Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Helper of the hospitable

Ares, the hated son of Zeus & Hera. Thracian God of War, as a Thracian
was he seen as being outside the ordered world of the Greek polis? Was
war then seen to be a barbarian activity, as an outside force to be
shunned and feared? In Sparta they would sacrifice puppies to Ares, and
they had a statue of Ares in chains, on theory that if the Lacedaemonians
kept Ares is chains then they would forever keep their martial spirit.
In a similar way Athens erected a statue of Nike Apteros; that is wingless
Victory, so she could not leave the city.

Ares whose war cry was as loud of 10 000 men. Lover of Aphrodite (does
this show Greek fear at the irrational, disruptive and eventually
destructive nature of sexual love?). In a typical example of the
ancient Greek love of dichotomy, Ares was held in opposition to
Athena, in that she represented strategy, rational thought and
intelligence applied to war, the just war, warfare to defend the
polis. Ares on the other hand was an anthropomorphic shadow of
bloodlust, of the dashing off into the icy cold din of battle.

Ares would side first with one city, and then with another. He
represented the love of battle itself. His sacred animals were the
vulture and the dog, as they would feast upon the not always dead
bodies of the battlefield. His attendants are Deimos, dread fear
personified, and Phobos, panic stricken flight, the supreme at war
goddess Enyo, destroyer of cities. Also in attendance to Ares would be
found Eris, the personification of Strife. Eris took delight in battle
and in human bloodshed.

Some have Eros born of the union between Ares and Aphrodite, for
myself I would agree with Hesiod and make Eros one of the original
gods. For it is desire that allows us to remake the world anew.

This poem was a fun one to translate, lots of operatic language and
imagery. The first five of so lines are a list of attributes for
Ares. Reminding me of ALP's mamafesta (a feminising of the word
manifesto) starting on page 104 of Finnegans Wake. Of course Joyce had
to take it too far.

I tried to show the Greek desire for a well ordered life, for the
following of custom, for knowing what is to be done, and what should
not be done. If one followed the customs of the polis, in particular
the custom of hospitality, Ares will grant victory. But for the
heretic, for the one who disdained the mores of the people Ares would
be a tyrant, meeting force with force.

I can make no claim at being a classical scholar, I am at best a vain
poseur, and I am sure that my translations can not fully illuminate
the thinking of people who lived over two thousand years ago, but as
always I hope you will at least grant me my petty pretense. For I at
least had some fun writing this poem, and even more than that I was
able to learn a bit more about the world around me. And as we slowly
meander our way to the eternal void what more can any of us hope to

The image is of Ares & Aphrodite and it came from here:


Homeric Hymn 8 - To Ares

Surpassingly strong Ares,
Prevailing with chariots, crested of gold,
Strong willed, Shield bearing, City protecting,
Clad in shining bronze, Strong hearted,
Untiring, Mighty with spear,
Bulwark of Olympus.

Victorious good-at-war Father,
Helper of the hospitable,
Tyrant to the hostile.

The well-ordered he leads to the light
Bearing his sceptre of courage.

He sets spinning his fiery bright
Shield above the clouds, across
The seven-pathed constellation.
There forever his foals,
Full of fire, steer him.
The third firmament
Above the orbit.

Hearken champion of the ones who bleed,
Giver of courage to the youth,
Kindly pour down your radiance
From on high, giving sustenance
And warlike courage. Allow that I
May be able to rout sharp cowardice
From my thoughts, and bend my deceitful
Soul back to it's senses.

Restrain my anger and blood-lust,
Restrain my charge the icy din
Of battle. - But thou courage give.
Blest one, let me abide without harm
Within well-ordered peace;
Shunning ill-will, tumult and
The call of the queen
Who is violent doom.

Monday, April 11, 2011


The local theatre group, Sorell On Stage put on a production of the
play 'Beyond a Joke' at the local memorial hall. So we packed up the
children and headed out to see the piece. This is as much me having
a conversation with myself, and trying to solidify some thoughts, as
it is a review. Either way it was a good opportunity for me to get
upon my hobby horse and ride the queen's highway.

What is Art?

Many people, mostly smarter than myself, have wrestled with this
question for a long time. My own fragment of a contribution sees art
as being primarily a social activity. Colour, Line, Melody, Speech how
ever one describes art, however one looks at art, it all comes down to
our species being, our socialness - zoot politikon as the philosopher
would say. Even the archetypal Proustian character, after sleeping
through the day and sitting alone at night in his sound proofed room,
typing his life into art, is working in a social context. Indeed this
tension between the individual and social drives much of what we
call culture.

Why Social?

Going back to the very misty olden times plays were performed in the
open air, in public places, and the clans and tribes would
gather. Music, dance, painting, and poetry. All this and more come
together to create theatre. Even a modest production requires many
hands and many heads. As the German playwright Bertolt Brecht once
famously asked, 'Who built the seven towers of Thebes?'

