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by Alfred de Grazia




The song is sung. The play is over. Now the question is, "What does it represent?" It represents, I think, and I must take the rest of this book to explain myself, a shocked spell amidst conditions of horrifying natural disaster. The Greeks experienced it, suppressed its memories, remembered it subconsciously, and converted it ultimately into the symbolic form of a comedy.

The Greeks assumed the Love Affair took place in the sky nor could it have any other location. The gods move swiftly from place to place, the Sun is one of the actors, some of the brilliant imagery such as of "the brazen bright threshold" suggests the heavens, the gods involved are all sky-gods, and the decor and associated games are celestial. Hyginus is not alone in speaking of the play as going on in the sky; speaking of Venus exciting Mars, he writes that "since she inflamed him violently with love, she called the star Pyroeis, indicating this fact." [1]

Hyginus' Poetica Astronomica also says that: When Vulcan married Venus he watched so Mars could only follow but never catch her.

This indicates the nature of the "love-affair" as a planetary engagement and hints at prior close encounters of Vulcan with Aphrodite and then a relationship such that Vulcan would always be closer to Aphrodite than Mars could be.

Effective planetary encounters must be accompanied by grave disasters.

Probably the primordial elements of The Love Affair were composed of the incoherent, intense feelings of people in a frenzy of despair and fright [2] . Words of today cannot express their feelings. The biblical prophets convey some impressions of the state of mind in the throes of disaster. The mind of today, developed in the imagery of nuclear bomb devastation, can perhaps understand something of their feelings. Accounts of historically experienced natural disasters such as Vesuvius, Krakatoa, the Pestigo (Wisconsin) forest fire, and the great Lisbon earthquake lend analogous material.

What had really happened had probably caused repeated surges of disjoined symbols and thoughts. The poetry must have sprung originally from a chaos of sounds, sights and human babel and ejaculations, uttered by many tongues, over hours and days of time. A "normal" adult would probably have been reduced to bodies of expression such as follows:

The worst is happening... just as feared!... all sacrifices failed... here it is... annihilator... oracles... monster-body... war... death sun... red dogs, blood... Aphrodite... sex... moon... darkness... thunder... trumpets... golden... Ares... Zeus... sword... stretched fireballs... moon rape... heat... god, god... who... suffocation... stinks... stand still... run... hide... don't move... a giant in the sky calling... he was away... his flares are out... moon is his... we give it... pray take it... all this can't happen... we did not mean it... abah, awah, abah... we are dying... glowers... shakes... where is he going... where has she gone... din... deafness... the sky and land are afire... Poseidon stop it... shake them off... take everything... let us be... uh.

And so on. But the horror once past paved the way for music and literature. The state of mind of the audience of Demodocus can be reconstructed into a more coherent story in which the matching of a new plot with the original real story is nicely achieved. The original memories and anxieties are blended and smoothed over by the new story so that they erupt under control. History cannot be forgotten, but it can be made tolerate. The Song of Love is telling something that only the collective unconscious can understand, and which the unconscious rarely permits to be verbalized. I shall try, nevertheless, to force to emerge some of the unexpressed and unconscious feelings of the people of Phaeacia as the Love Affair is sung and played. To do so I may resort to a rhetorical device.


If an old priest of Delphi were to be instructing acolytes about events of the song, we imagine that lecture-notes upon his discourse would read as follows:

"We know these gods for what they are, uncontrollable and primeval; we cannot say what we think of them; we must not even say who they are or where we first met them; we must not say what they did to us or in any way accuse them; we must not even remember too much lest we feel agony and panic. The rhythms and the chords keep our feeling under control, reinforcing the screen of words alone. The story, as Demodocus signs it, is familiar. Yet it contrives to excite and appease us. We shall feel better afterwards. That is because otherwise we might be compelled to confront the true story, which is rather like what follows, although we cannot be sure that it is more than a terribly realistic dream."


Ares and Aphrodite are the planet Mars and the Moon. The Planet Mars is ruddy and far away now, but was then close to the Moon who was bathed in her golden aura. Hephaestus is the planet Venus. He is not married to Aphrodite. He approached her on various occasions in times past, and ourselves too, our Earth, and was terribly destructive. And the Moon was disturbed and drawn to him and then was drawn back, and so we gave her in marriage, or rather Zeus gave her in marriage, for how else could they be legitimately coupled save by the ruler of the skies and of humanity, who has for three thousands years dominated us.

