Showing posts with label Perseus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Perseus. Show all posts

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Constellation Perseus: the hero

Perseus is one of ancient Hellas' greatest heroes, and it is not odd that he was immortalized in the night's sky. He is--of course--linked to the many constellations dedicated to the rescue of Androméda, but there is far more tot he hero Perseus.

Perseus was born to Danae, who was locked in a bronze chamber by her father Akrisios, where she was impregnated by Zeus in the form of a golden shower. Akrisios put both mother and child in a chest and set them adrift on the sea, but they washed safely ashore on the island of Seriphos. From Hyginus' 'Fabulae':

"Danaë was the daughter of Acrisius and Aganippe. A prophecy about her said that the child she bore would kill Acrisius, and Acrisius, fearing this, shut her in a stone-walled prison. But Jove, changing into a shower of gold, lay with Danaë, and from this embrace Perseus was born. Because of her sin her father shut her up in a chest with Perseus and cast it into the sea. By Jove’s will it was borne to the island of Seriphus, and when the fisherman Dictys found it and broke it open, he discovered the mother and child. He took them to King Polydectes, who married Danaë and brought up Perseus in the temple of Minerva. When Acrisius discovered they were staying at Polydectes’ court, he started out to get them, but at his arrival Polydectes interceded for them, and Perseus swore an oath to his grandfather that he would never kill him. When Acrisius was detained there by a storm, Polydectes died, and at his funeral games the wind blew a discus from Perseus’ hand at Acrisius’ head which killed him. Thus what he did not do of his own will was accomplished by the gods. When Polydectes was buried, Perseus set out for Argos and took possession of his grandfather’s kingdom." [63]

The story of Perseus is somewhat chaotic; his myths have been told and retold many times--even in ancient times--and what happens to Perseus next is most certainly up for debate. To quote the 'Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology':

"According to a later or Italian tradition, the chest was carried to the coast of Italy, where king Pilumnus married Danaë, and founded Ardea (Virg. Aen. vii. 410; Serv. ad Aen. vii. 372); or Danaë is said to have come to Italy with two sons, Argus and Argeus, whom she had by Phineus, and took up her abode on the spot where Rome was afterwards built (Serv. ad Aen. viii. 345). But, according to the common story, Polydectes, king of Seriphos, made Danae his slave, and courted her favour, but in vain. Another account again states that Polydectes married Danae, and caused Perseus to be brought up in the temple of Athena. When Acrisius learnt this, he went to Polydectes, who, however, interfered on behalf of the boy, and the latter promised not to kill his grandfather. Acrisius. however, was detained in Seriphos by storms, and during that time Polydectes died. During the funeral gaines the wind carried a disk thrown by Perseus against the head of Acrisius, and killed him, whereupon Perseus proceeded to Argos and took possessions of the kingdom of his grandfather (Hygin. Fab. 63)."

No matter the version of the tale, Perseus' greatest heroic deed is what follows: the hunt for Médousa. In the most common versions of the story, Polydektes did not yet marry Danae, but wished to. A now grown up Perseus did not trust Polydektes and tried to keep him away from his mother, so Polydektes had to come up with a plan. He said he would marry Hippodameia--tamer of horses--and asked Perseus for a horse to give as a wedding present. Perseus didn't have one to give, so he told Polydektes to name any other favour, and that he would not refuse. Polydektes then instructed him to cut off and bring back the head of a Gorgon, and Perseus was trapped. From Apollodorus' 'Bibliotheca' we learn the following:

"So with Hermes and Athene as his guides Perseus sought out the Phorkides (daughters of Phorkys), who were named Enyo, Pephredo, and Deino. The three of them possessed only one eye and one tooth among them, which they took turns using. Perseus appropriated these and when they demanded them back, he said he would return them after they had directed him to the Nymphai. These Nymphai had in their possession winged sandals and the kibisis, which they say was a knapsack. (Pindaros and Hesiodos in the Shield of Herakles, describe Perseus as follows : `The head of a terrible monster, Gorgo, covered all his back, and a kibisis held it.’ It is called a kibisis because clothing and food are placed in it.). They also had the helmet of Haides. When the Phorkides had led Perseus to the Nymphai, he returned them their tooth and eye. Approaching the Nymphai he received what he had come for, and he flung on the kibisis, tied the sandals on his ankles, and placed the helmet on his head. With the helmet on he could see whomever he cared to look at, but was invisible to others.

