Crystal Blue Persuasion

In the latter part of my recent post, Primordial NecessityI offered some reflections on Ananke and the idea of Necessity as a compelling force, which are based on James Hillman’s Eranos Conference speech titled, Athene, Ananke, and the Necessity of Abnormal Psychology. Here, I would like to continue on with Hillman’s insights into the significant role the goddess Athena plays in relation to necessity and compulsion.

In the story of Eumenides, who is associated with Ananke, we read of the trials of Orestes, who is caught between the demands of the Furies, whose presence tortures Orestes, after, at the command of Apollo, murders his own mother. The play has political parallels to Athenian culture that reflect a major shift in the pantheon in which the law of Zeus replaces the necessity for revenging sin with more blood shed. Through persuasive speech, specifically through the rhetoric of Zeus’ daughter Athene,* the goddess of wisdom, Orestes life is then spared.

During the trial of Orestes, it is Athene who defends Orestes against the fate of the noose:

“The balloting over Orestes’s fate is equal. Then Athene intervenes. There is a climactic argument back and forth between her and the Eumenides. But finally Athene persuades them and wins Orestes his life. The key word in her victory is persuasion, peitho, the word translated in our language as rhetoric. Rhetoric persuades necessity.”

Hillman suggests that Athene herself is sympathetic to the compulsion of necessity with its narrowing and constricting force:

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) – The Remorse of Orestes (1862)

“Athene has also invented instruments of limitation and containment, bringing the arts of pottery, of weaving, of measuring, of the bridle, yoke, and harness. In her is combined the very contradictions she must reconcile: the Nous of her father and the binding force of Ananke with whose collaboration her father rules.”

The unprecedented action of persuasive speech is for Hillman of utmost importance, a game changer. For something that was once blind force has now been given a place among the gods. By personifying them, the power of the gods is no longer blind or abstract. Their influence can now be told in story, both among the gods and with interactions with humans.

“The content of Athene’s words is that she offers the Erinys – the torturing furious forces of necessity who oppress Orestes – a place within the divine order. She offers a sanctuary, a cave, an altar (“new chambers,” 1005) where these powers may reside and be honored and yet remain alien: or “resident aliens” as they are called. The unimaged nameless ones shall be imaged and named. Sacrifice is possible. Reconciliation occurs.”

For Hillman the importance of mythology for us, who may find their stories irrelevant, unnecessary, difficult or incomprehensible, lies in the psychological insight they offer into our afflictions, what he calls pathologizing.

“Although the problem from which Orestes suffers involves his father and his mother, their sins and their murders, it is neither Orestes the person, nor the archetypal protagonist of the human ego that is finally the problem. It is a cosmic, universal agony in which he is caught. By returning to Greek myths we can see our personal agonies in this impersonal light.”

Impersonal because of the archetypal nature of our pathologizing and suffering that we all have a share in. Although still very much subjective and necessary, pathologizing can be seen through the lens of mythology, not only of the Greeks, but of all polytheistic cultures. Their stories show us our problems, displaying ideas as divine powers, universal and generational, because of our unbelief in them. For as Jung rightly observed, “the gods have become diseases.”

Hillman sees our modern afflictions as an undercurrent; as compulsive necessity that drives our behaviors. Necessity though, is not something to be overcome by reason or understanding alone, but wants something from us besides abandoning or curing the pathology that has us in its grip. Pathology is perhaps, the arrow of desire aimed at soul-making.

Orestes at Delphi flanked by Athena and Pylades among the Erinyes and priestesses of the oracle

“An analysis repeats the struggles in the soul of Orestes between reason and compulsion, and it repeats the speech of Athene, who persuades to reconciliation by finding place and giving image to the driving necessities. In the mouth of Athene speech becomes a curative hymn,  a word which etymologically means “spun” or “woven” words. The relation between word and force is also reflected in society, suggesting that the rule of coercive violence increases when our art of convincing words declines. Peitho takes on an overwhelming importance both in the healing of the soul and the healing of society.”

Just as Orestes’ ordeal gains the Furies recognition by giving them a place among the gods, Peitho, or persuasive speech, provides the darker aspects of our compulsions and pathologies a place of recognition in our lives by letting them speak to us. Peitho brings speech to life as a force itself that shapes and forms us. Speech here is not merely functional, directive and practical but art, devotion or sacred breath. For speech is of the body as much as of the mind and through errancy brings the darkened depths out of the body. In speech our afflictions can be sifted and reworked for soul-making, a perspective freeing us from the purely literal and personal, to one that allows us to place our afflictions within the bigger picture of human experience.

“Speech arises from the same inmost depths where necessity holds the soul in bondage, creating our pathologizings.

…But we can give her modes of expression, ways to image herself in words, persuading her from her implacable silence  – an archetypal therapy, a therapy of the archetype itself.”

For another essay on Hillman, Jung, the Greeks and Anxiety see David Russell’s essay.

All quotes, except as noted, from Hillman, James (2012-11-24). Mythic Figures (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

“Better get ready
Gonna see the light
Love, love is the answer, 
And that’s all right
So don’t you give up now, 
It’s so easy to find
Just look to your soul 
And open your mind” 

Writer(s): Tommy James, Mike Vale, Eddie Morley Gray
Copyright: EMI Longitude Music

*Hillman prefers Athene over the more common Athena.

11 thoughts on “Crystal Blue Persuasion

  1. Majestic post… I have always wonder about the Erinys and their role linked to revenge, while the Eumenides represent Forgiveness.
    Wonderful and thorough analysis!. Thanks a lot for sharing.
    Best wishes, Aquileana 😀


    1. Thanks so much Aquileana!

      I’m happy you enjoyed the post. I must give credit to James Hillman though for insights gleaned from his writings.

      I am enjoying your blog too! Thanks again for visiting here.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Very nice! I wish I had more direct knowledge of the Greek literature. Perhaps you could recommend some reading, favorite books of yours?

        Your post is a very clear and concise summary and is much appreciated.


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