Elements of understanding of Sri Aurobindo’s poem ILION

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Book One

The Herald’s Book

Claude de Warren

October 2018

Original text of Ilion from: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, First Edition 1957

Break the moulds of the past,

but keep safe its gains and its spirit,

or else thou hast no future.

Sri Aurobindo, Aphorism 238

FOREWORD

Until today, the poem Ilion was practically ignored by those who have studied the work of Sri Aurobindo, for the simple reason that he never gave the keys necessary to its comprehension or any indications concerning the symbolic contents of this poem.

It nevertheless addresses an essential question in the great spiritual turning point that is being experienced by humanity today, namely what can be conserved of the structures and realisations supporting the most advanced efforts of the ancient Yoga aiming towards more consecration, more devotion and more knowledge of the Divine, and what the bases of the new yoga will consist of.

During his studies in England, Sri Aurobindo had acquired a deep understanding of Greek culture, and was able to compose poems in ancient Greek. Furthermore, we can deduct from his words that he had acquired a deep intuitive comprehension of the signification of the myths during his time in prison in Alipore. He then undertook the task of confirming, in a colourful manner, what Homer had “seen” more than three thousand years ago: Troy had to be mercilessly destroyed, and all its inhabitants killed. In fact, Troy represents the structures established through a permanent access to the illumined mind in order to support the Yoga and the most advanced realisations. However, the Achaean coalition which opposes it is based on the higher mind, a plane which humanity as a whole will have to access during the centuries or millennia to come, starting with the realisation of its unification.

For the adventurers of consciousness, the problem that occurs is that of the bases of the new yoga. Homer addressed this problem by placing the only survivors of Troy, Aeneas and his son Anchise, in the lineage of Assaracus, whose name means “equality”. They are the ancestors of the lineage who will have to establish “The future Troy” based on a progression in love, since Aeneas is the son of Aphrodite, the goddess who sees to the progression of love within humanity. Homer does not say more about this in the Iliad, only explaining the transformations necessary to the change of direction in the Odyssey.

Sri Aurobindo confirmed this vision by claiming that no yoga could be undertaken if a perfect equality or equanimity had not been realised beforehand. And in order to do so, a thorough purification had to be achieved. For, he tells us, Love can only grow on a base of Truth, when the world is still mostly ruled by lies. In fact, what humans call love is often its contrary: not necessarily hatred, which we automatically associate as the opposite of love, but the manifestation of the movement of possession and of all its complex forms of expression which will sometimes go as far as taking the form of devotion, sacrifice or charity.

Sri Aurobindo set the foundations of the new Yoga very clearly, its guidelines being:

  • a complete offering of oneself into the hands of the Divine Mother or Shakti, the power of realisation of the Divine ; in other words, a complete offering of oneself to the Divine or to That, no matter what name we choose for it (also called “surrender” or “consecration”)

  • a powerful aspiration, which must progressively grow in order to become constant and unshakeable (a “need” for something else, for more truth, more joy)

  • an equality or equanimity

Equality means a quiet and unmoved mind and vital; it means not to be touched or disturbed by things that happen or things said or done to you, but to look at them with a straight look, free from the distortions created by personal feeling, and to try to understand what is behind them, why they happen, what is to be learnt from them; what is it in oneself which they are cast against and what inner profit or progress one can make out of them; it means self-mastery over the vital movements,-anger and sensitiveness and pride as well as desire and the rest,-not to let them get hold of the emotional being and disturb the inner peace, not to speak and act in the rush and impulsion of these things, always to act and speak out of a calm inner poise of the spirit. It is not easy to have this equality in any full perfect measure, but one should always try more and more to make it the basis of one’s inner state and outer movements.” (Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, Vol. 23, p. 661)

  • a progressive sincerity

Sincerity that Mother defined as a progressive surrender of all the parts of the being to the Divine: 14-7-1965 « To be sincere is to unify all of one’s being around the supreme inner Will.» 9-02-1972 « The complete unification of the whole being around the psychic centre is the essential condition to realise a perfect sincerity ». 17-10-58 « Allow nothing, nowhere, to deny the truth of your being: that is sincerity. »

On top of the lineage of Assaracus (equality), the ancient Greek initiates illustrated these bases through the heroes that came back to Greece alive: these are the epics named “Returns“, the most famous and the only one to reach us being related to the return of Ulysses or Odysseus, recounted in the Odyssey. It describes the realisation process of a perfect transparency which must allow the currents of divine consciousness-energy to achieve the transformation. Except for this hero, those who returned are known to us. Here are the main ones: Agamemnon, king of Mycenae (symbol of a powerful aspiration and an intelligent will), Menelas, king of Sparta (one that is faithful to the vision of the New), Nestor (the growth of sincerity and rectitude), Diomede (the will to unite with the Divine), a few oracles or seers (the growth of sensitivity and receptivity in different parts of the being), Idomeneus (one who desires union), Aeneas (the evolution of love), and many more secondary heroes.

