Sunday, 9 September 2007

Lewes Guitar Festival videos and pics



location of the music: The gardens of the Grange, Lewes. beautiful. old. sunny. Tower of Lewes castle just visible on horizon.
What was their name again? Note solar pannels used to drive the speaker system


VIDEO:



video



Video above is of some kind of Brazilian music. Since base and rythym were not really picked up by my phone, the people appear to be dancing to rythms beams directly into their minds.


MORE VIDEO: same band


video

MASTERPIECES FROM THE CLASSROOM


The Artist at Work, Aix-en-Provence 1898


At the Market, St Remy, 1886


Dressing Gown, Paris, 1882

Cuppalot Holds Forth

Myrtale: Empathagenia dear, do try to keep still while Pater Cuppalot is delivering one of his opium-fuelled monologues.
Empathagenia: But M'ma! Why won't he look for a perspective that embraces both the Platonic and the Aristotelian! It does irk me so!

The child in a dress pictured here above is not, in fact, the daughter, Empathogenia, but the son, Pathologicus. Empathogenia is the child dressed as a boy, standing with her hand on the lap of her mother, Myrtale. Her father Cuppalot stands arm on the mantlepiece sporting a fine smoking jacket. Proffessor Hatpins (left) and Thomas de Puggalot (right) make up his standing audience. In the background Hawaki Leafstrain prevents Henry F Tosser from gaining backdoor entry.

(Drawing, presumably by Hogarth, which hung in the White Horse pub, Ditchling. Sorry it's askew. Had a devil of a job taking the photo without light reflecting on it. Also some difficulty in explaining to barlady why I was standing on a chair taking the picture.)


The Song of Dijong

A muse of absurditoire charmant beswozzled my mind and utterethed the whimsical song of Dijon, of the massive harp, which pleases me most fully: I do not spend this hot August morning in busy Brighton But in leafy Ditchling, below the Downs Just as, upon the tip of Tehuti, Auset, leaving beaufully multi-stored Memphis, entrusted the young Heru to the countryfolk of Chemmis village Where Perseus too has his temple Perseus, who similarly found haven on sandy Seriphos, safe from the jealous wrath of Acrisius, floated there from the mouth of the Inachus, his ancestor, the River God who fathered Isis' priests. So do I entrust myself to this ancient Sussex village. And eat your heart out Seriphos, for this is Ditchling, And three turtles are in the village pool. So hot it is this morning that not even they choose to bask on the rocks that range around the water's edge, But float in the cool green Sun-water like islands in the sea. So eat your heart out Seriphos, for these very rocks, these megaliths from some ancient circle, they were petrified when Medusa, the Gorgon, cast here her glance. And mark you, O Seriphos, Surely it was here, in Ditchling, that Perseus came with the sickle, god-given; the three turtles, older still, remember it well. Only the heron, the Heron of Ditchling Pool, is older even than they. Today perhaps flying out somewhere on wide slow-beating wings, or wading silently deep there in the shady private foliage on the far side of the pool - this morning the heron has not been seen. In former times the Soul of the Ditchling Heron resided in a great king, his seat here in Ditchling, while the Beacon stood as Acropolis. The turtles, then too in human form, are his three daughters. The ducks an archestra of comedians, While at other times it was the doves who enchanted the palace with song. The moorehens paced from room to room carrying scrolls in hand and discussing or meditating upon high matters of state, While the coots their brothers padded through herb and vegetable gardens, for they were the king's own farmers. There was in Ditchling in those days a great harpest who played in the palace. His name was Dijon. He loved courgettes and soft, white pillows. He slept in a cave inside Ditchling Beacon. Beneath the Acropolis, with his enormous golden harp by his side. His tall boots were made from India Rubber - the first of their kind. He fell in love with one of the king's one-day-to-be-turtle-daughters, and wrote music for her of such beauty that the gods allowed him to live to the age of 373 so long as he promised to play the song every morning. As his 373rd birthday approached the people of Ditchling were sad that they were about to lose their harpest and not hear any longer his woundrous song, and feeling compassion for them he taught it to the local birds who repeat it once a year at dawn for seven days in May. Dijon then betook himself to his cave, with his harp, and fell asleep, but it is said that he will wake and play again when a cow and a goat are seen to walk along Ditchling highstreet of their own free will. The two animals must then be served golden ale from bronze or pewter dishes. Then Dijon will awake.

DITCHFEST!




Picture Above : Second from left = Dermot
Note homemade geodetic dome




T Shirts and everything! Note grass on roof.




'Twas on the morning of I don't quite remember when, Summer 2007, and Dermot of next door came over and told me today was Ditchfest. "It's invitation only, but I'm inviting you."

So I went along with himself and family. We carried hampers of picnic stuffs out across the fields from Westmeston to Ditchling. About a hundred yards into the journey there is a pond fed by a little spring at the foot of the Downs, near a stable. Here the path crosses over into a meadow adjecent to a field of llamas. I have seen stirrings in that pool, under the proliferation of pondweed, of unknown provenance. As we approached the bridge over the river Rosa told me how Dermot had seen a black panther at this spot. At the moment I sought to verify this with the man himself, Dermot was otherwise engaged due to his just having seen a large grass snake by the bridge. Then he confirmed that yes, he had seen a panther there, it had been down in the stream, had snarled at him and departed, and yes it had been on the way TO the pub rather than the way back (in which case a possible alternative hypothesis might be formulated, perhaps involving strong organic vintage cider.) Dermot, I must point out, is a very down to Earth fellow, practical, anything but attention-seeking, which makes this panther story all the more peculiar. Rosa then recalled how one of my landlady's daughters had recently seen a wallaby in nearby Hassocks - a sighting confirmed later by the fact of their having been an escaped wallaby in the viscinity at the time.


So crossing over that bridge felt like one of those limminal margin moments, and I stuck close behind the others and began looking around me for strange creatures - panthers, snakes, wallabies, llamas.


We crossed another bridge over a little stream which marked our entry into the outskirts of Ditchling Village and before long Ditchfest was upon us. It is a full on music festival in a back garden, with a stage, mixing equipment, PA system, all the works.


The house was built by Dermot about ten years ago. There must have been at least thirty different bands, all local, except Detroit Dave, who just happened to be in the area, stunning us all with his proffesional guitar playing. There was Latin Jazz, Indie Rock, Prog Rock, Brit Pop, Folk, Protest Songs, Parisian Tango, you name it. One of my favorite acts was Spalian Acecraft. "We do gigs in Brighton and stuff," announced the lead singer.

All the children already knew the chorus of "He's Got an Orange for a Head", you can hear it at their myspace page.

http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=152770969

Sunday, 5 August 2007

THE TORCH OF OLYMPIA Chapter 4 : REVELATION OF THE SECRET OF THE GREAT MYSTERIES OF ELEUSIS



The Argonaut Mystery :
Aeschylus' Chain and The Eleusis Triumph


Spring 2000 and I've been teaching in the port of Volos on the east coast of Greece for a couple of months. But right now it's the weekend and I have visitors from England. My parents, to be exact.

The previous night had been a somewhat wild one. I finished teaching around ninish and the Aged Ps had only just arrived in a car hired down in Athens. We'd gone straight to a taverna just off the seafront and followed several carafs of wine with the contents of a mysterious plastic bottle. Having been told that we couldn't have ouzo because of something to do with licenses, my father had asked the waiter if we could have some of whatever it was that was being plied to the Greeks on the next table out of this plastic bottle.

I was soon flying. My parents got into a conversation with these Greeks neighbours. Their daughter was coming to England to study. Arrangements were made to meet them the following evening.

Then the dancing started. Blindingly, amazingly fast bouzouki playing and foot-blurring Greek circle dancing, with three figures visible amongst the throng who seemed to be dancing out an unorthodox pattern: my father, my mother and myself.

I did my best, but in situations like this when you don't even know what it is that you are supposed to be doing your best at, it didn't count for much.

My parents went off to their hotel room overlooking the bay and I meandered back towards my apartment. On the way I heard a familiar sound drifting out of another taverna...more bouzouki music! I was quite the expert now, so in I went. More octopus. More ouzo. Every bit the integrated traveller. Dionysian. Bon viveur. Greeker than the Greeks. And with this little cephalopodic dessert course now consumed, I stood up, patted my stomach in satisfaction, thought better of more dancing, went back out into the night air to resume my journey, and promptly threw up.

Ah yes, the octopus.

I don't remember much after that but I woke up in my own bed.

With a headache...

...SENT UP FROM THE NETHER DEPTHS OF HADES ITSELF!

If I understand correctly, ouzo, or rather the local Volos version - tsiporo - is made by fermenting the left over sticks and stuff after the soft, luschious parts have been used to make wine. A terrible idea. All sorts of impurities.

But here I am the next morning awaiting the arrival or the Ps in the hire car. We are due to take a drive up and over Pilion, the great double-peaked mountain that looms over Volos. Up there is where Chiron the centaur has that wild school whose rollcall of illustrious past students includes Jason and Achilles. I look up at the mountain. Something is different. White bits. Oh my god, it's snowed! My parents have come down to the Sunny South to put the English winter behind them, and I offer snow, by Dionysos!

