5 Apr 2012

The Pagan Sites of Europe Remembered (16): The Temple of Pasiphae-Ino, Thalames, Greece

Plutarch in his Lives of Agis and Cleomenes mentions the Temple of Pasiphae at Thalamiae, an oracular site in ancient Laconia. Those who consulted the oracle slept in the temple and received their answer from the goddess in a dream.

The oracle was consulted in the time of Agis, during that king's attempt to restore the ancient laws of Sparta, most notably those designed to ensure social cohesion by avoiding large disparities of wealth. The oracle's advice was that the Spartans should return to the equality which the laws of Lycurgus originally enjoined.

Later in the time of Cleomenes, one of the Ephors, powerful magistrates who counteracted the power of the kings, had a dream in this temple. In this dream he saw four of the five chairs used by the Ephors taken away and only one left, signigfying a coup by which Cleomenes later seized control of the state and abolished the power of the Ephors.

Although Pasiphae is an ancient goddess, she is best known nowadays as the legendary wife of King Minos of Crete, and as the queen who lusted after a bull and had a wooden cow constructed so that she could climb inside and trick the bull into mounting her through an aperture. This unnatural union resulted in the birth of the Minotaur. This lurid tale is a confusion of earlier elements of Pasiphae's myth. She was a moon goddess, while the bull is thought by some to be a symbol of the pre-Olympian Poseidon. The moon and the connection with Poseidon tie her to the sea.

Some of this ancient confusion is reflected in the alternative views of the goddess's identity, which are also mentioned by Plutarch and by the Greek travel writer Pausianias.

Plutarch mentions that some people supposed the goddess of this temple to be Cassandra, the daughter of Priam, who died at that place and that she was given the name "Pasiphae" because of her oracular abilities. Regardless of the identity of the goddess, this demonstrates the fact  that Pasiphae was viewed as an oraculur goddess.

Plutarch also mentions the view of Phylarchus that the goddess was Daphne, who fled from the attention of Apollo, a god associated with oracles himself. In this story we can perhaps detect a trace of an ancient conflict between two distinct oracular cults, perhaps with the newer one of Apollo driving out an older one connected to a female Moon or nature goddess.

Pausanias in his account identifies the goddess of the temple with the goddess Ino-Leucothea, who aided sailors in distress, but also mentions Pasiphae as "Paphia."

"On the road between Oetylus and Thalamiae," he writes, "is the temple of Ino... In the court of the temple are two statues of brass, one of Paphia the other of the sun. That which is in the temple is so covered with garlands and fillets that it is not to be seen; but it is said to be of brass."
This identification with a sea goddess fits in well with the site of the temple which overlooks the Messenian Gulf from a height. According to the legend, Ino was a daughter of King Cadmus of Thebes. She and her husband Athamas incurred the wrath of Hera when they fostered the infant god Dionysus. As punishment Hera drove Athamas into a murderous rage and he slew his eldest child. Ino grabbed the other, and in her flight leapt off a cliff into the sea. The pair were welcomed into the company of the marine gods and renamed Leucothea (the White Goddess) and Palaimon.

According to Pausanius the temple was located by a spring at the village of Thalames, which is also known by a later name Koutifari. The site was surveyed by The British School at Athens in November 1904 as part of their Lakonia Survey, followed by archaelogical excavations in March 1905. The digging was carried out by Marcus Tod under the supervision of Guy Dickins, and was concentrated around the spring, which was described as central to the oracle.

Dickins published his findings in the Annual of the British School at Athens in the 1905 volume (XI). He pointed out that the two wells in Svina (another name for the area around the two wells and small shaded area on today's main road) rarely dry up even in the hottest summer and that, apart from two insignificant springs in Langada there are no more springs for many miles to the south of Thalames.

On the basis of these ancient accounts and the early 20th century archaelogical excavation, we can say that the sources of the spring at Thalames is a site sacred to an oracular moon and sea goddess known by the names Pasiphae and Ino. The picture shows the cistern used to hold the spring water in the village.

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