The myth of Oedipus and the wars of Thebes illustrate the process of purification of energy centers to make the body transparent to the penetration of divine forces.
Oedipus and the Sphinge – Louvre Museum / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oedipus_sphinx_Louvre_G417_n2.jpg
To fully understand this web page, it is recommended to follow the progression given in the tab Greek myths interpretation. This progression follows the spiritual journey.
The method to navigate in the site is given in the Home tab.
The Fiend was visible but cloaked in light;
He seemed a helping angel from the skies:
He armed untruth with Scripture and the Law;
He deceived with wisdom, with virtue slew the soul
And led to perdition by the heavenward path.
Savitri Book II Canto VII
While Oedipus has become widely known through Freud’s work, the Oedipus myth only constitutes, through a reversal of consciousness, an introduction to the process of purification illustrated by the Theban Wars.
In the preceding volume a study of the descendants of Oedipus was presented down till the children of Cadmus, and this will now be outlined again.
The wedding of Cadmus and Harmonia indicates a path of incarnation of the inner being (Thebes) through which a work of mastery and purification aiming at the ‘transparency’ of the being takes precision or exactness as its aim. For Cadmus is the son of Agenor and either Telephassa or Damno, and Harmonia, through the structuring characters of her name, also implies ‘an evolution of consciousness towards the right movement of consecration’.
This couple parented a son and four daughters:
– Ino, the excessive asceticism of seekers at the beginning of their paths.
– Autonoe, or the deviations of an overly-perfectionistic seeker.
– Agave and her son Pentheus, or an attachment to effort and suffering (the path of darkness).
– Semele, ‘appropriate submission or surrender’ or ‘exactness’ in the growth process of love, towards which the seeker strives through the path of purification and liberation, and her son Dionysus (the path which embraces the totality of the being to carry out the delight and enjoyment of the Divine).
– Polydorus, the significance of whose name remains uncertain. It may mean either ‘he who gives generously, the gift of oneself’, which is to say the movement of consecration or the path of sacrifice (in Sri Aurobindo’s sense; Chapters IV, V and VI in The Synthesis of Yoga, Part I: The Yoga of Divine Works), or ‘numerous gifts’, which is to say the development of the personality and of its capacities.
While the daughters of Cadmus and Harmonia can be associated with the path of passive consecration, Polydorus can be taken to represent that of active consecration in the domain of an intelligent will for realisation. These two movements must combine so as to accomplish ‘exactness’, which is to say to bring the right vision within the mind, the right impulse and sentiment within the vital, and the right movement and the right habit within the physical. The accomplishment of this ‘exactness’ corresponds to the full submission of the external nature to the psychic being.
No evidence in early myths clearly indicates that Polydorus bore descendants. It is only at the end of the 5th century with Herodotus and the advent of the tragic playwrights that a link was forged between this character and Oedipus. However, this genealogical association seems plausible as Oedipus is also associated with myths addressing purification and re-harmonisation, like the War of Seven against Thebes and the War of the Epigoni.
THE FOUNDING OF THEBES AND ITS FIRST KINGS
There is a collection of myths, unfortunately uncorroborated by earlier sources, which describe the founding of Thebes and therefore the beginnings of the process of incarnation of inner life. They are sometimes linked to Polydorus when Antiope is presented as his sister-in-law, or else are presented independently when the latter is described to be the daughter of the river Asopos. Both versions will be successively discussed here.
In discussing the first version one must go back to the ancestors of Nycteis, the wife of Polydorus; they are considered to be either Poseidon and Alcyone (‘a powerful evolution’, the dynamism of which originates in the subconscious, Poseidon), or Chthonius, ‘the depths of the earth’, issued from one of the dragon’s teeth seeded.
Hyrieus, or an understanding of the path and the preparation for entering the quest through a first reversal
Poseidon and Alcyone parented a son named Hyrieus.
Hyrieus ruled over a city in Boeotia which was named after him.
He possessed a great treasure, which he protected in a fortified shelter designed by two architects of great renown, Agamedes and Trophonios.
(Agamedes has wed a homonymous Epicasta, who had coupled with Apollo and borne Trophonios. Other sources claim that the latter was a son of Erginos of the lineage of Minuas.)
These two architects were said to have previously designed the bridal chamber of Alcmene in Thebes, the temple of Apollo in Delphi and that of Poseidon in Arcadia. They were pilfering fractions of the king’s treasure over time, having secretly arranged to maintain access to it by removing a carefully dissimulated stone. But the king guessed what was happening, and asked Daedalus for advice. The latter designed a trap in which Agamedes was caught. To avoid being denounced by his partner, Trophonios decapitated him, but the earth opened up and engulfed the murderer.
(There is a variation of this myth, in which the king is Augeas rather than Hyrieus.)
‘The right movement of consciousness towards a state of receptivity’, which is fortified in the subconscious in response to a powerful will for evolution, allows numerous realisations and accomplishments; Hyrieus, son of Poseidon and Alcyone, had successfully amassed a great treasure for himself. This treasure is reserved for a future yoga, and protected from danger by an inner organisation established simultaneously by ‘one who has a powerful intention’ aiming towards purification, and by ‘that which nourishes consciousness’ (the structure protecting the treasure had been built by Agamedes and Trophonios, renowned architects of the lineage of Minuas, ‘the evolution of a receptive state aiming at consecration’). Agamedes was wed to Epicasta, and therefore represents a movement which seeks ‘all that is akin to purity’. In the version of this myth in which Apollo couples with Epicasta, this search for purity is ‘appreciated’ and fertilized by the psychic light represented by Apollo. From this union is born Trophonios, ‘he who nourishes the evolution of consciousness’.
This consciousness-structuring movement had already led to a recognition of the important work carried out by the subconscious through life events and of the need for putting forward the psychic light (the two architects had previously built temples to Poseidon and Apollo).
This movement had also prepared those seekers who have developed ‘a powerful soul or personality’ to embark upon the quest for purification/liberation (they had designed the bridal chamber of Alcmene in which took place her union with Zeus, from which was born Heracles).
It had also given the means to avoid wasting the ‘flashes of truth’ or luminous experiences which the seeker had accrued (by safeguarding Hyrieus’ treasure).
Despite all of these accomplishments, it is still ‘a powerful personal intention’ that is at work in this situation, pushing the seeker to try to steal for himself the fruits of these realisations and accomplishments, and thus making them of less benefit (the architects were pilfering parts of king Hyrieus’ treasure).
The movements which strive to organise consciousness must therefore cede their place; it is an advanced element coming from an inner guidance which strive for this goal (it was Daidalos of the royal Athenian lineage who set the trap).
For this to occur, the seeker must in fact use cunning in regards to his own mechanisms, for a reversal is necessary; the energy so far utilised to build the structures necessary to safeguard the acquisitions of yoga henceforth only serve to diminish them, for the ego demands its dues.
Intelligence unveils this loss through its skillful capacities, but it is ‘that which nourishes the evolution of the organisation of consciousness’ which puts an end to the ‘powerful personal intention’ and cuts away its directing element (Agamedes was decapitated by Trophonios). Then, that which has allowed for the organisation of this first phase of yoga disappears in its turn (Trophonios is engulfed by the Earth).
This story illustrates the necessary transformation of a path carried out for personal motivations, even if it is for the sake of the liberation or the perfection of oneself, into one in which the yoga is carried out for the Divine itself. For the seeker must not submit the yogic process to his own conditions nor be preoccupied with his own fulfillment, but rather that of the Divine work. The seeker’s own liberation, his perfection and his spiritual fulfillment should result from and be part of the manifestation of the Divine rather than the aim of his yoga. (On this subject see Sri Aurobindo, Lights on Yoga.)
Hyrieus’ children Nycteus and Lycus, and his grandchildren Nycteis and Antiope.
The version analysed here is of a later date, and is a second-hand account. In fact, it was retold by Hyginus who took it up from a lost work by Euripides.
Hyrieus married Clonia, who bore him two children, Nycteus and Lycus, although according to Apollodorus, Nycteus had originated directly from Chthonius. After having slain Phlegyas they arrived in Thebes, and Nycteus became regent as the Theban heir Labdacus was still a child. Hyrieus wed Clonia who bore him two daughters, Nycteis and Antiope. His brother Lycus wed Dirce.
Later on Antiope was either seduced or raped by Zeus, and became pregnant with twins. To escape the anger of her father Nycteus she fled to the most distant lands of the Corinthian isthmus, where king Epopeus claimed her as his bride. Nycteus died of grief, or according to some committed suicide. On his deathbed he asked his brother Lycus, who was his successor on the Theban throne, to ensure that his daughter and her husband would be punished.
Lycus consequently organised an expedition to the Corinthian lands, where he slew Epopeus and brought Antiope back to Thebes. On the journey back to Thebes she gave birth to the twins Amphion and Zethos, who were abandoned, or exposed, on Mount Cithaeron (or it is sometimes said in Eleutherae), and later rescued and adopted by a goatherd or cowherd.
(‘Exposed’ is a term used to describe the abandoning of a child in a hostile environment in which he is destined to be taken in by others or to die.)
Held captive in Thebes for years, Antiope was mistreated by Dirce, Lycus’ wife. But one day, the bonds imprisoning Antiope loosened, and she rejoined her children in the hut in which they lived, the latter later slaying Dirce and Lycus (in another version of the story, Lycus was saved by Hermes).
The twins Amphion and Zethos became the rulers of Thebes and built the ramparts of the city, from which they banished Laios, grandson of Polydorus and father of Oedipus.
It is after the overthrow described here that begins to emerge the first light of truth, the first ‘awakening’: Lycus is ‘the light preceding dawn’, while the rest of the being remains enveloped in night and sleep, Nycteus signifying ‘the night’.
The union of Hyrieus, ‘a right movement of consciousness towards a state of receptivity’, and of Clonia, ‘an impulse forward, a shaking or collapse’, in fact indicates both an aspiration for a powerful evolution, and in answer to this, a shaking or collapse of the seeker’s life.
(In a variation of this story, Nycteus and Lycus are children of the ‘sown man’ Chthonius, which could indicate that this first awakening is a rememoration of a previous life.)
But at this point of the path the seeker is not able to recognise this first light of Truth; it is his inconscient parts which ally with the numerous ‘truths received from above’ (Nycteus is wed to Polyxo), while the emerging light is oriented in an erroneous direction by uniting with Dirce; Lycus wed the inverse of the ‘right manner of acting (Δικη+Ρ)). This is why for many years Dirce would abuse Antiope, her brother’s daughter.
The order of succession of Theban rulers during this first period is quite unclear. The order most often agreed upon, or at least the one which avoids the most contradictions, is the following:
Polydorus succeeded his father Cadmus on the throne, and was then deposed by Pentheus. When the latter was killed by his mother Agave, Nycteus and Lycus became regents one after the other, first in place of Labdacus and then in place of Laios.
Labdacus is said to have ruled for a brief period during Lycus’ regency.
(According to Apollodorus, Pentheus’s rule was intercalated between the rules of Cadmus and Polydorus. Of the two brothers Nycteus and Lycus, only the latter inherited the throne.)
Then Lycus was assassinated by Amphion and Zethos, who seized power. During their rule there took place the massacre of the Niobids, which brought about the death of Amphion. Zethos died soon afterwards.
Laios then reclaimed the Theban throne, of which he was the legitimate ruler.
This story is a summary of several evolutionary movements.
It has been studied in detail in the previous volume, so it will only be described in its general outline here.
It has been pointed out that the symbolism of the name Polydorus remains uncertain, and the corresponding yogic movement is therefore difficult to determine. This name represents either ‘one who gives himself a lot, the gift of self or active consecration’, or ‘numerous gifts’, which is to say the development of the personality and its capacities.
The second movement is easier to understand; it consists of taking suffering as the preferred means for spiritual evolution. This tendency is put to an end by the Dionysian path, which does not reject any element of nature; Agave slays her son Pentheus, the attachment to ‘suffering’ (see Volume II).
The third stage begins when Nycteus and Lycus arrive in Thebes after having slain Phlegyas, ‘the inflamed’. The latter belongs to the lineage of Sisyphus, who was his great-grandfather. Some authors also consider him to be the father of Coronis, mother of the renowned healer Asclepius. This is therefore a mental rather than a psychic flame, a way of embarking upon the path through intellect alone. In fact, while understanding the path and its means and aims is necessary, this understanding must not block or substitute a work of purification.
The first of Hyrieus’ children to act as regent was Nycteus; in regards to the process of purification the seeker progresses through the ‘night’, but he nevertheless strives towards ‘numerous partial truths’ (Polyxo).
This work carried out in the night has the effect of maintaining darkness (Nycteis), while also allowing an ‘opposite vision’, which is to say a capacity for inversing perspectives or eliciting a ‘reversal of consciousness’ (Antiope).
At this point is introduced a fundamental element of yoga, an action originating from within the being rather than as a reaction to an external stimulus.
This new orientation is ‘fertilised’ by the highest elements of the being within the supraconscient realm (Zeus).
(Homer considers Antiope to be a daughter of the river Asopos, ancestor of the divine Achilles.)
