Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Love of Ares and Aphrodite Crowned with Flowers

Above is a link to a video in which I used the very user-friendly online planetarium app at neave.com to illustrate the well-known "star myth" describing the dalliance of Ares and Aphrodite -- which ends in embarrassment, as Aphrodite's husband has prepared a little trap for the illicit lovers.

The celestial aspects of this ancient myth were discussed in this previous post from June 10, 2011 -- and if you want to go to the Neave browser-based planetarium (or any other planetarium where you can  easily adjust the date and time) you can re-create the events shown in the above video for yourself.  

Just set the date back to June 11, 2011 and set the time for about 4am (you may want to adjust your location on the globe to a point that's between 30 and 35 degrees north latitude), swivel the field of view around until you are looking along the horizon towards the east, and then press down on the little arrow below the "minutes" portion of the time-field to set the heavens in motion! If you press and hold, the sky will begin to smoothly rotate and the stars and planets will begin to rise in the east; if for some reason the stars and planets are setting in the east, then you are obviously going backwards in time and will want to hold down the bottom-arrow below the minute-dial, not the top-arrow.

When you do so, or if you carefully watch the motions of the planets Mars, Venus and Mercury in the above video of the same process, you will experience direct evidence that the ancient myths and sacred traditions from around the globe are all star myths -- they are all based upon a common system of celestial metaphor, and encode the endless, silent, majestic motion of the heavens circling above our heads. For a list of about twenty other star myths containing links to blog posts which explain their connection to the motions of the stars, planets, sun and moon, see this previous post.

As explained in the previous post regarding the conjunction of Mars and Venus underneath the shimmering Pleiades, and explained as well by the authors of Hamlet's Mill (see this online version, and page 177 in the chapter entitled "Samson under many skies") and by the ancient writer Lucian of Samosata (c. AD 120 - c. AD 200), the famous liaison of Aries the god of war (Roman Mars) and Aphrodite the goddess of love (Roman Venus) in which they are snared by the net of Hephaestus the god of fire and the forge (Roman Vulcan) almost certainly depicts a specific heavenly event. 

The story of the trap used by the plodding Hephaestus to ensnare his unfaithful wife and her lover is found in the Odyssey. It is presented below in my favorite English translation, by the late great Robert Fagles, along with screen-shots when appropriate to illustrate the celestial counterpart of the myth:
now the bard struck up an irresistible song:
The Love of Ares and Aphrodite Crowned with Flowers . . .
how the two had first made love in Hephaestus' mansion,
all in secret. Ares had showered her with gifts
and showered Hephaestus' marriage bed with shame
but a messenger ran to tell the god of fire --
Helios, lord of the sun, who'd spied the couple
lost in each other's arms and making love. VIII. 301-308.
A bit of translation -- when the above passage says "but a messenger ran to tell the god of fire -- Helios, lord of the sun, etc." it means that Helios is the messenger who ran to tell the god of fire (that is, Hephaestus). It does not mean that Helios is the god of fire: Helios is the lord of the sun, "who'd spied the couple lost in each other's arms and making love." This aspect of the story indicates that the liaison between the two lovers occurs close to the rising sun, as indeed it does on the morning indicated (June 10, 2011). 

