"A male was transformed into a man by the willful expenditure of energy. Above all, a man willed himself to be expendable. Like the sun, a man fed the fire of his honor on his own substance. The magnus animus, the animus virilis, squadered itself in contempt of its own dear life. Virgil's Euryalus declares to Nisus: "Here, here is a soul that scorns the light of life and holds that honor you are aiming at as cheaply bought if all its price is life" (Aeneis).
Livy's Torquatus argues against redeeming the Roman soldiers captured at Cannae with the following words: "Fifty thousand citizens and allies lay dead around you on that day. If so many exempla virtutis did not move you, nothing will ever move you; if such a great disaster did not make you hold your lives cheaply, nothing will ever make you do so" (Livy). It was the unnaturalness, the artifice of his ac- tions that, for the Romans, told the will of a vir. Being a man was a mannerism.
As an aside, the absence of a "feminine" version of virtus is not as puzzling or insulting as it might seem. Because it did not come naturally for a male to have virtus, it was no less natural for the Romans to attribute virtus to a female, who, equally unnaturally, showed exceptional will and energy. The virtus on which Plautus's feisty Alcmena prides herself is the energy she has shown both in preserving her chastity and in defending it (Amphitruo When...,Cicero praised the virtus of Caecilia, he was admiring the diligence, the energy, the courage, and the resolve with which she protected his client Roscius from Sulla and his favorite Chrysagonus.
The Romans associated virtus with vis, vires (physical power, vigor, vitality, energy, violent or forceful action). Accordingly, they also associated vir with vis and with viriditas, the flourishing vigor and potency of youth. But it is important to note that they also associated the female virgo (or vira) with the same notions.The vir and the virgo had in common youthful vigor, growth, fertility, freshness, and energy. The deliberate wasting of oneself and one's forces was a form of generosity, of liberality. Horace describes Aemilius Paulus, the conqueror of Macedonia, as "prodigal of his great spirit" (animae magnae prodigum Paulum [Carmina).
When, in the early fourth century..., a crevice mysteriously opened in the Forum, the soothsayers declared that if the Romans wished the Republic to endure forever (si rem publicam Romanam perpetuam esse vellent), they must sacrifice the greatest source of their strength. The valiant young warrior Marcus Curtius stepped forth. After admonishing his fellows that the strength of Rome lay in arma virtusque, devoted himself to a sacrificial death. Fully armed and riding a horse splendidly caparisoned, he leapt into the chasm (Livy).
For the Romans, the voluntary death of a Curtius or a Decius Mus was, to use the words of Bakhtin, "a pregnant and birth-giving death." And so Roman virtus, the aggressive and self-aggrandizing will of the strutting warrior (with its potential to disrupt all bonds and balance within Roman society) was controlled by its expiatory, sacrificial aspects; a man atoned for expanding by expending his being, by wasting the breath of his life. "Manhood," as Gilmore explains, "is the defeat of childhood narcissism."
In the Roman contest culture, then, to will death was not to deny life but to carve its contour. The contest drew its profile on the moment between exhilaration and annihilation, the electric and terrifying moment of the sacred. "Who, with the prospect of envy, death, and punishment staring him in the face, does not hesitate to defend the Republic, he truly can be reckoned a vir" (Cicero, Pro Milone).
For Yolande Grisé, a voluntary death could express the intensity of the Roman love of life and of action..." [C.Barton, Roman Honour, p.53-58]
Haunted Houses and Liminality: from the Deserted Homes of the “Faithful Departed” to the Social Desert of Schismogenesis
This paper begins with a review of Ghosts of the Faithful Departed, a collection of photographs of houses abandoned by emigrants in the Irish countryside. These beautiful and haunting images are interpreted, drawing from Heidegger, Jung and other sources, in order to identify and redeem some of the elementary forms that give meaning and substance to the idea of the home and what it means to be and to feel “at home”. This identification and redemption will locate a deep meaning of home that transcends the particularity of the Irish case and reaches out to a universal human experience. The empty house is interpreted as the liminal space of metempsychosis wherein one can see the waning spirit of the maternal goddess of the hearth, Hestia, and the ascendance of Hermes, spirit of the free market. The old, ruined house in the modern Irish landscape is a memento mori, an image of history as eternal recurrence (after Vico & Joyce) and a portent of a coming apocalypse (after Benjamin & Yeats). The new, contemporary house is “haunted” in a thoroughly modern sense; it is disenchanted, cold, empty, “haunted by the ghosts of dead religious beliefs” (Weber); and “haunted by a lack of ghosts” (Frye). Drawing from Lacan and Beckett, the paper will give a glimpse of the tragi-comic and absurd barren desert landscape that is emerging in the wake of the “property crash”. Finally, drawing from the work of Bateson and Mauss, the paper will explore the possibility of reversing the downward spiral toward catastrophe through the gift of social housing.
"A fundamental truth that we are being called to learn in the Age of Pluto is that reality is power! Schopenhauer and Nietzsche (and in a certain way, Adler), were on the right track but offered us unfortunate distortions. But power does not have to mean individual egoic power, war and hegemonic oppression. In fact, in this Plutonian period, if it continues to mean that, we will all be destroyed -- which is precisely the answer of power, that Plutonian power from which we are powerless to escape! Uranian Reason and Neptunian benevolence were offered in large part as alternatives to power; they stood against power. Democracy, including enlightened consensus-formed management, was not meant as an improved form of politics; it was meant as an alternative to politics which is always about power and vested interest (the default mode for human beings in groups). As Nietzsche experienced, the fact of mass democratization undercut some important source of deep life and passion; precisely the dynamic Plutonian unconscious. He was right about this, but the self-involved ego (likewise, the ethnocentric society) could not, without destroying and being destroyed, become the conduit of such power. The transformed 'individual' who was able to act as the conduit would be one whose nature embraced the collective as much as the individual -- which Adler knew, but Nietzsche in his individualistic isolation did not."
"Neptune is associated with the transcendent, spiritual, ideal, symbolic, and imaginative dimensions of life; with the subtle, formless, intangible, and invisible; with the unitive, timeless, immaterial, and infinite; with all that which transcends the limited literal temporal and material world of concretely empirical reality: myth and religion, art and inspiration, ideals and aspirations, images and reflections, symbols and metaphors, dreams and visions, mysticism, religious devotion, universal compassion. It is associated with the impulse to surrender separative existence and egoic control, to dissolve boundaries and structures in favor of underlying unities and undifferentiated wholes, merging that which was separate, healing and wholeness; the dissolution of ego boundaries and reality structures, states of psychological fusion and intimations of intrauterine existence, melted ecstasy, mystical union, and primary narcissism; with tendencies towards illusion and delusion, deception and self-deception, escapism, intoxication, psychosis, perceptual and cognitive distortions, conflation and confusion, projection, fantasy; with the bedazzlement of consciousness whether by gods, archetypes, beliefs, dreams, ideals, or ideologies; with enchantment, in both positive and negative senses.
The archetypal principle linked to Neptune governs all nonordinary states of consciousness, as well as the stream of consciousness and the oceanic depths of the unconscious. Characteristic metaphors for its domain include the infinite sea of the imagination, the ocean of divine consciousness, and the archetypal wellspring of life. It is, in a sense, the archetype of the archetypal dimension itself, the anima mundi, the Gnostic pleroma, the Platonic realm of transcendent Ideas, the domain of the gods, the Immortals. In mythic and religious terms, it is associated with the all-encompassing womb of the Goddess, and with all deities of mystical union, universal love, and transcendent beauty; the mystical Christ, the all-compassionate Buddha, the Atman-Brahman union, the union of Shiva and Shakti, the hieros gamos or sacred marriage, the coniunctio oppositorum; the dreaming Vishnu, maya and lila, the self-reflecting Narcissus, the divine absorbed in its own reflection; Orpheus, god of artistic inspiration, the Muses; the cosmic Sophia whose spiritual beauty and wisdom pervade all.
Considered as a whole, these themes, qualities, and figures suggest that the name Neptune is both apt and inadequate in denoting a mythological figure embodying the planet's corresponding archetypal principle. On the one hand, central to the observed characteristics is an underlying symbolic association with water, the sea, the ocean, streams and rivers, mists and fogs, liquidity and dissolution, the amniotic and prenatal, the permeable and undifferentiated. In this regard, one thinks of the many oceanic and watery metaphors used to describe mystical experience, the all-encompassing ocean of divine consciousness of which our individual selves are but momentarily separate drops, the ceaselessly flowing all-informing Tao whose waterlike fluidity evades all definition, the primordial participation mystique of undifferentiated awareness, the mists of prehistory, the amniotic fetal and infantile states of primary fusion, the oceanic realms of the imagination, the fluid nature of psychic life generally: the flow and stream of consciousness, the influx of inspiration, the fog of confusion, drowning in the treacherous deep waters of the unconscious psyche, slipping into madness or addiction, surrendering to the flow of experience, dissolving into the divine union, the cleansing waters of purity and healing, melted ecstasy, and so forth. One thinks here, too, of Freud's reference to the "oceanic feeling": "a sensation of 'eternity,' a feeling as of something limitless, unbounded— as it were, 'oceanic'. . . it is the feeling of an indissoluble bond, of being one with the external world as a whole." Equally relevant is William James's image of a transcendental "mother-sea" of consciousness with which the individual consciousness is continuous and of which the brain essentially serves as a sieve or filtering conduit (Cosmos and Psyche, 96-97)." [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
Do you think a "deconstructive pluralistic view" is typical for Neptun/Pisces?
I copied and pasted this term from a post by you over here. What do you mean by "pluralistic view"? I kind of know what "deconstructive" means, by intuition. The opposite of constuctive.
Is it maybe the "Bottom Up" thinking? I get into trouble with that a lot! Or is it more than that? Deconstructive to me includes some kind of value judgement. Is Neptun not affirmative too somehow? What Neptune needs is Mercury (communication) as in Virgo or Gemini. Some dry logic. Neptune tends to forget about aquiring the proper tools to achieve things. (Deconstruction)
Neptune/Pisces doesn't need an outside "God" for it has the "God"-Consciousness within itself. Other signs don't have that. Neptune therefor can claim any position aside from being an atheist. Developing "empathy" would mean to look at other signs need for a God. "God" as the big simplifier. The major sense maker. Meaning giver. This is not something all signs experience equally. In fact only Pisces does effortlessly.
Addiction is very typical for Neptun. It is it's very own being. For Neptun it is almost self affirmation to use drugs in a way.
I don't want to promote drugs in the least. But don't want to moralize either. I just want to use one term from a description of what drugs do, to make some more sense of it.
The German term is "Filterschwächung". A weakening of the filters. So drugs are in the way, if one wants to exceed in bottom-up thinking, since this weakening of the filters is a kind of all levelling. All gets levelled to a (more pleasant? this would be the value judgement) One-ness.
"J. J. Pollitt has argued that in the aesthetic vocabulary of classical antiquity the Latin pulchritudo was equivalent to the Greek to kallos (invisible, ideal Platonic Beauty), whereas venus-tas, “more mundane in its associations . . . [an] immediate sort of beauty which is known through simple sense perception,” translated the Greek charis (grace, charm), as Pliny the Elder attests.
For Vitruvius, the proof of venustas is the pleasure (voluptas) it gives, which indeed anchors architectural beauty in the world of the senses. Such beauty is not necessarily “mundane” or trivial but, operating in the world like rhetoric and religio, it is clearly worldly—a beauty whose worldliness the total exclusion of otherworldly pulchritudo from the vocabulary of De architectura appears to corroborate. But there is more to venustas than an aesthetic category and a translation of charis.
To begin with, one might recall with Cicero that venustas comes from Venus. According to Varro, Venus (love)—like proportion and symmetry, as Vitruvius repeatedly defines them—is a force that binds. Varro presents the birth of Venus herself ￼from the sea foam in a fusion of fire and water as the mythical paradigm for the binding force at the origin of all life. This force is the origin of coherence, universal concord, and community, wrote Plutarch, citing Greek sources, later in the second century A.D.;184 of all appearing in the world, according to Lucretius, whose De rerum natura Vitruvius knew, and who invokes Venus as “the pleasure [voluptas] of gods and men” at the opening of that great poem of cosmic order.
"Mother of Aeneas and his race [Aeneadum genetrix] . . . nurturing Venus, who beneath the smooth-moving heavenly signs fill with yourself the sea full-laden with ships, the earth that bears the crops, since through you every kind of living thing is conceived and rising up looks on the light of the sun . . . since . . . you alone govern the nature of things, since without you nothing comes forth into the shining borders of light, nothing joyous or lovely is made, you I crave as partner in writing [these] verses."
But the Venus Lucretius invokes at the opening of his poem is Aeneadum genetrix, mother of Aeneas’s race, ancestress of all Romans. She, Aeneas’s mother, had protected her son on ￼his treacherous sea voyage to Italy, where he came from Troy after its fall to father a new race of heroes. That this was so had been common knowledge since the third century B.C. in the foundation legend that Virgil later made epic and Augustan in the Aeneid. The Romans called the goddess they claimed as their genetrix Venus, however, not Aphrodite. And this Venus, arguably, named the very essence of the correct relations with the gods that, if properly maintained, guaranteed Roman might. It is in this that Venus might rightly be understood as the “mother” and origin of Rome, for the foundation legend naming her as the ancestress and divine source of Roman power became current in the century that saw the beginning of Rome’s con- quest of the Mediterranean world.
Venus is also a common noun, venus, which means “charm”: a thing, fact, or function that became personal in Venus between the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. Robert Schilling has argued that, in the religious sphere, the Latin venus is less charm as an aesthetic quality than charm in the sense of a magic formula or spell. The verb venerari (“venerate”) is to exercise that charm: to “exercise venus.” One did not “exercise venus” indiscriminately. Only gods were to be so venerated. In primis venerare deos, “above all venerate the gods,” Virgil writes in his Georgics. Not worship the gods in any vague spiritual sense, but perform the correct rites, for indeed Virgil continues: “and pay great Ceres her yearly rites.” Ceres’s rites were not the same as those of Juno, say, or Minerva.
In order to venerate or exercise venus on a god or a goddess, one had first of all to select or pick out the right ritual, a procedure which Cicero, adducing etymological evidence, gives as a defining condition of true religio. “Those . . . who carefully reviewed and so to speak retraced all ￼the lore of ritual were called religiosi, from relegere (to retrace or re-read), like elegans from eligere (to select), diligens from diligere (to care for), intellegens from intellegere (to understand); for all these words contain the same sense of ‘picking out’ (legere) that is present in ‘religious.’”
Proper selection is also a condition of venustas in architecture, where correct choice of the right proportional relationships yields the reward of pleasurable effect. “When venustas is taken into account, the appearance of a work is select [elegans] and pleasing [grata], and its members correspond with rightly calculated symmetries,” Vitruvius writes. If, in the religious sphere, a supplicant made the correct selection and properly performed the prescribed rite, he was rewarded with venia, another cognate of venus, which meant divine grace or favor. Seen in this light, Venus becomes less a personalized thing than a personalized relationship forged at the intersection of venerari, “to venerate,” and the venia obtained thereby—the interchange that, precisely, defined the mediating position that underwrote Rome’s special covenant with the gods and, reciprocally, her power.
