Τρίτη, 10 Φεβρουαρίου 2015

The Allegorical Interpretation of Theseus myth.

Theseus possesses a prominent place among the Ionian heroes as he performed  a great number of challenges, took part in the Argonautic Expedition, fought with Hercules against the Amazons, but also united all the cities of Attica  giving them the name Athens to honor goddess Athena ( who had beaten  Poseidon in the fight for the city in the years of Cecrops).

Theseus’ father was Aegeus and Aethra , daughter of the king of Troezen, was his mother. Despite having already been wedded twice, Aegeus  could not have a successor. For this reason, he asked for an oracle from the sacred precinct of Apollo at Delphi. The Delphic Sibyl, gave him the following oracle. : “Do not loosen the bulging mouth of the wineskin, until you have reached Athens.”
Unable to understand the meaning of the oracle, he visited Pittheus king of Troezen renowned for his wisdom, to consult him.

Pittheus realized that Aegeus would soon have a son, and that the will of the gods was that this child be born in Athens, in order to provide continuity in the generation of the king. But he pretended he could not interpret the oracle. Pittheus who had a daughter of marriageable age Aethra, took this occasion to hold a feast in honor of Aegeus. Wine flowed abundantly, and in the end Aegeus  being drunk, spent the night with Aethra. The next morning, realizing what he had done, he  told Aethra that if a child was  acquired from  intercourse with her the previous night, the event should be kept in secret as  Pallantides , the 50 sons of his brother Pallanta, claimed his throne.

Leaving,  he  placed his  sword and a pair of sandals under a rock, and told Aethra that if the child were  a boy, when he became a teenager, he  would have  to lift the rock , take the sword and sandals and  go  to Athens to find him.

So, Aethra gave birth to a boy ,Theseus, who grew up in Troezen. He was 7 years of age, when Hercules visited Troezen. Theseus was playing with other children when they saw Hercules, approach wearing his terrible lion skin.  And while all the kids were scared and ran to hide, Theseus, believing that the lion's hide was a real lion, grabbed an ax and lunged at Hercules to kill the lion, catching him unawares!

When Theseus was 16, Aethra led him to where his father Aegeus, had left his sword and sandals. Theseus lifted the large stone with ease, and decided to go to Athens to find his father Aegeus. The lifting of the rock (world of matter) represents the ability to free oneself from such circumstances and to acquire the sandals (which would allow him to proceed on his spiritual path) and sword symbol of  the spirit. (We can find parallels in this story with King). Essentially, one’s consciousness and their heroic qualities have developed sufficiently to allow them to take further substantial steps upon their spiritual journey.

His grandfather Pittheus and his mother Aethra, begged him to travel by boat because the road was extremely dangerous and full of brigands. But Theseus wanted to defeat the brigands and become a hero like Hercules, whom he so deeply admired.

The challenges

 1. On the way to Athens, his first trial was to confront the notorious brigand Periphetes, Hephaestus’ son, who was active in  Arahneo mountain, near Epidaurus. There, Periphetes waited in ambush for passers-by to kill them with a large metal club that is why he was also called Korynitis. (the «κορύνη» means club in ancient Greek.) After Theseus killed Periphetes he took the club with him.

2. When Theseus reached Kenchreai near Corinth, he met Poseidon’s son, Sinis the Pityocamptes .  Sinis killed  passers-by  by tying them on bent pine tops  which  he suddenly released, thus , tearing his  victims in half. Sinis was defeated after a short battle and was punished in the  way his victims died,  by Theseus.

3. Passing  by Corinth, he arrived in Krommyona. There he killed the Cromyonian Sow,  Phaea, offspring of Typhon and Echidna and mother of Calydonian  and ERYMANTHOS  boar, which  caused disasters in the region.

 4. Then in Skironides Stones (current Wicked Skala), met Sciron Corinth’s son  and Pelops’ grandson, at a point where the road ended in a narrow path, which could only take  a single traveler. There  Sciron made  passers-by bend over to wash his feet. Then he kicked them and  they fell over the cliff, where a huge carnivorous turtle devoured them. Theseus  paid  Sciron in the same coin, and later went to the beach and killed the turtle  turning its shell  into a shield. 

