The Return of Menelaus

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If in the Odyssey, Telemachus, the son of Achilles, is surprised that Menelaus left the murder of Agamemnon unpunished for so long – during the seven years of Aegisthus’ reign – it is simply because Menelaus had not yet returned home to Sparta.

On his departure from Troy, when Menelaus arrived at Cape Sounion, he had to endure the wrath of Apollo, who struck his pilot Phrontis, son of Onetor. Then, as he rounded Cape Malea, Zeus sent a storm that scattered the fleet. Menelaus led some of them to Crete where many ships crashed on a smooth rock, but the men survived.

Only five ships reached Egypt, where Menelaus accumulated much food and gold. He wandered among peoples with foreign languages, visiting Cyprus, Phoenicia, the Ethiopians, the Sidonians, the Erembes and Libya, where lambs have horns from birth and where opulence reigns. (It was at the beginning of this wandering that Agamemnon was killed).

Then on his way back, he was held up for lack of wind on the island of Pharos, off the Nile Delta. After being stranded for twenty days and as his men began to run out of food and became discouraged, his despair moved Eidothea who came to find him. She was the daughter of Proteus the Egyptian, an old man of the sea, infallible, immortal, who knows the abysses of all seas, guardian of the seals of Poseidon, the offspring of the Sea Beauty (Amphitrite). She advised him to take hold of the old man, who would then show him the way back, the length of the route and how to navigate, as well as what had happened in his mansion during his absence.

She also showed him how to surprise Proteus when he comes out of the wave, when the sun reaches the middle of the sky. He then goes to bed in the shelter of hollow dens, checks and counts five by five the multitude of seals that accompany him, exhaling the acrid and deadly smell of the deep abyss. She also warns the hero that Proteus could take the forms of animals crawling on the earth, as well as animals of water or fire with a divine blaze.

Menelaus and three of his companions followed her recommendations. They covered themselves with sealskins, protected from their deadly smell by a nectar of ambrosia that Eidothea had given them. They grabbed the old man by force and held him despite the shapes he took to escape: lion, dragon, panther, pig, clear water and tree. When they had subdued him with the help of the goddess, the old man, tired, returned to his original form. Following Eidothea’ recommendations, the hero loosened his grip and questioned him.

Proteus informed Menelaus that he had been delayed by the gods because he did not perform the ritual hecatomb. So he had to return to the river Aegyptus which “comes from the gods” and sacrifice to the immortal gods.

Although he had to endure another dangerous journey through the mist of the sea, the hero agreed to return to Egypt. Before his departure, the old man told him of the fate of the “lesser” Ajax, that of Agamemnon and of the wandering of Odysseus (Ulysses).

And it was only on the very day when Orestes offered to the people of Argos the funeral meal for the death of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra that he returned from Egypt.

After the great reversal, and on the quest for inner growth (Cape Sounion is a promontory south of Athens), the seeker no longer knows how to progress towards liberation (Menelaus loses his pilot). The cause is the “light” of the soul (Apollo), for the seeker must undergo trials that will lead him to a higher knowledge.

The first trials concern only the structures of the personality: first a dissociation of its elements (the scattering of vessels) and then the destruction of many of them without any loss of fundamental energy (however without death of man).

Crete is the land of the labyrinth and the Minotaur, but above all, the land of Minos, of right discernment and right consecration.

The confrontation takes place around an essential “knot” over which the seeker has no control, which he does not yet have the means to dissolve (ships crash on a smooth rock in Crete,). But his “coming into contact” causes the end of many of his personal structures (putting into question personality structures based on outdated beliefs).

Five being the number linked to forms, the five ships that arrived in Egypt can be considered as the basic structure of the seeker, stripped of all masks and artifices.

Then the seeker gathers the elements necessary for his future yoga, in the quest for freedom in the body: on the one hand, what will keep up his energy, on the other, the tools for this quest for freedom (In Egypt Menelaus accumulated a lot of food and gold).