Perseus took flight and made his way to the Okeanos, where he found the Gorgones sleeping. Their names were Stheno, Euryale, and the third was Medousa, the only mortal one : thus it was her head that Perseus was sent to bring back. The Gorgones’ heads were entwined with the horny scales of serpents, and they had big tusks like hogs, bronze hands, and wings of gold on which they flew. All who looked at them were turned to stone. Perseus, therefore, with Athena guiding his hand, kept his eyes on the reflection in a bronze shield as he stood over the sleeping Gorgones, and when he saw the image of Medousa, he beheaded her. (As soon as her head was severed there leaped from her body the winged horse Pegasos and Khrysaor, the father of Geryon. The father of these two was Poseidon.) Perseus then placed the head in the kibisis and headed back again, as the Gorgones pursued him through the air. But the helmet kept him hidden, and made it impossible for them to identify him.” [2. 36 - 42]

With Médousa's head secured, Perseus headed back to Polydektes, but was stopped while on route by the vision of a woman, chained to a rock, about to be devoured by a sea monster. It had been a dark day for Cepheus, king of Aethiopia, when he had heard his wife Cassiopeia boast that her daughter Androméda was more beautiful than the Nereids. Shocked, he had tried to silence his wife, but it was too late. The father of the Nereids, the sea God Nereus, had heard Cassiopeia's prideful boast and had brought his grievance to Poseidon. Poseidon had ruled in favour of Nereus and sent Cetus, a huge sea monster, to ravage the coasts of Aethiopia. Nereus would only be appeased when Cepheus sacrificed his daughter to Cetus. Cepheus had refused, but when the terror continued, Androméda had offered herself up to be sacrificed. Fast forward to Andromeda, chained to the rocks, about to die. Perseus pulled Médousa's head out of his bag and petrified Cetus with it before undoing Androméda's bindings. He fell for the beautiful princess instantly, and desired to take her as his wife. In most versions of the myth, he is allowed, but Hyginus in his 'Fabulae' has a different story to tell:

"When he wanted to marry her, Cepheus, her father, along with Agenor, her betrothed, planned to kill him. Perseus, discovering the plot, showed them the head of the Gorgon, and all were changed from human form into stone. Perseus with Andromeda returned to his country." [64]

Perseus eventually married Androméda and took her off to his native island of Serifos. They had many children; sons Perses, Alcaeus, Heleus, Mestor, Sthenelus, and Electryon, as well as daughters, Autochthe and Gorgophone. According to Hyginus in his 'Astronomica', Perseus was committed to the stars for the following reasons:

"He is said to have come to the stars because of his nobility and the unusual nature of his conception."

The constellation Perseus is visible at latitudes between +90° and −35° and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of December.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Abstinence and ancient Hellenic rites

In a roundabout way, I was asked about sexual abstinence of priests prior to ritual yesterday. As the end of my scholastic career has finally come, I feel inspirationally somewhat deflated, so at this point, I will accept any excuse to borrow someone else's writing subject. If you have any questions about ancient Hellas, Hellenic religion, or mythology--or anything else I cover on this blog--I'd be eternally grateful at this point. Back to the question at hand, though: abstinence. I have tried to find some information on it, but it is sparse. As with my post on the packages of ancient Hellenic statues, there will be lots of euphemisms in this post to prevent my blog from showing up on specific searches by Google.

Honestly, I don't think I have ever come across scholarly work demanding abstinence before ritual. Mikalson in 'Ancient Greek Religion' does mention that intercourse led to 'pollution' (miasma) and that a bath was required before entering a temple after intercourse as a form of katharmos. He, however, does not give a source, and I don't know one either. It is a reoccurring idea, though, mostly centered on the male's excretions during the activity. The Hellenic religious organization 'Labrys' echoes the sentiment, but also without sourcing. Miasma would be one of two reasons I can think of that would support abstinence in a religious setting; power and strength would be the other.

