There be dragons!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Zeus, Hades, Poseidon

I found this an interesting insight and reflective of a conversation/revelation I had last night about the three brothers of the ancient world; Zeus (Dios), Hades (Pluton), and Poseidon (Enosichthon).

The Ancients were not foolish in the psychological nature of their religion, nor were they, barring the commoners understanding, literalists in assigning a domain to their gods.  Rather the realms over which each god ruled were symbolic of the human psyche; realms within every human soul.

Zeus ("Dios", Latin "Deus", RigVeda "Dyaus") represented the pattern, or Logos, in its beautiful, bright, liberating form; something majestic and powerful that gets like a lightning flash inspiration into the minds and hearts of each person.  He is "the shining one", the Logos that is awe-inspiring but that shifts like clouds and to which we relate as children might to a toy or kaleidoscope.  This relationship of man to the Logos as a child to a toy carries over into the religion of the Latins who felt compelled to remind people that Zeus was not the child but the father (Zeus Pater, or Jupiter) revealing the Logos through "toys".  His power, majesty, glory, but essential love of his children and playfulness corresponds to the Hebrew Tetragrammaton (YHWH) and to the "god of the mountain", El-Shaddai, who loves his chosen people as a father loves his kids.  Consequently, even in the language of Christianity, the Divine Power that is most emphasized is that of Deus, the Father who is in heaven - a representation not of masculine authority only but of the essential playfulness of the human consciousness liberated by knowledge of the pattern.  This god does not let leave his children among the dead nor let his beloved know corruption.

Hades was "the wealthy one" (Plouton), or "the hidden one", who ruled not just over those literally dead but over the pattern, Logos, as it took shape in artwork and physical forms.  Every creation of human hands beginning as an airy inspiration becomes a source of wealth (money, power, control, "riches") but once incarnate in the real world also becomes a dead thing.  Hades represents the pattern, manifest in artifacts, that influences, dominates over, enslaves the human mind. As soon as the artist crafts a work they change how others see the world.  The power of the artist to manipulate or influence for good or ill is tremendous.  Yet, essentially, the artist is never seen but is hidden behind his works, "Aides".  Consequently there is a quality of the magician to every artist who operates either as a liberating or as an enslaving force.  Hades is not "evil" in the sense of a Satan or demon of Christian mythology, though he seems to be opposed to the force of life and liberty represented by Zeus.  Such stark dichotomy found in Christian theology is lacking in the Ancient world.  Hades is brother to Zeus and, in some legends, is Zeus Cthonos himself.  Des and AiDes  are one since the human person is one - consequently the experience of the underworld which involves loneliness, dryness, darkness and death is also a part of human existence just as the openness, freedom, brightness and life of the celestial realm is.  More to the point is that the pattern, the Logos, is beautiful and bright, majestic, filled with life, the existence of which offers great joy and liberation.  But if such a pattern exists there also can be no freedom, individual will, or self-ness to cling to; we are all part of the pattern and therefore enslaved.  The Logos is both liberating and enslaving, bright and dark at the same time.  This leads to the third manifestation of the godhead in the Ancient world.

Poseidon was the lord of the waters, but also the "earth shaker" (Enosichthon).  Land, terra, which seems so firma is, in fact, as subject to shaking and waves as is the water.  Above both water and land is the airy infinite of the sky.  Below both water and land is the abyssal darkness of sheol.  Poseidon's realm is that liminal between the two realizations.  His children are all creatures of nightmare, amorphous and protean monsters out of the depths or lawless creatures of brute strength.  Poseidon is the lord of nightmares (since he is also the horse, or mare, lord; the "breaker of horses") which emerge through that interaction of the conscious (Zeus) and the unconscious (Hades); the subconscious.  He is also wedded to and associated with the earth, Demeter/Ceres and through such union produces lawless creatures of great strength and tremendous ignorance, the cyclopes (circle eyes).  Poseidon represents the Logos manifesting in the world, not the fully conscious freedom of the brilliant realms seen in the Empyrean, nor the concretized enthrallment of the dark realms of silence in the Underworld.  He is the in between of art not yet fully formed.  For this reason he is the perfect nemesis of Odysseus, the pained man, who must experience the world of the dead in order to ascend to his solar throne, Ithaka, by the end of Homer's epic.  The realm of Poseidon tends to engulf and emasculate (it is where Chronos' masculinity was flung after all - resulting in the goddess of erotic love) - he takes the wind out of a person's sails - dashes them against the hard rocks of practical reality, divesting them of romantic artistic illusions.  Hera is not the nemesis of Odysseus, nor is Zeus, nor is Ares.  This inbetween lord of the liminal realm offers sufficient threat to the ascendancy of Odysseus' solar nature to make him a worthy adversary.

What does such a triune cosmology teach us?  The realm of human consciousness tends to want to be fully in the light of Zeus - yet in attempting to be so we become tyrannical and deny an essential element of our nature.  The common pull of human experience is toward enthrallment and slavishness, influenced by the art and works of others - yet to deny the journey through this realm is to deny the element of our nature from which springs the new life.  Zeus or Hades?  The Empyrean or Sheol?  Heaven or Hell?  Self or selflessness?  Held between these two realms our life becomes like the castaway clinging to the spar, or like Pip the cabin boy in Melville's work - we hang on to the concrete things around us with a grasping terror of the maelstrom or contend with the sea like Menelaus wrestling with Proteus.  To use another metaphor, we are crucified between two paradoxical positions, between two realities of the pattern of the Logos.  The solution is perhaps not necessarily to resign ourselves to the deeps, nor struggle toward the troposphere, but to submit to the reality of both phototropism and geotropism.  Homer's image in The Odyssey of the moley flower having the potency to overcome Circe (the witch of the perpetual circle; "you are all pigs!") seems appropriate since the brilliant radiance of the sunny flower has its dark roots in the soil.  It is after all Hector, the hero of Homer's other work, The Iliad, who is ultimately referred to as the "breaker of horses".  Hector's death allows for Achilles' renewal into a liminal state - transitioning to Telemachus sitting dolefully at the beginning of Odyssey.  Zeus or Hades?  Poseidon.  Empyrean or Sheol?  Both.  Life or Death?  Yes.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Abecedarian Prayer

Abecedarian Prayer

All these grand poetic ideas that
Bask in the salt sea of idolatrous
Cacophony; they swell against, they
Deluge the cranium, they wriggle like
Eels in the ear, somehow, I don’t know, they
Find their way there & down through the
Gut to the realms of emotion, sorrow,
Heartache and fear; the Moriadark where
“I”, the essence of man, echoes from the walls
Jocosely gibbering, “what is man?” -
Nor in the dark comes immediate answer.
“O, worm!” (evoking the vocative) he prays,
“Pray for us sinners who long for the song to
Quit this mortal sphere.”
Righteousness is but a pithy quip,
Simple for the innocent,
Terrifying for the cave dweller.
Unlike The God we evade rectitude.
“Verily, who is righteous but God alone?”
“What is man that you should grant to him a
Xiphos, keen and bright with which to free
Ygdrassil of all these grand poetic eels,

Zygons of an innocent age?”