Thus it is not surprising that, in the dying years of the republic, the individual Romans who craved a monopoly of Rome’s power all sought to harness Venus to personal ambition. The dictator Sulla claimed Venus felix (bringer of success or good fortune) as his special patroness in the early part of the first century B.C. Pompey later made the same claim for Venus victrix (bringer of victory), and crowned the vast theater complex he built as a victory monument in the Campus Martius with a temple dedicated to her in 55 B.C. Both Sulla and Pompey linked the patronage of Venus to their possession of the augural func￼tion that, as already noted, was the major axis of communication between gods and men. So, to an even greater degree, did Julius Caesar. The contest over who would monopolize Venus was endemic in the power struggles of the mid first century B.C. To Pompey’s Venus victrix, his rival Julius Caesar replied with his champion, Venus genetrix, the mother of all Romans whom he claimed as his personal ancestress and genealogical protectress and who became perforce the ancestress of Augustus, his adopted son. This direct line of descent, which underpins the whole of Virgil’s Aeneid, distilled as it were in the blood of the Julians the essence of the power that Venus (or venus) gave to Romans in general, making Caesar and Augustus, in whom it was thus concentrated, naturally more Roman, religious, and powerful than others. And so they were. Architectural proof lay in the Temple of Venus Genetrix which dominated the splendid new forum Caesar built adjacent to the old Forum Romanum in the early 40s B.C. to outbid Pompey’s Temple of Venus Victrix on the other side of the city.
In 44 B.C., not long after Caesar’s assassination, during the games Augustus held in honor of Venus Genetrix, a comet, the sidus iulium, had appeared to announce Caesar’s apotheosis. This star was figured on the head of his posthumous portraits, on coins, and also in the pediment of the new temple building. Validated by the painting, the star’s significance expanded to include the planet Venus: “Lucifer,” as she was called when she appeared in the morning, “bringer of light,” the star that announces the dawn. In the Temple of Divus Julius, the binding force of augury that ordered the world—the ratio of the “squaring” function that guaranteed Rome’s pact with the gods—became, thanks to Apelles’ Venus, plainly evident in the irresistible beauty of the cosmic, Roman, and, here above all, Julian genetrix.
Venus, as noted earlier, was the name Varro gave to the procreative force that joins fire to water, male to female. This force, he says, is inherent in Victory as well, because when Victory overpowers, she also binds. Like the newborn Venus rising from the sea, venustas, apparent beauty, is the visibility of the binding force that beauty generates through its power to inspire love."[Indra McEwen, Vitruvius]
The first step, the nigredo, the black stage, occurs when the alchemist boils the solid substance to a bubbling mass. This primary material is akin to “the dragon that creates and destroys itself,” to the “primordial matriarchal world.” The nigredo is also the ouroboros or caduceus of Mercurius, the alchemical symbol of transformation. Mercury is the world soul, both male and female, present at every stage of the alchemical process. His presence in the primal soup as the circular dragon or intertwined snakes suggests that even in chaos or death is the seed of organization and life. Though the nigredo is physical destruction or psy- chological pain, it is also the water of life, the womb. The psychological nigredo is a marker of melancholy, “confusion and lostness.”35 Often associated with the planet Saturn, this psychic state is far from the sun, a dark night of the soul. This mood is the inte- rior equivalent of the goring of Adonis and Dante’s trek into the wood. Like these redemptive declines, the melancholia of the nigredo is remedy as much as disease, marker of spiritual genius as much as symbol of material disorientation.
In this night arises a moon, the second stage, the albedo, the white, the transition from gloom and dawn. This stage appears when the solution is blanched, no color at all and the ground of all colors, transparent spirit and opaque body. On the one hand, it is the “good white snow”; on the other, it is Luna, heavenly queen. During this stage the swells of the matrix are “congealed”: Mercury as slivering snake is “frozen,” his quicksilver spirit transformed into a stable body. Mercury iced represents the world soul in a purified state. No longer boiling mat- ter (his ouroboric guise), he is matter and spirit at the same time. This new shape is innocence, the virgin waiting for marriage. Like the gloomy psychology of the nigredo, the moony one of the albedo is double. The whitened psyche, deep in dreams, forms a bridge between unconscious and conscious. On the one hand, fantasies pose dangers, for sleeping visions can easily turn one “lunatic.” On the other hand, the blanched mind enjoys glimpses of wisdom unavailable to the conscious ego. These oppositions are synthesized by the primary faculty of the albedo, the imagination, borderland between understanding and intuition, matter and spirit. From the underworld, Adonis imagines Venus; in the wood, Dante envisions Beatrice.
The lunar stage is the precursor to the sun, the rubedo. Achieved by melting and recrystallizing the white, the rubedo figures the process by which the Red King marries the White Queen to produce the philosopher’s stone. During this stage, the spiritual force of the red pen- etrates the purified body of the white, sublimating her from virgin to wife. The rubedo reveals Mercurius thriving as pure spirit, a fiery jewel capable of combining all oppositions into dynamic harmony—the philosopher’s stone. In synthesizing life and death as well as chaos and order, this rubedo jewel is not simply life, the eternal infant; it is also death, the dying king. Psychologically, the rubedo signals that the archetypes of the collective unconscious have been realized by the conscious ego. The unconscious becomes conscious: the man understands his feminine energies; the woman apprehends her masculine side. This is “integration.” Isis remembers Osiris, brings him back from the death, and with him engen- ders Horus; Dante, though weary from hell and purgatory, takes the hand of Beatrice, who leads him to the light. The imagination opens into the intuition. The microcosm within realizes its connection to the macrocosm, and both together become aware of their eternal relationship to the transcosmic, the pleroma.
The harmonies of the alchemical marriage and the psychological integration are not eternal but moments in a perpetual dialectic: the philosopher’s stone (the formed homunculus) is already the prima mate- ria (putrid death); Jungian individuation (the inner anthropos redeemed) arises from and must return to the darkness of the unconscious (the anthropos lost). This is the key point about the alchemical process: the alchemical work is endless conflict and resolution. Nigredo, albedo, and rubedo are all temporary instances in the ongoing processes of life, concordant discords between chaos and order, death and birth. Figuring these polarities is Mercury, who generates, sustains, and alters each stage in the work. This hermaphroditic presence is the origin, the primary material; the means, the world soul; and the end, the philosopher’s stone. Constant and changing, this “double” Mercury “consists of all conceiv- able opposites.” Hermes is the spirit of alchemy because he is a deity of complete being, revealing what many forget in their inhabitation of a half-world: chaos and ocean are the secret grounds of cosmos and city.
Mercury is the trickster, happiest when he is at play. Playing, he is able to achieve the double consciousness of the comic mode: the world is serious and not serious at the same time, a meaningful pattern of eternity and a filmy veil blocking the beyond. While immersed in the turbulence of the nigredo, Mercury can go with the flow and rise above the current. Resolving into the crystal of the albedo, Mercury stiffens into transparent geometry without forgetting the opaque flickers. He remains attuned throughout to the rubedo, the third term harmonizing matter and spirit. Embodying this tertium quid, Mercury never dissolves into fecund material, nor does he stiffen into spiritual rectitude. He enriches one pole with the other without becoming attached to either. This balancing act is closely akin to the great comic gnosis I detailed in my thoughts about the gently melancholy marriage between sorrow and joy." [ Eric Wilson, [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]]
"Playing cards are used for games and gambling, where one interacts directly with chance (or fate). Gambling with cards can be either a blessing or ruin lives. They are used for amazing magic tricks, pretending supernatural powers. In cartomancy they are sparks for the intuition and may even foretell the future. And they are powerful symbolic representations for numerology.
There are commonly recognized correspondences with playing cards:
4 suits for the 4 seasons
52 cards for the weeks in the year
13 cards in each suit match the 13 lunar months
365 days in the years (add the pips)
The modern deck is based on the French design, or as we know it today the English deck. These designs have pretty much stayed the same, following an original pattern, regardless of the maker. The exact shape of the pip or the design of the face cards’ colorful wardrobe may differ, but the essential elements remain the same. Card manufacturers simply follow a traditional design. But is there any hidden meaning in these designs?
I’ll offer one possibility. Let us consider the king court cards. Tradition holds the cards represent the following historic kings:
King of Hearts is Charles
King of Diamonds is Julius Caesar
King of Clubs is Alexander the Great
King of Spades is King David
The Kings of Spades and Clubs always hold a sword. The King of Hearts has a curious pose, holding his sword behind his head. He is also the only king without a mustache. But the King of Diamonds differs significantly from the other three king cards.
The King of Diamonds is the only king card shown in profile. In addition, the King of Diamonds does not carry a sword as the 3 other kings, but an axe. Why these differences? What is special about this card?
I have a theory. The King of Diamonds does not represent Julius Caesar, but the Norse God Odin!
A diamond is the shape of a rune, the Elder Futhark’s 22nd rune “ingwaz” or ing. The meaning of this rune is the Norse god Ingwaz, or Freyr. As the 22nd rune, 2+2 equal the 4 sides of the diamond’s shape. If the diamond actually does represent a rune, what other Norse symbolism is in the diamond cards?
In Norse mythology, Odin discovered the runes by sacrificing one of his eyes in exchange for the wisdom of runes. Thereafter he was the one-eyed god. The King of Diamonds has one eye and is gazing at the diamond shaped rune. His hand is raised towards the diamond rune, as if offering it to us. His other eye is hidden from view, for if it was shown eyeless the meaning of the king as Odin would be obvious.
The king cards all hold swords except for the Diamond King. In Norse mythology, Odin’s weapon was not a sword but the spear Gungnir. The King of Diamonds has an axe instead of a sword…a shaft of wood with a blade at the end, which could be a stylized version of Odin’s spear Gungnir.
Why have symbols of Odin offering the invention of runes to humanity? I suspect the designer used Norse mythology to make a specific point. The diamond is also a Masonic symbol used in scared geometry, and this symbolism really feels Masonic in nature.
Esoteric knowledge came at a cost, especially in the past. Historically those who did not follow the doctrines of church and state were severely persecuted. One could lose far more then an eye…it was truly dangerous. Heresy! The King of Diamonds as a pagan god offering runes means unsanctioned, unconventional or non-Christian concepts. Hence only one side of the king’s face is shown, his public side. The other side, maimed and eyeless, is the side seeking freedom of thought and freedom from - authority. And secretly offering it to those who seek the same."
"Human nature, essentially changeable, unstable as the dust, can endure no restraint; if it binds itself it soon begins to tear madly at its bonds, until it rends everything asunder, the wall, the bonds, and its very self." [Kafka]
"Janus was originally nothing but the god of doors. That a deity of his dignity and importance, whom the Romans revered as a god of gods and the father of his people, should have started in life as a humble, though doubtless respectable, doorkeeper appears very unlikely. So lofty an end hardly consorts with so lowly a beginning. It is more probable that the door (janua) got its name from Janus than that he got his name from it. This view is strengthened by a consideration of the word janua itself. The regular word for door is the same in all the languages of the Aryan family from India to Ireland. It is dur in Sanscrit, thura in Greek, tür in German, door in English, dorus in old Irish, and foris in Latin. Yet besides this ordinary name for door, which the Latins shared with all their Aryan brethren, they had also the name janua, to which there is no corresponding term in any Indo-European speech. The word has the appearance of being an adjectival form derived from the noun Janus. I conjecture that it may have been customary to set up an image or symbol of Janus at the principal door of the house in order to place the entrance under the protection of the great god. A door thus guarded might be known as a janua foris, that is, a Januan door, and the phrase might in time be abridged into janua, the noun foris being understood but not expressed. From this to the use of janua to designate a door in general, whether guarded by an image of Janus or not, would be an easy and natural transition.
If there is any truth in this conjecture, it may explain very simply the origin of the double head of Janus, which has so long exercised the ingenuity of mythologists. When it had become customary to guard the entrance of houses and towns by an image of Janus, it might well be deemed necessary to make the sentinel god look both ways, before and behind, at the same time, in order that nothing should escape his vigilant eye. For if the divine watchman always faced in one direction, it is easy to imagine what mischief might have been wrought with impunity behind his back." [[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]]
"A Janus head is a sculpture typically found at the doorway of a person's house. The god it represents, Janus, was two-headed, with each face poised in opposite directions. The phrase "Janus faced" as it comes down to us means "two-faced" or deceitful; but the original signification of the two-headed god meant vigilance and new beginnings, as in the word "January." To quote from Bergen Evans'Dictionary of Mythology, "It was a peculiarity of this god that the doors of his temple were kept open in time of war and closed in time of universal peace. They were rarely closed."
The image of Janus as two-headed reminds us that, as human beings, we are always radically de-centered and unknown to ourselves. It is no mistake that the doors of Janus' temple were kept open in times of war. In war, the other can take on the menacing quality of what is unknown to ourselves. Janus' signification of vigilance calls us to continually remain open to what has been marginalized, split off, and left out of dialogue, for it may appear in the face of that which aims to destroy us. The opening up of a dwelling-space can offer the dialogue which may thwart the mutual destruction which can result when we fail to recognize our disowned face in the face of the other. And, with such a dialogue, we cannot help but be transformed.
Janus is also the god of new beginnings, and as such he also contains the possibility for verdancy and youthful ambition. Janus’ love for the new betrays an element of Puer. Puer is captivated by the heights. He stands below and looks in awe at the rising Tower of Babel. The rising tower fuels his ambition for flight toward the sun. Icarus is the shadow-aspect of Puer, and the Tower of Babel is an Icarian project. Icarus is the adolescent in us who strains to break from the hearth to venture into the unknown. Yet, too hastily journeying forth into the blinding hot sun, Icarus loses the capacity for dwelling. His flight implies a love affair with death, and, like the rising Tower of Babel, Icarus’ transcendent departure toward the sky must inevitably end with a tragic fall.
Must Janus with his new beginnings suffer such a tragedy? Perhaps not. Janus’ two-faced countenance allows him both a forward and a backward glance. Janus journeys outward away from the hearth, yet he does not forget his origin. In the case of Janus, the journey is not linear; it is cyclical. Janus travels into the strange and alien territory outside of the human place of the polis, but he does so in the service of the return. Without his youthful enthusiasm, Janus would not have the courage to leave the hearth, and, failing to take the journey, he would stagnate, suffocated by his attachment to the familiar and taken-for-granted. Venturing forth, Janus is estranged but not stranded. In his estrange-ment, his dwelling place -- his origin -- becomes uncanny. He returns with boons for his community, and his dwelling place is enriched by the strange treasures he bears along with him on the festive return home. The journey outward is not in the service of an ethereal escape from the human realm; rather, Janus’ adventure into the strange is in the service of a transformation of the ground of his dwelling.
In “Theorizing, Journeying, Dwelling,” Bernd Jager writes:
The journey cut off from the sphere of dwelling becomes aimless wandering, it deteriorates into mere distraction or even chaos or fugue. The journey requires a place of origin as the very background against which the figures of a new world can emerge...To be without origin, to be homeless is to be blind. On the other hand, the sphere of dwelling cannot maintain its vitality without the renewal made possible by the path. A community without outlook atrophies, becomes decadent and incestuous. Incest is primarily the refusal of the path; it therefore is a refusal of the future and a suicidal attempt to live entirely in the past. The sphere of dwelling, insofar as it is not moribund is interpenetrated by journeying (249).
