The Book!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Ten Wonders of the World

Sinulog is today. My wife is going. She will not let me go, because it is too complicated and dangerous, she insists, for a foreigner.

Sinulog is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

This got me thinking: I have been around a bit. What are the other most beautiful things I have ever seen?

Here's my list; of the Wonders of the Modern World. Not in any order:

Sinulog – Cebu, Philippines. Catholic religious festival with parade, costumes, dances.

Mirinae Shrine – South Korea. Catholic shrine.

Ji Hua Shan – China. Buddhist sacred mountain, community of temples.

Sigiriya – Sri Lanka. Ancient mountain castle with architectural ruins, fresco, gardens.

The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries – Paris, France. Medieval Christian religious allegory.

Rose Windows, Notre Dame Cathedral – Paris, France.

Sistine Chapel – Rome, Italy.

Perth, Ontario, Canada. Perth stands in to some extent for the entire Canadian Shield, and for many small towns almost as beautiful. It was hard to choose between Perth and Westport.

Lower Town, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

Kyoto, Japan. Magnificent temples and classic gardens.

One could add individual art works, but then the list gets longer. Shout outs to Botticelli, Vermeer, William Blake, the Pre-Raphaelites, the Krishna Gopala or Radha Krishna cycle.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Helper

Siegfried at Regin's forge.

Joseph Campbell identifies, as a standard feature of hero legends, a guide or helper figure who appears near the outset of the hero’s quest to advise him or her.

For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero-journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass.i 
In fairy lore it may be some little fellow of the wood, some wizard, hermit, shepherd, or smith, who appears, to supply the amulets and advice that the hero will require. The higher mythologies develop the role in the great figure of the guide, the teacher, the ferryman, the conductor of souls to the afterworld.ii

He cites Theseus’s Ariadne, Dante’s Beatrice, or Faust’s Gretchen.

This figure, says Campbell, represents “the benign, protecting power of destiny”; “all the forces of the unconscious,” “Mother Nature herself.”iii But these seem only awkward circumlocutions to avoid using the word “God.” Nature does not have a will or an intent, nor is there any “destiny,” without some divine will to make it so.

Very well; God is present in the hero quest. In the Samson legend, his birth is even announced by an angel, who designates him as a hero. In the story of Moses, Yahweh God himself is the helper figure.

Moses and the burning bush. Bouts the Elder.

But so what? Have we learned anything? After all, if God exists, everything comes from God, or if you prefer euphemisms, “destiny” or “Mother Nature.” And God is always with us, in principle; especially, proverbially, in times of trial. So why the need in these legends for a particular figure simply to assert God’s presence? It seems there must be more to it than this.

But first, is Campbell correct that a helper figure is a standard feature of these legends? Surely he is. Have we not already seen such helper figures?

Recall the aged priest St. Gerebernus who accompanies St, Dymphna when she flees her father King Damon; and the secondary, less commonly remarked, figure of the court fool.iv

We have seen as well that these two are remarkably similar to Lear’s two companions in his wanderings, the fool and Kent: the one an artist, that is, an actor, comedian, musician, and juggler; and the other apparently a religious figure, surprisingly monotheist in a pagan milieu.

There is also such a figure, easily missed, perhaps, in Hamlet; although there seems to be only one of the two: Yorick, who was a mentor to Hamlet in his youth.

“I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath borne me on his back a thousand times.” (Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 1)

Yorick is, yet again, a court jester. And he is a guide, surely, to Hamlet in his assumed role as feigned madman. “A whoreson mad fellow,” as one of the gravediggers describes him.

Young Hamlet with Yorick. 1868.

Interesting: three legends, three court jesters.

There seems to be no clear parallel of Father Gerebernus in Hamlet; no religious guide. The ghost of Hamlet’s father might seem to qualify; but it is unclear whether he is a helpful guide or a demon and the ultimate source of the problem. The latter seems more likely. What about Yorick, now dead and so having a solid connection with the spiritual world, serving both functions? He might because of this circumstance combine both figures. Hamlet does appeal to him for supernatural aid, as one might commend oneself to Saint Dymphna or Saint Gerebernus:
Now get you to my ladyʼs chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come; make her laugh at that. (Act 5, Scene 1)

But so far this is all Shakespeare. Are there similar guides in the hero legends?

Indeed, we seem to find the same two figures in the world’s first known epic, the story of Gilgamesh. Assuming that Utnapishtim, the immortal old man who lives beyond the sea of death, is more the goal of the quest than a helper at the threshold, Gilgamesh comes upon two guides in seeking him: first Siduri, the “gentle girl who sits by the sea”; then Urshanabi, the ferryman who “rows the seas of death.”v Both give directions, help, and advice.

And Siduri is apparently an artist, just as are the court fools we find in Shakespeare. 
She crafted the first gold bowl
while peeking at the sun
through a slit across her face veil.
Urshanabi is a priestly figure, a psychopomp (guide of souls to the afterlife), the one who ferries souls across the sea of death. “He is one who plays with deadly snakes,” says Siduri. As Gerberinus serves as confessor for Dymphna, so Urshanabi scolds Gilgamesh for impiously breaking sacred columns and handling sacred stones.

We seem to find the same two in some of the Greek hero legends. Heroes are typically guided and aided by the twin figures Athena and Hermes. According to Apollodorus:

With Hermes and Athena as his guides Perseus sought out the daughters of Phorkys who told him where to find the Nymphai (Nymphs) who kept certain treasures of the gods‒winged sandals, the kibisis (a sack), and the helmet of Hades … He [Perseus] also received from Hermes a sickle made of adamant … [After his quest was complete:] Perseus gave the sandals, kibisis, and helmet back to Hermes, and the Gorgonʼs head to Athena. Hermes returned the aforementioned articles to the
Athene helps Perseus kill Medusa

When he completed his quest, according to Ovid, “he built three turf altars to three gods, the left to Mercurius [Hermes], the middle Joveʼs [Zeusʼ], the right the warrior queenʼs [Athenaʼs], and sacrificed a cow to Minerva [Athena], to the wing-foot god [Hermes] a calf and to the king of heaven [Zeus] a bull.”vii These three seem neatly to correspond to Urshanabi, Utnapishtim, and Siduri.

Athena is, like Siduri, an artist, patroness of the arts. Ovid in particular makes this plain, in describing a weaving contest between her and Arachne. The piece she weaves goes far beyond mere craft:

…. There, shades of purple, dyed in Tyrian bronze vessels, are woven into the cloth, and also lighter colours, shading off gradually. The threads that touch seem the same, but the extremes are distant, as when, often, after a rainstorm, the expanse of the sky, struck by the sunlight, is stained by a rainbow in one vast arch, in which a thousand separate colours shine, but the eye itself still cannot see the transitions. There, are inserted lasting threads of gold, and an ancient tale is spun in the web. 
Pallas Athene depicts the hill of Mars, and the court of the Aeropagus, in Cecrops’s Athens, and the old dispute between Neptune and herself, as to who had the right to the city and its name. There the twelve gods sit in great majesty, on their high thrones, with Jupiter in the middle. She weaves the gods with their familiar attributes. The image of Jupiter is a royal one. There she portrays the Ocean god, standing and striking the rough stone, with his long trident, and seawater flowing from the centre of the shattered rock, a token of his claim to the city. She gives herself a shield, a sharp pointed spear, and a helmet for her head, while the aegis protects her breast. She shows an olive-tree with pale trunk, thick with fruit, born from the earth at a blow from her spear, the gods marvelling: and Victory crowns the work. 
Then she adds four scenes of contest in the four corners, each with miniature figures, in their own clear colours, so that her rival might learn, from the examples quoted, what prize she might expect, for her outrageous daring. One corner shows Thracian Mount Rhodope and Mount Haemus, now icy peaks, once mortal beings who ascribed the names of the highest gods to themselves. A second corner shows the miserable fate of the queen of the Pygmies: how Juno, having overcome her in a contest, ordered her to become a crane and make war on her own people. Also she pictures Antigone, whom Queen Juno turned into a bird for having dared to compete with Jupiter’s great consort: neither her father Laomedon, nor her city Ilium were of any use to her, but taking wing as a white stork she applauds herself with clattering beak. The only corner left shows Cinyras, bereaved: and he is seen weeping as he clasps the stone steps of the temple that were once his daughters’ limbs. Minerva surrounded the outer edges with the olive wreaths of peace (this was the last part) and so ended her work with emblems of her own tree.viii
It is, in short, a masterpiece.

