Visualising myth in RawGraph

written by Martina Delucchi, PhD student, University of Bristol

Visualising myth is not an easy task. When I was asked by Dr. Varga to use my own data to try out RawGraphs (https://rawgraphs.io), I knew that I wanted an instrument that graphically represented

a) the diachronic development of several accounts of a myth, recounted by many sources; and

b) which versions of said myth are most attested.

This would give indications regarding the popularity of a particular version and would immediately visualise when and in which witness a specific version of a myth is attested. Consequently, the visualisation would contribute to provide an immediate representation of the history of tradition.

To do so, I decided to isolate a relatively defined section of the Telephus saga, namely the story of his mother Auge.

Auge was the daughter of Aleus, king of Tegea, Arcadia. She is best known because she gave birth to Telephus, ‘amongst Heracles’ sons the most similar to his father’ (Paus. 10.28.8). The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women is the oldest account we have for the story of Auge. There, she is displaced by the gods from Tegea to Asia Minor when she is just a young girl and there she is raised as one of king Teuthras’ daughters. Once grown up, she meets Heracles, who is travelling through Mysia on his way to Troy and births him a son, Telephus. In the rest of the tradition, the encounter happens in Tegea. Heracles either rapes Auge or has an ongoing secret relationship with her and, in some cases, the union happens while she is a priestess of Athena. Telephus is either born in the temple of Athena – causing a pestilence or a drought – in a not better defined area of Tegea – where the temple of Eileithyia will be raised – or on Mount Parthenios. Since the union happens outside of marriage, or because the union caused a pestilence, Auge is condemned by her father to be either drown, thrown into the sea into a chest (sometimes with her son, sometimes alone), or more generally killed. She escapes her fate by being either sold or gifted to Teuthras of Mysia or even flying. Once arrived in Mysia, she either marries Teuthras or is adopted by him. Finally, she either remains in Asia Minor or, in one version, she is brought back to Tegea by her grown up son, after the two reunite. This short summary of the myth testifies for how even a secondary narrative such as Auge’s is subject to a multitude of different accounts, due to the numerous authors who have approached and re-elaborated the story.

For this visualisation project I decided to isolate those narrations which are attested in transmitted works, thus excluding reconstructions, more or less reliable, of lost works. This means that for fragmentary witnesses such as Sophocles’ Sons of Aleus, Euripides’ Auge, or Euripides’ Telephus sometimes I used only one fragment or testimonium and I did not consider possible reconstructions of the rest of the tragedy based on later sources. For example, only F 89 Radt of Sophocles’ Sons of Aleus contains an element which is functional to the narrative I am examining, namely the presence of a doe, which accounts for Telephus being abandoned on Mount Parthenios, while the rest of the fragments do not. There are possible reconstructions of the rest of the plot based for example on Alcidamas’ Odysseus, but I chose not to take it into account as it is not explicitly stated by Alcidamas that he is basing his account on Sophocles’ Sons of Aleus.

The witnesses taken into consideration are:

  1. Hesiod = Hesiodic Catalogue of Women (F 165 Merkelbach-West), 7th-6th c. BCE.
  2. Hecateus = Hecateus of Miletus (FGrH 29a = F 29 Fowler), 6th-5th c. BCE.
  3. Sophocles’ Sons of Aleus = Sophocles’ Sons of Aleus (TrGF IV F 77-91 Radt), 5th c. BCE.
  4. Euripides’ Telephus = Euripides’ Telephus (TrGF V.2 (67) F 696-727c Kannicht), 438 BCE.
  5. Euripides’ Auge = Euripides’ Auge (TrGF V.1 (14) F 264a – F 281 Kannicht), second half 5th c. BCE.
  6. Alcidamas = Alcidamas’ Odysseus (G. Avezzù, Alcidamante. Orazioni e Frammenti, Roma 1982, pp. 22-35), 4th c. BCE.
  7. Diodorus = Diodorus Siculus’ Bibliotheca Historica (Diod. 4.33.7-11), 1st c. BCE.
  8. Strabo = Strabo’s Geographia (Strab. 13.1.69), 1st c. BCE – 1st c. CE.[1]
  9. Hyginus = Gaius Julius Hyginus’ Fabulae (Hyg. Fab. 99-100), 1st c. BCE – 1st c. CE.
  10. Apollodorus = Apollodorus’ Bibliotheca (Apollod. Bibl. 2.7.4, 3.9.1), 1st – 2nd c. CE.
  11. Pausanias 1 and Pausanias 2 = Pausanias’ Description of Greece (Paus. 8.48.7, two versions recounted in the same passage), 2nd c. CE.
  12. Quintus of Smyrna = Quintus of Smyrna’s Posthomerica (Quint. Smyrn. 6.137-142), end 4th c. CE?.
  13. Moses Chorenensis = Moses Chorenensis’ Progymnasmata 3.3 (TrGF V.2 (14) T iib p. 333 (Latin translation); cf. also A. Baumgartner, ‘Ueber das Buch „die Chrie”‘, Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, 40.3, 1886: 457-515), 5th c. CE.[2]

Whenever a particular moment of the myth is registered as ‘Unknown’ in a specific author it means that the account does not mention it; whenever it is registered as ‘N/A’ (Not Applicable) it means that that moment of the myth cannot be present in that author – for example, Auge cannot be punished for her encounter with Heracles by her father Aleus in the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women because she has been living in Mysia since she was a young girl. For the sake of clarity, some labels have been simplified; so, in the section ‘Role of Auge’, Auge is either described as ‘Princess’ or ‘Priestess’ even if even in the versions of the myth she is priestess of Athena and princess of Tegea.

I decided to divide Auge’s story in the following sections:

  1. Role of Auge indicates if Auge is considered only in her capacity of princess of Tegea (‘Princess’) or if she is also priestess of Athena (‘Priestess’).
  2. Auge and Heracles indicates if the sexual encounter between Heracles and Auge is either a consensual single union (‘Consensual’), an ongoing relationship (‘Relationship’), rape (‘Rape’), or an unspecified union that could be either rape or consensual (‘Union’).
  3. Telephus’ birth: Telephus is either born in Teuthrania, Mysia (‘Teuthrania’), in an unspecified part of Tegea (‘Tegea’), in the temple of Athena in Tegea (‘Temple of Athena’), or on Mount Parthenios (‘Parthenios’).
  4. Auge’s supposed fate indicates the punishment king Aleus decided for his daughter. She is supposed to be either thrown into the sea inside a chest (‘Chest in the Sea’), drown (‘Drown’), or more generally killed (‘Killed’).
  5. Auge’s actual fate indicates what actually happens to Auge. She is either thrown into the sea inside a chest (‘Chest in the Sea’), sold to king Teuthras (‘Sold to Teuthras’), gifted to Teuthras (‘Gifted to Teuthras’), or she flees to Mysia (‘Flight’).
  6. Telephus’ fate shows what happens to Telephus after his birth. He is either thrown in the sea inside a chest with his mother (‘Chest in the Sea’), exposed on Mount Parthenios (‘Exposed on Parthenios’), or sold to Teuthras with his mother (‘Sold to Teuthras’).
  7. Auge and Teuthras indicates the relationship between the two characters. Auge is either raised by Teuthras (‘Raised by’), married to Teuthras (‘Married to’), adopted by Teuthras (‘Adopted by’) or their relationship is not specified (‘Guest of’).
  8. Ending indicates the outcome of Auge’s adventures. She either remains in Mysia (‘Mysia’) or is brought back to Tegea by her son (‘Tegea’).

