ARCHiPELAGOS / Passages
VIII. IN TIMES OF INDIGENCE
Without Gods • We • Spell • The Aegean Islands
The Ruin of Hellas • We Talk About Shadows • A Beginning
What’s the use, […] what is the purpose
Of a poet in times of such indigence?
[…] without gods, without even
Feeling their absence, we are born,
And unable to remember, draining,
Sucking everything, even that which do not
Serve us as aliment, whatever circulates
In the bowels of the earth, its own lymph,
The one that the Argonauts even saw
Exuding, like blood, from rocks and stones
When everything sang, got injured and wounded.
• Hélia Correia (born 1949): a Portuguese novelist, playwright, and poet. She reinterpreted Hellenic myths from the point of view of female heroines, such as Antigone, Helen, and Medea. The sequence In Times of Indigence is mainly based on her acclaimed poem A Terceira Miséria (2012), a tribute to Greece, following in Friedrich Hölderlin’s footsteps. She was awarded the Camões Prize, the most prestigious literary distinction in the Lusophone world, which she dedicated to Hellas, where poetry comes from, without which we would be nothing and have nothing, as she said, concluding her speech with the exclamation Long live Greece! • Argonauts: heroes in Hellenic mythology who, in the years before the Trojan War, around 1300 BCE, accompanied Jason to Colchis, on the Black Sea coast, in present-day Abkhazia and western Georgia, in his quest to find the Golden Fleece. The term comes from their ship, Argo, named after its builder, Argus. Thus Argonauts literally means Argo sailors. • While sailing by eastern Phrygia, they encountered stormy weather and, advised by a prophet, they climbed Mount Dindymon, sacred to the mountain mother, Cybele, whom the Hellenes identified with Rhea. There they offered sacrifices to the Dindymene mother and, commanded by Orpheus, they danced in full armour and clashed with their swords on their shields… Hence from that time forward the Phrygians propitiate Rhea with the rhombus and the drum. And the goddess responded: the trees shed fruit, the earth put forth flowers, and wild animals came up wagging their tails. And she caused yet another marvel; for hitherto there was no flow of water on Dindymon, but then an unceasing stream gushed forth from the peak, and the dwellers around called that stream Spring of Jason. And then they made a feast in honour of the goddess on the Mount of Bears, singing the praises of Rhea most venerable; at dawn the winds had ceased and they rowed away from the island.
(Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica)
We, the abandoned ones, those who do not
Even perceive in what way to placate
We, the dumbfounded,
Fraternized with all the landless, we,
The destined for a bleak starvation,
Barbarians with our feet in the black tar,
Heavy drinkers of petroleum, how can it be that
Once more the square,
The Agora, unites us?
• Agora: a central spot in ancient Hellenic poleis. Literally it means gathering place, assembly. The agora was the centre of political, artistic, spiritual and athletic life of the city. Later, it also served as an economic centre, as a marketplace, where merchants kept stalls or shops to sell their goods. This attracted artisans who built workshops nearby. From this twin function of the agora as a political and commercial space came the two Greek verbs ἀγορεύω, agoreúō, I speak in public and ἀγοράζω, agorázō, I shop, I buy.
All those – not in existence
Those who have left us terrified, alone,
With no proper tools and devices,
Without these temperamental gods
Who liked to take sides during the battles.
Being transformed into pigs, by a spell,
Due to malevolence,
Oh, yes, exactly
Just like in the Odyssey,
We do not know
– and the Greeks cannot remember –
What can we do so as to
Break the spell?
• Odyssey: see Homer in ARCHiPELAGOS • VII. IMAGINARY ISLANDS.
[…] Only later […]
He who did not know how to be docile […]
Became conscious of the howl that was emitted
From all the islands, with their shorelines
And their deserted forests. […]
[…] Yes, that was
The initial misery, the desertion of
The gods. The second one, their death,
That on Pan’s death was announced
With the lament of the forests, the mournful
Clamour of the Aegean Islands. […]
What’s the use, […] what is the purpose
Of a poet in times of such indigence?
• Aegean Islands: see ARCHiPELAGOS • I. THE ARCHIPELAGO REVISITED. • Pan: the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, mountains, and pastoral music, connected to fertility and spring. He had the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat, just like a satyr. The Greeks also considered him to be the god of theatrical criticism. His name originates from the Greek verb πάειν, páein (to pasture); the word panic is derived from his name, due to the sudden fear the people felt in the mountains hearing strange animal sounds. Syrinx, a nymph known for her chastity, was also panicked when she was chased after by Pan. In order to escape, she was transformed into hollow water reeds that made a haunting sound when the god’s frustrated breath blew across them. He cut the reeds to fashion the first set of pan pipes, which are also known as syrinx. Pan became a significant figure in the Romantic movement in the 18th and 19th centuries, and also in the Neopagan movement of the 20th-century.
We, the atheists, we, the monotheists,
We, anyone reducing sheer beauty
Down to petty chores, we, the poor but
Well-adorned, the poor but feeling cozy,
Who are always willing to delude ourselves
Amazed while gazing upwards, at the towers,
Supposing that inside we could reside,
Glory of eagles with no eagles there,
We suffer, yes, from the one and same indigence,
From the ruin of Hellas.
•• Atheism: the absence of belief in the existence of deities, the rejection of belief that any deities exist. It is contrasted with theism, which is the belief that at least one deity exists. The etymological root for the word originated before the 5th century BCE from the Greek ἄθεος (atheos), meaning without god(s). The actual term atheism emerged in the 16th century. • Monotheism: the belief in the existence of only one god that created the world, where he interferes and is all-powerful. A distinction may be made between exclusive monotheism, and both inclusive or panentheistic monotheism which, while recognizing various distinct gods, postulate some underlying unity. Monotheism is distinguished from henotheism, a religious system in which the believer worships one god without denying that others may worship different gods with equal validity, and monolatrism, the recognition of the existence of many gods but with the consistent worship of only one deity.
