i am asterios

i touched you, oh untouchable ariadne,
while the faces of long-dead heroes watched
from the wall of ivy, and the moon bled
and time stood still around us
and the lamps bathed us in gold
and music none other could hear swelled
and crashed
and everything danced
and fell apart
and reshaped itself anew
we were there for the birth of worlds
and are there still
fingers laced
across the aeons
as the grand procession passes by
fiery crosses and black spirals and shapes with more dimensions
than man has yet learned to count
flashes of white and red
and a curtain of stars
and i glanced your way and saw you had no face
and wear many faces
faces of all those i have loved and lost and not met and never will meet
and it’s okay because you’re here beside me
all of you
and at one point i crawled inside you
followed the flow of your blood
as it raced through the labyrinth
of veins and muscle and bone
and found your innermost emptiness
blacker than blackest night
and wept for you held nothing from me
and i did not have to pretend to be something i’m not
i too could just be
empty
and full of limitless possibility
and the waves washed against the rocks
as we lay on the beach dreaming
and sometimes you would stir
and look at me as if you had returned from a long journey
from a lifetime of being someone else
and did not yet recognize me

and i knew the question you would ask
before it left your lips
for i asked it of you
at the center of the maze
and when i found you in that other place
after cutting you down from the tree
and when i held you and tried to stop your wrists from bleeding
looking down at myself in the shard of broken mirror you used
except when you asked it there was confusion
as you stared past this man mask
at the great bull horns that rise from my head
and the shadows they cast upon the sooty and graffitied alley wall behind us

Digitalis

The hands of my god are dark and rough,
calloused and imperfect.
Fingers too long, with slight tremors
straining to maintain their man shape.
Nails lacquered black, chipped and chewed,
and everywhere smudged with ash and resin.
These hands have dug in dirt,
clawed at the walls as he howled to get out of his head;
these hands know the way to unlock doors,
how to shatter mirrors, what it is to stroke an enemy’s throat
– feel of pulse throb beneath paper-thin skin –
touch delicate as a lover’s caress, as he smiles and whispers,
“You don’t know yourself, but I do.”
His hands hold high the fennel shaft, with its streamers of ivy
and pine fruit swollen and glorious.
His hands weave spirals as he dances, caught up in ecstasy’s whirlwind,
hips swaying serpentwise, hunting boots slapping out the rhythm
the drummers follow, frenzying the forest brides
and the priestesses of the winepress.
His hands are wet with spray of the beast,
red that seems black in the half-light spilling through the leaves,
flecks of flesh and fur sticking to them.
These hands are firm when you shake, and will never let go.

the Keeper of the Gate

Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris 364f
They call Dionysos up out of the water by the sound of trumpets, at the same time casting into the depths a lamb as an offering to the Keeper of the Gate.

Hyginus, Astronomica 2.5
Those who wrote the Argolica give the following reason for the constellation Corona. When Liber received permission from his father to bring back his mother Semele from the Lower World, and in seeking a place of descent had come to the land of the Argives, a certain Hyplipnus met him, a man worthy of that generation, who was to show the entrance to Liber in answer to his request. However, when Hypolipnus saw him, a mere boy in years, excelling all others in remarkable beauty of form, he asked from him the reward that could be given without loss. Liber, however, eager for his mother, swore that if he brought her back, he would do as he wished, on terms, though, that a god could swear to a shameless man. At this, Hypolipnus showed the entrance. So then, when Liber came to that place and was about to descend, he left the crown, which he had received as a gift from Venus, at that place which in consequence is called Stephanos, for he was unwilling to take it with him for fear the immortal gift of the gods would be contaminated by contact with the dead. When he brought his mother back unharmed, he is said to have placed the crown in the stars as an everlasting memorial.

Pausanias, Description of Greece 2.37.1-3; 2.37.5-6
At this mountain begins the grove which consists chiefly of plane trees, and reaches down to the sea. Its boundaries are, on the one side the river Pantinos, on the other side another river, called Amymane, after the daughter of Danaus. Within the grove are images of Demeter Prosymne and of Dionysos. Of Demeter there is a seated image of no great size. Both are of stone, but in another temple is a seated wooden image of Dionysos Saotes (Savior), while by the sea is a stone image of Aphrodite. They say that the daughters of Danaus dedicated it, while Danaus himself made the sanctuary of Athena by the Pontinos. The mysteries of the Lernaeans were established, they say, by Philammon. Now the words which accompany the ritual are evidently of no antiquity and the inscription also, which I have heard is written on the heart made of orichalcum, was shown not to be Philammon’s by Arriphon. I saw also what is called the Spring of Amphiaraus and the Alcyonian Lake, through which the Argives say Dionysos went down to Hell to bring up Semele, adding that the descent here was shown him by Palymnos. There is no limit to the depth of the Alcyonian Lake, and I know of nobody who by any contrivance has been able to reach the bottom of it since not even Nero, who had ropes made several stades long and fastened them together, tying lead to them, and omitting nothing that might help his experiment, was able to discover any limit to its depth. This, too, I heard. The water of the lake is, to all appearance, calm and quiet but, although it is such to look at, every swimmer who ventures to cross it is dragged down, sucked into the depths, and swept away. The circumference of the lake is not great, being about one-third of a stade. Upon its banks grow grass and rushes. The nocturnal rites performed every year in honor of Dionysos I must not divulge to the world at large.

Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks 2.30
Dionysos was anxious to descend into Haides, but did not know the way. Thereupon a certain man, Prosymnos by name, promises to tell him; though not without reward. It was a favour of lust, this reward which Dionysos was asked for. The god is willing to grant the request; and so he promises, in the event of his return, to fulfil the wish of Prosymnos, confirming the promise with an oath. Having learnt the way he set out, and came back again. He does not find Prosymnos, for he was dead. In fulfilment of the vow to his lover Dionysos hastens to the tomb and indulges his unnatural lust. Cutting off a branch from a fig-tree which was at hand, he shaped it into the likeness of a phallos, and then made a show of fulfilling his promise to the dead man. As a mystic memorial of this passion phalloi are set up to Dionysos in cities. ‘For if it were not to Dionysos that hey held solemn procession and sang the phallic hymn, they would be acting most shamefully,’ says Herakleitos.

Everything about him is a mystery

You are a child playing with your friends on a hot summer day. Bored with your usual games you decide to go explore in the woods, a dark and scary place well away from the prying eyes of parents. After wandering through the green maze of the Nymphs for hours you come upon a tree with a corpse hanging from it. Once you get passed the terror and the urge to flee back home you children become fascinated by him. You’ve never been this close to death before. You stand there, holding your breath, staring up at him, fearful that he might suddenly move, but also kind of hoping that he does.

Eventually one of you decides that it’s not right to just leave him hanging there. He climbs the tree, draws out his knife, grabs the rope with a trembling hand and begins sawing through it.

Without warning the last strand snaps and the body falls to the earth and bursts open, releasing putrid stenches into the air. You hardly notice; everybody is staring intently at the knife still held up by the boy. You revere it like a proper object of worship for it certainly has power after coming into contact with the body like that.

It’s getting late and you grudgingly decide to go back before the adults come looking for you. The whole group swears a vow to tell no one of what they’ve seen. The dead man will be your secret so that no one will take him away from you.

Days pass, but he remains all you can think about. Everything about him is a mystery. Who was he? What was his name? Where did he come from? Why was he here? How long had he hung before you found him? Was he murdered or did he die by his own hand? You can’t stand not knowing, so you start to tell stories between chores and late at night, when the children are by themselves, out of earshot of the others. The stories swell with each telling, becoming more elaborate and fanciful and thus more entertaining to contemplate afterwards. Rival traditions emerge among the children, become more solidified through conflict, until the different sides can’t even stand to be in the presence of each other.

You dream one night after a bitter screaming match with your sister that was broken up by your confused and angry mother who beat you and sent you to bed without any supper. (But what does it matter what either of them think? They don’t know anything about the dead man so their opinion is worthless.) You dreamed that you were back in the woods and the body was just like you left it that time only now it was covered in worms and centipedes and spiders and there is a buzzing of flies so loud you fear it’s going to make you deaf. You wake screaming. The dead man is mad at you for how you and your friends have behaved!

The following day you gather everybody together and lead them back into the woods to make amends. What you didn’t notice is that you were being followed. The adults had observed the strange transformation in their children’s behavior, how withdrawn, moody and contentious they’d become of late, and it concerned them. Their worst fears were confirmed and then some when they tracked you to that old ash tree and the fruit it bore.

Horrified, they destroyed the body and brought in mendicant religious experts to perform the ceremonies of purification and ghost-laying that Orpheus invented. They interrogated you, tortured you, tried to get you to deny and forget all that you had seen. They lock you away, forbidding you to have anything to do with your friends until you learn to mimic the behaviors they expect of you. Play nice. Eat all your dinner. Smile. Smile. Smile. And never, ever bring up the dead body again, even to your friends once they let you play together after all of you have been properly re-educated.

Inwardly things were different. You nurtured the memory of that day, secretly but reverently stroking the blade that the boy had been forced to discard and you were able to retrieve from the trash heap. Time passes, but you never forget. And when you are old enough you go to a different village to tell the people there about the dead man, somewhere far away since a prophet is never believed in his own home. You’ve got so many stories to tell about the dead man; you’ve worked out this whole mythic chronology for him and it’s even more real to you than your own history.

A God’s tears

Βάκχος ἄναξ δάκρυσε, βροτῶν ἵνα δάκρυα λύσῃ.
“Lord Bakchos has wept tears, that he may wipe away man’s tears!”
(Nonnos, Dionysiaka 12.171)

Putting The Mysteries to use

I originally came up with The Mysteries as a meditation tool and writing prompt – but I just realized that it has another function, namely that it can be used as a divination system comparable to the Leaves of Dionysos. (Which can be found in Hunting Wisdom.) But this will be a system accessible only to mystai of the Starry Bull tradition since I’m not going to provide any explanations. You have to have a deep, intuitive understanding of what each symbolon means within the context of our tradition in order to use it effectively, meaning that it can also serve as a method for determining whether one qualifies for initiation.

