Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Mount Aetna and Typhon

And now, just after posting a discussion about the possible relationship of the ancient Egyptian god Set to solar eclipses on February 25, Sicily's Mount Aetna (or Etna) commenced a spectacular eruption on February 27th, and on through the 28th (which is the current date as I write this in California). See video footage above, and elsewhere on the web.

Mount Aetna is an active volcano which has been erupting intermittently since ancient times. According to some ancient sources, Zeus pinned the monster Typhon, who was associated with the ancient Egyptian god Set by numerous ancient authorities, including Plutarch, underneath Mount Aetna.

For example, Pindar in his first Pythian Ode (thought to have been written in 470 BC) tells the listener:
But those whom Zeus does not love are stunned with terror when they hear the cry of the Pierian Muses, on earn or on the irresistible sea; among them is he who lies in dread Tartarus, that enemy of the gods, Typhon with his hundred heads. Once the famous Cilician cave nurtured him, but now the sea-girt cliffs above Cumae, and Sicily too, lie heavy on his shaggy chest. And the pillar of the sky holds him down, snow-covered Aetna, year-round nurse of bitter frost, from whose inmost caves belch forth the purest streams of unapproachable fire. In the daytime her rivers roll out a fiery flood of smoke, while in darkness of night the crimson flame hurls rocks down to the deep plain of the sea with a crashing roar. That monster shoots up the most terrible jets of fire; it is a marvelous wonder to see, and a marvel even to hear about when men are present. Such a creature is bound beneath the dark and leafy heights of Aetna and beneath the plain, and his bed scratches and goads the whole length of his back stretched out against it. (Diane Arnson Svarlien, trans.)
And, in the drama Prometheus Bound, traditionally attributed to Aeschylus the Athenian in the same century as Pindar, the character of Prometheus describes his pity at the fate of his fellow Titans who rebelled against the Olympian gods:
For even if I am in sore plight, I would not wish affliction on everyone else. No, certainly, no! since, besides, I am distressed by the fate of my brother Atlas, who, towards the west, stands bearing on his shoulders the pillar of heaven and earth, a burden not easy for his arms to grasp. Pity moved me, too, at the sight of the earth-born dweller of the Cilician caves curbed by violence, that destructive monster of a hundred heads, impetuous Typhon. He withstood all the gods, hissing out terror with horrid jaws, while from his eyes lightened a hideous glare, as though he would storm by force the sovereignty of Zeus. But the unsleeping bolt of Zeus came upon him, the swooping lightning brand with breath of flame, which struck him, frightened, from his loud-mouted boasts; then, stricken to the very heart, he was burnt to ashes and his strength blasted from him by the lightning bolt. And now, a helpless and a sprawling bulk, he lies hard by the narrows of the sea, pressed down beneath the roots of Aetna; while on the topmost summit Hephaestus sits and hammers the molten ore. There, one day, shall burst forth rivers of fire, with savage jaws devouring the level fields of Sicily, land of fair fruit -- such boiling rage shall Thypho, although charred by the blazing lightning of Zeus, send spouting forth with hot jets of appalling, fire-breathing surge. (Herbert Weir Smyth, trans.)
Another notable aspect of the Typhon myth is the tradition, recorded primarily in fragments from writers in Roman times around the first century BC and first century AD (including Ovid in his Metamorphoses), that the power of Typhon at first so terrified the Olympian gods and goddesses, that they all fled to Egypt and took on animal forms -- thus explaining the correspondence that ancient writers indicate between Zeus and Ammon, Hermes and Thoth, Apollo and Horus, and many others.

And, as noted above, many ancient writers from the Greek and Roman traditions understood there to be an identification between Set and Typhon, such that the two were actually the same entities understood under different names. Plutarch, for instance, in his important account of the cycle of myths surrounding Isis and Osiris, consistently refers to Set as Typhon throughout the narrative.

This understanding among the various cultures of the ancient world that the gods and goddesses of their culture's sacred traditions were in fact the same entities as the gods and goddesses described in other cultures' sacred traditions, is a very noteworthy and significant point.

