НАЗАД К СПИСКУ
УЧАСТНИКОВ ПЛАТОНОВСКОГО ФИЛОСОФСКОГО ОБЩЕСТВА
Problem of Choice in Greek Mythology
The concept of the hero
as portrayed in Greek myth is treated as an interaction of the self
realized human being with the gods that takes on elements of a competitive struggle.
The hero archetype is pictured as manifesting in an elitist sense in those
who qualify to enter the competition. Qualifications include a history of
transcendental disinterested service in the interests of providing man with
increased cosmological scope. Reference is made to a panoply of heroes,
chief among them Prometheus who dared to disobey the power hierarchy and
bring the light of divine knowledge to mankind. The element of chaos is
presented as a disorganized field in which the hero must battle in his self
imposed task to increase the amount of order in the cosmos.
The highest virtue in Greek society
was arête: manliness, the courage of a man, excellence, especially
that revealed in a contest or agon. This competitive spirit man took
from the gods themselves. Greek myth reflects that from the very beginning
of the creation there was a permanent competition or struggle between the
new deities against the zoomorphic, phytomorphic and mixantropomorphic
deities of the ancient times.
The Olympic gods, joined later by
heroes, were engaged in a constant fight against ancient chaos. Their
victories increased the harmony and order in the universe. It was the
competition between new and old gods for leading positions in the universe
and the hierarchies of an increasingly harmonious structure. Though often
it looked like an internecine war, the end was not to destroy the older
deities, but rather to remove them toward the periphery of the divine
ruling world. In addition to the well known battles of the Olympians with
the Titans, such as those in the dynasty of Cronus which even now develop
our sense of times and timing, we see reflections of this ongoing war in
the fate of such chthonic gods as the wise nymph Metis, prominent in the
ancient times but later disappearing from view after being swallowed by
Zeus. Again in the fate of the silverfooted Thetis, humiliated by her
forced marriage with the mortal Pelius but being the niece of Eurynoma, the
wife of Ophionus, who were rulers of Olympus before Rhea and Cronus.
The visible significance of these
important past deities diminishes, though it is still present as they
continue to help the Olympians, deploying strategic delay tactics as for
example in the breeding of Hephaestus for nine years or in the hiding of
the son of Semele and Zeus, who was Dionysus. It is well to remember that
all the struggles of the gods manifest as present wisdom in the mind of
The power of the chthonic gods was
not to be forgotten, not only because they were often the ancestors of new
gods and heroes, but also because of their more powerful ancient energies,
which the new gods needed in order to subdue their own chthonic, ancestors.
Thus, with the help of the Cyclopes and the Hecatoncheires, the wielder of
lightning bolts Zeus was able to defeat Cronus and other Titans; and with
the help of Metis – to save his brothers and sisters from being
gobbled up by the terrible amorphous ogre, the Father of all Time.
After being swallowed by Zeus,
Metis is later forgotten even though she was the mother of Athena. Most of
us have been led to concede that Athena enjoyed a parthenogenic conception,
springing fully armed from her father’s head. We must be careful about the
mythological histories that we weave into our soulstuff since many myths
and legends are subject to variations, but it is conventionally held that
together with the heroes the gods defeated the Giants. As order slowly
evolved from chaos, Zeus started to rule the universe in a more orderly
way, together with the other eleven gods from their dwelling place on Mount
Olympus. However, chaos, and consequently the potentiality for new battles,
did not vanish, as the defeated old gods were always present in the
darkness of Tartaras. And sounding ever in the background like a recurrent
leitmotif from a tragic chorus was the prophecy of Prometheus about the son
stronger than Zeus who would come into the world and make all things new.
Reflecting the struggle for
universal order, polis as the higher form of society has also won the
social competition with the former anarchical state. The formation of polis
with its own patronizing deity, such as Athena in Athens, Zeus in Olympia,
Apollo in Delphi as well as the cult of the hero protectors (Theseus,
Asclepius and Oedipus) symbolized the now permanent presence of the
organizing and structuring work of the divine Logos in socium.
