I've been watching Joseph Campbell lately. This story of Thetis and Peleus was so interesting I had to transcribe it. The plate he used was prettier, but I couldn't find it on the web so, oh well. I also included a wood cutting of the image. But here comes the cool part- Joseph Campbell:
This beautiful thing is from Athens 5th century red figured ceramic piece. And it shows, a woman initiating a man. Actually in marriage the woman is the initiator. She’s the one closer to nature, and what it’s all about. He’s just coming in for , ah, um, illumination. This becomes especially interesting when we read who these two are. This is Thetus and Peleos. This is the mother and this is the father of Achilles. So it is a marriage. Where one becomes one member of a twofold being. Thetus is the beautiful nymph with whom Zeus fell in love. Then he learned that her son would be greater than his father, so he thought better of the relation ship and withdrew. And saw to it that she should marry a human husband. And so Peleos is her human husband and she is a godess.
The text tells us that when he went to take her in marriage, she transformed herself into a lion, into fire, into water, but he conquered her. Well, that’s not what you see here at all.
She has power that is symbolized here in serpent, and in lion. Now let me repeat, the basic story of the sense of these two symbols.
the serpent sheds its skin to be born again, As the moon sheds it’s shadow to be born again and the serpent therefore like the moon is a symbol of lunar consciousness. That is to say life and consciousness, life energy and consciousness, incorporated in a temporal body....
"Let us see now what is happening to the youth. One serpent is biting him here between the eye, opening the eye of inner vision, that sees past the display of the field of time and space,
The second serpent biting under the ear opening the ear to the song, of the music of the spheres; the music, the voice of the universe. The third serpent is biting the heal, the bite of the Achilles tendon, the bite of death. dying to ones little ego and becoming a vehicle of the knowledge of the transcendent-- becoming transparent to transcendence. That was the sense of the initiations that we were reading about. The woman becomes a vehicle at the time of her menstruation. And the man in his ceremonial is a vehicle as well. And so the world of art.
The two hands, now this is important- good and evil together. yin yang cycle. The Chinese. The mystical dimension is beyond good and evil. The ethical? dimension is in the field of good and evil."
One more tiny note. For this I am going to turn to the Venus of Laussel.
And Joseph Campbell's commentary:“This is from a shelf in France called Laussel. And It’s a very important and suggestive figure. This little Venus of laussel is holding in her hand, in her right hand, elevated, a bison horn, with 13 vertical strokes, that’s the number of nights between the first crescent and the full moon. The other hand is on the belly. What is suggested, we don’t have any words of writing from this period, What is suggested is a recognition of the equivalence of the lunar and menstrual cycles.
This would be the first inkling we have of recognition of counterparts between the celestial and earthly rhythms of life.
Alexandar Marshak published a formidable volume called “Roots of civilization” where he deals with a number of staves or staffs of this kind, which are notched and he has studied a number of these with a microscope and finds that the notches were not made by the same instrument at the same time on any one piece.
He says these are probably time factored counts, counts many of them suggesting very strongly counts of the lunar cycle. So may be out of women's concern for this rhythm that they will have recognised in their own bodies, that we come to mathematical and even astronomical reckoning."
So, I can't help wondering here, if the snake is associated with the lunar 28day cycle, is it possible that the association or symbol of the serpent beguiling Eve, is really the physical purpose of the female body, "over course of time" suggesting or "beguiling" the woman. For heaven's sake people, there are somethings daddy doesn't explain to his daughter, but he trusts that her body will explain it to her. You are beguiled because your body starts growing up from the innocence and naivety of childhood to the functionality of adulthood. You are beguiled when you realise there is more to do all day then sit in a garden living pablum cause everything is taken care of by mommy and daddy; At some point you want to grow up and try to do the amazing things mommy and daddy did. And to do any less is childish and selfish.
And so what we see illustrated in this story is the union of our physical nature complete with impulse and desire that the catholics so hated, bridled with our eternal purpose, our destiny, our spiritual force. We see this concept of "tangible as man's" revealed by Joseph, refuting and crushing the catholic dogmas of celibacy, original sin, carnal nature etc, a concept that brought him continual persecution ultimately expressed in King Follet, the testimony of which would have him killed by thousands; best expressed to us through a metaphor about leaving home, best expressed as a myth, bringing together a physical scientific event and imbuing it with eternal purpose and context, best expressed in a story that could not die in Carthage jail, albeit mangled and battered by misinterpretations of men. Those pathetic interpretations would continue to fall short of purpose, and fail, leading to an atheistic society. The story would continue to rise above it all, offering eternal purpose for our physical strivings. We need an Adam and Eve constellation! I love this story!