Fear Not

 

Some time ago it occurred to me that if the “terrorists” who perpetrated the World Trade Center attacks of 9/11/01 wanted to maintain the fear, it wouldn’t be that hard.  They could easily walk onto a PATH train–a kind of subway that runs between Newark NJ and the World Trade Center–with a large device in a backpack.  If they got into the first car, especially on an anniversary of the event, and set it off just as the train was reaching the WTC station, they would kill many people, disrupt communications, and put themselves back on the front pages of the media center of the world.  This thought occurred to me as I was sitting in the front car of the PATH train on Sept. 11 2006.

I was reminded of it of course by the reactions to the attacks in Paris, hearing of the terrible deaths and then the brave reactions of people who would not let their own lives be altered by the madness of a few.  For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction–the equal reaction has apparently found the perpetrator, and the opposite reaction has seen the French people refuse to be intimidated, much as Americans refused in the days after 9/11.  But it is disheartening to hear the rhetoric that has emerged from those events, and it’s become evident that “terrorism” is a great gift to the “law and order” mindset, and the sound bite policies that want to respond with border closures and isolationism.  This is a long haul problem, of which we are not innocent, and there will no doubt be other attacks in the future.  My point is that we cannot stop living our lives.  We are all going to die at some point, and the odds of dying from “terrorism” are minuscule compared to the other plagues of modern life: auto accidents, gun violence, bad diet and so on.  The good news is that we are in fact immortal–we don’t really die, just change bodies.  To the extent that events like this cause us to examine our own mortality, our reason for being on the earth, they can be gifts to us as well.  This is of course not to let the “terrorists” off the hook–they will have much to answer for after their own life on earth ceases.  But we must learn to see this kind of twisted violence, even if we lose our own life, or that of someone we love, as just another form of human ignorance, and fear not.

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Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, by Patrick Leigh Fermor.

 

Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, by Patrick Leigh Fermor. New York Review Books 1958

When my wife handed me this book from a bargain table at a nearby bookstore, I admit I hadn’t heard of Fermor (1915-2011), but now have learned that he was a highly regarded travel writer with a special fondness for Greece. He fought with the Greek resistance in WWII and led the operation that captured the German General Kreipe, one of the more daring “special ops” of the war, and which helped to turn the tide against the Germans in Crete. He had quite a life—he was once described by a BBC journalist as “a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Graham Greene”–and there is now a society which promotes his life and work. So he is of interest to Greek scholars, as well as those who just like ripping yarn.

“On the map,” he says, “the southern part of the Peloponnese looks like a misshapen tooth fresh torn from its gum and with three peninsulas jutting southward in jagged and carious roots.” (Much of whether you will enjoy this book depends on how you feel about that sentence.) The middle peninsula is Mani, which comes across as a harsh, relatively barren land that has remained untouched by the outside world for centuries. (Note that the book was written in 1958, but I would doubt much has changed.) It’s impossible to encapsulate the book here, but I’ll note a few of my favorite passages—passages that alternate with some long and rather tedious digressions, which I’ll allow that some people may find fascinating.

On p. 25-6 he describes waking up from a daytime nap in the hills to find himself and his party, which included his wife Joan and a local guide, being scrutinized by “two barefoot, raggedly dressed and ikon-faced little girls of ten and twelve, both of them extremely beautiful.” They share some moments of mostly unarticulated mutual curiosity, until it was time for the party to leave.

“Go towards the Good,” one of them said, and the other, “May you have the Good Hour.”

The immobile figures of these two little Byzantines dwindled as we zigzagged downhill. Even at a distance we could sense the wide effulgent gaze which those four eyes aimed from their ledge half-way to the sky. They waved when we were just about to dip out of sight. There are very few people in these surroundings, Yorgo observed. “They are wild and shy and not accustomed to talk.” He pointed straight up into the air. The canyon was closing round us. “They see nothing by God.”

Chapter 5, “Lamentation,” describes the Mani practice of composing spontaneous funeral orations, or miroloy, a job which fell mostly to the women, and which perhaps as a result seems not to have been much studied. But the way Fermor describes this practice, “tempts one to think that here again is a direct descendant of Ancient Greece, a custom stretching back, perhaps, till before the Siege of Troy.” This seems therefore to be fertile ground for study, as with Lord and the Yugoslavs, and perhaps it has been. If not, this chapter is a good start.

On p. 140: “A spell of peace lives in the ruins of ancient Greek temples. As the traveller leans back among the fallen capitals and allows the hours to pass, it empties the mind of troubling thought and anxieties and slowly refills it, like a vessel that has been drained and scoured, with a quiet ecstasy. Nearly all that has happened fades to a limbo of shadows and insignificance and is painlessly replaced by an intimation of radiance, simplicity and calm which unties all knots and solves all riddles and seems to murmur a benevolent and unimperious suggestion that the whole of life, if it were allowed to unfold without hindrance or compulsion or search for alien solutions, might be limitlessly happy.”

Throughout the book, one gets a strong sense of the practice of xenia, the welcoming of strangers and their news of the outside world, remains here as strong as it did in Homer’s time. That, as he says, “hospitality in Greece carries an almost religious importance.” (p. 234) It brings to mind the ancient practice of theoxeny, where the gods themselves would wander the countryside to see if they would be honored. One gets the sense that there is almost a competition for the stranger among villagers, with the status they would bring to the host’s family.

On p. 243, speaking of seeing an old church which among the images of saints featured the “pagan sages of the Greek world,” …“but bereft of haloes. Their presence, due to passages in their writings interpreted as prophecy or ratification of the incarnation of Christ, seems to announce the age-old truth that the Greek Orthodox Church glorifies not only the Christian miracle as revealed to the Evangelists but the continuity and indestructibility of Hellenism and the part played in Christianity by the thought and discipline of the pagan Greek philosophers.”

The world Fermor describes in some ways seems as remote as that of Homer, but he often makes it as vivid. It shines a bright and loving light on this particular “tooth” that seems to exist outside of time.

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Simone Weil’s Apologetic Use of Literature, by Marie Cabaud Meaney (Oxford University Press, 2007)

 

It seems that anyone who pursues an interest in Greek literature and/or spiritual writing sooner or later encounters the work of Simone Weil.  She left little in the way of completed works, but filled many notebooks and letters, from which much of the material in this book is drawn.  She is always described as a brilliant intellect, but who later in her short life experienced a mystical vision about which she wrote that “Christ himself came down and took possession of me.”