After the defeat of the chthonic
gods, the Olympic gods continue to compete among themselves, each of them
confirming his own place in the universal structure and often including
humans in this competition, whose fourth generation after such conflict,
according to Hesiod, was the generation of heroes or demigods. The
ambivalent nature of cosmic law could be seen in the competitions between
the gods themselves. This ambivalence would lead us to speculate as to the
nature of law at its various hierarchical levels. It would appear that
before the principles of law were accepted by the polis, they had the
quality of emergence, which is to say that the principle or hyparxis at
the level of manifestation is generated rather than fixed. This is of
course the distinguishing feature of common law as compared to the more
rigid character of the sophisticated laws of the Greek polis emulated by
the Romans. In the mythic struggle each victory is taken as a precedent,
and so as in Anglo common law, law itself evolves.
The Iliad portrays not only the war between Greeks
and Trojans helped by the gods: Hera, Athena, and Poseidon on the side of
Greeks, while Aphrodite, Apollo, and Ares are on the side of Trojans. The
scenario involves more than the competition which ensues between the gods
themselves, the Iliad is the magnificent picture of a gigantic battle
taking place at once on all levels of the universal hierarchy.
Demigods not only struggled side by
side with the gods; they competed with the gods themselves, accepting
courageously the resulting pains (Daedalus, Arachne, Latona), or sometimes
even success (the redemption of Prometheus). Such competition was not
unusual, since the border between gods and mortals was obviously
penetrable. In the view of the ancient Greeks the gods and mortals did not
exist in two completely isolated spheres, but were seen as a descending
celestial hierarchy with a diminishing amount of divinity at each lower
level. There was a constant interaction between the Olympian heavens and
the Greek earth.
The gods were immortal in the same
sense as the Christian today considers the soul to be immortal, however,
they could be killed or put out of action. Their murders had to be punished
as Hercules was punished for his crimes, and oftentimes had to serve
mankind. Eros was the force which subdued equally both gods and mortals.
The beauty of the mortal women won the competition for the heart of Zeus on
various occasions, so that divine intemperance became the cause of the
appearance of many great heroes. We picture Leda caressing the Swan, Danae in
the bliss of the Golden rain, Europa on the back of the beautiful white
bull… The immortal goddesses even less could resist the beauty of mortal
youths. Myth tells us about the mortal lover of Merope, one of the
seven Pleiades and mother of the sly Sisyphus who outwitted the Lord of
Tarturus; Aphrodite loving the Trojan Anhisus gave birth to Eneias;
beautiful Eos married the Trojan Titan; Selena embracing her beloved
Endymion every night and giving him 50 daughters in spite of his sleep,
Adonis for whose love Aphrodite herself had to compete with Persephone.
Antinoes, Hyasintus, Odyssius—the whole generation of heroes whom the gods
created by falling in love with mortals who loved them in return.
Being the descendant of gods,
either patrilineally or from the distaff side, our hero obviously has been
created to bring and confirm the will of the gods among mortals. In the
accomplishment of this task, the hero always challenges his divine
ancestors; his competition with them takes the form of disobedience. Why do
the gods encourage him to break their own laws, at the same time trying to
defeat him creating enormous obstacles for him when he is trying to do what
seems to him to be their divine order? Why can’t he stop competing with the
gods and know that he can never win this competition just as he cannot
become a god during his life? Why does he continue in his Sisyphyne labor
even though he sees it as punishment with no hope of reward? In order to
answer these questions we have to examine the nature of the hero as well as
the ontological nature of his rivalry with the gods.
The inevitability of man’s
competition with the gods is connected with his double nature which began
from the moment when Prometheus gave him the divine spark with the ability
to reflect the universe. He then possessed the option to rise to a paradigm
above nature. In the cosmic beginning of the creation the elements of the
contradiction already preexisted the laws of future nature, contradictions
which were not to be found in matter but in the teleological causes of
matter’s manifestation. Even the urstoff, the first stirrings of the
cohesive causes which are moving toward a physical state, contains this
contradiction or state of contrariety which is inherent to the spiritual
Self of man. This
Self of man, which is independent from the autonomous laws of nature, is
charged with contradictory possibilities which have the potential to affect
matter which still exist in the realms beyond matter, the realm of spirit,
or else the realms of physical probability which are as yet not matter.
