Monday, September 27, 2004

Daedalus and Icarus

27 Sept 04 Daedalus and Icarus

Fish swim, birds fly, but men are made from clay. Genesis relates that in the beginning, God created man in his image, forming him from the clay and breathed life into his nostrils.

After completing the labyrinth for King Minos, Daedalus was trapped into a prison of his own making. Minos understood the consequences of setting the master of the secret free. Set Daedalus free and he invited an invasion to conquer his island kingdom. The mentality has remained with dictators ever since. Hitler hid in his bunker after creating a maze of bureaucratic policies and laws, that isloated him from the suffering of his fellow men. Stalin retreated to his dacha, protected by the fearsome apparatus of Central Committee enforced with KGB. Once society is perverted by a mass of confusing and contradictory turns of legal indictments against humanity, and sent enslaved to work camps to be finally annihilated in death camps, no hope is left for escape. Ask those who survived the terrors of the past, knowing that their relatives went up the chimneys. Arbeit Macht Frei was written over the door that Daedalus entered and his exit could only accomodated by his desperate attempt to fly.

Yet myth is open to different interpretations and further exploration. Man bogged down in the corruption of his time, seeks to rise above the filth in which he's born—a common theme explored by Bertoldt Brecht. He dreams of achieving the divine, of becoming the god, rather than the lump of clay that has breath. By folly or fantasy, he dreams of creating monuments, he aspires to ascend to the heavens. Similarly, in Genesis 11, the story of the Tower of Babel relates man's dream to achieve the superhuman. He wishes to rise above the daily muck of his life. Following the Deluge, people continued to populate the earth and subdue it, spreading corruption wherever they went. And in their arrogance, they believed that they could achieve the heights, become superior to their fate. They built brick by brick, a city with its tower in the heavens to glorify their own existence. Man becomes superman, transcending culture and language, supplanting God's place in the heavens.

Although the myths seem radically different, they both critically view man's mortality and limitations. In the Daedalus myth, Daedalus creates a trap for others which becomes his own prison. His only escape from the corruption that surrounds him is through the air. Only through great genius and the contrivance of artificial wings, will he escape the fate of other prisoners that are sent into the labyrinth to be devoured by the Minotaur. His genius becomes his undoing, as the artificial can never replace the real. The wax melts, the feathers fall, and his son falls into the sea. It is a warning to all who wish to achieve the distinction of being superior to their fellow mortals. Each who dreams of flight, of becoming the leader must in time confront the dangers of Daedalus' flight.

Similarly, those building their towers from ground up, believing that their egos can be fortified by walls, discover in time that stones and bricks have no resistance to the wrath of social rebellion. After seven years of war and unspeakable brutality, the monstrous bestiality of NJazism collapsed under the avenging forces of free nations. Stalin's megalomanic power ied with him and his statues torn down with the destruction of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Even taken on a personal level, those who wishing to fly above the rest find their artificial wings melting and feathers moulting as the skeletons of their existence are exposed. Kennedy glamorized as the New Arthur is criticized for his social politics; the hulk of Pavoratti dominating the stage incurs catcalls for shoddy performances. Few attain heights with their feathers intact, their golden plummage glowing in the sunlight or take their places as stars that shine through dark nights. Flight from corruption, from physical or psychological imprisonment is merely a fantasy, a longing of man's desire to attain immortality and seat himself amongst the gods on Mount Olympus.

Dryden's translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses: Bk 8 Daedalus and Icarus

Ovid Metamorphoses
Golding complete text
The Fifteen Books of Ovid's Metamorphoses, 1567
The first translation into English - credited to Arthur Golding

Image Gallery: Daedalus and Icarus and other Poultry
Wandgemälde im Hause des Priesters Amandus


11 Sept 04 Daedalus and Icarus

Monday, September 20, 2004

Deucalion and Pyrrha

20 Sept 04 Deucalion and Pyrrha

In Genesis 6, the Bible gives the story of the Great Flood. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. They lived at the dawn of civilization. Ten generations separated them from the orginal inhabitants of teh earth: Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel. In those ten generations, man became more violent and wicked. he destroyed his environment and his brother. Nothing has ever changed since then.

