The Argonauts

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Jason’s companions the Argonauts represent the yogic labors that must be developed up to a certain level to begin the quest. We repeatedly will find lists of characters to illustrate the conditions required to surpass the corresponding stages, particularly in the Calydonian boar hunt, the Lapiths’ battle against the Centaurs, and above all in the contingents from different provinces who participated in the Trojan War.

It seems obvious that no list can be unanimously accepted by the initiated because the individual journeys differ and the masters tend to guide their disciples towards the path that they have themselves trodden. For them each name could be a pretext for a specific teaching and each of them would thus have composed his own list.

Several lists of Argonauts have been handed down to us. The most succinct ones by Pindar and Pherecydes include only around ten names, almost exclusively those of the sons of gods. They emphasize the essential qualities that the seeker must possess to a certain extent and some progressions that should have been embarked upon.

In fact these great heroes are generally found in the genealogical lines of the advanced stages of the journey which mark both their apotheosis and their end.

However the qualities that they represent must gradually be strengthened in the being and that is why we find them here among the Argonauts.

Although it was the responsibility of the master to define aptitudes and assess their degree, they could obviously not guarantee the occurrence of an experience.

Four other lists present many similarities between them: that from the Argonautica Orphica (dated IVth to VIth century AD), of Valerius Flaccus (Ist century BC), of Hyginus (IInd century BC) and of Apollonius of Rhodes (IIIrd century BC). The first three were handed down to us by mythologists and are clearly derived from the fourth by Apollonius of Rhodes who lived through the experience and gave the only complete surviving Greek account of this quest. He provides a list of fifty-five Argonauts and it seems obvious that several corresponding abilities cannot be counted among the prerequisites indispensable to the quest but are part of an overall ambiance, such as Amphidamas “mastery to some extent” or Augeas “flashes of light”.

All these accounts constitute around fifty names like the ship with fifty oars.

The list given by the mythologist Apollodorus (IIth century AD) falls under the same category although it is constituted of around fifteen names which are very different from the ones in the other four lists. To give an exhaustive account it is important that we also mention the lists by the historian Diodorus and the Roman poet Statius.

Only Pindar’s and Pherecydes’ lists will be studied here, and some perspectives will be added for certain other Argonauts selected from other lists.

  • Jason

Jason is the leader of the Argonauts and thus represents the essential aspect of the beginning of the journey. His name means “he who cures himself” or “a turning over of consciousness”. It must be recalled that his brother is Promachos, “he who fights at the front”; one for whom the quest is the highest priority, without lack of commitment, not half-heartedly, i.e. the warrior of the spiritual traditions.

He marks the moment when the future seeker often after having exhausted his desire to change the world begins turning towards his inner world. He learns to understand that what happens to him does not depend on the external world but is instead a true image of his internal state and the progress he needs to make to achieve greater freedom. He works to decipher the signs that the world constantly sends him, discern what is happening within and distance himself in order to be a “witness”. He discovers that he can change his inner state depending on how much he identifies with events, his attachments and his involvement with psychological suffering and thus learns that for this state too he holds responsibility.

Consequently he must admit that the conditions are always and at all times the best for him to evolve and that life never makes him face more than what he can deal with.

A man who begins to be truly alive is not the vital-mental man that our publicity and image centered civilization extols but one who with a change in his perspective tries to act on the basis of what he feels within the depths of himself and begins to “be alive” in response to this call which resonates through the vast magma of nature and nurture, habits and conditioning of all kinds.

  • Calais and Zetes

Calais is “one who calls out (questions, invokes)”; that is to say, “aspiration”. His name also includes an idea of “righteousness”. His brother Zetes is “one who searches by effort”. They are the sons of Boreas, the north wind of asceticism or effort, and of a daughter of King Erechtheus of Athens, Orithyia, “the one who hurls herself impetuously onto the mountain”, the mountain being the symbol of the spiritual path. They are winged beings who represent above all an aspiration and an effort for righteousness and the mind’s search.