It was common knowledge in ancient Hellas that a male's seed was a source of power for them. In a true 'save it for the game' type of deal, ancient Hellenic athletes were encouraged to abstain before a contest: in this way, they had an extra reserve of (male) power. How this would help them in ritual, I do not know, so I think abstaining for power or strength in ritual would be somewhat counterproductive to the worship part of the rite. That said, 'power' can refer to mean mental strength; in the Symposium, Plato evaluates abstinence as a means to access truth and practice self-control.

Celibacy--a far more extreme form of abstinence--was rarely practiced; that we do know. Priests and priestesses of celibate Theoi would sometimes practice it for the duration of their term, and some even beyond that, but in general, it wasn't a religious requirement, and it wasn't looked upon kindly, even in mythology. As an example, Hippolytos famously forswore his sexuality for the sake of extreme religious devotion to Artemis. When Hippolytos’ step-mother, Phaedra, falls desperately in love with him, he rejects her. Phaedra kills herself in revenge, and accuses Hippolytos of rape in a suicide note. Theseus, the boy's father, reads the note and calls to the Theoi to bring death u;on his son, who is swiftly killed. The playwright Euripides famously brought this story to the stage in his tragedy Hippolytus, which explores this question of suppressing sexual desire in order to access a higher religious objective--namely that his extreme piety is arrogant, as sexual desire and love are gifts from other Theoi.

Total male abstinence is problematic since it paradoxically exemplifies self-control while opposing the Hellenic ideal of moderation. Although elements of sexual restraint are virtuous in certain contexts, permanent abstinence was considered both unnatural and dangerous. From everything I have read, it seems women were even less capable of abstaining, and it was considered especially dangerous to allow women to do so as their wild and primal nature would emerge. Interestingly enough, when women were required religiously to abstain, it was during festivals of Demeter and Persephone. I suspect that this was in large part due to a fertility element linked to the festivals, but I can not help link a certain sense of wildness to the practice as well, especially because these festivals were largely women-only.

Hippocratic writings on health from the fifth century BC address the virtues of self-control and the dangers of being oversexed or undersexed. Hippocrates speaks of 'undersexed women' in (I believe) 'Nature of the Child' or 'The Seed', meaning virgins and celibates, and describes that they display signs of lethargy, numbness, and madness, ascribed to 'a build up of fluid due to a lack of sexual intercourse'. Marriage and the sexual intercourse that surely follows is seen as the ideal cure for such symptoms. For men also, abstinence was seen as unhealthy.  At the other end of the spectrum, excessive sexual activity was considered unhealthy and dangerous. In 'The Seed' sperm is identified to be the most potent and vital part of the body, since 'the body is significantly weakened by its loss'.

It seems that  abstinence was tolerated as a temporary practice, notably during athletic competitions and festivals, but not encouraged as a permanent state of being. The philosophers, specifically Orphics and Pythagoreans, promoted abstinence of meat and sex, but their ideas were on the fringes of Hellenic society, and did not reflect more widely accepted ideas. It is important to note that even they only encouraged male abstinence.

So, do I feel abstaining is necessary for Hellenistic rites? No, unless there is documented evidence that the ancient Hellenes did it for that specific festival. If you do have sexual relations before a rite, take a bath or shower. Present yourself clean and free of miasma. The ancient Hellenes had a very healthy view of sex, and saw the desire for it as completely healthy and divinely inspired. I'm  big proponent of viewing sex in a likewise manner.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The dangers of smartphones in ancient Hellas?

Currently, I am completely swamped, so I'm going to have to take the day off. I'll be back tomorrow with actual words that say something meaningful about Hellenismos, but for today, please accept this comic by AT&T (of all companies!), with my apologies. It comes from here, and is hilarious. Note my views on Perseus and Médousa, please.