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A cool gif of the Tao

It's coming down.  This time for permanent.  Enjoy this gif.  Sayonara.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Homage to Gorecki

This great man composed many works that are sublime. I first heard this piece, The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, when I watched the Peter Weir movie "Fearless" the first movement of which is used in the airplane crash scene.

It's based on a folk song recorded by Adolf Dygacz

in the Silesia region in south-western Poland; "Where has he gone, my dear young son" (Kajze mi sie podzioł mój synocek miły), which describes a mother's mourning for a son lost in war.

The second movement here

is based upon

an inscription scrawled on the wall of a cell of a Gestapo prison in the town of Zakopane, which lies at the foot of the Tatra mountains in southern Poland. The words were those of 18-year-old Helena Wanda Błażusiakówna, a highland woman incarcerated on 25 September, 1944. It read "O Mamo nie płacz nie—Niebios Przeczysta Królowo Ty zawsze wspieraj mnie" (Oh Mamma do not cry—Immaculate Queen of Heaven support me always). The composer recalled, "I have to admit that I have always been irritated by grand words, by calls for revenge. Perhaps in the face of death I would shout out in this way. But the sentence I found is different, almost an apology or explanation for having got herself into such trouble; she is seeking comfort and support in simple, short but meaningful words". He later explained, "In prison, the whole wall was covered with inscriptions screaming out loud: 'I'm innocent', 'Murderers', 'Executioners', 'Free me', 'You have to save me'—it was all so loud, so banal. Adults were writing this, while here it is an eighteen-year-old girl, almost a child. And she is so different. She does not despair, does not cry, does not scream for revenge. She does not think about herself; whether she deserves her fate or not. Instead, she only thinks about her mother: because it is her mother who will experience true despair. This inscription was something extraordinary. And it really fascinated me.. "

The third movement is a prayer by Mary to Christ on the Cross. "O my son, beloved and chosen, Share your wounds with your mother …" (Synku miły i wybrany, Rozdziel z matką swoje rany …)

and speaks of that miraculous event, depicted in the Passion narrative, of one person trying to take the pain of another away. The sorrow is that such a thing is not possible. The miracle is that such a thing is possible.

Gorecki seemed to have a very profound and remarkable insight into the nature of human cruelty and suffering and he had the amazing talent of translating that insight into fantastic art.
He died this last month (November 12, 2010). God rest him.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Hero, Moses, Achilles, Gawain and Red Riding Hood

They're all related. More later.

Path of the Hero (Thanks to Joseph Campbell and "The Hero with 1,000 Faces")

1. The "hero" (who at this point isn't; he's just a guy, a shlub, a trash collector, a farm boy from Tatooine) separates from society.

  • due to trauma
  • due to choice
  • due to experience
  • due to accident

2. He enters "the wilderness", the desert, the Wasteland
= that realm where there is nothing familiar, nothing to latch onto, the comfortable and the safe are disrupted and gone

3. There he experiences something that is terrifying and transformative which, if he survives it, gives him new insight.
= looking into the abyss, the meaninglessness of human life - puts him at the crossroads where he is posed with two paths he can go down, that of the monster or that of the hero.
Monster, Grendel, is consumed by darkness and tries to spread darkness and violence to others - sowing despair rather than hope and using other people for his own benefit
Hero, prophet, faces the darkness and transcends it to become something new

4. He returns as a changed being, the hero, to society bringing back some new insight, hope, joy, freedom.

Moses fits this model
Achilles fits this model
Gawain fits this model
Red Riding Hood fits this model

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Considering Trolls in Tolkien

Consider Tolkien's map of Middle Earth.

See the dragon embedded in the geography? Dragonishness was a central issue in both "The Hobbit" and the later work of "Lord of the Rings". Specifically in Hobbit the crisis of the work is whether or not Bilbo will become a dragon himself. Dragons are inhuman creatures, ancient, crafty, who delve in riddles and non-linear thought of all sorts. They are powerful, violent, hoarding of their wealth (both material and otherwise) and they seek to dominate over other creatures by sowing the seeds of despair, sorrow, discontent and doubt. To become like this snaky creature is to lose one's humanity and become an "unman" or Golem in the Yiddish. Bilbo must, therefore, travel to the heart of the dragon and confront the potential for dragonishness himself. Every encounter throughout the novel prepares Bilbo for that final encounter with the dragon.

Why, therefore, does Tolkien include the encounter with the three trolls in book 2, right out from Hobbiton? Are these images of dragonishness in some way? Certainly the trollness of the trolls is taken out of Norse myth and the great troll story of Beowulf. Yet, why are there three trolls (and not, say 2 or 14)? Do the names have significance? Are there other stories with sets of 3 in them to which Tolkien is referring? Tolkien's character "Treebeard" says of them in LotR,

"Trolls are only counterfeits, made by the Enemy in the Great Darkness, in mockery of Ents, as Orcs were of Elves."

It seems that Tolkien frequently thought in these dualistic terms, that for every thing of goodness there was a dark and malevolent side as well, a counterfeit or doppelganger that mirrored something in the world of light yet abhorred the light. Why do the trolls get turned to stone by sunrise at the end of the chapter? What in the psyche of the reader is "troll-like", counterfeit & made by the Enemy in the Great Darkness, anyway?

The art at this website is good. Captures nicely that fireside quality Tolkien himself had in his painting. Interesting that Tolkien puts the three figures OUTSIDE the ring of firelight as creatures dwelling in the dark periphery of human subconscious; shadow monsters. This one brings them into the firelit circle of the conscious.

I conjecture that the names are a bit like "Tom, Dick, and Harry" - common names meaning "Everyman". The threeness of the crew, though, reminds me of that great story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears which is about a careless child meeting the triune divinity for the first time. Her negligence and sense of being owed something lead to "falling asleep" (spiritual lethargy) and waking up to the terror of the divine bearness looming over her. This terrifying encounter leads her to flee from the home in the woods (subconscious) and never go back there again; in other words, the divine becomes for her set in stone as a place only of terror.

In Bilbo's story, though, the trolls are not wise inhuman powers bearing familial connections but stupid, blundering monoliths hell-bent on rampaging through the land. Gandalf himself wonders what has driven them from their mountainous homes, their Olympus. Unlike the positive aspect of the Trinity these trolls are slow and dim, comical in there Three Stooges shtick. Nevertheless, they represent an aspect of the divine AS BILBO PERCIEVES IT. Is God stupid? Do we consider Him stupid? Do we percieve religion as monolithic and predictable? Are we surprised by its potential for violence or its renditioin of bloodshed? Do we consider God as though He were in a box; the familial creative force of the Trinity forever under our thumb? Yet lurking in the shadowy periphery of the subconscious that maybe this is a force we need to reckon with, beyond our control, unexpected and ferocious. And then suddenly it looms up in front of us in the dark, or the alarm goes off when we try to steal from it sounding out the eternal religious question "Ere, oo are you?"

