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Archive for May, 2006

Hercules


What is the subject of this picture by Antonio Pollaiuollo?

Is this just a man, a Greek hero, fighting against a many headed snake, a simple illustration of a simple legend? or does it have meaning – is it a true myth? Is Hercules you and I? And is this meaning of consequence to us today?

Here is how John Ruskin approached it (breaking it into smaller sections to be able to comment on it):

—————–
“… the first plain fact about myth−making is one which has been most strangely lost sight of,−−that you cannot make a myth unless you have something to make it of.”

“A myth, in its simplest definition, is a story with a meaning attached to it other than it seems to have at first; and the fact that it has such a meaning is generally marked by some of its circumstances being extraordinary, or, in the common use of the word, unnatural.

“Thus if I tell you that Hercules killed a water−serpent in the lake of Lerna, and if I mean, and you understand, nothing more than that fact, the story, whether true or false, is not a myth.

“But if by telling you this, I mean that Hercules purified the stagnation of many streams from deadly miasmata [Miasma= Greek for ‘pollution’], my story, however simple, is a true myth; only, as, if I left it in that simplicity, you would probably look for nothing beyond, it will be wise in me to surprise your attention by adding some singular circumstance; for instance, that the water−snake had several heads, which revived as fast as they were killed, and which poisoned even the foot that trod upon them as they slept.

The water serpent (if we accept Ruskin’s interpretation) is pollution, and the area of Lerna was a notorious and dangerous marsh. Pollution, then as now, is a human creation, and as fast as we can clean it up, we produce more; more in quantity, and more vicious in quality.

“… and that for every head of it that was cut off, two rose up with renewed life; and that the hero found at last that he could not kill the creature at all by cutting its heads off or crushing them, but only by burning them down;

Hercules and his nephew seared the freshly cut neck of each head, preventing new pollution. The ancient Greek myth-makers, and Ruskin, realized that just cleaning up pollution will never be a solution.

Ruskin adds:

“… Only in proportion as I mean more, I shall certainly appear more absurd in my statement; and at last when I get unendurably significant, all practical persons will agree that I was talking mere nonsense from the beginning, and never meant anything at all.

Back to the myth:

“… and that the midmost of them could not be killed even that way, but had to be buried alive.”
——————

This intrigues me. When Ruskin wrote this essay in 1869, as when the myth was developed in Ancient Greece, nobody could possibly know the significance of the central and most dangerous head of the Hydra (the most fatal form of pollution that the world would ever know), and that this head could never be destroyed, but would have to be buried alive: nuclear waste.

They were not the only ones to know – intuit – these truths. The following is from the Essene book of Revelations

“And I opened the third seal.
And I saw and beheld the Angel of the Sun.
And between her lips flowed the light of life,
And she knelt over the earth
And gave to man the Fires of Power.
And the strength of the Sun entered the heart of man,
And he took the power, and made with it a false sun,
And he spread the fires of destruction,
Burning the forests,
Laying waste the green valleys,
Leaving only charred bones of his brothers.
And I turned away in shame.”

What is happening here? What is the nature of these insights? Divine revelation? Collective subconscious? Most importantly, are these insights available to modern people, to Ruskin; to us, and if so, how can we dare to ignore them?

Where do we go to when we create?

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