I’ve ordered some wood slices and will be making myself a set, after which I’ll be offering readings. Since this initial batch will be a test run I’m reducing the price to $13.25. There are only ten five slots available, so if you’re interested reserve yours today by writing me at sannion@gmail.com. Readings will be done on September 1st.

Hail the Epaphian! The Golden Calf!

Procession-of-the-Bull-Apis

Hyginus, Fabulae 150: postquam Iuno vidit Epapho ex pellice nato tantam regni potestatem esse, curat in venatu, ut Epaphus necetur, Titanosque hortatur, Iovem ut regno pellant et Saturno restituant.
‘After Juno saw that Epaphus, born of a concubine, ruled such a great kingdom, she saw to it that he should be killed while hunting, and encouraged the Titans to drive Jove from the kingdom and restore it to Saturn.

Orphic Hymn to Lusios-Lenaios:
A sorrow-hating joy to mortals, O lovely-haired Epaphian, you are a redeemer and a reveler whose thyrsus drives to frenzyand who is kind-hearted to all, gods and mortals, who see his light.I call upon you now to come, a sweet bringer of fruit.

Orphic Hymn 52.9:
‘You burst forth from the earth in a blaze, Epaphian, O son of two mothers.’

Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 3.74.1: Dionysos, as men say, was born to Zeus by Io, the daughter of Inachus, became king of Egypt and appointed the initiatory rites of that land.

Scholiast. Euripides’ Phoenician Women 678: ἀπόγονος Ἐπάφου Κάδμος, ἐπεὶ Ἀγήνορός ἐστιν υἱὸς τοῦ Βήλου τοῦ Λιβύης τῆς Ἐπάφου τοῦ Ἰοῦς.
‘Kadmos is the descendant of Epaphos, since Agenor is the son of Belus, son of Libya, daughter of Epaphos, son of Io.’

Phld. Piet. 44 = fr. 36 Kern = OF 59 I: 〈πρώτην τούτ〉ων τὴν ἐκ μ〈ητρός〉, ἑτέραν δὲ τ〈ὴν ἐκ〉 τοῦ μηροῦ, 〈τρί〉την δὲ τὴ〈ν ὅτε δι〉ασπασθεὶς ὑπὸ τῶν Τιτάνων Ῥέ〈ας τὰ〉 μέλη συνθεί〈σης〉 ἀνεβίω[ι]. κἀν̣ 〈τῆι〉 Μοψοπίαι δ᾽ Εὐ〈φορί〉ω〈ν ὁ〉μολογεῖ 〈τού〉τοις, 〈οἱ〉 δ’ Ὀρ〈φικοὶ〉 καὶ παντά〈πασιν〉 ἐνδιατρε〈ίβουσιν〉.
‘The first of these was the birth from the mother, the second the one from the thigh, and the third birth was when having been dismembered by the Titans, he came back to life afterRhea gathered together his limbs. And in his Mopsopoiai Euphorion is in agreement with these accounts, and the Orphics also absolutely go on about it.’

Apollodoros, The Library 2.1.3: τελευταῖον ἧκεν εἰς Αἴγυπτον, ὅπου τὴν ἀρχαίαν μορφὴν ἀπολαβοῦσα γεννᾷ παρὰ τῷ Νείλῳ ποταμῷ Ἔπαφον παῖδα. τοῦτον δὲ Ἥρα δεῖται Κουρήτων ἀφανῆ ποιῆσαι· οἱ δὲ ἠφάνισαν αὐτόν. καὶ Ζεὺς μὲν αἰσθόμενος κτείνει Κούρητας, Ἰὼ δὲ ἐπὶ ζήτησιν τοῦ παιδὸς ἐτράπετο. πλανωμένη δὲ κατὰ τὴν Συρίαν ἅπασαν (ἐκεῖ γὰρ ἐμηνύετο 〈ὅτι ἡ〉 τοῦ Βυβλίων βασιλέως 〈γυνὴ〉 ἐτιθήνει τὸν υἱόν) καὶ τὸν Ἔπαφον εὑροῦσα, εἰς Αἴγυπτον ἐλθοῦσα ἐγαμήθη Τηλεγόνῳ τῷ βασιλεύοντι τότε Αἰγυπτίων.
At last she came to Egypt, where she recovered her original form and gave birth to a son Epaphus beside the river Nile. Him Hera besought the Curetes to make away with [Epaphus], and make away with him they did. When Zeus learned of it, he slew the Curetes; but Io set out in search of the child. She roamed all over Syria, because there it was revealed to her that the wife of the king of Byblus was nursing her son; and having found Epaphus she came to Egypt and was married to Telegonus, who then reigned over the Egyptians.

Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris 364E. ἃ δ’ ἐμφανῶς δρῶσι θάπτοντες τὸν Ἆπιν οἱ ἱερεῖς, ὅταν παρακομίζωσιν ἐπὶ σχεδίας τὸ σῶμα, βακχείας οὐδὲν ἀποδεῖ· καὶ γὰρ νεβρίδας περικαθάπτονται καὶ θύρσους φοροῦσι καὶ βοαῖς χρῶνται καὶ κινήσεσιν ὥσπερ οἱ κάτοχοι τοῖς περὶ τὸν Διόνυσον ὀργιασμοῖς.
The public ceremonies which the priests perform in the burial of the Apis, when they convey his body on an improvised bier, do not in any way come short of a Bacchic procession; for they fasten skins of fawns about themselves, and carry Bacchic wands and indulge in shoutings and movements exactly as do those who are under the spell of the Dionysiac ecstasies.

Servius, Commentary on Vergil’s Georgics 1.165: id est cribrum areale. mystica autem Iacchi ideo ait quod Liberi Patris sacra ad purgationem animae pertinebant: et sic homines eius Mysteriis purgabantur, sicut vannis frumenta purgantur. hinc est quod dicitur Osiridis membra a Typhone dilaniata Isis cribro superposuisse: nam idem est Liber Pater in cuius Mysteriis vannus est: quia ut diximus animas purgat.unde et Liber ab eo quod liberet dictus, quem Orpheus a gigantibus dicit esse discerptum. nonnulli Liberum Patrem apud Graecos Λικνίτην dici adferunt; vannus autem apud eos λίκνον nuncupatur; ubi deinde positus esse dicitur postquam est utero matris editus. alii mysticam sic accipiunt ut vannum vas vimineum latum dicant, in quod ipsi propter capacitatem congere rustici primitias frugum soleant et Libero et Liberae sacrum facere Inde mystica.
‘The mystic fan of Iacchus, that is the sieve (cribrum) of the threshing-floor. He calls it the mystic fan of Iacchus, because the rites of Father Liber had reference to the purification of the soul and men were purified through his mysteries as grain is purified by fans. It is because of this that Isis is said to have placed the limbs of Osiris, when they had been torn to pieces by Typhon, on a sieve, for Father Liber is the same person, he in whose mysteries the fan plays a part, because as we said he purifies souls. Whence he is also called Liber, because he liberates, and it is he who, Orpheus said, was torn asunder by the Giants. Some add that Father Liber was called by the Greeks Liknites. Moreover the fan is called by them liknon, in which he is said to have been placed directly after he was born from his mother’s womb. Others explain its being called “mystic” by saying that the fan is a large wicker vessel in which peasants, because it is of large size, are wont to heap their first-fruits and consecrate it to Liber and Libera. Hence it is called “mystic”.’

Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris 364F: ὁμολογεῖ δὲ καὶ τὰ Τιτανικὰ καὶ Νυκτέλια τοῖς λεγομένοις Ὀσίριδος διασπασμοῖς καὶ ταῖς ἀναβιώσεσι καὶ παλιγγενεσίαις.
‘Furthermore, the Titanika and the Nyktelia agree with the accounts of the dismemberment of Osiris and his revivification and regenesis.’

Plutarch, Greek Questions 716F–717A: οὐ φαύλως οὖν καὶ παρ’ ἡμῖν ἐν τοῖς Ἀγριωνίοις τὸν Διόνυσον αἱ γυναῖκες ὡς ἀποδεδρακότα ζητοῦσιν, εἶτα παύονται καὶ λέγουσιν ὅτι πρὸς τὰς Μούσας κατα-πέφευγεν καὶ κέκρυπται παρ’ ἐκείναις.
‘It is not an accident that in the Agrionia, as it is celebrated here, the women search for Dionysos as though he had run away, then desist and say that he has taken refuge with the Muses and is hidden among them.’

Athenaios, Deipnosophistai 14.618c–620a and Pollux, Onomastikon 4.52–53 list terms for many kinds of working songs, such as the harvest οὖλος or ἴουλος and those named after Βώριμος, Μανέρως, Λιτυέρσης and Ἠριγόνη (Ἀλῆτις); winnowing songs (πτιστικόν or πτισμός); vintage songs (ἐπιλήνια). Sch. Clem. Al. Prot. 1.2.2, p. 297.4–8. Note that the Aletis song was defined as a lament for the death of Erigone, who wandered in search of her murdered father, but also as Persephone, cp. EM s.v. Ἀλῆτις (62.9).

I am aching for the dances of playful Dionysus

Jumping back to Aegyptika, Herodotos felt that there was an affinity between Bacchic, Egyptian, Pythagorean and Orphic beliefs and practices:

The Egyptians wear linen tunics with fringes hanging about the legs, called ‘calasiris’ and loose white woolen mantles over these. But nothing of wool is brought into the temples, or buried with them; that is forbidden. In this they follow the same rules as the ritual called Orphic and Bacchic, but which is in truth Egyptian and Pythagorean; for neither may those initiated into these rites be buried in woolen wrappings. There is a sacred legend about this. (The Histories 2.81)

Pushkin is not the only Russian interested in this fertile intersection, as Jesús Ángel Espinós writes in The realm of Hades and its symbols in Mandel’štam’s Tristia: a transparent path to redemption:

So, through the mediation of bees and their honey Persephone softens her gloomy character and takes on a new redeemer aspect through which the bees, probably a metaphor of the souls of the dead, transmute their honey into sun, and consequently transcend their earthly existence, as can be observed in the final verses of poem I, 208:

Take for joy my wild gift,
A homely and dry necklace
Of dead bees who transformed
honey into sun.

