Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Spriggans


Spriggans is the name given to a family of fairies in Cornish folklore, they are the closely related to the Piskies, but were generally believed to be darker and more dangerous than their mischievous cousins. Whereas Piskies are generally described as being cheerful and fun loving, Spriggans are more spiteful and full of malice, directed at humans in the form of evil tricks.

It was believed that the Spriggans haunted the lonely places such as castle ruins, barrows, certain standing stones and windswept crags. Spriggans were thought to be the source of such misfortunes as blighted crops, bad weather and illness, especially in a time when the mechanics of such things were not fully understood. They were also want to steal small children and replace them with their own kind, a common trait in many of the fairy races of folklore.

In appearance the Spriggans are described as grotesquely ugly with wizened features and crooked skinny bodies. They form part of the fairy bodyguard as described by Bottrell and Hunt, ready to dish out summary justice to those who would harm their otherworldly cousins.

In this defensive respect they could expand from their diminutive stature to giant sized proportions. Some people even believed them to be the ghosts of giants, which were once thought to have roamed Cornwall in the time before time (see Bolster, and Cormoran).

One of their common traits was to lead lonely travellers into swamps or near to dangerous and crumbling cliffs, a factor they share in common with the Will o' the Wisp and the Piskies. Although the Piskies would not lead people to dangerous places.

by Daniel Parkinson


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Cremation now allowed in Greece - Approval gathers pace


The approval of the law allowing cremation in Greece paves the way for the first incineration facilities to be built within two years

THEY may need to hold their breath for another couple of years before the first facilities are built, but many wanting to be cremated upon death will at last be able to have their final wish carried out in this country after the Council of State approved a bill allowing cremation for those whose religion permits it.

After a long campaign by community groups (mostly Muslim, Buddhist and Protestant) and humanitarian activists, the legislation allowing cremation in Greece was passed in March 2006. As a presidential decree, though, it required the approval of the country's highest administrative court to become law.

That approval came on September 25 of this year. However, as explained by Antonis Alakiotis, the president of the Committee for the Right for Cremation in Greece (CRCG), a common ministerial decision now needs to be drafted by the interior, health and environment ministries before the first incineration facilities can be built - something that he expects will take up to a year-and-a-half.

For all that, though, Alakiotis treats the Council of State's recent decision as a significant step forward in the decade-long fight.

"Most importantly, they accepted it," he told this newspaper. "Of course, we wish that it had all happened more quickly, but we have to remember where we live."

He added that this does not change the Greek Church's position of forbidding cremation for its followers.

According to the law (3448/2006), families will be able to obtain a municipal permit to cremate their dead 60 hours after the death of their relative, as long as their religion allows it.

Unless written instructions requesting cremation have been left, the relatives (up to the fourth degree) can apply for the permit. In instances where there is a difference of opinion between relatives, a local magistrate will be asked to decide.

In addition to this, the Council of State requested that the common ministerial decision make provision for others to intervene when relatives seek a traditional burial despite there being proof that the deceased had requested cremation.

It also said that it should be illegal for the urn containing the ashes to be traded, avoiding the possibility of famous people's ashes being sold.

According to Alakiotis, the ministerial decision will now specify where and how such facilities will be built. Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis has already identified the city's First Cemetery as the likely location of the country's crematorium.

Commenting on the approval of the presidential decree, Thanasis Kafezas, of the municipality's Cemeteries Department, said: "We find ourselves one step away from the establishment of cremation facilities. In around one-and-a-half years, after the environment and public works ministry has determined the last laws, the City of Athens will have its first crematorium."

Vote for rites

Cremation is becoming increasingly accepted within this country, with up to 500 Greek Orthodox Christians opting for the practice despite the psychological trauma and costs associated with travelling abroad, mostly to Bulgaria and Germany.

Famously, Maria Callas was cremated in Paris and had her ashes scattered in the Aegean and, last year, renowned winemaker Yiannis Boutaris carried out his wife Athina's last wish to be cremated - an experience which, he said, left him feeling that the Church had treated his wife as if she had committed suicide.

After taking his wife's body to Bulgaria for the cremation, Boutaris struggled to find a Greek priest to carry out Orthodox burial rites and a blessing in this country, eventually finding one in Nymphaio (a village in northern Greece) who would "take the risk".

The hope for many Greeks is that the existence of a crematorium will soften the Church's to now staunch position against the practice for its followers.

Cremation is common in all other predominantly Orthodox countries.

"I am positive," Alakiotis said. "The position of the late archbishop [of Athens and all Greece] Christodoulos and the current Archbishop Ieronymos is encouraging. It is, however, a matter for the Holy Synod [the Church's executive committee]."

Commenting on the recently approved law, Ieronymos said: "It is respected, as are all legal decisions."

"The Holy Synod knows that its churches abroad have for some time offered burial rites for those who opt for cremation," Alakiotis said. "Furthermore, it is becoming more and more common for families to stop payments for the boxes in which bones from exhumed bodies [as is traditional in this country after three years of burial] are kept. Instead, the bones are often put in a big hole and turned into ash in a chemical way. What is the difference between this and cremation?"

Cremation, he added, is the only realistic way to overcome the problem of overcrowded cemeteries.

Thrasy Petropoulos, for Athens News.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

'Anastenaria', The Ancient Ecstatic Fire-Walking Ritual of Greece


The Anastenaria is a traditional ritual of fire walking which dates back to pagan times. Barefoot villagers of Ayia Eleni near Serres, and of Langada near Thessaloniki, and other places, annually walk over hot coals. As there are variations in the ritual from place to place, the following description is largely based upon the performance of the festival as celebrated at Ayia Eleni, the most authoritative Anastenarian community, and the illustrations are from the ritual at Langada.

The communities which celebrate the Anastenaria are descendants of refugees from Eastern Thrace who arrived in Greece following the migrations necessitated by the Balkan Wars and by the later exchange of populations in 1923. Each village community of Anastenarides is headed by a “group of twelve” of which the large majority are women. They gather in a special building, or in the room of a house set aside for the purpose, called a konaki. Here on an icon shelf are kept the special icons of SS Constantine and Helen which are the most precious possessions of the community. Each has a handle so that it can conveniently be carried in processions and dances, is hung with small bells, decorated with “sacred knots” made from kerchiefs, and is covered with specially made cloth envelopes. Draped over the icons and the shelf are large red kerchiefs called simadia, which are believed to possess in themselves the power of the icons. On a table nearby offerings of oil, incense and lighted candles are kept.

On the eve of the feast of Saints Constantine and Helen (May 20th) the Anastenarides gather in the konaki, where the participants dance and sing to the music of the Thracian lyra, and a large drum. After some time, the dancing generates extreme emotional and ecstatic phenomena in the devotees, particularly in those dancing for the first time. This manifests itself in the form of violent trembling, repeated rocking backwards and forwards, and writhing. The archanastenaris hands out icons from the shelf to some of the dancers. The Anastenarides believe that during the dance they are “seized” by the saint, and enter a state of trance.

On the morning of the saints’ day (May 21st) the Anastenarides gather at the konaki before leaving together in procession, accompanied by musicians and candle bearers to a holy well, where they are blessed by the holy water. Next, they sacrifice one or several animals to the saints. In Ayia Eleni, the animal must be over one year old, and of an odd number of years of age, the most acceptable being seven. The beast must also be unmarked and it must not have been castrated. It is incensed, and then led up to a shallow pit excavated in a place previously indicated by the Archanastenaris in a trance, usually beside the roots of a tree or at the agiasma. At one side of the shallow pit candles are lighted, while, on the other stand pots of holy water and the sacrificial animal. The beast is turned upside down, with its head tilted upwards, at the edge of the pit. Its throat is cut in such a way as to allow its blood to soak into the earth. The carcass is hung and skinned to the sound of music, and the raw flesh and hide cut up into equal parts put into baskets and distributed, amongst the families of the village in a procession from house to house.

After lunch the Anastenarides gather again and resume their dancing. A candle is lit from one of the oil lamps in front of the icons, and given to a man who takes it to an open space in the village, where a cone-shaped pile of logs has been prepared. There a bonfire is lit. As the wood burns, men spread out the coals with long poles until they form a large oval bed. When the Anastenarides are informed that the fire is ready, they approach the place barefoot in procession, bearing their icons and simadia.

Initially the Anastenarides dance barefoot around the hot ashes, but when the saint moves them, individuals run backwards and forwards across the burning coals, some bearing aloft the icons. Sometimes devotees kneel down beside the fire and pound the ashes with the palms of their hands in order to demonstrate their power over the fire. The Anastenarides continue dancing over the coals until the ashes are cool, then they return to the konaki and enjoy a common meal, with music and singing. During the next two days, they process around the village visiting each house, taking care to do so always by moving in a counter-clockwise direction. On May 23rd they conclude with a second dance over the fire, this time privately.

The refugees say that in their original home, in Kosti, now in eastern Bulgaria, the ancient ceremonies were performed in full. With the outbreak of the Balkan war of 1912, the Greeks of Kosti were forced out of their village with their icons by the Bulgarians. They travelled by steamer to Constantinople, from there they were moved on Thessaloniki, finally settling in rural Macedonia. For more than twenty years they celebrated the Anastenaria only in secret, before being persuaded to perform in public in 1947. This provoked hostile response from the Church, but ecclesiastical disapproval has been counterbalanced by the active support of folklore societies, local government officials and government ministries.

