I – Observations on the Iliad (PBP Week 18)

I’m re-reading the Iliad and happened to need an “I” post.  So I though, “What the hell?”

Instead of writing a book report, however, I’ll just keep this short with a few observations:

1.  This is some really gorgeous writing!  The scene where Athena and Ares meet on the battle field is literally awe-inspiring.

The first time I read Homer I was a teenager and found this really dry and tedious next to the Odyssey.  In retrospect, I’m not sure why.

Also, any one who things gorn is a modern invention needs to read some of these battle scenes.

2.  There has been some discussion lately about whether the ancient heroes were looked upon as role models for how to live a virtuous life.  Obviously the pro position is being held by people who have never read the Iliad.  Hector:  Wonderful father, husband, and son.  Ideal patriot.  Achilles:  Self important dick.  (There’s a reason so many people who read this root for the Trojans.)

But the victor?  The greatest  hero Greece has ever known?  Spoiler:  It’s not Hector.

3.  I’ve been disturbed about how the Gods are portrayed in Homer – especially in the Illiad.  Apollo kills thousands of mortals – mortals who argued in favor of acquiescing to His priest’s wishes – to make a point.  Zeus ardently supports the Trojans, and particularly Hector, only to abandon them in the end because His intention was for the Greeks to win all along.

(Ares, on the other hand stands by those He loves and is willing to start a war with Zeus in order to avenge His son.  He gets more interesting to me every day.)

Then I realized that Homer is illustrating some very basic, if unfair, truths about the world – and doing it disturbingly well:  Bad things happen to good people.  The actions of leaders affect those who follow them, however innocent.  People die for “no reason.”  And we can’t always understand the will of the Gods.

It is not our place to try.  Our place is honor the Gods and to strive for excellence despite what fate has in store for us.

And in that, I guess the heroes really are excellent role models.

Fangirlishness

Once again, a ferocious debate is raging in pagan blogosphere and I find myself caught in the middle.  I’d like to be a partisan in one of these someday.  It looks like fun – all that righteous anger and willingness to take offense at the slightest contradiction must be really cathartic.

Respect.

Maybe next time.  On the whole “worshiping Batman” controversy, while many bloggers I have a lot of respect for rage on, I’m firmly in the middle:  I see the absurdity of both sides.

This all started, as far as I can tell, with a person saying “I do this thing.  It’s basically the same as what you do, just more modern.”

A bunch of other people responded with “It’s really not the same at all and here’s why.”

This quickly degenerated to “You’re an intolerant meanie!” versus “Yeah, well you’re shallow and vacuous!”

Then some other people, whose practice is somewhat related to the first person’s but really not what anyone was talking about, jumped in with “How dare you call me shallow and vacuous!”

And it all went down hill from there.   Me, I made popcorn and settled in for a fun read.

But it preyed on my mind and in the middle of the night, I decided to write this after all.  *shrug*  I hadn’t done a blog post in awhile and this topic interests me.

Stevie+Ray+Vaughan

Then there’s this guy.

On one had, I am a fangirl, pure and simple.  It’s in my nature to become obsessive about various pop culture phenomenon.  It took me a long time to learn not to be ashamed of that.  I will delightedly spend hours arguing with you about who was the best Doctor (Tom Baker, thank-you-very-much) or the relative excellence of Jimi Hendrix verses Jimmy Page (why bother though?  They’re both freakishly talented.)  I include Hendrix – as well as Jim Morrison, Marc Bolan and many others – among my revered dead.

I have found spiritual inspiration from Neil Gaiman‘s Endless.  When I visualize Ares, he wears the face of Kevin Smith.  When I was younger, before I found paganism, I considered the Force as a religious paradigm.

I have even written Harry Potter fan fic.  (Eep!  Didn’t intend to admit to that one…)

However, I work very, very hard not to be a fangirl about my Gods.  It would be blasphemous to reduce any deity to the level of Lucius Malfoy or John Constantine, even in my own mind.  (As a result, though, I tend to second guess the passion I feel for the Gods.  Something I really need to work on if my relationship with Them is to develop much farther.)

English: The writer Alan Moore Español: El esc...On the other hand, I have no problem believing that ideas and characters from fiction, if given enough energy over time from enough people, or perhaps really intense energy from someone who knows what she’s doing, can develop a life of their own.  They can be magically useful, so why not religiously? Besides, if Alan Moore believes it, it has to be credible!  (Blatant example of fangirlishness provided for your benefit.)

On yet another hand (I have lots of hands) I am a relatively hard polytheist.  Gods are Gods, heroes are heroes, thought forms are thought forms.  They’re not the same thing.  (Well, except Hercules – the hero who became a God.  And Dionysos – who has a grave and could be considered hero as well as Deity.  And…  not making my point really well here, am I?)

The thing is though, while no one believes that Batman or Lucius Malfoy were ever real, living humans, the heroes of ancient Greece were never thought of as fictional.  They are our glorious ancestors.  Even with a modern’s skepticism – (Is that really the grave of Achilles?  Or just the grave of some guy someone decided to call by that name?) – and nervousness about taking mythology too literally, I see that as a major difference.

