INTRODUCTION TO SRI AUROBINDO’S POEM ILION – Part 2

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The Ilion Mystery – Part 2

 

We saw in the previous article – The Ilion Mystery, Part 1 – that the Trojan War was a pictorial description of a great inner conflict concerning the evolutionary direction beyond liberation of Spirit. On the one hand, the Trojan coalition expresses the view of the most advanced realisations of a yoga in the heights of the mind. Homer calls them Trojans, Lycians and Dardanians, i.e. those who work for liberation in spirit and enlightenment in a yoga that separates spirit from matter, and thus the spiritual quest from ordinary life. This coalition is led by the ‘divine’ Hector, a symbol of an upward expansion of consciousness. The most advanced of these achievements is represented by the queen of the Amazons, Penthesilea, who represents the ability to abstract oneself from suffering through perfect mastery from above.

On the other hand, the Achaean coalition expresses the view of the other parts of the adventurer’s consciousness. Homer calls them Danaans, Achaeans and Argives, i.e. respectively those who work in a spirit of unity, those who concentrate or aim at an annihilation of the ego, and those who work for further purification. This coalition is led by Agamemnon, the symbol of the strongest aspiration for ‘something else’. His brother Menelaus, ‘the one who cares about freedom’, is the king of Sparta, ‘that which arises, the new’. He is married to the most beautiful of Greek women, Helen, the symbol of the right evolutionary direction towards more freedom, ‘for beauty is truth’. She is a daughter of Zeus, and thus a new impulse of the overmind in human evolution.

To this Achaean coalition belongs Achilles. He is the son of Thetis, daughter of the ‘old man of the sea’. She symbolises the roots of life in its emergence from matter. When we consider the meaning of her name, she represents ‘the root of life’, the physical or cellular consciousness. Through his father, Achilles belongs to the lineage of the Titan Oceanos, thus to the process of purification/liberation. He is the king of the Myrmidons, a term meaning ‘ants’. He is therefore the symbol of a yoga of purification which works in the minute movements of consciousness down to the most archaic body consciousness, which cleanses down to the bone, as ants do. He is therefore a symbol of a very advanced purification. Although Helen was born among the Achaeans, the Trojans, through the intermediary of Paris, took her, considering that the evolutionary truth was on their side.

When the poem Ilion begins, the conflict has already been going on for ten symbolic years, the time of a long maturation, and the events described there take place on the last day of this tenth year of the conflict. At the beginning of this advanced phase of Yoga, the adventurer does not clearly perceive whether the divine evolutionary direction is towards an improvement of the present mental man and a continuation of the quest in spirit, or whether it is a radical reorientation. But the highest of the overmind knows this, even if the seeker is not aware of it in all parts of his being. This is why Zeus decided the outcome of the war in advance, having promised Achilles the greatest glory, and promised Agamemnon that he would only return to Argos once the city of Ilion known as Troy had been destroyed:

My friends, Danaan warriors, squires of Ares, great Zeus, son of Cronos, hath ensnared me in grievous blindness of heart, cruel god! seeing that of old he promised me, and bowed his head thereto, that not until I had sacked well-walled Ilion should I get me home; [i]

From the very beginning of Ilion, through the voice of the goddess of the dawn, Eos, who in Greek mythology belongs to the supermind, Sri Aurobindo reminds us of this inescapable outcome decreed by the highest of the overmind:

Looking on men who must die and women destined to sorrow,

Looking on beauty fire must lay low and the sickle of slaughter,

Fateful she lifted the doom-scroll red with the script of the Immortals,[ii]

The unfolding of the Ilion epic is then no more than a detailed description of a number of purifications on all levels, of the ultimate hopes of the ancient spiritual forms to perpetuate themselves, and of their final annihilation. By “ancient spiritual forms”, we must understand those that have survived to the present day and are based on many centuries, even millennia, of practices, experiences and realisations.

What can we understand about the symbolic meaning of a city and its inhabitants? A city is the symbol of a coherent, well-established and organised structure, in this case, for Troy or Ilion, that of a yoga consolidated since time immemorial, that of liberation in the spirit. The name ‘Ilion’ means ‘the liberation of consciousness’. And its inhabitants represent what works within this structure, namely the practices (the heroes), the achievements towards which these practices tend (the heroines), and the new emergences (the children). The city of Troy is thus a symbol of a yoga that has brought about liberation in the spirit, union with the divine in the spirit, the ‘wisdom’ of the enlightened mind, for the Trojan royal lineage belongs to the offspring of the Pleiades Electra, the symbol of this plane, as well as the ‘holiness’ symbolised by the union of the Trojan Anchises with Aphrodite, the goddess of love.

Mythology states that the fundamental cause of the war was the choice of the Trojan shepherd, Paris-Alexander, who designated Aphrodite as the most beautiful of the goddesses, ahead of Hera and Athena: at a certain point in human evolution, primacy in yoga was given to the search for Love before that of Truth. This is why Aphrodite, the force that helps the growth of love, support the Trojan camp. Apollo, the force that helps the development of the Mind of Light is also supporting the Trojans. The goddesses Athena and Hera, respectively the symbol of the forces that support inner growth – the master of yoga – and the force that controls the proper execution of the divine plan, were displeased by the judgment of Paris and swore the loss of Troy and sided with the Achaeans.