But this process probably develops when the seeker has oriented his progress towards an erroneous direction, an error which will for a long time oppose the ‘reversal of consciousness’. Lycus, ‘the nascent light’, had wed Dirce, whose name must be understood as that of Dike, ‘the right manner of acting’, but with the insertion of the character Rho symbolising an inversion or opposite quality as is the case in the construction of the name Orthros.
To flee her father’s wrath, Antiope sought refuge in the most distant lands of the Corinthian isthmus, which were under the control of Sisyphus, and there was wed to Epopeus.
To be able to function effectively, ‘the reversal of consciousness’ must retreat to the background, outside of the field of action of the intellect which can thus no longer harm it. An ‘enlarged vision from above’ claims her as its aim (Antiope wed Epopeus).
But the erroneous orientation of the light puts an end to this opening of consciousness (an enlarged vision), impeding and even mistreating this reversal of consciousness (Lycus, wed to Dirce, slew Epopeus and imprisoned Antiope, who was then mistreated by Dirce).
But on the return journey to Thebes preceding her imprisonment Antiope gave birth to the two twins Zethos and Amphion, who were abandoned on the mountainside and then rescued and raised by a goatherd.
This reversal of consciousness does then allow for the appearance of two yogic movements which must work together, for the children born are twins.
Zethos is ‘he who seeks’, the will to experiment and to purify oneself (he devoted himself to the care of livestock and to hunting wild animals). He joined his destiny to that of Thebe ‘an incarnation through what comes from within’.
(It is difficult to relate to the founding of Thebes the passage from the Odyssey in which Zethos united with the daughter of Pandareus, the green Aedon or ‘the nightingale’, who mistakenly slew her own son Itylos and was transformed into a nightingale.)
Amphion is ‘he who remains in the surroundings’, or ‘remains aloof’, or in other words ‘the witness presence’ which watches from a distance (he played a lyre gifted to him by Hermes). Amphion wed Niobe, ‘incarnation through the evolution of consciousness’.
These movements develop at the margins of what the seeker considers to be the right path, under the protection of that which watches over aspiration (while Lycus was wed to Dirce, a goatherd raised the twins without Lycus and Dirce being aware of it).
They constitute the bases of the processes of purification and psychicisation (they built the foundations of the city of Thebes).
When these two movements attain a sufficient level of development they can rectify the error of orientation; Amphion and Zethos slew Lycus and Dirce.
There is also a version of this story in which Lycus was saved by Hermes, which would indicate that the light of truth is able to orient itself in an appropriate direction once the error has been redressed.
This version of the founding of Thebes is closely tied to Polydorus, its development being parallel to the experiences represented by his sisters, Ino, Autonoe and Semele.
It is the union of Polydorus, considered here to be the symbol of the development of personal gifts, with Nycteis, the night, which introduces a shift and founds the lineage of Oedipus. This union indicates an erroneous orientation of the personal gifts of the seeker, a diversion that is for his own profit instead of a consecration to the Absolute.
(In certain variations of the story Nycteus was born from the ‘sown man’ Chthonius, or from the union of Alcyone and Poseidon. He would then represent a surging to the surface of a psychological ‘knot’, or of a powerful evolutionary impulse induced by the subconscient).
Other accounts of the founding of Thebes
There is an earlier account describing the founding of Thebes written by Pherecydes. Long before the time of Cadmus, Amphion and Zethos founded and fortified Thebes to defend the population against the Phlegyans. Led by Eurymachos, the latter destroyed the city after the twins’ death.
In this version Antiope is the daughter of the river Asopos, himself the ancestor of the Myrmidons, ‘the ant people’ preoccupied with deep purification, the greatest of whom was Achilles. The founding of the city was therefore not necessarily linked to an advanced form of yoga, but did imply the same capacity for becoming conscious of the necessity of purification in the depths of the vital.
‘The incarnation through what comes from within’ must first and foremost protect itself from the agitation of the intellect (the Phlegyans). But once the first impulse for the quest has been surpassed, the inflamed intellect takes the upper hand again and destroys the first foundations, guided by a powerful element which engages in combat within duality (Eurymachos leads the Phlegyans in combat).
It is only with the episode of the Danaids and with Epaphus, a first ‘touching’ of the worlds of the spirit, that Cadmus will progress to the second founding of Thebes.
Some Greek authors who sought to reconcile the two versions of the story claimed that Amphion and Zethos had built the lower city, and Cadmus the citadel.
Other writers claimed that Amphion and Zethos had raised the walls of Thebes with the sound of a lyre or that the stones fell into place on their own as they played, suggesting that the first bases of the process of liberation and purification, as well as its protection, were put in place spontaneously and with no major difficulty.
Some also wrote that with Hermes as his teacher, Amphion became the first mortal to play the lyre; this hero is an embodiment of the seeker’s first opportunity to directly receive the influence of the overmind, Hermes, which presupposes a receptive mind rather than an inflamed intellect.
Death of the Niobids: the end of the achievements linked with the witness consciousness
Amphion, a son of Antiope and Zeus, wed Niobe, the daughter of Tantalus, who bore him numerous children (six sons and six daughters according to Homer, and a variety of different numbers according to other sources).
Niobe had dared compare herself to Leto, claiming that she was more fertile than the goddess who had only borne two children. Infuriated Apollo and Artemis slew Niobe’s children, Apollo killing her sons and Artemis her daughters. Their corpses were left lying in their own blood for nine days, for as Zeus had immobilised the entire world there was nobody to bury them. Finally, on the tenth day the gods themselves buried the corpses, and Niobe, exhausted by ceaseless weeping, finally accepted nourishment.
Homer describes the scene, writing ‘On Sipylus, where, men say, are the couching-places of goddesses, even of the nymphs that range swiftly in the dance about Achelous, there, albeit a stone, she broodeth over her woes sent by the gods.’ (Homer and A.T. Murray, Iliad 24.600).
Other authors claim that Niobe’s life ended in Lydia, where she turned into a stone.
As is usual in mythology the death of the main hero, Amphion, went unrecorded. In Aeschylus’ text Amphion’s palace is destroyed, and Apollodorus cites a source according to which he is slain by Apollo’s arrows.
Aside from the genealogy presented by Aeschylus, in which Niobe was the daughter of Tantalus, this version is taken from Book XXIV of the Iliad, in which Achilles attempts to convince Priam of taking nourishment despite the latter’s sorrow. This draws the attention to the need to not confuse the first results of the witness-consciousness, striving to infuse consciousness into incarnation, with the manifestation of a psychic opening.
This witness-consciousness can concern the beginnings of the seeker’s path, the time of the first founding of Thebes and that of the Lion of Cithaeron, for according to Apollodorus, the sons of Niobe were slain on this mountain. But this consciousness in fact must be operative over an extended period, as for most seekers the psychic being begins to lead only very progressively.
A study of Tantalus, ‘aspiration’ and ‘the will for progress’, was begun in the fourth chapter of Volume 1, and we will study his lineage in greater detail in the chapter in which are discussed the protagonists of the Trojan War. Let us remember that Tantalus refers to a seeker who has attained the highest summits of human consciousness in the spirit, a ‘higher doorway’, for Tantalus is permitted to share nectar and ambrosia. But even at the highest levels of non-duality the mind can never fulfill the ‘essential need’, and it will be the descendants of the hero, Menelas and Agamemnon, who will ensure the transition of the yogic process towards the depths of the inconscient.
As the daughter of Tantalus, Niobe symbolises this conscious will of progress. But irrespective of the number of realisations obtained, as it is the personal will which is at work here rather that the psychic being, only a radical transformation can follow, for the mind cannot reach beyond itself.
The union of Amphion, ‘the witness consciousness’, and of Niobe, ‘evolving consciousness at work in incarnation’, marks the moment in which the seeker seriously commits himself to the yogic path in a process of incarnation of the inner being and therefore of coherence and purification (the first foundation of Thebes). But the mind and the ego are still extremely active.
The children of this couple express a totality of realisations, in the receptive and intuitive aspects as well as in the active discernment at the core of incarnation (six daughters and six sons). But as numerous as these realisations or experiences may be, they cannot compare in quality to those of the psychic being (the children of Leto).
There comes a moment when in accord with the supraconscient, the psychic being intervenes to put an end to what is still developing and immobilising this evolutionary process and everything which accompanies it (Apollo and Artemis slay the children of Niobe, while Niobe and Amphion’s people are turned to stones). Even when it is not destroyed, this first movement working through the ‘witness consciousness’ is no longer useful for the path when the psychic being takes precedence. It was said that thirty years of sustained yogic work would be necessary to achieve this realisation.
However, the seeker seems to find great difficulty in accepting this change and renouncing former acquirements while recognising their past utility. He must therefore appeal to a higher action (Niobe’s slain children are given a burial by the gods on the tenth day after their deaths).
During a first phase the seeker then sets in motion the process of evolution (Niobe accepts food again). Much later on, once he attains the limits of the personal will and when the psychic being has moved to the forefront, the initial process of incarnation of consciousness is immobilised and the seeker integrates the loss of his first realisations (Niobe, transformed into a stone on mount Sipylus, ‘the doorway of human consciousness’, undergoes her mourning in the form imposed by the gods).
The union of Polydorus and Nycteis, and their son Labdacus
The marriage of Cadmus and Harmonia’s son Polydorus with Nycteis is only confirmed in later sources. In this context Nycteis cannot be considered to be a goal, but must be understood as a development of potentialities or of the giving of oneself through a ‘descent into night’. In this case she represents a necessary point of passage.
In the preceding volume a possible interpretation was evoked, in which Polydorus was understood as ‘he who gives himself generously, the gift of self’, although the sense ‘the numerous gifts which one receives’ cannot be entirely put aside. Irrespective of its cause the shadows emerge to be worked upon, being nothing other than the rigidified crystallisations of the past (in this case Nycteis is therefore a descendant of Chthonius).
This union would therefore be linked to the work on darkness or on the ‘night’ alluded to in every spiritual tradition.
These nights are necessary passages on the process of purification, and characterise periods in which previous points of reference are abandoned before the next ones are clearly established in consciousness. Amongst the Christian mystics, saint John of the Cross developed this concept of night particularly strongly, and distinguished two specific types, ‘the night of the senses’ and ‘the night of the soul’. The Christian mystic Bernadette Roberts adds a third kind which implies an annihilation of the reflective self.
While recognising that these periods of aridity are inevitable, Sri Aurobindo recommends that the seeker avoid attaching himself to this notion or attributing an exaggerated importance to it, stressing that the attention must always be brought back to a joyful consecration.
It seems to be a generally admitted fact that Polydorus succeeded his father Cadmus and was shortly afterwards deposed by Pentheus; the first period during which the seeker develops his potentials is followed by a phase of evolution in which an attachment to effort and suffering takes precedence.
Polydorus and his spouse Nycteis parented a son, Labdacus. The initiates of ancient times seem to agree that his rule was of a brief duration, marked by a territorial war which opposed him to Pandion I, the king of Athens. The latter emerged victorious from this conflict, with the support of Tereus. According to Apollodorus, ‘Labdacus perished soon after Pentheus did, for he held a similar attitude’.
When Pentheus was killed by his mother Agave Nycteus and Lycus became regents one after the other, first in place of Labdacus and then in place of Laios.
The origin of the name Labdacus is obscure, but we can form several hypotheses with the knowledge that the ancient form of the character lambda was written without the M (Λαβδα). It then symbolised ‘the opening of consciousness to the process of liberation’. We can also consider that the absence of the M corresponds to a lack of receptivity, which would cause a disequilibrium echoing the claudication of Labda, daughter of Amphion. By piercing Oedipus’ feet at the time of his birth, Laios increased this symbolic separation between spirit and matter.
Pandion I, ‘he who gives himself completely to the union of consciousness’, belongs to the lineage of the Athenian kings, which relates to the growth of the inner being and the progressive development of action carried out from the center of the being. It has been previously noted that Tereus, ‘he who watches’ and therefore indicating vigilance, was a son of Ares and aided this process.
But the boundary line between what must be submitted to a process of purification and liberation by the sense of judgment as well as through the means of personal action (Labdacus), and that which must be offered to the Divine to be transformed is uncertain; there is a territorial war between Labdacus and Pandion. The seeker therefore finds it difficult to define the limits between what he must undertake with the means of the ego, and what he must abandon to the action of the Divine. The answer of this myth is that a ‘mental vigilance’ allied to ‘consecration’ allows the discernment of the right attitude.
Still too tainted by an attachment to suffering, this period must cease (Labdacus holds the same attitude as Pentheus and dies soon after the latter does).
This attachment is also linked to the fact that the seeker still considers ‘an almighty god’ to be external to himself (Pandion I is wed to Zeuxippe, ‘the god-horse’).
Tereus’ treatment of Procne and Philomela indicates that this mental vigilance must be transformed into ‘attention’ if it is not to destroy the process of evolution towards Knowledge (see the history of Tereus in Chapter 4 of Volume 2).