According to the story told by the refugees, the origin of the Anastenaria lies in a fire which took place at Kosti in the dancing on the hot coalsthirteenth century. One night the church of Saint Constantine caught fire, and as it burned the people heard cries coming from the flames. It was the icons calling out for aid. Some villagers ran into the building and rescued them, neither the icons not their saviours being burned. Since that time, the Anastenaria has been held to celebrate their delivery. This is similar to the many stories invented to “explain” customs of unknown origin which are found across Greece. In the nineteenth century, the Byzantine scholar Anna Chatzinikolaou was able to show that the icons of the saints, today considered so important to the group, did not exist before 1833, and that all had at that time been recently repainted. There was evidence that the earliest icons depicted the red-robed Saint Helena “as if she were dancing”; clearly a serious embarrassment to a group under threat of religious persecution.

Among scholars the origins of the Anastenaria, as opposed to what the cult has become today, are a matter of considerable dispute. Although there is no evidence in ancient literature of fire-walking rituals associated with the god Dionysos, most scholars connect the Anastenaria with the widespread cult of that divinity. This association was also made by the Church authorities when they condemned the practices of the cult. Folklore scholar George A. Megas observes that “the cradle of Dionysiac worship was precisely in the Haemus area where the Anastenaria are danced today, passed down by the Greeks to the neighboring Bulgarian villages.” This latter point is made clear by the fact that the prayers used by the Bulgarian Anastenarides are recited in Greek, and that the transmission of the rites from Greeks to Bulgarian settlers in the area is a matter of historical record. Moreover, the evidence of mid-winter and carnival customs is that much that was associated with the Dionysian cult has survived throughout northern and central Greece. Katerina Kakouri has established a close connection between these customs and the Anastenaria in Ayia Eleni.

Megas has also pointed out that the state of frenzy among worshippers, observed among the Anastenarides, was characteristic of the cult of this god, whose Maenads, or female worshippers, “rushed in a frenzy over the mountains at night, lighted by torches and goaded on by the wild music of deep-throated flutes and thunddancing on the hot coalsering drums.” Certainly some observers have noted in the dance of the Anastenarides over the hot ashes, with their trance-like faces and outstretched arms, the modern successors of the infamous ancient Maenads of Dionysos, the God-intoxicated women who might, in their trance-like state, tear apart any animal they came across in their frenzied nocturnal roamings over the mountains. Of crucial importance in this context is the evidence that the modern Anastenarides may, in their frenzy, run away with the icons for a period “into the mountains”, and that this is expected as an integral part of the sacred ritual. In the last century A. Chourmouziades described how “now beside themselves, [they] run and speed like birds up the hills and into the woods and up escarpments.” D. Petropoulos observed as recently as the 1930s that “when the dance was at its height, many folk broke away in their joy and ran up towards the mountains.” This certainly recalls the frenzy of the Maenads, who roamed the mountains while out of their minds.

It would appear that in the practices of these settlers from Eastern Thrace may be found one of the most distinctive living survivals, under a very thin Christian guise, of an important part of the ancient religion of much of rural classical Greece.

by John L. Tomkinson, from 'Festive Greece: A Calendar of Tradition'.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Bear-worshipping Ainu to flourish again


A group of people from Japan's minority Ainu people bow their heads after the Japanese parliament recognised the Ainu as an indigenous people
Representatives from Japan's minority Ainu people bow their heads after the Japanese parliament recognised their indigenous status

A bear-worshipping indigenous minority of northern Japan are to receive official recognition, a move that will end 140 years of enforced assimilation and discrimination.

The Ainu, the original inhabitants of Hokkaido island, were conquered by Japan in the mid-1800s and forcibly assimilated into Japanese culture.

The Meiji government in Tokyo declared the Ainu language illegal, forced them to adopt Japanese names, redistributed their land to mainland settlers and forced them to labour in the fishing industry.

But yesterday Japan's parliament unanimously adopted a resolution to recognise the Ainu as "indigenous people that have their own language, religious and cultural identity."

Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura issued a statement saying that the government would set up a panel to draw up measures to assist the Ainu.

The Ainu are one of Japan's most marginalised groups. Government estimates put the number of people with half or more Ainu ancestry at around 50,000.

The century-long repression of the Ainu has all but rendered their dialect extinct.

The cultural differences are also significantly at odds with mainland Japanese culture.

Ainu men preferring full beards and long hair and women tattoo around their mouths for decoration.

Traditional clothing is made from tree bark and the Ainu are animists – believing that everything in their rugged homeland contains a spirit. They worshipped natural landmarks and animals, especially bears.

"The Ainu people have been waiting for this day for 140 years and we no longer have to be ashamed of being considered a minority group," said Mikiko Maruko, an Ainu woman attending a festival in Tokyo to mark the Diet's decision.

"This is a very important day for us – and for other minorities in this country," she said. "This is the beginning of our empowerment, although this is just the start of a new phase of our struggle."

Ainu elders also welcomed the announcement, which they hope will entitle them to treatment similar to the Aborigines of Australia and native Americans.

"We will take seriously the historical fact that during our country's modernization process, many Ainu people were discriminated against and were forced to live in poverty," Mr Machimura's statement said.

"Today's resolution will turn a new page in Japanese history," Tadashi Kato, director of the Hokkaido Utari Association, told a meeting of a group of politicians. "I sincerely hope you will continue to support the creation of a society with ethnic harmony."

By Julian Ryall, 'The Telegraph'.


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Cleanthes' Hymn to Zeus

Cleanthes (331-232 B.C.) was a disciple of Zeno the Stoic. He considered the universe a living being and said that god was the soul of the universe and the sun its heart.

Most glorious of the immortals, invoked by many names, ever all-powerful,
Zeus, the First Cause of Nature, who rules all things with Law,
Hail! It is right for mortals to call upon you,
since from you we have our being, we whose lot it is to be God's image,
we alone of all mortal creatures that live and move upon the earth. Accordingly, I will praise you with my hymn and ever sing of your might.
The whole universe, spinning around the earth,
goes wherever you lead it and is willingly guided by you.
So great is the servant which you hold in your invincible hands,
your eternal, two-edged, lightning-forked thunderbolt.
By its strokes all the works of nature came to be established,
and with it you guide the universal Word of Reason which moves through all creation,
mingling with the great sun and the small stars. O God, without you nothing comes to be on earth,
neither in the region of the heavenly poles, nor in the sea,
except what evil men do in their folly.
But you know how to make extraordinary things suitable,
and how to bring order forth from chaos; and even that which is unlovely is lovely to you.
For thus you have joined all things, the good with the bad, into one,
so that the eternal Word of all came to be one. This Word, however, evil mortals flee, poor wretches;
though they are desirous of good things for their possession,
they neither see nor listen to God's universal Law;
and yet, if they obey it intelligently, they would have the good life.
But they are senselessly driven to one evil after another:
some are eager for fame, no matter how godlessly it is acquired;
others are set on making money without any orderly principles in their lives;
and others are bent on ease and on the pleasures and delights of the body.
They do these foolish things, time and again,
and are swept along, eagerly defeating all they really wish for.
O Zeus, giver of all, shrouded in dark clouds and holding the vivid bright lightning,
rescue men from painful ignorance.
Scatter that ignorance far from their hearts.
and deign to rule all things in justice.
so that, honored in this way, we may render honor to you in return,
and sing your deeds unceasingly, as befits mortals;
for there is no greater glory for men
or for gods than to justly praise the universal Word of Reason.


Sunday, April 20, 2008



Βίος Γεωργίου Πλήθωνος Γεμιστού

Σχετικά με τα νεανικά του χρόνια δεν υπάρχουν πολλά ακριβή στοιχεία. Τα μεγαλύτερο μέρος του τμήματος αυτού της ζωής του πέρασε στην Κωνσταντινούπολη, ενώ για κάποιο διάστημα διέμεινε στην Οθωμανική Αυτοκρατορία, όπου μαθήτευσε κοντά στον κατά τα άλλα άγνωστο εβραίο οπαδό του Αβερρόη, Ελισσαίο. Το 1400 εγκαταστάθηκε στον Μυστρά, την πρωτεύουσα του Δεσποτάτου του Μορέως, όπου ίδρυσε φιλοσοφική σχολή. Μεταξύ των μαθητών του συγκαταλέγονται οι Βησσαρίων και Γεννάδιος Σχολάριος. Οι δεσπότες του Δεσποτάτου Θεόδωρος Α΄ (1383-1407), Θεόδωρος Β΄ (1407-1443) και Κωνσταντίνος (1428/1443-1449, ο κατοπινός αυτοκράτορας Κωνσταντίνος ΙΑ’) συχνά ζητούσαν την γνώμη του για διάφορα θέματα. Επίσης Πλήθων ήταν σύμβουλος και των τελευταίων αυτοκρατόρων του Βυζαντίου. Είχε επίσης μακρά σταδιοδρομία ως δικαστής.

