Monday, January 28, 2013

TLtS:Crumbs and Dogs

A friend at work and I discuss (gasp) religion.  I usually recite the scripture read at church the previous Sunday and the bits of the sermon.  We prefer sermons based on the Old Testament patriarchs, rather than the footloose and fancy-free apostles of the New Testament.  He usually regales me with excerpts from his effort to read-the-Bible-in-a-year. This time in King James, which he is finding a lot more enjoyable than other versions. 

As a parent, I just loved the reading the previous Sunday John 2:3-11; the Wedding at Cana.  Mary mentions that the wine is running low.  Jesus makes a scene like my teenage son when his mother would point out that his room needed to be picked up.  Mary’s response, to what some people consider rudeness on her son’s part?  She turns to the servants and says “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”   She doesn’t argue with her child, she just tells him how it is and expects it to be done.  What a great example of parenting! 

My buddy on the other hand is excited about Mark 7:24-28.  This is the scene starring a gentile woman with demon-possessed child.  Jesus more or less refuses to help her and calls her a dog.  Her famous response “Lord,“ she replied,“ even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”    I was about to point out how this is similar to Moses and Abraham arguing, cajoling and making deals with God in the Old Testament. (Gen 31:11, 18:23,  Num 14:12, 18:45) Expect my buddy was on roll.  “It’s like He knew what she was going to say and set her up. Jesus said, “Correct answer!  You win!”  (Mark 7:28 says something like “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” )  I immediately think of the Feast at Mecone (Hesiod, Theogony 5:45) where Zeus lets himself get “tricked” much to the benefit of mankind.  If I can give a mythical god this kind of credit for foresight and wisdom, how much more credit should I give the One True God?  My buddy proceeds to point out that Jesus was proving once and for always that the blessings of the Gospel were for gentiles too.  This seems like kind of a good point.   

So, now I re-thought the Wedding at Cana.  Scholars note that throughout the New Testament Jesus is fighting Mariology.  However, in this case, He could have done that by giving His mom a wink, pulling the wine steward aside and performing a discrete little miracle.  Instead, God in the Flesh made a scene out of the whole thing, in the process proving that He is subject to the fifth commandment.  And if God Almighty must honor His mother and father, then clearly the rest of us must!   

I’m having one of those “Duh!” moments now.  In Mark 5:24-32, when Jesus says “Who touched my clothes?”  Well, of course, He knew who touched the hem of His gown.  That’s like God entering the garden and asking Adam and Eve where they are.  Or a parent walking into a suddenly quiet room  full of toddlers and asking “What are you kids doing?”.  We all know what’s going on.  But the point Jesus made was “Daughter, your faith has healed you…”  Proving once and for always that “faith alone” is enough.   

So, now I need to review every  “scene” that Jesus makes in the Bible to see what He is really trying to point out to me and at the same time constantly recall that His wisdom is everlasting.  Like His love.


This Sunday the Gospel reading was; Luke 4:21-30 Jesus began speaking in the synagogue, saying: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth."  Then things got uglyAnd he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town,and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away. 

Clearly what I've taken from this verses all theses years is that "No man is a phrophet in his own hometown." and that it's best not to bother and best to keep your mouth shut.  But, based on the "Jesus Made a Scene" rule I should look deeper.  My buddy whose more familiar with scripture and my Pastor saw clearly that the message is that God's love isn't just for His chosen people, but extends to all.  I guess the locals didn't like hearing that. 

Of course, with all my work in Classical  Studies, where my mind went was to the cliff.  In many ancient communities it was from here that you flung the annual scapegoat.  You know, the person sacrificed for all our sins, like Jesus. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

TFBT; Inspiring Burkert

I needed definitive information on Ancient Greek prayer and sacrifice.  There is only one place to go; Greek Religion by Walter Burkert.  .  Burkert follows the faith of the Hellenes from archaic and inspired to modern and mundane.  He enlightens the reader on the evolution of Greek religion from its misty Minoan-Mycenaean beginning, through ancient rituals and sanctuaries, past the divergent worship of the Olympian, Heroic and Chthonic, on to the impact of cities, mysteries and philosophy. 

