Tag Archives: psychology

Chariot and two horses

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The soul of man has his own chariot

With a driver and two winged horses:

The one eager for honorable praises;

The other intent on becoming corrupt

That only flogging and bawling can quell.

With the driver’s free rein on the mares,

The noble horse goes AWOL,

The ignoble heads dominance,

The chariot loses control,

All fall from the fantastic race

To the parched land of ignorance,

Then begins the rebirth of the race

Again, and again forever and ever.

Author’s Note: I remember reading about Plato’s Chariot Allegory that illustrates our journey to the end of enlightenment with its vividly dynamic images of the aerial chariot race too compelling to reserve for a silent appreciation in my mind’s reservoir. I wonder what my chariot race has been like thus far…

vertigo – chapter eleven

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“Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gogh

It is the star above her that governs her conditions. Iris knows that the fault is not entirely in herself but mostly in the lucky star that does not seem to know where to find its beneficiary. The star was born when Libra and Capricorn were met in the house of Aquarius on the nineteenth hour of a blustery snowy wintry night. The star hangs on the vault of nightly celestial ballroom among the other stars twinkling merrily and boldly but alone in a corner of the limitless dome, twinkling ruefully and dutifully as if it were trying to signify its insignificant presence on the nocturnal cosmic stage. For this lone star has not found its beneficiary, the ascribed terrestrial hair of its power, and without it, the star cannot become a lucky star. Which is a tragedy for both Iris and her star.

In fact, Iris’s existential frustration or noogenic neurosis agrees to what Shakespeare was suspected of harboring in all his life. Surely, the Bard was a very successful playwright and poet who marched in a parade of famed hits in his time, but he was wrestling with a doubt whether it was Fate or Freedom of Will that governed human lives as conveyed in his works, such as “Julius Caesar”, “Othello”, and “Hamlet”. The characters of these plays fight for their causes as masters of their fates, but the consequences are not entirely fortuitous in bliss. That’s why the Greek soldier and historian Thucydides regarded vain hope imbued with a paroxysm of flattering confidence and blind devotion to the law of attraction as a dangerous hubris to one’s philosophy of life.

Hope plays its role as a morale booster when one sees it as a card of chance in awareness of odds in one’s favor. In this manner, one does not have to think about it but can fight with every hope of winning. This also relates to a principle of Logotheraphy: the less one cares, the more one can without stress for success. But alas, my dear reader, to pour lead into the wound, all the aforesaid needs luck as the Bard chips in thus: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” A tide of the deep wide ocean of Life that arises from the heart of the ocean to surge in bounty of fortune to a weary wayfarer on the land is what Iris has been waiting for till now.

All this thought, all this doubt about her so-called life – the existential frustration- are vexing her mind and crippling her faculties of the mind like vermin, so much that she feels utterly disoriented and deserted in the crossroads of life. The faith she has begun to lose with reasons justifiable only to herself, meaning of life she still hasn’t found, Iris finds herself lost in the Labyrinth where the Minotaur is roaming around to find his prey. And she does not have the hero Theseus nor Ariadne for help. Iris must find the way out anyhow for her dear life. But one thing is certain my dear reader; that although fortune’s malice or absence might conspire to overthrow her state, her feisty and recalcitrant mind will eventually exceed the compass of her will of fortune with a triumphant laugh.

The classical love

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It would be devastating to know that the heart of your beloved has already parted with you. It would be even more catastrophic to learn that your love has been unrequited and consumable because it was never on equal terms for what’s worth to your once beloved. The affair of the heart is the common human trait that transcends the subjectivity of time and space, the boundary of ethnic, racial, and territorial demarcations. The truth of the matter is that when you are consumed with a burning passion sans the mind and the heart, you play fast and loose with your own life as collateral. In the ancient times, the unconstrained passion lured the desperately love-stricken to turn to the supernatural dependencies of magic spells or love potions at the expense of their own lives in the hope of making their beloveds fall in love with them. Such was the case of one slave girl in ancient Greece who made love a dangerous game.