This voyage to Egypt can be considered in two ways:

  • Either by considering this country as the depository of the ancient knowledge during the time of Intuition. As this is a text from the Iliad, reference would be made to a period several centuries before its composition, a period that would be contemporary with that of the Vedas. This passage would then evoke an occult plunge into the Memories of Humanity, supported by an understanding of the ancient texts, such as those engraved in stone in ancient Egypt.
  • Or this journey can be interpreted with the sole meaning of the word Egypt “Αιγυπτας”, “the one led by Ptah” and therefore “the aspiration for the Divine”.

In addition, the seeker acquires a broad understanding of the multiple paths of Yoga in their many forms of expression, which are foreign to each other (in different languages): the path of love (Cyprus), the path of the spiritualized vital based on the forces of nature that can be associated with shamanism in the broadest sense of the term (Phoenicia “purple”, the colour of the spiritualized vital), the path of the organization of Higher Knowledge (Egypt), the vision of that which ignites or generates the inner fire (Ethiopia “the vision of that which ignites”), knowledge of the process of incarnation of love (Sidonians, a word related to the pomegranate) and of plunging into the shadows (“dark” Erembes), as well as the truth of the way of “sacrifice” (which makes sacred) from the beginning of the process of purification in the incarnation (Libya, where the lambs have horns from birth).

It is during this period that the transfer from active yoga to a contemplative mystical union takes place (Aegisthus kills Agamemnon).

There follows an episode difficult to bear in which the seeker, in his quest for freedom, no longer receives the support of the divine helpers, the “winds” (Menelaus was detained for twenty days because of lack of wind on the island of Pharos). (This period is probably related to the source of duality).

He then obtains “an exact vision” from the depths of the vital which tells him to dig even deeper, towards what is most primitive in him at the emergence of life outside matter (Eidothea “who sees in truth” advises him to go and find his father Proteus “the first to appear”, “the old man of the sea”).

Here Homer does not stage the character of Nereus but that of Proteus because these two gods do not represent exactly the same thing, although they are both protean “old men of the sea”.

Nereus is the first son of Pontos, and therefore the symbol of the emergence of the vital consciousness not yet deformed by the mind, and therefore the source of the multiple “true” capacities (father of the three thousand “beautiful” Nereids).

On the other hand Proteus, whose father name Homer does not tell us, is a “guardian” deity, just like Cerberus or Ladon, the Serpent-like dragon of the Hesperides. He watches over Poseidon’s herds of seals, that is, over the vital elements that make the transition between life and mind, for us from the realm of the subconscious (he is a son of Poseidon). In other words, he watches in the subconscious mind over the memory of the processes that allowed the emergence of life and are at the origin of vital forms. That is why he knows “the abysses of all seas”. Proteus is therefore the guardian of vital forms which is why he counts the seals five by five (five is the number associated with form).

Undistorted by the mind, this subconscious knowledge is anterior to duality and therefore accurate (Proteus is immortal and infallible). This subconscious is extremely plastic with an instantaneous capacity for adaptation. The forms through which it reaches our consciousness change so rapidly that we have a “protean” perception of it. In order to understand this image of the protean deities, we can refer to the explanations given by Mother in the Agenda: Before the emergence of the mind in life, the Unconscious was plastic and the mind made it aggressive, resistant, rigid, hard and obstinate. And since then, the unconscious organized mind refuses to change.

As we have seen, the nickname “Proteus the Egyptian” given by Homer can be explained in two ways: either the Egyptian sages of the age of Intuition were the precursors of the dive into the abysses of the vital consciousness, where the subconscious kept the memory of it; indeed, Proteus knows “the way back, the length of the path and how to navigate”. But it may be simply a purely symbolic element indicating that Proteus is the guardian of the forms at the origin of our surmental creation (Aegyptus is Αιγυπτος “who is led by the god Ptah”, who is the great demiurge of Memphis).