The creation of the nonphysical
man, the superior Self (cf. the biblical Son of Man elaborated in both
Testaments), anteceded the laws of mere physical nature, so that the
spirit of the Self is a discovery of what is already there. The mirror-like
liver of Prometheus, metaphorizing his spiritual essence, is consumed by
the vulture-like jealousy of the gods; but then upon the redemption of
Prometheus by the hero Heracles the higher spiritual essence, now beyond
manifest matter, and even beyond matter in the potential etheric matrix of
the quantum vacuum, is again restored to man as a domain which offers itself
to his will.
This spiritual essence of man is
precisely represented in the image of the Greek hero, whose divine origin
is emphasized in myth. With the birth of the hero the world becomes
effulgent. His creative competitive spirit, which now has a choice in the
very way in which matter will reveal itself, begins to exercise its divine
The hero is one, who outgrowing the
competition for the common goods of the fashionable world, sees in them no
value. He ascends to higher levels of evolution in which he does not need
any more competition as the instrument for continuing development. He
becomes more autonomous from society at the same time serving its evolution
by undertaking the divine task of the transfiguration of material. He knows
that to win the crown is only an illusory goal, but the inner sense and
real goal of the agon is contrary to the nature of competition. This
ultimate goal is not to fix one’s energies on the crown of victory, but to
give rather than to take. The dialectic of the competition in this case is
such that at its highest point the competition turns into its opposite: the
hero has been competing for the crown, but after receiving it, he gives it
away, being indifferent toward it. It seems to be paradoxical, but is so
only if we think that the major goal of the competition is the visible one,
which is the award. But if we take the improvement of a man in the course
of the competition as the major goal of the competition, then the
competition itself, including a crown for a winner, should be seen as a
symbiotic process in which the godman participates while he achieves the
higher levels of his evolution.
The development of this new,
indifferent attitude toward the crown does not appear automatically, but
has to be developed and often is developed in the process of the
competition which gradually changes its nature from physical to
intellectual, then to ethical. But as the ethical means that the ideal
actually lies in the endeavor to give instead of to take, how then can the
concepts of giving and winning coexist? They could: by winning but then
giving away to others the results of your labor. This is the way the hero
serves others through the third element of a triangle.
In competition with the gods the
hero is able to go beyond the limits of traditional life, of what is well
known. He transgresses the borders assigned to man by the gods and enters
the forbidden zone of the unknown where uncountable calamities increase
with every step he takes. But he still accomplishes the increasingly
serious tasks, challenging now not only the laws of nature but social and
even the divine order. The conventions of traditional ethics, it seems, do
not work the hero; his individuality is often seen by the society as
insupportable. Of course one might agree that heroes are not perfect, but
they belong to the higher level of a terrestrial hierarchy where the laws
of existence are not the same as for ordinary man. Heroes have different
essences behind their transcendental progress and its failures. The Self of
a hero holds the moral dimension of society as relative and seeks a higher
ethic which in a sense is beyond good and evil. This does not mean that the
hero despises the mores, rather he embraces them, but he ever seeks to go
beyond their scope. The
epistemologically real good is his very existence, his ability to hear and
follow instead of conventional laws his own deep intuitions leading him to
the higher goals.
What are these higher goals? In
order to answer this question we have to examine the nature of the hero as
well as the ontological nature of his rivalry with the gods. The first
significant feature we see in the image of a hero is his ability to hear
and talk to gods. We should say that from a certain moment he feels the
permanent presence, the breathing of the gods, as if they are very close to
him with their advice on what actions he should choose. The hero
individuates divine presence in himself, so that taking the gods out of the
mythological context there is a process beyond animism and the gods of
nature into a metaphysical and ontological context. Of course there is
always the return from metaphysics to the manifestation in nature which is
amplified by the heroic consciousness. Unusual is the choice hero makes.
Traditionally we think that the better choice is that which avoids
problems, a choice leading toward a more prosperous and safe future, to the
increase of well being. The usual or vulgar understanding is that those
whom the gods love the most should live easier, better.
