THE TROJAN WAR
What was the Trojan War?
What was Troy? A mercantile entrepôt, strategically situated at the foot of Mt. Ida on the eastern shore of the Aegean Sea, in the second millennium before the ‘Christian Era’.
Who built its walls? Apollo and Poseidon (with the help of Aeacas, a mortal). Poseidon laid the stones in his quality as the Oceanic source of all matter and Apollo tuned them to Heaven with the music of his lyre. Such august builders are ascribed to no other city of the ancient Hellenic world.
Why ‘with the help of Aeacas, a mortal’ (though son of Zeus by Aegina)? Because otherwise the walls would have been unbreachable by men. And, even so, they were not breached: the ‘Achaeans’ or ‘Danaeans’ (Homer’s names for the Greeks) concealed in the belly of the Wooden Horse, were drawn by the Trojans in through the main gate of the city. Only thus, by the subterfuge of the ‘man of many resources’, Odysseus, and its own willing, could the city be taken.
And in the city, the ‘abducted’ Helen is waiting for them, willing to return with them to Sparta, her native land, and her royal husband, Menelaos. And Athene, ever favouring the Achaeans, allows Odysseus and Diomedes to enter her temple in the heart of the city, and remove from it the Palladium, it having been prophesied that until these two, Helen and the Palladium, have left the city, it cannot fall. Both now leave it (the Palladium in the hands of Diomedes) and sail to Greece, and the city is burned to the ground.
What is this ‘Palladium’?
It was said to be an image of Athene, Etymologically the word ‘palladium’ is thought to derive from ‘Pallas’ (cognate with ‘phallos’), the male aspect of Athene; the physical form was said to have held a spear in its right hand and a distaff in the left (weaving the world with one hand while destroying it with the other), so representing its androgyny (like that of Athene herself, of whom it is never said that she had a lover). But the tales of its origins are various.
According to Hesiod, there were two Palladiums. The original (equivalent to the inward ‘unmoving’ aspect of God), was a gift by Zeus to his son Dardanus, and was always ‘kept hidden’. That which the Greeks stole was its copy; the outward show, as it were, mirror to the inward essence, wherein we may have a glimpse of the One-infusing-the-Many. By this reading, the Palladium remained ever in Troy, in the midst of its ashes, its image alone travelling with Diomedes to Greece; (or, according to Virgil, with Aeneas to Rome; and then, according to later legend again, with ‘Brutus’ to Britain).
This ‘outward’ image appears to date from the time of King Ilus, grandson to Dardanus, who (according to Ovid and Apollodorus) prayed for a good augury from Zeus for the city which he was intending to build; and next morning saw a wooden object lying in front of his tent, half-buried in the earth, and overgrown with weeds; a legless image three cubits high. .This was the (outward) Palladium which was placed at the heart of the temple of Athene at the heart of the holy city of Troy, itself the outward manifestation on earth of heavenly Olympus.
In another, elaborate, tale, the Palladium was said to have been carved of dolphin ivory, becoming in its first metamorphosis the shoulderblade of Pelops, eponymous forefather of the Greeks of the Peloponnese; replacing his original, which Demeter is said to have eaten at a banquet to the gods, at which Pelops’ father, Tantalus, offered his cooked body. The other gods abstaining, his body, with the dolphin-bone shoulder, was resurrected, in beauty so great that Poseidon took him for his cupbearer and beloved.
According to the legend, Pallas was the ‘playmate’ in Libya of Athene, whose name, when he died, Athene added to her own, and had an image made of him which she set up on Olympus beside Zeus’ throne. But when Ilus’ great-grandmother (Dardanus’ mother) the pleiad Electra, was violated by Zeus and defiled it with her touch, (she herself being defiled in receiving Zeus’ essence physically, rather than as ‘ambrosia’), Athene angrily cast her, with the image, down to earth; where, found by Ilus, it was enshrined in a temple dedicated to herself, in the city (sometimes called ‘Ilion’ after him) which its presence denoted as Zeus’ own presence on earth in the image of his twice-born daughter, Athene.
Troy, then, was a sacred city.
The story of the ‘Trojan War’ is, apart from the interfusion of elements of the divine with the human, naturalistic and simple, its ‘human’ surface detail, like the bright waves on the ocean, almost obscuring the teaching beneath. Helen, the daughter (twin daughter, with Clytemnestra) is born from one of two eggs (the twin Dioscouroi, Castor and Polydeukes are born from the other) laid by her mother, Leda (wife to Tyndareus, king of Sparta), who had been ravished by Zeus in the guise of a swan. She grew to be the most beautiful woman of the time, and was sought in marriage by every well-born man in Greece. It was said that the only man fit to be her mate was Achilles; but he at the time was but a youth, living on Mount Pelion with Cheiron the centaur, whose pupil in the art of life he was. And so Helen chose Menelaos of Argos to be her husband. Their union was happy, and a daughter, Hermione, was born to them.
But the fame of her beauty had spread so far, that it reached the ears and enflamed the body of Paris, second son to Priam, King of Troy. Determining to take Helen for himself, Paris sought the help of Aphrodite, who was indebted and grateful to him for his decision in her favour some time earlier, when asked by her (and Athene and Hera) which of them was the most beautiful. When she agreed to help him, he sailed from Troy to Sparta, where Menelaos had succeeded to Helen’s father’s kingdom. There he found her bathing in the river Eurotas, and took her back with him to Troy, where she was received with great honour, and foreboding.
The Achaian nobility, outraged at the theft of the sister of Clytemnestra, now queen to their High King Agamemnon (brother to Menelaos) of Argos-Mycenae, gathered together and agreed to build ships and raise an army, and sail to Troy to reclaim her. Achilles, now grown, and the finest warrior in Greece, was among them, and Ajax and Patroclos and Diomedes and other such heroes of the time; and old Nestor, king of Pylos. And Odysseus of Ithaca, the ‘resourceful’ man of many wiles (who, it was said, was unwilling to take part in the war, had to be persuaded to it by Menelaos and Palamedes.)
There were many difficulties attendant on the undertaking; and overcoming them created others, as the web was woven; and the gods took part in its weaving, and sides in the quarrel. When the Greeks were, at last, gathered at the port of Iolcos on the eastern shores of Greece, they found themselves facing two principal obstacles: the wind for many days blew only, and strongly, from the north, preventing them from sailing; and when it ceased, after the sacrifice of Iphigenia (daughter to Agamemnon) to the gods (angering as many as it pleased), they realized that they none of them knew exactly at what location Troy was to be found. (Curious, for a city so famous.) So, to guide them, they took with them the renegade Trojan high priest and seer, Calchas.
After many days sailing, and misdirections, they at last drew up their ships on a broad beach, upon which they set up their tents, not far from the high walls of the city; to which they laid siege.
The siege lasted for ten years. At the end of it, Troy had not fallen. But, in their turns, in reprisals, the greatest heroes had. Hector, eldest son of Priam, and the core of Trojan virtue and resistance, kills Patroclos, Achilles’ bosom friend; Achilles, in his revengeful rage, kills Hector; and is himself killed (by a wound in the heel, the only place he was vulnerable, being where his mother had held him, as a baby, in the icy waters of the Styx) by Paris (or, some say, by Apollo himself, disguised as Paris).
The Greeks then appear, from Troy, to be dispirited, and retreating, sailing away. And to be leaving behind them what appears to be a parting gift: a great horse made of wood, many times life size, left on the beach alone, all the ships of the Greeks having disappeared beyond the horizon. Where, however, they remain, waiting; because the great wooden horse is hollow, and Greek soldiers (the lowest estimate of their number being twenty-three) are concealed within it, under the command of Odysseus, the deviser of the subterfuge. After spirited debate among the leading Trojans, it is agreed to treat the horse not as a threat but as a boon, and it is hauled within the gates. (Laocoon, a priest, ‘seeing’ the danger and warning against it, is, with his sons, strangled to death by a great serpent, sent from the sea by Poseidon, who favoured the Greeks, to silence him.)
