The Argonauts at the Bebryces

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The second canto deals with other mistakes of the seeker, the clarifying of intuition, the episode of the dark rocks and the meeting with the true master

After describing the risks of being misled Apollonius specifies in the second poem a few minor mistakes before turning to the essential event which marks a turning point in the quest: the meeting of the true master.

            The passage by force

The Argonauts arrived in the country of the Bebryces ruled by the arrogant King Amycus, son of the nymph Melia and Poseidon. He was the most insolent of men and imposed a disgraceful law on strangers: none must leave the country without challenging him in boxing. He had thus killed many voyagers.

Pollux immediately volunteered to compete against him, and Castor and Talaus helped him prepare for the fight which was a long and very violent one.

Pollux could not avoid injuring his shoulder but according to some, after his victory he made Amycus promise that he would not mistreat any more strangers. According to Apollonius, Amycus was killed during the confrontation and it was followed by a general battle in which many Bebrycians were killed including Mimas.

At dawn the Argonauts took to the sea again and moved into the eddies of the Bosphorus. It was there that a wave “as high as a mountain (…) heaved up above the clouds” rose in front of the ship. The heroes were under the impression that they could not escape death and were terrified, but the navigational knowledge of Tiphys led them away from danger.

King Amycus is “the roaring one” and his country of Bebrycians is a country of “vital greed”.

At this stage the seeker is up against a part of himself which attempts to cross the stages forcefully owing to his strong desire and using solely his personal will (Amycus).

He must counter it with the strength of the spiritual warrior which serves him best in an unarmed hand-to-hand combat: Pollux, one of the Dioscuri, he who fights “with a lot of gentleness” and who is most skilled in unarmed hand-to-hand combat “.

Of course he must also prepare the way with inner strength and mastery and by opening the consciousness to righteousness and sincerity (Castor) as well as through endurance (Talaus).

In the symbolic description of the human body the shoulder or the collarbone represents “the door of the gods”. Pollux’s injury on this part of the body shows that the seeker had wanted to force his way through.

In accounts where the king is spared, the meaning consists of preserving ardour for the quest while at the same time controlling the pressure put on oneself.

For Apollonius selfishness and vital greed must irrevocably be kept away from the quest.

On “the outer roads” several paths advocate excess asceticism and on the pretext of gradually reduce the resistances of the ego they only reinforce it through sly rewards. It must be recalled that the vital being actually feeds as much on suffering as on pleasure and it is the vital subconscious which is articulated here with its desire for sensations and power (Amycus is a son of Poseidon). The mother of Amycus, the nymph Melia (Ashes), also indicates that it is a spirituality based on the vital.

This mistake has its foundation in the naïve presumption that forced asceticism can accelerate progression and attract the benevolence of the Divine. These deviations can involve scourges and mortifications as well as more subtle forms in which the willpower imposes excessive restrictions on the body, mind or emotions. This encompasses all kinds of deprivations of things which have not been mastered: excessively long fasts, sexual abstinence by principle, etc.

This tale can also be a criticism of the beginner’s tendency to limit his field of expression and gauge himself on the basis of norms meant to regulate the spiritual domain or which are expected to be the most worthy in the eyes of the master or teacher.

The attitudes which are being disputed here stem from a strongly dissenting vital ego which is in no way concerned with spiritual discipline. The only thing that is of interest to it is drama, excitement and surges of energy of whichever kind. For the vital does not care in which action the energy is deployed, and the mind lends its support under the guise of virtue, goodness, courage or spiritual progress.

At this stage of the journey the seeker is not expected to master the vital being but to simply avoid lures and erroneous and dishonest behaviour that only feed his self-centredness and self-satisfaction. Sincerity is an essential tool because it involves the dropping of masks and the ceasing of attitudes or movements which “imitate” as well as giving up on all claims that one is progressing solely on the basis of his own strengths (among the Bebrycians who were killed, there in fact appears Mimas, “the Pantomime actor” and Itymoneus, “he  who rises alone”).

This stage comes to an end with the threat of a major emotional disturbance which is more frightening than it is harmful and does not appear too difficult to avoid if the seeker is knowledgeable about his emotional reactions (a wave high as a mountain and ready to break upon them, but which sinks back into itself thanks to the skill of the helmsman Tiphys). This symbolic wave is specific to each seeker and is found at the entrance of the Bosphorus, “the passage of the cow” which leads to the experience of Light, the cow being since Vedic times a symbol of the manifestation of lightning flashes of truth.

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