(click to enlarge)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Constellation Cepheus: the king

When a whole family gets uplifted into the sky, the breakdown of their constellations gets a little repetitive over time, sorry about that. When we last saw the Aethiopia ruling family, we discussed the constellations Androméda and Cassiopeia. Today, we close the trilogy with Capheus, father of Andromeda, and husband to Cassiopeia, and add a good bit of info to the myth.
Cepheus was king of Aethiopia when he heard his wife Cassiopeia boast that her daughter was more beautiful than the Nereids. Shocked, he tried to silence his wife, but it was too late. The father of the Nereids, the sea God Nereus, heard Cassiopeia's prideful boast and brought his grievance to Poseidon. Poseidon ruled in favor of Nereus and sent Cetus, a huge sea monster, to ravage the coasts of Aethiopia. It destroyed villages, kept fishermen off of the sea and caused huge floods that killed hundreds at a time. A cry went up from the people for Cepheus to remedy the situation and to appease the Gods. Cepheus, desperate, traveled to the oracle of Apollon (or Zeus) to hear how he could solve the suffering of his people. The Oracle told him that Nereus would only be appeased when he sacrificed his daughter to Cetus.

Stricken with grief, Cepheus raised his hands to the sky--the position he was immortalized in--and prayed for another resolve of the situation that would not lead to the death of his much beloved daughter. The Theoi, however, remained silent. Cepheus resisted the oracle's message as long as he could, but eventually, the anguish of his people became too much for a king to withstand. In other versions of the myth, Androméda (like Iphigeneia) offered herself up to be sacrificed, as she realized her life was not worth the lives of all those who were dying now.

Androméda was chained to the cliffs near the palace, and awaited her faith there, while both Cepheus and Cassiopeia looked on with immense sadness. Thankfully, Androméda was rescued from her fate by Perseus, on his way back from defeating Médousa. King Cepheus hosted a huge wedding banquet at his palace to celebrate the wedding. There was one problem, however: Androméda had already been promised to Phineus, Cepheus' brother. While the celebrations were in progress, Phineus and his followers bursted in, demanding that Androméda be handed over, which Cepheus refused to do--too grateful to Perseus for rescuing his daughter from certain death. Ovid has described the battle that ensued in the Metamorphoses, but before the battle begins, we first get a speech by Cepheus to his brother, who begs him to let his claim to Androméda go:

"Hold, brother, hold; what brutal rage has made your frantick mind so black a crime conceive? 
Are these the thanks that you to Perseus give? This the reward that to his worth you pay, whose timely valour sav'd Andromeda? Nor was it he, if you would reason right, that forc'd her from you, but the jealous spight of envious Nereids, and Jove's high decree; And that devouring monster of the sea, that ready with his jaws wide gaping stood to eat my child, the fairest of my blood. 

You lost her then, when she seem'd past relief, and wish'd perhaps her death, to ease your grief 
With my afflictions: not content to view Andromeda in chains, unhelp'd by you, her spouse, and uncle; 
will you grieve that he expos'd his life the dying maid to free? And shall you claim his merit? 
Had you thought her charms so great, you shou'd have bravely sought that blessing on the rocks, where fix'd she lay: but now let Perseus bear his prize away, by service gain'd, by promis'd faith possess'd; 
To him I owe it, that my age is bless'd still with a child."

Phineus refused to listen to reason, and threw a spear at Perseus, who barely managed to dodge it. After that, all hell broke loose. Perseus cut down many of his attackers, turning the remainder to stone by showing them the head of Médousa. Eventually, he hailed victorious, and got to carry off his bride. In doing so, he left Cassiopeia and her husband to the fate of Poseidon, who would still have His revenge. As such, He took both Cassiopeia and Cepheus up into the sky and placed them near each other in the heavens. Poseidon placed Cassiopeia close to the North Celestial Pole on her throne, spending half of her time clinging to it so she does not fall off. In old portraits of the constellation, she is seen as either tied to her throne--which most often resembles a torture device--or desperately clinging to it. Later on, she was depicted as holding a mirror (or palm leaf) to show her vanity. 