In the night that follows, when all Troy is asleep, the hatch in the belly of the horse is opened, a ladder is lowered, and the Greeks descend to the great court of Troy. The gates of the city are flung open and the army of Greeks, returned to the shore, floods into the city. Amid the ravaging and pillage of fire and sword, Helen is found and makes known her wish to return to Sparta with Menelaos. Cassandra, Priam’s daughter and a prophetess (‘ever speaking truth, never to be believed’) becomes the ‘prize’ of Agamemnon, and the Palladium is removed from Athene’s temple and carried from the city. The Greeks with their booty leave the city as it burns, with all its slain inhabitants, to the ground.
The victors sail away in various directions, with various fortunes: Menelaos and Helen blown to Egypt, where they live some years before returning to Sparta and a peaceful life; old Nestor to his well-regulated kingdom; Agamemnon to his violent death at the hands of Aegisthos, lover of his wife, Clytemnestra, and (some say) her own. And Odysseus to ten years of wandering over the seas, with many adventures, before he is allowed to return to his kingdom of Ithaca, his wife Penelope and his son Telemachos, born just before he left for Troy. He quells the turbulence in his kingdom, restores it to peace.
So. It is a story known to millions in the ages since the time of its ‘happening’; enjoyed, even loved, by (probably) most of them, little questioned by any. Why question a legend or tale?
But what is it all about? Because, under the naturalistic surface, which conceals far more than it shows, lie the truths that underlie all legends and myths which strive to say the unsayable; to touch not our minds, but our souls.
It may well be said that it all began with Prometheus.
Prometheus who stole the Olympian Fire to give it to men, that they might make with its agency artefacts of every kind out of the richness of the earth (Gaia, their Mother).
In punishing Prometheus for this theft, Zeus conceals that the ‘crime’ is, in fact, within his Will. (Equally Lucifer, the ‘light bearer’, the biblical counterpart to Prometheus, is the first emanation of the divine from the One Self into the Manifest, God-alpha into God-omega. Willed emanation; but the Will concealed, denied; the One remaining ever the One.)
Pursued and caught by Zeus, Prometheus is chained to the icy rocks of the Caucasus, high above the city of Colchis; there, each day, his liver is torn from his body, and eaten, by an eagle; and each night grows anew.
These ‘days’ and ‘nights’ are aeons, as in the days and nights of Vishnu; the nights, like his, being the world adream, and slowly growing in dream, until ‘day’ dawns again, and in the light the dream becomes flesh, emblematically the liver, the seat of dreams; which is consumed by the eagle (the emblem and vehicle of Zeus, as the vulture Garuda is of Vishnu), so reassuming into the One all the ‘artefacts’, physical, mental and moral which men make, in joy and sorrow, throughout the course of the ‘day’, the aeon. (This also is ‘the Will’, of the Many to return into the One, enriching it, each with his mite.) As ‘night’ falls, the eagle withdraws, and Prometheus sleeps, and dreams the ‘outer world’ again with the growing again of his liver. When it is full-grown, he opens his eyes to the day of the new aeon, in which all he has dreamed becomes flesh, to be reassumed throughout ‘the day’ back into the mind of Zeus.
In this cyclic ‘event’ Prometheus experiences the ‘crucifixion’ of the Mesocosm mediating between the One and the Many; (his name being, it has been said, a variant of the Sanskrit ‘pramantha’: a swastika, or firedrill, through which fire appears in the world out of—apparently—Nothing). In so ‘mediating’, he holds the two ‘worlds’ apart as he holds them together: stretched on the ‘St. Andrew’s cross’ at the centre of the symbol for Infinity. Equally, at the far end of the Hellenic world, where the sun, risen in the Caucasus, sinks into the Atlantic ocean, his brother Atlas holds the ‘two worlds’ together as he holds them apart; they being both sons of Ouranos and Gaia, Heaven and Earth.
The ‘tale’ now, on the earth-plane, becomes tangled, much more densely populated and annotated, much more difficult to read.
We are told of Jason, and the Golden Fleece.
What have they to do with Prometheus? Or Troy?
The Golden Fleece was found by Jason at Colchis, below the peak of the Caucasus where Prometheus was chained. according to a legend whose origins are very old, woven into the ‘history’ of the Aeolian Greeks; whose capital, in eastern Beotia, was Orchomenos, a city which was born, flourished and died before the stones of Thebes (‘Beotian Thebes’) were ever laid, by ‘Egyptian Cadmus’. The eponymous father of the line, Aeolos, numbered among his grandsons, Aeson, who founded Iolcos, whence his son Jason sailed for Colchis; and whence, later in the aeon (since myths unfold in Time) the Achaeans sailed for Troy. Through another son, Athamas, and Nepheli (an image, formed of sunlit cloud, of Hera herself) Aeolos was grandfather to Phrixos. Phrixos and Aeson then were cousins, and with Phrixos began the cycle which was to conclude with Aeson’s son Jason bringing the Golden Fleece to Greece. For the ‘work’ of the Outer world was to nourish and enrich the Inner so that the Inner might, in turn, nourish and enrich the Outer; a pattern repeated with the Trojan War, and any ‘heroic quest’, whatever its surface articulation.
According to the ‘history’, a false Delphic oracle persuaded Athamas that he must sacrifice to Zeus his son Phrixos (‘so that fields would be fertile’). As he was about to perform his ‘duty’, a winged ram with golden fleece appeared in the air and descended to the earth; a ram, it was said, created by Hermes and sent by Hera (or Zeus himself) as a surrogate for Phrixos (as, mutatis mutandis, in the biblical legend of Abraham and Isaac), who then mounted the ram and flew on it eastwards to the ‘beginning of the Hellenic world’ at Colchis; where, below the Caucasian peak on which Prometheus was pinioned, he sacrificed the ram to Zeus (like Abraham to Jahweh; ‘giving unto Him what was His own’).
The golden fleece of the ram was retained thereafter in Colchis as a memorial to the gift, under a great tree, guarded by a great dragon; for it is ‘in danger’, like the Olympian Fire before it, of being stolen and taken into the ‘outer world’ and used: woven (under the auspices of Athene, patroness of weaving) into all the multitudinous patterns and forms of ‘the world’; so that that which has been taken in from the outer world, ‘entempled’, made holy, may be taken ‘out’ again, to exfoliate in and enrich the world. (So does ‘Eve’, the exfoliate world, when entempled, become ‘Mary’, out of whose surrendered body Jesus flowers.) This was the inner Will (as it was Zeus’ inner will that Prometheus steal the Fire); the outer Will was that the Fleece remain in the halfway world, of which Colchis (like Troy) was an exemplar, so that only the ‘hero’ worthy of the task might accomplish it truly, surrendering himself to the inner Will even as he strove with mind and body against the outer Will; anyone else would be a power-seeking Faustian wizard, a ‘demon’, what the Hindus called a ‘rakshasa’.
And so the bringing of the Fleece into the Outer World is the work of Jason alone, in ‘the next generation’ of the family of Aeolos. Although given a full genealogical background, densely naturalistic, he is clearly of the pattern of a Hero (in indication of which, the number of his name, a factor of great significance to Greek, as to Judaic, mythographers, is 1061, the same as that for Apollo). Nurtured for the task by Cheiron the Centaur on Mount Pelion, where his vessel, the ‘Argo’, is built, he gathers under his command all the great heroes of Greece, fifty oarsmen, and departs from Iolcos towards Colchis. Passing through the ‘clashing rocks’ of the Bosporos into the Pontos (the Black Sea), they row steadily towards its eastern shore until the prow of the Argo grates against the sand of its beach.
The king of Colchis, Aeetes, is reserved in his welcome to the stranger from the far outer world. But his daughter, Medea, is not; she falls in love with Jason and helps him outwit the great serpent guarding the Golden Fleece, (imaging in this the Inner Will towards Outwardness) so that Jason may steal it in the night; and she sails with him from Colchis before dawn. Discovering the theft, Aeetes pursues the Argonauts the length of the Pontic Sea, but fails, through the wiles of Medea, (the number of whose name is the same as that for Athene) to capture them.
Reaching Orchomenos at last, after many trials, Jason hangs up the Fleece in the temple of Zeus. So, again, returning Within what had been taken Without, like the living ram before it, of which the Fleece was the (symbolic) purification.
