Pelops, Ahab and the Achaeans
by John R. Salverda
Elijah as Myrtilus
Myrtilus (a name suspiciously like another Hittite name of the same era, ‘Mursilis’ TISHBITE in Hebrew “Tishbi” implying from the settlement of Teshub. There is a play-on-words here. Tishbi uses the same letters that spell “Tashuv” i.e. return or repent. Elijah exhorted the Israelites to repent. Coincidently, “Teshub” was also the name of the chief god of the Hittites.) also was murdered, and in his case it was said to be accusations, that were lodged against him by Hippodameia, thus manipulating Pelops into committing the crime. This is the method employed by the Biblical Ahab and Jezebel against Naboth, but Jezebel brought accusations against, and called for the death of, someone else as well, one who was a bit more like the Greek Myrtilus, the great prophet Elijah. The greatness of Elijah, as portrayed in the Jewish literature, is not reflected in the mythological figure of Myrtilus, but the myth is a biased version of the Scriptural story, as told presumably, by the sons and followers of Ahab whom, we would not expect to honor Elijah. Even so, the sons of Pelops had to admit that the ‘traitor’ Myrtilus, did have some very Elijah-like attributes. The curse, for instance, that Myrtilus proclaimed against the house of Pelops, turned out to be a true prophecy. Myrtilus was acknowledged as a prophet, he was said to be one of ‘the sons of Hermes,’ (Hermes, the serpent stick carrying messenger of god, has elsewhere been identified as the Greek version of Moses, who in turn was sometimes referred to as ‘Nebo,’ meaning the ‘prophet.’http://www.britam.org/salverda/io.html ) Similarly Elijah, as many believe, is supposed to have belonged to an organization that was called, ‘the sons of the prophets,’ (2KI 4:1.) .
‘And there came a messenger, and told him, saying, They have brought the heads of the king’s sons. And he said, Lay ye them in two heaps at the entering in of the gate until the morning.’ (2KI 10:8) The Scriptural story about the ‘heads’ is almost certainly true, and it must have had a lasting traumatic effect on the psyche of those followers of Ahab who fled to Greece and told the tale of Pelops, for this morbid display is attested to in the Greek myths as well. Oenomaus, the myth relates, cut off the heads of those who dared to contest him in the chariot chase and lost. These heads he exhibited on the gate of his palace and the story specifically mentions the regret felt by Pelops upon seeing the ‘faces’ on display. (According to Hyginus, Fab. 84, when Pelops saw the heads of the unsuccessful suitors nailed over the door, he started to regret his impudence. He therefore appealed to Myrtilus, the charioteer of Oenomaus, promising half of the kingdom if he would change his affiliation and collaborate with him.) Ahab’s corresponding regret, (appealing to Elijah, just as Pelops had appealed to Myrtilus) famously portrayed in the Scriptures (1 Kings 21:17-29) as an act of true repentance, resulted in a postponement of reckoning for his sin which would be imposed instead upon his sons, the same sons whose heads made up the grisly exhibition here referred to. It could be argued that Ahab himself did not actually ‘see’ the heads, however this argument could be refuted by saying that Ahab was afforded a ‘vision’ of the retribution visited upon his sons through the Prophet (‘seer’) Elijah.
In the Scriptures, the heads were also displayed because of a lost chariot chase, in this case it was Jehu (anointed by Elijah 1Kings 19:15,16) who furiously drove his chariot on behalf of the Almighty to work out His revenge for the death of Naboth. Jehu overtook his opponent’s chariot piercing him through the heart and that is why the heads were on display. These heads were indeed the heads of the other suitors for the throne, the sons of Ahab. The Biblical quote runs thusly; ” And Jehoram king of Israel and Ahaziah king of Judah went out, each in his chariot, and they went out against Jehu, and met him in the portion of Naboth the Jezreelite. … And Jehu drew a bow with his full strength, and smote Jehoram between his arms, and the arrow went out at his heart, and he sunk down in his chariot. Then said Jehu ‘ Take up, and cast him in the portion of the field of Naboth the Jezreelite: for ‘ Surely I have seen yesterday the blood of Naboth, and the blood of his sons, saith THE ALMIGHTY; and I will requite thee in this plat, saith THE ALMIGHTY. Now therefore take and cast him into the plat of ground, according to the word of THE ALMIGHTY. But when Ahaziah the king of Judah saw this, he fled … And Jehu followed after him, and said, Smite him also in the chariot.’ (II Kings 9:21-28) The chariot killing of Ahaziah the king of Judah and grandson of Ahab even more closely parallels the killing of the suitors by Oenomaus because, although it is difficult to piece together the different accounts, (compare 2 Chron. 22 :7-9), it is apparent that Ahaziah fled and was captured by the men of Jehu, then Jehu ordered Ahaziah to be placed in his chariot so that he could be killed in it, then he was granted a head start. Ahaziah was mortally wounded as he fled to Megiddo, where he died of his wounds, he was buried in Jerusalem. So it was a kind of chase, as in the Greek myth.
