This week we take a look at Scorpio, the 8th sign of the zodiac, ruled by Pluto, Lord of the Underworld. This is a fixed water sign which deals with unrelenting emotions. It is the primordial passions of sex, death and fear. While these themes are usually 'tidied up' astrologically by describing the natural seasonal cycle in October of leaves falling gently to earth and squirrels safely tucked away in their burrows full of nuts, there is also the flip side; of the cold cruel death and destruction which can rear its head in massacres and blood feuds, in revenge and retaliation.
Such are the images invoked in this, Chapter XX of Homer's epic novel. Our ancient author simply follows the seasonal cycle of the zodiac, equating the first chapter to Aries and concluding the first round with Chapter XII and Pisces. For reasons known only to himself, he then repeats the cycle, starting with Chapter XIII with Aries again, which brings us up to Scorpio and Chapter XX. Having gotten the ceremonies out of the way and made sure that the troops were nourished in the previous chapter, Akhilleus now returns to the battle with a vengence. While Libra (Chapter XIX) represents the legal, idealistic aspects of war and peace in the setting of a controlled, intellectual air sign (court, or in this case assembly), in the fixed water sign of Scorpio the damn busts loose, and the resulting flood sweeps all in its path. At the beginning of the chapter Zeus calls out all the gods and tells them to have at it; to pick their side, Trojan or Greek, and to fight for whomever they will. The powers of heaven are being unleashed, and the Lord of the Underworld Hades, the Greek equivalent of Pluto (here called Aidoneus), is freaked out by the earth shaking power of the reverberating shock waves which threaten the very bowels of the Earth as literally, all Hell busts loose.
"Dread came in undergloom to Aidoneus,
Many of the souls killed in the Iliad make their way down to the realm of the dead, but never is the spirit of its king invoked in fear as He is here. In fact, this image sets the stage (as so many of the divine interactions do) for the themes of this chapter. Pluto is considered to be the contemporary ruler of the sign Scorpio, while Mars was the traditional ruler. This death and destruction image is easily applied to Mars, the Lord of Man Wasting War, Strife, Panic and Fear, these last two his constant companions in battle. Many wonder why Scorpios tend to be so intense. It is because, like the image of the Lord of Shades, they are fueled by fear.
"Every Trojan felt his knees atremble,
"So the gods in bliss roused the contenders, hurled them into war, and broke in massive strife among themselves."
Even Akhilleus, the greatest hero on the battlefield has a taste of this fear as he puts his new armor to the test against Aineias, who, after Hektor, is the Trojans greatest and fiercest warrior.
"At this he (Aineias) drove hard with his massive spear
"Akhilleus in his turn rifled his spear
Straight through drove the Pelian ash. The plate
Indeed, when Aineias slips away from the unleashed fury of Akhilleus, the latter utters a surprisingly contemporary phrase as he swears,
"To hell with him!... glad as he was
Shortly thereafter, Hektor rallies his troops, urging them to close ranks and not be afraid of Akhilleus.
But then, being warned by Apollo not to engage Akhilleus himself, Hektor himself falls back in fear.
And this fear is mixed in with profanity and swearing, characteristics of the unevolved Scorpio in a weave that works its way through the chapter.
"But Hektor answered without fear:
And the same theme is brought up is brought up as Aineias responds to Akhilleus just before they fight.
"Come, no more childish talk, here at the heart
As the Lord of Shades is conjured at the beginning of the chapter, so are the themes of doom, death, rending death, dark death, and even the House of Death evoked as the surging wave of Akhilleus passion is unleashed upon the Trojans. If you are sensitive to such violence, I would suggust you terminate this week's episode here, because a few of the following images are particularly graphic.
"...that had protected him from rending death..."
"He goes to dark Death at Akhilleus' hands and soon..."
"Terror of all soldiers, there you lie!
"So he exulted, while the other's eyes
"The blinding cloud of death
"Come on, come on straight! You will make it
"Then darkness veiled his eyes
"Then he chopped Ekheklos, Agenor's son
"Deukalion next he speared, where elbow tendons
and knocked both head and helmet far away.
The fluid throbbed out of his vertebrae
as he lay stretched upon the earth."
Although not specifically mentioned in this chapter, here we see the true meaning of Medusa's severed head, often placed upon the face of shields so it is what your enemy must confront in battle. Like a deer caught in the headlights, or Deukalion waiting, seeing death before him, when your time comes, it can lock you up, frozen, as you see your own death approaching. This is what was meant by Medusa turning those that looked upon her into stone. It is the ultimate, primordial fear of death itself, whether ruled by Mars or Pluto, and the one that each of us one day must face.
While many of the chapters of the Iliad are frought with death and destruction in the midst of battle, few stand up to the fury and bloodshed of this chapter as fear surges to the fore, used over and over again to describe how each warrior responds. Zeus makes each 'avid for war' and 'mad with rage'. There's 'blood to gut the wargod', and 'massive strife.' Lustful Scorpios are not generally considered merciful (he said diplomatically), as Tros sinks to his knees before Akhilleus and begs to be taken prisoner.
"How witless, to imagine
We'll let you guess what happens. Scorpios have a 'do or die' attitude. They will give no quarter nor expect none. These themes are literally illustrated in Chapter XX for us.
Even the goddesses exhibit this attitude. Poseidon, the contemporary representative of Neptune, feels that Aineias should be spared from death in his conflict with Akhilleus, and that his 'seed' not die out. He is being empathetic. Hera and Athena respond, and basically say, 'Let them all die!'
"Come now, we ourselves
The Lady Hera anwsered with wide eyes:
Finally, the chapter culminates on a particularly graphic note,
"...so Akhilleus flashed right and left