In Greek myth we see the opposite:
demigods whom the gods love most, have much more hardship in their lives than
the ordinary ones. Why do they have less power, wealth, leisure time,
pleasures than many ordinary others? The great deeds of heroes are not
rewarded by a termination of their hardships. Heroes themselves don’t care
about their awards after all they have seen and done. What value could
earthly belongings and social status have after a being has passed through
the absolute privation of chaos?
The hero often knows from
prophecies that it is not a crown but suffering that will be the prize for
his noble actions, but it doesn’t stop him. He acts as if he were already
immortal though he knows that it is not so. Achilles knows that he will die
if he avenges his friend’s death. Medea knows that Jason will leave her but
goes through crime and toward suffering following her sense of divine love
and confirming in this way that the law of Aphrodite is above all others,
as very being itself is within Her law. Jason died under his Argo in
despair, Heracles was burnt, Agamemnon murdered, Odysseus barely returned
home and then lived in mourning for his lost friends.
Then why do heroes choose what is
most difficult, most dangerous? Not for the crown even if it seems like
this at the beginning. Even when they know that there would be no gains but
many losses at the end of the road, they still choose the same one. It is
as if the gods try a hero. It is as if they say, “If you choose what seems
for others impossible and useless, if you can lose fear and go through all
obstacles, you will deserve to compete with us, to be one of us.”
The hero does more than the
ordinary man. He leaves the ordinary life for a more active and less
predictable one and surmounts all obstacles with increasing energy. The
life of hero is that of labors: pilgrimage, discovery, campaign, battle.
Heroes of all legends are seen at home only for the time needed to heal
their wounds and restore their energy for new undertakings. How much would
they achieve if they do not go to other lands?
The hero penetrates ever more
deeply into the zone of primordial chaos where he is able to survive and
become stronger, contributing increasingly toward divine order. But only
the hero has this capacity; pretenders and villains ruin themselves and
those who surround them. They are overwhelmed by chaos. In the European fairy
story, which is a sort of myth, all comers may try to win the sad
princess’s hand by making her laugh, but the penalty for failure is death.
The hero’s chthonic ancestry and
prophetic abilities sometimes are emphasized, as in the case of Theseus. These
attributes are in addition to his wisdom and strength which he inherits and
which capacitate him to deal with chthonic forces. With the increase of the
resistance of matter on the plane of the manifestation of matter, so do the
difficulties of his tasks increase. Often his own abilities have to be
augmented by a feminine double, a sister soul. Jason is sent by the gods to
the Priestess of the Golden Fleece who is Medea, Odysseus is sent to
Calypso and to Athena herself. Even Agamemnon did not abduct a simple
Trojan, but the sibyl Cassandra. The appearance at a certain moment of the
ideal feminine in the life of the hero is also the sign that he is entering
the higher circle of being where these doubles exist, the threshold of the
ascent into Oneness.
Approaching hubris, Odysseus sees
himself as almost equal to Poseidon, and so does Oedipus when trying to
outsmart the gods in his investigation. What they are doing seems to be
wrong from the point of view of ordinary morality, but at the same time it
is obvious that there is a higher reason behind the event which compels
them to disobey divine law (the sign to do so is usually brought by the
gods through an oracle). It is in a sense assigned to them to go through
“fire and waters”.
Oedipus is the link in a chain of
evil deeds. He inherited the curse from his ancestors along with his
brilliant mind and great air. He would inevitably transfer this curse to
his children, and this almost happened, but he was able to stop it at least
for one of his children, Ismene, so that she was able to renew the lineage
of Oedipus. Oedipus did what would be impossible for simpler person. All
his accidental crimes paradoxically became the cause of his ascent. He did
not hesitate to dive into the underground of his soul, to the antique chaos
seething there. The hardships following his sins gave him the power to see
the future and analyze the past. Oedipus in Colonus is the saint, the wise
soul which has risen from both the Dionisian and Appolonian streams which
flow toward Sophia. He had a choice not to know, but had he elected to
remain in blissful ignorance his curse would have continued to exist. In
this sense the step into the chaos of sin is for the hero, as the gods know
that the hero will be able to come out of it with a more highly refined
soul than before.