The last word of the poem, “sun”, inserts itself into a fundamental network where metaphors pertaining to “black sun” and to “night sun” claim attention. In both epithets it has been observed as an Orphic influence that refers to Dionysus Nyktelios, the “Dionysus of the night sun”. Broadly speaking, the imagery of both suns, particularly that of the “night sun”, has to be related to Vjačeslav Ivanov, classical philologist and erudite Symbolist poet, who exerted a great sway on Mandel’štam, especially in his youthful years. Ivanov employs the image of “night sun” in several works such as in the articles ‘Мысли о символизме’ (‘Thoughts about Symbolism’), ‘Орфей’ (‘Orpheus’), in the essay ‘Взгляд Скрябина на искусство’ (‘Skrjabin’s View of Art’), and in the poems ‘Ночное солнце’ (‘Night Sun’) and ‘Сердце Диониса’ (‘Dionysus’ Heart’) among others. Orphic rituals enable us to expiate the guilt inherited from the Titans, and consequently avoid the punishments of afterlife and the cycle of reincarnations. In addition, Plutarch suggests that there must have been a work dedicated to Dionysus Nyktelios, which probably described the mourning for the god’s death and the orgiastic rites in honor of his rebirth. Nevertheless, in spite of Plutarch’s witness, the existence of such a work, perhaps an epic poem called  Νυκτέλια, cannot be proved. In this hypothetical poem the initiates would be instructed in the symbolic meaning of the night, which should be explained by the opposition night/day, shadow/light, an opposition that can be observed in the Mandel’štamian oxymora “night sun”, and to a lesser extent “black sun”. On the other hand, this interrelation of opposite qualities can be traced back to Ivanov, who closes his poem ‘Ночное солнце’ (‘ Night Sun’) with the following command: “В полночь зови незакатный свет!” (“At midnight call the never setting light!”; v. 7). In sum, from this point of view, the Orphic sun of poem I, 208 (v. 15), created by the honey of dead bees, should be understood as a sun of salvation that, under the appearance of a Dionysus reborn, would set us free from the continuous and numerous gloomy metaphors that dot Mandel’štam’s Tristia. On the other hand, the bees were a symbol of poetic talent in classical Antiquity as must be inferred from the recurrent scene of bees that perch on the lips of future poets when they are still in the cradle or that, in the case of the young Pindar, even build a honeycomb on his lips according to Pausanias (Description of Greece IX, 23, 2), or feed him with honey as Philostratus (Images II, 12, 2, 4) states. So, I might venture that the bees, by means of their poetic force, defy death, which is the same as saying that poetry, incarnated in the honey, reveals itself as immortal.

I’ve discussed the symbolism of the Bacchic Black Sun here (emphasizing its Egyptian roots) and more generally here in this collection of sources. 

Longing, Not Envy in the Heart

Sententiae Antiquae posted a selection from the Anacreonta very much in line with my last post:

“I am aching for the dances
Of playful Dionysus–
I am in love with playing the lye
with a young man as companion.
And I just adore most of all
Crowing my head with hyacinths
To play games along with the girls.

I have no envy in my heart,
I know no biting envy at all.
I stay away from the light attacks
Of critical tongues.
And I loathe the drunken fights.

At joyous feasts
With youthful ladies,
I hope to take life easy
Dancing to songs on the lyre

ποθέω μὲν Διονύσου
φιλοπαίγμονος χορείας,
φιλέω δ᾿, ὅταν ἐφήβου
μετὰ συμπότου λυρίζω·
στεφανίσκους δ᾿ ὑακίνθων
κροτάφοισιν ἀμφιπλέξας
μετὰ παρθένων ἀθύρειν
φιλέω μάλιστα πάντων.

φθόνον οὐκ οἶδ᾿ ἐμὸν ἦτορ,
φθόνον οὐκ οἶδα δαϊκτήν.
φιλολοιδόροιο γλώττης
φεύγω βέλεμνα κοῦφα·
στυγέω μάχας παροίνους.

πολυκώμους κατὰ δαῖτας
νεοθηλέσιν ἅμα κούραις
ὑπὸ βαρβίτῳ χορεύων
βίον ἥσυχον φέροιμι.

And illustrated it with this lovely Hellenistic sarcophagus depicting Dionysos surrounded by his retinue of raucous revelers:

Fun fact: our national anthem is based on a modern symposiatic song, “To Anacreon in Heaven” showing how apt the Norse designation for this country was, Vínland or “Wine Land.” 

Chthonic Dionysos and the Saints of the True Vine

Dionysos in Egypt was given the epiklesis Petempamenti meaning “He who is in the West,” with the West understood in its traditional sense as the abode of the deceased and the place where the Sun-God Prē conducted his nocturnal journey before being reborn each morning. Although this is usually interpreted as a way of emphasizing the similarities between the Greek God in his chthonic form with the indigenous Osiris who was regarded from the time of Herodotos on as the Egyptian Dionysos, I think that what we’re dealing with here is actually something else entirely – a method of differentiating the two. If Herodes, son of Demophon (the author of the text in which we find this epithet) was familiar enough with the Egyptian language to use it (and though a Greek who had distinguished himself at court and in the military he also claims several lofty religious offices including prophetes of Khnoubis and archistolistes of the temples in Elephantine and Abaton Island, among others) he would certainly have been aware of Osiris’ more standard sobriquet Khentimentiu which means “Foremost of the Westerners” in the sense of being the Chief or King of the Dead (and as such Osiris fulfills a role in his pantheon cognate to that of the Greek Haides, Lord of the Underworld). I feel that this would likely have been what he used if such was actually Herodes’ intent.

The Ephesian philosopher Herakleitos felt that Haides and Dionysos were one and the same and there are hints in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter that this may have been a more widespread belief in the ancient world than we might otherwise assume:

She was playing with the deep-bosomed daughters of Okeanos and gathering flowers over a soft meadow, roses and crocuses and beautiful violets, irises also and hyacinths and the narcissus, which Earth made to be a snare for the bloom-like Girl … The Girl was amazed and reached out with both hands to take the lovely toy; but the wide-pathed earth yawned there in the plain of Nysa and the Lord Who Receives Many with his immortal horses sprang out upon her … A long time Demeter sat upon the stool without speaking because of her sorrow, and greeted no one by word or by sign, but rested, never smiling, and tasting neither food nor drink, because she pined with longing for her deep–bosomed daughter, until careful Iambe – who pleased her moods in aftertime also – moved the Holy Lady with many a quip and jest to smile and laugh and cheer her heart. Then Metaneira filled a cup with sweet wine and offered it to Demeter; but  she refused it, for she said it was not lawful for her to drink red wine. [Italics added for emphasis.]

Such an interpretation, however, poses serious mythological difficulties beginning with the fact that Haides is the elder brother of Zeus, universally regarded as the father of Dionysos. More significantly, however, there is Dionysos’ descent and harrowing of the underworld to retrieve the soul of Semele:

Those who wrote the Argolica say that when Liber received permission from his father to bring back his mother Semele from the Lower World, and in seeking a place of descent had come to the land of the Argives, a certain Hypolipnus met him, a man worthy of that generation, who was to show the entrance to Liber in answer to his request. However, when Hypolipnus saw him, a mere boy in years, excelling all others in remarkable beauty of form, he asked from him the reward that could be given without loss. Liber, however, eager for his mother, swore that if he brought her back, he would do as he wished, on terms, though, that a God could swear to a shameless man. At this, Hypolipnus showed the entrance. So then, when Liber came to that place and was about to descend, he left the crown, which he had received as a gift from Venus, at that place which in consequence is called Stephanus, for he was unwilling to take it with him for fear the immortal gift of the Gods would be contaminated by contact with the dead. When he brought his mother back unharmed, he is said to have placed the crown in the stars as an everlasting memorial. (Hyginus, Astronomica 2.5)

The strains of Orphism which make Kore-Persephone his first, divine mother:

Ah, maiden Persephoneia! You could not find how to escape your mating! No, a serpent was your mate, when Zeus changed his face and came, rolling in many a loving coil through the dark to the corner of the maiden’s chamber, and shaking his hairy chaps he lulled to sleep as he crept the eyes of those creatures of his own shape who guarded the door. He licked the girl’s form gently with wooing lips. By this marriage with the heavenly serpent, the womb of Persephone swelled with living fruit, and she bore Zagreus the horned baby, who by himself climbed upon the heavenly throne of Zeus and brandished lightning in his little hand, and newly born, lifted and carried thunderbolts in his tender fingers. (Nonnos, Dionysiaka 6.155)

Not to mention the radical differences in the two Gods’ personalities (can you imagine Haides being amused by the drunken, phallic antics of the satyrs?) and their activities (Dionysos’ tendency to travel widely and interact intimately with his followers while Haides is reclusive and remains aloof from his subjects).

