On the New Duty of Scholars and Educators

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the opening lecture of a series on education and the duty of educators in America. The event was put on by the new educational society Dialektik, and it was well-attended by both members of the society and the general public at a local bookstore of some reputation, Adams Avenue Books. The main-thrust of the opening lecture was that there used to be a shared culture among Americans in the 17th-19th centuries, largely based on Christianity of some sort, but now that shared religion among the people is fading, no other cultural magneton has been found or created to replace it.

The talk and questions after it then focused on the role of education and particularly on educators, and what exactly can be done to restore some semblance of culture. Initial thoughts centered around legislative change at state and federal levels, but rather than being particularly productive, such lines of thought tended towards personal griping rather than objective change. A fruitful thought, however, did appear when discussion started to center on where true education actually occurs. Rather than again and again attempting the Sisyphean task of “reforming public education”, the thought arose that perhaps a more beneficial, though of course small-scale solution, would be to increase opportunities to educate others informally. With educators receiving less and less respect and feeling more and more estranged, clearly a new method for creating an educated public, or a culture, must be sought. But how do we do this?

The first goal, is effectively to limit the scope and measure of change. The change need not occur on a national, state-wide, or large basis at all at first. Much different from attempting to create cultural change through a grandly political maneuver, this change would be what is so tritely called “grass-roots” at these times. Believing, as Plato did, that a community and society is a reflection of its people, so does the solution to creating a shared culture seem to lie in humble and small beginnings and seeing if it takes off. Who, though, would be the intrepid captains to brave such ignominious and inglorious waters? Well, precisely those people who are being disenfranchised, disenchanted, and disillusioned: our scholars, intellectuals, and educators. The people here mentioned by Russell Kirk below:

“The disquietude of reflective persons in a country apparently given over to getting and spending, the condition of the underpaid professor or teacher in an acquisitive environment, the decay of the old American respect for learning-a decay which seemed actually to grow more alarming in direct proportion to the ease with which high-school diplomas and college degrees were obtained, on the principle that whatever is cheap has little value-all these influences tended to produce alienation of scholar and writer from established American society. “Intellectuals” appeared in America when the works of the mind began to lose ground in public influence.” (Russell Kirk, “The Conservative Mind” loc. 5969/6718)**

These people could come from several walks of life, a Kirk will continue to say, any person of some learned or creative degree who has a love for the creation and preservation of values, and who believes in the value of culture and that which unites people together. Any such person can lead this front.

“I understand by the scholar no mere pedant, dilettante, literary epicure or dandy; but a serious, robust, full-grown man; who feels that life is a serious affair, and that he has a serious part to act in its eventful drama; and must therefore do his best to act well his part, so as to leave behind him, in the good he has done, a grateful remembrance of his having been. He may be a theologian, a politician, a naturalist, a poet, a moralist, or a metaphysician; but whichever or whatever he is, he is it with all his heart and soul, with high, noble–in one word, religious aims and aspirations.” (Ibid. loc. 5973/6718)–quoted by Kirk from Orestes Brownson’s “The Scholar’s Mission”, an address given in 1843 at Dartmouth College.

The value of such a person, however, does not simply lie in his or her ability to lead, but precisely in the fact that he or she is one of the people today so strongly feeling the pull to nihilism which conventional educational reform is leading so many promising educators towards. Socrates once said that the value of knowledge is to keep one from becoming faint-hearted and weak in Plato’s Meno, and preventing our promising minds and souls from becoming so is of paramount importance.

“The scholar is not one who stands above the people,” Brownson had said, “and looks down on the people with contempt. He has no contempt for the people; but a deep and all-enduring love for them, which commands him to live and labor, and, if need be, to suffer and die, for their redemption; but he never forgets that he is their instructor, their guide, their chief, not their echo, their slave, their tool.” (Ibid. loc. 5979/6718)

So, now that we have identified the persons necessary to carry out this “grass-roots” change, but what exactly does informal education look like? Though there are many forms: distance-learning, PBS, open-source educational centers and the like, none of these offer the experience of a real moment of “teaching” shared between teacher and student. No doubt these methods are effective in conveying facts and potentially skills, but in our sense of education, the shared experience between teacher and student is of the highest value. Just as Aristotle says that one can have affection for one whom one has never met, nevertheless that person is not a friend due to lack of a shared feeling between you and him or her, so can there be no true education without shared feeling between teacher and student or scholar and public. Kirk offers an interesting portrayal here of what we have already begun to implement.

“It would be well for scholars in the human sciences, they declared, to address themselves to the concerns of genuine community, local and voluntary, rather than clearing the way for an egalitarian collectivism.” (ibid. loc. 5993/6718)

“It would be well to direct their energies to the examination of voluntary and private associations, rather than to planning new activities for the unitary state.” (Ibid, loc. 5993/6718)

Just as Kirk here asserts that scholars ought to create genuine community and do so voluntarily, so have I and my group begun conducting open-to-the-public seminars on shared works of the Western Mind. We meet in circles, every two weeks, and we discuss the Great Books. There are no tests, no fees, no papers, and no obligations. People come because they desire to convene, to learn, and to create what is valuable. As a scholar, I have re-envisioned my role: rather than becoming as expert as possible on an issue of importance to fewer and fewer people, I am using my expertise to broaden access to those texts, ideas, and feelings which I consider most valuable and universal to all men and women–those texts, ideas, and feelings so necessary to creating a common culture.

As a teacher, I teach in such a seminar-style, and I have developed a “Great Books” curriculum at the Charter high school at which I currently advise and teach. The model is effective and can be applied in a more wide-spread way. As a community-creator and organizer, I have three ongoing seminars (one on Dante’s Inferno, one on Homer’s Odyssey, and one on Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov), and there is one more in the works on The Epic of Gilgamesh. Through re-envisioning my role as a scholar, and the role of a scholar itself, I am working towards the goal of creating a shared culture and public, and the educational group Dialektik is helping me.

The general belief is thus: educating without a concern for values is no education at all.* We reject the notion of a public with shared culture that does not also posit and exemplify noble, just, fair, and ethical maxims. Of course there will be endless debate on how exactly this should be done best, but in the interim, this scholar will be doing his best, while also considering what is best in his moments of private leisure.

This is but the beginning of this new series considering the best ways to promote and create a shared culture through education. Please continue to join us, and like our page!

*”…to abandon the sterile and sometimes disingenuous notion of a “value-free science,” and to reaffirm the existence of a moral order.” (Ibid. 5997/6718)

**All sources from Kirk’s The Conservative Mind are from the Kindle digital edition and thus are cited by their “location number” rather than “page number”, annoyingly enough.

Conversations with Students X: The Sacking of Troy and Beginning of an Odyssey

In transitioning from Homer’s Iliad, his story of war, high emotion, and the toll that such emotion takes on mortal lives, to the far-blown fame and person of Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey, we first took a moment to look at the summaries that still remain of “The Epic Cycle”, and then we moved forward through the first book of Homer’s Odyssey (Lattimore’s translation). Thus begins our second seminar series.

We discussed all that happened between the Iliad and Odyssey, with the sage help of Proclus who preserved summaries of the six lost epics of the Epic Cycle (found here or here) These lost epics: The Cypria by Stasinus of Cyprus (staged as immediately preceding Homer’s Iliad), The Aethiopis of Artinus of Miletus immediately afterward, The Little Iliad of Lesches of Mitylene, The Sacking of Troy also by Arctinus of Miletus, The Returns of Agias of Trozen, and eventually, after Homer’s OdysseyThe Telegony comprise the story called “The Epic Cycle”. Together they form the events which lead up to the Trojan War, the Trojan War, and the after-math of the war for the Achaians. Traditionally, they would have filled in many, many gaps left by the Iliad and Odyssey as a pair, but sadly, over time, and lack of reproduction, each of the other six epics was lost to time. This was not, however, the deepest tragedy, says Aristotle in his praise of Homer’s unity of plot and criticism of The Cypria and The Little Iliad in his Poetics (1459a-b)

“So in this respect, too, compared with all other poets Homer may seem, as we have already said, divinely inspired, in that even with the Trojan war, which has a beginning and an end, he did not endeavor to dramatize it as a whole, since it would have been either too long to be taken in all at once or, if he had moderated the length, he would have complicated it by the variety of incident. As it is, he takes one part of the story only and uses many incidents from other parts, such as the Catalogue of Ships and other incidents with which he diversifies his poetry. The others, on the contrary, all write about a single hero or about a single period or about a single action with a great many parts, the authors, [1459b] [1] for example, of the Cypria and the Little Iliad. The result is that out of an Iliad or an Odyssey only one tragedy can be made, or two at most, whereas several have been made out of the Cypria, and out of the Little Iliad more than eight, e.g. The Award of Arms, Philoctetes, Neoptolemus, Eurypylus, The Begging, The Laconian Women, The Sack of Troy, and Sailing of the Fleet, and Sinon, too, and The Trojan Women.”