The weaving contest: Velasquez.

Hermes, in turn, is the Greek cognate to Urshanabi: Hermes Psychopompos, the figure who guides souls to the spirit world.

Both Hermes and Athena guide and help Herakles as well. In his quest for Cerberus, Hermes leads Herakles to the underworld. Athena guides him back. The Temple of Zeus at Olympia featured twelve metopes showing the twelve labours of Herakles. Athena is shown in four of them. She gave Herakles the noisemakers with which he startled the Stymphalian birds. She helped him support the sky when he sought the apples of the Hesperides. She intervened to end his killing spree during his madness.ix Both perform similar services for Odysseus.

Athena is divine patron of the arts, of military valour, and of wisdom. These fields do not obviously intersect. But interestingly, they are three fields Aristotle cited as typically populated by the melancholy: artists, heroes, and philosophers.x This may reveal Athena’s true interests and her true character.

In the Völsunga Saga, Siegfried/Sigurd again has two helpers and guides in overcoming the dragon Fafnir. The first is Regin, a smith, who “had all wisdom and deftness of hand. … he has the ability to work iron as well as silver and gold and he makes many beautiful and useful things”xi—an artist. Regin crafts Siegfried’s invincible sword, then gives him vital advice on how to proceed. The second helper is the god Odin, who appears as an old man to amend and complete Fafnir’s advice. Odin is cognate to the Greek Hermes. 

Then said Regin, “Make thee a hole, and sit down therein, and whenas the worm comes to the water, smite him into the heart, and so do him to death, and win thee great fame thereby.”
But Sigurd said, “What will betide me if I be before the blood of the worm?” 
Says Regin, “Of what avail to counsel thee if thou art still afeard of everything? Little art thou like thy kin in stoutness of heart.”
Then Sigurd rides right over the heath; but Regin gets him gone, sore afeard. 
But Sigurd fell to digging him a pit, and whiles he was at that work, there came to him an old man with a long beard [Odin], and asked what he wrought there, and he told him. 
Then answered the old man and said, “Thou doest after sorry counsel: rather dig thee many pits, and let the blood run therein; but sit thee down in one thereof, and so thrust the worm’s heart through.”xii

Siegfried is able to kill Fafnir, following this advice.

Siegfried kills Fafnir.

The artist figure gives his advice first, then retreats. The psychopomp figure next appears, with more complete knowledge. Just as with Siduri and Urshanabi.

This may be another reason why the Fool mysteriously disappears before the end of King Lear. His artistic vision only goes so far: it is Kent, the religious figure, who treads the complete path.

In Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, Sir Launcelot’s grail quest begin when he is unjustly accused of infidelity by his wife Guinevere. The trauma drives him instantly insane. Again here, we see the common pre-modern understanding that madness comes from trauma, and specifically from an experience of emotional betrayal.

She [Guinevere] said: False traitor knight that thou art, look thou never abide in my court, and avoid my chamber, and not so hardy, thou false traitor knight that thou art, that ever thou come in my sight. Alas, said Sir Launcelot; and therewith he took such an heartly sorrow at her words that he fell down to the floor in a swoon. And therewithal Queen Guenever departed. And when Sir Launcelot awoke of his swoon, he leapt out at a bay window into a garden, and there with thorns he was all to-scratched in his visage and his body; and so he ran forth he wist not whither, and was wild wood as ever was man; and so her an two year, and never man might have grace to know him.xiii
Now turn we unto Queen Guenever and to the fair Lady Elaine, that when Dame Elaine heard the queen so to rebuke Sir Launcelot, and also she saw how he swooned, and how he leaped out at a bay window, then she said unto Queen Guenever: Madam, ye are greatly to blame for Sir Launcelot, for now have ye lost him, for I saw and heard by his countenance that he is mad for ever. … Alas, madam, ye do great sin, and to yourself great dishonour, for yehave a lord of your own, and therefore it is your part to love him.xiv

After two years of wandering, Sir Launcelot, still mad, happens upon a tree in which are hanging two swords and two shields. “Upon a tree, there hung a white shield, and two swords hung thereby, and two spears leaned there by a tree.”

What can it mean?

Launcelot takes one of the swords, and with it strikes one of the shields, making a loud noise. A dwarf appears and wrestles him for the sword. Then a knight all in red appears, and fights him for it.

Once Launcelot falls, however, they prove themselves helpers, not enemies. The dwarf says to the knight, 
Sir, …, it is not worship to hurt him, for he is a man out of his wit; and doubt ye not he hath been a man of great worship, and for some heartly sorrow that he hath taken, he is fallen mad; and me beseemeth, said the dwarf, he resembleth much unto Sir Launcelot.
The knight responds:
…Whatsomever he be, said that knight, harm will I none do him.xv
So they put him on a litter, take him to the knight’s castle, and nurse him back to health. He slowly recovers, and eventually rises to do battle with a great boar. The boar can no doubt be taken as a guardian figure; the hero quest has begun. Here as elsewhere, the hero quest is presented as the proper and healthful response to the experience of mental illness generally. Launcelot goes on from this to eventually find the grail.

So, have we met our two helper figures? Two swords, two shields, two helper figures, the dwarf and the red knight?

Not so fast. Launcelot, after all, struck only one of the shields with only one of the swords; he was, then, summoning only one of the helpers. There is an implication here of more to come. And more comes. In vanquishing the boar, he receives terrible wounds, and again passes out. He is found by a holy hermit, who again nurses him back to health.

And here, surely, we have our Gerberinus, our religious figure.

This suggests that the red knight and the dwarf, who respond to the first shield, are collectively the artist figure, aka the court jester. Not an obvious connection to make, perhaps; but dwarves were often employed as court jesters. Once healed by the hermit, Launcelot stumbles into a city and is adopted, being still somewhat mad, as a court jester by the local king. As the sign of his office, he is invested with a red cloak.
And then Sir Castor sent for the fool–that was Sir Launcelot. And when he was come afore Sir Castor, he gave Sir Launcelot a robe of scarlet and all that longed unto him.

This seems to retroactively identify the red knight—as a court jester.

Athena helps Herakles

Here too, as elsewhere, the artist appears first, the dwarf and red knight, then the psychopomp, the hermit, takes over.

For Jason and the Argonauts, there is an obvious helper figure in Phineus; a prophet, someone with spiritual second sight: “Phineus who above all men endured most bitter woes because of the gift of prophecy which Letoʼs son had granted him aforetime.”xvi Phineas gives the Argonauts detailed directions to Colchis and the Golden Fleece, outlining the dangers they will face on the way, and how to overcome them. He is their guide, then, for the entire trip.

There is nothing here to clearly identify Phineas as an artistic type; except that he is not on good terms with the gods, having revealed too many of their secrets to mankind. That sounds more like the rebellious artist than the priest. Like Siduri, the primordial artist in the Gilgamesh tale, he lives on the shore of the sea; he does not cross over. He does not go with the Argonauts on their journey, but describes their destination from afar. He paints the picture, as it were.

