The Divine Bastards
The Rise of Bastards
In the olden days of civilization, we find a common trait among many revolutionary leaders, priests or future kings who claimed to be from a divine origin, an origin which was highly dubious in nature. It should be noted that this type of divine claims occurred especially when they were unaware of their actual father, parenthood or family-tree. In some cases, the actual family lineage was not worthy for their rise to power & therefore they pursued an identity which worked for them as a better reference letter.
In Egyptian history, we see a line of God Kings (Pharaohs), who claimed to be the children of God sent upon to rule the world. In the eastern culture, we see ‘The Mandate of Heaven’ which postulates that Tian (heaven) would bless the authority of a just ruler. And in the Western philosophy we find the ‘Divine right of kings’ that sought to legitimize rule from divine approval. In England, King James I and his son Charles I made many claims & excuses based on divine rights. Since the sovereign was responsible not to the governed, but to God alone, active resistance to a king was a sin ensuring damnation.
The word "Bastard"
Bastard is a word or more precisely a slang that is often used without realizing the proper meaning. Sometimes, an illegitimate child can be considered a bastard. Sometimes, the definition of bastard can be referred to a child who is born to a woman and a man who are not married to one another. However, in some especial cases both these definitions of bastard would be incorrect & narrow. In a broader sense the title ‘bastard’ defines something that is of irregular, inferior or dubious origin.
From the study of our ancient history, we can find a lot of mythical, religious & sometimes historical figures who fits with the above mentioned definitions of bastards. However, these are no simple bastards. These bastards are of divine origins, most of them were divine rulers & sons of Gods!
The Legendary Bastards
Amphion and Zethus
Amphion and Zethus were the sons of Antiope, who fled in shame to Sicyon after Zeus raped her, and married King Epopeus there. They are important characters in one of the two founding myths of the city of Thebes, because they constructed the city's walls.
When they grew up, they killed Dirce by tying her to the horns of a bull, gathered an army, and conquered Thebes, becoming its joint rulers.
Amphion became a great singer and musician after Hermes taught him to play and gave him a golden lyre. Zethus became a hunter and herdsman, with a great interest in cattle breeding. They built the walls around the Cadmea, the citadel of Thebes. While Zethus struggled to carry his stones, Amphion played his lyre and his stones followed after him and gently glided into place.
Amphion married Niobe, the daughter of Tantalus, the Lydian king. Because of this, he learned to play his lyre in the Lydian mode and added three strings to it. Zethus married Thebe, after whom the city of Thebes was named.
The first three of the Pandavas were the sons of Kunti, and the younger two were sons of Madri. Since Pandu had been cursed to die if ever he had intercourse with a woman, the actual fatherhood of the children is traditionally attributed to various gods, in virtue of a boon that Kunti had received from Durvaasa and had transferred to Madri. Thus, Yudhishtira was the son of Dharma, the god of righteousness; Bhima the son of Vayu, the wind-god; Arjuna the son of Indra, the sky-god; and Nakula and Sahadeva the sons of the Ashwini Gods. Karna was also born of Kunti Devi, and was the son of Surya, the Sun God.
Iravati Karve has suggested in her book, ‘Yuganta’, that the actual father of Yudhishtira, or of all of the brothers, may have been Vidura and that this was edited and hidden in the story to strengthen the claim for the kingdom by the brothers.
In Greek mythology, Arcas was the son of Zeus and Callisto. Callisto was a nymph of the goddess Artemis. Zeus, being a flirtatious god, wanted Callisto for a lover. As she would not be with anyone but Artemis, Zeus cunningly disguised himself as Artemis and seduced Callisto. The child resulting from their union was called Arcas.