The hero’s destiny is to fight with
the monsters of chaos but not without paying for it. Prometheus is punished
by Zeus. Apollo killed Python to establish the new gods instead of the old
chthonic gods but the deed was still murder and he had to spend nine years
in the underworld for his sin. Monsters do not necessarily symbolize the
evil forces attacking people, and when the hero defends the people the
monsters do not invade, but they lurk ever close to any man divided between
universal forces. The borderline monsters are the representation of a chaos
which permanently surrounds the realm of man both inside and outside,
encircling him and narrowing his territory. It is Jason and not the dragon that is
the reason for the appearance of chthonic monsters growing up from the
earth out of the dragon’s teeth, and it was necessary for him to reveal and
destroy them in order to obtain the divine symbol. He woke the sleeping
wild forces in order to destroy them, otherwise they would have continued
to exist as dangerous potential and keep people forever in the tight frame
of their realm. This world of monsters is also used as a source of dynamic
energy, which has to be transformed in the process of the transfiguration
of the world.
The ordinary man does not have the
power to attack the monster; he fears to go into an unknown zone, calling
it prohibited and creating many rules and morals to justify his inactivity
and prevent those like him from diving into the chthonic waters. This is
right, as most would inevitably be destroyed, not having enough power to
compete with either gods or monsters.
But why then does the hero continue
to go to this prohibited zone again and again? He follows his inner call as
this is the only way for the superior man (as the Chinese say, who is also
the transcendental Son of Man) to exist. And if he did not continue in his
attempts, the surrounding circle would be more and more narrow, entropy
would increase and the cosmic spheres of nous and of logos for all human
kind would be diminished.
Thus, the hero, following the
example of the Olympic gods, goes through the terror of antique chaos in
order to conquer more space. The gods, or the divine in man, is what makes
him restless in his competition with the ancient forces and causes him to
spread himself over the earth. Odysseus, Perseus, Oedipus, Hercules,
Socrates, all remain as universal heroes.
To possess the golden fleece, for
Jason, the descendant of chthonic deities, means to outgrow these very
deities and move toward his new divine Self. The fleece symbolizes his wish
to increase the divine light within himself. However, as he gains power,
the resistance of matter (since light is a form of matter) increases
proportionately. With each step toward the golden goal he increases the
density and the resistance of matter, and this is why Jason’s power has to
be doubled by his spiritual counterpart, Medea.
On the surface of events it looks
like the hero acts for himself, but in reality by his deeds he continues to
abet the strength of the new gods, competing in this sense with them for a
place in the continually evolving hierarchical spiral of divinity and thus
transforming ancient chaos into the divine order at the risk to his life
Being the resemblance of the
macrocosm, the hero is doing the same creative job as the Logos in the
universe, turning inner chaos into cosmic order. This is why he has to be
able to step into Dionysian chaos, to face its presence in his own soul.
Chaos is dangerous and only rarely do those appear who are able to face it
and not be absorbed by its powerful energies. This is why the hero is a
tragic figure, and why he has to pay a very high price for his deeds. Any
movement starts from the destruction of a previous inner structure,
allowing the Dionysian waters to flood into the soul. If the aspiring hero
has enough Apollonian power, he will rebuild himself, raising the level of
his own nature. But if he fails it is often because has overestimated
himself, and in a sense has insulted the gods by offering to compete with
them. This is the very essence of hubris. If it is impossible for him to
accomplish the task he has undertaken, then he will be inevitably smashed
by Dionysian power and will fall lower than he was before, at the same time
bringing down the general level of being. This is why the deed is presented
to the hero by the gods (who are ever essentially benign) at the moment of
his highest potential to accomplish it.
And it is because of the high
quality of the love which the gods offer that the divine zone of action is
prohibited to ordinary man. But the hero cannot refuse the call, which only
he can hear, because only by responding to the gods, and by accepting the
challenge to interact and to compete with them can his spiritual part
continue to grow. Only by diving into the darkness of ancient chaos and
building into it the Apollonian light can man create his divine Self and
thus successfully engage with the gods in this highest form of human
creativity – Self creation.
makes the distinction between junior gods such as Apollo and senior gods
such as Rhea or Hera.