Το 1438-39 συνόδευσε τον αυτοκράτορα Ιωάννη Η' στη Σύνοδο της Φεράρας-Φλωρεντίας. Επίσης μέλος της αποστολής ήταν και ο μαθητής του Πλήθωνα, ο ανθρωπιστής λόγιος και κατοπινός καρδινάλιος Βησσαρίων. Στη διάρκεια της παραμονής του στη Φλωρεντία η προσωπικότητα, η μόρφωση και η ευγλωττία του Πλήθωνα εντυπωσίασε ιδιαιτέρως τους ιταλούς ανθρωπιστές και μεταξύ αυτών τον Κόζιμο ντε Μέντιτσι.

Ο Πλήθων πέθανε υπέργηρος από φυσικά αίτια στην Λακεδαίμονα το 1450, και λόγω της καθόδου των Οθωμανών που ακολούθησε μετά από λίγα χρόνια, οι περισσότεροι μαθητές του, ανάμεσα στους οποίους και ο μετέπειτα καρδινάλιος Βησσαρίων, έφυγαν στην Ιταλία όπου συνέβαλαν σημαντικά στην λεγόμενη Αναγέννηση. Το 1466 Ιταλοί θαυμαστές του με επικεφαλής τον Σιγισμούνδο Μαλατέστα εισέβαλαν στην Λακεδαίμονα, πήραν τα οστά του και τα μετέφεραν στο Ναό των Μαλατέστα (Tempio Malatestiano) στο Ρίμινι όπου βρίσκονται μέχρι σήμερα, «για να βρίσκεται ο μεγάλος διδάσκαλος μεταξύ ελευθέρων ανθρώπων».


Ένθερμος υπερασπιστής της φυσικής και πολιτισμικής συνέχειας του Ελληνισμού («εσμέν Έλληνες το γένος, ως η τε φωνή και η πάτριος παιδεία μαρτυρεί»), βαθύς γνώστης του Πλατωνισμού, συνέθεσε πολλούς ύμνους προς τους Έλληνες Θεούς, συγκρότησε τον φιλοσοφικο-λατρευτικό «Κύκλο» του Μυστρά, και συνέγραψε τα «Περί ων Αριστοτέλης προς Πλάτωνα διαφέρεται» και «Περί Νόμων». Το τελευταίο, ένα πλήρες σχέδιο για επανελληνοποίηση της Πελοποννήσου, δυστυχώς κάηκε δημόσια μετά τον θάνατό του από τον πατριάρχη Γεννάδιο Σχολάριο, καθώς θεωρήθηκε «ειδωλολατρικό» και «σατανικό», που περιείχε υποτίθεται στις σελίδες του «τα σαπρά των Ελλήνων ληρήματα».


Μανδηλάς Κώστας, «Γεώργιος Γεμιστός – Πλήθων», Αθήναι 1997

Πρώτος ύμνος για όλο το χρόνο στον Δία.

Ζεύ πατέρα, αυτοπάτορα, πρεσβύτατε και δημιουργέ,
πανυπέρτατε βασιλέα, που τα γέννησες όλα, επιφανέστερε από όλους,
εσύ που εξουσιάζεις τα πάντα και είσαι αυτοόν και αυτοένα και το ίδιο το αγαθό·
εσύ ο οποίος από τον άπειρο αιώνα γέννησες αυτά όλα,
όσα μεν (είναι) μεγαλύτερα ο ίδιος και με αυτά τα άλλα,
(έκαμες) όπως και όσο δυνατόν, πιο καλά·
σπλαχνίσου, σώζε, οδηγώντας μαζί με όλα τα άλλα και εμάς,
διά των επιφανών παιδιών σου, πάντοτε, στα οποία μας ανέθεσες,
όπως ώρισες το πεπρωμένο μας, καθώς έπρεπε.

Δεύτερος ύμνος στους θεούς και αυτό για όλο τον χρόνο.

Επιφανή παιδιά του Διός, που υπάρχει από τον εαυτόν του και γέννησε τα πάντα
και υπαρχηγοί· εσείς οι οποίοι άρχετε σε εμάς με δικαιοσύνη,
ποτέ να μην παύσωμε να σας έχωμε οδηγούς,
ούτε να χρησιμοποιούμε λανθασμένους νόμους, αλλά αυτούς που είναι αγαπητοί σε εσάς
και αυτούς που θέσαμε εμείς μόνοι, καλώς, όσο μπορούσαμε.
Αλλά, ώ θεοί, εσείς που διευθύνετε τον ηνίοχο νου μας,
τον οποίο εσείς μας δώσατε ως προστάτη μας...
και κατά τα άλλα μας δίνετε (την δύναμι) να περνάμε καλά την ζωή μας
και (τώρα) δώστε μας (την δύναμι) να υμνούμε τελευταία τον Δία μαζί με εσάς.

Τρίτος ύμνος στον Δία, πρώτος κατά μήνα (=στις μηνιαίες τελετές).
Ο Ζευς ο μεγάλος, ο πραγματικά Ιανός, αυτοπάτορας και
προπάτορας όλων σε όσα έχουν υπάρξι και τελειωμένη γένεσι,
εσύ ο οποίος δεν κάμεις τίποτε πρόχειρα
αλλά αφ’ ότου υπάρχεις ο ίδιος και όσο (υπάρχεις)
και αυτά όμοια τα πράττεις και δεν είσαι ποτέ αργός
και δεν κάμεις τίποτε κατώτερο από την δική σου δύναμι,
πραγματικά, αρμόζει να εκτελής αυτό που είναι καλό,
εσύ που φροντίζεις για όλα, βασιλεύτατε Ζεύ,
ώ εσύ, τέλεια μακάριε· ώ εσύ που δίνεις αφειδώς τα δικά σου.

Τέταρτος ύμνος στον Ποσειδώνα, δεύτερος μηνιαίος.
Ώ, μεγάλε άναξ Ποσειδών, πρεσβύτατε υιέ του Διός,
που υπερέχεις σε όλην αυτήν (την κτίσι) στην λαμπρότητα και στην δύναμι,
όση γένεσι υπάρχει από τον Δία, έχει την δύναμι αυτήν
να άρχης και να βασιλεύης δεύτερος από τον πατέρα,
εσύ, που είσαι εξαίρετος από όλα τα άπειρα που υπάρχουν,
γιατί μόνος από όσα υπάρχουν είσαι τελείως αγέννητος.
Εσύ και αυτόν τον ευρύχωρο ουρανό με τις διαταγές του πατέρα,
άρχισες να κάμης, από τον οποίο και εμείς από εσένα γεννηθήκαμε·
σε εμάς να είσαι πάντοτε μειλίχιος (πράος) και σπλαχνικός, ώ πατέρα.

Πέμπτος ύμνος στην Ήρα, τρίτος μηνιαίος.
Ήρα, μεγάλη θεά, κόρη του μεγάλου Διός,
που έχεις σύζυγο τον Ποσειδώνα, που είσαι βέβαια αυτό που είναι,
αγαθό, μητέρα των θεών, που είναι εντός του ουρανού.
εσύ που δημιουργείς την ύλη, που είναι το υπόβαθρο στα είδη·
εσύ που δίνεις κάθε δύναμι, άλλοτε άλλη, τόσο την γενική όσο και αυτήν που μας οδηγεί στην αρετή και σε κάθε λαμπρότητα
και με αυτήν (την δύναμι) ανάγεις τους νόμους, από τους οποίους υπάρχει πλήθος σε εσένα
και συνάμα η αιωνιότητα· εσύ και σε εμάς
δίδε να ζήσωμε καλά, οδηγώντας μας σπλαχνικά στην αρετή.

Έκτος ύμνος στους Ολυμπίους θεούς, τέταρτος μηνιαίος.
Άναξ Ποσειδών, άριστο παιδί του μεγάλου Διός,
εσύ που έγινες αρχηγός από τον πατέρα, πριν από κάθε γένεσι·
εσύ και η Ήρα, η αγνή σύζυγός σου και καλή βασίλισσα.
Απόλλων και Άρτεμι και Ήφαιστε και Βάκχε
και Αθηνά, εσείς βέβαια οι επτά ανώτεροι θεοί,
από όλους τους άλλους, μετά βέβαια τον έξοχο βασιλέα που είναι υψηλά·
και εσείς οι άλλοι θεοί, που κατοικείτε στον Όλυμπο (και είσθε)
πατέρες των εκεί αθανάτων (θεών) και σε εμάς μεταξύ αυτών,
γίνετε σπλαχνικοί και ευνοϊκοί σε εμάς.

Έβδομος ύμνος στον Απόλλωνα, πέμπτος μηνιαίος.
Άναξ Απόλλων, προστάτη σε κάθε φύσι
Και ηγεμόνα που κατευθύνεις όλα τα άλλα μεταξύ τους σε ένα
Και μάλιστα αυτό το παν και πολυμερές, που είναι πολύχορδο
Πολυθόρυβο, το φέρνεις σε αρμονία·
Εσύ, βέβαια, δίνεις την ομόνοια και την φρόνησι στις ψυχές
Και την δικαιοσύνη, τα οποία είναι τα κάλλιστα από τα δικά σου (πράγματα)
Και (δίνεις) υγεία στα σώματα και κάλλος βέβαια σε αυτά·
Εσύ να μας δίδης πάντοτε την επιθυμία για τα καλά,
Άναξ στις ψυχές μας, σε ώ παιάν.

