The notion of symbolic death puts these stories of human sacrifice into the context of another important set of rituals, called rites of passage. Life consists of a series of moments that may be conceived of as dangerous and difficult transitions; many cultures construct practices designed to ease the passage between the stages. These transitional rites may share features with one another: for instance, in ancient Greece sacrifice, marriage and death, utilize rites of purification, garlanding, offering of locks of hair, and feasting. As a result, we sometimes see the conflation of marriage and death, or the image of the dead young woman as the bride of Hades. The ritual sacrifice and marriage perform parallel functions in that they both strengthen community ties. (Greek tragedy by Nancy SorkinRabinowitz) Continue reading
My father was a king and the son of kings. He was a short man, as most of us were, and built like a bull, all shoulders. He married my mother when he was fourteen and sworn by the priestess to be fruitful. It was a good match: she was an only child, and her father’s fortune would go to her husband.
He did not find out until the wedding that she was simple. Her father had been scrupulous about keeping her veiled until the ceremony, and my father had humoured him. If she were ugly, there were always slave girls and serving boys. When at last they pulled off the veil, they say my mother smiled. That is how they knew she was quite stupid. Brides did not smile.
When I was delivered, a boy, he plucked me from her arms and handed me to a nurse. In pity, the midwife gave my mother a pillow to hold instead of me. My mother hugged it. She did not seem to notice a change had been made.
Quickly I became a disappointment: small, slight. I was not fast. I was not strong. I could not sing. The best that could be said of me was that I was not sickly. The colds and cramps that seized my peers left me untouched. This only made my father suspicious. Was I a changeling, inhuman? He scowled at me, watching. My hand shook feeling his gaze. And there was my mother, dribbling wine on herself. )(from here) Continue reading
Achilles was the son of goddess and sea nymph Thetis and mortal Peleus. Even though he had supernatural qualities, in reality he had always been a mortal. When handsome and arrogant Achilles was an infant, prophets had predicted his early death. Thus, his loving mother, in an effort to shield his divine descent, held him from his left heel and immersed him in the waters of the Styx river to make him immortal. He was the super hero of the Trojan war and a vigorous and unrelenting fighter. When doomsday had come, Paris an insignificant fighter shot an arrow to Achilles. God Apollo who disliked Achilles, guided the arrow to the only vulnerable spot of Achilles, his left heel. At this provocative moment Thetis had tried so much to avoid, the prophecy was fulfilled. His mother mourned him for seventeen days. Even the Muses have come to sing at his lamentation, just before his cremation. Continue reading
When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon – do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.
Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.
Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.
Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.
C. P. Cavafy
The House of Atreus is one of the most famous families in mythology. Agamemnon, who led the Greeks against Troy, belonged to it. All of his immediate family, his wife Clytemnistra, his children, Iphigenia, Orestes and Electra, were as well known as he was. His brother Menelaus was the husband of Helen, for whose sake the Trojan war was fought.
It was an ill-fated house. The cause of all the misfortunes was held to be an ancestor, a King of Lydia named Tantalus, who brought upon himself a most terrible punishment by a most wicked deed. That was not the end of the matter. The evil he started went on after his death. His descendants also did wickedly and were punished. A curse seemed to hand over the family, making men sin in spite of themselves and bringing suffering and death down upon the innocent as well as the guilty. (from here) Continue reading
The ancient Greeks believed in life after death. They believed that the souls of the dead left their bodies and travelled to a new life in the Underworld. It was divided into two parts-Heaven and Hell.
The poet Hesiod described Heaven as being above the earth, in the sky where the gods and goddesses lived. He said Hell was hidden deep inside the earth. Hesiod said it would take nine days for a blacksmith’s anvil to fall to Earth from Heaven-and nine days for it to fall from the Earth into Hell. This was his way of saying how far away the two places were.
When someone died their body was washed and rubbed with olive oil. A small coin was placed inside its mouth. Finally, it was covered with a cloth. The house was cleaned and wreaths of laurel and myrtle leaves were hung inside. The family sang a sad song then, at night, the body was taken to the cemetery which lay outside the town.
After burial, the grave was filled with soil, and a mound of earth was piled on top. A grave marker, which could be a vase, a statue, or a stone, was placed on the mound. The ancient Greeks believed that the body lived inside the grave, while the soul was taken on a journey to a new life in the Underworld.
The journey to the underworld
After a dead person had been buried, their soul was taken on a journey by Hermes, the messenger god. He took them to the banks of the river Styx, the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Waiting there was a ferry man called Charon. It was his job to row souls across the river, which they paid for with the coins from inside their mouths. Once on the other side, the gloomy and frightening god Hades-whose name meant ‘the Unseen One’-took them into a place of reward or of punishment-depending on how good or bad they had been on Earth. A three-headed guard dog, Cerberus, stood at the entrance to the Underworld to stop souls from escaping.(from this book) Continue reading
The music on this web site was created by Vangelis, as art of a longer composition that he calls “Mythodea: Music for NASA’s Mars Odyssey Mission.”