The top parts of the mountain are red-gold, the Sun's beams striking that higher place already, then the gold snakes its way groundward as the Sun comes up.

Soon enough the parents arrived, and didn't the whole city know about it.

Toot toot!

By some freak of engineering each time the car was steered to the left the horn sounded. I climbed in and we headed off, waking up the locals wherever we went. We passed a couple of early risers, old ladies waiting patiently at the side of the road. We hallooed them with more jubillant toot-toots. What jolly types we must have seemed!

Of the journey up Pilion I shrink from speaking in any detail. Suffice it to say that ouzo hangovers and precipitous winding mountain passes don't mix. We stopped at the top when we came upon hoards of people skiing, then wound down the north side to a beach.

Later that evening back in Volos we met the Greek family as arranged, plus the daughter and a grandmother who was not able to remember for more than a minute that we were not native Greek speakers. They then took us to an intruiging site - a large candle-filled cave out of town in use as a church. I wondered what it had been used as in pre-Christian times.

The following morning, my constitution back to normal, we undertook another adventure, this time heading to the quayside and embarking eastward in a big yellow motorized catamaran, just as Jason and crew had embarked eastward from this same harbour in the Argo on their quest for the Golden Fleece all those years ago.

It was good to have my stomach back in order. I never drank ouzo again. Apart from those few times in Larissa with fellow English teachers (waking up in an apartment sandwidged between two Greek churches both in the habit of scaring the b'Jesus out of the faithfull first thing on Sunday morning with mechanized tuneless untuned bell chimes. Not particulalry heavenly.)

Oh yes and the time when my sister came to stay in Volos in the Summer, with a lawyer friend of hers.
"We'll stay out for another drink if you buy the next round," my sister had said to me.
"I'll get the next round if the next bar we go into gives it to us for free," I said, and we went straight into another bar, and saw a line of drinks on the counter.
"Help yourself," said the girl behind the bar, "They're free. We're closing up."

So we shrugged off our disbelief and helped ourselves, got to know the manager, then found ourselves been whisked off in his four-wheel drive to a night club around the bay. According to my sister my catchphrase from this point on was the cringeworthy "I think I'm in there," even with reference to a young Greek girl who was standing right next to her boyfriend.

Such tales of ouzo induced woe leads us appropriately enough into a darker side of the Dionysian Mysteries, the tragic theatre. I've said that before we get to the dawn we will first have to look at the darkness, and this is more the case for the first part of this section than it was in the last, as we investigate the weighty drama of the Agamemnon saga, but the hour of illumination is close at hand.

Mysteries Thinly Veiled : Aechylus' Agamemnon

The obvious predecessors of the novels in the Greek world were the plays of the Greek stage. Written on scrolls as books the plays continued to be read, and, we can assume, it was then only a small step before alterations were made to make them more suitable for the reading experience.

That the serious plays of the Dionysian Theatre of Athens evolved out of the Dionysian religion is no secret, and with this in mind it becomes less of a surprise to realise that the novels, too, were based on the Mysteries.

Those plays that bear the closest resemblance to the novels are the ones with happy resolutions such as certain of Euripdes' works, like Alkestis and more notably Ion, named after a child who, like Chariclea in the Ethiopian Story novel, worked in the temple of Apollo at Delphi, was lost-and-found, and narrowly evaded being killed by his own mother prior to recognition.

But even the dark and heavy Orestes trilogy by Aeschylus ultimately ends with a solution and optimism for the future. It is the first part of the trilogy which concerns us here, and words like "lighted-hearted" don't immediately spring to mind.

The history of the theatre starts with a type of Greek song called the dithyrhamb. A sacrifice accompanied the singing of the dithyrhamb, and the songs themselves were about the birth of Dionysos. We might recall that in Egypt a song was song by the lector priest to accompany a dance in honour of the bull-god at the time of the bull sacrifice. The same paradoxical ambiguities surround the dithyrhamb. The purpose of the sacrifice of the goat to Dionysos is clear - the blood of the animal soaked into the soil and fertilized it. Greek sentimentality created certain complexities around this rite. They wanted to be able to feel that the slaughter was just.

In fact, if we are to assume that the dithyrhamb actually evolved out of the hymn to the bull god sung in Egypt - and the bull did precede the goat as the Dionysian animal in Greece, as Kerenyi outlines in Dionysos : Archetypal Image of Industructible Life - if we make this assumption, then we can clearly see the Greek mindset of the later age expressing itself in the altered approach, more sentimental, and, as a result, more intellectual, and also looser and more creative.

The wine did its work so that the dithyrhamb became impovisational, with all the creativity that entailed. But the Ma'at which the Egyptians had accepted in the order of nature was not enough, and the Greeks attempted to make use of an intellectualisation in order to feel that the killing of the goat was morally justified. This intellectualization was based on the fact that if goats manage to get into a vineyard they will set about eating the vines. So the sacrifice was viewed as a punishment for this crime against Dionysos, and the evolution of that motif is seen in the dramatic punishment of flawed protagonists in the plays that grew out the dithyrhamb.

The goat was, in fact, quite innocent of this supposed crime, and intellectual justifications of that nature are not healthy. The higher quality of tragedy is simply Dignity - respect for the animals who help us in various ways, such as the provision of meat. Dances for the soul of a slaughtered animal are to be found in old shamanic cultures around the world.

Nevertheless, it was from this complexity that theatre was born, which in turn lead to the novels, and so a lot of creativity has come out of it, and it did allow the likes of Aeschylus to present ideas of morality to the Athenian audience.

In some cases the connection to the bull-sacrifice was particuarly explicit, as we shall see next.

Aechylus wrote somewhere between seventy and ninety plays, only seven of which have survived. A story tells how he was told in a dream by the gods to start writing these plays. His craft was then well-honed. It was fifteen years after he started writing before he carried away the winner's wreath from the Theatre of Dionysos.

What is particularly interesting with regard to our current investigation is that Aeschylus was taken to court accused of revealing the secrets of the Greater Mysteries of Eleusis in one of his plays. A story relates that he was acting in the play himself when initiates among the audience began to suspect the disclosure, and that the playwright had to seek sactuary by running to the altar of Dionysos when they stormed the stage.

We have not said a great deal so far in this book about the Mysteries of Eleusis, but perhaps it is time we did so, for these were by far the most renowned, majestic and monumental of the Greek initiation ceremonies. They took place every year in autumn for over a thousand years, and were spread out over a number of days. The city of Eleusis is located a lengthy walk north-west of Athens, and this walk was undertaken by the thousands of initiates each year as a great procession at the start of the initiation. Textual evidence from the ancient world attests to there having been something really rather awe-inspiring about these Mysteries, which were concerned with, on one level, grain and the agriculture goddesses Demeter and her daughter Persephone, and on some other but related level with eternal life, as with the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

Nothing was thought to compare with the Mysteries of Eleusis. Even wars were stopped temporarily to allow people to attend. (A modern equivalent could be be a day without cars in Athens and the suburbs to allow Greeks to walk this old route in peace and consider their heritage, the Greek Dreamtime. I visited the ruins on the site in September of 2001 on a pleasant sunny autumn day and found that it retained an air of invigoration.)

A democratic spirit predominated, for anyone, male or female, could become initiated, as long as they had enough Greek to understand what was said.

Certain secret things went on, were said and observed which left people feeling happy, and it was forbidden for anyone to reveal them to the uninitiated. But Aeschylus, himself a native of the city of Eleusis, had done just this, it was claimed, in one of his plays. He was, however, found not guilty by the court partly, it is thought, because he had served valiantly as a soldier, and ostensibly because he claimed not to have been an initiate at Eleusis.

Exactly which play contained the disclosure is not included in the anecdote that has come down to us. With only about a tenth of his plays having survived, we might need the will of the gods on our side for the play in question to be one of them. As far as I can see, however, his Agamemnon is that very play.

In the opening scene a kind of prologue is uttered by a watchman outside the palace of Argos. This prologue makes reference to certain things that will be spoken of that will be understood only by those in the know.

"A great ox has laid his weight across my tongue. But if stones could speak, these stone walls would have a tale to tell. Myself, I can speak to those who already know; if another asks me, I forget."

As if this reference to information only for the initiated wasn't enough, while it is being spoken events are going on in the play that are very reminiscent of certain things we do know went on in the Great Mysteries of Eleusis. The watchman finally sees, after years of waiting, a distant beacon fire that signals the end of the Trojan War, and, he hopes, the return of his king, Agamemnon. The watchman hails this beacon as the "kindler of dark, O daylight birth of dawn."
He then asks that word of this signal be carried to Agamemnon's queen inside the palace, so that she may

"Rise like dawn, and lift in answer strong,
To this glad lamp her womens' triumph song"

to quote from Gilbert Murray's excellent rhyming translation. The watchman speaks then of a celebration dance and says that he himself "will tread the dance before all others."

The watchman then completes the prologue with the reference to secret things that I mentioned before (within the story line applicable to Clytemnestra's affair with Aigisthus), and then the triumph cry is heard in the palace. The handmaidens and attendants then appear on stage bearing torches and incense is kindled on altars. Then the day begins to dawn.