Who are we? Especially when faced with such immense, petrolithic images of nature's divine force - we are small and scared and trembling - more like a rabbit than a burglar. And will the divine force now have mercy on the poor little blighter or find a way to smash it into a pie? Bilbo attempts to confront this dark, protean fear in the firelight on his own, but must be saved first by the doggedly linear dwarvish aspect which determinedly and blunderingly wanders into the firelight and blinds one of the trolls, then by the power of the wizard himself, Gandalf (the Bilbo grown large) who riddles the trolls to linger until the new dawn & resurrection.

For Bilbo the facing of the divine power (or its terrible negative aspect) drags that power into the light of day and renders it innocuous. It's Bilbo's first meeting with the potential dragon in him.

Trackback = Tolkien: His Genius

Tolkien's own ink illustration of the trolls for "The Hobbit".

1890 Illustration of the Three Bears by Batten

Friday, August 20, 2010

Beginning a New Year

every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Monday, June 7, 2010

Myth of Er Outline

Here is posted an outline of the Myth of Er.

Letter to Bernard Suzanne

I wrote this brief email to Bernard Suzanne whose website on Plato is a necessary read for anyone who wants to understand Plato and/or Western culture. The letter also refers to the video at the bottom of the text.

Dear Mr. Suzanne,
Thank you for your excellent insights on Plato and his dialogues. I have particularly enjoyed over the years your thoughts on the Republic. Attached please find a link to a YouTube lecture of my own on the opening of the Republic. I am in agreement that the opening Prologue sets the stage for the rest of the dialogue, that the names and setting are intentional, and that the movement of thought continues from the prior dialogue with Callicles. I add, however, two things;
1. the work appears to be a dialogue, wearing the mask or thaumatopoioi of a dialogue, but is indeed a monologue like the Apology. Socrates alone speaks. But to whom? For what reason? Is he addressing the gods? Other Athenians? Future generations? I think that the the monologue quality of the work is explained to some degree at the end of the text when Socrates says that through Justice we will be "friends to ourselves and to the gods." This seems to indicate that all of the above are true.
2. The connection to other mythological works (Odyssey, Orpheus) seems to be intentional as well. Socrates goes "down into Hades" when he goes into Piraeus. The opinions of men like Thrasymachus, Polemarchus, and Cephalus being the opinions of the underworld; the world of claustrophobic materialism and almost petty worldliness. The person they most effect is Glaucon, the Eurydice character, whose trepidation that there is anything beyond this world (and thus any point to striving for greatness rather than grasping at power or pleasure) indicates that he is dead or near dead in soul. Socrates, like Odysseus, attempts three times to clasp him to his breast (by defeating the arguments of Cephalus, Polemarchus and Thrasymachus) and still Glaucon fades into that other world of sorrow and hopelessness. If, then, a man is to effect any change for the positive, he must regain a vision of the light, of greatness, and of his own immortal significance (an event that occurs to Glaucon in Book 10). If he does regain such a vision then he can effect great change for the good in the world - be remembered - and have his tale, the story of his life, saved as an individual rather than lost in the oblivion of the faceless mob.
Anyway, thanks.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Plato Lectures

First in a (hopefully) series of lectures on the Republic:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Gyges' Ring

The name of Gyges is derived from a reduplication of the Greek word, Ge (Ge), meaning earth and from which are derived our current words of Gaia, geography, geology. Thus Gyges is "dirt man" - a pun on words similar to the Biblical pun on the Hebrew Adamah, or earth, becoming Adam.

The theophanic imagery of the thunder and earthquake represent Zeus (the god of lightning) and Poseidon (the earth shaker); who also represent the intersection of the two realms of heaven and earth respectively.

This hearkens back to the intersection of the two circles in the golden ration in the midst of which is the vesica piscis, or vessel of the fish; the representation of the birth canal; the entrance into the other world and the passage back out into this world. It is the chasm in the earth which Gyges sees after the thaumatoi of the thunder and earthquake.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The PhilosopherKing

This is in order to get the idea down. I want eventually to make a video series on Plato.

Book 1 begins with "I went down" - I have long held that this is a descendo de caeli much like the later Incarnation image; it is also a descent into the underworld like in Homer's "Odyssey" (a reference to which exists right there in Book 1: "this is a lesson which I suspect you must have learnt out of Homer; for he, speaking of Autolycus, the maternal grandfather of Odysseus, who is a favourite of his, affirms that He was excellent above all men in theft and perjury. And so, you and Homer and Simonides are agreed that justice is an art of theft...")
The geography itself contributes to this play on mythology since the Acropolis, the high shining city of marble and gold, parallel to Olympus, is physically higher up in elevation than the Peiraeus. The latter city, because it is a port city, would have been a polyglot of language, religion, culture, attitudes towards life. Like any port city it would have had a large "red light" district of shady establishments, drinking, and prostitution. It would have been a hotbed of hot beds. Moreover, the city name, Peiraeus(Πειραιεύς), means "the place over the passage" and was built over a series of salt mines and caverns. It is also the last land jetty into the Mediterranean before making the southerly cross over the wine-dark sea to Egypt, the land of the dead. So in all respects, Peiraeus is the metaphorical underworld.
Yet, Socrates goes there not to impart wisdom or to talk with people that might better understand him but to see the festival of Bendis; "...a Thracian goddess of the moon and the hunt whom the Greeks identified with Artemis, and hence with the other two aspects of the former Minoan Triple Goddess, Hecate and Persephone." Socrates is drawn, erotically, by the prospect of some holy beauty, some light in the darkness, and descends to see the festival. He is returning in the evening when he is stopped by Polemarchus and others who playfully "capture" him and take him to the house of Cephalus for a dinner party where Glaucon metaphorically eats the food of the underworld. Thus there is a play on the myth of Persephone and Demeter.
The play on mythology also is in reference to Hercules who descends to the underworld not only to drag back Cerberus but also to return Alcestis to Admetus. He does both deeds by force. Socrates similarly "drags" the conversation out of the dark at the end of book 1. But just as he thinks he has done with the talk Glaucon, his companion, returning with him to the high city at the beginning of the book, challenges him and expresses the sorrowful and horrifying proposition that life is really rather a meaningless bore. In this way, and since he was following Socrates up to the light at the beginning of the dialogue, Glaucon is Eurydice and Socrates must play Orpheus for the next nine books to bring him back from the "land of the dead" which is the psychological state of seeing righteousness as a dull, meaningless emptiness.