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the goddess Circa on the left

Her name was Dilitra, and she was in love with her wealthy master named Philoneos, whose interest in her was to satisfy his libido and nothing more. For she was his faithful and obedient bed-mate at his command. And she was in turn assigned to a relatively comfortable domestic drudgery, such as tidying up chambers and assisting in cooking in the kitchen, while other slaves toiled to the bone, as befitted what they were. As a concubine, Dilitra wanted no more and only wanted it to last as long as his master wanted her. Then all seemed to be a denouement of her happy concubinage when she found out that Philoneos would sell her to a brothel because he was simply “bored” with her. That was a total blow to Dilitra’s faith in Philoneos whom she loved and trusted. Blindsided by her lover’s betrayal, Dilitra resorted to the magical use of herbs and potions – called pharmaka as believed to be empowered from the goddess Circe – from a sorcerer who guaranteed her that he would fall back in love with her. So she poured the potion into wine, which Philoneos voraciously gulped down at dinner. The result was the instant death of her treacherous lover and the execution of the distressed poor Dilitra after the horrible torture by the authority on the count of punitive nature of the crime against her master.

The historical record of the tragic event tells a variety of facts prevalent in classical times. First, the idea of love was primarily erotic rather than platonic, sensual rather than holistic. In fact, what we now understand about “love” would have felt alien to the ancients in terms of the relationship between man and woman because such a modern idea of love was no more than a close bond between family members or a master and a horse or a dog. That is to say, love in the minds of the ancient meant the physical play of desires – Lust. In this regard, Dilitra’s desperate measure of using the magic potion betokens her attempt to awaken the flickering erotic love in Philoneos so that he would not sell her to a brothel to let her become a pornail – a common prostitute. Hence the potion was really meant to be an aphrodisiac that went awry.

Second, the use of spells and love potions was something of a norm in ancient Greece, where religion and daily life were inseparably bound together. It is said that there were two ways of inducing lust in a person: (1) an agon spell, which included magic, through the power of a demon to drive the desired one mad with lust for the one who initiated it. The effect of the spell, I think, could amount to the image of a fanatic band of maenads accompanying the wine god Dionysus.  It was known to be mostly used by men; and (2) pharmaka, which was regarded as drug-induced love preferred by women because of the supposedly less mortally dangerous than the employment of a demon. However, anyone who opted for this “mild” form of craft did not know that its effect could be more fatal than an agon spell because it was a chemical intoxication consisting of various herbs that could be lethal when mixed improperly as is illustrated in the story of Dilitra.

It would be an anachronistic or impudent mistake of assuming that Dilitra’s tragic end resulted from her own foolhardy, rash decision to turn to quackery and superstition if we were pitchforked backward in time. It was her only choice to secure her life under the aegis of her lover-master whose lust for her was the only guaranty of the cherished wishes. On one hand, the story of Dilitra tells us how we as humans have evolved in understanding the meaning of love, many special thanks to philosophers and psychologists, that it complements the body and the mind (as represented by Eros and Psyche, respectively, in Roman mythology.) On the other hand, it shows us at the heat of the passion, we can return to our animal nature governed by id only. Now, that would be quite a thespian tragedy.

Author’s note: This writing is based upon my reading of an article about the history of love spells and potions in ancient Greece from a history magazine. The woeful life of the slave girl who depended upon her master’s desire of her was pathetic enough to put pen to paper. What if she just ran away when she found out her master’s intention to sell her to a brothel, instead of resorting to the drastic measure of getting the drug? No, she should have just escaped from his household forthwith. It seems to me that it was her lack of self-confidence that chained her down to the voluntary enslavement that ultimately led her to death.

 

Billy Budd by Herman Melville

Billy Budd, SailorBilly Budd, Sailor by Herman Melville

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The ageless question of human nature pertains to the paradoxical mysteries of human personality shaped by our perception of the world, as reflected in ancient mythologies. Herman Melville saw this intricate irony in this representation of reality in connection with the development of complex human personality in the characters of Billy Budd, John Claggart, and Captain Vere in this nautical novella.

