Thaumas and Electra: Unity of the Wonder of the Sea and Sparkling Light Bears Jason’s Tormentors
In Greek mythology, Thaumas is believed to be an ancient sea god and further is regarded to be the personification of the wonders of the sea. Although little is known today about this mysterious sea god, he was mentioned by a number of Greek and Roman writers during the Classical period and from these ancient sources we derive our current understanding of this god.
Ancient Thaumas - Son of one the first gods
The ancient Greeks believed that Thaumas was an old sea god who preceded the Olympians. His name is derived from the Greek word ‘thaumatos’, which means ‘miracle’ or ‘wonder’. Although Thaumas was considered to be the personification of the wonders of the sea in general, this deity has been associated with one phenomenon in particular. The 19 th century Classical scholar, E. M. Berens, described Thaumas in The Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome as personifying “that peculiar, translucent condition of the surface of the sea when it reflects, mirror-like, various images, and appears to hold in its transparent embrace the flaming stars and illuminated cities, which are so frequently reflected on its glassy bosom.”
Pontus was the divinity of the sea, one of the first-born gods. He was the father of the god Thaumas. (Tillman / CC BY-SA 2.0 )
Aquatic Deities – Who was Thaumas’ Family?
The ancient Greek and Roman sources provide information about the family of Thaumas. This is evident, for instance, in Hesiod’s Theogony. In this poem, Thaumas is described as being the offspring of Gaia and Pontus. His full siblings are Nereus, Phorcys, Ceto, and Eurybia, all of whom were believed by the Greeks to be aquatic deities. It may be added that the Titans were the half-siblings of Thaumas, as they share the same mother but have different fathers (Ouranos being the father of the Titans). The parentage of Thaumas is also mentioned by such writers as Pseudo-Apollodorus and Pseudo-Hyginus.
Late Roman mosaic from the Trajan Baths of Acholla, showing 3 aquatic deities: Phorcys (middle) and Ceto (right), and Triton or Thaumas (left, but maybe a more obscure sea-god). Bardo National Museum, Tunis. ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )
The Wonder of the Sea Marries Sparkling Light
According to the ancient writers, Elektra was the wife of Thaumas. She was an Oceanid, i.e. one of the 3000 water nymphs who were the daughters of Oceanus and Tethys. Elektra, whose name is a reference to the “sparkling light produced by electricity”, was known also as Ozomene, meaning ‘Many / Strong Branches’, which may refer to the source of the rainbow in the clouds.
Elektra, wife of Thaumas, was an Oceanid - Naïads of the Sea. (Gustave Doré / Public Domain )
Considering the significance of Elektra’s second name, it is appropriate that one of her children with Thaumas was Iris, the personification of the rainbow. Iris was also believed to serve as the messenger of the Olympian gods. Thaumas and Elektra are also believed to be the parents of the Harpies, whose name means ‘snatchers’. The names of these individual Harpies differ according to the sources. Hesiod, for instance, mentions Aello (the ‘Storm Wind’) and Ocypete (the ‘Swift Wing’), while Celaeno (the ‘Black One’), Ocypete, Podarce (the ‘Fleet-Footed’) appear in the list of Pseudo-Hyginus.
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Goddess of the Rainbow, Fertility, Colors, the Sea, Heraldry, the Sky, Truth, and Oaths. Iris Carrying the Water of the River Styx to Olympus for the Gods to Swear By. (Daderot / CC BY-SA 1.0 )
Thaumas and Elektra - Parents of the Famous Harpies
The Harpies are arguably more famous than either Thaumas or Elektra, as they appear in a number of myths. Originally, these creatures were thoughts to be wind spirits, in particular - sudden, sharp gusts of wind. In addition, Hesiod described them as beings with lovely hair, though later sources would depict them as winged women with the lower bodies of birds. Moreover, some authors portray the Harpies as ugly creatures.
The Harpies are believed to be the children of Thaumas and Elecktra. (Shizhao / Public Domain )
The Harpies are best-known for the role they played in the story of Jason and the Argonauts. The Harpies were sent by Zeus to plague Phineus, the King of Thrace, as he used his gift of prophecy to divulge the secrets of the gods. Whenever food was placed before the king, the Harpies would swoop down and snatch it away, leaving him hungry. The punishment continued until the arrival of the Argonauts. Among the companions of Jason were the Boreads, the sons of Boreas, the North Wind. The brothers gave chase to the Harpies. One of the Harpies fell into the Tigris River, hence causing its name to be changed to Harpys, whilst another died of fatigue on the Strophades Islands. Only two Harpies remained and there are several variations of the ending of this episode. In one, the Harpies promised to leave Phineus alone and their lives were spared. In another, either Iris or Hermes appeared and commanded the Boreads to release the two Harpies. Yet in another, both the Harpies and the Boreads die.
Argonauts and the Harpies ( Archivist / Adobe)
Top image: The symbol of mythical God Thaumas is the reflective translucence of the sea. Source: ( ImageArt / Adobe)
By Wu Mingren
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