Of Self-Devouring We Will Never Tire


Greek mythology is full of cautionary tales, often promoting a particular message, but the overarching theme is that you shouldn’t piss off the gods. This particular tale involves Erysichthon, King of Thessaly. He decides to cut down a grove of trees sacred to Demeter, including one huge oak around which nymphs liked to congregate, for his own selfish reasons. Or maybe it was his parents’ fault for giving him a name that means “render of earth.” Apparently his father Triopas was sometimes said to have committed the same offense. They were basically the Once-ler family of ancient Greece.

“Out of my way, naked lady! This tree is going down!”

Anyway, Demeter decided the best punishment for Erysichthon was to make him insatiably hungry, and for this she asked for a favor from the goddess of hunger.

If you didn’t know there WAS a goddess of hunger, well, there’s a god for everything. Known as Limos in Greek and Fames in Latin, she lives in a barren wasteland at the edge of Scythia, and takes the appearance of a woman suffering from extreme hunger.

I guess she’s more of a personification than a true god, but there can be a lot of overlap there. Limos is the daughter of Eris, goddess of discord.

Demeter and Limos never got along, and were forbidden to meet in person, so the harvest goddess sent a mountain nymph to bring her request to the representation of starvation. Limos agreed to the idea, and from then on Erysichthon was never satiated no matter how much he ate.

After he ate everything he could get his hands on, he started pawning his possessions to afford more, eventually selling his own daughter Mestra into slavery. Fortunately, Mestra had had an affair with Poseidon, so he freed her and gave her the ability to change shape, apparently a favorite of his. From then on, she and her father ran a scam where she’d turn into an animal, let herself be sold to someone, then regain her human form and run back home. Even the money from this was never enough to satisfy Erysichthon’s hunger, however, so eventually he took the same route as Shel Silverstein’s Hungry Mungry and turned to eating himself. I wonder how much of that you can do before you die.

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