But, for reasons endlessly discussed in the days and years that have followed, the union of Jason and Medea was severed; the ‘graft did not take’. Jason (back in his familiar ‘middle world’) prefers Glauce, daughter of the king of Corinth; Medea ‘goes mad’, kills their children, strides the world in anger. Jason, ‘losing his way’, wanders aimlessly, listlessly, dies at last from a blow from the prow of the rotting Argo falling on his head.
However the truth underlying these ‘human events’ may be articulated, the sense of ‘failure’ is strong. Although the Fleece is hanging in Zeus’ temple in Orchomenos, and it was said thereafter that it was through the Fleece that Zeus was able to move between earth and heaven, the Spirit in the outer world of Manifestation is somehow not yet fully alive; the word has not become flesh.
The task of making it so, of going ‘in’ again to bring out the sense of Godhead in its fullness, that it may be lived in the ‘outer’ world, is called The Trojan War.
With the passing of centuries (myth accommodating itself to the needs of time), the ‘outer world’, its central city of Orchomenos fallen, and the Golden Fleece it contained lost to sight, feels bereft of the Inner (and the Inner, ex hypothesi, of the Outer), to such intensity that a fresh impulse occurs, this time from ‘Within’, towards their reintegration and the flowering and fruiting which will follow therefrom.
This impulse, which is expressed in naturalistic narrative as the ‘rape’, the carrying off, of Helen by Paris, while she was bathing in the river Eurotas near her capital of Sparta, draws within the precincts of the City, her who is a mask for, an earthly figure of, Aphrodite (the ‘foam-born’, out of the body of Ocean from the sperm of Heaven, ‘Ouranos’), the spirit of the ocean, of the world of water, whence all forms arise.
By the same token, ‘Paris’ (like his predecessor, Jason) is the mask of Apollo (a mask lifted with the killing of Achilles), the spirit of (solar) fire. And the ‘marrying’ of these two polar, irreconcilable elements, on the field of the ‘inner’ elements of earth and air, is the matter of the Trojan War.
This .matter, the naturalistic surface action, expresses (while it veils) the (inner) will of Troy to fall to the siege of the Outer World. This Will is that the instinctual part of the Whole, its ‘lower’ water-and-earth animal body be conjoined to its ‘upper’ fire-and-air body (of which union the centaur was anciently the symbol, as was the knight on horseback in the era to come); The water-quality of this body entering the City in the person of Helen, and her union there with Paris [comparable to the entempling of, and the Annunciation to, the Virgin Mary], creates the experience of the wholeness of Light and Love [the mystical union of Gabriel and Mary]; but only there, in the City itself, which is to say, in Eternity. For the experience in Time of this wholeness, Earth also must enter the City. Which it does, in the body of the Wooden Horse, in whose body are men of the ‘outer world’ who, in being ‘born’ from it within the City itself, become ‘twice-born men’, able (any one of them, though the task in the tale is given to Odysseus and Diomedes) to carry the androgynous symbol of Wholeness, the Palladium, out of ‘eternity’ (the temple of Athene in the heart of the city) into ‘time’. Helen, the spirit of everflowing Water, departing the city at the same time, its core of Fire and Air consumes itself and the horse of Earth at once, leaving no trace of what had been its dwelling place.
But in the Outer World, wherever the Palladium is enshrined, lives a simulacrum, a scent, an echo of the City, where a sense of the wholeness of the One may still be, if only ritualistically, experienced. While all the ‘life of the world’ (of which ‘Helen’ is the emblem) continues its ever-changing way, its body living and dying, and living, the soul of mankind is imbued with some sense, however little it may often be, of this Wholeness within itself. Which, as Helen, it knew for a time in ‘Troy’, in its fullness.
To understand better the underlying ‘structure’ of The Trojan War, it will be well to look at the gods who took part, and what part they took, and with which side they were allied:
Zeus, as noted earlier, remained neutral; as the ‘God of All’, he lived in, and favoured, both the world of the One and the world of the Many; they being two sides of the same coin (which was Himself).
Apollo favoured Troy. It was his city: the song of his lyre, guiding the hands of Poseidon, had formed its walls; so that the city, in essence as formless as the One itself, might maintain its existence, in an appearance of form, on the earth; a space which anyone living in the Outer World might come to, and be received into. If he could find it; because [like the Grail Castle in its time and place] few—by definition ‘heroes’—would know where to look; which is to say: Within. [‘the Kingdom of God is..’] All others pursue the ‘quest’ distractedly in the trackless Ocean [or ‘forest’] Without, and so never see even the gates of the City (though they are every moment in front of their eyes). It was a measure of the spiritual ‘outwardness’ of the Achaian leaders that they didn’t even know where the city of Troy was standing, and had to be guided there by a renegade priest of Apollo; ‘there’ being, in a mythic sense, not a site on the earth at all.)
Poseidon, who built the walls of Troy with Apollo, performing the manual side of the task, bringing and laying out the matter brought out of the formless Ocean, his hands and the music flowing from Apollo’s lyre shaping that matter into stones, favoured the Greeks (in particular in their identity as Danaans, heirs to the ‘people of the sea’). The walls of the city had been raised by him, but from Without; and now, as the Danaan’s patron god, he wished, through them, to enter in. Physically, this being his nature, as it was theirs: as strong and simple warriors, they knew no other way. Despite all their titles, and extravagant claims of ‘high descent’, it was remarkable, given their gross deficiencies in spirit, that they attained even to the beach in front of the walls of Troy.
Hera also favoured the Greeks, the naturalistic spur to her favour being her anger and resentment against Paris for giving ‘the golden apple of discord’ to Aphrodite rather than to herself. Not seeing (having become, through a number of recensions of her nature, more woman than goddess) how she was herself an essential part of this discord, from which the Outer world was to draw out the golden thread of a ‘new weaving’.
And Hermes favoured the Greeks, retaining still, in his latest recension, his attachment to the Underworld, to which he had been the messenger; and who remained the ‘maker of things’: including the very lyre upon which Apollo played as the walls of Troy were built (being to the lyre what Poseidon was to the stones); and the winged golden ram delivered to Athamas that he might spare Phrixos; this creation then being yielded up in sacrificial fire and smoke to ‘Heaven’, the world as One; whence—like all things—it had come. In the counter direction, with his help to the Greeks, (through his human counterpart, Odysseus, the ‘man of many wiles’) would he enable Troy, the very symbol on earth of the One, itself be yielded. (Yielded, not taken; for Hermes’ nature remained what it had always been, that of the dweller at once in the world of Being and in that of Becoming.) So Troy was entered, through the means of the Wooden Horse (horses, as well as all arts and crafts, being of the realm of Hermes); and surrendered—and the horse equally—into the annihilating Fire.
Aphrodite naturally (though ‘foam-born’ out of Ocean, she was the child also of Ouranos, his fiery sperm frothing in the sea like Shiva’s in the Ganges) favoured Troy, she having been favoured by it, in the person of Paris; and having favoured, encouraged, the bringing by him of her own earthly image, Helen, within the very walls of Troy; so making of it her city, as well as Apollo’s, the central dwelling place in the Outer world not only of Light, but of Love. ‘Entempling’ herself [as the ‘virgin Mary’ was in her time entempled, so evolving out of the ‘pagan’ Eve], willing herself to be at one with the Light; a state possible only for the blink of an eye, the moment of all-ceasing. The next moment the fleet of the Achaean-Danaans is seen on the horizon.
Athene’s role was ambiguous, in keeping with her dual, androgyne, nature: originally the wild Libyan goddess, [the Durga or Kali of her time and place] she is ‘reborn’ from the heavenly head of Zeus; so becoming, in her spiritual androgyny, a symbol of the symbiosis of Heaven and Ocean, Fire and Water, Light and Dark. The physical emblem of this symbiosis is the Palladium: Athene and Pallas, female and male, conjoined in one image, contained in her temple at the heart of Troy; a temple open to the sky whence, in accord with more than one variant of the myth, it was said to have fallen. At the very heart, therefore, of Heaven’s City on Earth.
The outward line of guardians of this sacred City [equivalent to the successive ‘Keepers of the Grail’] descend from Dardanus, who was the fruit of Zeus’ mating with Electra, to Priam, who is king in Troy when the Achaeans come to besiege it; a line of ‘earthly kings’ who rule a people who live their daily lives by the conditions of the polarities of outward manifestation, and their inner lives by this emblem of Wholeness in their midst: the Palladium, enshrined in the temple of Athene. While it is in their midst, the City lives in Wholeness, and therefore cannot be taken, let alone destroyed, by the clashing arms of men in Outwardness. Therefore was it said that Troy would not, could not, fall unless and until the Palladium were removed from it.
