We Set Sail!

An interesting and often ignored episode of the Greek mythology is the one where the ship Argo, built to lead the Argonauts to the conquest of the Golden Fleece, passes through the Symplegades, the clashing rocks. The characteristic of these rocks was to clash each other when someone or something tried to pass between them, killing or destroying everything in their grip.

The Argonauts freed a dove to let it pass through the rocks and, while these retreated after having clashed to kill the bird, they made readily and quickly pass their ship in the space that for a short time would have separated them. They came out unscathed, except for the aplustre – an ornamental accessory made of wood and placed on the stern of a Greek or Roman ship, where was believed to reside its life force – destroyed by the following clash of the Symplegades.

An aplustre:
aplustre_14870_lg

The difficulty in the passage is a symbolic image that always represents the entry in the realm of the dead, i.e. the grave or burial mound, and falls into a custody function. The same is the case with the Symplegades, they are just another version of the obstacles that threaten and impede the entry into a sacred place.

In any case only the dead could have free access to the realm of death, you had to be one of them to gain access to that sacred place and this is the reason why the ship Argo loses the aplustre, the part corresponding to the life force: in this way the ship “died” and gained the right to enter in the realm of death.

arnold_boecklin_-_island_of_the_dead_third_version

Finally the Argonauts arrived in Colchis, where Jason has to accomplish the initiation ritual; there are the challenges to overcome, the sorceress or priestess that helps him and the Golden Fleece hanging from an oak guarded dy a dragon.

Risultati immagini per giasone serpente albero

Gold is often present in fairy tales and myths and it is always related with events that take place in the realm of the dead, i.e. the cave or burial mound: some examples are the Golden Bough of Aeneas and – during the labors of Heracles – the Golden Apples of the Hesperides and the Golden Horns of the Hind.

Note: in the European mythologies and folklore the deer (deer’s antlers were used in the Stone Age to dig the entrance of caves), the reindeer (like the reindeer that pull the sleigh of Santa Claus), the horse, the swan and the goose (both are migratory birds connected with waters, i.e. the amniotic fluid, and the migration is a periodic and regular movement associated with the alternation of the seasons and the cycles of death and rebirth) are psychopomps animals in the context of initiatory rituals: they reveal the path that leads to the realm of death.

In all these cases it is not the object that matters but gold itself, being connected to the ancestors as it is an element that never oxidizes with the passage of time, thus being a symbol of eternal life, as well as a solar and regal symbol, in the context of rebirth of the identity and wisdom of the ancestor buried in the cave or burial mound. The hero, i.e. the legitimate descendant, must obtain the golden object in order to conclude the challenge and return from the place where he found it, just like the child that had to face the initiation was tasked to obtain – in more recent times compared to the primordial structure of this ritual – the golden treasures inside the burial mound of the ancestor, in order to accomplish the rebirth and successfully return from the realm of death.

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