Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of Jul 16th - Jul 22nd,  2004

Chapter XXIV

A Mist of Slumber

Columns Archive


  This week we're taking a look at Pisces, the 12th sign of the zodiac, ruled in antiquity by Jupiter.


A Latin word which translates as
The Fish

  Pisces is a mutable water sign symbolized by the Fish. It deals with collective emotion, sensitivity and deep feelings. It often manifests as sadness and weeping, although it can also be great joy. Either way, it is strong and deep currents. Whereas our first water sign Cancer might be characterized as a river, Pisces is an ocean or tidal wave, which inundates, saturates and overwhelms with its power. Its depth is incomprehensible, just as the ocean fills the horizons which we can perceive at sea, and yet reaches far beyond. This is the sign of sleep and dreams, slumber and silence. In the body, it rules the feet. Virgo, the sign opposite the Fish, represents definition and mental articulation, whereas Pisces deals with those things which most defy precision or specifics. If Virgo represents the finite, Pisces is the infinite; only a small fraction of which can be imagined at any one time. Strength can be measured by the number of pounds one lifts, fever by the degrees on the thermometer, but how do you measure faith, compassion, mercy or prayer? It is fog, mist and the twilight, the in-between stages wherein one realm blends with another. This sign connects us with the unseen and the forgotten, of what is left when you have no one, are lost or alone. What makes a huge difference here when one suffers a devastating loss is the depth of your inner connection with the divine, of how much you surrender to God, or in Homer's case, to the gods.

  If our hypothesis is correct, that Homer was writing an astrological primer for anyone who would listen (as an oral tradition), or who might read his work, then Chapter XXIV would correspond to Pisces, as did Chapter XII. If this is true, then we should not be surprised to find twenty two references to crying and tears concerning personal loss in this episode. We see both mercy and compassion being evoked as two mortal enemies meet amidst a veil of tears, as Trojan King Priam begs for the body of his son from Akhilleus, the Greek champion.

"Now in Akhilleus
Akhilleus, Priam and the body of Hektor

Akhilleus, Priam
and the body of Hektor

the evocation of his father stirred
new longing, and an ache of grief. He lifted
the old man's hand and gently put him by.
Then both were overborne as they remembered:
the old king huddled at Akhilleus' feet
, and wept for Hektor, killer of men,
while great Akhilleus wept for his own father
as for Patroklos once again
; sobbing
filled the room

  Priam has made his way into the enemy encampment, without protection, totally vulnerable and at the mercy of the man who killed not only Hektor, but other sons of his as well. Having received divine instruction that this is what he must do, he trusts entirely to faith, taking only another elderly crier with him to drive the wagon. He surrenders himself to Akhilleus completely, to do as he will, even kissing his hands. Notice that while Priam weeps, he does so huddled at the feet of Akhilleus, one of our Piscean themes.

Beneath the sea

Beneath the sea, sad.

  It seems everyone is sad throughout this chapter. Zeus sends Iris to Thetis, the divine mother of Akhilleus, to summon her to Olympos. Iris finds her in a cave beneath the sea, wrapped in sorrow about the fate which is getting ready to overtake her son.

"Midway between
Samos and rocky Imbros, down she plunged
into the dark grey sea
, and the brimming tide
roared over her as she sank into the depth
as rapidly as a leaden sinker, fixed
on a lure of wild bull's horn
, that glimmers down
with a fatal hook among the ravening fish
Soon Iris came on Thetis in a cave,
surrounded by a company of Nereids
lolling there
, while she bewailed the fate
of her magnificent son, now soon to perish..."


Thetis, shapeshifting while
trying to escape the grasp of Pelius
the divine mother and
mortal father of Akhilleus

  Mind you, this is not for an event that has already taken place, but for one that is about to take place. Yet being a goddess, Thetis has foreknowledge of what will be, and is feeling the impact in anticipation. This issue of personal loss is not necessarily confined to the past, of what has already happened, as we shall see in other examples. Obeying the divine summons, Thetis goes to Olympos, sees Zeus, and returns to her son to tell him to release the body of Hektor, where...

