The Departure from Troy and the Raid on the Cicones: the end of all ‘hard’ work (Book IX)

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Odysseus (Ulysses)’ fleet was part of the first contingent leaving Troy. But at the stopover in Tenerife, Zeus unleashed the scourge of a second misunderstanding. Odysseus (Ulysses) left Menelaus, Nestor and Diomedes and returned to Agamemnon who had remained in Troy to sacrifice to the gods.

When he set sail again, he first approached the land of the Cicones at the foot of the Ismaros (a mountain of Thrace) where he engaged in plunder and in the murdering of the warriors. As he urged his men to leave, they refused because they wanted to enjoy the wine, the sheep and the “horned cows with twisted gait” which they killed. After the Cicones called their neighbours to the rescue, a bitter battle ensued and Odysseus (Ulysses) lost six of his men.

Having returned to sea, Zeus unleashed Boreas (the north wind) who forced them to return to the mainland, tired and overcome with grief.

The separation of the different fleets in Tenedos “what tends towards union” is necessary to describe the progress of the seeker in its various aspects.

The one considered here illustrates the pursuit of yoga beyond “awakening” and “liberation” with the will to achieve the union spirit-matter.

The seeker’s first “navigation” takes him back to Thrace, in the land of asceticism, among the Cicones “those who work hard”. We have already met them during the study of Heracles’ eighth labour, The Mares of Diomedes, while they were feeding on human flesh. They also participated in the Trojan War on the Trojan side, under the leadership of Euphemos, “who utters auspicious words.”

The seeker begins by attacking the yoga movements that “work hard” and turns away from their methods while recovering the most interesting of what they have generated, the goals and realisations (he kills the warriors and seizes the women and wealth).

But some parts of him are still seduced by the results of these ascetic practices that provide drunkenness (his men want to enjoy the wine…), the immediate benefits of the consecration or intuitive illuminations distorted by the mind (… horned sheep and cows with twisted gait, which they killed).

If vigorous asceticism is practiced for the Divine’s sake, some of its results can be profitably used, provided the seeker does not try to enjoy them for himself (everything would have gone well if Odysseus (Ulysses) and his men had left after the sharing).

The power of this type of asceticism turns then against the seeker and leads him to the opposite of the intended goal, to the destruction of some of the forces engaged in yoga.

This myth obviously applies to the whole journey, but it shows here how long attachment to results can still persist until an extremely advanced phase. Of course these are not, at this ultimate stage, easily perceptible glorifications of the ego, but rather subtle attachments to past or projected realisations, to ecstasies on the planes of the spirit, to illuminations distorted by the mind in their path to consciousness, or to pleasures that self-giving provides. At the extreme, even when the seeker has gone beyond the stage of the personal yoga for that of humanity, it is still an expectation of results that taints the purity of action.

As a result of this ordeal, the seeker is influenced by the spiritual power that compels him to embody the correct way: he is forced to reorient himself towards right asceticism, with a new receptivity of divine aids (Zeus unleashed Boreas and the shredded sails had to be replaced).

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