It may well have been at this point that the initiates in the audience of the Theatre of Dionysos below the Acropolis in Athens stormed onto the stage and Aeschylus, playing the watchman, sped off to the altar of Dionysos for safety, because all of this is reminiscent of the Eleusis ceremony. Most obviously, dances at night by dancers holding torches were one of the aspects of the Mysteries that could not be kept secret from passers by. We also know that at the climax of the Mysteries, with the initiates all standing inside the vast darkened initiation hall, a light shone in through a small hole in the roof shortly before dawn, and a great fire was lit as a triumph cry went up in honour of the birth of Iachos the Torch-Bearer and child-self of Dionysos, self-begotten son of the Maiden who had been impregnated in the Underworld. In the Homeric hymn to Demeter, in whose honour the Mysteries were performed, we read how the goddess, who had been sorrowing and aging while looking for her lost daughter, was suddenly rejuvenated as a "light like lightening" shone into her house along with the fragrance of incense. This would appear to refer to the manifestation of Persephone that occured in the Mysteries when a great fire surged up.

This is enough to rouse considerable curiosity. Let's read on and see what else the play has to tell us.

Agamemnon returns from Troy along with the Trojan priestess Cassandra. Clytemnestra, his wife, slays them both in vengeance for Agamemnon having murdered their daughter Iphigenia as a sacrifice. Of course there was the other version where the daughter was saved by Achilles who then married her and fathered the line that lead to another hero who would help stop a sacrifice of a daughter by her own father - Theagenes of The Ethiopian Story. But Aeschylus worked in his trilogy with the version that would allow a trail of dramatic retributions to be worked out on the stage like the slaughter of the goat that attacks the vines, and in terms of dramatic intensity not even Shakespeare comes close.

Even in his own time Aechylus was considered a little obscure - Dionysos himself (in The Frogs of Aristophanes) confesses to having stayed up all night wondering what a horse-cockeral might be, and it is partly in these peculiarites of dialogue that Aeschylus was able to make what must surely have been deliberate references to a Thesmophorian style bull-sacrifice, and, perhaps, the related Eleusis Mysteries.

Agamemnon has gone inside the palace, Cassandra the Trojan prophetess stands outside uttering her predictions about the events shortly to occur. Realizing that her schemes of murderous revenge may be rumbled if the prophetess continues, Clytemnestra complains that there is no time to stand around listening to such crazed utterances because there is a celebratory sacrifice to be carried out:

"How long must I stand dallying at the gate?
Even now the beasts to Hestia consecrate
Wait by the midmost fire, since there is wrought
This high fulfillment for which no man thought."

(Murray)

The "beasts" who are to be sacrificed are Agamemnon and Cassandra herself; this is what Clytemnestra wants to get done sooner rather than later.

But Cassandra continues to describe her visions and as they become clearer she cries:

"Ah, look! Look! Keep his mate from the Wild Bull!
A tangle of raiment, see;
A black horn, and a blow, and he falleth full,
In the marble amid the water. I councel ye."

Here, then, Agamemnon is the wild bull, and the bull's mate, who must be kept from him, is his wife, the queen, Clytemnestra. Aeschylus repeats this same apparent allegory of animal sacrifice several times in the play. When Cassanda, still seeing visions, speaks of

"death drifting from the doors, and blood like rain!"

the leader of the elders of the palace tries to reassure her:

" 'Tis but the beasts at the altar slain."

Cassandra sees that she herself will die, but walks on into the palace, at which point the leader asks:

"Knowing they doom, why walkest thou with clear eyes,
Like some god-blinded beast, to sacrifice?"

After the act in question has been carried out in the play, (an act which is imagined to have occured off set), Clytemnestra appears at the doors of the palace holding an axe, the instrument that was used in the sacrifice of bulls at Delphi in the classical period as it had been in Minoan Crete long before. That it was the Double Axe or labyrs may be infered from a reference to it later in the play as "double bladed iron".

It is unusual for a poet to make use of the same allegorical image in such a repeated way. Normally poets use an array of images to fill out the picture from various angles. That Aeschylus should allude to the sacrifice of a bull who is the mate of the queen, and that this queen should reign at Argos, to which were brought the Thesmophoria from Egypt, according to myth, namely the bull sacrifice rite from the harvest festival of Min Bull-of-his-Mother - this all suggests that perhaps it is not a poetic allegory at all, or rather the allegorical process is the other way round - bestial in actuality and human poetically, dramatically, an audience-thrilling personification. Not that bull-sacrifice was the secret of the Eleusis Mysteries of course; no, it was something more inspiring and out of the ordinary. We shall come to it presently.

Another interesting reference in the play is where the mourners sing:-

"Ah, sorrow, sorrow! My king, my king!
How shall I weep, what shall I say?
Caught in the web of this spider thing,
In foul death gasping thy life way!
Woe's me, woe's me, for this slavish lying,
The doom of craft and the loney dying,
The iron two-edged and the hands that slay."

In Minoan Crete wild bulls were captured by means of a net, allowing them to be brought back alive so that they could, for example, for sacrificed during a rite. This would appear to be behind the reference to the "web of this spider thing". The live capture may also have been the original way that the Perseus bull-throwing integrated with myth.

But this bull-sacrifice was not the big secret of the Greater Mysteries, I don't believe. It is time now to look into that mysterious light that shines into the dark.

The Golden Fleece

A striking similarity between the Eleusis Mysteries and the Egyptin Festival of Min is that at the end of the former the hierophant wordless held aloft an ear of corn to the assembled crowd, while in the depictions of the Egyptian festival we see the pharaoh cutting a sheaf of corn with a sickle.

There is in fact a reference to harvest in The Agamenon. Clytemnestra says, to disuade Aigisthus from continuing the spree to the defiant elders:

"Let us work no evil more
Surely the reaping of the past is a full harvest."

What might a light shining in through the roof of a dark hall have to do with harvest? The answer might lie in the Mesopotamian flood story, the story of Atrahasis. Like Noah he builds an ark as the waters rise, but this ark is not a floating boat but a rectangular chamber that remains watet-tight during the flood, underwater. When the waters finally recede he is able to open a door in the roof, and light shines in. Tears of joy stream down Atrahasis' cheeks that the flood is finally over. Atrahasis looks out and sees fourteen mountain tops.

Might this story have come originally from Egypt where a great flood was an annual occurance, and one tied in intrinsically to the harvest cycle? Depictions of the Festival of Min show four birds being released to the corners of Egypt to announce a triumph. Noah released a dove which conveyed the message of a mountain top having risen above the waters of the flood. In Egypt the Primordial Mound, Ta Tenen, "Risen Land" was a potent symbol of the beginning of the recession of the water that would allow them to sow the seed in the fertile silt that had been left behind. Here was a sight all Egypt waited to see, and of course it would occur upstream days before it occured downstream, as that is the nature of rivers. Carrier pigeons may indeed have been used to convey this message north from Thebes to the Delta where the news of the continuing cycle was eagerly awaited.

Messages and mountaintops - doesn't this bring us back to The Agamemnon and that chain of beacons so central to the start of the play? But neither in Argos nor in Eleusis was an annual flood a part of the harvest cycle. What message did they wait to receive from the East? The Eleusis Mysteries were concerned with the return of the Maid from the Underworld, and they were held in the autumn when Virgo, the Maiden, ends her period of absence from the sky (daylight had outshone her stars), by first rising just before the Sun, then earlier each day through Autumn and Winter until She is rising as an evening constellation again by Springtime. It is conceivable that the sight awaited was the rise of Arcturus, the star that sits on the lap of Bootes, just as the infant Dionysos, named Iachos, was depicted sitting on the lap of his adult self, and born from the thy of Zeus while his mother (Persephone, the Maid, in the Orphic version) was burned up by the light of Zeus having asked to see him in his full glory. Could this be the rise of Arcturus shortly before the Sun rises to obliterate the light of Virgo? The star could be seen as a distant beacon, the torch of Iachos, the Torch-Bearer whose statue was carried from Athens to Eleusis at the start of the Mysteries. It all makes extremely good sense.

But what of the light that shone into the initiation hall shortly before dawn? Conceptually, such a beam could be seen as the agent by which Dionysos seeds himself from the future in the womb of night. But how do you get a beam of daylight to shine into the hall before dawn?

Noah built his Ark and from it let a dove fly forth to find land. Jason sailed in the Argo with his crew, and sent forth a dove so as to pass through the clashing rocks. Tears streamed down Atrahasis' face when the light shone in through the opening in the roof of his rectangular ark. This too is very strongly reminiscent of a scene in the Argonautica, the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece as told by Apollonios Rhodios.

Jason had obtained the fleece and he and his crew were nearly home. But then "night suddenly fell, a terror they call the Shrowd of Darkness...too thick for starlight or moonbeams to pierce, it came as a black void out of heaven or...from the nether depths..."

Then Jason stretches out his hands and invokes Apollo, Son of Leto, "while down his cheeks agonized tears ran", reminding us of Atrahasis. Then, paraphrased:

"Son of Leto, you heard him quickly and descended lightly from heaven to the Melantian rocks, that lie there out in the deep. You sprang on one of their twin peaks brandishing in your right hand your golden bow, which gave off a dazzling light all around."

