Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Here we see Cybele (Kubele) being pulled in her cart by lions, in a image taken from http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Mythology/Cybele.html

Hymn 14 to the Mother of the Gods

Sing clear tone Muse, daughter of Great Zeus.

Sing the mother of all
Mortal and immortal.

She is well pleased with
The rattle of seistron
The clashing of shields
The wail of flutes, the cry of wolves
The roar of bright eyed lions
Echoing across wooded mountains.

Rejoice in the goddess and sing your song.

The Mother of The Gods. Identified with the Minoan Rhea, and the Greek goddess Gaia, among many others. A complex series of tales and rituals surround this goddess. She is the source of the extraordinary poem by the Roman poet Catullus, a powerful work that talks of the frenzied rituals of the goddess, and the remorse of the self castrated acolyte.

Cybele seems to have existed in the pre-historic bronze age eastern Mediterranean region, and extended across most of the cultures of the time. Even in Rome, where she was brought during the Second Punic War (about 204 BC) to fulfil a Sibylline prophecy. This was seconded by the oracle at Delphi. As the Romans defeated the Carthaginians, it must have been true.

As a goddess of ecstasy the Great Mother existed across much of Bronze Age Europe, only to be overthrown by the Sky King Gods. With a series of names and attribute, she is far too complex a deity to discuss successfully on this blog, I will leave the discussion here, and leave any more research to the reader. Remarking only that the pathway from a primitive communist, matricentric society to our present patriarchal existence could only have been physical violence.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Erida - Goddess of Strife

A couple of paragraphs from the Iliad. Two sections where we see the external nature of war. Of how the feelings of soldier are manipulated by larger forces. In this case the will of Zeus, but let us see it as a metaphor for our society, where War seems natural and opposing your neighbour passes for society. I used more words in these translations, as it was important to create some context for the passages, as we are only dealing with a few lines out of over 15,000 in the epic.

Book IV of the Iliad, Strife and Fear and panic stricken rout arise with Strife and discord. A love of the sound of battle of the clots of blood. She spreads discord and strife among Charming Ilios and the Danaoi. Strife starts off little and then grows; until, with feet striding the land her head is in the heavens. And I am reminded of the blood lust of my fellows and the generals and politicians and the perverters of language, and the mockers of democracy and how we must honour our dead by keeping the wars going. So strife feeds on strife and storms the very gates of heaven, suffocating in blind remorseless fury, the children of the poor.

I am sure one who is smarter than I am will find a deep misogynist strain in Homer, and his feminising of discord. As for myself, I struggle with simple translations.

Book 4 starting line 439

Some are called forth by Ares, some by iron eyed
Athena. So arises Fear and panic stricken
Terror. And Strife who desires cruelty,
Sister and concubine of Ares destroyer of men.
Small she is, to start, armed, but soon
Her head rises to the heavens. Across the land
She strides. She spews strife to all sides
Equal, as she goes among the tumult,
Increasing the lamentations of men.

Book XI of the Iliad. Those who feel that history is made by great men, and that history appears as a series of wars and violence will find much to hardened their positions by reading this epic. It seems to me wrong to discuss the Iliad with modern eyes, as the poem seems to me to be denying modernist ideas of free will. In the beginning of book eleven the Achaeans have suffered badly at the hands of the Trojans, and many are dejected. It is the plan of Zeus that the war continue. He sends Strife down to the encampment and she screams and fills the hearts of the army with hatred, with love of battle, sweeter even then the thought of going home.

Book XI starting line 14

And then Erida rose to her full height -
Eyes dripping blood. She called out great
And terrible. Penetrating into the hearts
Of the Achaeans. At once war become
Sweeter than going back in the hollow
Ships to the beloved land of their families.

Can we see our own throwness in the works of Homer? Torn asunder from our beloved land we are captivated by our supposed freedom. The power of Capital toys with our lives, in a similar way to how Zeus toyed with warring Greeks and the Trojans. He set them to strife and even goaded them to second effort when they began to falter. This was his plan, Zeus wanted to depopulate the Earth. War was his answer, and it was only too easy for him to find willing accomplices in their own extinction. As it is only too easy to find today many who wish for war, and forsake multilateral solutions and worship at the cenotaph. Empty tombs of the empty lives of our dead, honoured by old men. Or as Lenin said there was no crisis from which the bourgeoisie could not escape provided the working class was prepared to pay the price.

We are not as superstitions as the ancients, but we still sacrifice our children on hard stone altars, praying for a wind that will blow an invisible hand onto our scales, allowing us to fight our enemies, and to gain great wealth. It is, of course, wrong to see Capital as a supernatural power. Yet for the vast herd that roams the land having no understanding of what drives them, no grasp of simple history, of how the world became this way, having nothing but disdain for the workings of the scientific method, knowing nothing of the intricate web of interconnected wealth which builds up the foundations of everyday life, and of thought itself, they act and move as if controlled by far off gods who drink and love and mock the tiny ones who live not a true human life, but rather a shadowy passing of time. Lacking above all curiosity and imagination.

