Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of Jun 25th - Jul 1st,  2004

Chapter XXI

The House of Zeus

Columns Archive


  This week we're taking a look at Sagittarius, the ninth sign of the zodiac.

Zeus, the All-Father of Gods and Men

Zeus, the All-Father
of Gods and Men
Lord of Heaven and Earth

  Symbolized by the centaur, this is a mutable fire sign ruled by Jupiter. Since Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system, both planet and sign deal with the big, expanded picture on the physical, mental or spiritual planes; whether travelling geographically over long distance journeys, pursuing the lengthy path of acquiring wisdom through higher education, or studying the disciplines of spiritual philosophies in the flickering light of various religions. Sagittarians like to do things in a big, abundant fashion, whether as philanthropists, polygamists, polyglots, or even polymorphs. Jupiter appeared in various forms, wooing each of his maidens of the moment. He appeared as a handsome bull to Europa, a curvaceous swan to Leda, as reclusive Artemis to Callisto, and a glimmering shower of gold to Danae, among others. As characterized by his Latin name, Jove, these people can be humorous, cheery, spirited, optimistic, and, well, just plain jovial. Physically, they can put on weight, assuming the proportions of the gaseous planet, unless they kindle the 'fire' component of this constellation and remain active. When Jupiter transits either your first house (self) or sixth house (health), it can often manifest as a time of weight gain, or, if the fire is invoked, it can also be a time for becoming involved in physical exercise or sports.

The Archer/Centaur

The Archer/Centaur

  Astrologically, the constellation Sagittarius was known as the House of Jupiter. It was said that the planet appeared in this stellar grouping at the Creation. A manuscript in 1386 called it the 'Schoter' (Shooter), and 'ye principal howce of Jupit' (the principle house of Jupiter).

  Naturally, Jupiter rules the skies and all that is to be found there; clouds, rain, lightning and the storms of creation, as well as stars and planets. Jupiter and his Greek predecessor, Zeus, are the basis of the Christian archetype of God, being all powerful, and the All-Father of gods and men, the Lord of Heaven.

  In Chapter XXI of Homer's Iliad, we are once again being taught about Sagittarian themes from a vantage point of almost three thousand years ago. We first caught a glimpse of this celestial slice of the zodiac in Chapter IX. Homer is writing an astrological primer, with the highlights of this ninth sign of the zodiac being woven liberally into its metered verse.

Sagittarius, the Archer

The River

  Suddenly, like no other chapter in the Iliad, the lines become alive with the divine, as the children of Zeus assume the preeminent focus of our primer. In each case, their relationship to the All-Father is stated, emphasized and underscored. The chapter opens with a reference to a 'god-begotten' river.

"As they came down to a ford in the blue Xanthos,
eddying and running, god-begotten wondrous river..."

  And later in the chapter, this river is identified as being a child of Zeus...

"Skamander, child of Zeus, as you require,
this thing shall be."

  Although the river has two different names, they both refer to the same powerful stream. Xanthos is what the gods call the river, while Skamander is its name for mortals. In the lines that follow, watch for who is talking about the river, and which name they use. Nevertheless, on its banks we find Akhilleus contemptuously chastising the corpse of Asteropaios, the mortal offspring of a river from a distant land, whom he has just defeated and killed in battle.

  "It is rough work
to match yourself with the children of Lord Zeus,
river's offspring though you are. You claimed
descent from a broad river; well, I claim
descent from Zeus almighty

Akhilleus, of the line of Zeus

of the lineage of Zeus

  In the Iliad Akhilleus has been continually referred to as the son of Thetis, a sea nymph; yet suddenly he embraces his paternal heritage in a manner we have not seen emphasized before. Whereas up until this time he has been the son of a goddess, now he is the offspring of Zeus! Akhilleus traces his lineage for us, something the listeners to this epic poem would have known very well. We pick up where we left off...

  "You claimed
descent from a broad river; well, I claim
descent from Zeus almighty
. My begetter,
lord over many Myrmidons, was Peleus,
the son of Aiakos, a son of Zeus.
Zeus being stronger than the seaward rivers,
so are his offspring than a river's get!
Here's a big river for you
(Skamander), flowing by,
if he had power to help you. There's no fighting
, the son of Kronos. Akheloios
cannot rival him; neither can the might
of the deep Ocean stream- from whom all rivers
take their waters, and all branching seas,
all springs and deep-sunk wells. And yet he too
is terrified by the lightning flash of Zeus
and thunder
, when it crashes out of heaven."

  Notice how the powers, and the power, of Zeus are being emphasized here in order that we might better perceive its nature.