When the seeker ceases to take suffering as a point of reference on the path there follows a period of uncertainty in which ‘inconscience’ and ‘vague light or glow’ alternate (when Pentheus was killed by his mother Agave, Nycteus and Lycus became regents one after the other, first in place of Labdacus and then in place of Laios). It must be pointed out that this alternation is not mentioned by all authors.
Laios and Jocasta (Epicasta)
At the time of Labdacus’ death, Laios was only a year old, and Lycus therefore became regent. Later on when Amphion and Zethos ascended to the throne after having slain Dirce and ousted Lycus, they also exiled Laios.
The etymology of the name Laios is obscure, but it can mean ‘left’ or ‘on the left’. We can also associate it with the Dorian Ληιον, which in this case signifies ‘a sown field’, which is to say a first result of yoga. Through its structuring characters Λ+Ι it would mean ‘a consciousness on the path of liberation’, a state but little developed at the time of the death of Labdacus, as Laios was then only a year old. A long period of maturation ‘in the night’ or guided by ‘a feeble glow’ and then by ‘the witness consciousness’ associated to ‘a will for experimentation’ will therefore be necessary before a definitive engagement to the path is made (according to some sources the regency of Lycus was preceded by that of Nycteus and then that of Amphion and Zethos before Laios ascended on the throne).
Aside from his murder at the hands of his son, only a single other story was later told regarding Laios; that of the abduction of Chrysippos, the legitimate son of Pelops. It appears for the first time in the work of Euripides, but no earlier source confirms it.
According to this version Laios fell in love with Chrysippos while he was teaching him to drive a chariot, but the latter rejected his advances and in shame committed suicide. This event was said to be the cause for the curse inflicted by Pelops on the Labdacid lineage.
There exists another version, recorded by Hellanicus in the middle of the fifth century, in which Atreus led a plot aiming to eliminate Chrysippos, son of Pelops in an illegitimate or pre-marital union. In fact Hippodamia, the legitimate spouse of Pelops and the mother of Atreus and Thyestes, feared Chrysippos’ ascent to the throne as it would stand in the way of her own sons’ ascent to power.
In another version, Hippodamia is said to be the only murderess.
Through the shame-stricken suicide of Chrysippos, the symbolic content of this myth seems to have been used to create a condemnation of homosexuality.
The version which includes a plot for the seizing of power is therefore to be given more credence. It exposes the risk of placing a perfect vital purification as the aim of the path, while it is only meant to be a means for it. In fact, while the path is at that moment one of ‘the mastery of force’, (the spouse of Pelops is Hippodamia), it is no longer a question of vital mastery (Chrysippos is an illegitimate son, or one born of a pre-marital affair).
Chrysippos, ‘a golden vital energy’, represents the work necessary for obtaining the purest vital, symbolised by the daughter of Pontos, Eurybia, ‘a great life’ or ‘a widened vital’.
The seeker who strives through purification to attain a ‘liberated consciousness’ and is still absorbed with establishing the bases of yoga (which are worked upon by Amphion and Zethos) must avoid becoming overly fascinated with this vital purity towards which he attempts to redirect the personality (Laios’ abduction of Chrysippos, who Laios had fallen in love with and to whom he taught to drive the chariot). The future yoga which must be carried out through the descendants of Hippodamia – Atreus and Thyestes followed by Agamemnon and Menelas – does not demand that this complete purity of the vital be taken as a primary objective, for the future yoga must develop in the heart of life, in which this kind of demand would become a stumbling-block.
In one way or another this error must be put to an end, either by disappearing of its own accord (Chrysippos’ suicide), or by being eradicated by that which aspires for an appropriate mastery within the seeker (the murder carried out by Hippodamia, or by her children Atreus and Thyestes under her direction).
THE MYTH OF OEDIPUS
The three great tragic authors, Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides, used this myth as the subject of many of their tragedies, but for dramatic effect they introduced into the earlier version numerous alterations which can at times distort the symbolic meaning of the legend.
Only a single work by Aeschylus on this subject has survived till the modern day, titled Seven Against Thebes, which was probably part of a trilogy. If Aeschylus was an initiate his condemnation of Polynices must highlight an attitude of the seeker which must disappear even though the war in itself was justified, as the Epigoni finally conquered Thebes. But we will not study this hypothesis hereafter. The Hellenist Paul Mazon argues that Aeschylus was not an initiate, but this is still an open-ended question.
In Aristophanes’ work The Frogs, the author describes Aeschylus invoking the goddess with the words ‘O Ceres (Demeter), you who have nourished my soul, make me worthy of your mysteries!’ Paul Mazon argues that ‘other facts seem to support an opposite conclusion. He was one day accused of having betrayed the secret of the mysteries in one of his tragedies. According to Aristotle, he defended his case by declaring that he was not aware that what he had written of was to be kept secret. An initiate could not have answered in this way, and so we must interpret Aeschylus as had done Clement of Alexandria, who concluded that Aeschylus could not have been an initiate. This fact is in no way surprising; Aeschylus was more religious than he was devout.’ (see Paul Mazon’s introduction to his translation of the works of Aeschylus in Eschyle –Tragédies, Gallimard Folio 1982).
As has been already mentioned, Euripides was almost certainly not an initiate, and so his works must for the most part not be considered in interpretation.
Before considering the details of the myth, it is good to have an overview.
With the foundation of Thebes by Cadmos, the seeker entered a process of purification/liberation in order to achieve harmony (Cadmos united with Harmony). After uncovering some unconscious memories (the Sowns), several paths are experimented. That of mystical ecstasy with Dionysus and several other paths that turn out to be dead ends (Autonoe, Ino, Agave). Then it is the path of the one “who works by many gifts” (or “gives a lot of himself”), Polydoros, who is pursued. To the reign of Labdacos succeeds that of Laios, symbol of the one who works “on the left”, that is to say by the intellect, or the one who works for the “freedom of the conscience”. The seeker then pursues a superficial purity (Epicasta/Jocasta) which in time will cut him off from his spiritual roots. That is, the quest for purity has been replaced by a quest for virtue.
But in parallel, a materialistic path governed by reason is developing (Sisyphus is raised by the Polybos-Merope couple who reigns in Corinth). When it has become powerful enough, it cuts off the seeker from the roots of the yoga of purification and pursues the same error of the virtuous path, not without having first put an end to a form of spiritual pride (after having rid Thebes of the Sphinge , Sisyphus kills his father and unites himself with his mother Epicasta).
Much later, this error disappears on its own when the researcher becomes aware that he has cut himself off from his source (Epicasta commits suicide). It will be then a return on the interiority and the reconquest of the chakras (the wars of Thebes) which will awaken the inner fire (Thersander, son of Polynices).
The detailed myth is as follows.
Following the slaying of Amphion and Niobe’s children by Apollo and Artemis, Laios was called back to the Theban throne by the city’s citizens. According to other sources, he rose to power following the death of Amphion and Zethos. According to Homer he then wed Epicasta, who was from Pherecydes’ time renamed Jocasta, a name only used by the tragic playwrights.
Apollo had prophesied that Laios would ensure the well-being of Thebes as long as he did not father any heirs, but Laios did not heed this warning.
In another version, a soothsayer had warned Laios that any son born of him would eventually bring about his death and wreak havoc amongst his descendants. But Laios did not heed this warning, and fathered a child, Oedipus.
To avoid the predicted fate Laios chose to abandon the three year old child, and “exposed” him (left him to meet his death) in the mountains. Jocasta gave the baby to a shepherd who was to abandon him on mount Cithaeron, with his ankles bound together, or pierced according to other versions. It is sometimes said that the infant was then found by cowherds who brought him to Polybus, the childless king of Corinth. According to other sources the shepherd refused to abandon him, and instead handed him over to another shepherd who brought the baby to king Polybus. His foster parents Polybus and Merope/Periboea raised him, not knowing his true identity till he had grown to adulthood.
At this stage of the path the bases are solidly established: Amphion, ‘the witness consciousness’, and Zethos, ‘the will to experiment’, have given back power to the legitimate heir Laios, ‘the process of liberation of consciousness (no doubt guided by the intellect). The seeker is no longer in search of a purification of the vital for its own sake (Chrysippos is dead). However, if his goal remains to tend towards liberation, it is towards “superficial purity” that he works (Epicasta).
The name Epicasta is built from the Greek word καστεια, ‘purity’. If one considers the structuring characters of this name, it can be seen that it is linked to the root ΣΤ, which signifies ‘to stand upright and erect’, a posture proper to man, the being who forges the link between earth and sky. This root can be found in the verb ‘to stand’ and in mythological names such as Asteria, Sterope, Themisto, Adrastos, Aristaeus, Orestes and Styx. It evokes rectitude, uprightness, inner and outer coherence, integrity and sincerity. On the other hand, the prefix επι indicates what is “above, on the surface of”.
The tragic playwrights’ use of the name Jocasta, ‘a pure consciousness’, instead of Epicasta, shows in our opinion a loss of the deep meaning of the myth. It is only Euripides, in his The Phoenician Women (verse 940 onwards), who retraces the genealogy of Jocasta and Creon to the ‘sown ones’ originating from the dragon’s teeth sown by Cadmus (see diagram 22).
Through a psychic intuition, the seeker knows that if he wishes to proceed with the process of incarnation of the inner being by the process of purification/liberation, he must change his yogic direction (Apollo has predicted that for the safeguarding of Thebes, Laios had to abstain from fathering any children).
According to the other version, the seeker is warned that if he continues on the same path, he will cut off from his roots, from the impulse that initiated the process of purification/liberation (his son would bring about his death, and his lineage would be cursed).
But he does not take into account these internal warnings, rejecting far from him what seems to him to present a danger for his present orientation. This refusal of change will continue for a long time, during the entirety of Oedipus’ growth towards mature adulthood and even until his son’s adulthood.
The myth specifies that Laios had asked the shepherd who was to abandon Oedipus to tie together or even to pierce the infant’s ankles. This was the reason behind the name given to the child, as Oedipus signifies ‘he of swollen feet’. (Oedipus is also known as Οιδιποδης, in accordance with the construction of proper names from the basis of the genitive of the names.) This detail indicates that the seeker refuses to bring his realisations or accomplishments into contact with incarnation, and that he seeks to maintain the separation between spirit and matter. But these ‘mental’ plans are foiled by life, for Oedipus is taken in by Polybus, ‘one who works for incarnation in all its aspects’ and his wife Merope according to Sophocles (Periboea according to the other authors).
There is therefore an active element of the quest which develops outside of or without the awareness of conscious asceticism. It develops in the process of incarnation and individuation, or autonomy, under the guidance of the highest aspect of the intellect (Polydorus is the king of Corinth, the country of Sisyphus). Recall that another Merope “partial vision” is the wife of Sisyphus.
The play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles develops along the following plot:
During a banquet, Oedipus is insulted by a Corinthian, who calls him a bastard. Oedipus then questions king Polybus, who insists that he is indeed his father. But beset by doubt, the young man decides to consult the oracle of Delphi. The latter does not reply to his question, but predicts that Oedipus’ destiny was to slay his father and marry his mother. He therefore decided to flee the region in which lived Polybus, who he considered to be his true father.
On the crossing between three roads (other authors describe either a single narrow road or a crossing of two roads), he came across a carriage drawn by horses, the occupants of which tried to forcefully push him from the road. Oedipus first struck the guide of the party who was pushing him. Then, as the carriage drew forward, the ‘old man’ within it struck Oedipus, who was infuriated and slew him along with all the other occupants of the carriage. For long he would remain ignorant of the fact that in doing so he had slain his biological father, Laios.
Then comes the moment in which the seeker feels ill at ease within his incarnation, doubting the appropriateness of the separation of spirit and matter (Oedipus doubts his parentage).
Going within himself, he perceives that this movement of reversal would risk of cutting him off from the roots of his yoga without him perceiving the right path of yoga. He therefore does his utmost to avoid this conclusion and believes himself to be successful. But this attempt of escape will not in the long term be effective in avoiding his destiny.
The seeker has also realised that he would have to pursue the same aim as before (Oedipus has been warned by the oracle that he would one day marry his own mother).
But here again he deludes himself about this goal (Oedipus thinks that his mother is Merope).
It is the arrogance of what has developed in parallel under the guidance of the highest intellect that provokes what will turn out to be a tragedy.
In fact, the theme of this myth is not the murder in itself, but rather the acts of patricide and incest. Oedipus therefore feels no guilt or remorse regarding the murder, as Laios had struck him first. If the occupant of the carriage had not been his own father, the murder would not have in itself been problematic. This is confirmed by Oedipus’ words in Sophocles’ text, as he pleads ‘I slew who else would me have slain; I slew without intent, A wretch, but innocent In the law’s eye, I stand, without a stain’ (Sophocles and F. Storr, Oedipus at Colonus, verse 550).
The description of the meeting place can refer either to the ‘narrow path’ of yoga, or to the meeting point of the three forms of yoga which work through intelligence, feeling and action (a crossroads at which three roads meet).
Victory over the Sphinge
Some time later, Oedipus arrived to the doors of Thebes. Creon, Jocasta’s brother, was then king; he had ascended to the throne when Laios was slain.