Mars and Moon are not in love, nor do they make true love. They are destroying each other and us. Mars' huge body which once seemed like a flaming sword interjects itself between Moon and Earth. And the whole primal violence of extreme sexual activity occurs on a world scale. The bed of Earth shakes, the skies glare brilliantly, electricity is all-pervasive, the Moon disappears and reappears. A massive rape is occurring. Hephaestus is far away. It is night but for the brilliance of the scene, secret night when sex flourishes and Aphrodite, the Dark One, makes love. Perhaps if he would return, he would divert the assailant Mars and spare us from total destruction. We would ourselves imitate this orgy, if we were engaging in an alternate mood of anxiety-therapy, or we would propitiate by sacrificing ourselves or what belongs to us or whatever and whomever we can lay our hands on.

We know what "gifts of Ares" are. They are meteors. They are the steeds of Mars. They have struck us and are showered upon Moon. When our King Nausithous led us out of Hypereia, it was because of the stone-giants which Mars and his horde had hurled upon our land.

The secret will be exposed. Helios the Sun is rising. He never takes part. He cannot rescue us. But he will attract the attention of the Planet Hephaestus and perhaps an intervention will occur.

It does. Planet Hephaestus looms large, in blazing anger, his immense arms and stunted legs making him look like a comet. Then he disappears. He does not approach the lovers closely. He goes to the other side of Earth. We wonder whether he will reappear. The destruction upon Earth is terrible. Mars is twice the size of the Moon. We are struck repeatedly by his "gifts"- gases, stones, quakes. The waters are disturbed. The tides are high, the volcanos are erupting. Will the other gods do nothing? Now the Moon and Mars are behind us, leaving us rocking and quaking. But Hephaestus is once more in sight. He is as large as Mars, brilliant, and trailing electric sparks even against the gray sky. But if his legs drag, not so his arms. His huge arms flap as they hammer out the sparks. The whole sky around him is brazen. He drops flashing clouds over our heads and from the corner posts or pillars of the sky.

But again he departs and again come Mars and Moon. She had returned separately to the region of Jupiter and comes back once again to meet Mars who has come flying along parallel to us. Moon attracts Mars once more. Great electric sparks envelop them. They are perturbed. They pause and move, pause and move. Now Moon appears in an unusual phase or position, now she disappears behind Mars and he moves ahead showing another part of her. Mars is closely following the Moon, which is to say that he is moving swiftly parallel to the Earth.

But Hephaestus now approaches, even larger than he was a few hours ago (who can measure such agonizing time?) A thunderous noise fills the heavens, like the enraged shouts of the cuckolded husband. It is something to cause ugly laughter; it is a tangible, an enormous, a highly visible fact, this entanglement of the two.

We shall now witness the catastrophe, as we Greeks call the end of an age and also that part of a drama which brings the culmination of a plot.

"The Gods of the Sky must come!," says the thunderous noise. The scene must attract them, for it is their milieu. It is the end of the age, the end of the world. They will be our salvation or our doom. Hephaestus is lying. He knows he is not the son of Zeus but was cast down by Jupiter and took his strange misshapen form (compared with the other Olympians) from the accident. The bed of Hephaestus is by the Moon, not as it is today, even though he is often far away and invisible in the northern sky.

But Mars has climbed upon this bed and is trapped in the invisible electrical-gravitational net. The sex bout has ended with the bodies suddenly largely stilled. Our Earth also pauses.

Hephaestus hovers in the sky, glowering, raging, exchanging bolts with Mars. Mars tries to emerge from the bed of the Moon. Hephaestus demands his brideprice back from Jupiter. They are the same "gifts" as Mars, which Hephaestus had showered upon Moon in olden time, when the marriage was first consummated and we have not recovered from that marriage of the gods yet.

Jupiter stays away. He is retiring more and more. He has claimed to set up the order of the skies, such as it is. He is scarcely responsible, it seems to us, for he should return to strike Mars with thunderbolts and drive him away. Instead of the conflict being adjudicated, it will have to be compromised.

Other gods gather. Actually they do not. But memories of them do because of the terror of our experience. New terrors pile upon the old and explode them. Here we see Hermes and Apollo, the lucky and the wise. What can we except from them? Hermes is the helper. We say he is so, because we hope he will help and because once long ago he had been near us when we were going through a similar crisis; he fled to safety and we followed; so we say he led us.