Obviously the men of Ahab (the Achaeans) held Elijah (Myrtilus) in low esteem, considering him to be a traitor. However Ahab, as was true of all Hittite rulers,(in accordance with a known Hittite document restricting the absolute power of Hittite kings, called the “Edict of Telipinus”) did not have absolute power (Jezebel, the daughter of a different kind of King, did not seem to understand this.). He was required to justify his decisions to the royal clan (comprised of princes, royal cousins, the priesthood, elders of the state, and others of prestige). Elijah was highly respected and Ahab could not hate him openly. When Elijah admonished Ahab, the King had to clearly and visibly display his repentance, not just out of fear of the curse but also in order to maintain the loyalty of the clan. Pelops as well is said to have regretted his treatment of Myrtilus, and after the death of the seer, Pelops is said to have introduced and enforced the worship of Hermes (the Greek Moses), the supposed father of Myrtilus, among the Achaeans. Pelops built a few shrines to Hermes, and even instituted some of the rites and rituals that were advocated by Hermes, such as maintaining an ark which contained the fleece of the sacrificed golden lamb (indicating the lamb of god no doubt) the purpose of which was to justify the Pelopid dynasty (an obvious parallel to the Mosaic Ark of the Covenant, containing the Messianic promise and justifying the Davidic dynasty). And in fact, there was a more honorable opinion of Myrtilus that was known to the ancient Greeks. Pindar, and other early writers, say that it was Poseidon’s gift of the flying chariot that won the race for Pelops, not the treachery of the seer Myrtilus. Pindar describes how god bestowed on Pelops a chariot with winged steeds. ‘Honoring him, the god gave him a golden chariot, and horses with untiring wings. He overcame the might of Oenomaus, and took the girl as his bride.’ (Pindar, Olympian 1. 85) On a chest at Olympia the horses of Pelops in the chariot race were represented with wings (Paus. 5.17.7). The earliest mention of Myrtilus’ treachery is to be found in the writings of Pherecydes in the 5th century BC. and, at any rate, Myrtilus was respected by many and was not unanimously despised even by the Achaeans (the men of Ahab).
It may be argued by some that Naboth was not like Oenomaus in that he is not associated with driving a chariot, and that his death did not involve a chariot race. True enough, for although the portion of the Scriptures that involves Ahab, is full of chariotry, and Ahab is portrayed as “contesting” with Naboth over his vineyard, the particular chapter of Naboth’s murder does not involve a chariot. However, that argument overlooks the fact that the foremost clash, and overarching theme outlined in that section of the Scriptures is the contest between the polytheism of Ahab against the Monotheism of Elijah and incidentally of Naboth, whom Elijah had sided with against Ahab. The climax of this clash was the contest at mount Carmel which culminated with a very famous chariot race between Ahab and Elijah (in which Elijah miraculously succeeded although on foot). A more careful reading of the Greek myth reveals that Oenomaus, the Greek Naboth was not the driver of his own chariot he was merely riding along, and that his chariot was actually driven by his charioteer Myrtilus, the Greek Elijah, ‘the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.’ Notice that Elijah is referred to Scripturally as the “horseman of the chariot,” not just a rider in the chariot, but its’ horseman. Thus it is not unreasonable to conclude that Elijah was envisioned in his heavenly translation as not merely being picked up by it, but rather that he was ensconced in the heavenly chariot as it’s charioteer. “And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.” (2 Kings 2:11,12) Oddly Josephus himself seems to doubt the story of the heavenly chariot, saying of Elijah only, that no one knows of his death, “Now at this time it was that Elijah disappeared from among men, and no one knows of his death to this very day; but he left behind him his disciple Elisha, as we have formerly declared. And indeed, as to Elijah, and as to Enoch, who was before the deluge, it is written in the sacred books that they disappeared, but so that nobody knew that they died.” (Antiquities, 9). At any rate it does seem reasonable for some to blame (or credit as the source my be) Jezebel, who called for his death and caused his exile, for his “disappearance.”
After the chariot/foot race from Mount Carmel of Ahab and Elijah, Jezebel called for the immediate death of Elijah. Elijah himself prayed for his own death at that time (never-the-less the Scriptures have Elijah out living Ahab). Likewise the death of the seer Myrtilus was called for by Hippodameia. In both cases the last day of the great prophet/seer was spent in a flying chariot supplied by God/god. However in the myth told by the Achaeans the flying chariot was supplied to Pelops and it was he who invited the seer to take a ride in it. As they were flying high in the heavens Pelops killed Myrtilus by Kicking him out.
The prophecies of Myrtilus continued to come true for generations after his earthly departure. Like Elijah, Myrtilus did not lose consciousness after death, he even, again like Elijah, came back occasionally to preside over the death of the cursed dynasty, especially royal chariot deaths, for as some say, that the ghost of Myrtilus was the ‘horse scarer’ in the Hippodrome at Olympia. Myrtilus, also like Elijah, was translated into heaven at his death, where he was placed in the heavenly chariot which is known to this very day as the constellation called, ‘Auriga,’ or as we say, ‘the charioteer.’ Here perhaps, the Greek myth has a more ‘logical’ explanation for the story of Elijah’s apotheosis and the fiery chariot of the Heavenly God.