THE TOMB AND THE THEATRE

Notes on the history of the western esoteric tradition

 

Paper presented at the University of Indianapolis Phoenix Rising Conference: Death and Renaissance in Philosophy, Art, and Literature, November 7th 2009

My name is Iordanis Poulkouras, and my presence here is mainly related to my capacity as editorial consultant of AVATON publishing house, rather than my status as an author.

Over the course of many years, the viewpoint of our periodical has remained both consistent, as well as unique to the Greek market.. The study of Esoteric Traditions should and must  also pass through the filter of organized academic research, as has been the case for many years in numerous European countries and the U.S. It is a great pleasure to actively participate here in this first  attempt by Ms Chaitow to introduce these studies to Greece, honored by the presence of professors, postgraduate students, researchers and authors from the entire world; all under the hospitable aegis  of the University of Indianapolis, which has been supportive of this effort  from the very beginning.

It is significant that we are in Greece and more so, in Athens, since it is an oft-quoted fact that Philosophy was born here.

This is where legends have been narrated, histories recorded and it is here that the boundaries of two worlds have been laid; namely the world of gods and that of humans, while in between these two separate worlds, lies that of heroes.

The latter is a world of initiatory concepts, where the hero often goes about his everyday life in a simple or careless manner; like for instance Hercules, who, through his trials, nevertheless succeeds in  lifting on his shoulders not only his companions but his entire race, taking them a step forward, thus conquering yet another stretch of the unknown and forbidden, to their own benefit.

Hercules not only came out alive from Hades, but also freed Theseus who was entrapped there.

The ultimate  moment in the lives  of the heroes found in the Western Tradition occurs when they descend to Hades – to their Tomb – alive,  only to emerge triumphant, more alive and enriched by the knowledge and the memory of their journey that they kept alive in both worlds.

Our focus is the Tomb and the Theatre, and as you know, we Greeks are well-known as story-tellers among other things, and I am no different.

So, by narrating stories, I will try to very concisely look through the earliest mysteries from the beginning of mankind, to find the origin of the  symbolism related to our topic, and to outline some characteristic examples that have been passed down to us.

The Tomb and the Theatre!

Anyone who has attended religious and traditional rituals or initiatory ceremonies of any origin or tradition cannot have failed to notice these two elements.

There is always a theatrical procedure in which certain individuals would somehow enact a role, and there is always a passage through the absolute darkness of the tomb, the cavern, and the triumphant return.

But one may say – and rightly so – that religions, initiatory ceremonies and all the rest, are relics of times past. What interest does this all have for an individual of the 21st century? Absolutely correct! So let us then take a look at the present.

Is it not true that all of us, all of you, children of technology with extended studies and self-awareness, nevertheless play some roles in our everyday life?  Do we know who we are, or has our training, have the expectations and hopes with which we are burdened, the actions we have had to take in order to survive, be accepted and evolve, forced upon us roles and masks in a way that we  have perhaps begun to forget – or have already forgotten our initial form?

There is a nodal and, at the same time, tragic point in psychoanalysis. The analysand believes that s/he has discussed it all, has told everything to the analyst. In fact, s/he has described everything comprising the safe images which justify his existence; all about the other evil individuals, his poor old self, and the inevitabilities of life…

And then what? Then delusions are over and you must face your real problem: yourself. It is a terribly painful moment but also a redemptive procedure. And you know, this sort of finding is not an invention of our times.

Do you remember Jacob from the Bible?

The Book says he wrestled with an angel for a whole night. He finally won but emerged maimed from that superhuman duel. His reward was to see the ladder connecting the worlds, the heavenly with the earthly, the microcosm and the macrocosm.

The rabbinic tradition has it that his great enemy, the angel, was none other than himself. The battle to win may cripple, but it ultimately redeems.

This age-old  enemy – our dark or unknown ego – is the one confronted in psychoanalysis in a sort of contemporary initiatory procedure. All the mysteries essentially taught that this same enemy is the one we must fight and converse with.

This of course, does not seem so old and obsolete in our modern times. Not now that every neighborhood has its own psychiatrist, some group offering drama therapy – that is, some sort of theatrical act – and every day we have new institutions, esoteric orders, self-improvement groups and so on, and so forth…

The necessity and agony that leads us all to such quests is primeval and therefore cannot be tamed by any of the shiny objects of our civilization. On the contrary, the storm of globalization nurtures the need a person has to belong to a group, to apprehend and more importantly, to control the primeval fear: that of darkness and death.