However, to wipe the slate clean, God decided to purge the world with a great flood. Noah was the best man at his time. The rabbis always tell the reader that this is a comparative statement. he was not perfect or the best man of all times. He was the best of his generation. This explains his behavior because God warned him of the impending danger. For a good interpretation, listen to Bill Cosby.

Noah makes an ark out of gopher wood the length of three hundred cubit and the height of fifty cubits—about the size of the Queen Mary—maybe a bit smaller. However, establishing a shipbuilding industry inland or on a mountain, is a bit peculiar since there was no serious water nearby to accomodate the draught.

Noah built. He collected the first menagerie and instituted the first floating zoological gardens. He had serious trouble teachng the elephants how to balance their bottoms off the rail, so he wouldn't have to clean the stalls.

What did he do wrong? He saved his own skin. He made little or no effort to save the lives of his neighbors or interced on their behalf to turn the wrath of God. The Deluge came and the neighbors drowned. Later after the Deluge, the ark rested on Mount Ararat where Noah disembarked. He built a vineyard and got drunk, possibly from a guilty conscience. From that day to this, sobriety ends when stress begins.

Hesiod related a slightly different story which is found also in Ovid's Metamorphoses. In the dawn of time, the First Age was gold. Men lived together and no one ever had a bad thought. The trees dipped their boughs whenever someone wanted siomething to eat. Life was sweet.

The Second Age was Silver. Saturn fell into Death's dark country and the endless summer changed into the four seasons. Earth withheld her fruit and trees no longer bent to the whims of man. Fields were ploughed and man began to work by the sweat of his brow. Man became the master of animals, yoking the ox to his plough.

The Third Age was Bronze. Impurity became a chief quality to beauty. Men fought against each other to gain control of land and law. Life was lived by blood and Death came quick with angry words and violence. Man became corrupt, hating his neighbor as his enemy.

The Fourth Age, we all know. It is the Age of Iron in which men live by brutal law. master of animals, man turned in hatred against his brother to steal his wife and house. Stabbed so many times with swords, Mother Earth cracked open and poured forth her life blood. Man had no respect for man, beast or gods, as he became a god himself, ursurping the natural law of the universe.

Jove looked down from Mt Olympus and saw the destruction that man had wrought. Cities lay smouldering in ruins. Children had no mothers and mothers, no husbands as life was swallowed up by war and corruption. In fury, Jove raised his thunderbolt to hurl at the earth. In the oceans, the trumpets sounded, signalling the release of all the waters from the deep. The gods released a great tempest upon the earth to erase all trace of man. neptune's steeds no longer restrained, raced wildly over the land as water surged to reach the mountaintops.

But two people's lives were save: Deucalion and Pyrrha survived. They alone, floated on the waters that covered the vast earth, coming finally to rest on Mt Parnassus.

Survival they ralized is no salvation, because isolation brings great grief. And so they prayed for guidance from Themis who told them to toss their mother's bones over their shoulders.

What? Pyrrha asked. Desecrate my mother's bones. No to mention they were washed away.

But Deucalion understood the test. And you can read the rest.

Greek Flood Myths
Deucalion and Pyrrha

Hesiod: Pandora and Deucalion

Ovid, Metamorphoses Bk 1: Deucalion and Pyrrha


20 Sept 04 Deucalion and Pyrrha

I-2 Noah Noah's Flood

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Daedalus and Icarus

11 Sept 04 Daedalus and Icarus

Just as the pigeon tries to imitate the hummingbird at the feeder, so man yearns to fly. In dreams, flying is symbolic of our wish to attain the unimaginable heights of our abilties—to rise aboove human clumsiness and the mundane to take wing to heavenly achievements. Flight symbolizes our deepest yearning to succeed, to overcome or weakness and to be unfettered by human frailty.