But in the end, if you’re not practicing my religion, what do I care?  Because it will make “us” look silly in the eyes of those who lump us all together and who will probably never take any of us seriously anyway?

*shrug* I’m a fangirl.  I’m used to looking silly.

But if you say you are practicing my religion and what you’re talking about is extremely different – even to the point of being directly opposed or, at the very least, disrespectful – to what I do or believe, don’t I have the right to say “maybe not so much?”

Does it really all come down to words and titles yet again?  Who gets to decide what a Wiccan is?  Or a Hellenic Polytheist?  Or a Christian?  It’s really easy to say the members of those faiths get to define the term, but that’s begging the question.

E – Erigone (PBP week 9)

 

Erigone by Charles-Antoine-Joseph Loyeux

Erigone by Charles-Antoine-Joseph Loyeux

Erigone is a minor figure in Greek mythology as a whole, but important in the cult of Dionysos.  She is remembered on the second day of Anthesteria.

For those unfamiliar with her story, here is a short version:

The First Wine Drinkers Dionysos, Erigone, and Icarius. Photo credit unknown.

Erigone was the daughter of Icarius, who was the first wine maker (and who shouldn’t be confused with Icarus, who flew too close to the sun.)  Dionysos taught him this art as a bride price for Erigone, who the God had fallen in love with.  When Icarius shared the new drink with his Athenian neighbors they became greatly intoxicated and, unfamiliar with the sensation, thought that they had been poisoned.  They formed and angry mob and set upon Icarius, murdering him.  Erigone looked everywhere for him, until the family dog, Meara, led her to his body, which had been thrown down a well.  In despair at her father’s death, Erigone hanged herself.  The dog threw itself into the well and drowned.

Dionysos, as one might imagine, was greatly angered and cursed the city of Athens.  The land became barren and all the daughters of the city went mad and hanged themselves.  The king of Athens, despairing for his city, went to Delphi to learn what caused this curse.  Upon being told that it was due to the  fate of ErigoneOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the king instituted a festival in her honor, in which dolls were hung from trees in lieu of the daughters of Athens.  Young girls would sit on swings, emulating the motion of her body in death.  Thus Dionysos was appeased and his punishment was lifted.  The God further honored the family by placing them in the stars as the constellations Virgo (Erigone) and Boötes (Icarius), and the star Procyon (Maera.)

Today, on the second day of Anthesteria, we hang dolls and ribbons from trees and we swing in the memory of Erigone, Icarius, and their loyal dog.

I did not know this story until I began to prepare for the celebration of my first Anthesteria.  While women such as Daphne, Ino, and Psyche are well known, even in this day and age when a classical education is considered an extravagance, Erigone is much more obscure – at least outside of Hellenic circles.

Since our introduction, however, Erigone has come to mean a lot to me.  As I wrote in my earlier post about depression, on one level she symbolizes to me the nature of that disease – a grief or despair so great that all the joys of life cease to matter.  Or even to be comprehended.  On another, her story speaks to me of the divided loyalties that can be a consequence of a close relationship with the divine – in the end, her loyalty to her father outweighed the loyalty she had for Dionysos.

But on another, deeper, level her story gives me hope.  Like most of the mortal women who seem to have suffered for getting the attention of a God, Erigone actually became greater after death.  She was purified and transformed through the action of Dionysos.  She has achieved a human sort of immortality after all:  while her name is remembered only by a few, it is still remembered, and even more well known is her form among the stars – the constellation Virgo.

T – Gods, Technology, and the Modern World (PBP week 40)

(So far I’ve been doing these posts a few days ahead and scheduling them for Friday.  This is the first time I didn’t do that and, what do you know?  My family decided they really needed my undivided attention yesterday.  Ah well, so I’m a little late.)

There are those who believe that new Gods have been born, Gods of the information age, Gods of the Industrial Revolution.  That television is our new God.  Or the Internet.

This might be true, but when I look at these marvels of the modern age, I don’t see new deities emerging.  I see instead proof that the old Gods are still actively educating and inspiring mortals.

From a Hellenic perspective, I can’t use the Internet without thinking of Hermes.  Is there an invention out there that speaks more of Him?  I mean, worldwide instantaneous communication?  Come on.  As a God of Travel, I imagine He delights  in the automobile and the jet airplane.  I see His darker side in the spread of cyber crime.

I believe Hephaestus gave us the modern steel that supports skyscrapers, as well as the internal combustion engine.  I see the hand of Demeter in the new strains of wheat that have helped ease famine in many parts of the world.  And if Prometheus stole fire from the gods for the benefit of mankind, could he not also have stolen nuclear power from the sun itself?  I imagine Ares delights in the use of automatic weapons and patriot missiles.  Dionysos taught us to make not only wine, but I believe the modern entheogens like LSD and MDMA as well.  (I mean the drug is even called ecstasy!  Seriously.)

Just because we know the names of the historical figures who invented our modern tools, does not mean they weren’t divinely inspired.  And just because humanity has misused so many of them doesn’t make them less divine.  The holy is dangerous, almost by definition.  How may have died by Prometheus’ fire over the millenia?  How many lives ruined by wine?

