On Squares

The symbol of conscious consistency, mother-earth, and form both complete and incomplete, perfect and imperfect, we meet the square. With its straight lines interconnected at right angles, with its rigid uniformity, it serves as an image of conscious control, without the interweaving curves, arcs, and general constant change in perspective of the circle, or any curving shape. Just as a circle might indicate the whole picture, a completed analogy, or an enlightening metaphor, so does the square show the necessity of practice, routine, and regular habit. If a brilliant metaphor illuminates a course in a moment, the routine of the square illustrates the day-in and day-out struggle of slowly perfecting a craft.

For example, if one is a power-lifter, and one only trains three main lifts: squat, deadlift, and bench-press, well the majority of one’s days involve training, accessory work, and just tons of volume of lifting at sub-maximal weights. Very few days does one see major personal records. It is the same across sports and even in more classical endeavors. It is a beautiful thing reading a line from Vergil’s Aeneid in the Latin original and leaving it untranslated and savored as a whole in one’s mind–arma virumque cano. But the vast majority of my days studying Latin involve copying down and drilling paradigms and struggling through lexicons for obscure (and common) words. That is the province of the square–the regular, the every-day, the conscious willing which inches one towards the completion of any endeavor. And when it is does correctly, and does not fall into mindless repetition, each day, though structured similarly, has its own uniquely creative aspect.

Image result for andy warhol art

Source:

That said, the square also shares in that deformity as well–it may be a purely conscious endeavor unconnected with one’s personal myth, vocation, or teleology. If this is so, then one’s personal libido (energy store) begins to be depleted, and what inspiration begins and generally meaningful activity continues on becomes so much hum-drum that is only a parrot-discipline, lifeless routine. Think of someone you might call a square who never “thinks outside the box.”

Image result for squares in rows

Source:

Plain and uniform, it represents the negative aspect of infinity as endless, Sisyphean routine. When properly aligned with the circle, however, one’s conscious movement curves with new perspective and goes in straight lines in order to achieve a conscious purpose.

Image result for squares  mandala

Source:

Against the conscious nature of a square as a representation of routine, it is also a symbol of order through the insight into necessity which an ordered or disciplined life begets. Though David Hume is undoubtedly correct in saying that we never truly and fully know the connection between cause and effect, through consciously willed-directed activity, one almost always sees results: whether in the gym, learning a language, or acquiring or refining any new skill, one understands that regularly directed and refined energy used in the service of practicing a skill, will improve one’s capabilities over time–to whatever extent one’s consciousness, or talent, allows–until (or unless) one “takes the next step” in a spiral-like fashion. In philosophy, necessity denotes an action which must occur or a conclusion that must be reached, without exception. Therefore, physical cause and effect falls short of necessity’s pristine perfection, but in this temporal, mutable, and fallible sphere, one’s own conscious efforts towards embracing the connections between cause and effect (by repeatedly employing a cause, training, in order to produce an effect, performing better) helps one to see, as far as is consciously possible, that the cause of something, though invisible, is that which is universal and immortal, whereas the effect, which received so much attention, is simply temporal and soon-to-fade. Squares represent that regularity which teaches one about the eternal principles that govern the temporary consequences.

So, just as the a city is measured by its blocks, and we measure our land by acreage, or square meters and square feet, so is our life largely measured by that which we regularly do. Just as Plato says that squares represent the “earth element” in his Timaeus, or that which is most stable in our lives, so does Aristotle assert that good habit, as opposed to simple routine, is one of the keys to a happy or meaningful existence. Therefore, just as the body is the necessary receptive principle of the active principle of the soul, so is the square necessarily conjoined to the circle in its representation of life. Circles show the path in all its perfected completeness, a whole story told. Squares show the method by which one practices to get there, with regular and steady consistency.

To Return to Teaching is To Return to War

To return to teaching is to return to war. And no, not simply the war on ignorance, as some might lamely suggest. Returning to teaching is all out war against time, space, and one’s personal endurance. It tests and requires one to will to commit to an endeavor which requires such a consistent, steady output of nearly all one’s energies that the profession most definitely could be considered life–(or having a life)–threatening in the service of a cause greater than one’s self. The classroom is a war zone, and the level of alertness one has to maintain, for 7 straight hours, drains one’s personal battery like a phone charged for two minutes too long. And then one does it again and again without hope for respite or a cease fire. War.