Greek term, hyparxis may be translated as principle, particularly a
foundational belief which is inherent to a concept. Eg. The democratic
belief in the equal status of souls. Hyparxis also carries the sense
of making a new beginning and by so doing establishing a new essence.
Liddell and Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, Clarendon,
Oxford, 1889, p. 831.
Hector and Euphorbus kill Patroclus with the assistance of Apollo.
Likewise, angry with Agamemnon for taking Briseis, Achilles appeals to his
mother, the Goddess Thetis to ask Zeus to aid the Trojans against the
Acheans. As Achilles prepares to enter the battle in order to avenge the
death of Patroclus, his mother, Thetis, and Hephaestus make a new shield
and arms for Achilles. Achilles’s valiant effort against the river Xanthus
portrays a battle between gods in which Achilles barely survives. Although
Zeus would intervene in order to keep the gods from interfering in the
Trojan War, still, this would not keep them from entering into the battle.
Hera woos Zeus in order to take his attention off the war. While she holds
his attention, Poseidon would assist the failing Greek army to drive the
Trojan forces back. In this instance, the gods are seen as scheming, even
against the head deity, Zeus himself. Their interactions with humans would
definitely affect their lives and the outcomes of their various situations.
Zeus’ eventual response to Hera’s ruse would lead to his trying to restore
equality to the situation and so causing Poseidon to withdraw. This would
result in the Trojans advancing against the Greeks and burning their ships.
In the Iliad, Zeus appears to control events, as the final outcome
between Troy and the Achaeans seems to lie with Zeus himself, although all
Olympians were understood to be subordinate to the Fates).
are catalogs of heroes in Hesiod, Theogonia 240-1022; also Apollonius of
Rhodes I 23-233.
word Self is capitalized here as a universal. In a sense, the Self is the
whole realized man as compared to the ego which is only self interested.
Thus Toynbee’s “disinterested service” is the labor of a man who is
representative of mankind itself and man’s place in the cosmos and has no
egocentric interest. “The experience of the self is always a defeat for the
ego.” See Jung, C. G., Mysterium Coniunctionis, Bollingen, Princeton,
N. J. 1963, p. 544 – 546.
simplified model is a troika of matter in distinct states. Starting at the
top there is matter as a mere metaphysical consideration in an unfixed time
dimension. In the middle are the physical probabilities for the
manifestation of matter which are held in the quantum ether. At base is
matter as a visible substance. See Beattie, A. and Spavieri G., British
Idealism and Quantum Mechanics, University of St. Petersburg,
Proceedings of the Summer Conference, St. Petersburg, Russia, 2003, p.80.
the crown metaphor is that of the bay or olive wreath rather than the crown
mentioned by John of Patmos as revealed by the Son of Man. (Revelation 3,
11) which is similar to the vision of neo-Platonic Oneness elaborated by
Plotinus, (Third Ennead VII, 13) and elsewhere in the Enneads.
the Protestant tradition this winning and giving falls under the head of
stewardship. What is given by Heaven as the result of total devotion to the
work ethic is only held to be administered to others. Andrew Carnegie the
steel tycoon held this view, setting up trust funds for deserving charities
which are as of this writing (2005) still accessible.
who without difficulty can be seen as the archetypal hero, puts it
succinctly: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I
am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, till
heaven and earth pass, one jot or tittle shall in no wise pass from the
law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these
least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in
the kingdom of heaven:” (Matthew, 5, 17, King James Version). The question
remains for the hero as to the time when heaven and earth are past. There
is also the question as to position in the kingdom of heaven and its value.
See Beattie, A. and Castle L., The Medea Principle, Philosophical
Congress, Department of Philosophy, University of St. Petersburg, Russia,
2003. However, what is essential here is the attitude, there is no derision
of a humanity which has not been able to achieve the heroic paradigm.
is quite usual in native American cultures for a devotee to pray for money.
is not accidentally that the creatures which the heroes fight with are
terrifying unattractive monsters – their hideous chaotic nature and
inconstancy is apparent in their images. Eccentricity is a sign of
belonging to spheres not synchronized by divine harmony, so that they are
excluded from cosmos. They live as forces in the depth of chaos which,
however, does not exclude them from man’s subconscious which to the
unrealized man is taboo space, indecent and counter productive.