The luminous intellect of Edward Butler shown forth in the following today:
A post on the Neos Alexandria board inquired about the minor tradition in which the Nemean lion is born from Selene. This seems to derive from Epimenides of Knossos, the great poet and mantis, one of the founders of the Orphic movement. “For I too am sprung from fair-tressed Selene, who in a fearful shudder shook off the savage lion in Nemea, bringing him forth at the bidding of Queen Hera,” (Epimenides, quoted in Aelian, On the Nature of Animals 12.7). Clearly the import of this is not just the tradition about the lion, but Epimenides’ personal association with it, and as a child of Selene. What I had not encountered before, was that Mousaios, another key early Orphic, was also sometimes said to have been a child of Selene’s. Of course Plato says that the Orphics claim that their books come from the Muses and Selene (Rep. 364e). I never thought of all this in connection with Endymion, however. Epimenides was said to have been in a mystic sleep for many years in a holy cave of Zeus on Crete, and to have acquired prophecy thereby. In connecting themselves to Selene, one of the things Orphics might have been doing was identifying in some fashion with Endymion. One of the most interesting things that comes to mind about Selene is the notion that Her name is virtually the same as “Helen”. Helen is born from an egg, which is quite lunar, and her abduction/elopement is clearly a katabasis (descent) of some sort. If there is a particular “psychological” (in the literal sense) import of Endymion’s myth, it may parallel that of the Dioskouroi, as well as the Trojan War. Note that Narcissus is sometimes child of Selene and Endymion. When we see in Helen a Persephone of sorts, the esoteric significance of the Iliad immediately becomes apparent. The Iliad is a psychogony which refuses to remain a private or subjective matter, explicating more fully the worldly consequences which are present, e.g., in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter in more compact form: seasonal transformation, institution of rites.
Brilliant. And utterly spot on. In fact there’s a whole strain of Orphic tradition which equates death with slumber and postulates that this world is nothing more than a binding dream.
Well, well, as you say, life is strange. For I tell you I should not wonder if Euripides’ words were true when he says: ‘Who knows if life is death and death life?’ Perhaps then we are already dead and do not realize it. Indeed, I once heard a clever fellow, an Italian from Sicily, say that the body is our tomb. (Plato, Gorgias 493a)
Indeed, what we experience as death is really an awakening into true life. This is why, for instance, in the collection of Orphic Hymns that has come down to us from a cult-group in second century Asia Minor the closing sequence goes Sleep, Dream and Death.
As I’ve argued before there is no such thing as original Orphic myths. To orphicize is to take a preexisting myth, make it more horrifying and grotesque, and then read a deeper mystic meaning into it – Zagreus being a prime example of this.
As far back as Hesiod you find:
And there near the house of Nyx in the underworld the children of gloomy Nyx have their houses. These are Hypnos and Thanatos, dread divinities. Never upon them does Helios, the shining sun, cast the light of his eye-beams, neither when he goes up the sky nor comes down from it. And the former of them roams peacefully over the earth and the sea’s broad back and is kindly to men; but the other has a heart of iron, and his spirit within him is pitiless as bronze: whomsoever of men he has once seized he holds fast: and he is hateful even to the deathless gods. There, in front, stand the echoing halls of the god of the lower-world, strong Hades, and of awful Persephone. (Hesiod, Theogony 758-767)
Several fragments of Herakleitos allude to this equation:
As in the nighttime a man kindles for himself a light, so when a living man lies down in death with his vision extinguished he attaches himself to the state of death; even as one who has been awake lies down with his vision extinguished and attaches himself to the state of Sleep. (65) Immortals become mortals, mortals become immortals; they live in each other’s death and die in each other’s life. (66) There await men after death such things as they neither expect nor have any conception of. (67) They arise into wakefulness and become guardians of the living and the dead. (68)
And we see this as well in Dionysiac myth. Ariadne is abducted from the labyrinth by Theseus and subsequently abandoned on the island of Dia. She wanders about in distress and finally collapses into a deep, nightmare-haunted sleep. Dionysos the Loosener comes on his ghostly ship from across the far sea and awakens her, stirring within her a lust for life and freedom and restoring to her her crown as his bride and queen of the Bacchants – which is given added significance when you consider the Homeric myth of Ariadne:
Yet Theseus had no joy of his Ariadne, since, before that could be, she was slain by Artemis on the isle of Dia because of the witness of Dionysos. (Homer, Odyssey 11.320)
In other words, marriage to Dionysos is death to the life one knows and something that removes one from the land of death. This parallel is made manifest by Plutarch:
When the soul comes to the point of death, it suffers something like those who participate in the great initiations (teletai). Therefore the word teleutan closely resembles the word teleisthai just as the act of dying resembles the act of being initiated. At first there are wanderings and toilsome running about in circles and journeys through the dark over uncertain roads and culs de sacs; then, just before the end, there are all kinds of terrors, with shivering, trembling, sweating, and utter amazement. After this, a strange and wonderful light meets the wanderer; he is admitted into clean and verdant meadows, where he discerns gentle voices, and choric dances, and the majesty of holy sounds and sacred visions. Here the now fully initiated is free, and walks at liberty like a crowned and dedicated victim, joining in the revelry. (De Anima fragment preserved in Stobaios Florigelium 120)
Another work of Plutarch’s has direct bearing on what Edward was discussing – De facie quae in orbe lunae apparet or On the face which appears in the orb of the moon.
