On The Effective Life

When one lets drip a drop of water into a placid lake, what happens? A ripple of concentric circles occurs.

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What then is the drop of water, exactly? Is it the water which drops into and merges with the larger body of water, or is it the ripples it creates? In the same vein, does one judge a tree based on its height or the shade that it casts? And would one judge a human by the body he or she possesses or by the effects which he or she has?

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Consider then the relationship between Virgil and Dante. Often, students have tremendous trouble with the fact that Virgil, like a man holding a candle behind him, who lights the way for others, without himself receiving any benefit, leads Statius and Dante to their conversions, but he is himself “un-saved”. And though his effects be so grand, he is himself relegated to Hell. Therefore, one must wonder this: s Virgil the shade that he leaves in Hell or the effect he has had on his students, like Statius and then Dante? If Dante and Statius are saved through Virgil’s wisdom, does Virgil live on through them? Though Dante did not have access to the works of Homer, the answer may reside at the very end of Book XI of Homer’s Odyssey at the very end of Odysseus’ journey to the underworld (Nekyia).

“And then I noticed mighty Hercules,
or at least his image, for he himself
was with immortal gods, enjoying their feasts.
Hebe with the lovely ankles is his wife,
daughter of great Zeus and Hera, goddess
of the golden sandals. Around him there
the dead were making noises, like birds
fluttering to and fro quite terrified.
And like dark night, he was glaring round him,
his unsheathed bow in hand, with an arrow
on the string, as if prepared to shoot.
The strap across his chest was frightening,
a golden belt inlaid with images—
amazing things—bears, wild boars, and lions
with glittering eyes, battles, fights, and murders,
men being killed. I hope whoever made it,
the one whose skill conceived that belt’s design,
never made or ever makes another.
His eyes saw me and knew just who I was.
With a mournful tone he spoke to me—
his words had wings:

‘Resourceful Odysseus,
son of Laertes and a child of Zeus,
are you now bearing an unhappy fate
below the sunlight, as I, too, did once?
I was a son of Zeus, son of Cronos,
and yet I had to bear countless troubles,
forced to carry out labours for a man
vastly inferior to me, someone
who kept assigning me the harshest tasks.
Once he sent me here to bring away
Hades’ hound. There was no other challenge
he could dream up more difficult for me
than that one. But I carried the dog off
and brought him back from Hades with my guides,
Hermes and gleaming-eyed Athena.’

Source: (11.776-810)

Here we learn that might Herakles (Hercules is the Romanized name), has left a shade in the underworld as well as become a god. What, exactly, does this mean? This means, like with Orion and Minos, that Herakles continues to do in death what he did in life, hunting down animals and accomplishing feats–in contrast to Achilleus who while living believed “all men were held in a single honor, both the heroes and the cowards,” (Iliad Book IX), but now in the underworld he would rather work as the thrall to a poor man rather than rule over all the “perished dead.” Achilleus, as opposed to Orion, Minos, and Herakles is never happy with where he is, whether living or dead. And thus he is immortally discontent. Herakles, Orion, and Minos, however all continue to serve while dead in the same way that they lived. And in fact in Dante’s Commedia, Minos will receive the high honor of judging and placing the dead. But what does it mean that Herakles “he himself was with immortal gods?” And how does that relate to whether Virgil is more his shade in hell or the effect he has had on his students? It means this: the shade left behind represents the action of the person while he or she lived: so if such a person was happy, he remains happy: Orion. If he were discontent, he remains so: Achilleus. If he were resentful, he remains so: Aias the Greater. So what does it mean that Herakles became a god as well and is “with the Olympians”? It means precisely the same thing as Statius joining with Paradise at the end of Dante’s Purgatorio. If Virgil left an effect in this world, or an epic poem called The Aeneid, and also his Eclogues and Georgics, and from those, Statius received the divine wisdom or truth which turned him (converted) towards “the light” or from material and temporary pursuits to eternal ones, then is not what was eternal within Virgil, then transmitted (in sort of a transmigratory way) to Statius? And if Statius then ascends to heaven as an effect of Virgil’s work, does not Virgil, truly, ascend to heaven alongside him, leaving only his shade, or worldly actions, behind him?

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Let us add to this: If Dante has been guided along through the Inferno and Purgatorio by Virgil, is not any impression which he leaves regarding such experiences, but proxy, also an impression left of Virgil? Now of course, Virgil is not present for the unveiling of the full Divine Mystery which is unveiled over the last two cantos of Dante’s Purgatorio, so yes, it is true that he never fully understood his own wisdom, but if one lives on through his or her effects, would not the work which Virgil has left and Dante be their shades, and their continuing impressions on current humans their “being with the Olympians”. They, then, would share their “living knowledge” with those who are living eternally, through that which they have left. Therefore, though they were but drops of a water, dropped into the ocean of this world, their ripples continue on through all those who learn from them, and they are eternal in this way.

*This article might just as well be entitled, “On the Eternal Life”

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*Does the conclusion of this article explain why we as a culture hold “selfies” in such disdain, and Narcissus? Because the effect one has is what one is, not one’s image. Thus is focusing on the image vulgar, or common.


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.

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)

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)