You see, man, is the only living being of this world to experience this unbearable tragedy. From the moment he comes to know himself, he also knows the inevitability of his forthcoming death. Whether today, or in two years, or in a distant future, whatever he has achieved and created, no matter how indispensable or important he might be, death is his sole destination. His future is oblivion and perhaps a faint reminiscence. A reminiscence of the child he might have been, in a green garden, himself being the guarantor and living proof that darkness and death have been defeated. This reminiscence takes us far back in linear time…

The stories of almost all the initiatory heroes, and most of the tragic ones as well, lie at the end of the Bronze Age, a pivotal time just before the patriarchal tribes would come to dominate Minoan Crete and the Aegean where the Great Mother Goddess worship flourished.

Now why would I mention the Great Mother?

In order to explain a symbol, one should first seek its origins. And the Great Goddess leads us to the first human cults at a time when cities did not exist.

The primitive society of the hunter-gatherer period was nothing more than a big nomadic family. They identified the lunar cycle with that of a woman who offers new members to the tribe. And since the magic of the woman’s cycle follows that of the moon, the miraculous force offering fertility to earth could not be attributed but to both women and the moon.

Thus a woman incarnated the first Goddess, the Great Mother, who attends humans and guarantees the regeneration of Nature and Tribe. She is a lunar deity and chthonic at the same time, since it is inside the earth that the seeds would die when the cold came, and therein rebirth would commence. In the same way that she will attend her mortal children, she will also caringly receive humans at the time of their death. So here lies the double symbolism, seminal and chthonic at the same time, death and rebirth, womb and tomb as well.

Groups of women and children were known as troupes, and together, they would organize the seasonal celebrations coinciding with the dominant phenomena, namely the solstice and equinox. In a festive atmosphere, they would combine the cheerful message of nature’s rebirth with the culmination of the adulthood celebration; the child’s rite of passage to the world of adults after having successfully gone through the dark womb-cavern-tomb. In the one-act ceremony– reenacting one murder and one resurrection – they tried to become part of Nature and through the emulation of a Myth, to liberate their tribe.

At the peak of the ceremony, the reborn <neophyte> would emerge from the darkness in exultation,  holding a freshly-cut shoot from the troupe’s sacred plant, to testify that the eternal hero is once again among his brothers. The annual and traditional festivities still celebrated by the entire community and praising joy and fertility, are the descendants of these ceremonies.

This ritual and its developments have been systematically studied from the time of Sir Frazer in his famous work The Golden Bough.

The sacred freshly-cut shoot protects the goddess’ beloved in his journey from the other world to a safe return. Remember Aeneas and the golden bough protecting his passage through Hades.

The freshly-cut bough remains the symbol and protector of the neophytes who went through the mystic death. It makes no difference whether it is oak, laurel, palm or acacia. We are interested in the symbol, not the name. The Great Mother and the Holy Infant, protectors of mankind, are common to all cults born around the Mediterranean.

Remember Horus and Isis, Semele and Dionysus, Attis and Cybele, Mary and Jesus. Without the presence of a father, a widow, since in ancient times the word denoted a “mother without a companion”, who raises a child without the presence or help of a father, and was worshiped in subterranean caverns called #χήραμις- Hiramis#.

Let me also note that from the time of Mithras, the initiatory and dying hero is referred to as the widow’s son, a legacy still followed by Masons around the world today.  Thus all important ancient rituals took place in a sacred location which was also the threshing floor.

The sacred rituals took place where the seed, that had been reborn through its own decay, was cleansed. We know for instance from the Bible that the procession carrying the body of Jacob from Egypt stopped at Atad’s threshing floor and made for seven days ‘a great and very sore lamentation’ and later, David offered sacrifice to stop a famine on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. Furthermore, at the beginning of the 20th century, it is reported that in Syria all great celebrations, weddings and funerals took place on threshing floors. The threshing floor semicircle where the ancient sacred rituals were performed, would become the orchestra and thymele, and later on, evolve into the theatrical stage.

Hence theatre was born from within the initiatory act when Peisistratus, in order to reunite his people, allowed Lycomides’ family to revive the Dionysian Mysteries.