However, because Cepheus had nothing to do with Cassiopeia's original declaration, because he had done everything in his power to make things right afterwards, and he had plead his case to the Gods again and again, Cepheus was placed into the sky unchained--either regally on his throne or with his hands raised in pious prayer--and a little further away from the pole. He still circles it in punishment, but his position is a lot less precarious than that of his wife. 

The constellation Cepheus is visible at latitudes between +90° and −10°, and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of November, the same as the constellations of his wife and daughter.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Constellation Cassiopeia: the seated woman

When I was a little girl, my favorite book was the Dutch translation of Michaels Ende's (originally German) 'Momo and The Grey Gentlemen'. Together with the main character from comic series 'Yoko Tsuno', my ethical system and basic personality got its foundation from Ende's main character Momo. If you haven't read this book--it's from the writer of 'The Neverending Story', if that helps--please pick up a copy. It was written in 1974, and describes well... exactly our current society.

At any rate, I wasn't going to talk about the book. I was just reminded of it because this constellation shares its name with one of my favorite characters--after Momo, of course--from the book: Cassiopeia, a tortoise which can communicate through writing on her shell and can see exactly thirty minutes into the future. The Casseopeia this constellation was named after, however, has nothing in common with the lovable tortoise; Cassiopeia (Κασσιόπεια) was the wife of Cepheus, king of Aethiopia and mother of Androméda. She was placed in the sky as a punishment for her boast that her daughter was more beautiful than the Nereids; the father of the Nereids, the sea God Nereus, heard Cassiopeia's prideful boast and brought his grievance to Poseidon. Poseidon ruled in favor of Nereus and sent Cetus, a huge sea monster, to ravage the coasts of Aethiopia. Cepheus, desperate, visited the Oracle of Apollon to hear how he could solve the suffering of his people. The Oracle told his that Nereus would only be appeased when he sacrificed his daughter to Cetus.

Eventually, Androméda was rescued from her fate by Perseus, on his way back from defeating Médousa. He took her off and left Cassiopeia and her husband to the fate of Poseidon, who would still have His revenge. As such, He took both Cassiopeia and Cepheus up into the sky and placed them near each other in the heavens. His fate for Cassiopeia was far crueler than the fate He had in store for Cepheus, however, because Cepheus had had nothing to do with Cassiopeia's original declaration, and he had done everything in his power to make things right afterwards. We will get to Cepheus' fate at a later date, but I'll tell you of Cassiopeia's fate today; Poseidon palace her close to the North Celestial Pole on her throne, spending half of her time clinging to it so she does not fall off. In old portraits of the constellation, she is seen as either tied to her throne--which most often resembles a torture device--or desperately clinging to it. Later on, she was depicted as holding a mirror (or palm leaf) to show her vanity.

As it is near the pole star, the constellation Cassiopeia can be seen the whole year from the northern hemisphere, although sometimes upside down. To use latitudes; the constellation of Cassiopeia is visible at latitudes between +90° and −20°, and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of November.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The legend(s) of Médousa

The legend of Médousa (Μέδουσα) is one of the hardest myths to deal with out of ancient Hellenic mythology. It tells the story of a beautiful woman, who got raped by Poseidon, and gets transformed into a hideous monster who can turn people to stone just by looking at them, by Athena, because of it. She spends the rest of her life trapped on an island, in isolation, while brave warriors try to kill her for her head, which will still turn people to stone once cut off. Perseus eventually does so and gives the head to Athena to place on her shield. The circle is complete and Médousa is dead, after a lifetime of horror which was not her fault to begin with.

It's one of the best known Hellenic myths, and the movies, series, books, comics and other mediums which feature it--or Médousa--are endless. Percy Jackson comes to mind, and Clash of the Titans, but there are many others. What's less well known is that this particular myth doesn't date back to ancient Hellas, but ancient Rome: it was written by the Roman poet Ovid, in 8 B.C., in his Metamorphosis

"...He [Perseus] told of his long journeys, of dangers that were not imaginary ones, what seas and lands he had seen below from his high flight, and what stars he had brushed against with beating wings. He still finished speaking before they wished. Next one of the many princes asked why Medusa, alone among her sisters, had snakes twining in her hair. The guest replied ‘Since what you ask is worth the telling, hear the answer to your question. She was once most beautiful, and the jealous aspiration of many suitors. Of all her beauties none was more admired than her hair: I came across a man who recalled having seen her. They say that Neptune, lord of the seas, violated her in the temple of Minerva. Jupiter’s daughter turned away, and hid her chaste eyes behind her aegis. So that it might not go unpunished, she changed the Gorgon’s hair to foul snakes. And now, to terrify her enemies, numbing them with fear, the goddess wears the snakes, that she created, as a breastplate.’"

