The Argonauts at Circe

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Setting sail again the heroes finally reached the harbour of Aeaea where they found Circe, the daughter of Helios and sister of Aeetes. She was cleansing her head vigorously for she had been frightened by her dreams of the past night. And now she could see beings that were neither men nor beasts but having the limbs of both advancing in droves behind her. In the past when the earth had not yet become compact it had brought forth such hybrid creatures which time had then divided into species by merging them.

Without knowing anything about the history of the heroes Circe understood from their behaviour that they had come to be purified and she proceeded with the necessary rites.

 She then recognised Medea as being from her own race and the latter narrated the tale of the expedition to her in detail “in the Colchian language”. Unable to forgive their intentions and her niece’s flight she refused them hospitality.

At this point Hera who was still watching over the heroes closely sent Iris to summon Thetis. When the latter arrived from the depths of the sea Hera asked her to go to Aeolus (here a son of Hippotes) so that he would hold the winds except the favourable Zephyrus and then to Hephaestus so that he would restrict the blazing heat of his forge. She wanted to ensure that the Argonauts could cross over the sea without any danger and reach Alcinous king of the Phaeacians safe and sound and thereby avoid the monsters Charybdis and Scylla who were on their route.

Circe, daughter of Helios, is the “power of vision of truth in all the details”. She therefore sees with precision what is hidden in the depths of the being. We will come across her again in the voyage of Ulysses. This ability of a “detailed true vision” will be fully active in man only in the distant future for the name of Circe’s son is Telegonus, “one who is procreated – or who procreates – afar”.

The beings that are “hybrid, neither men nor beasts”, and are crowding around Circe illustrate a gradual and apparently disorderly transition through which nature carries out the transformation from animal to man.

The fact that Circe agrees to purify the heroes without even knowing their crime indicates that the journey taken was inevitable. But her refusal of hospitality is a warning that this higher part of the being disapproves of the orientation of the seeker who has given priority to what he thought was the goal of his life to the detriment of his purification (because of the murder of Apsyrtus). And we will see later on what drastic mistakes he will make due to this lack of purification.

In addition Circe and Medea use a language unknown to Jason, the Colchian language: the seeker is thus unable to correctly interpret the exchange that takes place at the highest level of his being although he has a vague perception of some movement in its inner being.

A period of calm ensues during which he is protected by the movement that watches over his evolution (as per Hera’s instructions) because a period of assimilation is necessary. Thus the forces that create new forms (Hephaestus) or even those which facilitate evolution and can sometimes be violent (the winds governed by Aeolus) must maintain a period of calm. On the other hand forces that govern the depths of the vital being (Thetis) must do everything to keep him from the catastrophe that he is unknowingly moving toward (Charybdis and Scylla).

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