Let us remember that there are four major winds or divine aids for yoga: Boreas, the Northern wind of ascetism, Notos, the Southern wind which brings confusion and conceals the path, Zephir, the purifying Western wind and Eurus, the Eastern wind which brings newness.

Calais portrays the essential “need” for another way of being and behaving, for “something else” than the present world, and Zetes “the search” that is inseparable from this “need” and perseveres despite traps, falls, false trails, and errors. Many seekers in fact follow several Eastern and/or Western esoteric, mystical or philosophical paths before finding the path that truly corresponds to the truth of their soul.

  • The seers Mopsus and Euphemus, along with Idmon as added by Pherecydes

These seers represent three stages of development of intuition from different perspectives: purely mental receptivity, the capacity to foretell by the interpretation of signs (presages) and direct intuitions from the psychic light.

The seer Mopsus is one who “receives from above in a state of receptivity”. Two seers carry this name but they do not have the same ancestry according to the authors. The one in Apollodorus’ list is a son of Apollo, recognised by the seer Calchas as far superior to himself which confirms Mopsus’ relation with the psychic light. It is this ancestry which has been retained.

The seer in Apollonius’ list is a son of Ampyx, and this name describes “a headband” and would be an expression of a mental intuition which senses peripherally in all directions. Ampyx is himself the son of Elatus, “flexibility and adaptability”.

Apollo had taught Mopsus to interpret the prophetic significance of birds. Therefore in the Argonauts’ quest he is not a symbol of a purely psychic intuition (he is not a son of Apollo) but one of an increased mental intuition guided by the psychic being. He knows how to decipher mental perceptions (the flight of birds) as opposed to signs given by events in daily life. His presence indicates that nothing should be left out in the quest. The seeker must pay particular attention to dreams, premonitions, and intuitions which he receives through the medium of the mind. Clearly all superstition, excesses of imagination or naivety must be discarded and nothing should be accepted blindly.

According to Apollonius the seer Mopsus died from the bite of a viper while crossing the Libyan Desert, a trial during which the seeker loses all points of reference.

But according to other authors he participated in the Caledonian boar hunt which took place much later, contradicting the story of his death occurring during the Argonauts’ quest. In fact mental intuition from higher planes of consciousness cannot disappear because it is the foundation for the upward progression in these planes. This is why Mopsus is usually considered to be the son of Apollo and not of Ampyx. Here we have a first example of the prudence with which we must approach the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes, an author who I believe experienced an indisputably powerful experience of illumination though he does not figure among the several great initiated ones.

Euphemus, “he who spells out good omens”, is a son of Poseidon. He represents the presages and omens that the seeker can obtain through the interpretation of events on the basis of analogies induced by the subconscient. In fact, if we admit that life always brings forth the most suitable events for evolution to take place we must also presume that every individual possesses somewhere within himself the necessary means to decipher their meaning. In the same way it is from the reservoir of the subconscious that numerous symbolic elements of dreams are extracted.

It is Euphemus who released the dove in the dangerous passage before the Argonauts set sail through it: he is in the seeker both that which takes time to see and feel before letting himself be struck by the event as well as that which acts subconsciously to protect himself.

The third seer is Idmon, one who is “educated, skilful” and also “the knowledgeable one”. His divine father is Apollo and his human father is Abas, or “incarnation”.

Idmon was aware of his destiny through the movements of birds: generally at the beginning of the journey the seeker has a vague intuitive mental understanding of his life journey inferred from both his psychic being (Apollo) and his will of incarnation (Abas). But this awareness disappears in the course of the journey under the effect of raw vital energies (Idmon was killed by a boar just before arriving in Colchis). Tiphys the helmsman dies at the same time as him: it is necessary for the seeker to lose all points of reference and abandon all vague desires for finding his own way so that the descent of the spiritual forces can take place.

  • Echion and Erytus

These two heroes are sons of Hermes, the god that looks after the development in humanity of the “overmind” and Antianeira “detachment” (literally, “one who opposes all attachment” and precedes Deianira, “the one who kills all attachment”). Echion represents “the evolution of concentration or of emptiness in consciousness and Erytus is “he who is drawn forward” or “the right movement on the highest plane of consciousness”.