It was also said that while Helen remained in Troy it could not be taken; Helen being the earthly ‘mask’ of Aphrodite, goddess of ‘Love’, that aspect of the Whole, in its form of raw Desire, which is the source of all creative energy. Drawn, ‘lured’, into Troy, ‘entempled’ therein, united with Apollonian Light in the ‘mask’ of Paris, Helen evolves from Desire to Love; and the rough Fire of Paris to clear Light. While they remain together in harmony the City is impregnable; indeed it is invisible, its existence intuited by mankind Without, but its situation unknown. So that they ‘dwell in darkness’.
In order then that they may regain their lost sense of the Divine, the ‘withdrawal of God’ (which they see as the ‘abduction’ of Helen), the Greeks besiege Troy (guided to it by the renegade priest, Calchas; ‘renegade’ he may be, but as a priest he retains at least a ‘ritual sense’ of the way to ‘God within’), with all the strength and skills of their bodies. In which they are unsuccessful; because the City is not willing to be taken.
And yet, under veils, it is. Athene knows that her image, the Palladium, must find a home in the outer world, in order that men may have a sense of ‘god’ at every moment of their material day. Helen, the ‘face’ of Aphrodite, equally knows (and expresses, in her wish to return to Sparta) that Love, now ‘entempled’, spiritualized, must live in the world Without, infusing it with the Light issuing from Within; until, in the fullness of time, Troy is not a nearly undiscoverable co-ordinate of Light and Love, but the whole of the living world.
To this end, understanding nothing of it, the ‘Achaeans-Danaans’ (for ‘earthly’ reasons, which yet are resonant of the truth within) are roused to besiege Troy, to draw out from it the conjoined emblem of Helen and the Palladium. (Though the focus, in the naturalistic style of the time and place, is entirely on Helen; on woman as the loved object, rather than on the symbol of the fusion in androgyny of male and female energies.)
This drawing out of spiritual energy from Troy into the world was the hidden will of Zeus himself (as it had been his hidden will that Prometheus should steal the Olympian fire. To this end, the Palladium was housed in the temple of Athene, Zeus’ vehicle or ‘avatar’ in the manifest world, born from his own head, or mind; whose function was to manifest his will to the Greeks, in allowing, even assisting, them to remove the Palladium from her temple.
Athene’s ‘agent’ in this task is Odysseus, the ‘polytropos’, the resourceful man without whose skills the Greeks will find no way of breaching the walls of Troy; because they will (as they do), besiege it as the Titans besieged the Gods on Olympus: from ‘outside’; bodily. Odysseus alone realizes that it can be taken only from ‘within’, of its own willing. So did Helen will that she be taken by Paris to Troy; she was no more ‘raped’ by him than Mary was by Gabriel. [‘Be it unto me according to thy word.’] And then ‘willed’ herself to be drawn out of Troy again, in accord with the Will, thus fulfilling the cycle.)
But the legend runs that Odysseus was himself unwilling to take part in the siege of Troy. To persuade him, Menelaos and Palamedes (significantly said to be the father of letters, through which inchoate nature is structured into forms cognizable by the mind) go to Ithaca, where they find him ‘feigning madness’ by ploughing a field with an ox and an ass yoked together, sowing salt and wearing a felt hat like half an eggshell. Which is to say, straddling the whole of time, the beginning and the end: The ox, or bull, of Osiris, king of the growing year, and the ass of Set, his slayer, king of the year of ‘gathering in’; equally ‘sowing salt’ represents (like Lot’s wife) his being at the end of the era, the gathering together into one substance of all the varieties of the two ‘microcosmic’ elements of earth and air; and the ‘half-eggshell’ symbolizes his being equally at the moment of the era’s birth. As such, he claims to emblemize the whole microcosmic world, and be therefore unable to function in any single personality or event; which claim Palamedes refutes by placing Odysseus’ baby son Telemachos on the ground directly in front of the plough; thereby indicating that Odysseus has a particular personality (be it only a ‘vehicle’) through which he may, and therefore must, play his part in the ‘Siege of Troy’. And so he does. [In similar vein does Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita, speak to Arjuna.]
Odysseus’ essential task, which none of the other ‘heroes’ was equipped to accomplish, was to devise a means of bringing the Achaeans within the walls of Troy, when the ‘Titanic’ besieging of them had ‘failed’ (though its necessary work of ‘emptying the space’ between ‘outwardness’ (the ocean) and ‘inwardness’ (the City) had been accomplished). And so, under his direction, the Wooden Horse was built, in order that the Achaeans, in their being ‘reborn’ out of it into the City, shall become ‘Trojans’ themselves, able (and willing) to carry its holy ‘virtue’—of which the Palladium is the emblem—outwards into the manifest world, to nourish every man living with an intuition of ‘God’
Odysseus’ task seems not to have included his personal carrying of the Palladium out of Troy. With Diomedes (‘god-like cunning’), he removes it from Athene’s temple, but it is Diomedes alone who carries it to Greece. Which seems to identify him as the outer aspect of Odysseus (and their number as a pair =1823, which +1 and divided by two equals the number of Prometheus (912), the original stealer of the Fire of Heaven, out of which act all the principal heroes of the Myth: Jason, Odysseus, Heracles evolve. Prometheus, Jason and Odysseus, on their different planes, are representative [like Lucifer] of the Outgoing ‘Light-bringing’ Microcosm; Heracles [like Christ] of the Microcosm-in-Return, restoring, through interiorizing and assimilating to himself all the manifold experiences of life, the ‘10,000 things’ into the One).
The Odyssean aspect of ‘Odysseus-Diomedes’ sets out on his decade of ‘adventure’ with the ‘Palladium’ within him; which is to say that he remains aware of his ‘rebirth’ out of the womb of Troy, and his oneness with it, as he explores the multifarious forms of the Outer World, until he comes to know his oneness with them all; at which moment he sees Athene unmasked, in her own person. In this transcendent awareness he returns home, appearing, but appearing only [like the man in the ‘ten cow-herding pictures’ of Zen Buddhism], to be the same ‘King Odysseus’ he was when he left.
And the holy ‘City of Troy’, Helen and the Palladium both gone forth from it, to enrich the ‘outer’ world, withdraws into itself, into the fire which is its innermost (and formless) symbol.
Chapter and Verse:
According to Hesiod, at the time of Helen’s being sought in marriage by all the high-born men in Greece: ‘Cheiron was tending the son of Peleus, swift-footed Achilles, on woody Pelion; for he was still a boy. Neither warlike Menelaos nor any of the other men on earth would have prevailed in suit for Helen if fleet Achilles had found her unwed; but as it was, warlike Menelaos won her before.’
‘Warlike’, and ‘red-haired’ (a revealing ‘natural’ attribute given him), Menelaos is the ‘mask on earth’ of Ares, (who, like his planet Mars, is ‘red’), and so the appropriate husband of Helen, the ‘mask on earth’ of Aphrodite. And ‘Harmonia’, the fruit of the union of (fiery) Ares and (watery) Aphrodite, is reproduced in the daughter of Menelaos and Helen: Hermione; who—at the conclusion of all the events of ‘The Trojan War’, at the time of Telemachos’ visit to Sparta in search of news of his father, Odysseus—is to be wed to Neoptolemos, son of Achilles. Closing the circle.
Why did this happen? Why was Achilles still a boy on Pelion at the time Helen was to be married? Since, (unlike ‘natural’ time) ‘mythic’ time is fluid, his being ‘unready’ is meaningful of the condition of the times. He was ‘unready’ because they were unready for such a high union.
Helen herself was ‘unready’. Though born of Zeus’ ravishing of her mother, Leda, she had herself no inner awareness of the world whence He came. She was like Eve of the bible, image of the flowering and seeding earth, unaware of its own godhead; Love in its unhallowed state of raw Desire.
Her sister, Clytemnestra (like Helen married to an earthly king, the earthly king of the time and place: Agamemnon, brother to Menelaos), was equally, in this ‘world of flow’, conditioned by the times into ‘walled’ structures, both mental and physical, called ‘kingdoms’; in which both Zeus-born sisters were unknowingly imprisoned.
