Today, as in the ancient past, we remain steeped in mythologies telling us about the nature of men and women – many of them highly destructive to human relationships. The gynocentric narratives that many in the human rights movement are patiently deconstructing are being slowly reconstructed along more healthy lines that speak to the wider experiences of men.
In continuing to underline the importance of narrative in gendered issues we bring you an excerpt from philosopher Richard Kearney on the topic of narrative. His book, On Stories, is recommend reading. – PW
Where do stories come from?
If this be magic, let it be an art lawful as eating.
A Winter’s Tale
Telling stories is as basic to human beings as eating. More so, in fact, for while food makes us live, stories are what make our lives worth living. They are what make our condition human.
This was recognised from the very beginnings of Western civilisation. Hesiod tells us how the founding myths (mythos in Greek means ‘story’) were invented to explain how the world came to be and how we came to be in it. Myths were stories people told themselves in order to explain themselves to themselves and to others. But it was Aristotle who first developed this insight into a philosophical position when he argued, in his Poetics, that the art of storytelling – defined as the dramatic imitating and plotting of human action – is what gives us a shareable world.
It is, in short, only when haphazard happenings are transformed into story, and thus made memorable over time, that we become full agents of our history. This becoming historical involves a transition from the flux of events into a meaningful social or political community – what Aristotle and the Greeks called a polis. Without this transition from nature to narrative, from time suffered to time enacted and enunciated, it is debatable whether a merely biological life (zoe) could ever be considered a truly human one (bios). As the twentieth-century thinker Hannah Arendt argued: ‘The chief characteristic of the specifically human life … is that it is always full of events which ultimately can be told as a story …. It is of this life, bios, as distinguished from mere zoe, that Aristotle said that it “somehow is a kind of action (praxis)”.’
What works at the level of communal history works also atthe level of individual history. When someone asks you who you are, you tell your story. That is, you recount your present condition in the light of past memories and future anticipations. You interpret where you are now in terms of where you have come from and where you are going to. And so doing you give a sense of yourself as a narrative identity that perdures and coheres over a lifetime. This is what the German philosopher Dilthey called the coming-together-of-a-life (Zusammenhang des Lebens), meaning the act of coordinating an existence which would otherwise be scattered over time. In this way, storytelling may be said to humanise time by transforming it from an impersonal passing of fragmented moments into a pattern, a plot, a mythos.
Every life is in search of a narrative. We all seek, willy-nilly, to introduce some kind of concord into the everyday discord and dispersal we find about us. We may, therefore, agree with the poet who described narrative as a stay against confusion. For the storytelling impulse is, and always has been, a desire for a certain ‘unity of life’. In our own postmodern era of fragmentation and fracture, I shall be arguing that narrative provides us with one of our most viable forms of identity – individual and communal.
If the need for stories has become acute in our contemporary culture, it has been recognised from the origin of time as an indispensable ingredient of any meaningful society. In fact, storytelling goes back over a million years, as scholars like Kellogg and Scholes have shown. The narrative imperative has assumed many genres – myth, epic, sacred history, legend, saga, folktale, romance, allegory, confession, chronicle, satire, novel. And within each genre there are multiple sub-genres: oral and written, poetic and prosaic, historical and fictional. But no matter how distinct in style, voice or plot, every story shares the common function of someone telling something to someone about something. In each case there is a teller, a tale, something told about and a recipient of the tale. And it is this crucially intersubjective model of discourse which, I’ll be claiming, marks narrative as a quintessentially communicative act. Even in the case of postmodern monologues like Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape or Happy Days, where the actor is talking and listening to him/herself, there is always at least an implicit other out there to whom the tale is addressed – that ‘other’ often being ‘us’ the listeners. In short, where the author or audience appear absent they are usually ‘implied’. That is why the continuing, and I believe inexhaustible, practice of storytelling belies the faddish maxim that ‘in narrative no one speaks’, or worse, that language speaks only to itself.
To imagine the origins of storytelling we need to tell ourselves a story. Someone, somewhere, sometime, took it into his head to utter the words ‘once upon a time’; and, so doing, lit bonfires in the imaginations of his listeners. A tale was spun from bits and pieces of experience, linking past happenings with present ones and casting both into a dream of possibilities. Once the listeners heard the beginning they wanted to find out the middle and then go on to the end. Stories seemed to make some sense of time, of history, of their lives. Stories were gifts from the gods enabling mortals to fashion the world in their own image. And once the story-telling genie was out of the cave there was no going back. ‘No one knows how long man has had speech’, write Scholes and Kellogg in their classic book, The Nature of Narrative.