And yet Dionysos is unquestionably a chthonic deity and a lord of souls. He offers deliverance to the dead, intervening on their behalf with Persephone and the underworld judges:

Now you have died and now you have been born, thrice blessed one, on this very day. Say to Persephone that Bakchios himself freed you. A bull you rushed to milk. Quickly, you rushed to milk. A ram you fell into milk. You have wine as your fortunate honor. And rites await you beneath the earth, just as the other blessed ones. (Gold tablet from Pelinna)

Dionysos is the cause of release, whence the God is also called Lusios. And Orpheus says: “Men performing rituals will send hekatombs in every season throughout the year and celebrate festivals, seeking release from lawless ancestors. You, having power over them, whomever you wish you will release from harsh toil and the unending goad.” (Damascius, Commentary on the Phaedo 1.11)

He gathers his initiates about him in an eternal symposion:

Still more heroic are the blessings which Musaeus and his son bestow upon the righteous from the Gods. They conduct them into Haides, and lay them on couches, and establish a kind of symposium of saints, and set garlands on their heads, and make them live for ever in a state of intoxication, esteeming the fairest reward of virtue to be an eternity of drunkenness. […] But the most astounding of all these arguments concerns what they have to say about the Gods and virtue. They say that the Gods, too, assign misfortune and a bad life to many good people, and the opposite fate to their opposites. Begging priests and prophets frequent the doors of the rich and persuade them that they possess a God–given power founded on sacrifices and incantations. If the rich person or any of his ancestors has committed an injustice, they can fix it with pleasant things and feasts. Moreover, if he wishes to injure some enemy, then, at little expense, he’ll be able to harm just and unjust alike, for by means of spells and enchantments they can persuade the Gods to serve them. And they present a hubbub of books by Musaeus and Orpheus, offspring as they say of Selene and the Muses, according to which they arrange their rites, convincing not only individuals but also cities that liberation and purification from injustice is possible, both during life and after death, by means of sacrifices and enjoyable games to the deceased which free us from the evils of the beyond, whereas something horrible awaits those who have not celebrated sacrifices. (Plato, Republic 363c; 364a–365b)

The dead walk the earth and revel with the living during Dionysos’ Anthesteria festival:

On the day of the festival of Dionysos during the month of Anthesterion the souls of the departed come up. (Photios s.v. polluted days)

Those who had survived the great deluge of Deukalion boiled pots of every kind of seed, and from this the festival gets its name. It is their custom to sacrifice to Hermes Khthonios. No one tastes the pot. The survivors did this in propitiation to Hermes on behalf of those who had died. (Theopompos, in the Scholia to Aristophanes’ Acharnians 1076)

But some have the proverb as follows: ‘to the door, Keres; Anthesteria is not inside,’ since the souls were going throughout the city in the Anthesteria. (Photios s.v. To the door Kares, it’s no longer Anthesteria)

Further, Dionysian motifs are prominent in the funerary art of the Hellenistic and Roman periods; he himself experienced multiple deaths and rebirths; he is closely associated with caves, darkness, depths, violence and the uncanny in all of its forms; and lastly Dionysos presides over the fertility of the vegetable world whose seeds must be buried and nourished deep within the earth like the dead before sending up their wealth of fruit.

Thus while we may regard Dionysos as chthonic and even a Lord or Prince of the underworld, it is clear that he is not the supreme ruler of those below, the position held by Haides or Osiris. And this I suspect is why he was hailed as Petempamenti not Khentimentiu. He dwells down below, but it is not his permanent residence. A portion of the dead belong to him – those who have undergone his mysteries or who like Semele and Ariadne he has ransomed – but not all of them, nor is he overly concerned with the mechanics and politics of how the underworld operates on a regular basis. He so clearly resembles the tenebrous sovereign that it is easy to mistake the one for the other – but he also possesses abundant qualities that clearly differentiate them. And what’s more, Dionysos embodies the totality of life, oversees all of its manifold manifestations while death is conventionally understood as the antithesis of life. Of course everything common is wrong, and this limited view is no different. Perceived from one side of the divide death and life seem polar opposites – but shift your perspective and you’ll see that they have the same ultimate source and are constantly flowing into each other until they are impossible to separate. This is nowhere more apparent than in the food chain where all life exists through the consumption of other life that it, in turn, may feed still more forms of life. As the embodiment of life Dionysos necessarily must also be the embodiment of death, with no part of the process alien to him. The West where Dionysos dwells is both the End and the Beginning of Life – or as the Orphics of Olbia expressed it βίος – θανατος – βίος – Διονυσος.

This Dionysos is dark and still and somber, the quiet amid the storm, the masked pillar around which those filled with his frenzy dance and shout in ecstatic celebration. He is not completely immobile – his movements are just slow like the shoots of a plant triumphantly rising up through the soil, like the gradual formation of stalactites in a cave, like the procession of the stars through the heavens. The face of this Dionysos is always concealed in shadows, except for his eyes which are bright with the flames of madness and gaze into the depths of your soul and beyond. His voice echoes across a vast chasm even when he is nearer to you than your next heartbeat. There is an impenetrable denseness to his spirit, a gloom so black and so full of painful memories that even he has difficulty bearing its weight. He is ancient beyond all reckoning and yet remains unwearied by all that he has witnessed and experienced. His heart is fierce with love for the fragile and ephemeral things of this world, rejoicing and suffering along with them. He cannot turn his face away from them – he must witness it all, even if it makes him mad.

And though part of him remains forever down in the caverns deep beneath the earth, another part extends upwards into our world, surrounded by an innumerable host. The lusty satyrs, the madwomen, the nymphs who nurse him and the dead who belong to him, an invisible troop of wild spirits that march unseen but clearly heard in his processions, who race through the fields and forests and city streets on certain especially dark nights in pursuit of the victims of the hunt.

Depictions of a solitary Dionysos are rare unless he’s disguised himself so that he can walk unnoticed among men on one of his grand adventures, like when the Pirates found him on the beach. Otherwise Dionysos is surrounded by a frenzied throng. In early Greek art this thiasos could be depicted “realistically” as a group of mainades, masked men and priests reveling around the God or some kind of cultic representation of him such as a pillar draped with vegetation or else more “fantastically” with Dionysos surrounded by other Gods and Goddesses as well as nymphs, silens, satyrs, centaurs and other creatures of myth. Interestingly, these two versions of the thiasos were originally kept separate. You could find satyrs mingling with mortal mainades as long as Dionysos was out of the picture but when he’s there you get one or the other. This convention is found only in the earliest depictions of the scene – later artists tended to follow the example of the workshops in Sicily and Magna Graecia who were all about blurring boundaries. It’s also here that we find a new element introduced into the thiasos – the dead and initiates in the mysteries who may represent either living or deceased persons. The location of the revelry is also changed. Previously the scenes were set in sacred precincts or on mountains, usually Olympos, Nysa or Kithairon depending on who’s accompanying him. But the Italian artists brought the proceedings down into the otherworld. This may explain why they had no trouble representing mortals alongside the dead and divinities for when you’ve gone underground such distinctions no longer seem as important as they once did.

Around the seventh century before the common era this motif begins to find literary expression through the likes of Herakleitos, Pindar, the Orphic and Homeric poets, Sophokles, Euripides and Aristophanes – sometimes the appearance of this phantom troop was reported as actual fact, as we find in Herodotos, Diodoros, Plutarch and Pausanias. During the Hellenistic period the thiasos becomes wed to the custom of the triumphant procession thanks in no small part to the political theatrics of Alexander the Great who consciously sought to emulate his divine progenitor. The Ptolemies, the Attalids, Caesar and Mark Antony all followed in his footsteps and exploited Dionysian associations and pageantry to full effect.

In the dwindling days of the Roman Empire we discover another permutation of this motif – the mortal revelers and the dead are left out of visual and literary representations of the thiasos. It’s just Gods and nymphs and mythical creatures once more – often with the addition of erotes or putti, those obnoxious chubby little winged brats that are all over the place in Late Antique, Medieval and Renaissance art. For a few hundred years the theme remains fairly constant then you start seeing mortal mainades again. Then all of a sudden it merges with depictions of the Wild Hunt and you also start finding fairies and goblins and similar beings mixed into the thiasos. Although most of this was taking place in the visual arts – and Dionysos may well be the most popular Classical figure in Christian art after Herakles and the Sibyls – you can trace the same evolving currents in literature.

And for me Dionysos Petempamenti or Chthonios is intimately connected with this retinue. Even when I’m directly interacting with him I can sense the others in the background – this strange, mad company of many kinds of spirits. On several occasions they have come through him and taken possession of me and I’ve worked closely with small pockets of them in the past, though for the most part they remain this sort of shadowy collective.

Lastly, I think when a devout Dionysian dies they are given the choice of joining this crazy, intoxicated band of misfit spirits. You can always go elsewhere – Haides is a very large place, and it borders other underworld kingdoms – but I, for one, look forward to painting my face white, putting on an ivy crown and leaping into the midst of those who dance and fuck and hunt and drink forever, the Saints of the True Vine.

Running with the Apis

Marcus Antonius pushed open the door to the Queen’s private chambers, sending the startled ladies in waiting and guards scurrying off. Even had he not been the Queen’s recent husband, they wouldn’t have opposed him: there was a dangerous, mad quality to his disheveled appearance, and Marcus well knew how to use the sword he carried always belted at his hip.

Marcus stumbled in, slammed the large, ornately wrought door closed, and then slumped against it, panting.

Kleopatra glanced up from her work – she was writing a philosophical treatise on the womanly arts of persuasion and cosmetics – and took in his massive frame. Marcus’ hair was in disarray, his ivy-crown hanging in tatters from his dark head. His khiton – no longer a Roman toga – hung loose about his waist, completely exposing his battle-scarred torso. It was torn and stuffed inside his sword-belt to keep it from falling off of him entirely, and there were plenty of wine stains and muck from the streets covering the once pristine fabric. His chest heaved; he seemed scarcely able to catch his breath. Dark shadows made his face resembled a death’s mask. His normal sun-browned flesh seemed pale even in the shadows of her chamber. He frightened her.

Kleopatra rose and rushed to his side. He collapsed into her arms and with great difficulty she managed to walk him over to the bed they now shared as man and wife. He fell back and lay staring up at the ceiling. With a moment of annoyance Kleopatra noted that they would have to get new sheets, because there would be no way to get the filth and sweat out of them now. She lay down beside him, pressing her slender body against his massive frame, and tried not to inhale too deeply.

“Are you okay, my husband? It is late. Where have you been this evening?”