Janus is a theorist in the original Greek sense of theoria, which, as Jager shows, includes the idea of a journey. From the sixth century B.C., The Theognis depicts the theoretician as the official representative of the polis who visits the Delphian oracle. Here, the theorist is described “as a recipient of the divine message and as a faithful transmitter of that message back to the people” (236). The poet, then, is a theoretician in the truest, most original sense of the word.
The poet is the dwelling-venturer who discovers the Divine not by rising above materiality, but rather by a deepening of experience. Allen Tate makes the distinction between the angelic imagination and the symbolic imagination. While the angelic imagination “tries to disintegrate or to circumvent the image in the illusory pursuit of essence,” the symbolic imagination “conducts an action through analogy, of the human to the divine, of the natural to the supernatural, of the low to the high, of time to eternity” (427). The symbolic imagination begins within the human place, and through the soul-making of de-literalizing the image, the poet works to show the traces of the Divine in the concrete description of the mundane. The poet who imagines symbolically cultivates the dwelling-place of the human, and she does not mistake herself for a god. Instead, she discovers the gods in the round dance of the fourfold — Earth, Sky, Gods, Mortals — as this movement is gathered by things. With the imaginative description of the thing, the poet both witnesses and participates in the dance, and she finds herself within a deeper, richer, more human place. The angelic imagination, however, is the mode of understanding that fueled the foolish Babel project. Tate writes:
When human beings undertake this ambitious program, divine love becomes so rarefied that it loses its human paradigm, and is dissolved in the worship of intellectual power, the surrogate of divinity that worships itself. It professes to know nature as essence at the same time that it has become alienated from nature in the rejection of its material forms (429).
Thus, if we are to avoid the catastrophes of the Babel project, we must cultivate our human place with the symbolic rather than the angelic mind. The angelic mind is an Icarian mind which, leaving behind the (h)earth, finds itself homeless.
Janus’ journey is not Icarian flight, nor is it a vertical transcendence. Janus’ venture is a horizontal outward movement beyond the threshold of the familiar for the sake of the eventual homecoming. Yet, for the dwelling-venturer, home is no longer the merely familiar. Recall Marlowe in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Returning home from his excursion into the dark and savage recesses of the Congo, his London home becomes alien. He resents the pedestrians who walk the streets, content with their naive absorption in the merely familiar when he has seen “the horror, the horror...” At home, Marlowe is estranged. With the transformation of the ground of one’s dwelling, the ground is no longer mere ground, but reveals its nature as abyss, as unground. At home, Marlowe is no longer at-home.
The journey outward is not linear, but cyclical. Yet such an eternal re-currence is not mere eternal recurrent of the same, but rather, as Gilles Deleuze interprets Nietzsche, the eternal recurrence of the new.
Human nature, essentially changeable, unstable as the dust, can endure no restraint,” writes Kafka (42). The Puer spirit “tears madly at the bonds,” and embarks on his becoming in his confrontation with the strange. This is a period of chaos, the necessary turning away from the sphere of dwelling in the direction of change. Celtic legend speaks of the journey to the sacred mountain of Cader Idris. The traveler there may discover one of three different fates: She may die, she may go mad, or she may become a poet-visionary. She cannot stay the same. Upon her trek to Cader Idris, the venturer may denounce the comforts of home and seek the purity of the clear light of the sun which shines brightest at the peak. This is the seeking of a purity which leaves behind the carnal body — in short, this is death to the world. Or the traveler may too eagerly scale her way to the top of the mountain and lose site of home. For her, there is no returning. Lost in the strange and alien, the venturer becomes mad. Finally, there is the venturer who does not seek the pure essence of the peak, but rather goes forth upon the mountain so that she may bring back boons for her people in the valley below. She carefully tracks her steps, marking her path, and, once beholding the spectacle of the mysterious Cader Idris, she returns home with poetic visions which renew the soul of her community. The two-faced Janus, both looking forward and facing backward, is like the poet-visionary who keeps track of the origins from whence she came, and, doing so, her return is assured. In the spirit of Janus, Janus Head seeks to be the dwelling- venturer, who travels outward and returns with the treasures of the alien such that the ground of our dwelling may be transformed and ever-renewed."
Empedocles described four periods in the twin motion of the world between Strife and Love;
a) the mixed sphere - homogenous/heterogenous
b) hate gives rise to separation
c) culmination of hate - separates all things
d) philia (love) returns and tne things begin to unite again.
Man has a twin nature. A self that is constantly pulling apart and reinstating the limits of its boundaries, and a self that is constantly binding, breaching and corroding these limits. The Self is Janus-faced.
"Pleasure and displeasure are lower rank value judgments." [N., WTP, 61]
N.'s Overman was a balance and an elevation, an overcoming of this Janus-Be-ing...
"When Nietzsche, in considering the projection of the classical (tragic) into the modern in The Birth of Tragedy, writes "Scholarship, art, and philosophy are growing together inside me to such an extent that one day I'm bound to give birth to centaurs" (Letter to Erwin Rohde, in Nietzsche: A Self-Portrait from his Letters, p. 10 cited and examined in Sloterdijk, Thinker on Stage: Nietzsche's Materialism, p. 11), this untimely double-figure, half man and half animal (both classical and modern) marks the insight of Nietzsche's larger project: "suddenly, Greek antiquity was no longer a faithful mirror for humanistic self-stylization, nor a guarantee for reasonable moderation and proper bourgeois serenity. In one stroke, the autonomy of the classical subject was done away with. From above and from below, from the numinous and the animal realms, impersonal powers broke into the standardized form of the personality and turned it into a tumbling mat for dark ands violent energies, an instrument of anonymous universal forces." [Sloterdijk, Thinker on Stage: Nietzsche's Materialism, p. 14]"
The gateway of the blinking moment between past and future, between self-preservation and self-assertion.
"Sanctus Januarius. Thou, who with flaming lance. My soul from its ice set’st free, With a rush and a roar advancing. Longing to enter the sea, Ever brighter and ever purer, So free in your sweet constraint, All praise to your wondrous miracle, January, you beauteous saint!" [N., Genoa, January 1882.]
"Why do we fear and hate a possible reversion to barbarism? Because it would make people unhappier than they are? Oh no! The barbarians of every age were happier….The reason is that our drive to knowledge has become too strong for us to be able to want happiness without knowledge or the happiness of a strong, firmly rooted delusion…. Knowledge has in us been transformed into a passion which shrinks at no sacrifice and at bottom fears nothing but its own extinction…. Perhaps mankind will even perish of this passion for knowledge! … if mankind does not perish of a passion it will perish of a weakness." [N.]
"The condition for excellence is a thorough training in technique. Sheer skill must pass out of the sphere of conscious exercise, and must have assumed the character of unconscious habit ... [but] the training which produces skill is so very apt to stifle imaginative zest ... Beyond that [trained] limit there is degeneration... The moment of dominance, prayed for, worked for, sacrificed for, by generations of the noblest spirits, marks the turning point where the blessing turns into a curse. Some new principle of refreshment is required. The art of progress is to preserve order amid change, and to preserve change amid order. Life refuses to be embalmed alive. The more prolonged the halt in some unrelieved system of order, the greater the crash of the dead society." [Process and reality]
"If seduction is challenge, transgression, and negation, venusian charm implies an opposite attitude of acceptance of the given and affirmation of the present. This does not mean resigned and forced acceptance, obtorto collo, as seems implicit in the verb colere. Nor does it indicate good natured consent, as in placare, but rather full assent, a disposition of the will to "say yes", to venerate, to give oneself without reservation. Raymond Radiguet, one of the most important twentieth-century interpreters of venusian charm, has captured the essence of veneratio: "it means to devalue things and misrecognize them, to want them to be different from what they are, even when one wants them to be more beautiful."
Veneratio is a silent movement because it suspends and silences the subjective desires, individual passions, and disordered affections that would impose themselves noisily against the divine and human givens that require their realization without seeing or understanding reality, and that rush toward utopia and destruction, oscillating between arrogance and desolation, exaltation and depression. The Roman goddess Angerona, goddess of will and occasion, seems to personify the silent premise of all veneration: her simulacrum held a finger to her lips, ordering silence. Veneratio means to say yes above all to the gods and hence to abandon totally all Prometheism, all hubris in the face of the divine. Man must please the gods, they must be enchanted, enthralled, fascinated by whoever turns to them. The captatio benevolentiae is the starting point of this eroticism. But the gods must be silent if they are to be venerated.
It seems that the Romans introduced veneration at precisely the same moment that they took speech from the gods, deprived them of myth and tne narration of their feats. Georges Dumézil has shown that the gods of the Roman religion are the same as those of the Indo European pantheon, but demythified, silent. Unlike Etruscan religion, Roman religion has no revelation: the Sibylline Books are a mere collection of rites to expiate the prodigal. The injunction "favete linguis" that invited participants to facilitate the ceremony's course with silence was therefore addressed to the gods themselves. Veneratio means to say yes to the world and hence to abandon resentful attitudes, preconceived criticism, or systematic refusal of the present. It is impossible to be charming if one is not at peace with the world, with the spirit of one's time, with one's surroundings. To venerate Venus in the world means to be willing to recognize the variety of her manifestations and to will them according to the occasion. Chastity and orgy, marriage and prostitution, monogamy and polygamy, homosexuality and heterosexuality: these are not incompatible realities among which one must choose once and for all, but situations one may appreciate in the proper moment. Yet the condition of their appreciation remains their silence, their discretion, their demythification. To be charming means not only to be ready for the opposite with the same indifference, but also to maintain a detachment that allows one to respect the cadence and rhythm even in the most decisive action. Venus presented herself to the veneration of the Romans in two apparently incompatible forms: as Venus Verticordia and as Venus Erucina. The cult of the former was aimed at turning the minds of young girls and women to chastity. The cult of the latter, of Sicilian origin but promoted to the rank of Roman divinity and honored with the erection of a temple on the Campidoglio, was instead closely linked to the practice of prostitution. The attribution of such opposing qualities to the same goddess does not arise from a nihilistic attitude that wishes not to compromise itself and hence favors one quality at one moment and another at the next, but rather from a profound intuition that manifests itself in the quality of the cult. Diodorus Siculus recounts that when the Roman magistrates traveled to Sicily, they always honored the sanctuary of Eryx with sacrifices and homages and "in order to please the goddess, they forgot the gravity of their mission in order to make merry in the company of women". These magistrates were thus charming in the eyes of the goddess before they appeared to those of her priestesses precisely because they took a detached interest in pleasure, a non-participatory participation. The poet Giambattista Marino astutely captured this venusian indifference in regard to chastity and lust when he shows in his Adone "Venus applauds obscene works no less than their opposite."
Finally, veneratio means to say yes to oneself. Not, of course, to one's own desires, dreams, and ideals: all these things are too imbued with negation and absence, too abstract and inconsistent to be truly retained as elements or aspects of oneself. Seduction may be rightly defined as a magic of absence, but "venus" is, quite to the contrary, inseparable from presence, from one's own situation, from that which is given to us. To venerate means to be at peace with oneself, to know how to will backward, to want that which has happened, to transform (as Nietzsche's Zarathustra says) every "so it was" into a "thus willed it to be." Veneration is "amor fati", a will to want that which has been and is, yet not in order to remain locked within the circle of an eternal return of the same, but on the contrary in order to want the present without being conditioned by its contents. It is thus the opposite of quietism that abandons itself completely to fate. It is the human participation in veneration that transforms any event into destiny, because the entire past was already "destinal".
And yet the repetition and devotion implicit in veneratio are not a true faithfulness. By silencing the gods, the world, and oneself, veneration is the premise of a mimetism that distorts all the more the more formally identical it is to its model. Radiguet remarks: "Nothing resembles things themselves less than those things which are close to them." This is especially evident in the consequences of the ritual of evocatio, used by the Romans to invite the enemy's gods to leave their cities of origin and come to Rome. The formula used to "evoke" foreign gods was "veneror veniamque peto." It is evident that the veneration of foreign gods required the initiation of a Roman rite dedicated to them, a rite that was more dislocation and distortion, "déplacement" and "détournement", than respectful procedure. At the base of Roman religious syncretism and of its extraordinary ability to assimilate the most diverse cults, one finds an attitude of veneration and acceptance that is not mere affability, but rather a most original erotic strategy, subtle philosophical and political thought. It would be a grave error to consider veneration a weakness or meekness; it is rather the arm of a "pium bellum", of a good war conducted without resentment. The association of Venus and Mars that the Romans probably borrowed from the Greek couple Aphrodite-Ares therefore reveals a meaning that is deeper and more exquisitely Roman. The connection between veneration and war figures also in "devotio", the rite in which a commander in particularly dire straits recited a formula, a "carmen" that dedicated him to the Manes and to the earth, in order to obtain victory. His offering himself to the beyond reveals a relation between venusian charm and death that is radically different from that which links Don Juan to the statue of the "commendatore" in seduction, or that which links Tristan to suffering and catastrophe in love. Whereas Don Juan is forced to accept the statue's fatal invitation, and Tristan's love is by definition opposed to mundane reality, the Roman commander spontaneously consecrates himself to death in order to win. For him, being among the Manes is once again a way to say yes to the present." [Venus]
"If "hubris", the arrogance implicit in seduction, invites hate and punishment, if amorous suffering is compensated by moral redemption and spiritual salvation, the veneratio of venusian charm solicits venia: the benevolence and grace of the gods, the world, and man. Venia is not properly speaking forgiveness, because no sin or even indulgence has been committed. Nor is it an allowance of space and time for repentance, since no deviation or error has occurred, in the venusian dimension, man is innocent. Of course his innocence is not ingenuous, spontaneous, and natural; it is an innocence located beyond good and evil because veneratio initiates a new beginning. Titus Livy tells that after the devotio of the consul Decius Mus, the Romans "took up the battle as though the sign had been given for the very first time".
A conspicuous part of the charm that the venusian perspective has exercised upon poets in particular derives from its character as repetition that presents itself as different, other, not identical to the preceding one, to the model or original. Here we find a explanation of the link between Venus and spring that is less banal than the usual generic reference to enchantment and the flowering of nature. The return of spring is enchanting because it initiates a transition, a passage from the same to the same. The refrain of the poem "Pervigilium Veneris" brings to the fore the cancellation of experience, the indifference in the face of past erotic experience: "Cras amet qui numquam amavit, quique amavit cras amet" ("Let those who have never loved love tomorrow, let those love tomorrow who have loved").