Your enemy will not let up.  And you cannot give in. This war is a war for the soul of the country, our country. Our people are more divided than they ever have been by thoughts and feelings that they barely stop to consider, while people are less and less able to speak to each other in meaningful ways (even with unprecedented access to communication devices). No one is more aware of this fact than an educator. And no one is in a better situation, or more meaningful one, to make a stand. Grassroots is a term frequently thrown around; it means starting an initiative from the “bottom floor” or “ground” and letting it grow, organically, rather than attempting some “top-down” legislative action. Few people are closer to the bottom than teachers, and more capable of affecting healthy, structured growth, like a gardener, truly. What do we grow? We grow citizens, thinkers, and people with a shared culture, value-set, and capacity to question. We grow the next generation of fighters of literally every fight at every level. And we take our work, our mission,  very seriously. Because we are the watchers at the gate. If we fail. America fails.

Failure. The chance of failure is always high, because there simply is no guarantee of success, no magical formula to mold and form young beings. There is plenty of empirical data,  but it has limited applicability in a battle which takes on infinite forms. Also, teaching is an art, not a science, and no amount of data, theory, or methods will make one an effective, not to mention great teacher. No way. Like a general who has a feel for battle, an intuitive grasp of how to maneuver troops and win skirmishes, a teacher must feel the pulse of the classroom and take action to achieve the class’ goal. One has to innovate, adapt, and improvise on the fly. No book can teach one to do this with grace. No thing learned will build one’s strength under pressure. A teacher must be strong to survive in a classroom. A teacher must be titanic in strength to thrive. Every single teacher knows exactly what her personal mettle is, there simply is no hiding from it. The act of teaching reveals it.

Incredible teachers are master molders of the soul. They have ordered their own souls in such a masterful and unique way that every young mind they meet is permanently stamped by their unique mark. This person is utterly fascinating to others–impossible to describe, impossible to miss. A force of nature. And that is what they offer your children. And they give your children their all. Everything they do, they do to better your children and the world we live in. Let that sink in for a minute. Everything they do revolves around bettering the children and this world. Even when a teacher is relaxing at home, that is only because they are trying to bring it the next day. Rest is commodified. It exists only that the teacher will perform even better tomorrow.

What is scary is just how easy it is to fail as a teacher. All one has to do is leave one’s heart out of it for a day, maybe two. And it all slips away.  One’s hold must be firm and constant. The consistency must be machine like, like an ever flowing river, constant and unstoppable–it just is and always will be so far as people perceive. But there is a will behind this feat, one that must choose to do this task everyday–give it one’s all, just to hope that one thing one ever says might stick in the soil and grow. Grassroots.

The reality of one’s singular nature as the giver of knowledge and former of souls is less aggrandizing than it is cause for panic. If one is tired or burnt out and does not feel like grading, then the grading does not get done. If one neglects to create an assignment, then the assignment is not created. If one does not plan out one of the 160 or so lessons one has to plan and then perform a year (as sole writer, director, and performer in one’s year long movie), then a lesson is not planned. There is no one there to do any of the work for a teacher, to cover for one where one is lacking. And therefore people can become highly critical of teachers–any flaw, however small, immediately comes back to the teacher. “That lesson did not resonate.” “This assignment could have been better.” “When will this essay be graded?” There is no institution, nor team, to fall behind. To teach is to know the bitter reality of the word personal responsibility.

Why then do people do it, given the extreme nature of the task, and the critical rather than utterly respectful attitude turned towards them? The profession offers few perks to those motivated by capitalistic desires. Especially in California, one is guaranteed to live paycheck to paycheck for the first several years–while one continues to pay to be a teacher by finishing a credential or then clearing it (which takes time and money away from a teacher). Those who desire a regular “work/life” balance, well they also should stay away from the profession, especially at the secondary education level where extensive planning and grading are a part of the job. There is nothing, in this world of glitzy advertising and marketing, which would attract some sane and rationally motivated person to the job. What, then, causes these noble souls to sacrifice their time, money, and life essence to help the children of other people grow and succeed? It is precisely the nobility of soul just casually mentioned which has this effect. Know me by my fruits says the teacher. Common are those who wish to help–rare are those who do.

A teacher who makes it through the inferno of her first years knows that she makes a tremendous difference, and that he or she is one of the few people capable of doing what she can do. A teacher lives in a state of knowledge of the value of her craft, while others remain largely ignorant of whether their contributions help society as a whole. That is the sole and primary benefit of teaching, against the tidal wave of negatives. Everyday, when a teacher goes to sleep, exhausted, possibly after a 15 hour day which has followed four other days, exactly the same, a teacher knows that when she dies, the best part of her soul will remain with all those she touched. And should that happen, a small battle in the eternal war is won, time and time again.