Όγδοος ύμνος στην Άρτεμι, έκτος μηνιαίος.
Βασίλισσα Άρτεμι, που ηγείσαι στην άλλη φύσι
και την προστατεύεις· αφού παρέλαβες ενιαίο σύμπαν,
έπειτα στο τέλος με διαφόρους άλλους τρόπους το ξεχωρίζεις
σε περισσότερα είδη και από τα είδη κάνεις το καθένα
και από το όλο πάλι τα μέρη· και τους συνδέσμους· εσύ δίδεις
στις ψυχές σωφροσύνη και δύναμι να διακρίνουν τα χειρότερα
και στα σώματα δύναμι και ακεραιότητα. Αλλά, ώ, εσύ, σεβαστή,
ανόρθωσε τη ζωή μας που έχει πέσει πολλές φορές,
δίδοντας κάθε τρόπο αποφυγής των αισχρών.

Ένατος ύμνος, έβδομος μηνιαίος, στους ουράνιους θεούς.
Ώ άναξ αυτού του ουρανού, Ήλιε, είθε να γίνης σπλαχνικός
και εσύ Σελήνη, είθε να είσαι σπλαχνική και ιερή βασίλισσα
και εσύ Εωσφόρε και Στίλβων, λαμπρέ ακόλουθε πάντοτε του Ηλίου
και εσείς Φαίνων και Φαέθων και Πυρόη
και όλοι οι υπαρχηγοί του Ηλίου του άνακτος,
που συνεργάζεσθε με εκείνον που πρέπει· σας υμνούμε και εμείς
γιατί είσθε οι λαμπροί προνοητές για εμάς
και εσείς τα άλλα άστρα, τα οποία έχουν αφεθή (στον χώρο) με θεία πρόγνωσι.

Δέκατος ύμνος στην Αθηνά, όγδοος μηνιαίος.
Αθηνά βασίλισσα, που έχεις είδος χωρίς καθόλου ύλη,
προΐστασαι και ηγείσαι η ίδια και εδημιούργησες αυτά
(τα δύα) μετά από τον βασιλέα όλου του κόσμου, τον Ποσειδώνα,
ο οποίος υπερέχει από εσένα σε όλο το είδος·
Εσύ, που είσαι αιτία κάθε κινήσεως που γίνεται με ώθησι
και γίνονται τα παράξενα γιατί καθένα εσύ το εξωθείς·
αλλά και από εμάς (να απομακρύνης αυτά)
αν και κάθε φορά κάνωμε κάποιο σφάλμα από την ανοησία μας,
ώ, θεά, ξυπνώντας με τον νου την ψυχή μας όταν πρέπει.

Ενδέκατος ύμνος στον Διόνυσο, ένατος μηνιαίος.
Βάκχε, πατέρα και γεννητή όλων των λογικών ψυχών,
όσες είναι ουράνιες και όσες δαιμονικές
και όσες δικές μας, μετά τον άνακτα Ποσειδώνα·
εσύ που είσαι αίτιος της κινήσεως (της ψυχής) που έλκεται
από τον έρωτα του καλού και της αναγωγής στο καλλίτερο.
Εσύ δίδε και σε εμάς που απομείναμε καλή και θεϊκώτερη
κάθε φορά ενέργεια (εμπνέοντας) την ανόητη σκέψι μας,
για να αναγώμαστε γρήγορα σε αυτήν με φρόνησι
και να μην ανοηταίνωμε για πολύ σχετικά με τα αγαθά.

Δωδέκατος ύμνος στους Τιτάνες, δέκατος μηνιαίος.
Τον δημιουργό όλης της θνητής φύσεως, τον υιό του Διός,
ελάτε να υμνήσωμε, τον άνακτα Κρόνο,
τον πρεσβύτατο από τα νόθα παιδιά του Διός,
Ταρτάροι Τιτάνες, τους οποίους βέβαια μαζί με αυτόν
υμνούμε, που είναι όλοι αγαθοί και χωρίς κακό,
αν και είσθε γεννήτορες των φθαρτών θνητών.
Και την Αφροδίτη, την ιερή σύζυγο αυτού του Κρόνου,
και τον Πάνα, τον αρχηγό των θηραμάτων και την Δήμητρα των φυτών
και την Κόρη, (την αρχηγό) του δικού μας θνητού και όλους τους άλλους.

Δέκατος τρίτος ύμνος στον Ήφαιστο, ενδέκατος μηνιαίος.
Άναξ Ήφαιστε, που ηγείσαι στους υπερουρανίους θεούς,
των Ολυμπίων και των Ταρταρίων συνάμα
και προΐστασαι μετά τον ευρυάνακτα Ποσειδώνα και δίδεις
σε καθένα την χώρα και την έδρα του·
εσύ που είσαι αίτιος ταυτοχρόνως της στάσεως και του όλου
και σε καθένα από αυτά δίδεις την αιωνιότητα.
Εσύ και ο Ποσειδών με την θέλησι του πατέρα σου·
εσύ να φρουρής και εμάς, δίδοντας (την δύναμι) να μένωμε
σταθεροί κάθε φορά στις καλές πράξεις.

Δέκατος τέταρτος ύμνος στους θεούς, δωδέκατος μηνιαίος.
Μαζί με τους άλλους θα εξυμνήσωμε και τους προσεχείς
αυτούς αγνούς θεούς, οι οποίοι θεοί μας βοηθούν πολύ καλά
με άλλα θεϊκώτερα (πράγματα) και συχνά μας δίδουν όλα τα αγαθά,
τα οποία βέβαια προέρχονται από τον ίδιο τον Δία,
και έρχονται μέσω των άλλων θεών και από εκεί σε εμάς,
άλλοι μεν καθαρίζοντας άλλοι δε ανάγοντας και άλλοι φρουρώντας
μας σώζουν ανορθώνοντας εύκολα τον νου μας·
αλλά σπλαχνικοί είθε να είσθε (σε εμάς).

Δέκατος πέμπτος ύμνος σε όλους τους θεούς και δέκατος τρίτος μηνιαίος.
Ύψιστε Ζεύ, που υπερέχεις από όλους,
όντας πρεσβύτατος δημιουργός και γεννήτορας όλων·
και εσείς όλοι οι θεοί, που είσθε στον Όλυμπο,
και εσείς οι Ταρτάριοι και οι ουράνιοι και χθόνιοι (γήινοι)·
δώστέ μας, αν (κάναμε) κάποια δεινή αμαρτία και ανόητα (ασεβή) έργα,
αφού καθαρθούμε να σας πλησιάζωμε άμεμπτα
για να είναι ευτυχισμένη η ζωή μας· και εσύ κυρίως, ώ Ζεύ,
εσύ που είσαι ανώτερος αρχηγός όλων και είσαι το πρώτιστο και το τελευταίο αγαθό (βοήθησέ μας).

Δέκατος έκτος ύμνος στον Δία και πρώτος από τους ιερούς.
Ώ Ζεύ, που είσαι τελείως αγέννητος και αυθύπαρκτος,
και γέννησες όλα και φροντίζεις γι’ αυτά, που τα έχεις όλα μόνα μέσα σου,
κάθε ένα και τίποτε χωριστό, από όπου καθένα προχωρεί χωριστά,
κάνοντας έτσι ενιαίο και συνολικό το έργο ώστε να είναι πολύ πλήρες και ωραίο,
όσο ήταν δυνατόν, γιατί είσαι ένα και τελείως χωρίς φθόνο.
Αλλά, ώ Ζεύ, εσύ με τα λαμπρά παιδιά σου να μας οδηγής μαζί με το όλον
κατευθύνοντας όπου έχεις αποφασίσει· και δίδοντάς μας να κάνωμε καλές αρχές
και να φέρωμε σε πέρας τις πράξεις μας.

Δέκατος έβδομος ύμνος στους Ολυμπίους θεούς, δεύτερος από τους ιερούς.
Εμπρός να υμνήσωμε τον άνακτα Ποσειδώνα,
που είναι το πρεσβύτατο παιδί του Διός, πριν από όλους
και άριστος και δεύτερος αρχηγός από τον πατέρα όλης της γενέσεως
και γειτονικός σε εμάς δημιουργός· και μαζί με αυτόν την βασίλισσα Ήρα, που είναι και η πρεσβύτατη κόρη του πατέρα Διός,
ακόμη και τους άλλους θεούς υμνούμε που είναι στον Όλυμπο
και είναι από τους αθανάτους (θεούς) όλοι αυτοί αρχηγοί και αίτιοι των εδώ·
αλλά γίνετε σπλαχνικοί σε εμάς.

Δέκατος όγδοος ύμνος σε όλους τους θεούς, τρίτος από τους ιερούς.
Ώ, όλοι οι θεοί, που είσθε μετά τον εξαίρετο αγαθό Δία,
όλοι σεις είσθε τελείως άμεμπτοι και χωρίς ελάττωμα·
από εσάς κορυφαίος αρχηγός, από τον Δία, είναι ο Ποσειδών·
εσείς που είσθε υπερουράνιοι και εσείς μέσα στον ουρανό,
όλοι λαμπροί και σας υμνούμε εμείς που έχομε φύσι συγγενική
με εσάς τελευταίο. Ώ μακάριοι και εσείς, δώστέ μας από τα δικά σας,
αλλά και σε εμάς δίδοντας τα καλά και αγαθά, όσοι δεν είμαστε
πάντοτε αμελείς στην ζωή, είθε πάντοτε να μας ανορθώνετε.