A small island was then revealed by this light to the Argonauts, which they sailed to and cast anchor and went ashore. Shortly after this day dawned. They built a shrine there for Apollo and invoked him as Phoibus the Radiant "because of the far-beamed radiance", and they named the island "Revelation". They had no wine to pour libation, and were forced to pour water, at which point the handmaidens that had come with them back from Colchis, where they had obtained the Golden Fleece, were unable to hold back their laughter at this sight, since they were used to the most sumptuous libations being poured.
"The heroes returned the laughter with indecent language, flinging insults, exchanging mockery, all in fun."

Which brings us back to Eleusis, for the Mocking Jests are another of the features of the Mysteries that we know about. As of course is the light that shines into the hall shortly before dawn. Just as the dawn comes up shortly after the message has sped to Argos in The Agamemnon, and shortly after Apollo has revealed to the heroes the island.

We may now ask ourselves how a beam of light could spring off a double peak and reveal an island by means of 'far-beamed radiance' shooting through the darkness. Sunlight obviously hits mountaintops before the sunrise occurs at ground level, but what about this beam of light? How were the Greeks placed in terms of mirrors? Well, the Pharos light-house made use of them to send light far out to sea, and Archimedes devised a weapon that focused beams of sunlight from mirros onto approaching enemy ships so as to burn them. There are a few mountain peaks around the Eleusis site. Should we be wondering whether it was all done with mirrors?

Rams fleeces were apparently draped over the initiates at Eleusis at some point in the proceedings. It seems that the Quest for the Golden Fleece may be of particular relevance here.

Jason's city was ancient Iolchis. This is where the Argo was built, and it was where the crew set off from on the start of their eastward adventure in search of the Fleece, and to which they returned. This city, now called Volos, is where I lived during 2000. This was before I had read Apollonios Rhodios' version of the Argonaut story, featuring Apollo's beam springing off the mountain peak, but the theory I have just outlined formed in my mind at that time, while I had been pondering the Golden Fleece myth, the Eleusis Mysteries and the Aechylus beacon chain. Wonderfully, the moment when the idea came to me could hardly have been more elegant.

Sitting in the classroom while my students worked on a task, I looked up out of the window at the twin peaks of Mount Pilion. Suddenly I saw a bright flash of light at the very top of one of the peaks. A ski resort is located up there and the Sun must have been reflecting off a window or a metalic surface, the ray happening to shine in my direction, and planting in my mind the seed of the theory here outlined.

So you can imagine how delighted I was when, a couple of years later, I read Apollonios' version of the Jason story and read, in the last part of the book, the incident where Apollo's beam reflects off the mountain peak in a moment of revelation.

In Egypt in Cleopatra's time the beacon chain system was used to commicate with the distant mines out in the desert, while in the day time a system of mirrors was used to communicate over the hundreds miles using flashes of sunlight. Such systems are not mere flights of fancy, but entirely workable. Not that a whole chain of mountain tops would be necessary. The light of the rising Sun could be reflected down from a high mountain to ground level where it was not yet dawn.

A more elaborate and impressive version would do what Archimedes' ship-busting weapon did - the ray would ignite a fire. This fire would then be one ignited by the light of a future day. It would be a sacred fire.

"Kindler of dark, O daylight birth of dawn."

Such were the words with which the Watchman greeted the mountaintop blaze ignited by the message arriving from the East in The Agamemnon.

A suggested scenario, the most likely from the evidence in The Agamemnon and The Argonautika:

Sunlight is mirrored from one of the mountaintops near the Eleusis site, focussed from several large mirrors into a very bright beam and aimed through the roof of the initiation hall shortly before dawn. This light, perhaps via a lens burner, ignites the sacred fire in the Holy of Holies and the triumph cry is raised. The sacred fire is then passed around from torch to torch and the initiates perform the traditional dances, rather like the passing of the sacred fire from candle to candle in the Greek Easter ceremony.

The scenario is feasible, yet it also explains the sense of wonder and awe that the initiates felt about the Greater Mysteries of Eleusis.

The Golden Fleece fits snugly into this context. A symbol of Sun, it is stolen from the East and raced back to the West in the ship named Argo, which means "Swift". The Argo has to outrace the fleet of the king of Colchis, who is closely identified with the Sun, Helios.

For example, Book III, 1225:

"He [the king] put on golden, four crested helmet equal in brilliance to the dazzling haloed luminescence of the Sun when he first climbs up out of the ocean."

This king is in fact a son of Helios, and rides in a chariot "drawn by the horses that Helios gave him." The Greeks imagined that Helios, the Sun, rode in a chariot across the sky.

So there is great significance in the way that the Argonauts manage to outrace this king on their way back to Greece in the west. This sigfnificance is made all the more powerful by the fact that the Golden Fleece itself in Apollonios' epic poem is said to shine as if catching the first rays of the Sun. Paraphrased:-

"At that early hour when huntsmen scrape sleep off their eyes Jason and Medea stepped out of their vessel and went ashore into a grassy meadow called the Ram's Rest. They followed a pathway to the sacred grove where the Fleece was spread out over a great oak tree just like clouds that flush ruddy gold as they catch the first rays of the rising Sun."

This beautiful symbolism of sunrise lies at the core both of the Golden Fleece myth and the epic version of it woven by Apollonios. From this golden wool the entire tale was spun. It is as if Jason is the archetypal artist, the one who captures the light of beauty.

Perhaps a rich romantic with a sense of fun will take this torch and run with it, duplicating in our own time this feat of outracing the day's fire with a beam of sunlight that ignites a fire before sunrise. I like to imagine this will be the way that the Olympic Torch is lit for the London Games in 2012.

The scenario we have looked at also reminds us of the words of J.G. Fitzgerald in The Golden Bough: ‘…in the land of Bisaltae, a Thracian tribe, there was a great and fair sanctuary of Dionysos, where at his festival a bright light shone forth at night as a token of the abundant harvest vouchsafed by the deity’, and bear in mind that the Thracian priests, according to historian Karl Kerenyi, are thought to be precursors of the priests at Eleusis. Notice that this light shone at night (in an age before electric lighting), and ensured an abundant harvest.

There also appears to be fairly explicit reference to this extraordinary hidden high mystery tradition of the Greeks, a mystery dramatizing the triumph over the illusion of the solar death, in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex:

…Life on life goes down,
You can watch them go
Like seabirds winging west, outracing the day’s fire
Down the horizon, irresistibly
Streaking on to the shores of Evening.

"Outracing the day's fire" is our theme here, so let's read on. A few lines on we hear:

Artemis, Huntress,
Torches flaring over the eastern ridges
Ride Death down in pain!

…Dionysos…Come with the lightning
Come with torches blazing, eyes ablaze with glory!
Burn that god of death…

Here we have explicit references to torches on mountains in the East. We also find more words that fit the scenario in this section of the play:

I call Apollo, Archer astride the thunderheads of heaven -
O triple shield against death, shine before me now.

And:

You who twirl the lightning, Zeus, Father,
Thunder death to nothing!

So this light from the East is associated with putting an end to death.

And there also seems to be a reference to these goings on right in the most obvious place to look, the story of Demeter and Persephone. When Demeter was in sorrow after her daughter had been taken down into the Underworld, 'when it was dark, the goddess (Demeter) lighted two torches at the flaming summit of Mount Aetna, and continued her search. She wandered up and down for nine days and nine nights. On the tenth night when it was nearly morning, she met Hecate, who was carrying a light in her hand, as if she, too, were looking for something. Hecate told Ceres how she had heard Prosepine (Persephone) scream, and had heard the sound of wheels, but had seen nothing. Then she went with the goddess to ask Helios, the sun-god, whether he had not seen what happened that day, for the sun-god travels around the whole world, and must see everything. Ceres found Helios sitting in his Chariot, ready to drive his horses across the sky. He held the fiery creatures in a moment, while he told Ceres that Pluto, the king of the Underworld, had stolen her daughter and carried her away to live with him in his dark palace.' (From Favorite Greek Myths by L.S.Hyde.)

Ceres is the Roman name for Demeter, while Proseperne is Kore, or Persephone, and Pluto is the Underworld Lord. Mount Aetna, be a vulcano and due West of Eleusis, was seen as an entrace to the Underworld, in the direction of which the constellations of the Zodiac, including Virgo, were see to set, so this was mythologically seen as a place where the Maiden went down into the Earth.

Here, in the story that we know most closely relates to Eleusis, we have a) torches being lit upon mountain tops, b) a reference to the way in which the Sun travels all around the world, and c) a visit to the place where Helios stables his horses, at a time d) that is shortly before dawn.

SUGGESTED READING WEB

A Suggested Integrated Reading Web of Pre-Christian Literature

1) The Main Greek Myths - a necessary starting place. Not the obscurities, but the dear old favorites, if they are or have become unfamiliar. Jason and the Argonauts, Theseus in Crete, Perseus and Andromeda, the Birth of Venus, Dionysos and the Pirates, and the like. Young Ancient Greek children heard these culture-cores from mothers and grandmothers, in that sense the women were the keepers of culture, while the men found ways to amplify the beauty through various mediums. Don't start with something dry, no Robert Graves or anything like that. Go with a compilation intended for children and perhaps supplement that with a book graced with poetry such as A.Guerber's Myths of Greece and Rome.