But they ‘escaped’, in contrary ways: when Helen (as the immortal twin) is drawn ‘inward’ to Troy (the outpost on earth of heaven), her Desire ‘entempled’ there to Love (in her love of Paris, cloak of Apollo), Clytemnestra (her mortal sister) reverts, like Medea before her, to her ‘dragon’ form, breaking the bonds, the ‘rules’ of patriarchal society, which bound her in Agamemnon’s ‘kingdom’, making it (with Aegisthus as her lover) her own.
Who then was Paris, that Helen should accompany him to Troy?
He was the second son of King Priam and of Hecuba, his queen. Before he was born, it is said, his mother saw in a dream a great firebrand, that would burn up the world. So he had, in traditional mode, been exposed on a hillside; and, in continuance of the mode, been rescued therefrom and become a shepherd (of great beauty) on Mount Ida, whither the three goddesses Hera, Athene and Aphrodite came to him with a golden apple, which he was to award to her who was the most beautiful; she offering in return what gift was particularly in her power.
He chose Aphrodite, and Love. And so it is said that, with her help, he went to Sparta and carried off Helen from Menelaos’ kingdom and took her to Troy as his beloved.
But why under the dense weaving of natural detail, did he do this?
Because he was, under these veils, the earthly icon of Apollo: the Light of heaven which manifested on earth in Promethean Fire. That Fire had gone out into the world, but the Light, of which it was the physical vibration, was still enclosed within the walls of Troy; and it was time now for it to be seen in the world. To be known.
For which ‘the world’ had to be made ready; else the Light would overpower, blind, it, and it would regress to monstrous creations: typhons and pythons and hydras, such as ‘Hera’ was said to create without ‘Zeus’. Earth without Heaven. The unready mind, seeing Reality through the rent veil of the temple, will run mad.
So Helen, the emblem of the proliferating earth, was enfolded in Paris’ arms as she bathed in her all-pervading creative element of water, and ‘entempled’ in Troy, until all her ‘wild desire’ evolved into the fullness of Love.
Bathed in this Love through the years of the siege, Paris’ ‘fiery’ nature becomes transparent to the Light within him until he is but a mask of Apollo himself.
In which exalted state he is able to kill Achilles.
What does this mean?
Who is Achilles, upon whom the whole of the Iliad, fragment of the War though it be, is centred?
He appears to emblemize the utmost virtues of the ‘outward world’, insofar as it is able to see itself (not, at any time, very far); so he is ‘fleet’ and ‘brave’, ‘the finest warrior’, ‘most beautiful man’, etc. But also (his ‘natural’ qualities, representing the qualities of the society he inhabits): vainglorious, boastful, quick to anger and feel slight, prone to sulk and to remain sulking, scorner of those ‘less worthy’ than himself; to which behaviour the society, like all societies, gives epithets more favourable than these.
He was also, in a deeper sense, a Hero of the ‘outward’ world of Water, a son of the sea-nymph, Thetis, (herself the daughter of Ocean), who, in order that he shall be invulnerable in battle, bathes him in the River Styx, all his body but his heel, by which she held him; (and although, on the surface, this appears ‘careless’, it could not be otherwise: had she not held him, the Styx, river of death that it was, would have carried him off at that moment; only his mother’s own immortality can hold him from death, until the destined moment, when nothing can shelter him from the destroying Light of Apollo.
And with the death of Achilles, the sandy beach which has been the battleground of the ‘Achaians-Danaeans’ and the ‘Trojans’ (embodying the encounter of the polar opposites of Sky and Ocean, fire and water, Light and Love), is bare and still; a barrier, it appears, not to be broken. And Troy, it appears, is not to be taken; but to remain intact, Helen and the Palladium both remaining within it; the Greeks, like the Titans before them at the foot of Olympus, defeated.
That the outcome was other was due to a peculiarity: the evolution in man of the Intellect, the discriminatory vision of two eyes focussing on one point, seeing at one moment all three dimensions of the manifest world. This vision is epitomized in Odysseus, ‘o polytropos’, the man of many resources; and articulated in the episode after the War where he encounters Polyphemos the Cyclops and puts out his single eye of instinctual, two dimensional sight. With this act, he symbolically suppresses his own inner single eye, ‘blinding himself’, to enable himself to move, as ‘Noman’ (‘Oudeis’), in the ‘outward world’, as if there were no other; so that his experience of it becomes, in his ‘adventures’, its experience of itself; which ‘adventures’, until then, as one-eyed Polyphemos, he was unable to undertake, as he had seen everything as flat images and patterns, the meaning of which, he being unable to see their full, three-dimensional forms, he was unable to discern. As ‘Oudeis’, Odysseus, , the quintessential ‘two-eyed man’, gains this discernment, against the loss—during the years of his journey—of his clear and immediate awareness of his own Self. That he regains this awareness at the end of his ‘odyssey’ is made manifest in his being able then to see Athene undisguised, as Herself.
This ‘Odyssey’ could not have been undertaken by Odysseus the ‘natural’, once-born man, however many his ‘resources’. For him to be fit for it, he had to be ‘reborn’ in the holy city of Troy, to become himself a ‘Trojan’, aware of himself as descended from ‘Heaven’; which ‘rebirth’ was achieved in a manner of his own devising: through the construction, on the bare sand between Troy and the sea, of the Wooden Horse.
Why a horse? Why such a device of any shape? Though ‘normal’ to us now, as part of the ‘legend’, it was looked at askance, as unlikely and whimsical, by Classical commentators, (and other later readers of a rational bent) who regarded the War as ‘history’.
In Crete, the animal fashioned in wood by Daedalus for Pasiphae was a cow; that she might be mounted by the white bull of Poseidon, conceiving and giving birth to the Minotaur, half-man and half-bull.
But the Greeks, unlike the Pelasgians of Crete, had come in their waves (Aeolians, Ionians, Achaians) from the plains of the north, and their totemic animal was the horse. Indeed, in the image of the centaur, it was one with themselves, their instinctual aspect, in full four-footed harmony with the earth; and the chief of the centaurs, Cheiron, was the teacher, instructor in the Wisdom of the earth, of the principal ‘heroes’ of the era, Jason and Achilles notable among them.
In later times, as the balance of the culture tilted increasingly towards Light and rationality (Fire and Air, the upper body), against the ‘dangerous’ quality of ‘Eros’ (Earth and Water, the lower body), centaurs were demonized, debased to lecherous beasts, all virtue inhering in the two-footed Lapiths, sons of Heaven alone, (God as Alpha, transcendent). But at the time of the Trojan War, ‘God’ was seen equally as Omega, immanent, in every particle of the ever-changing, flowering and seeding, ‘outer world’.
To know ‘God’ in this aspect was to be ‘reborn’ in harmony with one’s instinctual self; of which the horse was the symbol, and the Wooden Horse its ritualistic, analogical enactment. It was the ‘womb’, drawn within the body of the Holy City, out of which the Greek warriors were reborn as ‘Trojans’; but Trojans born originally in the Outer World, whose ways they knew in their bones, and so could venture there, and carry the virtue of the City there, as Trojans born in Troy, knowing only that nodal point in creation, were never able—nor indeed willing—to do.
[In the Judeo-Christian Heaven, only Lucifer was willing, and able, to bear the Light of the One into the darkness of Chaos, that forms might there be created which in the fullness of time might be reassumed into the One in their transcendent essence, expressed at its highest in music (but all ‘artistic expression’ is a returning to the One of the multitudinous forms of the Many)].
Odysseus, then, having been ‘reborn in Troy’, and having ‘entempled’ within his soul the spirit of the Palladium (and so gained Athene as his guide and protectress), sails into the ‘outer world’, gathering there its manifold experience without, as his companions are, becoming enslaved to it. In blinding ‘Polyphemus’, he suppresses his own instinctual awareness, in order that he may ‘see’, discern and conceive the outer world, ‘create’ it within himself as the heir to Prometheus and Jason, the third emanation of the Descending Microcosm. And of the three only he, by the grace of his ‘many resources’ and his constant awareness of the Palladium within him, is able to live, at last, at rest in Outwardness; of which the evidence is that he is reunited with Penelope, the mask for the goddess ever weaving and unweaving the ‘outer world’.