5. At Eleusis Theseus defeated Poseidon’s son  Cercyon,  the wrestler, who challenged passers-by to a death wrestling match.  Theseus beat Cercyon at wrestling and then killed him by lifting  him high up and dropping him with force.

 6. In his sixth feat, Theseus encountered Poseidon’s son  Procrustes, the bandit. Procrustes offered hospitality to passers-by, but asked them to lie down in the two beds he had. He placed the tall ones on a short bed and the short ones on a long bed. He cut off the protruding limbs of the tall ones and stretched the limbs of the short ones to meet the bed size. After having finished with torturing them, he killed them and took their money. 

Procrustes followed the fate of the former bandits. Theseus turned the tables on Procrustes, cutting off his legs the same way he did with his victims.
Theseus was then welcomed in the Sacred Road by Fytalides offering sacrifice to Zeus, purging him of the murders he had committed.

 At that time Aegeus was married to the sorceress Medea, daughter of King Aeetes of Colchis. Medea , unlike Aegeus,  knew Theseus’ identity. Medea warned Aegeus that Theseus will come to conquer  his kingdom not revealing to him  that it was his son, who had now come of age. In this way  she persuaded him to kill Theseus when he  arrived  in Athens.

Indeed, Aegeus welcomed ​​Theseus, whose exploits had already made him famous in the city, with honors, and organized a symposium where  he offered  wine with poison, influenced by Medea’s lies.  During the ceremony of libation Theseus raised his sword to cut a piece of the sacrificed animal. At that moment, Aegeus saw the sword and the sandals, and threw the poison away  from the hands of Theseus, recognizing that this is actually his son. 

Wishing to punish Medea who had deceived   him, he  exiled  her to her home and presented Theseus to the people of Athens. His nephews (Pallanta’s sons), divided into two groups and attempted to kill Theseus. Theseus  was not fooled, as he had been informed of their intention by  herald Leos, ( the people)  and killed many of them, while those who escaped  death ,fled. Thus, Theseus with the help of "the people" as  the story indicates, ensured his dominion over Attica.

Shortly after his arrival in Athens, Theseus accompanied Hercules on retrieving the Amazon Hippolyte’s  girdle, feat.There , Theseus fell in love with the queen of the Amazons Antiope, whom he  took to Athens and married. The Amazons to avenge the rape of Hippolyte attacked Athens. Theseus, defeated them and Antiope  died battling alongside her husband. 

7. The next feat was the capture of a bull, which according to one version was the one which emerged from the sea in Crete and with which queen Pasiphae mated, giving birth to the Minotaur. The bull had been brought by Hercules from Crete at the  command of Eurystheus. On the way to Marathon there was a storm and Theseus  was offered shelter by Ekali, an elderly woman in honor of whom the area was named after, wishing  to thank  him for having killed Cercyon whose victims were both her sons. Theseus managed to capture the bull, alive. He led the bull  tied by the horns, to Athens, climbed the Acropolis where he sacrificed it on the altar of Apollo Delphinium. 

8. Later Theseus wished to put an end to the brutal toll paid by the city every nine years by sending seven young boys and seven young girls to Minoan Crete. The brutal punishment was set by Minos because Androgeos , Minos’ son , had taken part in competitions in Panathenaia achieving many victories, something which provoked envy and the Athenians killed him.  To punish the Athenians, Minos declared victorious war on Athens. The sentence he passed on was that each year seven young Athenian boys and seven Athenian girls were to be sent to Crete to be sacrificed to carnivorous Minotaur.  But who was the Minotaur?  Before becoming King, Minos  had asked Poseidon, god of the sea, for a sign as to who would ascend the throne,  his brother or himself ? The God sent a beautiful white bull and asked  Minos to sacrifice this bull to him.  Minos, however, impressed by the bull, sacrificed another bull hoping that the  God  would  not notice it. 