"She found him groaning there,

  Having taken the message to Thetis, Iris is now told by Zeus to go to Priam, to tell him to go to Akhilleus and offer a ransom in return for the body of his son. This, in turn, is how she finds the Trojans when she arrives from Olympos...

Weeping angel

Life's inevitable conclusion

"Then Iris at his bidding ran
on the rainy winds to bear the word of Zeus,
until she came to Priam's house and heard
voices in lamentation. In the court
she found the princes huddled around their father,
faces and clothing wet with tears. The old man,
fiercely wrapped and hooded in his mantle,
sat like a figure graven- caked in filth
his own hands had swept over head and neck
when he lay rolling on the ground. Indoors
his daughters and his sons' wives were weeping,
remembering how many and how brave
the young men were who had gone down to death
before the Argive spearmen

  In Chapter XV, our Geminian (air) chapter, Iris is given a similar command by Zeus. "Then running on the wind swift Iris carried out his order." Notice that here in our Pisces chapter, it is now a water wind, a wet wind, or rainy winds upon which she runs.

  Priam is moved by longing, and asks Hekabe for her advice concerning his decision to go to the ships alone to retrieve the body of his son.

"...for I am torn with longing now, to pass
inside the great encampment by the ships.'"

A Greek ship

A Greek Ship

"The woman's voice broke as she answered:"

"'Sorrow, sorrow. Where is the wisdom now that made you
famous in the old days, near and far?
How can you ever face the Akhaian ships
or wish to go alone before those eyes..?'"

  As Priam leaves Troy on his lonely journey to the Akhaian camp...

"Family and friends all followed weeping
as though for Priam's last and deathward ride."

  And then, for a bit of unusual philosophical advice, after having cried together over different lost loved ones, Akhilleus says to Priam:

"Then gods out of the sky sent you this bitterness:
the years of siege, the battles and the losses.
Endure it, then. And do not mourn forever
for your dead son
. There is no remedy.
You will not make him stand again. Rather
await some new misfortune to be suffered."

Niobe's children

The children of Niobe
shot down by Artemis and Apollo

  In what seems so obvious as to be hardly worth mentioning to any astrologer, it is the gods out of the sky who orchestrate this bitterness, the gods of Homer, the gods of heaven, or the planets of astrology. They are all one and the same, and they were one and the same during the time of Homer, being passed on from the Babylonian and Egyptian sources, as centuries later they would pass on this same information to the Romans, albeit through a Greek filter. Life tends to be witnessed by those who live it. The language, the dress, the memories and the personal experiences may be different from location to location or culture to culture, but the red planet as the God of War, the bright planet as the Goddess of Love, etc; these themes cut across the cultural divide and live on as the immortals of heaven.

  As with any powerful episode in Greek drama, a myth is evoked, in this case one in which loss, separation and loneliness are the chief themes. It is the story of Niobe, who made the mistake of comparing herself to the gods. She bragged that while the great Titaness Leto had only conceived two children, Niobe had twelve.
Niobe's last child

Niobe's last child

Because of her conceit, Leto's two divine children, Apollo and Artemis (the Sun and Moon) shoot down the twelve children of Niobe. Niobe is made to suffer as waves of emotional devastation sweep over her when all of her twelve children, and her husband as well, are slain by the arrows of the Sun and Moon. Our Piscean theme, running so clearly through the chapter, is counterpointed by the myth, through loss, tears and suffering.

"We are told
that even Niobe in her extremity
took thought for bread- though all her brood had perished,
her six young girls and six tall sons. Apollo,
making his silver longbow whip and sing,
shot the lads down, and Artemis with raining
arrows killed the daughters- all this after
Niobe had compared herself with Leto,
the smooth-cheeked goddess."

"She has borne two children,
Niobe said, How many have I borne!
But soon those two destroyed the twelve."

"The gods made graves for them on the tenth day,
and then at last, being weak and spent with weeping,
Niobe thought of food."