And there is here a second guide and helper: Medea. She is, explicitly, a priestess, a priestess of Hecate. Her advice and help is vital once Jason has reached the far side of that great sea, the other side.

Tiresias: Fuseli

If we then consider Oedipus Rex, we find a figure very similar to Phineas there, an old man with second sight, who guides Oedipus on his quest—in this case, unhappily. It is Tiresias, the all-purpose prophet of Greek legend. Also like Phineus, he is blind—blind, that is, to the physical world, the better to see without distraction the invisible spiritual world.

And in the Oedipus cycle, again, there is a second helper figure: Antigone. She is not formally a priestess, but, like Kent, she is conspicuous for her religious sentiments. When her brother Polynices dies, she violates the law to mourn for him, arguing that the divine law supercedes human law. “I owe a longer allegiance to the dead than to the living,” she explains to her sister. “In that world I shall abide for ever.”xvii To her, it seems, the spirit world is the real world. She ministers to her brother, and then also to her father, Oedipus.

So why are these helper figures here? Because, surely, they indicate the two reliable aids and supports for the abused and the depressed: the two great spiritual disciplines, the two great guides for the perplexed: religion and art. Modern psychiatry and psychology are not included, of course. They did not yet exist. Should they be? Have they offered anything better?

The Gilgamesh epic calls Siduri, the archetypal artist, “The girl who gives men lifesaving drinks”; “whose drinks refresh the soul.”xviii That, surely, aptly describes the proper effect of art. She warns Gilgamesh that, in undertaking the hero quest, he is “staring at the sun.” An interesting image; particularly since the epic has at this point just described Siduri, the artist, as one who has “peeked at the sun” in order to fashion her golden bowls. Artists, then, are those who have seen the transcendent, and reflect or reveal it in their work. They live on the shore of the eternal sea; and so are authorities for those of us who undertake hero quests. Every work of art is a glimpse of eternity.

Ushanabi, the religious figure, on the other hand, has actually himself crossed over to the other side of that sea. In principle, he is the greater and the later guide.

Here we plainly have suggestions for the treatment of depression.

iCampbell, op. cit., p. 69.

ii Ibid., p. 72.


ivone account that includes the court jester is given at

vEpic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 10, Kenneth Sublett, trans.

viApollodorus, Library, 2. 37 & 46, Aldrich, trans.

viiOvid, Metamorphoses Book 4, ll. 740 ff Melville, trans.

viiiIbid., Book 4, ll. 70-102 Kline trans.


x“Through what is it that all those who have become eminent in philosophy or politics or poetry or the arts turn out to be melancholics (μελαγχολικοι)?” “Many other heroes seem to have been similarly afflicted, and among men of recent times Empedocles, Plato, and Socrates, and numerous other well-known men, and also most of the poets.” Problem XXX.

xiVölsunga Saga, Chapter 14, William Morris trans.

xiiVölsunga Saga, Chapter 18.

xiiiMalory, Morte d’Arthur, Book 11, Ch. 8.

xivIbid., Ch. 9.


xviApollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 2. 179 - 434 RC Seaton trans.

xviiSophocles, Antigone.

xviiiEpic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 10.

Fake Fake News News

National Post has published a piece from Bloomberg News taking umbrage over Trump's “Fake News” Awards.

The piece is, alarmingly, presented not as opinion, but straight news. But get this for a nice, balanced, objective lede: “President Donald Trump announced the recipients of his so-called Fake News Awards, on Wednesday, his latest attack on the press that has drawn objections from within his own party.”

Near the top, it notes “Trump’s announcement came as two senators from his own party excoriated him for his incessant attacks on the free press.”

“The free press”? Why this qualifying adjective? Is there another press in the US, well-known to readers, large and worthy of mention, that is not free?

No. Surely the implication is that any criticism of the press, or any part of the press, is an attack on press freedom.

If you think so, and want to argue so, you do not believe in mere freedom of the press. You believe in dictatorship of the press.

It then complains that Trump has called on journalists to be fired for “minor” mistakes.

Doesn't calling the unspecified mistakes “minor” there sound like an expression of opinion more than objective reporting? Shouldn't it be substantiated in some way?

The article then asks:
The “Fake News Awards” announced on the Republican National Committee website and touted by President Donald Trump pose a conundrum: Does it really count if the news organization admits error?

Everyone makes mistakes – and the point is not to play gotcha. News organizations operate in a competitive arena and mistakes are bound to be made. The key test is whether an error is acknowledged and corrected.
Since they ask, yes, it does count. It would be worse, no doubt, if the error were never acknowledged. But people rely on the media, the press, to be authoritative. They are supposed to have layers of editors and fact-checkers to ensure that it is. That is what the people are paying their quarter, or their dollar, for—that reliability. Otherwise they could get all their news on the streetcorner. If an error nevertheless gets printed, that is certainly worthy of condemnation, just as if GM put out a car that burst into flames when the brake was applied. A later recall does not erase the fault.

Moreover, if the error is something that any layperson would expect to have been caught by even a cursory fact-check before publication, we have the right to suspect it was a deliberate case of fake news. The danger is that, at best, the papers no longer check the factuality of assertions they agree with. Then they will run a correction if (and only if) they are caught out. Oops. But no matter—the damage is often already done.

The National Post piece then gets down to specifics. It objects that the story of Trump removing a bust of Dr. Martin Luther King from the Oval Office—an event that never happened—was not fake news, because “This is is reference to a tweet by a reporter – which was quickly corrected. Do tweets really count as ‘news’? This did not appear as a news article.”

This rebuttal is itself fake news. The assertion was not only in a tweet; it was included in a pool report at the time, and in Time magazine's own news article. Time's own website writes: “A TIME story that included the error was corrected.” And here is the actual correction:

Correction: An earlier version of the story said that a bust of Martin Luther King had been moved. It is still in the Oval Office.

So let's see: how did the present author manage to know something that was just not true? How did Bloomberg never fact-check? How did the National Post, in turn, never fact-check? One begins to get suspicious.

The notorious koi story is a similar case. CNN released a video showing Trump dumping food into a koi pond, and this was widely reported as boorish behaviour. The video did not show that Trump was simply following the lead of Japanese PM Abe.

The NatPost piece's defense, again, is that this was “just a tweet.”

However, a quick trip to Snopes shows that actual news stories were indeed filed with this fake news:

The Guardian: “Trump dump: president throws entire box of fish food into precious koi carp pond.”

Jezebel: “Big Stupid Baby Dumps Load Of Fish Food On Japanese Koi Pond.”

CNN's one headline was “Trump feeds fish, winds up pouring entire box of food into koi pond.”

It certainly sounds as though they are making dumping the entire box the focus of the story.

The NatPost commentator insists CNN is off the hook because they added, down in the fifth paragraph, “Abe, who actually appeared to dump out his box of food ahead of Trump.” But buried this deep, and contradicting their own lede, it looks like it was only there to cover butt if necessary.

And the CNN news story includes the deceptively edited clip. It was not just a tweet; it was both a tweet and a full news story.

Evidently the legacy media have no thought to reform. They are determined to go down with all hands on deck and with all guns blazing.

It is a magnificent thing to watch.

John 1

Everything is a story, starting with this one;
The whole big world is a story told to us by God, like this one;
We ourselves are stories God whispers to us, growing up.
And as we grow up, the story becomes real, and we live in it, and it in us.
And God himself is to us a story that the night stars sing.

First comes the story, and then is the thing made.
Only then is the thing revealed to us;
As though the story were a light playing on a distant shore.
Only then does it live:
Only then does it shine out beyond the darkness of unknowing.