But for some time a monster had been wreaking terror in the city. Some said that he had been sent by Hera to punish Thebes for Laios’ misconduct towards the young Chrysippos. This monster, the Sphinge, was a monstrous being with the head of a woman, the body of a lion and a pair of wings. It carried away and killed its victims, who were mostly young men.
An ancient fragment of the Oedipodea claims that the Sphinge was responsible for the death of the most handsome and desirable amongst all, the divine Haemon, son of the irreproachable Creon.
King Creon had promised the kingdom to whoever would succeed in freeing Thebes from the Sphinge. In addition, he would offer as a bride to the new king queen Epicasta/Jocasta, widowed since Laios’ death.
Prompted to come to their assistance, Oedipus put an end to the curse of the Sphinge. (We will leave aside the version in which the Sphinge makes a suicidal leap from the heights of the citadel, as this is incompatible with the fact that it was a winged creature.)
From the beginning of the fifth century BCE, greek poet Pindar writes of the existence of ‘an enigma that emerged from the wild jaws of a virgin’. According to later tradition, as recorded by Asclepiad and Sophocles, the Sphinge would set riddles to all those who passed before it. It then devoured those who were unable to solve the riddle, which was always the case.
According to Asclepiad, the riddle was as follows:
‘There is on earth a creature that is two-footed, four-footed and three-footed, and whose voice is unique. Amongst the creatures which live on the earth, the air and the sea it alone changes form. But in the motion of its limbs it is slowest when it goes forwards supporting itself on its three feet, or on the greatest number of his feet’.
Oedipus reflected on this, and answered,
-‘Man. When he is a child he walks on all fours, when he is an adult he walks on two feet, and when he becomes old his walking stick becomes his third leg’.
Another riddle is sometimes cited, which is ‘They are two sisters, of which one engenders the other, the second in turn engendering the first’, to which Oedipus answered, ‘Night and Day’. (In the Greek language, Night and Day are feminine nouns.)
The Sphinge was thus vanquished and destroyed. According to several authors it killed itself, and Oedipus was celebrated as a hero. He was wed to Queen Epicasta/Jocasta and became the ruler of Thebes.
The genealogy of the Sphinge, or Phix, has already been discussed in the first volume of this work. One must remember that the Sphinge was a daughter of Orthros, ‘falsehood’, born of the union of the latter with his own mother Echidna, ‘the end of evolution in union’, or with Chimera, ‘illusion’, herself the daughter of Echidna. Other sources describe her as a daughter of Echidna and Typhon, ‘ignorance’.
Through its structuring characters the name Phix can also be considered as φιχ+ς , for the xi is a contraction of the khi and of the sigma. In this case this monster is the symbol of the ‘end of the penetration of consciousness in the being’.
Sphinge is therefore a result of ignorance, separation and illusion, or of the falsehood resulting from them. But in its representation it also maintains the idea of one of the highest realisations as symbolised by the Sphinx, an image of the ego subjugated to spiritual consciousness. In fact, the Greeks referred to the Egyptian Sphinx as the Androsphinx (ανδροσφιγξ), depicted with the head of a Pharaoh and the body of a lion, symbol of true wisdom. But in the case of the Sphinge, the Pharaoh’s head is replaced by that of a woman, and is receptive rather than active. It is therefore no longer representative of a superior element directing an inferior one, but rather of man’s ego governing, as represented by the lion’s body. This lion’s body receives the support of the mind as well, being endowed with a pair of great wings. The Sphinge is therefore a perversion, a falsehood disguised as truth, a receptivity paired with a powerful mental ego. It can most probably be associated with spiritual pride.
None of the ancient sources explain the Sphinge’ presence in Thebes. Some say that it was sent by Hera, the power that watches over the right and appropriate progression of yoga.
It had appeared during Laios’ rule, and represents a consequence of the quest for liberation when this quest is linked to a rejection of incarnation or turned towards virtue instead of true purity. This is why it considerably weakens the forces which should be allocated to the path of the seeker (the monster devours Laios’ subjects). It even brought about the death of the divine Haemon, whose name signifies ‘blood’ and in its wider sense ‘passion’ and the essence of life, who was the son of Creon, ‘the movement of incarnation’. We can here understand that pursuit of virtue can kill life energies. (This Theban Creon, son of Menoeceus, must not be confused with Creon the son of Lycatheus, who fathered a daughter named Glauce who would later wed Jason.)
Even before he consciously orients himself in a new direction, the seeker must put an end to this deviation. So as to unmask the perversion he must put to work that which has been developed during his time with Polybus, a discernment that only incarnation allows for. The efforts produced within the frame of liberation in the spirit are not only incapable of bringing falsehood to light, but are also themselves ‘absorbed’ (the subjects of Laios do not succeed in solving the riddle, and are devoured by the monster). The researcher has indeed privileged superficial purity, that is to say virtues that have nothing to do with true spirituality.
What solves the enigma is a certain candor that has developed in the materialistic way.
When the error is unmasked, it disappears by itself; the Sphinge kills itself.
But the seeker has not finished with the illusion of the virtuous path, since he pursues in the same way a purity in appearances (Oedipus ascended to the Theban throne and married his mother Epicasta).
So as to avoid any interpretation that focuses on incest, which was far removed from the preoccupations of mythology, certain sources claim that Oedipus was married not to his own mother but to his step-mother, his father’s second wife. Laios’ first spouse is then known by a variety of names: Euryclia, ‘renowned vastness, a great will to share’, Eurygania, ‘a vast shining’, Euryanassa, ‘a great power and vast mastery’, and Astymeduse, ‘power over the city, or mastery over the personality’.
On his side, Pausanias based his understanding on the Oedipodea, and claimed that according to this source Oedipus’ children were not borne by Epicasta, but rather by Eurygania, ‘a great radiance and joy’, who was herself the daughter of Hyperphas, ‘he who shines far above’. It was Aeschylus who first claimed that Oedipus fathered his mother’s four children, an interpretation then repeated by Sophocles.
But in every version, the names of the children remain the same.
The unveiling of murder and incest
Whether with his own mother or his mother-in-law, Oedipus fathered four children, two sons named Eteocles and Polynices, and two daughters named Ismene and Antigone. When they reached maturity a plague ravaged the city of Thebes, decimating the population, livestock and vegetation. The oracle who was consulted advised that the murder of Laios was to be punished. Oedipus committed himself to finding the guilty party and made enquiries about his identity with the soothsayer Tiresias, who was reticent at first but finally admitted to knowing the murderer, although he would not clearly reveal his name.
Oedipus and Jocasta told each other their histories, including the abandonment of Jocasta’s child and Oedipus’ slaying of the occupants of the carriage, and Oedipus finally learned the truth through the corroborating accounts of the shepherds: he was himself the murderer that he had been seeking.
When she learned this, Jocasta precipitated herself into the palace and hung herself. Crazed with pain and shame, Oedipus blinded himself.
In Homer’s Odyssey, Oedipus remained at Thebes until his death.
For others, Creon took over the governance of Thebes and sent Oedipus into exile, the latter embarking upon a long erring journey after having cursed his sons for their disrespect in his regard.
In another tradition, he cursed his sons for not having taken care of him.
When they became old enough to rule, Eteocles banished his brother Polynices from Thebes, and the latter sought refuge in Argos.
Other sources claim that the two brothers agreed to take turns as rulers. But when the time of his rule was reaching its end, Eteocles refused to give up power.
This story is the subject of Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex, or Oedipus the King. It confirms the fact that the seeker becomes aware after a long time that he has cut himself from the basics of the yoga of purification. This ends with a radical interiorisation (Oedipus blinds himself).
Most of the elements added by Sophocles are not interesting save for their dramatic value. In a more sober style, Apollodorus continues the narrative by writing that when that which was hidden became unveiled” Jocasta hung herself (Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 56).
On the other hand, certain details in the Iliad and the Catalogue of Women indicate that Oedipus continued to rule Thebes even after the revelation of his guilt. The Thebaid also describes the quarrels of Oedipus and his sons in Thebes, which would suggest that the former was not exiled. It is also quite possible that he had not even blinded himself.
It can therefore be assumed that the later version recounted by the tragic playwrights was developed to illustrate moral elements very distant from the initial preoccupations of mythology.
But the central story shared by all the different versions is the conflict of Oedipus and his sons and the curse which he cast upon them, especially upon Polynices.
In fact, the two brothers killed each other before the doors to Thebes during the first war, which gives credence to the version of the story in which they were both cursed, and marking the failure of a first attempt for deep purification.
Their deaths demonstrate that they both represent erroneous processes blocking evolution.
In this study we will be considering the versions written by Pherecydes and Sophocles, in which Eteocles drove his brother Polynices from Thebes by force. According to Sophocles it was only Polynices, who, having exiled Oedipus from Thebes, was cursed by his father when he sought his benediction.
To understand the different accounts of these curses and the role of each character in the ensuing fratricidal wars, one must keep in mind the development of the story in its totality, ending with the victory of the Epigoni, the sons of the ‘Seven’ leaders who had left to war ten years before.
The war led by Polynices, ‘numerous quarrels’, and of his allies against Thebes is therefore a legitimate endeavour, even if the reconquest of the city failed at first. This failure of purification must only be attributed to the limitations of its framework, which is duality. As this is a question of yoga, one must in fact understand Polynices as ‘an asceticism within the frame of duality, in which is manifested division and exclusion rather than integration’. That is to say that the seeker is fighting against his defects what only reinforce them. The failure of purification (the reconquest of Thebes) is therefore due to a still too-present ego and a lack of unity, and thus from an excess of personal will created by a lack of submission to the Absolute and of inner contemplation, as initiated by Oedipus.
This explains why in the work of Sophocles, who is considered to be an initiate, Oedipus curses Polynices, while this author could not possibly be oblivious to the fact that the reconquest of Thebes was symbolically coherent. According to Sophocles, Oedipus acted with exactness; while in exile he received the support of Theseus, and was supported by his daughter Antigone till the end while he wandered across the country blindly and ended his life in a kind of apotheosis.
However, these battles oriented towards purity (Polynices’ wife is Argeia ‘the pure’) are not useless; they accrue the level of consciousness in the being, and thus the inner fire as well (their son is named Thersander, ‘the burning man’).
The name of Oedipus’ second son, Eteocles, introduces another element of incertitude into the interpretation due to the fact that some Greek writers mention a character named Eteocles amongst the assailants. In either case, it is a symbol of a ‘truly glorious’ element. Oedipus’ son Eteocles can therefore be understood as ‘that which is well established’ and which creates an obstacle for what is new, whether these are the laws of yoga or those of nature. This explains why some Greek writers affirm that the two brothers agreed to take turns as rulers of Thebes.
The conflict of embodying the process of purification and liberation from the inner being (seizing the Theban throne) could then be at its root a conflict of change between the dualities of stability and activity, and passivity and inertia. Whether they are the laws of ancient yoga or are habits of nature, they are the ones to dominate on this phase of the path (it is Eteocles who rules over Thebes).
But the ultimate aim is a purification followed by a universalisation – the removal of all limitations – from the body’s centres of consciousness (the seven doorways of Thebes). As most authors agree that the Theban Wars occurred prior to the Trojan War, they must then only represent a deep purification and re-harmonisation of the centres. In fact, there is a vast difference between a harmonious functioning of the centres and their universalisation, which presupposes a progressive transferring of the corresponding planes to the Divine.
Before continuing the story of the two brothers, a certain myth linked to Argeia, Polynices’ wife, must be discussed, for it forges a link between the paths of purification and liberation (the Theban lineage), and that of the ascension of the planes of consciousness. In fact Argeia was a daughter of Adrastos, ‘he who does not act according to his personal will’, or ‘he who does not try to escape’, or ‘he who strives to be imperturbable’, and who belongs to the lineage of the Aeolian Cretheus through Amythaon, ‘the work of sincerity in speech’, Bias, ‘he who develops vital force’, and Talaos, ‘he who endures’ (See diagram 12).
The myths linked to the children of Cretheus have been discussed as part of the study about the first five children of Aeolus (Chapter 2 Volume 2), and only their main points will be repeated here.
The descendance of Cretheus, son of Aeolus, is a complex one, but we can distinguish two distinct phases of it.
The first period regards a seeker who works on his mental faculties and develops both his personality (Aeson), a certain endurance (Pheres, ‘he who supports’), and a sincerity in speech (Amythaon). It is this work which will allow an increase of sensitivity and the first great experience of contact, as told in the quest of the Golden Fleece, as well as the acquisition of strength (Bias) and of an intuitive mental capacity (Melampus).
There then opens a second phase of deepening in which the seeker develops an integrative endurance (Talaos, ‘he who endures’, was joined to Lysimache, ‘she who makes combat cease’, who was herself the daughter of Melampus). This period permits the establishment of a great ‘quality of presence’ or ‘presence at the instant’ (Eriphyle), as well as a correctness of action (Adrastos, ‘he who does not act according to his personal will’, or ‘the will to face obstacles and to become imperturbable’ or ‘he who does not try to escape’).