Neptune who realized what had happened was angered and made Pasiphae Mino’s wife, fall in love with the Taurus The woman could not satisfy her passion, and sought help from Daedalus, the engineer. He created a   hollowed out effigy of a  cow. Pasiphae  went inside, and the bull mated with her. From this illicit coupling the Minautar, a bloodthirsty -half man and half bull-  beast, was born.

Unable to tolerate the sacrifice of the Athenians, Theseus, volunteered to go with them to Crete, to be sacrificed to the formidable Minotaur.  The ship had black sails sign of mourning.  Aegeus had given them white sails to put up on their return if Theseus were victorious.

When Theseus arrived in Crete, Ariadne ,King Minos’ daughter fell in love with him. For this reason, just before the young Athenians were led in the Labyrinth (which Daedalus had invented), she gave him a ball of string(known as the Ariadne’s clue), advising him to tie one end at  the entrance to the Labyrinth and as he progressed to wind off the reel, so that he could  find his way to the exit. Theseus managed to defeat the Minotaur, saved his comrades and using Ariadne’s clue, they got out of the Labyrinth. Theseus  with his companions and Ariadne,  sailed  secretly from the port of Knossos.

On their way they stopped at Naxos (then called Dia), where Ariadne,remained, as God Dionysus appearing in Theseus dream , told them to  leave  Ariadne behind as she was  meant to become the God’s wife..  Approaching Athens  feeling on top of the world , they forgot to put up the white sails. Thus  Aegeus waiting for  his son’s   return ,  on the Sounion rock, saw  the black-sailed ship approach and concluding  that his son had died  fell into the sea and drowned . The sea was named after him The Aegean Sea.

Later in his  fifties, Theseus saw Helen of Troy  dancing  at the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia and  he wished to get her. Theseus grabbed her and left her in the care of his mother Aethra in Afidnes. It was the first time Helen was the cause of a bloody war (the second  time was in the Trojan war), as her brothers came to claim her back  so  there was a clash with defenders  of Afidne. The Dioscuri managed  to take Helen  back. They also took Aethra who later  followed Helen in Troy.

9. The Labours of Theseus end in  a rash venture. The descent with his friend Peirithoos  to Hades with intention of abducting  Persephone ( Pluto’s wife) . They entered the realm of the dead through an inlet at Cape Tainaro , deceived Charon, the boatman and managed to  pass  to  the opposite bank, alive. In the palaces of the underworld they were  stopped  by the Furies/ Erinnyes  who at  Hades behest, tied them on thrones carved on the rock of Lethe. Lethe kept both presumptive  robbers captured sunk into oblivion. The hubris they had committed invading  the Underworld, and especially their intention of abducting  Persephone, thereby upset the cosmic balance, could not be left unpunished. Salvation came through Hercules. Hercules met the two heroes when he descended in Hades to capture Cerberus. He saved the doomed Theseus freeing him, but could not do the same for Peirithoos. Theseus’ faithful friend had already been torned to pieces by Cerberus, the three-headed guardian of the gate of the Underworld. 

The end of Theseus came from king Likomidis in Skyros, when the second  one pushed him from  a cliff. Theseus’  remains were found many years later in Skyros, on Delphi oracle  recommendation. "Dig down the hill where a huge eagle, has its nest" had said the priestess.  Indeed there were  the bones of Theseus, which later were transferred to Athens and placed in today’s  Thisio, which was established as a place of worship of the hero. This is Theseus ‘ story, in a nutshell ,according to Greek mythology.  An attempt to interpret the feats on a second level of interpretation of the allegories beyond the myth
Will follow.  It should first be noted that for the ancient Greeks, heroes signalized the ability to transcend and elevate man, as heroes were thought of Divine descent.  

They symbolized the link with the past and the glorious ancestors, they were the ones who followed the difficult track, going beyond  human. This does not mean that they were not  submitted to their fate  and  the Gods’ requisitions. Through the tragic nature of their course , they were the saviours of their generation, as by  pain and death, they  came  one way or another  in triumph,  leaving  in time, legacy of man’s  longing for immortality , participation  in the Divine, the pursuit after all of the true destination of the soul. It seems that in ancient times this was achieved, with  the initiation   during ceremonies held locally.