On Civility and Democracy

Last night, at dinner, during a light-hearted and superficial Saturday night conversation with friends, I made the mistake, in a moment of openness, of saying that over time, as I have slowly gained more political and social awareness through directed and non-directed effort, that I have developed a small passion for certain political issues (surprise!). The comment was meant to relate how weird it feels to slowly and unconsciously develop into an adult–when did this happen and how? A girl to my left, upon hearing this, immediately stopped me and said: “Stop, so what do you think of ‪#‎blacklivesmatter?” Taken by surprise by this particular and intrusive question, especially in the wake of so many other domestic and international issues, and having genuinely made my statement to share in the particular burden and process of our generation, I answered simply and honestly that I agreed that, of course, black lives matter. I then, perhaps ruffled, drolly asked whether she upheld the notion that “all-lives-matter”. She then responded, “like, don’t make yourself special. Like, everyone matters–don’t make yourself special.” She had been a political science major in college.

I wanted to respond to her that, at the least, the black lives matters movement, as I understand it, is lobbying for (a) equal rights under the protection of law–and more than that–equality of treatment and perception. And that it (b) serves to demonstrate and remove systemic prejudices (and acts of violence) which appear to be occurring at an alarming rate against a group of our citizens, fellow Americans.

But I could not. Her opinion was steeled against reason, and was therefore not an opinion at all, but a prejudice—a moment of small tyranny. Her reasoning was this: “don’t make yourself special”, as if crying out for justice were in some way a request for special treatment. My other friend quickly steered the conversation away from politics, sensing the tavern was soon to become a classroom, and we went on with our nights. But I remember how it felt to hear those words, and I saw then, as I see daily, the necessity of stronger educations for all, not just some.

As a teacher, my political involvement does not occur along strict and divisive lines. My contribution to politics, or the polity at large, is to teach students to think in a rational and rigorous manner in order to consider issues of philosophy and literature. I then teach them to research arguments both in support and opposition to their nascent thoughts in order to deepen and broaden their understandings of significant issues of Western culture. I consider this their Western heritage. Lastly, I teach them to discuss their thoughts in reasoned, intelligent, and open ways amongst each other in seminars. They discuss issues of philosophy and literature in my class. The hope is that these skills and themes will be represented in their actions and words later in life. Perhaps these thoughts will turn towards the personal or political when they are older, and then they will have the skill-set and attitude necessary truly to analyze their thoughts and others. This is, admittedly, a small contribution to society, but it is what I offer.

If this message is advocating for anything, it is for meaningful discourse between individuals. This is where real, substantial, connections are forged. But in order to have these discussions, we must be informed, scrupulous, and willing to listen while presenting information as we know it in a process of mutual respect, not simply stating uninformed opinions in the hope that others will blithely agree in an unaffected manner.

People today are angry. And anger precludes rational thought—we have known this since well before the Roman Stoics founded a school of philosophy based on the controlling and containing of one’s emotions. Homer’s Iliad, which I teach, begins with rage afterall. And Virgil’s Aeneid ends with it; in both stories, the emotion has a devastating effect, whether engendered by gods or men.

Not to be melodramatic, but this emotion, if allowed to lead to disunity and incivility between peaceful citizens, friends, is exactly what ISIL wants. Their avowed intention in committing barbarous acts of terrorism is to sow disunity and discord in sovereign states in order that they topple themselves from within. If we forget how to engage with each other, regardless of our specific ideas on political policy, then we are losing a far larger battle than simply an argument. We are playing into the hands of an enemy—an enemy which wishes us to forget our love for each other and our ability to rationally discuss major issues with each other (intelligently using our first amendment right), and rather to act in the service of violent emotions, like animals. I will deny them this victory, personally, and I encourage you to do the same. I suppose if we disagree on how best to do this, we can at least talk about it.

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 XI: The Tricky Telemachy

The second seminar of the second seminar series of the year (on Homer’s Odyssey) is also the last seminar of the first semester. So, we are half-way through our year long goal of recording, documenting, and sharing the thoughts of the students on the Great Books of the Western Canon. This week, we focused on the Telemachy (first four books of Homer’s Odyssey) as a whole with special focus on Books 3 and 4, and we considered not only Telemachos, and his struggle to become a man, but made comparisons between Penelope and Odysseus, and considered the examples of Nestor and Menelaos too–considering whether they were models of hospitality/xenia.

