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The Furies – an early attempt to outline a core dynamic?

The Remorse of Orestes or Orestes Pursued by t...

The Remorse of Orestes or Orestes Pursued by the Furies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Furies were ancient Greek avengers usually personified as three ugly, old women carrying torches and covered in snakes. Typically seen as three sisters – Alecto (The Unresting), Tisiphone (The Avenger) and Magaera (The Jealous) – the Furies are the offspring of Gaia and Uranus or, depending on which myth you subscribe to, Nxy (night).¹

In Greece the Furies were also called the Erinyes. The Erinyes mostly punished people within families for their ill deeds on Earth.

The Romans adapted the bulk of Greek myth to suit their own purposes and mindset. The Roman poet Vergil depicts the Furies in the underworld, where they torment the wicked. Although vicious, the Furies mete out just punishments to those who have sworn false oaths.

Night of the Furies

Night of the Furies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I see myths like this as primitive or prototypical attempts to understand some basic dynamics of what later would be called the “collective unconscious.”² The old saying what goes around comes around comes to mind. In other words, we can fool others, we can fool ourselves, but sooner or later we have to pay for our bad choices.

¹ According to variant accounts, they emerged from an even more primordial level—from Nyx (“Night”), or from a union between air and mother earth. »

² Not to imply that this term is adequate. The Jungian James Hillman rightly points out that the idea of the unconscious is just another concept, another myth. And better understandings of how the mind works in relation to All That Is most likely will come in the future. See James Hillman, The Myth of Analysis.

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Gorgons – Ancient archetypes that just won’t go away

Medusa from Clash of the Titans.

Medusa from Clash of the Titans. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


  1. Classical Mythology. any of three sister monsters commonly represented as having snakes for hair, wings, brazen claws, and eyes that turned anyone looking into them to stone. Medusa, the only mortal Gorgon, was beheaded by Perseus.
  2. (lowercase) a mean, ugly, or repulsive woman.
gorgon. (n.d.). Unabridged. Retrieved August 3, 2016 from website

Section of Perseus beheading Medusa by Benvenuto Cellini. | Located in: Loggia dei Lanzi.

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Yes, I copied straight from but I think it’s okay as long as I give a full reference. There’s a lot more info there if you follow the link. It’s a hot day in the middle of summer and I’m going through old entries that need updating or content addition.
In other words, it was either do nothing or do this.

Basically I just wanted a bit of background for my entry on Medusa, which also needs updating!

I should be at the beach… 🙂

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A Sibyl

A Sibyl (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The term Sibyl represents alleged prophetesses who were consulted in ancient Greece and Rome. They apparently prophecized in 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.

Study for the Phrygian Sibyl fresco by Raphael...

Study for the Phrygian Sibyl fresco by Raphael for the Chigi Chapel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

M. C. Howatson and Ian Chilvers relate a story about the Cumaean Sibyl where the god Apollo asks what she would want in return if he were to make love with her. She asks for a lifespan equal in years to the number of grains in a heap of sand. It turns out there are 1,000 grains of sand. She forgot, however, to ask for youthfulness, so grew wickedly old and miserable, wishing only to die.²

Another famous Sibyl lived in Erythia in Asia, “The Erythian Sibyl.”

Sibyls appear in Christian art and literature. Early Christian interest in the Sibylline oracles raised them to a status comparable to the Old Testament Prophets. As Celia E. Schultz puts it:

The fact that many of the Sibylline oracles touch on Christian and Jewish themes is a reflection of the popularity of the Sibyl as a prophet of the Messiah for early Christian writers.³

Picture of Shirley Ardell Mason, aka Sybil Isa...

Picture of Shirley Ardell Mason, aka Sybil Isabel Dorsett (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1973 a popular novel, Sibyl, was written by Flora Rheta Schreiber based on the life of Shirley Ardell Mason, a woman diagnosed with so-called multiple personality disorder (MPD). In 1976 the book was made into a film with Sally Field as Sibyl.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, at least two other novels have been entitled Sibyl.