Yes, we talk about shadows. Thinking twice,
We did burn every thing: Alexandria,
The sages and the women, […]
The noble heart. We have on our shoulders
The apparatus of the destroyers, […]:
That kind of arrogance
Out of which the Occident has been lost.
The third misery is this one, […].
That of those who just don’t listen nor ask questions.
[…] don’t remember. And, contrary
To the exalted Pericles, they turn to
Be one with […] those who surrender,
Those who shall mix themselves like a liquid
Within a liquid mass, the form is lost,
The statue is turned into dust.
All the squares
Seem like agoras of yore, astounded
By the concentration of organisms,
By the use of the word, the passionate
And fervent word of democracy […]
• Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827): a German composer and pianist, a crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music. He remains one of the most famous and influential of all composers. • His Third Symphony, a large-scale composition completed in early 1804, is one of his most celebrated works. Initially he dedicated it to Napoleon Buonaparte (its original title), who he believed embodied the democratic and anti-monarchical ideals of the French Revolution. He tore off the dedication when he learned that Napoleon had declared himself Emperor. The score was published in 1806 under the Italian title Sinfonia Eroica, composta per festeggiare il sovvenire di un grande Uomo (Heroic Symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great Man). When informed of Napoleon’s death (1821), Beethoven said, I wrote the music for this sad event 17 years ago, referring to the second movement, Marcia funebre, funeral march; Adagio assai, very slow; Sotto voce, low voice: intentionally lowering the volume of one’s voice for emphasis, giving the impression of uttering a truth which may surprise, shock, or offend. In music, it is a dramatic lowering of the volume, vocal or instrumental – not necessarily pianissimo, but definitely a hushed tonal quality.
• Alexandria: founded circa 331 BCE by Alexander the Great, it became an important centre of the Hellenistic civilization. It was famous for its Lighthouse (Pharos), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and its Great Library, the largest in antiquity, which was burned repeatedly by Romans, Byzantines, and Arabs. Its demise has become a symbol of knowledge and culture destroyed. It was part of a larger research institution, the Musaeum, where many of the most famous thinkers of the ancient world studied: Archimedes, Aristarchus, Ctesibius, Eratosthenes, Euclid, Hero, Hipparchus… Most of the books were kept as papyrus scrolls. Estimates range from 40,000 to 400,000 scrolls at its height. After the main library was destroyed, scholars used a daughter library in a temple, the Serapeum, located in another part of the city. • In 391 CE the Serapeum and the remnants of the Great Library were looted and burned by army troops and Christian fanatics, at the decrees of the Emperor Theodosius and Pope Theophilus. In The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon described Theophilus as the perpetual enemy of peace and virtue, a bold, bad man, whose hands were alternately polluted with gold and with blood. • The Great Terror in Alexandria climaxed in 415 with the brutal murder of the philosopher, mathematician and astronomer Hypatia, instigated by Cyril, Theophilus’ nephew and successor, counted among the Church Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and canonized as a Saint. In his Historia Ecclesiastica, Socrates of Constantinople, a contemporary Christian historiographer, testified that Cyril agitated a mob of 500 fanatic monks possessed by a fierce and bigoted zeal [… They] waylaid [Hypatia] returning home and, dragging her from her carriage, they took her to the church called Caesareum, where they completely stripped her, and then murdered her with ostraka [potsherds]. After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them.
• Democracy (δημοκρατία, rule of the people) was conceived in classical Greece as a system of government where the citizens exercised power directly, not through representatives. The first democracy in the world was established in Athens in 508 BCE under Cleisthenes as a direct, participatory system, in which the citizens voted directly on legislation and executive bills, while those selected for office served collectively. The selection was done mostly by lot, not election, because the latter favours the rich, noble, famous, educated, eloquent, and handsome. Allotment was regarded as the most democratic means to prevent the corrupt purchase of votes and give citizens a unique form of political equality. In this way more and more citizens were engaged in politics, ruling and being ruled in turn, as Aristotle wrote. Elected rather than chosen by lot (therefore coming from the higher classes) were the ten generals, due to their necessary expertise in matters of politics and war, and also those who handled large sums of money: any embezzlement could be recovered from their estates. The contempt the first democrats felt for those who did not participate in politics is obvious in the word idiot, from the Greek ἰδιώτης, i.e. a private person, someone who is not actively participating in politics. We do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business, Pericles declared; we say that he has no business here at all. • Pericles (c. 495 – 429 BCE): a prominent, influential statesman, orator and general, between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars, whose name is connected with the Golden Age of Athens.
What are the arms at our disposal, if not these
We find inside the body: our own thinking,
The idea of polis, but redeemed
From a great abuse, the very notion of home and
Of hospitality, too, and of commotion
From which we see the rise of the poem, from which
We’ll see the rise of the collection of our deeds
And misdeeds as humans, a beginning.
• Polis literally means city in Greek, but referring mainly to the body of its citizens rather than its area; it can also mean citizenship. The Hellenic term that specifically means the totality of urban buildings and spaces is ἄστυ (ásty). Before the Battle of Salamis e.g., the Persians managed to occupy the ásty of Athens, but not the polis, as the citizens boarded the ships of the Athenian fleet and left. In modern historiography, polis is used to indicate a Greek city-state, though this term is inadequate. The Greek poleis were not like the Phoenician city-states, which were ruled by a king or a small oligarchy, with their inhabitants being mere subjects. Thus the term polis came to signify state: politeia in Hellenic means city, but also state, republic, polity, government, governance, etc. while politeuma means regime. Not to mention politics…