First and foremost, the students considered what the importance to Telemachos’ transformation the fact of his friendship with Nestor’s son Peisistratos is. All through Books 1-3, Telemachos is receiving help from Athene. In Book I Athene comes to tell him to take the initiative to call an assembly to turn public opinion against the suitors and to seek after information on his father in the guise of the stranger Mentes (1.114-320). In Book 2, after the assembly is rudely disassembled by haughty Leokritos, Athene appears to Telemachos as kindly Mentor and outfits a ship and rounds up a crew for Telemachos (2.266-295). Then in Book 3, Athene, still in the guise of Mentor, not only advises Telemachos on how to speak to Nestor (3.26-28), speaks/prays alongside Telemachos to Nestor in demonstration (3.55-62), but she even puts courage into Telemachos’ heart (to win a good reputation) (3.75-78), and then, reveals herself as a god in order to demonstrate Telemachos’ divine favor to Nestor (3.370-384) (to create a good reputation among men for Telemachos–part and parcel of being perceived as not only a man, but a man of great kleos). The point is is that Athene is essentially guiding Telemachos every step of the way–both internally and externally, like both a father and a mother might. She even, in typically devious and clever fashion, advises him on the proper perception of the gods in all their power:

“Telemachos, what sort of word escaped your teeth’s barrier? Lightly a god, if he wishes, can save a man, even from far off. I myself would rather first have gone through many hardships and then come home, and look upon my day of returning, than come home and be killed at my own hearth, as Agamemnon was killed, by the treacherous plot of his wife, and by Aigisthos. But death is a thing that comes to all alike. Not even the gods can fend it away from a man they love, when once the destructive doom of leveling death has fastened upon him.” (3.230-238)

Not only does Athene here quickly remind Telemachos of the difference between the will of a god and the will of man (and give some serious foreshadowing about the return of Odysseus):precisely that gods can easily make things happen, even if it takes some doing, in the case of Odysseus. But she also reminds us of a theme that was constant in Homer’s Iliad, the inevitable death of all mortals, and the importance that a man die in a proper way if he wishes to be remembered and honored. But back to the point–Athene, until she flies away as a vulture, makes sure that Telemachos  cannot possibly fail to make it to Pylos, say the right things, and be recognized as a fine young man and son of Odysseus. After she flies away, though, Telemachos is on his own, and Nestor grants him his son, Peisistratos, as a companion. This brought up an interesting question to the students: to what extent is friendship, beyond simple guidance (from Athene), necessary to a child becoming an adult?

This question was a little beyond us, but the general feeling was that friendship, for a child, is the first autonomous attempt of a young person to create and maintain the fabric of society. That is, a friendship, as the basis of society, is something for which the two participants alone are responsible for maintaining–so, in a way, Telemachos’ relationship to Peisistratos is the first thing in his life that he can call solely his–and is a major step towards him being an autonomous decision maker, or adult. This segues nicely to Telemachos’ adventure, across land, to shining Sparta.

As mentioned earlier, a major theme we are keeping in mind this time through Homer’s Odyssey is how a people greet strangers and whether they honor the xenia or not. So, in the first book, when Mentes first enters the house of Odysseus, the suitors pay him no mind and continue drinking and eating as if nobody at all has entered–only Telemachos honors the guest/host relationship and feeds and converses with Mentes. In Pylos, Nestor is making a grand sacrifice to Poseidon, and he invites the traveleres (Mentor(Athene) and Telemachos) to do the same. When Telemachos and Peisistratos then arrive at Sparta, they view a wedding feast occurring for two of Menelaos’ children: Megapenthes (his illegitimate son by a slave girl who is heir to his throne due to Helen now being barren) and Alektor’s daughter and Hermione (daughter of Helen and Menelaos from before the Trojan War) and Neoptolemos. There is really just so much to consider here. First off, Menelaos’ henchman, Eteoneus, messes up and suggests to Menelaos that these “god-like” men either have their horses unharnessed or “send them on to someone else, who can entertain them.” (4.29-30) Menelaos is none to happy about this suggestion; he is a mighty king, and no one far or wide could possibly entertain these men in the manner that he could. He rebukes Eteoneus violently. But, why, in the first place would Eteoneus even suggest this? Is there some shame to be observed in this public ceremony? Sparta is full of such ambiguities, painful reminders, and “all that glitters not being golden”, as it were.

