Hymn to Lycian Aphrodite- some meditations…

“We sing a hymn to the queen of the Lycians, Kouraphrodite.

Once, fully blessed by Her evil-repelling help,

the leaders of our country, under divine inspiration,

erected a holy statue in the city

with the symbols of the noeric marriage, of the noeric wedding

of the fiery Hephaistos and Aphrodite Ourania.

They also called this Goddess Olympian, because Her power

allowed them to escape the mortal-destroying poison of death;

they kept their eyes fixed on excellent virtue,

a firm, bright-minded breed of people sprung from the birth-giving beds,

their life was in every way a calm, bountiful life.

 

But, please now accept our sacrifice of eloquence too,

for I myself am also of Lycian blood.

And lift up my soul from ugliness back again to great Beauty,

while fleeing the deadly goad of earth-born desire.”

This is a hymn offered as a sacrifice to the Queen of Lycia, the fatherland of Proclus himself. Often Aphrodite is called Koyra or Koyre, as in the IliadDiòs koures Aphrodites”, the daughter of Zeus, or as in the Orphic hymn to Hermes Chthonios “the maiden of Paphos, Aphrodite of lively eyes”, because She is traditionally “the Golden Maiden”. Aphrodite as Koyra is the daughter of Zeus endowed with eternal youthfulness; moreover, She assists the korai (brides) during the marriages. Zeus Himself tells Her in the Iliad: “Concern yourself only with the lovely secrets of marriage” and in the Orphic hymn She is praised as “Gamostole meter Eroton”, the Mother of the Erotes, who prepares the marriages.

The beautiful site of Pinara was one of the three major cities in the Xanthos valley and one of the six principal cities of Lycia. It was probably founded as an extension of the overpopulated Xanthos; according to Manecrates, a 4th century BC historian, the leaders of Xanthos felt their city was overcrowded and so they divided the inhabitants into three groups, settling one of them at Pinara, a religious center dedicated to Apollo, Athena, and Aphrodite.  Aphrodite’s temple there has some unusual heart-shaped columns; it may also have been some sort of phallic worship site. In Xanthos there is also a beautiful and famous “Harpies tomb” in which, among other figures, we found represented three female figures – Hera, Aphrodite and Artemis with Her hound.

Proclus’ parents were both Lycians of aristocratic birth; they were forced to leave Byzantium, in which Proclus was born, because of the growing hostility against the pagans at the imperial court instigated by Pulcheria, the elder sister of Theodosius II. Therefore “his parents took him to their fatherland Xanthos, that was sacred to Apollo, and that, by some divine plan, thus became his homeland too”, as we learn from Marinus.

It is very common, from the classical times onwards, to find magistrates erecting statues and/or votive inscriptions to Aphrodite, sometimes with the epithet “Hegemone”, “the Leader” – as we can see in the inscribed altar of the end of the third century BCE, to Aphrodite Hegemone and the Charites. The magistrates are responsible for maintaining the harmony in the State: Aphrodite is in care of Divine Love, it is Her care to unite and bring together opposite forces (symbolized by Her relationship with Ares and the birth of Harmonia), not just in nature or on a cosmic level, but also in human society, engendering concord, harmony and peace. That Lycian statue was an example of thanksgiving to the Goddess, is proven by the fact that it was erected by the Lycian leaders (hegemonees).

Leaders are considered as divinely inspired (theophradmones) because good rule requires divine inspiration, as Proclus perfectly explains in his commentary to the Alcibiades: individual men have only a small portion of Nous, hence they gather in order to deliberate on the common good because in this way they join their sparks of light. Only for this reason, assemblies are considered holy, because they are divinely inspired (entheon). This “divine inspiration” also reminds us of an inscription from Erythrai mentioning that, under the instruction of an oracle, the city decided to erect a statue and a temple to Aphrodite for the preservation of the city and the people.

Proclus opposes these divinely inspired magistrates of ancient times, who erected statues and temples in honor of the Gods and thus saved their cities and countries, to the christian atheist rulers of his own days (and our days as well) “who move what should not be moved” and destroyed the agalmata and sacred temples of the Gods. The agalma or statue is called sacred (hierós), its removal implies the end of the divine protection, as may be illustrated by Proclus’ horror at the removal of the holy statue of Athena from the Acropolis.

The fact that this statue holds “symbols” clearly indicates this kind of theurgical practice, because symbola are an essential “ingredient” in theurgy. Proclus’ reference to symbolism is directed to the texts, either spoken or written: in fact, statues are considered as texts in a different, non-written format, and their symbolic interpretation was very common both in Chaldean circles and among the philosophers. A very good example in this matter is Porphyry’s On Statues: “The thoughts of a wise theology, wherein men indicated God and God’s powers by images akin to sense, and sketched invisible things in visible forms, I will show to those who have learned to read from the statues as from books, the things there written concerning the Gods. Nor is it any wonder that the utterly unlearned regard the statues as wood and stone, just as also those who do not understand the written letters look upon the steles as mere stones, on the tablets as bits of wood, and on books as mere papyrus.”