But now he is tormenting us. Prompted by Apollo, he tells the grim truth as a sexual joke; he is an old lover of Moon too, and great is the ruin they brought upon each other and ourselves but great also is the attraction these gods of the sky have for one another. They laugh at the tragedies of others because they suffered the same themselves and no one consoled them.
The goddesses stayed away, "out of shame", we sing. The goddesses are not ashamed; it is male conceit. Their names are taken by the male gods whenever they please. Artemis "is" Apollo. Hera "was" Poseidon and "is" now Jupiter. And Athena? Well, Athena "is" Hephaestus, the only planetary female, so she is here in fact and deed.

Hephaestus-Venus will stay married to the Moon. We know how it will end. The only question is whether Mars should pay anything. Apollo remains aloof and laughing. But for Earth and Sea it is no laughing matter. Poseidon stands for Earth when Mother Earth is absent, as well as for the all-encircling seas and waters. He is The Earth-Shaker! He repeatedly beseeches the Planet Venus on our behalf to uncouple Mars and Moon. Earth is already paying its price and willing to pay more if only the disasters will cease.

The tension is terrible to bear. Fortunately Venus-Hephaestus is about to move away. The disaster cannot continue. He therefore accepts the offer of the Earth-Shaker who may be growing tired of his own exertions. More will be paid by Earth to the Planet that shines in daytime. This bodes ill. More songs, more dances, prayers, sacrifices, suffering will be required in the future, from Venus as well as from Mars.

So the two bodies are loosed and spring up and away. Thank the Gods! The break happened fast. As Venus withdrew, Mars speeded away in a new orbit to the Northwest, propelled by the planets Earth and Venus, and the Moon, violently abused, flew Southwest where all smoke and fires were quickly quenched and she emerged soon, appearing as round and golden as she did before but she now carries new pocks and scars. The character of the Moon is unchanged.
The Gods are uncontrollable; we must not offend them; we must not pretend to be like them; but we cannot help but sing and dance about them. It is one of the few things we can do to prevent our utter destruction in the future and suppress our intolerable memories of the past.

And the old priest would conclude with a warning to the acolytes: "Someday you will understand this, but what I have told you must always remain a secret from everybody."

The song, the music, and the dancing are ended. The transition to the ordinary frame of mind occurs. The sons of the good King Alcinous perform a dance to lighten the minds and hearts of the audience. They cast a beautiful purple ball far into the air, leaping to catch it. It seems to reach the shadowy clouds. They seem to touch the sky, to be as light as air. This heavenly sphere has no counterparts on earth. Perhaps it is a stretched and round-stitched bladder or skin filled with feathers, fashioned by a master hand, or a round-shaped gourd ball. It makes contact with the celestial spheres-Sun, Moon, Planets. They keep them up and leap after them; all is done quickly; it is a trompe l'oeil, a dazzling coda.


If the preceding replay of Demodocus' song as a representation of the unconscious contains both a new "real" parallel plot and a certain "madness," one need not be repelled or even surprised. Literature was not invented by humankind out of boredom with spending long nights in caves. It emerged as a method of controlling psychological distress.

Both the "real" story and the "madness" will come in for more lengthy discussion. One asks here simply for a beginning of understanding. As the plot breaks down under analysis, it should evidence some well-known psychoses of which the mind is capable under stress. In its suffering and terror the mind engages in many forms of delusional thought. An important effect is the belief that the skies and the earth are alive with beings who resemble oneself and are similarly motivated. This anthropomorphism helps the transfiguration of the uncontrollable and huge forces into the images of sex, social power, and property that the mind is accustomed to dealing with.

Ambivalence to the gods erupts quickly, once the gods are born out of nature. Hate is just as quickly suppressed and turned upon oneself, for fear that one will be terribly punished if it becomes known to the gods. A persecution complex occurs instantly; one cannot evade the mighty punishers. Symptoms of schizophrenia are abundant: attempts at shutting out the real world; attempts at reconstructing quickly a new world of one's own in which events are controlled only by the mind.

Forgetting and distortion proceed quickly. As soon as possible, means will be invented to screen off both the real story and its effects on the psyche. Literature, songs, and games will be invented. Wars will be waged, for one must handle the urge to punish oneself by moving out wildly and attacking others. Temples and palaces for the provision of security and order must be erected; these will celebrate, in a different screening language, of course, the events of those days; they will see to it that the right food is eaten and digested and the proper mating and reproduction will occur.

Notes (Chapter 3: The Love Affair as the Mask of Tragedy)

1. Poetica Astronomica, II 42. The root "pyr" denotes "fire."

2. Alfred de Grazia, "The Palaetiology of Fear and Memory," (Lethbridge, Canada: University of Lethbridge, 1976), Part I.

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