Saturday, June 11, 2016

Breaker of Horses

I start to hymn the splendid god Poseidon -
Sea lord, shaker of land and barren water,
Master of Helicon and spacious Aegae.
Earth-rattler, heaven gave you two commissions:
Deliverer of ships, breaker of horses.
Joy, earth-surrounder with your blue hair streaming!
Holy one, be compassionate to sailors.
- Homeric Hymns

5 comments:

FreeThinke said...

Did posting Browning's My Last Duchess at Lisa's place perchance have anything to do with your choosing this topic?


... Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without

Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together.
There she stands

As if alive. Will ‘t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below then. I repeat,

The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence

Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed

At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,

Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!


~ Robert Browning (1812 - 1889)

The lines in bold tell so much about the character and disposition of the Duke, the narrator of the piece, who blithely confesses to having had his first wife (the Duchess in question) murdered, presumably because she had a roving eye. He then goes on to outline his scheme to secure the hand of another innocent young woman, then ends by asking his interlocutor to admire the bronze statue of Neptune (or Poseidon, if you prefer) which was fashioned 'specially for him.

That count was a callous, selfish, conceited son-of-a-bitch, wasn't he?

We must pity the poor girl being sold into his hands to meet God-knows-what ghastly fate.

Once understood, the chilling effect of Browning's opus lasts forever.

Thersites said...

Indeed. Poseidon is the ultimate "tyrant" (8) who battles Athena (6) on the West(?) Parthenon Frieze? It was a competition for the city, if mythology has any basis in history. Piracy or agriculture... which would the AThenians choose? ;)

FreeThinke said...

How a mythological god purportedly in control of the force and flow of all waters, both inland fresh and saline oceanic, got himself firmly connected with control of HORSES –– creatures surely born of and for use on dry land –– is a mystery, since there appears to be no logical connection save that horses too have often been seen as symbols of POWER, particularly male virility. Yet equestrian power, even at its most splendid, seems scant compared to that of oceans.

Thersites said...

Controlling a quadriga requires a certain skill-set. Fitting a bridle for a single rider, another. And this story...

I went down yesterday to the Piraeus with Glaucon the son of Ariston, that I might offer up my prayers to the goddess (Bendis, the Thracian Artemis.); and also because I wanted to see in what manner they would celebrate the festival, which was a new thing. I was delighted with the procession of the inhabitants; but that of the Thracians was equally, if not more, beautiful. When we had finished our prayers and viewed the spectacle, we turned in the direction of the city; and at that instant Polemarchus the son of Cephalus chanced to catch sight of us from a distance as we were starting on our way home, and told his servant to run and bid us wait for him. The servant took hold of me by the cloak behind, and said: Polemarchus desires you to wait.

I turned round, and asked him where his master was.

There he is, said the youth, coming after you, if you will only wait.

Certainly we will, said Glaucon; and in a few minutes Polemarchus appeared, and with him Adeimantus, Glaucon's brother, Niceratus the son of Nicias, and several others who had been at the procession.

Polemarchus said to me: I perceive, Socrates, that you and your companion are already on your way to the city.

You are not far wrong, I said.

But do you see, he rejoined, how many we are?

Of course.

And are you stronger than all these? for if not, you will have to remain where you are.

May there not be the alternative, I said, that we may persuade you to let us go?

But can you persuade us, if we refuse to listen to you? he said.

Certainly not, replied Glaucon.

Then we are not going to listen; of that you may be assured.

Adeimantus added: Has no one told you of the torch-race on horseback in honour of the goddess which will take place in the evening?

With horses! I replied: That is a novelty. Will horsemen carry torches and pass them one to another during the race?

Thersites said...

(cont.)
Yes, said Polemarchus, and not only so, but a festival will be celebrated at night, which you certainly ought to see. Let us rise soon after supper and see this festival; there will be a gathering of young men, and we will have a good talk. Stay then, and do not be perverse.

Glaucon said: I suppose, since you insist, that we must.

Very good, I replied.

Accordingly we went with Polemarchus to his house; and there we found his brothers Lysias and Euthydemus, and with them Thrasymachus the Chalcedonian, Charmantides the Paeanian, and Cleitophon the son of Aristonymus. There too was Cephalus the father of Polemarchus, whom I had not seen for a long time, and I thought him very much aged. He was seated on a cushioned chair, and had a garland on his head, for he had been sacrificing in the court; and there were some other chairs in the room arranged in a semicircle, upon which we sat down by him. He saluted me eagerly, and then he said:—

You don't come to see me, Socrates, as often as you ought: If I were still able to go and see you I would not ask you to come to me. But at my age I can hardly get to the city, and therefore you should come oftener to the Piraeus. For let me tell you, that the more the pleasures of the body fade away, the greater to me is the pleasure and charm of conversation. Do not then deny my request, but make our house your resort and keep company with these young men; we are old friends, and you will be quite at home with us.

I replied: There is nothing which for my part I like better, Cephalus, than conversing with aged men; for I regard them as travellers who have gone a journey which I too may have to go, and of whom I ought to enquire, whether the way is smooth and easy, or rugged and difficult. And this is a question which I should like to ask of you who have arrived at that time which the poets call the 'threshold of old age'—Is life harder towards the end, or what report do you give of it?

I will tell you, Socrates, he said, what my own feeling is. Men of my age flock together; we are birds of a feather, as the old proverb says; and at our meetings the tale of my acquaintance commonly is—I cannot eat, I cannot drink; the pleasures of youth and love are fled away: there was a good time once, but now that is gone, and life is no longer life. Some complain of the slights which are put upon them by relations, and they will tell you sadly of how many evils their old age is the cause. But to me, Socrates, these complainers seem to blame that which is not really in fault. For if old age were the cause, I too being old, and every other old man, would have felt as they do. But this is not my own experience, nor that of others whom I have known. How well I remember the aged poet Sophocles, when in answer to the question, How does love suit with age, Sophocles,—are you still the man you were? Peace, he replied; most gladly have I escaped the thing of which you speak; I feel as if I had escaped from a mad and furious master. His words have often occurred to my mind since, and they seem as good to me now as at the time when he uttered them. For certainly old age has a great sense of calm and freedom; when the passions relax their hold, then, as Sophocles says, we are freed from the grasp not of one mad master only, but of many. The truth is, Socrates, that these regrets, and also the complaints about relations, are to be attributed to the same cause, which is not old age, but men's characters and tempers; for he who is of a calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age, but to him who is of an opposite disposition youth and age are equally a burden.
- Plato, "Republic"