The Initiation

Theseus was a hero who was initiated into the Eleusinian and Cretan/Minoan "mysteries", and was confronted with both visible and invisible forces, even with death (Hades), as he wanted Persephone’s rape to defeat death and the cosmic order. 

The "mysteries" had to do with events and officiating  at dark caves and temples in deep secrecy There allegorical representations were held in the myth of a deity  who usually died and was  reborn, symbolizing the soul `s  fate after death, but at the same time the unity connecting  all beings. 

The initiatory process aimed at examining  the conscience, so that the actual position of man in the universe and the self in its entirety can be understood . A universe being destroyed (dying) and created (resurrected) perpetually. The one that  was achieved by an  “extraordinary and ecstatic experience of transition" from the material to the spiritual domain, strengthened  by abolition  of the strongest human fear,  death.

The experiential initiatory death experience corresponding to  the cycle time of death and rebirth, enhanced   the primordial tradition believed that everything in the world as interconnected parts of a single homogeneous substance with quality and composition (Ancient beliefs encountered today, the findings of quantum physics). This process exceeded everyday cognition, which is why he needed special tools: symbols, pictures, non-public reason. The symbolic "initiatory Death" at such a level is the gate, the passage from matter to spirit the matrix of all beings.
Initially in primitive societies through initiation young men  and women becoming adults ,were  admitted to the tribe.. Through the ritual of initiation the  young members of the tribe coming of age, underwent  an initiatory ceremony to accept the morals, customs and traditions of the local community where they belonged and consequently their  mutual acceptance by the community. The young people were required for some time to  stay away from home , to get inured through a rigorous style of life. This was intended to eliminate child ignorance and initiate  to knowledge, learning to face hardships  and survive in adverse conditions.   The initiates  were  called through the sacred rites to accept the sacred and inviolable laws and rules of the race, and having proved its worth , “die" to  be "reborn" as an equal and adult member of the tribe.

Each ritual transition according to Arnold van Gennep  was characterized by three stages. First is the stage of "separation",during  which the individual distances him/herself  from where he/she  belonged or  the identity the person had  then. Then the person enters  the process of "transition" from the previous stage of life to  the new one. Eventually the person is in the third stage of "integration" or "accession", during which he/she  becomes a member of a new way of life. So the person goes from something old,  to something intermediate and finally to  something new. 

Man as an infant unconsciously passes three initiatory steps preparing him to join for the first time the hard external environment. Originally he is forced to leave the darkness and the safety of the mother's uterus (referring to darkness and the caves of initiatory ceremonies), then struggle and strive to acclimate to the new harsh outdoor conditions. The shock is terrible, (tests of initiatory rites) he does not wish to exit from the womb of "bliss", but finally obeying the call of nature and destination, taking the last fluids from the lungs, breathing air, tasting for the first time the milk from the breast of his mother. He belongs to a family to a country, to humanity... 
This is the first involuntary ritual transition, defined and organized by its very nature. This way somehow, the arduous journey of life begins for all of us.

Beyond the myth

The Theseus  challenges  could be considered as "initiatory stages" the hero goes through  on his way to "Divinity". The labors of Theseus  are nine. The initiation into the Eleusinian mysteries lasted for nine days, as number nine symbolizes the closing of a cycle and the beginning of another. Something that the next number, the tenth, reveals too as it consists of the unit and the zero.  Let us consider the labors one by one.

In the first task, Theseus as the first stop of initiation faces Periphetes. Periphetes is Hephaestus ‘ son (the only God who was using his hands making weapons and tools, and this was a shame for Jupiter). Periphetes uses a  bat. The bat is the  phallic symbol of strength and power, which if used irrationally it  causes pain. Pytheas’ victory  symbolizes victory over matter and violent internal impulses.

In the second feat, he faces Sinis  Poseidon’s son, ruler of the seas (the astral world and the world of emotions) . Sinis uses two pine trees. The two trees symbolize the two opposing forces at work in the universe, and how the average person can perceive the positive and the negative, the good and the bad, the male and the female. The two opposing forces which are reflected  on Mercury’s , caduceus and  the yin and yang.  When the man manages to distinguish behind the opposing forces, that unifying power which both consist of, then he  acquires a new "holistic consciousness."

