine rites and midnight
Bacchic revels, and scattered him over the fields.

Although most sources mention that Thracian women were responsible for the martyrdom of Orpheus, Vergil’s making them Kikones is a nice touch considering this people’s connection with Dionysos and the Winds.


Winds also feature in another myth involving Aristaeus – who by the way, is the father of Aktaion mentioned in the nebris post above.

Diodoros’ narrative continues from where we left off:

After this, they say, Aristaios went to Boiotia, where he married one of the daughters of Kadmos, Autonoë to whom was born Aktaion, who, as the myths relate, was torn to pieces by his own dogs . . . After the death of Aktaion Aristaios went to the oracle of his father Apollon, who prophesied to him that he was to change his home to the island of Keos.

To this island he sailed, but since a plague prevailed throughout Greece the sacrifice he offered there was on behalf of all the Greeks. And since the sacrifice was made at the time of the rising of the star Seirios, which is the period when the Etesian winds customarily blow, the pestilential diseases, we are told, came to an end.

Now the man who ponders upon this event may reasonably marvel at the strange turn which fortune took; for the same man who saw his son done to death by the dogs likewise put an end to the influence of the star which, of all the stars of heaven, bears the same name and is thought to bring destruction upon mankind, and by so doing was responsible for saving the lives of the rest.

Which has added resonance this year because of the coronavirus. Maybe President Trump needs to sacrifice some bulls to the Winds and Dog Star if he wants to rejuvenate the economy on Easter – or things could get beary serious.

Anyway, just some of the feta crumbs folks may have missed. I’m a little in awe of how deep and rich the symbolism of our Bakcheion calendar is, and how rewarding a serious study of this material is proving. Seriously, I hope you’re enjoying this as much as I am. 


2 thoughts on “Details

  1. You’ve just crystallized something for me that I’ve been kicking around for 15 years or so…it wasn’t an “important” detail in the whole matter, but it could end up being very fruitful, having to do with Aktaion/Actaeon and his relationship to some other figures from other cultures…!?! ;)


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