Category Archives: Conjurer of Rhodes

Dionysus, Lord of Voices

When I first started writing the  Conjurer of Rhodes series , I renewed my acquaintance with the ancient Greek gods and goddesses. Early in the Conjurer books the protagonist Korax recklessly summons the god Dionysus to help him win a singing contest. This leads Korax to a world of trouble, and led me to research the god of wine and frenzy.

Dionysus 2. 0135: Roman copy of Greek original from 4C BC. Glyptothek, München. Source: : http://www.maicar.com/GML/Dionysus2.html
Origin Myth

Dionysus was the son of Zeus and a mortal princess, Semele. According to one version of the myth, the Goddess Hera, disguised as an old woman, paid a visit to Semele and convinced her to demand that her lover show himself in his true aspect. When Zeus swore an oath to give Semele anything she wished for, he was forced to comply. Unfortunately, mortals cannot gaze on the full glory of the gods, and poor Semele was incinerated.

Zeus rescued the unborn Dionysus and sewed the child into his thigh. Dionysus was born a few months later and is thus called “twice-born.” Oh, and no need to mourn for Semele. When Dionysus grew up, he took a journey to the Underworld, rescued the shade of his mother, and brought her to Olympus.

The Festival of Dionysis

The fact that Dionysus was incubated close to the generative organs of the King of the Gods doubtless reflects his later association with fertility and the generation of life. The Athenians celebrated his festival in the Spring, to mark the end of winter and the harvesting of new crops. This Great Dionysia was a time of singing, dancing, and theater, and Dionysus was considered the god of plays and players.

The Frenzy of the Bacchae

The most famous appearance of Dionysus in Greek literature is, of course, in Euripides’ The Bacchae.

In mythology the Bacchae, or maenads, were female worshippers of Dinoysus who followed the god through the hills, intoxicated and ecstatic.

But it wasn’t only the wine. According to scholar Walter Burkert (Greek Religion, English Translation 1985 by Harvard University Press, page 161):

“Intoxication as a change in consciousness is interpreted as the irruption of something divine … Everyone who surrenders to this god must risk abandoning his everyday identity and becoming mad; this is both divine and wholesome.”

The Fate of Pentheus

In Euripides’ play, the rulers of Thebes are not so welcoming to this divine madness. Pentheus the king outlaws the worship of Dionysius and actually imprisons the god, whom he takes for a mortal acolyte.

Angered, Dionysus inspires Pentheus’ mother and aunts to rush off to the mountains and join the Bacchic rites. He then lures Pentheus out to spy on the women. The maenads discover the king and tear him limb from limb. (A clear lesson, I must say, to those who would scorn either the gods or the power of women.)

Pentheus torn apart by Ino and Agave, lekanis lid, ca. 450-450 BC, Louvre. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentheus
A Hymn to Dionysus

The following poem recounts the story of Dionysus and sees a glimmer of relevance to our own times.

Dionysus, Lord of Voices

Appearing in the city street,
Ivy-crowned and panther-coated,
Speaking many tongues together,
Teacher of intoxication,
Herald of his own religion:
Honor and revere the god,
You poets of the sacred songs.

Born of mortal, Theban princess.
To gaze on god she insisted.
Zeus revealed himself in lightning,
Burned her flesh and bones to ashes.
Green vines sprang to shield the unborn
Child, sewn into the thigh of Zeus,
Carried to the sacred mountain,
Nursed by nymphs, nourished on honey–
Immortal child born of death.

Come of age, the god departed,
Journeyed through the lands of Asia,
Taught the Mysteries to mortals,
Conquered countries with his revels,
Spread the culture of the vine–
Sweet the pleasure of the dancing,
Whirling to the many voices,
Ecstasy of knowing god.

Only Thebes refused him worship:
Rulers adamant with power,
Arrogant and frozen-hearted.
So he lashed the town with madness,
Roused the women to rebellion,
Cast them roaming on the mountain,
Freed their willful hearts with shouting,
Till they tore their lords to pieces,
Prideful men disdaining god.

Now our nation too is frozen:
Princes gluttonous with power,
People circling dumb with fear.
Dionysus, Lord of Voices,
Will your call awake our cities?
Singer of the wild places:
Blessed are those who know your secrets;
Bereft are they who scorn the gods.

Satyr and Dionysus, Athenian red-figure kylix C5th B.C., Antikensammlung Berlin source https://www.theoi.com/Olympios/Dionysos.html

 

You can learn more about the Conjurer of Rhodes Books here or find Book 1 on Amazon.

The Day of Thoth

While researching the Conjurer of Rhodes books, I read a lot to refresh and deepen my knowledge of the gods of ancient Greece and Egypt.