Three opinions about Justice in Bk 1 are expressed;
1. Cephalus (the head, the chief) = telling the truth and giving back what is owed
2. Polemarchus (one who begins, or leads a war) = do good to friends and harm to enemies
3. Thrasymachus (bold fighter) = advantage of the strong

Justice, ton dikaion, righteousness or goodness is all these things. The righteous man does tell the truth and gives back what is owed; he does good to his friends and harm to his enemies; he has the advantage over other b/c he possesses the strength of being beyond the law and obedient to the law.

This set of three is repeated in the three types of good presented by Glaucon (the Eurydice figure)
1. good enjoyed for its own sake
2. good enjoyed for its sake and what it produces
3. good produced from something that is hateful (which is where Glaucon says most people equate Justice)

And this set of three is reiterated in the idea of justice as a mean between two extremes
1. best = doing injustice w/o penalty
2. justice = not v. great, but not too painful; doing some smaller injustices w/o penalty of severe punishment
3. worst = suffering injustice w/o revenge

This set of three is like unto the setting of the dialogue, namely
1. Acropolis (Olympus; realm of the gods, or the land of light & life)
2. the main or middle city
3. Peiraeus (Hades; realm of the dead, darkness & chaos)

This is parallel to the metaphysical states of
1. heaven
2. limbo
3. hell

But Glaucon/Eurydice, who has accosted Socrates/Orpheus in his return to the light, suggests that most people live in that limbo realm of the long grey day - justice is a compromise, and the best that we can hope for, in this life and the next, although not too thrilling or inspiring is at least not too painful.

The Acropolis/Olympus of doing injustice w/o penalty, is like the Playboy mansion, the bling of the gangsta, the pimp with the money and the babes and the convertible. Most of us will not achieve that, but if we were able to with impunity we would jump at that chance. Who, after all, wants to be a millionaire?

The Peiraeus/Hades of suffering injustice is a horrible prospect; malaka; utter degradation and despair coupled with eternal pain. No one wants that and the fear of its prospect keeps most people, as Nietzsche pointed out, from "aspiring to greatness". We are like Macbeth,

To be the same in thine own act and valour
As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting 'I dare not' wait upon 'I would,'
Like the poor cat i' the adage?

Thus, according to Glaucon, the very best we can hope to look forward to is this long grey day of the afterlife, hating job, hating family, hating life, looking forward to weekend football and maybe a vacation to somewhere warm.
Sad. Lethal. And deadening of all inspiration, aspiration, and happiness in life. Such an attitude makes dead men. How to revive them? How to raise the dead and lead them up from the underworld? Socrates not only has to raise one dead soul (like Orpheus) but ten! A multiplication connoting extreme difficulty.

The proposal of the philosopher king seems to offer the correction for Glaucon's "Gyges" (Geges, or dirt guy) image. If one is to see the good philosophers must become kings and kings philosophers. Philosophers, those who tell the truth and give back what is owed and thus are put upon, living in Peiraeus, hated but producing good, suffering injustice w/o revenge - these sorts of men must become kings and kings, those who impose their rule and advantage through strength, living on the Acropolis, enjoying the good for its own sake, doing what they will without penalty, must become philosophers. The high and the low must be united. Only the philosopher king can be truly ton dikaion, righteous, enjoying the good for itself and producing good themselves, doing good to friends (all humanity) and harm to enemies (untruth and evil). Socrates proposes a "marriage of heaven and hell" as Blake put it. Thus uniting the two spheres in the vesica piscis into one, unbroken, golden ring of continuous strength - one Socrates (whose name means "unbroken power").

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

On Pig Imagery - The Odyssey

In Book 10 of the Odyssey the man of twists and turns almost loses his entire crew when they are turned into swine by the witch, Circe. It might seem to be mere circumstance at this point that Circe turns the men into pigs since her house is also surrounded by all manner of strange, docile beasts. But the imagery of pigness is carefully chosen by Homer. The same imagery of pigs appears later on Ithaca when Odysseus stays with the swineherd, Eumaios, and again when Eurycleia recognizes Odysseus by his boar-inflicted scar. In fact the pig imagery in at least three places in the epic doesn't just exist for decoration but helps to advance both the story and the symbolic meaning of the work.

Some critics seem to suggest that the poem ought not to be read too deeply. Stuart Small, for instance, in his article "On Allegory in Homer" suggests that

It is, however, inadvisable to take the view that Homer's chief aim in composing this passage (the visit to Circe) was allegorical or didactic; it is similarly inadvisable to attempt to extract symbolic meaning from Odysseus' encounter with Hermes before he meets Circe, or from Hermes' advice to the hero, or from the description of the famous drug moly. After all, in the tale of Circe as in most of the rest of the Alkinou apologoi the poet's intention is not primarily to instruct but to entertain, and to entertain by telling marvellous tales of romantic adventure "in faery lands forlorn." (Small, 427)

Similarly J. Gwyn Griffiths in the article "Allegory in Greece and Egypt" offers that

In its original Greek sense allegory implies that an author proclaims a meaning other than the one which is instantly apparent. The Greeks who explained Homer from this point of view were superimposing the second meaning upon a narrative which usually does not, in our opinion, bear any traces of such a meaning being deliberate. (Griffiths, 89)

Perhaps Griffiths is correct about the critics of 5th century Greece who wished to read Homer as a mere moralist; indeed there is a long history of "reading into" the work of Homer morals or values which would have been anachronistic to his own culture. Yet the implication of Griffiths statement, namely that there was no deliberate meaning within Homer's work, or even that the later critics read moralism into the work rather than ignoring or overlooking meaning in addition to the moral level, seems to be erroneous. The Odyssey reads on many levels, one of which is the moralism which the Greeks of the Golden Era in Athens still perceived within the rites and chthonic imagery of religious practices current at their time. Similarly, Small's comment that the poet sought primarily to entertain seems dismissive of the fact that great art goes beyond entertainment alone. As any artist worth their salt knows, the primary job of art is to entertain. But great artwork uses entertainment, rhetoric, beauty, as the bait to draw the audience in to contemplate the greater implications of the work, and a great artist will both entertain and intentionally (or sometimes unintentionally) use imagery in a calculated way, troping prior stories, adding nuances of his own, retelling the themes common to the culture in order to suggest meaning. Artists use the thaumatopoioi, as Plato called them, the shadow puppets in order to direct the mind toward the Eidoi, or the unchanging truths of our existence.

