Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Zeus; the source of generation and principle of life

"Tell ye celestial powers," continues the poet, "how first the gods and world were made; the rivers, and the boundless sea with its raging surge. Also, the bright shining stars, and wide stretched heaven above, and all the gods that sprang from them, givers of good things?"

The Muses answer, "First of all existed Chaos; next in order the broad- bosomed Earth; then Love appeared, the most beautiful of immortals. From Chaos, sprang Erebus and dusky Night, and from Night and Erebus, came Ether and smiling Day.

"But first Earth produced the starry Heavens, commensurate to herself; and the barren Sea, without mutual love. Then, conjoined with Uranos, she produced the tremendous Titans; after whom, Time, crooked in counsel, was produced the youngest, and most dreadful of her children. The Cyclops were next engendered; Brontes, Steropes, and Argos, and besides these, three other rueful sons were born to Heaven and Earth, Cottus, Briareus, and Gyes, with fifty heads and a hundred hands; haughty, hateful, and at enmity with their father from the day of their birth - for which cause, as soon as they appeared, he him them in the grottoes and caves of the Earth, and never permitted them to see the light. Meanwhile, Oceanos married to Tehys, the eldest of the Titans, produced the rivers and fountains, with three thousand daughters, properties and productions of moisture. Heaven's usurping son, Time, marrying the second sister, Rhea, had three female children, Vesta, Ceres, and Juno, and as many males; Pluto, Neptune, and designing Jove, Father of gods and men.

"No sooner was this sovereign source of light brought forth, that is, disembarrassed of heterogeneous parts, than he seized the reins of the universe, that under him at last assumed a stable form. For associating with Metis (counsel, contrivance, thought), by her supreme direction he brought his inhuman parent's progeny to light, and settled his congenial powers, each in their respective dignity; Ceres to fructify the Earth; Juno to impregnate the air; Neptune to rule the sea; and Pluto to reign in the regions below; while Saturn's first-born, Vesta, remained unmoved, the coercive band of the immense machine.

"But in this settlement he met with cruel opposition. The Titan gods (properties of matter) combined against him, and in a long and furious war endeavored to drive him, from the throne of Heaven, and reverse the recent dignities of the upstart Saturnian race. And now, the mighty frame had fallen into pristine Chaos, if, prompted by his all wise associate, he had not first made his kindred god partakers with himself of Nectar and Ambrosia (incense and immortality), and then released from dark-some durance, the predominant igneous powers, sons of Heaven and Earth, Cottus, Briareus, and Gyes, whom he called up to light and made his allies in the war. By their irresistible strength, he at last vanquished the Titan gods, and confined them fast bound in a prison waste and wild, as far under the Earth as Heaven is above it; a bulwark of brass, with three fold night brooding over it, and its gates of adamant guarded by three enormous brothers, jailers of Almighty Jove."

Here are the seeds of all things, the roots of the opaque Earth, the barren sea, and the beginning and bounds of the various orders of beings, all now shut up by the will of Jove(Jehovah), in the bottomless chasm, where darkness reigns and tempest howl, tremendous to the gods themselves. And Fable says, that things confused in this state until Honor and Reverence begot Majesty, who filled Heaven and Earth the day she was born; Awe and Dread sat down by her, all three being defended by Jove's thunders from the attacks of the Titans, have ever since remained by the side of this god, who now rules supreme, having rightly arranged all the immortals, and allotted to each their respective dignity.

But after having subdued his greatest adversaries, new dangers arose to Jupiter from his own resolutions. He married Metis, daughter of Oceanos; and it was predicated by an oracle, that she would have a son who should be endowed with his mother's strength and his father's wisdom, and rule over all the gods. To prevent this, Jupiter, with flattering allurements, drew Metis over into his own person, and soon after brought forth Minerva, who, as a full grown virgin in complete panoply, sprang from his head. A similar danger threatened him when he wished to marry Thetis, who, according to another oracle, would have a son who should be more powerful than his father.

