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Odysseus and The Odyssey

The Siren by Edward Armitage via Wikipedia

The Odyssey is an epic poem traditionally ascribed to the Greek poet Homer. As a sequel to The Illiad, also ascribed to Homer, The Odyssey relates the story of Odysseus (Ulysses), an archetypal hero.

During his return to Greece after the Trojan wars, Odysseus overcomes many daunting and life-threatening challenges. Gods and goddesses, especially Athena, provide otherworldly assistance while Odysseus takes on scary and bewitching creatures like the Cyclops and the Sirens

Upon returning home, Odysseus find a pack of suitors lounging around his estate. They had presumed him dead and were trying to win over his wife Penelope’s hand in marriage.

Odysseus outwits the suitors and ends up killing each and every one with the help of his son Telemachus.

Depth psychologists and mythographers say this tale provides a classic example of the hero‘s journey, often read in myth and folklore.

A scene featuring the siren Parthenope, the my...

A scene featuring the siren Parthenope, the mythological founder of Naples. “Center of Naples, Italy”. Chadab Napoli. 2007-06-24 . . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Generally speaking, the hero cycle involves a trip to the underworld. The hero must overcome an array of harmful beings as well as gain the maturity to discern unfamiliar, strange helpers.

At the very bottom of the underworld, the hero discovers (or wins through battle with a monster) some secret key to wisdom or immortality. Upon returning to the mundane world (as opposed to the underworld), he or she has gained new insights that are shared for the greater good of society.

In the poem the Greek pantheon is depicted as residing at Mount Olympus, home of the gods.

¹ The image (orange and black) shows Odysseus strapped to the mast of his ship as he sails by the dangerous bird-women, the Sirens. Odysseus had instructed his crew to bind him tightly to the mast so he would not be enticed by the Sirens’ irresistible song. If a sailor gets too close to the sirens, there’s no return and death is assured.

Related » Hermes, Hesiod

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The Olympians – for the most part, Twelve

Dionysos (greek god of wine and one of twelve Olympians) discovered Ariadne (daughter of King Minos of Crete) on Naxos and wedded her. As a gift he gave her crown which was set in the heavens as the constellation (known also as Corona Borealis).

The Olympians were the twelve most important gods of ancient Greece pantheon who lived on Mount Olympus. Not to be confused with Olympia, Mount Olympus was the highest mountain in Greece at the border of Thessaly and Macedonia.

The Olympians are Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, Hermes, Demeter, Dionysus, Hephaestus, and Ares. The number of Olympic gods was mostly fixed at twelve, but variations were permissible.

Hades and Persephone were sometimes included as part of the twelve Olympians (primarily due to the influence of the Eleusinian Mysteries), although in general Hades was excluded, because he resided permanently in the underworld and never visited Olympus

Greek myth tends to be more important, I think, to Americans than Canadians. And ancient Greek architecture also plays a more important role in the US.

Myself, I didn’t really come to study the Greeks until my mid-twenties.² At that time, the gods served as so-called archetypes in my quest for self-knowledge. I was studying Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, both of whom reinterpret myth to fit within their respective theoretical frameworks. Freud tends to be more psychoanalytic while Jung extends the reach of psychology to the borders of the metaphysical. In my view, it is inadequate to emphasize one perspective without the other.³

English: Group photo in front of Clark Univers...

Group photo in front of Clark University Sigmund Freud, G. Stanley Hall, Carl Jung; Back row: Abraham A. Brill, Ernest Jones, Sándor Ferenczi. Photo taken for Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts publication. Česky: Foto z Clarkovy univerzity roku 1909. Dole (zleva) Sigmund Freud, G. Stanley Hall, Carl Jung, nahoře (zleva) Abraham A. Brill, Ernest Jones, Sándor Ferenczi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


² One of the very first reference books I bought was Zimmerman’s very handy Dictionary of Classical Mythology, which I still have. Little did I know that I was embarking on a career of buying reference books that would only slow down with the growth of Wikipedia!

³ Not to say that these two innovators capture everything. I think they both fall a bit short when it comes to theological ideas like karma transfer and intercession, especially Freud.

Related » Ambrosia

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Poseidon – One of the 12 Olympians

Temple of Poseidon under sunset sky, Cap Sunion, Greece

In Greek myth Poseidon is the son of the Titan Cronus and Titaness Rhea, the brother of Hades and Zeus. Originally the god of earthquakes and violent acts of nature, he became the god of the sea and is usually depicted with a trident. He is one of the 12 Olympians of ancient Greece (master gods who reside on Mount Olympus). His Roman equivalent is Neptune.