When a new story is told, few listen;
For old stories entertain.
But for those who do listen, it is like
Seeing the world
Again new.
They are then pulled free of fathers,
Children born again of the story and the dream:
Sons, instead, of the living God.

There was a man called Just-so John,
In ragalongandtagalong clothes.
He wandered about shouting stories
Like this one.
John made stories
John did not understand.
But others loved the stories;
And so they came alive and walked
Among us.

One day in Bethany, on the River Jordan,
John was telling a story with many doors--
The story of the Christ of Galilee.
And out of one door walked young Josh of God--
Josh, who through
Giving himself completely
Had become whole and single and complete.
And John knew joy to see his first work ever
Acted on the stage;
And was glad the story was no longer his,
But would go on being told, one to another
Long after he was gone.
 -- Stephen K. Roney

Monday, January 15, 2018

Pinkies Must Be Out While Drinking Tea!

Archie Bunker with age-challenged individual.

My wife is taking a course in Technical Writing here in the Philippines. Her textbook includes a section on politically correct language, and suggests the following alternatives. It is interesting and informative to see it all done from a non-North American perspective.

Examples are simply in the order given.

For "Angry," write "Passionate" or "emotional."

Like most examples of "politically correct" language, the problem is that the replacement is meant to obscure or confuse rather than communicate information. As a result, it defies the basic objective of writing, and so is bad writing. "Emotional" can mean many things, only one of which is "angry."

Moreover, it describes the person, rather than the emotion. You are saying of anyone who gets angry that they are habitually angry, that they have a character flaw. It might instead be healthy and righteous anger; you are accusing them of one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

For "Asians," write "Pacific Islanders."
Did you see that one coming? So it is now offensive to call anyone "Asian"? This is obviously meant, although it is not specified, to refer only to Filipinos. Technically correct, but still confusing, so long as you do not also refer to Japanese or Taiwanese as "Pacific Islanders." Which I doubt is intended.

The bottom line here, no doubt, is that many Filipinos prefer "Pacific Islanders" because it makes the Philippines sound like an American possession. Like Guam or Samoa--that is what is normally meant by "Pacific Islander." They would rather be associated with Americans than Chinese. They are not reconciled to the idea of Philippine independence. Cute, but daffy.

For "Autistic," write "Special child."
This is the usual problem--trying to obscure rather than inform. There are many ways in which a child can be special. And actually, a lot of them are worse than autism. Are you doing the autistic kid any favour, by conjuring up all these other possibilities? Ever see "Rosemary's Baby"?

For "Bald people," write "Comb free."
Good joke. But they're actually serious.

For "Black sheep," write "Outcast."
Okay, the problem is plain enough--associating the colour black with anything negative is currently a problem, because "black" is also used to describe subSaharan Africans. A bit odd that this would be an issue in the Philippines, though. Here it is hard to imagine anyone thinking that "black" referred to people instead of sheep. It shows the prevalence of American culture.

For "Blind," write "Visually-impaired."
This is just wrong. Visually-impaired means partial vision. Blind means no effective vision. 

And isn't it offensive to suggest that there is something wrong with being blind?

For "Deaf," write "Hearing-impaired."
Same problem. Simply an error.

For "Gifted," write "Advanced learner."
Agan, two different things. A gifted child is just as likely to be lagging behind the slated curriculum, in an average school. Because they are bored. Many advanced learners are not gifted, and many gifted children are not advanced learners.

For "Incapable," write "Fertility-challenged."

This again is funny. It reveals where Filipino values are. Having children is close to the point of life; so "ability" automatically means the ability to have children. Take note, all you foreigners considering Filipina brides. She WILL want children, and if you do not, it is heartless not to give her clear advance warning. And don't forget to wave goodbye.

Here the replacement is far more specific than the "bad" word. Which is itself surely already a euphemism. Why not "infertile"?

For "Insane," write "Mentally-challenged."
This is grotesquely wrong. It implies that insanity is cognate to stupidity. This is the reverse of the truth: the greater the intelligence, the higher the likelihood of insanity. The lower the intelligence, the more likely to be "sane." This bit of "political correctness" directly promotes prejudice, and spreads a falsehood in order to do so.

For "Janitor," write "Sanitarian."

If there is something wrong with being janitor, whatever happened to "building custodian"? "Sanitarian" means a public health worker, and is simply wrong for "janitor."

For "Lazy," write "Different interest."
Again, sounds like a joke. How will the reader be able to guess the real meaning?

For "Negro," write "African American."
Again, this shows how influential American culture is in the Philippines. Because, of course, this "correction" is nonsense, and will introduce an error, anywhere outside the USA. And we are outside the USA. How many African Americans are there in Zimbabwe or Canada or Jamaica?

The text is at least more honest than usual about what "politically correct" language is all about. It is usually represented in Canada, or the States, as meant to reduce discrimination and/or to protect the feelings of the group referred to. It usually does the exact opposite. Even the very resort to euphemism obviously implies there is something wrong with belonging to that group.

The text includes this nonsense explanation, but it feels like it does so as a matter of rote. It adds that the terms you use reflect which schools you attended. And that is exactly right, exactly the point. Filipinos get this, because the Philippines is a far more class-conscious society than the US or Canada. The point of using "politically-correct" language is that it is a class marker. It shows you went to the right schools and know the secret handshakes. You are not a member of the unwashed working class, not an Archie Bunker.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Leonard Cohen on Miracles

"I’ve witnessed many miracles, some very conventional. I was a counselor at a camp in the Laurentians in the early 50s. In the town of St. Margaret, Quebec, there was a nun by the name of Sister Anne, who began curing people, locally. Within two or three weeks there were private ambulances from as far away as Texas in the streets of St. Margaret, which had maybe 5,000 people. People were sleeping on the streets and in the public squares. There were cripples, crutches, wheelchairs. There were hundreds of people in the public square singing all day and the chief of police walking up and down with his baton singing along.There was a line waiting and Sister Anne would come down the stairs of the little parish church and people would be brought to her. She had a silver crucifix and she would cross them and tell them to stand up or walk towards her. And sometimes they would drop their crutches and walk towards her and the crowd would surge in and pick up the crutches and break them and throw them into the air. Sometimes a person would collapse. She didn’t seem to be attached to the outcome of blessings. She merely gave the blessing. Afternoon after afternoon I witnessed miracles. Some would say there are certain kinds of hysteria that this particular kind of treatment addresses well. That’s OK. Whatever the thing is, I saw these cures. She was eventually called away and encouraged to stop performing this kind of practice. Those were miracles that I saw very clearly."

-- Leonard Cohen

Lavatories Abroad


There has been a full-bore hysterical reaction to Donald Trump allegedly (only allegedly) using the term "s***holes" in a private (not public) meeting to describe Haiti and unspecified countries in Africa.

This is a gift to Trump. The leftish establishment seems to be completely out of touch. Like the Bourbons, they seem incapable of understanding that they cannot any longer unilaterally set the rules and expect everyone else to step in line.

This is just the way the average Americna talks, and just the sort of thing he would say if he visited one of those countries. Countries with open sewers and garbage in the streets. It is a pretty good descriptive term. The commentariat is in the position, more or less, of denying reality, and people are no longer so prepared to take their word for it.

Sure, the word, if he used it, was undiplomatic language. But he used it in a private meeting. Just as an average American would.

The use of the word for foreign countries has been widely called "racist." Here again we see the growing delusion on the left that culture is genetic. If you say that a country is a mess, it does not automatically follow, unless you are a racist, that this is because of the race of the inhabitants. Evidently, this does follow for many or most on the left. It follows from that, in turn, that many or most on the left are racists.

It is the left who are making a powerful argument here against immigration from such countries. If making a country look like that is part of their genetic makeup, why on earth would you allow them in. Do you want America to look like that?


