Ancient Ethics in a Modern World

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic rhetoric largely surrounding laws, moral codes, and the treatment of women and outsiders in both Jewish and Muslim holy texts.  The detractors of these religions seem to be taking the texts far more literally than most practitioners of these religions do.  Now, this post is not meant as a defense of governments that deny their citizens freedoms and choices that are considered to be basic human rights in many countries around the globe.  Those countries are not, and should not be, representatives of either of these religions.  Judging an individual Jew or Muslim or their religions as a whole by the conduct of any government, any religious ruling body, or any religious leader is an error.  These religions both have books that were written a long, long time ago.  Most rational practitioners of these religions have learned to adapt certain teachings to fit their modern environments and legal systems, and they don’t find this to be in conflict with their core religious beliefs.  They aren’t lurking outside your home waiting for a chance to stone you.

In Hellenismos, we don’t have such books.  There is no written word of the gods full of laws to be followed and beliefs and practices to maintain.  We are largely reconstructing and reviving our religion based on archaeological research and extant texts that were largely meant for entertainment.  I am sure there are things that we are getting wrong.  However, we are not trying to revive or reconstruct the cultures of any ancient Greek city-states in their entirety.  My love for the gods does not extend to a belief that ancient Athenian society and social customs, especially as they pertained to slaves and women, are something to strive for.  Why, then, do so many assume that someone of a different faith strives for the very worst (by our 2017 American moral and social standards) to be found in their holy texts?

In terms of moral code for Hellenismos, many people will point you toward the Delphic Maxims.  I love that they still exist and that we are able to read them and consider them, but I don’t believe that following all of them will make us better people or bring us to better service for the gods.  For example, the ninth maxim is “Γαμειν μελλε,” or “Intend to marry.”  It may seem harmless or even good advice on the surface, but what about our LGBTQ brothers and sisters?  In many places, including modern Greece, same-sex marriages are not legal.  Therefore, many people are legally unable to fulfill this maxim.  Should they be judged for that?  In antiquity, people didn’t marry for love.  Marriages were arranged, and sexual orientation didn’t matter as your marriage had nothing to do with who you loved or were attracted to.  It was a duty.  Should it still be a duty?  Should I marry the man my mother (I have no father, grandfather, or uncle) chooses for me regardless of my opinion on the matter?

The 44th maxim is “Υιους παιδευε,” or “Educate your sons.”  On the surface, there is no fault to be found here, but if you look at the entire set of maxims as a whole, you will find no such directive regarding the educations of daughters.  I would hope that most if not all modern Hellenic polytheists would look at this maxim, understand that it was written in a different time, and apply the directive to value and pursue education as something that is equally important for their daughters.

The 95th maxim is “Γυναιχος αρχε,” or “Rule your wife.”  This is the very idea that I often hear slammed when people discuss Judaism and Islam.  Both religions have fairly well-defined gender roles that are more adhered to the more orthodox one is, but what no one seems to remember is that we have this idea, too.  This idea, no matter where you find it, started a long time ago.  The feminist battle for equality is not a new thing, nor is it just a monotheist or Abrahamic thing.  In addition, a very important aspect of the feminist ideal of equality is that women get to choose for themselves.  If a woman chooses to take on a practice that other people view as oppressive, if it is her own choice (not a choice made under duress by family or government), she is not being oppressed.  To deny her the opportunity to make that choice would be oppressive.

In fact, there are a few maxims that I think we could all do well to remember.  Ξενος ων ιςθι.  If you are a stranger, act like one.  If you have never been a part of a Jewish or Muslim family or community, you are an outsider.  You don’t know everything.  You haven’t walked in those shoes.  Accept that there are probably things that you do not know or understand, and listen to the people who are a part of those communities when they have something to tell you about themselves, their practices, their beliefs, or their communities.  Do not assume that you know better than they do about who they are.  Ψεγε μηδενα.  Find fault with no one.  It isn’t your place to judge the religious beliefs or practices of anyone else.  You do not have to adopt someone else’s way of life for your own, but we ought to accept that they live the life that they have chosen to live.

I was going to choose just one more maxim to leave you with, but there are many more that apply.  Instead, I’ll just say this.  If we want to be accepted and have our religious views accepted rather than mocked and ostracized, we need to extend that same favor to others.  We cannot gain the respect that we do not give to others.

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Ask and… well, I’ll try my best.

Some of you (all of you?!) are excited to get to work writing and researching and painting and drawing and sketching and doing all of the creative things you do to honor Apollon in the devotional, but you need a little help to get started.

No problem!  I have epithets coming out of my ears!  If you’d like me to do divination and assign one to you, please e-mail me at pythioumelissa at gmail dot com.  If you just need a little inspiration to spark your fire, look no further.  Another list of epithets!