*

The first visualisation I chose to employ is a Matrix Plot. As per RawGraph’s definition, a Matrix Plot ‘allows comparison of two categorical dimensions, disposing them on the horizontal and vertical axes. Each glyph (square or circle) represents a possible correlation among the two dimensions.’ On the vertical axis the different moments of the narrative are disposed following its internal chronology, from the earliest, indicating Auge’s role, to the latest, indicating how the story ends; on the horizontal axis the authors are disposed chronologically, from the oldest (Hesiod) to the latest (Moses). To each section of the myth is assigned a colour palette in order to distinguish it from the other.

From the Matrix Plot above we can infer mainly three things:

  1. Many sources do not recount the entirety of the myth, but just parts of it;
  2. There is a clear preference towards certain versions of a myth compared to others: for example, Auge is raped by Heracles in eight sources out of 14; Telephus is exposed on Mount Parthenios in nine sources out of 13 and so on;
  3. Some sources have very little in common, for example Hecateus and Alcidamas; others have more in common, for example Hecateus and Strabo; others seem to follow the same tradition up to a certain point of the narrative and then diverge, for example Alcidamas and Diodorus.

Cross-referencing the visualization with a pre-emptive knowledge of the scholarly discussion around the source material could help us fill the blanks – for example knowing that Hyginus used mostly Euripidean tragedies to write his mythographic accounts could help the reconstruction of Euripides’ Auge‘s and Telephus‘ missing glyphs. Similarly, the parallel between Apollodorus and Euripides’ Auge suggests a connection and also indicates that, for example, the union between Heracles and Auge which has been catalogued under Apollodorus as undefined (‘Union’), since the mythographer does not specify its nature, is probably to be classified as ‘Rape’.

A second type of visualisation that I deem useful for the study of the myth is a Sunburst Diagram. As per RawGraph’s definition, a Sunburst Diagram ‘displays hierarchically structured data and a related quantitative dimension using concentric circles. The circle in the center represents the root node, with the hierarchies moving outward from the center. The angle of each arc corresponds to the qualitative dimension.’

The internal chronology of the myth is here disposed clockwise and for each root node (section of the myth) two connected hierarchies are represented (versions of the myth; witnesses). Furthermore, each section and correspondent witnesses follow the same colour palette. The first hierarchy from the centre gives the various versions of the myth for each root node; the second hierarchy counts the authors that use one particular version.

The Sunburst Diagram is better suited than the Matrix Plot to show the incidence of a certain version compared to the others and it is immediately clearer which is the prevalent version for every section of the myth. By looking at the figure aboce, we can immediately say that in most cases Auge was just a princess, and not also a priestess of Athena, that she was raped, that her son was born on Mount Parthenios, where he was also exposed, that she was supposed to be drown but was instead given to Teuthras, who married her and that she concluded her life in Mysia. In this way, it is possible to state, always remembering that we are basing our reasoning on a limited number of sources, that these elements in the story of Auge must have been the most widespread and popular.

Comparing the Sunburst Diagram to the Matrix Plot, it is clear that they have points in common. In both cases we register that many sources do not recount every section of the myth and that some versions are considerably more popular than others – even if the Sunburst Diagram shows it more clearly. However, the Sunburst Diagram does not show the development of the myth following the diachronic order of the sources and it is not immediately evident what each source has in common with the others and in what differs.

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To conclude, both graphs are useful in the study of the myth, mainly as instruments to categorise it and to help scholars visualise the points in common, the incidence of certain accounts and the diachronic development of the narrative. Furthermore, such visualisations could be very useful from a didactic point of view, namely, to help students understand the multi-layered structure of myth and the way in which it is re-elaborated and modelled by different sources with different aims.

 

[1] Strabo reports a version of the myth that he attributes to Euripides, but it is not clear to which tragedy. Furthermore, Strabo’s attributions are often misleading. Consequently, I decided to report that version as Strabo’s.

[2] Moses Chorenensis reports a version of the myth which is generally attributed to Euripides’ Auge, but since the attribution is not explicit, I chose to report it as Moses’ version.

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