Venia is the consenting response of the divinity who has been an object of veneration. In the mutual relation of veneratio venia that is established between man and divinity, Venus combines in herself the two poles of the relation: she says yes to those who, inspired by her, have already said yes. She is thus the propitiator par excellence: she suggests "obsequium" and is "obsequens", is propitious and compliant to whoever already moves within a horizon of propitiation and condescension. Roman deities are endowed with venia, and Venus is by definition "obsequens" because assent and affirmation are implicit in the very notion of "numen", of divine power. "Numen" comes from "nuo", to nod. Of course this does not mean that the gods may not be irate or hostile at times, but there is always an expiatory or propitiatory rite that reestablishes the "pax deorum". It is this faith in the fundamentally favorable nature of the divine and of the present that allows the Romans to deify (to the horror of Augustine and Hegel) even the most harmful forces like fever and the goddess Lua, symbol of disorder and destruction, as well as the most secondary and laughable forces like those named in the "indigitamenta", because all these participate in some way in presence. Upon this faith is founded the possibility of assimilating the most diverse religions to that tolerant syncretism of the strangest cults that characterizes the development of Roman religion. They only thing that is truly unassimilable to the Roman pantheon is moral radicalism, precisely because it negates the present in the name of an "ought to be," of German idea of "Sollen", of utopia. The concept of aid is implicit in "venia". It is curious that the verb "nuo" (I assent) is confused with an archaic "nuo" that means "I suckle" "I nurse" (whence "nutrix"). The idea of benevolence and of "venia" thus seems linked to that of aid given in early infancy, in a state of extreme need. No matter how much this may tempt us to consider Venus as one of the many manifestations of the Mediterranean archetype of the Great Mother, such an identification would overlook the essential point. Readers of the Aeneid will certainly remember the episode in book 12, when Venus Genetrix runs to the aid of her son, Aeneas, who has been wounded in the battle against Turnus. Venusian literature is equally rich in examples that intend the aid of Venus in an erotic sense, from the Camoens of the Lusiadi (for whom Venus conjures up from the sea a lovely island inhabited by quite compliant nymphs who give themselves in the most voluptuous ways) to Radiguet, for whom Venus ironically "lets us glimpse her secrets, her fruits" unconsciously in sleep. But the notion of aid implicit in "venia" is much broader than that of maternity or sexual surrender: it must be understood in all its material and spiritual latitude. Venus is "obsequens" not only like a mother who nurses or matrons who, fined for their adultery, financed the erection of Venus's first temple in Rome in 295 B.C. The characteristic of her "venia" is of the philosophical order: it implies above all a willingness more general and vast.
If "veneratio" is to say yes to the gods, the world, and oneself, first silently and then according to ritual carmina, "venia" is to receive a yes from the gods, the world, and oneself, at first through a mute nod, a sign of approval, an intimate consent, and then through a word that is almost "independent of him who speaks it" which means ''not insofar as it signifies, but insofar as it exists."
This is the meaning that Emile Benveniste attributes to the root *bha whence "for" (to speak) and its derivations "fas", "fama", and "fibula". Of course the idea of "fas" understood as a divine word in a mute pantheon presents some difficulty, but the important thing is to point out the affirmative character implicit in the word "fas" and its ritual, demythified aspect. Thus the term "fama" seems to have originally had an affirmative intention. Finally "fibula", the fabulation of oneself, may create a persona (in the Roman sense of mask), but not a subject: the doubt about its reliability from the very start prevents the individual from failing pietas and becoming arrogant. Just as "veneratio", the giving of praise, turns into a mimeticism that dissolves the meaning of that which it praises, so "venia", the receiving of praise, finally annuls the content of that which is praised. The facility with which one is accepted as a sexual partner in contemporary life is part of the venusian charm, but this does not justify any particular complacency nor does it authorize any intimacy. These encounters, consummated without pathos and without anyone attributing any particular importance to them, have a profound enchantment: they are appreciable ceremonies precisely because they are empty. They are under the sign of Venus: the "venia" exercised in them annuls all vanity." [Venus]
"The luckiest throw in the game of dice, obtained when the four die each showed a different number, was called "venerium" by the Romans. This illustrates the relation between Venus and success. While seduction seems connected to an unhappy destiny, and love reciprocated has been wittily defined by Samuel Beckett as a short circuit, venusian charm is inseparable from success and a happy ending. Thus to remain locked within the metaphor furnished by the game of dice is misleading: Venus has nothing to do with chance. Her protégé would be like a player who "executing 100 throws, 100 times gets the venerium," but for the Romans such pretension would be an expression of the arrogance that is precisely the opposite of the venusian spirit. Presumptuousness Livy calls it "iactantia" - was the sin of the inhabitants of Praeneste who believed they could always win because they were protected by Fortuna Primigenia, who is foreign to the spirit of the Roman religion. Fortune, mere chance, does not at all occupy an eminent position in the Roman religious cosmos, and the idea of an essential and absolute originality is opposed to the experience of a city that was born and developed through assimilating and distorting mechanisms. It is not by chance, then, that sources exhibit traces of a polemical attitude on the part of the Romans with respect to the Praenestine cult of Fortuna, an attitude apparent in the prohibition on consulting its oracle.
The Roman suspicion of the concept of fortune has a philosophical basis: it depends upon the contrast between a voluble and uncertain "fortuna" and the venusian "felicitas", "solid and sincere". That Servius Tullius, son of a slave and patron of slaves, fortunately conceived and made king, had according to tradition dedicated a temple to Fortune tallies perfectly with this assertion. As Angelo Brelich observes, "Fortuna" in Rome is the goddess of slaves and those who live by their wits ("sine arte aliqua"), of those whose only remaining hope is for a stroke of luck. The goddess "Spes" is in fact associated with Fortuna in the Praenestine sanctuary. The success of Venus's protégé is not due to aleatory factors, for he is not under the sign of hope, which awaits events that may or may not happen. Nor must he be tainted by arrogance, and hence does not depend upon the presumption that certain favorable events necessarily occur. "Felicitas" consists in considering whatever happens to be favorable. Sulla, to whom the cult of Venus Felix is attributed, seems to have cultivated this idea implicit in the notion of venusian charm. He seemed to attribute greater value to his own image as "felix" than to real political power and in any case attributed the latter to former. According to Plutarch, he maintained this opinion of himself to the very end, in spite of suffering from a horrible intestinal ulcer that destroyed his flesh, transforming it into lice and dirtying him with an unarrestable flow of rotten matter. Despite this infirmity, which forced him to immerse himself in water several times a day with no results whatsoever, he never ceased to consider himself "felix". Two days before his death he ended his memoirs, asserting that "after he had led a life of honor, he should conclude it in fullness of prosperity".
By associating the concept of "felicitas" with that of "Victoria" and inaugurating cults and temples dedicated to this new goddess, Pompey also put himself under the protection of a Venus Victrix. Such a choice did not prove a felicitous one, since it conflicted with Caesar, who placed Venus in person among his ancestors! Appianus recounts that the night before the battle of Pharsalus, Pompey dreamed of decorating the temple of Venus amid the applause of the people. Awakened suddenly, he realized that the dream was not in his favor and, profoundly unsettled, went toward defeat substituting the battle cry "Venus Victrix" with "Hercules Invictus". The episode demonstrates that venusian charm is not reducible to a hope for a military victory: it transcends the good or bad outcome of a single conflict. It is not success in itself that makes one charming, but charm that predisposes one for success. The very concept of success loses its objective characteristics in the venusian perspective and becomes an attribute of enchantment: the Romans knew quite well that there were victories that were worse than a defeat, and defeats more providential than a victory. Caesar's decision to erect a temple not to Venus Victrix, who had helped him at the Battle of Pharsalus, but rather to Venus Genetrix is illuminating: he considered victory merely a consequence of venusian protection." [Venus]
"The word "venenum", like the corresponding Greek term "pharmakon", presents a double meaning, for it can be used both positively and negatively; it thus originally seems to have indicated the power of venusian charm in its multiple manifestations.
This affinity with the Greek term does not, however, illuminate its conceptual dimension, which is essentially Latin and is determined in opposition to the horizon opened by the noun "pharmakos", related to "pharmakon". In Greece, the scapegoat sacrificed (put to death or expelled) in order to purify the city of the ills that afflicted it was called a "pharmakos". To this end, a certain number of degraded and useless individuals were regularly maintained in Athens at the state's expense. René Girard sees in this custom a manifestation of sacrifice whose essence consists in the exercise of a ritualized violence that purifies and guards the community from the spread of unrestrained and total violence. This theory is founded on the presupposition that only the ritual repetition of violence, by provoking a cathartic and beneficent effect, can distance and preserve a society from barbarism. Human or animal sacrifice (implying bloodshed) is the only "pharmakon remedy" to the "pharmakon venom" of generalized violence: "non violence appears to be a gift of violence". As Derrida has shown, this perspective remains operant within Greek philosophy, in particular within Platonic philosophy.
Though there are a few sporadic cases of human sacrifice and ritual expulsion from the city to be found in the religious history of Rome, the word "venenum" turns our inquiry in a different direction. "Veteres vinum venenum vocabant," says Isidorus of Seville. This evidence, together with the study of the Roman feast of Vinalia, points out not only the sacred character of wine understood as the venusian drink par excellence, but also the meaning of the substitution of wine for blood in sacrifices.
The sacralization of wine in Venus's religion plays a role completely different from the one it plays in Dionysus's religion: in the most ancient Dionysian tradition, there is no reference to wine and the relation between the two is only established retroactively. The Dionysian intoxication comes from the homicidal fury of the "sparagmos", the tearing to pieces of the victim, consumption of his blood and flesh. The bloody sacrifice of Dionysism is the "pharmakon" that restores peace and social order. In the religion of Venus, however, the "vinum venenum", significantly considered the "blood of the earth" immediately takes the place of human blood and implies a refusal of violence even in its therapeutic and prophylactic uses. That the "pax deorum" is reestablished by means of the libation of the contents of the grape-harvest jars, rather than by means of bloody sacrifices, is a fact of enormous anthropological importance. Venusian charm thus locates itself at the antipodes of orgiastic intoxication. While the attraction exercised by Dionysus derives from the ritualized and controlled imitation of an originary and founding violence, the attraction exercised by Venus is, on the contrary, connected to a sort of displacement, transfer: by offering wine rather than blood, Venus establishes an astute mimeticism that exalts the grace of "détournements". "Venenum" also means dye, tint, color, and by extension makeup, "maquillage". In this way the cult of Venus interprets a profoundly rooted orientation in the Roman spirit, traditionally attributed to the second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius: in response to Jove's request for human sacrifices, Numa did not refuse but displaced the meanings of words by offering him heads of onions rather than human heads, hair and pilchards rather than men. It is significant that love appreciated Numa's translation, in contrast to the Greek Zeus, who (as Hesiod recounts) did not forgive Prometheus for having given him bones covered with fat rather than flesh as a sacrifice. Also in this perspective is the tale of a certain Papirius, who, in an era when it was customary to promise entire temples to the gods as a vow, promised love a "pocillum mulsi," a glass of honeyed wine, and obtained complete fulfillment of his requests. Venusian charm is certainly linked to appearance, but not necessarily to "beautiful" appearance. The existence of a cult devoted to Venus Calva, whatever its origin, is yet further evidence of a religious disposition oriented toward an innocent displacement that excites, not the wrath of the gods, but their smile.
Demythification is also dedramatization: exaggerations and fanaticism are alien to Roman religion, which rejects the absolutist claims implicit in the delirious experiences of Dionysism. Dionysus's religion knows ecstatic joy, but has none of that humor benevolent and astute, prosaic and witty, that is an essential part of venusian charm. The poets have been the interpreters of this aspect, from the incomparable Giorgio Baffo (whom Apollinaire considered the greatest erotic poet of all time) to Radiguet. Baffo's Venus, who sprawled out on the grass in a delightful garden with her lover, teases her companion with these words: "Corne on, then, my lovely, give me the precious juice of your blessed prick, for I prize the juice of your little click more than muscatel" and concludes: "May those who don't fuck go to hell and become so many marmots. But let the first to have screwed be praised, honored, and crowned," belongs to the same erotic intuition that gives rise to the Bald Venus and "vinum~venenum." The demythification that exchanges wine for blood in sacrifices and onion heads for human heads is nonetheless not mere banalization or triviality: disenchantment does not eliminate enchantment, and exteriorization maintains a purity of its own, Venusian charm does not arise from a dialectic of concealment and unveiling: it presupposes an already uncovered and available reality.
Enchantment does not depend upon what is hidden or revealed, but on the transformation undergone by the "crudest" and "most obscene" reality. If there is still a secret to be revealed, then we are still in the realm of seduction, charm begins when there are no longer any secrets. Hence there were Dionysian mysteries, whereas Venus never had them: "in her role as scarecrow - writes Radiguet - Venus lacks authority". All this leads one to believe that the notion of purity that underlies venusian charm (and perhaps all of Roman religion) is completely different from that implicit in Greek religion. In Greece "katharma" meant "pharmakos", scapegoat, as well as purifying sacrifice. For Girard, this refers to a conception of purification as purgation, as the evacuation from the city of all that was held to be harmful by means of the exercise of violence analogous to the violence from which one wished to liberate the society. "Pharmakon" implies an identity between the evil and its remedy.
In Rome, however, the substitution of "vinus venenum" for blood seems to imply a concept of purity as a simulating operation, displacement and transfer free from passions and traumatic exclusions. Venenum could also be merely water tinted with red or myrtle wine, like that used by matrons for cleansing themselves in the Veneralia feast of the 1st of April, dedicated to Venus Verticordia! Whoever conforms to rituals and scrupulously carries out ceremonies is "castus". The Roman ritual without myth dispenses with fixed contents having a precise identity. Purification seems to become precisely the contrary of purification in Greece: it is not the identification and expulsion of something held to be impure, but the ritual emptying out of all aspects of life. On the 1st of April Roman matrons celebrating the rite of Venus were as "castae" as the prostitutes who worshipped Fortuna Virilis.
We cannot conclude without mentioning the meaning of "venenum" that has prevailed in the history of the word: "venenum" as deadly drink. But here, too, it is difficult to avoid the impression that the Romans aimed at a displacement of death itself. Plutarch attributed to Numa Pompilius the institution of an ancient cult dedicated to Venus Libitina, goddess of funeral rites. He observes that the Romans presumably shrewdly assigned the regulation of the birth and death of men to a single goddess. Such a cult appears to be inspired not by a tragic conception of existence, like that of the Greeks, but rather by an aspiration to make the cultural aspect of death coincide with that of birth. Nothing remains foreign to the venusian enchantment of rites and ceremonies.
The very etymological origin of charm, which comes from "carmen", refers to this perspective. "Carmen" has the general meaning of a cadenced formula, endowed with formal characteristics artificially regulated and maintained independently of their original meaning. Both religious formulas and the text of the law were called "Carmen". In the ritualism of the "Carmen", Roman religion perhaps finds its own unity in the charm of the quotidian, the contemporary crisis perhaps finds its own solution." [Venus]
Seeing as this thread is quite esoteric-based I want to post an interesting anecdote. I recently conducted multiple 'ouija board' sessions just out of curiosity, completely sceptical prior to doing them. However, in hindsight I do genuinely believe it wasn't me or my girlfriend moving the planchette whilst conducting these sessions, and the phenomena is unexplainable by scientific means. Anyone else tried it? What are other people's opinions?
Oh, Queen Viper— Medusa of all these saints, Mother of four and many, many more, A cross for countless snakes...
In prophetess and pageantry, In abstinence and insolence, In god dreams sprung by winter kings, An insult to intelligence...
