Posts Tagged ‘Athene’

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Porphyry – On Images – fragment 8

November 25, 2009

‘The whole power productive of water they called Oceanus, and named its symbolic figure Tethys. But of the whole, the drinking-water produced is called Achelous; and the sea-water Poseidon; while again that which makes the sea, inasmuch as it is productive, is Amphitrite. Of the sweet waters the particular powers are called Nymphs, and those of the sea-waters Nereids.

Again, the power of fire they called Hephaestus, and have made his image in the form of a man, but put on it a blue cap as a symbol of the revolution of the heavens, because the archetypal and purest form of fire is there. But the fire brought down from heaven to earth is less intense, and wants the strengthening and support which is found in matter: wherefore he is lame, as needing matter to support him.

Also they supposed a power of this kind to belong to the sun and called it Apollo, from the pulsation of his beams. There are also nine Muses singing to his lyre, which are the sublunar sphere, and seven spheres of the planets, and one of the fixed stars. And they crowned him with laurel, partly because the plant is full of fire, and therefore hated by daemons; and partly because it crackles in burning, to represent the god’s prophetic art.

But inasmuch as the sun wards off the evils of the earth, they called him Heracles (from his clashing against the air) in passing from east to west. And they invented fables of his performing twelve labours, as the symbol of the division of the signs of the zodiac in heaven; and they arrayed him with a club and a lion’s skin, the one as an indication of his uneven motion, and the other representative of his strength in “Leo” the sign of the zodiac.

Of the sun’s healing power Asclepius is the symbol, and to him they have given the staff as a sign of the support and rest of the sick, and the serpent is wound round it, as significant of his preservation of body and soul: for the animal is most full of spirit, and shuffles off the weakness of the body. It seems also to have a great faculty for healing: for it found the remedy for giving clear sight, and is said in a legend to know a certain plant which restores life.

But the fiery power of his revolving and circling motion, whereby he ripens the crops, is called Dionysus, not in the same sense as the power which produces the juicy fruits, but either from the sun’s rotation, or from his completing his orbit in the heaven. And whereas he revolves round the cosmical seasons and is the maker of “times and tides,” the sun is on this account called Horus.

Of his power over agriculture, whereon depend the gifts of wealth, the symbol is Pluto. He has, however, equally the power of destroying, on which account they make Sarapis share the temple of Pluto: and the purple tunic they make the symbol of the light that has sunk beneath the earth, and the sceptre broken at the top that of his power below, and the posture of the hand the symbol of his departure into the unseen world.

Cerberus is represented with three heads, because the positions of the sun above the earth are three-rising, midday, and setting.

The moon, conceived according to her brightness, they called Artemis, as it were, “cutting the air.” And Artemis, though herself a virgin, presides over childbirth, because the power of the new moon is helpful to parturition.

What Apollo is to the sun, that Athena is to the moon: for the moon is a symbol of wisdom, and so a kind of Athena.

But, again, the moon is Hecate, the symbol of her varying phases and of her power dependent on the phases. Wherefore her power appears in three forms, having as symbol of the new moon the figure in the white robe and golden sandals, and torches lighted: the basket, which she bears when she has mounted high, is the symbol of the cultivation of the crops, which she makes to grow up according to the increase of her light: and again the symbol of the full moon is the goddess of the brazen sandals.

Or even from the branch of olive one might infer her fiery nature, and from the poppy her productiveness, and the multitude of the souls who find an abode in her as in a city, for the poppy is an emblem of a city. She bears a bow, like Artemis, because of the sharpness of the pangs of labour.

And, again, the Fates are referred to her powers, Clotho to the generative, and Lachesis to the nutritive, and Atropos to the inexorable will of the deity.

Also, the power productive of corn-crops, which is Demeter, they associate with her, as producing power in her. The moon is also a supporter of Kore. They set Dionysus also beside her, both on account of their growth of horns, and because of the region of clouds lying beneath the lower world.

The power of Kronos they perceived to be sluggish and slow and cold, and therefore attributed to him the power of time: and they figure him standing, and grey-headed, to indicate that time is growing old.

The Curetes, attending on Chronos, are symbols of the seasons, because time journeys on through seasons.

Of the Hours, some are the Olympian, belonging to the sun, which also open the gates in the air: and others are earthly, belonging to Demeter, and hold a basket, one symbolic of the flowers of spring, and the other of the wheat-ears of summer.

The power of Ares they perceived to be fiery, and represented it as causing war and bloodshed, and capable both of harm and benefit.