Yet, Médousa was a well known figure in ancient Hellas, so well known that the images of her cut off head adorned everything from armors to stoves. Her name meant 'guardian', and her head frightened off enemies as well as little children who would otherwise have burned their hands. The blood from the veins on the left side of Médousa's head was allegedly capable of killing, but Asclepius, a great healer, used the blood from the veins on the right side of the head for saving lives.

In ancient Hellas, Médousa was one of three sisters, Khthonic daímōns called Gorgons. They were named Médousa, Stheno (Σθεννω), and Euryale (Ευρυαλη), and were born to the ancient marine deities Phorkys (Φόρκυς) and Keto (Κητώ), his sister. They were part of the Phorcides (Φόρκιδες), the offspring of Phorkys. Their sisters were Echidna (Ἔχιδνα, half woman, half snake), the Graiai (Γραῖαι, 'old women', sharing one tooth and one eye), and Ladon (Λάδων, the dragon serpent who guarded the golden apples in the garden of the Hesperides). This view comes from Hesiod:

"And to Phorkys, Keto bore the Graiai, with fair faces and gray from birth, and these the gods who are immortal and men who walk on the earth call Graiai, the gray sisters, Pemphredo robed in beauty and Enyo robed in saffron, and the Gorgones who, beyond the famous stream of Okeanos, live in the utmost place toward night, by the singing Hesperides: they are Sthenno, Euryale, and Medousa, whose fate is a sad one, for she was mortal, but the other two immortal and ageless both alike. Poseidon, he of the dark hair, lay with one of these, in a soft meadow and among spring flowers. But when Perseus had cut off the head of Medousa there sprang from her blood great Khrysaor and the horse Pegasos so named from the springs (pegai) of Okeanos, where she was born."

According to Apollodorus, Médousa and her sisters came into the world with snakes on their heads, instead of hair, with yellow wings and brazen hands. Their bodies were also covered with impenetrable scales, and their very looks had the power of killing or turning to stones. Médousa was the only mortal of the three, and in nearly all versions of the myth, has her head cut off by Perseus, who gifts it to Athena. The big difference? In the Hellenic version of the myth, Médousa was never a beautiful maiden who served as a priestess to Athena and was punished for being raped.

There is a third version of the myth, inspired, it seems, by Hesiod, in which Médousa was a very beautiful maiden who lived far to the north where the sun did not reach. She begged Athena to allow her to leave and see the sun, but Athena refused. Médousa got angry and shouted at Athena that she was only disallowing her request because she was jealous at her beauty. Athena, angered, turned her into the monster she is so famous as today. There is a variation of this myth where Médousa tells the sculpture of a statue of Athena that he would have done better making a sculpture of her, because she was far more beautiful. The result is the same; Athena takes her beauty and forces her into isolation as punishment for her hubris. Apollodorus, interestingly enough, also confirms this:

"It is affirmed by some that Medousa was beheaded because of Athene, for they say the Gorgon had been willing to be compared with Athene in beauty."

Archaeologists suspect that Athena, Médousa and Poseidon found their origins in Libya. They came to Hellas through Crete at the dawn of Hellas. In the beginning of Her rein, Athena may have been a snake and fertility Goddess--a trait she shared with her Libyan counterpart, who had Her own cult--and may have either had a priestess who fit the Médousa myth or--and this is more likely--Médousa had her own cult as a snake, fertility and (menstrual) blood Goddess. Especially the latter may be linked to the myths concerning Médousa's blood.

