Mythography and Archaeology: The Case of Eulimene

Published: Dec 20, 2023
Mythography Archaeology Crete Parthenius
Eva Astyrakaki

The main aim of the present research work is to provide a new interpretative perspective on Eulimene’s story by combining literary testimonies and archaeological findings. The story is included in Parthenius’s collection entitled Περὶ Ἐρωτικῶν Παθημάτων, dating back to the 1st century BC. This story appears to be an exceptionally fertile example in which a multidisciplinary approach, that combines Philology and Archaeology, can, potentially, illuminate aspects and facts that would otherwise remain unearthed.

Eulimene’s story deals with eponymous heroes and city founders of Crete. The Cretan cities of Lykastos and Kydonia are attested as early as in Homer and Aptera and Kydonia are also cited in Linear B tablets of Knossos; the name of Eulimene, referring to a Nereid, and the adjective ἄπτερος, applied to some gods, were known to Hesiod and Homer, respectively. Given that Crete was sui generis in terms of its own mythology, it is likely that before Homer there was already a background relating to those Cretan cities.

Eulimene is known as a Nereid. Hesiod reports it in his Theogony and pottery as early as the 5th c. BC attests it, as well. A different perspective is introduced by a piece of textile and a pyxis, which hint at an association of Eulimene with Crete, particularly with Phaedra and Ariadne.

 There is also a Messenian story, reported by Pausanias, which presents similarities and common patterns. However, the story of Eulimene is rather more complex since the Messenian story was arguably modelled on the predating Cretan version.

Eulimene’s story in Parthenius’ collection was structured according to the aesthetic standards of the Hellenistic era. However, the story seems to combine various elements, some of which echo Minoan times (the ritual of human sacrifice carried out by the king-priest, a union designed to result in fertility, interrupted in this case) and others which echo archaic times (dissection and forced extraction of the baby). Thus, I find particularly interesting the archaeological finding of the cut-up skull of a young girl, which Andreadaki-Vlazaki brought to light during the excavation at the Mycenaean palace of Kydonia at Chania.

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