Let us consider what could be potentially embarrassing or unseemly about the wedding feast for the two children of Menelaos. On the first hand, it brings up the issue of Menelaos’ faithlessness right alongside Helen’s barrenness and faithlessness herself. Megapenthes is not the son of Helen, and given his age, ostensibly he was conceived before Helen left for Troy. Awkward. Second, since Helen can longer have children: “but the gods gave no more children to Helen once she had borne her first and only child, the lovely Hermione, with the beauty of Aphrodite the golden.” (4.12-14) Hermione is herself an interesting case because she was left alone by her parents for years and years growing up–and she is now being shipped off to Phthia with Neoptolemos. Spoiler alert, too, her husband Neoptolemos will be killed by resident Achaian stud Orestes in a dispute over who has first right to her. But that is getting a bit ahead of ourselves.

Next, during the delightful dinner shared between Peisistratos, Telemachos, and Menelaos, Menelaos has decided that Telemachos must be the son of Odysseus, but it is Helen, just after she descends from the staircase, who points it out explicity. In a touch of bitter irony not unknown to the Homer of the Odyssey, Helen is compared to chaste Artemis in her initial description (4.121-122). Ouch. Helen then blurts out that Telemachos must be the son of Odysseus, and of course she is right. She does have a gift for seeing through ruses–and in fact in Book 3 of Homer’s Iliad she even effectively saw through a disguise that Aphrodite had as an attendant woman. There is, however, one time Helen tells us, that a very cunning man did manage to fool her–Odysseus, during a spy mission in Troy. Her description of what happens during the mission quickly gets awkward:

“[Odysseus] flagellated himself with degrading strokes, then threw on a worthless sheet about his shoulders. He looked like a servant. So he crept into the wide-wayed city of the men he was fighting, disguising himself in the likeness of somebody else, a beggar, one who was unlike himself in the likeness of somebody else [note: how like all things in this book! One thing appearing as something it is not] beside the ships of the Achaians, but in his likeness crept into the Trojans’ city, and they all were taken in. I alone recognized him even in this form, and I questioned him, but he in his craftiness eluded me.” (4.243-251)

So, we should revise our above opinion that Helen was fooled by Odysseus, because she did recognize him, but he was simply too crafty for her to prove that he was who she recognized him to be. Here, though, is where yet again in Sparta does the awkwardness of Helen and Menelaos’ tarnished relationship rear its head:

“but after I bathed him and anointed him with olive oil and put some clothing upon him, after I had sworn a great oath [note: keep this in mind during the Circe episode] not to disclose before the Trojans that this was Odysseus until he made his way back to the fast ships and the shelters, then at last he told me all the purpose of the Achaians, and after striking many Trojans down with the thin bronze edge, he went back to the Argives and brought back much information. The rest of the Trojan women cried out shrill, but my heart was happy, my heart had changed by now and was for going back home again, and I grieved for the madness that Aphrodite bestowed when she led me there away from my own dear country, forsaking my own daughter, my bedchamber, and my husband, a man who lacked no endowment either of brains of beauty.” (4.252-264)

Zeus only knows what Helen and Odysseus did before she bathed and anointed him, but Menelaos, who is sitting there listening, likely has some idea, just as everyone else there does. Even if it were nothing, the awkwardness looms. Another, small note Helen adds is that he heart had changed and that she longed for Menelaos. Whether it was the case that she truly loved Paris when she ran from Sparta or it was truly the “madness of Aphrodite” is a difficult question, and one the students continue to debate. What is slightly easier to debate, however, is that Menelaos’ immediate response to Helen about her involvement in an attempt to destroy the Trojan Horse seems to directly contradict her claim that she both loved and wanted to return to her husband, whom she almost had a direct hand in killing. Observe:

“Then in answer fair-haired Menelaos said to her: ‘Yes, my wife, all this that you said is fair and orderly. In my time I have studied the wit and counsel of many men who were heroes, and I have been over much of the world, yet nowhere have I seen with my own eyes anyone like him, nor known an inward heart like the heart of enduring Odysseus. Here is the way that strong man acted and the way he endured action, inside the wooden horse, where we who were greatest of the Argives all were sitting and bringing death and destruction to the Trojans. Then you came here, Helen; you will have been moved by some divine spirit who wished to grant glory to the Trojans, and Deiphobos, a godlike man, was with you when you came. Three times you walked around the hollow ambush, feeling it, and you called out, naming them by name, to the best of the Danaans, and made your voice sound like the voice of the wife of each of the Argives.” (4.265-279)