For though we have lost the other six epics, apparently they were not of the same caliber as are the two epics we have remaining to us. So, confident that two masterpieces will do and summaries filling in our knowledge where it is lacking will suffice, let us move forward to consider the fates of several heroes we knew well during the interim between Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.

The students were shocked by the men who died during and after the war, and some felt emotion even for the basest Achaians. Achilleus, Paris, both the Aiantes, Antilochos, Priam, Astyanax, Deiphobos (many Trojans during the sacking, of course), Phoinix, Thersites, and even Agamemnon, but the deaths which are most shocking are each of the Aiantes, Agamemnon, and some students even showed sadness for poor hunched-backed Thersites. So we know, Achilleus died either by the hand of Paris and Apollo or Apollo alone. Not a surprise to the students given the several prophecies of Achilleus’ death the Iliad. That Paris should get the winning shot was a true moment of humility for all students, though the fact that Apollo helped him along helped to alleviate the sort of “Evil David vs. Good Goliath” effect.

Aias the Greater’s death was more of a disappointment to the students. During the Iliad, he was a brave and supreme hero. He went on the Embassy to Achilleus, was clear in his purpose, and twice almost killed Hektor. He, unlike Achilleus, Menelaos, Eurypylos, Machaon, Agamemnon, and Odysseus, was one of the few major champions who remained uninjured throughout the fighting. He was glorious and bold, and the fact that through his pride and folly that he took his own life in suicide was a bitter disappointment to the students. Naturally, they learned that it was because according to his code, he was disgraced, and by his code he died: he lost the speech-contest to Odysseus for the “arms of Achilleus” and proceeded to attempt to kill Odysseus, Menelaos, and Agamemnon, but he was thwarted by Athene “mazing” his vision so that he only killed cattle. Feeling disgraced and abandoned by the gods, Aias felt that his final dignity would be to deny his former friends the glory of ending his life, and thus was the fate of Aias the Greater.*

Aias the Lesser met with considerably less pity. In an attempt at raping the cursed prophetess daughter of Kassandra in the temple of Athene, Lokrian Aias defamed and damaged an image of Athene therefore earning her ire for himself and the rest of the Achaians. The students did not care for how quickly Athene turned on the Achaians, but in matters of sacrifice and honor to the gods, the students have learned that the gods come first to the gods. Aias, then, when accosted by a great storm sent by Athene is nearly drowned with his ship and men, but after Poseidon saved him, Aias lost his mind, and recklessly declared his supremacy to the gods. Poseidon then used his trident to break the rock onto which Aias was clinging and send him to a watery doom. The students almost universally said, “that was so stupid.”

Agamemnon will later receive an article essentially all his own, but for now it is enough to mention that the students remembered his betraying of Klytaimnestra by deceiving her into sending Iphigeneia to be sacrificed at Aulis under the pretence of marriage to Achilleus. Many students said that this was justice, but further conversation will be reserved until later.

Moving from the time between and the many, many questions which we will return to (like do the students feel OK with the fact that Troy was taken by cunning, not strength), we then considered the importance and difference between the proems (first few lines) of each of the poems and how their themes, tones, and manners of presentation may be different.

Homer’s Iliad (1.1-1.7)

SING, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus
and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians,
hurled in their multitudes to the house of Hades strong souls
of heroes, but gave their bodies to be the delicate feasting
of dogs, of all birds, and the will of Zeus was accomplished
since that time when first there stood in division of conflict
Atreus’ son the lord of men and brilliant Achilleus.

Homer’s Odyssey (1.1-1.10)

Tell me, Muse, of the man of many ways, who was driven
far journeys, after he had sacked Troy’s sacred citadel.
Many were they whose cities he saw, whose minds he learned of,
many the pains he suffered in his spirit on the wide sea,
struggling for his own life and the homecoming of his companions.
Even so he could not save his companions, hard though
he strove to; they were destroyed by their own wild recklessness,
fools, who devoured the oxen of Helios, the Sun God,
and he took away the day of their homecoming. From some point
here, goddess, daughter of Zeus, speak, and begin our story.

We immediately notice some distinct differences between the two proems. The Iliad sings of the emotion of a semi-divine man and his feud with a “leader of men” and the many men on their side of battle who will die because of this. The Iliad is also sung (aeide). The Odyssey is the telling (ennepe) of the many struggles of a suffering man who fails to save his companions due to their own recklessness. The distinction between the Iliad being sung and the Odyssey told (though of course both would be sung in dactylic hexameter by rhapsodes) is one the students made a strong attempt at. Emotion, they say, is a higher theme, or at the least, song is more appropriate to conveying of emotion–it is more emotional the students say, and “gut-wrenching” does seem a word more aptly ascribed to painful dirges. (Viz. (or rather Aud.) Adele’s Hello).

Another important difference is that the focus of the book will shift from the interplay between the will of the gods and man to how man inevitably adds to his own suffering and destruction. In fact, this theme of wild “recklessness” (atasthalia) is repeated in the words of no smaller a figure than Zeus, king of the gods, not twenty lines later:

“Oh, for shame, how the mortals put the blame upon us gods, for they say evils come from us, but it is they, rather, who by their own recklessness (atasthalia) win sorrow beyond what is given…” (1.32-35)

So, though the students gave a detailed list of times when the gods seemed to add to the suffering of mortals, the most provocative of which is likely during Book III of the Iliad when Hera and Zeus agree to let Ilion be destroyed and Athene convinces Pandaros to break the truce between the Trojans and the Achaians, we will remain sensitive to the statement that mortals create their own suffering and that their own lack of resiliency, perseverance, discernment, or fidelity lead to their destruction during the Odyssey.

In conclusion, as an extra treat, I will include here major themes we will consider, and which will be present all through Homer’s Odyssey and our seminars on it:

(1) Father and son relationships and their complexity;

(2) Concealed (kalupto) or veiled truths and the art of misdirection;

(3) Perseverance and the “hero’s” journey;

(4) Homecoming (nostos) and what makes a home (so important);

(5) The Xenia or guest/host relationship and its importance;

(6) Detainment, both mental and physical, and its hateful nature.

And bonus number two is a list of Relevant Quotes to the first Seminar which may well earn their own post soon:

1.347-349 Telemachos blames Zeus for all mortals’ troubles.

“They [the suitors] all would find death was quick, and marriage a painful matter.” (1.266)

“You should not go on clinging to childhood. You are no longer an age to do that.” (1.296-297)

“The gods have not made yours a birth that will go nameless…” (1.222)

Nobody really knows his own father.” (my bold; 1.216)

“Your words to me are kind…what any father would say to his son.” (1.307-308)

“Do not detain me any longer, eager as I am for my journey.” (1.315)

“The daughter of Ikarios, circumspect Penelope, heard and heeded the magical song from her upper chamber, and descended the high staircase that was built in her palace, not all alone, since two handmaidens went to attend her. When she, shining among women, came near the suitors, she stood by the pillar that supported the roof with its joinery, holding her shining veil in front of her face, to shield it, and a devoted attendant was stationed on either side of her.” (1.328-335)

“But if she continues to torment the sons of the Achaians, since she is so dowered with the wisdom bestowed by Athene, to be expert in beautiful work, to have good character and cleverness, such as we are not told of, even of the ancient queens, the fair-tressed Achaian women of times before us, Tyro and Alkmene and Mykene, wearer of garlands; for none of these knew thoughts so wise as Penelope knew;” (2.115-122)

*Greater detail will be given to Telamonian Aias during our seminar on The Ajax of Sophocles.

Athene and the Archetype of Divine Agency

Athene, daughter of Zeus alone, represents the ability, within a ruling structure, to work in such a way as to allow the prevailing order to remain while still finding new interpretations and modes of behavior which allow for life to run seamlessly on. Since it is the natural tendency for an order to dry-up and to stop reflecting the values which established it, Athene represents the tendency, counter to Ares, not simply to erupt into violent conflict, but to find a way to integrate into the new order the reality of a changing world or consciousness. She therefore represents the pliancy in life, and the inability of an order without fluidity of thought and innovation to maintain itself (without conflict) without such liquid and creative solutions.