They represent the effort of detachment induced by the highest knowledge (Hermes) striving to grow by way of concentration and expansion of consciousness and by instilling silence within. They symbolise the gradual work toward freedom from attachment to opinions, beliefs, ambitions, desire for power, material possessions, etc.

  • The Dioscuri Castor and Pollux

They are the “children of Zeus (Dios-Koroi)” borne by Leda, “freedom and union”. Their sisters are Helen and Clytemnestra and their human father Tyndareus.

Castor is known to be “skilled in boxing”. He represents the struggle for “purity” (his name is formed around the radical καστ “purity” which we also find in the name of Oedipus’ wife Epicaste). He represents the force which strives for greater harmony, the firm desire to put everything in its proper place. This effort toward “purification” is certainly one of the struggles that should be the seeker’s priority while entering the journey.

Pollux, in Greek Polydeuces “he who is “completely gentle” (the name Pollux results from a deformation of Greek names by the Latin Romans) represents the gentleness of the soul, the compassion and flexibility that originate from equality of the spirit and the absence of pride. He is known to be a “skilled charioteer” who is capable of perfectly harmonising vital forces.

Castor and Pollux resonate like the sthira and sukha of Patanjali.

These two aspects – gentleness and force, flexibility and rigour, the force which harmonises and the force which dominates – manifest themselves as much in the higher planes as in the external mental-vital-physical personality.

They are the first instruments of mastery over the emotional being which must allow the psychic being to manifest itself and dominate.

Tyndareus, the human father of Castor and Pollux, is a descendant of Taygete the Pleiad daughter of Atlas who symbolises the sixth plane in the ascending planes of consciousness, the intuitive mind that precedes the overmind.

Leda also represents a very advanced realization being either a descendant of Aethlius, who is the son of Zeus and Protogeneia, or one of the children of Aeolus who would logically be placed between Perieres and Deion based on our analysis of the children of Aeolus.

We will find that the two heroes were rewarded with semi-immortality by Zeus; as Homer writes “Both are covered alive by the fecund earth but thanks to the privileges accorded by Zeus they are within the earth alternatively dead for a day and alive for the next and are honored like the gods” (The Odyssey, Book XI).

Thus when they complete their action in vital yoga as representatives of the intuitive mind (dead sons of Tyndareus in the lineage of Taygete) they still had to work in close association for the yoga of the cells from the overmind as sons of Zeus. In this way they form a bridge between the corporal conscient and inconscient, each in turn executing the task in the depths.

At the highest point of their task Castor and Pollux introduce the seeker to the field of non-duality in the spirit and semi-immortality (they are honored as gods).

It must be noted that they had previously defeated and killed their cousins Idas and Lynceus, grandsons of Perieres, union of faith (Idas) and discernment (Lynceus), both necessary for liberation and which must come to an end at the death of desire and ego.

  • Periclymenus

His name probably means “beyond what is known”. He is the eldest of the twelve sons of Neleus (“the evolution of liberation”) who is the king of Pylos (“the door”) and thus is a brother of Nestor (“righteousness and integrity” or “sincerity”). He is therefore a grandson of Poseidon from whom he received unlimited strength and the power to change form at will if in need during combat; this comes to mean an invulnerability and capacity to adapt when this is indispensable.

  • Tiphys

He is the first helmsman on the expedition to be replaced in the course of the journey because the energy-consciousness necessary to enter the path is not the same as the one to pursue and orientate it. “He is deft in foreseeing a rise in the waves and windstorms and in navigating with the help of the sun or a star”: the seeker must have a good knowledge of his emotional outbursts or what perturbs him and the confused functioning of his mind – what we in general call self-awareness – and the capactiy to make the most out of the lightning flashes of truth which appear on his path.

The meaning of his name remains unclear. It can mean “marsh” in which case it would indicate a confused beginning of the journey. This would explain the name of his father Hagnias “the ignorant”, and the fact that he dies midway through the journey. With the letter structure Τ+Φ his name could represent “the higher plane which descends into the being”.

