Tuesday, August 26, 2014

TFBT: Apobatic Gods

A while back at Hour 25, Professor Douglas Frame joined us as visiting scholar.  He wroteHippota Nestor  The title means “Nestor, the Charioteer”.  The phrase is famous from The Iliad.  It is also ironic for two reasons.  One, Nestor is famous for giving advice on winning a chariot race, while in fact his advice hand nothing to do with chariot racing and two, he was terrible at driving a chariot!  So Frame’s book is about “twins”.  Also visiting was Professor Kevin McGrath, who studied Charioteers and their therapons in the Indo-European tradition.  Obviously we’ve been discussing two guys in a chariot a lot lately.

Helios, the god of the sun is always one of my favorite characters in Greek mythology to research.  At the time I was of the opinion that the only person who ever rode in the solar chariot with Helios was his best friend Hephaestus the smithy of the gods.  If you pressed me would I have recalled that Helios’ sister Selene is sometimes shown in the chariot with him.  Then I started doing research and discovered Helios took all his children and some grandchildren for a ride at some point include Phaeton who famously wrecked the chariot.  I kept looking for references to pairs of deities in chariot and found lots, mostly during the war against the giants.  Although I could find no significance of who was paired with whom I did find something else interesting.  In sculpture and art a surprising number of gods and goddesses are carved and painted in the “apobatic moment”.

Nagy wrote extensively about the apobatic moment.  It is the moment that a warrior leaps in full armor from his chariot.  It use to be a sport in the pan-Hellenic games in memory of the moment when  Achilles in a murderous rage did the same in The Iliad.  It is also the moment when the warrior remounts that chariot.  Some call this “anabatic.”

But, I wonder if a god stepping to earth has some greater significance than foreshadowing events in the Iliad. I wonder if this is not a moment of epiphany for the audience. I wonder if loosing the reins is releasing the abstract forces that often draw divine chariots.  I wonder if taking the reins back is regaining control of those forces.  Nestor and Socrates both have something to say about the importance of reining in and alternately loosing those forces.  And what does it mean when Death himself snatches up Persephone and we see him stepping aboard the chariot drawn by 4 black horses to make his escape?  

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