Interestingly, in our article before, we noted that Zeus, the principle of order, hates “two-faced” Ares because Ares represents the mortal nature of all rules and the duplex process of reigning and falling as a ruler. Athene, however, is also a War-Goddess, and Ares, perhaps rightly, claims that she too “stirs up strife”, but why is it that she does not earn the ire of Zeus, or how is it, then, that she represents something so radically different from the undiscerning conflict of Ares? Homer gives us a brief glimpse into Ares’ perception of his stronger sister:

“Father Zeus, are you not angry looking on these acts of violence? We who are gods forever have to endure the most horrible hurts, by each other’s hatred, as we try to give favor to mortals. It is your fault we fight, since you brought forth this maniac daughter accursed, whose mind is fixed forever on unjust action. For all the rest, as many as are gods on Olympos, are obedient to you, and we all have rendered ourselves submissive. Yet you say nothing and you do nothing to check this girl, letting her go free, since yourself you begot this child of perdition.” (Homer, Iliad Bk V 872-880, Lattimore tr.)

Ares, typically, is incapable of looking past the fact that both his actions (as a warrior on the battlefield) and Athene’s actions (also as a warrior) appear to be the same. He has no conception of the fact that intention, favor, side of the battle, and pre-existing relationship might play into one’s judgment of a situation. It is precisely because Athene, cunning as she is, does understand not only the situation on the ground, but the situation on Olympos, that she may act in such sly and undermining ways. But undermining is not quite right–for to undermine is to consciously work against the established order. No, whereas Ares’ conflictual nature might undermine an order, but unconsciously, Athene acts in a way which might conflict with the usual practice of obedience to an order without conflicting with the spirit or nature of the order in actuality. She is the weapon of divine order on earth; here Karl Kerenyi will support us with his work on the subject:

“She is the rescuer from every danger and peril, the advisor for every tight spot, and the highest wisdom. The people’s chiefs and leaders, as well as the whole people itself, are advised by her; she presides over all local, tribal, and national gatherings. She maintains life and health [my ital.]. She is the gracious, gentle nurse who takes the children of mankind to herself, who makes mothers fertile and children grow and develop, who increases the stock of the people through a strong younger generation. She preserves the divine order in nature [my ital.], protects the seedlings and fruits from damage, sows and tends the noble and nourishing olive trees…” (Karl Kerenyi, Athene: Virgin and Mother in Greek Religion, P. 18)

Just as her father, Zeus, establishes the royal and divine order of things, so does Athene, as the active agent of her father’s authority, ensure that his will be done on the earth. Whether she is pulling the hair of Achilleus (Iliad, Bk I 194-200), or imploring Zeus to release Odysseus from his ignoble captivity on Ogygia (Odyssey, Bk I 45-61), or crying out to end the madness of further conflict after the brutal slaughter of the suitors (Odyssey, Bk XXIV 529-534) she is always enacting the will of her Father and maintaining order, in some fashion or another, on the mortal plane. She is the matron of heroes, journeyers, and cunning liars (Ibid, 18). But her pride of rank makes her more demiurgic than any of her siblings of the generation of her father. Kerenyi here expands:

“But she is also righteous, strictly recompensing Providence: seated beside Zeus, she is the only one who knows where the lightning bolts lie hidden, has the full right and power to use them, and also employs the aegis, the terrible shield of her father Zeus. With him she has many traits and epithets in common, and she is frequently worshipped jointly with him, especially in the most ancient sites of her cult.” (Ibid, 18)

In the ancient Greek religion and mythology, Athene, therefore stands as second only to Zeus, and is something of the πνεῦμα τοῦ πατρὸς or πνεῦμα ἅγιον of Zeus. But the purpose of this series is hardly a simple exposition of mythology and Greek mythology; the purpose, however, is to recognize in the figures of the gods their archetypal figures and how they work in the world along cultural and personal lines. Might Kerenyi, then, help us one more time with this?

“Although it was the religion of a Goddess, it actually existed side by side with the victorious father religion, in no respect subordinate to it as was the naturalistic Hera religion, but in all practical respects equal to it, yet without overthrowing the general patriarchal order. Is this not really an accidental product of history? But then one must also ask whether history could have produced such a thing without there being some foundation for it in the structure of human beings [my ital.].” (Ibid, 19)

Kerenyi therefore contends, as we have all along, that Athene, as a figure of mythology and religion, reflects some inborn capacity or archetype within man, the archetype of Athene, which after the order of the kosmos (or whole) is set by Zeus, continues and maintains that order, in direct collision with the strife-filled and aggressive motions of her weaker brother, Ares. So, just as her brother Ares, and his archetype, are activated in absence of a ruling order and before a new “king” or dominant of consciousness is established culturally or personally, so does Athene, as archetype, reflect the action which maintains and expresses the will of the healthy and rich order of a healthy and vivid dominant of consciousness. Just as it is clear that the process of “individuation” does not end the life of a person or culture, so is it necessary that, on occasion, the will of the gods (or the intentions of the unconscious and reality) be expressed in order to cultivate, cull, and right an existing order without overturning it entirely.

Just as Zeus begat Athene from his head without help from Hera (though perhaps from Metis), so does the new established order, whether cultural or personal, birth from its new ordering principle the capacity to maintain, extend, and alter itself to fit the demands of the world. For an order without malleability and agency would quickly become stagnant, dull, and fail to meet the demands of the world and reality, and thus without this active agency, the process from Prometheus to Ares, would have to start again anew, forever repeating itself. If one pays any mind to the state of Nietzsche’s health at the end of his life and his philosophy of the eternal recurrence (so like the Hindu concept of reincarnation), one might see there prima facie evidence of this process gone wrong, or rather, this process completed, over and over, devoid of the recognition and realization of the archetype of Athene, the principle of action in accordance with the principles and laws of the world and reality as a whole, the one who connects the mundane with the spiritual, and maintains the coniunctio oppositorum.

“The greatest weight.— What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!” Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus?… Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal? (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, s.341. tr. Walter Kaufmann)

Just as Nietzsche’s philosophical statement above showcases the failure to integrate the contents of the archetype of Athene, so below will Kerenyi indicate the proper relation of Athene to herself and of one, be it culture or person, to Athene.

“If merely the result of historical accident, would this position of the Goddess have been acceptable, and would her image itself, with its internal tension and antitheses [my ital.], which soon will appear to us to be even stronger, have been tolerable?” (Kerenyi, Athene: Virgin and Mother in Greek Religion, P. 19)

Just as the archetype itself maintains internal tension and therefore vitality and health, so then does a person or culture who adequately integrates its contents. Athene, as archetype, therefore expresses the full and vivid life, lived in accordance with divine and mundane providence, and filled with energy, meaning, and purpose, culturally and individually. Though, of course, it is persons who comprise a culture.


Zeus, Conqueror of the Cosmos, and Archetype of the Ordered Whole

“For what is now happening is the decisive rapprochement with the unconscious. This is where insight, the unio mentalis, begins to become real. What you are now creating is the beginning of individuation, whose immediate goal is the experience and production of the symbol of totality[my ital.].” (Carl Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, P. 529, Par 753)

Zeus, mighty Olympian, the one with “unconquerable hands”, who wields the dreaded thunderbolt. Raised on the cliffs of Mount Ida by the Kouretes and his grandmother, Gaia, until he would take his mighty revenge on his father, Kronos, and supplant him and the titans with the new Olympian order. Zeus, mightiest of kings, who is “too strong”, and might, by his own claim, tie all his fellow Olympians to the other part of a string and still pull them, is the archetype of authority, order, and the completion of the process of integrating a new conscious dominant culturally or personally. Behold the might and authority of Zeus from his own mouth.