  Even though Niobe turns into stone, she continues to weep, as "tears trickle down her marble face." (Ovid- Metamorphoses) Finally, as Priam returns to Troy, his mission accomplished with the body of his son, the entire city mourns:

"Dawn spread out her yellow robe on all the earth,
as they drove on toward Troy, with groans and sighs,
and the mule-team pulled the wagon and the body.
And no one saw them, not a man or woman,
before Kassandra. Tall as the pale-gold
goddess Aphrodite
, she had climbed
the citadel of Pergamos at dawn.

Weeping angel

Loss and longing

Now looking down she saw her father come
in his war-car, and saw the crier there,
and saw Lord Hektor on his bed of death
upon the mulecart. The girl wailed and cried
to all the city

'Oh, look down, look down,
go to your windows, men of Troy, and women,
see Lord Hektor now! Remember joy
at seeing him return alive from battle,
exalting all our city and our land!'

Now, at the sight of Hektor, all gave way
to loss and longing
, and all crowded down
to meet the escort and body near the gates,
till no one in the town was left at home.
There Hektor's lady and his gentle mother
tore their hair for him, flinging themselves
upon the wagon to embrace his person
while the crowd groaned
. All that long day
until the sun went down they might have mourned
in tears
before the gateway. But old Priam
spoke to them from his chariot:



'Make way,
let the mules pass. You'll have your fill of weeping
later, when I've brought the body home.'"

  In these lines we catch a rare and quick glimpse of the other side of Pisces, of great emotion, but in this case of the flip side as Kassandra calls on Troy to remember joy. Kassandra is compared to Aphrodite, setting our stage, as Venus holds the position of exaltation in this sign. Notice how Homer weaves these themes together as she (and apparently she alone) summons them to 'Remember joy at seeing him return alive from battle, exalting all our city and our land!' This is the path less traveled, of turning the sadness into joy (Venus), for all that he had done. Exaltations are the highest possible expression of celestial energy, and are not often manifested in the hustle and bustle of day to day living. These are spiritual energies, which only a few are capable of obtaining, experiencing, and appreciating. In a more mundane and predictable fashion, the people of Troy seem to give way to 'loss and longing', which is usually the way one expresses Piscean calamities during a time of bereavement. It is indeed a rare few who can focus on the 'high side', when conditions seem to warrant just the reverse. And then each in turn, Hektor's wife Andromakhe, his mother Hekabe, and even Helen eulogizes Hektor and weeps for him. First, Andromakhe:

"'You could not open your strong arms to me
from your deathbed, or say a thoughtful word,
for me to cherish all my life long
as I weep for you night and day.'"

"Her voice broke,
and a wail came from the women. Hekabe
lifted her lamenting voice among them

"Hekabe sobbed again, and the wails redoubled.
Then it was Helen's turn to make lament..."

"'...never did I have an evil word
or gesture from you. No- and when some other

Alexandros and Helen

Alexandros and Helen

brother-in-law or sister would revile me,
or if my mother-in-law spoke to be bitterly...'
' would bring her round
with your kind heart and gentle speech. Therefore
I weep for you and for myself as well
given this fate, this grief. In all wide Troy
no one is left who will befriend me, none;
they all shudder at me.'"

"Helen wept,
and a moan came from the people..."

  And finally, as they place Hektor on the funeral pyre:

Weeping Family

Weeping Family

"When Dawn that lights
the world of mortals came for the tenth day,
they carried greathearted Hektor out at last,
and all in tears placed his dead body high
upon the pyre, then cast a torch below...

...while the tears rolled down their cheeks."

  This is a watery thread which runs consistently throughout the chapter. Whereas Scorpio, our previous water sign, is the act of death itself, Pisces is the emotional processing of that grief, of those who are left behind who have to deal with it and experience the loss, loneliness, grief and anguish in waves of despair.

The Hanged Man

Card 12 of the Tarot
depicts the hanged man,
one who willingly surrenders
to the will of God.