Prometheus, chained by Zeus

chained by Zeus

  We also mentioned that Jupiter was the planet which was associated with being overweight. When an animal was sacrificed to Zeus, people would eat much of what we eat today, the muscle, or meat of the animal. But rather than letting the other portions be left around to decompose, they were offered to the gods and burned. Fat, in particular, was consecrated to Zeus. There is even a myth, which we won't go into here, of how Prometheus made two piles of a sacrificed animal, putting the meat in one, and hiding the rest under a second, marbled layer of fat. Zeus was tricked into picking the latter (it looked really good!), and never fully forgave Prometheus, who was ever looking for ways to help man, for instance by sneaking him fire in a fennel stalk out of heaven. Anyway, fat suddenly begins (not surprisingly, given our celestial design) to make its appearance in this chapter. Akhilleus has just killed Lykaon and thrown his body into the river.

  "Your mother cannot put you on your bed
to mourn you, but Skamander whirling down
will bear you to the sea's broad lap,
where any fish that jumps, breaking a wave,
may dart under the dark wind-shivered water
to nibble the fat of Lykaon."



  And then, after killing Asteropaios, he leaves him at the stream's edge with the dark water lapping at his body, and Homer again describes it as such...

  "Then eels and fish attended to the body,
picking and nibbling kidney fat away."

  It is curious, however, that this image of a stream or river should figure so prominently at the start of a chapter devoted to a fire sign. We have already seen how this is Zeus's 'god begotten wondrous river', and there is continual reference to how it is tied together with and flows to the 'sea'. Indeed, Xanthos itself assumes the form of a man and complains to Akhilleus that because of his killing rampage, so many corpses have filled the river that its stream can no longer reach the 'immortal sea.'

"...and would have killed far more, had not the river,
cold with rage, in likeness of a man,
assumed a voice and spoken from a whirlpool:

Akhilleus and Patroklos

Akhilleus bearing
the body of Patrolkos

'O Akhilleus, you are first in power
of all men, first in waywardness as well,
as gods forever take your side. If Zeus
has given you all Trojans to destroy,
destroy them elsewhere, do your execution
out on the plain! Now my blue watercourses
back up, filled with dead; I cannot spend
my current in the salt immortal sea,
being dammed with corpses. Yet you go on killing
wantonly. Let be, marshal of soldiers.'"

  It is not so much the 'blood and mire' of the previous chapter that we see here, as it is the numbers, the magnitude, or the mass which is increasingly considerably, all expansion concepts, part of the realm of Jupiter. It is now the volume which is being emphasized, as indeed, he pauses momentarily to select twelve young Trojans caught in the banks by the swift currents of the river as an offering later to Patroklos.

  "Arm wearied
by butchery, Akhilleus from the stream
picked twelve young men alive to pay the price
for dead Patroklos."

  But is there anything which could account for this stream, this 'god-begotten wondrous river' in the realm of the fire sign? This selection of a river under a fire sign assignment seems to be entirely out of place. To solve this riddle, we must step back and actually look at the heavens and use our powers of observation to determine it's answer, but that 'answer' then leaps out at us in its simplicity.

Sagittarius and the Milky Way

Sagittarius and the Milky Way

  Around the world, the Silver Stream of heaven runs right by the constellation Sagittarius's front door. It is the Milky Way, the Galaxy of our Universe, and it cuts across the zodiac, and hence our story line, in precisely this location.

  In other words, our celestial 'god-begotten wondrous river' is appearing exactly where it should be, as the Milky Way crosses the path of the circle of animals at the beginning of the constellation Sagittarius, and at the beginning of Chapter XXI of Homer. And while the celestial stream runs in front of the constellation, the Centaur's arrow also commences that segment of heaven designated as the 'Sea' (more on this later).



  In fact, the more we look into this notion, that the Milky Way is the river of heaven, the more we find. The Greeks considered it to be a nymph, a daughter of Oceanus, and it was long known as the Stream of Ocean. It was also thought by them to be the galaxias kyklos, the 'milky circle'. Zeus, wishing great favors for his child, placed Heracles at the breast of Hera while she slept, in order that he might be nourished by the divine milk; but she awoke, either on her own or because Heracles had bit her, and pushing the child away spilled the nectar across the expanse of heaven. During historic times, in cultures around the world it has been thought of as the River of Heaven.

  Among the Arabs it was Al Nahr, the River, a title that they afterwards transferred to the Greek constellation Eridanus, while the Hebrews knew of it as N'har di Nur, the River of Light. In China, as in Japan, it was Tien Ho, the Celestial River and the Silver River, whose fish were frightened by the young crescent Moon, which they imagined to be a hook. The Norsemen knew of it as the Path of Ghosts going to Valhalla, in the region Gladhsheimer, the palace of their heroes slain in battle, and the North American Indians had the same idea, as witness the "wrinkled old Nokomis," when, teaching the little Hiawatha, she...

The River of Light

The River of Light

"Showed the broad white road in heaven,
Pathway of the ghosts, the shadows,
Running straight across the heavens,
Crowded with the ghosts, the shadows,
To the Kingdom of Ponemah,
To the land of the hereafter..."