Burn. Not only does Menelaos bring up the fact that Helen directly acted against her expressed will in her previous statement by attempting to “out” the Achaians in the Trojan Horse through nefarious means, but he also cleverly and pointedly suggests that perhaps this action to was the result of some “divine spirit” like when she abandoned Sparta with Paris in the first place. This relationship looks uglier and uglier. Not only earlier did Helen show her lack of “one-mindedness” with Menelaos by blurting out that she thought Telemachos was the son of Odysseus, but she also had to place “heartsease”, an Egyptian drug, which eases even the deepest hurts (4.221-232) into the drinks of all the men because they were all crying so hard for those they had lost during Troy, which of course was the result of Helen’s absconding. Everything seems to remind Menelaos and Helen of the fact that she is responsible for all Menelaos’ suffering–and we have not even gotten to how Menelaos learns of his brother’s death from Proteus, and his inability to do anything to prevent it, because of course he was detained in Egypt after finishing the war to win back his truant wife. The quote then ends emphasizing Odysseus’ clever nature by detaining the foolish Antiklos who fell for Helen’s ruse, and mentioning, perhaps slyly, that Athene must have led Helen off (4.280-289). If Helen is going to rely on the gods as an excuse for her indiscretions, Menelaos is certainly laying it on thick that she is apparently beyond choice and influenced in all she does by them.

There is so much more to consider in this book, but we have run long, and not even considered all we set out to–we should end by mentioning the potential significance of Menelaos’ encounter with the Old Man of the Sea, Proteus. The students wondered why exactly it was that Menelaos had to wrestle with and hold Proteus, Old Man of the Sea, and a shapeshifter. He shifts into a lion, serpent, leopard, boar, water, and even a tree. All I could suggest to them is that the truth takes many forms, and that in life, it often requires real perseverance and wrestling with the truth in all its many forms in order to pin down and finally grasp the essence of its apparently evanescent nature.

 

 

 

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.

fig159

“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.

America and The Archetype of the Hero: Timeless or Timely?

We begin with a brief examination of the connection between man and man as a symbol for the sort of “universal process of nature”. As uncomfortable as it is to view man in such a way(as a symbol), especially when he is so capable of living as unnaturally as he pleases*, the fact remains that man, like any natural object or being, might serve as a symbol of that life-source, or energy, which apparently runs through all things, so long as it is part of a physical system. In the quote which follows, Carl Jung elucidates the connection between “solar” imagery and man, both experiencing increase and decline, both Apollinian and Dionysian.

“The finest of all symbols of the libido** is the human figure, conceived as a demon or a hero. Here the symbolism leaves the objective, material realm of astral and meteorological images and takes on human form, changing into a figure who passes from joy to sorrow, from sorrow to joy, and, like the sun, now stands high at the zenith and now is plunged into darkest night, only to rise again in new splendour[my italics]. Just as the sun, by its own motion and in accordance with its own law[my italics], climbs from morn till noon, crosses the meridian and goes its downward way towards evening, leaving its radiance behind it, and finally plunges into all-enveloping night, so man sets his course by unmutable laws, and his journey over, sinks into darkness, to rise again in his children and begin the cycle anew. The symbolic transition from sun to man is easily made…” (Carl Jung, Symbols of Transformation, P. 171)

The hero, like the sun, experiences increase and decrease, lighting up the world, but still returning to darkness. The heights which he experiences are only matched by the depths which he must endure. Jung’s description of man and the sun as symbol  exemplify not man himself, but man as he “ought to be”, a man who experiences the richness and fullness of life–a man like a hero. For example, let us look to see how the description of Gilgamesh by Sin-leqi-Unninni in the prologue of the epic, Gilgamesh.

“He had seen everything, had experienced all emotions, from exaltation to despair, had been granted a vision into the great mystery, the secret places, the primeval days before the Flood. He had journeyed to the edge of the world and made his way back, exhausted but whole[my italics].” (Sin-Leqi-Unninni, Gilgamesh, P.69. Mitchell tr.)

One sees above an apt description not simply of Gilgamesh, but of heroes in general in the Western Mythological tradition. To provide a more expansive view, connecting Gilgamesh to all the West, Vernant below gives a concise account of what makes a hero.

“Supernatural birth, expulsion from the human world[my italics], abandonment of the infant in the space of that other world symbolized by the immensity of the sea, survival and return among men after going through the ordeal whose normal outcome would have been death: Perseus’ biography from the very outset, even before the career of his exploits begins, contains all the ingredients needed to give the young man his properly “heroic” dimension.” (Jean-Pierre Vernant, Mortals and Immortals, P, 135)

First, Vernant adds the “otherworldly” or “divine” element of the hero (which Gilgamesh shares in being 2/3 divine), the survival of some impossible circumstance, like Herakles killing the two vipers as a child, and abandonment, like Philoctetes on Lemnos or Odysseus on Ogygia. There are several important aspects which unite the efforts of a hero and have him represent the “archetype of a hero”. The most important one, however, which perhaps creates the others, is that the hero appears out of time. Vernant continues.

