So, I’m sure you’ve all been wondering endlessly about what I wrote earlier this month here, and have been losing sleep, worrying on the subway, and thinking of little to nothing else.
But first, a poem–and, not one of mine!
Balbilla to Sabina at Memnon
The cool softness of your hand is
moist and smooth as Parian marble,
as we wait in the coolest hour of dawn,
saffron stained, expectantly, speechless;
the colossus mute. But on the morrow
as the fecund waters lap the sere shore,
the giant Ethiope shattered son
of Eos and once champion of Troy,
sings, and our hearts rise in his susurrations
like the flight of doves released in Aphrodite’s temple.
–Michael Routery (a.k.a. Finnchuill), From the Prow of Myth, p. 73
[You can read my review of From the Prow of Myth here! Go buy this book RIGHT NOW!!!]
It was me, looking for this book the other night, in a process I will now refer to as “bibliothekomancy” (or what some others might call “the library angel” or “Harahel”) that lead me to an important realization about the subject of this festival and the present essay–Memnon the son of Eos and Tithonos–the other night when I was writing an essay having to do with both that Memnon and another one, and which was the answer to a question I had written down to ask in divination earlier in the week: on what day should a festival strictly for this hero Memnon be celebrated?
But before I get to the specific answer on that question, I’ll have to give you some further background on the hero and demi-god Memnon, the son of Eos and Tithonos. Even though he’s been implicitly a part of the Ekklesía Antínoou’s practices from his dates in November when Hadrian, Sabina, and Julia Balbilla visited the colossoi that were identified with him in Egypt a few weeks after Antinous’ death, we have really not paid him as much attention, or as much cultus, as we probably should have been doing all this time.
Memnon the son of Eos and Tithonos is mentioned briefly toward the end of Hesiod’s Theogony, and also very briefly in Homer’s Odyssey, and the love of Eos and Tithonos is also mentioned in the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite; he also gets mentioned in Herodotus. There was a part of the epic cycle known as the Aithiopis which was mostly about Memnon (though the death of Achilleus also featured in it), which no longer exists, but which was attributed to Arctinus of Miletus from the 7th c. BCE, and a summary of which survives. In this work, Memnon comes to Troy’s aid after Hector’s death, and is hailed as their savior, but a prophecy by Thetis suggests that if Achilleus fights him, he will slay him, but then will be slain soon after. Antilochus, the son of Nestor, ends up saving his father, but is in turn slain by Memnon; because there is an implied Patroklos-like relationship between Achilleus and Antilochus, Achilleus then battles Memnon, and defeats the Ethiopian king-hero, who is then lamented by his mother Eos and immortalized.
Virgil’s Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphoses also mention him, as does Pausanias. There are further minor mentions of him in other works, including Sappho, Pindar, Aeschylus, Pseudo-Apollodorus, Aelian, Philostratus, Callistratus, Seneca, and Tryphidorus.
The longest surviving treatment of Memnon’s deeds and death is in Quintus of Smyrna’s The Fall of Troy, also sometimes known as the “Posthomerica.” The story of Memnon mostly occurs in Book II, but the details of his death and what occurs after it are the most interesting for me, and thus I will focus on those in the excerpts below, from lines – of that book of the epic.
Still mid the corpses and the blood fought on those glorious sons of Gods, nor ever ceased from wrath of fight. But Eris now inclined the fatal scales of battle, which no more were equal-poised. Beneath the breast-bone then of godlike Memnon plunged Achilles’ sword; clear through his body all the dark-blue blade leapt: suddenly snapped the silver cord of life. Down in a pool of blood he fell, and clashed his massy armour, and earth rang again. Then turned to flight his comrades panic-struck, and of his arms the Myrmidons stripped the dead, while fled the Trojans, and Achilles chased, as whirlwind swift and mighty to destroy.
Then groaned the Dawn, and palled herself in clouds, and earth was darkened. At their mother’s hest all the light Breathings of the Dawn took hands, and slid down one long stream of sighing wind to Priam’s plain, and floated round the dead, and softly, swiftly caught they up, and bare through silver mists the Dawn-queen’s son, with hearts sore aching for their brother’s fall, while moaned round them all the air. As on they passed, fell many blood-gouts from those pierced limbs down to the earth, and these were made a sign to generations yet to be. The Gods gathered them up from many lands, and made thereof a far-resounding river, named of all that dwell beneath long Ida’s flanks Paphlagoneion. As its waters flow ‘twixt fertile acres, once a year they turn to blood, when comes the woeful day whereon died Memnon. Thence a sick and choking reek steams: thou wouldst say that from a wound unhealed corrupting humours breathed an evil stench. Ay, so the Gods ordained: but now flew on bearing Dawn’s mighty son the rushing winds skimming earth’s face and palled about with night.