Language is probably even older than man himself, having been invented by some ‘missing link’, a creature in the phylogenetic chain somewhere between man and the gibbon. It may have been as many as a million years ago that man first repeated an utterance which had given pleasure to himself or to someone else and thereby invented literature. In a sense, that was the beginning of Western narrative art.
The magical power of narrative was not lost on its first hearers. And, as anthropologists like Lévi-Strauss and Mircea Eliade have shown, one of the earliest roles of the shaman or sage was to tell stories which provided symbolic solutions to contradictions which could not be solved empirically. In the process, reality itself would find itself miraculously transformed. The classic example, cited by Lévi-Strauss, is of the woman who has difficulties giving birth: suffering from a blocked womb, she is told the ‘myth’ of the good warriors freeing a prisoner trapped in a cave by monsters, and on hearing the plot resolution recited by the shaman, she gives birth to her child. Thanks to an imaginary break-through, reality follows suit. Nature imitates narrative.
But stories served to address psychic as well as physical suffering. The pain of loss and confusion, of loved ones passing away, called out for stories. Myths arose, as Lévi-Strauss says, as ‘machines for the suppression of time’. Or as Tolkien put it, as ways of expressing our yearning for the Great Escape – from death. From the word go, stories were invented to fill the gaping hole within us, to assuage our fear and dread, to try to give answers to the great unanswerable questions of existence: Who are we? Where do we come from? Are we animal, human or divine? Strangers, gods or monsters? Are we born of one (mother-earth) or born of two (human parents)? Are we creatures of nature or culture? In seeking to provide responses to such unfathomable conundrums – both physical and metaphysical – the great tales and legends gave not only relief from everyday darkness but also pleasure and enchantment: the power to bring a hush to a room, a catch to the breath, a leap to the curious heart, with the simple words ‘Once upon a time’.
We might thus account for the genesis of stories in so-called ‘primitive societies’. But such powers of storytelling are not, I am convinced, as antiquarian as we might imagine. Just think how children today still crave for bedtime stories of fantastic creatures and conflicts – from Grimm’s fairytales to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings – so that they may act out their inner confusions through these imaginary events and so, in the safety of their beds, prepare for sleep. As Tolkien himself put it, describing his own childhood passion for stories:
Fantasy, the making or glimpsing of Other-worlds, was the heart of the desire of Faerie. I desired dragons with a profound desire. Of course, I in my timid body did not wish to have them in the neighbourhood, intruding into my relatively safe world, in which it was, for instance, possible to read stories in peace of mind, free from fear.
Are we adults so very different when it comes to the need for narrative fantasy?
The Greek term mythos meant, as noted, a traditional story. And in its earliest form, that is just what narrative was. Our modern question – where does narrative come from? – did not arise back then. The aim was not so much to invent something that never happened, or to record something that did happen, but to retell a story that had been told many times before. Primordial narratives were thus essentially recreative. And myth, the most common form of early narrative, was a traditional plot or storyline which could be transmitted from one generation of tellers to the next. It generally had a sacred ritual function, being recited for a community in order to recall their holy origins and ancestors. This is true of the great mythological sagas of Greek, Indian, Babylonian, Persian, Chinese, biblical, Celtic and Germanic traditions, to name but obvious cases. What would we know of Western cultural identity, more specifically, if we could not recite the tales of Odysseus, Aeneas, Abraham or Arthur, for example? And the same reliance on narrative recreation applies to non-Western cultures, as the Indian novelist Arundhati Roy reminds us.‘The Great Stories’, she writes,
are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again. THAT is their mystery and their magic.
But there is another mystery too. For every time that the Great Myths of Beginning are told, they are told by a human teller. So while they are the same, they are also just that little bit different at each telling. The storyteller ‘tells stories of the gods, but his yarn is spun from the ungodly, human heart’.
Mythic narrative mutated over time into two main branches: historical and fictional.