She was famously not a “joiner,” either of the academy or of the (Catholic) Church, but cultivated and expressed a unique vision that attempted to reconcile the two.  In this book, which is really an apologia to Weil’s apologia (in the ancient Greek sense of “defense”), Cabaud Meaney sets out to provide the kind of coherent support for this vision that Weil herself in fact may have if she had lived longer.  Their basic premise is that the ancient Greek tragedies prefigure many of the themes that became central to Christianity: forgiveness, the duty of love, obedience to God vs. obedience to the law, the soul-killing effects of force, etc.

While Weil’s focus was on Greek literature, she was not the first to see this continuity.  I happened to be alternating between this book and one by Patrick Leigh Fermer called Mani (New York Review Books, 1958), which describes a walking tour he took of a remote Greek peninsula of that name in the 1950’s.  He describes seeing representations of Greek philosophers in an old church there, although “bereft of haloes.”  He goes on, “Their presence, due to passages in their work interpreted as prophecy or ratification of the incarnation of Christ, seems to announce the age-old truth that the Greek Orthodox Church glorifies not only the Christian miracle as revealed to the Evangelists but the continuity and indestructibility of Hellenism and the part played in Christianity by the thought and discipline of the pagan Greek philosophers.” (p. 243-4)  Weil, and Cabaud Meaney, make the case that this glorification can also be found in the tragedians: Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides, as well as Homer.

Without her visionary experience, this insight might have been relegated to an academic journal somewhere, but it gains more force from her description of the personal encounter with Christ, and her subsequent efforts to help revive interest in the Catholic Church.  But while I admire Weil’s insistence on an outsider status (something I share), I can’t help but wonder why she remained loyal to the institution of the Church after her revelation.  From my own experience and other accounts I’ve read, such glimpses of the “supernatural” or “transcendental” are beyond name and form, which is what makes them so impossible to describe and so often results in their being dismissed by pure rationalists.

That is certainly not to say that they aren’t valid; my point is that both the Greeks and the Christians are expressing something more universal than either.  In another famous passage, Weil speaks of the Greeks “building bridges,” but which we have turned into habitations–we choose to live there rather than be transported to some unknowable “other side.”   I think if she had retained the mystery of what is on the other side, rather than providing the safe image of the Church, or even of the Christ, her work would be more universal.  It is unfortunate that she died so young, still it would seem in the “material-gathering” phase of her work, and not having time to express it fully, even if it meant developing a new language.  This book by Cabaud Meaney may be closest we get to that expression, and I’d recommend it to those interested in Weil’s thought.

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How to Kill a Dragon, Pt. II

 

Hercules_killing_the_hydra_headed_monster

Hercules Slaying the Hydra-headed Monster. Engraving from the 17th c. by Gilles Rousselet.

In the last post I looked at how some of the “themes and ‘motifemes'” identified by Calvert Watkins as they related to scenes in Homer’s Odyssey.  Now I’d like to look at them in more depth as they relate to the spiritual quest in general. This quest, which we may dimly remember, is our attempt to “journey back to where we are,” to remember our true eternal Self by letting go of the illusory little changing selves with we are constantly identified.  Seen this way, our normal life, our “common day,” is turned upside-down, and we are adrift in a kind of dreamworld where the absurd is normal.

As a quick reminder, Watkins identifies ten of these themes:

  1. abnormal or inverse social or sexual relations
  2. the abuse or violation of hospitality
  3. abnormal servitude
  4. an injunction
  5. violation of the injunction
  6. the temporary victory of the (monster) over the hero; as a result
  7. the hero’s disfigurement or mutilation, itself causing real or potential loss of status or power
  8. the abuse or violation of the responsibility of “hospitality” to an inferior…
  9. the underwater locale of the combat
  10. the final paean, in direct speech of the victory which reestablishes order over chaos, followed by the death of the hero.

Some observations about how these themes can be identified in our own lives:

  1. If we can appreciate that our daily lives are but picture-shows, shadows projected onto the cave wall (as Plato describes them), we can also appreciate that all our relationships can be described as “abnormal or inverse.”  In our limited consciousness, we see all relations as more or less equal and certainly limited themselves.  We do not recognize gods and goddesses when we see them (even in ourselves), and we justify hanging around with demons by our need for making money or for prestige.  By the same token, we can become enchanted by making love with deities and forget our quest; if we have fallen in with the demons of matter, it means we’ve already forgotten.  Enjoy your fame and toys, but good luck with trying to get back on the quest.
  2. I’ve written more extensively about the idea of hospitality, or in Greek xenia, elsewhere, so I won’t go into it again in detail, but the basic idea is that every other human being is not other than your own self, just as you are not other than your own Self.  As the Irish prayer goes, “Often often often goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise,” which the Greeks would call theoxeny.  Our diminished word “hospitality” derives from the places of lodging, often run by the “Knights Hospitaliers,” for people on pilgrimages, which in a real way we all are.  Again I would say that this does not appeal to our literal sense of taking in strangers off the street, but to the way we treat other humans in all our interactions with them: whether we judge them, let them make us feel angry or envious, inferior or superior.  To do that is to violate this rule of xenia by thinking of ourselves as a separate being.
  3. Abnormal servitude.  This is something in which we pretty much all are engaged, in the sense that we see our activity, our work, as a means to an end rather than an end in itself.  Our true work is a gift which most of us tend to forget, along with most everything else, and so we look for ways to make up for it through money and status.  (I think I’ve finally found mine, by writing this blog and my books.)  Our true work is something to which our attention is naturally drawn, on which it rests and expands to its full consciousness.  As Emerson says,

    There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.

  4. An injunction.  This is a topic that probably requires its own book, since I think it is the cause of so much misunderstanding and suffering in the world, which tends toward the practice of “anything, any time, anywhere.”  And let me say that I am not one who wants a government or religion dictating what I can or cannot do–many of those “thou shalt nots” have become corrupted over the years.  But the fact remains that not all activities are equal:  there are actions which are compatible with the spiritual quest, and others which perpetuate the illusion that we are separate, limited and mortal beings, for whom

    Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.  (Macbeth, 5:5)

    If we wish to avoid this depressing view of our lives, we need to find a way to escape our “abnormal servitude.”  Therefore injunctions, i.e. “not joining.”

