our greatest blessings come to us by way of madness Phaedr. 244a

2011/03/26

love and death

Eros, mediator of the Forms and their creations, is of Eternity, timeless time, and its material dependent, time itself. As for death, we find a connecting metaphor as Eros was used in the Anthesteria...

When the divine fields of motley flowers
Into the shady grove receive with open arms
The Bacchic dances performed by tender virgins...

The divine fields, the shores of Okeanos where Persephone was picking flowers... you can extrapolate the Bacchic Anthesteria festival and its mystery-wedding from this:

A happy and unique find is a krater in the Naples Museum, because the painting is clarified by an inscription. A winged youth throws a colorful embroidered ball to a hesitant woman. Looking outward but at the same time inward, she is resting one hand on a stele which bears the inscription. This stele is a horos, a boundary stone, and here it probably marks the boundary of the hesitant woman's home country, which she, wearing no ornament and lightly clad, must now leave. She does not reach for the ball, but looks with her shadow of a sly smile at the messenger who has thrown it to her. She will go. On the other side stands a woman with a grave expectant face, holding out to her a mirror and a tainia, a festive ribbon. The woman who thus hesitates is not a hetaira; she is a bride-to-be, but one who already knows. She would prefer not to travel this road.

Who the winged youth is and what the ball means we are told in a well-known poem by Anakreon:

Eros with the golden curls
Throws me the purple ball
And calls me to play with
The girl with the bright colored sandals.

It is Eros--golden curled in Anakreon, here dark-haired--who summons the girl to the game of love with the ball. The ball is an erotic message. Whence and wither? Eros is only the intermediary. What the hesitant woman thinks we are told on the inscription on the boundary stone: "They have thrown me the ball" --"they" in the plural, not any definite individual, even if the bridegroom is waiting in the background. The plural does not befit the language of ancient erotic poetry, but it does that of sepulchral epigrams: "The goddess of fate . . . led me down to Hades." Ordinarily they sent a messenger to act as guide, in this case, Eros. Often it was Hermes, the guide of souls. The woman to whom the daimon of love has been sent as messenger and guide hesitates to accept death fully, though it has already taken possession of her. She is unwilling, but she goes nevertheless to the great erotic adventure. For such was death in the atmosphere of the Anthesteria. Eros with the ball is an aspect of death. ~from The Greek Dionysian Religion of Late Antiquity in Kerenyi's DIONYSOS 365-367)