Friday, 18 February 2011

Greek maps.

A modern re-construction of a Mesopotamian map 900-600 BCE.

Anaximander (c.610—546 BCE) believed this world of ours to be floating at equilibrium, in aethyr (my favorite spelling) .Neither the vault of the sky, nor the earth itself needs to be supported by water, mountains or pillars.

In the Mesopotamian map (top of the page) it looks as if the 'mountains' hold up the sky.

Nevertheless, this map (as far as I know, Anaximander's)  of the earth as seen from above, is remarkably similar to the Mesopotamian (Akkadian) map of the first millennium BC :

The myth most likely to have informed the Mesopotamian map is the Enuma Elish -the description of how Marduck kills Tiamat and makes the vault of heaven, and the span of the earth from her body.
And the lord stood upon Tiamat's hinder parts,
And with his merciless club he smashed her skull.
He cut through the channels of her blood,
And he made the North wind bear it away into secret places.
His fathers beheld, and they rejoiced and were glad;
Presents and gifts they brought unto him.
Then the lord rested, gazing upon her dead body,
While he divided the flesh of the ... , and devised a cunning plan.
He split her up like a flat fish into two halves;
One half of her he stablished as a covering for heaven.
He fixed a bolt, he stationed a watchman,
And bade them not to let her waters come forth.
Anaximander does away with the supports for the sky as well as earth.

But before you start thinking that Anaximander had got everything right, in his view the world would be cylindrical, its diameter being three times its height.

We live on top of it.

So...where exactly is the Netherworld?

When Ovid places the abduction of Persephone in Sicily, he is paying respect to the Greek idea that places of volcanic activity are closest to the prison of the Titans, to the Netherworld, to Tartarus.

Virgil describes Tartarus  in the Aeneid as a gigantic place, surrounded by the flaming river Phlegethon and triple walls to prevent anything bad escaping from it, but Plato in Phaedo gives the most satisfying to my mind, the best description of how a world system works and what Tartarus is...

Plato describes a spherical world floating in aethyr; it is made from twelve 'skins' patched together (like a football). There are pits in the skin, and we live in the bottom of one of these pits. Mist, air and water are the dregs of aethyr that sink into the pits, and if we could only fly we would be able to peep out of our sea of air into the purer realm of aethyr -where the ground is made of gem stone- we would be dazzled by brighter, more vivid, clean colours unlike our corroded and dull and reflected colours.

This is the land of far away, and sounds remarkably similar to the land Gilgamesh finds after travelling through the tunnel of the sun.

It also reminds me of images of the ground strewn with gems in Tibetan thankas, and the visualisation when practicing 'prostrations'. It isn't possible to believe that the Greeks originated everything anymore!

Plato explains that the soul is made of purer stuff than the body, and so attachment to the body or to this world is an impediment to ascension, or rebirth in a literally higher realm. Those unfortunate souls unable to 'let go' become ghosts stuck in our world, unable to go on to the Acherusian lake. This explains why ghosts are troublesome and unhappy beings.

Meanwhile, Tartarus is the hole that runs from the top to the bottom of the world and if you wonder what happens when you fall into it (I have!) you may be reminded of the game Portal!

All the rivers of the world drain into and flow out of Tartarus. There are four main rivers. Streams from these rivers flow through our bit of the world. Th description is complicated:
"So then these streams are many
and great and of all kinds;
and it happens then that among these many are four streams,
the greatest and outermost of which flows in a circle
and is called Oceanus,
and opposite this flowing oppositely is Acheron,
which flows through other desert regions
and flowing under the earth arrives into the Acherusian lake,
at which the souls of most of the dead arrive
and having stayed for the time due,
some longer, and some shorter,
again are sent out to be born into living creatures.

"And the third river comes out between these,
and near its exit it falls into
a great region burning with much fire,
and it makes a lake greater than the sea by us,
boiling with water and mud;
and from there it withdraws in a circle turbid and muddy,
and winding around to another place
it arrives also at the edge of the Acherusian lake,
not mingling with its water;
but winding around many times beneath the earth
empties lower than Tartarus;
and this is what they name Pyriphlegethon,
from which also the lava streams drawn off
spout up wherever they happen to on the earth.
"And opposite this the fourth falls
first into a region terrible and wild, as it is said,
the whole of which having a dark blue color,
which they name Stygian,
and the lake, which the river emptying makes, Styx;
and having fallen in here
and received terrible powers in the water,
passing beneath the earth,
winding around it withdraws opposite to the Pyriphlegethon
and meets it in the Acherusian lake from the other side;
and also this water does not mingle with any,
but this too going around in a circle
empties into Tartarus opposite to the Pyriphlegethon;
and the name of this is, as the poets say, Cocytus.

But in the beginning there was? Generally in the beginning there was the void of water, or chaos or as Anaximander has it
"Together were all the things".
There follows a differentiation, the whole must break. An away from Ki (Sumerian) Shu from Geb (Egyptian) whilst Anaximander has a ball of fire surround a ball of slime which bursts into wheels!

Some cosmologies are as Berkurt puts it, 'Biomorphic' (mother/father) whilst others are 'technomorphic' requiring a god as a creator.

Homer follows the Enuma Elish (Apsu the begetter and Tiamat, mother of all) with Oceanus and Terthys. Generally cosmos is lifted out of earth, or, acording to Anaxiamander  wheels of flame and 'influence', and openings of fire around the earth.

Which could explain why Crowley called a suit of his tarot pack *discs* rather than coins...?