  5. Violation of the injunction.  Because we misunderstand the purpose of the injunctions, because we tend to see them as some arbitrary authority trying to keep me from enjoying myself, we are quick to violate them, often just because they are injunctions.  We disobey, we “sin” or “miss the mark” and because we are not immediately punished, we think we can violate them all with impunity.  But this is a case of being bound to them, just as surely as unquestioningly obeying them.
  6. That we are not immediately punished is the “temporary victory of the monster,” in that we think we are somehow exempt from the rules of the quest.  But none of us is, and the hero in us needs to reassert him- or herself.  We are in fact punished by being in prolonged separation from our true Self.  We can certainly experience the pleasant, but not the good.
  7. Disfigurement.  In the Odyssey the disfigurement and mutilation is made clear–Odysseus is made to look old and diminished through the handiwork of Athena, which results in his being mocked and humiliated by the suitors, which you know (if you’ve read my book) represent the self-important thoughts and desires that plague us day and night.  To become “disfigured, mutilated” is to become free from their power over us.  (I hope at this point that you realize I’m not talking about physical disfigurement.)  In a way we become invisible, one of “God’s spies,” perhaps not that interesting to talk to, not that ambitious, but “pure of heart.”
  8. To become disfigured in this way though is to invite “abuse of hospitality.”  We come to be on the receiving end of the lack of xenia that we may have practiced upon others.  We are ignored, we don’t matter.  But this too can be liberating–we are free of other peoples’ expectations.  (I am experiencing this more and more as I get older and become more and more invisible to those younger.)  We can let go of the need to assert ourselves and enjoy the status of observer.
  9. The underwater battle.  Again, in my book I speak of the symbolism of water as representing ignorance, that force that is constantly trying to pull us under and end the quest through whatever agent of the monster: Polyphemus, Sirens, Crashing Rocks, Skylla, Charibdis.  In the Odyssey it is always presented as an evil; a “vast waste” at best, a source of danger and death at worst.  The hero will always have access to some kind of wood to see him through these ordeals.
  10. The final paean.  “I am I again, unnamed and whole.”  Start writing yours now.

 

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Books About the Ideal

 

The Journey Back to Where You Are: Homer's Odyssey as Spiritual Quest

The Journey Back to Where You Are: Homer’s Odyssey as Spiritual Quest

The Journey Back to Where You Are: Homer’s Odyssey as Spiritual Quest

This book views Homer’s Odyssey an allegory for the soul’s quest for reunification, a journey back from the strife and division of the Trojan War to the love and unity of one’s “native land,” enduring trials and temptations along the way.  This volume contains the complete Samuel Butler translation, recently updated by the faculty of the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard University, and used by permission.  This is a terrific book which shows a steady idealism, and an invoking of Emersonian personal reunification. Its language is a great strength; vigorous, colloquial, open, appealing, un-condescending, unshrinking from what must be included. It is substantial, engaging and important.  Robert D. Richardson Jr., Bancroft Prize-winning author of Emerson: The Mind on Fire

The Ideal in the West

The Ideal in the West (book)

The Ideal in the West

The essays on this blog have been collected into book form, available through amazon.com.

A com­mend­able attempt to beat back the dark­ness and inspire revelation.

In clear, unclut­tered prose, free of undue sophistry, Beard­s­ley cov­ers an immense amount of ter­ri­tory with alacrity, begin­ning chrono­log­i­cally with Athens in its golden age and touch­ing next on the Greek-influenced Roman philoso­phers. He then moves on to the Renais­sance, and finally to the 19th-century tran­scen­den­tal­ists of New Eng­land. …  Read­ers who brushed lightly against the Greek philoso­phers in the course of their edu­ca­tions will appre­ci­ate this chance to replen­ish and expand their store of knowl­edge, but those start­ing from scratch could do worse than learn­ing the basics from Beard­s­ley. At its best, his book may even spark a flame that leaps “from one soul to another” and ignites deeper understanding—though he believes, like Socrates, that the spo­ken word of the dialec­tic, face-to-face method can cre­ate a spark more surely than the writ­ten word ever could.  –Kirkus Reviews, Sept. 2015

The Ideal of Beauty and Other Essays

The Ideal of Beauty and Other Essays

The Ideal of Beauty and Other Essays

Walt Whitman thought that books distilled from other books “would probably pass away.” David Beardsley, like Whitman himself, gives the reader of The Ideal of Beauty the real thing, his own personal, felt, known, lived experiences, perceptions, and ideas. He makes the old Neoplatonic tradition as bright and attractive and relevant as today’s newspaper. Beardsley burns with a great incandescent philosophical blaze. It is all his own and it is contagious. It is a wonderful experience just to read it.         

Robert D. Richardson Jr., Bancroft Prize winner and author of Emerson: The Mind on Fire.

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How to Kill a Dragon

 

I was recently looking for a little light reading, so I got a copy of Calvert Watkins‘s page turner (kidding!), subtitled Aspects of Indo-European Poetics.  If you don’t know it, it is a remarkable achievement displaying a level of scholarship that is truly humbling to someone like me whose attention span is usually measured in nanoseconds.  His knowledge of various Western (and some Eastern) languages derived from Indo-European is vast, and his ability to see connections among them most impressive.  I will admit that I did not read the book cover-to-cover.

A_Giant_of_the_Earth

A Giant of the Earth, by Antoine Wiertz (1806-1865). Musee Wiertz, Brussels.