Nor were his Aethiopian comrades left to wander of their King forlorn: a God suddenly winged those eager souls with speed such as should soon be theirs for ever, changed to flying fowl, the children of the air. Wailing their King in the winds’ track they sped. As when a hunter mid the forest-brakes is by a boar or grim-jawed lion slain, and now his sorrowing friends take up the corse, and bear it heavy-hearted; and the hounds follow low-whimpering, pining for their lord in that disastrous hunting lost; so they left far behind that stricken field of blood, and fast they followed after those swift winds with multitudinous moaning, veiled in mist unearthly. Trojans over all the plain and Danaans marvelled, seeing that great host vanishing with their King. All hearts stood still in dumb amazement. But the tireless winds sighing set hero Memnon’s giant corpse down by the deep flow of Aesopus’ stream, where is a fair grove of the bright-haired Nymphs, the which round his long barrow afterward Aesopus’ daughters planted, screening it with many and manifold trees: and long and loud wailed those Immortals, chanting his renown, the son of the Dawn-goddess splendour-throned.
Now sank the sun: the Lady of the Morn wailing her dear child from the heavens came down. Twelve maidens shining-tressed attended her, the warders of the high paths of the sun for ever circling, warders of the night and dawn, and each world-ordinance framed of Zeus, around whose mansion’s everlasting doors from east to west they dance, from west to east, whirling the wheels of harvest-laden years, while rolls the endless round of winter’s cold, and flowery spring, and lovely summer-tide, and heavy-clustered autumn. These came down from heaven, for Memnon wailing wild and high; and mourned with these the Pleiads. Echoed round far-stretching mountains, and Aesopus’ stream. Ceaseless uprose the keen, and in their midst, fallen on her son and clasping, wailed the Dawn; “Dead art thou, dear, dear child, and thou hast clad thy mother with a pall of grief. Oh, I, now thou art slain, will not endure to light the Immortal Heavenly Ones! No, I will plunge down to the dread depths of the underworld, where thy lone spirit flitteth to and fro, and will to blind night leave earth, sky, and sea, till Chaos and formless darkness brood o’er all, that Cronos’ Son may also learn what means anguish of heart. For not less worship-worthy than Nereus’ Child, by Zeus’s ordinance, am I, who look on all things, I, who bring all to their consummation. Recklessly my light Zeus now despiseth! Therefore I will pass into the darkness. Let him bring up to Olympus Thetis from the sea to hold for him light forth to Gods and men! My sad soul loveth darkness more than day, lest I pour light upon thy slayer’s head!”
Thus as she cried, the tears ran down her face immortal, like a river brimming aye: drenched was the dark earth round the corse. The Night grieved in her daughter’s anguish, and the heaven drew over all his stars a veil of mist and cloud, of love unto the Lady of Light.
Meanwhile within their walls the Trojan folk for Memnon sorrowed sore, with vain regret yearning for that lost king and all his host. Nor greatly joyed the Argives, where they lay camped in the open plain amidst the dead. There, mingled with Achilles’ praise, uprose wails for Antilochus: joy clasped hands with grief.
All night in groans and sighs most pitiful the Dawn-queen lay: a sea of darkness moaned around her. Of the dayspring nought she recked: she loathed Olympus’ spaces. At her side fretted and whinnied still her fleetfoot steeds, trampling the strange earth, gazing at their Queen grief-stricken, yearning for the fiery course. Suddenly crashed the thunder of the wrath of Zeus; rocked round her all the shuddering earth, and on immortal Eos trembling came.
Swiftly the dark-skinned Aethiops from her sight buried their lord lamenting. As they wailed unceasingly, the Dawn-queen lovely-eyed changed them to birds sweeping through air around the barrow of the mighty dead. And these still do the tribes of men “The Memnons” call; and still with wailing cries they dart and wheel above their king’s tomb, and they scatter dust down on his grave, still shrill the battle-cry, in memory of Memnon, each to each. But he in Hades’ mansions, or perchance amid the Blessed on the Elysian Plain, laugheth. Divine Dawn comforteth her heart beholding them: but theirs is toil of strife unending, till the weary victors strike the vanquished dead, or one and all fill up the measure of their doom around his grave.