“Hear me, all you gods and all you goddesses: hear me while I speak forth what the heart within my breast urges. Now let no female divinity, nor male god either, presume to cut across the way of my word, but consent to it all of you, so that I can make an end in speed of these matters. And anyone I perceive against the gods’ will attempting to go among the Trojans and help them, or among the Danaans, he shall go whipped against his dignity back to Olympos; or I shall take him and dash him down to the murk of Tartaros, far below, where the uttermost depth of the put lies under earth, where there are gates of iron and brazen doorstone, as far beneath the house of Hades as from earth the sky lies. Then he will see how far I am strongest of all the immortals. Come, you god, make this endeavor, that you may all learn this. Let down out of the sky a cord of gold; lay hold of it all you who are gods and all who are goddesses, yet not even so can you drag down Zeus from the sky to the ground, not Zeus the high lord of counsel, though you try until you grow weary. Yet whenever I might strongly be minded to pull you, I could drag you up, earth and all and sea and all with you, then fetch the golden rope about the horn of Olympos and make it fast, so that all once more should dangle in mid air. So much stronger am I than the gods, and stronger than mortals.” (Homer, Iliad, Bk VIII 5-28, Lattimore tr.)

Zeus stands unopposed*, and almost feral in his might. He vaunts over the gods in a way, which if he were mortal, would be considered full of excess and hubris, but as king of the gods, such vaunts are his right and marks of his true authority, though Hera, lines 462-463, like a wife mortal or immortal, is quick to remind Zeus how well all know his strength. “Majesty, son of Kronos, what sort of thing have you spoken? We know well already your strength, how it is no small thing.” (Ibid. Bk VIII 462-463). He is energetic, powerful, visceral in his authority. Although, above, one cannot help but notice that he is also the “high lord of counsel”, but his “wide-eyebrows” and “dark-thoughts” are rarely so deeply speculative that they cannot be assertively and aggressively voiced. Perhaps, even though he derives his authority from the power of hands in large part, Zeus may also also receive some bit from his recognition of and obedience to fate. We again observe a small clue in one of his responses to Hera which followed one of his arrogant soliloquies.

“For Hektor the huge will not sooner be stayed from his fighting until there stirs by the ships the swift-footed son of Peleus on that day when they shall fight by the sterns of the beached ships in the narrow place of necessity[my ital.] over fallen Patroklos. This is the way it is fated to be [my ital.]; and for you and your anger I care not; not if you stray apart to the undermost limits of earth and seam where Iapetos and Kronos seated have no shining of the sun god Hyperion to delight them nor winds’ delight, but Tartaros stands deeply about them; not even if you reach that place in your wandering shall I care for your skulks; since there is nothing more shameless than you are.” (Ibid, Bk VIII 473-483)

Two bits are interesting from this second indication of what Bruce Louden in his “The Gods in Epic, or the Divine Economy” calls the “theomachy” or elements of battles between the gods, or for our purposes, aspects of the unconscious struggling for conscious dominance in the culture of a people or person. Zeus, besides again showing massive aggression, and again towards his wife, shows that it is not simply his desire to flex “the royal muscle” but his adherence to fate (moira or heimarmene) which makes him act so candidly. Indeed, he makes something of the ultimate threat, suggesting that if Hera stood apart in Tartaros, that he would care not, because he serves fate**. Now let us consider why it is important that the king of the gods, or the symbol of conscious totality, the “new-king”, or the vital conscious dominant might serve fate. It is precisely because the “old-king” or conscious dominant failed to serve fate, the representation of the will of the unconscious, that the original connection between the “old-king” or conscious dominant was severed. For it is precisely this recognition by Zeus that he must, one, dominate the other gods around him in terms of his greater strength and wisdom, and two, follow fate, and using the tools above, ensure that the other gods do as well. Otherwise, he, like his father and his father’s father, will suffer the same “severing” and again be replaced by fate with a new king.***

Let us now move on to considering the natural antipathy between Ares, archetype of conquest and conflict, and his natural progression, his father, Zeus, archetype of the conqueror now ruling. Again Homer’s Iliad shows their conflicting natures in the wake of Zeus’ conspiring and ever-treacherous wife, Hera’s, conniving words to a banquet of Olympians on high:

“Fools, we who try to work against Zeus, thoughtlessly. Still we are thinking in our anger to go near, and stop him by argument or force. He sits apart and care nothing nor thinks of us, and says that among the immortals he is pre-eminently the greatest in power and strength. Therefore each of you must take whatever evil he sends you. Since I think already a sorrow has been wrought against Ares. His son has been killed in the fighting, dearest of all men to him, Askalaphos, whom stark Ares calls his own son.” (Ibid, Bk XV 104-112)

And Ares’ reaction and response:

“So she spoke. Then Ares struck against both his big thighs with the flats of his hands, and spoke a word of anger and sorrow: “Now, you who have your homes on Olympos, you must not blame me for going among the ships of the Achaians, and avenging , my son’s slaughter, even though it be my fate to be struck by Zeus’ thunderbolt, and sprawl in the blood and dust by the dead men.” (Ibid, Bk XV 113-118)

One sees here the bitter difference between Ares’ almost thoughtless energy and Zeus’ brutal adherence to fate. In fact, just lines later, Athene, herself an aspect of Zeus, is the one who checks the fury of Ares (123-142). Ares, who represents acting with stupendous energy, but with a struggle in heart and not necessarily a thought in mind, is offered as contrast to Zeus whose will reflects his established authority and the will of fate. For Ares, and his archetype, only truly serve fate when Zeus, or any conscious dominant, fails to do so itself.

Though conflict always seems just beneath the surface amongst the immortals, the need for Ares only truly exists when the conscious dominant has fallen, and a new one requires a forceful entrance to supremacy. After this time, however, as tense as things may become, the archetype of conflict must be replaced by the archetype of the conqueror, or the one who brings things to order, a kosmos, and rules in accordance with fate and in connection to the creative unconscious. This necessity exists not only in mythology, but in politics and on a personal level as well.

“In their conflict with the emperor, Gregory and his successors did not have armies of their own to deploy and sought instead to bolster their power through appeals to legitimacy[my. ital.]. The papal part initiated a search for sources of law to bolster its case for the universal jurisdiction of the church. One of the consequences of this search was the rediscovery of the Justinian Code, the Corpus Iuris Civilis, in a library in northern Italy at the end of the eleventh century. To this day, the Justinian Code remains the basis for the civil law tradition that is practiced throughout continental Europe and in other countries there, from Argentina to Japan. Many basic legal concepts, like the distinction between civil and criminal law, and between public and private law, have their origins in it.” (Francis Fukuyama, The Origins of Political Order, P. 268)

Above we see the capacity for a new attitude or way of being to take shape out of non-violent conflict through innovation. Just as the church used litigious means to pursue their civil interests, and it did so by a return or reconnection to a code from the past (Justinian code), so does the consciousness of an individual, after passing through the archetypes of the hero, Dionysos, Hermes, and Ares, finally come to the rejuvenation of consciousness that it first sought in removing the “blockage” of the “old-king.” In so receiving the new king, Zeus, the following “goal of the process” may occur.

“The avowed purpose of this involvement is to integrate the statements of the unconscious, to assimilate their compensatory content, and thereby produce a whole meaning which alone makes life worth living and, for not a few people, possible at all.” (Carl Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, P. 531, Par 756)

“To put it in modern psychological language, this projection of the hieros gamos signifies the conjunction of conscious and unconscious, the transcendent function characteristic of the individuation process. Integration of the unconscious invariably has a healing effect.” (Carl Jung, Symbols of Transformation, P. 433, Par 672)

Therefore, the ascending and ascendancy of Zeus, as a dominant of the conscious mind connected to the life-spring of the unconscious (and reality) “assimilates compensatory content” and produces the meaning in the lives of people and persons which the old and dying king failed to. It is, therefore, in the vitality and pure and dominating force of a living and real attitude towards life that meaning and healing for a culture lie.

For a final word on the turning point and revitalization of a spirit of a culture or person, let us look to Tarnas’ description of Zeus as Jupiter:

“the principle of expansion, magnitude, growth, elevation, superiority, the capacity and impulse to enlarge and grow, to ascend and progress, to improve and magnify, to incorporate that which is external, to make greater wholes[my ital.], to inflate; to experience success, honor, advancement, plenitude, abundance, prodigality, excess, surfeit, the capacity of inclination for magnanimity, optimism, enthusiasm, exuberance, joy, joviality, liberality, breadth of experience, philosophical and cultural aspiration, comprehensiveness and largeness of vision, pride, arrogance, aggrandizement, extravagance; fecundity, fortune, and providence; Zeus, the king of the Olympian gods.” (Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, Pp. 90-91)

Only when a person or culture has been “made into a larger whole”, or simply whole can it rightly and honestly experience the enlargement and expansion of its mental boundaries and truly experience fortune, success, and magnanimity. In being healthy, whole, and connected to reality (the unconscious), so does a culture flourish in spirit, through optimism, politically, through cultural aspiration, and economically through fortune and liberality. After the fight is over, and the king has won his throne, so long as he maintains his proper relationship to fate (or as a mental attitude, its relation to the unconscious) does a body politic or individual advance, grow, and live a meaningful and complete life. Therein lies the salvation of the pysche of man and the spirit of his society, America and otherwise.