  ...with the brighter stars along the road marking their camp-fires. Around the world, there are various associations to this being the pathway of the dead, and in several cultures, the pathway of heroes, on their way to heaven. Akhilleus throws bodies into the river, glutting it up and blocking its course, on its way to the immortal sea. He pulls twelve young souls from the river to be offerings for his dead friend Patroklos, presumably to accompany him on his journey. Is Xanthos another metaphorical name for the Silver River? If our hypothesis about the Iliad being authored as an astrological primer is correct, it is placed in the right location, and it is performing the correct mythological function. What do you think?

  The designation of the 'Sea' is distinct from the image of the 'River', even though there are several references here of one flowing into the other. In cultures around the world, there is this theme of the souls of the dead travelling along this Celestial River (as the Chinese called it) in order to reach heaven. The tip of the arrow, and therefore the front of the constellation Sagittarius dips into this cosmic stream. The other end of the arrow, sigma Sagittarium, is the star stylized as the vane (feather) which the centaur holds and is described by Richard Hinckley Allen as follows. Indeed, most of our references to the cultures embracing the Milky Way come from his legendary work:

The Sea

The Sea
Capricorn is a Goat-Fish in most ancient maps
Notice the Fish (Pisces) and the tail of the whale (Cetus)
appearing at the extreme left of the image.

  "This has been identified with Nunki of the Euphratean Tablet of the Thirty Stars, the Star of the Proclamation of the Sea, this Sea being the quarter occupied by Aquarius, Capricornus, Delphinus, Pisces, and Piscis Australis. It is the same space in the sky that Aratos designated as the Water; perhaps another proof of the Euphratean origin of much of Greek astronomy."

  Star Names, Their Lore and Meaning, p. 359

  In other words, this arrow of Sagittarius, and indeed the constellation itself, is the bridge between the areas of heaven designated as the 'River' and the 'Sea'. One flows into the other through Sagittarius! These are ancient notions which are at work here, and if they do indeed trace back to Euphratean origins, then at the time of writing of the Iliad,, whether it was during the 8th century or stems from an oral tradition of an historical event which may have occurred some centuries earlier, it is still a 'Johnny-come-lately' and is young compared to the Sumer ian and Babylonian influences from which they may have been cultivated. At any time during the first millennium, these archetypes already have ancient roots. The Iliad is drawing from an old, familiar weave, although it is here being dressed in Greek garb, customs and habits.



  But is there any evidence of fire, and of our mutable fire sign, in this chapter? Our hypothesis suggests that these should be highlighted by repetition, to 'teach us' about the influence of this vibration. As the Queen of Heaven calls to her son, the God of Living Fire makes his entrance. Indeed, 'heaven's flame' is now brought in to combat this 'celestial river'. Enter Hephaistos, stage left.

Gamelegs, my own child! We thought you'd be
a match for whirling Xanthos in the battle.
Lend a hand, and quickly. Make your fire
blaze up
. I'll be raising from the sea
a rough gale of the west wind and the south wind,
able to carry flames to burn the heads
and armor off the Trojans
. Kindle trees
by Xanthos' banks, hurl fire at the river,
and do not let him put you off by threats
or honeyed speech. No slackening your fury!
Only when I call out, with a long cry,
withhold your living fire then."

Living Fire

Living Fire

brought heaven's flame to bear
: upon the plain
it broke out first, consuming many dead men
there from the number whom Akhilleus killed,
while all the plain was burned off and the shining
water stopped. As north wind in late summer
quickly dries an orchard freshly watered,
to the pleasure of the gardener, just so
the whole reach of the plain grew dry, as fire
burned the corpses
. Then against the river
Hephaistos turned the bright flame, and the elms
and tamarisks and willows burned away
with all the clover, galingale, and rushes
plentiful along the winding streams.
Then eels and fish, in backwaters, in currents,
wriggled here and there at the scalding breath
of torrid blasts from the great smith
, Hephaistos,
and dried away by them, the river cried:

Hephaistos Fire

Hephaistos Fire

"Hephaistos, not one god can vie with you!
Neither would I contend with one so fiery..."

He spoke in stream, and his clear current seethed,
the way a caldron whipped by a white-hot fire
boils with a well-fed hog's abundant fat
that spatters
all the rim, as dry split wood
turns ash beneath it
. So his currents, fanned
by fire
, seethed, and the river would not flow
but came to a halt, tormented by the gale
of fire from the heavenly smith
, Hephaistos."

  Everything is being burned up, and the river has no choice but to back off. We also mentioned at the beginning of our presentation that Sagittarians were polyglots, often able to speak more than one language. Here Xanthos speaks to us in 'stream'. We'll be hearing elvish next! Also, notice that Homer has managed to work in another reference to Jupiter's chosen, fat. And not only fat, but abundant fat at that! (Expansive, excessive, gross, grande, mucho, bigger and better, all Sagittarian themes, here characterized as 'abundant fat'.) There's fat in the fire, or Sag in the Sag! More for everybody!