As you may be able to tell from the title, after some opening chapters in which he delineates commonalities in the languages themselves, he concentrates on a basic theme that is common to the mythology of many of these cultures, from Irish to Indian; i.e. HERO SLAYS DRAGON.  He gives multiple examples of this theme from across cultures, and I’m sure we can all think of our own examples, such as Theseus and the Minotaur, and Odysseus and the Cyclops (even though he is not slain), Bilbo and Smaug. Later, Watkins expands this definition to include HERO SLAYS HERO and HERO SLAYS ANTI-HERO, specifically including the slaying of the suitors by Odysseus in this formulation.  “….an example of the second, where the anti-hero is assimilated into a monster, would be Odysseus and the suitors, or Orestes and Klutaimestra (sic).  In both the action is bidirectional, potentially reciprocal; either member may be the subject of the verb.”¹

But what I also found interesting is an analysis of the slayer myths in a chapter titled “Fergus mac Léti and the muirdris,” which concentrates on an Irish myth of that name.  I won’t reproduce it here, but I will quote his listing of “themes and ‘motifemes:'”

  1. abnormal or inverse social or sexual relations
  2. the abuse or violation of hospitality
  3. abnormal servitude
  4. an injunction
  5. violation of the injunction
  6. the temporary victory of the (monster) over the hero; as a result
  7. the hero’s disfigurement or mutilation, itself causing real or potential loss of status or power
  8. the abuse or violation of the responsibility of “hospitality” to an inferior…
  9. the underwater locale of the combat
  10. the final paean, in direct speech of the victory which reestablishes order over chaos, followed by the death of the hero.²

If you know the Odyssey at all, a number of these will jump out at you as common themes, perhaps especially in the second half where Odysseus returns to Ithaka.  If not, allow me to point out some of the more obvious:

  1. Odysseus sleeps with two goddesses, and while disguised as a beggar, demands the attention of Penelope, mistress of Ithaka.
  2. a number of these violations of xenia, including the encounter with the Cyclops
  3. Athena’s attention to Odysseus (a bit of a stretch, perhaps), and Odysseus himself playing the part of a beggar
  4. several of these also, most notably the command not to eat the cattle of the sun god Apollo
  5. violation of that injunction, (“They ate them.”), with its tragic effects of the crew being drowned and Odysseus alone surviving
  6. Poseidon (the uber-monster) temporarily wins, and Odysseus is cast adrift.  The theme recurs when he sails off from Calypso’s island and is washed ashore on Phaeakia
  7. when he first returns to Ithaka, he is transformed into a wretched beggar by Athena
  8. again the violation of hospitality, this time by the suitors to the disguised Odysseus
  9. the final combat does not take place underwater, but several of the previous battles are in the sea
  10. Athena speaks the final paean³, after which at some point in the future as predicted by Tireseias, Odysseus dies “(far) from the sea.”

So a pretty nice convergence of themes, which I doubt I’m the first to notice.  But of course my premise is that the Odyssey describes a spiritual quest, so how does this formulation relate to that?  Pretty well, I think, if we remember the allegorical aspect: a world of unity (light and life) interrupted by chaos (darkness and death) with the ultimate victory of unity.  The chaos is our everyday world, which we don’t recognize as “darkness and death,” and the state of unity is our true state, but one we have forgotten.  At times of course it seems that Poseidon and his agents will win the day, but always Odysseus has enough “good karma” in his relationship with Athena to overcome their traps.  (I’ll look at each of these elements of the quest in more detail in another post.)  In this case I think one can read the death of Odysseus as not like that of Achilles or the suitors, trudging down to the shadowy world of Hades, but as a permanent ascent into unity.

¹Watkins, Calvert, How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics.  Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 471

²Watkins, op. cit., p. 443-4

³“Son of Laertes, sprung from Zeus, Odysseus of many devices, stay thy hand, and make the strife of equal war to cease, lest haply the son of Cronos be wroth with thee, even Zeus, whose voice is borne afar.”  Odyssey 24:543-4

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More or less

 

I am, I know, a lesser light, but a light nonetheless.

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Sweet Chariot

 

A survey of the metaphor of the chariot to describe the human soul.  Click here.

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Philosophizing

 

Recently I was in an online discussion over the relative merits of the Iliad vs. the Odyssey.  If you think about it, you probably have a preference for one or the other–mine of course is for the latter.  Anyway, in the course of one of the exchanges someone used the phrase “Philosophizing is easy,” going on to say that dealing with the “nitty-gritty” is tougher.  And of course that’s what most people seem to think, but on further reflection, I would beg to differ.

Philosophizing, that is “loving wisdom,” is perhaps the toughest thing one can do.  The “real world” tells you that you are of a certain race, and gender, and nationality, even a certain age.  But wisdom teaches that you are none of these.  You are the One, and paradoxically so is everyone else.  As George Harrison says, “Not too many people can see we’re all the same.”  That people should go to war with each other in the name of religion is perhaps the most extreme example of this–it would be funny if there weren’t so much pain involved.

The back story of the Iliad is that it was caused by Eris, goddess of Strife, resulting in Paris (Alexandros) wanting to “own” Beauty, in the form of Helen.  Wisdom would have told him that it can’t be owned; it is, as Plato says, and Ideal that stands behind all individual expressions of it.  But of course if he had been a philosopher, there would be no Iliad, and even I would think that was a loss to the world.  But Beauty is as much in us as it is anywhere else, and until we realize that we will always look for it outside, always think we are less than the One.

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A Course in Consciousness

 

I forget now where I first connected with it, but I’ve spending time recently with this course which was taught by Prof. Stanley Sobottka (1930-2014) at the University of Virginia.  Although I have tried on a number of occasions to understand quantum physics, each time I reach a stage where it sounds like the structure of the language and the universe has just fallen apart and my eyes start to glaze over–which may be the point.  (I think I’m starting to get Schrödinger’s cat, however.)  But the impression I always get, is that of two realms–the solid predictable world of “classical physics,” of “things” which obey “laws,” the world of Newton and Galileo.  The one in which you and I (or at least our bodies) live.  Then there’s this subatomic realm where all bets are off.  This is like the Wild West.  It’s a realm not of things but of waveforms, and which don’t obey laws but may adhere to probabilities.  The world of Heisenberg, Bohr, Einstein.  We go there at our peril.

But Prof. Sobottka is working more in the service of consciousness rather than just physics, and so he brings into question the whole concept of the observer, and after a lot of background in physics and philosophy (the “monistic ideal” which includes a critique of Plato’s Cave Allegory), he posits a quite unique take on it: The ego, or false self, is an assumed separate entity with an assumed power of agency that is associated with the classical, conditioned, deterministic part, while the unconditioned self is an experience that is dominated by the full range of possibilities of the quantum part.  (Part 2, 7:7)

And later: There is only one consciousness. Our consciousness is nonlocal consciousness. My consciousness is identical to your consciousness. Only the contents are different. The entities that we falsely think we are result from identification of this consciousness with a concept in the conditioned mind. (Part 2, 7:8)

I would recommend this course if you want to get out of your comfort zone, and find some validation for the Ideal.