In the third feat Theseus kills the sow Phaea  (dark) monsters’ daughter, symbolizing the victory in the lower passions and physical dependencies. It is not coincidental tthat they sacrificed sows for atonement in honor of Demeter and Daughter in the Eleusinian Mysteries, or that Circe transformed Odysseus's companions  into  pigs because of their greed.  In the fourth feat  he faces Sciron. The path of knowledge chosen by the adept is difficult and dangerous, as it would be faced with his worst subliminal fears (turtle) and  the risk to be terrified by them. But if you manage to overcome the trials, the challenges,   then he  will be able to control his feelings (sea) and with  humility (foot washing)  he may be able to get to know his  true  self.

The victory over the barbarian  primitive in instincts boxer Cercyon in  the fifth feat, is accomplished by symbolic "lifting" off  the ground. The initiate must be "lifted spiritually to  his superior self," conquering  balance and harmony. (See Trofonios cave) In the sixth feat  he faced Procrustes, the adept is invited to leave behind everything that is binding his spiritual evolution, while he is called to implement the teaching of "All in moderation", in his everyday life.  In the  seventh feat Theseus captured the bull that Hercules had brought to Marathon,  ordered by Minos. The bull was  sacrificed on the altar of the sun god Apollo symbolizing the radiant face of his soul. This feat should be interpreted in relation to the eighth, and they are bound by the struggle against the  bull. Theseus symbolizes the conscious self that is strong enough to face the "beasts", ie  the primitive instincts.

The Minotaur like all monstrous creatures in mythology represents  animalistic passions, mental deficiencies, defects, perversions and phobias,  which dissolve  in sunlight, ie, when the causes are enlightened by internal knowledge (Sun - Apollo). Without the force of “consciousness transformation “in this path, the mystic is in danger of being trapped in the lower aspects of creativity, related to sexuality.  The taurus also represents the matriarchal society, and the world of "the other" world of magic and invisible forces of the Moon, as its horns symbolize the moon.  The Labyrinth symbolizes the subconscious, and the unexplored aspects and potentialities of Mind. A dark  world, unknown, atrocious, and unexplored. If someone tries to enter this world  unprepared,  he will face a "monster", which is none other than the primitive and uncontrolled instincts. 

The word Labyrinth derives  from the word "labrys" which means double ax. The double ax is also a lunar symbol. Ariadne's Thread (API = very adni = pure thought) getting  Theseus out. The Cretan Labyrinth might have been an  initiatory descent ceremony and the subsequent ascent from  the Underworld,  a ritual process of death and rebirth. This is what  led the initiate to death and taught him how to return! This is perhaps reinforced by the fact that the Minotaur was named Asterios (in illustrations  he was presented with the body dotted by stars). Dionysus as a boy and child of sacraments, was addressed by this name. Dionysus seems to be identical in substance with the Minotaur. Generally where the Minoan influence was strong, Dionysus was worshiped clearly as a bull.

By killing the Minotaur, Theseus  defeated  his former "self" and after passing the threshold of death, he saw Asterios  the Divine/ Dionysian    reborn in  the supreme knowledge self in the form of celestial, cosmic child.  So-always under the guidance of Ariadne  a new integrated man, emerged . After Theseus killed the Minotaur, he took Ariadne who helped him,  with him, but passing by  Naxos  where  the “Sacred wedding ceremony”  of Ariadne and Dionysus will take place, he abandons her Historically, it is obvious that the myth also describes an era borderline, as the Minotaur represents  a matriarchal and "chthonic" priesthood. He dies  by Theseus, the bearer of patriarchal Olympian priesthood, and  the God of ecstasy Dionysus who  marries  the "chaste virgin daughter", takes his place..But, at the same time,  Dionysus is a Chthonius God. Of  the first zoomorphic forms of Dionysus the Taurus holds the leading place.  