In parlor tricks and fire, An apple rotting from the core. In burning wood—birthing pyre, A funeral now fully blank and bore...
A gift to kings, A curse to peasants, And still this fire brings another stone, A boulder rolling—so we must push, A piper piping—a burning bush, A faint breeze blowing between willows and whispers...
And now the encore— These horsemen, these four and many-more wandering mystics... These flat-earth and failed riders and all the serpent's oil they mixed us... For now we must do 'this' all ourselves, All the killing, spilling, cooking and cleaning, All the willing and prime-cut selective breeding, All the things that bring the master to knees, The servant to feet, The child to god— Becoming more than just one with below and above...
Yes— This is and was never about love, Nor about hate or any other gesture of intent, solace or meaning. For love is merely the servant of time—now moving out of season... Our most genuine, yet impassionate source of irony for any thought that attempts to breathe or induce purpose to implication, Mountains of words—no real conversation. Attempts to dream, bleed and become... Oh Yes, 'this and that' is and was never about love...
Now burning down the spine of every predator and prey, Now banking and dodging, prying and prodding to get these eyes to look in a certain way, Get these ears to hear in a very specific and well-tuned spectrum, Get this nose and tongue knowing right amongst all the wrong direction, Get these hands wrapped around the hilt of a well-balanced and fully suppressed oppressor, The equalizer, The undresser, The object of our centerfold—the breast of all this obsession. The fully pardoned and self-righteous possessor, Now claiming even the least of all our possession...
For there is only one thing that this path of fury was driven across the face of countless tower and topple for... Not miles of shores now scattering cinder morning, noon, and night, By the lightly trodden path of stray bullets, bribes and candle light. Not mounds of mothers burning into daughters and sons of men and more, The feeling of reluctance as we slowly back ourselves through the door. Out the way we came and much more sure about the reason why. Unfortunately here... the game isn't really ever played this way...
For the rules are less vague and the consequences far more clear. In here, Do what thou wilt—just don't get caught, There's no backing out now—no ought or ought naught, No should or shouldn't—no could or couldn't, No failed reunions in the confines of this more-than-merry and bizarre distortion now enfolding and holding us under full extortion. Not much left to do but fall into the madness and anger of medusa. Not much left to say as we kneel before the Queen of Vipers. Climbing the limbs of her body and sash, Gracing her prism and kissing her ass. Now on all fours—hands clenching and breaking, Never on top in this bed that we're making... Always behind—vain to keep up. Now lying down as we kiss and make up...
"The story of Medusa can be interpreted as a personification of the harvest of grain. Medusa can be interpreted as a sheaf of grain whose head is cut of to harvest the grain. from the body of the grain comes the golden grain (Chrysaor) and the chaff (Pegasus) which flies to heaven. The ripe grain results from the marriage of the grain plant with water (Poseidon). The kibisis is the bag that holds the gran until it is ground. The hag's tooth is the hoe that cultivates the grain. the hag's eye that the Gaaeae share is not their literal eye but a prophetic eye that allows the grain to be planted and harvested at the proper time. The immortal gogons may be interpred as the symbols of life everlasting while the mortal goddess symbolizes the cycles of life and death that are common in the agricultural year."
Medusa translates directly into guardian. She is death, snakes symbolize both life and death, immortality. The Serpant is the symbol of Wisdom. Lightbringer takes a new form, of all these Saints. All powerful woman with ledgendary beauty, whose gaze can't be averted, who sees right through you. The hero mainly kills her through looking at his shield which serves as a mirror. The mirror is always a liar, its main purpose.
I cannot help remembering a remark of De Casseres. It was over the wine in Mouquin's. Said he: "The profoundest instinct in man is to war against the truth; that is, against the Real. He shuns facts from his infancy. His life is a perpetual evasion. Miracle, chimera and to-morrow keep him alive. He lives on fiction and myth. It is the Lie that makes him free. Animals alone are given the privilege of lifting the veil of Isis; men dare not. The animal, awake, has no fictional escape from the Real because he has no imagination. Man, awake, is compelled to seek a perpetual escape into Hope, Belief, Fable, Art, God, Socialism, Immortality, Alcohol, Love. From Medusa-Truth he makes an appeal to Maya-Lie."
I cannot help remembering a remark of De Casseres. It was over the wine in Mouquin's. Said he: "The profoundest instinct in man is to war against the truth; that is, against the Real. He shuns facts from his infancy. His life is a perpetual evasion. Miracle, chimera and to-morrow keep him alive. He lives on fiction and myth. It is the Lie that makes him free. Animals alone are given the privilege of lifting the veil of Isis; men dare not. The animal, awake, has no fictional escape from the Real because he has no imagination. Man, awake, is compelled to seek a perpetual escape into Hope, Belief, Fable, Art, God, Socialism, Immortality, Alcohol, Love. From Medusa-Truth he makes an appeal to Maya-Lie."
— Jack London, The Mutiny of the Elsinore
Excellent quote. That was so valuable to something else I was working on.
So now do look up Klossowski on Nietzsche where he weaves in the trope of the Medusa with the Eternal Recurrence; a fascinating book: [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
He wants to destroy the "Real", the "Truth" that is set for him, that he is "forced to see" [Medusa].
The "Hammer" and "The Twilight of the Idols".
The mirror is an extension or reflection of one's sub/un-conscious, and so the purity of oneself, his "innocence of becoming"... and so when he looks at Medusa using the mirror and severes her head, he re-fashions and creates the world in his own image.
The playful sheen of the mirror prevents petrifaction. The playful sheen in Greek was called a kind of Metis (cunning intelligence) that etymologically relates to Medusa and Maya - all from the same root.
"Odysseus is the hero who is polumetis as well as polutropos and polumechanos. He is an expert in tricks of all kinds (pantoious dolous), polumechanos in the sense that he is never at a loss, never without expedients (poroi) to get himself out of any kind of trouble (aporia). When taught by Athena and Hephaestus, the deities of mêtis the artist also possesses a techne pantoie, an art of many facets, knowledge of general application. The polumetis is also known by the name of poikilometis or aiolometis. The term poikilos is used to refer to the sheen of a material or the glittering of a weapon, the dappled hide of a fawn, or the shining back of a snake mottled with darker patches. This many-coloured sheen or complex of appearances produces an effect of irridescence, shimmering, an interplay of reflections which the Greeks perceived as the ceaseless vibrations of light. In this sense, what is poikilos, many-coloured, is close to what is aiolos, which refers to fast movement. Thus it is that the changing surface of liver which is sometimes propitious and sometimes the reverse is called poikilos just as are good fortune which is so inconstant and changing and also the deity which endlessly guides the destinies of men from one side to the other, first in one direction and then in the other. Plato associates what is poikilos with what is never the same as itself, oudepote tauton and, similarly, elsewhere opposes it to that which is simple, haplous." [Detienne-Vernant, Cunning Intelligence]
The playful design of the ER [the innocence of becoming] - the "Maya-lie", metis - is how one could look at the petrifying gravity of Life - the Medusa.
Let Ares doze, that other war Is instantly declared once more 'Twixt those who follow Precocious Hermes all the way And those who without qualms obey Pompous Apollo. --W. H. Auden, "Under Which Lyre"
To cite an earlier injunction to the same effect, "Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury: Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess it" (Deut. 23:19-20). This meant--among other things--that if thou set thine hand to credit operations, thou had to play the trespasser (or submit to domestication through various "clientelization" and "blood brotherhood" techniques).
In the eyes of the rural majority, all craftsmen were crafty, and all merchants, mercenary (both--as was Mercury himself--derived from merx, "goods"). And of course Hermes was a thief. Accordingly, European traders and artisans were usually segregated in special urban communities; in some Andean villages in today's Ecuador, store owners are often Protestants; and one Chinese shopkeeper observed by L. A. Peter Gosling in a Malay village "appeared to be considerably acculturated to Malay culture, and was scrupulously sensitive to Malays in every way, including the normal wearing of sarong, quiet and polite Malay speech, and a humble and affable manner. However, at harvest time when he would go to the field to collect crops on which he had advanced credit, he would put on his Chinese costume of shorts and under-shirt, and speak in a much more abrupt fashion, acting, as one Malay farmer put it, 'just like a Chinese.' "8
Noblesse oblige, and so most mercurial strangers make a point--and perhaps a virtue--of not doing as the Romans do. The Chinese unsettle the Malays by being kasar (crude); the Inadan make a mockery of the Tuareg notions of dignified behavior (takarakayt); the Japanese Burakumin claim to be unable to control their emotions; and Jewish shopkeepers in Europe rarely failed to impress the Gentiles with their unseemly urgency and volubility ("the wife, the daughter, the servant, the dog, all howl in your ears," as Sombart quotes approvingly). Gypsies, in particular, seem to offend against business rationality by offending the sensibilities of their customers. They can "pass" when they find it expedient to do so, but much more often they choose to play up their foreignness by preferring bold speech, bold manners, and bold colors--sometimes as part of elaborate public displays of defiant impropriety.9
What makes such spectacles especially offensive to host populations is that so many of the offenders are women. In traditional societies, foreigners are dangerous, disgusting, or ridiculous because they break the rules, and no rules are more important in the breach than the ones regulating sexual life and the sexual division of labor. Foreign women, in particular, are either promiscuous or downtrodden, and often "beautiful" (by virtue of being promiscuous or downtrodden and because foreign women are both cause and prize of much warrior activity). But of course some foreigners are more foreign than others, and the internal ones are very foreign indeed because they are full-time, professional, and ideologically committed rule breakers. Traders among sharers, nomads among peasants, or tribes among nations, they frequently appear as mirror images of their hosts--sometimes quite brazenly and deliberately so, as many of them are professional jesters, fortune-tellers, and carnival performers. This means, as far as the hosts are concerned, that their women and men have a tendency to change places--a perception that is partly a variation on the "perversity of strangers" theme but mostly a function of occupational differences. Traders and nomads assign more visible and economically important roles to women than do peasants or warriors, and some trading nomads depend primarily on women's labor (while remaining patriarchal in political organization). The Kanjar of Pakistan, who specialize in toy making, singing, dancing, begging, and prostitution, derive most of their annual income from female work, as do many European Gypsy groups that emphasize begging and fortune-telling. In both of these cases, and in some merchant communities such as the Eastern European Jewish market traders, women are vital links to the outside world (as performers, stall attendants, or negotiators) and are often considered sexually provocative or socially aggressive--a perception they occasionally reinforce by deliberate displays.10
The same purpose is served by demonstrative male nonbelligerence, which is both a necessary condition for the pursuit of stranger occupations and an important indication of continued strangeness (a refusal to fight, like a refusal to accept hospitality, is an effective way of setting oneself apart from the usual conventions of cross-cultural interaction). The Burakumin, Inadan, and Gypsies may be seen as "passionate" or "spontaneous" in the way children and pranksters are; what matters is that they are not expected to have warrior honor. To be competitive as functional eunuchs, monks, confessors, or jesters, they cannot be seen as complete men. And so they were not. According to Vasilii Rozanov, one of Russia's most articulate fin de sie `cle anti-Semites, all Jewish qualities stemmed from "their femininity--their devotion, cleaving, their almost erotic attachment, to the particular person each one of them is dealing with, as well as to the tribe, atmosphere, landscape, and everyday life that they are surrounded by (as witness both the prophets' reproaches and the obvious facts)."11 Hermes was as physically weak as he was clever (with cleverness serving as compensation for weakness); Hephaestus was lame, ugly, and comically inept at everything except prodigious handicraft; the clairvoyant metalworkers of Germanic myths were hunchbacked dwarves with oversized heads; and all of them--along with the tradesmen they patronized--were associated with dissolute, dangerous, and adulterous sexuality. The three images--bloodless neutrality, female eroticism, and Don Juan rakishness--were combined in various proportions and applied in different degrees, but what they all shared was the glaring absence of dignified manliness."
"It is not only images, however, that make strangers--it is also actions; and of all human actions, two are universally seen as defining humanity and community: eating and procreating. Strangers (enemies) are people with whom one does not eat or intermarry; radical strangers (savages) are people who eat filth and fornicate like wild animals. The most common way to convert a foreigner into a friend is to partake of his food and "blood"; the surest way to remain a foreigner is to refuse to do so.12
All service nomads are endogamous, and many of them observe dietary restrictions that make fraternizing with their neighbors/ clients impossible (and thus service occupations conceivable). Only Phinehas's act of atonement could save the children of Israel from the Lord's wrath when "the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab," and one man in particular brought "a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses." For he (Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest) "took a javelin in his hand, and he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel" (Num. 25:1-18). Elsewhere, men had a reasonable chance of escaping punishment, but in most traditional Jewish and Gypsy communities, a woman's marriage to an outsider signified irredeemable defilement and resulted in excommunication and symbolic death. There was nothing unusual about Phinehas's act at a time when all gods were jealous; there was something peculiar about a continued commitment to endogamy amid the divinely sanctioned whoredom of religious universalism.
Food taboos are less lethal but more evident as everyday boundary markers. No Jew could accept non-Jewish hospitality or retain his ritual purity in an alien environment; the craftsmen and minstrels living among the Margi of the western Sudan were readily recognizable by the distinctive drinking baskets they carried around to avoid pollution; and the English Travelers, who obtained most of their food from the dominant society, lived in constant fear of contagion (preferring canned, packaged, or bottled food not visibly contaminated by non-Travelers, and eating with their hands to avoid using cafeteria silverware). The Jains, who along with the Parsis became colonial India's most successful entrepreneurs, were, like the Parsis, formally outside the Hindu caste system, but what made them truly "peculiar people" was their strict adherence to ahimsa, the doctrine of nonviolence toward all living things. This meant, besides strict vegetarianism, a ban on all food that might be contaminated by small insects or worms, such as potatoes and radishes, and a prohibition on eating after sunset, when the danger of causing injury was especially great. It also meant that most kinds of manual labor, especially agriculture, were potentially polluting. Whatever came first--the change in professional specialization or the ascetic challenge to Hinduism--the fact remains that the Jains, who started out as members of the Kshatriya warrior caste, became mostly Baniyas specializing in moneylending, jewelry making, shopkeeping, and eventually banking and industry. What emigration accomplished in East Africa, the pursuit of ritual purity did back home in India.13
The opposition between purity and pollution lies at the heart of all moral order, be it in the form of traditional distinctions (between body parts, parts of the world, natural realms, supernatural forces, species of humanity) or of various quests for salvation, religious or secular. In any case, "dirt" and "foreignness" tend to be synonymous--and dangerous--with regard to both objects and people. Universalist egalitarian religions attempted to banish foreignness by reinterpreting it (even proclaiming, in one case, that it is "not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man" [Matt. 15:11]). They were not totally successful (the world was still full of old-fashioned, filth-eating foreigners, including many converted ones), but they did make filth and foreignness appear less formidable and ultimately conquerable--except in the case of those whose fate and faith seemed inseparable from foreignness and thus unreformable and irredeemable. Most of the time, the Jews, Gypsies, and other service nomads seemed to share this view; largely unpersuaded by universalist rhetoric, they retained the traditional division of the world into two separate entities, one associated with purity (maintained through ritual observance), the other with pollution. Whereas in the Christian and Muslim realms, words representing foreigners, savages, strangers, the heathen, and the infidel competed with each other, did not fully overlap, and could no longer be subsumed under one heading, the Jewish and Gypsy concepts of "Goy" and "Gajo" (among other terms and spellings) allowed one to conceive of all non-Jews or non-Gypsies as one alien tribe, with individual Goyim or Gajos as members. Even the Christians and Muslims who specialized in service nomadism tended to belong to endogamous, nonproselytizing, "national" churches, such as the Gregorian (the Armenian word for non-Armenians, odar, is probably a cognate of the English "other"), Nestorian, Maronite, Melchite, Coptic, Ibadi, and Ismaili.
