Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Rape of Allegory

The History Channel series Clash of the Gods has caused many a heated debate in the Hellenic Polytheist community--usually over how much or how little they "got it right" and how offended or vindicated we feel about that. For me, the concern is much less over how much of the myth they got correct--as "correct" isn't really a word properly applied to myths that have as many variations as the people and personalities who told and retold them--but rather my concern is with the way in which the interviewees analyze the myths--an uneasy and seemingly haphazard mix of literalism and allegory.

For example, in the episode on Herakles, they took great pains to equate the great hero's trials with vice, making the entire thing a spirito-instructional allegory for the triumph of virtue. I don't have a problem with this necessarily--I'm a veritable connoisseur of spirito-instructional allegory--but what I find troubling is that in a later episode on Medusa, they drop the allegorical interpretation for a socio-political one instead. Medusa, once a beautiful mortal priestess of Athena, was raped by Poseidon and, because rape made her impure, Athena punished her by turning her into the snaky-haired monster with which most of us are familiar. All of this, say the interviewees, is a sad reflection of how unfair Hellenic Greek society was to women.

Although Hellenic Greek society may have in fact been unfair to women--certainly a society where it seems normal for a story to contain a victim of rape being punished is not one where women are held in great esteem--but why, I wonder, the drastic shift from the pure allegorical to the pure political. Is it because lobbing pot-shots at the ancient Greeks for their attitudes toward women is more compelling for TV than another symbolism-laden discourse on allegory?

Perhaps it's because I'm a giant allegory nerd that this irritates me so much. Or maybe it's because the switch for sensationalism's sake robbed the loyal viewers, like myself, of a titillating discourse on what is a most pointed, poignant and useful spiritual allegory.

Let's take it as a simple equation: Medusa represents humanity--us; Poseidon, God of the sea and earthquakes, represents unexpected and unpredictable change; Athena represents wisdom; stone represents physical and/or emotional death.

Medusa, ravaged by unpredicted and sorrowful change, unable to properly and healthfully apply spiritual wisdom to pull herself out of it, becomes an unfeeling "monster" who is incapable of seeing others as sentient creatures--either feeling or giving love. When she sees a true reflection of herself, of what she has allowed herself to become, her spiritual death is complete--she herself turns to stone.

I probably won't win any feminist prizes for my interpretation, nor generate enough ad sales to support a nerdball cable network, but at least I can say that, unlike the interviewees on Clash of the Gods, I am consistent--an unholy allegory nerd to the bitter end!

-M. Ashley

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