To begin with the imprisonment of Kronos is a state comparable to that of Endymion:
For Kronos himself sleeps confined in a deep cave of rock that shines like gold — the sleep that Zeus has contrived like a bond for him —, and birds flying in over the summit of the rock bring ambrosia to him, and all the island is suffused with fragrance scattered from the rock as from a fountain; and those spirits mentioned before tend and serve Kronos, having been his comrades what time he ruled as king over gods and men. Many things they do foretell of themselves, for they are oracular; but the prophecies that are greatest and of the greatest matters they come down and report as dreams of Kronos, for all that Zeus premeditates Kronos sees in his dreams and the titanic affections and motions of his soul make him rigidly tense until sleep restores his repose once more and the royal and divine element is all by itself, pure and unalloyed. (942b)
And he goes on to argue that the Moon has power over life and death and borders the meadows of Haides. (942c) He then discusses Persephone’s association with the Moon:
Although they give the right names to Demeter and Kore, they are wrong in believing that both are together in the same region. The fact is that the former is in the region of earth and is sovereign over terrestrial things, and the latter is in the moon and mistress of lunar things. She has been called both Kore and Phersephonê, the latter as being a bearer of light and Kore because that is what we call the part of the eye in which is reflected the likeness of him who looks into it as the light of the sun is seen in the moon. The tales told of the wandering and the quest of these goddesses contain the truth spoken covertly, for they long for each other when they are apart and they often embrace in the shadow. However Kore cannot abandon Haides since she is the boundary of Haides, as Homer too has rather well put it in veiled terms, ‘But to Elysium’s plain, the bourne of earth.’ Where the range of the earth’s shadow ends, this he set as the term and boundary of the earth. To this point rises no one who is evil or unclean, but the good are conveyed thither after death and there continue to lead a life most easy to be sure though not blesséd or divine until their second death. (942d-f)
And then Plutarch starts dropping some serious mystery shit:
The reason is that they suppose mind to be somehow part of soul, thus erring no less than those who believe soul to be part of body, for in the same degree as soul is superior to body so is mind better and more divine than soul. The result of soul and body commingled is the irrational or the affective factor, whereas of mind and soul the conjunction produces reason; and of these the former is source of pleasure and pain, the latter of virtue and vice. In the composition of these three factors earth furnishes the body, the moon the soul, and the sun furnishes mind to man for the purpose of his generation even as it furnishes light to the moon herself. As to the death we die, one death reduces man from three factors to two and another reduces him from two to one; and the former takes place in the earth that belongs to Demeter (wherefore “to make an end” is called “to render one’s life to her” and Athenians used in olden times to call the dead “Demetrians”), the latter in the moon that belongs to Phersephonê. Associated with the former is Hermes the terrestrial, with the latter Hermes the celestial. While the goddess here dissociates the soul from the body swiftly and violently, Phersephonê gently and by slow degrees detaches the mind from the soul and has therefore been called “single-born” because the best part of man is “born single” when separated off by her. Each of the two separations naturally occurs in this fashion: All soul, whether without mind or with it, when it has issued from the body is destined to wander in the region between earth and moon but not for an equal time. Unjust and licentious souls pay penalties for their offences; but the good souls must in the gentlest part of the air, which they call “the meadows of Haides,” pass a certain set time sufficient to purge and blow away the pollutions contracted from the body as from an evil odour. Then, as if brought home from banishment abroad, they savour joy most like that of initiates, which attended by glad expectation is mingled with confusion and excitement. For many, even as they are in the act of clinging to the moon, she thrusts off and sweeps away; and some of those souls too that are on the moon they see turning upside down as if sinking again into the deep. Those that have got up, however, and have found a firm footing first go about like victors crowned with wreaths of feathers called wreaths of steadfastness, because in life they had made the irrational or affective element of the soul orderly and tolerably tractable to reason; secondly, in appearance resembling a ray of light but in respect of their nature, which in the upper region is buoyant as it is here in ours, resembling the ether about the moon, they get from it both tension and strength as edged instruments get a temper, for what laxness and diffuseness they still have is strengthened and becomes firm and translucent. In consequence they are nourished by any exhalation that reaches them, and Herakleitos was right in saying: “Souls employ the sense of smell in Haides.” (943b-e)
Which should be read in conjunction with Proklos’ Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus:
The happy life, far from the roaming of generation, that is desired by those who, in Orpheus, are initiated in Dionysos and Kore and told ‘to cease from the circle and enjoy respite from disgrace.’ (3.296.7)
And the Bacchic Orphic gold leaf from Thurii is particularly evocative:
And I flew out from the hard and deeply-grievous circle, and stepped onto the crown with my swift feet, and slipped into the lap of the Mistress, the Queen of the Underworld. And I stepped out from the crown with my swift feet.
Which, coupled with the feathered crown mentioned by Plutarch, naturally reminds one of Kore’s Siren chorus, the doves of Dionysos and the lunatic John the Baptist.
See what I did there? Circles, man. Fucking circles.
And if you want to get anywhere in the labyrinth you have to accept its inherent dream logic. These laws are in effect because the world as we know it is a strange story woven by a sad girl waiting to be carried off by death:
Orpheus says that the vivific cause of partible natures (i.e. Persephone), while she remained on high, weaving the order of celestials, was a nymph, as being undefiled; and in consequence of this connected with Zeus and abiding in her appropriate manners; but that, proceeding from her proper habitation, she left her webs unfinished, was ravished; having been ravished, was married; and that being married, she generated in order that she might animate things which have an adventitious life. For the unfinished state of her web indicates, I think, that the universe is imperfect or unfinished, as far as to perpetual animals (i.e., the universe would be imperfect if nothing inferior to the celestial gods was produced). Hence Plato says the single creator calls on the many creators to weave together the mortal and immortal natures; after a manner reminding us, that the addition of the mortal genera is the perfection of the textorial life of the universe, and also exciting our recollection of the divine Orphic fable, and affording us interpretative causes of the unfinished webs of Persephone. (Proklos, Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus)
And you, too, are dreaming. WAKE UP!!!