Ancient Greek Legend Seems to Describe a Place in Peru: Early Contact?
In the 8th century B.C., the Greek poet Hesiod described in his “Theogony” a place at the end of the Earth where the gorgons dwell, where the god Atlas appears as a giant mountain, and where a great chasm contains treacherous seas.
Hesiod’s description seems to match the mysterious labyrinth ruins of Chavin de Huantar in the Peruvian Andes, according to Dr. Enrico Mattievich, a retired professor of physics from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) in Brazil. Dr. Mattievich wrote a book titled “Journey to the Mythological Inferno,” in 2011 which suggests the Greek epic hero Odysseus’s journey to the underworld is set in South America.
Part of this book explores the similarities between Chavin de Huantar and Hesiod’s description. Not only do Hesiod’s geographical descriptions fit the site, local legends also match the Greek myth, and artifacts in the temple also seem to correspond.
Hesiod wrote of the dwelling place of the gorgons: ” … Grim and dank and loathed even by the gods—this chasm is so great that, once past the gates, one does not reach the bottom in a full year’s course, but is tossed about by stormy gales …”
Mattievich wonders if this describes the mouth of the Amazon River. Or, does it describe the length of the dangerous journey across the ocean to South America, followed by the trip up the Amazon to the gates of Pongo de Manseriche—a deep and narrow gorge that strangles the Marañon River. Dangerous whirlpools often form in the upper Marañon.
Hesiod wrote: “There also stands the gloomy House of Night, ghastly clouds shroud it in darkness. Before it [the House of Night] … [Atlas] stands erect.”
Chavin de Huantar is a palace in front of the high Andes. Is it the “House of Night”—the Gorgon’s abode? Is “Atlas” one of the mountains of the Andes?
A sculpture of a horrifying deity in the middle of the labyrinth ruins of Chavin de Huantar is the Gorgon of myth, according to Mattievich.
The “Gorgon” sculpture is portrayed as chained in the middle of the underground labyrinth, on a pillar about 15 feet (4.5 meters) tall. Surrounding the palace are grotesque stone heads, perhaps depicting the petrified witnesses of the Gorgon’s might.
Above the “Gorgon” is a small sacrifice room from which the victims’ blood poured into the mouth of the deity. Mattievich wrote of his experience visiting the site: “I faced the imposing stone pillar … I tried to imagine how horrible it must have been to see it covered with blood. If suffering and anguish could leave their marks on matter, that pillar would certainly contain all the lamentations of Hell.”
The sculpture resembles depictions of the Gorgon found in Europe, Mattievich said, citing others who have noted these similarities as well. For example, in 1926, anthropologist José Imbelloni compared the Chavin de Huantar sculpture to the 6th century Gorgon head at the sanctuary of Syracuse in Sicily. Imbelloni stopped short of saying the Peruvian sculpture was of Greek origin, but he did find the resemblance pushed the boundary of a belief that the people of Peru could have created such a similar statue by chance.
The age of Chavin de Huantar is not precisely known. Mattievich explained that a tentative estimation could trace the oldest parts back to about 1300 B.C. The Chavin culture itself dates back to about 1600 B.C.
Local Myths Match Greek Legend?
A later Chavin myth about the god Huari is a Peruvian version of the Greek myth of Perseus, Mattievich said. The local people are said to have invited Huari to a feast, planning to trap and kill him there. Huari saw through the ploy, however, and turned them all to stone. The feast and the subsequent petrification is said to have occurred at the Chavin de Huantar.
In the corresponding Greek myth, Polydectes plotted against Perseus who stood in the way of his love. Polydectes held a banquet to which all guests were to bring gifts of horses. Perseus had no horse to give and said he would instead bring whatever Polydectes asked for. Polydectes took the opportunity to put Perseus in great danger by requesting the head of the Gorgon Medusa. Through a long course of events, Perseus succeeded in obtaining the head of the Gorgon and thus possessed the power to turn others to stone.
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