RUSUDAN TSANAVA                                                                                                                                                              # 18




According to the earliest and universal beliefs, a human body (microcosm) is analogous with the world (macrocosm)1 and has energy nexuses or chakras – spiral-shaped funnels acting as channels for energy/ power. Each of the 10 chakras (the number varies in different traditions) corresponds to and is protected by a certain sacred creature – an animal, a bird or an insect. Chakra, as well as its patron creature, has its own symbolic sign. Theses signs gave the start to the development of sign systems. It should be stressed that a sign is not a symbol; it is part of a symbol, while the latter is a set of sign systems united by energy capable of endowing with a special meaning.

Specific rituals are performed to open chakras. If all the nexuses are open, a human becomes permeable, achieves communion with all the worlds, resembles the cosmic tree and acquires the qualities of a leader. The chakra between the ‘solar plexus’ and the plexuses in the chest is related to the symbol of bull. It is ‘responsible’ for energy accumulation, freedom to be oneself, development, and search. The linguistic analysis of the common Indo-European root for bull/ cow revealed that it did not have the category of gender. The Greek bou`~ bw``~ (gen. bo(F)ov~) denotes both a cow and a bull. Semantic delimitation took place later, in certain Indo-European dialects.2

So, a human develops a spirit for search if the bull nexus is open. Search is primarily connected with finding a site for settlement, which was vital for primeval communities. People tried to find ‘power sites’, distinguished by special qualities, to built first cities. In several Greek myths the symbol of cow/ bull is personified as a mythical cow/ bull leading a sage (a mythical character) towards a sacred site for founding a city. This is a clear illustration of how a symbol is transformed into a myth. And as such mythical traditions obviously have a sacred colouring, the foundation of first cities is in fact a highly important mythoritual model.

The central characters of the Trojan and Theban cycles are the founders of fist cities. As Thebes is the coordinative element of the Theban cycle, I will give a brief account of how it was founded: After Zeus, transformed as a bull, carried Europa away, her father, King Agenor, sent his sons in search of his daughter. One of them, Cadmus, was told by the oracle at Delphi to stop the search and follow a white cow. In obedience to the oracle, he founded Thebes where the cow lay down. This essential information of the myth clearly reflects how the symbol of bull is personified in a myth. The sacred ritual of finding a ‘power site’ to build a city is rendered through the myth in a commonly understandable language. Detailed description of the ritual is offered in the Dionysiaca by Nonnos of Panopolis.

Thebes and Illium are the first cities, whose foundation mythologems imply the model for other cities.

Thebes, founded by Cadmus, is the centre of world harmony. Its symbol is the necklace of Harmonia (Cadmus’ wife)3, who is the mythopoetic symbol of the world.4

The same principle underlies the foundation of Illium, the Trojan capital. Ilus, the great grandson of Zeus, won a prize of fifty men and fifty girls, and a dappled cow at the games in Phrygia. Again, in obedience to an oracle, he followed the cow and founded Illium where the animal lay down. To confirm the fulfillment of the divine will, a wooden image of Athena, the Palladium, descended from the sky. It became the patron of the city and the symbol of its strength. Ilus built a temple for the Palladium and set a ritual worship to honour the goddess. A wall with six gates was built around the city under the next ruler, Laomedon.

It is important that the cities discussed above are mythical – they were founded and existed in the mythical time. Later, the mythical information was adjusted to the historical cities, i.e. the history of an actual city starts with its mythical past.

A set of key points are distinguished in the first city foundation model: the wall around the city and the gates with protective amulets have a sacred meaning.  A city has a sacred centre that issues and waves around energy impulses. It is the place for the greatest shrine of the city, the temple of the patron deity. According to ancient (and not only Greek) myths, the first city patrons are goddesses – a city is a ‘living’ body, while life is produced and maintained through birth and reproduction, which was certainly the privilege  of goddesses.

By the logic of myth-production, similar mythoritual motifs rotate around the same axis. So, if Thebes and Illium have a common foundation model, Aea, mentioned in the myth about the Argonauts, could have been founded in the same way. Although many motifs are truly alike,5 the surviving sources say nothing about the foundation of the city. When the Argonauts came to Colchis, they were deeply impressed by a fabulous city ruled by Aeetes.6 However, the foundation story remains unknown. Only the Corinthian version relates about Aeetes’ coming to Colchis, but does not mention a bull. Although the animal plays an important role in the cycle – the yoking of fire-breathing bulls – it fits in with a different mythical model (the Minotaur and the Labyrinth).

According to an Argolic tradition, a sacred cow, Io, came to Colchis. Io, a virgin priestess of Hera, earned the hatred of the goddess by attracting the attention of Zeus. She was turned into a heifer and was doomed to be constantly on the move. According to Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, the cow was driven all over Europe. When she approached Prometheus, the Titan told her about her future. Presumably, it was then that Io lay down and marked the site where later a city was built. In terms of mythological time, Prometheus had been bound to the rock far before the Trojan events (maybe, even before Thebes was founded). When Io approached the Titan, he had not been bound for a long time and had not yet been ‘visited’ by the eagle. So, in terms of mythical chronology, Aea was founded when Io encountered Prometheus. However, the setting for the tragedy is not Colchis, it is Scythia. On the other hand, the fragments of Prometheus Lyomenos mention the Caucasus as the place of Prometheus’ confinement. Besides, Apollonius of Rhodes insists that it was undoubtedly the Caucasus where Prometheus was bound (II, 1246-1250). Moreover, when relating about Medea’s magic plants, Apollonius describes in detail the flower that grew on the ground where Prometheus’ blood was dripping (III, 851-853). Besides, when Io eventually came to Egypt, she bore a son Epaphus by Zeus, and where she lay down Iopolis (later called Antioch) was founded. So, Io, the divine heifer, is a symbolic image analogical with the animals of Thebes and Illium although it is more complicated and loaded with symbolic meanings. Anyway, it could even be an archetype of other cows.

The weak point of the hypothesis is that one myth is explained by using the material of another myth. Although such an analysis is accepted and applied by scholars, it requires greater caution.

Since similar mythical plots have inner logic, I will continue applying myth reconstruction theories to my working hypothesis and will draw parallels with some folk verses, as the hypothetical links between them truly deserve scholarly treatment.



1 Eliade 2000: Eliade M. The Myth of the Eternal Return: Cosmos and History (Human Body-Home-Cosmos), translated from French. Moscow. 2000: 335-341.
2 Gamkrelidze 1984: Gamkrelidze T.V. Ivanov B.B. The Indo-European Language and Indo- Europeans. V.I, Tbilisi 1984:519-521.
    Biedermann 1996:  Biedermann H. Knaurs Lexikon der Symbole Mu>nchen 1989:30.
3 Nonos 1997:  Nonni Dionysiaca, recognavist R. Keydell. Berolini 1959.
4  Tsibenko 1983:  Tsybenko O.P. The City in the Poetry of Nonnos. ВДИ №166. 1983.
 Tsanava 2005: Tsanava R.  Mythoritual Models, Symbols in Classical Literature and the Parallels in Georgian Literature and Ethnology, Tbilisi 2005:260-265.
6  Apolonius of Rhodes 1970: : Apollonii  Argonautica, recognavit R. C. Seaton, London 1954.





Volume 1, issue 1


Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature

Georgian Electronic Journal of Literature