Brecht writes in his ‘Short Organum for the Theatre’ that “in saying that theatre stems from the devotional, we mean it became theatre originating from that”. The initiate Thespis converted the dithyramb into drama, with the theatrical meaning of the term, and became the founder of the tragic genre when in 534 B.C he presented his first work near to Bacchus’ temple during the Great Dionysian Mysteries. Thus, the initiatory troupe became public and gave its name – troupe – to the theatre that was now accessible to all.

But why did the initiatory ritual vanish from the city, and why was there a need for it to return in the form of theatre? What had happened?  Cultivation was conceived by the women and children who maintained the settlement, since men were not of great significance, being away hunting and searching for food. In remembrance, a goddess such as Demeter offers the secret of cultivation and a child of royal descent, such as Triptolemus, spreads it among people.

Let us note the point that the child is of royal descent, because “king” in ancient times was a clerical title, not a secular or military one.  So, when women and children conceived of soil cultivation, they began to produce food and thus nomadic migrations were no longer necessary. The first City was established, and along with it, the accumulation of wealth. Then a new and more important, enhanced role is created for the warrior; to protect the City. The Warrior becomes king – not the clerical title which will later be usurped – and his power that guarantees safety demands its reward. The city is his and the political and religious hierarchy is placed under the pyramid of power created by him, with himself at the top. He initially places himself next to the sacred mother and the holy infant so as to become part of the sacred image and carrier of the royal line, of what until then had been matrilineal, and subsequently, with his power secured, banishes both mother and infant along with their mysteries.

Patriarchy has already begun with the definition of Hubris (abuse). Hubris is an ancient Greek word meaning encroachment of limits by insolent violence stemming from excessive sense of power. Tragedy, the theatrical genre created by the mystic troupe, initially dealt with that Hubris of power placing it at the edge of eras. Furthermore, this act generates the legendary archetype of the Rex Mundi, the anima mundi and the sacred king in some subterranean cavern – where their old sanctuaries were – or in a cavity of a magic tree. The archetype inhabits a suspended world and time, neither dead nor alive, awaiting the time and circumstances to reawaken in the present and restore his country to the previous dreamy state of happiness it once enjoyed. Most of the folk legends that await the ancient king – be it Arthur, Frederic or Constantine – are based on that very archetype.

But we digress. The era of Patriarchy had begun,and the mystic tradition never had good relations with any form of its power, nor did ever build them. Mysteries and their rituals have always been kept alive in secrecy outside the city, in the fields and the mind of simple people. Remember that pagan, a word that became a pejorative term in the early Christian years, literally means peasant, a man close to natural resources and the countryside. During the course of history, whenever some power needed to come closer to its people, it used, highlighted and adopted mystic traditions.

Peisistratus was the first in a series of such cases. The same procedure was repeated in the Roman and Alexandrian time, when the Dionysian Mysteries became part of the public religious celebrations.

First the Ptolemeans in the multicultural Alexandria, the New York of the time and a crossroad of peoples and creeds, encouraged syncretism without almost any bigotry towards the lingua franca at the time, the ‘common’ Greek language. Ptolemaeus A’ had called from Athens Thimotheus the Evmolpides, a priest of Eleusis, to bring over and establish the worship of the Mysteries in Egypt. The Greek Pharaoh combined the austere nature of the ancient Mysteries with elements of rich, Egyptian, – and note – religious ritual. Most importantly, this impressive theatrical enactment of the mysteries thus became public. Everyone could attend, in contrast with the ancient mysteries which were accessible only to initiates. The successor Pharaoh Ptolemaeus IV Philopator actively participated in the public ceremonies of Dionysian troupes. Osiris and Dionysus are the different names of the same dying god of the Mysteries <ΌσιριςδεεστίΔιόνυσοςκατάΕλλάδαγλώσσαν>. All the peoples of Alexandria were happy since the initiatory gods of their different traditions were accepted as alternative forms of the same unique dying hero or suffering god and even the Judaic religion is acknowledged as Dionysian heresy (#Book of Maccabeus# C’). There lie the roots of the philosophic rebirth of Neo-Pythagoreans and Neo-Platonism and on that land, a few years before Jesus was born, the Gnostics appeared.

