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Tyro, Lover of the River God

Tyro in contemporary garment


This is the story of Tyro from Hesiod Catalog of Women

“Do you not know that Salmoneus too was punished by the gods for this, because , although he was a human being, he tried to be Zeus?”

“Thus he punished the people for their king’s trespass….sons and wife and house-servants,…city and…-flowing mansions he obliterated them, and seizing him he hurled him into murky Tatarus,…”

Then his daughter was left behind, dear to the blessed gods, beautiful haired Tyro, similar to Golden Aphrodite, because she would rebuke and contend with Salmoneus continually and would not permit a mortal to contend with the gods; for this reason the father of men and gods saved her…. He led her off to the house of excellent Cretheus and he joyfully received her and reared her up. But when she came to the peak of very lovely puberty…the earth-sheker Poseidon fell in love with her…. in desire, and god with a mortal, for in beauty she surpassed all female women. And she would travel to the fair streams of Enipeus….”

This is the story of Tyro from Homer ‘The Odyssey’ Book 11:

"Tyro began, whom great Salmoneus bred;
The royal partner of famed Cretheus' bed.
For fair Enipeus, as from fruitful urns
He pours his watery store, the virgin burns;
Smooth flows the gentle stream with wanton pride,
And in soft mazes rolls a silver tide.
As on his banks the maid enamour'd roves,
The monarch of the deep beholds and loves;
In her Enipeus' form and borrow'd charms
The amorous god descends into her arms:
Around, a spacious arch of waves he throws,
And high in air the liquid mountain rose;
Thus in surrounding floods conceal'd, he proves
The pleasing transport, and completes his loves.
Then, softly sighing, he the fair address'd,
And as he spoke her tender hand he press'd.
'Hail, happy nymph! no vulgar births are owed
To the prolific raptures of a god:
Lo! when nine times the moon renews her horn,
Two brother heroes shall from thee be born;
Thy early care the future worthies claim,
To point them to the arduous paths of fame;
But in thy breast the important truth conceal,
Nor dare the secret of a god reveal:
For know, thou Neptune view'st! and at my nod
Earth trembles, and the waves confess their god.'

"He added not, but mounting spurn'd the plain,
Then plunged into the chambers of the main,

"Now in the time's full process forth she brings
Jove's dread vicegerents in two future kings;
O'er proud Iolcos Pelias stretch'd his reign,
And godlike Neleus ruled the Pylian plain:
Then, fruitful, to her Cretheus' royal bed
She gallant Pheres and famed Aeson bred;
From the same fountain Amythaon rose,
Pleased with the din of scar; and noble shout of foes.

So here is an interpretation of these things:

Tyro was the daughter of Alcidice and Salmoneus, king of Elis. The city Elis lies near the Peneus River. The region is in southern Greece on the Peloponnesos peninsula, bounded on the north by Achaea, east by Arcadia, south by Messenia, and west by the Ionian Sea. In those day the house of her family would have been on high ground above the river. Salmoneus was an arrogant and impious man who commanded his people worship him as the god Zeus. He impersonated the divinity by driving around in a chariot dragging bronze kettles to make thunder, and casting torches in the air for lightning. If that was not bad enough her mother Alcidece died and Salmoneus married a second wife Sidero who treated Tyro badly. For these reason homelife must have been pretty miserable for Tyro. She sought every opportunity to leave her home.

Now in those days the main reason for a young girl to leave her home was water. Since her home was located on a high hill servant girls had to make numerous trips to the river for water. Though she was a princess she could volunteer to help with these duties. As with Nausicaa in the Odyssey of Homer she could also journey to the river to bath and do laundry. Because she did this so often she got a reputation for loving the river god. Now the myth say that she loved the river god Enipeus but the name of the river near Elis is Peneus. In ancient times a girl was kept at home because because this protected her virginity. The virginity of the girl was protected so that her future husband would know that he was the father of her children. But if she left the house she could be exposed to to prying eyes of men. If she was a pretty girl she might attract the attention of of a man who would try to have sex with her. This was one of the challenges of going after the water that was needed at home.

Tyro was so beautiful that she even attracted the attention of the god Poseidon. Then came his love for her as mentioned above. There are stories in ancient times of fertility festivals where a maiden and a young man were specially chosen, probably for their beauty, and caused to couple in the fields to promote the fertility of the crops. But in this passage the god makes sure his sex act is private and not public. This seems to suggest that privacy of the sex act was a moral matter.

That the god Poseidon was involved the fertility issue is important. The ancient Greeks antropomorphised their deites. They might have believed that the spirit of the deity infused the maiden with power to become fertile. But they believed the deity actually engaged in the sex act.

After a while Tyro had to admit that she was pregnant. Her father probably looked forward to the opportunity to give her away to one of his friends because she was so beautiful. He knew this was an act that he would have benefited from greatly. So her pregnancy was a great disappointment to him. Girls were often forced into marriages in those days to satisfy the egos of their father. A considerate father would go to some trouble to find a compatible daugher and one the daugher liked, but this was not the case with Salmoneus. With Tryo pregnant it was all Salmoneus could do to marry her to his brother Cretheus. This he mius have done when Tyro was fairly young, because Cretheus was bothe a father and husband to Tyro. He looked after her so well that her sons out of wedlock Pelias and Neleus, were successful enough to be kings and subjects of their own myths. She went on to have Aeson by Cretheus. Of course when Tyro was fiirst pregnant no one gave any thought to who the father was. But when her sons became Kings they knew the father must have been Poseidon because, after all, no mortal man could have sired such wonderful men.

Now ‘enipe’ is the Greek word for rebuke. And so it is not surprising that Tyro did not get far with Enipeus. So what kind of love is referenced here. Perhaps the river was named for her rebuke and not the other way around. The fact is that it was Poseidon who took an interest in her. Perhaps she was a water nymph, a Nereid. The stories about Nereids suggest that water resources were given as gifts to young women as part of their dowery. The fact that Poseidon actually took interest in her is interesting. Poseidon may have come from the Minoan pantheon. He was a major player in the Pantheon on Crete among the Mycenaeans who took over after the Minoan culture collapsed.

“Poseidon seems to have occupied a place of privilege, notably in the texts of Knossos. He was probably at this period a chthonic deity, connected with earthquakes. Also to be found are a collection of “Ladies” or “Madonnas”, like one Lady of the Labyrinth in Crete, who calls to mind the myth of the Minoan labyrinth, in keeping with the presence of a god named Daedalus. There is also a “Sea Goddess” named Diwia. Other divinities who can be found in later periods have been identified, such as the couple Zeus–Hera, Ares, Hermes, Athena, Artemis, Dionysus and Erinya. Notably absent are Apollo, Aphrodite, Demeter (divinities of Eastern origin), Hephaestus, and Hades. Reverence

“Tyro” is also an alternative spelling for “Tiro”, and can also mean a novice or beginner. So it would seem that Tyro and Enipeus could have the double meaning of the beginner at love rebuked by the object of her love. The fact that both of these names can be translated into ancient Greek means that the myth was probably more Mycenaean or Greek in origin rather than Minoan or even any other culture.

There must have been other stories about Tyro when Homer composed ‘the Odyssey.’ The later stories contain other details that do not always agree with Homer.