  We have established that Pisces is the twelfth sign of the zodiac, and we have suggested that repetition is one of the keys which Homer uses to underscore his theme in each of these chapters. These two notions combine as Priam prepares to ransom the body of Hektor from Akhilleus.

"Throwing open the lid of treasure boxes
he picked out twelve great robes of state, and twelve
light cloaks for men, and rugs, an equal number,
and just as many capes of snowy linen,
adding a dozen khitons to the lot..."

  In case you weren't counting, that's five twelves in a row, in the vibration which numbers itself as the twelfth sign of the zodiac. Hermes the Wayfinder tells Priam that it has been "Now twelve days the man" (Hektor's body) "has laid there." When Priam, at the very end of the chapter asks for a grace period, it is completed on the twelfth day.

"...on the eleventh we should make his tomb,
and on the twelfth give battle, if we must."

  Twelve is the number of completion, of the whole, of a unit. There are twelve months in a year, deriving from the twelve lunation cycles during the course of a single solar cycle, the pattern our western civilization has come to adopt as its unit of time. It has been pondered by many why the Iliad should pick the ninth year out of a ten year long conflict, invoking neither beginning nor end of that conflict, and conclude with the death of Hektor rather than Akhilleus or the sacking of Troy. Here the reason is made clear. If Homer were choreographing an astrological primer, running through the twelve signs of the zodiac twice, then Pisces is the ONLY place where this story line would logically draw to a conclusion. This is not a random segment, chosen by chance, but rather a logical, intentional construct, built with purpose and forethought, reflecting heavenly motion and following divine design. Yes, Homer's framework is indeed logical. Astro-logical.

  But loss, separation and suffering are not the only components of Pisces. Slumber, sleep and dreams, or their lack are also recurring threads which run throughout the weave of this chapter. As the sign of the subconscious, this is the segment of heaven which deals with a lack of focus, or relaxation, down time, and sleep. In the opening lines, Akhilleus cannot sleep, and therefore gets up and goes down to walk 'distractedly' by the sea.

Asleep by the Sea

Asleep by the Sea

"Men dispersed
and turned their thoughts to supper in their quarters,
then to the boon of slumber. But Akhilleus
thought of his friend, and sleep that quiets all things
would not take hold of him
. He tossed and turned..."

"With memory his eyes grew wet. He lay
on his right side
, then on his back, and then
face downward- but at last he rose, to wander
distractedly along the line of surf

  And when Priam finally arrives at the camp of the Akhaians, Hermes, here called Argeiphontes, using the power of his caduceus puts the sentries to sleep in order that the old king might enter unnoticed.

Hermes, the Wayfinder

Hermes, the Wayfinder

"Argeiphontes the Wayfinder obeyed.
He bent to tie his beautiful sandals on,
ambrosial, golden, that carry him over water
and over endless land on a puff of wind,
and took the wand with which he charms sleep-
or, when he wills, awake- the eyes of men...

"Now night had fallen,
bringing sentries to their supper fire,
but the glimmering god Hermes, the Wayfinder,
showered a mist of slumber on them all.
As quick as a thought, he had the gates unbarred
and open to let the wagon enter, bearing
the old king and the ransom."

  Notice that it is his beautiful sandals (Pisces, feet, shoes, sandals) that carry him over the water! Neither Priam nor Akhilleus have slept in the time since Hektor had been killed, yet, after these two weep together, Akhilleus makes up a bed for Priam, and the two finally share the healing balm of sleep.

"'Make a bed ready for me, son of Thetis,
and let us know the luxury of sleep.
From that hour when my son died at your hands
till now, my eyelids have not closed in slumber
over my eyes
, but groaning where I sat
I tasted pain and grief a thousandfold,
or lay down rolling in my courtyard mire.
Here for the first time I have swallowed bread
and made myself drink wine.
Before, I could not.'"

