In each and every civilization (and in each successive generation) there exists always, rebellion.
In a generational sense, this can take the form of parents being undermined by their children. Each new generation brings with it a new set of parameters which smash through the old order in a disorderly, sometimes ugly, but always illuminating ‘sun-burst.’ What Father never would have gotten away with in his day becomes the norm, but not without struggle…as parameters are tested so too is patience and the hand of restraint inevitably attempts to take a grip.
But all too often the momentum cannot be reversed and so comes generational change and the acceptance of new behaviours, attitudes, fashions and rules.
When it comes to mythology often these rebellions bring about the death of an older order which gives rise to the new and one of the best example comes from the Greek pantheon where we find the original Sky Father Ouranos castrated by his son Cronos with the help of Gaea, unhappy with Ouranos’ treatment of their children. This tyranny was overthrown forging the creation of the Erinyes, the Gigantes and the Meliae from the blood of Ouranos spilled upon the earth and from the blood and semen in the sea arose the Goddess, Aphrodite.
Occasionally these generational forces become reactionary themselves after fighting so hard to break free of a previous tyranny, they become tyranny themselves! This theme has been played out as many times as rebellion itself – both the French and Russian revolutions respectively saw a new order overthrow an older regime, only to become itself a mirror of the original corruption. It is also the story behind the original usurper of the primordial Greek Gods – Cronos himself – who’d find himself very much the character of Napoleon in George Orwell’s 1945 novel Animal Farm.
Cronos, having completed the rebellion with the help of his siblings then did the same to his own children (of Rhea) as Ouranos had done to him and his own. Perhaps frightful of his own children he gorged himself on his own offspring as each were born to Rhea but she hid her eldest, Zeus, who upon reaching maturity returned to deal his own father a potion given him by the cunning Metis leading to Cronos vomiting up his children. Zeus then led them to wage war on Cronos eventually ending the ten-year war with Olympian victory – a victory of the young over the old, of a newer order displacing the tired.
The father in the backdrop, the catalyst for each rebellion, not only becomes the intruder – as is the case in the Freudian narrative – but a tyrant embodied; his own demise is a necessity for progress. That progress was the eventual Olympian victory and a move further away from the more primordial Titans to a newer, better human, one more stage removed from beast.
In the Oresteia trilogy written by the playwright Aeschylus (525 BC – 456 BC), a curse that afflicts the House of Atreus becomes handed down to each generation, as outrage upon outrage is visited upon the wider family until the climax arrives in the slaying of Agamemnon by his wife Clytaemnestra in revenge for the sacrifice of their daughter. This in turn, reworks the curse as the son – Orestes – for whom the trilogy is named after, kills his mother. The last play in the trilogy – The Eumenides – illustrates the rightful rage of the Furies at the actions of the son which are tempered only with the founding of the Areopagus in Athens and the ‘case’ overseen by the fierce, but just statesmanship of Athena. What comes about is a new order, a new civilization that has transcended the natural savagery of a previous world, one which extols the betterment of man and his place, one pace further removed from the ‘animal’ Gods of a previous epoch. In many respects the apotheosis of mythical figures from this time on reflect these new Olympian values of progress and enlightenment.
In many respects the theogenic myths can be understood as a family affair; the family itself being civilization. Although the Oresteia is not a theogenic myth, it does chart the struggle of a civilization’s will to become and the very personal message for each of us as individuals (and members of a wider commune) to consider. That being, the inevitable overthrow of the old world order, because it resembles the natural order of the objective universe. It is interesting to note that with each successive rebellion it was the mother who supported the plans of her progeny, spurned them on to victory and the usurpation of power. We will have to come to our own conclusions regarding the place of women (often as the Goddess) in each successive order. Titans like Hekate fought on behalf of the Olympians. Clytaemnestra outflanks her husband in every way before dealing the fatal wound in the first play in the Aeschylus trilogy and it was Athena who navigated civilization into its newer deal. These struggles then are necessary and the part of the divine feminine is apparent all the way from Gaea down.
Those of us interested in those isolate aspects of our human nature however will find plenty of food for thought reflected in the later archetypes of the Olympians – art, healing, poetry, science and music all reflect this move away from the skin drums of the past toward a revolution, where Man, not Nature becomes the guiding principle.
The will to become is as much the story of a civilization as it is the story of an individual and whilst conflict often accompanies these upheavals, it is also a philosophical violence that is spawned; a restructuring of all we think we may know: a dialectical bloodshed.
Of course, we must never be too careful in our undertakings with nature for man has enabled himself to become but increasingly at the risk of threatening the planet itself. These stories – however much they were formed in a different world to the one we know – are universal reflections of our own nature and the polarity that exists between the primordial forces of nature and the brave new world fashioned by isolate (wo)man and the very human need, ultimately, for rebellion.
© Sam R Geraghty
Freud, Religion, and the Roaring Twenties: A Psychoanalytic Theory by Henry Idema
The Oresteia by Aeschylus (translated by Robert Fagles and WB Stanford
Animal Farm by George Orwell