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Prominent Podiatric Injuries in Greek Myth

By Edited Sep 10, 2016 0 0

In route to Troy Philoctetes suffered a “golden wound” to his foot.  A golden wound is one that a soldier won’t recover from soon and keeps him out of combat.[i]  It all started when the hero Heracles laid upon this funeral pyre writhing in agony as the venom of the Hydra ate away at his flesh.  The Hydra was a nine headed snake and a child of the mother of all monsters; Echidna.  Echidna would have had her hands full with her brood of beasties and vipers except for an unusual nurse-maid and foster mother; Heracles’ archenemy and name sake, Hera queen of the gods.  Out of fear and respect, no one would light Heracles pyre will he still lived.  Philoctetes was the only one brave enough to light the fire.  In gratitude, just before his apotheosis, the son of Zeus bequeathed Philoctetes his mighty bow and the accompanying poisoned arrows. They had been dipped in the blood of the Hydra after Heracles slew her. 

Philoctetes rowed with the Argonauts, wooed Helen like so many others and hid inside the wooden horse. He was lord over Olizon, Meliboea and other parts of Thessaly.  He led seven warships in the Achaean armada. Odysseus acknowledged him as one of the greatest archers in the army.[ii]  Then he stepped on one of his own poisoned arrows.  The wound would not heal, the stench was unbearable and his comrades   deserted him on some island along the way.  His golden wound got him out of the first ten years of the war.  Eventually prophets announced he was vital to the fall of Troy.  The Greeks retrieved him and Philoctetes   avenged the death of Achilles (of the famous heel) by shooting the archer who shot Achilles.  That was Paris, the lusting prince who caused the whole war in the first place.  Based on the death throes of Heracles, the agonizing death of the Centaur Nessus and the 10 years of suffering experienced by Philoctetes, Paris’ death must have been long and horrendous,

Whether lame at birth or lamed when he was tossed to earth from Olympus by his mother Hera disgusted by his deformities Hephaestus was lame in both legs and feet. The Nereid Thetis rescued and raised him in a grotto under the seas.  The length of divine childhood   varied from god to god.  But as a result of his handicap and isolation Hephaestus worked nine years as a smith and became a famous artist. [iii] So much so that his mother invited him to Olympus.  Instead he sent a golden throne from which his mother could not rise.  Her ransom was a welcome spot and position in the home of the gods and the hand in marriage to Golden Aphrodite.  But his golden wound did not except him from military service during the Gigantomachy; the war with Giants.  Hephaestus did not fare so well in the battle, throwing lugs of molten metal with his tongs; Hephaestus killed the Giant Mimas by throwing molten iron at him.  But he soon sank exhausted on the battlefield of Phlegra, surrounded by a trio of snake-legged mountain-big Giants.  His buddy Helios drove his chariot to earth midday to rescue to the smithy of the gods.  Ironically, Helios the sun-god and representative of the celestial fire rescued the only deity that could handle the blinding light and scorching heat of the solar chariot.  That’s Hephaestus who represented the subterranean fire. 

Achilles’ heel was the product of his mother Thetis taking the precaution of dipping her toddler son in the Styx River. The result was to make the boy invulnerable except at the heel where she held him.  That’s where Paris’ arrow struck. Achilles was the greatest warrior in the world.  Too young to have bid for Helen’s hand, he had no cause to be at Troy.  He was the king of the Myrmidones in Phthiotis, in Thessaly.  His usual epithet in Homer is swift-footed. He was the son of the great goddess Thetis and a mortal. He was raised and trained by the centaur Chiron.  To hide him from the draft, his mother hid him in the harem.  Achilles “golden wound” didn’t exactly keep him out of the war.  Destiny gave him two options; a long healthy, comfortable life in obscurity or a short life and unending glory.  He chose ten years at Troy and undying fame.

The Centaur Chiron had his own podiatric injury. He raised both Achilles and his father Peleus, several other Argonauts, heroes and gods.  Several stories tell of how Heracles accidently struck the wise centaur in the hoof or knee.  “Some Greeks say that Chiron... when shot by Heracles fled wounded to this river and washed his hurt in it, and that it was the Hydra's poison which gave the Anigros (river in Elis) its nasty smell."[iv]  Chiron’s podiatric injury brought on agony enough that he gave his immortality to Heracles and took a place in stars; the constellation Sagittarius.

And finally, Oedipus of the swollen foot.  That’s what his name means.  Shortly after birth his feet were pierced with a gold pin and he was sent out to the nearest mountain to be left for the wolves.  Instead of a horrifying death, the king and queen of Corinth raised the baby Oedipus as their beloved son and sole heir.  Responding initially to petty gossip and then the ambiguous advice of the Oracle at Delphi, the grown Oedipus ran away from home.  He got in a pitch battle with a handful of men and came out victorious. He slew the monster Sphinx (the Hydra’s sister and another favorite of Hera’s) who terrorized the Greek city of Thebes.  He married the recently widowed Queen.  He led armies.  He raised a handful of children.  He proved a good king.

Most of the podiatric injuries we studied involved Hera and her foster children.  The injury might of have delayed entry into battle and affected performance in battle, but not always.  And whether man, immortal or something in between, all accomplished glorious things.

 



[i]A rare phrase starting around the Vietnam Era, only referenced in personal conversation and veteran on line chat rooms.  See “Million Dollar Wound”.

[ii] Homer, Odyssey 8.220

[iii] “…the Smith god hobbles in a tradition found in regions a far apart as West Africa and Scandinavia” The Greek Myths, Robert Graves, page 88

[iv] Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 5. 9 - 10

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