*Although, curiously, Homer does include an account of the gods on the Danaan side (Athene, Hera, and Poseidon) once binding Zeus–and Thetis getting Briareus, one of the hekatakheires (hundred-handed giants), to save Zeus from this binding. (Iliad, Bk I 396-406)

**Further argumentation for Zeus and all gods serving fate: “Fate governs both gods and men. And it is this primordial acceptance of fate which gives Homeric religion, with all its affirmation of this world and of human existence, its peculiar realistic pessimism. Yet, even in the awareness of the bitterest fate, Homeric man never demands a reversal of nature nor expects rivers to flow uphill. His natural and vital existence, to which the numinous and the miraculous are alien and hostile, called forth gods in its own image.” (Walter Wili, The Orphic Mysteries and the Greek Spirit, from The Mysteries, P. 65, ed. Joseph Campbell)

*** “Zeus was director of Olympus, but he was responsible to the great board of directors of the world, the moira, an invisible influence, the “Faceless Corporation” of Olympus, so even Zeus could not do what he wanted.” (Carl Jung, Seminar on Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, Vol. II Page 917)

The Myth of Dionysos and the Birth of a New Age

“But you cannot, artificially and with an effort of will, believe the statements of myth if you have not previously been gripped by them. If you are honest, you will doubt the truth of the myth because our present day consciousness has no means of understanding it. Historical and scientific criteria do not lend themselves to a recognition of mythological truth; it can be grasped only by the intuitions of faith or by psychology, and in the latter case although there may be insight it remains ineffective unless it is backed by experience.” (Carl Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, P. 528)

In our recent articles, we considered the archetype of the Hero and how it is activated during a time of transition and change from one set of cultural values to another. The focus of those articles was to establish the fact that “heroes” exist as people who are part divine, part mortal, and though they exist within time, they by necessity are timeless or exist out of time as well. Whenever the prevailing cultural attitude has become defunct and lost the energic capability to motivate and unite a people, such an “archetype” as it is called becomes activated–that is, whenever the life of a culture slows to a drip from a flow, then the hero archetype activates in order to “clear the blockage” and restore the vitality of the human spirit to a culture. But, after this transition time, what next? Though the hero exists to slay the dragon or the “old-king”, what time follows this slaying of old and decrepit values?

This part of the transitory time belongs to the archetype of Dionysos, or the archetype of rebirth, after the hero causes the “death” or “transition” from an old set of values–then does the archetype of Dionysos bring about the necessary space for the values of a new generation and a re-enlivened culture. First though, let us examine the place that Dionysos, that ever elusive and stranger to Greek culture, occupied within the Greek mythos and cult, and then we will analyze and interpret the meaning that such a figure in mythology represents. Frazer begins with one of the more popular accounts of Dionysos’ origin and dismemberment.

“Like the other gods of vegetation Dionysus was believed to have died a violent death, but to have been brought to life again; and his sufferings, death, and resurrection were enacted in his sacred rites. His tragic story is thus told by the poet Nonnus. Zeus in the form of a serpent visited Persephone, and she bore him Zagreus, that is, Dionysus, a horned infant. Scarcely was he born, when the babe mounted the throne of his father Zeus and mimicked the great god by brandishing the lightning in his tiny hand. But he did not occupy the throne long; for the treacherous Titans, their faces whitened with chalk, attacked hm with knives while he was looking at himself in a mirror. For a time he evaded their assaults by turning himself into various shapes, assuming the likeness successively of Zeus and Cronus, of a young man, of a lion, a horse, and a serpent. Finally, in the form of a bull, he was cut to pieces by the murderous knives of his enemies.” (Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough, Abridged. 1922. P. 451)

And then Frazer continues with an explanation of how the dismembered and murdered god comes back to life, like the seasons.

“Thus far the resurrection of the slain god is not mentioned, but in other versions of the myth it is variously related. According to one version, which represented Dionysus as a son of Zeus and Demeter, his mother pieced together his mangled limbs and made him young again. In others it is simply said that shortly after his burial he rose from the dead and ascended up to heaven; or that Zeus raised him as as he lay mortally wounded; or that Zeus swallowed the heart of Dionysus and then begat him afresh by Semele, who thereby conceived him.” (Ibid, 452)

Therefore, one sees that in his aspect as a God of Vegetation (much like Adonis, Attis, and Osiris (Ibid, 449), Dionysos is born, lives a brief time, is torn asunder, often by the Titans, and is resurrected to reascend anew, like the dawn from eternal night, or spring from frosty Winter. Forever does Dionysos, the dismembered and deceased god, or principle of the immortality of the spirit, experience death and rebirth. These solar and vegetable analogies are useful, but the symbol of a god as representing the change of the seasons is hardly novel. To connect the archetype of Dionysos to the process of the birth of a new age requires a more humanistic and human-centric approach.

Before observing the civic role which Dionysos plays, though, we must observe and examine the point that one comes to over and over again with the Dionysos myth: he experiences rejection (and usually dismemberment) before being accepted as an Olympian. He is at once a bastard son of Zeus and in the cults, and often enough he is a stranger from Thrace or farther East (Frazer, 449). How, then, does this strange God of orgiastic rites, first dismembered, and then glorified, express the situation of a culture which has experienced the rise and fall of a prevailing attitude or set of values? We will now look to Vernant who includes Dionysos as a figure who serves to transform children into citizens, just as he first represented the change of Fall to Winter and Winter to Spring.

“But before this time, the young of the two sexes had deposited garlands of grain near Artemis, which, in allusion to the first victims, dedicates them forever to the goddess in their youthful status. It is as if, through these garlands given up to the goddess, they are both the young who are “sacrificed” to her and the ones, now ripe, who are liberated from her charge. Instead of grain given to Artemis, they put garlands of ivy around their foreheads and, thus arrayed, they go to the temple of Dionysos Aisymnetes, the god who, a stranger like them, was integrated into the civic cult with the title of Master and Arbiter. The nocturnal ritual, the controlled and regulated orgiastic behavior of this daimon xenos [strange god; my trans.] who henceforth was adapted to Greek culture[my italics], guaranteed the young their own integration into the civic community by contriving a change of status through which the young ceased to be young in order to become adults[my ital.], yet without entailing any confusion in status between youth and adult or any effacement of boundaries between them.” (Jean-Pierre Vernant, Mortals and Immortals, P. 212)

One therefore observes that beyond simple transformations of the seasons that Dionysos was also associated with changes of status between children and citizens. He is, in of himself, always duplex in some form or another. In Hesiod’s hymn to him, he appears androgynous and wearing purple, looking like a youth or a man, or a man or a god. It is precisely because Dionysos, youngest of the Olympian gods, is expressive not only of initial rejection (dismemberment; or like any new cultural idea), but of transformation from one form of being to another–child to adult-citizen, alive to dead, dead to alive, stranger to familiar, and mortal to immortal. Just as in our most recent article we observed Kronos’ role as a god who experiences the rise to power and the fall from it, so does Dionysos represent the prevailing confusion, discontent, “de-unification” (dismemberment) which occurs during a twilight state of transition between one age and another, one cultural dominant to another, or even one prevailing attitude to another on the personal stage.

The Archetype of Dionysos indicates a time of dangerous and uncontrolled energies. Without the form and structure set out in a person or culture’s life, the energies of the person or people are unrestrained, destabilized, and without unity. Therefore, just as the Archetype of the Hero represents the positive aspect of change from the old-dying king (culture cut off from life), so does the Archetype of Dionysos represent the time between the fall of the old cultural values (old king) and the coronation of the new values (or new, revitalized, king or cultural values). During this time between “rulers”, the energy or vitality of the unconscious rushes back into a culture, but without the cultural safeguards of order, ritual, and custom to hinder its explosive and potentially monstrous force. The Archetype of Dionysos, then, represents the negative or darker aspect of transition–the moments between darkness and light–and the dangers which twilight and dawn both hold for those who desire clarity of sight and purpose.