Poseidon is said to have watched over the oracle at Delphi before Apollo replaced him as caretaker. Poseidon was also held responsible for inflicting certain mental and physical diseases, such as epilepsy. It was quite common in the ancient world to attribute disease to the wrath of the gods, the attack of evil powers, or as a punishment for some kind of offense.

In the ancient world, supernatural punishment for an offense wasn’t necessarily just. Christian theologians often say that the pagan gods do not mete out constructive punishment, tailored for a sinner’s salvation, as does the monotheistic God of Christian scripture. Rather, the pagan gods are often petty and vengeful, even irrational. On this point, it’s hard to argue otherwise; many examples can be found throughout ancient mythology.

In popular culture the blockbuster film The Poseidon Adventure (1972) portrayed the fictional story of a vintage luxury liner that turns turtle when hit by a huge wave en route to Athens.

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Sibylline Oracles, Sibylline Books

Michelangelo’s rendering of the Persian Sibyl – via Wikipedia

The term Sibyl refers to alleged prophetesses consulted in ancient Greece and Rome. They apparently prophecized in a mental state of ecstasy, under the temporary possession of Apollo. The Oxford Classical Dictionary notes that

Originally the Sibyl seems to have been a single prophetic woman, but by the time of Heraclides (1) Ponticus… a number of places claimed to be the birthplace of Sibylla, traditions concerning a number of different Sibyls began to circulate, and the word came to be a generic term rather than a name.¹

Ten Sibylline oracles have been recorded by history. The best known Sibyl is said to have resided in a cave at Cumea, near Naples—The Cumean Sibyl.

In Vergil‘s Aneid this Sibyl is visited by Aeneas before his descent to Hades. She is also believed to have composed the original Sibylline books.

These prophetic works were taken to Rome, where they were guarded by two nobles. Extended volumes of Sibylline books survived into the 4th century CE.

¹ “Sibyl” in The Oxford Classical Dictionary: Oxford University Press 1996, 2000 CD ROM version.

Read full article with more images » Sibyl

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Auguste Comte

Auguste Comte (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sociology is usually defined in terms of the scientific or systematic study of society, two notions that postmodern – and just serious – thinkers today openly question. In fact, a recent check at Wikipedia reveals that the word “academic” has been highlighted.¹ So we could say that sociology is the “academic” study of social institutions, tendencies, and how they fit together. But I think this also falls short because it tends to give a potentially undeserved legitimacy to sociology and sociologists, when really, it’s not always right to do so.

Many sociologists stress empirical methods but, on closer examination, the validity of these methods are usually open to debate and sometimes downright bogus. Others dive deep into their books, stressing that they want to do “content” studies instead of empirical work or theory. This is fine, but it’s hardly anything different than what any serious book lover would do. Just because a person gets a paycheck and retirement income for being a sociologist,  it doesn’t necessarily follow that their thinking is rational, integrated or helpful to society.

Another branch of sociology looks at what is called “theory;” that is, some kind of “critical,” “postmodern” and more recently, “digi-performative” or “digi-modern” theory. To be critical in the theoretical sense doesn’t necessarily mean to cut everything down. Ideally, it means to try to look at things behind their face value. To question, examine, in some cases intuit,² and to think. However, some academic, communist-leaning ideologues try to push their special agendas—but only as far, of course, as they can without losing their (big fat Capitalist) paychecks.

Modern Type & Sociology Books by liikennevalo

Modern Type & Sociology Books by liikennevalo

The sociologist Peter Berger was a pioneer in the theoretical approach to knowledge. Along with Thomas Luckmann , Berger contributed to a groundbreaking book called “The Social Construction of Reality” (1966). This has been hailed as one of the most important books in the Sociology of Knowledge. Before that, Berger wrote “Invitation to Sociology” (1963) which was still being used in universities when I did my undergrad in the 1980s. Berger argues for a multiplicity of perspectives and suggests that being a sociologist necessitates standing “outside,” to some degree, from the taken for granted truth claims within one’s culture. It’s like being an historian of the present.