For many on the left, it actually seems, yes. They want chaos in the streets. They want civilizational collapse.

To be clear, this argument is false. Instead, if someone thinks the country they came from is a "s***hole," they are going to appreciate Ameria that much more, and make the effort to make the most of their opportunity. It is those who are protesting about their land of origin being called a "s***hole" who should be deported. Given their opinion of how completely equal or better it is, they should thank us. Right?

The Nature of Stings

World distribution of haplogroup X. Results for the Americas are Indians only.

CBC, The Nature of Things, and David Suzuki are suddenly in trouble for making a documentary about the “Solutrean hypothesis.” Briefly, the “Solutrean hypothesis” suggests that the Americas might have been first settled by people coming from Europe, across the ice sheet during the last ice age.

The problem, apparently, is that this theory has recently been embraced by “white supremacists.”

It is fun to see David Suzuki and the CBC being raked over the greenhouse-gas-rich coals: it is nice to see the left devouring itself. Which seems to be happening increasingly often. But something also smells funny. The National Post piece on the controversy explains the hypothesis is “so toxic, and so discredited among mainstream researchers that documentary director Robin Bicknell said she could barely find anyone willing to go on camera even just to say it was wrong.”

That does not sound right, does it? There is no problem in finding scientists who will explain why we know that the earth is not flat, that the sun does not orbit the earth, or that Nazi race theories were bunk. No problem at all. The only reason scientists might be reluctant to go on camera saying the theory is wrong is that it is very likely to be true. Only then do they face a problem—and otherwise academics love publicity. If they admit it is quite likely to be true, they will be accused of white supremacy, and their career is over. But if they say it is false, and in a couple of years it is generally accepted as correct, their career is over. Nobody wants to be the first to stick their bearded turtleneck out.

This is what you get when you politicize science.

But who is most guilty of that? A few hundred “white supremacists,” whatever that apparently infinitely malleable term currently means? Or the huge number on the left, apparently a majority of us all, and including the Canadian establishment, who maintain that there is some great political, legal, and moral significance to whose ancestors arrived in North America first?

Now it seems they risk being hoist on their own flint-knapped arrowheads, and they of course do not like it.

I am not qualified to evaluate the theory myself, but this fear factor alone makes me think it must be true.

Let’s look, though, at the arguments the article gives that it is not true:

“There is, for example, no evidence of Solutrean seafaring, and no evidence of their cave art in North America, which would be unusual for a people known for the elaborately painted Cave of Altamira in Spain.”

Absence of evidence is of course not evidence of absence. Given the vast area and low pre-Columbian populations, finding anything in particular from the period is a needle in a haystack proposition. People were searching for a century or more before they turned up the first Viking site at L’Anse-aux-Meadows. Vessels, needing to be light, would presumably be made of light wood and hides. It is unlikely any wood and hides would survive for 20 millennia. Nevertheless, this new theory comes amid a generally growing realization among archaeologists that remote human ancestors were far more able and eager seafarers than we previously believed. They made it over sea to Australia 50,000 years ago. Polynesians made it island by island all across the Pacific. Someone populated islands in the Mediterranean 80,000 years ago.

Cave art? Presumably, if the Solutreans came across on the edges of the ice sheet, they were getting their living from the sea. In Suzuki’s words, they were “lured by the neverending bounty of the sea.” Accordingly, they would probably have stayed at least at first, perhaps at last near the sea coast when they arrived. Sea levels are substantially higher now than they were 20,000 years ago; any cave art the left is likely to be underwater- perhaps 50 miles out from shore.

Accordingly, needles may well yet be found in this almost entirely unexamined haystack.

The documentary notes significant European genetic markers in Canadian Indians. Indeed, whether or not the Solutrean hypothesis is true, this large element of European genetic material in the Indians of eastern Canada must still somehow be accounted for. It is important new data—we did not know about this until we sequenced the human genome, and it seems to defy the traditional theory of arrival from Asia, and no contact before Leif Erickson.

However, the article counters,

“According to Moreno-Mayar, …, there is another more plausible way to account for the presence of the relevant genetic marker, which was found in three of forty teeth analyzed. This marker, known as haplogroup X, was picked up by the ancestors of Native Americans as they encountered Ancient North Eurasians on their migration northeast towards Siberia, and eventually North America.”

Unfortunately, this explanation is not nearly as plausible. The problem is that haplogroup X is found concentrated in the northeast section of North America. This theory makes it go all the way around the world to get there, leaving no traces anywhere else long the way. No traces of the haplogroup in modern Siberia, anywhere in East Asia, in Central Asia, in Central or South America, or in Western North America. All areas these people would have to transit, presumably mating on the way. That’s like going from Toronto to Oshawa via Edmonton. Without ever stopping for gas.

World distribution of haplogroup R, even more common in Canadian Indians than haplogroup X. (Results for the Americas are Indians only)

The National Post article does not mention it, but according to Wikipedia, the ultimate disproof of the Solutrean hypothesis is a recently discovered skeleton:

“In 2014, the autosomal DNA of a male infant from a 12,500-year-old deposit in Montana was sequenced. The DNA was taken from a skeleton referred to as Anzick-1. The skeleton was found in close association with several Clovis artifacts. Comparisons showed strong affinities with DNA from Siberian sites, and virtually ruled out any close affinity of Anzick-1 with European sources (see the "Solutrean hypothesis"). The DNA of the Anzick-1 sample showed strong affinities with sampled Native American populations, which indicated that the samples derive from an ancient population that lived in or near Siberia, the Upper Palaeolithic Mal'ta population.”

It is hard for this layman to see why this is relevant; it looks a lot like a red herring. If they are saying that this corpse matches genetically with Siberia and with modern Indians, they are also saying that it cannot account for the European haplogroup found in modern Indians. The discovery apparently shows that this particular skeleton, far away from the East Coast, far away from where the Solutrians are supposed to have lived, and far away from the modern Indian groups with the haplogroup X chromosome, and dating to a time after the Beringia land bridge, knew how to craft Clovis points. But this is nothing we did not already know, without seeing the skeleton, and does not affect the Solutrean hypothesis, formed with this background knowledge. It seems significant only if you accept what seems to be the current weird orthodoxy on the left, that culture is a genetic trait, and nobody can “appropriate” anything from another culture. So if one non-Solutrian could make such points, however much later, it cannot have come from the Solutrians.

So: if you find someone who eats pizza and is not Italian, that proves pizzas are not originally Italian and there were never Italians in contact with them? Really?

If there were a betting market in this, I would put down money that, in another ten or twenty years, the Solutrian hypothesis will be in all the school texts.

Those on the left may not really want to argue that this invalidates any special aboriginal claims to North American land. But by all means.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Sir John's Public House…/kingston-pub-droppin…

Oddly, I have not found mention of this on the Kingston Whig Standard website, but apparently Sir John's Public House, in Kingston, actually located in what was once Macdonald's law office, has changed its name to The Public House under pressure from nearby First Nations Indians.

Sad, because in his day, Macdonald was a pretty loyal friend to the Indians.

But he is now scapegoated for having supported residential schools. And for saying in Parliament, when his government was being accused of extravagance towards the Indians, that he was only sending them the minimum of support.

It is all similar to the Cultural Revolution in China, or the various waves of iconoclasm in Europe. In each of them, irrecoverable and invaluable cultural elements were lost. Not to mention the vast economic potential from tourism. Now it has come to Canada. Our grandchildren will not thank us.

Oprah 2020

I may be wrong. I would never have believed Trump would have become president. But my gut says, if Oprah Winfrey chose to run, ther is no way he could beat her.

Trump has wonderful instincts as a showman, but compared to Winfrey, just about everyone else is an amateur.