From the looks of him, partying with their friends and then brawls in Alexandria’s back alleys. At least he didn’t stink of whores. This time. Kleopatra stroked the dark curls out of his eyes: his expression was vacant, haunted. For a moment she worried that he had lost his speech. She sat up and prepared to call for the court physician. Then his gravelly voice boomed in his chest, sounding like a lion’s rattling roar.

“I was running with the Apis.”

Kleopatra smiled. “No wonder you look exhausted – it is quite a journey from Memphis to Alexandria.”

Marcus’ lip curled up. “Do not mock me, woman.”

Kleopatra went cold at the lethal fury that shown in his eyes.

“I do not understand, my lord.” She whispered.

Marcus heaved a sigh. “Neither do I, my love. But it happened nonetheless.”

Kleopatra rested her hand on his chest comfortingly, felt its warmth rise and fall beneath her delicate fingers, and then whispered, “Go on. Tell me. I will not laugh.”

There was silence for a long while. Neither spoke. The only sound aside from their slow breathing was the guttering of the oil lamp’s flame on her writing desk. Then, finally, Marcus spoke, his voice hoarse from thirst.

“I stayed at the dinner-party after you left. The wine was too good, and the conversation even better. We were discussing Dionysos’ conquest of India, a topic that has been close to my heart, of course, ever since Ephesos.”

“You truly are the New Dionysos, my love.” Kleopatra’s hand slid down his chest, resting fondly on the swell between his legs. Normally this would have stopped all conversation and ended with them rolling together under the sheets. Instead he seemed not to notice.

“Like your father and Philopator before him.”

“Yes.” The mention of Auletes brought a sad smile to her lips. She had genuinely loved him, a rare enough occurrence among the Lagides.

“And before them Philadelphos and Soter too?”

“Yes. We are all descendents of Dionysos – his blood has flowed stronger with some than others, however.”

“Yes, and that is why you love me – isn’t it?”

“It is one of the reasons, yes.” Marcus Antonius was not as other men. His passions dwarfed theirs. His spirit loomed larger than other men’s, doing things they only dreamed of but lacked the courage to accomplish. Marcus felt things more strongly, was more sensual and decadent than anyone she had ever met – aside from herself. He was given to great kindness and generosity – to all he met, not just his friends – but when provoked to wrath, he was terrible, crueler than anyone had a right to be. If any single mortal exemplified the contradictory excesses of her people’s ancestral God – it was this man.

“My whole life has been lived under his shadow. Unconsciously I have acted out his myths through my campaigns, my feasting, my loving, my intense joy – and my volatile wrath. Tonight I finally understand why – and what the Ephesians meant when they gave me that title. I wonder if they even understood how right they were in bestowing that half-mocking epithet.”

“I do not understand. What happened?”

He happened – that is what. I met the God tonight, in a way I never have before. During the conversation about the Indian conquest, something stirred within my soul, something dark and ancient. The God within me awoke. I sat there for awhile, drinking, but it was not I who tasted the wine. I watched the drunken revelers, but it was not I who stared out of my eyes: it was the God, and he was wearing my body like a mask. I would speak, but it was not my words that poured out. I was merely an actor, reciting the lines scripted by another mind. The evening passed. More wine was drunk. I could not stop myself: cup after cup was drained by me and I hardly seemed to notice it. The topic changed. They began discussing the charms of the various whores down by the Pharos, and Octavian’s intrigues at Rome. I grew bored with their idle chatter. I got up, without so much as a parting word, and fled out into the night, not even stopping to grab my cloak.

“I fled into the darkness, desperate to be alone. Old friends hailed me on the street, asking where I was going. I rushed past, ignoring them. I left the familiar royal quarters of the city, the temples and shops and wealthier districts. I had no idea where I was going: my body carried me along, through dark alleyways and deserted thoroughfares. This city is different at night: it changes as the pimps and thieves and sailors come out. I don’t know if they recognized who I was, or if they feared the crazed look in my eye, but none of them hassled me. They stepped out of my way, even when the streets were narrow; they crowded together and whispered as I passed, making warding gestures against the evil that had so clearly taken possession of my soul.

“And they were wise to do so, for I was an animal in human guise, a beast hungry for blood and the crunch of bone beneath my fangs. Had any tarried across my path too long, or tried to give me trouble, I would have been on them in an instant, a ravening beast glorying in the tearing of flesh, the warmth of their blood spraying against my skin, their pitiful shrieks filling the night air. But they knew themselves to be prey and so stayed far from me.

“Finally the dreadful spirit inside me had reached its destination, alone in the night, in an empty quarter of the city, far from the prying eyes of mortals.

“I bent over, trying to catch my breath. At some point I must have been running. I had no idea where I was. Finally I glanced up – and that’s when I saw him: the bull. He was huge, his thick black frame blotting out the light around me. He was darker than night, but his eyes glowed more brightly than the moon. His hooves were made of fire, and the earth scorched wherever they touched. Plumes of smoke rose from his nostrils. He was staring directly at me: challenging me. I should have been afraid. He could have easily gored me with his massive horns or trampled me under his mighty weight. I felt no fear: my heart thundered with reckless pride to be in the presence of so majestic a creature. I met his gaze unflinchingly and accepted his challenge.

“I stood up tall, stretching my body out to its fullest. He dwarfed me, and yet I was proud of my masculine frame. I showed my teeth, giving back my own challenge. He snorted once, the sound a rumble I could feel through the earth, accepting my challenge, and then he turned and began to run. I understood immediately: I was to chase him.

“Despite his size, the bull was fast, faster than he should have been. In moments he was almost out of my sight.

“Growling like a wild beast, I gave chase. I had no idea what I would do once I caught him. I was intoxicated with the frenzy of the hunt: it impelled me on, unthinking.

“As I ran, I felt the power of the God stir once more within me. I reveled in the unbridled strength that coursed through my body; the blood pumping through my veins; my muscles stretching as my lithe limbs carried me forward. I knew myself to be a man in that moment, a great man capable of great deeds. I felt alive, in a way that made everything before seem like a pitiful dream. I have had moments where I glimpsed something of what it is to be alive – in battle or while making love – but here it was in its fullness, not just a fleeting image. This all came to me afterwards: at the time there was no room for thought, even thoughts such as these. My mind completely shut down: I was a creature of pure instinct; relying on my body to find its own way through the narrow streets, leaping automatically over rubbish in my way, darting down an alley when the bull changed its course at the last moment. I had no doubts, no troubling questions about my place in the world: I knew exactly why I existed – to catch this bull!

“Everything else fell away, vanished into the darkness, until the world consisted of nothing more than the bull and myself. All I could see was the bull before me, shining brilliantly with life in the shadows. Never before had I seen anything as beautiful as him: not a fleet of ships, not the work of Pheidias, not even you, my beloved. His hulking frame transfixed my gaze. I marveled at how his tautly muscled legs found their way unerringly through the narrow streets with a dancer’s agility; those fearful horns which existed for the sole purpose of rending flesh; those glowing eyes in whose depths all the secrets of the world are kept. And I knew that this was no ordinary bull – this was Apis, the God; Apis who contains the abundant fertility of the Nile within him; Apis who makes the grass green, the fruit to swell on the branch, the ripe corn to spring forth that men might have food for their bellies; Apis who fills the women with lust; Apis in whose movement the motion of the cosmos is manifest; Apis, power in its most primal, procreative form. Apis is life itself – and without him, no man rules. Rulership, in fact, is nothing more than harnessing the power of this God and learning to direct it outwards into the world. Without thinking about this, I understood all of it – and I knew that I had to capture the Apis bull. I had to possess him, consume him, become him.

“And so, even though my limbs were growing tired from the chase, my heart beating dangerously in my chest, my breath beginning to come with more difficulty – I dug deep and found even further resources of power within myself to continue on. I blocked out the pain. I ignored my aching body. I channeled everything I had into the race – and my focus narrowed even further, thoughts of the race and of my desire to catch Apis falling away until he and I existed alone. Just us. The Apis and I. I and the Apis. As he ran, I ran. As he breathed, I breathed. As he snorted, I too snorted. No longer was there distance between us – we were one soul in two bodies, mirror images of each other.

“And then I understood: Dionysos was the Apis, and I was Dionysos. I was chasing myself, and this race between us was an ancient ceremony, as old as time, and it had been performed many times before, and it would be performed again many times after I had completed it. This is how the King is chosen, how he shows himself worthy to rule. He must race the bull and in the process become the bull himself. The race awakens the sleeping God within him, rouses the bull and all of its bountiful powers into life. Not all who start on the path, however, succeed. They must be able to shut off their minds, trust completely in their bodies, which is where the power of the God resides. If fear or indecision or their doubting mind takes hold, they will fall and be trampled beneath the hooves of the bull. They must permit themselves to exist in the perfect moment of the chase, all else closed off to them. Only then will they discover that they are in actual fact the bull themselves, and understand how to direct the power of the bull into the land to promote fertility and to bring peaceful harmony to the realm. I understood this as I ran without understanding it, and I did not let that knowledge distract me.

“And as I chased the bull I felt the presence of others chasing the bull with me. Your father – and all of your ancestors going back to Ptolemy. And before him Alexander. And before him Theseus and Minos, and the Kings of Egypt, stretching back to the dawn of time. Each had performed this ceremony, some succeeding, others not. And I realized that in some sense, each of us was the same man, runningthis same race, in the same place, at the same time, and I could feel their thoughts in my head, and knew their experiences to be my own. How many times had I chased this bull, acting out this ancient ceremony? How many times would I do so again, in how many different forms? And then I came to realize that I was no longer chasing the bull through the streets of Alexandria – I was somewhere else, somewhere much older, much darker. I was chasing him through the labyrinth at Krete – and the bull was in reality the Minotaur. Apis was Dionysos and Dionysos was the Minotaur – and I was both the Minotaur and Theseus. And we never got out. We were still in the labyrinth, and always will be. The world is nothing more than the labyrinth and the bull chases himself around in it, dreaming sometimes that he is a monster, sometimes that he is a God, and sometimes that he is a man.