Thus it seems that Homer intentionally uses the imagery of pigs throughout the work to suggest something profound about the sun hero, Odysseus. The story of the Odyssey is, essentially, a retelling of the sun god story common to Western culture. In this story the sun hero descends into the world of darkness, battles his nemesis in the form of a many-headed dragon, triumphs, and returns to the world of light and consciousness with the new dawn. The story has seen incarnations in Egypt as Ra descending into the Duat to battle Apep, in Babylon in the form of Mithras battling Tiamat, in Greece as Heracles battling the Hydra. In each incarnation the powers of darkness, madness, chaos and destruction threaten failure and annihilation. The hero seems to be overwhelmed by the pain and darkness of his experience, which appears as a many-headed beast, the crowd or mob, zombies, seeking to engulf or devour him in anonymity until he becomes a faceless nobody, slave to the seeming common fate of the human race. Ultimately, though, the hero triumphs against this perilous dragon, throws off the guise of death, and returns to the realm of light, consciousness, health and joy.

The Odyssey tells a similar story; Odysseus lost at sea (the realm of chaos and darkness) and at odds with Poseidon (the god of chaos, uncertainty - earthshaker) and Odysseus in his travels and Odysseus amidst the Phaeacians is like the sun hero, Ra, who descends into the dream realm of the underworld. Facing the many-headed mob of the Phaeacians, and of his own voracious crew eating the cattle of Helios, Odysseus faces Apep and returns, asleep, to his home of Phaeacia. Yet even there the story repeats itself in a different form. He associates with the pigkeeper, Eumaios, (a comic version of the underworld god and of Circe), returns to his home and confronts the many-headed Apep of the suitors. Only in defeating them does he fully emerge resurrected as the sungod, Helios Apollo Ra. It may seem a form of prestidigitation to note that the characters of Poseidon and Circe are forms of the underworld god of darkness, Seth, in Egyptian mythology. But the stories of Egypt predominated throughout that part of the Mediterranean and it is not a far stretch to conjecture that Homer must have been influenced by such common stories. As Ruth Ilsley Hicks writes in "Egyptian Elements in Greek Mythology"

Egyptian influence on the architecture and art of Greece has often been noted. The Greeks believed that they owed a debt to the country of the Nile in the fields of mathematics and philosophy. Mythology is another realm in which there are Egyptian elements, as the stories of Io, Helen, the Danaides, and Busiris show. These reveal in their plot and visual form features drawn from the religion, art, and history of Egypt. (Hicks, 108)

Thus the myths of the Greek culture are related to the Egyptian myths. Therein, the sun god, Ra, takes on the form of Helios, of Heracles, and even of Persephone and her mother Demeter. The nemesis, lord of darkness and decay, Seth, is transformed into Hades and his queen Persephone. In Homer these figures are mirrored in Odysseus and in Circe. The pig, which embodies the excessive pleasures of desire and the mindless animalian wallowing in chaos and destruction which such pleasures tend to bring, seems an animal particularly suited to be sacred to both Seth and to Demeter; Seth, it would seem, because of the affinity between the god of darkness and the pig, Demeter because of her triumph and control over the creature. Lewis Farnell notes the connection between the pig and the cults of Persephone and Demeter in his article "The Cults of the Greek States." There he points out that the names of Demeter and Persephone are occasionally synonymous within the cult practices;

In the rare cases where the name Persephone was the official title, we may assume that a specially chthonian character attached to the religion. It attached also to most of the leading Kore-worships. Among these we may specially note the Potnian, with its sacrifice of sucking-pigs thrown into the subterranean shrine, a sacrifice that reminds us of the Thesmophoria; the Argive, with its singular fire-ritual, in which lighted torches were thrown into the sacred pit; and the somewhat similar Mantinean, in which a perpetual fire was maintained in the shrine of Demeter and the daughter. (Farnell, 122)

Elswhere he notes the ubiquitous use of pigs in the ritual celebration of death and rebirth which were at the heart of the Eleusinian mysteries of Demeter;

At Potniae, in Boeotia, we hear of an underground megaron into which a sucking-pig was thrown as an offering to Demeter and Kore, to miraculously reappear at a certain season of the year at Dodona; and a Potnian inscription speaks of “a priest of Demeter and Persephone,” the latter being the special name of the chthonian goddess…In Attica this aspect of Demeter is sufficiently salient in the Thesmophoria and the Eleusinian mysteries, and the curious statement of Plutarch that at one time the buried dead in Attica were called Demetreioi shows, if we can trust it, a reminiscence of an earlier period when she was recognized as one with the earth-goddess, and as the Power that ruled over the departed. (Farnell, 64)

The pigs which were thrown into cavernous regions seemed to have represented the death of the old piggish self, the mindlessness of the animalian nature and its sublimation into the earth from whence grows new and plentiful life. As Martin Nilsson points out in "Greek Popular Religion" the pig and this cult of death / rebirth were intimately united;

At a certain time of the year, perhaps at another festival of Demeter and Kore, the Skirophoria, which was celebrated at the time of threshing, pigs were thrown into subterranean caves together with other fertility charms. At the Thesmophoria the putrefied remains were brought, mixed with the seed corn, and laid on the altars. This is a very simple and old-fashioned fertility magic known from Athens, Greece, the swine was the holy animal of Demeter. (Nilsson, 22)

The ancient world saw pigs as seemingly mindless creatures, driven by desire and the more base aspects of nature, eating, sleeping, rutting. Not only were they sacred to Demeter and to Seth, they were also closely associated with the Egyptian goddess of lust and fertility, Taweret, the wife of Apep, who later, when Seth replaced Apep as god of evil and darkness, she became Seth's concubine. Her counterparts in other cultures were Inanna, Ishtar, Astarte, and Aphrodite. The flesh of the pig was eaten at celebrations of Taweret as it was at the celebrations of her counterparts in other cultures, followed, at least in Babylon, by mindless orgies of sexuality and narcotics (the very thing the Jews objected to in their edicts against eating pork). To succumb to pigishness, then, would mean failure for the rational creature; it would mean darkness and inevitable death - the very thing which Seth threatens against Ra. Yet Demeter controls the pigs in her cult. If the maiden, the kore, Persephone is thought of as the young Demeter, then she could be the youthfulness driven by piggish desire which dies in the underworld and rises again to the new life of rational control.

Such control means a harsh knowing of self, a gnothi seauton. It also means experiencing and delivering pain. But as G.E. Dimock suggests in his article "the Name of Odysseus" this is precisely what odyssasthai means;

...for Odysseus to grow up, to achieve his full stature, will be for him to "odysseus"--to live up to the meaning of his name, whatever that may be. "To odysseus" (odyssasthai in Greek) is usually said to mean "be wroth against," "hate," and to be connected with Latin odisse... in the Odyssey odyssasthai means essentially "to cause pain (odyne), and to be willing to do so." (Dimock, 1, 53)

Essentially, Dimock claims, the story of the Odyssey is about finding oneself: "the whole problem of the Odyssey is for Odysseus to establish his identity" (Dimock, 1). It is a story about being a somebody rather than a nobody. I would suggest the story is more than just that, just fame. The Nobodies of the world are the mob, the average, unthinking, desire-driven slavish man. To be somebody is to be "one man alone"; to oion; a man in control of himself constantly. In order to accomplish this one has to live polytropically, by twists and turns. One has to wear a mask, a persona, of tricks and stories. One has to become, to a degree, like the snake in order to beat the snake of Apep, the mob.

