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Day Three of the A-to-Z Challenge in April 2017. Let’s do this.
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As part of my Greek mythic figures, places, and things theme, my “C” post centers around the hero, Caeneus, and his adventure in the events of the Calydonian boar hunt and the Centauromachy.
Now let’s start with Caeneus first…
His story is fascinating. And, if you know his story, not for the reason you might be thinking. At least not for me.
But let’s get on with the story first.
Who was Caeneus?
Caeneus was born Caenis (pronounced SEE-nis), and Caenis was a nymph. And if you know your nymphs, they’re young and beautiful and coquettish and, apparently, god magnets. So it’s not a wonder Caenis had her finger wrapped around Poseidon.
As Poseidon’s lover, she was dear enough to a fickle Greek god that he promised to grant her any one wish.
Now the way I always understood it was that nymphs are nature spirits, if not personifications of tribes, clans, places, etc. So they were lesser immortals…but in some versions, Caenis is a beautiful human maiden (“virgin”).
Either way, I don’t believe Caenis actually cared for Poseidon’s attentions and affections. One variant says he raped her, and feeling a prick of surprising guilt, Poseidon decides to grant her one wish.
I guess Caenis felt helpless, as maybe most women did in the ancient, male-dominated society reflected in a lot of these Greek myths. So she asks for Poseidon to change her into a man, and to make her impervious at that.
So that’s how Caenis became Caeneus, the impervious man.
Caeneus went off and accomplished heroic feats, earning his fame as a warrior-hero.
It’s hunting time!
One of those feats was the famous (or is that infamous?) Calydonian boar hunt.
This hunt started off as a punishment for a purported crime committed by a human against a god. At least this time it’s a goddess.
Then King of Calydon, Oeneus, forgot to honor Artemis, goddess of the hunt, with the first fruits of his kingdom’s harvest. So Artemis decided she’d send a supernatural beast of a boar to savage the countryside of Oeneus’s kingdom.
So Oeneus, being a man of connections, calls out a bunch of famous heroes to come rid this preternatural boar from his lands. Caeneus was one of the heroes who joined the bloody hunt; he also, obviously, survived unlike some of the men who journeyed out.
Okay, so far we got the typical hero thing going. It’s not shocking what happens next…
Where it goes downhill:
One story says Caeneus started getting cocky. His hubris led him to enter a town one day, and, propping his spear up in the market (or agora, I guess), he told everyone to worship his weapon as if it were a god.
Overhearing this boastful cry, Zeus sets to work plotting how to kill Caeneus. Yeah, he isn’t joking. He jumps right for the throat, he does… Yeesh!
Only problem is that Caeneus is invulnerable, remember? Indestructible. Untouchable.
Then Zeus thinks of a brilliant plan. One that involves him not really lifting a finger. He’ll let the crazy Centaurs do the dirty work for him.
Now who were the Centaurs?
We all know they’re half-horse, half-human beings, but what are their supposed origins?
Centaurs were thought to be the product of Ixion, king of the Lapiths, and Nephele, a cloud resembling Hera. There are other origins, but this one made me laugh the most (that’s why I’m sharing it – are you laughing yet?).
However they came to be, the centaurs now have a connection to the wedding of another Lapith King, this one of the hero Pirithous.
Pirithous has a great friend in heroes like Theseus and, you might have guessed it, Caeneus. Both of these heroes also attend the wedding.
The centaurs are invited to the wedding, and they’re dined and wined like all guests.
But they can’t really handle their wine, because they’re not really humans are they? They have no clue how to dilute their wine with water or anything like that.
Liking their drinks a bit too much, the centaurs are pissed face by the time the bride shows up.
They’re so sh*t-faced, one Centaur rabblerouser, Eurytion, decides he’ll just take the bride for himself. That gives the other centaurs courage to stand and attempt to steal Lapith womenfolk at the large wedding gathering.
Theseus and Caeneus go to arms with King Pirithous and the Lapith army.
The centaurs get their horse behinds handed to them, but not before Caeneus is cornered by a group of Centaurs.
Seeing as they can’t kill the hero, they decide to bury him alive under pine trees and large rocks. Caenus does die, but that’s only because his impervious body is crushed.
Supposedly his soul flew up from the mountainous rubble of his tomb as a female bird…
The Centaurs are rounded up; Eurytion is particularly punished. His nose and ears are sliced off. Deformation will teach him a lesson; give him that dose of humility…
What I liked about Caeneus’s story is his transformation into a hero. Unlike most heroes who start with their heroic deeds early, Caeneus sort of worked for the title.
Nymphs weren’t exactly known for their warrior attributes. At least, not the nymphs who weren’t part of Artemis’s entourage, and Caeneus wasn’t one of those martial, chaste spirits.
MORAL: Gods, especially the handsy ones, should be avoided, period.
My sources to help with this post were:
Resourceful sites. Check them out!