 

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New Review of “The Ideal in the West”

 

This just in, from Kirkus Reviews.  Full disclosure: I did pay for the review, but they are not obligated to give a good one.  (I would just note that at one point the reviewer speaks of “a wordy chapter.”  I’m sure that’s a typo and s/he meant “a worthy chapter.”  It’s a common mistake.)

A brief philosophical history of the Western understanding of the “Ideal” and the “Good,” from the ancient Greeks to Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Blogger, podcaster, amateur philosopher, and author Beardsley (The Journey Back to Where You Are, 2014) shows the instincts of a teacher as he sheds light on a Western spiritual tradition going back 2,500 years, to the era of Socrates and Plato. His intent in this volume, he writes, is to share his realization that “Western civilization is itself in possession of this spiritual tradition which is every bit as compelling and magnificent as any to be found in the East—not that there’s anything wrong with them.” Indeed, the East-West similarities are striking, such as a shared perception that the soul is immortal. In clear, uncluttered prose, free of undue sophistry, Beardsley covers an immense amount of territory with alacrity, beginning chronologically with Athens in its golden age and touching next on the Greek-influenced Roman philosophers. He then moves on to the Renaissance, and finally to the 19th-century transcendentalists of New England. Throughout, he relies on carefully selected words and works to elucidate meanings, and adds generally cogent commentary of his own. As a side trip, he considers whether the works of William Shakespeare fit within this Western philosophical tradition, and concludes that some do and some don’t. The book’s second part suggests how to live a life imbued by the Ideal, and includes a wordy chapter on getting beyond ego as a necessary first step. Readers who brushed lightly against the Greek philosophers in the course of their educations will appreciate this chance to replenish and expand their store of knowledge, but those starting from scratch could do worse than learning the basics from Beardsley. At its best, his book may even spark a flame that leaps “from one soul to another” and ignites deeper understanding—though he believes, like Socrates, that the spoken word of the dialectic, face-to-face method can create a spark more surely than the written word ever could.

A commendable attempt to beat back the darkness and inspire revelation.

 

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The Religion With No Name

 

Recently I was commended to the site grahamhancock.com, which seems to specialize in alternate interpretations of history and mythology, and to one article in particular by Brian Muraresku.  It speaks for itself, and I hope you find it as fascinating as I did.

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We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.

 

This quote, usually attributed to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, is a helpful reminder of our real nature.  It seems that the normal assumption of religious and “self-help” systems alike is that we are small, alienated beings looking for happiness and purpose.  But we can choose to see ourselves as blissful by nature; it is our normal state, our birthright.  The problem lies that we allow ourselves to be kidnapped from it.  Like Penelope in the Odyssey, we are constantly distracted by the suitors–our random thoughts and desires–which pretend to want the best for us but in fact are “devouring our substance.”  Hermes Trismegistus calls this phenomenon our “resident thief,” stealing away what is naturally ours.  This is not some benign process, but in fact our biggest obstacle to remembering who we really are.  We can start by remembering that our true nature is “truth, consciousness, bliss,” and then observing whatever (or whoever) comes along and tries to take this away.

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The Throwaway Comment 2

 

Some time ago I did a post on throwaway lines–short quotes in the middle of a work that carried a significance that far outweighed their number of words.  There are of course many more that could be added, and may be, but I wanted to consider one more; this from the opening of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1842 address delivered at the Masonic Temple in Boston called The Transcendentalist. 

The first thing we have to say respecting what are called “new views” here in New England, at the present time, is, that they are not new, but the very oldest of thoughts cast into the mould of these new times. The light is always identical in its composition, but it falls on a great variety of objects, and by so falling is first revealed to us, not in its own form, for it is formless, but in theirs; in like manner, thought only appears in the objects it classifies. What is popularly called Transcendentalism among us, is Idealism; Idealism as it appears in 1842.

In particular the second sentence should jump out.  At a point in an address when most speakers are clearing their throats and waiters are clearing the plates, Emerson delivers one of the most succinct and accurate descriptions I know of the Ideal.  Its manifestation in the physical world is light; a formless mixture of frequencies, invisible in itself, taken for granted, not seen until it strikes some object and reflects it back to our eyes.  Likewise, the Ideal, or consciousness “is always identical in its composition,” itself taken for granted, never noticed until it illuminates a thought.  Then we think the thought is the thing, not the consciousness that allows us to see it in the first place.

Indeed, what can be conscious of consciousness?  This is the fatal paradox in all the “scientific” considerations of it.  It is not just another specimen to put under a microscope; I think it was Meister Eckhart who said, “People expect to see God with the same eyes with which they would see, say, a cow.”  Anything that can be observed is necessarily less than that which is observing it, and is changed by the act of being observed.  Everything material is in a constant state of change; only that which observes remains the same, “identical in its composition.”  This observer, this Consciousness is what you are, what I am.  Emerson knew this (in 1842!), and in another throwaway line states, “I feel like other men my relation to that Fact which cannot be spoken, or defined, nor even thought, but which exists, and will exist.”

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Warrior or Governor?

 

Fighting a war and governing a state require two different skill sets.  Most people who had the opportunity to do both realized that they were good at one and not the other, and chose to opt out of governing: Alexander the Great, Ghengis Khan, Napoleon.  There are cases of some who were good at both: Dwight Eisenhower arguably, and some who were incompetent at both: George W. Bush definitely.

But of course we are talking about Odysseus.  He was, by Homer’s account, an exemplary soldier, but not in the mold of Achilles.  He saw the Trojan War as a job, a duty, and didn’t let his ego get caught up in it the way Achilles did.  He wasn’t looking for eternal fame and glory (kleos); he just wanted to get home to Ithaca and Penelope.  He wanted to govern, to reunite his kingdom and his family.  He must have experienced revulsion beyond words when he learned about the presence of the suitors who were preying on his wife and his son and his kingdom.  Here was the “gentle father,” who was powerless to bring peace and justice back to his state.

His motivation was not hatred of the “enemy,” but love of his own people.  He resorted to the trickery of the Trojan Horse only when he saw that the brute force tactics of the other Greek leaders were going nowhere.  But by that point–10 years without a furlough–he himself had turned into a mindless killer, as seen by the gratuitous attack on the Cicones as his first act after leaving Troy.  He had become imbued with the need to acquire, to win, to prevail, to defeat, destroy, annihilate.  It is the transformation he makes back to one who can govern with love, who can unify rather than destroy, that makes up the Odyssey.