Please note that when you come across references to the majestic Egyptian mysteries they usually have their origins in that public ritual of the Hellenistic period.

For example, take a look at the scene of Homer’s deification, found now in the British Museum, where Ptolemaeus and his wife Arsinoe crown Homer , enacting in this ceremony Time-Cronus and Ecumene- Gaia- Rea.

 

In the early era of Christianity elements of the traditional popular faith were integrated into the new religion. Orpheus with his lyre and the beasts of the ancient iconography became David of the Old Testament and subsequently the Good Shepherd of the New Testament.

On a cylindrical seal of the 3rd century A.D. there is a crucifix surrounded by a half moon and seven stars, symbols of the stellar immortality, and the scripture “ΟΡΦΕΟΣ ΒΑΚΚΙΚΟΣ”, Bacchic Orpheus, that is,“the one of the Dionysian Mysteries”. Christianity came much later and the cross itself was only introduced into temples as a Christian symbol in temples in the year 431.

The son of the supreme god and a common mortal woman, is put to death through deicide, rises triumphantly from the dead, ascends to heaven and is enthroned as King of the world; Dionysus or Jesus? In those distant times, initiates knew, just like Diodorus, that “sufferings of gods produce mysteries”.

The child with the halo is not baby Jesus but baby Dionysus and is from the House of Dionysus in Paphos, circa 2nd century A.D.

The enactment of death and resurrection, the main initiatory ritual, will become the dominant motif of the new religion. In his book “TheEatingoftheGods,” Jan Kott, one of the greatest theatrical academics of the 20th century,  correlates passages from Euripides’ initiatory tragedy ‘Vacches,’ among others, with various medieval rituals of the Christian resurrection, to demonstrate this relationship and correlation.

“In the ritual,” he writes, “being the enactment of god’s death and rebirth at the same time, cosmic and historic time coincide. Representative and represented, victim and victimizer, son of god and father god, god-man and man creator, all these are forms and juxtapositions of one and the same person.” In that kind of ceremonial act there is no parthenogenesis but only transmutation and evolution. The enactment of suffering and the resurrection depicted to be studied in detail by the believers of the ancient mysteries passes only in Christian tradition. In his ‘La Sacrifice,’ psychoanalyst Guy Rosolato says:, «What discriminates Christianity from the other two monotheistic religions that have prevailed in the last centuries – is the concept of the portrayal of deity. In Judaism it constitutes the only substantial restriction and Islam follows along the same lines. To Christians, the depiction of Jesus’ sufferings and death is not absent. On the contrary, that depiction is there to be enacted and studied in every detail. The subsequent resurrection by which Jesus passes again into eternity offers to Christians the alluring picture and the model of victory over death.”

However, a large part of the early contemporary period went through the dark ages. Mysteries, theatre and even simple pleasures became illegal. Only the true “pagans”, that is the rural people, insisted on carrying out their seasonal rituals at any cost, in the places where they had always done so- away from the cities, in fields and glades.

Performers came to be considered to belong to the same class as whores. But through their work, transmission of the oral tradition was preserved. The ancient Greek and Roman theatre, the texts and the masks, have been preserved through the Florentine-Italian commedia del arte which in itself constitutes too broad a chapter to examine at present.

As an example, on the left is an ancient sculpture from Constantinople Museum presenting a performer wearing a mask and next to it Commedia del Arte performers with their own masks.

Going slightly to the north, to the British Isles, brings us to a classic example of how a legend was altered and preserved in folk tradition, none other than that of the well-known Robin Hood. The mischievous “green man” who fecundated nature and appeared in the ornamentation of the early cathedrals, became the “outlaw” Robin. As King of  the May, he would call his followers to celebrate nature and on that day, as it documented by Bishop Hugh Latimer in 1530, ‘the church was empty because it was Robin Hood day.’  With ‘little’ John at his side, the not-so-loyal father Tuck and their beloved virgin Mary, they defend simple people from rapacity.

Who is the green man? May-bon or MAH-boon is the Celtic young son of the Great Goddess Mother who celebrates the autumnal equinox when darkness and light stand in balance before light begins to prevail once again. The young son will die and descend to the Nether World, and will come back in spring with renewed power as the Radiant son of the Goddess promulgating that darkness has once again been defeated and fertility will bless his people.