The star of Aphrodite they observed as tending to fecundity, being the cause of desire and offspring, and represented it as a woman because of generation, and as beautiful, because it is also the evening star-

“Hesper, the fairest star that shines in heaven.” [Homer, Iliad 22:318]

And Eros they set by her because of desire. She veils her breasts and other parts, because their power is the source of generation and nourishment. She comes from the sea, a watery element, and warm, and in constant movement, and foaming because of its commotion, whereby they intimate the seminal power.

Hermes is the representative of reason and speech, which both accomplish and interpret all things. The phallic Hermes represents vigour, but also indicates the generative law that pervades all things.

Further, reason is composite: in the sun it is called Hermes; in the moon Hecate; and that which is in the All Hermopan, for the generative and creative reason extends over all things. Hermanubis also is composite, and as it were half Greek, being found among the Egyptians also. Since speech is also connected with the power of love, Eros represents this power: wherefore Eros is represented as the son of Hermes, but as an infant, because of his sudden impulses of desire.

They made Pan the symbol of the universe, and gave him his horns as symbols of sun and moon, and the fawn skin as emblem of the stars in heaven, or of the variety of the universe.’

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Fiction: Aphrodite: Winter

September 28, 2009

She isn’t there in the winter. They – men leaning on staffs and breathing heat into the air – discuss it among themselves. She isn’t there, and they ask why. They invent stories amongst themselves, tales of her with Persephone, threading the pale flowers of the Underworld through her fellow’s hair – but no, no. That is not true, because then she would be somewhere, not here but still there, and she is not.

The truth doesn’t make sense to her. Winter, the chill nipping along throats and shoulders, destroys her. It tears her apart with curved nails and makes her scream – pleasure pain pleasure pain; she’s not sure, it’s hard to distinguish the two when she rules such a vast domain. But winter: still it destroys her, still it kisses her until her eyes stream with tears and she forgets herself.

If she forgets herself, she doesn’t exist. That much is true and that is honest, and yet if the men knew, they would ask: then how does she return? Where does she go?

She laughs at them when she hears their words in the summer, and slaps them with pulsing waves of desire, need. She speaks, without the need for oracles or sacrifice to appease her, for she laughs often and without restraint: “I am everywhere.”

That is the truth. She exists not at all, and yet she does, really: she exists in the occasional kiss, mostly chaste now, just a brush of lips over a brow, or else in the tentative touch of icy fingers.

She has to wonder, though: where does she go? She’s not certain – not to the Underworld, though, and that is all she knows. Not even to the Kharites, with their red-red, ever-smiling mouths – even they succumb to silence in the all but endless winters. To her, they are endless: and yet they are incredibly finite, for she never remembers anything of them.

Once, she asked Zeus where it is that she goes, and he laughed at her, as though she were nothing more than the humans that she herself mocked. “You? You are not of winter, and so you do not live there.”

His answer terrified her, and it still does now. She hides: she wraps herself in Ares’ warmth; she is hot beneath her skin, and flames blaze in her summer-girl veins. She thinks, thinks, thinks, and she dreams, but she can’t find an answer better—or equal—to that Zeus gave, and she doesn’t like that. She doesn’t like to think herself an outcast, but, in the winter, that is what she is.

Nothing grows through the snow that settles over the earth, or even in the chill that creeps in the autumn days and makes her mind hazy and her pleasures harder to find. Not love, or plants, or fruits: not even hate can blossom here. Yes, yes, even Eris fades in the winter – a cooling of the words at first, the sharpness edged with something softer, and then even she goes.

Aphrodite does not stay, cannot stay, when winter sets in. She has tried before – fighting back with teeth and nails, snarling and screaming – but it never works. Ice blazes against her, pulsing like a fire that she can’t control, and it pulls her under. She drowns in the ice like a child, struggling to press her face up through the jagged hole to breathe: and it does not work.

She blames not Demeter, nor Persephone—and from the tales whispered among women with loose-hanging breasts and thin, cruel mouths, she knows this to be strange—but Athene. She is Aphrodite’s undoing: thus the chill winter months must be of her. She curses Athene and flies at her, screams, attacks: and cold, hard Athene simply ignores her.

That, though, is the way of things.

It is only when she looks, finally, to herself that she realises what she knew all along. She looks past the image that the humans set upon her, trying to define who she—she!—is, and she understands. Winter takes her from the scope of humanity and places her back among the kosmos, as Ananke once again: for it is inevitable that the kosmos need her influence, too, in order to remain as they are. In the winter, she realises, she wraps herself with Khronos, and melts, fluid and snakelike, into him. He remains with her when she returns: she understands that. He keeps her heart beating—hers, hers; the only heart of all the gods that truly beats—as she dances with mortals and exchanges kisses with her lovers.

Winter does not seem so harsh, now. She thinks of him in the spring, summer and autumn, and that makes her disappearance easier. She shares kisses with Persephone at the solstice and then waits: but she does not wait long. Winter sears through her, tearing her apart – she feels no agony, not really, but only the bliss of knowledge.