It is an understanding which is very much in keeping with the evidence showing that virtually all the world's ancient myths, scriptures, and sacred traditions are built upon a common, worldwide system of celestial metaphor.

And, it is an understanding that stands in stark contrast to the later literalistic Christian teaching propagated by those who insisted upon seeing the scriptures of the Bible as being fundamentally different from the rest of the world's sacred traditions -- even though the stories in the Bible can also be conclusively shown to be built upon the very same system of celestial metaphor which underlies the myths of ancient Greece, of ancient Egypt, and of virtually every other culture around the globe.

The descriptions of Typhon that we find in some of the most ancient sources, including Hesiod, make it clear to me that he is also a figure based upon the celestial system of metaphor that informs other Greek myths. Typhon is described by some ancient sources (such as the Greek poet of the second-century AD known as Pseudo-Apollodorus) as being so large that his head reached to the stars, and as having a man-like form down to the thighs, but below that point his body took the form of great coils of vipers:

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

This description sounds to me very much like a description of a monster based on the form of the towering figure of the constellation Ophiucus, which is a figure that appears to have very short legs, and positioned directly above the constellation Scorpio, which was frequently envisioned in numerous ancient myths as a serpent-figure with multiple heads.

To make the connection more certain, the ancient writer known today as Pseudo-Apollodorus tells us that Typhon had two great hands, one reaching to the west and the other to the east, and to from these we are told by Pseudo-Apollodorus and other ancient sources that Typhon also had serpents sprouting. This is definitely in keeping with the theory that Typhon corresponds to Ophiucus over Scorpio, because Ophiucus has arms which protrude to either side, one on the east of the constellation and the other on the west, and in these arms (or from these arms) we see the sinuous form of the serpent (or serpents) that Ophiucus is carrying, and from which the constellation gets its name as the "Serpent-bearer."

Below is a star-chart showing the positions of Ophiucus above Scorpio. Can you see why the ancient authors tell us that Typhon had a body that was in the form of a man, down to the thighs -- but that below that he became a coil of vipers?

Note that directly above Ophiucus we see the menacing figure of Hercules. As I demonstrate in Star Myths of the World, Volume Two, using  numerous examples from ancient Greek authorities -- including the texts of the Iliad and the Odyssey themselves -- the great Olympian god Zeus, wielder of the thunderbolt, can be shown to correspond to the powerful figure of constellation Hercules in the night sky.

And, indeed, it is Zeus who destroys Typhon with a thunderbolt and hurls him down to earth, where the monster will be imprisoned beneath the fiery mountain to belch forth lava down through the millennia.

Below is an artist's rendition of the complete scene from the ancient piece of pottery shown above, in which Zeus is sallying forth to do battle with Typhon. Can you see from the position of the rear leg of Zeus in the ancient artist's depiction of the Olympian that the rear leg in the artwork is evocative of the outline of the constellation Hercules in the night sky?

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

The arm arching above the head of Zeus is holding the thunderbolt, and corresponds to the arm above the head of Hercules holding a mighty weapon, often envisioned as a club or sword, but in many cultures also envisioned as a thunderbolt-weapon (to include the myths of the Maya in Central America, the myths of the Norse in Scandinavia, and the descriptions in the Vedas of ancient India). The other hand of Zeus is reaching out towards Typhon -- just as the lower hand of the constellation Hercules is reaching down towards Ophiucus in the night sky.

The ancients clearly appear to have had some understanding that their myths reflected the figures in the stars, from the heavens above, which is truly representative of the infinite realm (because it is indeed infinite).

The fact that they also saw these patterns reflected on the earth, and described geographical locations such as Mount Aetna itself as the location of the blasted body of Typhon, and also as "the pillar of the sky" (in the ode from Pindar cited above) shows that the ancients also saw the earth as reflective of the heavenly realm -- embodying the esoteric teaching, "As above, so below."

And so, as we observe the spectacular eruption of Mount Aetna, we have the opportunity to reflect upon the ancient wisdom imparted to the human race, an ancient treasure which (properly understood) should be seen as uniting all men and women -- because all the world's sacred traditions can be seen to be based upon the same worldwide system, and all the gods and goddesses seen to be the same, just under different names.