This is how the seeker draws closer to the inner divine and attains a certain degree of purity (Adrastos was joined to Amphithea, ‘she who is close to the inner divine’. She bore him several children, including Argeia ‘the pure’ who later wed Polynices, and Deipyle ‘the doorway of union’, who wed Tydeus).
According to Homer, Adrastos was the master of a prodigiously swift divine horse named Areion; vital power expressed ‘in the best way’ or according to ‘the right consciousness’. He appears in the first campaign against Thebes, but was especially active during the campaign of the Epigoni.
Parallelly, the seeker progressively develops his intuition, as illustrated by the lineage of the renowned soothsayers and seers beginning with Melampus, the seer ‘of black feet’ and a symbol of mental intuition, and of his sons Mantios ‘who performs oracles’ and Antiphates, ‘that which is indescribable’ (See diagram 29). The latter was the father of Oicles, ‘a renowned consciousness’, who himself became the father of Amphiaraos, ‘that which draws near to the right perception’, and of Eriphyle, ‘a great quality of presence’. The latter fathered two sons, Alcmaeon, ‘a powerful consecration’, and Amphilochus, ‘he who achieves powerful attention’.
THE FIRST THEBAN WAR
The story of Polynices’ marriage, which concerns a phase of preparation for purification, is recounted by Euripides in the following way:
Polynices and Tydeus, son of Oeneus, meet one night under the doorway of Argos, a city then governed by Adrastos. They begin to fight for the best place to spend the night, and Adrastos steps out of his quarters to find out the cause of the noise. Remembering an oracle of Apollo which had advised him to marry his daughters to a wild boar and to a lion respectively, he understood that this injunction referred to the two fighting heroes. According to Apollodorus, Polynices’ shield was decorated with the image of a lion, and that of Tydeus with that of a wild boar (some say instead that the two men were dressed with the skins of these animals).
Adrastos thus gave them his daughters’ hands in marriage, presenting Argeia to Polynices and Deipyle to Tydeus.
If Euripides’ account of these unions is to be trusted, then this story establishes the links between three lineages:
To begin with, that of Oeneus, ‘the winemaker, he who strives for the growth of joy’, and that of his son Tydeus, ‘he who aspires for union’.
Then with the lineage of Cadmus and Harmonia on the path of exactness, with Polynices, ‘he who fights in division and exclusion’.
And finally the lineage of Adrastos, ‘he who does not act according to his personal will’, or ‘he who does not try to escape’ or ‘he who strives to be imperturbable’, and who was a descendant of the Aeolian Amythaon, ”the work of sincerity in speech’.
This therefore situates the Theban Wars within a certain time frame:
On the one hand, after the first great experience of contact (the winning of the Golden Fleece) but still in the same progression linked to growth in the higher mind, characterised by Cretheus’ three sons Pheres, Amythaon and Aeson.
On the other hand, the lineage of Aethlius (and therefore according to some that of Protogenia, ‘those who advance at the forefront’) and of his son Endymion, ‘he who strives for consecration’, which illustrates a work of appeasement of the mind and of the growth of joy (Oeneus).
It has also been noted that Tydeus was a half-brother of Meleagros, with both being sons of Oeneus; the first Theban war is therefore close to the Calydonian boar hunt discussed in the previous chapter. Although some early mythographers claimed that this hunt had taken place a generation before the Theban Wars, it is in fact very difficult to situate it, as it refers to a process as a whole. If one considers the death of the wild boar as consecrating the elimination of every desire, this hunt must have taken place at the same time as the Theban Wars.
Apollodorus’ description of the emblems depicted on the two shields suggests that this was a work in progress. In fact, it is only the front part of a lion that is depicted on the shield of Polynices ‘he who fights in division and exclusion’, which is to say a well-advanced struggle for the disappearance of the ego. Similarly, only a view of a front part of a wild boar is represented on the shield of Tydeus, ‘he who aspires for union’, which is to say a state that is almost desireless. In all events, this cannot point to a definite eradication of the ego and of desire, which will only intervene later on with the victory of the Epigoni.
The quarrel between Tydeus and Polynices to secure the best place to rest under the walls of Adrastos’ city of Argos indicates, within the yogic work directed by ‘a will not to flee before obstacles’, a doubt meant to bring to the forefront of asceticism either ‘the aspiration for union’ or ‘a conflict in which are manifested division and exclusion rather than integration’. The seeker does not know if he must strive for unity as his priority (the way of love), or else strive for purification in his everyday life by plunging into his dual and conflicted nature (the way of truth).
At this stage the myth only gives an orientation to each of the two movements: Tydeus, ‘he who aspires for union’ and seeks joy (for he is Oeneus’ son), must strive towards ‘the doorway of union in consciousness’ (Deipyle), while Polynices, ‘he who leads numerous battles in duality’, must search for clarity or purity (Argeia), which feeds the inner fire (their son is Thersander, ‘the burning man’). But these two movements are shown to be incapable of productively leading the process of purification, for these two heroes are killed in the first war.
The betrayal of Eriphyle
Eriphyle, Adrastos’ sister, had married her distant cousin Amphiaraos, both being descendants of Amythaon. The latter was a seer of great renown, protected by both Zeus and Apollo. He had predicted the first campaign against Thebes and the deaths of all its participants except for Adrastos.
But he was obliged to fight as well due to the betrayal of his wife Eriphyle. Although he had forbidden her to accept any gift from Polynices, when the latter offered her a necklace inherited through direct descent from Cadmus and Harmonia, she accepted, and in exchange agreed to persuade her husband to join the campaign. Due to an old quarrel Adrastos and Amphiaraos had both agreed to adhere to any decision made by Eriphyle, and so Amphiaraos was obliged to participate in the battle. However he made his son Alcmaeon swear to renew the attack against Thebes and to avenge him by killing his mother.
The betrayal of Eriphyle – Louvre Museum
The Theban Wars represent the process of re-harmonisation of the main energy centres referred to as ‘chakras’ in Indian tradition.
At the beginning of the first campaign the seeker intuitively knows that he is not yet ready for this deep purification, and that numerous movements of his quest will not be able to resist in the face of it (the seer Amphiaraos had predicted the failure of the first campaign and the death of all its participants). This intuition originates both from the supraconscient and from the psychic light (Amphiaraos is protected by both Zeus and Apollo).
The seeker has decided that both his ‘quest for a right perception’ and his ‘resolution to face obstacles’ must henceforth depend upon his ‘quality of presence’ or ‘presence of the moment’ which is integrative, and no more upon mental alone (Adrastos as well as Amphiaraos, Eriphyle’s husband, had accepted to submit themselves to her decisions). But this presence will be able to disappear once a very great receptivity and consecration will have been established (when Eriphyle will be slain by her son Alcmaeon).
The seeker also intuitively knows that this ‘quality of presence’ must not under any circumstance support itself on realisations originating from the ‘battle within duality’, and therefore from the work of purification carried out by the ego (Amphiaraos had forbidden Eriphyle to accept any gifts from Polynices). These achievements proceed from exclusion in fact, and cannot lead to the sought-after goal of unity.
The seeker will have to commit himself to a movement contrary to what is dictated by his deeper intuition; Polynices, who was wed to Argeia, forced Amphiaraos to participate in the war. His ‘quality of presence’ is tinted not by a ‘perfection of expression’ which is a speech mastery, but rather by a ‘power of persuasion’. Here, this power originates from a work of purification led by the personal will (Eriphyle is seduced by the necklace of Harmonia gifted to her by Polynices). The ‘presence’ would in fact have had to remain linked to a movement of unity rather than to a work of the mental ego (Eriphyle should have listened to Amphiaraos).
This ‘perfection of expression’ must develop with the yoga (the necklace of Harmonia is handed down from generation to generation). Harmonia’s dress and necklace in fact underline two important aspects of the exactness to be achieved; the rightness of expression, and the rightness of function.
According to Sri Aurobindo, the throat center is linked to the physical mind: ‘the throat centre is the physical mind centre. It is the centre of externalization – speech, expression, the power to deal mentally with physical things etc. Its opening brings the power to open the physical mind to the light of divine consciousness instead of remaining in the ordinary outward-directed mentality’ (see p 239 in Sri Aurobindo’s Letters on Yoga Vol. I, The Throat Centre, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication Dept. 2012).
In short, an opportunity is presented for acquiring an important power of persuasion which the seeker uses against himself and to which he sacrifices his faculty of right perception, which informs him of his lack of readiness for a deepened work of purification and liberation. In fact, this story reveals the process through which the seeker with all goodwill engages in a premature asceticism of purification, although not without a vague sense of having committed an error (this is why Amphiaraos asks his son to kill his mother and lead a second war against Thebes later on).
Archemoros’ departure for war, and his subsequent death
Polynices and Tydeus sought to make allies in Mycenae, but Zeus sent them ill omens and the mission ended in failure (Iliad).
When the Seven leaders arrived at Nemea, they first went in search for water.
The city was then governed by king Lycurgus. With a homonymous Eurydice he had parented a son named Opheltes, who was later taken care of by the slave Hypsipyle. The latter had been sold to Lycurgus because she had spared her father Thoas when the women of Lemnos decided to eliminate all the male inhabitants on the island. When the other women had become aware of this, they had killed Thoas and sold Hypsipyle.
One day Hypsipyle left the child under her care on the ground while indicating the path towards a spring to the heroes, and in the meantime the sleeping child was bitten by a snake (Hyginus adds that a prophecy had warned that the child was not to touch the ground till he could walk). The heroes then killed the snake, and buried the child.
As Amphiaraos announced that this death was in agreement with destiny’s decree and warned the leaders of the expedition’s fate, they renamed the child Archemoros, ‘the announcer of destiny’, and established the Nemean games on the banks of the river Asopos in his honour.
This preliminary adventure of the heroes on their way to Thebes occurred in Nemea where Heracles vanquished the lion, symbol of the ego.
The history of the island of Lemnos has been discussed in the study of the quest of the Golden Fleece; the women of Lemnos had killed not only their husbands, who had brought back Thracian slaves as their concubines and neglected their rightful spouses, but had also killed every other male inhabitant on the island including boys and elderly men. This points to the quest for ‘exotic spiritual forms’ rather than an aspiration to transform existing ones.
At that moment however, the most advanced aspect of the seeker had preserved its ‘ardour’ or its capacity to ‘move swiftly’ on the path (Hypsipyle, ‘the elevated doorway’, had spared her father Thoas). But this was only to last for a certain period, the seeker falling back on his earlier beliefs (the women of Lemnos eventually slew Thoas).
At the beginnings of the path, the highest form of the quest was to watch over the first ‘expression’ of the ‘nascent light’ oriented towards ‘a right movement’ (Hypsipyle was to take care of Opheltes, ‘he who brings growth’, son of Lycurgus, ‘he who aspires for the light’, and of Eurydice, ‘the right way of acting’).
In this instance it is truly a question of the first gleams of the spiritual light, for according to Apollodorus Lycurgus was a son of Pheres and therefore a brother of Admete and a cousin of Jason.
This nascent light must be carefully protected from any premature use; the infant must not touch the ground before he is able to walk, which is to say before having acquired a vertical posture which links spirit and matter, and constitutes incarnation. Still wrapped in his baby blanket, Opheltes represents the vague desire of one who wishes to ‘be of service, aid or rescue, or make himself useful’.
But what must impede this premature wish to serve is diverted from its task by the first impulse towards purification (Hypsipyle assists the heroes in their search for the spring).
Due to this, the ‘will to serve’ is prematurely incarnated and disappears under the effect of evolution, without it even being conscious of the fact (Opheltes was bitten by a snake while he slept). The seeker must in fact disengage from any interference of the ego before being truly able to help another individual, which is to say before the Divine becomes able to help others through him.
Because of Lycurgus’ place in the genealogical lineages, this episode is attributed to the beginnings of the path. But the chronologies of the initiates of ancient times place the first Theban wars long after the quest of the Golden Fleece, even later than the Calydonian board hunt but still prior to the Trojan War.
We can therefore understand that the Theban Wars encompass the process of purification as a whole. This first episode can therefore address both the first impulses to bring aid to the ‘disinherited’, as well as a more or less conscious wish to ‘save the world’ at a more advanced stage of yoga.
If the wish to serve directed by the ego disappears, the ‘real task’ manifests itself more and more clearly (Opheltes is renamed Archemoros, the announcer of destiny’).
This death describes a passage towards the acceptance of whatever life puts forward, the renunciation of the personal desire to serve and a submission to destiny’s unfolding or to the task set by the psychic being.
But it can be assumed that only a part of the being is truly conscious at the beginning, a complete submission to the task only arising with the second campaign against Thebes. For very often the seeker is obliged to enter into battles set by his ego even if he is to suffer defeat (failure of the first campaign).
- The Nemean games were established on this occasion. Heracles rendered them famous with his victory over the Nemean Lion, and consecrated them to Zeus.
These games can therefore be associated with an acquiring of consciousness regarding the task at hand.
Let us remember that the other games were:
– The Isthmian games, established by Sisyphus and marking the entry into the path.
-The Pythian games established in the honour of Apollo, who soon after his birth had slain the serpent Python, a symbol of the ‘process of decomposition’. They consecrate the first contact with the immortal psychic being.