All this might seem like too much information and suggest a dry rush of the finish line, but Burkert’s prose often dallies in the sublime.  As in; “they speak of the towering heights, the rocky cliffs of Delphi and the sweet charm of sacred groves with their rustling leaves, singing birds and murmuring brooks…If ever a breath of divinity betrays some spot as the sphere of higher beings, then this is evoked by the institutionalized cult.”

Along with his explanation of the basic forms of sacrifice he enlightens us with further asides. Like mentioning that, sacrificial animals are; sheep, ox, goat and pig.  Ass and horse are excluded because they are late arrivers to Greece.  This answers in my mind the odd occurrence of horse sacrifice.  Though I still have to wonder if cost didn’t have something to do with it.  And explaining that “what is important is not that the libation reaches its destination, but that the offerer surrenders himself to the higher will in the act of serene wastefulness…What distinguishes the outpouring from other gifts of food is it’s irretrievability; what is spilled cannot be brought back.  The libation is there the purest ad and highest form of renunciation. “  

We learn a lot about the gods in general and their attitude;
·        It would be a grievous matter to rescue all the race and offspring of men.
·        the beds of the immortals are never barren - every act has issue.
·        the archaic smile becomes the gesture of sublime inevitability
·        the inextinguishable Homeric laughter of the blessed gods;
·        (In the Iliad) the gods join battle with one anther but this is no more than a harmless expression of the unique , unconstrained natural sublimity of the gods. 
·        The gods are and remain the Stronger Ones. 

Of Zeus he observes; the tragedians did not present him on stage.  And quotes for the reader’s pleasure Thetis’ visit to Zeus in the Iliad;  

“He spoke; and with blue-black brows the son of Cronus nodded,
And the ambrosial locks of the ruler flowed, waving
From his immortal head; he shook great Olympus” 

Of Apollo, “The colossal cult statue of Apollo on Delos held the three Charites, the Graces in his right hand and the bow in his left hand: according to …Callimachus, this signified that the favor of the god is prior to and stronger than the destructive power.”   “In the sixth century the temple at Delphi was engraved with… gnothi sauton, know thyself…not intended in a psychological sense or in the existential-philosophical sense…but in an anthropological sense; know that you are not a god.” “It seemed from a time to be firmly established that Apollo was an Asia Minor or specially a Lycian god… and besides he is an enemy of the Greeks in the Homeric Greek.”  “ That Delphi manifestly failed to foresee the Greek Victory in the Persian Wars and all to clearly recommended surrender badly damaged its reputation.“
Burkert jokingly refers to  Hephaestus, the violent obstetrician  in reference to Athena’s birth.  An odd little aside here (and there will be plenty more listed later) is  “The craftsman god becomes the model of the all-fashioning creator: perhaps the Iliad poet was also thinking of himself in this image.”  Is this to suggest that Homer was blind and lame? 

In referencing Hades during the Titanomachy a touch of the poet comes out in Burkert again, “During the battle of the gods, Hades leaps from this throne and roars in terror least the earth break open and his realm be exposed to the when a stone is overturned revealing putrefaction and teeming larvae.” 


Burkert does a masterful job of handling that twilight realm between Olympian and Heroic worship; where demi-gods become immortals and the historic realm where Olympic athletes  and Athenian poets gain heroic honors.  The greatest example of man to god, Olympian god is of course Heracles.  Burkert recognizes that “Heracles contained the potential to shatter the limits of Greek Religion.”  Adds that, “Heracles cults are spread throughout almost the entire Greek world - Crete is the only notable exception.  Then shares that "when the Cretans show a Grave of Zeus it only serves to prove that they are liars."   Some of his numerous examples of historic men to heroes include; “Temesa where every year the most beautiful maiden had to be taken to the (sanctuary of the local) Hero to be deflowered until the (three time boxing champion at the Olympics)  Euthymos appeared and overpowered him.  And also tells us that, “Sophocles offered shelter to the god (the recently introduced Aesculapius) in his own house until the temple was built and this brought heroic honors on Sophocles himself." 