And yet both the Gods of the old days, and the Wealth of our modern age, are nothing if not our creation, the common structure and therefore the common inheritance of countless hands and hearts and minds.

The image is Achilles getting new armour from his mother. He is going back to war Why? His friend was killed, and the only way to honour his death is to add to the pile of death.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

War and Anti War

I was reading an only moderately interesting book about the Trojan War. Among the cliches of a conflict of cultures and the battles of East and West, I came across some good quotes from out of Homer.

So like a good little geek, I had no choice to look up the original, and make a stab at translation. Mucking around a bit with what I ended up with, lead me to this two little pretend imagist works posted here.

These lines are Odysseus speaking to Agamemnon. Things are not going well for the Greeks. Odysseus lets his captain know that this is the lot of soldiers, and they will have to fight until they die. He seems to be pointing to the cruelty of the gods and their callous disregard for human life. Maybe we can see the gods as standing in for the historic and economic forces in our lives, and how it can seem to the unexplored mind that war is natural and a normal part of life.

When in fact we all know that it is possible to end war.

(Iliad Book 14.86)

This Zeus has assigned.

We are to endure,
From insolence
Into grey age,
Painful war,

Until we perish.

In this second quote, Odysseus is even more clear as to who should wear the blame for the war. It is clearly the work of the gods, and Zeus in particular. He seems to see the war as a toy of the gods, and the death of the many as being of no importance to the deathless ones.

(Odyssey 14.235)

Along this hateful path
Far sounding Zeus
Led many
Knee bent men
To their death.

The image depicts the battle about the body of Patroclus, and is from a greek vase. More can be found here

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A free and frank city

The Suppliants: lines 399 - 408


Who is the ruler of this land?
To which one shall I announce
The proclamation of Creon?

He has mastery of the lands
Of Cadmus, since Eteocles
Died under the blows of his own
Brother Polynices, outside
Thebes of the seven towers.


You begin your tale
Falsely, stranger,
Seeking tyrants here.

Not for us the authority
Of one man, rather we are
A free and frank city.

The people rule and are ruled
In yearly turns. And what's more wealth
Will not grant you the most, for even
With the day labourer are they equal.

Theseus killed the Minotaur. He became one of heroes who brought the Greeks into the light, into the world of the city.

I was struggling my way through the final chapter of "Politics in the Ancient World" by M.I. Finley, when he quoted from the Euripides play "The Suppliants." Anything to have a break from the arid style of the former Master of Darwin College, Cambridge. And anything in these dreary days of apathy across the Angloshpere that speaks to progressive ideas is a boon.

Knowing that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and with more enthusiasm than fluency, I dove into an attempt at translation.

I used ruler as opposed to tyrant in the first line, as I wanted to see this brief exchange as a critique on our own democracy. Euripides himself was both a supporter and critic of democracy. This is as it should be, criticism and self criticism. I thought it was important to use the world frank to describe the free city of Theseus. The phrase in the original is eleuthera polis, which means free city. I thought I had to go deeper, as it seems as if free is a heavily loaded word, one which means many different things to different people, one that over the years has lost some of it's lustre. A few of the synonyms for eleuthera included free, liberal, open, unencumbered, open to all, as well as my final choice of frank. One of the positive features of Athenian democracy was the idea of frank speech, even if only in theory. A citizen who was to speak before the assembly was expected to speak truthfully, including being truthful with themselves. This what is meant by the motto "Know thyself." How much this was actually followed in daily life I dare not say. Australians only have to look at their own mythology of mateship and the fair go to make their own conclusions as to how moderate and self aware the Ancient Greeks really were.

Beyond the 'woolly' idea of being able to speak frankly in the assembly, this simple exchange allows us to sneak a peek between the curtains, into a window on Athenian democracy in action. The people rule and are ruled in yearly turn. The citizens are expected to rule, to take an active part in the actual running the government, as well as debating and voting on policy and strategy. Ruling and ruled in turn. Beyond what we learn from Euripides, we know that Athenian democracy included payment for work done for the state, as well as the use of lotteries to allocate positions. Citizens were questioned before they took up their appointed roles, and reviewed at the end of the yearly appointment. We also know, if only negatively from the constant complaints of the literate aristocrats, that democracy in Athens was for a time extended to the lower classes, the rowers and the day labourers. Side by side with the well born the day labourer was expected to speak, and his speech was expected to be heard. Again as to how equal the assembly really was, I dare not say. It does seem as if the sheer expense of the political contest, as well as the large size of some electorates, act as a ration card for political activity by the great majority of people. Lotteries also seem to have an advantage, in that it would be harder for positions to ossify, as they do in our current regime. Lotteries and fixed terms form all positions would end the idea of people being in parliament as a career.

With the current impasse in politics in the West, any idea that extends the ideas of democracy is worth thinking about and discussing.

Pic from: http://www.timelessmyths.com/classical/gallery/theseusminotaur.jpg