Athena's role as a snake and fertility Goddess is still visible in the myth about the child she had with Hēphaistos;  Erichthonios (Ἐριχθόνιος), who was half man, half snake. It's even posed that in the early days, Athena was married to Hēphaistos and had His child willingly. As Athena was stripped of Her roles as a fertility and snake Goddess, Médousa's myth came into being, where Athena distances Herself from sex and snakes, by punishing an epithet of herself (Athena Tritogeneia, perhaps: 'born of Trito', a lake which was supposedly located in Libya), or the Libyan snake Goddess Médousa, who may have still been attached to Her worship. By placing Médousa's head on Her breastplate or shield, Athena's mythology is continuously linked to Her Libyan heritage, but harmlessly so, to Her new image of a virginal warrior.

Few references remain to Médousa's Libyan cult. There's vague reference to Médousa being a patron of Libya as a whole, or that she was the Goddess most worshipped by the Amazons. She was linked to protection, snakes, menstrual blood, blood, fertility, and femininity in general. If this is true, it's understandable why her worship did not match the Hellenic religion: for one, she's most likely a very powerful female deity. This did not match the hierarchy of the ancient Hellens, and so, Médousa became a monster, and was dealt with accordingly. Blood was one of the fluids that caused serious miasma, and menstrual fluid wasn't even spoken of in ancient Hellas, let alone revered. Not a single Goddess would have it in their portfolio.

I don't like Ovid's version of the Médousa myth. In my view, it's an embellished version of the myth which overshoots its purpose. It also puts both Poseidon and Athena in a very bad light, and takes a lot away from Médousa. As an Hellenist, I am going to pull the Recon card and ignore the heck out of the Ovid myth. I hope that works for you as well. In all honesty, Athena can be a harsh Goddess, but most of her brutal mythology (like Arachne) applies to Minerva, Her Roman counterpart. I'm not saying these two are not linked, but I consider the Roman pantheon as a separate pantheon, with harsher deities. I'll get back to that in another post. For now, I hope this post redeems Médousa a bit, and puts her in a new light for you.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Constellation Andromeda: the chained woman

I greatly enjoy looking at the night's sky although I can barely make out any of the constellations. As a new and regular series on Baring the Aegis, I want to share with you my study of the mythology behind various constellations. Today, I'm starting with Andromeda.

Androméda (Ἀνδρομέδα) is a princess, the daughter of Cepheus, king of Aethiopia, and his wife Cassiopeia. One faithful day, Cassiopeia boasted to an attentive court that her daughter was more beautiful than the Nereids. The father of the Nereids, the sea God Nereus, heard Cassiopeia's prideful boast and brought his grievance to Poseidon. Poseidon ruled in favor of Nereus and sent Cetus, a huge sea monster, to ravage the coasts of Aethiopia. Cepheus, desperate, visited the Oracle of Apollon to hear how he could solve the suffering of his people. The Oracle told his that Nereus would only be appeased when he sacrificed his daughter to Cetus.

Although Cepheus was reluctant, he knew it was the only way to keep his people safe, and so he took Androméda to a cliff overlooking the water and chained her to the rock. It is this image that was immortalized in the sky. Androméda was not sacrificed, though; Perseus, on his way back from defeating Médousa, came upon her and turned Cetus to stone with the Gorgon head. He married Androméda and took her off to his native island of Serifos. They had many children; sons Perses, Alcaeus, Heleus, Mestor, Sthenelus, and Electryon, as well as daughters, Autochthe and Gorgophone. After Androméda's death, Athena placed her among the constellations in the northern sky, near Perseus and Cassiopeia.

The Andromeda constellation is visible at latitudes between +90° and −40°. It is best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of November.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

PBP: Failing and finding solace

There are times in our lives when we all fail at something, may it be a test, a project or at being a good person (or a bad one, depending on whom you wanted to be in the first place). Within Paganism, failing is widely considered another version of success. As long as you have tried your best, put in the effort and honestly gave it what it deserved, you have no reason to consider your failure anything else than as a teaching moment. And if you didn't give it your all, well, then you can still call it a teaching moment, only this time it tells you something about yourself.