(1) Psychoanalytic perspective: The characters are emblematic of Freudian elements of personality. They are id represented by Billy (intuitive mind), ego (conscious mind) by Claggart, and superego by captain Vere (ethical consciousness). Billy’s ingenuousness, unalloyed beauty both in physical appearance and inner qualities, and young age symbolize the earliest phase of development of human personality. Hence the name “Budd” seems to betoken this emerging state of metamorphosis into early adulthood. When Dansker warns him of Claggart’s malicious intention to do harm on him, Billy dismisses the advice and insists on Claggart’s friendly treatment of him. In Billy’s representation of reality, Claggart exists as what he sees: a kind officer who does not give him a hard time. In fact, it is this innocent child-man like quality that becomes Billy’s fatal flaw.

Billy Budd is doomed to be ruthlessly crushed when he is transferred as a foretopman to the naval ship HMS Indomitable. Here he meets his Valkyrie John Claggart, Master-at-Arms equivalent of Chief Police Office or discipline officer, who is always down upon Billy, for a reason indicated none other than his being divinely beautiful and angelically kind. It is the old veteran sailor named Dansker who regards Billy as his little child and informs him of Claggart’s devious motive. All these characters are at the helm of Captain Vere (whose name is derived from the Latin word Verite, meaning truth. Here the vessel is a model of representation of reality surrounded by seas, which is the world it anchors in.

Claggart’s reason for his hatred of Billy is clandestine. He appears to act according to his ego, the conscious mind which Socrates considers as spirit. It seems that Claggart’s loathing of Billy becomes inflamed when Billy accidentally spills pea soup on his feet because he believes it to be Billy’s intentional effrontery. Claggart seems to act by his emotions based on the purely abstract reasoning of the mind. Therefore, Claggart’s model of reality is a result of his own way of interpreting the situation with his faulty assessment of the character that defiles his mind with dangerous antipathy toward the youth.

Captain Vere, a figure of authority that convenes both Billy and Claggart on the subject of alleged mutiny as instigated by Billy, represents the ethical mind, the superego, the reason. He acts as an executor of justice to gird up the loins of discipline among his crew amid the revolutionary wars on the sea. Vere feels that Billy is innocent; however, when Billy hits Claggart to death at his false accusation of him as a mutiny leader, Vere is convinced of Billy’s alleged guilt and orders his execution by hanging. In a way, Vere represents an amoral authority figure dealing with individual citizens or subjects according to law and order minus spirits and appetites.

(2) Mythological perspective: It is also interesting to look at this story of Billy Budd as folklore tinged with a mythological undertone of heroism akin to Norse mythology. The figure of Billy Budd reminds the reader of an ideal hero dying young; the hero can prove his nobility of character by death because often heroism depends on lost causes. The young welkin-eyed Billy Budd’s death gives rise to the high concept of this Nordic hero because the real power of good is shown by continuing to resist evil while facing certain death as the legacy of Billy Budd is immortalized in the seaman’s ballad. In my opinion, this story of the welkin-eyed young hero reflects Melville’s model of a heroic individual whom he once envisioned in his sailing days. Or perhaps, Billy Bud could be what Melville wished his two sons lost in unfortunate occasions (Malcolm, the eldest, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1867 and another Stanwix, who died in 1886 in San Francisco) to be like. It would have been Melville’s mournful tribute to the deaths of his sons as enshrined in the mythological figure of Billy Budd.

The book is written in an intricate prose style with the literary vocabulary used in the 19th century and historical allusions to the revolutionary wars and the great Admiral Nelson’s naval wars to give to the story a more realistic setting. Melville, who was a seaman himself in his youth and later settled as a customs inspector in New York City, wrote this novella in 1891, the time of his death. It was actually his postmortem work, published in 1924, 33 years after this death. And it was this work that kindled widespread interest in Melville’s works.

Reading this tale of an angelic sailor will give the reader a sense of reading a Norse mythological tale because the protagonist of the story is evocative of pathos flowing from the complex human nature that is sublimated into heroic triumph over the face of the harsh reality of the world.