TIME magazine once did a poll on who Americans thought would be most likely to be in heaven. Oprah came second only to themselves, and above Mother Teresa, who is, of course, now officially there.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Never Hire a Professional

Researchers at Cornell have discovered that, aside from raising the cost of education, the existence of teachers' unions and collective bargaining for teachers in any state reduces overall economic output and incomes, specifically the incomes of men.

Eh? How does that work? Aren't unions supposed to raise incomes?

First off, logically enough, unionization restricts hiring, and makes each hire more expensive. It stands to reason, then, that in this one sector, at least, there are fewer jobs available. And yes, the data do show lower employment rates, and lower labour force participation.

A valuable warning for those who want, like Ontario currently, to raise the minimum wage. Raise the cost of labour across the board, and, logically enough, you will have fewer jobs across the board. This study suggests that the losses for the poor will be grater thn the gains.

Don't believe a minimum wage would work that way? Then what again is the point of hiking taxes on cigarettes, alcohol, or calling for a carbon tax? Isn't it our automatic assumption that making something more expensive reduces the demand? Why would the basic laws of human nature be suspended in this one instance?

But this cannot by itself explain the economic harm detected. The teaching profession is by itself just not large enough to make this much difference. In any case, teachers' unions have also usually made demands for smaller class sizes and fewer teaching hours, which should offset this effect by forcing the hiring of more teachers. Here's another factor, and certainly a far larger factor: teachers' unions and collective bargaining, it turns out, leads to "reductions in measured cognitive and non-cognitive skills among young adults."

In other words, unionizing teachers means they do not teach as well. The quality of the work declines, and students suffer directly.

Unions, and self-regulating professions, mean things are done for the benefit of the employee or professional, no longer for the benefit of the customer.

Pas le Dieu des philosophes

Sure I had met God before:
Unseen presence in dark theatre alleyways,
Leprous, begging nickels in the street;
Doing hard time for meditation;
In a fashion, climbing Anselm’s ladder
To the spiraling galaxies;
In the dawn;
Or fishing with a moonlit thread
In the secret valleys of the night.

But it was the thunderbolt this time.
This time it was the catalytic flame.
God blew off the top of my cranium,
And left me all naked to the sky.

And I a stammering idiot with my trembling hand
Knew in awe I never could be alone again.

Ever since that night
At intervals a great eagle comes;
Pecks at my synapses like worms
Scattering vital fluids;
And craps poetry into my hollow skull.
-- Stephen K. Roney

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Depression and the Dragon Quest

Fafnir: Rackham

Neither the terror at the threshold, nor the riddle that must be unravelled, nor the struggle of the one against the multitude, we all know, are the main event in the hero quest. The true and perfect hero must also soon or late confront a dragon. Marduk, St. George, Launcelot, Tristan, Beowulf, Ragnar Lodbrok, Siegfried, Rustam, Susa-no-o and Yorimasa in Japan, all defeat great serpents. In India, Krishna conquers the dragon Kaliya; Indra slays the dragon Vritra. In Greece, Zeus kills Typhon. In Scandinavia, Thor overcomes the Midgard Serpent. All self-respecting heroes sooner or later do the dragon cage match.

An odd thing, surely, since there is no such thing as a dragon in nature. Yet the dragon appears as the hero’s nemesis almost everywhere.

When Hercules, for example, wrestles with the river Achelous, said river turns into a great serpent. Achelous recalls:

I turned to my magic arts, and slipped from his grasp in the shape of a long snake. But when I had wound my body in sinuous coils, and, hissing fiercely, darted my forked tongue at him, Tiryns’s hero laughed, and mocking my magic arts, said: “My task in the cradle was to defeat snakes, and, though you are greater than other reptiles, Acheloüs, how big a slice of the Lernean Hydra would your one serpent be? It was made fecund by its wounds, and not one of its hundred heads was safely cut off without its neck generating two more. I overcame it, and having overcome it, disembowelled that monster, with branching snake-heads, that grew from their own destruction, thriving on evil. What do you think will happen to you, who are only a false snake, using unfamiliar weapons, whom a shifting form hides?”i

Herakles here defines himself as the ultimate serpent-slayer.

Krishna conquers the dragon Kaliya

And he indeed fights many dragons: the snakes sent to kill him in his cradle; then the Lernean Hydra; the sea serpent that threatens Hesione; a giant serpent he kills beside the Lydian river Sagaris for Omphale; and Ladon, the dragon who guards the Apples of the Hesperides at world᾿s end.

The ultimate enemy of Gilgamesh, prototypical hero of the Western world, is also a serpent. His first great foe, Humbaba, is indefinite in form. One recovered tablet describes him as dragon-like: “he had the paws of a lion and a body covered in thorny scales; his feet had the claws of a vulture, and on his head were the horns of a wild bull; his tail and phallus each ended in a snake’s head.”ii But as he returns to Uruk with the plant of immortality, the object of his hero quest, with which he hopes to heal his colleague and co-hero Enkidu, it is a snake that proves his final and greatest enemy:

After 15 miles they set up camp
where Gilgamesh slipped into a pool;
but in the pool, a cruel snake slithered by
and stole the plant from Gilgamesh
who saw the snake grow young again,
as off it raced with the special, special plant.iii
Jason must get past a dragon as well, to gain the Golden Fleece:

The final task was to put the dragon to sleep with the magic drugs. Known for its crest, its triple tongues and curved fangs, it was the dread guardian of the tree’s gold. But when Jason had sprinkled it with the Lethean juice of a certain herb, and three times repeated the words that bring tranquil sleep, that calm the rough seas and turbulent rivers, sleep came to those sleepless eyes, and the heroic son of Aeson gained the Golden Fleece.iv

So what exactly, then, is a dragon?

Welsh dragon. The celebrated breath comes from leeks.

A medieval bestiary says this:

The dragon’s strength is found in its tail, not in its teeth. Its lashing tail does great harm, and the dragon kills anything it catches in its coils. ... The Devil is likened to a dragon because he is the worst of all serpents. ... The crest of the dragon represents the Devil crowned with pride. As the dragon’s strength is not in its teeth but in its tail, the Devil, deprived of his strength, deceives with lies.v

Isidore of Seville, the great Medieval encyclopedist, advises “The dragon is the largest serpent, and in fact the largest animal on earth. Its strength is in its tail rather than its teeth; it does harm by beating, not by biting. It has no poison and needs none to kill, because it kills by entangling.”vi

It is plain, then, that the dragon is in the first place a huge serpent; other features are variable. But this is a metaphoric serpent. It apparently conveys as an objective correlative the various vices of pride, deceit—Jason’s opponent is “triple tongued,” and all serpents “speak with forked tongue”—and possessiveness, “entanglement.” Dragons also, although neither Isidore nor the Bestiary mention it, commonly guard some kind of hoard or treasure: the golden apples, the “tree’s gold,” Fafnir’s gold hoard. Chinese dragons circle the golden pill of immortality. They are acquisitive, then.

Chinese dragon chasing pill of immortality.

These sound rather like the traits of the narcissist, and of the narcissistic parent: pride, desire for grandeur, greed, deceit, failure to keep promises, possessiveness.

Joseph Campbell quotes a case study from Jung which seems by chance to confirm the association with an abusive parent:

Dr. Jung has reported a dream that resembles very closely the image of the myth of Daphne [sic]. The dreamer is the same young man who found himself ... in the land of the sheep—the land, that is to say, of unindependence. A voice within him says, “I must first get away from the father”; then a few nights later: “a snake draws a circle about the dreamer, and he stands like a tree, grown fast to the earth.” This is an image of the magic circle drawn about the personality by the dragon power of the fixating parent. Brynhild, in the same way, was protected in her virginity, arrested in her daughter state for years, by the circle of the fire of all-father Wotan She slept in timelessness until the coming of Siegfried.vii

The dragon, then, if Jung and Campbell are right, represents “the fixating parent.” Its power is that of paralysis: it fixes the child to a point, representing “unindependence,” unable, in contrast to the peripatetic hero, to travel.