Zeus and Supplicant

Zeus and Supplicant

  Other themes which Homer has thrown in to help to illustrate our Sagittarian nature appear interspersed in this chapter. One of the clues which regularly seems to appear is when you see both the gods and later mortals repeating the same action. Homer used poetic verse, while Christians would later sing hymns about this divine interaction. Heaven sings Hallelujah, Hallelujah the Earth replies. In this episode we are learning about the 'most high' and other themes reflecting the nature of both the planet, Jupiter (or in this case Zeus), or the sign, Sagittarius. Notice the images of 'running high', both by river and man, of running as fast as the eagle, the bird of Zeus, of a Trojan prince standing by an oak tree, the tree of Zeus, of how locusts are consumed by fire, of how both people and gods are shipped 'overseas' and yet return (travellers), of supplicants who beg for mercy (Zeus was the Lord of Supplicants), of bows, bowstrings, arrows and quivers, the most ancient of symbols for Sagittarius, and finally, of the ephemeral state of man and his time here on Earth. Sagittarius is a mutable sign, indicating that it fluctuates, vascillates, changes... and is gone. Because it is a mutable fire sign, there can be a brief shot at glory, but it fades quickly. Apollo encapsulates this notion well as he eyes Poseidon and considers how prudent it would be to take him on in battle over the state of affairs of mere mortals.

Apollo, Son of Zeus

Son of Zeus
The Sun

"Lord of earthquake, sound of mind
you could not call me if I strove with you
for the sake of mortals, poor things that they are.
Ephemeral as the flamelike budding leaves,
men flourish on the ripe wheat of the grainland,
then in spiritless age they waste and die."

Akhilleus, great grandson of Zeus

great grandson
of Zeus

  Notice how our 'mutable fire' image is brought together in one line of Homer. 'Ephemeral as the flamelike budding leaves...' He's good. He's really good. But we opened this week's presentation by saying that Zeus is the Lord of Heaven and all that is in it. He is the spirit of morality and the essence of the divine. His polygamist character is simply a way to populate all of creation, to fill the skies and the earth with the stardust of life in all its magnificence and all its knots. The entire weave of heaven, and from heaven to earth, stems from the well-spring of his source. According to Homer, he was the first born of the gods. Here are a few of his divine offspring, all extensions of Zeus, as they step up to honor their role in the celestial drama, vying with one another in battle. The chapter opens with a mortal, striving for immortality, battling a 'god-begotten' river, and ending with the gods themselves coming to blows with each other. Akhilleus ties them all together in a bow for us...

Ares, Son of Zeus

Son of Zeus
The planet Mars

  "Each time
the great battlefield runner, Prince Akhilleus
turned to make a stand- to learn if all
the immortal gods who own the sweep of heaven
chased him

  And then follows the house of Zeus.

"All wrong, bow of silver (Apollo), child of Zeus!
You have not worked the will of Zeus."

"With this he (Ares) struck hard at the stormcloud shield
(of Athena) that trails the rain of heaven: even a bolt
from Zeus will not undo it

Aphrodite, daughter of Zeus

daughter of Zeus
The planet Venus

"Now Aphrodite, Zeus's daughter..."

"Daughter of Zeus the Stormking (Athena)..."

"...when from the side of Zeus..." (Apollo & Poseidon)

  "When the Seasons
happily brought to an end our term of hire..."

"I'll never let you brag again
in Father's hall, among the gods..."
(Artemis to Apollo)

"...but Hera, Zeus's consort..."

Artemis, daughter of Zeus

daughter of Zeus
The Moon

"The other deathless ones went to Olympos,
some in anger, others enjoying triumph,
and took their chairs beside their father, lord
of stormcloud


  Wisdom, love, anger, feeling, desire and the Hours (Horae- which originally denoted the Seasons of the year); these are the children of Zeus, Lord of Heaven. In Chapter XIX we saw how he 'tips the scales' (Libra). In Chapter XV (Gemini) we heard how 'lightly came his words upon the air'. These are the building blocks of existence mixing it up as the gods of creation, the personifications of personality, the archetypes of the soul. Here in Chapter XXI they all strut their stuff across the stage, stating their spiritual relationship to the All-Father, and reaffirm heaven's preeminent power over us all. It is our connection with the scene and the unseen, of life and death and all that is inbetween. Got religion? It's here. It's the passion and pleasure, the perils and pursuits of all we have done, and all we do, three thousand years ago, or today. Welcome to life.

  "The broad earth
resounded, and great heaven blared around them,
and Zeus, who heard from his Olympian seat,
laughed in his heart for joy..."