Since the planet Venus is on an orbit whose path is closer to the sun than that of the earth, observers on earth will always see Venus somewhat close to the sun, but she can be found on either the sunrise side of the sun, or the sunset side of the sun, depending on the relative position of earth and Venus. For more details on the motions of Venus, see the fascinating discussion in this previous post.
Hephaestus, hearing the heart-wounding story,
bustled toward his forge, brooding on his revenge --
planted the huge anvil on its block and beat out chains,
not to be slipped or broken, all to pin the lovers on the spot.
This snare the Firegod forged, ablaze with his rage at War,
then limped to the room where the bed of love stood firm
and round the posts he poured the chains in a sweeping net
with streams of others flowing down from the roof beam,
gossamer-fine as spider webs no man could see,
not even a blissful god --
the Smith had forged a masterwork of guile. VIII. 309 - 319.
The authors of Hamlet's Mill establish that this net of Hephaestus corresponds to the Pleiades by tracing the appearance of the heavenly net and its connection with the Pleiades in other sacred myths from around the globe. On page 175 of the same chapter linked above, they write:
Then there is a true avenger-of-his-father, the Tuamotuan Tahaki, who, after long travels, arrives in the dark at the house of the goblin band who tortured his father. He conjures upon them "the intense cold of Havaiki" (the other world) which puts the to sleep.
Then Tahaki gathered up the net given to him by Kuhi, and carried it to the door of the long house. He set fire to the house. When the goblin myriads shouted out together "Where is the door?" Tahaki called out: "Here it is." They thought it was one of their own band who had called out, and so they rushed headlong into the net, and Tahaki burned them up in the fire.
What the net could be is known from the story of Kaulu. This adventurous hero, wanting to destroy a she-cannibal, first flew up to Makalii the great god, and asked for his nets, the Pleiades and the Hyades, into which he entangled the evil one before he burned down her house. It is clear who was the owner of the nets up there. The Pleiades are in the right hand of Orion on the Farnese Globe, and they used to be called the "lagobolion" (hare net). The Hyades were for big game.
The Farnese Globe to which they refer, of course, is that born by the statue of Atlas discussed in this previous post; the fact that it contains clues which indicate that the ancients had a sophisticated level of astronomical understanding is discussed in this older post.

So, having established that the "gossamer-fine" web woven by the master-smith Hephaestus in this myth corresponds to the Pleiades in the night sky, the stage is now set for the actual drama involving the gods. The poet continues, explaining that Hephaestus pretends he has to head off on a long trip to visit his most-cherished town -- but he is really setting a trap for his unfaithful wife Aphrodite, and he has tasked the sun-god (actually, a Titan) Helios with keeping watch, and alerting him when the trap has been sprung:
Once he'd spun that cunning trap around his bed
he feigned a trip to the well-built town of Lemnos,
dearest to him by far of all the towns on earth.
But the god of battle kept no blind man's watch.
As soon as he saw the Master Craftsman leave
he plied his golden reins and arrived at once
and entered the famous god of fire's mansion,
chafing with lust for Aphrodite crowned with flowers. VIII. 320 - 327.
Below is a screen-shot from 04:44 am, in which Ares has now arrived on the scene, "chafing with lust for Aphrodite crowned with flowers":

In the above image, a dotted line has been added to help distinguish the line of the horizon (Venus is still invisible, below this line). The cluster of the Pleiades is indicated by the longer, bluish arrow. The location of the impatient god Mars (Aries) is indicated by the orange arrow (and Mars himself is orange-red in color).

The poet continues, and now describes Venus herself, and then the two go off to bed:
She'd just returned from her father's palace, mighty Zeus,
and now she sat in her rooms as Ares strode right in
and grasped her hand with a warm, seductive urging:
"Quick, my darling, come, let's go to bed
and lose ourselves in love! Your husband's away --
by now he must be off in the wilds of Lemnos,
consorting with his raucous Sintian friends." So he pressed
and her heart raced with joy to sleep with War
and off they went to bed and down they lay -- VIII. 328 - 336.
Below is a screen-shot of the same scene, but now from 04:53 am, and Venus has arrived on the scene, following Mars off to the bed of love:

In the above diagram, Venus is indicated by a green arrow. Mars and the Pleiades, each now slightly higher in the sky than they were at 04:44 am, are still indicated by the short orange and long blue arrows, respectively.

And now, the bard in the Odyssey tells his listeners, the two lovers are caught in a trap (they can't walk out):
and down around them came those cunning chains
of the crafty god of fire, showering down now
till the couple could not move a limb or lift a finger --
then they knew at last: there was no way out, not now.
But now the glorious crippled Smith was drawing near . . .
he'd turned around, miles short of the Lemnos coast,
for the Sungod kept his watch and told Hephaestus all,
so back he rushed to his house, his heart consumed with anguish.
Halting there at the gates, seized with savage rage,
he howled a terrible cry, imploring all the gods,
"Father Zeus, look here --
the rest of you happy gods who live forever --
here is a sight to make you laugh, revolt you too!
[. . .]" VIII. 337 - 349.
Notice the repeated mention of the Sungod in line 343 -- once again we are reminded that it is the Sun deity who spies the lovers, just as he did earlier when he informed Hephaestus of what was going on, enabling the Smith to create the web in the first place.