– The Olympic games established by Heracles on Mount Ida (the mountain of Union) in commemoration of the end of his Labours, which is to say the end of a personal yoga through a Union with the Absolute and the end of the phases of psychic and spiritual transformation.
Attackers and defenders of Thebes
Thebes represents the process of manifestation of the inner being in incarnation, implying a progressive purification aiming to achieve Harmony which is exactness.
The seven doorways of Thebes can be associated to the seven main centres of energy-consciousness of the subtle body, known as chakras in occult tradition.
There are actually other centres situated above and below the physical body (Mother knew of three above and three below), as well as numerous other minor centres in the subtle body.
The seven chakras are rooted at different levels of the spine, spanning from its base till a point above the top of the skull. They shine before and behind the body, and above it in the case of the crown chakra. Those with a special vision for them sometimes perceive them as vortexes within which appear coloured petals.
Three currents of energy known as Ida, Pingala and Sushumna flow vertically, sustaining and nourishing the chakras.
From the higher center shines an energy similar to a fountaining light, hence the name given to one of the first doorways of Thebes, ‘the doorway of the fountain’.
There are relatively few indications about the Theban Wars in earlier texts. The names of the attackers, the defendants and the doorways only appear in the works of the Greek tragic playwrights. The ones handed down to us are those by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, and later on by Apollodorus, Diodorus, Statius and Hyginus. The names of the defenders are often not mentioned.
It has already been specified that these wars are linked to the process of purification which brings about psychicisation, and not to the process of universalisation of the centres. In fact, the texts of the ancient initiates indicate that these wars ended well before the beginning of the Trojan War.
It would therefore be a question of the purification of the chakras or of an amelioration of their functions rather than of a radical reversal of the formers. In fact, everything occurs as though the radiance of their energies were limited by the construction of individuality. Additionally, they are to a greater or lesser extent blocked or disturbed by ‘knots’ or influences of different kinds. It is through this perspective that we will analyse the symbolism of the warriors and doorways of Thebes.
On the other hand, the process of universalisation of the centres assumes a surpassing of individual limits on the corresponding planes, of which the Mother speaks in the Agenda, explaining that for herself ‘Above, beginning with the center between the eyebrows, the work has been done for a long time. There it is blank. For ages upon ages upon ages, the union with the Supreme has been realized and is constant.
Below this center is the body. And this body has indeed the concrete sensation of the Divine in each of its cells; but it needs to become universalized. That’s the work to be done, center by center. I understand now what Sri Aurobindo meant when he repeatedly insisted, ‘Widen yourself.’ All this must be universalized; it is the condition, the basis, for the Supramental to descend into the body. According to the ancient traditions, this universalization of the physical body was considered the supreme realization, but it is only a foundation, the base upon which the Supramental can come down without breaking everything.” (Mother’s Agenda Volume 1, April 21, 1959.)
Amongst all the lists of heroes leading the troops which have been handed down to us, we can discard the two contradictory lists by Euripides, as well as those of later historians.
We will therefore mostly rely on those given by Sophocles, and with greater reserve those by Aeschylus, for the latter associated an assailant and a defendant with each of the gates of Thebes. In fact, it seems quite obvious that it is not unique and particular behaviours which either block the chakras or allow them to be universalised. To make such association therefore seems to point to descriptions of the ‘knots’ which block particular realisations, rather than to an opening of one energy centre or the other.
We have also seen that the opening of these centres was necessary, and that the defeat of the first campaign was only due to a lack of preparation. However, as it was the defenders who were glorified by Aeschylus and by Euripides, one must deduce that this was only done for dramatic effect.
It is also interesting to note that amongst the “Seven” four belonged to the lineage of Iapetus, the Greek initiates thus attributing four centres to the growth and the spiritualisation of the mind.
Sri Aurobindo also attributes the three higher centers to the spiritualisation of the mind:
The lotus of a thousand petals (Sahasrara) governs the highest thinking mind, shelters the illumined mind higher still and at its summit opens towards intuition, through which it can establish contact or communication with the overmind.
The centre situated between the eyebrows (Ajna) governs the dynamic mind, the will, the subtle vision and mental forms.
The centre of the throat (Vishuddha) governs the mind of expression and externalisation.
The heart centre (Anahata) governs the emotional being
The centre at the navel (Manipura) governs the vast or higher vital
The abdominal centre (Swadhishthana) governs the lower vital, which is solely occupied by petty desires, feeble passions and such drives which constitute the everyday reality of ordinary man living in the world of the senses.
The centre at base of the spine (Muladhara) governs the physical plane down till the subconscious level.
Adrastos, ‘he who does not act according to his personal will”, or “he who does not try to escape” or “he who strives to be imperturbable’, does not appear amongst the attackers of Thebes, neither in Aeschylus’ works nor in Sophocles’, but he is said to have accompanied the attackers till the gates of Thebes. He is in fact the only one to survive, and ten years later participated in the campaign of the Epigoni.
This hero is in fact the symbol of one of the primordial elements put forward by Sri Aurobindo in the advanced stages of yoga. He implies both the courage and the equality acquired through ‘endurance’, for Adrastos is a son of Talaos, ‘he who supports and endures’. He flees far from the field of battle upon his famous horse Areion, who leads the seeker towards ‘the best movement’ of the vital. However, in the Thebaid the poet Statius includes his name rather than Eteocles’ amongst the Seven.
The lists of attackers are identical in Aeschylus’ and Sophocles’ works. Below will be listed and described the elements given by Aeschylus regarding the attackers, the gates of the cities and its defenders. The descriptions of the heroes and their shields must be understood as achievements that are still in progress.
– Polynices, ‘he who undertakes numerous battles whilst the ego is still very present’, was the leader of the attackers. He faced his brother Eteocles, ‘the glory of that which is well established’.
On his shield is displayed the image of an armed man led calmly forward by a female hand. This was the hand of Dike, ‘an appropriate manner of acting or ‘exactness’. Here she is the daughter of Zeus, the supraconscient, and of Themis, the goddess of divine law or of submission to the inner being. She claimed that she would reinstate Polynices to his rightful place within the city, and it is therefore while being guided by exactness in a receptive attitude that the seeker will find his rightful place within the harmony of what is Real.
During this first expedition the seeker is not yet able to ‘vanquish’, which is to say to purify the chakras, but only to build up his inner fire through an enlargement of his consciousness and through the first steps of purification; Thersander, ‘the burning man’, was in fact the son that Argeia ‘the pure’ bore Polynices. It follows that Eteocles answers the messenger who informs him that he has never witnessed his brother acting with exactness, which predicts the failure of the first campaign.
The gateways of the city are unnamed in Aeschylus’ texts. It is ‘the highest gateways’ (Hypsistes) in Apollodorus’ text and ‘the doorways of the fountain’ in Euripides’ which evoke the crown chakra, the radiance of which is often represented as an outpouring of water.
– Tydeus, ‘he who aspires to union’.
In Aeschylus’ account, Tydeus’ shield showed a depiction of a chiseled sky, in which twinkled stars and a shining moon at its centre; the seeker must attain a detachment which is achieved through mastery. But he specified that he had not crossed over the ford of the Ismenus, which is to say that he has not yet surpassed the stage of the ordinary human personality.
Tydeus was a son of Oeneus the winemaker of the lineage of Protogenia, ‘that which is at the forefront’, and was therefore a half-brother of Meleagros and Deianeira and the father of the great Diomede, ‘he who aspires to be divine’.
The warrior to oppose him was Melanippos, ‘non-purified vital energy’, son of Astacus, ‘he who does not open himself to integrity’ and a descendant of the “sown men” issued from sowing of the dragon’s teeth, which is to say an expression of unresolved knots in the vital. A union in the vital can therefore not occur as long as this plane is not purified.
The battle took place before the Proetidian gate, ‘that which brings forward consciousness on the higher plane’.
– Capaneus is perhaps ‘the consciousness which opens to all or in totality’.
He was a son of Hipponous ‘the vital mind’, who was of great stature.
He was joined to Euadne, ‘an appropriate evolution towards union’.
On his shield was depicted a man brandishing a torch and proclaiming that he would burn down the city, which is to say that he would destroy the organisation of the self. He fought Polyphontes, ‘he who slays many’, here supported by Artemis before the Electran gate, ‘the opening of the heart’.
The consciousness of the seeker which enlarges itself increases the inner fire which must destroy the fortifications of the ego.
The opposition can be understood as a series of cleansings carried out prior to the consciousness being able to widen.
– Eteoclos, ‘a true glory’, seems to symbolise the achievements of the earlier yoga, as does Eteocles, brother of Polynices.
On his shield was depicted an armed warrior ascending a ladder lain against a rampart, image of a progression related to a spiritual ascent. But that which halts the ascension is the impatience of the rajasic ego, as his enraged fillies strained to precipitate themselves towards the gates.
His adversary was Megareus, ‘the appropriate movement in greater things’, a son of Creon, ‘incarnation’, and of a homonymous Eurydice, ‘the appropriate manner of behaving’, and therefore possibly a descendant of the sowing of the dragon’s teeth. This battle consequently relates to a resolution of the knots and contortions within the being. It was carried out before the Neistan gate, ‘the evolution of rectitude’.
– Hippomedon, ‘the master of horses’ or ‘vital mastery’.
According to Sophocles he was a son of Talaos, ‘he who endures’, but according to others was only his grandson through Aristomachos, ‘the best warrior’. He therefore represents a very advanced mastery.
On his shield was depicted an image of Typhon, black smoke billowing out of his mouth. He was possessed by Ares, and to him a hand to hand combat held the intensity of pleasure of an orgy. The hero had to first confront the goddess Athena and then the defender Hyperbios, son of Oenops.
It is therefore up to the seeker to vanquish ignorance (Typhon), caused by the vital ego in direct combat with its own shadow. This represents a very advanced stage of vital yoga, the crowning of which must be in accord with the name of the gate Oncaidian dedicated to Onka Athena ‘the majestic’, or ‘she who has acquired amplitude or density’.
The seeker must first be faced by the goddess to prove through his equality to the gods that he is worthy of acquiring the powers of this plane, which he will then have to abandon if he wishes to pursue his path (see the tenth labour of Heracles). This is why he must then face Hyperbios ‘the highest life’, son of Oenops, ‘of the colour of wine’, or he who has attained divine intoxication. In fact, the highest vital achievement is not the mastery, for the vital play must be entirely free in a way that it is completely surrendered to the Absolute. On the shield of Hyperbios was depicted Zeus holding a fiery thunderbolt; the seeker must pass beyond the plane of the gods and beyond the overmind.
– Parthenopaeus, ‘he who strives to acquire a virginal vision’, which is to say a completely untroubled vision free of any preference, opinion, desire, fear, distaste or attraction. He is a son of the Arcadian Atalanta, whose name signifies ‘equality’ (see chapter 1). It is in fact only through a perfected detachment or equality (the establishment of a ‘solid peace’) that the seeker is able to acquire the appropriate vision of ‘that which is or must be’.
According to Sophocles, he was attributed this name because his mother had for so long remained a virgin before bearing him; this it therefore an ascetic practice which cannot bear fruit quickly.
According to Aeschylus this young man carried a shield bearing a depiction of the Sphinge, the devouring ogress; through a recent realisation, the seeker has surpassed the counterfeit wisdom of spiritual pride (the image of the Sphinge on the shield indicates that the hero has killed her).
According to Aeschylus his adversary was Actor, ‘the guide’ and brother of Hyperbios, ‘the highest life’. Actor did not boast but carried out that what is to be done; through a completely purified vision, the seeker must surpass even his most developed instinctive nature.
The battle unfolds before the Borraean gate (of Boreas), which is that of asceticism and the ‘incarnation of the right movement’.
– The seer Amphiaraos, ‘the intuitive movement towards exactness’, son of Oicles, ‘a renowned consciousness’.
Let us remember that he belongs to the lineage of Melampus and Cretheus, and therefore concerns mental intuition. The seeker uses this capacity for the progress of his yoga, and Amphiaraos is consequently described as a warrior of great renown.
He was unequalled in his skill with the spear and in reading the omens of passing birds; his mental intuitions are therefore of a remarkable exactitude.
Aeschylus adds that he was resentful towards a warrior from his own camp, Tydeus, ‘he who strives towards union’, because he considered him to be a troublemaker in Argos. Thus, the right intuition perceives the reprehensible behaviours to which can lead a premature purification.
It has been stated above that Amphiaraos knew that this first campaign would be defeated and that he would meet his death in it, but that he could not avoid participating in it.
Against him stood Lasthenes, ‘the force of the people’ or ‘injury, insult and contempt’, which is to say the ego in its usual state.
They fought before the Homoloian gate, ‘an equal vision’ which is to be conquered.
Tydeus’ mission as ambassador
Halfway on the journey to Thebes, the Seven sent Tydeus as an ambassador, a ‘bearer of sweet words’ to ask Eteocles to give his brother the throne as he had promised.
