Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of Jun 4th - Jun 10th,  2004

Chapter XVIII

"To work!"

Columns Archive

Constellation Virgo

Constellation Virgo

  This week, as we make our way on a journey through the twelve signs of the zodiac, we'll examine Virgo, our sixth sign, the last of the summertime season and the one most concerned with the Earth and her harvest. Virgo is ruled by Mercury, the messenger of the gods. As an archetype, he represents the mind and communications. This is thinking, speaking, talking, proposals, decisions and the like, but of a practical nature. Virgo is a mutable earth sign symbolized by the Virgin. Each of these simple images is a cornucopia of metaphorical material, opening the door to a treasure trove of information.

The worker

The worker

  As individuals, Virgos tend to be meticulous and orderly. Their job is to serve. It's said that the mind is a good servant, but a poor master. They're always trying to figure things out. Everything in life is reduced to an analytical equation, with rationality the chief guide leading you to the answer. When Mercury is well aspected, there is clearheaded thinking; what is proposed is on track. When it is not well aspected, the mind is dim and the choices are often in err.

  As a class of people, Virgos represent the workers, trades people or guild; particularly taken collectively. This is labor. At their best, there's quality in their craft and they're highly renowned artisans, illustrating the perfection of the virgin.

  Homer's Iliad weaves a web of astrological information for those just setting out to study the highway connecting heaven and earth. Here we examine Book XVIII, the second Virgo book (the first was Book VI, six plus twelve equals eighteen, the chapter we are in now), and in it we find the Craftsman of the Gods, Hephaistos, ready to begin his labors.

The worker


  "He left her there, returning to his bellows,
training them on the fire, crying, "To work!"
In crucibles the twenty bellows breathed
every degree of fiery air: to serve him
a great blast when he labored might and main,
or a faint puff, according to his wish
and what the work demanded."

  Hephaistos is constructing a new set of arms for Akhilleus, having lost his to Hektor. Virgo is the sign of ordnance and supply. It represents the tools of the craftsman, the brushes of the artist, the munitions of a cannon or the arms of a warrior. It is no accident that, when greeting Thetis, Hephaistos tells Grace (Aphrodite) to...

The shield

Hephaistos at work

  "Serve her our choicest fare
while I put up my bellows and my tools."

At this he left the anvil block, and hobbled
with monstrous bulk on skinny legs to take
his bellows from the fire. Then all the tools
he had been toiling with he stowed

in a silver chest."

  Virgos are neat and orderly. Thetis, the divine mother of Akhilleus, has come to Hephaistos to ask him to apply his craft to her request. She is the one who bore her son, "a child flawless and strong beyond all men." Akhilleus now strives to win his "perfect glory." These are illustrations of the 'perfection' qualities elicited by this sign, and both appear in this section. There are many Virgonian images throughout, but particularly in the pastoral scene which Hephaistos crafts into the shield's face. Most of these are of town life and agricultural themes, the harvest and the good earth, highlighted under a canopy of stars.

Arms for Akhilleus

Arms for Akhilleus

"Durable fine bronze and tin he threw into the blaze
with silver and with honorable gold,
then mounted a big anvil in his block
and in his right hand took a powerful hammer
managing with his tongs in his left hand."

"His first job was a shield, a broad one, thick,
well-fashioned everywhere. A shining rim
he gave it, triple-ply, and hung from this
a silver shoulder strap. Five welded layers
composed the body of the shield. The maker
used all his art
adorning this expanse.
He pictured on it earth, heaven, and sea,
unwearied sun, moon, waxing, all the stars
that heaven bears for garland: Pleiades,
Hyades, Orion in his might,
the Great Bear, too, that some have called the Wain,
pivoting there, attentive to Orion,
and unbathed ever in the Ocean stream..."

  If our hypothesis is correct, that the stars are the inspirational author of this work, then they pivot appropriately above our shield's design, monitoring events here on Earth.

Harvest Workers

Harvest Workers

"He put there, too, a king's field. Harvest hands
were swinging whetted scythes to mow the grain
and stalks were falling along the swath
while binders girded others up in sheaves
with bands of straw
- three binders, and behind them
children came as gleaners, proffering
their eager armfuls
. And amid them all
the king stood quietly with staff in hand
happy at heart, upon a new-mown swath.
To one side, under an oak tree his attendants
worked at a harvest banquet
. They had killed
a great ox, and were dressing it; their wives
made supper for the hands, with barley strewn."

  Homer then paints another seasonal image with spreading vines and light hearted boys and girls harvesting the grapes.

Harvest Grapes

Harvest Grapes

"A vineyard then he pictured, weighted down
with grapes
: this all in gold; and yet the clusters
hung dark purple, while the spreading vines
were propped on silver vine-poles. Blue enamel
he made the enclosing ditch, and tin the fence,
and one path only led into the vineyard
on which the loaded vintagers took their way
at vintage time
. Lighthearted boys and girls
were harvesting the grapes in woven baskets..."

  Some might counter that grapes and wine are Pisces, and so they are; but as cultivated crops they belong under the domain of Virgo, together with the wheat, barley, olives and other 'fruits of the earth' which look to our tender care under domestication. The images just continue to roll across the fields and pastures...