“In literary tradition, the heroes are situated in a world and a period that are not quite that of Greece. They do not belong to the Iron Age. Above all, the heroes are a religious category that is both worship of the gods and funerary cults, and they can only be conceived of within the framework of civic religion.” (Ibid, 279)

In Hesiod’s Works and Days, Kronos first creates the race of Gold, and then after they pass away and become spirits of the earth, Zeus creates the race of silver, and then bronze, and then somewhere between bronze and the next men of iron, the heroes arise–without metal. Perhaps it is the case that they are not given a metal, because as Vernant suggests, they are necessarily men out of time, not in line with the manner of being or prevailing consciousness of their time. Is the hero then an archetype of transition indicating the change from one age to another– and if such an archetype were now constellated (activated or charged) in America, how would it look? Especially if one looks closely at Hesiod’s own description of these men do they appear all the odder:

“But when earth had covered this generation also, Zeus the son of Cronos made yet another, the fourth, upon the fruitful earth, which was nobler and more righteous, a god-like race of hero-men who are called demi-gods, the race before our own, throughout the boundless earth. Grim war and dread battle destroyed a part of them, some in the land of Cadmus at seven- gated Thebe when they fought for the flocks of Oedipus, and some, when it had brought them in ships over the great sea gulf to Troy for rich-haired Helen’s sake: there death’s end enshrouded a part of them. But to the others father Zeus the son of Cronos gave a living and an abode apart from men, and made them dwell at the ends of earth. And they live untouched by sorrow in the islands of the blessed along the shore of deep swirling Ocean, happy heroes for whom the grain-giving earth bears honey-sweet fruit flourishing thrice a year, far from the deathless gods, and Cronos rules over them; for the father of men and gods released him from his bonds. And these last equally have honour and glory.” (Hesiod, Works and Days, 156-169. H.G. White tr. Extracted from here.)

Not only is it the case that this is the first and only race of men who are “nobler” than the race before, but those who survive the great wars in Thebes and Troy (and their returns home) are given over to the isles of the blessed (much like the Elves, Frodo, et alia in Tolkien’s Return of the King), and interestingly, Kronos is freed from Tartarus and made ruler of these men. This seems odd: for one, Kronos is the god who first created the race of gold, the greatest race of mortal men, so these heroes are in their way equated with the mightiest most beloved men by the gods–who died as if “overcome by sleep”. But the race of men is also called theion, or god-like, and clearly, they are mortal, so they do not reflect the gods in being deathless (until taken to isle of the blessed), and as they endured war, it was also the case that they did endure suffering and sorrow while on earth, unlike the gods. What then was it that made them god-like?

The question above is answered by the fact that Kronos is placed above the men as their ruler. Kronos was overthrown precisely because he had become the “old-tired” dominant of the collective consciousness which results in the “zest–libido–[going] out of life”. If Kronos, though, was a deposed and fallen form of the “Old-King” or “outdated form of cultural consciousness”, why would he be placed above these men out of time? Precisely for this reason. Because the semi-divine (hemitheion) men partook of both divinity and humanity, mortality and immortality, so must their lives and places in history be duplex. On the one hand, they endure suffering in the world, and on the other they endure no suffering on the Isle of the blessed. They live for a finite amount of time as men in the world, and then forever after “live” as the ageless gods do on the blessed isle, remembered for all time in poetry and as a result of their distinct funerary rites which effectively apotheosize them.***But does this at all answer why Kronos is placed above them as ruler? We turn to Richard Tarnas who explains that Kronos represents, in his Saturnine aspect, a ruler not simply for a time, but himself “out of time” as well. He says that the following qualities are represented by Kronos/Saturn:

“…to experience difficulty, decline, deprivation, defect and deficit, defeat, failure, loss, alienation; the labor of existence, suffering, old age, death; the weight of the past, the workings of fate, character, karma, the consequences of past action, error and guilt, punishment, retribution, imprisonment…” (Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, P. 91)

It is precisely because Kronos, in fighting against his own fate to be superceded by one of his own children, after himself usurping the throne of his father Uranus, has experienced both rising and declining in the celestial sphere that he is an apt ruler for those men who have also experienced the fullness and two-sided nature of life. Kronos rules because he has been both king and prisoner, upstart son and cast down ruler. He, more than any Titan or Olympian (Prometheus would be close), is a fitting ruler for those who know the duality of human existence, heroes, because he, even as a god, experienced such dualities of increase and decline himself. In experiencing both the temporal and changing, and in experiencing the timeless and immortal, both Kronos and the hero exist outside of time and place, together united in a place all their own.