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

² Concise Companion to Classical Literature, Oxford 1996, p. 493.

³ Schultz, Celia E. “Sibyls and the Sibylline Books.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome. : Oxford University Press, 2010. Oxford Reference. 2010. Date Accessed 16 Nov. 2015

The plethora of images listed below shows that, although closed down as an institution, the idea of the Sibyls continues to fascinate and inspire through the centuries.

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The Libyan Sibyl by Cliff

Michelangelo's rendering of the Erythraean Sibyl

Michelangelo’s rendering of the Erythraean Sibyl (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sibylla Palmifera

Sibylla Palmifera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Michelangelo's Delphic Sibyl, Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo’s Delphic Sibyl, Sistine Chapel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sibyl seated among Classical ruins

Sibyl seated among Classical ruins (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Janssens, Abraham - The Agrippine Sibyl

Janssens, Abraham – The Agrippine Sibyl (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Guercino - Persian Sibyl

Guercino – Persian Sibyl (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Detail of the vault (one of the 4 sibyls : Sib...

Detail of the vault (one of the 4 sibyls : Sibyl of Delphi) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sibyl velasquez

Sibyl velasquez (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sistine Chapel ceiling, Michelangelo, The Liby...

Sistine Chapel ceiling, Michelangelo, The Libyan Sibyl, post restoration. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Cumaean Sibyl Deutsch: Cumäische Siby...

Cumaean Sibyl Deutsch: Cumäische Sibylle a Sibila de Cumas, por Michelangelo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Domenichino - Cumaean Sibyl

Domenichino – Cumaean Sibyl (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Image by John Leech, from: The Comic History o...

Image by John Leech, from: The Comic History of Rome by Gilbert Abbott A Beckett. Bradbury, Evans & Co, London, 1850s Tarquinius Superbus has the Sibylline Books valued (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Prophet Hosea and the Delphic Sibyl Fresco...

The Prophet Hosea and the Delphic Sibyl Fresco Borgia Apartments, Hall of the Sibyls (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Early Athenian Coin, an "owl"

Early Athenian Coin, an “owl” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Sophists were independent Greek public speakers of the 5th century BCE, teaching for a fee about politics, philosophy and rhetoric.

Protagoras is usually regarded as the first with Gorgias being another prominent sophist. Wikipedia also lists Prodicus, Hippias, Thrasymachus, Lycophron, Callicles, Antiphon, and Cratylus.

Plato portrays them in his dialogues as foils for the sober, sound argumentation of Socrates.

In the most general sense sophists are usually depicted as denying the existence of ultimate reality and morality in favor of worldly pleasures derived from the senses.

Likewise, they’re often said to reject the Greek gods and advocate the perfection of humanity.

English: The School of Athens (detail). Fresco...

The School of Athens (detail). Fresco, Stanza della Segnatura, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In actual fact, there is no single school of Sophist thought. Plato’s response to the leading Sophists is as complex as their various positions.

Generally slighted by Plato, the sophists were quick and intelligent, contributing to knowledge about linguistics, drama and a prototypical form of applied sociology. And they were instrumental in helping young men to “better” themselves in terms of learning how to win arguments—a skill set essential to upward mobility and entrance into political life not only in ancient Greece but also for men and women today.¹

¹ See, for instance, the excellent introductory discussion about ancient Greek philosophy in this DVD set:

On the Web:

  • Video touching on some of the topics that the ancient Greeks debated, topics that continued through the Middle Ages, right up to contemporary debates.

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English: Temple of Zeus in Athens, Greece on a...

Temple of Zeus in Athens, Greece on a rainy day from the Acropolis. The Arch of Hadrian is in the foreground. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Athens is the largest city and the capital of modern Greece. It was a city state of Attica around the 7th century BCE.

