Thursday, January 5, 2017
Monday, December 6, 2010
This is written as the responding voice to the first sonnet.
Double Rainbow Full Off
“What does this mean?” – a rainbow in the sky.
“In my backyard!” – where else would rainbows be?
“Full on!” – I never ask for Iris’ sighs
“It’s so intense” – and yet delights not me.
What type of guy would shout, “O whoa! Woe woe”?
Or fall a weeping at a rainbow’s light?
Who’d cry out, “God, my god” or utter “OH!”
Or let their Exsultate so take flight?
The Dog may bark and chimey windchimes wind
And still her quantities of secrets keep.
Are our small lives so parceled out by time
That we should be so plagued by troubled sleep?
To hungrybear the goddess came unbid
But I, from whom love flees, must click “next vid.”
Soon after rainstorm hungry bear gave song
To double rainbow brilliant in the sky
“O God, oh oh my god – it’s like full on!”
I’m sure his rainbow muse was ne’er so high.
“What does this mean, O god, o god, o GOD!
It’s so intense owow, owow, O WOW!
A double rainbow right in my backyard!”
He falls to earth and trembles (blubb’ring now)
Yet if you think this man a foolish boy
P’rhaps you’ve never known such ecstasy from care
As Danae did in golden slumberous joy
(If you enjoyed this vid then please click “share”).
We live a life that loves and hates our woes
And thanks the gods we see no triple bows.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
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.
If we address a work with the assumption that the author does create an integral piece of artwork we can come to a greater understanding of the meaning behind the work. If, on the other hand, we conclude that a part of a work serves no purpose, or the author erred, or the part is merely historical then the resulting intellectual fruit is minimal. Understanding of the work is increased by assuming there is a point to all the parts; impeded if we assume only some parts have purpose.
The purpose, for instance, of Book 2 in the Iliad and the numerous scenes of slaughter seems at first elusive. But if the work is about anger and the violence that results from anger unchecked the violence is meaningless if the people upon whom it is perpetrated are faceless, nameless, uniform in their humanity. Book 2 consists primarily of naming the warriors, telling about their lives, giving human detail to the combatants. Thus when the violence occurs we are seeing not just pixels exploding but the death of human individuals with hopes, worries, thoughts, lives all their own. This heightens the drama of rage that the epic seeks to convey. The peace of book 2 is paralleled by the funereal games in book 23 which again shows that these are not just nameless extras on a set but humans who engage in human activity, love, suffer and die.
I have yet to figure out, though, what the purpose of some other sections of great works have to do. What, after all, is the purpose of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy in the overall story of the Jewish people? Couldn't the inspired word of God convey the message of salvation of the people without these tremendous long lists of laws and names? What point do they serve in the context of the unity of the Old Testament? Or in relation to the New Testament? Or in the work overall?
Similarly I have yet to figure out the purpose of Tom Bombadil in the Lord of the Rings. Assuming that there is a point to the figure what would the point be? Was Jackson right when he cut out that whole section of Bombadil and the barrow downs? Did the work suffer? Would LOTR be the same w/o the Bombadil/Goldberry section?
I tend to think that there is a purpose to the section. Certainly it would make sense with an author as meticulous as Tolkien was reported to be that he would not have included three, I think, chapters that were utterly meaningless in his work. So what point is the Bombadil section?
Posted by Unknown at 11/30/2010 10:51:00 AM
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
The name "Achilles" comes (most probably) from the Greek word Achos (αχος) which means "pain, sorrow, misery". His pain ought to prompt him to mature; to enter into that hero's journey away from the known, the familiar, the comfortable of the civilized world and into the barren wastelands of the desert, there to experience a great trial and eventually return "home" to maturity. This same pattern is parallel to the transformation of the alchemical exchange which, itself, follows the pattern of the developing natural world.
The Pathos stage; Youth; (the pupum) In the beginning of the epic Achilles is Juvenile; everything is about Achilles - he is selfish & thinks he is a god yet he is driven by petty emotions (rage, or menin). Thus he removes himself from the conflict & metaphorically removes himself from humanity (his clan, the Achaeans)
The Logos stage; Transition; (the chrysalis) Once exiled (self-inflicted, but still exile) from the clan Achilles has time to reflect and think about his condition. He reveals to the embassy that he is wrestling with a futility of all action; "The same fate waits for the coward and the brave"; this is the vision of the meaninglessness of life, the same sense that the preacher in Ecclesiastes expresses when he says
It is the desert of the heroic journey and it is not a pleasant place to be. Whilst here Achilles experiences the terrible loss of Patroclus, which prompts the wholesale slaughter of his fellow men. This "challenge" tests whether he is able to control himself and master the desire to enforce his will on the world like a god; whether he will ever be able to return to the human race and share in the common suffering of all men.
