Hyas

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For other uses, see Hyas (disambiguation).

Hyas, in Greek mythology, was a son of the Titan Atlas by Aethra (one of the Oceanids). He was a notable archer who was killed by his intended prey. Some stories have him dying after attempting to rob a lion of its cubs. Some have him killed by a serpent, but most commonly he is said to have been gored by a wild boar. His sisters, the Hyades, mourned his death with so much vehemence and dedication that they died of grief. Zeus, in recognition of their familial love, took pity upon them and changed them into stars—the constellation Hyades—and placed them in the head of Taurus, where their annual rising and setting are accompanied by plentiful rain.

The mythological use for a Hyas, apparently a back formation from Hyades, may simply have been to provide a male figure to consort with the archaic rain-nymphs, the Hyades, a chaperone responsible for their behavior, as all the archaic sisterhoods— even the Muses— needed to be controlled under the Olympian world-picture (Ruck and Staples). In fact among the poets it is immaterial whether Hyas is described as their father or their brother. And his death gave these weepy rain-nymphs a cause for their weeping, mourning for a male being an acceptably passive female role in the patriarchal culture of the Hellenes.[1] Hyas had no separate existence except as progenitor/guardian of the Hyantes, neither in mythic narrative nor in rite, even the alternative accounts of his demise being somewhat conventional and interchangeable: compare the death of Meleager or Actaeon.

The Hyantes, descendants of Hyas—or rather of the Hyades, for the fertility of rain-nymphs needs no male consort— were the original ("Pelasgian") inhabitants of Boeotia, from which country they were expelled by the followers of Cadmus (Peck; Pliny's Natural History, iv.12). Into late Classical times (as by Pausanias, for example), Cadmus was remembered as having been a Phoenician, or at least backed by a Phoenician army, and there may be a nugget of political reality at the heart of the myth, that a Phoenician colony established along the Boeotian coast had displaced some of the area's aboriginal inhabitants while absorbing others.

Some of the Hyantes are said to have emigrated to isolated and pastoral Phocis, where they founded Hyampolis, or at least that gave a good etiological explanation for the city's name. Others supposedly fled to Aetolia, another region that retained a primitive character into Classical times. The poets used the adjective Hyantius as equivalent to Boeoticus, or "rural", partly as a demonstration of how conversant they were with such arcane details:

"Thus, then, Hyantius to his Partners spake,
That trod the Mazes of the pathlesse Wood:
My Friends our nets and javelins reake with blood:
Enough hath been the fortune of this day:" (Ovid)

The speaker is Actaeon, grandson of Cadmus, who came to an end somewhat similar to that of Hyas.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ This commonplace about the mourning role for Greek women, who were normally kept in seclusion, is explored in Gail Holst-Warhaft, Dangerous Voices: Women's Laments and Greek Literature. London and New York: Routledge, 1992. See also the Bryn Mawr Classical Review of Holst-Warhaft.

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