Athens reached its economic and cultural zenith during the 5th century BCE while ruled by Pericles. Wikipedia nicely sums up just how huge this city was in the ancient world:

A centre for the arts, learning and philosophy, home of Plato‘s Academy and Aristotle‘s Lyceum,[3][4] it is widely referred to as the cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of democracy,[5][6]

Indeed, Athens is home to much philosophical thought that remains relevant today. The Athenian democracy, for instance, in which women and slaves couldn’t vote, is the first formalized democracy recorded in human history.

In 146 BCE it fell sway to the Romans, later to become a province of Rome. By 1456 the Ottoman Empire engulfed Athens. In 1835 it became the capital of modern Greece and it was occupied by the Nazis during WW-II.

The contemporary city attracts hordes of tourists for its scenic locale and historical marvels of art and architecture like the Parthenon and the temple of Olympian Zeus.

In the summer of 2004, Athens hosted the XXVIII Olympiad, returning the Olympics to their place of origins (there were only foot races for the first 13 Olympics; other events like wrestling and the pentathlon were added later).

A previous modern Olympics was hosted in Athens in 1896, and an unofficial one in 1906.

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Athena Varvakeion, small Roman replica of the ...

Athena Varvakeion, small Roman replica of the Athena Parthenos by Phidias. Found in Athens near the Varvakeion school, hence the name. First half of the 3rd c. AD. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Athena is the sagely and powerful Greek goddess of war and strategy, daughter of Zeus and Metis.

Uranus and Gaia warned Zeus that if Metis had a daughter, she would bear a son who would rob Zeus of his heavenly kingdom. Zeus responded by swallowing the pregnant Metis so as to be Athena’s sole progenitor. Athena sprang fully armed from Zeus’ head at birth to become the goddess of War, known more for her strategizing and encouragement of heroes than mere blood lust.

In Homer’s Illiad Athena often intercedes, bestowing advice and strength to Greek mortals during the Trojan war. As the protectress of Athens, she was venerated in three temples at the Acropolis and celebrated during numerous festivals, the main festival being Panathenaea.

In the 5th century BCE she is also worshiped as a goddess of philosophy. She’s also a patroness of craftsmen, especially weavers.

Athena’s warrior shield was called an aegis, which she shared with her father, Zeus. And the phrase, under the aegis of derives from the legends of Zeus and Athena.

Athena’s Roman parallel is the goddess Minerva.

In 1982 the British rock group The Who wrote a song called “Athena” on the album It’s Hard.

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Aristophanes by Alun Salt via Flickr

Aristophanes (c 448 BCE-380 BCE) was an ancient Greek satirical and comedic playwright about whom we know very little. In fact, everything we know about him comes from his plays, or from what other ancient sources tell of him.¹

In the absence of clear biographical facts about Aristophanes, scholars make educated guesses based on interpretation of the language in the plays. Inscriptions and summaries or comments by Hellenistic and Byzantine scholars can also provide useful clues.²

His surviving works amount to eleven plays and 32 titles and fragments. They provide invaluable insights into the ways and wiles of the ancient world. Indeed, Aristophanes is often regarded as the father of comedy, using subtle puns and distorted literary allusions. But most of his humor is lost not only through translation but also through the passing of the intertwined literary, philosophical, social and political realities in which he lived.

Aristophanes satires were, for the most part, sharp and pointed. His plays variously won first and second prize at ancient dramatic festivals. Among his more memorable works are The Frogs, The Clouds, The Wasps and The Birds.

In The Clouds Aristophanes writes about Socrates as if he were just another corrupt sophist. Accordingly, Plato suggests in his Apology that Aristophanes contributed to the denigration and eventual death of Socrates. However, other ancient satirists also trashed Socrates’ character, which probably helped to turn public opinion against him.

Are things so different today?

¹ Depictions of Aristophanes are for the most part, imaginary—such as the one presented here at top right. Sources indicate that in real life he might have been prematurely bald.