The Ethos stage; Maturity: (the imago) Achilles realizes that he is only a small part of a much larger world; he recognizes and accepts that he is part of the human race & thus, guided by reason and respect, he exhibits self-control even to his enemy (Priam). His return is not only to the Achaean group (which he did by reconciling with Agamemnon) but to the human race itself by seeing in his mortal enemy a commonality of suffering and pain.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Primarily of note is that the style of shield, the hopos, was circular - representing eternity and wholeness. The shield is surrounded by the river Tethys, ocean river, the primordial realm of the subconscious from which come all images. The celestial bodies are at the heart of the shield, sun, moon, stars & constellations. The two realms of mortal men, one of peace & one of war, are at the main body of the shield; the details revealing every major aspect of human existence - unchanging since Homer's day.
From a side view, the convex shield represents the dome of the heavens over the realm of earth surrounded by the waters; the entirety of the world. Further, the two cities suggest the superimposing of the interlocked triangles; representation of the alchemical exchange that takes place throughout the epic. Most of the time a shield's exterior would be either something valued to the bearer of the shield or terrifying to the enemy; images of dragons, the gorgon, or carnage or else images of stars, wheat, or chickens were popular on shields of the time.
Consequently, it is the image of the entire world born by Achilles that is designed to protect him. The shield represents the phantasmagoria of mythology that each person bears before them to protect the bearer from the exigencies of life. It is the face to greet the faces that we meet. It also exists to disconcert the enemy; Achilles carries what he values most, human life, and puts it out at risk toward the enemy - thus disconcerting them by reminding them of what they have at risk in war.
The whole of the human experience is designed to protect Achilles who has entered the wilderness of the mind with his questions about human purpose:
"The same fate waits for the coward and the brave - both go down to the house of death, the fellow who struggles and the one who shirks"
and intensified by the loss of Patroclus and his realization that he is not "The greatest of the Achaeans" but rather a "worthless dead weight on the good green earth." This is similar to what Plato describes in Phaedo when examining the reincarnation of souls:
τίς μηχανὴ μὴ οὐχὶ πάντα καταναλωθῆναι εἰς τὸ τεθνάναι;
"is there any escape from the final result that all things would be swallowed up in death?”
- Phaedo 72d
The same examination that appears in Ecclesiastes
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.
All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.
All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.
There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.
This struggle is epidemic to the human race - terrifying and yet necessary if we are to mature. If we are to grow up, become autonomous, we have to face this "dragon" of our own worthlessness. The shield, the images and stories we hold most dear, help serve as a protection against those monsters that threaten to consume us, drown us, devour us, and overwhelm us.
Shield of Achilles (Ends of the Iliad and Beginnings of the Polis) by Nagy
The Shield of Achilles and the Negative Future Perfect by Chiasson
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
ἔνθά οἱ Εὐρύπυλος βεβλημένος ἀντεβόλησε
810διογενὴς Εὐαιμονίδης κατὰ μηρὸν ὀϊστῷ
σκάζων ἐκ πολέμου: κατὰ δὲ νότιος ῥέεν ἱδρὼς
ὤμων καὶ κεφαλῆς, ἀπὸ δ᾽ ἕλκεος ἀργαλέοιο
αἷμα μέλαν κελάρυζε: νόος γε μὲν ἔμπεδος ἦεν.
There he met Eurypylus, Euaemon's gallant son,
wounded, the arrow planted deep in his thigh,
and limping out of battle...
The sweat was streaming down his face and back
and the dark blood still flowed from his ugly wound
but the man's will was firm, he never broke his stride.
Looking at this good man and the suffering of the Greek soldiers, his friends, Patroclus is suddenly moved to cry out
ἆ δειλοὶ Δαναῶν ἡγήτορες ἠδὲ μέδοντες
ὣς ἄρ᾽ ἐμέλλετε τῆλε φίλων καὶ πατρίδος αἴης
ἄσειν ἐν Τροίῃ ταχέας κύνας ἀργέτι δημῷ.
"Poor men! Lords of the Argives, O my captains!
How doomed you are, look - far from your loved ones
and native land - to glut with your shining fat
the wild dogs of battle here in Troy..."
Why is this so significant? Homer has already established that Patroclus is a better man than Achilles. The son of Peleus is petulant, juvenile, petty, cold-hearted and quick to anger. Several times characters in the book note that his cold-heartedness will leave him utterly alone. Nestor himself notes that
οἶος τῆς ἀρετῆς ἀπονήσεται: ἦ τέ μιν οἴω
πολλὰ μετακλαύσεσθαι ἐπεί κ᾽ ἀπὸ λαὸς ὄληται.
