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By Shelly M. Nixon, California Institute of Integral Studies
In this paper, the author explores the origins, associations, and functions of the ancient goddess Hekate. The roles of Hekate in the myth of Demeter and Persephone are discussed, as are Hekate’s place in the Eleusinian Mysteries. Finally, the author describes her own personal relationship to the goddess Hekate.
download a pdf of this essay: Hekate
Few days have gone by in the past months in which I did not ponder how to write this paper. (I have nine and a half pages of handwritten notes and corresponding references sitting in a folder next to me that I have been carrying around since November of 2012.) I cannot say precisely what the holdup is, nor why my motivation seems to have gone the way of the subject itself — dried up and covered over by the minutes, seconds, hours that make up time. I could make excuses about my extended grief over unjustly losing my job and the resulting financial hardship and loneliness that have plagued me. I could also blame the lack of multiple computers and my father’s tendency to dominate the only functioning one, my laptop. Of course anxiety and depression are constants in my life, as are self-doubt and self-loathing. Yet I believe the most plausible explanation is the subject itself. I have never had easy mother-daughter relationships: my adopted mother Rose and I continue to struggle to understand and express love to one another, and I have never met the woman who at such a young age, gave birth to me and then surrendered me to the state of Michigan. Nor do I have children of my own, save my cats and former students; whether or not this is a result of the circumstances of my own birth is debatable.
Nonetheless, I feel like fraud incorporating the tale of a grieving mother and a lost daughter in an emotionally meaningful way that translates into an adequate academic piece. I find, instead, that the aspect of the tale and mysteries of the Demeter/Persephone narrative that I am most drawn to and intrigued by is the role of Hekate. It is through her that I find my way in to the myth that actually feels authentic. Hekate is a complex goddess, taking on multiple aspects: “Hekate was worshipped in five primary roles … Propylaia (Guardian), Propolos (Guide and Companion), Phosphoros (Light-Bringer), Kourotrophos (Goddess of Women), and Chthonia (Goddess of the Underworld)” (Rose, 2001, p. 174). Indeed, “Hekate is an all-encompassing deity, representing both good and evil, the rational and irrational, the celestial and chthonic” (Winkle, 2002, p. 81). She has also served as an inspiration and patron during this dark time in my life.
This December I began a new project, along with this Coastline Journal, along with Mein Kat, along with Public Art Private Views, I am now producing an audio podcast series on courage, and I invite you to listen. It can be streamed or downloaded from iTunes (free to subscribe) or from Podbean, the host site of the podcast.
If you know of a person who has exhibited courage: whether in the face of illness or old age or corporate malfeasance or schoolyard bullying–any kind of courage–please let me know, send them the links to the podcast, get them to get in touch with me or maybe just send me the story idea and I’ll get in contact with them. These are big, world-famous acts of courage I’m interested in, but the more everyday courage it takes to make it through life. That’s what I’m after, that’s the kind of courage I want to share on this series, Conversations With Courage.
If you’re going to read Lynn Coady‘s Hellgoing, a collection of short stories which just won the Scotiabank Giller Prize, which is, actually, a pretty Big Deal up here in Canada, with the attendant and expected boost in sales concomittant with the drop in the price of the book (at least, online), if you’re going to read Coady’s book, I say, it is recommended to do it with a drink.
A drink of something alcoholic. I don’t say this AS an alcoholic: far from it, I’m rarely with a drink, and can only take a glass or two of white wine, or a few ounces of Scotch, and I’m good. I mean, I’m not good, I’m all right, but if I took more, or, let’s say, I made the mistake, made so many many times in the past, of accepting a glass of red wine, I will enjoy it, yes, but will wake the next day with not a hangover, per se, technically it is not a hangover but a monstrosity of a fucking migraine which will incapacitate me until precisely 1500 hrs at which point I will arise from my bed, or couch, return the icepack to the freezer, splash cold water on my face, and resume the day. So no: I don’t count myself among the drinking establishment. I don’t count myself a drinker at all, but if, as I began here, if you are going to read Hellgoing, I think it a fine idea to have yourself a drink at hand. (more…)
By Mary Naples, MA Humanites (Women’s Studies) Dominican University of California.