2) The Odyssey. This is and was surely the most-read and referred to work of Ancient Greece and is therefore useful further background reading. Choose a translation you feel comfortable with as it's a long book.

3) Having read The Odyssey you're in a position to enjoy a work that includes comic references to it, such as the genius Aristophanes' Wasps or Euripides' Cyclops. It should be said however that Cyclops is the closest you can come to throw-away Greek theater and its value lies in giving us at least some insight into the nature of the satyr play. But getting into Aristophanes at this early stage is a great idea. Barrett's translations are fun and being from the sixites their language brings the Monty Pythonesque side of Aristophanes out to the full.

4) If you enjoyed Aristophanes' Wasps then there are ten other surviving plays by him to choose from. This is the guy who first suggested we make love not war, that we'd be better off if women had the vote, more advanced kitchen appliances instead of slaves, and who payed posterity the immense service of providing a lovable, comic, Athenian version of the god Dionysos in perhaps the greatest of his masterpieces, The Frogs. The 'I need to dump my load' gags at the beginning work better now that we have an equivalent phrase in English, and so the more recent translation by Kenneth McLeish is worth a read.

5) More Aristophanes, check out his Clouds, enjoying the humourous image of the philosopher Socrates...

6) ... then get a more accurate picture of Socrates through some Plato: if you now read Plato's Symposium through then you'll get, in the latter parts, a true inisight into Platonic philosophy whilst also meeting your new friend the comic playwright Aristophanes, who turns up as one of the characters, complete with a rather amusing piece of philosophy, just as Socrates turned up in Aristophanes Clouds.

7) The Frogs has introduced you to this lovable and surprisingly human vision of Dionysian genius, and if you want to continue with more that is lovable and Dionysian then you could read your first ancient novel, the wonderful Daphnis and Chloe, and this will give you a sensous expression of the philosophy of Love expressed by Socrates in the latter parts of Plato's Symposium in action. Surely the best reading for a long, relaxed Aegean island-hopping holiday. To be savoured.

8) Some pastoral poetry - if you go to the First Idyll of Theokritus you will find
more on Daphnis, his death, as it happens, but don't worry, because then you can go to Virgil's Fifth Eclogue and you'll get his apotheosis.

9) Now that we've started on the poetry, you could delve further into one of the most delicious storehouses of ancient literature, that of Greek lyric poetry with its long list of poets from Archilochus in the seventh century right through the Golden Age, on through the Hellenistic period and then to the Romans who took up the baton. Included in this collection are the works of famous poets such as Sapho and Catullus, and even the odd one or two attributed to that same Plato whose Symposium you have read, just to keep it in the family.

10) Daphnis and Chloe, the novel you have now read, grows out of a description of a painting. What about something a little unusual? Philostratus' Imaganes describing paintings in an ancient gallery in Naples might sound dull, but isn't. No Ancient Greek paintings have survived, but according to the reports their realism was of the same degree of excellence that they managed in their statues. We can only imagine. Some very fine Roman paintings survive, however, many of which were based on Greek originals. I would recommend getting hold of a large colour picture book of the art and architecture of Pompeii.

11) If you're going to go ahead and read that other novelistic masterpiece, The Ethiopian Story, then why not start with a bit of Herodotus. For goodness sake don't try to read his Histories all through, but have a look at the intriguing section on Egypt.

12) The Frogs introduced you to the playwrights Euripides and Aeschylus, as characters, so why not have a look at some of their own work, perhaps Aechylus' heavy Orestes trilogy, and then the lighter but seminal Alkestis of Euripides.

13) With all of the above under your belt you will get more out of The Ethiopian Story. It's crying out to be made into a film, which will no doubt happen one day, but it won't be possible to get from a film that same sense of a work integrated with the library of anitiquity that we can get from the book.



There are of course many, many more great works from antiquity; I've mentioned the above because they can be read as one integrated group, a kind of reading web covering works from the dawn of European literature to the end of antiquity.

Monday, 9 July 2007

THE TORCH OF OLYMPIA Chapter One: EASTERN SPICE

THE TORCH OF OLYMPIA Chapter One: EASTERN SPICE

"The problem with writing about Ancient Greece," said George, "is that it's all been written about before."
"Actually," I replied, "I'm not sure about that."
It was about five in the morning and it had been a somewhat decadent night, largely due to the extravagant generosity of persons whose aquaintance I had made only that evening, the most generous being a shadowy fellow originally from Cyprus who I shall refer to simply as The Greek.
"Yes, I suppose you can introduce Ancient Greece to a new audience," said George, discussing my interests as if talking about a business, which was understandable since he had, just prior to this, been giving me the low down on his own next business venture.
I did my best to focus a slightly addled mind, and then maintained my position:
"Actually I don't feel like that's what I'm doing. It's a bit more than that."
George gave the appearence of being a fairly normal ex-public school boy of oriental extraction, and that is what I would have taken him for had I not been told earlier in the evening by an old friend that he was 'practically a billionaire' due to links with the royal family of the Asian country from which he hailed.
It was here in the kitchen of a comfortable three-story house in the centre of Brighton that he had just decribed to me the ins and outs of his proposed business venture, which was something to do with programming and the Internet, and I can tell you that the description involved frequent use of the word 'outsourcing'. Beyond that I cannot tell you anything, not because I'm bound by a code of secrecy, but because it was somewhat beyond my field.
"What sort of thing do you write about?" he'd then asked me.
"Ancient culture, that sort of thing."
"Asian cultures?" he'd asked to check he had heard correctly, which of course he hadn't.
I corrected him: "Greece, Egypt, that sort of thing."
"The trouble with writing about Ancient Greece," he said, and that brings you up to speed, as that's where this book started.
As if on cue, The Greek appeared, bearing gifts.
A little later I was half-seated, half-sprawled on the kitchen floor - a floor worthy of some note since it had a peculiar fissure in it, a tear in the material revealing a dark, mysterious space underneath. Seated just across from me was a young woman whose name I forget, who had studied Fine Art or Art History or something, in Florence, of all places. Again the conversation lead naturally to my own interests, and I was just beginning to tell her about the Bull-Leaper theory - which you shall hear about shortly - when a reveller called us down to the basement to play a computer tennis game that involved swinging some sort of electronic racket.
"I can't really see the point," I complained.
The Greek, slumped in a big beanbag and observing the proceedings with a wary eye, agreed with me:"Why don't you just go down to St Anne's Well Gardens and have a real game of tennis?"
It must have been getting on for eightish by the time I finally got round to leaving.
"Yeah, I'm starting to feel a bit tired myself," said the Greek.
My gaze swung to the well-off Asian guy: "We must do this again," he said.
As I made my way home I thought over what George had said. As I see it, each age has its own blindspots, as if from its location on the landscape of time certain things cannot be seen, hiding behind hills and mountains in the middle ground. The ages in which Greek culture was assimilated in Western Europe were not ages free from certain kinds of blindspot and blinkered perspective, and we are now ascending to a place where other wonders come into view. At the most practical level, we have recently seen how academic views of ancient history can be radically shifted by new science, as for example where DNA evidence shows that the Celtic peoples did not come to the British Isles from southern Germany in the Iron Age, as has been claimed by scholars for a century, but from the Iberian penisula in the Neolithic and before.
And it's not just that, as experience has taught archaeology, any low hill may turn out to contain the treasures of a lost culture, a Minoan palace or a Troy. The interpretive side of archaeology may also strike gold from time to time, as for example when Egyptian hieroglyphs were finally decifered and the doors of vast treasure houses of ancient thought were finally flung open to those curious to know on what shoulders our civilsation stands.
Blindspots may be healed as we take the time to extract ourselves from the limmited views of the age from which we ourselves are emmerging, and the resultant new perspectives on the past are frequently exciting.
It would have been highly impressive, I fancy, if I had come out with the above on the spur of the moment as I stood there in the kitchen talking to George at five in the morning.
One by one the computer tennis players might have ascended the stairs from the cave like the initiate in Plato's simile, seating themselves at my feat to feast their ears on my stirring rhetoric and their mouths on pieces of toast:-
"...as when the doors of vast treasure houses of ancient thought were finally flung open to those curious to know on what shoulders our civilsation stands. May we find the keys to more such treasure houses?"
Such would be my question as, trailing my toga on the floor while pacing dramatically around the kitchen - hopefully avoiding the hole in the floor - I then proceeded to answer my own rhetorical question:-
"Yes we may, as I shall now reveal to you!"
Rapturous applause would have followed, and cheers muffled by mouthfulls of toast, as I put the kettle on and then took them through the theories and discoveries from which this book is constructed.
So put that kettle on and settle in for the duration.
You yourselves are, I trust, an intelligent, prudent, well-rested and sober audience, and therefore demand no doubt a fuller explanation of this business of the blinkered views of certain ages. And to furnish you with such an account, I shall in fact take you back to another meeting with interesting gentlemen from the exotic East.