"This Achilles -
he'll reap the rewards of that great courage of his
alone, I tell you - weep his heart out far too late,
when our troops are dead and gone."
and Patroclus, the wisest and best friend of Achilles says of him that he is "...awesome and quick to anger... " (XI; 768) and he would "... leap to accuse a friend without a fault." (XI; 775)
Patroclus in contrast is humble, brave, powerful, noble, honorable, warm and generous. Homer says that he stands tall in the doorway like a god and that he is "godlike Patroclus". The son of Menoetius is a better man than Achilles by far. In fact, one could go so far as to say that Patroclus is better even than the gods themselves. Homer's gods are as juvenile, petulant, fickle, quick to anger and merciless as Achilles. They are not trustworthy nor worthy of worship. Consequently, Homer seems to be suggesting that men are better than gods in general and Patroclus in particular is better even than the gods. The gods even, at times, seem to envy humans.
What, then, is it about men that the gods should envy? The one thing that men can do and gods cannot. Like Achilles and Paris who live godlike lives, the Dodekatheon of Homeric gods live without care, pain, sorrow, loss, suffering - a life of constant partying and unbridled wealth. They are "the deathless gods." They are so pampered in their immortality that nothing seems to mean anything to them anymore; they are without care. Consequently they seem to be almost bored, falling into bickering and squabbling with each other just to pass the time.
That one thing that humans have which gods do not, then, which sets humans apart and above the deities, seems to be suffering itself. Only humans suffer. Our experience of suffering, pathos, gives us the opportunity to endure and survive, transforming into greater and nobler beings. Through suffering we learn to have sympathy, mercy, and true charity (charitas) toward other humans who suffer and die. Through suffering we learn to love. And real love, the ecstasy of knowing that the thing which moves us most must cease to be makes our experience and our nobility greater even than the divine.
If, in this, there is not a precursor to Christianity, a radical shift in the thought about the glory of the divine and the lowliness of us poor handmaidens, I would be quite surprised. Homer's suggestion seems to set the stage for the later development of Christianity - how, after all, can an omniscient and omnipotent and eternal set of gods or God ever really know what we go through? How can he show mercy without some element of fraud? How can he show generosity without some element of treachery? How can he show love without some element of selfishness? Only in an incarnate god can we claim that divinity knows the misery and the greatness of the human experience.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
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
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
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Monday, June 7, 2010
Dear Mr. Suzanne,
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.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Thursday, May 6, 2010
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
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
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?
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
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:
πῇ δὴ τόνδε μολοβρὸν ἄγεις, ἀμέγαρτε συβῶτα, πτωχὸν ἀνιηρόν δαιτῶν ἀπολυμαντῆρα;
In Od. 18.26 Iros, referring to Odysseus, says:
ὢ πόποι, ὡς ὁ μολοβρὸς ἐπιτροχάδην ἀγορεύει, (Coughanowr, 229)
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.
- Austin, Norman. “Name Magic in the Odyssey". Studies in Classical Antiquity, Vol. 5 (1972)
- Clarke, Howard W. “The Humor of Homer”. The Classical Journal, Vol. 64, No. 6 (Mar., 1969)
- Coughanowr, E. “The Meaning of Molobros in Homer”. The Classical Quarterly, new Series, Vol. 29, No. 2 (1979), pp. 229-230. Cambridge University Press
- de F. Lord, George. "The "Odyssey" and the Western World". The Sewanee Review, Vol. 62, No. 3 (Jul. - Sep., 1954), p. 416
- Dimock, G.E., jr. "The Name of Odysseus". The Hudson Review, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Spring, 1956)
- Farnell, Lewis Richard. "The Cults of the Greek States". Vol. III. 2005 Adamant Media Corporation.
- Griffiths, J. Gwyn. “Allegory in Egypt”. The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 53 (Dec., 1967)
- Hicks, Ruth Ilsley. “Egyptian Elements in Greek Mythology” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 93 (1962)
- Nilsson, Martin Persson. Greek Popular Religion. Forgotten Books, 2007.
- Ruderman, Richard S. “Odysseus and the Possibility of Enlightenment”. American Journal of Political Science. Vol. 43, No. 1, (Jan. 1999)
- Segal, Charles. “Circean Temptations: Homer, Vergil, Ovid”. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 99 (1968)
- Small, Stuart G. P. “On Allegory in Homer”. The Classical Journal, Vol. 44, No. 7 (Apr., 1949)