During the Roman period, this hero was identified with Apollo and Hermes. God of the sun, music and hunting, but also one who had suffered so much for his people, he was very popular among Roman soldiers who worshiped him as Apollo Maponos. His engraving can be found on Hadrian’s Wall.

In Christian times Mabon disappears but survives hidden in the natural decoration of cathedrals erected by medieval masons.

This green god of fertility is Puck’s archetype in Shakespeare’s MidSummer’s Night Dream.

How do Shakespeare and his theatre emerge from everything we have discussed, and particularly, from the shunned and socially lowly performers?

Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was an epic character of his time. With the aid of the Queen, he focused his efforts on giving birth to real English literature at the time Britain was on the way to becoming  Great. He was found in the same field with Arcadia’s author Philip Sidney and his party, philosophers and poets known as the “Αρεοπαγίτες” (Areopagitae or Areopagus). For all of them, the Master  was Dr. Dee, the last great ‘magus’ of Renaissance, doctor, philosopher, alchemist, cabalist, astrologist and mathematician, avenerable progenitor of Rosicrucianism, and the epitome of the ‘Renaissance Man’

Dee, the archetype for Shakespeare’s Prosperus in The Tempest, administered the plans for the first Globe Theatre.

(Remember Prosperus’ words: “We are of the same stuff as dreams are made of and our transient life is enveloped by sleep”)

Robert Dudley, Count of Leicester, a member of the Areopagitae party, was granted the first permission by the Queen to form a theatrical group and Shakespeare participated as an actor in the troupe of another member, Lord Strange. According to many scholars, the actor Shakespeare did not possess the breadth of knowledge necessary for the writing of so many works where historical events, elements of ancient tragedy, legends and traditions were so masterfully mingled. So according to them, the actual author was none other than Sir Francis Bacon.

Besides their actual contribution to science, the arts and the state affairs of Britain, Bacon and his master Dee were the bridge connecting medieval theurgists and scholars to contemporary times.

They say that Bacon’s foremost achievement was passing the torch of the ancient knowledge he received from Dee into an era seeking out new horizons.

Together, they gathered and classified the work of all those who had come before them, grouped with the last magi, and so contributed to the appearance of the first scientists. The request for a free science that would be accessible to all was also the demand of the Rosicrucians who had just officially appeared. Dee and Bacon are considered the progenitors of  Rosicrucianism. And in Shakespeare’s works – which, if not written by Bacon, were surely very close to their author – elements already exist connecting the author with the esoteric movements that would follow. For instance: Hamlet’s companions and betrayers are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; that is, the Rosicrucian and a characteristic Masonic symbol, the radiant star. Freemasonry would be officially organized one hundred years later but the first speculative Masons that appear in the beginning of the 17th century are members of the same party.

Companion and traitor, venerable guide, executioner and savior; different aspects of life, roles that alternate in every initiatory ritual trying to tell us something.

We have already spoken of alchemists, Rosicrucian, Freemasons and the theatre. Let us now see how the tomb, the second symbol of our title, fits in the tradition leading to our time.

Aside from the  transmutation of metals, medieval alchemists also sought ways to create spiritual gold.

“Takehissoulandgiveitbacktohim, forthedestructionofonethingisthebirthofanother,” iswritteninthe Auroraconsurgens,16th century.

Death and rebirth are but symbolic references to the stages in the progress of the Magnum Opus, their Great work. Uppermost in their work is knowledge, the achievement of Blackness, the nigredo. This phase of the work was called “caput mortuum”, i.e. “skull of the dead” and was symbolised by a skull and also by three dots inside a circle.

That was the starting point of the esoteric alchemic work signaling the process of man’s transformation into pure spirit or, symbolically, the transmutation of an impure metal into pure gold.

Only through this knowledge, the attainment of nigredo, could rebirth be achieved. Through putrefaction, symbolized by the skull, we have renaissance.

At the beginning of the 17th century, the Rosicrucians  continue their spiritual work in the Fama Fraternitatis, stating the position that: :

“We publicly affirm that true Philosophers barely esteem the fabrication of gold that is nothing more than an additional pastime; they have a thousand other, better things to do. And we say along with our beloved Father R.C.C. Infamy! Gold, nothing else but quantities of gold.”

How many have heard it? Almost no one.