An example of this idea would be questioning the latest dogmas about climate change. Now that Pope Francis is on board with that agenda, even more people will probably unquestioningly accept it. But that’s not doing sociology. It’s just mindlessly following the crowd.³

Historically, the term sociology is usually said to have been coined by Auguste Comte (1798-1857). But many others were thinking sociologically – examining social trends and truth claims – well before his time. In the New Testament story, we hear Pontius Pilate say “what is truth” (John 18:38) And this idea is elaborated on in the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar (1973):

Bronze prutah minted by Pontius Pilate. Revers...

Bronze prutah minted by Pontius Pilate. Reverse: Greek letters TIBEPIOY KAICAPOC (Tiberius Emperor) and date LIS (year 16 = AD 29/30) surrounding simpulum (libation ladle). Obverse: Greek letters IOYLIA KAICAPOC (Julia, i.e. Livia, the Emperor’s (mother)), three bound heads of barley, the outer two heads drooping. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pontius Pilate: Then you are a king.
Jesus: It’s you that say I am. I look for truth, and find that I get damned.
Pontius Pilate: And what is ‘truth’? Is truth unchanging law? We both have truths. Are mine the same as yours? 4

Also, the ancient Greeks Plato and Aristotle, along with the ancient Chinese thinker, Confucius, asked what could be seen as essentially sociological questions.

¹ Always changing with the weather, Wikipedia provides good coverage of the main players in what is now understood as sociology »

² A leading figure here is Michael Polanyi »

³ See, for instance,


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essential works of stoicism: CHRIS DRUMM

Image: CHRIS DRUMM via Flickr

Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants ― Epictetus¹

Stoicism is a Greek philosophical school founded by Zeno of Citium, c. 300 BCE. The Stoics believed that mankind is superior to animals by virtue of our reason. The good life is lived in accord with nature; whereas evil is an unpleasant aspect of nature.

The Stoics felt it important to know about the existence of, and control one’s reaction to, evil. So thoughts and understanding are not enough. The superior person behaves right, which (apparently) makes him or her immune to suffering. This is a slightly different take on the well-known Christian doctrine, Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.²

The Stoics saw the Greek gods in terms of cosmic forces, a view resembling a modern approach to mythology. The afterlife was generally not believed in. However, the Stoics did subscribe to an eternal return, an idea also mentioned in the works of Friedrich Nietzsche.

The philosopher Epictetus, the Roman statesman Seneca and Emporer Marcus Aurelius are usually regarded as Stoics. Wikipedia elaborates:

English: Ancient Greek philosopher Zeno of Cit...

Ancient Greek philosopher Zeno of Citium, depicted in the Nuremberg Chronicle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Later Stoics—such as Seneca and Epictetus—emphasized that, because “virtue is sufficient for happiness”, a sage was immune to misfortune. This belief is similar to the meaning of the phrase “stoic calm”, though the phrase does not include the “radical ethical” Stoic views that only a sage can be considered truly free, and that all moral corruptions are equally vicious.[1]

From its founding, Stoic doctrine was popular with a following in Roman Greece and throughout the Roman Empire — including the Emperor Marcus Aurelius — until the closing of all pagan philosophy schools in 529 AD by order of the Emperor Justinian I, who perceived them as being at odds with Christian faith



Related Posts » Heap of Sand Paradox, Hellenistic, Logos, Suicide


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A Sick Child brought into the Temple of Aescul...

A Sick Child brought into the Temple of Aesculapius 1877 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Aesculapius was the god of medicine and healing in ancient Greek myth. Some believe he was a Greek citizen around 1200 BCE who, like Heracles, became deified.

In Homer‘s Illiad he is described as “the blameless physician.” His cult was centered in Epidaurus and emphasized cure through a prototype of contemporary psychoanalysis.

The poets Hesiod and Pindar speak of Aesculapius as the son of Zeus and Corona. In Epiduarian myth, his mother Corona dies while he is an infant. A Messenian variant, however, says Aesculapius’ mother is Arsinoe and other accounts claim that he is the son of Apollo.

Regardless of his ambiguous parentage, Aesculapius’ fame grew until he became the god of medicine and healing.

According to Greek legend, he was educated by the centaur Chiron. And while in hell he raised a dead person, Hippolytus, to life. This vexed Zeus who retaliated by killing Aesculapius with a thunderbolt.

Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although illness in ancient Greece was often attributed to the displeasure of the gods and goddesses, it could nevertheless be cured by divine mercy. The afflicted entered a sacred chamber and allowed visionary or “incubated” dreams to guide them towards health.

The postmodern thinker Michel Foucault saw this type of dream incubation as an ancient precursor the psychoanalytic couch.

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