Athena's Web Weekly Column

  Week of February 1st - February 7th,  2002

Hail Evander

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   Over the last few weeks, we've been examining Ovid's Fasti,
Hercules, with his club and bow

Hercules, with his club and bow

a work which coordinated the Roman calendar with the seasons under a religious framework. As we move through his poem chronologically, we now examine Jan. 11th, a date under which the praises of Evander are sung.

   Given the same platform we worked with last week, Jan. 11th corresponds to the Sun in Capricorn and the Moon in Gemini. What Ovid does not tell us, but what every Roman schoolboy would have known, was that Evander was the son of Mercury. Mercury is the planet that rules Gemini. It deals with conversation and communication, elementary education, and travel. When his mother first discovered that she had conceived the 'heavenly fire' which was to become Evander, she 'chanted with swelling voice true strains divine.' She then goes on to prophesy the future destiny of Rome. Inspired speech is part of the communicational illustration. Evander was originally from Arcadia, but was forced to leave his native land and travel. Arcadia is a region of the Peleponnese, the great peninsula of southern Greece.

Map of Arcadia

Arcadia, in southern Greece

   Having been ousted from his homeland, Evander sets sail and lands at the future site of Rome, ousts the occupants, and wins control over the lands about the Tiber. He was the first to bring the alphabet to Italy. Gemini is the sign of basic education, of reading and writing. He was also the first to have brought knowledge of the Greek gods to that part of the world. After singing his praises and foretelling the future to Ovid's time, his pregnant mother's prophecies conclude:

   "When in these words she had brought her story down to our own time, her prophetic tongue stopped short at the middle of her discourse."

Hercules and Cacus

Hercules, with the robber Cacus

   Evander was also, so the tradition goes, the first to raise altars to Hercules, honoring him as a god while he was yet living. Expanding on our Geminian theme, we are then told about Hercules, who, while driving home the Erythean cattle as one of his twelve labors, had a couple stollen by Cacus, a famous robber. In a story very similar to the birth of Hermes (the Greek Mercury), the God of Thieves, Hercules goes in search of his cattle, in the same way Apollo did after the day-old infant Hermes had stollen his cattle. In both tales the tracks of the cattle are disguised by trickery. In the myth of the divine birth, Hermes hid their trail by erasing them using branches. Cacus drags them backwards so their tracks look like they were going the other way. In the Hercules myth the cows give away their presence when they low hoarsely. In typical Geminian fashion, this audible communication is heard by Hercules, who understandably announces "I accept the recall."

   While the Republican Roman calendar commenced each month with the New Moon before Caesar's solar correction, the holidays had been aligned to time as part of a heavenly reflection. On Jan. 11th, example after example of Mercurial/Geminian themes are being used to make the point. Ovid is attempting to record the ancient link between Earth and Sky. Although it had been some 50 years since the old calendar had lost this association, our author is making a valiant attempt to record and recapture its original spirit.


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