But it is surely more than this: the dragon is not just representative of some person, because that person could just as well represent themselves as a dream image; the parent or anyone else.

The dragon is, the bestiary advises us, ultimately the Devil himself. We are now in the spirit realm, and dealing with things at the cosmic level. This is the primordial serpent, evil itself, of which the human narcissist is merely a devotee or individual incarnation.

Thor faces off against the Midgard serpent.

One might object here that not all dragons are themselves portrayed as evil. The Oriental dragon, as known in China, Vietnam, or Korea, is a productive, fertile character. So how can the fundamental meaning of the dragon be the Devil?

But note that Oriental religion has no Devil, and no equivalent figure. It simply does not accept the ultimate reality of evil. Ethics are not a part of the cosmic equation. Taoism, like Gnosticism in the West, sees the ideal as a balance of all opposites, and this, ultimately, also includes the opposites of good and evil. The dragon is not a negative image because moral evil is not a negative. The hero and the dragon, then, are of equal moral authority, and properly should reconcile. Fine; but outside our purview for now.

In most cultures, it is understood that mental illness is produced by spirit possession: by “an evil spirit.” This, then, the dragon of the hero quest, is the chief evil spirit, for which a great serpent is the fitting objective correlative; as a serpent represents original evil in the Garden of Eden, and a great dragon in the Book of Revelations: “an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.” (Revelations 12:3). It is defeated by St. Michael.

Rustam and the dragon

Before you scoff at this as hopeless hocus pocus, note that it is simply the most reasonable way to speak of something within your own consciousness that seems to possess a will of its own: that wants what you do not want. Reject the idea of evil spirits, and you are forced into logical contradictions like positing a second “unconscious self.” A self other than yourself, that is, of which you are “unconscious” yet of which you are conscious.

And so here there be dragons. The hero-depressive must face up to and overcome the reality of evil as an abstract absolute, but also as a living conscious thing within, instilling fears and negative opinions about him or herself, in order to overcome the effects of his or her upbringing. This was the seed laid by abusive parenting.

Medusa having a bad hair day.

Perseus’s first serious adversary is a little different from the usual monster serpent: Madame Medusa, who is anthropomorphic, more or less, but who has snakes for hair. She seems, as a segue from the Graeae, almost a threshold figure; but she cannot be considered only a threshold figure, because her head is the grail and goal of Perseus’s original hero quest.

Ovid describes Medusa as being or having been attractive: “She was once most beautiful, and the jealous aspiration of many suitors. Of all her beauties none was more admired than her hair.”viii To emphasize her serpentine nature, according to Ovid, on Perseus’s return flight with her grisly visage, “bloody drops fell from the Gorgon’s head. The earth caught them and gave them life, as species of snakes, and so that country is infested with deadly serpents.”ix So Medusa’s essence is beautiful woman plus snake. All mortal adders are her parthenogenetic children.

Freud offers his own, divergent intepretation of the Medusa image. He writes

To decapitate = to castrate. The terror of Medusa is thus a terror of castration that is linked to the sight of something. Numerous analyses have made us familiar with the occasion for this: it occurs when a boy, who has hitherto been unwilling to believe the threat of castration, catches sight of the female genitals, probably those of an adult, surrounded by hair, and essentially those of his mother.x

This is a classic Freudian exegesis, in which anything can stand for anything else: the head is the genitals, the male cutting off something from the female is the female cutting off something from the male, and so forth. Don’t Medusa’s many snakey locks—another image of multitude!—suggest a surfeit rather than a deficit of penises? Of course not! “This is a confirmation of the technical rule according to which a multiplication of penis symbols signifies castration.”xi The fact that she frightens onlookers to stone obviously refers to an erection, right?—by the penis her head supposedly represents. This penis, then, causes an erection in the onlooker, rather than having an erection itself.

Black is white.

Sir Launcelot does the dragon thing.

It almost sounds superficially plausible, simply because it evokes vivid images in the mind. But surely Freud is being inconsistent. If the rule is really that everything can mean its opposite, Medusa’s head must not refer to the genitals, but to the feet. That is the obvious opposite to the head. In cutting off her head, Perseus must really be putting something on; perhaps he is giving her a new pair of sandals? The many snakes in her hair imply that these sandals are not made of snakeskin; and so forth. Freud’s real rule of interpretation seems to be that things mean what he wishes them to mean, neither more nor less. But if we are simply going to assign meanings arbitrarily, without some definite rule, a raven may as well be a writing desk.

Let us stick, then, with the simple-minded notion that the dragon image means something reasonably suggested by the nature of a serpent; and moreover, that this can also be conveyed, more or less as well, by the image of an attractive woman who is deadly to look at.

Emily Dickinson perhaps best captures the essence of snake for the human imagination, and why snakes often frighten us so, with the simple phrase “His notice sudden is.” Snakes, invisible in the grass and moving in uncanny ways, can come upon us abruptly. They startle. Like Medusa’s hair, they can, as Ovid says, “numb ... with fear.”xii
St. George

We evoke something like this when we call someone a “snake in the grass.” The snake represents an attack we do not expect; especially malice masked as friendship. This is aptly then associated with an attractive woman who is fatal to look at: a virile young swain like Perseus naturally expects at least some initial affection from any woman; and is, moreover, drawn by natural affection to look at one. Yet here, one glance means death. Assumed affection masks malice.

The same serpentine sting is well conveyed by the image of Andromeda or Hesione chained to the rocks, expecting to be swallowed at any instant by their invisible adversary, unseen and unheard beneath the waves. Its notice sudden is.

It all fitly conveys, in turn, the thrill of fear of chronic anxiety, a standard feature of melancholy, a standard feature of PTSD, and a standard feature of childhood abuse, if not, according to the DSM, a standard feature of depression by the official diagnosis. One has experienced in one’s past a deadly, unanticipated attack, and ever again is wary of the risk. That is the trauma.

Despite all we read in the popular press about the dragon’s fiery or poisonous breath, the Bestiary and St. Isidore surprisingly insist that the dragon kills not with venom, but with his tail and coils; not by direct assault, then, not in the direction you expect danger to come, but in a backhanded manner, from behind. Like a snake in the grass. Like a knife in the back.

Russian dragon.

And this actually fits with many legends. The dragon often does not try to fricasee the hero with its baleful breath; that seems more often used to poison the landscape. Its plan of attack with the hero or heroine is to entangle or swallow. Cetus intends to devour Andromeda; the dragon in the legend of St. George intends to ingest the Libyan princess. The sea monster that intends to eat Hesione also swallows Herakles, who must fight him from the inside out. Vritra swallows Indra.

This is perhaps cognate to the image of the devouring parent: the intent is total possession.

Achelous as serpent wrestles with Herakles—entwines him. The battle between Beowulf and Grendel is also a grappling match. The dragon seeks to “fixate,” to use Campbell’s term.

We see the sign of the serpent again in King Lear’s description of his trauma in Shakespeare, the trauma that drives him mad: “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is.” “Struck me with her tongue, Most serpent-like, upon the very heart.” The serpent reference is almost automatic. It is the image of emotional betrayal. Hamlet’s ghost uses the same image for Claudius’s act of killing his brother: “The serpent that did sting thy father’s life/ Now wears his crown.” (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5).

To produce depression or other expressions of “mental illness,” Shakespeare’s play suggests, this betrayal need not actually involve prolonged abuse. That is not quite the issue. The issue is the betrayal of affection. One expects and assumes affection from a family member, especially a parent. To receive instead the opposite is perhaps the ultimate human trauma.