So by command of Eos, Lady of Light, the swift birds dree their weird. But Dawn divine now heavenward soared with the all-fostering Hours, who drew her to Zeus’ threshold, sorely loth, yet conquered by their gentle pleadings, such as salve the bitterest grief of broken hearts. Nor the Dawn-queen forgat her daily course, but quailed before the unbending threat of Zeus, of whom are all things, even all comprised within the encircling sweep of Ocean’s stream, earth and the palace-dome of burning stars. Before her went her Pleiad-harbingers, then she herself flung wide the ethereal gates, and, scattering spray of splendour, flashed there-through.
There are all sorts of things which are fascinating about this. The birds who tend Memnon’s tomb are similar to the birds that are said by Arrian to have attended Achilleus’ temple on the isle of Leuke (wherein he makes a comparison/allusion to Antinous); these birds are also mentioned in Ovid’s Metamorphoses as well as elsewhere.
But perhaps one of the most surprising appearances of Memnon is a certain post-classical text that is one of the most important sources of “lore” for a certain modern polytheist group: namely Heathens, who hold Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda in very high regard. In the Prologue, part III, Snorri’s text reads:
One king among them was called Múnón or Mennón; and he was wedded to the daughter of the High King Priam, her who was called Tróán; they had a child named Trór, whom we call Thor. He was fostered in Thrace by a certain war-duke called Lóríkus; but when he was ten winters old he took unto him the weapons of his father. He was as goodly to look upon, when he came among other men, as the ivory that is inlaid in oak; his hair was fairer than gold.
Yes, you read that right: Memnon (the nephew of Priam since Tithonos was said to have been his brother) is here reported to have been the father of the Thracian-fostered Norse god Thor! Take that, racialist Heathens: one of your main gods is half-Ethiopian, according to your most highly-regarded work of lore! ;)
I would be remiss if I also didn’t mention the series of books that Gregory L. Walker/Brother G has written about Memnon: Shades of Memnon, Book I, Shades of Memnon, Book II: Ra Force Rising, and Shades of Memnon, Book III: African Atlantis Unbound, which will be followed up by a fourth book at some point in the future as well. I have not read these yet, but look forward to doing so at some point in the not-too-distant future!
While Memnon is said to have had a tomb near Troy, and other shrines and temples in Egypt, Asia Minor, and in Ethiopia/Nubia, it is only certain Egyptian statues that still survive which are linked to him (even though they most certainly weren’t built to commemorate him). Ovid’s Fasti book 4, lines 713-720, on April 20!
When next day Memnon’s saffron-robed mother on her rosy steeds shall come to view the far-spread lands, the sun departs from the sign of the leader of the woolly flock, the ram which betrayed Helle; and when he has passed out of that sign, a larger victim meets him. Whether that victim is a cow or a bull, it is not easy to know; the fore part is visible, the hinder part is hid. But whether the sign be a bull or a cow, it enjoys this reward of love against the will of Juno.
This may not seem like much, since Memnon is only mentioned extremely briefly at the beginning; but, it’s better than nothing, and is just as good a reason as any to select the present date for the commemoration of Memnon as a divine hero henceforth. And, divination did also confirm this was something fully and enthusiastically supported by the gods, and especially Antinous. (It’s a total coincidence that it just happened to be the day it is this year–a day on which the sun as well as the son rises, only today, it’s an entirely different son who is remembered at the rising of Eos!) So, in our calendar, this date shall remain for Memnon from now on!
While there are a number of Ethiopian and/or Nubian deities that were taken into the Egyptian pantheon (including Bes, who is extremely important to the Antinoan cultus), there are others as well that I’ve been feeling a pull from over the last few years in relation to the Serpent Path and to Memnon the trophimos of Herodes Attikos. These include Apedemak, his wife Amesemi, and Mandoulis. I hope that my cultus to Memnon will open up further doors to these deities in the future.
I shall be writing my own poem for Memnon in the coming hours, so watch for that when it comes up!
Hail to the son of Eos and Tithonos, the King of the Blameless Ethiopians, Memnon!