If we dial the time forward some more (you can do this yourself if you go to the online planetarium app mentioned earlier) the sky will begin to lighten in the east and the corona of the Sungod will begin to crest the horizon -- followed by the sunrise and the advent of the Sun himself. Trapped beneath the cunning net of Hephaestus, the two lovers are now exposed to the full light of day -- and the gathering of the immortals to laugh at their plight:
So Hephaestus wailed
as the gods came crowding up to his bronze-floored house.
Poseidon god of the earthquake came, and Hermes came,
the running god of luck, and the Archer, lord Apollo,
while modesty kept each goddess to her mansion.
The immortals, givers of all good things, stood at the gates,
and uncontrollable laughter burst from the happy gods
when the saw the god of fire's subtle, cunning work.
One would glance at his neighbor, laughing out,
"A bad day for adultery! Slow outstrips the Swift!"
"Look how limping Hephaestus conquers War,
the quickest of all the gods who rule Olympus!"
"The cripple wins by craft!" "The adulterer,
he will pay the price!" So the gods would banter
among themselves but lord Apollo goaded Hermes on:
"Tell me, Quicksilver, giver of all good things --
even with those unwieldy shackles wrapped around you,
how would you like to bed the golden Aphrodite?"
"Oh Apollo, if only!" the giant-killer cried.
"Archer, bind me down with triple those endless chains!
Let all you gods look on, and all you goddesses too --
how I'd love to bed that golden Aphrodite!" VIII. 364 - 384.
The image below will set the scene as it appears in the sky:

Again, if the resolution of the images is too low, head on over to a planetarium app and dial up the scene for yourself. However, it is hoped that in the above scene you can make out the following players:

  • The Sun, rising over the horizon (marked with the number 1 in the version of the same image, below).
  • Mercury, just above the Sun (marked with the number 2).
  • Venus, almost directly below the Pleiades, and marked with the number 3.
  • Mars, a bit ahead of her, along the same "ecliptic line" which the sun, moon, and planets follow across the sky (Mars is marked with the number 4 in the diagram below).
  • The Pleiades, marked with the number 5.

In this final scene, one can really appreciate the breathtaking level of poetic correspondence between the myth itself, as related in the Odyssey, and the heavenly bodies of our solar system, who act out the drama recorded in the myth. 

Most notable, perhaps, is the final detail, in which Hermes and Apollo are described as sharing a joke over whether or not it would be worth it to exchange places with Ares at that moment, in order to be able to lie next to Aphrodite. Look again at the planetarium image above, and see how the planet Mercury (Hermes) is right next to the Sungod, as if the two gods are standing off to one side as they make fun of the situation. Mercury, of course, is always located close to the sun itself, a fact which helps set up the stage-directions which translate into the myth as Apollo and Hermes sharing a laugh together at Aphrodite's expense.

Anyone who reads the lines from the Homeric epic, and then studies the diagram shown above, should have no further doubts that the ancient stories embody the motions of the heavenly spheres -- and that they do so with a degree of precision and sophistication that is absolutely astonishing and delightful to behold.

But, as previous posts have argued, and as my latest book The Undying Stars works to establish, the allegorization in exquisite myth of the motions of the celestial actors was not simply for entertainment or delight -- as entertaining and delightful as the star myths undeniably are. These ancient treasures were intended to convey profound wisdom to men and women of all parts of the world, and in all the ages of humanity. 

They contain a message of liberation from bondage and mental slavery. Hermes, the one who laughingly offers to be chained up if only he can be next to the goddess of love, ironically enough is the one who most embodies the transcending of false barriers and mental chains, as discussed in this post entitled "Jon Rappoport on the trickster-god and creating reality."

And so, even as we enjoy the wonderful ancient myths found in the Odyssey and the rest of the world's sacred traditions, we can also ponder the profound messages which they want to carry to each and every one of us.