This time, however, serves a valuable purpose. Just as day does not become night without first passing through twilight, so does the Archetype of Dionysos serve as a time of “preparation” in that it allows for katharsis or cleansing of one mode of being that another might replace it. Joseph Campbell here explains this “time between” below.

“…tragic katharsis (i.e. the “purification” or “purgation” of the emotions of the spectator of tragedy through his experience of pity and terror) corresponds to an earlier ritual katharsis (“a purification of the community from the taints and poisons of the past year, the old contagion of sin and death (my ital.), which was the function of the festival and mystery play of Dionysos. The meditating mind is united, in the mystery play, not with the body that is shown to die [or former attitude of conscious, personal or cultural; my add.], but with the principle of continuous life that for a time inhabited it, and for that time was the reality clothed in the apparition (at once the sufferer and secret cause), the substratum into which our selves dissolve with the “tragedy that breaks man’s face” has split, shattered and dissolved our mortal frame.” (Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, P. 26)

The Archetype of Dionysos thus acts as an “intermediary” time between one set of collective (or personal) values and another set of oncoming values. During this “middle” time, a great purge or catharsis of the former attitudes and values occurs in order to make way for the new ones. And in observing this time between, one observes not only the unity between prevailing cultural and personal values, but also the continuity of life beyond one’s necessarily limited and mortal perspective. Though one’s customs, attitudes, values, or body might fade in their mortal decrepitude, so does one observe that life itself will prevail and continue on–just as it did before, during, and will after one’s physical death (was this perhaps the great secret of the Eleusinian Mysteries?). One therefore celebrates “the universal life”, as Campbell puts it, in experiencing the Dionysian age and rites, and in one’s mortal and finite way, experiences the magnitude of life eternal beyond one’s mortal grasp. To really hit home this imagery, Jane Harrison espouses the role of Dionysos in the Eleusinian Mysteries through a brief explanation of a vase painting from the 4th century.


“The central figure is Demeter, crowned and sceptred, sitting on an altar-like throne. To the right is Kore with her torches. She turns towards Dionysos. He too is seated, as becomes a god, and he holds his thyrsos. He is seated, but on what a throne! He is seated on the omphalos [midriff of the world; my add.]. To the ancient mind no symbolism could speak more clearly; Dionysos is accepted at Eleusis; he has come from Delphi and brought his omphalos with him. We are apt to regard the omphalos as exclusively the property of Apollo, and it comes as something of a shock to see Dionysos seated quietly upon it. We have already (p. 319) seen that Apollo took it from Ge, took the ancient symbol of Mother Earth and made it his oracular throne; but at Delphi men knew that it had another and mystical content. It was the tomb of the dismembered Dionysos.” (Jane Ellen Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, Pp. 556-557).

What we see above is that Dionysos is, as written earlier, the symbol for unification of opposites (coniunctio oppositorum) par excellent. Not only does he offer the time between one prevailing set of attitudes and values and another (as katharsis or purification), but he, in of himself, carries the omphalos of the world with him, which contains his own dismembered corpse, and is usually associated with Apollo. This is a lot of symbolism expressing the same concept: the omphalos indicated the connection between the lower half of the body or world with the upper half; carrying one’s own dismembered corpse indicates the connection between immortality and mortality, or life and death, and the association with Apollo indicates the transition from the god of daylight, or the sun, high in the empyrean, through the twilight space of Dionysos, to the earthy and dark richness of Ge (Gaia=Earth). Dionysos, in all we see above, serves therefore as an archetype of the transition–between one time and another, life and death, heaven and earth, and mortality and immortality. And in of himself, as a god and archetype, he contains the principles of the coniunctio oppositorum, particularly linking life with its opposite, death.

Post Scriptum:

If one is so inclined to look, one even finds them same strange idea of the rejected or discarded item (or the rejected and dismembered god) which would come to great importance in the rather obscure works of Carl Jung. Here he quotes an obtuse passage from the Bibliotheca Chemica.

“Finally, there will appear in the work that ardently desired blue or cerulean colour, which does not darken or dull the eyes of the beholder by the healing power of its brilliance, as when we see the splendour of the outward sun. Rather does it sharpen and strengthen them, nor does he [Mercurius] slay a man with his glance like the basilisk, but by the shedding of his own blood he calls back those who are near to death, and restores to them unimpaired their former life[my italics], like the pelican.” (Carl Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, P.14)

And again, but in slightly clearer (but still highly obscure) form:

“But sometime he must set about the opus himself, for, as the alchemists emphasize, nobody else can do it for him. Like this apprentice, the modern man begins with an unseemly prima materia which presents itself in unexpected form–a contemptible fantasy [or this quote itself! my addition] which, like the stone that the builders rejected, is “flung into the street” and is so “cheap” that people do not even look at it[like this blog! my addition]. He will observe it from day to day and note its alterations until his eyes are opened or, as the alchemists say, until the fish’s  eyes, or the sparks, shine in the dark solution. For the eyes of the fish are always open and therefore must always see, which is why the alchemists used them as a symbol of perpetual attention. The light that gradually dawns on him consists in him understanding that his fantasy is a real psychic process which is happening to him personally. Although, to a certain extent, he looks on from outside, impartially, he is also an acting and suffering figure in the drama of the psyche.” (Ibid, 528-529).

Just as Dionysos suffers death and rebirth, so does a man and so does a culture metaphorically do so, and in so experiencing such suffering and decay–and then rebirth, so does a new attitude in one man come to be and a new cultural consciousness and awareness on a larger scale.

The Archetype of the Hero and the Promethean Task of Education

The Archetype of the Hero and the Promethean Task of Education

By A.E. Schmid

America and the entire Western world are experiencing a crisis: vitality and meaning are seeping out of the existences of its peoples and no one knows what to do. Medicate? Yoga? Theosophy of some sort? What about a return to nature or to Western Religion? None of these answers seem satisfying, and the question and problem presented by this dwindling value and meaning is felt especially poignantly in our American classrooms. What is it that we really aim to teach? Is measuring students and teachers by objective and calculated standardized tests truly the full extent of the goal of education? Or is the goal something more, something nobler, both a return and departure from what is and what has been? I propose that the goal of education is to teach one “how she should then live” in the wake of a country that has lost its connection to its mythological roots.

How, though, does this relate to mythology and particularly to mythology in contemporary culture? The current conception of mythology by the lay-person or typical student in secondary education is that mythology and its motifs are human fabrications first conceived of to explain and deal with the modern world. This paper, however, in adopting more of a Jungian and Campbell-esque perspective suggests that a particularly American mythology must be pursued by a confrontation with a varying world, and in particular Western mythologies, during one’s education in order to re-connect an individual with the roots of his conscious and unconscious mind. In so doing, one observes the function of mythology not to be for amusement nor even explanation of physical phenomena, but rather as a necessary part of the psychic health of an individual and a culture. The goal then of education is to provide students, people, with the tools necessary to confront these realities, and to prepare them for the grueling task of aiming towards meaning in their lives. Naturally, this sentiment was expressed wonderfully well 91 years ago by the Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung:

“I thought: “Now you have the key to mythology and you have the power to unlock all doors.” But then something within me said: “Why unlock all these doors?” And then I found myself asking what I had done after all. I had written a book about the hero, I had explained the myths of past peoples, but what about my own myth? I had to admit I had none; I knew theirs but none of my own, nor did anyone else have one today.” (Carl Jung, Introduction to Jungian Psychology: Notes of the Seminar on Analytical Psychology Given in 1925, P. 26)

In the century between that time and this one, the sentiment that rang through in the statement above rings more true than ever: the West, and particularly America, lacks a cohesive mythology, a governing set of values springing from the unconscious, and this has led to a “stopping up” and perhaps even a severing of the necessary connection between a society and its governing myth–its very essence and life-blood. This happens not only on a social level, but in strange mimicry of Plato’s notion of the city and the soul of man, on the individual level as well.