This deep subconscious mind is also capable of retrieving information from events that took place at other times and places (Proteus informs of the events that took place in Menelaus’ mansion during his absence).

However, this perception of terrible forces and tenebrous influences acting in the depths of consciousness can be extremely dangerous for the physical and psychic health of the insufficiently purified and equanimous seeker. (Cf. Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, Book VII, Book II).

This subconscious guardian of the archaic memories of life manifests itself when the action of the supramental light is at its maximum power (The old man of the sea comes out of the wave when the sun reaches the middle of the sky). The seeker can only approach it veiled and protected by his extreme sincerity and absolute surrender to the Divine, under penalty of madness or even death (the hero must be protected by the ambrosia of the deadly smell of the deep abysses exhaled by the seals).

This deadly odor of the abysses can probably be related to the “odor of sanctity” – the odor of someone who has reached exactitude by the psychic – which is its counterpart. The sense of smell is perhaps also the sense most closely linked to the attraction/repulsion duality which is at the origin of life.

This guardian of the depths, in order to hide its true nature from the consciousness of the seeker, manifests itself under the appearance of various forces: that which supports the ego at the root of life (the lion), the evolutionary power (the dragon), the errant vital (pig), the pure vital (clear water), the natural vital power (tree) and perhaps the power and suppleness (the panther).

The seeker is then “informed” of his error which is to have forgotten to give thanks (to sacrifice to the gods) and understands that he must go back again, in spite of the difficulties, to the source of the current of consciousness coming from the present surmental creation, that is to say, to the laws of energy and consciousness which govern and stabilize the forms of our present humanity (to the waters of the river Aegyptus which “come to us from the gods”), and there surrender himself totally to the Divine.

This part of the myth, which appears near the end of the Odyssey since it comes just before the death of Aegisthus, deals with the transformation of the “forms” (including the functions) that are at the basis of the present surmental creation, a transformation that must precede the installation of humanity in the Supramental. The question here is to become aware of its possibility, for it will only be effective when the action of the supramental forces in the being is at its maximum (when the sun is at its zenith). What the seeker wants to know at this moment in the yoga is the path that leads to such a transformation, the stages on that path and the methods to be employed (the way back, the length of the path and how to navigate).

He then makes an assessment of the last major events of his yoga: the extinction of the ego or “little self” (the death of the “Lesser Ajax”), the passage from a phase of powerful acting tension to a more contemplative period (the death of Agamemnon and ascension of Aegis to the throne) and the trial and error in the progression towards the spirit-matter union (the wandering of Odysseus (Ulysses)).

The beginning of the next phase marks the return to the right path in the dynamic of progress (the death of Aegisthus by Orestes, both belonging to the lineage of Tantalus), when enough elements have been gathered for the continuation of the path towards total liberation (Menelaus accumulated food and gold for his return).  

There has been some speculation as to where Helen was staying during the “returns”. Whether she returned to Sparta or accompanied Menelaus is irrelevant to us, as the seeker is always in search of greater freedom.

(Only Euripides states that she remained for the duration of the war in Egypt, in the house of Proteus where Menelaus found her. It is said, only her eidolon, her double, has gone to Troy. If one accepts this idea, it could find its justification in the fact that the symbol of the quest for ultimate liberation, Helen, can in no way “go astray” even following a lack of consecration).

The end of Menelaus and Helen

Neither Helen nor Menelaus – the goal of liberation from all limits (or universalization) and the work to achieve it – can disappear, for liberation/universalization, after having been conquered in the mind and then in the vital, must also be conquered in the body. If some late authors bring these two heroes to the Elysian Fields, their work must be continued by others.

In the process of liberation-purification, this will be the last “objective” of Heracles, Iole “the integral liberation” that the dying hero gives as wife to his son Hyllus “a very great freedom”, as well as the work of the other Heraclides. In practice, it will be the work in the details of daily life of the descendants of Polynices and the son of Achilles, Neoptole