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Um, Phobos, as envisioned by a contemporary artist....

Phobos was the Greek god of panic and terror.  He lacked the high profile of his parents, Aphrodite and Ares, but sources indicate that people worshiped him (Greeks tended to be quiet about their prayers to chthonic deities because such wishes were usually… of a private nature).  It seems his followers sacrificed to him and called upon him to instill fear in others.   Here is a wonderfully bloody quote describing the worship of Phobos from Aeschylus’ play Seven Against Thebes (he is invoked as “Terror” in this translation):

Seven warriors yonder, doughty chiefs of might,
Into the crimsoned concave of a shield
Have shed a bull’s blood, and, with hands immersed
Into the gore of sacrifice, have sworn
By Ares, lord of fight, and by thy name,
Blood-lapping Terror, Let our oath be heard-
Either to raze the walls, make void the hold
Of Cadmus-strive his children as they may-
Or, dying here, to make the foemen’s land
With blood impasted.

Hercules encountered (and slew) another Phobos worshiper, Kyknos, who was killing passersby in order to build some sort of crazy terror temple from their skulls.  As a part of his psychological campaign, Alexander the Great publicly and ostentatiously sacrificed to Phobos the night before the Battle of Gaugamela.  Fear was a useful tool for Alexander both on the battlefield and off–so he played up his connection with its deity.

So why am I thinking about worshipers of Phobus?  For one thing I have an abiding interest in underworld deities [expect to see more of them here as an ongoing post category].  They have vivid dramatic flare and they make magnificent metaphors for the darker passions.  Also I have been thinking about the broader meaning of fear and its ramifications for our society.  It seems appropriate to start that examination with an ancient god and an Aeschylus quote.


According to the New York Daily News, nobody has seen a wild rabbit in Central Park since 2006 (way to horde a story for Easter, Daily News).  The indigenous eastern cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus, which once flourished in Central Park, seems to have been completely eradicated from Manhattan.  One ecologist fairly convincingly blamed the ubiquitous raccoon for spreading parasites (I am inclined to agree after seeing the havoc those masked bandits can wreak upon a garden or anything else) but nobody truly knows the cause for the bunnies’ vanishing act: other potential culprits include feral cats, eagles (!), coyotes, and disease.

The big story of our time—and, indeed the big story since the Hadean era, when life apparently emerged from the slime—is the peculiar and complicated relationships within ecosystems.  I would like to make this a major theme of subsequent posts (after all it is the underlying tale of all living things), but right now I’m just sad about the rabbits.  Hopefully Prospect Park and Greenwood cemetery still have bunnies.  I’m pretty sure I’ve seen them there more recently then 2006, but I’m going to have to keep my eyes peeled and ask my Brooklyn neighbors to do the same.

Ye Olde Ferrebeekeeper Archives

April 2010