But of course we are not talking about Odysseus.  We are talking about ourselves.  Which are we: destroyers or governors?  (I don’t say builders, because nothing is ever really built, just manifested.)  We would never think of ourselves as destroyers, but how much of our consciousness do we spend on trying to prevail, to assert our own egos?  Criticizing, feeling superior, feeling self-righteous.  As the cartoon says, “It is not enough for dogs to win; cats must also lose.”  Once we start on the path to “winning,” we end up wanting to destroy someone, if only in our own minds.  And regardless of the companies we run, the wealth we amass, the power we exercise, we are basically pathetic creatures being pushed and pulled by the negative feelings we hold (or that hold us) toward others.  When, like Odysseus, we learn to govern ourselves this need to win dissipates.  We experience the bliss of unity, and our only wish is that everyone else should experience it also.

When Odysseus meets Achilles in the underworld, Achilles is reduced to wishing he could slave for some tenant farmer on earth rather than be a king in Hades.  He has realized the price of his egotism and pride.  And he provides a turning point for Odysseus, who now fully realizes that kleos is a dream.  What is needed is nostos, “the return from darkness and death to light and love.”  And despite the suffering of that return to the Fatherland, he does not waver until he again finds that light and love.  Then he realizes that all along he has not been separate, and it is the Father who has been governing.

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Fracking Homer

 

Odysseus on Scheria, weeping at the tales of Troy.  Francesco Hayez, 1791-1882

Odysseus on Scheria, weeping at the tales of Troy. Francesco Hayez, 1791-1882

In Book 8 of Homer’s Odyssey, the hero Odysseus, on his way home from the Trojan War, has washed up on the shore of Scheria, a magical island, home to a race of mariners whose self-guided ships sail “faster than thought.”  His handmade raft has been destroyed by an angry Poseidon, god of the sea, and he has lost everything, is barely alive, mere flotsam.  But he is rescued by Nausicaa, the princess of the Scherians, and taken to the royal palace where he is lavished with xenia, hospitality worthy of a god, without even being asked who he was, as was the practice.  This included a performance by the resident singer of tales, Demodocus, and included a description of the Trojan horse, the invention of “crafty” Odysseus himself.  But rather than glory in his fame, kleos, Odysseus weeps “hot tears,” like those of the Trojan women whose husbands he has helped to kill, and who are themselves about to be forced into slavery.  Alkinoos, king of the island, sees the tears and says to Odysseus: …tell me why you weep and grieve at heart When you hear the fate of the Greeks and the Trojans.  This was the gods’ doing.  They spun that fate so that in later time it would turn into song.  (8:624-26, Lombardo translation)

Admittedly Alkinoos is the king of a people blessed (for the time being) by the gods, but as worldviews go, this one is not bad.  It would have us understand that the events in our lives are not random or pointless, but constitute the raw material of song–laments, dirges and screeds to be sure, but also paeans, odes and hymns.  The purpose of the poet is to use the tools of metaphor and allegory and myth to make sense of these events, even–perhaps especially–when they seem to have none.  Homer, whoever he or she or they may have been, invented this entire poetic toolkit out of whole cloth, and created the musical sound that still resonates through the Western world and beyond.

The Odyssey, along with the Iliad, preceded writing and were both sung into being close to 3000 years ago, making them among the oldest living things on the planet.  Homer’s song of the trials and temptations overcome by Odysseus on his nostos, or return home, has long been seen as an allegory for the return of a human being’s strife-filled and divided psyche, or soul, back to love and unity, our “native land” or “Fatherland,” patridos aies.  In the third century AD, the neoplatonist Plotinus wrote, The Fatherland to us is There whence we have come, and There is The Father.  This is not a journey for the feet;… you must close the eyes and call instead upon another vision which is to be waked within you, a vision, the birth-right of all, which few turn to use.  (Ennead I:6:8, MacKenna translation)

But despite the recent appearance of a number of fine translations and public domain websites, Homer’s work seems to be losing its connection with literate adults, in the process losing its allegorical power.  When I give talks on the Odyssey and survey my audience (which does tend toward the senior citizens), the anecdotal evidence is the same: I read it a long time ago in high school or college because I had to (which I must admit was my own experience).  I believe this is in part because its theme of the return home resonates more as one gets older–with students just starting out, not so much.  In any case, its power to inspire and connect us to a larger view of humanity is being lost; few feel with Keats when looking into Chapman’s translation that “Then felt I like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken….”

Part of this can be attributed to our living in a fast-paced and superficial age, as well as a shrinking number of students going into the classics as a major.  But I think it is also because of its ongoing appropriation by academia which sees it as a rich source for analysis.  The most recent evidence of this trend is the embrace of “digital humanities,” bringing the tools and techniques of computer science and “big data” to bear on Homer and other ancient works.  This is of course not a totally new development, and I will be the first to acknowledge a debt to some of the existing websites such the Perseus Project at Tufts, and Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies.  Their freely available texts and search tools have aided my own research and no doubt greatly widened the audience for these ancient works.  But the presence of more powerful computing techniques brings with it the analogy of “data mining;” seeing these works as philological or historical or geographical or anthropological databases ripe for being analyzed into smaller and smaller bits, digging into a depleting resource for any remaining inert facts.  Fracking Homer, if you will.

The still-unanswered question is whether the microanalytical capability that allows marketers to define us more and more narrowly as voters and consumers will bring us new insights into Homer.  It will no doubt result in a spate of additional papers and academic conferences.  But to state the obvious: Siri notwithstanding, computers are not humans.  They have no quest, no inner life, and in a sense they have only feet.  I believe their use carries the danger of degrading the Odyssey, especially, further from its polestar status as a quest myth, a universal tale of courage and devotion that can still speak to us today, and turning it into a series of self-referential tropes and poetical building blocks.  The Odyssey is not about the Odyssey; it’s about the odyssey.  It’s about the journey each of us must make from the fragmented to the whole, or as Douglas Frame puts it, “from darkness and death to light and life.”  If we analyze we do not synthesize, and we lose the allegorical guidance of the characters: Achilles as the egoistic hero whose uncontrollable anger and wish for immortality lead him to early death.  Penelope, the paragon of constancy, but also exemplar of scientific skepticism, as she demands evidence that Odysseus is who he claims to be.  Her suitors, the social media distractors of their day, as that part of the mind always trying to tempt us away from the constancy of our purpose.  And Odysseus himself, conquering the limitations imposed by his own ego in order to take responsibility for returning his kingdom to be a place “where peace and plenty reign.”