Δέκατος ένατος ύμνος σε όλους τους Ολυμπίους θεούς, τέταρτος από τους ιερούς.
Ώ άναξ Κρόνε, που άρχεις στους υπερουράνιους θεούς
και τους κυβερνάς· εσύ ηγείσαι σε όλον αυτόν τον ουρανό, Ήλιε,
στον οποίο ακολουθούν ως πλανήτες οι άλλοι·
από τους οποίους εξεβλάστησε όλη η γενεά των θνητών
και από τους δύο σας, δηλαδή από τον Κρόνο και τον Ήλιο·
και Τιτάνες και πλανήτες υπαρχηγοί αυτών, που συνεργάζεσθε άλλοι σε άλλα,
και εσάς υμνούμε εμείς (γιατί) συχνά από εσάς έχομε τα αγαθά·
μαζί δε με εσάς και τα απλανή άστρα, εσάς τους αγνούς δαίμονες (υμνούμε).

Εικοστός ύμνος στον Πλούτωνα, πέμπτος από τους ιερούς.
Ώ άναξ Πλούτων, αρχηγέ της ανθρωπίνης φύσεως
και προστάτη, που πήρες αυτό (το αξίωμα) από τον Δία,
το καθένα και όλα, που υπάρχουν χωριστά σε εμάς
και μπορεί να υπάρξουν, τα έχεις και προΐστασαι
τελείως σε εμάς εδώ και από εδώ πάλι πάντοτε μας ανάγεις εκεί·
γύρω από εσένα (είναι) οι ήρωες και η εξέχουσα φύσι μας
και οι άλλοι φίλοι μας οι καλοί και αγαθοί· με εσένα Κόρη, η αγαθή Ταρτάρια θεά συζή,
εμείς οι θνητοί (σε) έχομε ανάγκη· είθε να γίνης σπλαχνικός.

Εικοστός πρώτος ύμνος στον Δία, έκτος από τους ιερούς.
Ζεύ πατέρα, που πράττεις μεγάλα έργα, παντοδύναμε και αρχηγέ
που γέννησες τα πάντα· από τον δικό σου νου, που είναι εξαίρετα
καλός, ούτε εμείς γεννηθήκαμε άμοιροι (αμέτοχοι) των καλών που έχουν οι θεοί,
αλλά υποκείμεθα στην αναγκαιότητα του θνητού (σώματος) και είμαστε και επιρρεπείς στην αμαρτία
καθώς και ικανοί πάντοτε για επανόρθωσι. Δώσέ μας (την δυνατότητα) και τώρα, αφού απαλλαγούμε
από την κακότητα των αμαρτιών μας
μέσω των παιδιών σου, στα οποία μας ανέθεσες, να (σε) πλησιάζουν
αυτοί που είναι όσιοι και έχουν ορθό νου, για να συνυπάρχωμε (με εσένα) κάθε φορά, σαν με κάποιο πράο και σπλαχνικό (θεό).

Εικοστός δεύτερος ύμνος, που ψάλλεται την δεύτερη ημέρα και πρώτος από τους ημερησίους.
Είθε, ώ μακάριοι θεοί, να μην πάψω να σας ευγνωμονώ
για όλα τα αγαθά που έχουν δημιουργηθή (αλλά) και προέρχονται
από εσάς και τα οποία τελικά τα δίνει ο Ζευς.
Είθε να μην παραμελήσω, όσο μπορώ, το αγαθό γένος μου·
(είθε) να είμαι πρόθυμος να ασχολούμαι καλώς με τα κοινά
και αυτό να το θεωρώ μεγάλο όφελός μου.
(Είθε) να μην γίνωμαι (ποτέ) αίτιος κακού στους ανθρώπους,
με τους οποίους κάθε φορά συναντώμαι, αλλά (αίτιος) στο καλό, όσο μπορώ,
και είθε να γίνω κι εγώ μακάριος ομοιάζοντας με εσάς.

Εικοστός τρίτος ύμνος, που ψάλλεται την τρίτη ημέρα, δεύτερος από τους ημερησίους.
Ώ θεοί, είθε να μην έχω (ποτέ) ακράτεια στις ηδονές
αλλά να αρκούμαι στο όριο, από το οποίο δεν θα επέλθη
κάποια κακία (βλάβη) στην ψυχή και στο σώμα από αυτές (τις ηδονές).
να μην είμαι άπληστος στα χρήματα· και σε αυτά να τηρώ
το μέτρο και στο σώμα, σε ό,τι χρειάζομαι, να έχω κοσμιότητα (τάξι),
για να χαίρωμαι με αυτάρκεια. (Είθε) ποτέ να μην νικηθώ
από καμμία δελεαστική κενή δοξασία, και να γνωρίζω από αυτήν (την δοξασία) μόνο εκείνο το καλό
που μας οδηγεί στην θεϊκή και αληθινή αρετή.

Εικοστός τέταρτος ύμνος, που ψάλλεται την τέταρτη ημέρα, τρίτος από τους ημερησίους.
Είθε, ώ θεοί, να μη με καταστρέψουν οι ατυχίες, εμένα τον θνητό,
και να μη με καταβάλλουν κάθε φορά, αφού γνωρίζω ότι η ψυχή μου είναι αθάνατη,
χωριστή δε από το θνητό (σώμα) και θεϊκή.
Είθε να μη με ταράσση τίποτε από τα δεινά τα ανθρώπινα
και να είμαι ελεύθερος από αυτά και να μην είμαι δούλος στις ανάγκες
κακής ιδέας· είθε να μη φείδωμαι του θνητού μου (σώματος) αλλά πάντοτε
να φροντίζω πως η ψυχή μου, η οποία είναι αθάνατη, θα είναι σε άριστη κατάστασι.

Εικοστός πέμπτος ύμνος, που ψάλλεται την πέμπτη ημέρα, τέταρτος από τους ημερησίους.
Ευτυχισμένος αυτός που φροντίζει για την αθάνατη ψυχή του,
πάντοτε, για να είναι καλλίστη, και που δεν φροντίζει πολύ
για το θνητό (σώμα), αν κάτι χρειάζεται και δεν το λυπάται.
Ευτυχισμένος (είναι) αυτός από τους ανθρώπους, ο οποίος
δεν υποδουλώνει τον εαυτόν του σε αυτούς τους αγνώμονες, που τον κτυπούν
έχοντας δε ατάραχη την ψυχή του, νικά την κακία εκείνων.
ευτυχισμένος είναι αυτός που δεν πονεί για τις πιο δυσάρεστες ατυχίες (που προέρχονται από τους θεούς)
αλλά τις υποφέρει εύκολα, θεωρώντας καλό αυτό που ωφελεί το αθάνατο μέρος του (=την ψυχή).

Εικοστός έκτος ύμνος, που ψάλλεται την έκτη ημέρα, πέμπτος από τους ημερησίους.
Ευτυχισμένος είναι αυτός, που δεν προσέχει τις ανόητες
γνώμες των ανθρώπων, αλλά σκέπτεται σωστά και με σωστή γνώμη
μελετά την θεϊκή αρετή· ευτυχισμένος αυτός που δεν επιδιώκει συνεχώς
άσκοπα και απερίσκεπτα (να αποκτήση) άπειρο πλήθος κτημάτων
αλλά τηρεί το μέτρο στις αρμονικές ανάγκες του σώματος.
ευτυχισμένος είναι αυτός που θέτει το σωστό μέτρο στις τέρψεις,
για να μην ελκυσθή η ψυχή ή το σώμα από κάποια κακία,
αλλά να συμφωνή με την θεϊκή αρετή.

Εικοστός έβδομος ύμνος, που ψάλλεται την εβδόμη ημέρα, έκτος από τους ημερησίους.
Ευτυχισμένος είναι αυτός που δεν κάνει κακό στους ανθρώπους
λόγω της δεινής ανοησίας και από πλεονεξία,
αλλά κάνει πάντοτε καλό (και είναι) όμοιος με τους μακάριους θεούς.
Ευτυχισμένος είναι αυτός που δεν αμελεί κανένα κοινό καλό
στο γένος του· αυτός που γνωρίζει περισσότερο ότι και οι θεοί
φροντίζουν για το κοινό (καλό) και (που) δεν το καταπροδίδει.
ευτυχισμένος είναι αυτός που αποδίδει ευγνωμοσύνη στους θεούς
και ξέρει ότι όλα όσα έχει (τα καλά και αγαθά προέρχονται)
κυρίως από τον Δία, που δίνει σε όλους πρώτος όλα τα καλά και τα αγαθά.


Monday, March 10, 2008

A Song to Mithras


MITHRAS, God of the Morning, our trumpets waken the Wall!
' Rome is above the Nations, but Thou art over all!'
Now as the names are answered, and the guards are marched away,
Mithras, also a soldier, give us strength for the day!

Mithras, God of the Noontide, the heather swims in the heat,
Our helmets scorch our foreheads ; our sandals burn our feet.
Now in the ungirt hour; now ere we blink and drowse,
Mithras, also a soldier, keep us true to our vows !

Mithras, God of the Sunset, low on the Western main,
Thou descending immortal, immortal to rise again !
Now when the watch is ended, now when the wine is drawn,
Mithras, also a soldier, keep us pure till the dawn!

