Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Asinus Aureus

The torture of Prometheus -Gioacchino Assereto (1600 – 1649)

I think that it is a good time to lose oneself in diversions. I myself am trying to conquer the greek classics that I somehow missed growing up. I started out with Euripides and Medea, then another story of fratricide, Aeschylus's Oresteia Trilogy and Prometheus Bound, the first of four parts, the last two and a half volumes now sadly missing from our world. Started out on burgundy, but soon hit the harder stuff...

The trilogy is beyond interesting. I will not go into it right now but I was introduced to the furies, Aeschylus tells us that these avengers of matricide are Gorgons, Erinyes, twined about with snakes, old unloved virgins. Ouch. Quite angry. Doesn't sound like a real good idea to mess with them.

Prometheus was a titan who challenged Zeus by giving man fire. The titans were a group of super deities who lived on Mt. Othrys and battled the Olympians, they were ultimately overthrown by Zeus. Prometheus is sentenced to damnation for his crime, shackled to a rock by Hephaestus on Zeus's command. Tortured, his liver is eaten daily by an eagle but because of his immortality the organ regenerates at night. In this tale he first meets with Zeus's wards, Might and Violence.

Here is our destination Scythia,
This uninhabited waste at the world's end.
Hephaestus do your duty. Our father's orders 
Are to confine here in chains of steel on these
Precipitous cliffs this criminal, who has stolen
And conveyed to mankind your glory, fire,
Instrument of the arts. This will teach him
How to grow out of his human charity
And make his peace with our supreme ruler, Zeus.

Argus guarding a transformed Io -Jacopo Amigoni

Zeus had promised the downfall of mankind. Only Prometheus dared to resist him. Prometheus meets a variety of characters in the first book, including Hermes and horned Io. The lovely Io had resisted Zeus advances and was turned into a heifer.

Prometheus prophecies the fall of Zeus to Heracles, twelve generations hence and scoffs at talk of further punishment for his deed. He is already having his innards ripped out on a daily basis, what more can they do to him?

I can not die so what is there to fear?

He can increase your penalty.

Let him. There is nothing I have not foreseen.

In Aeschylus book Prometheus mentions that he has given man something beside fire, hope. In the usual greek mythology, we associate hope with Pandora. By the way, Pandora keeps hope in a jar, not a box, unusual for Aeschylus to connect it with Prometheus methinks.

What was the evidence against you?

I saved man from remembering that he was mortal.

What opiate could dull the thought of death?

Blind hope. In the human mind I settled hope.

Titania and Bottom - Edwin Henry Landseer
I have just finished another book of antiquity, by Apuleius, Asinus Aureus, The Golden Ass, or the Metamorphoses. This is actually the only latin novel that survives to this day, written around 175 a.d. by a man from the Roman city of Madauros in Algeria, North Africa.

The time when the book was written is an interesting time historically. While the gods of Rome and Greece are still worshipped by some, new religions and cults are also gaining adherents, including the worship of Mithras and nascent Jesus as well as the Egyptian gods, Isis and Osiris. Magic is also being practiced and permeates this tale, which is actually eleven books or chapters pieced together.

The main character Lucius falls in love with a witch's apprentice Fotis. She mistakenly changes him into a donkey when a spell goes bad and the book recounts his travails in sort of a Canterbury Tales type adventure through Thessaly. It is a rich and at times very bawdy story that is a remarkably fresh read for a book near 1900 years old. The middle chapters introduce us to the beautiful story of Cupid and Psyche, well worth reading. Eventually Isis comes through in the clinch for our protagonist.

This book influenced many writers throughout history, including obviously Kafka. I had to look up several words in this Adlington translation. Incredibly rich. Once again I get the feeling that we humans have devolved intellectually in the last millennium or two. One only needs to read the letters between John and Abigail Adams to see how our level of discourse has suffered but we are reminded when we read The Golden Ass, Holy Bible or Gilgamesh. Maybe television killed something in our brains?

Cupid and Psyche as children -William Bouguereau (1825-1905)

My literary mentor Denis sent me this note the other day:

A great adventure.  On to Sophocles: Oedipus Tyrannos, Antigone, Oedipus at Colonus and then Euripides.  A couple of novels I've enjoyed: by Steven Pressfield Gates of Fire, Tides of War.

Blast is great these days: keep on truckin.

Happy Holidays to you and Leslie,


First I have to finish the book I am reading on the battle of Marathon, 490 b.c.e., a seminal battle between the Athenians and the Persians. Lost in time I don't have to consider the present. Going to try to make it another week without talking politics.

Happy holidays to all of you from Leslie and I.

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