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Tuesday, April 27, 2021

A to Z Blogging Challenge 2021 - X Is For Xanthus


Xanthus and Balius. Public Domain

Today’s mythological characters aren’t human or even human-shaped. They are Xanthus and Balius, a couple of horses, immortal ones. In Greek myth, it doesn’t seem to take a horse shaped being to make a horse shaped child. In this case, the mother was the harpy Podarge; harpies tend to be bird-women. The father was Zephyrus, the West Wind. Winds were sometimes depicted as winged men, sometimes as horses, which may explain the horse children. Anyway, I can definitely see the appeal of a horse that is literally a son of the wind! 

But Xanthus and Balius were, in the end, horses, even if they were immortal. They didn’t even talk, except Xanthus, on one very special occasion. 

Poseidon, who had a connection with horses, as the god of horses, trained these two and gave them to Peleus as a wedding gift at that fateful wedding when Eris, goddess of strife, started the Trojan War at second hand. 

Later, Peleus gave these two beautiful animals to his son Achilles, who took them to the war with him, to pull his chariot. They would have been kept idle for a while when Achilles went on strike. 

However, when Achilles’ lover and best friend, Patroclus, decided to fight in his place, they were hitched up and driven into battle again, till Patroclus got himself killed. 

After this, Achilles hitches them up, but tells off his horses for having let Patroclus down. This is when Hera gives Xanthus a voice, even temporarily, and the horse says it wasn’t their fault, that it was a god who killed Patroclus and by the way, Achilles hasn’t much longer to live. Then an Erinye shuts Xanthus up.

It would have been Xanthus and Balius pulling the chariot when Achilles tied the body of Hector to the tail of his chariot. 

Achilles didn’t live much longer, as predicted, and the horses mourned him till his son, Neoptolemus, arrived to drive them. 

I’m uncertain what happened to them next. If they were indeed immortal, perhaps they are still around somewhere, thinking how different the world is now. 

Tomorrow I’ll muse a little about the youth of some of the characters we have met. See you then! 


Debra She Who Seeks said...

I did not know of these horses before! And especially not of their connection to Achilles and Patroclus. Horses need to speak up more in this world.

AJ Blythe said...

I did not know this story at all. It's interesting that while they were not born to horses they were treated as animals.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Debra! I’m sure Mr Ed would agree with you! 😂

Hi Anita! Well, yes, because they WERE animals. There are a lot of horses in the Greek myths and these two are the most normal I know of. They do a horsey job, don’t have wings and don’t eat people(the mares of Diomedes and the mares of Glaucus are both fed on human flesh by their owners, who face karma for it)

Jayashree (pagesfromjayashree) said...

These two characters are new to me too! It would have been interesting if they always had the power to speak in these tales

Deborah Weber said...

Your post very helpfully sorted some things out for me. I did know about these horses as children of Zephyrus (which I've always found even more curious than most of the many other curious ways of Greek mythology). But I never really connected them in a timeline of appearance like you've done here. Immortality does suggest they're here hanging about somewhere - I wonder if they're on some ranch in Wyoming chomping on grass and thinking about past adventures. :-)

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Yay for legit X's! I don't know why the horses would have mourned Achilles particularly, but I guess they were just loyal. I do like the idea of horses literally born of the wind.
Black and White: X for Xanadu

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

I do wonder what happened to them after. Good for Hera, giving a horse a voice to defend himself...

The Multicolored Diary

J Lenni Dorner said...

This has been a popular use of X this year!
I love letter X posts! Always such variety.
It's hard to believe the alphabet part of the blogging challenge is over for 2021. Down to the after survey, reflections, and the "road trip" sign-up.
Plus, I'm taking part in the Bout of Books read-a-thon in May. So much excitement!
J Lenni Dorner (he/him 👨🏽 or 🧑🏽 they/them) ~ Co-host of the #AtoZchallenge, OperationAwesome6 Debut Author Interviewer, Reference& Speculative Fiction Author

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Jayashree! No reason why there wouldn’t be talking horses in these myths, though if some had had the power of speech they might have changed the outcome of their stories. In the Bible, there is a donkey which speaks just once, to tell its rider that there is a very good reason why it won’t go ahead, so please stop kicking it.

Hi Deborah! Those horses would certainly deserve retirement, wherever it was.

Hi Anne! I love the idea of horses born of the wind too. It says “These animals are FAST!” Something very poetic about that.

Hi Zalka! Yes, nice to see a positive story about Hera.

Hi Lenni! Yes, nice not to have to cheat on X this time. Greek is handy having X words/names. Next year probably back to cheating. PS I have always wondered whether you were a he/she or whoever else. I kept calling you Jenni in my mind.