Mithras, God of the Midnight, here where the great bull dies,
Look on Thy children in darkness. Oh take our sacrifice !
Many roads Thou hast fashioned: all of them lead to the Light,
Mithras, also a soldier, teach us to die aright!

Rudyard Kipling


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Who Was that Masked God?: The Symbolism of Dionysos in Nietzsche’s Philosophy


I. Introduction

“Yes, my friends, believe with me in Dionysian life and the rebirth of tragedy. The age of the Socratic man is over; put on the wreaths of ivy, put the thyrsus into your hand, and do not be surprised when tigers and panthers lie down, fawning, at your feet. Only dare to be tragic men; for you are to be redeemed. You shall accompany the Dionysian pageant from India to Greece. Prepare yourselves for hard strife, but believe in the miracles of your god.” (BT, 124)

These words were first published in 1871, and it was a philosophy unlike anything the west had ever seen. The Birth of Tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche’s first book, published when he was twenty-seven years old and about to assume a professorship, introduced some themes that would recur powerfully in his later works. It introduced them in such an impassioned and extravagant way, however, that the work met with some severe criticism at the time. Nietzsche himself later repudiated some of the ideas in the book, in a new preface written in 1886 and titled “Attempt at a Self-Criticism” – calling it “strange and almost inaccessible” as well as “ponderous” and “embarrassing.” (BT, 17-19) It is not difficult, however, to find the lingering echoes of the Birth of Tragedy in his later thought – the emphasis on the heroic attitude of total affirmation to life in the face of suffering, the repudiation of reason as the only valid approach to all concerns, and an enthusiastic embrace of the natural urges, instincts and passions of man.

All of this Nietzsche found in the symbol of Dionysus, the ancient Greek god of wine, ecstasy, passion, fertility, and orgiastic madness. Dionysus was also, however, the god of theater; ancient Greek drama grew directly out of the primitive religious rites honoring the power of Dionysus. It is this role of the god in tragedy that Nietzsche emphasizes, as he calls himself “the first tragic philosopher” and “a disciple of Dionysus.” But Nietzsche’s use of Dionysus as a symbol of the affirmative, overflowing and heroic life must be distinguished from the original mythic religious figure of Dionysus as a god. In latching onto the figure of Dionysus as an expression of his own philosophy, Nietzsche necessarily molds him, to some extent, to the pattern of his own philosophy. Dionysus, however, is perhaps a figure ideally suited to this sort of transformative revision.

In his original conception Dionysus was a strange, enigmatic, mysterious deity, a god of sudden metamorphoses and unexpected epiphanies. He was a god who seemed to come from somewhere else, but exactly where was never clear. He embodied many paradoxical qualities: the fertility of life and the horrors of violent death, phallicism and femininity, ecstasy and agony, wildness and civilization. He was both human and divine, the only major Olympian god born of a mortal mother; but in his divine metamorphoses he assumed various animal and plant shapes – the grapevine, the ivy, a goat, a panther, a bull, a many-headed snake.

Originally the central figure in drama, Dionysus remained its unseen presence even when theater turned to the narratives of tragic heroes for its themes. The iconographic presence of Dionysos in religious rites was often shown as a mask, decorated with ivy leaves, hanging upon a column. He remained, in many ways, an unknown god -- the god behind the mask. In Nietzsche’s thought, too, Dionysus assumes many masks. Nietzsche saw him in the prophet Zarathustra, and as the heroic Prometheus who brings the gift of fire to man; later in life, as Nietzsche was slipping off the edge of sanity, he himself signed his letters with “Dionysus.”

Assessing the meaning and importance of the figure of Dionysus in the thought of Nietzsche is neither easy nor straightforward. Although there are some later references to Dionysus and the “Dionysian,” most of them occur in the Birth of Tragedy, much of which he later repudiated. Additionally, Nietzsche’s conception of Dionysus apparently shifted over time, coming later to include many of the qualities he originally saw as Apollonian – the very opposite of Dionysus. The changing role of the Dionysian in Nietzsche’s philosophy has led some authors to dismiss or minimize its importance, especially if they rely solely upon his published writings. Other authors, perhaps wishing to redeem Nietzsche from his discipleship to that most scandalous of Greek gods, argue that Nietzsche himself was really more along the lines of Apollo than Dionysus. (Silk & Stern, 379-380)

One author who does consider the Dionysian of crucial importance is Rose Pfeffer, whose book Nietzsche: Disciple of Dionysus presents the symbol of Dionysus as a central unifying theme in Nietzsche’s system of thought, a philosophy organized around the “tragic worldview.” (Pfeffer, 17) In order to do so, however, she finds it necessary to draw not only upon Nietzsche’s later published works but also relies heavily upon the Nachlass, a large volume of Nietzsche’s unpublished writings. From these scattered bits and pieces she sews together a picture of Nietzsche’s thought that regards Dionysus as a metaphysical principle, the Ur-Eine – “primal oneness and the ground of being, ever contradictory and ever suffering; he is Heraclitean flux and becoming...he is also the will to power, the will to overcome, to affirm and to create.” (Pfeffer, 36)

The use of the Nachlass in this way is controversial; some Nietzsche scholars hold that only the published works should be assumed to reflect Nietzsche’s views, and the Nachlass should be used only sparingly, to clarify the themes contained in the published volumes. There are similar problems with citing passages from The Will to Power; this book was itself assembled from Nietzsche’s unpublished writings by his sister Elizabeth, and it’s organization of themes bears the stamp of her own questionable viewpoints. But this choice for later authors of whether to use unpublished writings, with full admission of the risks, can be seen from at least two perspectives. From one view, using the nachlass risks the error of misrepresenting Nietzsche’s thoughts; from the other view, not using the nachlass would yield an incomplete and unsatisfying picture of the overall arc of his philosophy.

Perhaps it comes down to a question of defining who or what is meant by the signifier “Nietzsche.” As a writer, he himself is perhaps something like the “will to power” -- an ever-changing river of thought pouring forth, a convergence of many disparate brooks and streams of ideas, some flowing this way and others that way, joining and separating, sometimes in concert and sometimes in conflict. Discerning the overall pattern is, of course, a matter of perspective and selection; how could it not be? It seems the true Nietzsche is as elusive and metamorphic as the true Dionysus. With this caveat in mind, perhaps we can see something to be gleaned from an interpretation of Nietzsche that places “the Dionysian” in central position. As Pfeffer readily admits, other major Nietzschean themes could also serve as the central organizing principle: the Eternal Recurrence, the Ubermensch, or the Will to Power. The theme of the Dionysian, however, lends its own peculiar insight into the thoughts of the tragic philosopher.” There is also something to be said for looking at the origins of things; and some of Nietzsche’s most radical and profound ideas first surfaced in this “birth of tragedy” – the initial and startling encounter between an enigmatic philosopher and the most enigmatic of gods.

II. Creative tension

In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche originally saw Dionysus as the polar antithesis of Apollo, the two gods in antipodal fraternal union, the wild god of music, passion, excess, and instinctual urges versus the calm god of ordered beauty, clarity and restraint. Of these two, it seemed that he saw Dionysus as the more fundamental, the deeper reality of chaos, creative destruction and suffering; with Apollo as a surface gloss to make life appear beautiful and bearable and allow for the production of art as an ameliorating illusion. These two deities, and the tendencies or attitudes labeled “Dionysian” and “Apollonian” were expressed in music and artistic images, respectively. Both were necessary, and they found their perfect synthesis in Greek tragedy, whereby the primal, raw, emotive power of music was expressed through the visual forms of the stage. Tragedy thus served as a vehicle for the Greeks to express the heroic life, which consisted in a positive “overcoming” of pessimism that expressed courage, bold ascending action, and even joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering.

The original title of the book was “The Birth of Tragedy Out of the Spirit of Music.” This reflected the primacy of music as the original expression of the Dionysian, which was later given form by the Apollonian aspects of art. In its original form, the book was also an expression of praise for the composer Wagner, who was a close friend and mentor of Nietzsche, and to whom it was dedicated, and the emphasis on the primordial power of music reflects this admiration. (BT, 31-32) The philosopher Schopenhauer was a friend of Wagner and an early influence on Nietzsche; BT also reflected some of Schopenhauer’s ideas regarding the notions of pessimism and the world as will.

But Nietzsche later had a serious falling-out with both men, and his later repudiation of several notions in BT reflects this. In particular, while both Nietzsche and Schopenhauer embraced a pessimistic view of life as essentially an arena of suffering, they had very different normative attitudes towards this descriptive pessimism. (Soll, 105, 115) Schopenhauer was seen by Nietzsche as expressing a “weak” pessimism – a response that advocates the overcoming of will by the turning of the will against itself and towards ascetic withdrawal from the world; if life is suffering, one should not pursue willed action, which can only continue the suffering. Nietzsche, in contrast, advocates precisely the opposite: heroic striving even in the face of overwhelming suffering.