Sigurd and Fafnir: Norse dragon.

We similarly have no definite warrant that Cordelia was abused before her sudden rejection at her marriage. Nor do we know that Dymphna was abused before adolescence. It is fairly apparent that Oedipus was not. But this does not matter. Each may only have been betrayed once, but the betrayal was total: their parents wanted them dead. It is this foundational betrayal that matters, not how often it is felt. It is this that breeds such monsters in the mind.

Aside from the great serpent, there is another striking image that runs through at least Greek mythology, in particular through the tales of heroes, that also seems to convey betrayal: Achilles’s heel.

Achilles's heel.

Proverbially, every hero has an “Achilles’s heel,” some secret weakness. Superman has his kryptonite. Baldur was vulnerable only to innocent mistletoe. Esfandiyār, in Persian legend, can be killed only by a shaft to the eyes. Siegfried is vulnerable only at a small spot on his back.

All these examples suggest, in various ways, an unexpected attack, something coming by surprise, perhaps from behind. But among Greek heroes, it is often quite literally their heel. About where a poisonous snake would strike. And an image, like the coils or the belly of the dragon, of immobility, “fixation.” Immobility may imply the disability of depression; it may imply as well perhaps submitting to total ownership by a narcissistic parent. Note that Medusa’s gaze, too, produces paralysis.

Achilles is not even the only hero of the Trojan War who proves vulnerable in his heel. There is also Philoctetes, who embarks with the Achaean armada, but, in Hygenus’s account, “on the island of Lemnos, a snake struck his foot. ... When the Achaeans could not endure the offensive odour of the wound, by Agamemnon’s order he was left on Lemnos together with the marvellous arrows. ...”

Later an oracle was given to them that Troy could not be taken without the arrows of Hercules. Then Agamemnon sent Ulysses and Diomede as scouts to visit him. They persuaded him to be reconciled and to help in attacking Troy, and took him off with them.xiii

He turns out, in the end, to be the indispensable man, the hero.

Jason and the dragon of the Golden Fleece.

Philoctetes on his desert island seems another landscape, like Dorothy’s Kansas and the like, of depression. Sophocles writes:

This man,—noble, perchance, as any scion of the noblest house,—reft of all life’s gifts, lies lonely, apart from his fellows, with the dappled or shaggy beasts of the field, piteous alike in his torments and his hunger, bearing anguish that finds no cure.xiv

He is also lame, paralysed, trapped within the circuit of his small island world. And this is so until he accepts his hero quest, and casts off for Troy.

Herakles too is attacked in the heel during his epic battle with the Lernean Hydra:

By pelting it with fiery shafts he forced it to come out, and in the act of doing so he seized and held it fast. But the hydra wound itself about one of his feet and clung to him. .... A huge crab also came to the help of the hydra by biting his foot.xv

The two monsters seemed to have something specific in mind.

Telephus’s heel is tripped up by a vine:

Telephus, being deeply upset by the death of his brother and seeking for vengeance, attacked the enemy line. Having put to flight those who opposed him, he was doggedly pursuing Ulysses in a vineyard nearby when a vine tripped him up. Thereupon Achilles who, from some distance, had seen what had happened, hurled his spear and pierced the king’s left thigh.xvi

—laming him.

Also famously lame in Greek mythology: Hephaestos, the inventor God, rejected by his mother and tossed off Olympus at birth. But his lameness comes because his legs were broken in a second fall: thrown off Olympus by his father Zeus for, like Tristan, defending his mother.xvii

Medeia and Talos.

In the Argonautica, Hephaestos’s creation, in turn, the bronze robot giant Talos, betrays a similar vulnerability. He has only one vein, that ends in a critical bolt on his ankle. Otherwise invulnerable, if you remove this bolt, his immortal ichor bleeds away. Talos is not a hero, but may be an image of a melancholic: living a purely mechanical life, confined to his island. He runs around the island three times daily, guarding against all comers; a reasonable image of both the melancholic craving solitude and of what we might call obsessive-compulsive behaviour. And in the Argonautica, he goes explicitly mad—psychotic. In this state, he kills himself by pulling out the fatal bolt.xviii

Oedipus, too, is wounded in the heel; his name, “Swell-foot,” makes this definitive of his nature. And the wounded heel represents, explicitly, as with Hephaestos, rejection by his parents. Just as his mother, if inadvertently, is responsible for Achilles’s vulnerable heel.

Chaining these similar images together, a wounded heel = an unexpected attack from behind, as from a snake = having been betrayed by your parents = being paralysed, immobilized. It is from this complex that the hero emerges, and this is a continuing vulnerability.

Cronus/Saturn spending quality time with the kid.

There is similar imagery found in the traditional figure of Cronus. Why does old Cronus/Saturn carry a sickle or scythe? Is it only because he is a harvest god? Granted, he castrated his father Uranus with a sickle; but why a sickle?


Klibansky et al cite a Medieval source observing that “the attribution to him of a sickle meant that he, like a sickle, could cause harm only by a backward movement.”xix His “quality of harmfulness,” a second source adds, was “especially prominent when he reversed his course, and this discovery again had found mythical expression in the image of his carrying a sickle.”xx His “sharp sickle destroys all that is lovely and bears blossom: he lets no roses or lilies flower, and cannot bear fructification.”xxi

A rather early harvest.

Dine in?

The sickle, in sum, seems one more image of the sneak attack; of malice coming from an unexpected quarter. Cronus attacks backwards, and from below, at the heel. And he attacks his children.

Death of Krishna

In India, Krishna too, in true Hellenic fashion, is slain by a poisoned arrow to the heel. Karna is stabbed from behind, while working on his carriage wheel. Siegfried too is stabbed in the back, while having a drink at a stream. Julius Caesar, by popular convention, was unexpectedly stabbed by his supposed friend Brutus. Yes, Brutus was one of many; and this may not have been a literal stab in the back; but this, we are reminded, was “the most unkindest cut of all”: the betrayal of expected affection. The Judas moment.

Herakles’s death by the shirt of Nessus is also an image of betrayal of expected affection. The shirt is a gift from his wife, supposedly inspired by love, and meant to inspire love.... but soaked in the hydra’s poison, the poison of the serpent, it torments him to death.

In sum, all these images of the dragon and the hero’s vulnerability point to a critical experience of emotional betrayal as the foundation to the hero’s character.

iMetamorphoses, Book 9, ll. 62-89, Kline trans.

iiGeorg Burckhardt, Das Gilgamesch-Epos - Eine Dichtung aus dem alten Orient. Potsdam: Rütten & Loening, 1991.

iii Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 11, column 4.

ivOvid, Metamorphoses, Book 7, l. 130 or so.


viEtymologies, Book 12, 4:4-5.

viiCampbell, op. cit., p. 62; Jung, The Integration of the Personality, pp. 104-6.

viiiOvid, Metamorphoses, Book 4, ll. 794-800, A.S. Kline trans.

ixMetamorphoses, Book 4, ll. 620-625, Kline trans.

xFreud, "Medusa's Head," Writings on Art and Literature, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997, p.


xiiMetamorphoses, ll. 801f.

xiiiHyginus, Fabulae, 102.

xiv Sophocles, Philoctetes.

xv Apollodorus, Library, 2.5.2.

xvi Dictys Cretensis, Journal of the Trojan War, 2:3.

xvii Graves, Greek Mythology, 1, p. 54.

xviiiApollonius, Argonautica, Book 4, l. 1638.

xixKlibansky, et al. Saturn and Melancholy, Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1964, p. 177.

xx Ibid., p. 181.

xxi Ibid., p. 185.