In this manner these fictions represent that a mighty being always dreads a still mightier; for with the idea of unlimited power, every fiction ceases, Fancy having no farther scope. But to have a just conception of Jove, let us first recollect Zeno's definition of nature - that it is a plastic fire ever generating by rule; and then obey the most philosophical of all poets, when he bides us

"Look up, and view the immense expanse of Heaven,
The boundless Ether in his genial arms
Clasping the Earth. Him call thou
God and Jove."

We can judge of the propriety of his claim to dominion upon reading what Zeno considers one of the highest steps in the scale of creation. "Ether," says he, "or pure, invisible fire, the most subtle and elastic of all bodies, seems to pervade and expand itself throughout the universe. If air is the immediate agent or instrument in the productions of nature, the pure, invisible fire is the first natural mover or spring whence the air derives its power. This mighty agent is everywhere at hand, ready to break forth into action, actuating and enlivening the whole visible mass, equally fitted to produce or to destroy; distinguishing the various stages of nature, keeping up in the perpetual round of generation and corruption, pregnant with forms which it constantly sends forth and reabsorbs - so quick in its motion, so extensive in its effect, that it seems no other than the vegetative soul, or vital power of the world. This, then, is the true Zeus; the source of generation and principle of life - that heavenly, ethereal, that is, igneous nature, which spontaneously begets all things, the supposed parent of gods and men; and Fancy finding nothing in nature more pure and sublime than the Earth surrounding ethaer and sky, it was chosen by her as the archetype of the chief deity."

And what was his Hera? "The air," says the same author, "is the receptacle as well as source of all sublunary forms - the great mass or Chaos which imparts or receives them. The atmosphere that surrounds our earth contains a mixture of all the active, volatile parts of all vegetables, minerals, fossils and animals. Whatever corrupts or exhales, being acted on by solar heat, produces within itself all sorts of chemical productions, dispersing again their salts and spirits in new generations. The air, therefore, is an active mass of numberless different principles; the general source of corruption and generation in which the seeds of all things to lie latent, ready to appear and produce their kind whenever they shall light on a proper matrix. The whole atmosphere seems alive - there is every where acid to corrode and seed to engender in this common receptacle of all vivifying principles; and here is the foundation of the marriage made by the poets between these kindred gods. And when we consider at what season of the year the air is impregnated with ethereal seed, when it is that all nature teems with life, we shall not wonder at the cuckoo's being the bird of Hera carved on the top of her sceptre at Argoes, or at Zeus transforming himself into the spring's genial messenger when he first enjoyed his queen.

"Truth once lighted up shines on everything around it, and the same thread of reflection will guide us through the labyrinth of a greater mystery; for this matron goddess and patroness of marriage,became once a year a pure, unspotted vigin, upon bathing herself in a sacred fountain in the Argive territory."

As the powerful and majestic goddess, Hera typifies the quick and rapidly moving energies of the productive principle that clothes the earth in the majestic garb of the loveliness and beauty - and as the repelling and unattractive wife of Zeus, she typifies the cold frowns and chilling frosts of winter. Hence the physical allegories of their jealousies and quarrels.

Hera's chief archetype was the atmosphere which encompasses the earth, adhering in conjugal union to the ether that rests upon it; and this fiction of the marriage of Zeus and Hera is a representation of Fancy according to human notions and human relations; ridiculous, indeed, unless beheld with the poetical eye of imagination, that forms her gods after the image of men, and her men after the images of gods. And here let us not pass an unjust judgment on times of old. Antiquity is not to be viewed and explained according to the ideas and customs of modern times, any more than the plays of childhood by the earnest pursuits of maturer life, or the follies of youth by the graver wisdom of old age. While we live, as it were, in the age of reason, the ancients lived in that of imagination; and the infinite and unlimited, being to Fancy a melancholy object, , she gave life and animation to things formed and limited, in order to use them as models of her own creation. Therefore, to the boundless mass which surrounds man, the sky, earth, and sea, the ancients gave form and personality. They endeavored to unite the beauty and grace of formed objects, with the strength of the unformed and shapeless ; and as in the tall and erect body of man the solidity of the oak is joined to the pliancy of the sapling, so their creative genius connected the power of the raging elements, and the mahest of the rolling thunder, with the majestic form, the eloquent lips, the frowning brows, and the speaking eye of man. And thus is formed the image of Jupiter Olympis; that being to hands imagination entrusted so much power, must be in harmony with the human form; because the capacity for thought could only be indicated in the expressive features of the human face, and the power to rule and reign could be represented only in the majestic form of man. And yet the god must be the superior; and to such a degree rose this power of embodying high conceptions in the art of the Greeks, inspired and consecrated as it was by its subjects, that they exhibited works similar indeed, but far superior to their models; for while excluding from their productions everything contingent, they at the same time succeeded in uniting all that is essential to power, beauty, and sublimity.