But this rest at the furthest mark on the outward journey of the Microcosm is but the moment at the end of every inbreath, the moment at every sunrise when the eagle descends to the Caucasus to feed on the multitudinous dream-shapes which have evolved in the Night in Prometheus’ liver. At this moment, the beginning of the outbreath, the awareness of our ‘crucifixion’, our alienation in ‘outwardness’, causes us [like the prodigal son in the pigsty] to search how we may find our way back into the One. To rediscover our ‘face before we were born’. The Palladium, or whatever other symbolic image may adorn the temple, is an outward guide [if the fountain is still ‘overflowing’ in the temple, the ‘cistern’ that contains it]; the inner guide is the Hero within ourelves (in the tradition within which we live our outward lives) who sets out on the road of return into the One, shedding, like Prometheus (and, mutatis mutandis, as painfully) all the dream-shapes, the exfoliate world he has himself created.
In ‘Olympianism’, this Hero is Heracles. (‘Historically’, according to some commentators, he lived before ‘the Trojan war’, though born in Thebes, which was built after Jason returned from Colchis; but time is not the master of mythic truth, but its servant. ‘Before Abraham was, I am.’) In ‘Heracles’, through interiorizing his Twelve Labours, everyman may be reborn on ‘immortal Olympus’, and the life-cycle, which is the Night and Day of one whole breath, be complete.
Who, then, was Heracles?
His name is said to mean: ‘the glory of Hera’; which has struck many commentators as odd, as he is the illegitimate son of Zeus by Alcmene, a mortal woman, wife to Amphytrion, exiled in Thebes; and is said to be, not surprisingly, the ‘enemy’ of the jealous Hera.
The ‘naturalistic’ story of Heracles’ birth tells us that Alcmene is a virgin when Zeus comes to her, because she will not sleep with Amphytrion until the deaths of her eight brothers have been avenged. Amphytrion, with an army provided by King Creon of Thebes, achieves this task; but while he is away, Zeus, impersonating him, comes to Alcmene, assures her that her brothers are avenged, and sleeps with her; of which mating Heracles is born; and a day later, his twin, Iphicles—said to be the son of Amphytrion.
According to Hesiod, this was the last time that Zeus slept with a mortal woman, and that his motive was not mere lust, but ‘to beget one to defend against destruction gods and men who eat bread’.
What ‘destruction’? What is the danger?
Heracles’ name itself tells us: his ‘glorification of Hera’ was the restoration of the awareness in the unendingly exfoliate ‘outer world’—epitomized by ‘Hera’—of the everliving One; enabling mankind to see and to know that the One inheres as wholly in her, as ‘God Immanent’, as it does in ‘Zeus’, as ‘God Transcendent’. In Omega as in Alpha.
[In the ‘pigsty’ as in the prodigal’s ‘father’s house’; the sense of which, like all mankind ‘lost in Adam’, the prodigal had lost.]
In drawing Hera, the image of the ‘outer world’ [‘Eve’ in the Christian tradition], within his own evolved nature, into the Light, Heracles ‘glorifies’ her [as does Christ bearing Mary—the entempled Eve—in images of the Assumption]. But he is also her ‘antagonist’, because her outer will, like that of everyman every day, is not towards ‘inwardness’, but towards her own self-expression; which resists [like a Hindu rakshasa, and the knights not of the Round Table who lock themselves angrily into their own castles] any kind of ‘surrender’ of Herself. This will is expressed in the ‘natural monsters’, the children of Gaia (Earth) without the participation of Ouranos (Heaven), whom it is the duty of Heracles to overcome. In doing so he draws their symbolic qualities, their ‘virtues’, into himself; so that even the Apples of the Hesperides and Cerberus are at last within his grasp, and only his ‘crucifixion’ by fire remains to be endured, that he may bear Hera, figuring the whole ‘outer’ world, within himself into ‘Heaven’, figured as the abode of the gods on Mt. Olympus.
It is not the will of Zeus, in siring him, that Heracles shall have this role. Nor indeed the name ‘Heracles’. His birth name was ‘Alcaeus’, and it was Zeus’ will that he should become a great king in and of the ‘outer world’ [as was the will of the royal father of Sakyamuni, destined to become the Buddha; and the Jews for their Messiah]. In this he was thwarted by Hera—guided by her own ‘inner will’—who drew Heracles, against his own earthly desires, to undertake the Labours which ultimately ‘glorified’ her.
In his cradle, it is said, Heracles strangled two serpents which Hera had sent to kill him; so presaging his career as the ‘stiller’ of the unending pulsation of the exfoliate world [of which serpents, like that nailed to the Rosicrucian cross, are ever the emblem].
The first stage of this career, however, is (as it must be in all of us) the formative growth of his ego. In which (as ‘Alcaeus’) he performs great physical deeds, accompanied by excesses of cruelty and brutality; until ‘driven mad by Hera’—which is to say, his loss of Himself, causing the surrender of his own nature into the maelstrom of the proliferating world—he kills his own and Iphicles’ sons. This is his ‘pigsty’, whence he must find his way ‘home’.
Recovering from his ‘madness’, he goes to Delphi for guidance—and renaming as ‘Heracles’—and from there is sent to Eurystheus, king of Tyrins (the kingdom intended by Zeus for Heracles himself) to perform twelve ‘labours’, trials through which, in overcoming them, he will expiate his crime. Surrendering his pride to accept this punishment (at the hands of ‘an inferior man’) is his first trial; which he passes, albeit with some baulking.
The Twelve Labours, which now begin, are not, though on the surface they appear to be (being enmeshed in the culture of the time (as of most times) which loved and lauded ‘heroes’ who went about taking ‘wives’ and triumphing over their ‘enemies’), a mere accidental handful of ‘typical’ encounters with ‘the dragon’, the ‘monstrous’ powers of untamed Nature. Each one marks an important stage in Heracles’ inner growth. (That even the earlier commentators seem unaware of this spiritual core of the Labours is a melancholy indication of the loss in the society of the time of any real sense of ‘God’ being anything more than many projections of their daily fears and desires.)
All ‘unsanctified beings’ of the natural world must be encountered and taken into himself by the Hero—of which Heracles is here the prototype—which ‘destroys’ them as objective entities. [So, in their time and culture, will it be with the egocentric knights in the realm of King Arthur who are overcome (in a world now not of physical monsters, who can behave only in accord with their nature, but of men who have regressed to this state), and ‘healed’ through battle with and surrender to ‘knights of the Round Table’, whose role is to carry the spirit of the One into the ‘forest’ of the Many.]
Heracles’ first Labour is to kill and flay ‘the Nemean Lion’. This ‘monster’, which ‘lives on Mt. Tretus and has been ravaging the countryside round about’, is said, by Hesiod and others, to have been born to the monsters Typhon and Echidne (he the child of ‘angered’ Mother Earth’, she of emblems of the ocean), and his siblings were many, including both the dragon guarding the Golden Fleece and that guarding the Golden Apples at the two extremes of the Hellenic world.
The lion is impervious to all weapons, so Heracles strangles it, and flays it with its own razor-sharp claws. Its pelt becomes his armour, its head his helmet; which, being symbolically the union of the sun and of living earth, will shelter him in all his trials to come. And he himself, in ‘becoming the lion’, is so beyond normal manhood that Eurystheus is terrified of him and forbids him ever again to enter Tyrins, but to display the fruits of his Labours outside the gates. For Heracles has entered the ‘land of dragons’ in the only way one can, by becoming one of them himself. But, also, knowing in his soul that ‘Zeus is his father’, that he is himself ‘the One’ as he comes to know himself also as ‘the Many’, he gradually—through the accomplishment of his Labours—attunes his own wild outward nature to the inner stillness of the Self.
His second Labour is to slay the Lernaean Hydra (she too an offspring of Typhon and Echidne), a ‘serpent monster’ of the watery aspect of primal manifestation, as the Nemean Lion is that of fire; and Heracles uses that fiery force which he has acquired, to slay the Hydra by searing shut its eight mortal heads. He then severs the central immortal head and buries it under an enormous rock, ‘stilling’ its energy in the earth. [In like manner, the stone at the centre of the Temple in Jerusalem presses down upon—stilling—the black waters of Chaos beneath.]