Of men, Burkert tells us; “Thebes was destroyed about 1250 B.C”  a little historical tidbit I never heard definitively.  He says, “at Plataea (they) remained...for ten days because the omens... did not advise either side to attack. "  And that “ After the battle of Plataea, the Greeks all decide to fetch new fire from Delphi."  And that in the hubristic golden age to follow; "the Acropolis cost the city of Athens no more than did two years of the Peloponnesian War.” And finally he mentions that  A god bewailed as dead, such as Adonis is always felt to be foreign. (to the Greeks)”   Hence,   The dismemberment of Dionysus (Zagreus) …was consciously kept secret…because of the uneasiness of speaking in the light of day about the death of a god.”  “Among the Greeks: to doubt the arts of divination is to fall under suspicion of godlessness." With a  touch of humor he adds (based I assume on the similarity between the Greek word for rampart and that for veil) that  to conquer a city is to loosen her veils”  


Of superstition Burkert reports; For a distinction between chance and causal nexus there is at first neither theory nor methods; experiments can scarcely be risked.  Furthermore the gain in confidence which the signs bring as an aid to decision-making is not  so considerable that occasional falsification through experience does not tell against them.. .” The observation of the flight of birds…whether from right or left, is always of significance…right – good, left – bad is unequivocal; as a rule the seer faces north.   “Faith in signs can persist without religious interpretation  as superstitions.”  Examples are;

·        "Hesiod...warns against crossing a river without washing wickedness and one's hands."
·        "A cult image or sanctuary must always be given a  friendly greeting...even if one is simply passing by.”
·        "a sudden burst of flame from the altar fire is seen as a sign of divine presence"
·        "Pythagoreana: they could not only hear daemons, but even see them…( they were;) “not to poke the fire with a knife; not to step over a broom…not to look into mirror by light…"    The taboos listed hear strike me as odd since a number of them are taboos associated with witches ad vampires. 

Odds and Ends 

·        He mentions, ”The tree marks a sanctuary, is surrounded by a sacral enclosure and is sacred; but when a procession approaches the tree the anthropomorphic goddess is enthroned beneath it.”  “The Acropolis…the enclosed olive tree in the precinct of the Dew Goddess”.  I am reminded that this is an archetypal image, like the High Priestess in the Rider-Waite tarot deck or Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3.6)
·        Speaking of Artemis of Ephesus, he mentions “A society of men, set apart for a year and bound to sexual abstinence…they are called essenes.”  This sounds oddly like the Essene on the shores of the Dead Sea, but clearly couldn’t be.
·        “It is open to question whether the early Greeks ever had a chance to see a live lion.”  A quick Google search came up an unreferenced date of  100 A.D. for the last lion in Greece.
·        “On Mt Ida near Troy cornel-cherry trees growing in the grove of Apollo were cut down by the Greeks to make the Wooden Horse.”
·        “Birth, choes (the jug you drink wine from the first time), ephebia and marriage  these were the milestones in life.  An infant who had died had a little choes jug placed in its grave to make up for what it had missed.”  I went to see a performance of Antigone recently and in the final act I was probably the only person in the audience who understood why the title character wore a wedding dress.  

Walter Burkert built a wonderful review here of gods, heroes and men.  The book is well researched and beautifully written.  Whatever your particular interest in Greek Religion you will find it here in clear prose, moving poetry and interesting bits of knowledge.

