Thursday, November 24, 2011

Phoibos - the bright one

Number 21: Apollo

O bright one!
The swan beats
time with wide wings,
Loudly sings
of you

and settles
the river bank
The ever flowing

Of Thou;
The sweet sounding singer
carrying a clear toned

First and last,
She sings.

Hear my rejoicing
In you,

I appease you with song.

Straight away I liked the image of the swans flapping wings to bring about a successful landing on the river bank. Singing and keeping time with wing beasts. All in honour of Phoebes Apollo. Phoibos, the bright one. Who was, in revenge for a mocking Eros who was bragging how he was a better shot with the bow, was shot by an arrow of the butt of his humour. Apollo fell in love in Daphne, and like the equally cursed Kassandra, she scorned him.

Daphne, fleeing the lust of Apollo, prayed to her father, Peneios, one of the potamoi. The Potamoi were the 3000 river gods, sons of Oceanus (Okeanos) and Tethys (Tethus). In a short sighted attempt at protecting his daughter, Peneios turned her into a laurel tree. The laurel became sacred to Apollo.

I could not refuse myself the small echo of Heraclitus, in describing the Thessalian river bank where the swan settled.

Hear my rejoicing
In you,

This line caused me some pain. The word in Greek is Anax.

Anax is from an earlier word wanax, which is found on Mycenaean inscriptions, meaning Lord or Master. This word can be found in Homer, and is used to describe Agamemnon, anax andron, leader of men. (Iliad 1,442). Xerxes and Darius are called Lord King. In the tragedy Persians by Aeschylus line 5 we see anax Xerxes basileus. This word is also used in sense of master of the house (oikoio anax); and in a descriptive and telling Homeric simile from the Odyssey (10,216) 'As when the dogs fawn about the lords during a feast.' All of this seemed to me to show a hierarchal relationship. So, as I was forced by dictionaries to choose between lord and master, I chose master. Lord, while fitting, and being the more traditional translation, had a Christian connotation that, for various reasons, I was happy to avoid.

Master has a brutal simplicity, or if you prefer a simple brutality, and this simplicity is able to quickly describe the master/servant relationship of the Deathless Ones (athanatoi) with the Brotoi, the Clots of Gore.

Pleasant enough it is in our easy chair to, while glowing in opium dreams of Swinburne or the more austere Nietzschian tumult, to romanticise the relationship the Greeks had to their gods. To the Deathless humans are mere playthings. Zeus wanted to depopulate the Earth, he brought forth as a conspirator Momus, a scoffer, the personification of reproach, blame and disgrace, or spoke to Eris as the personification of strife. Or maybe it was Themis. It all depends on what you read and take to canonical. Themis being one of those untranslatable characters. She is a Goddess of Order, of 'Doing the Right Thing.' In the Cypria it is the pity that Zeus feels for Gaia that is the origin of the Trojan War. `There was a time when the countless tribes of men, though wide-dispersed, oppressed the surface of the deep-bosomed earth, and Zeus saw it and had pity and in his wise heart resolved to relieve the all-nurturing earth of men by causing the great struggle of the Ilian war, that the load of death might empty the world. And so the heroes were slain in Troy, and the plan of Zeus came to pass.' And Plato agrees `That it is Zeus who has done this, and brought all these things to pass, you do not like to say; for where fear is, there too is shame.' Regardless of how it was brought about we can clearly see that the Gods are only to happy to commit any number of crimes, murders, rapes, kidnappings etc using humans as toys. Leaving a trail of abused and broken mortals in their wake.

Like all good tyrants the Gods cheat when it suits. In a musical contest between Apollo and Marsyas, Marsyas had played Apollo to a standstill, with Apollo playing the lyre against the flute of Marsyas. Apollo fearful of losing to a mortal challenged the satyr to play his instrument upside down, and then again while singing along. The flute playing satyr of course could not do these things. Apollo celebrated his victory by flaying Marsyas alive.

So quickly we move from the epiphany of the wide winged swan to the ever present threat of instant death, for the Deathless Ones will brook no insolence. They know their power and are not afraid to use that power, depending on the whim that strikes. Leaving the author of this hymn to beg for the attention and pleasure of Apollo. Like the Homeric fawning dog at the banquet table hoping to appease the master, and so gain a crumb of affection or dinner. Much like the members of the 99%.

Or said much much better than I ever could - Rilke First Duino Elegy (coincidentally) Duino is just outside Trieste where Joyce was living at the time.

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels' hierarchies?
and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart:
I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
Every angel is terrifying.