I don't know about you, but I think failing at something is one of the worst feelings in the world. I'm a bit of a perfectionist and if there is one thing I... fail at, it's failing. Even the thought of failing something in the near future makes me nauseous, takes away my appetite and keeps me up at night. This is why I am writing this at 5 a.m; I am so stressed out, I can no longer sleep.

I don't fail often. If the task was insurmountable in the first place, I don't worry about it, I try my best and promise to do better in the future. I have learned to pick my battles. Yet sometimes, battles are picked for you and it is all you can do to scrape by, at the skin of your teeth, and hope you have done enough. I have a test next week and I'm not sure if I will pass. If I don't, it's going to be one hell of a mess. So I worry, and I fail in advance.

It are times like these when I try to find solace in my faith. I turn to mythology and try to find heroes in a similar situation to mine; at the start of a test so great, there is no way to tell if there is even a chance of success. I envision myself on deck of the Argo, heading towards Colchis to procure the Golden Fleece. I think of Hēraklēs, standing in front of Eurystheus' throne as it's proclaimed he must complete ten (or twelve) labors to redeem himself after murdering his children in a psychotic break induced by Hera. I think of Perseus, who must have stood in defeat as his stepfather Polydectes proclaimed he must bring him the head of Médousa. With heavy sighs, these men took up sword and shield and forged on. To do, or die. When the price for failing is that high, it can not even be an option.

Nor Iásōn, nor Hēraklēs, nor Perseus had to complete their tasks alone. Iásōn had the Argonauts, but all of them had the help of the Gods. Athena gave Perseus the Aegis so he could see Médousa without laying eyes on her directly, Hera helped Iásōn along his journey and Hēraklēs had the help of Athena, Artemis, the Centaur Khiron, Hēphaistos and many, many others.

And all succeeded.

So I try to find their strength of character and their faith in the Gods as I struggle along towards my own test. I may not be saving my life or that of any damsel in distress in the process, but in the grand scheme of my life, this thing is pretty damn important none the less.

So I will not fail and I will find solace in my faith. I will rise to the challenge and complete the task laid out in front of me. I will pick up my sword and shield and do my absolute best and I will pray for guidance, motivation and inspiration.

And, Gods will it, I will succeed.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

PBP: Aegis and 'be overcome by justice'

The Aegis is one of my favorite symbols from Hellenic Myth. The stories in which it features are smeared with the blood of bad decisions and broken dreams. It is the ultimate warning to stay your hand. Yet, it also pushes the boundaries of what is human and divine. Mythical heroes who bore it were some of the best and brightest; Perseus, for one.

The Aegis is generally said to be a shield, cape or buckler bore into battle by the likes of Zeus, Athena and Apollon. It was allegedly forged by Hēphaistos and sports Médousa's head. It has the power to scare enemies away or even turn them to stone and it's rumored to scare even the Gods.

Taken from:

According to the Ilias:

'Athena went among them holding her priceless aegis that knows neither age nor death. From it there waved a hundred tassels of pure gold, all deftly woven, and each one of them worth a hundred oxen. With this she darted furiously everywhere among the hosts of the Achaeans, urging them forward, and putting courage into the heart of each, so that he might fight and do battle without ceasing. Thus war became sweeter in their eyes even than returning home in their ships.'

To me, the Aegis, as a shield and weapon of Athena, has always stood for just action. A cry for justice. To me, it's the embodiment of the Delphic Maxim of Be Overcome by Justice (Ηττω υπο δικαιου)It brings with it the rush of adrenaline that comes with being overcome by something one truly believes in. It's the embodiment of divine justice.

It's hard to be overcome by anything these days. We have commitments to attend to, social obligations and facades to uphold. And justice... what is justice? Justice is law, and one should obey that law. But justice is more than law. It's forming law. It's an active struggle to be more, do more. It's a call to stand for something, anything, that you feel is unjust. Same-sex marriage, animal rights, pollution, whale hunt, abuse.

Like Athena, the maxim pushes you to take a damn stand and stick with it. No matter what. Not because you have to, but because you can.