Odysseus is a man who lives by his wits. He has learned early on, when he received a wound delivered to him by a boar, that the world is a cruel and brutal place. He has also learned to mistrust the many headed mob. Mobs can turn dangerous quickly. They are self-serving, driven by passions, swayed by entertainment and rhetoric. Mobs, basically, are piggish and Circe, in her role as the counterpart to Persephone, threatens engulf Odysseus in this state of existence. As Stuart Small suggests,

The meretrix Circe offers men not knowledge, but the pleasures which degrade and brutalize the human body without diminishing the mind's capacity for grief and remorse. (Small, 427)

Yet in changing the crew to swine she becomes a prophetess of sorts, revealing the true nature of the crew who later will, despite numerous warning, consume the cattle of Helios, the symbols of gloriously divine beauty and the representations of home. The crew, in this case, led by Eurylochus, are Apep. They are the mob. They do not wear a persona mask, they are not wary of the world, and they do not live by twists and turns. Rather they charge directly into what appears to be a banquet in order to satisfy their own carnal desires. The crew represent conventional thought versus nuanced introspection - they are, to a degree, civilized pigs. As Richard Ruderman in "Odysseus and the Possibility of Enlightenment" notes, such men are incapable of achieving resurrection because they have become enslaved to the status quo;

People who have come to think of themselves as “civilized” or not in need of “myths” in order to be moral are apt to overlook this essential ground of morality. Comfort with the status quo, taking pride in the civilization one is a part of, or even the lazy preference for the safety of morality to the risks and daring of its opposite – all these can lead people simply to equate morality with reason and civilization. (Ruderman, 151)

Eurylochus and the others consider their lives to be fairly swell. Like Richard Adams' rabbits in the warren of snares in "Watership Down" they no longer believe in the myths and tales of old. Their pigishness, consequently, makes them slaves to devouring darkness because they think things are due to them. Their eating of the cattle of Helios, like Goldilocks eating the porridge of the three bears, denies them entrance back into the holy bliss of home.

Odysseus, on the other, is the man of reason and this sets him apart from the piggish mob;
Reason, after all, as the wily Odysseus knows all too well, might counsel the performance of an unjust action, especially where one’s life or safety hang in the balance. And social influences, however powerful within a given society, seem unreliable in the fluid, many-cultured world of the wanderer. (Ruderman, 151)

Society might suggest satisfaction of the baser instincts but also paradoxically common courtesy to a hostess and sexual fidelity to one's wife. But if Odysseus is to master Circe, the power of the underworld, if he is to escape the pull of pigishness, he must make her his equal. Charles Segal in "Circean Temptations: Homer, Vergil, Ovid" suggests this very thing;

If Homer's Circe embodies the pleasures of the flesh in both their restorative and dangerous aspects, she is yet more than an allegory of sensuality, as she becomes in later literature. While on the one hand she can transform men into swine, on the other she is surrounded by beautiful and highly wrought furnishings tokens of a civilized refinement…. It belongs to the paradoxical mystery surrounding this character that the men who are to be transformed into swine meet her more civilized aspect, the beautiful singing and weaving, while Odysseus, wary of her charms, engages at once in a head-on conflict with her magic and her sexual allure. Recognizing the danger for what it is, he sees Circe as his men cannot. Hence he meets the goddess on her own terms: the counter-magic of Hermes against her potions, his sword against her wand. (Segal, 425)

Odysseus puts upon himself the mask of death by eating the moly flower, whose white blossom symbolizes the glory of light, and whose black stem represents the underworld. Thus he comes into her abode disguised as a nobody, a dead man, an Outis. Norman Austin notes that in doing so, in wearing a mask, Odysseus displays the great cunning, polymetis, for which he is known;
Odysseus’ polymetis, when he is exercising his Metis, then is he invariably Outis. His mask is his Metis; the face it displays to the world is Outis. Odysseus negates himself qua Odysseus, either by remaining anonymous, or by adopting, together with a pseudonym, a fictitious unreal persona. (Austin, 16)

Metis (widsom, skill, or craft) is, after all, the mother of Athena, Odysseus' patron deity. Only after he has avoided Circe's potions and held a knife to her throat does the witchrecognize him as that famous Odysseus of whom she has been warned. Only after he joins her in sexual union does he become her equal; thus making himself metaphorically controller of the pigs, king of the underworld, and lord of the breathless dead. But, as Achilles notes, such a lordship is not desirable; life isn't merely about eternal power or even about remaining separate from the crowd. The epic nature of the Odyssey suggests that the resurrection story, the sun god story, is really a return to full humanity; a restoration of the individuality of the man. As George de F. Lord proposes the encounters throughout the work jeopardize this revelation of Odysseus as a divine being;

In one way or another all these encounters jeopardize his human individuality, or at least that of his followers. ... Circe transforms men into pigs who yet retain the same minds they had before. Calypso promises to make him immortal and ageless if he will only live with her forever. ...Odysseus' recognition at this point that his innermost identity is inseparably bound up with his home and wife is the key to his escape from the fantastic world, just as his unprovoked attack on society... opened the door to his entrance into it. (de. F. Lord, 416)

Odysseus must still return to his own home and face the Apep mob of the suitors. To do this he must put himself at great risk. The first part of the epic, however, especially his experience of descending into the mob-like world of the breathless dead has prepared him to put himself forward. He survives the test of the cattle of Helios because he has seen what such piggishness results in, namely slavish oblivion. Odysseus is thus willing to risk himself in order to regain the beauty of his home. Howard Clark notes in "The Humor of Homer" that this risk is what makes the work a comedy rather than a tragedy;

...the curve of tragic action, then, is self-discovery; the comic curve is self-exposure. And whereas the self-discovery provided by tragedy is an emotional experience, the appeal of comedy is hard and intellectual. This seems to bring us to that old saw that life is tragedy for the man who feels and comedy for the man who thinks. It certainly brings us back to our initial definition of the comic: that it is an intellectual apprehension of incongruity. (Clark, p. 252)

When he returns to Ithaca, Odysseus is one with the comic ruler of pigs, Eumaios. He then adopts a remarkable persona mask in order to infiltrate the lair of Apep. E. Coughanowr suggests that this mask is related to pig imagery as well through the Greek word, μολοβρὸς.