One of my favorite deities has always been the Egyptian Thoth, equated by the Greeks with Hermes. Thoth is the god of writing and magic, indeed of all the mental arts.

Thoth’s Egyptian name was Djehuty (or dhwty) meaning “He Who is Like the Ibis”  (1)  He is usually depicted in the form of a man with an Ibis head.

Source: https://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/thot/esp_thot_9.htm

According to some sources ( 2 and 3) August 29 is the first day of the month of Thoth. This time was associated with the annual flooding of the Nile, on which the Egyptians depended to make the land fertile.

Someone once pointed out to me that on our modern calendar August 29 is directly opposite in the wheel of the year to February 29, a day which only occurs every four years. This is an odd coincidence given another myth about Thoth. In this story, he established the 365-day solar calendar.

According to the myth, the year was originally only 360 days long, and Nut (the goddess of the sky) was sterile and unable to bear children. Thoth gambled with the Moon for 1/72nd of its light and won five days to add to the year (360/72 = 5).  During these five days, Nut gave birth to the next generation of gods.

Depiction of the Goddess Nut holding up the sky. Source : http://www.experience-ancient-egypt.com/egyptian-religion-mythology/ancient-egyptian-mythology/egyptian-creation-myth

Egyptian mythology has several creation myths. This seems to relate to the fact that the priesthoods in different major cities proclaimed their god as the creator. In Hermopolis, Thoth was the chief deity and the story was that he created the world by uttering a single word. Some sources say this was a primal vibration, others that it was a song.  Still others claim it was the name of the primordial water goddess, Nun.

In other stories, Thoth is credited with helping steer the boat of Ra, the sun god, with helping Isis in her quest to resurrect her husband Osiris, and with assisting Horus in his battle with the evil god Set.

Thoth is also featured in the scroll known as The Papyrus of Ani, (aka, The Egyptian Book of the Dead). In the scene where the soul of the deceased is weighed by Anubis, Thoth writes down the result.

Source: http://slideplayer.com/slide/4362462/

Taking all of this into account, I wrote a little ditty in appreciation of Thoth. A hip hop meter seemed appropriate.

Hip Hop Thoth

At Hermopolis town, on the Nile
They’d say Thoth made the world (with a smile)
Spoke one word with his Ibis tongue
And the world spilled out all fresh and young.

Many tough ages have come and gone,
But Thoth still sings his ibis song.
Hanging in the swamp, dressed like a bird:
At night he whispers the magic word.

Older than the Moon and older than the Sun,
He’s the bird with the word and the word is “Nun.”

When Ra sails the sky, Thoth steers his boat;
When Horus fights Set, Thoth holds his coat;
When you die Anubis may weigh your soul,
But it’s Thoth who writes it all down on his scroll.

Now Thoth played dice with the Moon and he won,
And Thoth taught Isis how to con the Sun,
And when this world at last spills to its end,
Thoth might just say “Nun” again.

Older than the Moon and older than the Sun,
He’s the bird with the word and the word is “Nun.”

You can learn more about the Conjurer of Rhodes series here. Or check out the first book on Amazon.

Choosing Your Beliefs

In a series of novels I wrote a few years ago (publication forthcoming) there is a scene that touches on choosing your beliefs.

The story takes place in the ancient Greek world, and was inspired in part by my love of Greek mythology.  The hero is a citizen of the island of Rhodes, home of the famous Colossus, one of the wonders of the ancient world.

wondersworld-from-viewmaster

Artist’s Rendering of the Colossus.
Source: View Master World

In this scene, a town on Rhodes has been sacked by pirates. The hero, Korax, has volunteered to join a naval mission to put down the pirates and try to rescue the townspeople.  The prospects for the mission are dicey, to the say the least. Korax is talking to Nicoles, the admiral who leads the fleet.  To Nicoles, the gods are a living presence in his world.

Nicocles contemplated the quiet sea.  “My friend, I have a wife and two daughters.  Each time I go to sea, they fear for my safety.  I always tell them they need not worry, that even if I am lost, Rhodes will protect them.  And the Rhodians will always be able to protect them, because our island has the special aegis of Divine Helios.  I tell them this because I believe it.  I believe it because believing anything else leads me to despair. “

If the politics of 2016 have shown me anything, it is that we all choose what we want to believe.

I know a psychotherapist who uses this quote from William James in her email signature: “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”

I choose to believe that our lives have a higher purpose we cannot fully grasp and that, despite all of the evil in the world, our species is evolving and becoming better.

I choose to believe this because believing anything else leads me to despair.