Hera (Zeus' wife), became jealous, and in anger, transformed Callisto into a bear. She would have done the same or worse to her son, had Zeus not hidden Arcas in an area of Greece that would come to be called Arcadia, in his honor. There Arcas safely lived until one day, during one of the court feasts held by King Lycaon, Arcas was placed upon the burning altar as a sacrifice to the gods. He then said to Zeus "If you think that you are so clever, make your son whole and un-harmed." At this Zeus became enraged. He made Arcas whole and then directed his anger toward Lycaon, turning him into the first werewolf.
After this occurrence, Arcas became the new king of Arcadia, and the country's greatest hunter. One day when Arcas went hunting in the woods, he came across his mother. Seeing her son after so long, she went forth to embrace him. Not knowing that the bear was his mother, he went to kill her with an arrow. Zeus, taking pity upon the two, decided to avert the tragedy and put them both up in the heavens, and their constellations are now referred to as Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, the big and little bears (also known as the Big and Little Dipper).
Romulus and Remus (771-717 BC)
According to Livy's account of the legend Rhea Silvia was the daughter of Numitor, king of Alba Longa, and descended from Aeneas. Numitor's younger brother Amulius seized the throne and killed Numitor's son, then forced Rhea Silvia to become a Vestal Virgin, a priestess of the goddess Vesta. As Vestal Virgins were sworn to celibacy for a period of thirty years, this would ensure the line of Numitor had no heirs.
However, Rhea Silvia conceived and gave birth to the twins Romulus and Remus, claiming that the god Mars had discovered her in the forest and seduced her.
When Amulius learned of the birth he imprisoned Rhea Silvia and ordered a servant to kill the twins. But the servant showed mercy and set them adrift on the river Tiber, which, overflowing left the infants in a pool by the bank. There a she-wolf (Lupa), who had just lost her own cubs, suckled them. Subsequently Faustulus rescued the boys, to be raised by his wife Larentia.
Romulus and Remus went on to found Rome, overthrow Amulius, and reinstate Numitor as King of Alba Longa. Rhea Sylvia, who was raped by Mars and conceived Romulus and Remus. Founders of Rome, they are descendants of the Trojan prince and refugee Aeneas, and are fathered by the god Mars or the demi-god Hercules on a royal Vestal Virgin, Rhea Silvia. Romulus served as first king. After his death, Romulus was defined as the god, Quirinus, the divine persona of the Roman people. He is now regarded as a mythological figure, and his name a back-formation from the name Rome, which may ultimately derive from a word for "river". Some scholars, notably Andrea Carandini believe in the historicity of Romulus, in part because of the 1988 discovery of the Murus Romuli on the north slope of the Palatine Hill in Rome
Sabarimalai Sastha – A Controversial Hindu God
To escape from the curse of the powerful demon Durwasa, all the gods joined together and churned the milky ocean to gather “Amrut”-butter-like ambrosia. They collected the “Amrut” in a pot, and kept it to be served at a heavenly feast. An Asura (demon) from the nether world stole the pot of” Amrut from Develoka. When the loss of the ambrosia was detected, the omniscient Vishnu was able to know where it was. He went to the nether world in the guise of Mohini, a woman of exquisite beauty, and brought and back the “Amrut” and served it to the gods. When Mohini was serving the Amrut, Shiva got intoxicated with her beauty and had sexual intercourse with her, who was in reality Vishnu. Vishnu became pregnant as a result of the homosexual act, and gave birth to Sastha from his thigh. Both Shiva and Vishnu discarded this un-naturally born illegitimate child in the forests of Sabarimalai in Kerala.
Early in Egyptian history, Anubis was a god of the dead. This role was usurped by Osiris as he rose in popularity. This god of embalming was an illegitimate son of Osiris and Nephthys. One myth says that Nephthys got Osiris drunk and the resultant seduction brought forth Anubis. Yet another says she disguised herself as Isis and seduced Osiris and subsequently gave birth to Anubis.