Spoons

"I can't be doing with your spoons."
The immaculately dressed Indian gentleman picked up the massive T-bone steak with his fingers and lifted it to his mouth. The Nishi tribe of North-East India do not hold the cow sacred in the same way as the vegetarian Hindus.
Robinson was busy chatting to the other Nishi gentleman about his business interests Southern India; Allie and Vikki were at the other end of the table debating whether or not to get ice-cream; Robinson and Allie's young daughter Ophelia was somewhere under a table engrossed in play, leaving Henry and I taking in the spectacle of a well dressed man setting about getting outside of a steak in the most time-honoured and hands-on manner.
All in all our party dominated the bar of the Star Inn, Alfriston, as a festive fire roared in the hearth and a red-faced barman looked on in mild bewliderment.
"I can't be doing with your spoons."
I loved the juxtaposition of an easy command of English idiom - "I can't be doing with..." and, at the same time, a shelving of our traditional eating implements even to the point of a carefree disregard for exactly which implement it was that was being shelved, the spoon not being the usual tool taken up when a Britisher is faced with a well-done steak. The use of the hands, though not the norm in Alfriston et environs, is an accepted manner in some parts and has been since campfires began, and so seeing it did not fill me with any of the sick, lurching feeling I get if I see someone from my own nation holding a knife as though it were a pen. It's just not good form! A knife is a knife and a pen is a pen. Do you mean to write an epistle in tomato ketchup? Can we not save the creativity for the conversation, the cuisine, the flirtation, without squandering it on the cuttlery?
(You understand that I don't speak directly to a 'you' meaning you, the audience, in the above, but to the fellow I spied profaning his supper with a needless revolt against the collectively agreed form in the Half Moon, Plumpton last Saturday evening.)
How had our party come to be seated in the Star in Alfriston? Earlier that day, as I had been leaving work, I had picked up a voicemail from Henry which informed me that the two Nishi gentlemen were due to meet him soon, one of them being the Minister for Culture, or some such, from that region of India.
"I've promised to show them some of the local Sussex countryside," Henry had said in his message, "have you got any ideas?"
I phoned back to suggest they took a drive down to Cuckmere Haven, the idyllic eastuary of the Cuckmere between Seaford and the Seven Sisters. Henry then furnished me with some more of the particulars. It was in fact I, I now learnt, who was to be the chauffeur - Henry didn't have access to a car that evening.
"Just give me a moment to have a little clear out," I had said, an image forming in my memory of the extensive midden heaps that would have to be cleared from both passenger side and rear sections alike. Afterall, one feels something of an effort should be made when receiving a Minster of Culture into one's country. Were his department agriculture, defence or trade and industry he would have been of hardy disposition, and would have been made to like it or lump it, but a man of culture is more refined and sensitive.
I should explain that Henry spent quite a bit of time living with the Nishi people - two day's from the nearest road - to fulfil the field-work part of his anthropology PhD. This is why the two gentlemen had looked him up when they landed in town.
When I picked up Henry and the two visitors from Henry's place in Lewes I was gifted with a rather fine bright navy blue Nishi shirt. Too small for myself, but it was intended for my wife, as soon as I found one. This was to become a theme in fact, and I was assured that if I returned with them to India a wife could be found. This didn't really fit with my plans and I declined the offer despite the fact that Henry got right behind the notion and was all for me booking a plane ticket there and then.
Anyway, off we'd headed to the seaside in my palm-green Clio Versailles. Out on foot by the river, miles from any significant settlement, the face of an ex-colleague loomed up out of the mist. She must have wondered what Henry and I were doing accompanying a couple of briefcase-carrying businessmen in smart suits down towards the shore. Perhaps she surmised that we were due to receive goods by boat from the poppy fields of the East under cover of darkness.
We continued our stroll.
"Mittun! English mittun," cried Henry, pointing at some cows by the path and seeing with Nishi eyes for a moment with admirable intent, but not a bit of it, for our guests perceptions had taken up residence in the landscapes of Thomas Hardy's novels. Lights glimmered through the gathering gloom of dusk in the windows of a small cluster of cottages up on the clifftop, and to the visitors these were straight out of a Hardy story, as was the Star Inn, Alfriston, once we arrived.
Alfriston met with their approval, but we were told: "You can keep your London." The reason for their visit to England was in fact to attend a tourism trade fair in London, and this was also the reason for their smart attire, but they were now glad to escape.
But what about this Hardy business? The English take on the novel was spread to the corners of the Empire because the two things coincided in time, and it can also be said, with some truth, that to a degree the same arrogance inspired both movements. We were the new Romans, or according to the British-Israel movement the new chosen people, the rest of the world would read our literature - the most developped - and they would eat their meat with knives held in the propper manner.
As it happens I had an Indian lecturer of English Literature at University, and I say with some warmth that - certainly if one takes audibility into account - his lectures seemed to me to be utterly, utterly dire. He generally introduced Hardy, even if the book being discussed had no direct link to the writer, and when he introduced Hardy he also chanted the formula of Hardy's plots: "One damn thing after another." This was trotted out in one damn lecture after another, and truly not one ounce of enthusiasm for the Wessex writer's novels was instilled in me by this lecturer.
There arer some fine, upstanding people I know who speak with fondness or respect for Hardy's novels, but seeing good in that type of plot must surely be down to a charitable generosity beyond my comprehension. These are generally the same queer folk who think highly of Shakespeare. My grandmother was one of them. My friend Henry is another. I feel a mixture of curiosity and exhasperation about their perverse charitability, wanting simultaneously to to fathom the bizare mystery of their pity-full devotion and to wake them from their macabre dream with a slap around the face with an uncooked turbot.
"Apparently you can tell the moment when Hardy falls in love with his own character, Tess, in the middle of the book, and then he felt great pain about what had to happen to her, for the sake of the plot," Henry informed Robinson and I while we were picking up a Thai take-away from Lewes recently. That's the point where I glaze over. Why did the plot have to go that way? What rule book says it had to?
The rule-book is called Presctiptive Realism and it came to be regarded as the only 'serious' type of literature in 19th century England. Its basic idea was that the novel should represent 'real' life only, whatever that may be. The absurdity of this limmitation is starting to seem self-evident in our age, but until quite recently it was seen as the English 'contribution', as a step forward, progess, a development making all things that came before somewhat obsolete. Now we can see that forbidding the fantastic from literature is like forcing ballet dancers to keep both feet on the ground at the same time; it ignores the greater potentials and essential nature of the medium. How could we have missed that for so long? What created the blindspot? The notion of Empire is based on a belief in cultural superiority. Threaten that and you shake the very foundations. Surely this is why it is still considered practically sacriligous to admit to not enjoying the works of that playwright whose popularity was rescued from obscurity just at the time we were building our own empire and needed a Homer to be our our 'bard', as the Romans had needed Virgil.
The danger is that Prescriptive Realism has been so thoroughly accepted that it has become a kind of invisible standard by which to judge works of literature. "I don't believe in fairy tales," Robinson will tell me, but why does belief have to come into it?
All great steps forward begin with imaginative contemplation. Literature can be an excercise for this most powerful of tools.
Myself, I had the good fortune not to study English Literature at A-Level, and once I had started at University I knew my own mind well enough to see that the lecturers didn't know their arses from their elbows. Besides which, I'm not a fan of modern architecture. How one could be expected to apply oneself to scholarly pursuits in boxes raised in a modernist mode I simply cannot imagine. So the nincompoops of University washed by me largely unnoticed as I began my own researches in accordance with my fascination.
It should be pointed out here that it's not Realism that I'm questioning, but Prescriptive Realism. You can't have a novel without realism, and I'm all for it. In the field of fine art, Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne is a work of aweinspiring realism, but the subject is mythological. Greek sculpture was similarly exceptional because of its realism, though it depicted gods, nymphs, satyrs and centaurs. The ancient novels were much the same.

