Posts Tagged ‘Dionysos’

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The Maenad

November 30, 2009

Quietly, quietly, whispered the nymphai with their hands and lips and soft, soft smiles. Come quickly, but come quietly.

Their winged words reached my ears, and fell over my skin as shimmering stars. I plucked a heart from the air and held it to my chest, let the blood drip.

My skin yearned for the explosion; my breasts ached with unfulfilled need. The nymphai danced silently ahead, writhing in wild ecstasy.

Lions roamed at their feet, and bared their teeth when I walked closer. So I danced: I became one of them, throwing back my head, spinning round and round.

I felt his eyes on me, anciently hungry, and I danced faster. I became a rabbit, darting here and there, and when the leopard came I jumped into his jaws.

I opened my eyes. Sweat covered my skin. My body tingled and ached with release and need. I smiled at my god’s statue and stepped back, still trembling with love.

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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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Need

November 5, 2009

The trees sag and sigh,
Golden beads rise and fall on their trunks,
Staining them.
Blood seeps down my skin,
Staining it.

I am the rush the ecstasy
the need the
want want want
the desire, oh, the desire.

Crowns of sacrifice sit on my head;
An angel and demon, shining with it.
Love. Need. Hunger.
Want.

I bleed wine, truly. It doesn’t stop, just
Pours out,
Until all that remains is me.
My need.

Apollon invites me to chess.
Laughs. We can be enemies.
Thrilled, flushed with something.
I smile at him with jagged teeth.

Aphrodite kisses the tip of my nose,
Whispers that if there is only need then there is only chaos,
And the order flees at that.
She needs the order – she doesn’t smile for chaos yet.

Not like Rhea. Dancing, wild.
Want a kiss, bite to die for?
She blazes gold, outshining the sunset,
And she brings blood singing back to my veins.

Need. Want desire hunger.
Starving children crawling down streets, crying;
Men in suits driving fast cars, laughing.
As long as there is need, I am here.

Wine – sating a different hunger.
Pulsing, throbbing–not quite there, but there.
Father sits on his throne. Lightning dances in his hands.
We will never die, he says, but I am not sure.

We bring joy, pain;
A thousand laughs and a thousand tears.
I exist. Without need
I wouldn’t.

I return to Apollon.
Opposites attract. Need balances.
Heat plunges between us.
I join the game of chess.

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Why Persephone?

October 6, 2009

In my quest to better understand Persephone, I have found myself pausing at this particular point. Why is it that Hades chose Persephone—or Kore—to be his wife? It was not merely her maidenhood, her sexual innocence; and nor was it her gentle, sunlit nature. To boil it down to her as the ‘essence of spring’ does an injustice to this goddess – for she is the embodiment of change, of all of the seasons, of the natural order. But as Kore, she was not such things. She was just Demeter’s daughter, just the maiden accompanied by nymphs. And yet Hades saw something in her, this girl—or rather, this pretty puppet, a flower not yet opened—and he fell in love with her. The heart of one such as Hades was warmed by her and, inflamed by Eros’ eager smiles, he stole her away.

I believe that Hades recognised his equal in Persephone. He did not part the earth and incite Demeter into almost killing gods and humans everywhere just so that he could have a pretty little doll sit on his lap. No: he brought her into the Underworld and helped her become his equal. And she, in return, accepted the pomegranate seeds—Hera’s seeds; the seeds of marriage—and they were wed.

One might wonder how, and why, Hades and Persephone are equals. Prior to his abduction of her, they were not: in spirit they were, but in terms of influence they were all but opposites. Persephone was responsible only for spring growth, for the gentle blossoming of flowers; and Hades was the King of the Underworld. Persephone was also living her immortal life in Demeter’s shadow; she was watched constantly by her, and those that vied for her hand were turned away by her mother, not by her. If Hades had not abducted Persephone she, arguably, might never have reached her full potential: she would have likely lived forever in her mother’s shadow, responsible only for the beginning of spring.

With the help of Zeus and Gaia, according to the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Hades was able to steal away Persephone, unnoticed by all but Helios and Hekate. There is significance in this: Helios, lord of the sun, sees everything that occurs throughout the day; Hekate, queen of necromancy and ghosts, would know of everything that occurs throughout the night. Thus the transition of Kore to Persephone—girl to woman—is echoed not only in Persephone’s annual return from the Underworld and the awakening of the earth, but also in the time in which she was taken: at dusk or dawn, the in-between times.

