Monday, December 5, 2011

Queen of Night

If your grandfather was the Sun (Helios), and your aunts were Pasiphae and Circe, you might be curious about magic. Such was the immediate family of Medea of Colchis, daughter of Aeetes, whose mother, Eidyia, was identified by some as the goddess of Knowledge.

Behind Medea is the power and tradition of Hecate, who seems once again to be associated with the East, with Anatolia, rather than being an indigenous Greek deity.

In his Theogony, Hesiod had much to say about Hecate, one of the Titans whom Zeus, instead of destroying, honored and revered. Curiously while ascribing to her great powers, the poet doesn't specifically link her to magic, potions or drugs.

Yet she is clearly associated with them, as Parada notes in his entry on Hecate:
A divinity of the Underworld and companion of Persephone, [Hecate] is called the queen of night and goddess of the cross-roads. Her three faces are turned towards as many directions, and her name was shrieked at night at the cross-roads of cities. She is often seen bearing torches, and it is with them that she killed Clytius 6 in the course of the Gigantomachy. Hecate is regarded as supreme, both in Heaven and in the Underworld, and it is said that Zeus calls upon her whenever any man on earth offers sacrifices, and prays for favor.

This power resembles that of sorcery. For Medea, who was a priestess of Hecate, used witchcraft, apparently under the guidance of the goddess, in order to handle magic herbs and poisons with skill, and to be able to stay the course of rivers, or check the paths of the stars and the moon. 
The Caucasian witch also relied on the goddess' help, when she was about to commit a crime in Hellas: "By the goddess I worship most of all, my chosen helper Hecate, who dwells in the inner chamber of my house, none of them shall pain my heart and smile at it! Bitter will I make their marriage, bitter Creon's marriage-alliance, and bitter my banishment from the land!" (Euripides, Medea 400). For Hecate had not left her, although Medea sailed away from Colchis. 
But when the goddess noticed that Medea, by a trick of Hera, would fell in love with Jason and leave the country, she lamented: "Alas! you'll leave our woodland and your maiden bands, unhappy girl, to wander in your own despite to the cities of the Greeks. Yet not unbidden you go, nor, my dear one, will I forsake you. A signal record of your flight shall you leave behind, nor though a captive shall you ever be despised by your false lord, nay, he shall know me for your teacher, and that I grieved with shame that he robbed me of my handmaid." (Hecate. Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 6.497. Note: there are two Argonauticas, this one, and the earlier one by Apollonius Rhodius. Links to both are on the right -->). 
Nevertheless, she helped Medea in Colchis, as did both Hera and Aphrodite; and the reason why the witch succeeded in helping Jason against her own father and brother is that she was supported by these three goddesses, and particularly by Hecate. It was the latter who gave Medea the Caucasian herb of great potency, sprung from the gore that dropped from the liver of Prometheus 1; with it Medea anointed Jason's body and arms, making him practically invulnerable.
One subtext of the tale of Jason and Medea, then, is a contest between Hecate and Athena.

For Ovid, the realm of Amor was ineluctably bound up with the realm of illusion, tricks, sorcery, and cosmetics. One of his earliest works is known as the "Art of Beauty," but the actual title, Medicamina Faciei Femineae, literally means "Drugs for the Female Face," i.e., beauty aids. Scholars have seen that poem as a playful pedagogical Georgic in the line of Hesiod's Works and Days and Virgil's Georgics. In any event, it would not be un-Ovidian to sense a bleeding of the magic of cosmetics into those of kosmos, i.e., order.

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