Sunday, May 30, 2010

Agora and Hypatia

After what feels like an eternity the Alejandro AmenĂ¡bar film “Agora”, based on the story of Hypatia of Alexandria, is finally seeing a limited release in American theaters this weekend. Rachel Weisz, who won my undying affection in the role of Evelyn Carnahan the plucky librarian in The Mummy, plays the role of Hypatia.

Agora has had a difficult time of being shown in the U.S. as The Wild Hunt Blog details here.

Hypatia is my hero. It feels fitting to me that she would come to America for our Memorial Day celebration, as this is the holiday when we honor our fallen heroes. Hellenics take stock in hero worship, and in my heart there is no hero of myth, legend, or history that shines quite like Hypatia.

Hypatia was a scholar, a teacher, a Neoplatonist philosopher, and, yes, a librarian. Her brutal death at the hands of an angry Christian mob marks the end of Classical antiquity.

My response to the horror of Hypatia's martyrdom is as close as I have ever felt to the feeling certain Christians attribute to meditation on the Passion of Christ. Hypatia has her own stations of the cross...

There she rides on her chariot, proud to be an independent educated woman in a time of increasing oppression and superstition. Now the mob interrupts her congress. They pull her down. Her robes are torn from her body. Her head smashes against the stone street rock. They beat her. They tear at her flesh with shards of oyster shells. They burn the ragged remains of her broken corpse. Who does she cry out for? In all of her studies concerning the goodness and richness of humanity did she ever fear that fate held such a cruel end for her by the hands of her own kind? Does her heart weep for their ignorance?

My heart weeps. Hypatia was murdered as a sign to all women who dared to live proudly, who longed for wisdom and freedom. She was battered as if she herself were a pagan goddess, brought low by this dark and fearful new religion.

This memorial day I encourage you to find and honor your own heroes, ancient, modern, or mythical. Tell their stories, adorn their altars, pour to them offerings. Honor the place within you that cries out for peace.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Athena and Medusa

I have applied to be an Exegetai of Athena through Neokoroi. Part of the process of admittance includes the submission of two articles to their newsletter He Epistole. I shared my first article, Virgin Athena, here. Included below is the second article, with many inspirational thanks to the divine Thalia Took, who just happened to draw Medusa as the Goddess of the Week!

Athena and Medusa

In most myths Athena comes across as a gentle Goddess whose punishments are rare and just. This is not the case with the tale of Medusa. On the surface Athena's relationship with Medusa seems cruel and self-serving, very different from her relationships with other figures of mythology, but further investigation proves there is more going on between the two figures than the myth readily admits.

Medusa's story is a sad one. She was a lovely girl, often compared favorably to the goddess Athena. Medusa's beauty drew the unfortunate and unwanted attention of Poseidon. Medusa fled to a temple of Athena seeking sanctuary from the sea god's advances through prayers to virginal Athena. Poseidon found Medusa in the temple and raped her. As punishment for this desecration of her temple Athena transformed Medusa into a gorgon, a hideous creature with snakes for hair whose gaze turned men to stone. Medusa was beheaded by the hero Perseus with the assistance of Athena. From her body sprung forth her sons by Poseidon, Pegasus the winged horse and Khrysaor. Athena then gathered blood from Medusa's corpse and placed the head of Medusa, the Gorgoneion, prominently upon her breastplate, the aegis.

Who was Medusa and why is her myth so entwined with that of Athena, who seems to only want to punsish her for a crime that she was not at fault for? Pausanias points out that Medusa was said to have been from Lake Tritonis in Libya, which was also sometimes cited as the birthplace of Athena under her epithet Athena Tritogeneia, or Triton-born. This same epithet, along with that of Athena Glaukopis, has been cited as evidence that Athena's father was in fact Poseidon, not Zeus. Pausanias states:

"When I saw that the statue of Athena had blue eyes I found out that the legend about them is Libyan. For the Libyans have a saying that the Goddess is the daughter of Poseidon and Lake Tritonis, and for this reason has blue eyes like Poseidon."
So, we have links to two mythological figures of Libyan origin near Lake Tritonis with links to Poseidon. Athena and Poseidon have a famous rivalry concerning patronage of Athens, but Athena was never raped by Poseidon, was she?