“He dreams himself many different lives, and he lives each one out fully as he dreams it. Some are joyful, some sorrowful, some full of unrivaled glory – others lived in total obscurity. But in every life there is the chasing of the bull, because he desires to know himself. It always comes back to that because all that exists is the labyrinth and the bull. Everything else is just a dream. Everything else except one other – the one who loves the bull, Ariadne, the Mistress of the Labyrinth. She is there dreaming too. And when he is not busy chasing himself through the winding passageways, he seeks her out. And when he finds her, he gives her his crown, places it in the heavens for her, and they love each other, until they fall asleep and forget who they are. But when they awake, they always find each other again, because they are the only two people in existence. Sometimes he wakes first and finds her; sometimes it is she that rouses him from slumber. She was Isis when he was Osiris; he was Haides when she was Kore. As Alexander he found her both as Olympias and Hephaistion. They were brother and sister as Philadelphos and Arsinoe, but that did not stop them from loving each other – and why should it, since they were the only real ones, and all else but a dream? He put her star-crown up in the sky as Berenike’s lock. And he has been both Auletes and Caesar – and now me, dear. He has finally reawakened as me – and you are my beloved Ariadne. I would recognize you no matter how much your form has changed. I will love you forever. And when we die and our form changes shape once more – I will seek you out in the labyrinth, no matter what new flesh you wear.”

All the while Kleopatra had sat quietly listening to her husband share his mad story at a feverish pitch, the words pouring forth like wine from an upturned vessel. Mad it must be: how could this man be both her father and Caesar, since all three were contemporaries – let alone all the rest of it? She was uncertain what to say to that, but figured that she ought to say something, that her continued silence might set him off, and she feared the madness in his eyes. She was trying to find the right words, words that would seem comforting and supportive and not provoke him, when Marcus picked up the thread of his narrative once more, oblivious to her troubled expression.

“It was then that I noticed that the bull was no longer in front of me, leading the chase. He was nowhere to be seen in fact. I was running wild through the streets, alone as I must be alone in the labyrinth. I slowed down to a trot and then a leisurely stroll and finally came to a stop altogether. I found myself somehow in Rhakotis – what winding path or twist of fate had led me here I could not say. I made my way up to the great temple of Serapis there. The forecourt was abandoned, naturally enough since the hour was so late, but I stood outside and stared up at the massive edifice and the ancient statues that lined the path up to the temple doors, a mixture of Greek and Egyptian, as everything in this city is a hybrid of the two.

“I was out of breath, my body exhausted from the run, my clothing torn and falling off of my body from stumbles I do not remember taking. My mind was reeling from all the things I had learned. And yet, despite it all, I had never felt so alive, so full of wild energy, so unabashedly a man. The pulse of life echoed in my ears – not just my life, but all life. I could feel the priests inside the temple, some sleeping, others rousing themselves in preparation for their morning duties in the sanctuary. I felt the lives of all the people nearby, safe asleep in their beds, dreaming or stumbling home from a night of revelry. And I felt you, so far away here in the royal palaces – beautiful and shining more brightly than all the other lives.

“And I felt all these individual lives, thin streams, flowing together into a single great river, and I realized that the Nile is the earthly image of the spiritual river of life. And when the spiritual river wanes or grows sluggish, the earthly Nile recedes – but when the spiritual river is strong, the Nile overflows its banks, flooding the earth and filling it with bountiful life. And it is the duty of the King to make the river strong, through his person, through his power, through his ability to direct and control others. He must do things to promote life, to enhance the lives of his subjects, to make them whole, healthy, and vibrant – communing with the Gods of life, the source of life, in order to add to the streams that flow into the great spiritual river, making it bountiful so that the earthly river, too, will become bountiful. This is the sole function of the King – he exists for no other purpose, and no other can perform this duty, for the King stands midway between Gods and mortals. He is the bridge between the worlds, uniting the two lands within himself. The running of the Apis is how he proves himself – but it is also how he channels the energy of life, making it flow and move, making the two rivers that are one race along their course and flood the earth, infusing it with life and bringing forth its material bounty in the form of the fruit and grain and newborn animals. Wherever his feet set in the race, life springs up.

“And how is this possible? Why can the King do this – and no other? Because the King is dead. (As he races with the Apis, he is racing with death. The labyrinth is just a dream too: in reality, the bull-God-man is laying in the underworld, a corpse.) The dead, too, reside midway between Gods and mortals. The King is a vessel for the dead, who dwell within him. Inside the King are all the thousands upon thousands of the dead – they direct his every thought and action. I understood this as I stood before the great Serapeion. I understood what Serapis is: he is the dead King, the King of all the dead. The spirits of every Apis bull, the spirits of all the Kings that have come before, they are united in Serapis, combined into a single living form, for Serapis is the tomb of the Apis, the living bull in death, the dead bull in life. And Serapis is the current King, whoever that is. (Which is why people’s accounts of Serapis are constantly changing – for he shifts depending on who embodies him.) And in that moment, I learned so much more about what it means to be King.

“The King is the door through which the dead can act in this world, of which they are no longer a part. He unites the world of mortals with the dead; the realm of the Gods with the material plane. He is the pivot of the wheel, upon which all things depend. Through him the prayers of people pass upwards to the Gods; through him the blessings of the Gods descend to mortals. He must make the way clear – he himself must be pure and fit – because when things are blocked, there are famines and war and suffering and death. Everything in the world is a reflection of what is going on inside the King – and everything within the King reflects what is in the world.

“And that, my beloved, is all that I can say. There was more – oh, so much more! – but I am sure that I already sound a madman raving in his delusion. I am tired, my love. So tired.”

He collapsed at that, the manic spirit that kept him animated while he poured out his tale in one long, feverish burst vanishing on the wind. His eyes closed, and moments later his breathing deepened and sleep claimed Marcus.

Kleopatra sat beside him, unmoving. She did not wish to disturb her husband – was unsure what strange thing would be unleashed upon her if she did. She felt herself to be in shock, as if a great violent storm had just passed through, uprooting and destroying everything. She wasn’t entirely sure what had just happened, how she was supposed to take the marvelous tale Marcus had just relayed to her. Was there something to it? Was he completely insane? Parts of it felt real to her – some of the things he said only a true King of Egypt might know – and a glimmer of hope stirred within her. Though her brother Ptolemy had been crowned Pharaoh, he had never been King. He was a foolish, power-mad boy, who did not understand what the office entailed. But now… she wondered. Did this strange Roman, this profligate adulterer, this violent brute whom she had seduced for power but come to love over time – did he finally understand? He seemed to. And how glorious that would be, for Egypt to have a true King once more. Together they would make the land strong again, drive out the Romans, re-conquer all the territories that her ancestors had claimed… and perhaps more. And yet… other parts of his story seemed utter foolishness to her, bizarre and jumbled ramblings, like one hears from the beggars on the street or the recluses who have spent too long in the Serapeion at Memphis.

War was brewing with Octavian. It was only a matter of time now – and she wondered how Marcus would stand up. He had proven himself on the field of battle numerous times before, in Spain, Italy, and the east. He had been Caesar’s right hand man and chosen successor before that conniving whelp of Atia had schemed his way into the succession. He was a strong, courageous man – but also a man with great weaknesses which crept up from time to time. And what she had seen tonight made her worry all the more. Was he falling apart? Had he lost his mind? How would he ever compete with Octavian, who for all his failings was a shrewd tactician and a deadly opponent to Egypt’s interests?

But what if his visions were real?

What if …?

Kleopatra worried, and morning light filled her chamber before sleep finally found her.

Antony the equally awesome

I can’t mention one without the other.

Cassius Dio, Roman History 50.1-5

For Kleopatra had enslaved him so absolutely that she persuaded him to act as gymnasiarch to the Alexandrians; and she was called ‘queen’ and ‘mistress’ by him, had Roman soldiers in her bodyguard, and all of these inscribed her name upon their shields. She used to frequent the market-place with him, joined him in the management of festivals and in the hearing of lawsuits, and rode with him even in the cities, or else was carried in a chair while Antony accompanied her on foot along with her eunuchs. He also termed his headquarters ‘the palace,’ sometimes wore an oriental dagger at his belt, dressed in a manner not in accordance with the customs of his native land, and let himself be seen even in public upon a gilded couch or a chair of that kind. He posed with her for portrait paintings and statues, he representing Osiris or Dionysos and she Selene or Isis. This more than all else made him seem to have been bewitched by her through some enchantment.


Constantine P. Cavafy, The God Abandons Antony

When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
as is right for you who were given this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion, but not
with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen—your final delectation—to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.

Plutarch, Life of M. Antonius 4

He had also a noble dignity of form; and a shapely beard, a broad forehead, and an aquiline nose were thought to show the virile qualities peculiar to the portraits and statues of Hercules. Moreover, there was an ancient tradition that the Antonii were Heracleidae, being descendants of Anton, a son of Heracles. And this tradition Antony thought that he confirmed, both by the shape of his body, as has been said, and by his attire. For whenever he was going to be seen by many people, he always wore his tunic girt up to his thigh, a large sword hung at his side, and a heavy cloak enveloped him. However, even what others thought offensive, namely, his jesting and boastfulness, his drinking-horn in evidence, his sitting by a comrade who was eating, or his standing to eat at a soldier’s table, — it is astonishing how much goodwill and affection for him all this produced in his soldiers. And somehow even his conduct in the field of love was not without its charm, nay, it actually won for him the favour of many; for he assisted them in their love affairs, and submitted pleasantly to their jests upon his own amours. Furthermore, his liberality, and his bestowal of favours upon friends and soldiers with no scant or sparing hand, laid a splendid foundation for his growing strength, and when he had become great, lifted his power to yet greater heights, although it was hindered by countless faults besides. One illustration of his lavish giving I will relate. To one of his friends he ordered that two hundred and fifty thousand drachmas should be given (a sum which the Romans call “decies”). His steward was amazed, and in order to show Antony the magnitude of the sum, deposited the money in full view. Antony, passing by, asked what that was; and when his steward told him it was the gift which he had ordered, he divined the man’s malice and said: “I thought the decies was more; this is a trifle; therefore add as much more to it.” And even the enemy reaped advantage from Antony’s love of distinction. For Ptolemy, as soon as he entered Pelusium, was led by wrath and hatred to institute a massacre of the Egyptians; but Antony intervened and prevented him. Moreover, in the ensuing battles and contests, which were many and great, he displayed many deeds of daring and sagacious leadership, the most conspicuous of which was his rendering the van of the army victorious by outflanking the enemy and enveloping them from the rear. For all this he received rewards of valour and fitting honours. Nor did the multitude fail to observe his humane treatment of the dead Archelaüs, for after waging war upon him by necessity while he was living, although he had been a comrade and friend, when he had fallen, Antony found his body and gave it royal adornment and burial. Thus he left among the people of Alexandria a very high reputation, and was thought by the Romans on the expedition to be a most illustrious man.