Tydeus challenged the Theban chiefs across several different skills, and with Athena’s help defeated them all. Affronted, they sent forth fifty men led by Maion, who was a son of Haemon and close to an immortal, and Lycophontes, son of Autophonos, to ambush Tydeus on his return journey. But Tydeus slew them all, sparing only Maion.
When the first attempt for purification has been engaged with, ‘that which strives for union’ demonstrates its supremacy to the entire being so that the latter can respond to its demands (so that the direction of the process of purification may be handed back to Polynices). This is supported by the inner master (supported by Athena, Tydeus emerged as the winner in every exercise).
But the aspect of the seeker who does not wish to question the established order attempts to exclude from the yogic work ‘that which strives for union’ (Tydeus is ambushed) in the following ways:
By obscuring the light through self-destructive processes (indicated by Lycophontes, ‘he who destroys the light’, son of Autophonos, ‘he who destroys himself’).
Through a consecration mixed with vital passion (Maion, ‘he who strives for the consecration of consciousness’, son of Haemon ‘the passionate’). But although it originates from a process tainted by the ego, this consecration is preserved by the seeker nonetheless (trusting the oracle of the gods, Tydeus spared Maion).
But at this stage of the quest these kinds of oppositions cannot have truly disastrous consequences on the progress of yoga. It also seems logical that once reoriented, the ‘consecration of consciousness’ is maintained.
The first war of Thebes is marked by the fratricidal battle between the two sons of Oedipus, and the death of all the assailants. This illustrates the fact that the seeker is not yet ready for a definite purification – the end of the personal yoga – even though he is willing to achieve it.
Several of the incidents occurring during the conflict deserve to be noted, such as Zeus striking with a lightning bolt Capaneus, ‘the consciousness which opens to everything or opens in totality’, a sign that the widening of consciousness cannot be carried out without a certain degree of purification. (In his work the Thebaid, the poet Statius develops an analogy of this process of purification.)
But it is first and foremost the death of Tydeus, ‘he who strives for the joy of union’, which will be analysed here.
Tydeus was fatally wounded in the belly by Melanippos, the son of Astacus, who was himself then killed by the seer Amphiaraos. Other sources claim that it was Tydeus who slew Melanippos. Then Amphiaraos severed his head, and flung it to the dying Tydeus. Statius wrote that he did so in accordance to the wishes of Tydeus, but other sources claim that it was a vengeful act on the part of Amphiaraos, who resented Tydeus for having organised the campaign.
Before dying, Tydeus split Melanippos’ skull and began to devour his brain.
At the same time Athena descended from Olympus to offer Tydeus an elixir given by Zeus which would grant him immortality. But disgusted by the spectacle, the goddess chose not to offer this gift. Before drawing his last breath, Tydeus asked her to grant this favour to his son Diomede instead.
Then Amphiaraos fled and was swallowed by the earth, which Zeus parted with a bolt of lightning to keep him from being killed by his pursuer, Periclymenus.
That which in the seeker ‘strives for the joy of union’ is halted in its animating principle by a manifestation of deviated vital energies opposing themselves to the Truth of yoga in consequence to a lack of sincerity (Melanippos, ‘he who develops a dark vital force’, son of Astacus, ‘he who does not open himself to integrity, wounds Tydeus in the belly). While his ‘intuitive capacity drawing near to the right perception’ eliminates this deviated energy, ‘that which seeks union through joy within himself’ does not trust him, and wishes to ensure that all traces of duality are eliminated. The seeker is unable to believe that his capacity for a right perception or his desire for union are capable of by themselves putting an end to duality. Here it is a question of a vital liberation, for the union in the spirit, or at the very least a mental silence, had in fact already been attained long before by his ancestor Endymion.
The supraconscient notices that the realisation of a vital liberation is very close at hand (Athena descends onto the earth to grant Tydeus immortality). But the seeker has either not eradicated the roots of desire within himself and succumbed to the energies of attraction and repulsion, or has not yet rid himself of the doubting element in his mind and wishes to be certain that the work has indeed been completed (Tydeus cannot refrain himself from devouring Melanippos’ brains).
The seeker had initially refused to follow his mental intuition, which would lead to its disappearance (disregarding Amphiaraos’ warnings, Tydeus had opted for the war, and the seer’s life was to end during that event). This intuition which ‘draws near to the right perception’ draws close to its end in the mind and in the vital, but it cannot disappear entirely for the work is still to be carried out within the body, and it is in this direction that it is oriented by the supraconscient (Amphiaraos is engulfed by the earth through the action of Zeus).
But for this to occur the seeker must renounce the realisations and powers resulting from his liberation, or else definitively renounce what is ‘known’ and ‘established’ (Amphiaraos must flee, pursued by Periclymenus, ‘that which is renowned all around’ or ‘that which concerns what has been acquired’). (It is for instance something such as a creation of the overmind, which the Mother speaks about in the Agenda, which can create an obstacle in the yoga of the body.) The supraconscient comes to his aid in this, pulling him into a new yoga.
Eliminating the root of desire does not however signify an end to the process of purification and the right functioning of the energy centres; the first Theban War is a failure despite the death of Melanippos. The seeker then asks his inner guide to ensure that his aspiration for union may bear fruits, and that what flows from it may attain non-duality (as he lay dying, Tydeus asked for the gift of immortality to be given to his son Diomede).
At the beginning of the Trojan War Agamemnon states that Diomede is not as great a warrior as his father, but is more skilled during assemblies; here it is no longer a question of an active yoga meant for acquiring liberation, as the personal yoga has been completed with the Theban Wars. Rather, it is a tool capable of facilitating discernment in the reversal of yoga towards a yoga of the body, Diomede being ‘he whose aim is to be divine’ in the totality of his being. This is why he returns safely to Argos only days after the end of the Trojan War.
The burial of the Seven
Although the burial of the Seven was given great importance by the tragic playwrights, these elements only hold minor importance for the purpose of this study.
Nothing about this was evoked before the fifth century. Homer only states that Tydeus was buried in Thebes, and Pindar that seven pyres were raised for the Seven dead chiefs.
Creon forbade burial rites for the Seven chiefs as they had taken up arms against their own city. But Antigone acted against his orders and attempted to bury her brother Polynices. She achieved this symbolically with a handful of earth, thus saving her brother’s soul (in some versions of the story, she successfully buried him in secret). More submissive, Ismene supported her but did not take part.
When he discovered her disobedience Creon walled Antigone alive and would not listen to the pleas of his son Haemon, who was betrothed to Antigone. As the seer Tiresias announced that the gods were refusing the sacrifices of the Theban people Creon let himself be persuaded, but it was too late; Antigone had hung herself, and Haemon killed himself as well to share her destiny.
Several times during the building of Thebes, Creon, ‘he who works within incarnation’, had acted as ruler or regent. He represents the process of incarnation which supports itself on what is known but refuses to have it questioned, denying the possibility of rendering divine the lower nature and rejecting any attempt in this direction as useless (Creon resented the Seven Chiefs for having taken up arms against Thebes, and refused to grant them burial rites).
However, this process has already generated a ‘passion’ which orients itself in the opposite direction; Haemon ‘the passionate’ is engaged to Antigone, ‘that which is born in the opposite direction’ or ‘that which supports what is being born’. This opening to what is new is of course in accordance with every attempt at purification (Antigone wishes to carry out burial rites for her brother), while that which is linked to the human personality remains in the background (Ismene does not take part).
While the ferment of a possible evolution manifests itself, that which opposes it entrenches its position (Antigone successfully gives Polynices a symbolic burial, but is then entombed by Creon).
The process of purification and the evolutionary passion which supports it then cease for a lengthy period (Antigone and Haemon both commit suicide).
THE SECOND THEBAN WAR OF THE EPIGONI
It was the children of the Seven chiefs who, ten years later, succeeded in reclaiming the city of Thebes during what is known as the expedition of the Epigoni, ‘those who were born afterwards’.
In the Iliad, Sthenelus boasts that ‘We declare ourselves to be better men by far than our fathers: we took the seat of Thebes of the seven gates, when we twain (with Diomede) had gathered a lesser host against a stronger wall, putting our trust in the portents of the gods and in the aid of Zeus ‘ (Homer and A.T. Murray, Iliad 4.401).
Thus, when the seeker is ready much less effort is required although the erroneous beliefs regarding the path have become even more firmly rooted; a less numerous army is needed even though the defenses of the city have been strengthened, for the seeker has become more ‘attentive’ to his intuitions and holds a more deeply-rooted faith in divine leadership.
He knows intuitively that it is only through a ‘powerful consecration’ that a total purification and liberation will be achieved (the oracle had predicted that Alcmaeon was to be the leader of the expedition).
Eriphyle’s second betrayal
At the time of the first expedition, Eriphyle, ‘quality of presence’, had received a necklace previously belonging to Harmonia, ‘the mastery of expression’, gifted by Polynices so that Eriphyle would convince her husband, the seer Amphiaraos, to participate in the campaign even though the latter knew that he would lose his life in it. This indicates that the seeker had led his intuition, ‘that which draws near to the right perception’, to the end of its work in the vital despite a certain resistance.
In this instance it is no longer a matter of expression, but rather of a task.
Alcmaeon had to honour his promise to his father Amphiaraos, who had participated in the campaign against his will, by leading a second campaign against Thebes and slaying his own mother. As he showed little alacrity in setting out to war, his own mother Eriphyle pressed him to do so. Thersander had in fact inherited Harmonia’s robe from his father Polynices, and offered it to Eriphyle so that she would incite her sons Alcmaeon and Amphilochus to go to war.
The ‘inner fire’ was still insufficient in the first attempt for a re-harmonisation and purification of the centres, but after a symbolic half-cycle of maturation (ten years), it acquired sufficient force to carry out this work effectively (Thersander was still too young to participate in the first expedition).
However, the seeker seems but little inclined to renew the attempt. It is his inner fire which brings about and mobilises a ‘complete consecration’ and a ‘capacity for attention’. For this to occur, he gives power to his ‘quality of presence to the moment’ to carry out its function (Thersander, ‘the burning man’, gifts Harmonia’s robe to Eriphyle so that she may incite her sons Alcmaeon, ‘a powerful consecration’, and Amphilochus, ‘attention’).
This robe can in fact be considered to be a symbol of a function or ‘task’ to which the wearer has completely consecrated himself.
Let us remember that this robe had been woven by the Charites or Kharites, the Graces, daughters of Zeus and Eurynome, whose name signifies ‘the right order’. They are joy (Euprosyne), an over-abundance of life or plenitude (Thalia) and radiance (Aglaia), which must be the aim of the seeker following the action of the inner fire (Thersander).
(Homer only mentions one of the youngest without even indicating her genealogy, and gives her the name Pasithea, which signifies ‘a total vision’ or ‘awakening’.
We do not have any ancient source describing the Epigoni, ‘those who came afterwards’. The only lists to have been handed down to us are those written by Apollodorus, Hyginus and Pausanias. That of Apollodorus, which is made up of eight hero names, seems to be the most trustworthy. Like the Seven of Thebes, four of these heroes belong to Iapetus’ lineage, and therefore describe the spiritualisation of the mind.
Six amongst the eight were sons or grandsons of the Seven, while the others were descendants of Talaos, ‘he who endures’.
– Adrastos, ‘he who does not act according to his personal will’, ‘he who does not try to flee’ or ‘he who strives to be imperturbable’, is only listed as one of the warriors by Pindar. According to the other authors he was too advanced in years to fight but still went along with the expedition, indicating a seeker who is never to be discouraged. His son Aegialeus took his place as a warrior, being ‘he who resides by the sea’, symbol of a work done to hoist oneself above all vital perturbation (according to Apollodorus, he was the only one of the attackers to lose his life in this expedition, being killed by Laodamas, ‘the mastery of the personality’).
– Alcmaeon, ‘a powerful consecration’ and the leader of the expedition, son of Amphiaraos, ‘ he who draws near to the right perception’, and Eriphyle, ‘the presence to the instant’.
– Amphilochus, ‘extreme attention’, brother of Alcmaeon.
– Thersander, ‘inner fire’, son of Polynices, ‘numerous battles in duality’. It is this fire which directs the process of transformation when the psychic being more definitively seizes the reins (when Thersander is crowned as the new Theban king at the end of the first war).
– Sthenelus, ‘a powerful liberation’, son of Capaneus, ‘a consciousness which opens in totality’.
– Promachos, ‘he who commits himself completely (who fights at the front line)’, son of Parthenopaeus, ‘purified vision’, himself the son of Atalanta, ‘equality’.
– Euryalos, he who seeks ‘a wide life’ or ‘a vast liberty’, son of Mecisteus, ‘very large’, himself the son of Talaos, ‘he who endures’.
– Diomede, ‘he who has the intention of being a seer’, or ‘he who preoccupies himself with a union in consciousness’, son of Tydeus, ‘he who aspires for union’. He would later become one of the great warriors of the Trojan War and be close to Ulysses.
The names of the defenders are not mentioned aside from Laodamas, ‘the mastery of the personality’, and Aegialeus, ‘the shore of the sea’.