We British certainly didn't invent what we call the novel. There are sophisticated examples from the Ancient Greeks and Romans, as has been well noted by scholars such as Margaret Anne Doody in her recent The True Story of the Ancient Novel. And now what I intend to show in this book is that there are amazing ways which have not previously been recognized in which the writers of the ancient novels were capable of an outstandingly brilliant marriage of the universal and the particular, the Mysteries and the mundane world, the sacred and the secular. That these ancient novels related to the ancient Mystery traditions has been suggested before, by the likes of Carl Kerenyi, but now it is possible to present proofs that are as elegant as they are exciting. This is how how I shall show that Ancient Greece has not all been written about before.
The novels may not have been written during the Golden Age of 5th century BC Athens, but that does not mean that they are not a product of it in a different way. The novel, because it has so much space for full descriptions of things, has the ability to contain the other arts within it, hinting at them or using allegories from them, as with the theatre, or simply describing them as in a description of a building, a temple, a sculpture and so on. It is fitting then that the novel should come along after the other arts are fully formed.
The Allegory of the Chariot
From what we know about the way crafts were learnt in Ancient Greece we can hazard a pretty good guess that novelists received and later handed on some kind of formal training. The command of plot and the existance of strong parralels between the novels that have come down to us support this supposition. In Ancient Greece all forms of art and craft were felt to have some touch of the divine. Dionysos revelled in poetry, dance and song; Apollo loved harmonious music, was a leader of the Muses and an expert on the lyre, an instrument invented by Hermes, as the Panpipes were invented by Pan; one form Athena took was as a goddess of skillful craft; the smiths had their patron in Hephaestus; statues in the temples were felt to be places the gods could take up residence. So in a world where crafts were handed down, often from parent to child, even in fields like stagecraft, it was natural for each craft to develop its own Mysteries. In the ancient world the word Mystery was used for a private, cult initiation based on a movement through formal patterns. Each of the arts and crafts had its own sacred form-ality, whether it was the verse structure of poetry, the different shapes of urns intended for particular purposes, the proportions and underlying geometry of architecture, or the plot structure of a play.
We can see from various statements in the works of Plato that this sacred formality, grounded in the mystic philosophy whose aim was to achieve sight, understanding and appreciation of the Realm of Forms, of universal, intelligible, eternal Ideas, extended up to, or perhaps we should say cascaded down from even those Mysteries that were less applied, more abstract in nature, more purely religious. In other words, we gather from Plato's various hints that something similar to Socrates' philosophy of Forms was taught by certain priests and priestesses.
It is not clear how much of this philosophy reached Socrates - the Socrates whose image is painted in Plato's books - via direct contact with the officials of such over-arching Mysteries, and how much came to him through the teachings of the craft of stonemasonry that his father must have begun to hand down to him before he decided to go off and live the life of a free-wheeling philosopher. Socrates himself, in the Symposium, says that he learnt this philosophy of the Realm of Ideas from an Arkadian priestess called Diotyma, which might seem to answer our question. Yet the young Socrates cannot have failed to notice commonalities between the philosophy and his family's craft, since formal canons of proportion underpinned by sacred geometry were the blueprints of the works of the sculptors. Either way, and no matter how Plato moaned about the non-philosophers who were blind to the subtle light of the Realm of Ideas that is perceivable to the mind's eye, the fact is that the Socrates of the dialogues voices a philosophy which is an abstracted expression of what had long been applied in the various arts and crafts of the ancient Greek world, just as it had previously in Egypt for well over two millenia.
So much for the sculptors, but what about the novelists? From the evidence it looks as though novelists appeared on the scene a little later than the 'Golden Age' of Socrates and co. Therefore we will need some further evidence before we can be conclusive about a connection between the novels and the Mysteries.
Both Plato's school, the Academy, and the Mysteries continued for many centuries, making a connection entirely feasible. Doody presents a strong piece of evidence when she notes that at the time many of the novels that have come down to us complete were being written it had become common for philisophers to interpret existing works of literature along allegorical lines. Is it not likely then that the same would have been done in reverse, asks Doody: would it not have been natural to adopt this approach in the writing of new literature, if such was what was hoped for in the old? The Neoplatonist Porphyry recorded an intelligent interpretation of a part of Homer's Odyssey in an essay called The Cave of the Nymphs, based on Plato's Simile of the Cave and the Mystery initiations of the Persians.
Yet it is possible to go considerably further than this. It was not just the philosphers that were making references to these matters, but also the novelists themselves, within the novels, certainly in the case of The Ethiopian Story by Heliodorus. In this novel we see an Egyptian priest called Calasiris relating to the Athenian Cnemon a bold speculation about hidden meanings in Homer, to which Cnemon replies "You have admitted me here to a Mystery, most reverend sir." Take note: we have a novelist - a creator of literature - depicting the presence of an encoding of a Mystery within literature. Is this not to be taken as a hint that this is in fact exactly what Heliodorus himself was doing in his story? And indeed he was, in pretty explicit ways, for a section of the book refers in only the most thinly veiled ways to another famous Platonic simile.
The two lovers in The Ethiopian Story meet during a ceremony at Delphi held at the time of the Pythian Games, and the text says that "at the moment of meeting the young pair looked and loved, as though the soul of each, at first encounter, recognized its fellow and leapt towards that which deserved to belong to it." J.R.Morgan's notes to Sir Walter Lamb's translation, published by Everyman, point out that this is reminiscent of the idea that romantic desire was a memory of beauty seen by the Soul before birth in Plato's Phaedrus. Morgan then adds that "this whole scene is full of Platonic connotations." Though Morgan doesn't tell us what they are, they are easy enough to find.
Calasiris describes riders on horses taking part in the procession at Delphi, where the "gallant steeds...chafed at the bit...spitting on it and foaming amain; and yet they suffered themselves to be guided by the rider's intent." Plato used the horses pulling a chariot as symbols of erotic desire, showing how if driven well - in other words with an honourable goodness of heart - they could pull the chariot up into the skies to the very gateway of the Realm of Forms. Diotyma describes the process that is initiated with the perception of beauty in the other, and which then expands into a perception of Beauty in general. In other words erotic desire could be the start of an initation through Beauty into a recovered apprehension and appreciation of the trancendant Realm of Ideas. This is the initiation process that Socrates says was described to him by the Arkadian priestess. Plato relates how the twelve gods - the signs of the Zodiac - travel this ascending path in the sky from the east towards their highest point, the place where they 'culminate', namely where their path - the ecliptic - reaches the meridian due South. This point, in Plato's system, is associated with the portal to the Realm of Universal Ideas, and the initiate, the philosopher, travels in the train of the gods towards this place.
Extending the allegory of the driver of the chariot, Plato's dialogue turns its attention to the chariot races of the Olympic Games, and says that the real wreath of success is awarded on an inner level to those who can successfully steer these horses of erotic desire along this path of initiation. This too is refered to directly in the narrative of Heliodorus' Ethiopian Story: "On the following day the Pythian (Delphic) Games were to come to their end, but those of the young couple were coming to their height. The god of love, I imagine," says Calasiris, "was acting as their marshal and umpire, and was determined to prove, through the particular case of these two athletes, paired off by him, that his own kind of contest is the greatest of all."
Delphi is well worth a visit even now, but in the age of Classical Greece it was wonderful indeed. I've been there myself a few times, and the time I recall with the greatest affection was a weekend stay while I was living in Volos on the East Coast. I stayed in a campsite a little walk along the valley from Delphi, at the time of the March equinox before the Summer season had got underway. I wanted to collect some water from the sacred spring, and it didn't seem appropriate to store it in a plastic bottle, so I bought a bottle of wine. Actually it was an especially large bottle, perhaps double the standard volume. Having done so I had to dispose of the wine inside to make room for the water. This took me more than a whole day, and it resulted in my strolling down a little way from Athena's circular tholos temple into the cover of an olive grove on the mountainside. Here I thought I'd have a bit of a lie down, maybe sleep off a little of the wine, so I lay myself down on the ground in the dappled shade of the olive trees and settled into a somewhat hazy state. After a time I was surprised by the sound of hooves drumming on the ground, and opened my eyes to see a group of sheep running through the grove and heading straight towards me. There wasn't time to run out of the way, so I just kept my fingers crossed and none of them actually trod on me as they came leaping past. It had all seemed very dreamlike, and a kind of satisfied glow came over me as I thought to myself, Byron-like, how wonderfully Greek it all suddenly was.
Nor was the wine finished. In fact as I walked back to the campsite in the darkness later in the evening I was still under Dionysos' influence. More sheep-related excitement followed. I heard some strange calls and was aware of a commotion, and straining my eyes in the darkness I worked out what was going on. Some local shepherds were driving their sheep back into the fold. I happened to be wearing a fluffy white fleece at the time, and one of the shepherds came careering up to me uttering his bizare calls until he got close enough to realise I wasn't a member of his herd. "How wonderfully Greek!" I thought to myself.
I was the only person staying in a tent at the campsite, and that night I found out why. A storm blew up, with great winds whistling along the valley, and I spent a slightly peculiar period of hung-over confusion as I sobered up and wondered what I was doing there in a little tent on a mountainside in a wild gale.
Calisiris the Egyptian priest in The Ethiopian Story has this to say about Delphi. "The city impressed me in general as an abode for the higher powers, but especially from the nature of its site...the natural acropolis of Mount Parnassus, impending aloft, closely enfolds the city within its flanks." He goes on to say that he was "highly pleased with the city's public walks and squares and fountains, and with the Castalian spring itself," from which he besprinkled himself.

So Heliodorus' certainly based the story on this Platonic description of erotic initiation, and the good drivers of the powerful horses are in fact symbols of the whole story of the pure and true romantic love of the two protagonists. This is an area upon which Prescriptive Realism can make no comment, because a person has a choice in any moment to become more honorouble and good of heart, so that there is no particular depiction of the quality of a relationship that can be considered the most 'realistic'. The ultimate aim of the arts is Beauty. In fact all the surviving Ancient Greek novels are centred on this same theme of ideal romantic love.
Doody points out that escape from a cave is also a recurring motif in the novels, and she suggests that this again may have been representative of the ascent from the cave in the Platonic simile. Porphyry in The Cave of the Nymphs pointed out that caves were used as places of initiation and also refered to constellations being assigned to parts of the cave. He also spoke of the South Gate of the cave pointing off towards the Sun's position where the ecliptic crosses the meridian at noon, portraying this as the ascent to the Realm of Universal Ideas. Plato's Simile of the Cave in The Republic also has animal shapes cast onto the walls of the cave and those in the cave receive their initiation when they see the Universal in these figures and in other shapes. When we add to this Plato's linking elsewhere of the constellation patterns - the animals of the sky - to the Realm of Forms we begin to get a picture of an initiation involving images of these animals painted on cave walls. As we shall see later, such traditions stretch back to very, very early times here in Europe, and their survival over such enormous tracts of history may be seen as a validation of their efficaciousness. Afterall, the constellation figures are in pragmatic terms eternal, being extremely old and unchanging, and they are universal in that one still seems the same pattern in the sky when travelling to other nations, and we have given them a kind of intelligibility in seeing them as join-the-dots animal figures with associated mythological stories. Being ancient, universal and intelligible these patterns fit the description of a Form, so might they not facilitate a connective mental morphic resonance across time to those ancient generations of star-gazers and story tellers? This resonance with perceptions beyond our own particular way of seeing leads to expanded sight, making these forms seem very numinous and trancendental, and through this they can trigger perception on a more universal level, just as Socrates says is the purpose of the initiation. This collective perceptual repository is called the Dreamtime, since initiation into collective ancestral resonance through contact with ancient rock art is a feature of the Australian indigenous culture. Exposure to these Forms is the essence of all Mystery initiation.
So much for the background. The purpose of this book now is to uncover these keys to the Arcadian Dreamtime. We shall start by looking at how the Ethiopian Story encodes constellation imagery.

