Sunday, November 1, 2009

Pyrenees Puzzle

45 million years ago, in the Tertiary period, a certain island crashed into the western edge of Europe. Today, we call it Iberia, or Portugal and Spain. The impact shoved up a mountain range at the collision point, which we call the Pyrenees.

Not well-versed in the science of plate tectonics, the ancients had other ideas about the creation of those mighty mountains. The hero Heracles/Hercules, it seems, wandered that way during the performance of his 12 labors. Here we run into an ancient he-said, She said. Some versions of the story have him raping a Girl named Pyrene, others that She attacked him, and they all involve some brutish cowherd named Geryon. All of the stories, sadly, end with Her death. In his grief, Hercules piled up great heaps of rocks at Her burial site, forming the mountains which are named for Her.

I spent a lot of time online last night (hey, some guys watch football for hours, so sue me) trying to figure out what ancient writer actually told this story, especially since the modern re-tellings conflict so greatly. I have an obsession with going to the source of things.

I scoured my notes on Sophocles, Euripides, Virgil, etc., to no avail.

It appears that a first-century Roman named Silias Italicus preserves the earliest extant retelling of the myth, in an obscure book called Punica.

Tangent-ially (is that a word?) check out this link for a scholar who connects the whole scenario to Celts and ancient ritual:;%20charset=Windows-1252

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