The pulse of ichor, of life, in her veins is kept there by her yearly embrace with Khronos. She melts into him, and he into her, and she becomes new once more. She is refreshed; she shines among the Olympian gods and puts even the Titanes to shame. Her heart beats and her eyes flutter, ichor pulses and need claws at her belly, and she understands that this is her own blessing. She smiles to the sky in the dead silence of a summer night, and looks on with bright eyes to the coming winter months.

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Thoughts on Ares

August 27, 2009

He is the essence of masculinity. He is not human, and thus he is not truly a man—and yet he is. He is masculinity; he is humanity. He is the thrumming of manliness, of heat, of passion. He does not pity women, nor look down upon them. Instead he, wildest of the Olympian gods, curls his rough arms around Aphrodite’s soft skin and worships women as she, too, worships men.

It is easy—though foolish—to see Ares as a god of one thing alone: as the god of war. But he is much more than just that. He is an Olympian god, and his influence stretches to death and life, to passion and apathy and to hate and love. His realm overlaps with Aphrodite’s in more ways than the casual observer would notice. She rides in his chariot and he dances with her cooing doves. She has her moments of hard, relentless fury, and he has his moments of silent softness. They kiss and embrace on beds made from human bones, and neither complains, for it is not in their nature to complain.

He is not a cultured god. He is wild and rough and, perhaps, he is slightly insane. He does not accept solid boundaries; his domain is the blurring of pleasure and pain, the yielding of flesh to death and orgasm. He gives hot-cold smiles to those who draw his gaze, and he does it without the need for drama or excessive theatrics. This is not just the face that he wears – this is him. This is who he is.

He does not need to hide behind layers of illusion. He is courage and strength, physical and otherwise. He is blatant and fierce. He is the god of drunken men brawling in the streets, and he is the god of brave soldiers who fight for what they believe in. He is not a god who flinches from horror, and yet he is not, despite what some might think, a god who actively seeks out such horrors. He does not inflict them upon those who are undeserving – he is not a bully, and he is not a brute. He is a god.

He laughs at death—valiant and cowardly alike—not because he is a sharp-beaked scavenger hopping closer to peck out the eyes of the dead, but because it is only in death, and the briefest seconds before it, that those who fight truly belong to him. The shades of soldiers stand above their corpses and wring their hands, and it is he who speaks with them and gives them the courage to forget their tears and turn triumphant faces towards the sky as Hermes Pompaios approaches to guide them to the Underworld.

He is still worshipped – perhaps not consciously, but each spear or gun or broken bottle that is raised is raised for him. Each scream of wordless rage is screamed for him. The fighters might be unaware of who they serve, but they do serve him. They spill blood in his honour and he smiles upon them for their worship; and he smiles even more widely when they are wounded and die. The bravest of soldiers may eventually leave the Underworld and join his palace of blood and bone; he does not let them rot in Hades for eternity, for those that die in battle belong—truly—to him.

Courage and cowardliness fall equally under his sway. His influence is not a hazy grey or shimmering gold – he is dark red, hostile and bleeding and almost-black. He is the colour—and, thus, he is the god—who does not sit back and wait for attention, if he wants it. He demands it with slaps and bites and screams, and he does not take no for an answer. He is the nature of mortality, a god of death but not the god of death. He does not create the transition between life and death: he merely carries it with him. The scent of rot and charred flesh drifts around his skin like a vile, ever-lingering perfume. He does not mind, though: such smells affect most other gods, including hard-hearted Athena, but they do not bother him.

His half-sister Athena is Strategy—remote and distant and cold—and he, her balance, is Passion. He does not stand back and play games of chess. He throws himself into the battlefield – he fights amongst his men. He becomes real blood and bone for them: he is the barring of teeth in not-quite smiles, he is the flash of thunder that rumbles through the sky, and he is the blood. He is always the blood.

He does not condemn nor condone humanity. It is alien to him, and yet he knows and understands it better than he will ever understand himself. He is the nature of the beast within humans: he is wild and primal, a savage amongst savages. He does not hold up his hands and whimper apologies for who he is; he does not lie and say that his lust is beyond his control. He takes responsibility for his own actions, and he respects those who do likewise. Heroes—who so often blame their shortcomings on their gods—do not draw his smiles; it is the common man, the truly human man, that he laughs for and fights beside.

He is a guardian of the boundaries that he himself crushes. He supports his men and women in both life and death, and he never fails to urge them onwards. He is courage and conviction, and he is blood – both the spilling of it and the creation of it. He has a hand in rebirth, and yet he is not a khthonic god. He is earthly, but he does not sink into—and beneath—the earth. That is not his domain. He is the rush of passion and the end of it, and he is the swirl and spill of blood in veins. What happens beyond that is not his concern.

