Monday, September 15, 2014
How to Recognize the Gods
When gods and divinities visit us and depart from us, Cnemon, they seldom take the form of other creatures but frequently that of humans; this similitude has greater effect on our imaginations. Even if they are not noticed by the profane, they cannot be concealed from the sage. They can be recognized by their eyes, for their gaze is fixed and they never shut their lids, and even better by their gait, for they do not move by alternate steps but by an aerial gliding motion, cutting the air rather than walking through it. That is why the Egyptians join the feet of the gods in their statues and unite them into a single whole. Homer, being an Egyptian and instructed in their sacred lore, knew this and represented it symbolically in his verses, leaving it to those capable of doing so to understand it. Of Athena he says 'Fierce glared her eyes,' of Poseidon, 'Gliding in his gait,' not, as some wrongly hold, 'I easily knew him.'Mahābhārata 3.54, tr. J.A.B. van Buitenen, The Mahābhārata. Book 2: The Book of the Assembly Hall. Book 3: The Book of the Forest (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975; rpt. 1981), p. 328:
θεοὶ καὶ δαίμονες, εἶπεν, ὦ Κνήμων, ἐπιφοιτῶντές τε εἰς ἡμᾶς καὶ φοιτῶντες εἰς ἄλλο μὲν ζῶον ἐπ' ἐλάχιστον, εἰς ἀνθρώπους δὲ ἐπὶ πλεῖστον ἑαυτοὺς εἰδοποιοῦσι, τῷ ὁμοίῳ πλέον ἡμᾶς εἰς τὴν φαντασίαν ὑπαγόμενοι. τοὺς μὲν δὴ βεβήλους κἂν διαλάθοιεν, τὴν δὲ σοφοῦ γνῶσιν οὐκ ἂν διαφύγοιεν, ἀλλὰ τοῖς τε ὀφθαλμοῖς ἂν γνωσθεῖεν ἀτενὲς δι' ὅλου βλέποντες καὶ τὸ βλέφαρον οὔ ποτε ἐπιμύοντες, καὶ τῷ βαδίσματι πλέον, οὐ κατὰ διάστασιν τοῖν ποδοῖν οὐδὲ μετάθεσιν ἀνυομένῳ, ἀλλὰ κατά τινα ῥύμην ἀέριον καὶ ὁρμὴν ἀπαραπόδιστον τεμνόντων μᾶλλον τὸ περιέχον ἢ διαπορευομένων. διὸ δὴ καὶ τὰ ἀγάλματα τῶν θεῶν Αἰγύπτιοι τὼ πόδε ζευγνύντες καὶ ὥσπερ ἐνοῦντες ἱστᾶσιν. ἃ δὴ καὶ Ὅμηρος εἰδώς, ἅτε Αἰγύπτιος καὶ τἠν ἱερὰν παίδευσιν ἐκδιδαχθείς, συμβολικῶς τοῖς ἔπεσιν ἐναπέθετο, τοῖς δυναμένοις συνιέναι γνωρίζειν καταλιπών, ἐπὶ μὲν τῆς Ἀθηνᾶς "δεινὼ δἐ οἱ ὄσσε φάανθεν" εἰπών, ἐπὶ δὲ τοῦ Ποσειδῶνος τὸ "ἴχνια γὰρ μετόπισθε ποδῶν ἠδὲ κνημάων ῥεἴ' ἔγνων ἀπιόντος," οἶον ῥέοντος ἐν τῇ πορείᾳ. τοῦτο γάρ ἐστι τὸ "ῥεῖ' ἀπιόντος," καὶ οὐχ ὥς τινες ἠπάτηνται, "ῥᾳδίως ἔγνων" ὑπολαμβάνοντες.
O Bhārata, the Gods at her summons displayed their ability to wear the marks of divinity. She saw all the Gods without sweat, with unblinking eyes, with spruce garlands, without dust, and standing without touching the ground.See M.L. West, Indo-European Poetry and Myth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 133.
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- To Believe as They Believed
- How Would You Recognize a God?
- A Private Epiphany
- More on Epiphanies