Plutarch, Life of M. Antonius 29

Kleopatra played at dice with him, drank with him, hunted with him, and watched him as he exercised himself in arms; and when by night he would station himself at the doors or windows of the common folk and scoff at those within, she would go with him on his round of mad follies, wearing the garb of a serving maiden. For Antony also would try to array himself like a servant. Therefore he always reaped a harvest of abuse, and often of blows, before coming back home; though most people suspected who he was. However, the Alexandrians took delight in their graceful and cultivated way; they liked him, and said that he used the tragic mask with the Romans, but the comic mask with them.

Plutarch, Life of M. Antonius 69-71

And now Antony forsook the city and the society of his friends, and built for himself a dwelling in the sea at Pharos, by throwing a mole out into the water. Here he lived an exile from men, and declared that he was contentedly imitating the life of Timon, since, indeed, his experiences had been like Timon’s; for he himself also had been wronged and treated with ingratitude by his friends, and therefore hated and distrusted all mankind. Now, Timon was an Athenian, and lived about the time of the Peloponnesian War, as may be gathered from the plays of Aristophanes and Plato. For he is represented in their comedies as peevish and misanthropical; but though he avoided and repelled all intercourse with men, he was glad to see Alcibiades, who was then young and headstrong, and showered kisses upon him. And when Apemantus was amazed at this and asked the reason for it, Timon said he loved the youth because he knew that he would be a cause of many ills to Athens. This Apemantus alone of all men Timon would sometimes admit into his company, since Apemantus was like him and tried sometimes to imitate his mode of life; and once, at the festival of The Pitchers, the two were feasting by themselves, and Apemantus said: “Timon, what a fine symposium ours is!” “It would be,” said Timon, “if thou wert not here.” We are told also that once when the Athenians were holding an assembly, he ascended the bema, and the strangeness of the thing caused deep silence and great expectancy; then he said: “I have a small building lot, men of Athens, and a fig-tree is growing in it, from which many of my fellow citizens have already hanged themselves. Accordingly, as I intend to build a house there, I wanted to give public notice to that effect, in order that all of you who desire to do so may hang yourselves before the fig-tree is cut down.” After he had died and been buried at Halae near the sea, the shore in front of the tomb slipped away, and the water surrounded it and made it completely inaccessible to man. The inscription on the tomb was:

“Here, after snapping the thread of a wretched life, I lie.
Ye shall not learn my name, but my curses shall follow you.”

This inscription he is said to have composed himself, but that in general circulation is by Callimachus:

“Timon, hater of men, dwells here; so pass along;
Heap many curses on me, if thou wilt, only pass along.”

These are a few things out of many concerning Timon. As for Antony, Canidius in person brought him word of the loss of his forces at Actium, and he heard that Herod the Jew, with sundry legions and cohorts, had gone over to Caesar, and that the other dynasts in like manner were deserting him and nothing longer remained of his power outside of Egypt. However, none of these things greatly disturbed him, but, as if he gladly laid aside his hopes, that so he might lay aside his anxieties also, he forsook that dwelling of his in the sea, which he called Timoneum, and after he had been received into the palace by Kleopatra, turned the city to the enjoyment of suppers and drinking-bouts and distributions of gifts, inscribing in the list of ephebi the son of Kleopatra and Caesar, and bestowing upon Antyllus the son of Fulvia the toga virilis without purple hem, in celebration of which, for many days, banquets and revels and feastings occupied Alexandria. Kleopatra and Antony now dissolved their famous society of Inimitable Livers, and founded another, not at all inferior to that in daintiness and extravagant outlay, which they called the society of Partners in Death. For their friends enrolled themselves as those who would die together, and passed the time delightfully in a round of suppers. Moreover, Kleopatra was getting together collections of all sorts of deadly poisons, and she tested the painless working of each of them by giving them to prisoners under sentence of death. But when she saw that the speedy poisons enhanced the sharpness of death by the pain they caused, while the milder poisons were not quick, she made trial of venomous animals, watching with her own eyes as they were set upon another. She did this daily, tried them almost all; and she found that the bite of the asp alone induced a sleepy torpor and sinking, where there was no spasm or groan, but a gentle perspiration on the face, while the perceptive faculties were easily relaxed and dimmed, and resisted all attempts to rouse and restore them, as is the case with those who are soundly asleep.

Kleopatra the awesome

Guasón over at Stone Pillar has been sharing his love for the Ptolemaic Dynasty, and Kleopatra in particular.

Kleopatra was indeed an awesome woman. Here are some of my favorite passages about her showing just how awesome she could be. Some of these stories are pure fabrication, but they’re still fun to read and go towards establishing the mythical persona of Kleopatra which, more than the reality (something we can never truly know) is what we revere all these centuries later.

She was charming and learned
“For her beauty, as we are told, was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her; but converse with her had an irresistible charm, and her presence, combined with the persuasiveness of her discourse and the character which was somehow diffused about her behavior towards others, had something stimulating about it. There was sweetness also in the tones of her voice; and her tongue, like an instrument of many strings, she could readily turn to whatever language she pleased, so that in her interviews with Barbarians she very seldom had need of an interpreter, but made her replies to most of them herself and unassisted, whether they were Ethiopians, Troglodytes, Hebrews, Arabians, Syrians, Medes or Parthians. Nay, it is said that she knew the speech of many other peoples also, although the kings of Egypt before her had not even made an effort to learn the native language, and some actually gave up their Makedonian dialect.” – Plutarch, Life of Antony 27.2-4

She was a philosopher and alchemist
“Ptolemy was succeeded by his daughter, Kleopatra. Her reign lasted twenty-two years. She was wise, tried her hand at philosophy and was a close companion to wise men. She has works, both bearing her name and ascribed to her, of medicine, magic, and science, known by those well-versed in such things. This Queen was the last of the Greek Queens, so that with her death their reign ended, their era was forgotten, the vestiges of their civilization were obliterated, and their sciences, except for what remained in the hands of their wise men, disappeared.” – Al-Mas’udi, Prairies of Gold

She worked tirelessly for the interests of her people
“And she raised a dike against the waters of the sea with stones and earth, and made the place of the waters over which they voyaged formerly in ships into dry land, and she made it passable on foot. And this stupendous and difficult achievement she wrought through the advice of a wise man named Dexiphanes. Next she constructed a canal to sea, and she brought water from the river Gihon and conducted it into the city. This made it easier for ships to come into port. And by this means she brought it about that there was great abundance and much food for the people to eat. And she executed all these works in vigilant care for the well-being of her city. And before she died she executed many noble works and created important institutions. And this woman, the most illustrious and wise amongst women, died in the fourteenth year of the reign of Caesar Augustus. Thereupon the inhabitants of Alexandria and of lower and upper Egypt submitted to the emperors of Rome, who set over them prefects and generals.” – John, Bishop of Nikiu, The Chronicle 67.5-10

She was the physical incarnation of Isis-Aphrodite
“Kleopatra, indeed, both then and at other times when she appeared in public, assumed a robe sacred to Isis, and was addressed as the New Isis.” – Plutarch, Life of Antony54.6

Venus has come to revel with Bacchus for the good of Asia
“Though Kleopatra received many letters of summons both from Antony himself and from his friends, she was so bold as to sail up the river Cydnus in a barge with gilded poop, its sails spread purple, its rowers urging it on with silver oars to the sound of the flute blended with pipes and lutes. She herself reclined beneath a canopy spangled with gold, adorned like Venus in a painting, while boys like Loves in paintings stood on either side and fanned her. Likewise also the fairest of her serving-maidens, attired like Nereïds and Graces, were stationed, some at the rudder-sweeps, and others at the reefing-ropes. Wondrous odours from countless incense-offerings diffused themselves along the river-banks. Of the inhabitants, some accompanied her on either bank of the river from its very mouth, while others went down from the city to behold the sight. The throng in the market-place gradually streamed away, until at last Antony himself, seated on his tribunal, was left alone. And a rumour spread on every hand that Venus was come to revel with Bacchus for the good of Asia.” – Plutarch, Life of Antony 26.1-3

There was a wild streak to her
“But Kleopatra, distributing her flattery, not into the four forms of which Plato speaks, but into many, and ever contributing some fresh delight and charm to Antony’s hours of seriousness or mirth, kept him in constant tutelage, and released him neither night nor day. She played at dice with him, drank with him, hunted with him, and watched him as he exercised himself in arms; and when by night he would station himself at the doors or windows of the common folk and scoff at those within, she would go with him on his round of mad follies, wearing the garb of a serving maiden. For Antony also would try to array himself like a servant. Therefore he always reaped a harvest of abuse, and often of blows, before coming back home; though most people suspected who he was. However, the Alexandrians took delight in their graceful and cultivated way; they liked him, and said that he used the tragic mask with the Romans, but the comic mask with them.” – Plutarch, Life of Antony 29

