Dionysus, the God of wine, is surrounded by his lion robed and ecstatic dancers.
The Greek gods partake of nectar and ambrosia. The two words are sometimes used interchangeably. Some Greek authors say the nectar was the drink and ambrosia the food. Some reverse it, so that ambrosia is the drink and nectar the food.
Despite the homologous nature of the divine substances, both nectar and ambrosia were known to imbue longevity or even immortality upon the consumer. They were the mediums of eternal life. In truth, nectar and ambrosia were really one consumed by the gods, and when mortals received it it was at the hands of the gods.
One great scene in the Illiad shows Thetis filling Patroclus’s nostrils with nectar as a way to transform him with strength and life (19.38–49). Curiously enough, this scene has led a few scholars to suggest that the Greek nektar descended from the Egyptian natron, or salt substance inserted through the nostrils and into the body as a way to preserve eternal life in the Egyptian tradition.
Supporting this idea is the fact that when Greeks opened their barrels of wine the liquor had to be consumed or it would spoil (no corks had been invented). There was a way, however, to prolong the life of the opened wine, and that was by salting it. Wine, seen as a substance of transformation given mortals by the gods, was itself given life by natron or salts which preserved the wine from turning into vinegar. This fact may have led to the idea that the wine of the gods was the giver of long lasting life, called nectar, a loan word from the Egyptian natron.
According to R. Drew Griffith in his book Mummy Wheat, the word nektar originally signified the ability to be “carried across death” and may have originally meant “song” (67). That may be a strange connection, but I have shown in my book Mythos and Cosmos, song and dance were an essential part of the funerary rites in both the Egyptian tradition and in the Greco-Roman mysteries. The song itself was a token or symbol that allowed one to make the passage through death.
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Zeus seduces Persephone in a cave by turning himself into a dragon or serpent.
This is a great question. And it leads us to the problems of ancient myth. Persephone is a vegetation and underworld goddess that hails from several different strands of traditions. Some scholars believe that she is Mycenaean in origin, but her appearance in the Orphic mystery rites probably descends from an Egyptian source. The cross cultural ties between Mycenae and Egypt are probably more prolific than understood. So once again when looking at the various stories of Persephone be aware that they are an accretion of several different forms and sources.
In the Orphic tradition Persephone was seduced by Zeus in a cave guarded by dragons and gave birth to Zagreus, who is often compared with Dionysus. Orpheus and Dionysus are often homologous in their functions, and Dionysus repeatedly shows up on the Orphic gold plates found buried with the initiated dead.
According to the story, Zeus impregnates Persephone before Hades abducts her. She gives birth to Zagreus/Dionysus, who is then torn into pieces by the Titans and his body parts are thrown into the river. Athena retrieved his heart from the river and gave it to Zeus. Notice how similar this is to Osiris being killed and his body being cut up into pieces and thrown into the river where Isis retrieves his phallus. While the retrieved body parts are different, their functions in the separate cultures are similar, as the heart/phallus was a symbol of life and birth.
Furthermore, the name Zagreus refers to a hunter, and this god-hunter held keys to life and death. This may correspond to the constellation Orion, the great hunter, who was Osiris in Egyptian tradition, Dumuzi in Babylonian tradition, and probably represented Orpheus and Mithras as well. The hunter catches wild animals, which is symbolic of the crude mortal human who has not received apotheosis or divine blessings. Lucius is turned into an ass and can only return into human form by being initiated into the mysteries of Isis. Gilgamesh, Heracles, and Orion all rape or destroy and must go through a series of labors which always ends with the secrets of rebirth. This is a strong theme of hero cults associated with some form of rebirth.
It may be that Zeus impregnates Persephone as a way for the Greeks to acquire the funerary aspect of this goddess. Zeus, through the rape of Persephone, makes an Egyptian source turn into a Greek custom.
Again this is speculative, but it is these kind of connections that inform the origins of the myth.
The greatest Greek Hero was Heracles, who performed twelve labors to obtain immortality.
Heracles was not invented by the Greeks. He was inherited by the Greeks. Half of his labors descend from Mycenaean or Minoan times, implicating a Heracles like figure with a series of labors in the days before Greece was founded. Gilgamesh is a Near Eastern Heracles.
The Greeks adopted the Hero/Labor cycle and transformed it into something substantively Greek. So in that sense Heracles is Greek. Hercules is the Roman adaptation of the Greek Heracles. Though I suppose you could argue that the earliest Romans also had a Heracles like figure in their history, though nothing is known about it if there was. (Or maybe it is right in front of us.)