This is “strong” pessimism – a pessimism that overcomes itself by saying “yes” to life, no matter what the circumstances. This is the spirit of tragedy, which is defined by Nietzsche as “pessimism and its overcoming.” (Pfeffer, 37) This, Nietzsche held, was the genius of the ancient Greeks: that they could look into the terror of the abyss and still choose to create art, a heroic art that reflects the dynamic tension of both creation and destruction, suffering and joy. The later edition of BT reflects both the ascending primacy of these notions, and a downplaying of his earlier homage to Wagner, by changing the subtitle from “The Spirit of Music” to “Hellenism and Pessimism.”

Nietzsche’s original notion of art in BT, however, was art as illusion, as a pleasing distraction to make life bearable. This notion of art as escape had also been influenced by Schopenhauer, and was later rejected by Nietzsche as an expression of weak pessimism. (Pfeffer, 34) Instead of artifice, Nietzsche came to see art as life itself, an expression of that very same overflowing abundance and instinctual energy that sustains the becoming of the world. In Nietzsche’s later preface to BT, he speaks of it as “this audacious book [that] dared to...look at science in the perspective of the artist, but at art in that of life.” (BT, 19)

This “looking at science in the perspective of the artist” is the other side of Nietzsche’s elevation of art as the sine qua non of the heroic life. At the same time Nietzsche raised aesthetics to the level of a metaphysics, he also sought to dislodge rationalism from its throne at the supposed pinnacle of Greek culture. Socrates appears as something of a villain in The Birth of Tragedy, initiating a rationalistic turn in Greek thought that would end the heroic age, turn men away from their natural impulses, rob myth of its power and bring about the death of tragedy. (Pfeffer, 43) Thus Socratic reason is seen as beginning a period of decadence in Greek culture, and a long period of decline in western civilization, continued by Plato’s rejection of the immanent in favor of the transcendent, and later Christianity’s antipathy towards nature and the body; later, even science is seen as a form of decadence.

All the these worldviews are expressions of “the ascetic ideal” and reflect a mode of thinking that divides the world into binary oppositions of good/bad, male/female, being/becoming, reason/emotion, spirit/body – and then validate one pole of the opposition and negate the other. Nietzsche, in contrast, seeks to encompass all opposites – all the clashing and conflict of life’s multivalent urges – and to bring them together into a greater organic whole. This is not a harmony of resolving all tensions, but rather a celebration of dynamic tension itself, a celebration of the rhythm and pulse of life that creates and destroys and creates again, in joy and sorrow, in a spirit of fearless play – a boundless and exhuberant overflow of life’s abundance. For Nietzsche, the dialectic process of thesis, antithesis and synthesis can never rest in a resolution; it can only take up the challenge again, and continue its lightfooted dance of opposition.

Nietzsche’s philosophy embraces both a description of life that is fundamentally pessimistic and a normative response that is affirmative, joyful and even heroic; this odd, paradoxical combination might also be viewed as an instance of this continuing, creative dynamic tension of opposites that powers the world. This positive valuation of the power of opposing forces can be seen in BT in Nietzsche’s insistence that the calm, restraining and form-giving power of Apollo, and the wild, passionate, energetic excess of Dionysus are both necessary, in art as well as life. Later, Nietzsche comes to subsume both impulses under the symbol of Dionysus, attributing to him a fundamental ambivalence that is actually closer to the original mythic view of the god in ancient Greece.

III. Connections

This full-on embrace of all of life’s contradictions is Nietzsche’s creative response to the binary dualisms of the ascetic ideal. It is a criterion for his conception of the Ubermensch – a being who embodies a pure and total affirmation of life. The Ubermensch would be someone who lives in such a way that he could pass the “test” of Eternal Recurrence: he would be willing, even enthusiastic, to have his life recur eternally, exactly as it is, in every detail. This implies a willingness to embrace the most intense of pains as well as the deepest delights of life, and in this deep “yes” to life’s ambivalence the Ubermensch could also be said to embody the Dionysian principle of extreme opposites in fruitful tension.

Indeed, there is in The Birth of Tragedy a passage which seems to foreshadow the notion of the Eternal Recurrence as a “test” – a passage which uses the criterion of one’s aesthetic response to tragedy, as a marker of the extent to which he can reject the Socratic and embrace the tragic and mythic view of life, which sees life as art rather than history:

“Whoever wishes to test rigorously to what extent he is related to the true aesthetic listener or belongs to the community of the Socratic-critical persons needs only to examine sincerely the feeling with which he accepts miracles represented on stage: whether he feels his historical sense, which insists on strict psychological causality, insulted by them, whether he makes a benevolent concession and admits the miracles as a phenomenon intelligible to childhood but alien to him, or whether he experiences anything else.”

The “anything else” is left hauntingly ambiguous, but it is clearly a response that lies at the opposite pole from Socratic criticism. It may be a willingness to relate to art, even the miracles of the stage, in a deeply emotive way as the outpouring of life itself. Tracy Strong sees in this test “a call for those who can respond to the world mythically, that is, to respond deeply to the world as it is, in itself, with no reference to any other world, positive or negative.” (Strong, 137) This sounds much like the Eternal Recurrence “test” for the Ubermensch; the Ubermensch would not choose to have any other world besides the one that is and has been and will be, because he is a being who affirms life in its totality.

If, as Pfeffer suggests, Nietzsche’s system of thought could be equally well organized around either the Eternal Recurrence or the Dionysian as a pivotal principle, then one might expect to find some relationship between these two themes. The Eternal Recurrence can be interpreted in a number of ways, as can the notion of the Dionysian. One interpretation is cosmological or metaphysical; in this view Eternal Recurrence is a claim about the way the world really is. Such a view is problematic in terms of how one defines time and exactly what state of affairs constitutes an exact recurrence. Another interpretation is the normative one. Here the important thing is an exhortation to live one’s life as if ER were true; imagine the transforming power of living in such a way as to embrace every detail of one’s life, regretting none. The normative view also runs into problems of interpretation; either it is an impossible ideal and therefore meaningless, or else the criterion must be diluted sufficiently that it ceases to be a test of the Ubermensch.

Similarly, the symbol of the Dionysian could be interpreted in various ways. Some authors read it in a limited sense, as a treatise on aesthetics, divorced from deeper implications. Some interpret Nietzsche’s exhortation to the tragic life, life as art, in an ethical or normative sense; tragedy is glorified because it makes men wise. (Berkowitz, 65) Others may even interpret it as a political statement, expressing the hope that the Germans may learn to follow the example of the Greeks in enlivening their mythic vision. (Strong, 137)

Pfeffer, however, takes a primarily metaphysical approach to the question of the meaning of the Dionysian. She identifies it with Nietzsche’s notion of the Will to Power, and the “innocence of becoming” which she interprets in a metaphysical way. “The innocence of becoming is the unity and inseparability of things we call opposites and contradictions: the unity of being and becoming, of good and evil, of freedom and necessity, of nature and man. This is the purity of nature, untouched and unspoiled by human values and goals.” (Pfeffer, 203) It is a true “beholding of the play of the cosmic forces” in Dionysian rapture., such that “in the totality of being everything is redeemed and affirmed.” (Ibid, 198) In this way Dionysus becomes the “primal oneness and the ground of being” – the “Ur-Eine.” (Ibid, 36)

Suffering, as it exists in relation to this vision, is a primal suffering – not a suffering from lack, but a suffering form “overfullness.” One might even say, it connotes suffering from an explosive exuberance. Pfeffer relates this to the German notion of Rausch, for which it is difficult to find English equivalents; it connotes intoxication, ecstatic dancing, sexual passion, and pagan religious rites, as well as the ecstasy of the artist who suffers from overabundance. It is “mixture of suffering along with feelings of vitality, joy, heightened sensitivity and power.” (Ibid, 49)

This view affirms “the furious prodding of this pain in the same moment in which we become one with the immense lust for life.” (Pfeffer 198) She relates this to Kant’s notion that “the unconscious activity of nature breaks out in the consciousness of man” – which is here given a positive valuation by Nietzsche. (Ibid.) Pfeffer also sees this notion as play, in the purest sense of the word: “Nature and art create in a playful manner, ‘building and destroying in innocence,’ disinterested in practical, utilitarian ends, unconcerned with the traditional concepts of good and evil.” (Pfeffer, 202)

The ethical views that adhere to this metaphysics of “innocent becoming” here include the familiar Nietzschean rejection of Judeo-Christian values, but Pfeffer seems to extend it even beyond this, to a place where art replaces ethics: “In the ‘innocence of becoming’ Nietzsche wants to create a conception of being that transcends moral distinctions and is free of all imperatives, all guilt and responsibility...there are no cosmic purposes and ends to which we are responsible. No one can be blamed or punished for things being as they are...” (Ibid.)

