Monday, 26 September 2011

The Sage's Journey (Parmenides)

Only a few fragments remain of the poet-philosopher Parmenides from the 6th century B.C.. The following is a translation I did from the Greek of the first ten lines of fragment 1 of his poem that goes on to tell about how he met the goddess and what she taught him. One striking feature is that it is not the archetypal journey of the fool, but rather of the sage whose understanding paves the way for him to meet the goddess and learn more...

The audio was just a test-run, but it came out ok. Still, I ought to redo it one day.

The Sage's Journey

The racing mares that carry me
As far as ever my longing reached
Kept bearing me onwards after
They'd set me on the channelled way
Of divine presence through every stage
That ushers straight the learned sage.

Along this way I was carried,
For the nimble mares carried me there,
Pulling forth the hurtling chariot,
Maidens guiding it with great skill,
The axle screaming a piping note
As it whirled, driven at both ends
Blazing between two metalled wheels.

Thus they made haste to convey me,
Maidens born of the sun who had
Abandoned the abode of night

For the light, and hands at their heads
Thrust aside their covering hoods.

Painting: thanks to Catherine!

The poem continues in the comments...


  1. Oh dear Jamintoo,

    This was a true delight. Bless you for publishing those admirable Poetry presentations.

  2. Thanks Catherine!!! So glad you enjoyed:)

  3. Super, Okei. Thankyou.

    I've just finished reading the book - extremely interesting.

  4. Thanks Jon! Yes, just so that others can follow, the book is "The Dark Places of Wisdom" by Peter Kingsley which Nancy posted a review on here...
    Briefly, it's mostly about Parmenides of Velia/Elea, a place in southern Italy who was a healer-poet-philosopher in the 6th century BC, precursor to Plato in Athens where he was supposed to have once travelled and Plato seems certainly to have been influenced by him. His parents were probably immigrants from western Turkey escaping persecution from the expanding Persian empire. And what was interesting was the subterranean vaults that have been discovered at Velia where the ill would lie down and recuperate, and be guided perhaps through dreams, and how this was a time when philosophy, mythology, poetry, music, healing were all intertwined (all under the auspices of Apollo). I'm wondering if this idea of digging for truth, instead of reaching up towards the light, got associated in Christianity with the devil. Was it a terrible misunderstanding, or an intentional blackening of earlier religion? Out of darkness, we can best see the light (as I was trying to express in that sonnet I posted... the dance of Artemis & Eros). Nourishment comes from below to grow up towards the light. Or in Buddhism, it is the first noble truth of suffering that must come before the third noble truth of the cessation of suffering.

    In this particular poem, the imagery of horses is also interesting. Plato in Phaedrus used the metaphor of the chariot of the soul having two horses, one white, one black, which must be tamed to be in harmony, and reaching upwards to catch a glimpse of the eternal blinding light of beauty that they experienced before they came to Earth.

  5. It was about "feeding" the necessary energy of the "God" of the time, dear Jamintoo.

  6. Everything, at our actual level, function on the principle of Dichotomy.

  7. Thanks Rose! Glad you enjoyed!! :)

    Catherine, of course dichotomy, but I can't even pretend to understand what you mean by feeding energy. Oh, I see! In order for the Abrahamic God to be good, the old concepts of deity had to be bad. Hmm... Ah, and I didn't realize that the chariot was a tarot symbol...

    Very beautiful card!

  8. Thanks Had! Ok, specially for you... you were one of a few people who read my version of Tablet 1 of the Gilgamesh. Parmenides poem that begins above, unlike the Gilgamesh, is thoroughly incomplete, but the following lines complete what is known as "fragment 1"... enjoy!

    It seems to end at the most interesting point. We are about to discover the meaning of life, the universe and everything. But it's also at this point where the fragment ends. So though we have other substantial fragments, the full picture that Parmenides intended is a mystery. Having said that this first fragment, before he gets into arguments about metaphysics, definitely seems to be the most poetic.

    The Sage's Journey (cont.)

    There lay between, the gates of night,
    Boundary of journeys into day
    Fitted above and below with
    A lintel and threshold of stone
    Attached on the other side to
    A great architrave of ether.
    Much-avenging Justice stands guard
    Holding the keys that open both.

    The maidens coaxed her with soft words
    And cunningly persuaded her
    To unbolt and thrust back the bars
    One, then the other, from the gates,
    Which in an instant swung open,
    Revealing the vacant doorway,
    Whose bronze fitted posts rotated
    Successively in their sockets,
    Cross-bracketed and pinned with nails,
    Whereupon the maidens drove through,
    Chariot and mares straight down the path.

    The goddess received me warmly,
    And taking my right hand in hers
    Spoke thus, addressing me, “Young man,
    Immortal charioteers and mares
    Have been your consort to our home
    And you are welcome. ‘Twas not fate
    That sent you forth to take this way
    So far removed from paths of men,
    But Law and Justice let you through,
    And now you’re here, I think the whole
    Of it will have to be explained—

    Both of the still heart of what is,
    In unchanging reality,
    And of beliefs which mortals hold,
    Which though they are of what is not,
    You shall learn them also and why
    They are generally accepted.
    I speak of all things, end to end,
    So listen carefully, my friend."

  9. I Like that !!!
    I will come back to set forth my winter reading

    And I do believe that Law and Justice opens many wondrous doors just few use them.

  10. What struck me is that Justice stands "outside" the gates, guarding the outside. Perhaps Law guards the "inside" of the gate... I like the idea of these two, like fear and shame, being boundary markers. I like to interpret this as saying that they should not be allowed into the citadel of mind, or dwelling of the goddess itself. They are guardians, so not allowed to run amok on the inside, but one must always be respectfully aware of them nonetheless. (So they are not like security police enforcing their will and terrorising people because they have nothing better to do, as you get in authoritarian states.) Justice looks really threatening, but she just needed a kind word and was really nice about opening the gate. :)