Only a few minor elements of the battles themselves were described by later authors:
Laodamas, son of Eteocles, slew Aegialeus before being himself killed by Alcmaeon (in Hyginus’ work it was Aegialeus who was killed, but his father gave up his own life in exchange for his).
After Laodamas’ death Tiresias incited the Theban citizens to flee their city before it could be seized. The Epigoni then entered Thebes, and brought down the ramparts of the city.
When the seeker is ready, the process of mastery is completed and the vital yoga completed (Laodamas, he who masters the people’, has been killed, as well as Aegialeus). The purification and liberation then ends in non-duality without any effort or fighting (the battlements are no longer necessary).
Manto the prophetess, daughter of the seer Tiresias, was captured and became the first Delphic Sibyl. Coupling with Apollo she became the mother of Mopsus, who was recognised as superior to himself by Calchas, the head seer of the Achaeans gone to war against Troy. Tiresias died some time later after drinking the water from a fountain consecrated to Apollo.
The mental intuition which has guided the seeker all along this phase of purification has completed its role (Tiresias, ‘who receives signs of his human nature’, dies). It will instead be an intuition linked to the psychic light which will take his place, in the form of Mopsus, ‘he who receives from above in a state of receptivity and consecration’.
At the end of a long journey, the Thebans founded the city of Hestiaea; the forces which in the seeker opposed the questioning of the established order must still evolve for a long time before being able to establish a new structure, this time consecrated to the protection of the inner fire (Hestia is the goddess who watches over the hearth at the centre of the home).
No author before Apollodorus seems to have evoked an occurrence of matricide, such as the death of Eriphyle under the blows of her son Alcmaeon. However, no other source questions or contradicts this either.
Although he had obtained Apollo’s approval before killing his mother Eriphyle, Alcmaeon was blighted by madness by the Erinyes in retribution for the murder. Then, having been purified by Phegeus, he wed the daughter of the latter, Arsinoe, to whom he gifted both the necklace and the robe. But the earth was later cursed with sterility on his account. The oracle then ordered him to go to the river Achelous, ‘receiving from it a soil which did not yet exist under the sun when he killed his mother’. He went back till the source of the river, which purified him again and presented him with its daughter Callirhoe, his second spouse. He then founded a city in a place which the Achelous had formed with its alluvium.
A hero who kills his own mother is an indication of one who no longer wishes to take on the aim of the lineage. This is therefore the symbol of a radical reorientation of the yoga. Alcmaeon, ‘a powerful consecration’, was the son of the seer Amphiaraos and Eriphyle, and thus the result of a work on the right perception of the information originating from worlds of the spirit, and aiming at the establishment of a ‘quality of presence’, which is the presence to the present moment.
Henceforward intuition must no longer come from the heights, but from the heart through the psychic light. This is why the psychic light approves of a reorientation (Apollo gave his acquiescence for the matricide).
The ‘quality of presence’ which attracted to itself a mastery of expression and the realisation of a task to the detriment or loss of the right intuition must disappear (Eriphyle must die, having received the necklace and the robe from Polynices and from Thersander respectively, thus causing the loss of Amphiaraos)
Deprived of his usual mode of perception, the seeker then loses his sense of orientation in the path (Alcmaeon was struck by madness by the Erinyes).
However, the first purification of Alcmaeon indicates that the seeker is in the right movement. He then confides the carrying out of the task to his inner silence (Alcmaeon gifts the necklace and the robe to Arsinoe, ’emptiness of spirit’).
But this new movement is halted in its yogic progression (the earth becomes sterile and fruitless). The seeker then intuits that the current which ‘leads towards liberty’ must give him a new impulse, a new terrain for his work; Alcmaeon must receive from the river Achelous a soil which had not existed under the sun’s rays at the time of his mother’s murder.
To do this he must go back to the origin of the movement of consciousness which accomplishes liberation – to the source of the Achelous, the eldest son of Oceanos, who represents the most ancient current of energy-consciousness in evolution in accordance with nature, and link himself with the energy ‘which flows fluidly’ (Callirhoe).
The accomplishment of personal liberation opens a new path, which was not perceptible prior to the liberation being accomplished (a soil which had not existed under the sun’s rays at the time of his mother’s murder).
By picking up evolution’s course again and supporting oneself on all that it has brought with it, the seeker can establish the basis for a new yoga (Alcmaeon, ‘a powerful consecration’, founded a city in an area formed by the river’s alluvium).
The end of the story, recounted by Apollodorus and partly by Pausanias, is quite complex. It would seem that it demonstrates an error of orientation of the ‘liberated seeker’, which chooses an erroneous evolutionary path by taking away from its silent nature the realisation of the task to entrust it to a path of more obvious ease (he takes back the necklace and the robe which he had presented to Arsinoe, gifting them to Callirhoe, ”that which flows well’). The seeker then loses his appropriate consecration (Alcmaeon is killed).
This story could echo an episode of the Agenda in which the Mother recounts that having engaged in the beginnings of a creation of the overmind, she was ‘reoriented’ by Sri Aurobindo towards the supramental work.
THE LAST THEBAN KINGS
The death of Thersander and the episodes about his descendants are only mentioned in later sources, and must therefore be considered prudently. In the Second Olympian, Pindar does not make any allusion to the death of Thersander, ‘the growth of the inner fire’, and makes him out to be a champion honoured at Olympus, a sign that the seeker has reached the stage of the accomplishment of the Heracles’ labours.
Thebes, the principal city of Boeotia, is the symbol of the process of purification and incarnation of the psychic (Θ+Β), and the myths which occur there may refer to very different periods of the path. It would therefore seem that later authors had confused the immortal psychic fire, ‘Agni’, linked to Apollo and to Hestia, guardian of the sacred fire, with the fire of aspiration originating from a higher place than the vital or the mind. In the first volume it has been discussed that during the Golden Age, which was the time of Cronos before Zeus’ vengeance on Prometheus, men were still in the phase of vital growth and sought ‘the fire of the skies’ at the tops of ash trees. The fire of aspiration of the seeker who aspires to know the will of the Divine disappears when the seeker discovers his own ‘task’.
If on the other hand we consider that Thersander is an incarnation of Agni, the psychic fire, the work of an integral submission of the being to the psychic being, then he cannot die. Additionally he is a son of Polynices and appears in a relatively advanced period of the path, so his association with a vital aspiration therefore seems impossible.
Thersander wed Demonassa, daughter of the seer Tiresias, who bore him a son named Tisamenos. He then left for Troy at the head of a contingent of Boeotians, but was killed on the way there by Telephus, king of Mysia. As his son Tisamenos was still too young to lead the contingent, the Thebans chose Peneleos as their leader. The latter was killed at the end of the war by Eurypylus, who had allied with the Trojans. Tisamenos returned to Thebes and ruled over the city, but his son Autesion did not ascend to the throne as he had left Thebes before it was time to do so. The Thebans then gave the throne to Damasichthon, the grandson of Peneleos.
While keeping in mind the reservations listed above, one can make the following analysis: the inner fire of aspiration develops by supporting itself on the mastery of the outer being, being itself issued from the intuition linked to incarnation and purification (Thersander, ‘the burning man’, was joined to Demonassa, ‘the queen of the people’, daughter of the seer Tiresias).
But this fire disappears when the psychic is to take the direction of the being (Thersander dies on the way to Troy, slain by Telephus, ‘the distant light / who shines faraway, in the future’, king of Mysia, that which directs the movement towards consecration’).
Tisamenos, ‘he who acquits himself of an obligation’, could be understood as ‘the accomplishment of the task’, which is still at its first stages and will be followed by the Trojan War, twenty years before Ulysses’ return to Ithaca.
It is still the ‘framework of the personality’ (Peneleos) who leads the contingent towards Troy. He was killed at the end of the war by Eurypylus, ‘the vast doorway’, indicating an eradication of the ego and a major turning point of the yoga.
There then begins the ‘yoga of the depths’ (Damasichthon, ‘the mastery of the deep layers of the body’), in which the call of the Divine for purification no longer has its place , as it is He who directs the being (Autesion, ‘he who invokes’, left Thebes and no longer rules there).
To end this chapter, we will discuss some anecdotes linked to the seer Tiresias.
The initiates of ancient times categorised the seers by the origin of their intuition.
When it originated in the subconscient (Poseidon), the seers concerned were ones like Phineus or Proteus.
When it originated from inner integrity or rectitude it was incarnated by Calchas, ‘crimson’, son of Thestor, ‘rectitude coming from within’, himself the seer of the Achaeans before Troy.
If produced by the psychic light, it would take on the appearance of Idmon, son of Apollo.
When it originated from the heights of the spirit as expressed through the mind it generated an important lineage of seers, beginning with the grandson of Aeolus, Amythaon, ‘he who enters into silence’. This lineage includes Melampus ‘of the black feet’ (an intuition that is not linked to the body), as well as his descendants Antiphates, Mantios, Oicles, Amphiaraos, Amphilochus and Alcmaeon.
Finally, according to Apollodorus the intuition which originated from the body inscribed itself amongst the descendants of the “Sown man” Oudaios, ‘that which emerges from the earth’. It concerned the deep process of liberation and purification, and included the seers Tiresias, Manto and Mopsus.
According to Homer, Tiresias was the only seer who Persephone had allowed to maintain his mental faculties after his death’; the transmission of information continues from the corporeal unconscious.
Oudaios fathered a son, Eueres, ‘he who has the appropriate movement’, who united with Chariclo, ‘a renowned joy or grace’; it is through a permanent adaptation to the movement of becoming, with suppleness and exactness, that joy surges in the body. Within this movement, their son Tiresias was the symbol of the process of acquisition of information. His name could perhaps evoke a receptivity to the ‘celestial signs’ in human nature, and he was the seer of Thebes, he who ‘illuminates’ the process of purification which will lead to the psychisation of the being.
Several authors describe the origin of his blindness, a symbol of a turning inward of perception.
In the first version, it was due to his divulging to men that which the gods wished to keep secret, perceptions originating from ‘below’ and obtained through a yoga which accelerates the slow process of nature supported by the gods, the rhythm of which they are reluctant to modify.
In the second version, he had beheld Athena naked. The goddess blinded him, but in reply to the pleas of his mother Chariclo she then gave Tiresias a walking stick, which allowed him to walk as though he still possessed the power of vision.
In this instance the seeker perceives the exact nature of the inner master, who possesses the key to his evolution. This vision obliges him to only take into account his inner perceptions. Although this reversal is indispensable to a sincere seeker, it also causes him to partly lose his ability to adapt to the world. This is why the inner master offers him a means to carry out the yoga as if he was still participating in the world, and because the growth of joy demands it.
But it is the third version which is most widely known:
Tiresias had beheld two coupling snakes near Mount Kyllini, and was turned into a woman for having wounded them. But by watching the coupling of the two snakes once more he became a man again.
When Zeus and Hera entered into an argument about whether men or women could experience greater sexual pleasure, they turned to Tiresias for an answer as he had experienced both sexes. The seer replied that in pleasure, of ten parts man enjoys only of one, while woman enjoys in her heart the plenitude of all ten. This angered Hera – either because she had lost her argument with Zeus or because she had wished to keep the secret – and she consequently blinded Tiresias.
The seeker has the opportunity of observing within himself the harmonious functioning of the masculine and feminine energy currents. But as he is not ready to withstand this for an extended period of time, he must experience the perception according to a passive mode in complete opposition to his habitual one (Tiresias wounds the snakes, and is turned into a woman).
He must then wait for the renewal of the experience, in which he does not intervene the second time, to recover his original nature.
This story probably refers to a great classic element of spirituality, a necessary passage through the characteristics of the opposite sex or of the opposite energy to attain the plenitude of one’s own nature. Ovid confirms this point by stating that Tiresias sought to verify the belief that whoever would strike the snakes would automatically transform into the opposite gender; one who refuses to integrate the two energies must prepare himself to experience the radical opposites to his own.
The quarrel between Zeus and Hera indicates that access to the overmind cannot give a precise understanding of mystical union – the symbol of which is sexual union – when it occurs in the lower planes. They cannot determine whether joy unfolds more fully in receptivity or in action (Zeus and Hera are obliged to ask a mortal for arbitration).
The gods of the overmind are in fact the conscious forces of their divinity but are limited to their own modality of being; they do not know for instance the joy of a submission to the Divine, and it is only through man that they can experience it. (On this subject, see Mother’s Agenda Volume 2, 2 August 1961.) The overmind cannot give the experience of mystical union, for this does not occur in the heights of the spirit but within the heart. Only human perception in relation with the psychisation of the being (Tiresias) is able to comprehend it. In this union, Joy is experienced more fully by a complete opening to the Divine rather than through a movement oriented towards individuality.
The masculine must in fact be understood here as the movement of the One towards the multiple, while the feminine is that of the return of the separated individual towards the Whole.
Hera represents the force which ensures that the movement that must lead towards what is Real respects the whole rather than a part. While she can be a restraining force when acting within the frame of an evolution in accordance with Nature, she can also allow an acceleration of the movement of yoga. It is in fact only through a turning inwards that Unity can be attained, and consequently Tiresias is blinded by Hera.