Daedalus was an inventor who created the subterranean maze for King Minos of Crete. Every year the maidens of Athens were sacrificed to the bull that lived beneath the island palace. The maze was created as a means of fortification to the island so that invading militia would be trapped and confused. Siimilarly, the fortress at Terezin, built during the Napoleonic Wars, also has an underground maze which was designed to trap the the invaders and confuse them.

However, Daedalus became trapped by his own trap, the snake biting back on its own tail. How ? Why? He became caught like the spy who has learned too much. As the designer of the maze, he was not trusted by Minos not to reveal the secret. Knowledge frees us, but if we learn too much, it also traps us, making us victims of our own understanding. Where do old CIA spies go? How does a spy tell his wife that for twenty years he lived a lie? True some intelligence officers do make fine novelists: Ian Fleming and Le Carre; but what happens to all the others?

There are limitations on what is socially avcceptable to know about your neighbor—or intimate friends. Listening at doors is strongly discouraged and oftentimes we find out what we least want to know. Knowledge implicates.

But the myth is also about escape—the longing and yearning that man has to esacpe from the known; to escape from his constrained environment; to flee confinement. If we know too much about a thing, it becomes psychologically repressive and burdensome, so that we yearn to forget, to escape the past. Mazes appear in nightmares, the symbols of anxiety, of confusion and of being trapped into dark places of psychological torture. Few dreams are as terrifying as those of wandering through a maze of halls in dim lighting, searching frantically for the exit, but not finding it. Read Kafka if you want to drive yourself crazy. Take up an issue regarding Freedom of Information if you want to find out the frustrations of government bureaucracy. Just try to de-classify a document.

For Daedalus, escape was imperative. His plan was risky, fraught with dangers because his materials, he knew were faulty. Wax melts and no one had ever recorded a successful flight before. There were too many what-ifs, but his situation was desperate. So often we read the story thinking, how clever an inventor without considering the extremity of his despair. What kind of person risks his life with a contraption of wax and feathers? Surely with all the materials available, he could have made something more reliable like Leonardi's invention. But, he risked it all, including his son who didn't have the intelligence to keep out of the sun—and thereby lost his most treasured possession.

And indeed, there must be terrible trade-offs and compromises for those who try to escape their own knowledge whether scientists, war criminals, soldiers suffering from combat fatigue or spies-- Certan things do catch up with a man, even if he is a president. It's virtually impossible for man to transform himself into a bird; how do you sort out all the lies? Imagine trying to live two parallel lives with one side of the face never admitting its existence to the other. How can a person forget his past or re-invent himself as an altogether different animal? What does a spy do when he retires? Sits on the front porch writing acrostics and inventing stories of wars he never fought or paper-chases that he never ran?

So many questions are raised by this myth regarding man's nightmares forcing him to flight and seek his place among the stars.

Ovid's Metamorphoses
An introduction and commentary with discussion of myths and links to sources and influences in art and literature
Larry A. Brown, Nashville, TN

University of Vermont Ovid Project
The University of Vermont
's rare book department has an extensive collection of illustrated works of Ovid, including engravings by the 17th century German artist, Johann Wilhelm Bauer, depicting 150 scenes from the Metamorphoses. Each scene has a brief description in both Latin and German. Plates by George Sandys from a 1640 edition of the translation available



University of Virginia Etext: Ovid Metamorphoses
a collection of resources for the Metamorphoses

Dryden, transl Metamorphoses

Book 8 Daedalus and Icarus

Ovid Metamorphoses
Golding complete text
The Fifteen Books of Ovid's Metamorphoses, 1567
The first translation into English - credited to Arthur Golding

Myth Web: Daedalus

Web Winds Ovid

Flight and Fancy

historical article on Daedalus and inventions attributed to him

Flight of Daedalus and Technology
has an image gallery fo famous paintings and synopsis of story

Image Gallery: Daedalus and Icarus and other Poultry


27 Sept 04 Daedalus and Icarus

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Phaethon Rises

4 Sept 04 Phaethon Rises

Since the beginning, man has always been ambitious. In the Genesis account of creation, the Bible states that God created man in his image and shortly thereafter man ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, discerning good from evil and getting chucked out of Paradise as a consequence. Such is life, we bumble along blissfully, thinking how glorious it all is until we realize the extent of our own mistakes and frailties.