download the essay: The Rape of a Goddess
Who were Demeter and Persephone and why did their myth resonate so strongly with women of ancient Greece? There are twenty-two variations of the story of Demeter, goddess of the harvest and her daughter Persephone, queen of the underworld. Thought to have been composed between 650-550 BCE, the Homeric Hymn to Demeter (hereafter called the Hymn) is believed to be one of the oldest.[i] The episode that leads up to the narrative found in the Hymn is as important as their story itself. Zeus, lord of the gods, rapes his sister Demeter; the product of that rape is Persephone. They never married; indeed Zeus would have been the husband to hundreds if he married everyone he raped. The Hymn begins with the reciting of Zeus’ agreement with Hades. To be sure, his being an absentee father did not stop Zeus from arranging the marriage of his daughter Persephone—unbeknownst to either mother or daughter—to his brother—Hades, the lord of the underworld. One day while Persephone was out picking flowers with her friends, the earth cleaved open and Hades, on a horse drawn chariot, charged out violently snatching Persephone to be his wife for all eternity in the underworld. Persephone shrieks at the violence of the attack, alerting Demeter to her peril.
Inconsolable at the loss of her daughter, Demeter roams the earth in search of Persephone. No one, god nor mortal, has the courage to tell her what had become of her daughter. Finally, through information gleaned by the pre-Olympian goddess Hecate, Demeter is informed of Persephone’s rape. Upon discovering that Zeus made the perfidious bargain with Hades, Demeter withdraws from her home on Mount Olympus instead making her home in an agrarian community populated by mortals. After many trials and tribulations there, a grand temple is built in Demeter’s honor with attendant rites to conciliate her spirit. But these honors are not enough to appease the grieving goddess.
It was at this point in the story that Demeter realizes her full strength. As a means of regaining her daughter from Hades, she exploits her power of fertility and stops the seasons, turning the earth into a barren wasteland. Reluctant to see the planet he shepherds whither away, Zeus pleads with Demeter to make the earth abundant once again. But Demeter will not relent until Persephone is released. Finally, Zeus intercedes on Demeter’s behalf and orders Hades to return Persephone to her mother’s earthly domain. Ever obedient to Zeus, Hades adheres to his instruction but not until he lures Persephone into eating a pomegranate seed. The mere act of eating in the underworld binds Persephone to Hades as his wife for a few months out of every year.
How did the parable of the kidnapped bride ring true for women living in ancient Greece? Living under their husbands’ patriarchal thumbs, women had become accustomed to being kept out of the loop regarding the matrimony of their daughters. As such it was not unusual for a father to bargain with his future son-in-law about the fate of his daughter without the knowledge or consent of either his wife or daughter.[ii] Torn from her natal home and forced to marry an unknown man who was—on average—twice or three times her senior, abduction can be seen as the equivalent of rape. After all, men were taking young girls to be their wives—that is to say the begetters of their sons. Indeed, some military campaigns were undertaken for the express purpose of rape; many Ionians and Pelasgians (early Greeks) were said to have gotten their wives in that manner.[iii]
Further, in patriarchal ancient Greece, marriage was virilocal [another word for patrilocal-ed.]. In other words, the young girls—most of whom were sixteen years of age or younger—were forced to reside in their new husband’s family home, which could be a great distance from their natal home. Hence having contact with their family members was a rare occurrence. Consequently, Demeter’s sense of powerlessness against the abduction, and the suffering that ensued at the loss of her daughter could resonate for most women of ancient Greece.
Although males are present in the account, it is a woman’s story.
Females play all the major roles and the areas of concern such as marriage, agriculture and sacrifice are indubitably in the feminine domain. To be sure, the dark bargain made by the male deities is a misbegotten one, as the union produces no child and nearly brings an end to the life of the planet. Indeed, although their actions drive the events, Zeus and Hades are remote shadows, whose dark force propels the dissonance felt by mother and daughter.[iv]
At its most fundamental level the Hymn is a story about a mother’s grief at the loss of her beloved daughter. Told from the perspective of the mother; it is more Demeter’s story than Persephone’s. At once powerless and inconsolable, Demeter appears more mortal than divine. Suffering profoundly due to the actions of males, Demeter is initially powerless to set things right. It is this sense of helplessness that sets off her sorrow at the loss of Persephone, mirroring the anguish that must have been felt by mortal mothers who lost their daughters to marriage each day. Although both are parents to Persephone, Demeter’s anguish at the loss of her daughter is in marked contrast to that of Zeus who initiated her abduction. Bargaining with the lord of the underworld, who most would view as an agent of death; Zeus is indifferent to his daughter’s banishment into the land of the dead. In other words, he is disinterested in his daughter’s symbolic death. Though immortal, Persephone is spirited away from the living cosmos and is compelled to live in the realm of the underworld for eternity due to her marriage with Hades. Is her marriage not a sort of death? Seen as a transition, the marriage of a maiden was also viewed by many as a symbolic form of death.[v]
Daring to defy the will of Zeus, Demeter does something never seen before in Greek mythology. Moreover, not only does she live to tell the tale but very nearly wins the battle as well. After all, for the majority of the year Persephone lives with her mother in the light of her mother’s earthly domain. Though life can never return to the way it was before the abduction, most mortal women could envy Demeter’s achievement. Supplanting the mother-daughter dyad in favor of matrimony, patriarchy sets off the basic conflict. Ultimately, the bond between mother and daughter is seen to be more powerful than the one between husband and wife. Yoked to marriages over which they had no control, the Hymn was liberating for ancient women because a female archetype subverted the dominant patriarchal paradigm for which marriage played a key role.