The relation of this notion of the “innocence of becoming” to the Nietzschean concept of the Will to Power can be seen in this passage from the nachlass:

“And do you know what ‘the world’ is to me? ...This world: a monster of energy, without beginning, without end...a play of forces and waves of forces, at the same time one and many,...a sea of forces flowing and rushing together, eternally changing, eternally flooding back...My Dionysian world of the eternally self-creating, the eternally self-destroying, this mystery world...’beyond good and evil,’ without goal, unless the joy of the circle is itself a goal...This world is the will to power – and nothing besides!” (WP, Book 4, #1067)

It is in this way, by taking the notion of Will to Power in a metaphysical or cosmological way, that the Dionysian may be equated with it. But this interpretation of the Will to Power is also subject to some criticism. The passage above appears to be making a metaphysical claim; but in other places, as published material in the Genealogy of Morals, the Will to Power was introduced as a thought experiment – “Suppose,” begins the pondering, “nothing else were ‘given’ as real except our world of desires and passions...” The section ends with a view of the world as “viewed from inside” – “it would be ‘will to power’ and nothing else.” (GM, 36)

One problem with taking the Will to Power (or anything else in Nietzsche, for that matter) as a metaphysical claim of the truth is that it seems to posit a “God’s-eye view” of the way things really are, beneath the world of appearances. The world of appearances, however, can only be seen from some particular angle, in some particular light – as one perspective among many. Thus, a metaphysical claim seems to conflict with Nietzsche’s views on perspectivism. However, it has also been pointed out that his theory of perspectivism conflicts with itself, if taken as a metaphysical position. The perspectivist notion is that things are always seen from a perspective and that there is no preferred perspective is “true” – so, is that notion “true?” And if so, from what perspective? Perspectivism therefore becomes paradoxical and hence what has been called a “self-consuming” concept: a concept that “requires as a condition of its intelligibility the very contrast it wishes to set aside.” (Magnus, 25) A self-consuming concept paradoxically needs its opposite to be in some sense “true” – it therefore negates itself. It can still be a useful dialectic device, however, for keeping doubts alive; it causes us to question not only the validity of the concept itself, but also our own presuppositions.

IV. Conclusion

We have looked at the relation of the concept of the Dionysian to other Nietzschean themes such as Eternal Recurrence, the Will to Power, and Nietzsche’s critique of reason and the Ascetic Ideal. Is there any way the Dionysian could be interpreted in a way as to relate it to the theme of perspectivism? We recall that, in the Orphic mythology of Greek mystery religion, Dionysos was the dismembered god, from whose ashes humans were brought into being, and whose divine spark all men therefore carried within themselves. Dionysos as the god of theater became the god behind the mask, the hidden presence behind the personality (“persona” being “mask) of every actor upon the stage, as he acts out the eternal tragic themes of heroic suffering and redemption.

If Dionysos represents, as Pfeffer posits, the will to power in all things, the “Ur-Eine” – the ground of being and its “innocence of becoming” – then he also represents the explosive, over-abundant concentration of vital energies that burst into individuation and heroic art. The process of individuation – the One becoming the Many – is precisely what bursts the “God’s-eye” view of the world into an infinitely refracted mosaic of individual perspectives. Dionysus as a god, would be a god who sees from within us, as us, from a vast multiplicity of perspectives, each of them masked by its own limitations. The very nature of the ambiguity of Dionysos, containing all polar opposites in unresolved dynamic tension, would burst forth as a world of multiplicity.

Dionysus would represent an immanent and polymorphous deity, having his being in and through the diversity of the world, in direct opposition to the transcendent vision of deity fostered by the Judeo-Christian tradition. Dionysos would become all of us, and all perspectives. Perhaps this comes close to capturing the vision of the ancient Greek mystery religions; perhaps this is even what Nietzsche had an inkling of, even in the midst of his otherwise atheistic philosophy, in his most passionately enthused moments:

“In truth, however, the hero is the suffering Dionysus of the Mysteries, the god experiencing in himself the agonies of individuation...torn to pieces by the Titans and now worshiped...this dismemberment, the properly Dionysian suffering, is like a transformation...the state of individuation as the origin and primal cause of all suffering...”

“From the smile of this Dionysus sprang the Olympian gods, from his tears sprang man...But the hope of the epopts [initiates into the mysteries] looked toward a rebirth of Dionysus, which we must now dimly conceive as the end of individuation...It is this hope alone that casts a gleam of joy upon the features of a world torn asunder...” (BT, 73-74)

This metaphysical oneness, the “Ur-Eine” of the Will to Power, does not negate or disparage the multiplicity of the world, but rather returns all things to its bosom for periodic renewal. It is the pause and resting place, the gateway of the eternal moment between destruction and creation. It expresses itself through “innocent becoming” – in the eternal pulse of nature’s rhythms, in the heroic cycles of epic tragedy, in the life-affirming bursting forth of art, in the perpetual overcoming of life by itself. Its power is that it may overcome the decadence brought about by the ascetic ideal, and its stance is at the opposite pole from the world-negating moralism and transcendence of Christianity. Nietzsche’s poignant plea in The Antichrist: “Have I been understood?...Dionysus versus the Crucified.”

Dionysus, the strange and ancient god of the Greek mysteries, was perennially dying and reborn. Today, even if he is seen as only a symbol rather than a metaphysical presence, Dionysus still may have the power to return again, to be born anew from the “death of God” and to redeem the world from the debilitating influence of Christianity. Perhaps this was the hidden promise behind the infamous proclamation of Zarathustra, that the rebirth of the dancing god of chaos will awaken the heroic spirit of affirmation: “Into all abysses I still carry the blessings of...saying Yes – But this is the concept of Dionysus once again.” (Ecce Homo, #6)


Allison, David B., editor. The New Nietzsche: Contemporary Styles of Interpretation. Dell Publishing Co. New York, NY. 1977.

Berkowitz, Peter. Nietzsche: The Ethics of an Immoralist. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. 1995.

Magnus, Bernd and Higgins, Kathleen M., editors. The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. 1996.

Magnus, Bernd; Stewart, Stanley; and Mileur, Jean-Pierre. Nietzsche’s Case: Philosophy as/and Literature. Routledge, New York, NY. 1993.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Portable Nietzsche. Trans./edited by Walter Kaufmann.

Penguin. U.S. 1953 (?) [This information has been ripped out of my used copy.]

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy & The Case of Wagner. Trans./edited by Walter Kaufmann.Random House, Toronto, Canada. 1967.

Nietzsche, Friedrich (?). (Elizabeth Foerster-Nietzsche) The Will to Power. (Excerpt from class handout.)

Pfeffer, Rose. Nietzsche: Disciple of Dionysus. Associated University Presses, Cranbury, NJ. 1972.

Sallis, John. Crossings: Nietzsche and the Space of Tragedy. University of Chicago Press, Chigo, IL. 1991.

Silk, M.S. and Stern, J.P. Nietzsche on Tragedy. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. 1981.

Soll, Ivan. Pessimism and the Tragic View of Life: Reconsiderations of Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy. In Reading Nietzsche, edited by Robert Solomon and Kathleen Higgins. Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 1988.

Strong, Tracy B. “Nietzsche’s Political Misappropriation in The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche, ed. by Bernd Magnus and Kathleen Higgins. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. 1996.

by Delia Morgan


Saturday, March 01, 2008

More On Viking Clothing


Vikings did not dress the way we thought

Vivid colors, flowing silk ribbons, and glittering bits of mirrors - the Vikings dressed with considerably more panache than we previously thought. The men were especially vain, and the women dressed provocatively, but with the advent of Christianity, fashions changed, according to Swedish archeologist Annika Larsson.

"They combined oriental features with Nordic styles. Their clothing was designed to be shown off indoors around the fire," says textile researcher Annika Larsson, whose research at Uppsala University presents a new picture of the Viking Age.

She has studied textile finds from the Lake MΓ€laren Valley, the area that includes Stockholm and Uppsala and was one of the central regions in Scandinavia during the Viking Age. The findings, some of which were presented in her dissertation last year, show that what we call the Viking Age, the years from 750-1050 A.D., was not a uniform period. Through changes in the style of clothing we can see that medieval Christian fashions hit Sweden as early as the late 900s and that new trade routes came into use then as well. The oriental features in clothing disappeared when Christianity came and they started to trade with the Christian Byzantine and Western Europe.

"Textile research can tell us more about the state of society than research into traditions. Old rituals can live on long after society has changed, but when trade routes are cut off, there's an immediate impact on clothing fashions," says Annika Larsson.

She maintains that Swedish Viking women in the pre-Christian period probably dressed much more provocatively than we previously believed. She bases her theory on a new find uncovered in Russian Pskov, close to Novgorod and the eastward trade routes then plied from Sweden. The find consists of extensive remnants of a woman's attire, which Annika Larsson claims does not square with the traditional picture of how Viking women dressed.

Previously it was thought that Viking women wore a long suspender (brace) skirt, with both the front and back pieces consisting of square sections, held together by a belt. Clasps, often regarded as typical of the Viking Age, were attached to the suspenders roughly at the collar bone. Under this dress they wore a linen shift, and on top of it a woolen shawl or sweater.

"The grave plans from excavations at Birka outside Stockholm in the 19th century show that this is incorrect. The clasps were probably worn in the middle of each breast. Traditionally this has been explained by the clasps having fallen down as the corpse rotted. That sounds like a prudish interpretation," says Annika Larsson.

She maintains instead that the Birka women's skirts consisted of a single piece of fabric and were open in front. The suspenders held up the train and functioned as a harness that was fastened to the breasts with the clasps. Annika Larsson's theory is strengthened by that fact that a number of female figures have been preserved whose outfits both have trains and are open in front. But if we are to believe the archeological finds, this style of clothing disappeared with the advent of Christianity.

"It's easy to imagine that the Christian church had certain reservations about clothing that accentuated the breasts in this way and, what's more, exposed the under shift in front. It's also possible that this clothing was associated with pre-Christian rituals and was therefore forbidden," she believes.

Fossil Science