In the character of their gods the leading idea of the ancients was power; the expression of which predominates in their most sublime formations. The mighty head of Zeus, from which wisdom was created, bends forward, meditating and directing the changes of events, and producing their revolutions. Among all the celestials, the power of him who rules the thunder is the most unlimited, being restricted only by the invincible will of Fate, or the wiles of the cunning Hera.

Almost every nation had its Jupiter. Among the first was Jupiter Ammon, Libya. His temple, the ruins of which are still to be seen, was in an oasis or island of verdure in the desert west of Egypt. Jupiter Serapis, worshiped in Egypt, was also very ancient, Jupiter Belus, mentioned by Herodotus, was the Jupiter of the Assyrians. The Ethiopians called him Assabinus, the Gauls Taranus, and the inhabitants of the Lower Nile, Apis. The Romans considered him the protecting deity of their empire, and styled him Jupiter Capitolinus from his chief temple on the Capitoline Hill; Jupiter Tonans, or Thunderer; Jupiter Fulminians, or Fulgurator, scatterer of lightning.

The distinguishing characteristic in all representations of Jupiter, whether by artists or poets, is majesty; and everything about him indicates dignity and authority. His look is sometimes intended to strike the beholder with terror, and sometimes with gratitude; and always to command respect and veneration. The fulmen in the hand of Jupiter was sort of hieroglyphic, having three different meanings, according to the three ways in which it was represented. The first is wreath of flame in a conical shape, like what we call the thunderbolt. This was adapted to Jupiter, when mild and calm, and was held down in his hand. The second is the same figure, with two transverse darts of lightning, and sometimes with wings on each side of it, to denote swiftness. This was given to Jupiter when he was represented as punishing.

Jupiter Pluvius is represented as seated in the clouds, holding up in his right hand, from which pours a stream of rain and hail, while his fulmen is held down to his lap. Jupiter Ammon was represented with the horns of a ram, which is accounted for by the following legend: - Bacchus being in the midst of the sands of Arabia, was seized with thirst so burning, that he longed even for a drop of water. Jupiter then presented himself in the form of a ram, and striking the earth, caused the grateful liquid to spring forth in abundance. To commemorate the deed, Bacchus erected a temple in the deserts of Libya, giving it the name of Jupiter Ammon, i.e. Sandy.

The worship offered to Zeus was the most solemn of any paid to the heathen deities; it was greatly diversified among different nations and the stories of his birth in a cave on the island of Crete, or at Thebes in Boeotia, or on a mountain in Arcadia, are but so many traditions of the several places where his worship became famous and was celebrated with the greatest pomp and ceremony. The reason of its having been so in Crete, is very evident; for these states was founded by Minos and Cadmus, two Attic princes, who introduced their national rites. But the Arcadians,whose lives were devoted to war or pasurage, in a rough, mountainous country, became afterwards a rude and fierce people and comparison to their neighbors, and yet they retained more traditions respecting the birth, education, and adventures of the gods, than the more civilized tribes of Peloponnesus. This was owing probably to their early instruction; first by the descendants of Inachos, and then by the Danaides, in the religion and rites which each brought from their own country. The victims most commonly offered, were a goat, a sheep, or a whit bull with gilded horns, though not infrequently the sacrifices consisted only of flour, salt, or incense.