In the Odyssey, where the word μολοβρὸς occurs, Odysseus, disguised by Athena as a wretched old beggar, is also deprived of his hair. This may perhaps have caused the inference to the ringworm disease and / or baldness in both passages where the epithet μολοβρὸς appears in Homer. In Od. 17.219 Melanthios addresses Eumaeus, at the sight of Odysseus:
π δ τόνδε μολοβρν γεις, μέγαρτε συβτα, πτωχν νιηρόν δαιτν πολυμαντρα;
In Od. 18.26 Iros, referring to Odysseus, says:

πόποι, ς μολοβρς πιτροχάδην γορεύει,
(Coughanowr, 229)

and in a footnote he suggests that

μολοβρὸς might also mean ‘young’; molobria ‘the young of wild pigs’ (probably so called because hairless when born).

Consequently, Odysseus disguised as the beggar is Odysseus Molobros, a word associated with 'the young of wild pigs', or molobria. He comes into the palace as a pig man; a man of the underworld; thrown into the chasm as in the Eleusinian rites. But as the slaughter of the suitors indicates this is not his final form.

After proving himself with the bow, Odysseus immediately throws off the pig guise and stands dazzling before them all. Here he is Helios, shining, bow in hand like Apollo, and ready to slay with graphic carnage the many-headed mob dragon that threatens to metastasize in and destroy his home. Odysseus who has traveled through the darkness of failure, terror, war, loss, and death has risen from the dead and wreaks havoc with the forces of darkness that threatened to engulf him.

Piggish imagery serves a crucial purpose in rendering the resurrection story of the sun god in the Odyssey. Ultimately, Odysseus survives this piggishness of the mob mentality. He rids his home of the slavish fate, ananke, which threatens to benight his family and loved ones. Like a man awakening from a dream the hero rises with the dawn and comes back to the empyrean of eternal bliss, the home for which he is truly destined. This is the story of Western culture, a story which suggests that our failures are not eternal, death is not final, the underdog can triumph, and the home for which we are bound is not ultimately darkness, but light.

Works cited:
  1. Austin, Norman. “Name Magic in the Odyssey". Studies in Classical Antiquity, Vol. 5 (1972)
  2. Clarke, Howard W. “The Humor of Homer”. The Classical Journal, Vol. 64, No. 6 (Mar., 1969)
  3. Coughanowr, E. “The Meaning of Molobros in Homer”. The Classical Quarterly, new Series, Vol. 29, No. 2 (1979), pp. 229-230. Cambridge University Press
  4. de F. Lord, George. "The "Odyssey" and the Western World". The Sewanee Review, Vol. 62, No. 3 (Jul. - Sep., 1954), p. 416
  5. Dimock, G.E., jr. "The Name of Odysseus". The Hudson Review, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Spring, 1956)
  6. Farnell, Lewis Richard. "The Cults of the Greek States". Vol. III. 2005 Adamant Media Corporation.
  7. Griffiths, J. Gwyn. “Allegory in Egypt”. The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 53 (Dec., 1967)
  8. Hicks, Ruth Ilsley. “Egyptian Elements in Greek Mythology” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 93 (1962)
  9. Nilsson, Martin Persson. Greek Popular Religion. Forgotten Books, 2007.
  10. Ruderman, Richard S. “Odysseus and the Possibility of Enlightenment”. American Journal of Political Science. Vol. 43, No. 1, (Jan. 1999)
  11. Segal, Charles. “Circean Temptations: Homer, Vergil, Ovid”. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 99 (1968)
  12. Small, Stuart G. P. “On Allegory in Homer”. The Classical Journal, Vol. 44, No. 7 (Apr., 1949)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Auguries of Innocence

William Blake (1757–1827)

TO see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
A robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage.
A dove-house fill’d with doves and pigeons
Shudders hell thro’ all its regions.
A dog starv’d at his master’s gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.
A horse misused upon the road
Calls to heaven for human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted hare
A fibre from the brain does tear.
A skylark wounded in the wing
A cherubim does cease to sing.
The game-cock clipt and arm’d for fight
Does the rising sun affright.
Every wolf’s and lion’s howl
Raises from hell a human soul
The wild deer, wand’ring here and there,
Keeps the human soul from care.
The lamb misus’d breeds public strife,
And yet forgives the butcher’s knife.
The bat that flits at close of eve
Has left the brain that won’t believe.
The owl that calls upon the night
Speaks the unbeliever’s fright.
He who shall hurt the little wren
Shall never be belov’d by men.
He who the ox to wrath has mov’d
Shall never be by woman lov’d.
The wanton boy that kills the fly
Shall feel the spider’s enmity.
He who torments the chafer’s sprite
Weaves a bower in endless night.
The caterpillar on the leaf
Repeats to thee thy mother’s grief.
Kill not the moth nor butterfly,
For the last judgment draweth nigh.
He who shall train the horse to war
Shall never pass the polar bar.
The beggar’s dog and widow’s cat,
Feed them and thou wilt grow fat.
The gnat that sings his summer’s song
Poison gets from slander’s tongue.
The poison of the snake and newt
Is the sweat of envy’s foot.
The poison of the honey bee
Is the artist’s jealousy.
The prince’s robes and beggar’s rags
Are toadstools on the miser’s bags.
A truth that’s told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.
It is right it should be so;
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know,
Thro’ the world we safely go.
Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.
The babe is more than swaddling bands;
Throughout all these human lands
Tools were made, and born were hands,
Every farmer understands.
Every tear from every eye
Becomes a babe in eternity;
This is caught by females bright,
And return’d to its own delight.
The bleat, the bark, bellow, and roar,
Are waves that beat on heaven’s shore.
The babe that weeps the rod beneath
Writes revenge in realms of death.
The beggar’s rags, fluttering in air,
Does to rags the heavens tear.
The soldier, arm’d with sword and gun,
Palsied strikes the summer’s sun.
The poor man’s farthing is worth more
Than all the gold on Afric’s shore.
One mite wrung from the lab’rer’s hands
Shall buy and sell the miser’s lands;
Or, if protected from on high,
Does that whole nation sell and buy.
He who mocks the infant’s faith
Shall be mock’d in age and death.
He who shall teach the child to doubt
The rotting grave shall ne’er get out.
He who respects the infant’s faith
Triumphs over hell and death.
The child’s toys and the old man’s reasons
Are the fruits of the two seasons.
The questioner, who sits so sly,
Shall never know how to reply.
He who replies to words of doubt
Doth put the light of knowledge out.
The strongest poison ever known
Came from Caesar’s laurel crown.
Nought can deform the human race
Like to the armour’s iron brace.
When gold and gems adorn the plow,
To peaceful arts shall envy bow.
A riddle, or the cricket’s cry,
Is to doubt a fit reply.
The emmet’s inch and eagle’s mile
Make lame philosophy to smile.
He who doubts from what he sees
Will ne’er believe, do what you please.
If the sun and moon should doubt,
They’d immediately go out.
To be in a passion you good may do,
But no good if a passion is in you.
The whore and gambler, by the state
Licensed, build that nation’s fate.
The harlot’s cry from street to street
Shall weave old England’s winding-sheet.
The winner’s shout, the loser’s curse,
Dance before dead England’s hearse.
Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born,
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight.
Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.
We are led to believe a lie
When we see not thro’ the eye,
Which was born in a night to perish in a night,
When the soul slept in beams of light.
God appears, and God is light,
To those poor souls who dwell in night;
But does a human form display
To those who dwell in realms of day.