I have no illusions that this analytical trend will stop or even be slowed.  It has that aura of inevitability, and may even result in a new appreciation of Homer and other writers.  But I would just hope that we can also retain the grand and timeless view; that we can let Homer’s muse sing to us through the accretions of the centuries, through the masses of new data, “and tell the tale once more in our time.”

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The Throwaway Comment

 

One of the marks of being in the presence of genius is coming upon what looks to be a throwaway comment, but which carries a greater significance than I could come up with on my best day.  As Emerson says, in an example, “Talent may frolic and juggle; genius realizes and adds.”  (The Poet)  Herewith a few more of my favorites:

The scholar always wants to know more than can be known.  –Werner Jaeger, Paideia

Tell us also why you are made unhappy on hearing about the return of the Argive Danaans from Troy. The gods arranged all this, and sent them their misfortunes in order that future generations might have something to sing about.  –Homer, The Odyssey, Book 8 (Butler)

The only sin is limitation.  –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Circles

But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual…  –Plato, Republic, Book 7 (Jowett)

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The Difference

 

It’s the difference between talking and speaking, thoughts and ideas, hearing and listening.

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Spring and Light

 

Ah Spring!  Time to bring out the gardening tools, time to bring out the new wardrobe, time to bring out the housecleaning metaphors for getting our mental house in order.  Time to take a good look at all the “stuff” we’ve accumulated over the years and get rid of… well, just about all of it.

At this point you may well ask, “What does philosophy have to do with getting rid of things?”  Most of us think of philosophy as adding more “stuff;” more beliefs, more opinions, more arguments, more “isms.”  But if we remember that philosophy means “love of wisdom,” not “love of knowledge,”  we can appreciate that it’s not about adding on.  In fact, many philosophers see it the other way around—we as humans are naturally wise, but we let it get covered over with the “stuff” of everyday life.  We spend much of our time in an unreal world of remembering the past and looking forward to, or fearing, the future.

Wisdom is not that complicated, and doesn’t have to be learned.  We’ve all known people we think are wise, and they are not necessarily well-educated.  The traits we associate with wisdom—compassion, listening, empathy, humor—are things we can develop regardless of schooling.  And wisdom is the best gift you can give to yourself, or to others.

But wisdom operates only in the present moment.  You can wish you had been wiser, or hope that you will be, but in fact the only time you can be wise is right now.  Our material at the School of Practical Philosophy says, “The nature of wisdom is that it acts like light.  It illuminates what is present.  It does not add vast new structures of learning or erudition, but rather works to remove some of these structures.  Wisdom is not just about the mind.  It is also a question of being: the state of one’s being.”

This analogy of wisdom to light is found over and over in the wisdom literature.  God said, “Let there be light.”  Socrates compared the light of the Ideal to the light of the sun.  Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”  The Bhagavad Gita says, “The Light of Lights He is, in the heart of the Dark shining eternally.”  The Spring brings the return of the light, with its warmth and longer days, and it can also allow us to see the layers of dust that have built up, in our houses and in ourselves.

It is our own inner light that we need to clean.  When we see people, even people we love, we often see our past idea of them, not who they really are right now.  We need to let go of our criticisms, our prejudices, all the limitations that keep us from responding to the light in each of them.  We treat new situations with past strategies, maybe approaching them with anxiety or our own expectations of how they’ll turn out.  But we can’t predict the future; we can only look at our current situations with full attention and love.  We do what our inner wisdom tells us to do as best we can, and then we let go.    We give full attention and love to whatever—or whomever—comes next.  And on and on.  The people and the situations will change; the light with which we see them stays the same.

When we let go of our self-imposed limitations and let our light shine out, we will find that we live in no ordinary house.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson says in The Over-Soul, “All goes to show that the soul in man is not an organ, but animates and exercises all the organs; is not a function, like the power of memory, of calculation, of comparison, but uses these as hands and feet; is not a faculty, but a light; is not the intellect or the will, but the master of the intellect and the will; is the background of our being, in which they lie, — an immensity not possessed and that cannot be possessed. From within or from behind, a light shines through us upon things, and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all. A man is the facade of a temple wherein all wisdom and all good abide.”

Happy Spring cleaning!

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The Way of the Odyssey

 

More evidence that the Odyssey is a spiritual allegory comes from the fact that the main characters can be seen as exemplars of traditional spiritual paths:

Odysseus: Way of Action (Karma yoga). Frequent epithets: wise, clever, city-sacker, devious. He is subjected to a series of trials and temptations and must rely on his wits to determine the proper course of action, e.g. escape from the Cyclops. He must move from multiplicity to unity, remember his nostos (return journey), and save his psukhe (soul): Tell me, O Muse, of the man of many devices, who wandered full many ways after he had sacked the sacred citadel of Troy. Many were the men whose cities he saw and whose mind he learned, aye, and many the woes he suffered in his heart upon the sea, [5] seeking to win his own life (psukhe, soul) and the return (nostos) of his comrades. Yet even so he saved not his comrades, though he desired it sore, for through their own blind folly they perished—fools, who devoured the kine of Helios Hyperion; but he took from them the day of their returning.” (1:1)

Penelope: Way of Devotion (Bhakti yoga). Frequent epithets: wise, circumspect, constant. Her task is to remain steadfast in the presence of the suitors who are devouring her substance and tempting her to believe Odysseus is not going to return. “Then she burst into tears, and spoke to the divine minstrel: “Phemius, many other things thou knowest to charm mortals, deeds of men and gods which minstrels make famous. Sing them one of these, as thou sittest here, [340] and let them drink their wine in silence. But cease from this woeful song which ever harrows the heart in my breast, for upon me above all women has come a sorrow not to be forgotten. So dear a head do I ever remember with longing, even my husband, whose fame is wide through Hellas and mid-Argos.” (1:336)

Telemachus: Way of Knowledge (Jnana yoga). Frequent epithets: wise, godlike. His task is to gain evidence of his father’s existence through interviews with his companions, Nestor and Agamemnon. He must overcome his doubt and uncertainty: “But now he has thus perished by an evil doom, nor for us is there any comfort, no, not though any one of men upon the earth should say that he will come; gone is the day of his returning.” (1:166)

“Then wise Telemachus answered her (Athena): “Therefore of a truth, stranger, will I frankly tell thee all. [215] My mother says that I am his child; but I know not, for never yet did any man of himself know his own parentage.” (1:214)

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Writing

 

It seems as if everyone is articulate when they speak from the heart.  It’s only when you’re being forced or insincere that you need writing lessons. 