Heracles then dips his arrows in the gall of the Hydra, so that they become fatally poisonous in any wound they make; and in the cyclical irony of many a myth, eventually cause his own ‘crucifixion’, from which only the fiery consumption of his body can release him.
But before this release (into full awareness of Himself, figured as the ‘heaven’ of Mount Olympus), though after the completion of his Labours, he closes the ‘door’ through which ‘god’ entered time and space by killing with one of the arrows the eagle (also an offspring of Typhon and Echidne) which has been feeding on Prometheus’ liver; and so, as he himself does, the Era ceases.
[To begin, of course, again, and again; as it does, in Hindu mythology, at each moment that Vishnu, resting on the body of the world serpent on the waters of potentiality, opens his eyes.]
So. Having ‘overcome’, and thus gathered into his own being, the energy of Fire and of Water, Heracles’ is told by the King of Tyrins to bring back alive the Ceryneian hind, and following that bring back, again alive, the Erymantheian boar. Both of which ‘labours’ he achieves.
Because, unlike the ‘outer’ irreconcilable elements of fire and water, which the Hero must take into himself but which, in his doing so, alienate him from his own ‘daily world’, the hind and the boar are emblematic of the ‘inner’ elements of Air and Earth [the bread of Christian Holy Communion, as the wine is the fire and water; deemed by the Roman Catholic priesthood to be too dangerous to be given to the laity]; and so are the living bond between himself and the world he is striving to ‘redeem’.
The ‘hind’ is particularly interesting, as she is antlered like a stag, indicating her androgyny, appropriate to the evolved sage. [Druid priests, we are told by the Bede, rode only mares, symbolic of their spiritual androgyny.] Of this state we may have an image on the Gundestrup cauldron, in the antlered man sitting cross-legged, as if in deep meditation; his antlers are seven-tined, in accord with the lines in the poem of the Welsh bard Taliesin: ‘I am a stag of seven tines’; seven being the number of achievement. Heracles’ capture of the hind is indicative of ‘wisdom’ beginning to flow in him.
The ‘boar’ of the fourth Labour must also be brought back alive; which appears odd on the naturalistic surface. But as the hind is, as the element of air, the bearer of the energy of fire, so muted that it may be borne in the ‘middle world’, the boar is the emblem of earth, through which the energy of water may be ‘tamed’ and nourish the world. And it is captured (somewhat drolly, the better to indicate that naturalism is not our best guide to understanding the Labours), by being driven into a snowdrift, emblematic of the ‘stilling’ of the wild energy of water, enabling Heracles to gather the boar into a net and carry it back to Tyrins.
Having taken into himself the energies of the four elements, it is the ‘work’ of the Hero to order them into an organic pattern which is ‘human’. [As Edward Case says, in his explication of the Tarot, we have been given a ‘wild body’ by nature, which it is our duty to shape to harmonious form.]
This ‘shaping’, in the Heraclean Labours, may be divided into halves. The first six of them constitute his Descent, as Zeus-incarnate, into the physical world, mastering first each element in turn. Fire and Water, the Lion and the Hydra, are ‘suppressed’, but their essence is used in his taking the pelt and the gall as ‘shield and spear’ for his quest. Air and Earth are the elements he lives in, so they must be brought to Tyrins alive.
Then he must ‘order’ the elements he has mastered. First the Earth, infused with Water; which he achieves in the ‘cleansing of the Augeian stables’, so that his lower body of ‘earth and water’ shall be cleansed and, mirroring this, the whole land without shall become fruitful.
And then he must ‘shape’ his upper body of Fire and Air; which he achieves in the dense and resonant Labour of the Stymphalian birds.
These birds were said to be ‘brazen-beaked, brazen-clawed, brazen-winged man-eating birds, sacred to Ares’. They live in a marshland where it is not possible to approach them either afoot or in a boat. So, guided by Athene, Heracles climbs to a spur on nearby Mt. Cyllene, said to be the birthplace of Hermes and therefore scared to him. There, within the ‘aura’ of Hermes, Heracles shakes a brazen rattle made by Hephaestos, which so startles the birds that they fly into the air. Heracles shoots and kills a certain number of them; the rest fly away to the island of Ares in the Black Sea, their original home.
What are we to make of this?
First it should be noted that Hermes is the inventive designer and maker of many things ‘valuable to gods and men’. Chief among these is the invention of the alphabet [attributed to Odin in Norse myth, both of them being patrons of the same day of the week]; and it is this which appears, in variant form, to be happening in this Labour.
Hermes is also a phallic god, as his many herms about the land bear witness; and the epithet ‘stymphalian’ is an evident equivalent of ‘ithyphallic’, of which their ibis-like beaks are indicative. But these beaks also suggest the cuneiform shapes out of which early middle-eastern and Mediterranean letters were made [as Odin’s were shaped from ‘twigs fallen from Yggdrasil, the world tree’]. Those birds which Heracles kills are emblematic of his enabling the physical world—tamed in his capture of the Boar—to return its own ‘Flesh’ back into the ‘Word’, so that it may know itself; and that which was taken from the One throughout the aeon, beginning with Prometheus’ ‘theft of the Fire’, be restored to the One.
At the same time, in accord with Hermes’ phallic aspect, his killing of the birds is emblematic of his transmuting the ‘natural’ energy of water and earth into the air and fire of his upper body; which is to say that he interiorizes his sexual energy, drawing it upwards in his body to his ‘sternum’ or breastbone [a state visible in images of Christ in Greek Christian iconography], which it will breach at the moment of his ‘crucifixion’, tearing ‘the veil of the temple’, his own body.
So does the the Microcosm turn from its ‘exploration’ of the Outward World back towards the One whence it came. [So does Lucifer-Adam-Eve turn and become Mary-Jesus Christ.] Illustrative of the stages of this ‘return’ are the six remaining Labours of Heracles; which are, on the outward plane, firstly a gathering of the essential qualities of the Hellenic world from its ‘four corners’ to its centre at Tyrins-Mycenae, and the assimilation of them into Heracles’ own mind and heart.
The first of these tasks, and the seventh of the Labours, takes Heracles to the South, to Crete, where he is to capture a bull which is ravaging the island, and bring it to Tyrins; where Eurystheus dedicates it to Hera and sets it free to wander at will. And it does, and peacefully, emblemizing the energy of the Taurian era being brought into that of Aries, to which—like all religious modes in their death-throes—it would not yield in its Cretan heartland.
The eighth Labour, to be achieved in the North, is to bring ‘flesh-eating mares’ (female to the bull’s male) to Tyrins-Mycenae, where they too are dedicated to Hera, and cease to eat flesh, symbolizing, like the bull, the interiorizing and pacification of Heracles’ own angry excursions (though he remains, on the surface, the ‘brave, warlike’ hero, beloved of the Doric Greeks, for whom physical rivalry and self-styled ‘nobility’ were the bedrock of the culture).
The ninth Labour, the securing of the girdle of Queen Hippolyte of the Amazons (because it is desired by Admete, the daughter of King Eurystheus) takes place in Anatolia, in the eastern quarter of ‘the known world’. It has been much re-written and edited by Classical commentators, so that its inner resonant meaning is deeply veiled, to the extent that the virtue of the girdle—unlike that of Aphrodite—is not told.
Hippolyte is, at first, willing to give the girdle to Heracles; but Hera (in her usual role of ‘antagonist to Heracles’, and emblematic of the ‘dark’ aspect of the Other, which resists ‘surrender’ to the One, fearing annihilation) prevents this. So a battle ensues, in which Heracles kills Hippolyte; which was probably a satisfactory mode of achievement for the ‘masculine’ culture of the Dorians [the same cultural mode which saw Alexander’s severing of the Gordian Knot as a fit solution to the infinite complexity of ‘Asia’]; but it was not the inner teaching of the Labour, in which it is of the essence that the girdle should be surrendered, so that whatever its virtue may be shall pass to its new wearer. [Similarly, Mary’s saying ‘Behold the Handmaid of the Lord’ is the surrender of herself, as ‘Eve’, the whole manifest world, to the One Self.]
