Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Barren Sea

Hymn 22 to Poseidon

About Poseidon I begin to sing!
Mover of the earth and desolate sea
Lord of the Deep!
He Enfolds Helikon
And wide Aigai

The honoured gods divided
Amongst themselves the world.

And two fold is your share, Earth-shaker.
Tamer of horses and saviour of ships.

Hail Earth-holding,
Deep sea dark maned Poseidon!
Blessed you are, and generous of heart.
Give aid to those who sail upon the sea.

Poseidon is in some stories the senior brother of Zeus, in others he is the younger brother. Regardless of seniority the brothers Zeus, Poseidon and Aides (with the initial A sound being aspirated, that is pronounced with an H sound - therefore Hades) drew lots.

Zeus won the sky, this can be seen from the etymology of his name, from the PIE Deyus; the day or *dyeu to shine (this is better seen in the Roman name Jupiter which means something very much like the sky father.) Poseidon won the seas, the origin of the name is more problematic, and can mean something like the Husband of the Earth, or (to me more likely) Lord of the Waters. Plato, in his dialogue Cratylus, thought the name could come mean Knowing many things, from Polla eidotos or Polla eidon, but from my amateur efforts this seems to be a going backwards and trying to find the name given in the past from the present. Some others authorities feel Poseidon is an older pre-Greek name, found on Mycenaean tablets at Knossos as po-se-da-wo-ne (Mycenaean alphabet was syllable based, not letters), so from at least 1100 BC. He is associated with Demeter, and is not yet the sea god, but is already at this stage the earth shaker. An obviously important aspect in Ancient Crete. Maybe he came to Greece as Anatolian God of Horses.

The third brother Aides, whose name means 'the unseen', won the kingdom of the underworld, which he ruled with Demeter's daughter Persephone.

It seems as if many of the ancients thought that the earth, was like a plate that floated on the sea. Is this the source of the idea of Poseidon being the earth-holder? I can not say for sure, but intuitively this seems to me to be the case. The sea that Poseidon has rule over is of course the Mediterranean sea, with Okeanus being the river that flows around the entire earth.

One word that caused me considerable consternation was the word atrugetoio. Many of the words of the ancients are remarkably elastic, having many different uses. One thing I have learned in this past year or so of vainly trying to make sense of Ancient Greek, is that there are many Greeks. Many variations on the language. With only a short step back one can see that this is true. The language covers the time frame of, of let us say, 800BC (about the time of Homer and Hesiod) to, again let us arbitrarily say, about 350AD when Constantinople was consecrated. Even here we are talking about long time periods. Constantinople was founded on the location of Byzantium which was first colonised in about 560BC, something like 890 years earlier. England was under the rule of the Normans, in China it was the height of the Song Dynasty, and in France Aberlard was castrated in the equivalent distance, which would be sometime about 1120AD, 890 years ago. The ancient Greek language was spoken over a long period of time, and over a large area, from Sicily to the banks of the Indus. All of this points to a diversity of Greek. And so the basis for my confusion concerning the word atrugetoio.

Once I understood that this was the Homeric version of the genitive case, I was able to make some sense of what was said. The first, and most common translation I got for this word was unfertile, unfruitful. It did seem a bit confusing to call the sea unfertile, but understandable as well. I do not, unlike some commentators, feel that the Greeks did not understand the idea of the riches of the sea, one only has to read some of the old texts, dig around into the cookbooks to understand that sea food was very important to Greek culture. I would think we would have to look at the sea from the eyes of the navigator, the sailor. Or as Coleridge said; in what has become a clichéd construction, "Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink". Autenrieth, in his Homeric Dictionary had a reference to the word meaning restless. This seemed to make sense to me, as a restless ocean can not be harvested. Atrugetos, a later form of the same word is defined as having the prefix 'A' meaning a negative with the word Truge, meaning a crop, harvest, vintage and the like (with hoi epi truge meaning the grape-gatherers.) So this leads us to the literal meaning of not-harvest.

Other dictionaries, while agreeing that Atrugetos is an epitaph for both the sea and the air (aither) explain the word as meaning restless, unwasting. This can easily be extended to mean barren, desolate and the like, and is seen in the Iliad (1.316) (They) sacrificed to Apollo prefect hecatombs of cows and goats on the barren sand beside the sea. Here it describes the sandy beach. Being elastic the word also came to be used to describe death as the 'fruitless night' (of sleep.) My Pocket Oxford Dictionary seems to want to please everyone and uses the definition of unfruitful, desert; ever-fluctuating. In the end, after much tossing and turning I came to land upon desolate. Creating the image of the sea (from the eyes of the nautes) as being a howling wilderness.

Helikon, the mountain of Muses who taught Hesiod how to sing, and home of the fountains Aganippe (as a cult aspect of mare-headed Demeter it means something like 'the mare that destroys mercifully') and Hippocrene (from hippo meaning horse and krene meaning fountain.) Helikon is sacred to Poseidon, maybe in his role as Lord of the Horse. Also sacred to Poseidon is Aigai, mentioned in the Odyssey 5:398 'Content that Odysseus was suffering in the open sea, Poseidon lashed his horses and made his way to Aigai.' also in the Iliad 13.19 'Poseidon strides towards Aigai with the countryside trembling under his feet.'

The final interesting confusion to me was the description of Poseidon as being kuanochaita, or dark blue/purple haired. Kuanos is the word to describe the blue enamel which was used to adorn armour, or lapis lazui, also the dark blue of the ocean and the blue corn flower. So with so much to choose from I had to go with deep sea dark maned. (Although the punk in me wanted to give him purple hair.)

The image is from

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Raptor and the Ravens

A Raptor
Lives in the area.
I watch her
Wide brown winged
Still flight.

Flying slow and low
Over the burnt
Summer sun grass.

Suddenly she swoops
And seizes.
Embraces the sky,
Something black
And struggling
Her talons.

Suddenly from
Out of nowhere
A murder of ravens
Chase and harass

Until she drops
Her burden.
Rapid the robbers

I speak with my prodigy.
What can this mean?
What can you foretell?

She stands silent
For several minutes.

All of your work
All of you efforts
Will be gobbled up
The rapacious ones.