Mars Odyssey team members wanted to know more, so we asked Vangelis a few questions about his personal connection to Mars and music.
Have you always been inspired by space, as you are by music?
Mythology, science, space exploration, these are subjects that have fascinated me since my early childhood. And they were always connected somehow with the music I write.I understand the world through music and I believe that music shapes the universe. Mankind has always had a sense of wonder about space, has always been curious. It’s something that’s implanted in us. It’s natural to want to travel and discover. It is, always has been, and is always going to be like this. We are space.
What fascinates you most about Mars exploration?
The stars and the planets have interested people for millennia, and Mars in particular. It doesn’t matter what each one of us believes about it — Mars has always held for mankind a sense of mystery, legend and intrigue. And man’s persistence to reach, to explore Mars, to find the much anticipated traces of life there, despite the many difficulties and set-backs incurred in trying, this persistence is amazing.
What connections do you draw between your music, the Mars Odyssey mission, and Odyssey — the great, epic tale written by Homer?
In Homer’s Odyssey, Ulysses is trying to go back to his homeland. And he goes through different adventures and difficult times for years and years. So Odyssey seems a good name for NASA’s Mars Mission, because it has been and is still an extremely difficult adventure.
You call your music for the Mars Odyssey mission: “Mythodea.” Where does that name come from?
I made up the name Mythodea from the words myth and ode. And I felt in it a kind of shared or common path with NASA’s current exploration of the planet. Whatever we use as a key; music, mythology, science, mathematics, astronomy,we are all working to decode the mystery of creation, searching for ourdeepest roots.
And whatever we find on Mars, the doors will be open to the next Odyssey, to something so many have instinctually felt for so long, something which through music I remember — that at the dawn of creation the seeds of life were likely scattered far and wide across the endless skies, and that science will continue to show us how we are connected, no different than the universe itself.
Europa’s parents were the Phoenician king Agenor and queen Telephassa. One day, while Zeus was watching the earth from the sky, spotted Europa, a pretty young lady playing with her girlfriends near the sea and immediately fell in love with her. He transformed himself into a pretty, snow white bull and descended to earth. He proposed to her that they go for a ride. She then, ascended on his back and off they went, into the deep sea. The bull reached Crete and there Zeus revealed himself. He made love to her and from this union, three sons were born, Minos, Rhadamanthus and Sarpedon, the three of whom became the three judges of the underworld when they died. Zeus also, gave her three gifts; a dart that never missed its target, a peculiar dog and a copper giant named Talos. Talos used to roam about the island and shoot at all strangers who disembarked on the island. Much later, Europa married Asterion, king of Crete who adopted her sons. Continue reading
Myth is disguised philosophy or theology, concealing its deep secrets from those who do not understand its allegories. This view prevailed amongst ancient thinkers who attempted above all to defend Homer. It was inherited by the Renaissance and last flowered in the immense, influential and wholly mistaken work of F. Creuzer, his Symbolik (1st edn, 1810-12) in which he argued that Greek mythology contained deliberately concealed eastern wisdom.
The following sample is taken from a work of the first century AD which seeks to justify Homer through allegorisation:
Overall, the wandering of Odysseus, if one cares to look at it in detail, will be found to be an allegory. Homer has taken Odysseus as a sort of tool for every virtue and used it to philosophise, since he detested the vices that feed on human life. Take for instance pleasure, the country of the Lotus-eaters, which cultivates a strange enjoyment: Odysseus exercises his restraint and sails past. Or the savage spirit in each of us: he incapacitated it with the branding instrument of his verbal advice. This is called the ‘Cyclops’, that which ‘steals away’ (hypoklopon) our rationality…..
Wisdom goes as far as Hades so that no part even of the world below should be uninvestigated. Who, again, listens to the Sirens, if he has learnt the breadth of experience [referring to Odysseus’ epithet ‘much-experienced’] contained in the accounts of every age? And ‘Charybdis’ is a good name for lavish wastefulness, insatiable in its desire for drink. Skylla is his allegory for the shamelessness that comes in many shapes: hence she is not without good reason equipped with the dogs’ heads that comprise rapacity, outrage, and greed. And the cattle of the sun are restraint of the stomach-he counts not even starvation as a compulsion to wrongdoing. (from Gender and the interpretation of classical myth by Lillian E. Doherty). Continue reading
Perseus reaches the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, in Ethiop. As he flies through the air, he sees a very beautiful young woman bolted to a rock, with the waves washing her feet. The sight moves him. This young person is Andromeda; she was put in that sorry position by her father, King Cepheus. His land is assailed by terrible plagues; the king and his people have been told that the only way to end the scourge is to hand over Andromeda to a sea monster-a creature linked to the sea, to the waters that can drown the land- and to expose her there so that the beast can come take her and have his will of her; devour or couple with her. (taken from here) Continue reading