They were all chosen people, in other words, all "tribal" and "traditional" insofar as they worshiped themselves openly and separated themselves as a matter of principle. There were others like them, but few were as consistent. Most agrarian nobilities, for example, routinely (and sometimes convincingly) traced their descent from nomadic warriors, stressed their foreignness as a matter of honor, practiced endogamy, and performed complex distancing rituals. Priests, too, removed themselves from important modes of social exchange by forming self-reproducing castes or refraining from reproduction altogether. Both groups, however, usually shared a name, a place, or a god (and perhaps an occasional meal or a wife) with others, whose labor they appropriated by virtue of controlling access to land or salvation. Besides, many of them subscribed to universalist creeds that set limits to particularism and imposed commitments that might prompt crusades, deportations, and concerted missionary endeavors aiming at the abolition of difference.
The "Mercurians" had no such commitments, and the most uncompromising among them, such as the Gypsies and the Jews, retained radical dualism and strict pollution taboos through many centuries of preaching and persecution. The black silk cord that pious Jews wore around their waists to separate the upper and lower body might be reincarnated as the "fence" (eyruv) that converted an entire shtetl into one home for the purpose of Sabbath purity, and, at the outer limits, as the invisible but ritually all-important barrier that demarcated the Jew-Gentile border. Gypsy defenses against impurity were similar, if much more rigid and numerous, because in the absence of a scriptural tradition, they had to bear the full burden of ethnic differentiation. Just being Gypsy involved a desperate struggle against marime (contagion)--a task all the more daunting because Gypsies had no choice but to live among the Gajo, who were the principal source and embodiment of that contagion. (Perhaps ironically, they also had no choice but to have Gajos live among them--as slaves or servants employed to do the unclean work.) When religious injunctions appeared to weaken, the "hygienic" ones took their place--or so it might seem when observant Gypsies bleached their dwellings or used paper towels to turn on taps or open bathroom doors. The Jews, considered dirty in a variety of contexts, could also arouse the suspicion or admiration of their neighbors because of their preoccupation with bodily cleanliness. And even on the Indian subcontinent, where all ethnosocial groups surrounded themselves with elaborate pollution taboos, the Parsis were remarkable for the strictness of their constraints on menstruating women and the intensity of their concern for personal hygiene."
"Next to purity and pollution, and closely related to them as a sign of difference, is language. "Barbarian" originally meant a "babbler" or "stutterer," and the Slavic word for "foreigner" (later "German") is nemec, "the mute one." Most "Mercurian" peoples are barbarians and "Germans" wherever they go, sometimes by dint of considerable effort. If they do not speak a language that is foreign to the surrounding majority (as a result of recent immigration or long-term language maintenance), they create one.
What seems clear is that when service nomads possessed no vernaculars foreign to their hosts, they created new ones in ways that resembled neither genetic change (transmission from generation to generation) nor pidginization (simplification and role restriction). These languages are--like their speakers--mercurial and Promethean. They do not fit into existing "families," however defined. Their raison d'&etilde;tre is the maintenance of difference, the conscious preservation of the self and thus of strangeness. They are special secret languages in the service of Mercury's precarious artistry. For example, the argot of German Jewish cattle traders (like that of the rabbis) contained a much higher proportion of Hebrew words than the speech of their kinsmen whose communication needs were less esoteric. With considerable insight as well as irony, they called it Loshen-Koudesh, or "sacred language" / "cow language," and used it, as a kind of Yiddish in miniature, across large territories. (Beyond the Jewish world, Yiddish was, along with Romani, a major source of European underworld vocabularies.)25 But mostly it was religion, which is to say "culture," which is to say service nomadism writ large, that made Mercurian languages special. As Max Weinreich put it, " 'Ours differs from theirs' reaches much further than mere disgust words or distinction words." Or rather, it was not just the filthy and the sublime that uncleansed "Gentile" words could not be allowed to express; it was charity, family, childbirth, death, and indeed most of life. One Sabbath benediction begins with "He who distinguishes between the sacred and the profane" and ends with "He who distinguishes between the sacred and the sacred." Within the Jewish--and Gypsy--world, "all nooks of life are sacred, some more, some less," and so secret words multiplied and metamorphosed, until the language itself became secret, like the people it served and celebrated.26
In addition to more or less secret vernaculars, some service nomads possess formally sacred languages and alphabets that preserve their scriptural connection to their gods, past, home, and salvation (Hebrew and Aramaic for the Jews, Avestan and Pahlavi for the Parsis, Grabar for the Armenians, Syriac for the Nestorians). Indeed, all literate service nomads (including the Overseas Chinese and Eastern European Germans, for example) can be said to possess such languages, for all modern "national" languages are sacred to the extent that they preserve their speakers' connection to their (new) gods, past, home, and salvation. All Mercurians are multilingual, in other words (Hermes was the god of eloquence). As professional internal strangers equally dependent on cultural difference and economic interdependence, they speak at least one internal language (sacred, secret, or both) and at least one external one. They are all trained linguists, negotiators, translators, and mystifiers, and the literate groups among them tend to be much more literate than their hosts--because literacy, like language generally, is a key to both the maintenance of their separate identity and the fulfillment of their commercial (conjoining) function.
Once again, however, difference is primary. The continued fulfillment of their conjoining function (like all acts of mediating, negotiating, and translating) hinges on the perpetuation of difference, and difference makes for strange bedfellows: wherever Mercurians live, their relations with their clients are those of mutual hostility, suspicion, and contempt. Even in India, where the entire society consists of endogamous, economically specialized, pollution-fearing strangers, the Parsis tend to feel, and may be made to feel, stranger and cleaner than most.27 Elsewhere, there was little doubt about a mutual antipathy based ultimately on the fear of pollution. "They" always eat filth, smell funny, live in squalor, breed like rabbits, and otherwise mix the pure and the impure so as to contaminate themselves beyond redemption (and thus become the object of intense sexual curiosity). All contact with them, especially through food (hospitality) and blood (marriage), is dangerous, and therefore forbidden--and therefore desirable. And therefore forbidden. Such fears are rarely symmetrical: border crossers are always interlopers and outcasts and thus more contagious, more difficult to contain and domesticate. In complex societies with well-established universalist religions the nature of the relationship may change: the border crossers retain their preoccupation with everyday pollution and intermarriage (shiksa means "filthy"), and the host majorities profess to fear certain religious practices and political conspiracies. Still, much of the anti-Mercurian rhetoric has to do with contagion/infestation and, in cases of particular resonance, specifically with food and blood: casting spells to destroy the harvest, using the blood of infants to prepare ritual meals, and jeopardizing Christian Spain's limpieza de sangre ("blood purity")--in addition to basic untidiness.
The asymmetry goes much further, of course. The host societies have numbers, weapons, and warrior values, and sometimes the state, on their side. Economically, too, they are generally self-sufficient--not as comfortably as Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain may have believed, but incomparably more so than the service nomads, who are fully dependent on their customers for survival. Finally, beyond the basic fear of pollution, the actual views that the two parties hold of each other are very different. In fact, they tend to be complementary, mutually reinforcing opposites making up the totality of the universe: insider-outsider, settled-nomadic, body-mind, masculine-feminine, steady-mercurial. Over time, the relative value of particular elements may change, but the oppositions themselves tend to remain the same (Hermes possessed most of the qualities that the Gypsies, Jews, and Overseas Chinese would be both loathed and admired for).28
Most important, many of these views were true. Not in the sense of the reality of certain acts or the applicability of generalizations to particular individuals, but insofar as they described the cultural values and economic behaviors of one community in terms of another. Indeed, very often the two communities agreed on the general terms, if not the specific formulations. The view that service nomads kept aloof, "did not belong," had other loyalties, insisted on their difference, and resisted assimilation was shared by all (and was an accusation only in those relatively few societies where assimilation was occasionally seen as a good thing). Strangeness was their profession; aloofness was their way of remaining strange; and their primary loyalty was to each other and their common fate.
Even the reasons for their strangeness were not, in essence, controversial. European anti-Semitism is often explained in connection with the Jewish origins of Christianity and the subsequent casting of unconverted Jews in the role of deicides (as the mob's cry, "his blood be on us, and on our children," was reinterpreted in "ethnic" terms). This is true in more ways than one (the arrival of the Christian millennium is, in fact, tied to the end of Jewish wanderings), but it is also true that before the rise of commercial capitalism, when Hermes became the supreme deity and certain kinds of service nomadism became fashionable or even compulsory, Mercurian life was universally seen--by the service nomads themselves, as well as by their hosts--as divine punishment for an original transgression.
Of the many legends accounting for the Gypsy predicament, one claims that Adam and Eve were so fruitful that they decided to hide some of their children from God, who became angry and condemned the ones he could not see to eternal homelessness. Other explanations include punishment for incest or refusal of hospitality, but the most common one blames the Gypsies for forging the nails used to crucify Jesus. A positive version has them refuse to forge the fourth nail and, as a reward, receive freedom to roam and a dispensation to steal, but it seems to be of more recent vintage (like the explanation of the Jewish exile as a result of Gentile oppression). Before the rise of secularism and industrialism, everyone in agrarian societies seems to have agreed that service nomadism meant homelessness, and that homelessness was a curse. Perhaps the most famous punishments in the European tradition were meted out to Prometheus, the mischievous master craftsman who stole Zeus's fire; Sisyphus,"the craftiest of men," who cheated Death, and of course Odysseus/Ulysses, that most Jewish of Greeks, whose jealous crew let loose the hostile winds that would keep them away from home.29
Another common host stereotype of the Mercurians is that they are devious, acquisitive, greedy, crafty, pushy, and crude. This, too, is a statement of fact, in the sense that, for peasants, pastoralists, princes, and priests, any trader, moneylender, or artisan is in perpetual and deliberate violation of most norms of decency and decorum (especially if he happens to be a babbling infidel without a home or reputable ancestors). "For the Rwala [Bedouin], wealth, in terms of camels, goods, and gold, could not be conserved; it had to be converted into reputation (or honor). For the peripatetics [service nomads], most of whom were emissaries from the towns, and all of whom were regarded as such, rightly or wrongly, by the Rwala, wealth is measured by possessions, be these objects or cash. Among the Rwala, to be rich in possessions implied a lack of generosity, which led to a diminution of honor, and in turn, a decrease in influence. Among townsmen--and by extension, peripatetics--possessions implied power and influence."30 All economic division of labor involves value differentiation; next to the division based on sex, perhaps the deepest is the one separating food producers and predators from service providers. Apollonians and Dionysians are usually the same people: now sober and serene, now drunk and frenzied. The followers of Hermes are neither; they have been seen as artful and shrewd ever since Hermes, on the day of his birth, invented the lyre, made himself some "unspeakable, unthinkable, marvelous" sandals, and stole Apollo's cattle.
Hermes had nothing except his wit; Apollo, his big brother and condescending antipode, possessed most things in the universe because he was the god of both livestock and agriculture. As the patron of food production, Apollo owned much of the land, directed the flow of time, protected sailors and warriors, and inspired true poets. He was both manly and eternally young, athletic and artistic, prophetic and dignified--the most universal of all gods and the most commonly worshiped. The difference between Apollo and Dionysus--made much of by Nietzsche--is relatively minor because wine was but one of the countless fruits of the earth and sea that Apollo presided over. (Dionysians are Apollonians at a festival--peasants after the harvest.) The difference between Apollonians and Mercurians is the all-important difference between those who grow food and those who create concepts and artifacts. The Mercurians are always sober but never dignified.
Whenever the Apollonians turn cosmopolitan, they find the Mercurians to be uncommonly recalcitrant and routinely accuse them of tribalism, nepotism, clannishness, and other sins that used to be virtues (and still are, in a variety of contexts). Such accusations have a lot to do with the old mirror-image principle: if cosmopolitanism is a good thing, strangers do not have it (unless they belong to a noble savage variety preserved as a reproach to the rest of us). But they have even more to do with reality: in complex agrarian societies (no other preindustrial kind has much interest in cosmopolitanism), and certainly in modern ones, service nomads tend to possess a greater degree of kin solidarity and internal cohesion than their settled neighbors. This is true of most nomads, but especially the mercurial kind, who have few other resources and no other enforcement mechanisms. In the words of Pierre van den Berghe, "Groups with a strong network of extended family ties and with a strong patriarchal authority structure to keep extended families together in the family business have a strong competitive advantage in middleman occupations over groups lacking these characteristics."31
Whether "corporate kinship" is the cause or consequence of service nomadism, it does appear that most service nomads possess such a system.32 Various Rom "nations" are composed of restricted cognatic descent groups (vitsa), which are further subdivided into highly cohesive extended families that often pool their income under the jurisdiction of the eldest member; in addition, migration units (tabor) and territorial associations (kumpania) apportion areas to be exploited and organize economic and social life under the leadership of one family head.33
The Indians in East Africa escaped some of the occupational restrictions and status-building requirements of the subcontinent ("we are all baniyas, even those who do not have dukas [shops]") but retained endogamy, pollution taboos, and the extended family as an economic unit.34 In West Africa, all Lebanese businesses were family affairs. This "meant that outsiders (without really understanding them) could count on the continuity of the business. A son would honor the debts of his father and would expect the repayment of credits extended by his father. The coherence of the family was the social factor which was the backbone of the economic success of the Lebanese traders: the authority of a man over his wife and children meant that the business was run as resolutely [and as cheaply!] as by a single person and yet was as strong as a group." Disaster insurance, expansion opportunities, different forms of credit, and social regulation were provided by larger kinship networks and occasionally by the whole Lebanese community.35 Similarly, the Overseas Chinese gained access to capital, welfare, and employment by becoming members of ascriptive, endogamous, centralized, and mostly coresidential organizations based on surname (clan), home village, district, and dialect. These organizations formed rotating credit associations, trade guilds, benevolent societies, and chambers of commerce that organized economic life, collected and disseminated information, settled disputes, provided political protection, and financed schools, hospitals, and various social activities. The criminal versions of such entities ("gangster tongs") represented smaller clans or functioned as fictitious families complete with elaborate rites of passage and welfare support.36 (In fact, all durable "mafias" are either offshoots of service nomadic communities or their successful imitations.)"
"Clannishness is loyalty to a limited and well-defined circle of kin (real or fictitious). Such loyalty creates the internal trust and external impregnability that allow service nomads to survive and, under certain conditions, succeed spectacularly in an alien environment. "Credit is extended and capital pooled with the expectation that commitments will be met; delegation of authority takes place without fear that agents will pursue their own interests at the expense of the principal's." At the same time, clearly marked aliens are kept securely outside the community: "Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury." Clannishness is loyalty as seen by a stranger.
