Hymn to the Titans

The writer's raison d' entre, stretching forward from Hesiod's encounter with the Muse on Mt Helicon, is to represent new knowledge and truth and to fearlessly test word boundaries.


They to Hesiod erst
Have taught their stately song;
Night-watching shepherds!
being of reproach!
Ye grosser natures, hear!
we know to speak
Full fiction false, yet seeming-true,
Or utter at our will the things of truth.


Yet, it is this very yearning to be heard, this intrinsic need of all writers to speak out, which demands courage, for the act of riding the boundaries to express new language requires that writers conceive a thought, speak it and make it true.

It takes courage to travel this road less traveled for, as Rushdie, and many before him have learned, speaking the truth can put one well outside the city walls. Rushdie was ostracized, derided, considered a madman and exiled from his homeland on threat of death. To speak one's truth then can demand that the writer quite literally cut the umbilical cord which ties them to the womb of current societal pedagogy. For many the risk of criticism such as Rushdie faced is simply too great. Not surprising therefore, many writers bear witness to family events and express their truths only after relatives and friends have long died.

It can be argued that old ideas must be expunged with the placenta if new truth is to be born, that old ideas must die if newness is to occur. However this is not necessarily the case. Hesiod tells us that


So said they - the daughters of the mighty Jove
All-eloquent - and gave unto my hand Wondrous!
a verdant rod; a laurel-branch
Of bloom unwithering; and a voice imbreathe'd Divine;
that I might utter forth in song
The future and the past


Within writing from the past are the seeds of fresh perspective. A writer needs to be discerning and careful not to fall for the Phillip Larkin view that all old symbols and wisdom are 'little more than a liability which must be discarded.' His notion that 'every poem must be its own sole freshly created universe' and that 'the whole of classical and biblical mythology means very little' has little regard for the another truth - that most 'poetical passages cannot be understood without a rich memory.'(Yeats)

In 'Women Who Run With Wolves' Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells of a dream she had in which she was telling stories and felt someone patting her foot in encouragement. "I looked down and saw that I was standing on the shoulders of an old woman who was steadying my ankles and looking up at me. I said to her, "No, no, come stand on my shoulders for you are old and I am young." "No, no," she insisted, "this is the way it is supposed to be." I saw that she stood on the shoulders of a woman far older than she, who stood on the shoulders of a woman in robes, who stood on the shoulders of another soul, who stood on the shoulders..." This is the way it is supposed to be.

Writers are really meant to "draw from the towering column of humanity, joined one to the other across time and space, elaborately dressed in the rags and robes or nakedness of their time and filled to the bursting with life still to being lived." They must draw on the chain of human knowledge in order to promote creativity.

The ultimate source of knowledge is held by the elder gods, the Titans. The Titans were the children that Gaea bore to Uranus. Oceanus and Tethys united to produce the rivers and three thousand ocean nymphs while Hyperion is the Titan of light, the father of the sun, the moon and the dawn. Themis was the Titan of Justice and order giving birth to the Seasons and the Fates who allot men their place and function in society. Mnemosyne lay with Zeus and their union resulted in the birth of the Muses. Inevitable power struggles between Gods led to a war between the Titans and the Olympians. This war proved to be destructive. Zeus drew upon the aid of the Hundred-handed Ones who had been imprisoned in Tartarus and the Cyclops also allied themselves with him. They supplied him with the arsenal of thunder and lightning and with this aid Zeus and the Olympians defeated the Titans. Upon defeat the elder gods, the Titans were vanquished to bowels of the earth, taking with them important, wisdom and knowledge. The Titans, like others before them were banished to Tartarus to make way for a new wave of thought. This is not to say that the new thought was better.

Tartarus was the Underworld zone of eternal torment, where the greatest sinners were punished for their transgressions. "Tartarus is the lowest abyss beneath the earth where all waters originate; all rivers flow into the chasm of Tartarus and flow out of it again. Tartarus is, they say, a gloomy place as far distant from earth as earth is from the sky. For, it is said, a brazen anvil falling down from heaven nine nights and days would reach the earth upon the tenth: and again, a brazen anvil falling from earth nine nights and days would reach Tartarus upon the tenth. Still others say that Tartarus yawns deep under the shades, extending down twice as far as the view upward to Heaven. Tartarus and the Underworld are the realm of Erebus, which is pure Darkness. Tartarus is also a place of punishment. Round it runs a fence of bronze, and night spreads in triple line all about it. Some say that the gates are of iron and the threshold of bronze, and others that there is a threefold wall around it. Around this triple wall flows Pyriphlegethon with its flames and its clashing rocks. The entrance, in which there is an enormous portal has pillars of solid adamant that not even the gods could break. At the top of its tower of Iron sits the Erinye, Tisiphone 1, with her bloody robe, and sleepless day and night, guards the entrance."

Tartarus is hardly a place a writer would willingly visit but rather than be plunged there involuntarily it is sometimes better to go of your own accord. Certainly, if you want to find wisdom, knowledge, memory and insight you have little choice but to travel there to find your grail. The journey to Tartarus involves winding down an endless labyrinth of corridors to find and release the inner guide, who has been locked within its halls for what seems an eternity. Only when we do this can we find the balance between the past, present and future and speak out as the muse has directed.

For many of us whose creativity has suffered from the scorched earth policy this is a Herculean feat of amazing proportions but one which is well worth the effort. Consider!

Do you have the courage to risk all to serve the muse as Hesiod did?

Can you risk being thrown into Tartarus in order to ride at the forefront of human thought?

Which societal values do you feel impelled to challenge?

What is the worst thing that will happen if you express that which stirs within you?

 


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Heather Blakey asserts the right to be identified as the author of this work