In art and myth, Persephone is often described as a “young” goddess. She is a youth; stolen from the sunlight before she can achieve her true form, and yet she is not a child. She is at the in-between stage, the ‘dawn’ of womanhood: she is the quintessential woman-child. In abrupt, modern terms, she is a teenager. She does not yet know the delights and sorrows of being a woman; she is not a matron, and she will never be a crone. She is caught at a stage of hormones, a twist of cool logic and sharp emotions – and thus can be seen in how she behaves as Queen of the Underworld.

Persephone’s relationship with Adonis (which I will discuss in more detail further on) is an echo of this transition. After his death, he spends half of the year in the Underworld with her, and half with in the world above with Aphrodite. To coincide with this, Adonis would spend the autumn winter months with Persephone, and the spring and summer months with Aphrodite: thus their relationship echoes the themes of life-death-rebirth that are so common in the Greek mythologies.

When Persephone is stolen from the world, Demeter proves that she is willing to go to any lengths to get her back. She refuses to let the living things taste fruit and feel warmth—both fruit and heat here symbolising life, as food and energy are required for most, if not all, life-forms. (It is also ironic, then, that the only fruit that can be found in the Underworld—the pomegranate—still grew without Demeter’s influence; if she had killed that, too, Persephone might never have become the Queen of the Underworld.) Thus both Demeter and Persephone are here goddesses of winter; of the hard, cruel, cold months where—and this would have been particularly true in antiquity—jagged, icy death reigns and humanity becomes the prey, rather than the predator.

And then, when Persephone returns from the Underworld, she and her mother bless the earth with life – the flowers begin to grow; the fruits shine; the snows recede. Demeter and Persephone, then, are goddesses of the seasons—for Demeter brings about the changes of summer and winter and Persephone rules spring (as Kore, the maiden, goddess of spring growth) and autumn (as Persephone Karpophoros, the bringer of fruit, goddess of the harvest).

As Queen of the Underworld, Persephone is a much more merciful, benevolent ruler than Hades – and such is shown in how she treats the (would-be) heroes that find their way into the Underworld. When Herakles entered the Underworld, he was ‘welcomed like a brother by Persephone’ (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History); and according to Apollodorus in his Bibliotheca, Herakles passed up victory in his wrestling competition with the Underworld god Menoites ‘at the request of Persephone.’ When Psykhe reached Persephone’s palace, she ‘declined the soft cushion and the rich food offered by her hostess,’ (Apuleius, The Golden Ass) and when she reported the trial that Aphrodite had tasked her with, Persephone immediately filled the box of beauty for her. Persephone took favour on Sisyphus and released him from the Underworld; and when Orpheus sang of his love for Eurydice, he ‘persuaded her to assist him in his desires and to allow him to bring up his dead wife from Haides’ (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History).

However, Persephone also proves that she is not a goddess with whom one can trifle with; when Peirithoos plans to kidnap her from the Underworld for his wife, the youth Persephone blossoms into a woman and deals swiftly with him: ‘Peirithoos now decided to seek the hand of Persephone in marriage, and when he asked Theseus to make the journey with him Theseus at first endeavoured to dissuade him and to turn him away from such a deed as being impious; but since Peirithoos firmly insisted upon it Theseus was bound by the oaths to join with him in the deed. And when they had at last made their way below to the regions of Haides, it came to pass that because of the impiety of their act they were both put in chains, and although Theseus was later let go by reason of the favour with which Herakles regarded him, Peirithoos because of the impiety remained in Haides, enduring everlasting punishment; but some writers of myths say that both of them never returned.’ (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History).

In discussing Persephone and her transition—after her abduction at Hades’ hands—from child to woman, it is inevitable that one must discuss who she has ever taken as a lover. Unlike many of the gods, Persephone did not have numerous lovers – only Hades (to whom she gave birth to the Erinyes, according to the Orphic Hymns 29 and 70), Zeus (to whom she birthed Zagreus, according to the Orphic Hymn 29, Hyginus, Diodorus Siculus, Nonnus and Suidas; and Melinoe, according to the Orphic Hymn 71) and Adonis.

Persephone’s infamous love-affair with Adonis produced no children, and, strangely, did not incite the jealousy or wrath of her husband Hades (though Ares, only the paramour of Aphrodite, was envious enough of Adonis to kill him, according to some classical writers). It could be argued that Persephone’s relationship with Adonis is symbolic of the process of rebirth. Before his death, Adonis spent a third of his year with Persephone—I suggest that this third was the very end of autumn, the whole of winter, and the very beginning of spring. As such, Aphrodite would be cold and in mourning in the months when sex and love would, especially in antiquity, have not been at the forefront of the minds of humankind; and his emergence from the Underworld would coincide with Persephone’s own. Thus the relationship of Adonis, Aphrodite and Persephone would symbolise the entire theme of life-death-rebirth: Aphrodite as the ruler of life, Persephone as the ruler of death, and Adonis as the transition between their realms. Adding to this, both Aphrodite and Persephone share the epithet Despoina—the ruling goddess, or the mistress—and this, I think, lends further credence to the idea proposed.