This mythical symbolism of the sacred wedding of Aphrodite and Hephaistos is a story that hides a higher, secret Truth. The relationship of Aphrodite with both Hephaistos and Ares refers to the process of causation of the universe and in the material cosmos: Hephaistos is the Demiurge of material things, “the Great Craftsman”, while Ares guarantees the existence of the opposites in the cosmos, so They both cooperate with Aphrodite. To the works of Hephaistos, She confers Beauty (kallos), while in the case of Ares She brings harmony and order among the opposites. In the well-known fight described in the Iliad, when all the Gods fought against each other, only Aphrodite did not take part in the fight because “She may let flow union and accord over all things, but coming to rescue the feebler realities, because in the case of these realities, unity is less powerful than multiplicity.” In fact Hephaistos is superior to Ares (in the fight, Athena opposes Ares and wins over Him; Hephaistos fights against Xanthos, and prevails); this is why Aphrodite is married to Hephaistos in accordance with the wishes of Zeus, whereas the myth says that She has an extramarital relationship with Ares. Proclus interprets the holy marriages as such: “These connections may be called, in philosophical language, as interweavings: but the theologians speak of them as ‘sacred marriages’, and of the entities generated in such unions as ‘offspring’; in the Mystic Discourses and the Sacred Marriages you will find what is spoken in the secret doctrines” (i.e. the Eleusinian tradition, and the hieròs gamos of the Anthesteries). This marriage is called ‘noeric’, indicating that we must understand it as referring to this higher, concealed reality, for “the tragic and fictitious stories of myths refer to a noeric contemplation of the classes of the Gods (tèn noeran tôn theion genôn theorian)”.

Hephaistos pyroentos”, the fiery Hephaistos, is the smith of the Gods who uses fire for His craft; His association with Fire is very strong, as Homer in the Iliad uses the expression “dià phlogòs Hephaistoio” meaning “on the flame of the Fire”, as He manifests Himself as a power of physical nature in volcanic areas and in the indispensable ingredient in arts and crafts, so that fire is called the breath of Hephaestus, and in the Orphic hymn He is invoked as “akamatos pŷr”, “tireless fire”. The Theologians calls Him “the Craftsman of works”, ergotechnites, thus referring to the symbolical interpretation of Hephaistos as the Forger of the Sky and creator of the mirror gifted to Dionysos Zagreus, “in fact, the making of the mirror, the works in the forge, the lameness and all the other similar characteristics are symbols that the creative activity of Hephaistos applies to the Perceivable world… because the natural heat is of the order of Hephaistos, being produced by Him for the making of the Corporeal.”

One of Aphrodite’s main domains is birth and procreation (as indicated by the epithets Genetyllis, Koliás, Geneteira, Eykarpos, Thalamepolos, Theleia, Kourotrophos, Paidogonos, etc.). Lycian ancestry is said to be “aglaometis”, “having shining wisdom”. In Homer and in later poets, metis is always associated with Athena as wisdom and cleverness, as in the expression “polymetis Odysseýs”, “the wise and clever Odysseus”. Proclus is more explicit and links it directly with philosophical wisdom, because Athena is the Goddess of philosophy and is called Metis by the Gods. The intellect in the soul is considered as a product of divine Metis that, together with aporia, produces the desire (Eros) to search for perfect knowledge. The adjective telessigonos, “giving or awarding birth”, is very interesting and also rare, as it is attested only here, in Nonnus and in the Orphic Hymns, where it is used in the sense of “ripe” – for example in the hymn to Amphietes, Dionysos brings fruits and is invoked to come to the rites “charged with ripe fruits” (eyierois karpoisi telessigonoisi). In Nonnus this expression is referred to the marriages, to Semele and to Gaia, which clarifies the divine domain evoked here.

Proclus’ ancestors however enjoyed a calm sea (galene), i.e. a smooth passage through a rich (epiodoros) life; since philosophy prospers in such a calm and comfortable existence, Proclus prays to obtain it. We can see this ideal, and the ideal on which the family of the Academy was based, by reading the Vita Isidori by Damascius: the wealthy bequeathed their fortunes to the Academy, which granted its members the scholé and the galene necessary for a perfect philosophical life. On theurgy, Hermeias says: “by freeing our souls and bodies and external possessions from troubling difficulties, it provides us with a smooth and happy passage through life”.

Aphrodite leads the soul up to the noetic Beauty (es polỳ kallos) from the immeasurable material realm of becoming (ap’ aischeos). “Oistros” is the maddening goad of desire. Plato utilizes this word to refer to the lover who yearns for his beloved, and to the man whose soul is ruled by the lowest mentality, and accordingly Proclus uses it to describe the maddening passion for the things and pleasures of the material realm, that is earth-born (gegenés). The soul that falls in love with these conditioning “pleasures” of the material world subsequently forgets all about the noeric halls of the Father, and Proclus rightly describes this condition of oblivion as the death of the soul, hence the adjective oloiios (deathly). In the Theology of Plato it is said that the Gods stimulate our faculties to think and meditate or contemplate the Forms so that the soul “is not destroyed or submerged in the passions of the earth and the necessities of Nature”, as one of the Gods says in the Oracles. In  the commentary to the Alcibiades, Proclus describes the common lovers as “the lovers moved by lust and the goad of it”; on the contrary, the divine lover, who has a sympatheia with the highest Beauty, has mastered the earth-born, deadly desires and hastens up, obeying to the voice of the Flame.

 

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