Let us also mention that other than the bases of the new yoga, Sri Aurobindo broaches a fundamental issue in Ilion, which is that of suffering in the new Yoga, illustrated by the relationship between Achilles and the amazon Penthesilia.

***

According to Sri Aurobindo himself, Ilion, whose title was then “The fall of Troy, Epic“, was “Commenced in jail, 1909, resumed and completed in Pondicherry, April and May 1910 “, therefore a few years before he started Savitri, since the earliest known manuscript of Savitri is dated 1916. (The information related to the composition of Ilion has been drawn from two books: « A commentary on Sri Aurobindo’s Poem ILION » by V.Murugesu, and « Ilion ou La Chute de Troie », annotated translation in French by Raymond Thépot.)

We do not know if, lacking the necessary material to write in prison, he “entrusted it to his memory”, as he claims to have done with other poems, noting them down on paper only after his release. Indeed, Sri Aurobindo had an extraordinary memory, attested by many witnesses.

Between 1910 and 1917, he transformed the poem from a brief narrative into an epic made up of several books, but then gave the priority to the monthly journal Arya and to Savitri.

In the “Note on the texts” of “Collected poems”, we can read:

“During the twenties and thirties, Sri Aurobindo returned to Ilion from time to time. As late as 1935, he complained jocularly that if he could get an hour’s freedom from his correspondence every day: in another three years Savitri and Ilion and I don’t know how much more would all be rewritten, finished, resplendently complete.

He in fact, never found the time to complete Ilion, but in 1942 he revised the beginning of the first book which was to serve as an illustration for his study of the quantitative hexameter, an essay published under the title: “On Quantitative Metre” in Collected Poems and Plays in 1942 (SABCL, vol.5, pp. 341-387), as well as in a separate booklet published the same year. Indeed, he admired this type of versification used by Homer, and as he was not satisfied by the attempts made in his time to adapt Homer’s work to the English language, offered his own theory and solution to address this problem.

(This aspect of Ilion – the theory of the true quantity – will not be explored in this study.)

This reviewed passage of 371 verses was the only part of Ilion to be printed during his lifetime. A footnote then indicated: a poem left unfinished.

The complete text (composed of nearly 5000 verses) was transcribed from Sri Aurobindo’s manuscripts and published in 1957. A new edition came out in 1989, incorporating the chronological corrections of the author and the beginning of the ninth book, which was never completed.”

Sri Aurobindo, during his studies in England, had studied ancient Greek. The headmaster of St Paul’s School in London, surprised by his student’s abilities, gave him private Greek lessons. We do not know for sure whether he could read Homer fluently in the original Greek text, but it is certain that he knew the work of this author perfectly. Furthermore, while he had been imprisoned due to his activities for the liberation of India, he experienced an intuitive understanding of it, as he says it himself: “A moment’s illumination in Alipore jail opened my vision and since then I have understood with the intuitive perception and vision”.

However, to our knowledge, Sri Aurobindo never gave any keys concerning the deep signification of Ilion, not even unveiling the symbolism of the Trojan War and the different heroes participating in it. The elements of understanding given in this essay are therefore based on an interpretation of Greek mythology in relation to Sri Aurobindo’s writings carried out over twenty years by the author of this essay. This interpretation has been published in three volumes under the title Greek Mythology, Yoga of the West. These books are available in French and in English, as they are currently being translated, on the website greekmyths-interpretation.com.

Even though nothing a priori allows us to affirm that all the hypotheses and results of this interpretation can be applied to Ilion, so many clues found in this poem and in Savitri go in this direction that we feel that it is appropriate to apply them to the decryption of Ilion.

However, the signification of the names of some characters depicted by Sri Aurobindo still eludes us. Since we assume that nothing in his writings was “gratuitous”, that everything had a reason, it is likely that he used coding keys that we are still unaware of.

The bases of the interpretation and the description of the spiritual path will not be repeated here. Indicated in what follows are only the general significations of the main lineages.

That of Iapetus the Titan concerns the ascension of the seven planes of the mental consciousness represented by the Pleiades, children of Atlas, and the experiences related to it. Atlas, condemned by Zeus to carry the sky on his shoulders, is the symbol of the force that separates spirit from matter while also connecting them when the seeker – and humanity in his wake – ascends these seven planes.

In this lineage, the Trojan branch falls within the descent of Electra, the fifth Pleiad, who corresponds to the stage of the illumined mind according to the progression indicated by Sri Aurobindo. Ruling over the extreme East of what used to be the “great Greece”, in Troad, – known today as Anatolia -, it represents the most advanced realisation of the ancient Yoga, marked however at multiple occasions by a lack of sincerity and complete consecration on the seeker’s behalf (such as Laomedon’s refusal to honor the promise made to the gods during the construction of the citadel of Troy, for example). The sincerity of which we speak here is of course not the obvious one which dictat