In the end, I don’t believe we need new Gods.  Whatever the future brings us, the Gods we know are already on it.

I always liked this story and just discovered this lovely painting. Its a new favorite.

The story is this:

In the middle of a war, a group of maenads lost their way and found themselves in the town of Amphissa, where they fell into an exhausted sleep in the agora. When they were discovered, all the women of the town formed a protective circle around them, and when they awoke, arranged for them to return home unharmed.

The Women of Amphiss

S – Semele’s Story (PBP Week 38)

To Semele, Fumigation from Storax. Kadmeis (daughter of Kadmos) Goddess, universal queen, thee, Semele, I call, of beauteous mien; deep-bosomed, lovely flowing locks are thine, mother of Dionysos, joyful and divine, the mighty offspring, whom Zeus’ thunder bright forced immature, and frightened into light. Born from the deathless counsels, secret, high, of Kronion Zeus, regent of the sky; whom Persephone permits to view the light, and visit mortals from the realms of night. Constant attending on the sacred rites, and feast triennial [the Orgia], which thy soul delights; when thy son’s wondrous birth mankind relate, and secrets pure and holy celebrate. Now I invoke thee, great queen Kadmeis, to bless thy mystics, lenient and serene.”

Orphic Hymn 44 to Semele (trans. Taylor)

I chose to write this post because I wanted to learn more about Semele, the Theban princess who was the lover of Zeus and (one of the) mother(s) of Dionysos, and later became Thyone, Goddess of the Bacchic Frenzy.

I know many Dionysians honor Ariadne, the wife of Dionysos who was also deified –  or died tragically – or both – but I’ve seen little mention of his mother.  Lately I’ve been feeling the need to honor her in some way, so I am beginning by learning what I can about her, and sharing it.

Semele’s story begins in Thebes, where she is born to King Kadmos and Harmonia, daughter of Aphrodite and Ares.  The youngest and most lovely of four sisters, she caught the eye of Zeus, and when He came to her, she did not refuse Him.  How she became pregnant by Him is a matter of question. In the usual way of things, mortal women always conceive when they mate with one of the Gods.    But there is another story in which Zeus and Persephone had a son, Zagreus, who was torn apart by Titans while still a child.  Father Zeus saved the pieces of the child’s heart and gave them in a potion for Semele to drink, and this is how she conceived.

Queen Hera, upon hearing of this pregnancy was outraged.  Yet another petty infidelity she might bear, but this woman intended to become a mother by Zeus.  (Given that all His affairs with mortals would result in pregnancy, could Hera’s wrath have  been disproportionate due to Semele’s divine mother?  And therefore the possibility that, half-divine though mortal, she might be capable of giving birth to a true God?)

The Queen of Heaven chose to enact Her justice in this way:  taking on the form of Semele’s trusted old nurse Beroe, She convinced Semele to ask Zeus to come to her in his true form so that she would know it was really a God who was her lover and not some mortal trickster.  Semele asked this boon.  What happened next is unclear.  Zeus was either outraged at the hubris of her request and struck her dead on the spot with His lightning bolt, or He truly loved her, and had sworn to give her anything she asked for.  Bound to His oath, Zeus appeared before Semele in his true divine form, and “her mortal frame could not endure the tumult of the heavens, that gift of love consumed her.” (Ovid, Metamorphoses 3. 255 ff (trans. Melville))

(Of course, her jealous sisters spread the rumor that Semele had known only a mortal lover and when Zeus caught wind that she had been claiming it was Him, the God struck her with lightning as punishment for her lies.)

Zeus saved the child, who was to become the God Dionysos, from His mother’s womb.  When Dionysos grew to adulthood, he descended into Hades’ realm and brought out Semele, to whom he gave the new name Thyone, meaning “inspire frenzy.”  He took her to Olympus where Zeus granted her immortality with these words:  “Europa glorified by Zeus’ bed went to Krete (Crete), Semele goes to Olympos. What more do you want after heaven and the starry sky . . . you bring forth a son who shall not die and you I will call immortal. Happy woman! You have conceived a son who will make mortals forget their troubles, you shall bring forth joy for gods and men.” (Nonnus, Dionysiaca 7. 352 ff (trans. Rouse))

But, immortality being what it is, the story doesn’t end there.

Thyone now reigns, as She always has, as Goddess of the Bacchic Frenzy.  There is evidence in the primary sources of cultic worship from Homeric times through at least the 2nd century CE.  In many areas, She was worshipped right alongside Her son, sharing altars and even sacrifices.

I’ll close with a quote from Otto: “Thus the human mother of the divine son was crowned with immortality and received her share of cultic honors.  That is the magnificent finale of the myth of the birth of the son born of lightning from the womb of a mortal woman.”   (Otto, Dionysos:  Myth and Cult, p.68.  (trans Palmer))

Sources:

http://www.theoi.com/Georgikos/Thyone.html  (Where direct quotes from ancient texts were used I have given the primary sources provided by Theoi.com)

Dionysus: Myth and Cult by Walter F. Otto

10/4/12 – Discovered this article on Boetia on wikipedia, that currently has some interesting – and well cited – information on the myth of Semele and Dionysos.