If Troy is to be razed to the ground, this does not mean that the quest for Love will cease forever. When humanity has integrated the Truth, then the quest for Love can flourish again. That is why the Trojan Aeneas will survive the slaughter. And that is why Sri Aurobindo refers to Troy as “perishable immortality”: it is only a temporary destruction.

So over Ilion doomed leaned the yearning immense of the sunrise.

She like a wordless marble memory dreaming for ever

Lifted the gaze of her perishable immortality sunwards.[iii]

The Roman poet Virgil imagined that it was up to Rome and its emperors to revive Troy, but this was premature. This was also the basis of Christianity “Love thy neighbour as thyself.”

 

The situation on the last day of the war

 

While the battle was no longer being fought on the outskirts of the city but on the ships of the Achaeans, Achilles had finally agreed to enter it after the death of his friend Patroclus, reversing an almost hopeless situation. When the poem Ilion begins, on the last day of the war, many heroes have died on both sides. The adventurer of consciousness has thus already challenged many of the formulations and practices of the spiritual quest in all areas.

In the Trojan camp, Hector is dead, killed by Achilles. This is a sign that the adventurer has accepted once and for all that the new yoga must take place in life itself and on all planes, and is no longer just about an expansion of consciousness into the spirit worlds. Since Achilles finally agreed to return Hector’s body to his father to be buried according to the rites, the myth indicates that the phase that is coming to an end could not take place otherwise. However, the Trojans have not yet agreed to return Helen, i.e. the adventurer has not yet fully accepted that the separation of spirit and matter is over, and is still convinced that the quest for Love comes before the quest for Truth. Also in the Trojan camp, Polydamas, meaning ‘many masteries’, is no more: it is accepted that the path of mastery exercised from above must give way to transformation.

In the Achaean camp, let us mention the death of Patroclus, whose name means “the glory of the ancients”, and who was a friend of Achilles. His death is an acknowledgement that the old processes of purification must be ended while recognising their usefulness in their time. But the adventurer is still not clearly aware of the evolutionary path, for he is aware of the overmind forces working within him in opposite directions. Indeed, the gods have manifested themselves on the battlefield on both sides.

On the other hand, the most advanced achievements and practices of each side, which had previously refrained from participating in the battle, were finally mobilised for the final outcome. In the Achaean camp, it was Achilles and his Myrmidons who turned around an almost hopeless situation for the Achaeans, as the Trojans had broken through the moat and wall protecting the ships. This seems to be a recurring phenomenon in yoga: it is when one thinks that all is lost that there is a reversal. Indeed, each movement must go to its exhaustion.

Achilles, by the letters which constitute his name and given his ancestry, is the symbol of the completion of the double purification/liberation on the mental and vital planes, of a total equanimity and surrender on these planes. It is the completion of this purification that will enable the great reversal.

In the Trojan camp, it is Penthesilea, the queen of the Amazons, who has come with her troops to support the Trojans. Her city is located near the mouth of the river Thermodon, and thus at the peak of the inner fire of union with the Divine in the spirit. It symbolises a grandiose achievement, the ability to abstract oneself from suffering through perfect mastery, through the power of the spirit exercised from above. It demonstrates in some way the validity of spirituality that tends towards conquests in the spirit. Achilles expresses himself as follows about it:

A woman had come in to aid you,

Regal and insolent, fair as the morning and fell as the northwind,

Freed from the distaff who grasps at the sword and she spurns at subjection

Breaking the rule of the gods. She is turbulent, swift in the battle.[iv]

This Amazon queen and her troops of warrior women represent realisations on planes where the fruits of yoga lead to divine intoxication or ecstasy. Achilles addresses her as follows:

Girl, to thy rivers go back and thy hills where the grapes are aspirant.[v]

These planes are very close to the overmind. Indeed, in Book 4, Penthesilea invites the young Eurus, symbol of an ‘enlargement of consciousness’, to join her after the war in her country where the hills besiege Cronion, i.e. the son of Cronos, Zeus, symbol of the highest of the overmind:

Eurus, there in my land thou shalt look on such hills as thy vision

Gazed not on yet, with their craggy tops besieging Cronion,

Sheeted in virgin white and chilling his feet with their vastness.[vi]

Penthesilea embodies a completion of the yoga represented by the three children of Tros, the founder of Troy: liberation in spirit (Ilos), equality (Assarakos) and joy (Ganymede), which can be likened to the realisations that Sri Aurobindo makes explicit in The Synthesis of Yoga, Part 4, Chapter 13, “The Action of Equality”, when he speaks of the progression of equality which can be assessed in oneself through four criteria:

  • equality in the most concrete practical sense of the word: freedom from mental, vital and physical preferences, an even acceptance of all God’s workings within and around him;
  • a firm peace and absence of all disturbance and trouble,
  • a positive inner spiritual happiness and spiritual ease of the natural being which nothing can lessen,
  • a clear joy and laughter of the soul embracing life and existence.

Through the mobilisations of the disciplines represented by Achilles and Penthesilea, the adventurer of consciousness is thus aware that the outcome is near.

 

The final peace offering

 

In the last peace offering made by Achilles to the Trojans, Sri Aurobindo clearly poses the problem that will be discussed in the rest of the poem, namely the possibility of preserving the forms of the old yoga in the new era that is beginning, the one in which matter will no longer be separated from spirit.

From the point of view of the deep purification of the vital, the achievements in spirit are great, but they have led to the rejection of the lower planes of nature, life and body. They concern only a few and leave