“From the psychological point of view the ceremony has the significance of a meaningful institution, inasmuch as it represents a clearly defined procedure for canalizing the libido*. It has, in fact, the functional value of a paradigm, and its purpose is to show us how we should act when the libido gets blocked. What we call the “blocking of the libido” is, for the primitive, a hard and concrete fact: his life ceases to flow, things lose their glamour, plants, animals, and men no longer prosper[my italics]. The Ancient Chinese philosophy of the I Ching devised some brilliant images for this state of affairs. Modern man, in the same situation, experiences a standstill (“I am stuck”), a loss of energy and enjoyment (“the zest”–libido–has gone out of life”), or a depression.” (C.G Jung, Symbols of Transformation, P. 170.  First Bollingen/Princeton Printing, 1976)

In the words above, one reads the modern state of man: listless, stuck, depressed–deprived of his vital energy, and in his listless depression, he strives for and fails to find meaning. In the article which follows, we will examine how such “zest” or energy can re-enter into one’s life and culture and the effect that such a transformation has on education, and therefore, what the true purpose of education is. Jung continues:

“One frequently has to tell the patient what is happening to him, for modern man’s powers of introspection leave much to be desired. If, even today, the new fire is kindled at Eastertide, it is in commemoration of the redemptive and saving significance of the first fire-boring. In this way man wrested a secret from nature–the Promethean theft of fire. He made himself guilty of an unlawful intervention, incorporating a fragment of the age-old unconscious into the darkness of his mind [my italics]. With this theft he appropriated something precious and offended against the gods. Anyone who knows the primitive’s fear of innovations and their unforeseen consequences can imagine the uncertainty and uneasy conscience which such a discovery would arouse.” (Ibid, 170)

Jung here briefly mentions the myth of Prometheus and its significance–it involves wresting consciousness out from the grip of the unconscious–but at great price to him. Just as the first humans were banished from Eden for eating of the arbor scientiae, so was Prometheus suspended on a rock forever having his liver eaten by the eagle of Zeus.**So, what one is to learn from this mythological reference, is that the act of becoming more conscious involves a “robbery” or a “wresting” from the creative unconscious–a taking from potentiality into actuality something that could be into something that is. Jung finishes his quote in the following lines.

“This primordial experience finds an echo in the widespread motif of robbery (sun-cattle of Geryon, apples of the Hesperides, herb of immortality). And it is worth remembering that in the cult of Diana at Aricia only he could become her priest who plucked the golden bough from the sacred grove of the goddess.” (Ibid, 170)

We might add to that the account of the Garden of Eden, Odysseus’ taking the veil of Ino (or stealing the Palladium with Diomedes), Aeneas taking the golden bough to go to the underworld, et alia, but the basic point is that mythology, throughout the Western tradition, sends image after image to its people indicating both the danger and the need of expanding its consciousness–lest it become dessicated and lowly–and therefore be so mean as to require a divine flood as found in: the Enuma Elish, Works and Days, Genesis, Metamorphoses, or even just have it hinted at as in the Gilgamesh epic, et alia. But what, exactly, is being “brought to consciousness” by this Promethean fire? What is it that reconnects humanity with the creative unconscious and reinvigorates its vitality or libido? Richard Tarnas provides a colorful account in his Cosmos and Psyche:

“Prometheus, the Titan who rebelled against the gods, helped Zeus overthrow the tyrannical Kronos, then tricked the new sovereign authority Zeus and stole fire from the heavens to liberate humanity from the gods’ power. Prometheus was considered the wisest of his race and taught humankind all the arts and sciences; in a later tradition, Prometheus was the creator of humankind and thus held a special relationship to humanity’s fate from the beginning. Every major theme and quality that astrologers associate with the planet Uranus seems to be reflected in the myth of Prometheus with striking poetic exactitude: the initiation of radical change[my italics], the passion for freedom, the defiance of authority, the act of cosmic rebellion against a universal structure to free humanity of bondage[my italics], the urge to transcend limitation, the creative impulse, the intellectual brilliance and genius, the element of excitement and risk.” (Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, P. 94)

What Prometheus represents, and what an educator is meant to embody in this mythless time—in contrast to the negative aspect of this archetype, the tyrannical demagogue, then, is the need for radical change and realignment of values–or in the case of America, the search for values themselves at an individual or “grassroots” level. In a wave of testing methods and techniques holding teachers accountable in order to receive federal funding, the core purpose of education is lost: the need to pursue liberty of thought (ripping insight from the unconscious into consciousness) and to “free humanity from [intellectual] bondage.” There is no higher goal in education than to teach students the art of inquiry and skills necessary to question an old, esteemed, but ultimately failing cultural mythology. Only in pursuing what is new and yet radical can what was ancient and lost be regained. Tarnas continues:

“The resonant symbol of Prometheus’ fire conveys at once a rich cluster of meanings–the creative spark, the catalyst of the new, cultural and technological breakthrough[my italics], brilliance and innovation, the enhancement of human autonomy, sudden inspiration from above, the liberating gift from the heavens, the solar fire and light, lightning and electricity both literal and metaphoric, speed and instantaneousness, incandescence, sudden enlightenment, intellectual and spiritual awakening…” (Ibid, P.94)

Although Tarnas gets a bit excited with his amplifications (how do we become more incandescent, really?), his point about the need for new cultural breakthroughs in order to keep pace without god-like technological ones seems not only apt, but necessary. So, what does it mean to accept the Promethean fire or a bite from the apple of the arbor scientiae rather than the arbor vitae? Nothing more than accepting a finite, but definite place in the world, while expanding one’s consciousness (or one’s people’s) through knowledge, insight, and creativity rather than remaining in a perpetual state of identity with the collective unconscious, which is, like the fruit of the arbor vitae promises, as immortal as the race of man. This means overthrowing the old dying king, or lifeless and blocking state of consciousness, in order to rejuvenate and revitalize life, culture, and ultimately to bring harmony and meaning to the people of a society. This is the goal of education, and it is far more important and far more serious an issue than it is treated as in American today.

This does not mean, however, that humans, and especially Americans, are to become identified with their insight and advances and in some way think themselves “more than human” or “less subject to natural laws”. No, in attaining new perspective and cultural breakthroughs, the goal is not to go beyond being human (or good and evil), but to become rooted and more human in the wake of tremendous technological advances. The proper perspective is here elucidated by Jean-Pierre Vernant in his exposition of the function of Ancient Greek sacrifice:

“Greek sacrifice differs from Vedic sacrifice in that the latter is a prototype for the act of creation, which brings forth and binds the universe together in its totality. Much more modest, Greek sacrifice recalls Prometheus’ act, which alienated man from the gods. In a ritual that seeks to join the mortal with the immortal it consecrates the unattainable distance that henceforth separates them[my italics].” (Jean-Pierre Vernant, Mortals and Immortals, P. 280)

The proper relationship to the unconscious, or to “immortals” as Vernant describes it is to join to some part of it, but to maintain one’s recognition (ostensibly because of observing its utter difference in magnitude during the connection) of the difference between mortal and immortal, conscious and unconscious. Clearly, according to the thinkers above, the difference is substantial. The goal, though, in attaining “more consciousness” is to liberate one’s self from a conscious attitude (culturally or personally) which no longer represents reality as it is and has cut off the “libido” of a person or culture. Finally, though, how does this relate to the archetype of the hero? Joseph Campbell will help us here.

“The composite hero of the monomyth is a personage of exceptional gifts. Frequently he is honored by his society, frequently unrecognized or disdained. He and/or the world in which he finds himself suffers from a symbolical deficiency. In fairy tales this may be as slight as the lack of a certain golden ring, whereas in his apocalyptic vision the physical or spiritual life of the whole earth can be represented as fallen, or on the point of falling, into ruin.” (Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, P. 37. 2nd ed. Bollingen/Princeton)

There are clearly several examples in the world today of cultures or people falling into ruin (this paper was first written during the crescendo of the Greek economic crisis), And yet examples from America’s political drama might well fit here now as well. Many of the failings, however, in America find their root in blaming education or teachers. And perhaps to some degree this is right, but to use a term borrowed from the psychologists, is not our projecting the unconscious failings of our culture onto our education system and the teachers that embody it, itself creating the necessary pre-conditions for the activating of the hero-archetype in our culture? The inferior, humble, people “unrecognized or disdained”, shall be the ones, if they accept the call, to bring forth new contents from the collective unconscious and replace the dying prevailing conscious attitude (all hail economics) with a richer, more vital, and deeper rooted one. This is but chapter one of this discussion.