Heracles was the greatest of Greek heroes, and depictions of his exploits are repeatedly found on Greek vase paintings and art. He was known from the earliest times in Greece, and the numerous mythic motifs about our hero inform us that there lies a far greater context behind his story. There were also numerous and sometimes competing traditions about this Greek figure. Diodorus Siculus identified three separate heroes named Heracles. Servius claimed that there were four separate Heracles, Cicero counted six, and Varro identified forty-four (Smith 401). Herodotus tells us that the original Heracles hailed from Egypt and says that according to the Egyptian tradition, Heracles was one of twelve deities descended from the original eight gods who created the universe (2.43-5). Diodorus claimed that when Osiris went to accomplish his labors he left the government of Egypt in the hands of this primordial Heracles (Smith 401). Remarkably, Pausanias, Tacitus, and Macrobius all confirm that Heracles hailed from Egypt (Smith 401).
To say the original Heracles is Egyptian entirely misses the point. Herodotus also travels to Phoenicia, where he discovers a temple dedicated to the Phoenician Heracles and inside which were two curious pillars, one made of gold and the other of emerald (2.44). Herodotus discovered a similar temple in Tyre dedicated to the Thasian Heracles (2.44). Different sources show that there was a Heracles figure hailing from Crete, Carthage, Libya, India, and even from amongst the Germanic Celts (Smith 401). Several Greek myths derive from the famous labors of Heracles. Theseus performs a series of labors in order to inherit kingship and was known as the Athenian Heracles, Bellerophon was the Corinthian Heracles, and Alcathous was the Megarian Heracles (Nilsson 211-3). Even the Israelites had a Heracles figure in the Biblical Samson.
Details within the myth show the Greeks did not create the story of Heracles—they inherited it. Heracles’ mortal mother’s name is they inherited it. Heracles’ mortal mother’s name is they Mycenaean. King Eurystheus is also Mycenaean, and the kingdom to which he belongs is a Mycenaean city. The localized traditions of our hero in Tiryns descend from Mycenaean times, and the first five labors Heracles performs all take place in the northeastern Peloponnese. The seventh labor, capturing the Cretan Bull, originates in either Mycenaean or even Minoan times (Nilsson 217). In other words, the entire cycle attributed to Heracles is not Greek. Martin P. Nilsson writes, “This idea is pre-Greek. The inference to be drawn from this fact is that a cycle of Labors was already formed and provided with its natural and logical end in the Mycenaean age” (214).
I serve on the board to the Utah Valley Astronomy Club (UVAC). We do outreach programs, teaching astronomy and science to schools and community organizations. I am pleased to know a couple professional astro-photographers. Clarence Spencer has a business making cameras and filters for astro-photography. He even has one of his cameras aboard the International Space Station. Richard Keele has made his own tripods and mounts for his work.
There is something about the sky that calls one outside of the Self. In a dark sky under the Milky Way one senses a presence and connection far greater than one’s self. At least for most people this is the case. I have borrowed a few of their pictures and have put them together in a little video. It is well worth sitting back and watching what our universe really looks like. Perhaps we should sit back and reflect what we ourselves might really look like in the big picture. An insignificant speck of dust may not be the right frame of mind to interpret the eternal.
About the Declaration [of Independence] there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final.… If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.
If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales. —Albert Einstein
Fantasy is not the rejection of reality. It is the exploration of reality. The most underused “gift of the Spirit” is the imagination.
Traditional fairy tales were the old center of a child’s learning. Before television or radio, it was the bed time story, the fireside story, or the front porch story that entertained and educated the rising generation. With the advent of modern technology the telling of stories has lost the intimate and human touch (the bedside, the fireplace, and the front porch). Stories have become digital. While tall tales can now reach the masses, the inverse is also true, stories are mass produced, mass marketed, and mass formulated. There is something about the mass that dilutes the power of story.
This is nowhere better seen than in the movies. Action movies are formulaic. The oral fairy tale was told as an interweaving between the emotional attunement of teller and hearer. Movies are not; they seek the maximum amount of entertainment dollars by formulating a spectacle for the masses. The fairy tale was the stage of the individual imagination. The modern action movie has become the mechanical pageantry of the coliseum. The first stage opened the imagination. The latter arena simply dulls the senses.
Conservative religious culture often swings counter the mass media culture by teaching its rising generation only Bible stories. The fantastic of the fairy tale is replaced by the morally pure pronouncements of the ethical tale. While there are folklore and fairytale elements to some biblical narratives, Noah, Jonah, and Samson are now taught as historical episodes whose imaginative resources have often been reduced to simple notions of “what does it mean to be obedient to god?”
It is good every once in a while to recalibrate our idea of what a good story is. Must a story be “true” in order to be moral? Or worthwhile? Or proper? Must a story be historical in order to be true? Must a story