It is all well and good that the hero might achieve his proper place amongst his fellows and ruled by an appropriately like-minded deity, but the question remains, if the hero is an archetype of transition and of change, how does it help current society, America, if he simply leaves the world and exists on the isles of the blessed? Is not the purpose of the Hero Archetype practical in nature–affecting and joining one time to the next by disposing of the tired and old dominant of the collective consciousness? Joseph Campbell provides us with the necessary context to answer this practical and timely question.

The return and reintegration with society, which is indispensable to the continuous circulation of spiritual energy into the world, and which, from the standpoint of the community, is the justification of the long retreat, the hero himself may find the most difficult requirement of all. For if he has won through, like the Buddha, to the profound repose of complete enlightenment, there is danger that the bliss of this experience may annihilate all recollection of, interest in, or hope for, the sorrows of the world; or else the problem of making known the way of illumination to people wrapped in economic problems may seem too great to solve.” (Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Pp. 36-37)

The hero must not only embody the qualities which Vernant discussed above (survival of situations which might lead others to death, expulsion from the world, abandonment), but he must also come back, and even when he does, like Plato’s mysterious person who escapes his chains in the cave, he or she may be castigated, punished, or flat-out ignored. If the hero then represents the archetype which rejuvenates and reconnects a culture with its roots, values, and meaning, even then he may suffer violence or “he may meet with such a blank misunderstanding and disregard from those whom he has come to help that his career may collapse.” (Ibid, P. 37). How, then, does the hero accomplish the task which both establishes him as a hero and frees a culture from the tyranny of its “old-king”? Carl Jung attempts an answer by elucidating the fact that a man, if he is to be a hero, must endure the coincidentia oppositorum, or that the apparent opposites of life: good and evil, beautiful and ugly, useful and useless, et alia must not be sided with and therefore lose their energic tension but endured as parts and poles along the same energic spectrum or whole.

“But if a man faced with a conflict of duties undertakes to deal with them absolutely on his own responsibility, and before a judge who sits in judgment on him day and night, he may well find himself in an isolated position. There is now an authentic secret in his life which cannot be discussed–if only because he is involved in an endless inner trial in which he is his own counsel and ruthless examiner, and no secular or spiritual judge can restore his easy sleep. If he were not already sick to death of the decisions of such judges, he would never have found himself in a conflict. For such a conflict always presupposes a higher sense of responsibility. It is this very quality which keeps its possessor from accepting the decision of a collectivity. In his case the court is transposed to the inner world where the verdict is pronounced behind closed doors.”

“Once this happens, the psyche of the individual acquires heightened importance. It is not only the seat of his well-known and socially defined ego; it is also the instrument for measuring what it is worth in and for itself. Nothing so promotes the growth of consciousness as this inner confrontation of opposites[my italics].” (Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, P. 345)

Therefore, if a man or a woman is capable of enduring the presence and existence of these opposites, and not simply siding with one aspect of his or her nature: goodness, economic value, rationalism, then is society bettered by his or her heightened consciousness–then is he or she representing the archetype of the hero–and society continues to be bettered by more and more individuals enduring the coincidentia–more than any social or political reform could ever hope to offer.

So, for life to re-enter society and one’s self, one must simply remove the impediments which prevent the free-flow of energy, so as in physics, so as in the psyche:

“Life, being an energic process, needs the opposites, for without opposition there is, as we know, no energy. Good and evil and simply the moral aspects of this natural polarity. The fact that we have to feel this polarity so excruciatingly makes human existence all the more complicated. Yet the suffering that necessarily attaches to life cannot be evaded. The tension of opposites that makes energy possible is a universal law, fittingly expressed in the yang and yin of Chinese philosophy…” (Jung, Psychology and Religion, P. 197)

*”But man is the unnatural animal, the rebel child of Nature, and more and more does he turn himself against the harsh and fitful hand that reared him.” (H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia, Ch. 5)

**Libido simply means “energy” for Jung, not sexual energy like for Freud.

***”The monumental work of Erwin Rohde remains one of the most eloquent sources for our understanding the heros ‘hero’ as a very old and distinct concept of traditional Greek religion, requiring cult practices which were also distinct from those of the gods[my italics].” (Gregory Nagy, The Best of the Achaeans, Pp. 114-115)