Saturday, March 6, 2010

Zodiac. The Mythology of Aries (I)

Aries is a sign of fire, the beginning of the cycle and so they are the babies of the zodiac. Injustice makes the natives of this sign sick and not for a second they restrain themselves form expressing their opinions to their girlfriend, a colleague, their boss or a Mafia padrino. They are sorry afterwards? Perhaps, but caution is not their thing. Just like a baby, an Aries lives absorbed in his needs: what he wants he wants right now and has no problem calling at four in the morning whoever may solve those needs. Now, is a baby selfish? Not exactly: he gives away his smiles, his faces, his feelings and all he has, much or little depends from your point of view, to those who meet their expectations. Aries is extremely naïve but direct to the point of bluntness, and utterly incapable of resentment: in a fight he can burn your house down but half an hour later he has forgotten everything and assumes that you, too ... though the house is now ashes.

Aries is represented by the ram, but what ram and how he ended up being a constellation?

The Flood, by the Greeks

Athamas was the king of Orchomenus, a city in Boeotia, one of the richest and most fertile regions of Greece, located southeast of the country. There were born glories of the Greek literature and history such as Hesiod and Pindar, but generally the rest of the country considered the locals rather idiotic.

Athamas great-grandfather is a version of one of the most repeated myths among all civilizations: grandpa Deucalion was king of Thessaly and was considered the most righteous man in the world, in a world that despised the gods since the men learned to dominate the fire. Since he respected the gods, Deucalion was chosen by them to save himself and his wife from the flood that Zeus sent to destroy humanity. Deucalion sailed in a boat with his wife and the animals on his farm for nine days and finally stranded on Mount Parnassus, where they left the boat and went to repopulate the earth (which seems exhausting, yes, but it is not as you imagine: Deucalion and his wife threw stones that became people).

The first man born after the Flood was Helenus, founder of the Hellenic race, which is the fancy name of the ancient Greeks. One of his sons was Aeolus, namesake of the king of the winds, which in turn was the father of Athamas.

There is no wrath like a woman scorned

Athamas, mortal, married a goddess, the one of the clouds: the beautiful Nephele. By her he had two sons, Frixo, the rain that falls, and Helle, the vivid light. And here, as in most of these myths that seem written to show how stupid a man can be, Athamas had an excellent idea: to repudiate his wife and remarried to Ino, a mortal. Somehow the guy believed the move would turn out well.

Nephele, a deity, wasn’t amused by the joke at all, so she left the region in a fury. Meanwhile Ino wanted the throne for her children so she intrigued to kill their stepchildren, the offspring of Nephele, which was made easier for her when Nephele sent a terrible drought to the region, in view of which Ino persuaded Athamas to sacrifice to Zeus the twins to appease the god. Athamas, insecure, consulted an oracle but Ino bribed the messengers to persuade them to say that the oracle ordered the slaughter: It’s hard to imagine a more repeated cliché for a stepmother, but I suppose she was a very original character at that time the myth was written. Given that only three generations ago the Athamas family had known firsthand the wrath of Zeus, the king was determined to avoid a massacre among his people, this time by means exactly the opposite that grandpa Deucalion had faced, so Athamas decided to accommodate such advice reluctantly.

The Golden Fleece

Nephele appeared in dreams to their children and told them the vehicle to escape their fate: the ram Chrysomallos, another subject from an illustrious lineage (in Greek myths not even animals willingly accept to being a nobody). Chrysomallos was the son of Poseidon, god of the sea. The god turned himself into a ram in order to seduce the nymph Teophane, but first he had the decency to turn her into a sheep and take her to an island of sheeps, which seems the most bizarre harem of history. From this encounter was born a winged ram with golden wool, Chrysomallos, which somehow ended up in the hands of Apollo, who gave it to Nephele.

The ram picked Frixo and Helle up, but she fell and drowned and that’s why the Greek coast is called Hellespont Sea. Anyway the ram continued with Frixo to Colchis, across the Black Sea (in Georgia today). What did Frixo do? What the devil does to whom serves him well: he killed the magical ram to give the golden fleece to the local king (his future father in law) who hung the fleece of a tree and put a dragon to take care of it. One generation later, Argos, son of Frixo took part in the expedition of the Argonauts to retrieve the fleece, I’ll tell the myth in some other post. And so the ram of Aries, which ended as a constellation by its heroic, if somewhat thankless, role in this rescue is Chrysomallos.

The natives from Aries, like the ram that sponsors them from the sky, is noble to the borders of sacrifice, determined to fulfill the missions he accepts (not conferred upon him: he doesn’t feel committed to anything until he say "yes"), resolved to arise again whenever he falls, and almost totally unable to tell a lie, though he can build the most complicated and convoluted fantasies.

Not everyone was happy: the gods drove Athamas mad and and he killed one of his sons with Ino, forcing her to jump into the sea with her other son in order to save him; there they were rescued by the nymphs. Strangely, from a jealous bitch and infanticide became a kind deity who protected sailors during storms. And Athamas died in poverty and seeking the hospitality of the beasts

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