He is not malicious. He does not strike, strike and strike again. If he is wronged, he repays the wrong in kind and moves on. He does not simmer in fury and plot and plan – that is Athena’s domain, not his. He does not hold grudges: he did not rage at Hephaistos for snaring him and Aphrodite in the golden net. He merely sat back and accepted the fury and hate that pounded against his skin – it poured through him like a vessel, and then thrummed away into the veins of his ever-there children and attendants. It is they who hold grudges, who sulk in mutinous silence, and who make human hearts ache and bleed at their very presence; that is them, not him. He does not care for hearts, only for blood—and that is an apt way to describe him, not as a god of war, or bloodlust, or frenzy, or manliness, or courage (for he is all of these things and many more besides), but as a god of blood.

He favours not those who compare themselves to him, but those who do not. He charges into battle—both at its head and in its midst—to fight alongside those who spill for him: who scream and bleed and live and die. Those are his true followers, the men and women who, more often than not, never once say his names whilst they live. But they believe, regardless: they believe that flesh bleeds when it is cut, and that is all they need to know.

He is not gentle, and he is not meek. He is not the wolf in sheep’s clothing: he is the hunter that chases the wolf, delighting in its life and its death and its streaming, red blood. He sits in his throne of bone alongside the likes of Apollon and Dionysos, and he smiles to them: a hungry smile that makes even them—even them—shiver and pull back from him. He is born to bleed, and they are born to never bleed. They fear him, and they hate him, and they love him, and that is all he needs.

He is not soft: he is hard and furious. He is always ready for sex and war – he cares only for the breaking of bones, the tearing of flesh and the streaming of blood over skin. He does not disguise who he is with clever half-truths. He holds his head high and smiles. He lives and he dies as both a man and a god, and that is all that he knows, that is all that matters to him. He is Ares: fierce, unrelenting, bleeding. That is all.

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Eris and Aphrodite: The Gods of Survival

August 16, 2009

Aphrodite and Eris: love and discord. One might think that these two goddesses share little in common – the former is concerned with bringing people together; the latter with tearing them apart – but they have more to do with each-other than one would assume.

For several years, the idea that Eris is Aphrodite and Ares’ daughter has stuck with me. I am unsure where the idea came from—Eris is described as Ares’ sister, and therefore as Zeus and Hera’s daughter, or else as Erebus and Nyx’s daughter by the classical writers—but it is an idea that has pervaded my thoughts for as long as I’ve known of their mythologies. Perhaps it is that Eris’ name is so similar to Eros’, or that she seems the opposite of both Harmonia and Eros, who are both described as children of Aphrodite. Perhaps it is none of these – just a whim inspired by nothing at all. Perhaps not.

Aphrodite and Eris share something that can, and is, offered to them: apples. The myth of Eris’ role in the Trojan War—the golden apple of discord, inscribed with the word kallistē, which was awarded to Aphrodite by Paris—is infamous. Apples, of course, have the symbolism of sexuality, sexual seduction, forbidden things and knowledge. It is fitting, then, that it went to Aphrodite, mother of Love and Seduction, as opposed to Hera or Athena.

Both of the goddesses are linked also by their domains. Aphrodite rules the heart – love, hate, obsession, need; and Eris, too, rules the heart – fury, discontent, anger, rivalry. Aphrodite caresses those who gain her favour, bringing them carefully to their full potential; and Eris takes a different approach, striking with tooth and nail until their skin is hard enough to protect their fragile souls from those who would harm them.

As goddess of love, Aphrodite overlaps her domain with Eris: both can be seen as goddesses of rivalry and competition. Aphrodite holds the epithets of Makhanitis and Apatouros – deviser and the deceptive one, respectively. Both, then, as goddesses of rivalry, are also goddesses of survival: for how can anything survive if it not constantly challenged and forced to change? These goddesses both contribute to the survival of everything—the flowers that become brightly coloured to attract bees; the rabbits that develop faster legs; the primates that walk upright and begin to develop speech—nothing is without their influence, and so nothing can legitimately claim existence beyond their influence.

Finally, both Eris and Eros are credited, sometimes, as being children of Nyx; and at the same time, Aphrodite holds the epithet Melainis (black; of night). Aphrodite, then, is linked to the Protogenos goddess of night, and Eris and Eros are named children of night. Both Aphrodite and Eris are called companions of Ares, too; as goddesses of rivalry, of strife, of pulsing hate.

Regardless of whether or not they are mother and daughter, though, there is no denying that they are closely linked. Without them, there could be no survival; without them, there would be nothing.