I will leave you today with this short and poignant quote by Jung—an admonishment at best, and a warning at worst:

“Collectivity in itself is an evil, a collectivity without evil is impossible; even the best collectivity one could imagine is vicious–at all events a most horrible bore, and to be boring is equal to evil.” (C.G. Jung, Lectures on Nietzsche’s Zarathustra V.2, P. 583. Ed. James Jarrett. Princeton. 1988)

We must wrest ourselves from the unconscious forces which begin to surge our unsure shores lest the tidal flood of collective forces, now mounting power, wash away all we have sought to become.

*The meaning of the term libido is used to mean one’s store of vital energy. For Jung, It does not carry the sexual denotations of the Freudian concept of the same name.

**For those, who are unfamiliar with the Prometheus myth, the major and oldest accounts of it come from Hesiod’s Works and Days (42-105) and his Theogony (507-583) (though, curiously, Prometheus is not credited with creating man from mud and earth, as he is known to have in the tradition in these texts) and Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound. What one learns is that Prometheus or Zeus first created the several generations of man, after Kronos made the first “golden race”, and that Prometheus earns the ire of Zeus by first portioning out the “good parts” of meat to humans by tricking Zeus and by giving fire to man (and various contrivances) in direct opposition to the will of Zeus.


Evil and and the Problem of Education I

The problem of evil has roots stretching back over two millenia. Here we will consider the issue of how to prepare the youth for both their lives in general and the problem of evil when they inevitably encounter it. Whether one considers evil a privatio boni as Augustine did, or one thinks man is by nature evil, or even if one sees evil in the smallest of everyday things, evil is a subject which invariably comes up in one’s life and therefore must be considered if one plans to educate the youth justly.

We begin the the end of Plato’s Republic.

“But we have not yet brought forward the heaviest count in our accusation–the power which poetry has of harming even the good (and there are very few who are not harmed), is surely an awful thing.

Yes, certainly, if the effect is what you say.

Hear and judge: The best of us, as I conceive, when we listen to a passage of Homer, or one of the tragedians, in which he represents some pitiful hero who is drawling out his sorrows in a long oration, or weeping, and smiting his breast–the best of us, you know, delight in giving way to sympathy, and are in raptures at the excellence of the poet who stirs our feelings most…”(Plato’s Republic Bk X 605c-d)

Plato, through the mouth of Socrates, here indicts poetry for the fact that a student who is exposed to an event, emotion, or circumstance which “stirs [his] feelings” may not be emotionally equipped to handle it. The claim is that one will empathize or sympathize with the suffering of a hero, or perhaps even a villain, and that in sympathizing or feeling the emotion of such a character, one’s natural reason will be overcome, and one’s emotional part of the soul will overrule the rational part ( See Plato’s tripartite theory of the soul here.).

It is unclear, at first, just precisely what the trouble is with exposing the youth to poetry and the arts, at least given Plato’s trepidation above. Yes, clearly, they will perceive events which are at the first unsavory, vexing, and generally causative of strong emotion. But is not the point of a youth watching or reading Oedipus Tyrannus to see the consequences of one’s actions, overbearing pride and its price, and the after-effects (generally negative) of strong emotions? Do not presentations of the faults and decisions of others better equip the young for their own lives–and the decisions they will have to make, under duress and otherwise?

Plato’s point thus seems a bit too dramatic at first, but as he continues, one sees what he is really driving at.

“If you consider, I said, that when in misfortune we feel a natural hunger and desire to relieve our sorrow by weeping and lamentation, and that this feeling which is kept under control in our own calamities is satisfied and delighted by the poets;-the better nature in each of us, not having been sufficiently trained by reason or habit, allows the sympathetic element to break loose because the sorrow is another’s; and the spectator fancies that there can be no disgrace to himself in praising and pitying any one who comes telling him what a good man he is, and making a fuss about his troubles; he thinks that the pleasure is a gain, and why should he be supercilious and lose this and the poem too?Few persons ever reflect, as I should imagine, that from the evil of other men something of evil is communicated to themselves. And so the feeling of sorrow which has gathered strength at the sight of the misfortunes of others is with difficulty repressed in our own…”(Ibid 606b)

What an enigmatic paragraph Plato has spun for us above. He suggests that the evil endured and done by characters in plays or poems, not-to-mention in real life, has an effect on those who witness or receive such evil. Let that really sink in for a moment, because it is a radical claim. Plato is therefore suggesting that if one perceives evil at all that one has therefore received evil into one’s being. This must be considered to some extent, because if evil may be received simply by being witnessed, then it would seem that Plato would be correct by suggesting the children and students should not be exposed to evil in books, poems, and plays. There is a part of the quote, above, which appears to be something of a linchpin and may help us better interpret Plato’s claim: “the better nature in each of us, not having been sufficiently trained by reason or habit, allows the sympathetic element to break loose because the sorrow is another’s.” What exactly does this caveat add to the situation?

In the quote above, Plato is not suggesting that if one is exposed to evil that one will by necessity become evil. He is saying that if one’s “better nature” “[has not been] sufficiently trained by reason or habit” that one will allow evil into one’s self and possibly be corrupted by it. What exactly does this mean? This means that one’s character must have been trained to pursue virtue and excellence and that one’s mind must be trained in the use and habit of reasoning before being exposed to evil according to Plato. In so being disposed towards excellence and excellent acts (and habits), and by having the discernment necessary to recognize the difference between good and evil, one will therefore be conferred not an evil, but a good from the perception of evil in a medium. But when is a student truly ready to confront this task, and who has the Rhadamanthian judgment necessary to make such a decision? Let us observe Plato’s solution before deciding.

“Therefore, Glaucon, I said, whenever you meet with any of the eulogists of Homer declaring that he has been the educator of Hellas, and that he is profitable for education and for the ordering of human things, and that you should take him up again and again and get to know him and regulate your whole life according to him, we may love and honour those who say these things –they are excellent people, as far as their lights extend; and we are ready to acknowledge that Homer is the greatest of poets and first of tragedy writers; but we must remain firm in our conviction that hymns to the gods and praises of famous men are the only poetry which ought to be admitted into our State. For if you go beyond this and allow the honeyed muse to enter, either in epic or lyric verse, not law and the reason of mankind, which by common consent have ever been deemed best, but pleasure, andd pain will be the rulers in our State.” (Ibid 606e-607a)

When I present the quote above to freshmen students, their eyes almost roll out of their heads. They exclaim, “Mr. Schmid, that is SO stupid,” and then they continue on to list the number of virtues present in Homer’s work: perseverance, practical-cunning, marital fidelity (in Penelope’s case), and endurance. That actually happens. They make fun of Elpenor (who fell off Circe’s roof drunk), despise traitors like Dolon and Melanthios, and frequently they even perceive Achilleus as something of a “cry-baby”. The students themselves are insulted by the notion that they might not be able to recognize the difference between bad and good–noble, and ignoble. Clearly, they, like Meno, struggle with the finer aspects of the definition–but few do not in my experience of asking–but the students raise a salient point: if they do not encounter evil sooner or later in their education, would they not at some point still encounter it in their lives?

This point weighs heavy. For during the course of the life of a student, regardless of the fact that today there are far worse portrayals of evil than Homer and Sophocles, a student will by necessity encounter vice, evil, and wrongness regardless of his or her ability to define these words and their accompanying feelings. The difference, however, between encountering evil alone in the world or through some other media, is that in a classroom there is an older, usually wiser, guide present to instruct and guide the young through such situations with the help of literature. And this guided experience offers some serious value before students encounter situations less fictional and moderated in their lives.

The perception of evil through some medium, Homer’s Odyssey, for example, may leave some residuum in the mind and being of a student, true. But in the great calculus of weighing potential good vs. potential bad, and this question is far more practical than it is theoretical, one must ask one’s self: would one prefer a student prepared for evil, having engaged with it in thought, or would one prefer to hope, especially in this world, that a student will never encounter evil? If one does hold this hope, when is it exactly that a student’s intellect and character will have been formed enough to confront the temptations of seductive and nefarious evil? This is a decision all parents and teachers must make.

Perhaps the decision will be easier if we let Heraclitus, a Pre-Socratic philosopher, have the last word on the value of an education including a poet who illustrates good alongside evil, or life, as we call it:

“From the very earliest infancy young children are nursed in their learning by Homer, and swaddled in his verses we water our souls with them as though they were nourishing milk. He stands beside each of us as we start out and gradually grow into men, he blossoms as we do, and until old age we never grow tired of him, for as soon as we set him aside we thirst for him again; it may be said that the same limit is set to both Homer and life.” (Heraclitus, Homeric Problems 1.5-7)