  • Heracles

Though mentioned by Pindar and Apollonius, Heracles did not participate in the expedition narrated in the oldest narratives. This is perfectly understandable as we have stressed the fact that the theoretical processes cannot correspond exactly to the experiences. However since the seeker must have embarked upon the quest before being able to live the first great spiritual experience several authors including Apollonius place Heracles among the heroes who go on board the Argo but soon make him abandon the expedition under some pretext or another (sometimes for a most absurd reason such that he was too heavy for the boat!).

On the other hand this stage of the journey only involves a preparation for the work of purification essentially focusing on perfecting the mind and does not yet involve actual work on desire and ego.

  • Orpheus

Since the myth of Orpheus is a complex one, spanning over several stages of yoga according to the different versions, and is closely related to that of Dionysus in one of them, we have deferred its analysis to a later chapter.  We shall simply note here that he came originally from Thrace, the province where blows Boreas the wind of asceticism and incarnation. Because of his parentage Oiagros and Calliope, he represents “work on consciousness” and “a beautiful opening of consciousness”.

He was known for his talent as a singer and musician, in other words for his knowledge of the laws of harmony (a purification which allows everything to be put in its proper place). That is why he acquainted the Argonauts with the mysteries of Samothrace.

On board the ship Argo he beat time for the rowers and thus set the rhythm of progression and the right time for all things. While entering the journey the seeker must in fact learn the “law of rhythm” because the Truth reveals itself to him in proportion to his capacity to match the movement of creation with precision both in the seemingly inconsequential details as well as in the “great things”. Conforming to this rhythm which is neither the rhythm of the character nor of events is in fact the real mastery. To be able to learn to sense it the seeker has no other means to begin then to “step back” and withdraw into himself.

Orpheus is therefore the most important character on the ship after Jason, playing the part of a priest or an initiated individual.

Among the other names given by Apollonius some are noteworthy:

  • Talaus

He is the one who “copes and endures”. Sri Aurobindo tells us, “Endure and you shall conquer”.

  • Idas and Lynceus

Idas, “the will to unite with one’s inner being or the Divine”, is the strongest and the most daring (the most violent).

Lynceus, “the vision of a lynx” or “penetrating vision” is a symbol of “deep discernment”.

They are sons of Aphareus, “one who is without a mask”.

Both refer to what Satprem calls “a new threshold of vision”. They personify respectively the force which stems from union (and thus on the mind plane which stems from intuition) and the inner vision or deep discernment which comes from “detachment”.

It must be recalled that like the other Argonauts they indicate the forces which the seeker must mobilized right from the start of the quest and not its prerequisites.

  • Amphidamas

His name signifies “everything related to mastery”.

  • Acastus and Argus

Argus is “the luminous” and Acastus, “the impure, the mixed”. The latter is a son of Pelias “the dark”, the good intention which impels the quest and is also a resistance to change. The author who cited these two Argonauts together probably wanted to make us understand that the seeker embarks on his journey together with his shadow and his light.

The fact that no woman appears in these lists is not due to misogyny on the part of the initiated ones but to indicate that the beginning of the journey requires active movement and voluntary sâdhanâ and that there are as yet no realisations.

Later authors (Apollodorus and Diodorus) introduced Atalanta in the list of Argonauts but she represents a certain “equality” which cannot be a result of this first phase of yoga. Let us remember that the heroines represent realisations or goals and the heroes the works of yoga (particular sâdhanâ) to reach them.

Apollonius divided the tale of the Argonauts’ quest into four Poems which correspond to four major stages of the first phase of progression:

  • Poem 1: The preliminary steps and the mistakes of beginners (the quest of the “exotic forms of spirituality” and the going astray due to insincerity).
  • Poem 2: Some other mistakes, the clarification of intuition, the “knots”, the encounter with the true master and the bifurcation.
  • Poem 3: karmic memories and the great experience.
  • Poem 4: Integration.

There is no indication of the duration of time because for each stage there are phases of maturation which could be carried out in some months, years or lifetimes.

On the other hand significant events are experienced as absolute certainties even though the seeker rarely has appropriate words to communicate his experiences.

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