The Rosicrucians appear with their allegorical manifestos, and the highest symbol therein is the tomb of their initiatory hero, Christian Rosenkreutz Christian Rose Croix).

It is a subterranean structure, in other words a vault, a scene described in every detail. The multiple symbolisms that it contains must become apparent enabling every candidate to study and penetrate them. Of course, always according to the measure of their ability, as magically occurs with every symbolism.

We do not know exactly what their initiation procedure was. But in Freemasonry which appears in the following century, the tomb of the antecedent initiatory hero of the fraternity and the passage through it is the central part of the initiation process which is also a sort of a theatrical act.

Here as well, the attributes of friend and enemy, of good and bad are entangled in the same person. The protagonists, changing identity and character, move back and forth from the present to another time where the drama takes place and they return when the one time murderer raises the one who now is his victim.

Temporal coexistence in theatre is something common for the experts (remember Jan Kott whom I mentioned earlier), but where did the craftsmen and their fellow theorists who compiled the Masonic rituals during the Renaissance obtain this information? Did they apply memories from their recent past or did they resurrect an ancient remembrance dating from the dawn of our existence?

The ancient Art of Memory and its teaching was one of the causes that led the heroic knight of science Giordano Bruno to the stake in 1600, as Frances Yates describes exceptionally well in her book of the same name. In the same year that Bruno was tortured in Italy, by decree of James of England, Shaw reorganized the Masonic fraternities. He makes specific references to theoretical ideas that have nothing to do with construction builders. Shaw then considered the Art of Memory a necessary qualification for a Master Mason (the word master is rendered from the Homeric μήστωρ –mistor/ mestor, meaning advisor, tutor, and later becomes μαίστωρ- maistor). It should be noted that this art was devised by Simonides of Ceos and was used by great orators, such as Cicero, but also by actors and all those who wanted to store large amounts of information in their memory and retrieve it at any time and in any way they wished.

To put it briefly, they created an imaginary theatrical layout in which the stage elements were mnemonic points of reference, to help retrieve images and texts related to them. This art was considered heretical and illegal at a time when people’s recollections had to be wholly controlled and fashioned as others desired.(An aim which I don’t think has been abandoned)

So, in my opinion, the information of the people of the Renaissance was  obtained through oral tradition which is always preserved by the people if it traverses the centuries in subterranean currents. It is on this tradition  that  Western Esotericism as we know it today has been largely based.

The tomb and the theatre.

I have very concisely tried to trace some characteristic instances of these archetypal symbols from the beginning of the human history up until our days.

The age-old fear of death and non-existence is rationalized or negotiated through the promise that, as always happens in nature, being children of Mother Nature ourselves, we will also be led, as seeds, to rebirth through death and decay.

The open tomb is but the symbol of victory against the age-old terror that must, after all, be conquered.

Subsequently, the theatrical act was and remains the necessary means to lift us above our everyday routine, above our own self. Contemporary drama-therapy acknowledges that and uses it successfully.

When you participate in a ritual, when you are in a disguise or wear a mask, you are no longer yourself with known limitations, fears or insecurities but you adopt and integrate the attributes of the symbols you are invested with, because you have accepted them.

When Thespis presented his first play, he used for his ‘actors’ the ancient form of disguise the Titans had when fragmenting the Divine Infant Dionysus-Zagreas, the “χρίσαι το πρόσωπον ψιμυθίω”, i.e. their bodies and faces were covered with gypsum and mud (“τρυγία” the sediment of wine).

Covered with mud, the initiated were no longer poor, mortal creatures, but the children of earth, the chthonic Titans who had been misled and committed the crime. The consumption of the flesh and blood of the initiatory hero Zagreas and the unification-purification by fire transformed them to the creature uniting the chthonic and heavenly world, the Adept Man.

As it emerged  from devotional secrecy, theatre gave birth to tragedy, seeking precisely to bring eventual catharsis through the proceedings, as Aristotle says.

«Έστιν ουν τραγωδία μίμησις πράξεως σπουδαίας και τελείας μέγεθος εχούσης, ηδυσμένω λόγω χωρίς εκάστω των ειδών εν τοις μορίοις, δρώντων και ου δι’ απαγγελίας, δι’ ελέου και φόβου περαίνουσα την των τοιούτων παθημάτων κάθαρσιν- Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation “ katharsis” of such emotions.».