Hippolyte emblemizes the ‘outer world’, and Admete (whose name is said to be a title of Athene) the structured cosmos (of the time and place) at its centre; to whom, in surrendering the girdle, Hippolyte offers the dominion of the underlying ‘wild waters’, whence she, as a mask of Aphrodite, has arisen. And in surrendering it, unbinding herself, she restores her own flowing oneness with the waters, reverting to her primal dragon form. And it would be in seeing her thus, as the unassimilable ‘other’—Hera unredeemed, ‘unglorified’—that Heracles, not understanding her necessity, would slay her. But in bringing her girdle to Admete, unknowing the meaning of his act, he brings the energy of the waters, and ‘dominion’ of the eastern realm of the world to Tyrins-Mycenae, and assimilates the strength of its womanly Love to himself.
[A similar ‘event’ takes place in the legends of the Holy Grail, when Percival’s virgin sister allows her blood to be taken, so that the Queen of the World may be healed. Here again, the Hero, Galahad, not understanding the teaching (illustrated in the cards of the Tarot) that the waters underflowing the world must pass through the (virgin) High Priestess to the sunlit and fruitful earth of the Empress, suspects, and tries to punish, ‘evil’.]
Only the quality of the western quarter of the Hellenic world now remains to be brought to the Centre; and the structure of the Labour suggests that the ‘quality’ of the West is ‘male’, as that of the East was ‘female, as ‘Geryon, the king of Tartessus in Spain’, who has three heads and bodies, and six hands, and is ‘the strongest man alive’, is Heracles’ antagonist. His cattle, which are ‘of marvellous beauty’, must be taken from him by stealth.
On his way to Geryon’s island of Erythia, Heracles erects two pillars at the straits of Gibraltar, and then sails through them in a golden flower, a gift from Helios; so sailing out of the everyday world (as did Jason through the straits of the Bosporos) into the ‘magic’ world, where nothing is as it seems, where everything is also its opposite. That this world is dangerous to the ego is emblemized by the fragile (though golden) vessel which carries him over the ‘untamed’ waters; into which he must venture, yet not be swallowed up in them (they being the realm of Cronos—his own grandfather—the ‘Night’ before Zeus’ ‘Day’).
Slaying Geryon and his monstrous helpers, Heracles brings the cattle safely to Tyrins, where they too are sacrificed to Hera. (‘Of thine own do we give thee.’)
Having gathered the ‘virtues and strengths’ of the ‘four quarters’ to the Centre of the ‘world’, and into himself, Heracles must now embark on two further tasks, in places not geographically defined, and which in their essence are ‘above’ and ‘below’.
For his eleventh Labour he must bring back (three is the usual number) apples from the tree (a wedding gift of Mother Earth to Hera),which grows in the Garden of the Hesperides, and which is guarded by the Titan Atlas, their father, and brother to Prometheus.
But where is this Garden? No one can tell Heracles; his quest has passed beyond the bounds of the known, and knowable, world. Like the Grail Castle in its time, the Garden of the Hesperides is within ourselves.
In order to reach it, Heracles searches out Nereus, ‘the Old Man of the Sea’, whom he seizes and holds onto, changing with him into a multitude physical bodies, representing all the possibilities of Becoming. When these at last are exhausted, and Heracles is still holding Nereus fast in his arms, they both rest in the peace of Being. Of which the Garden of the Hesperides is the emblem; and for the first time Heracles ‘journey’ is not described.
Nonetheless, the situation of the Garden is described, as standing by the very western extreme of the Hellenic world, where Atlas is holding up the heavens. For the ‘narrative cycle’ of the Hellenic Day is drawing to its close; having begun with the Causasian sunrise of Prometheus at the furthest eastern reach of the Hellenic world, it ends with the sun setting into the Atlantic ocean, the ‘ocean of Atlas’, representing the dissolution of all forms. Indicative of this ‘conclusion’ is Heracles’ killing of the eagle which has been feeding on Prometheus’ liver, allowing him to be reconciled to Zeus; which is to say that ‘Zeus’ draws his outer ‘Promethean’ aspect back into Himself, so withdrawing Himself from Manifestation. And the eagle is not killed, Heracles would not have been able to kill it, until the completion of his Labours has made him not merely Zeus’ ‘son’, but ‘Zeus’ himself on earth. [So did ‘Jesus’ become the ‘Anointed’, Christos.]
Having been told by Nereus that he must not take the apples himself, but let Atlas take them, Heracles has to assume Atlas’s burden of ‘holding up the heavens’ while Atlas fetches them; so becoming, for those moments ‘crucified’, experiencing Atlas’s immemorial pain; becoming ‘Atlas’.
But he is not like Atlas, a Titan with a function to perform, he is a ‘man’, born of Zeus, but also of woman; and so he inherits the ‘two-eyed’ virtues of which Odysseus [and in other cultures, the coyote and the raven] has become the emblem: he uses a ‘trick’ to persuade Atlas to reassume his burden; for it is his ‘quest’ to know in his bones the pain of the role of Atlas in holding Heaven and Earth together as he holds them apart; but not to assume the role himself, for it is his work to bring that knowledge (to be learnt only in experience) to ‘Zeus’, that He may ‘know’ what and how it is to be in the ‘world’ which He (through his Promethean emanation) has allowed to ‘happen’.
And so, receiving the apples from Atlas, Heracles brings them to Eurystheus, who gives them to Athene, who restores the to Hera. And there remains only the Twelfth Labour, which is to bring the dog Cerberus out of Hades.
This task [which in Christian commentaries is called the ‘Harrowing of Hell’] requires him, now that he has brought into himself the whole manifest world, from its furthest extremities, to enter into its dark innerness (which is his own) and bring its emblem, Cerberus, up into the light of the (conscious) world, so making ‘Tartarus’ as sweet as the spring earth, where Persephone, whose realm ultimately it is, will flower; she being the ‘dragon of dragons’ and he her bridegroom. [So St. George and his maiden-dragon.] He does not draw her up, of course; that would be the end of the ‘world’, equivalent to the drawing of Apollo down out of ‘heaven’. Both ‘Apollo’ and ‘Persephone’ mean ‘the destroyer’, for in ‘entering into them’, taking them into himself, the Hero discovers that the world as he has seen it, conceived it, has no more reality than a burst soap bubble.
So Heracles takes only Cerberus, its emblem, from Tartarus to the ‘centre of the middle world’ at Tyrins-Mycenae. But even this ’emblem’ may not long remain there, for ‘the world’ cannot long bear even the emblematic coincidence of the One and the Many. [So was the time of Christ-on-Earth after His resurrection only forty days of Stillness.] So Heracles takes Cerberus back to Tartarus, restoring the veil between it and the Day-world.
But in himself the veil is not restored, so that he is in a state [like Christ] of ‘crucifixion’, an experience—unbearable in this world—of the coincidence of opposites. This state is given the anecdotal cover of the garment soaked in the poisoned blood of Nessus the centaur (poisoned—in ironic justice—by Heracles’ own arrow, dipped in the gall of the Hydra), which causes him such physical agony that he lies on a pile of branches and begs someone to light them, so his body may be consumed and his spirit [like Christ’s at the Ascension] borne to ‘Heaven’, figured as Mt. Olympus.
So the Cycle, which began with Prometheus’ Theft of the Fire’, the outpouring of the One into the Many, ends with the Fire restoring—in the emblem of Heracles—the Many into the One.
In later redactions of the legend of Heracles, it is said that before he was able to descend to Tartarus, he had to take part in the Eleusinian Mysteries (appropriately, as they are dedicated to Demeter, the mother of Persephone, and recurrent ‘dying’ and renewal of the flowering and fruiting earth); and that at these Mysteries, Eumolpus, the high priest, taught Heracles to sing, and to play on the lyre, Apollo’s instrument. So that the music that Apollo played in the creation of Troy, structuring, imbuing with spirit, the raw stone of Poseidon’s offering (the prime ‘matter’ of Becoming) is now, in Heracles, restored to Him.
The ‘meaning’ of our being in ‘this world’ may then be understood to be a delving into its material nature, and the returning of whatever infinitessimal part that may come to be ‘known’, experienced, to the One Self, as ‘music’; which is to say whatever breathes of the ‘experience’, being then only Breath itself.
Mt.Tuam, Autumn Equinox, 2012.