On "Bacchae"  the Chorus  calls him  a bull, and Pentheus sees  him coming as  a bull. In Orphic myth, Dionysus the son of   Zeus and Persephone (Goddess of the Underworld),  as a baby "Zagreus" (hunter of souls), looked  in a mirror (not the perception of real situations and beings but a false reflection ...) That very moment the Titans rushed towards him to kill him with their knives. Then, to avoid them, the little God began to transform: he became an adolescent Jupiter, Saturn,  a horned snake, a horse,  a  tiger,  a bull. Hera nevertheless encourages the  Titans not  to hesitate,  and so by order they   tear Zagreus  the moment he  was a bull, boiled his  meat and ate it.

Incensed, Zeus blasted the Titans and sent them to Tartarus. From their  ashes, mankind  which bore the divine element, was born, as the Titans had eaten the God.  Dionysus Zagreus dies as a chthonic deity and rises  as "Dionysus the Deliverer"  as liberator of human souls from the bondage of matter. The death of Dionysus Zagreus symbolizes the death of his Titanic nature. Correspondingly on the human level, death of his Titanic nature symbolizes the death of his passions, namely the elimination of his deficiencies. Then he comes back to life transformed into a celestial deity, Dionysus the Deliverer.. The Orphic Dionysus is the possessor and guardian of the mysteries of life and death, the divine spirit in evolution in the universe, the heart of which must be sought in order to regenerate the human spirit and the sublimation of the soul. So he is also named "Zagreus", the  hunter 'chasing' souls and leading them out of  the body to reach "deification". 

In the cult of Dionysus "Zagreus"  people sacrificed bulls, because the god liked transforming into a bull. By eating the raw flesh of the bull  the initiates believed they assimilated the flesh of God Himself and thus came into full contact with him. After their death they believed that "Dionysus Zagreus", would recognize them and  thanks to him they would live in  other bodies, as  the Orphic believed in reincarnation.

In the ninth and last labor Theseus descends to Hades. It is the absolute moment when by  the initiatory death of his personality, union with Divinity, and the abolition of death is  being attempted ,as he  recognizes that  nothing, in fact, is lost. That everything is just a change of  situation or action and form. It is the time when everything becomes  "one", the part that all unite and nothing is separated  - even the soul. It is the time and place where the hero, the mystic or the philosopher, after having  defeated  the terrible monsters, having defeated  the darkness ,"sees the midnight  light."

The skylight, the soul of man, where we can dive in "true Abyss", from.  Plutarch describes  it  in his work On Socrates' Demon (590V): "The human soul emanated from the divine Mind. A part of it, as it mingles with the passion of matter, changes, but another wonderful part of it keeps our head  aloft  to inhale  free air, like an  airway Contact  with the  diver’s diving suit. The part existing  in the  underwater body  is called  The  Soul. Whereas  the part which  is not altered, is seen  by the majority  as a reflection  in the mirror, believing  that  it reflects  in them. But those who have  intuition, know that it is out of their body , and call it  Demon ... ".

Theseus was trapped in  the underworld/Tartarus in limbo . This is a dangerous journey because if the man loses his individuality, he can be trapped in another world, forgetting about mundane affairs. The battle must be done in the present seeking harmony and balance to equally honor matter and spirit. For this reason Hercules with his muscle strength, helped Theseus to extricate himself from oblivion, and the bonds of death. The person able to find harmony and identify "sanctity within” ‘will win the battle, manage to overcome the world of shadows and illusions, and emerge from the cave of Plato. The  goal of spiritual integration will have been achieved.

This is the mythological story of Theseus, which if explained allegorically, patterned upon Plato and the Stoics; it reveals archetypal truths that accompany man from the beginning of history until these days.  The Interpretation of Legends requires great attention and poses many risks of misinterpretation. This effort of unrevealing the archetypes motives and the allegories of the myth does not claim correctness or uniqueness of its interpretation. Moreover the doctrine has no place in the search for knowledge and history. The only certain 'message' these  stories convey, is that no dogma, no ritual can lead us to "self-realization",  but only our own honest "internal" effort..

Chletsos Vassilis

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