Economic success, and indeed the very nature of the Mercurians' economic pursuits, are associated with another common and essentially accurate perception of their culture: "They think they are better than everybody, they are so clever." And of course they do, and they are. It is better to be chosen than not chosen, whatever the price one has to pay. "Blessed art thou, O Lord, King of the Universe, who hast not made me a Gentile," says the Jewish prayer. "It is good that I am a descendant of Jacob, and not of Esau," wrote the great Yiddish writer, Sholem Aleichem.38 "It is the feeling you might have if you went to an elite school, and then you attended a polytechnic," explained a Parsi informant burdened by an apparently inescapable sense of superiority toward other Indians. "You feel proud of your elite school, but you're embarrassed if other people know. You're embarrassed because you think they think you feel superior to them, and you do and know it's wrong."39
It has not been wrong for very long. Mercurians owe their survival to their sense of superiority, and when it comes to generalizations based on mutual perceptions, that superiority is seen to reside in the intellect. Jacob was too smart for the hairy Esau, and Hermes outwitted Apollo and amused Zeus when he was a day old (one wonders what he would have done to the drunk Dionysus). Both stories--and many more like them--are told by the tricksters' descendants. The Kanjar despise their gullible hosts; the Irish Travelers believe that what distinguishes them from their clients is agility of mind ("cleverness"); much of Rom folklore is about outsmarting slow, dull-witted non-Gypsies; and on the best of days, a shtetl Jew might concede, in the words of Maurice Samuel, "that at bottom Ivan was not a bad fellow; stupid, perhaps, and earthy, given to drink and occasional wife-beating, but essentially good-natured . . . , as long as the higher-ups did not begin to manipulate him."40
In their own eyes, as well as those of others, the Mercurians possess a quality that the Greeks called metis, or "cunning intelligence" (with an emphasis on either "cunning" or "intelligence," depending on who does the labeling). Supervised by Hermes and fully embodied on this earth by Odysseus/Ulysses, it is the most potent weapon of the weak, the most ambiguous of virtues, the nemesis of both brute force and mature wisdom. As Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant put it in their study of Homer,
There are many activities in which man must learn to manipulate hostile forces too powerful to be controlled directly but which can be exploited despite themselves, without ever being confronted head on, to implement the plan in mind by some unexpected, devious means; they include, for example, the stratagems used by the warrior the success of whose attack hinges on surprise, trickery or ambush, the art of the pilot steering his ship against winds and tides, the verbal ploys of the sophist making the adversary's powerful argument recoil against him, the skill of the banker and the merchant who, like conjurors, make a great deal of money out of nothing, the knowing forethought of the politician whose flair enables him to assess the uncertain course of events in advance, and the sleights of hand and trade secrets which give craftsmen their control over material which is always more or less intractable to their designs. It is over all such activities that metis presides.41
The Mercurians' views of the Apollonians are ultimately as rational as the Apollonians' views of the Mercurians. It wasn't Mother Earth or Apollo's herds that nourished, beguiled, and shaped the service nomads; it was people. Traders, healers, minstrels, or artisans, they always performed for the consumer, who was always right, in his own way. And so they had to pay attention. "The Kanjar know a great deal about the human resources they exploit; whereas members of sedentary communities know almost nothing about Kanjar society and culture--their experience is limited to passive audience roles in contrived performance settings."42 Singers know people's tastes, fortune-tellers their hopes (and thus their fate), merchants their needs, doctors their bodies, and thieves their habits, dwellings, and hiding places. "When begging, Irish Traveller women wear a shawl or 'rug' (plaid blanket), both symbols of Ireland's past poverty; take a baby or young child with them, even if they must borrow one from another family; and ask for tiny amounts such as a 'sup' of milk or a 'bit' of butter, playing on their client's sympathy and making any refusal seem miserly."43
As professional cultivators of people, Mercurians use words, concepts, money, emotions, and other intangibles as tools of their trade (whatever the particular trade may be). They assign value to a much larger portion of the universe than do peasants or pastoralists, and they see value in many more pursuits. Their world is larger and more varied--because they cross conceptual and communal borders as a matter of course, because they speak more tongues, and because they have those "unspeakable, unthinkable,marvelous" sandals that allow them to be in several places at once. Gypsies are always just passing through, and so, in more ways than one, are the Jews. In "ghetto times," according to Jacob Katz, "no community, even the largest, could be said to have been self-contained and self-sufficient. Business transactions brought members of different communities into touch through correspondence or personal contact. It was a typical feature of Jewish economic activity that it could rely on business connections with Jewish communities in even far-flung cities and countries . . . Jews who made a living by sitting in their shops waiting for clients were the minority rather than the prevalent type."44 Bankers, peddlers, yeshiva students, and famous rabbis traveled far and wide, well beyond the edges of peasant imagination.
They did not travel just by land or water. Some service nomads were literate, and thus doubly nomads. By a natural extension of his expertise in eloquence and wit, Mercury became a patron of writers (Mercuriales viri, "Mercury's men," as Horace called them), so that Mercurians who happened to be literate became the preeminent manipulators of texts. In traditional societies, writing was the monopoly of priests or bureaucrats; among literate Mercurians, every male was a priest. The Jews, Parsis, Armenians, Eastern European Germans, Overseas Indians, and Overseas Chinese were not only more literate (on average) than their clients; they were acutely aware of being more literate--and thus more knowledgeable and more sophisticated. What the Rom, Nawar, and Inadan are to oral culture, the scriptural Mercurians are to the culture of the written word. Businessmen, diplomats, doctors, and psychotherapists are literate peddlers, heralds, healers, and fortune-tellers. Sometimes they are also blood relatives.
Either way, they would all take a justifiably dim view of Ivan. If one values mobility, mental agility, negotiation, wealth, and curiosity, one has little reason to respect either prince or peasant. And if one feels strongly enough that manual labor is sacred, physical violence is honorable, trade is tricky, and strangers should be either fed or fought (or perhaps that there should be no strangers at all), one is unlikely to admire service nomads. And so, for much of human history, they have lived next to each other in mutual scorn and suspicion--not because of ignorant superstition but because they have had the chance to get to know each other.
For much of human history, it seemed quite obvious who had the upper hand. The Mercurians may have known more about the Apollonians than the Apollonians knew about the Mercurians (or about themselves), but that knowledge was a weapon of weakness and dependence. Hermes needed his wit because Apollo and Zeus were so big and strong. He would tease and dissimulate when the opportunity presented itself, but mostly he used his sandals and his lyre to run errands, amuse, and officiate.
Then things began to change: Zeus was beheaded, repeatedly, or made a fool of; Apollo lost his cool; and Hermes bluffed his way to the top--not in the sense of the Inadan lording it over the Tuareg, but to the extent that the Tuareg were now forced to be more like the Inadan. Modernity was about everyone becoming a service nomad: mobile, clever, articulate, occupationally flexible, and good at being a stranger. In fact, the task was even more daunting because both the Tuareg and the Inadan were under pressure to become like the Armenians and the Jews, whose economic and cultural border-crossing was greatly aided by their habit of writing things down (in their own way).
Some predominantly oral Mercurians (such as the Ibo of Nigeria) would embrace the transition; others (such as the Gypsies) would continue to service the ever shrinking world of folk culture and small pariah entrepreneurship. Some Apollonian groups would prove willing and able to convert to Mercurianism; others would balk, fail, or rebel. No one would remain immune, however, and no one was better at being a scriptural Mercurian--and therefore "modern"--than scriptural Mercurians, old and new.45 The over-represention of the Armenians and Jews in entrepreneurial and professional jobs in Europe and the Middle East (discrimination notwithstanding) was matched or exceeded by the Chinese in Southeast Asia, the Parsis in India, the Indians in Africa, and the Lebanese in Latin America and the Caribbean, among others. Having established themselves as commercial intermediaries with the arrival of the Portuguese, the Parsis became British India's premier financiers, industrialists, and urban professionals--including the most famous and most successful of them all, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata. The principal nineteenth-century Indian politician ("the Grand Old Man of India" Dadabhai Naoroji) was also a Parsi, as was the ideologue of violent nationalism Bhikhaiji Rustom Cama; all three Indian members of the British Parliament; the first Indian baronet; the first prime minister of the Bombay Presidency; the "Uncrowned King of Bombay"; the "Potato King of Bombay"; the pioneer of coffee production in the East; the first Indian to fly from Europe to India; the most prominent Indian Freemasons; most Western musicians (including, eventually, Zubin Mehta); and every single member of the first all-India cricket team. In 1931, 79 percent of all Parsis (and 73 percent of the females) were literate, as compared to 51 percent of Indian Christians and 19 percent of Hindus and Muslims.46 Similar lists could be compiled for all scriptural Mercurians (although in some areas they thought it wise to stay out of public politics).
Various Indian diasporas have outlived the British Empire (which did so much to propel them), and moved farther afield, specializing in traditional Mercurian ("Jewish") occupations such as trading, finance, garments, jewelry, real estate, entertainment, and medicine. Despite continued discrimination, Goans, Jains, Ismailis, and Gujaratis, among others, have continued to dominate the economic and professional life of large parts of East Africa (accounting for between 70 and 80 percent of all manufacturing firms in postindependence Kenya, for example). The Jains, the most "puritanical" and probably the wealthiest of all Indian diaspora communities, are second only to the Jews in the international diamond trade; in the late 1980s, having established themselves in such diamond centers as New York, Antwerp, and Tel Aviv, they accounted for about one-third of all purchases of rough diamonds in the world. In the United States, Indians (mostly Gujaratis) own about 40 percent of all small motels, including about one-fourth of the franchises of the Days Inn chain, and a substantial number of low-cost hotels in large urban centers. In 1989, the combined global real estate investment of Overseas Indians was estimated to be worth about $100 billion. At the same time (in the 1980s), the number of Indian students studying in the United States quadrupled to more than 26,000. By 1990, there were about 5,000 Indian engineers and several hundred Indian millionaires in California's Silicon Valley. Altogether, there were about 20,000 Indian engineers and 28,000 physicians in the United States, including 10 percent of all anesthesiologists. But probably the biggest jewel in the Indian diaspora's crown is the old imperial "mother country." London serves as the headquarters of a large number of Indian commercial clans, and in Great Britain as a whole, Indian and Pakistani males have a 60 percent higher rate of self-employment than "white" Britons and make up a disproportionate share of managerial and professional personnel. In the 1970s, the rate of economic upward mobility among Indians and Pakistanis was three times that of the rest of the British population.48 By far the largest and most widely dispersed of all Mercurian communities in today's world are the Overseas Chinese.
Perhaps the most popular explanation for successful Mercurianism is "corporate kinship," which is said to promote internal trust and obedience while limiting the number of potential beneficiaries. Nepotism may be good for capitalism, in other words--as long as the duties and entitlements of one's nephews are understood clearly and followed religiously.52 Indeed, virtually all Armenian, Korean, Lebanese, diaspora Indian, and American Italian businesses are family enterprises. Even the largest Overseas Chinese commercial and manufacturing empires, with offices in London, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, are similar to the Rothschild banking house in that the regional branches are usually run by the sons, brothers, nephews, or sons-in-law of the founder. The one true Mercurian faith, according to this theory, is fervent familism (which may, in a strange land, be extended to larger lineages and ultimately the whole--chosen--people). If the core of Confucianism is "the apotheosis of the family," then the behavior of large numbers of Italian immigrants to the Americas may be attributed to what Francis Fukuyama calls "Italian Confucianism."53
The problem with the strictly sociobiological explanation of entrepreneurial nepotism (such as the one advanced by Pierre van den Berghe) is that some of the most successful Mercurian enterprises--the German and Japanese ones, as well as the Sicilian Mafia--have not been kin groups. Instead, they have used family models and metaphors to create durable and cohesive quasi-families--from, in the Japanese case, master-disciple swordsmanship groups to zaibatsu ("money clique") business partnerships. The upshot, it would seem, is that the best new candidates for Mercurian roles are those groups that most closely resemble the old Mercurian tribes. The principal trait that all aspirants must possess is the combination of internal cohesion and external strangeness: the greater the cohesion, the greater the strangeness, and the greater the strangeness, the greater the cohesion, whichever comes first. The best guarantee of both is an uncompromising and ideologized familism (tribalism), which may be either biological or adoptive and which can be reinforced--or indeed replaced--by a strong sense of divine election and cultural superiority. The millenarian religious sects that do not insist on celibacy are invariably endogamous--and thus potential tribes; the endogamous tribes that take their fate and their strangeness seriously are also religious sects."
"Whatever the sources of its most recent versions, service nomadism--old or new, scriptural or oral--has always been a dangerous proposition. Unarmed internal strangers, the Mercurians are as vulnerable as they are foreign, especially because residential segregation (in forest encampments, merchant quarters, or ethnic compounds) is a necessary condition for their continued existence as service nomads among traditional food producers. In stateless societies, they are protected by their supernatural powers and exclusive specialization; elsewhere, they are safeguarded--or not--by tax-collecting elites that profit from their expertise.
The history of most service nomads is a story of sporadic grass-roots pogroms and permanent state ambivalence, as various regimes oscillated between more or less rationalized extortion and periodic confiscations, conversions, expulsions, and executions. The European Gypsies were usually seen as parasitic as well as dangerous (entertainment was the only "Bohemian" activity subject to profitable regulation), and thus hounded relentlessly, if rarely with great conviction. The scriptural Mercurians were often considered indispensable as well as dangerous, and thus allowed to remain both resident (including the granting of state protection and economic monopolies) and alien (including the toleration of physical separation, religious self-rule, and administrative autonomy).
The key to continued usefulness was economic success; visible economic success led to heavier taxation, popular violence, and renewed complaints from native competitors. Either way, considerations of long-term usefulness could become secondary to an urgent need for financial revenue or political scapegoats; occasionally, they might be abandoned entirely in favor of religious universalism or bureaucratic transparency. In the Spanish Philippines, for example, 12,000 Chinese were deported in 1596, approximately 23,000 massacred in 1603, another 23,000 in 1639, and then about 20,000 in 1662; in 1755 all non-Christian Chinese were expelled (and many converted); in 1764, 6,000 were killed; and in 1823, the levying of special taxes resulted in mass flight and imprisonment.
The rise of nationalism and communism seemed to pave the way to a final solution. If all nations were entitled to their own states and all states were to embody nations, all internal strangers were potential traitors. They might, or might not, be allowed to assimilate, but they had ever fewer legitimate arguments for continued difference and specialization. In a nation-state, citizenship and nationality ("culture") became inseparable; nonnationals were aliens and thus not true citizens. And if, on the other hand, proletarians of all countries were supposed to inherit the earth, and if only industrial workers (and possibly their peasant allies) could be true proletarians, then service nomads were to be disinherited as "bourgeois lackeys" or just plain bourgeois. Some Mercurians became communist (in opposition to ethnic nationalism), and some became Mercurian nationalists (in opposition to both), but both nationalism and communism were fundamentally Apollonian, so that many Mercurians who were not murdered became Apollonians of Mercurian descent or citizens of the newly "revived" Israel and Armenia (which tended to be more Apollonian--and much more martial--than Apollo himself).
