Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of Jun 18th - Jun 24th,  2004

Chapter XX

Fury and Fear,
Death and Destruction

Columns Archive

Constellation Scorpio

  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.

Hades or Pluto

Hades or Pluto

  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.

Haides or Aidoneus

Haides or Aidoneus

"Dread came in undergloom to Aidoneus,
lord of shades: he bounded from his throne
and gave a cry, in fear that earth, undone
by Lord Poseidon's shaking, would cave in,
and the vile moldy kennels the gods hate
might stand revealed to mortals and immortals.
That was the measure of the shock
created by the onset of the gods."

  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,
seeing the great runner armed
and flashing like the deadly god of war.
When the Olympians joined the lines arranged,
Strife came in power, goader of fighting men.
Then standing by the moat outside the wall
or on the shore of beating surf, Athena
shrieked, and her adversary, Ares, yelled
across from her, like a pitch-black hurricane
roaring to Trojans from the heights of Troy..."

"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
against the marvelous shield: a great clang
resounded at the impact of the spearhead.
Akhilleus with his big fist held the shield
at arm's length, instinctively, for fear
Aineias shaft might cleave it and come through

"Akhilleus in his turn rifled his spear
and hit Aineias' round shield near the rim
where bronze was thinnest, and the bull's hide thinnest.



Straight through drove the Pelian ash. The plate
gave way screeching. Down Aineias crouched
and held his shield away from him in fear.
The spearshaft cleared his back and then stuck fast
in the battlefield, hurled with such force; it broke
asunder two disks of the covering shield.
But he ducked under it, then stood, and pain
in a rush came over him
, clouding his eyes,
for dread
of the spear implanted close at hand."

  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
to slip away from death."

  Shortly thereafter, Hektor rallies his troops, urging them to close ranks and not be afraid of Akhilleus.

Akhilleus in a defensive posture

Akhilleus defending himself

  "Trojans, fighters,
have no fear of the son of Peleus. Using
words, I too could fight the gods. The test
is harder with a spear: gods are far stronger."

  But then, being warned by Apollo not to engage Akhilleus himself, Hektor himself falls back in fear.

  "Once more
afraid when he had heard the god's voice speaking,
Hektor drew back amid the crowded troops."

  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:

Aineias Shield

The Shield of Aineias

why suppose you can frighten me with words
like a small boy? I, too, have some gift
for jeers and insults. You are strong, I know,
and I am far from being a match for you.
But on the god's great knees these matters lie.
Poorest of men, compared to you, by heaven,
I still may take your life with one spear-cast.
My spearhead, too, has had its cutting power!"

  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
of a great battle. Each side has a mass
of bitter words to say
: no deepsea ship
could take that load, even a hundred-bencher.
Men have twisty tongues, and on them speech
of all kinds; wide is the grazing land of words,
both east and west. The manner of speech you use,
the same you are apt to hear. By what necessity
must we goad one another face to face
with provocations? like two city women
ruffling into the middle of a street
to wrangle, bitten by rage,
with many a true word- and some false, for anger
calls out those as well
. Words of yours cannot throw me off,
not till our spears have crossed. Come, on with it!
We'll have a taste of one another's bronze!"

  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..."

  "No, no,
stay clear of meeting him, or else you'll drop
before your time into the House of Death.
Remember, after Akhilleus meets his doom
you may be daring; then go forward, then
take on the leaders, for there is no other
Akhaian who can slay you on the field."

"Terror of all soldiers, there you lie!
Here is your place of death!"

Tarot card of Death

"So he exulted, while the other's eyes
were vieled in night. Then chariots of Akhaians
cut the body asunder with sharp wheels
in the advancing battle. And Akhilleus
killed a second man, Demoleon,
Antenor's son, a good defensive fighter.
He hit him on the temple through the helmet
fitted with bronze cheek-pieces, and the metal
could not hold; the driven
spearhead cleft it
, broke the temple-bone,
so that his brains were spattered in the helm.
For all his fighting heart, Akhilleus downed him.
Then Hippodamas: he had left his car
to run before Akhilleus, but the Akhaian
speared him in the back. He gasped his life out,
bellowing, like a bull dragged up before
Poseidon, lord of Helike... Bellowing so,
the rugged soul left Hippodamas' bones."

"The blinding cloud of death
enveloped him
as he sprawled out, his entrails
held in his hands before him
. Hektor saw
his brother Polydoros fallen aside
against the earth, his entrails in his hands;
and mist of death veiled Hektor's eyes as well."

The Reaper

The Reaper

"Come on, come on straight! You will make it
all the sooner to the edge of doom!"

"Then darkness veiled his eyes
and spirit failed him

"Then he chopped Ekheklos, Agenor's son
with his long, hilted sword, straight through his head,
and all the blade grew hot with blood, as dusky
death and destiny overcame the man

"Deukalion next he speared, where elbow tendons
held together, and the spearpoint pierced
through the man's arm. Standing with arm inert,
Deukalion waited, seeing death before him.

Akhilleus & Medusa's head

Akhilleus with Medusa's head
on the shield

Akhilleus aimed a sword-cut at the neck
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.


Notice Medusa on his breast

  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
Akhilleus could be swayed
! No moderate temper,
no mild heart was in this man, but harsh
and deadly purpose

  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.

  "...he glares
and bounds ahead, hoping to make a kill
or else himself to perish in the tumult

  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
may take him out of danger, and make sure
that Zeus shall not be angered by his death
at Akhilleus' hands. His fate is to escape,
to ensure that the great line of Dardanos
may not unseeded perish from the world.
For Zeus cared most for Dardanos, of all
the sons he had by women, and now Zeus
has turned against the family of Priam.
Therefore Aineias and his sons, and theirs,
will be lords over Trojans born hereafter."

The Lady Hera anwsered with wide eyes:
"Earthshaker, put your own mind on Aineias,
whether to save him or to let him die.
By heaven, Pallas
(Athena) and I have taken oath
before the immortals many times: we shall not
keep the evil day from any Trojans
even when all Troy catches fire, with flames
the fighting Akhaians light!

  Finally, the chapter culminates on a particularly graphic note,

Constellation and Scorpion

The final lines of Chapter XX

  " Akhilleus flashed right and left
like a wild god, trampling the men he killed,
and black earth ran with blood...
...the sharp-hooved horses of Akhilleus just so
crushed dead men and shields
. His axle-tree
was splashed with blood, so was his chariot rail,
with drops thrown up by wheels and horses' hooves.
And Peleus' son kept riding for his glory,
staining his powerful arms with mire and blood."