  • Apollon Daphnephoros, Carrier of the Bay Branches; He Who Carries the Laurel; He who carries the branches of laurel
  • Apollon Deiradiotes, He of the Ridge
  • Apollon Dekatephoros, To Whom The Tenth Part of the Booty is Dedicated
  • Apollon Délios, Born on Delos; of Delos
  • Apollon Delphínios, of Delphi; Slayer of Python; of the Dolphins; of the Womb; of Sailors; God of Colonists; Dolphin God
  • Apollon Delphios (Απόλλων Δελφιος), protector of the shrine at Delphi
  • Apollon Despota, the cruel master, Master of the House, Master of the Family, Absolute Ruler
  • Apollon Didymeús (Απόλλων Διδυμεύς), double light; Twin
  • Apóllon Dikéros (Απόλλων Δικέρως), two-horned
  • Apollon Dionysodotes, Who Gives Dionysos; Who Gives Us Dionysos; Bestower of Dionysos

Honoring the Moon

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Diana and Endymion by Pier Francesco Mola, c. 1660  (Switzerland)

When I visited Rome in 2006 (I think it was), I had not yet made the paradigm shift to Hellenismos.  I was a fairly eclectic polytheist keeping a few shrines for a few different goddesses from different pantheons.  I had had feelings for Athena that were not reciprocated, yet She was present in my life.  Everywhere I went in Rome, I encountered Roma, the goddess of the city, and I remember being very frustrated because all the images I saw of Her looked to me like they were really of Athena or perhaps Minerva.  I kick myself now for the gorgeous paintings, statues, and temple remains to Apollo that I must have missed, but I was very focused on Athena during that visit.  It was only on my trip to the Capitoline Museum that my attention was torn away by another goddess.  It was Selene.  There was a painting of Her that I wish I remembered better, but I stood in front of it just staring at it for what seemed like a long time until my rather bored then girlfriend dragged me away.  When I search the Internet now for that painting, I’m never sure if what I find is the right one as none have captivated me through my computer screen the same way that I was captivated by the original work hanging on the wall of that museum.  I know that the painting was of Selene and Endymion and that it also featured a tree.    I think the piece shown here by Pier Francesco Mola must have been what I saw, but I don’t feel the spark of recognition that I feel I should.

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marble sarcophagus with Selene and Endymion, early 3rd century C.E. (Rome)

I didn’t think about Selene much again for quite a long time.  Then in 2014, a friend took me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  To date, it has still been my only trip there, and the few hours we spent there that morning were not nearly enough.  As we walked through the hall of classical sculpture, I recalled the painting I had seen in Rome.  I told my friend about it, and she showed me a frieze of Selene and Endymion on a sarcophagus.  I seem to be caught and held by their story each time I encounter it in person.

I don’t honor Selene regularly.  I find it difficult to know another god of the moon so well (Mani, the Norse god) and to also know Selene.  Sometimes I imagine that They have some sort of club house up on the moon where Selene, Mani, Luna, Chang’e (嫦娥), and all of the others hang out together.  Some of these gods are the actual celestial bodies themselves, and others, like Mani, carry the moon (generally pulled by a chariot) across the sky (except, you know…Mystery), and some of these gods (like Selene) both are the moon that we see and carry the moon.  That notion can help parse the different personalities for the single body, but I also wonder if perhaps these different spirits (the spirits of these gods, not that they are spirits rather than gods) mingle together to form the moon.

If I knew some of these other gods better, including Selene, perhaps knowing how they are different from Mani would help me to see Them all.  In my experience, Mani is extremely generous, loving, accepting, and almost child-like in his love of things that sparkle, shine, and make little tinkling noises.  He is captivated by beauty, yet it is His beauty (and Selene’s) that captivates so many of us.  What fills Selene’s heart with joy?  What captivates Her?

We know that She was and is captivated by the beauty of the eternally sleeping Endymion.  She visits him where he lays in his cave – a story of tragic romance to be sure.  She loves him and has borne him 50 daughters over the years, yet he has slept through it all.  There are a few different accounts of how he came to his immortal sleep, and in some it is through the passionate plea of Selene to Zeus, yet in others it was his own reward and he was actually in love with a goddess who would never return his feelings – Hera.  In this latter scenario, Selene only found Endymion after he began his eternal repose, and he has never been aware of their ongoing relationship. Are Endymion and Selene both the tragic victims of unrequited love?

Selene does share an epithet with Apollon, and I wonder if there is a Selene devotee out there that would like to write about it?  Could it be you?  Selene is known as Phoebe (not to be confused with Apollon’s grandmother) just as Apollon is known as Phoibos.  As the name means “bright,” it is no wonder why these gods of light and celestial bodies that emit or seem to emit light bear this epithet.