Monday, January 21, 2013

TFBT: The Divine Descendants of Gorgophone

Aesculapius, from the marble statue in the Louvre.Gorgophone stood before the flames with her eldest boy Tyndareus, daughter Arene and the rest of the little children.  She faced the end of life as she knew it.  It ended with the cackling of the fire racing through the wood, with the whoosh as bowls of olive oil were flung into the hungry flames, with the boiling and billowing of thick black smoke rising from the pyre, with the screams of animals wild and domesticate tossed into the holocaust, with tokens of her husband’s life and gifts to the departed King Perieres.  And over all; the pale, the aura, the hair-twitching stench that universally our primordial senses can identify and which my father told me still hangs over Dachau.   

It ends with Marpessa befouled, hysterical and wailing beside her husband’s funeral pyre.  Finally, facing the fears of her youth which forced her to flee the embrace of the god Apollo to avoid this very hoary old age and this abandonment. 

It ends with Cleopatra standing in doomed Calydon.  Within and without the ruined gate lay all her kinsmen, killed in a fratricidal war.  The fields lay trampled and the land polluted.  She stands beside the searing flames, fist upraised in anger, cursing the Fates and a traitorous mother-in-law who slew her own son.  Another army approaches. 

In ends with weeping Polydora the wife of Protesilaus, the first Achaean slain at Troy.  With her husband’s death begins the first war to enflame the entire known world, then come the betrayals and the revolts in Greece, the Dorian Invasion and the attacks of the Sea People.  Civilization will fall and her culture will be destroyed.  Not since the sinking of Atlantis will so many mortals die.  That leap from the bow of his boat to the sands of Troy, was one small step for Protesilaus and one giant leap for the ancient world into the Dark Ages. 

And it could have been the end of Gorgophone.  But, Perseus’ daughter chose neither the flame nor rope nor knife.  She chose life.  And from that decision arose two powerful new family of gods; the gods of Sparta and Aescupalides.   

Gorgophone (Gorgon-slayer), the daughter of Perseus.  As soon as you hear the name you can understand the reason why it was given her.  On the death of her husband, Perieres, the son of Aeolus, whom she married when a virgin, she married Oebalus, being the first woman, they say, to marry a second time; “  Pausanias 2.21.7

But, the widow Gorgophone brought more to the marriage with her brother-in-law than her children and the legacy of Perseus.  She also brought the crown of Sparta, beside the River Eurotas. The Eurotas springs from Mt Taygetos, a range of limestone horst heavily forested in Greek Fir.  The river runs through wide, lovely Sparta; a shining hollow broken by ravines.  In this land of lovely women Gorgophone bore to her second husband; Leucippus, Aphareus (who wed his half-sister Arene), and others.   

Aphareus became King of Messene. Foreshadowing the traditions of historic Sparta, he shared the throne with his brother Leucippus.   Among Aphareus and Arene’s sons stood the inseparable brothers Idas and Lyncheus.  Lyncheus’ eyesight was superhuman sharp.  Idas was the strongest man alive, so strong indeed that when battling with Apollo for the affections of his future wife; Idas would have bettered the archer god if Zeus had not intervened.  

Tyndareus eventually replaced his step-father/uncle as King of Sparta.  Legend states that Tyndareus forgot to make due sacrifice to Aphrodite once, in revenge she cursed his daughters and made them unfaithful wives.  How odd that, though cursed two of them became goddesses.  He was the  father of  the admitted first cause of all time and all history1;  Helen of Troy.  It was Tyndareus who demanded the oath of Helen’s suitors before he allowed her to choose a husband.  It was the oath that obligated most of Greece to sail to Troy.   

From the walls of Troy Helen wondered where her brothers, the Discouri, were in the sea of warriors crashing up against the walls of Ilium.  They were called Discouri as sons of Zeus and Tyndaridae as sons of Tyndareus.  They were Castor the tamer of swift horses and glorious Polydeuces, both of whom surpassed all men in valor.  Whether over women or cattle, Castor and Polydeuces died fighting with their cousins Idas and Lyncheus.  Or had they?   