A single Pisces

A Single Pisces

Akhilleus ordered men and servingwomen
to make a bed outside, in the covered forecourt,
with purple rugs piled up and sheets outspread
and coverings of fleeces laid on top
The girls went out with torches in their hands
and soon deftly made up a double bed.
Then Akhilleus, defiant of Agamemnon,
told his guest:

Dear venerable sir,'
you'll sleep outside tonight, in case an Akhaian
officer turns up, one of those men
who are forever taking counsel with me...


Hermes, with a
walking stick

Now crier
and king with hearts brimful retired to rest
in the sheltered forecourt, while Akhilleus slept
deep in his palisaded lodge. Beside him,
lovely in her youth, Briseis lay.
And other gods and soldiers all night long,
by slumber quieted, slept on. But slumber
would not come
to Hermes the Good Companion...

Then Hermes came to Priam's pillow, saying:

'Sir, no thought of danger shakes your rest,
as you sleep on..."

  As we have seen, the principle themes of Pisces bubble to the surface, flushing the deeper emotions of the psyche. Loss, separation, pain and grief are what erupt into consciousness as that which we identify with is taken from us. Life is contrasted by death, just as being awake is contrasted by falling asleep. Pisces is the sign of the subconscious, of what is 'below' the level of consciousness or awareness. It is what we don't know or can't see, hear, taste, touch or feel. In short, it transcends the physical senses; and this is precisely Pisces purpose: to remove all the things we identify with so we will transcend the realm of the senses, and reach down further or higher, to ultimately go within to connect with our own divine essence. Whereas the air sign Gemini learns to communicate with those around them on an individual level; Virgo uses its mental capabilities to problem solve in a practical way; Sagittarius climbs into the pulpit to proselytize to the masses; while Pisces, in the same way in which Akhilleus wrestles with his own thoughts by the seashore, goes within, to touch base with and communicate with our own core, which cannot be seen, touched or measured by the senses.

Andromakhe with the body of Hektor

This is the sign of prayer. The subconscious is the springboard by which we connect with god, spirit or the inner forces of creation, and these notions are amply demonstrated throughout the chapter. It is this deeper connection which gives birth to mercy, shame and reverence for religious principles. Although it is touched upon many times in the chapter, Andromakhe perhaps puts it the most simply...

" leave me empty...
now that you are lost..."

  It is the loss that is the source of the pain, grief, loneliness and suffering. And it is the loss that causes us to turn to something higher; within, and yet beyond and above ourselves, in times of great calamity. Homer once again gives us both sides of the coin, showing us what the high and low sides of this energy can be, this time using Akhilleus as our model.

Akhilleus and Briseis

Akhilleus and Briseis

"Murderous Akhilleus has your willing help-
a man who shows no decency, implacable,
barbarous in his ways as a wild lion...
The man has lost all mercy;
he has no shame..."

  And yet, once the gods have spoken to him through his divine mother, just the opposite is the case:

"He is no madman,
no blind brute, nor one to flout the gods,
but dutiful toward men who beg his mercy."

  When one looks into the abyss of uncertainty, that is when we turn to the higher powers for inner guidance through prayer:

Priam at prayer

Priam at prayer

"So the impatient king and his sage crier
had their animals yoked in the palace yard
when Hekabe in her agitation joined them,
carrying in her right hand a golden cup
of honeyed wine, with which, before they left,
they might make an offering. At the horses' heads
she stood to tell them:

"Here, tip wine to Zeus,
the father of the gods. Pray for a safe return
from the enemy army, seeing your heart is set
on venturing to the camp against my will.
Pray in the second place to Zeus the stormking,
gloomy over Ida, who looks down
on all Troy country."

  And they pray for, and receive, a sign from heaven and are heartened that their prayers have been answered.

"In majesty, Priam replied:
"My lady, in this matter
I am disposed to trust you and agree.
It is an excellent thing and salutary
to lift our hands to Zeus, invoking mercy."

