This week we're taking a look at Pisces, the 12th sign of the zodiac, ruled in antiquity by Jupiter.
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
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
wept, 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.
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.
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...
"Then Iris at his bidding ran
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
"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
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:
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.
"We are told
"She has borne two children,
"The gods made graves for them on the tenth day,
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,
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,
Now, at the sight of Hektor, all gave way
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
"Her voice broke,
"Hekabe sobbed again, and the wails redoubled.
"'...never did I have an evil word
or if my mother-in-law spoke to be bitterly...'
'...you 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.'"
And finally, as they place Hektor on the funeral pyre:
"When Dawn that lights
...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.
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
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,
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.
"With memory his eyes grew wet. He lay
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.
"Argeiphontes the Wayfinder obeyed.
"Now night had fallen,
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,
Akhilleus ordered men and servingwomen
Dear venerable sir,'
Then Hermes came to Priam's pillow, saying:
'Sir, no thought of danger shakes your rest,
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.
"...you leave me empty...
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.
"Murderous Akhilleus has your willing help-
And yet, once the gods have spoken to him through his divine mother, just the opposite is the case:
"He is no madman,
When one looks into the abyss of uncertainty, that is when we turn to the higher powers for inner guidance through prayer:
"So the impatient king and his sage crier
"Here, tip wine to Zeus,
And they pray for, and receive, a sign from heaven and are heartened that their prayers have been answered.
"In majesty, Priam replied:
The old king motioned to his housekeeper,
"Zeus, our Father, reigning on Ida,
"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.
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...
be reverent towards the great gods! And take
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.