What most the world does not know even now and did not then, was that glorious Polydeuces and lovely Helen were actually the children of Zeus, King of the Gods. 

Helen never went to Troy, Zeus sent a phantom in her place.  Helen whiled away the decade upon the sun-drenched shores of the Nile.  Eventually she and Menelaus (promised the Isles of the Blest as a son-in-law of Zeus) rejoined one another and sailed home.  With the passing of more years Helen died; her mortal parts sailed off to the Island of the Blessed, where she wed Achilles and bore him the winged demigod Euphorion; named for the fertility of the land.  Her divine part returned to Sparta as goddess of trees and the savior of sailors at sea.  And she brought her brothers with her.   

The divine grandson of Gorgophone; the god Polydeuces could not bear to be separated from his mortal brother Castor.  Zeus granted Castor immortality so that he also would ride the meadows of Olympus .  They became gods of boxing and horsemanship . They aided their sister the goddess Helen in rescues at sea .  When they returned as gods to wide-lovely Sparta, they brought their wives too, the goddesses Phoebe and Hilara;  granddaughters of Gorgophone through her son Leucippus.   

Helen and the Discouri had a younger sister Philinoe, who was made immortal by Artemis, when she snatched the lass up to be one of her companions. 

Phoebe and Hilara had a sister Arsinoe who bore Apollo a son;  Aesculapius, the smoother of cruel pain.  Aesculapius was such a skilled physician that with a vial of the Gorgon’s blood  he brought his great-uncle Tyndareus back to life; making him immortal “as he did the first time, as he will forever”.2  For this blasphemy Zeus struck  Gorgophone’s great-grandson with a thunderbolt.  In revenge for his son’s death, Apollo slew the Cyclopes who’d made the weapon. 
That’s when Aesculapius returned from the dead.  He carried a snake sheaved club and became a god of almost Olympian stature.  Aesculapius continued Gorgophone’s bloodline by siring a host of gods and goddesses dealing with health and medicine; 

"By him [Aesculapius] were fathered Makhaon and Podaleirios and Iaso (Healer)--ie Paian!--and fair-eyed Aigle (Radiance) and Panakea (Panacea, Cure-all), children of Epione, along with Hygieia (Health), all-glorious, undefiled." Greek Lyric V Anonymous, Fragments 939

Image of Aesculapis provided by NY Public Library.


1         Helen in Egypt Hilda Doolittle
2         The Politics of Olympus, Jenny Strauss Clay, 2nd edition, page 28


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

VftSW: The Mormon Way

  I just finished reading Jeff Benedict’s  "The Mormon Way of Doing BusinessWhat a misnomer! It should be “The Mormon Way to Success” because Benedict discusses not just the business successes of “Nine Western Boys (who) Reach the Top of Corporate America“, but also the success in their family life and spiritual life.

But the title did catch my eye. I’ve been active in Petersburg Lutheran Church for the last two decades, but before I lived in Utah for three years. If you want to go to church in Deseret there’s only one church to attend.

Now I’m a safety officer in the federal government. A few years back while I attended a leadership program my beloved son began a management internship in the fishing industry. We were both reading a lot of management books and swapping them. So, as I began Benedict’s book I had my career and my son’s in mind as I read.