A few generations later, men gathered together in the famous city of Babel to build a tower extending to the heavens. The consequence was to be struck by lightning and scattered across the earth into diverse cultures and languages.

The Second Book of the Metamorphoses, opens with the story of Phaethon, the bastard son of Clymene and Phoebus Apollo. As gods were restrained from marriage with mortals, they merely cavorted the fields begetting literature with heros. Raised by a single mother with an absent father, Phaethon is naturally curious about his origins. It's a problem that dogs society to this day as it is relatively difficult to tell a kid he came from a test-tube or implant from a cooler. Confrontation with his mother, revealed the culprit to be none other than the wayward Apollo, who chased after many other skirts as he circled the earth. And like many children, he wanted to be not only proud of his father, but match his feats, ultimately demanding to drive the sunchariot across the skies alone. The attempt resulted in disaster, as the sun swerved off its path, narrowly missing the various monsters and dangers on its course. Onlooking Apollo had little recourse but to plead for hasty intervention of Zeus to bring the chariot down by means of a lightning bolt for only fire can extinguish fire.

Whether the myth is a warning for overstepping one's abilities in the attempt to emulate one's idols or a mythological interpretation of a astronomical event, the story remains as true today as it was in Ovid's day. Often children are harassed by their peers to go beyond their limitations, to overstep the boundaries of danger in order to prove their courage. Truth or Dare is a game played to embarrass personal confidences, but when it comes to jumping off bridges or drinking another beer; then it goes beyond heroics into foolhardiness. Phaethon's intent was originally good, but when he was confronted with the realities of the dangers involved, he became foolhardy in insisting that he could manage a team of unwieldy horses and ride over a dangerous course to prove to himself he was the Sun-god's son. Simplistic it sounds, but frequently we embark on a journey or goal with good intents, but someone our senior, far more experienced, informs us of the risks and complications that lay ahead, urging us to rescind our decision. Instead, we tighten our hands on the reins, thinking that through sheer will power we can achieve the goal and survive all dangers. As a result we lose control, often destroying ourselves or the project in the attempt. We are afraid to be called cowards or lose face and so we take on more than we can control. Our identity is at state. We identify ourselves not only with the goal, but also with achieving the social and parental expectations. The world hates failures and so we think by killing ourselves for unrealistic achievements, we will achieve immortality.

Dryden, transl Metamorphoses

Book 2

University of Virginia Etext: Ovid Metamorphoses
a collection of translations, concordance and other links related to the Metamorphoses

Web Winds: Phaethon
a small collection of lnks that lead to online text

Web Winds: Phaethon translations
a compilation of translation in online text
Mandelbaum, More, Dryden et al

Ovid Metamorphoses
Golding complete text
The Fifteen Books of Ovid's Metamorphoses, 1567
The first translation into English - credited to Arthur Golding

Torrey Philemon's Metamorphoses' Links
has listing for translation downloads and online texts available

Mythography: Phaethon

The Geminids: 3200 Phaethon
Bob Dobe: Phaethon
A condensed version of this article titled, The Path of a Comet and Phaethon's Ride, was published by The World & I (ISSN 0887-9346) Vol. 10, No. 2 (Feb. 95) pp. 394-405.
an article relating myth to astronomical events-what if a meteor struck the earth? Includes links to major scientific studies concerning meteroites linking them to cultural myths

Great Geminids
regarding asteroid 3200 Phaethon

Wierd Geminids

Gary Kronk: Geminids

Space Weather: Geminids Gallery

Ottawa Astronomy and Observatory: Geminid Images
some very amazing pictures

Space: Leonid Showers
has a gallery for the meteor showers