Persephone’s relationship with Zeus was one of the most devastating of unions: the King of Life and the Queen of Death. As such, perhaps Zagreus was doomed from the very offset – born of trickery and lies, for, according to such authors as Nonnus, Zeus took the shape of a drakon (a dragon; a serpent) and ravished Persephone. Zagreus was a colossal explosion of Fate—for Zeus and Persephone both influence it, and have been influenced by it—as well as the primal stirrings of desire. Thus Zagreus—and, in turn, Dionysos—is a god with influence over life, death and fate, for he commands his followers to take their destinies into their own hands and twist them into oblivion.

In answer to the question proposed by the very title of this essay—Why Persephone?—I give this: Hades chose Persephone because she was his perfect opposite: feminity to his masculinity, warmth to his cold and light to his darkness. Between them, Hades and Persephone are, also, the very embodiment of two principles that rule supreme in the psyche of humans – the notion of life after death, and the promise of rebirth. They are fair rulers of the Underworld and just governors of fate; and in their capable hands, I am assured that the flow of life, death and rebirth will continue as long as the Moirai—the Fates—see fit.

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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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Thoughts on Pothos

August 22, 2009

He is longing; he is yearning. He is passion for that which we do not, or cannot, have. He—delicate, tender, flighty—is never satisfied, for it is not in his nature to settle for anything less than the best. He is the wish, the need: he can never fully appreciate that which he already has because he always wants something else, something more.

He, quite unlike his brothers, struggles against the unrelenting Moirae and their ever-so-rigid rules and decrees. He is not one of the gods of law: he does not accept or acknowledge authority, for it is not his concern. His thin wings are trapped and torn by the Moirae’s rigidity: he is the essence of flexibility, shifting from one wish to another, from one destiny to one not quite his own.

He infects hearts, not minds. He is utterly illogical, and thus cares nothing for politics and debates – and laws. His only laws are his mother’s whims: for he is constant only in his affection for her, there-but-not, attainable and yet completely not. He draws away from arguments – he shivers and wraps his warm, shredded wings around his body, as if in defence against the barrage of unmoving ice that drips from the lips of the Fates.

He is a god of choices, or, rather, of unsettlement, of choosing to never choose the path of ease and idleness. He strives forward constantly, improving himself with his every breath, and urging his followers to do the same. Only when they are as perfect as they can be—for they are, after all, only human—is he satisfied with them: for he does not appreciate laziness and lack of effort. He deals, instead, in tokens such as sweat and blood – he wears his own painted across his skin, swirls of translucent sweat mixing with the thin sheen of fresh blood, as a sign of his divinity, and of his own, relentless quest to become truly Perfect.

He, carrying his twisting vine of passion, flits through the air and caresses the throats of his victims – wary and unwary alike; it matters little to him. The vine in itself is both a symbol of his power and a weapon; for those who do not heed Pothos’ influence fall into despair and, often, find themselves curling a noose around the echo of the vine. But his vine isn’t merely a tool of destruction: it, a gift from Dionysos, symbolises Pothos’ nature as a god of pleasure, of the yielding of flesh and the blurring of blood and wine. He is the pursuit of pleasure: sometimes self-destructive, sometimes self-improving, but always, ultimately, a profound and life-changing experience.

That, then, is what—who—Pothos is, and that is what he offers: the chance to better one’s self through constantly seeking that which one does not have. He looks upon those who stumble and pause in their Quest with perfect indifference; but should they continue, striving on, on, on despite the obstacles that face them, then his indifference melts and he laughs and cheers for them. He does not know who will ultimately succeed or fail in their Quest: and he does not care. He lives in the present—yearning, always yearning, and pushing his followers endlessly on—and he expects the same attitude from those he chooses, regardless of whether they are truly ready for his influence or not.

He knows that nothing will ever be gained from endlessly fretting about the past and the future instead, he throws himself into pleasure, into whatever will improve him. Do not waste your life worrying, he advises with shining, smiling lips; dream forever, and act on your dreams: reach out and seize them, for if you do not, then no one will.

That is who he is, and that is what he gives those who ask. Longing, yearning, passion: Pothos.