She had a wicked sense of humor
“Now, to recount the greater part of his boyish pranks would be great nonsense. One instance will suffice. He was fishing once, and had bad luck, and was vexed at it because Kleopatra was there to see. He therefore ordered his fishermen to dive down and secretly fasten to his hook some fish that had been previously caught, and pulled up two or three of them. But the Egyptian saw through the trick, and pretending to admire her lover’s skill, told her friends about it, and invited them to be spectators of it the following day. So great numbers of them got into the fishing boats, and when Antony had let down his line, she ordered one of her own attendants to get the start of him by swimming onto his hook and fastening on it a salted Pontic herring. Antony thought he had caught something, and pulled it up, whereupon there was great laughter, as was natural, and Kleopatra said: ‘Imperator, hand over thy fishing-rod to the fishermen of Pharos and Kanopos; thy sport is the hunting of cities, realms, and continents.’” – Plutarch, Life of Antony 29.3-4

They knew how to throw a party
“Antony sent, therefore, and invited her to supper; but she thought it meet that he should rather come to her. At once, then, wishing to display his complacency and friendly feelings, Antony obeyed and went. He found there a preparation that beggared description, but was most amazed at the multitude of lights. For, as we are told, so many of these were let down and displayed on all sides at once, and they were arranged and ordered with so many inclinations and adjustments to each other in the form of rectangles and circles, that few sights were so beautiful or so worthy to be seen as this…. In Alexandria, indulging in the sports and diversions of a young man of leisure, he squandered and spent upon pleasures that which Antiphon calls the most costly outlay, namely, time. For they had an association called The Inimitable Livers, and every day they feasted one another, making their expenditures of incredible profusion. At any rate, Philotas, the physician of Amphissa, used to tell my grandfather, Lamprias, that he was in Alexandria at the time, studying his profession, and that having got well acquainted with one of the royal cooks, he was easily persuaded by him (young man that he was) to take a view of the extravagant preparations for a royal supper. Accordingly, he was introduced into the kitchen, and when he saw all the other provisions in great abundance, and eight wild boars a-roasting, he expressed his amazement at what must be the number of guests. But the cook burst out laughing and said: ‘The guests are not many, only about twelve; but everything that is set before them must be at perfection, and this an instant of time reduces. For it might happen that Antony would ask for supper immediately, and after a little while, perhaps, would postpone it and call for a cup of wine, or engage in conversation with some one. Wherefore,’ he said, ‘not one, but many suppers are arranged; for the precise time is hard to hit.’” – Plutarch, Life of Antony 27,28

The incident with the pearl
“There have been two pearls that were the largest in the whole of history; both were owned by Cleopatra, the last of the Queens of Egypt–they had come down to her through the hands of the Kings of the East. When Antony was fattening himself every day at decadent banquets, she with a pride both lofty and impudent, a queenly courtesan, disparaged his elegance and sumptuous display, and when he asked what magnificence could be added on, she replied that she would spend ten million sesterces on a banquet. Antony was curious, but did not think it could be done. Consequently, with bets made, on the next day, on which the trial was carried out, she set before Antony a banquet that elsewhere would be magnificent, so that the day might not be wasted, but that was for them quite ordinary, and Antony laughed and exclaimed over its cheapness. But she, claiming that it was a gratuity, and that the banquet would complete the account and she alone would consume ten million sesterces, ordered the second course to be served. In accordance with previous instructions the servants placed in front of her only a single vessel containing vinegar, the strong rough quality of which can melt pearls. She was at the moment wearing in her ears that remarkable and truly unique work of nature. Antony was full of curiosity to see what in the world she was going to do. She took one earring off and dropped the pearl in the vinegar, and when it was melted swallowed it. Lucius Plancus, the judge of the wager, put his hand on the other pearl since she was preparing to destroy it also in a similar fashion, and declared that Antony had lost, an omen that later came true. With this goes the story that, when that queen who had won on this important issue was captured, the second of this pair of pearls was cut in two pieces, so that half a helping of the jewel might be in each of the ears of Venus in the Pantheon at Rome.” – Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 9.119-121

Men thought death a small price to pay to sleep with her
“Cleopatra was so lustful that she often prostituted herself, and so beautiful that many men bought night with her at the price of their lives.” – Sextus Aurelius Victor, De Viris Illustribus Urbis Romae 86.2

A later Russian adaptation of the above anecdote
“I swear, O mother of passion, I will serve you in unheard ways, on the couch of passionate sins I will come as a common slave. So look, powerful Cytherean, and you underground kings, O Gods of ferocious Hades; I swear to the morning sunrise the wishes of my lords I will tire with voluptuous passion and with all secrets of kisses and with wondrous nakedness those wishes I will quench. But as soon as with a morning purple the eternal Aurora will shine forth, I swear: under the deadly axe the heads of these lucky ones will fall.” – Alexander Pushkin, Egyptian Nights

She knew how to get her point across
“For in preparation for the Actian war, when Antony feared the attentiveness of the Queen herself and did not take any food unless it had been tasted beforehand, she is said to have played on his fear and dipped the tips of the flowers in his crown in poison and then put the crown on his head; soon, as the revelry proceeded, she suggested to Antony that they drink their crowns. Who would thus fear treachery? Therefore with a hand put in his way he was beginning to drink the pieces gathered into the cup she said, ‘Look, I am she, Mark Antony, of whom you are wary with your new wish for tasters. If I could live without you, this is the extent to which I lack opportunity and motive!’ She ordered a prisoner who had been led in to drink it and he promptly expired.” – Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 21.12

Beloved by the Gods of Egypt
“The young girl, Kleopatra, daughter of the ruler, created by the ruler, beloved of the Gods of Egypt, adorned by Khnum, the regent of Thoth whose might is great, who pleases the two Lands, who gives the people in perfection to the Two Ladies, who Neith, the Lady of Sais, makes strong, who Hathor praises for her popularity.” – Inscription from the Temple of Edfu

Helped install the Buchis bull
“There appeared Buchis, the living Ba of Re, the manifestation of Re, who was born of the Great Cow, Tenen united with the Eight Gods. He is Amun who goes on his four feet, the image of Monthu, Lord of Thebes, Father of the Fathers, the Mother of the Mothers, who formed the Ennead, who renews the life of every one of the Gods. He is the image of Onnophris, the justified, the sacred image of the Ba of Re, the bik n nb in … he came to Hermonthis in the goodly festival of the twentieth day of Pakhons, the festival of Monthu, Lord of Hermonthis, his seat of eternity. He reached Thebes, his place of installation, which came into existence aforetime, beside his father, Nun of Old. He was installed by the King himself in year 1, Phamenoth 19. The Queen, the Lady of the Two Lands [Kleopatra VII], the Goddess who loves her father, rowed him in the barque of Amun, together with the boats of the King, all the inhabitants of Thebes and Hermonthis and priests being with him. He reached Hermonthis, his dwelling-place on Mechir 22. The length of his life was 24 years, 1 month, and 8 days. His Ba went up to heaven as Re.” – The Buchis Stele

It was feared that she might bring about the end of the world
“And thereupon shall the whole world be governed by the hands of a woman and obedient everywhere. Then when the Widow shall o’er all the world gain the rule, and cast in the mighty sea both gold and silver, also brass and iron of short lived men into the deep shall cast, then all the elements shall be bereft of order, when the God who dwells on high shall roll the heaven, even as a scroll is rolled; and to the mighty earth and sea shall fall the entire multiform sky; and there shall flow a tireless cataract of raging fire, and it shall burn the land, and burn the sea, and heavenly sky, and night, and day, and melt creation itself together and pick out what is pure. No more laughing spheres of light, nor night, nor dawn, nor many days of care, nor spring, nor winter, nor the summer-time or autumn. And then of the mighty God the Judgment midway in a mighty age shall come, when all these things shall come to pass.” – Pseudo-Sibylline Oracles, 3.75-92

The Mysteries

The Mysteries of the Starry Bull tradition are these:

αήρ (air)
αλώπηξ (fox)
αμαξά (wagon)
ἄμπελος (vine)
αράχνες (spider)
αστράγαλοι (knucklebones)
αὐλός (pipes)
βουκράνιον (ox skull)
γάλα (milk)
γή (earth)
δένδρον (tree)
δίκτυον (net)
ἐρυθρός (red)
έσοπτρον (mirror)
ηλακάτη (distaff)
θηλιά (noose)
θύρα (door)
θύρσος (fennel staff)
κάνθαρος (cup)
καρδιά (heart)
κεραυνός (thunderbolt)
κεφαλή (head)
κισσός (ivy)
κλείς (key)
κόθορνος (hunting boot)
κρατήρ (mixing bowl)
κρόταλα (rattle)
κώνος (pinecone)
λαβύρινθος (labyrinth)
λάϊνα ἐξογκώματα (cairn)
λεόπαρδος (leopard)
λέων (lion)
λευκός (white)
λίκνον (wicker basket)
λύκος (wolf)
μαίανδρος (meander)
μάραγνα (whip)
μέλας (black)
μέλι (honey)
μελίκρατα (mead)
μήλα (apple)
νεβρίς (fawnskin)
νύκτέλιος (sonnenrad)
οίνος (wine)
όφις (snake)
παίγνια καμπεσίγυια (puppet/doll)
πάνθηρ (panther)
πέλεκυς (double-axe)
περιστερά (dove)
πλοίον (ship)
πόκος (wool)
πρόσωπον (mask)
πύρ (fire)
ρόα (pomegranate)
ρόδο (rose)
ρόμβος (bullroarer)
ῥυτόν (drinking horn)
σάλπιγξ (trumpet)
σίτος (grain)
στάφυλος (grapes)
στέφανος (crown)
στρόβιλος (top)
σύκον (fig)
σφαίρα (ball)
ταύρος (bull)
ταώς (peacock)
τράγος (goat)
τρισκέλης (triskelion)
τροχός (wheel)
τύμπανον (drum)
ύδωρ (water)
φαλλός (phallos)
φάρμακον (drug)
χρυσός (gold)
ᾠόν (egg)