Amazingly enough, there is a story of Athena being raped by her father. Although he is not named Poseidon, a story by Lycophron states that Athena was the daughter of the winged giant Pallas who attempted to rape his lovely offspring. Athena defended herself against his advances and slew him. She flayed the giant, taking his wings for her own use and his skin as her aegis. Here it is the fatherly male and not the transformed young woman whose visage becomes the basis for the aegis.

What of Pallas's wings? In early depictions of Athena she is shown winged, notably in Sparta. These wings would later be placed on the shoulders of Nike, goddess of victory, who accompanied Athena and was sometimes referred to as Athena. The Gorgons were also winged, shown with the same curling quadrupled wings as early black-figure-vase images of Athena. Medusa famously gave birth to the winged horse Pegasus, who myth states that Athena bridled and tamed. Suidas makes the connection between Athena, daughter of Poseidon and tamer of horses clear:

"Hippeia Athene (Athena-of-Horses) : They say she is a daughter of Poseidon and Polyphe, daughter of Okeanos; she was the first to use a chariot and was called 'of-Horses' because of this."
Athena was raped by her father, who may have been Poseidon, just as Medusa was. These events took place on the shores of Lake Tritonis in Libya and lead to associations with wings and winged horses by both Medusa and Athena. Both transformed a mutilated piece of themselves or their attacker into the aegis. There are clear connections here between Medusa and Athena, but what about Medusa's most notable feature, that of her snaky hair? Does Athena have connections to snakes also, and if so, do they bear any echo of Medusa?

Athena's associations with snakes are second only to her legendary affinity for owls. She wears the snake-tasseled aegis, and was said to be the mother of Erikhthonios, who was either part or all snake. So damning was her association with the snake that she forbid anyone to look upon her serpentine son, lest they recognize that she was its mother. The Arrephoria ritual of Athens commemorates these events. Anciently the snake in Greece was seen as the protector of the home. It guarded the grain, much in the way a housecat would in later Europe. Several deities with home protection roles had serpent associations, such as Zeus Kestos. Athena was so associated with the protection of cities that she was viewed in abstract terms as a great serpent. Her aegis is covered in scales and ringed with snakes to reenforce this association.

Barbara Walker states in her Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets under the entry Gorgon that “Gorgo, Gorgon, or Gorgopis... was the title of Athene as a death goddess.” She links the name Medusa with that of Athena's mother Metis and states that she believes that Athena was worshiped as Medusa/Metis in Libya where she was the destroyer aspect of the Egyptian goddess Neith who was called Anath among the Phoenicians and Ath-enna in Libya and North Africa.

Jane Ellen Harrison argues that the Gorgoneion is nothing more than a ritual mask, perhaps worn by Libyan priestesses in rites related to wisdom and the moon. The Orphics refer to the moon as “The Gorgon's Head”. Amazingly, an ancient image of Athena shows her winged and holding a crescent moon.

The similarities between Athena and Medusa weave an obscured but revealing pattern. Athena could no more punish Medusa than she could punish herself. Medusa, it seems, is only another older face of the complex Goddess known to us under the names Anat, Neith, Metis, Medusa, and Athena.
Sources Cited:
Theoi Project: Athena
Theoi Project: Medusa & Gorgons
Gimbutas, Marija: The Language of the Goddess.
Walker, Barbara: The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets: Athena, Gorgon, Medusa
Wikipedia: Gorgoneion

Monday, May 17, 2010

Gardening Projects

May has been a busy month for me. I started this month at the Our Haven annual Beltane festival, where I danced the maypole and frolicked in the mud.

Laurelei and I have big plans for plantings throughout the grounds this year. First there is the Aphrodite shrine which Laurelei blogged about here. It is located within a growing hedge labyrinth which we started several years ago. We also have plans for a Dionysus shrine within the labyrinth, complete with grape arbors and statuary.

At another shrine on the grounds, the White Goddess shrine, located in the orchard where our cabin sits, we are going to plant climbing blue roses and moonflowers up the four trellises supporting the dome. I've included some photos of the shrine in this post. You can see our beloved cabin in the background.

I've been hard at work on the website for this year's Women's Goddess Retreat. I gave the site a full redesign and I'm pretty pleased with it. We've submitted a proposal to the Our Haven elders planning a Women's circle on the site. We've plans to add many plantings to the circle if it gets approved. We are considering starting with fairy roses and wisteria. We'd like to add several "womanish" herbs and plants to the area like motherwort and cohosh.

Here at home we're adding some lavender to our herb garden and many veggies to our food garden: strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, and cukes.