In Chapter 1, On a Mission. After graduating from high school most Mormon boys become missionaries. They are as Genesis 15:13 says “strangers in a strange land” for two long years. Missionary work ain’t easy regardless of where the church assigns you. It’ s foreign, exhausting and heart breaking; sort of like when I fought forest fires. I read about these boys on their mission acquiring leadership skills, self-confidence, interpersonal skills and the ability to deal with reality. I recognized how my post high school adventures as a hotshot benefited me the same. At the same time I could see how my son and his buddies had the same set of experiences and hard lessons as commercial fisherman. Only, they started at 14. The clincher to this line of thought was watching a Face Book video one of his friends posted of a holiday crabbing trip. There they were casually driving a commercial fishing boat, hustling commercial crab and shrimp pots on and off the deck, cracking crab , popping shrimp head and then cooking dinner with military precision.
Like Mormon missionaries and us hotshots, my son and his fellow fishermen have a drive that I don’t see in other people. Sadly over the holiday I’ve spoken to young people who’ve never worked hard, been hungry, faced life and death or planned for the future. They seemed a drift and unable to commit to anything of great significance.
Chapter 2 is “Playing Hardball”. I serve in a “management position” in a bureaucracy; crushing the opposition and buying them out, didn’t really seem to fit with my career. This chapter might apply to my son. But, upon reflection I am in completion for the souls and bodies of our employees. My competition is “slips, trips and falls”. I could crush this most common injury by convincing people to “Stroll, safely and safely through the woods.” I could but it out by purchasing appropriate footware and insist that employees wear it in the woods and in icy conditions. Maybe this chapter does apply to me.
The book deals with more than just success in business. Apparently, the Mormon religion stresses family above all else. A novel topic for a business management book. Many of the executives strive for the same sort of quality and improvement in their home lives as they did for their business. I know while my son was growing up my wife and I concentrated on making him the best person he could be. My son is grown, but my wife and I can continue to improve our family life.
Chapter 12 Suddenly Out of Nowhere; is a moving account of what happen on 9/11. Business-wise one thing that happen: when the twin towers fell, all the balls these busy executives were juggling also fell. While I read this part of the book, my wife and I were jostled awakened by an earthquake. We dressed, grabbed the dogs and headed for higher ground. No major damage. No tsunami. But, one of my wife’s workers was panicky that night. He intended to replace the foundation of his home someday and in the meanwhile his house was on “jacks”. A little bit more shaking and his house might have fallen over. The lesson for me is to not leave things up in the air, have my affairs in order, so I have resources to hand a crisis.
There is lots of good advice on living a successful life in “The Mormon Way of Doing Business; How Nine Western Boy Reach the Top of Corporate America.” I’ll end with a few quotes;
  • As the guy with the pen, you are managing…the room…the action and the follow through…after the meeting.
  • Then one day (the) mission president handed him and all the other missionaries business cards bearing the name of the Church. The reverse side of the card said: Expect a Miracle.
  • A middle-aged man standing at the head of the cabin, wearing a flight attendant’s apron and a name tag. “Hi…I’m the CEO of (this airline). I’m here to serve you today and I’m looking forward to meeting each of you before we land.”
  • His company and all of America had been dealt a bitter defeat by terrorist.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

VftSW: Friends Thou Hast, and Their Adoption Tried

Derby and Hilde spent Halloween night together in the garage as we entertained a dinner guest and the horde of ghosts and goblins that trampled our front steps.  This worked much better, than listening to Hilde’s yaps from her kennel every time little hands rapped at our door.   The only time we heard from them was that moment when every evening when some stray dog runs by the side of the house and stops to investigate the back porch.  When the excitement of the evening ended and Hilde came in, the storm hit for real.  The roof rumpled as the wind trampled over it and the rain rapped on the windows.  I heard Derby whimpering then and brought her into the study with me.  After a while with me and kiss for our guest, she was happy to head to bed.  The morning we rose in the dark on the tail of the storm and began our walk.  A young black Labrador came to visit us.  It was skittish and wouldn’t come close.  I encouraged it with words and Derby with the wagging of her tail, but it vanished into the dark.  Regardless of Derby’s insistent calls it wouldn’t return and I dragged my “pretty little girl” on down the road.   We moved away so naturally it had to follow.  We got to the empty lot at the end of the road and we waited for Derby’s friend to catch up.  It zoomed on by and ran towards the other end of the side street..  In the rain and bluster Derby could see it watching us from the shadows at the far end of the street.  But, all her whimpering and tail waging couldn’t summon a new friend.