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Homer: Journalist or Poet?

 

I’ve had a couple of encounters in the last week with the “literalist” branch of Odyssey readers, including seeing a $45 book (whose title I forget) that purports to be a proof of the journey’s itinerary using modern geological methods.  Whew!  The fact that there can be these divisions after all this time renews my respect for Homer. I also just listened to the series of lectures by Elizabeth Vandiver listed in the previous post, who has the view that there probably is a kernel of historical fact behind the Trojan War and Odysseus’s subsequent return, but which was then extensively elaborated upon by Homer, whoever he or she was.

This makes sense to me also, but at the same time it doesn’t really matter at all whether the “events” actually happened; what matters is their timeless allegory of a shattered soul seeking reunification.  I feel the same way about those who insist upon a historical Jesus.  Whether or not there was a man/god of that name who lived 2000+ years ago should not blind us to the great spiritual wisdom contained in the New Testament and the allegory of the non-existence of death.  (For anyone interested in a complete exposition of this view, I recommend The New Man, by Maurice Nicoll.  Out of print, and possibly hard to find, but worth the search.)

I’m sure this divide will continue.  But as Emerson says in The Transcendentalist: “Every materialist will be an idealist; but an idealist can never go backward to be a materialist.”

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Odyssey Resources

(Updated 1/2017)  I’ve come across some additional resources that might be useful, listed at the bottom.  Not strictly on Homer’s Odyssey (see The Ideal of the Odyssey) but they might interest you as well.  Here they are:

There are of course numerous modern translations–Lombardo, Fitzgerald, Fagles, Lattimore, Mitchell.  Also this free one online:

Homer, The Odyssey, trans. A. T. Murray, 1919 free  http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0136

Some online courses and other resources:

The Heroic and the Anti-Heroic in Classical Greek Civilization, taught by Gregory Nagy, Harvard University, free  https://www.extension.harvard.edu/open-learning-initiative/ancient-greek-civilization

Greek and Roman Mythology, taught by Peter Struck, University of Pennsylvania, free  https://class.coursera.org/mythology-002/lecture/index

Introduction to Ancient Greek History, taught by Donald Kagan, Yale University, free http://oyc.yale.edu/classics/clcv-205

Odyssey of Homer, taught by Elizabeth Vandiver, The Great Courses, $90-$200 (I found a copy at my local library.)  http://www.thegreatcourses.com/tgc/courses/course_detail.aspx?cid=302

The Western Canon from Homer to Milton, taught by William Flesch, Brandeis University http://www.openculture.com/the_western_canon_from_homer_to_milton

Homeric Resources, University of Pennsylvania  http://www.classics.upenn.edu/myth/php/homer/index.php?page=sounds

Who’s Who in the Odyssey  http://mythagora.com/whoswho/odyssey.html

Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies  http://chs.harvard.edu/

Overview of Greek History, by Thomas R. Martin  http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0009

Tour of Greek art at Metropolitan Museum of Art  http://jjcweb.jjay.cuny.edu/history/making_objects_speak/index.php/the_odyssey/

Butler, Samuel.  The Authoress of the Odyssey  http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/aoto/

Ian Johnston’s Homepage, Vancouver Island University  http://records.viu.ca/~johnstoi/homer/odysseytofc.htm

The Centre for Odyssean Studies (Greece)  http://cods.upatras.gr/index.php/en/

Wikipedia’s list of Greek mythological figures: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Greek_mythological_figures

Mythological figures on Tarot cards: http://tarotprophet.com/greek-mythology-greek-gods-and-goddesses-on-tarot-cards/

Let me know if you have found others.

 

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What is

 

Objects are matter with a boundary.  Thoughts are Consciousness with a boundary.  Feelings are Love with a boundary.  The Ideal is all these without a boundary (apeiron).

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The Return of the Hero

 

The brave and wise man, who intends to overcome his foes, must first of all strive to subdue the internal enemies of his own heart and mind, and the members of his own body.  Yoga-Vasishtha, the Sixth Discourse, trans. Hari Prasad Shastri

Further evidence, I think, that The Odyssey is a work of spiritual allegory comes from the circumstance of Odysseus’ return to Ithaca.  He has been told by Teiresias that upon his return “thou shalt find woes in thy house—proud men that devour thy livelihood, wooing thy godlike wife, and offering wooers’ gifts.”  (11:116-118)  He is also told that he must take vengeance upon them.  So we might expect that, in true heroic style, he will put together an army, perhaps drawing on his comrades now sitting comfortably in their own palaces after their own nostos, and vanquish them.  But what happens is quite different.

Even though he knows what he will find, his parting words on the island of Scheria imply that all will be well:

Lord Alcinous, renowned above all men, pour libations now, and send ye me on my way in peace; and yourselves too—Farewell! For now all that my heart desired has been brought to pass: a convoy, and gifts of friendship. May the gods of heaven bless them to me, and on my return may I find in my home my peerless wife with those I love unscathed; and may you again, remaining here, make glad your wedded wives and children; and may the gods grant you prosperity of every sort, and may no evil come upon your people.”  (13:37-47)

When he does actually land on Ithaca, he is asleep, the Scherians have left, and he does not even know where he is.  He has to be reminded by Athena, and doesn’t even bring up the idea of returning as a conquering hero; instead he makes his way to the hut of Eumaeus, the pig-keeper, having been transformed by Athena into an old, wrinkled beggar.  The true king is now dependent on the xenia of the lowest of his servants.  It is in this form that he reunites with Telemachus, and it is without the usual trappings of kingship that he must reclaim it.  He has been humbled, and even though he will visit violence upon the “wooers,” it is without the hubris of The Iliad.

So insofar as the suitors represent out own fears and desires, products of the egosphere  that seek supremacy over our true Self, they too must die.

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