Thus we arrive in the present.

How outdated does all this sound to contemporary man?

The tragedy of awaiting the inevitable  end, the terror of losing the self-image we have created for ourselves, of the complete obliteration of those we have loved, of what we have been, of those we have chosen to have around us, all these secretly or openly haunt our existence.

“Learning to live,” said Derrida, “should mean that you learn how to die, and consider accepting unqualified mortality (without salvation or resurrection, without redemption – neither for yourself or any other). From Plato onwards, it is about the old philosophical dictate: philosophizing means to learn to die.”

We owe it to ourselves to attempt to appreciate, to fight and conquer the darkness. At the very least we owe ourselves an attempt at living as fighters, not just awaiting our destiny. The heroic course of Hercules, of Aeneas, through Hades and the return back to the light is clear. Nothing mortal lives forever and the whole of Nature cries out –  though we don’t listen too well – that everything revives through putrefaction. Let us chose our threshing floor and welcome our dark ego there.

We all enact roles; roles we were taught to successfully confront adversities, roles we invented to gain sentimental benefits, roles that were imposed to attain professional targets.

These overlapping masks and disguises finally bury into oblivion our true form of existence. One can remember who we actually are behind all these masks. What reminiscence comes from the depth of our existence and does not allow us to be content as a herd?  Self-knowledge! Some meditation method may offer that to us, philosophy maybe, art… Art?

In his Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, Heidegger curiously resorts to the art of a poet in researching man’s relationship to philosophy. He says: “In essence, Novalis writes that Philosophy is Nostos (homecoming), an impulse to feel everywhere at home.”

Nostos is the invincible desire to return to your native land, when its reminiscence haunts your entire existence and you cannot escape or pretend.

“Has the contemporary city man,” wonders Heidegger, “the ape of technological civilization, not abolished nostos long time ago?”

Allow me to comment. Behind the Mask of the civilized ape lives and breathes a Ulysses, whose soul cannot be quieted by the glitter of the transient, and he desires to lead his companions back to Ithaca.

“Where does the impulsive desire lead? Not just here, nor to each place separately but everywhere and in the whole, to the entirety we call Cosmos. And what is Cosmos, the Wholeness that always calls us? It is where our nostos drives us. Towards where we have always been traveling but every time something pulled us back, calmed us down.”

Our ancient forbears called the protagonists of their initiatory stories heroes; those who volunteered to be crushed as seeds on the threshing floor, to go through the collective tomb and afterwards lead the dance of the feast.

Art, the playful sister of Philosophy, may suggest truths where there are no words to describe meanings. I shall choose Art to round off my narration and come out of the labyrinth of my prolixity:

Nikos Kazantzakis was one of the 3-4 most celebrated Greek authors of the 20th century. Millions worldwide are acquainted with his Last Temptation and the original, heroic figure of Alexis Zorbas through films based on these works.

While writing his own Odyssey he also published Askitiki (asceticism), one of his most important texts where, through a monologue he explores or even expresses his metaphysical faith.

His work cannot be completed except through the archetypal battle-ritual on a threshing floor; an earthen threshing floor located in man’s heart.

Over there, day and night, the battle with death takes place.

Who wrestles there?

It is the suffering god, the Omnipotent and not almighty to everyone who professes his faith; to him and the countless transient disguises he used through the centuries in the restless and heavy battle that makes matter fruitful, the life-giving source to plants, animals and humans.

“HELP!” – they say – TO CRY OUT LORD. “HELP!” YOU SHOUT, LORD,

AND I HEAR.

AND MY ANCESTORS AND MY DESCENDANTS AND ALL THE RACES, AND THE WHOLE EARTH, WE HEAR WITH FEAR, WITH JOY, YOUR CRY.

BLESSED BE THOSE WHO HEAR AND RUSH TO REDEEM YOU, LORD, AND SAY: “YOU AND I , ONLY WE EXIST.”
BLESSED BE THOSE WHO REDEEMED YOU, WHO JOIN YOU, LORD, AND SAY: “YOU AND I ARE ONE.”

AND THREE TIMES BLESSED BE THOSE WHO HOLD, AND NOT BEND, THE GREAT, DIVINE, GHASTLY SECRET:

THIS ‘ONE’ DOES NOT EXIST!

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