Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of November 21st - November 27th,  2003

Chapter VIII

The Gates of Hell

Columns Archive

The Gates of Death

The Gates to the Underworld

  We're continuing our exploration of Scorpio, the 'season' of year which we now find ourselves finishing up this week. Scorpio represents the period during which the life force in nature moves underground to prepare for the coming winter. The sap in the trees drops to the roots, the squirrels have gathered their nuts, the serpents and rodents burrow into the ground below the frost line in preparation for the long, cold months which lie ahead. Astrologically, Scorpio is said to deal with sex, death and the occult; it's those things which are hidden away which we can no longer see. In the body, it represents the 'organs of reproduction' which are hidden from public display, while on the spiritual side, it is when spirit sheds the body and returns to the source from whence we all derive.

  As a fixed water sign, Scorpio deals with intense and powerful emotions. Death, loss and destruction can be embodied in its manifestations. The anguish, pain and grief which run in this dark signs' wake sweeps those to depths they have never before experienced. These dark waters are primordial. As human emotions, Scorpio either commands respect through the sheer force of their power, or sulks away in bitterness and scorn.


  If our hypothesis that the Iliad was a working text describing astrological content is correct, then Chapter VIII of this work should correspond to the eighth sign of the zodiac, Scorpio.

  One interesting construct in the Iliad is the way Homer depicts the astrological theme at the start of each of the chapters. The Underworld, known to the Greeks as Tartaros, is conjured and the stage is set. In this mode, it is Zeus who commands obedience from the sometimes unruly gods.

  "'Listen to me immortals, every one,
and let me make my mood and purpose clear.
Let no one, god or goddess, contravene
my present edict; all assent to it
that I may get this business done, and quickly.
If I catch sight of anyone slipping away
with a mind to assist the Danaans or the Trojans,
he comes back blasted without ceremony,
or else he will be flung out of Olympus
into the murk of Tartaros that lies
deep down in the underworld. Iron the gates are,
brazen the doorslab, and the depth from hell
as great as heaven's utmost height from earth.
You may learn then how far my power
puts all gods to shame...
That is how far I overwhelm you all,
both gods and men.'
They were all awed and silent
he put it with such power."

  Scorpio does not fool around. In an image that derives at least as far back as the Egyptians, the scales of death are called upon to see what fate decrees for the waring troops, Zeus lifts the balance:

  "Therein two destinies of death's long gain he set
for Trojan horsemen and Akhaian soldiers
and held the scales up by the midpoint. Slowly
one pan sank with death's day for Akhaians."

  The images of death abound throughout the chapter. Naturally, there is the fighting:

  "When the two masses met on the battle line
they ground their shields together, crossing spears,
with might of men in armor. Round shield-bosses
rang on each other in the clashing din,
and groans mingled with shouts of triumph rose
from those who died and those who killed: the field
ran rivulets of blood."

  Even Athena is swept up in the mood of vengence and revenge, emphasizing this Scorpionic theme by doubling it. Referring to Hektor, she spits out this threat:

  "Death twice over to this Trojan!
Let him be broken at the Argives' hands,
give up his breath in his own land and perish!
My father, now, is full of a black madness,
evil and perverse...
Had I forseen this day
that time he went down...
between Death's narrow gates to bring from Erebos
the watchdog of the Lord of Undergloom,
he never would have left the gorge of Styx!"

  One of the chief themes described in this chapter is the mood of Scorpio. As our opening example showed, these folk can be emotionally forceful, shoving their point home so that none can miss their meaning. It can leave nothing to say. Replaying the lines,

  "They were all awed and silent
he put it with such power."

  The Scorpionic reaction to this raw expression of force is often a stunned silence. What can you say? Without having your head taken off, that is. This theme is played out again later in the chapter as we witness the mood of the two goddesses, Hera and Athena, who are not at all happy with what Zeus has decreed:

  "Alone, apart, sat Hera and Athena
speaking never a word to him. He knew
their mood and said:

"Athena, why so gloomy?
And Hera, why? In war, where men win glory,
you have not had to toil to bring down Trojans
for whom both hold an everlasting grudge.
Such is my animus and so inexorable
my hands that all the gods upon Olympos
could not in any case deflect or turn them.
Fear shook your gracious knees before you saw
the nightmare acts of warfare...

Zeus fell silent, and they murmured low,
Athena and Hera, putting their heads together,
meditating the Trojans fall. Athena
held her peace toward Zeus, though a fierce rancor
pervaded her; Hera could not contain it,
and burst out to him:



"Fearsome as you are,
why take that tone with goddessess, my lord?
We are well aware how far from weak you are;
but we mourn still for the Akhaian spearmen
if they are now to meet hard fate and die..."

  Finally, the taunts which Diomedes and Hektor throw back and forth at each other round out the chapter, with death threats being liberally applied, as one would expect in the heat of battle, but which permeates this eighth chapter of Homer's epic poem.