In the summer of 1903, soon after the anti-Jewish riots in Kishinev, the government of Haiti barred foreigners from retail trade and stood by during the repeated anti-Levantine pogroms that followed. For two years, local newspapers (including L'Antisyrien, created expressly for the purpose) inveighed against "Levantine monsters" and "descendants of Judas," occasionally calling for "l'extirpation des Syriens." Only pressure from foreign powers (whose representatives were themselves ambivalent about the Levantines) prevented the expulsion orders of March 1905 from taking full effect. About 900 refugees left the country. On the other side of the Atlantic, the Lebanese population of Freetown, Sierra Leone, spent eight weeks in 1919 under protective custody in the town hall and two other buildings as their property was being looted and destroyed. In the aftermath, the British Colonial Office considered wholesale deportation "in the interests of peace" but opted for continued protection. About twenty years later, the cultural commissar of an incoming prime minister of Thailand delivered a much publicized speech in which he referred to Hitler's antiSemitic policies and declared that "it was high time Siam considered dealing with their own Jews," meaning ethnic Chinese (of whom he himself was one). As King Vajiravudh had written in a pamphlet entitled The Jews of the East, "in matters of money the Chinese are entirely devoid of morals and mercy. They will cheat you with a smile of satisfaction at their own perspicacity."57
The nearly universal condemnation of the attempted "extirpation" of the Armenians and Assyrians in Turkey and the Jews and Gypsies in Europe did little to diminish this new anti-Mercurian zeal. In the newly independent African states, "Africanization" meant, among other things, discrimination against Indian and Lebanese entrepreneurs and civil servants. In Kenya, they were squeezed out as "Asians"; in Tanzania, as "capitalists"; and in both places, as "bloodsuckers" and "leeches." In 1972, President Idi Amin of Uganda expelled about 70,000 Indians without their assets, telling them as they went that they had "no interest in this country beyond the aim of making as much profit as possible, and at all costs." In 1982, a coup attempt in Nairobi was followed by a massive Indian pogrom, in which about five hundred shops were looted and at least twenty women were raped.58
In postcolonial Southeast Asia, ethnic Chinese became the targets of similar nation-building efforts. In Thailand, they were excluded from twenty-seven occupations (1942), in Cambodia from eighteen (1957), and in the Philippines, relentless anti-"alien" legislation affected their ability to own or inherit certain assets and pursue most professions--while making their "alien" status much harder to escape. In 1959-60, President Sukarno's ban on alien retail trade in Indonesia's rural areas resulted in the hasty departure of about 130,000 Chinese, and in 1965-67, General Suharto's campaign against the Communists was accompanied by massive anti-Chinese violence including large-scale massacres, expulsions, extortion, and legal discrimination. Like several other modern Mercurian communities, the Chinese of Southeast Asia were strongly overrepresented among Communists, as well as capitalists, and were often seen by some indigenous groups as the embodiment of all forms of cosmopolitan modernity. In 1969, anti-Chinese riots in Kuala Lumpur left nearly a thousand people dead; in 1975, Pol Pot's entry into Phnom Penh led to the death of an estimated two hundred thousand Chinese (half the ethnic Chinese population, or about twice as high a death toll as among urban Khmers); and in 1978-79, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese Chinese fled Vietnam for China as "boat people." The end of the century brought the end of Indonesia's president Suharto, who had closed down Chinese schools and banned the use of Chinese characters (except by one government-controlled newspaper), while relying on the financial support of Chinese-owned conglomerates. The popular demonstrations that brought down the regime culminated in huge anti-Chinese riots. According to one eyewitness account, " 'Serbu . . . serbu . . . serbu' [attack], the massa [crowds] shouted. Thus, hundreds of people spontaneously moved to the shops. Windows and blockades were destroyed, and the looting began. The massa suddenly became crazy. After the goods were in their hands, the buildings and the occupants were set on fire. Girls were raped." After two days of violence, about five thousand homes were burned down, more than 150 women gang-raped, and more than two thousand people killed.59
There is no word for "anti-Sinicism" in the English language, or indeed in any other language except Chinese (and even in Chinese, the term, paihua, is limited in use and not universally accepted). The most common way to describe the role--and the fate--of Indonesia's Chinese is to call them "the Jews of Asia." And probably the most appropriate English (French, Dutch, German, Spanish, Italian) name for what happened in Jakarta in May 1998 is "pogrom," the Russian word for "slaughter," "looting," "urban riot," "violent assault against a particular group," which has been applied primarily to anti-Jewish violence. There was nothing unusual about the social and economic position of the Jews in medieval and early modern Europe, but there is something remarkable about the way they have come to stand for service nomadism wherever it may be found. All Mercurians represented urban arts amid rural labors, and most scriptural Mercurians emerged as the primary beneficiaries and scapegoats of the city's costly triumph, but only the Jews--the scriptural Mercurians of Europe--came to represent Mercurianism and modernity everywhere. The Age of Universal Mercurianism became Jewish because it began in Europe."
Q & A with UC Berkeley prof. of History Yuri Slezkine on his new book The Jewish Century
What accounts for Jewish success more generally?
Jews belong to a certain community of peoples that engage in certain occupations in similar ways--and provoke similar resentments. Looking at it comparatively, one discovers that this specialization is very old and fairly common.
What is this specialization?
At different times and in different places, there were tribes--ethnic groups--that specialized exclusively in providing services to the surrounding food-producing societies. They include Roma-Gypsies, various so-called "Travelers" or "Tinkers," the Fuga in Ethiopia, the Sheikh Mohammadi in Afghanistan, and of course the Armenians, the Overseas Chinese, the Indians in East Africa, the Lebanese in West Africa and Latin America, and so on. I call them all "Mercurians," as opposed to their "Apollonian" hosts.
What do you mean by those terms?
Apollo was the god of both livestock and agriculture. "Apollonian" societies, the way I use the term, are societies organized around food production, societies that consist mostly of peasants, plus various combinations of warriors and priests who appropriate peasant labor by controlling access to land or salvation.
Mercury, or Hermes, was the god of messengers, merchants, interpreters, craftsmen, guides, healers, and other border-crossers. "Mercurians," the way I use the term, are ethnic groups, demographically complete societies, that do not engage in food production, but live by providing services to the surrounding Apollonians.
In the modern world, Apollonians have to become more Mercurian--more Jewish, if you will; but Apollonian values, peasant and warrior values, essentially, live on, of course. The two attitudes, two ideal types, are still with us today, and the Jews, the most accomplished of all Mercurians, are still playing a very special role in the modern world--as the models of both success and victimization.
There are striking similarities in the way all Mercurians think of themselves and of their non-Mercurian neighbors, and in the way they actually behave.
Can you give illustrations of what you mean?
Essentially, the idea is that certain things in traditional Apollonian societies are too dangerous or too unclean to be performed by members of those societies: communicating with other lands, other worlds, and other tribes; handling money; treating the body; and dealing with fire by engaging in metal work, for example. All these are typical Mercurian specialities. Most Tinkers and Travelers started out as tinsmiths. My great-grandfather was a Jewish blacksmith.
It's a very large world, if you think about it: disease, exchange, negotiations, travel, burials, reading. And these were the things the permanent internal strangers, or Mercurians, were willing to do, compelled to do, equipped to do--or very good at doing.
And these occupations were not limited to Jews.
There were a lot of groups performing such functions. And, throughout the world, they share certain features and are regarded in similar ways. Think of Jews and Gypsies. Both were traditionally seen as dangerous internal aliens, homeless for reasons of divine punishment, and engaged in harmful, morally suspect activities. They were always seen as mirror images of their host communities: Their men weren't warriors, their women seemed aggressive--and, perhaps for that reason, attractive; they remained strangers by staying aloof, not intermarrying, not fighting, not sharing meals--just making, exchanging, selling, and possibly stealing, things and concepts. And so they were feared and hated accordingly, with the Holocaust as the culmination of that long history of fear and hatred.
And I think they were seen in similar ways because they were, in many ways, similar. Both were exclusive, nomadic service providers; both had rigid taboos regarding unclean food and intermarriage; both could only survive by remaining strangers--hence the prohibitions against sharing food and blood with their neighbors, and the obsession with cleanliness.
But Gypsies have certainly not had the success that Jews have had in the modern world.
I distinguish between the majority of Mercurians, including Gypsies, who engage in small, non-literate pariah entrepreneurship; and those, like the Jews, who specialize, among other things, in the interpretation of written texts. With the rise of the modern world, the Gypsies have continued to ply their trade in the diminishing world of folk oral culture, while the Jews have gone on to define modernity.
In any case, the ways in which Mercurians and Apollonians regard each other are similar wherever one looks. What is true of Jews and their peasant neighbors in Imperial Russia is, I think, true of Gypsies and their hosts, as well as of Indians and local populations in East Africa, and so forth.
Including the Overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia?
Yes. The Overseas Chinese too are supposed to be clever--too clever, perhaps. You can call on the usual anti-Semitic list: they are aloof, devious, unmanly, and so on. This is the way Apollonians describe Mercurians throughout the world.
And of course one could interpret these same qualities in a positive light. "Cunning" and "deviousness" may become "intelligence" and "a general commitment to the life of the mind." Gypsies are proud of being smarter than the non-Gypsies they deal with, as Jews are, or were in the traditional Jewish world. Mercurian views of Apollonians tend to be negative too: "soulfulness," "courage," and "earthiness" may become "stupidity," "belligerence," and "uncleanliness."
In other words, the oppositions mind/body, intelligence/physicality, impermanence/permanence, non-belligerence/belligerence remain the same and are agreed upon by everyone involved. Everyone knows which traits are associated with which group; the difference is in the interpretation.
Which leads you to conclude what about the Jews?
Seen in this way, some things about the Jewish experience and the traditional Jewish economic role become less unique, so to speak. To be crude about it, perhaps, it's not an accident that there was a Gypsy holocaust.
What do you mean?
That there are similarities between Jews and Gypsies and a whole lot of other peoples who engaged in similar pursuits that go beyond their common fate under the Nazis, or the hostility that they encounter wherever they go.
This could change the way one understands anti-Semitism.
In my book, I tried to contextualize the Jewish experience, to explain both the Jewish victimization and the Jewish success.
On the particular question of anti-Semitism, my book makes the argument that anti-Semitism is not a disease, not mystical, not inexplicable. It makes the argument that the beliefs and perceptions and actions usually associated with anti-Semitism are very common, and that they are applied not only to the Jews.
Does your argument give you, personally, a different understanding of what it means to be a Jew, and of anti-Semitism?
Sure! Of course it does. I didn't write the book to preach anything in particular. But I hope that one conclusion people draw from this part of the book is that something that is understood is easier to combat. If you think of anti-Semitism as a mysterious epidemic, then it's hard to know what to do about it. When you feel you understand what brings it about, then it becomes more intelligible. And less dangerous.
But what of the Holocaust?
The Jewish Holocaust was in some ways bigger than any other event of that sort in the history of the world. But the perceptions on which it is based are perfectly familiar and very common. The history of the Overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia, for example, is a history of relentless pogroms as well as remarkable success.
You've seen these common beliefs yourself?
Growing up in Russia one couldn't help noticing that the things people said or thought about Armenians were in many ways analogous to things people said or thought about the Jews. And there was my experience in East Africa, which is one reason I became interested in the comparison. In Mozambique, it was striking how similar the economic and social roles of local Indians were to the economic and social roles of Jews in Eastern Europe.
Did you see the Indians at the time as "Jews"?
I did. Everyone did. They're often called that--"the Jews of East Africa." And the Overseas Chinese are sometimes referred to as "the Jews of Southeast Asia."
But it's one thing to realize that the rhetoric is similar; it's another to recognize that the rhetoric is based on something people actually do, and that this goes far back into the past, and that it's much wider than the familiar example of the Indians and the Overseas Chinese.
In your book, you examine modernist literature in this way.
Joyce's Ulysses, for example, is the central text of modernism, and it is about that very opposition. The main character, Leopold Bloom, is a "half-Jew"; and the figure of Ulysses is the ultimate earthly representative of Mercurianism, of cleverness, restlessness, diplomacy, ingenuity--all those things.
Is there a famous Apollonian Jew, to use your terms?
Irving Howe said that Trotsky was one of the greatest figures in the 20th century because he managed to be both a writer and a warrior; somebody who analyzes history while making it; somebody who is equally good at thinking and killing.
One could say that Israel, and Zionism generally, is an attempt to abandon traditional Jewishness for the sake of Apollonianism with a Jewish face, as it were. I suppose Ariel Sharon would be a Jewish Apollonian. He stands for the rejection of the world of the shtetl, the life of the Diaspora, the Pale of Settlement--the Mercurian way.
How do you mean that?
Life in the Pale means living with physical weakness, coupled with eloquence and intelligence; it means doing things others despise. It means being committed to Diaspora life and tradition. And Zionism was to be the ultimate rejection of that life and tradition. The state of Israel became a place where one could escape the fate of Tevye the Dairyman--the great Sholom Aleichem character. It became a place that existed for the purpose of avenging Tevye's weakness through a rejection of Tevye's cleverness and non-belligerence.
The Holocaust created an aura around Israel that made it different from all other modern states, that excluded it from some of the expectations that are usually associated with modern states--and from certain criticisms. Because of its very special role, history, and moral claims, Israel became the state to which standard rules don't apply.
Israel has been transformed from an attempt to get away from the ghetto into a new kind of ghetto, which is the only place you can say certain things.
It's the only place in the Western world where a member of Parliament can say--and get away with it--"Let's deport all Arabs from Israel." Or where so many people can say, as part of a routine political conversation: "We should create more Jewish children because we want this to be a pure ethnic state." Imagine someone saying the same thing in Germany: "Let's procreate to make more Germans because we have too many Turks here."
And Israel also can do things other states cannot do?
Yes, like build walls. There was an attempt to build a wall in a town in the Czech Republic--to separate the Gypsy area from the rest of the town.
There was an outcry. It couldn't be done. So, this seems to me to be yet another tragic irony in the history of the Jews: The attempt to create a state like any other led to the creation of a state that is remarkably different from the family of states it set out to join.
But that's only one of the three great migrations. The history of the Jews in America has been one of tremendous achievement and success. The history of the Jews in Russia has been a tragedy, in the most basic sense of the word: There cannot be tragedy without the initial hope and fulfillment, without the nobility of character that the fatal flaw would go on to undermine. That's how I see the story of my grandmother's life.
And, using your Mercurian metaphor, you say that all of us in the modern age have had to become Jewish.
A central part of my argument is that the modern world has become universally Mercurian. Mercurianism is associated with reason, mobility, intelligence, restlessness, rootlessness, cleanliness, crossing boundaries, and cultivating people and symbols as opposed to fields and herds. We're all supposed to be Mercurians now, and traditional Mercurians--especially Jews--are better at being Mercurian than anyone else.
And that is the reason for their extraordinary success and extraordinary suffering in the modern world. That, it seems to me, is the reason why the history of the 20th century, and the history of the Jews in particular, is the history of three Promised Lands and one Hell.