[Editor's note: two contemporary poets explore this myth: Alicia Suskin Ostriker, Demeter to Persephone; Louise Glück, Persephone the Wanderer. See also the Poets.org article, Poems about the underworld. Derek Nagy's translation of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter is online.]
[i] Helene P. Foley, ed., The Homeric Hymn to Demeter (Princeton, New Jersey, 1994), 28-31.
[ii] Sue Blundell, Women in Ancient Greece (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1995), 42.
[iv] Carl Jung, Essays on a Science of Mythology quoted in Carl Kerenyi, Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1967) xxxii.
[v] Marguerite Rigoglioso, Virgin Mother Goddesses of Antiquity (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010), 12.
by Michael Cox, MA Liberal Studies, Simon Fraser University
(An earlier, much edited version of this essay was published in Confluence, vol. 15 no.2, spring 2010)
Download this essay as a pdf file: Drinking This Champagne Water
These blessed mountains are so compactly filled with God’s beauty, no petty personal hope or experience has room to be. Drinking this champagne water is pure pleasure, so is breathing the living air, and every movement of limbs is pleasure…(John Muir, Nature Writings 228)
Sixty years separate Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s death (1778) from John Muir’s birth (1838). Muir is not considered a philosopher, and Rousseau is not considered an environmentalist, but each man had an abiding passion for the solace occasioned by long walks in nature, and saw in Nature an expression of God. Each loved the mountains, whether hiking or appreciating them from a distance, and each shared a love of flowers, and of moving water, and each saw himself reflected in the cold, still waters of alpine lakes. This paper addresses the parallels between these men, and the divergences and convergences, which until now have not been sufficiently explored.
In those papers I have read on Muir, references to Rousseau are scant. Several works compare Henry David Thoreau with Rousseau, most of them examining their social philosophies, but as Joseph Lane (2006) notes, “the lines of intellectual transmission from Rousseau to Thoreau and his successors…are, at best, indirect.”
Indirect, but not indistinct. If I were to list several founders of contemporary environmental philosophy—which I am aware would be contentious—there is good reason to include Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
By Mary Naples, MA Humanites (Women’s Studies) Dominican University of California.
download this essay: sacrificingdido
Commissioned by none other than Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus (63 BCE-14 CE) after his decisive victory at Actium over Antony and Cleopatra, Virgil’s Aeneid is a patrilineal tale tracing the pedigree of the Italic people from the mythical stalwart Trojan heroes. Indeed, both Aeneas and Augustus were victors of empire who were thought to usher in a new “golden age,” Pax Romana, waging war to end all wars, and as such were hailed for their imperial accomplishments. Forasmuch as the mythical Trojan hero, Aeneas was meant to represent Augustus, most scholars agree that Dido, Queen of Carthage (modern day Tunisia), was modeled on the jezebel and much-admonished Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra.
But who was Dido? And how was her fate implausibly linked to that of the Roman Empire? Upon discovering that her brother had a hand in the murder of her beloved husband Sychaeus, Dido, the daughter of the King of Tyre (present day Lebanon), fled her home to the coast of North Africa. Upon arriving, she asked the locals for a small bit of land no more than the size of an ox-hide. Resourcefully, she cut the hide into thin strips marking an area around a hillside as her new domain. Carthage was born. The colony grew quickly and became prosperous. It is at this point in her story that Aeneas enters the scene. (more…)