Why Theatre?

More than other art forms theatre shows us clearly the social nature
of art. In the charming agricultural proscenium auditorium memorial
hall of Sorell the local theatre group performed Derek Benfield's 1979
play 'Beyond A Joke.' A Sweeney Todd blood fest of modern life. A
quiet couple, in a quiet house surrounded by many blossomed trestles,
in a quiet village. Tradesmen enter, but do not leave. The son in law
over hears a conversation between the husband and wife and assumes the
worst. Was it only a series of unfortunate accidents, or was there
murder at the heart of this cosy family? In the best traditions this
question is never resolved, allowing my wife and I to have an
illuminating conversation with our children concerning unresolved

Why Local Theatre?

Art is more than smooth lines, more than cut and dry grammar, more
than tightly controlled hexamatres, more than even what the creator
knows. If Stern was correct in his opinion that writing, properly
managed should be but a different name for conversation; then small,
local, intimate theatre can be seen as the acme of art. When we
consider the affection masters of conversation such as Dickens and
Joyce had for amateur theatre, we can gain a greater respect for what
is being done by these small regional groups. With thin budgets the
play becomes the thing and audience is happy to be swept away in
clouds of suspended disbelief. Functional lighting and simple set
designs allow the conversation to sparkle and minor mishaps and slips
of the tongue and miscues are overlooked in the same way that a chat
over the water cooler is filled with wicked grammar and slang
shorthand where information is readily passed from one to the
other. Understanding that the city is the place to be, we must also
admit that big budget block busting productions give the appearance of
extravagant baroque art, but are all too often no more than thin and
insipid conversations full of sound and fury.

What of Errors?

Portals of discovery, slips into new realms, a brief glance of the
future, at what could be. Nothing to be feared. Feared only if a
smooth lamination is your only goal. Honest roughness beats a basket
of contrived sleekness any day.

In short not the play I would have produced, but I am sure my choice
of titles would only lead to empty seats and even more empty
wallets. I confess to an enjoyable afternoon where even more than a
play we got to see a community come together. Parental joy (again a
social activity) when the children laughed and listened intently and
broke their necks for a clearer view. An afternoon of light hearted
murder comedy of errors. That then I scorn to change my place with

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Potnia Theron

photo from http://www.utexas.edu/courses/larrymyth/images/2E-Artemis-Actaeon.jpg

Hymn 9 to Artemis

Sing Muse, of Artemis,
Sister of the far worker.
Virgin spitter of arrows,
Fed at the same table as Apollo.

She refreshes her horses
The waters of reedy thick Meletos.

Swiftly through Smyrna
She drives her golden chariot
To Klaros rich in vines while
Apollo of the silver bow awaits
The arrow-pourer.

Hail Goddess! At the same time
Embroider lyrics. Of you I sing.
And now I shall pass over
Into another mournful song.

this one from http://albertis-window.blogspot.com/2011/02/diana-of-ephesus-keeping-abreast-with.html

some words on Artemis

Artemis has many different guises, she seemed to start as a fertility goddess, as in Artemis of Ephusus and later takes the role of the virgin mistress of wild animals. She is quite cruel in her protection of her sacred animals, and in the protection of her virginity.

When I read of Artemis and Apollo and the serenity with which they can torture and kill us mortals I am reminded of Rilke's Angels from the first of his Duino Elegies. (which was written in Trieste while Joyce was writing Ulysses.)

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the Angelic
Orders? And even if one were to suddenly
take me to its heart, I would vanish into its
stronger existence. For beauty is nothing but
the beginning of terror, that we are still able to bear,
and we revere it so, because it calmly disdains
to destroy us. Every Angel is terror.

Ekatos - the far shooter, a name for Apollo, the younger twin brother to Artemis.

Iocheairan - This word is commonly translated as arrow pourer. Ios is the word for arrow as well as the word for venom. I combined the arrow and the venom of the snake and made the image of the mistress of the wild beasts (potnia theron) spitting arrows, as a snake will spit venom.

Bathuschoinoio - combining Bathos; deep, used in many metaphorical ways as well, including the connotation that is still current, profound, and schoinos which means reeds. Coincidently schoinos can be used to mean arrow or javelin.

Meletos a river, which may have been near to city of Smyrna.

Kleros - a site sacred to Apollo, where there was once an oracle.

Humnos - a hymn, but also a word with wider intimations, a simple strain or melody but also a hymn, an ode to the gods, but also a mournful song. As all art has an element of sorrow I used to translation of mournful song.

Again I am no scholar in the classics, but a vain and puny amateur who gains enjoyment trying to make sense of the word about us.