The old king motioned to his housekeeper,
who stood nearby with a basin and a jug,
to pour clear water on his hands. He washed them,
took the cup his lady held, and prayed
while standing there
, midway in the walled court.
Then he tipped out the wine, looking toward heaven, saying:

Zeus and his Temple

Zeus and his Temple

"Zeus, our Father, reigning on Ida,
god of glory and power, grant I come
to Akhilleus' door as one to be received
with kindness and mercy

"Zeus all-foreseeing listened to this prayer...

  Of course Zeus becomes Deus, the Latin translation which the Roman Catholic church still uses, which works its way into English as 'God'. Here we have our 'All-Father'. Zeus is Jupiter, and Jupiter the ancient ruler of Pisces, as we see him dominating events throughout this chapter. Pisces is the realm into which we cannot see, but the wisdom and morality of its lessons can be seen everywhere around us in hindsight as Homer provides us with yet another example, this time coming from Priam, speaking of his son:

"The old king's heart exulted, and he said:

'Child, it was well to honor the immortals.
He never forgot, at home in Ilion...
the gods who own Olympos. They in turn
were mindful of him when he met his end


Aphrodite (Venus)

  And once again we find our exaltation, and another glimpse of what Venus in its exaltation in Pisces means. This is not Venus's rulership over Libra, with its legal and legible checks and balances; this is Venus in Pisces with our spiritual tab, and where we stand before god in the ways that we treat one another; with mercy, kindness and trust. These are subtle quantities which cannot be seen, defined, or specified, but as we look back over the quality of a lifetime, they stand out in sharp relief. This notion is replayed (using Homer's gift of repetition for that which he wants to communicate in any one chapter) when Priam later asks...

"Akhilleus, be reverent towards the great gods! And take
pity on me
, remember your own father.
Think me more pitiful by far, since I
have brought myself to do what no man else
has done before- to lift to my lips the hand
of one who killed my son


The sign of submersion
and submission

  These are the ultimate themes of Pisces, which, in their twelfth division, bring us around to wholeness, completion, and the start of a new cycle. From the vantage point of standing at the end of the journey, in this case after a life has been lived (but also by completing the circuit of the year), we have a better perspective from which to view what was right and what was wrong in retrospect. For those who have experienced it, it is a powerful wisdom, but it is also very subtle. These delicate wisps of insight, like the mist, can neither be pushed nor forced, but are there only for those who are ready to listen; yet they speak volumes in their simplicity.

  The currents of this watery weave saturate our final chapter. In this exercise, I have merely separated the threads to more effectively show how they are a hue of the pallet which Homer repeatedly draws from in each chapter, selected as a continuity; in this case of loss, loneliness, sorrow, suffering and bereavement; of the groupings of the twelves; of the repetitive issues of slumber and sleep; and of the emphasis on pity, compassion, mercy, trust and ultimately, faith. Whereas this compartmentalization helps us to better see and identify the patterns, Homer wove them together in a single, cohesive story line. While I have pulled these threads apart, Homer blended them together, chapter by chapter, to form a seamless unity.

  Knowledge of the stars and of how they affect the human condition were the high tech of ancient civilization, and whether as the Babylonian Marduk, the Greek Zeus, or the Roman Jupiter (or under a host of other names from other civilizations), heaven's influence over the affairs of man was thought to hold the supreme position throughout the ancient world. Homer is the pioneer of a new literary tradition in the west, standing at the forefront of a new way of transmitting information to those that came after him, but he also represented the end of a timeless oral tradition which is lost to us. He merely followed in the footsteps of those who had gone before. Because what he wrote was recorded and left to posterity, it appears to stand alone as the harbinger of a unique way of looking at life, but he was simply one more in a long line to whom the baton of storytelling was passed. This tradition related, over and over again in various cultures, the influence of the gods of heaven over the affairs of the mortals here on Earth.

  In the midst of this final quest, on a mission from God, Priam looks back after all that has happened. Even though the events have been powerful, pronounced and recent, he wonders to himself in appropriate Piscean fashion,

"Ah, did my son exist? was he a dream?"

  And indeed, we must wonder right along with him.