The god of embalming is probably associated with the jackal due to the habits of jackals to lurk about tombs and graves. One of the reasons the early Egyptians sought to make their tombs more elaborate was to keep the bodies safe from the jackals lingering about the graves. It is only natural therefore that a god of mummification would be connected with them. By worshipping Anubis, the Egyptians hoped to invoke him to protect their deceased from jackals, and later, the natural decay that unprotected bodies endure.
Jesus of Nazareth
Perhaps most famous of all these divine characters, is Jesus of Nazareth. Christians predominantly believe that Jesus is the "Son of God" (generally meaning that he is God the Son, the second person in the Trinity) who came to provide salvation and reconciliation with God by his death for their sins. However, there is evidence in the Gospels that there was a cloud over Jesus' birth. The idea of supernatural impregnation by the Holy Spirit of Mary makes a good myth, but for the rational person it is only myth when confronted with the reality of the biology of conception. Even with the best efforts of the church to impose this belief on the faithful, a Renaissance artist expressed his disbelief by painting the Annunciation with a large funnel in the clouds, its long tapered end reaching earth and disappearing under Mary's dress.
The Gospel of Matthew states that Joseph was preparing to divorce a pregnant Mary, to whom he was betrothed but with whom he had not consummated the marriage (Matthew 1: 18-25). It is to be noted that at this time in Judaism a betrothed couple was considered married even though they lived in their own parents' houses, had no sexual contact, and no marriage ceremony had been performed. Thus, if Joseph believed Mary was pregnant by another man the only way he could end the betrothal was to divorce her. It is quite clear in Matthew that Joseph had no doubt that Mary was pregnant by another man, the child within her was not his, and that under Jewish law the child to be born was a bastard.
One may ask if Joseph truly loved Mary, why didn't he just marry her and claim the child to be his? The answer to that question is the real reason for Joseph's intended divorce. A bastard, and any descendants of that bastard to the tenth generation would be prohibited from becoming part of the Jewish community (Deuteronomy 23:2). This meant that a bastard, male or female, and all of that bastard's progeny for ten generations could never marry a Jew or become a part of the Jewish community.
In the Gospel of John the Pharisees ask Jesus, "Where is your father?" (John 8:19). Many scholars believe that this is a question regarding Jesus' paternity. If Jesus were a bastard, anything he said or did could easily be discredited and would not be believed because he would not have been a part of the Jewish community. Not only he but his very words and deeds would be illegitimate. However, other scholars caution that not too much attention be placed on this verse or its presumed historicity. This is because John often uses the literary technique of making a theological proclamation in which he creates situations and statements rather than reports them.
Almost from its very beginning, Christianity placed emphasis upon the miraculous impregnation of Mary and little attention was given to his paternity. It was assumed by Christians, despite the belief at that time that many important men were the offspring of supernatural impregnation, that Jesus' case was different because of the Immaculate Conception; that is, Mary had been conceived without sin so that she could give birth not only to a man but to a God. Does this sound like science fiction? It does to liberal scholars, who believe that if the statement in Matthew has any credibility, Jesus was a bastard.
To put this into perspective, prior to Christianity, bastardy was considered to be "de rigueur" in all cultures of the Ancient near East except for the Hebrews. In fact, Strabo writes of Amazon-like cultures where females were dominant, men played the traditional female role and were restricted from owning property or going to war, and children were raised communally without regard to paternity. Thus the pejorative designation ascribed to bastards crept into Christianity via its Jewish roots.
The theological advent of the supernatural impregnation of Mary made it absolutely necessary for Christianity to make a distinction between the conception of Jesus as bastard from that of common bastards. The ability of Christianity to define and regulate all aspects of society as it spread across Europe over the centuries mandated and legitimized the treatment of bastards as people to be avoided, scorned, shamed, and disenfranchised by all social and legal institutions.
It is interesting to speculate what the place and role of bastards would have been in the history of the Western world had Christianity acknowledged and celebrated Jesus' bastardy. Perhaps not only bastardy would have become the preferred and time-honored model of creating families, but bastards would have been the leaders and benefactors of Western culture.