Earth Work

Earth Work

"The artisan made next a herd of longhorns,
fashioned in gold and tin: away they shambled,
lowing, from byre to pasture by a stream
that sang in ripples, and by reeds a-sway.
Four cowherds all of gold were plodding after them
with nine lithe dogs beside them..."

"And on the shield the great bowlegged god
designed a pasture in a lovely valley,
wide, with silvery sheep, and huts and sheds
and sheepfolds there

  But these are not the only Virgonian metaphors which are presented here. There are many others. Images of the earth are woven into more than simply these verses around the construction of the shield. In the first of several examples, Akhilleus has just learned that Patroklos has been killed, and he responds, for this chapter, in a particularly earthy manner...

"On his bowed head he scattered dust and ash
in handfuls
and befouled his beautiful face,
letting black ash sift on his fragrant khiton.
Then in the dust he stretched his great length
and tore his hair with both hands."


Fertile plain

"As they made land at the fertile plain of Troy..."

"Here I sat,
my weight a useless burden to the earth..."

"...they came together on the assembly ground..."

"He will not be contained by the flat ground..."

"Both he and I were destined
to stain the same earth dark red..."

"Here the earth will hold me under."

"Now my son lies prone on the hard ground in grief."

"When the besiegers from their parleying ground
heard sounds of cattle in stampede..."

  These notions of assembly ground and parleying ground combine the rulership of Virgo, Mercury, with the notion of this earth sign. It is common ground where people come together to discuss their ideas.

Hermes and Athena

Athena and Hermes
or Minerva and Mercury

  This, in turn, led to a notion which I had never personally considered for this sign, but which makes perfect sense in retrospect, which is that of the people working together. Virgo is the sign of town life, of maids, soldiers, craftspersons, and those that work the fields, etc. Hektor brings it up as the Trojans are pondering what to do, in a clause which seems almost out of context, unless one considers this theme at work.

"...and any
Trojan tired of his wealth, who wants
to lose everything, let him turn it over
to the army stores to be consumed in common!"

  And finally, again in reference to the planetary ruler, Mercury, we find a common thread being woven throughout this chapter, where the messenger of the gods, choice, proposals and clarity comes to the fore. The chapter opens with Antilokhos bearing a message to Akhilleus, of Iris, another messenger of the gods, also bringing a message to Akhilleus, of Hera, who ...should (she) not devise ill fortune for the Trojans whom (she) loathe(s)?", and of Poulydamas rendering clear judgment to Hektor's poor judgment. Indeed, in this last example we are given a clear signal as to how astrology works. As the earth turns, the emphasis slowly shifts from house to house in the natal chart, with different qualities being highlighted as the planets change position. Just this notion is described in the birth of these two Trojan champions.

Virgo Stars

The stars of Virgo

"Clearheaded Poulydamas, son of Panthoos,
spoke up first, as he alone could see
what lay ahead and all that lay behind.
He and Hektor were companions-in-arms,
born, as it happened, on the same night; but one
excelled in handling weapons, one with words.
Now for the good of all he spoke among them:"

"'Think well of our alternatives, my friends.
What I say is, retire upon the town,
instead of camping on the field till dawn
here by the ships. We are a long way
from our stone wall..."

"If we can follow
my battle plan, though galled by it, tonight
we'll husband strength, at rest in the market place."

  Notice that it is recommended that they gather at the market place, an image again repeated on the shield. Mercury is the Lord of the Merchant, and Homer is here evoking yet another Mercurial image. Even though this is for the good of all, Hektor does not like this plan, and he glares at Poulydamas.


The Virgin Goddess

"Poulydamas, what you propose no longer
serves my turn...
now is no time to publish
notions like these to the troops
, you fool!"

"This was Hektor's speech. The Trojans roared
approval of it- fools, for Pallas Athena
took away their wits
. They all applauded
Hektor's poor tactics, but Poulydamas
with his good judgment got not one assent."

  And these are precisely the notions of speech, communication, discussion, argument and counsel. They are all products of the mind, which bounces back and forth, seeking the best path between two differing courses of action.

  But it is a combination of the good earth and how it is worked that is essentially Virgo. This is too large a task for any one person, and hence, it is the collective, of people pulling together for the common good, that Homer brings to the fore in both chapters VI and XVIII.

  You can almost feel and smell the good, rich soil being worked beneath the plow.



"Upon the shield, soft terrain, freshly plowed,
he pictured: a broad field, and many plowmen
here and there upon it
. Some were turning
ox teams at the plowland's edge, and there
as one arrived and turned, a man came forward
putting a cup of sweet wine in his hands.
They made their turns-around, then up the furrows
drove again, eager to reach the deep field's
; and the earth looked black behind them,
as though turned up by plows. But it was gold,
all gold- a wonder of the artist's craft."

  It's marvelous the way Homer works an image inside an image inside an image. The craftsman of heaven, Hephaistos (Virgo) making the arms (Virgo) for our hero while working in the season of the Earth's harvest (Virgo). Now that's what I call a weave!

  It's just perfect!