The Perseus Mystery
The philospher Aristotle, who studied under Plato at the Academy, wrote about the art of plot in his Poetics. He recommended that a story should have a key idea and that all parts of the story should in some way work towards the demonstration of this idea, just as all the limbs of a body have a function to fulfil within an organism as a whole. The Ethiopian Story achieves this admirably. The core idea is simply that human sacrifice is wrong and unnecesary and that the gods themselves do not desire to be sacrficed to in that way. Aristotle also recommended the plot type that involves the recognition trope, the lost-and-found child story, for the pleasing relief that it facilitates. Heliodorus' brilliant idea based on this formal plot was this: the gods do not desire human sacrifice, so what if there was a people in some distant land who still practiced the barbarous rite, and how about if the god to whom it was offered was looking for a way to communicate to them the fact that he did not want it, and would a wonderful way for that to be communicated be if the person about to be sacrficed was suddenly to be recognized at the last moment at the lost child of the person about to offer the sacrifice? From this central moment of genius he then began to weave the story together, using as his core matter the story of Andromeda, the princess rescued by Perseus from sacrifice to at the hands of her own father, the Ethiopian King. He added to the simple story by making the princess a lost-and-found child, and then had a priest interpret the extraordinary events as a situation orchestrated by the god in question - the Sun - to show that such an act was not desired by him. Then Heliodorus set about working out what such an orchestration might be, and this proved fairly easy since Apollo, the god of prophesy and patron of Delphi was also a Sun god. It is easy enough for the god behind the oracular proclamations of Delphi to orchestrate events, and sure enough it is such an oracle which brings about the princesses return to Ethiopia.
In such a non-linear manner did this master of plot build up the story, with the result that the reader only comprehends all of this at the very end of the book. Had Aristotle lived on to read the novel he would surely have been as well pleased with it as would Plato and Socrates.
The indentification of the female protagonist Chariclea with Andromeda is strong in the book, and that of her lover Theagenes with Achilles is equally strong. Here we see more of this business of all the parts having a function to play in accordance with the one central idea, because Achilles, a millenia before the time in which The Ethiopian Story is set, protected Iphegeneia from sacrifice at the hands of her own father. A version of the story held that Iphegeneia and Achilles then had a son, Neoptolemus, and in Heliodorus' story it is this Neoptolemus to whom the ceremony at Delphi is dedicated and from whom Theagenes is descended, just as Chariclea has Andromeda as her ancestor.
But just as, by making Theagenes a latter day Achilles, Chariclea in turn becomes linked to Iphegenia as well as Andromeda, so too does Theagenes play the role of Perseus as her heroic consort. It is this more covert association that becomes the key to unlocking the big Mystery of The Ethiopian Story.
[then into Perseus bull-leap as in blog posting]

Friday, 29 June 2007

DIONYSIAN LITURGY


Liturgy of A New Dionysian Harvest Festival

We place no power outside ourselves, recognise no priestly authority, and do not offer praise in the hope of special favour, but we dance now in ideas and simple ceremony through steps that activate age-old resonances, in awakening and invoking you.


We invoke you as the Dance-Weaving One


We understand that in this resonance resides a living genius, and also understand that in some sense this is a part of our collective, multidimensional consciousness. We invoke you as a genius which brings pleasure, and are happy if through us such pleasure may spread into the world.


We invoke you as god of the Comedy, of laughter and wine.


And so, to dance in resonant ancient steps, we have set up this idol as of old, to the same specifications, the mask upon the pillar, the double garment, and with the eye that is mind we see back to that time when this idol was raised with great ceremony.


We invoke you as Dendrites, He-Who-Is-In-The-Tree.


Through this image we remember you as Osiris who grew up into a tree which was then made into a pillar, and recall how Isis by her magic awoke your essence within this pillar.


We invoke you as the Pillar, and He-Who-Entwines-Around-the-Pillar

And so we shall pour libation to you, saying as in very ancient times, that we return to you what was pressed from you, the Life energies of Sun and Moon that are called the Eyes of Horus which had infused the grapes from which this wine has been made. We shall return to you the Eye of Horus.


We invoke you as the Sun-in-the-Grapes


We invoke your energy in the pillar, and the first object we bring before you, before this idol, is a basket which contains a representation of a vinestock. It represents the first vinestock that was brought to these shores and planted in these soils. At Harvest the vine is cut down to this core part, and in Winter you dwell within the Underworld while the vine seems to sleep. There you were initiated into the mysteries of Rhea, Mother Earth, so that when you returned to the surface you were stronger and more fruitful than before. In Spring the horned vinestock wakes and sprouts green tendrils like serpents as the sap rises.


We invoke you as the Horned-Child with serpents for hair


Riding on a goat you found safety, and then received protection from Rhea. It is said that the vinestock was carried to new lands in a basket on the head of the goddess, and so we now carry this basket and place it before you.


We invoke you as Liknites, the Child-in-the-Basket


We close our eyes for a moment and image ourselves in the Underworld receiving the Mysteries from Rhea, Mother Earth, entwining around us protectively as a healing serpent. [PAUSE]
And now we open our eyes as if reborn as initiates.
Risen from the Underworld you are the Initiated Dionysos, and you grow strong through the Summer, riding high in the evening skies as the wine-bringer constellation Ikarios, the constellation also called the Herdsman. Ikarios ascended into the stars while a vine grew up from his tomb.


We invoke you in the form of your human stand-in, Ikarios, who took you into his house and first received from you the gift of wine.


As this constellation, Dionysos, you ascend, riding in your chariot pulled by the magnificent team, Leo and Leo Minor, while behind you follow the revelling throng, the Bearers of the Serpents, called Maenads, and your Sagitarian mentor, the half-man, half-horse Silenus, on his mule, and the goatish satyr of Capricorn. You lead this triumphant party from the East, happy with your successes!


We invoke you as He-Who-Leads-the-Throng


Now we recall that your birth was two-fold. While she was in the Underworld your mother, Semele-Persephone, became pregnant with you, and when you were born you were protected from the light of Zeus by a covering of ivy which he, your father, placed around you.


We invoke you as the Ivy Apollo


From Persephone, of the green plants, you were born as Iakchos, who is in the fresh, new fruit juice, the gleukos. And so we now carry the branches hung with grapes and other first fruits of the season and place them before you. And we now drink fruit juice that is sacred to you. We pour first the grape juice, and we feel thankful for the gifts of rejuvenation in this elixir, for the powerful antioxidants - polyphenols - and for the rejuvenating resveratrol. We drink also pomegranate juice, remembering how this plant was said to have grown up from where drops of your blood hit the ground. Such gleukos is fermented and sewn into the wine skin to be matured. Zeus sewed you when you were premature into his thy to complete the gestation.


As this time of year is upon us, we invoke you as the sewn-in god.


The matured wine may be opened at any time of year, and such an occasion is your second birth. And as we open the wine and celebrate simultaneously this second birth we shout, as they did of old at this moment of the first opening of the matured wine: "Son of Semele, Iakchos, Bestower of Wealth!"


Son of Semele, Iakchos, Bestower of Wealth!


Hence you are are the Twice-Born.


We cast the sight of the eye that is mind back to this moment in the Temple of Dionysos in the Swamps of Athens, the Lenaia, when the birth was announced, and when the wine was ladelled out of wine-mixing jars set upon tables placed before the idol, just as has been arranged here. We ladel this out for ourselves, and also into a kantharos that we have reserved for you Dionysos, which we place before you on the table.
And now comes the next part of the initation, the kraterzein, the original Eucharist. For we shall drink this sacred blood-of-the-vine, recalling how as the Sun rises with Sirius in late Summer the grapes undergo the mysterious transubstantiation from green to red, transformed to ichor, the blood-of-the-gods. May our minds become pregnant with pleasure-bringing genius and may we birth this into the world through our creativity.
May the Dionysian Pagan codes be activated to beneficial effect in the Age of the Cup Bearer!
And so as promised we now pour libation to you, saying as in very ancient times, that we return to you what was pressed from you. We return to you the Eye of Horus.


We invoke you as the Sun-in-the-Grapes
May the Dionysian find its place in our world
May the genius in the plants awake
Wassail!