Laelaps vs. the Teumessian Fox - An Ancient Paradox
(Originally posted July 25, 2016 on blogger.com)
Today was a good day. I enjoyed some hours reading about the "Hittites" and Kassites of ancient Mesopotamia. One subtopic led to another, and I somehow ended up reading old pre-Greek myths, and found myself trying to understand how a Calydonian king's granddaughter could give birth to a Phoenician of high lineage whose son ruled what is now known as Crete.
This was when I came across the myth of a dog named Laelaps who never failed to catch what she hunted. I had heard the myth of the hunting hound with a perfect record once before, but never pursued (pun) the story. I scribbled the words, "find out more on Laelaps...", on the corner of my deconstruction notebook, and finished reconciling (to the best of my imagination), the apparent discontinuity of the aforementioned Calydonian granddaughter, giving birth to a Phoenician.
Laelaps, the hound that always caught its prey, was a gift to Europa from Zeus. Europa, after whom the pseudo-continent of Europe was named (the actual continent is Eurasia), had a brother named Phoenix. Phoenix, son of Agenor and brother of Europa, resettled to the east and named those lands after himself: Phoenicia.
So the Calydonian/Phoenician gap seemed bridged. It explains how a Calydonian would go on to be remembered as a Phoenician woman of 'high lineage' since her brother founded Phoenicia (mythologically speaking of course).
Now back to the divine hunting dog that always caught its prey. Some myths say that Europa gave Laelaps to her son, Minos. This seems difficult to resolve, since the myths say the dog ended up with one of two others; Cephalus, the prince of Phocis, or Amphitryon, the prince of Tiryns. How did Laelaps end up with either of these men if it was in Minos' possession?
The myth involving Cephalus says that Laelaps was given as a gift from his wife, Procris. The myth involving Amphitryon says simply that he was somehow already in possession of the dog. So what gives? Does Minos, Cephalus, or Amphitryon have this mutt?
The Teumessian fox was sent by the gods to terrorize the Theban countryside because gods can be just as irrational as mortals, which is only ironic if you believe in the gods. Otherwise, it makes sense. Laelaps, and the Teumessian Fox ultimately square off, so given this fact (now there's an irony... calling 'myth' fact), it seems appropriate to assume it would be Amphitryon who ends up with Laelaps, since Amphitryon is a Theban prince and therefore has a vested interest in capturing and killing the Teumessian fox.
It makes less sense (to me) that a jerk like Cephalus would receive a divine mutt from his wife as a gift for him having deceived her! "Hi honey, I brought you this gift from Zeus to thank you for being a deceptive, immature, twit! I'm off to hunt with Artemis now, you dolt! See you never!"
So I'm fairly convinced that Laelaps ended up with Amphitryon, and not Minos or Cephalus. My guess is that when the king of Thebes asked Amphitryon to rid the kingdom of the Teumessian fox, Amphitryon went straight to Zeus for help, and Zeus pointed him in the direction of Europa who may have intended to give the dog to her young son, Minos, but saw it serving a better purpose in Thebes.
Amphitryon was likely the same age (roundabouts) as Europa's son, Minos, so you could even consider it a motherly thing of her to do..
These myths.... quite the puzzle they are! I partly blame Herodotus, who seems to have quite the knack for confounding things. Tsk tsk..
Ok, so Amphitryon sets Laelaps loose on the Teumessian Fox. The dog who always catches its prey versus the fox can never be caught. An unintended paradox. Thanks Zeus.. thanks. This paradox survives to this day and is known as the "unstoppable-force paradox", wherein mutually-excluding forces cancel each other out such that a problem is never solved, or a victor is never realized. Wikipedia gives a rather amusing example of this sort of paradox here:
Well, the whole thing gave Zeus a headache, so he turned both creatures into stones (thanks again Zeus!), and cast them into the night sky where they became the constellation Canis Major (Laelaps), and Canis Minor (the Teumessian Fox).
VY Canis Majoris, a star in Canis Major, is one of the biggest stars known! So big that if you were to fly a 747 jet just over its surface, it would take you over 1100 years to make it all the way around.
Thanks for reading..