This one has stuck with me for years since I first read it at Thomas More College. Blake was a mystic, visionary, poet, painter, amateur theologian. His insight into the human heart, and especially the capacity for human cruelty was remarkable. I still puzzle over some of the lines in this poem, intentionally, I'm convinced, made to be ironic contradictions; zen-like; posing a problem or contradiction that forces the mind to see the world differently. What does it mean to "a world in a grain of sand, / And a heaven in a wild flower"? Not THE world but A WORLD and A HEAVEN. It reminds one of the "little low heavens" in Hopkins' poem. But how does one see A world in a grain of sand? Isn't it just sand? uniform, ordinary, ubiquitous and uninteresting? That's just his point - sand itself, in Blake's view, is a source of awe. Perhaps b/c it ought not to be - nothing ought to be. Why is there stuff? the essential philosophic question. What that opening suggests is that the attitude toward the created world must be one of constant awe and surprise, amazed that there is sand, or anything at all for that matter.

But more so, sand is a metaphor. B/c of it's ordinariness it represents the attitude we hold or ought to hold toward the most important things. If we hold that sand is "nothing more than" building material or the ground beneath our feet haven't we lost the respect that allows us to view our fellow men as important? Viewing sand as a world in itself doesn't preclude seeing building materials, but it does encourage one to see other creations, wildflowers, people, as even more significant still. Thus all of creation is elevated from the mundane; the realm into which we categorize things within our mind and think that we know all there is to know about them. That realm in the mind is limbo, pagan hell - where nothing grows but all is grey and thoroughly known.

Lastly, even sand has a history. Once great stones that shot forth from the fires of volcanoes or fell to earth from the sky; ground by wind, water, weather into sand. It is the stuff from which great monuments are made and to which all monuments descend. It is the stuff of romantic strolls under the moonlight and bloody conflicts on Omaha sector. And ultimately what is man but sand; dust in the wind as Kansas and Bill express it.

That's just the opening.

The rest of the work is one remarkable statement after another. "Each outcry from the hunted Hare / A fibre from the Brain does tear," or "The Lamb misus'd breeds Public strife / And yet forgives the Butcher's Knife," or "The Owl that calls upon the Night / Speaks the Unbelievers fright." Choose your couplet, each one could generate an extensive commentary.

Each one suggests that abuse or cruelty to small things in creation leads to violence and loss on a large scale. I am reminded of the Buddhist monks that sweep the road before them lest they do damage to the littlest creatures. Extreme, perhaps, but such awareness makes for an incredibly clear mind.

This is my favorite line in the piece: "A truth that's told with bad intent / Beats all the Lies you can invent. / It is right it should be so; / Man was made for Joy & Woe; / And when this we rightly know / Thro' the World we safely go." Blake was particularly interested in the juxtaposition of opposites; dark & light, man & woman, good & evil - and held that a proper vision of the world involved both. So do we live in this world with both Joy & Woe? I think so. To know the first is to experience the second. To experience the second is to really know the first. And without the one the other isn't really real. "Joy & Woe are woven fine" and make "A Clothing for the Soul divine." The divine soul, not the human or mortal soul, knows both these qualities, endures both joy and woe - and consequently learns that bringing others to the same (both joy and woe) is the only true path. Contrary to our current penchant for constant joy and little woe; our current long acid trip of happiness which leads to negligence, ignorance, violence, pulling down the true and noble and putting down the real experience of other poeple. "He who mocks the Infant's Faith / Shall be mock'd in Age & Death. / He who shall teach the Child to Doubt / The rotting Grave shall ne'er get out."

Oh and for those of you who are Doors fans, yes Jim Morrison is quoting Blake when he says "Some are Born to sweet delight, / Some are Born to Endless Night."

Monday, March 1, 2010

Odysseus and the Reunion of the Marriage Bed

Odysseus is described as "one man alone" - τὸν δ᾽ οἶον in the first book of the epic. Because of his mask he must constantly endure solitude, never letting anyone in, constantly on the isolated outskirts of human civilization. He is like the polytropic snake on the periphery of the garden.

When at last he returns home to the marriage bed and union with Penelope, his equal and trusted partner, he at last he can remove the mask which he has held against the world and which keeps him separate and isolated from everyone else. Only she knows the true man and only she is allowed into that inner world of his heart. To her alone he gives the prophecy of his death, a death that promises to be "gentle, painless" and "far from the sea" which is the emblem of chaos and uncertainty. Poseidon's realm after all, his nemesis.

Moreover his death promises to be surrounded by others;

...borne down with the years in ripe old age
with all my people here in blessed peace around me.
All this, the prophet said, will come to pass.


or in Greek

θάνατος δέ μοι ἐξ ἁλὸς αὐτῷ
ἀβληχρὸς μάλα τοῖος ἐλεύσεται, ὅς κέ με πέφνῃ
γήρας ὕπο λιπαρῷ ἀρημένον: ἀμφὶ δὲ λαοὶ
ὄλβιοι ἔσσονται: τὰ δέ μοι φάτο πάντα τελεῖσθαι
(XXIII, 280 - 284)

...death shall come to me myself
far from the sea, a death so gentle, that shall lay me low,
when I am overcome with sleek old age, and my people
shall dwell in prosperity around me. All this, he said, should I see fulfilled.
(A.T. Murray, PH.D.)

This is almost verbatim what Teiresias actually says back in book XI after the Nykia;

θάνατος δέ τοι ἐξ ἁλὸς αὐτῷ
ἀβληχρὸς μάλα τοῖος ἐλεύσεται, ὅς κέ σε πέφν
γήραι ὕπο λιπαρῷ ἀρημένον: ἀμφὶ δὲ λαοὶ
ὄλβιοι ἔσσονται. τὰ δέ τοι νημερτέα εἴρω.
(XI, 134 - 137)

death shall come to thee thyself
far from the sea, a death so gentle, that shall lay thee low
when thou art overcome with sleek old age, and thy people
shall dwell in prosperity around thee. In this have I told thee sooth.

(A.T. Murray, PH.D.)

...though whether all that is true or part of a prevarication Odysseus relates to the Phaeacians remains unclear.

But it is what Odysseus says in book 23 where the sense is that at last he has come home; he has returned to unity with the woman he loves and will live out his days surrounded by people who love him. He is no longer
τὸν δ᾽ οἶον - no longer one man alone, but a man with others in blissful happiness, heaven.