Historical narrative modified traditional mythos with a growing allegiance to the reality of past events. Storytellers like Herodotus and Thucydides in Greece, for instance, strove to describe natural rather than supernatural events, resisting the Homeric license to entertain monstrous and fantastic scenarios. Alexander and the Persians took the place of Odysseus and the Sirens. The first historians strove to provide narrative descriptions of ‘real’ time, place and agency, making it seem as if they were telling us the way things actually happened. At the level of individual humans, this gave rise to the genre of biography or ‘case history’. At the level of collective humanity, it gave birth to history in the general sense, understood as the narrative recounting of empirical events (res gestae).
The second branch of narrative, the fictional, also moved away from traditional mythos, but in a different direction from the historical. Fictional narratives aimed to redescribe events in terms of some ideal standard of beauty, goodness or nobility. This reached its most dramatic form in romance, a literary genre typified by such works as the Chanson de Roland and Perceval, where metaphor, allegory, hyperbole and other rhetorical devices served to embellish and embroider the events. But one already found strains of it in Dante’s Commedia, where historical verisimilitude combined with fantasy and imagination, without losing sight of the basic human impulse to tell a story ‘as if ’ it were happening, and ‘as if ’ the characters described existed – or could be believed to exist.
It was, however, with the emergence of the modern novel in the post-Renaissance period that fictional romance reached its apogee. What differentiates the novel from preceding kinds of romance is its extraordinary ‘synthetic’ power: it draws liberally from such diverse conventions as lyric (personal voice), drama (presentation of action), epic (depiction of heroes or anti-heroes) and chronicle (description of empirical detail). But above all, the novel is unique in its audacity in experimenting and evolving, metamorphosing and mutating into an amazingly rich range of narrative possibilities – even entertaining the hypothesis of its own demise in what some commentators describe as anti-narrative or post-narrative. And as we enter the cyber-world of the third millennium where virtual reality and digital communications rule, we find many advocates of the apocalyptic view that we have reached the end not only of history, but of the story itself.
This pessimistic attitude towards our new cyber and media culture is canvassed curiously by critics of both the left (Benjamin, Barthes, Baudrillard) and the right (Bloom, Steiner, Henri). Their bottom line is that we are entering a civilisation of depthless simulation inimical to the art of storytelling. The exclusive vulgarisation of intimacy and privacy in popular culture – ranging from TV Talk Shows to multiple Chat Rooms on the Internet – appears to be exhausting the fundamental human need to say something meaningful in a narratively structured way. There is now, we are told, nothing that can’t be immediately confessed to anonymous strangers ‘somewhere out there’, the most secret realms of experience being reducible to voyeuristic immediacy and transparency. Narrative is being superficialised and consumerised out of existence. And the fact that computers can now supposedly produce stories to order – as in the case of the Jacqueline Susann novel Just this Once – merely adds to the cynicism. The pseudo-Susann novel was written by a supercharged Apple- Mac computer called Hal, after the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and published to a fanfare of publicity in 1993. But as even Professor Marvin Minsky, AI pioneer from MIT, admitted, no matter how many computer-coded rules you use to program your writing project, you still have to confront what he calls the ‘common sense knowledge problem’. Computers can certainly copy and simulate, but the question remains whether they can create in a way comparable to a human narrative imagination.
A postmodern cult of parody and pastiche is, the pessimists conclude, fast replacing the poetic practices of narrative imagination. We shall see. For my part I am convinced that the obituarists of storytelling, be they positivists who dismiss it as anachronistic fantasy or post-structuralists who decry its alleged penchant for closure, are mistaken. Indeed, against such prophets of doom, I hold that the new technologies of virtualised and digitised imagining, far from eradicating narrative, may actually open up novel modes of storytelling quite inconceivable in our former cultures. One thinks, for example, of the way that Beckett explores the electronic retelling of one’s life in Krapp’s Last Tape (where a 69-year-old man rehears and retells the story of his 39-year-old former self through a tape-recorder); or, more graphically still, the way in which Atom Egoyan renarrates the Beckett play through the more sophisticated technologies of cinema and DVD. The complex narrative relationship between memory and recorded memory, between imagination and reality, can be brought into especially sharp focus by the new and technically avant-garde media. Moreover, this option is being fruitfully explored by a whole range of experimental film-makers from Chris Marker in Level 5 (and his accompanying art work and CD-ROM, Immemory) to Tom Tykwer in Run Lola Run. That is why I believe that no matter how ‘post’ our third-millennium culture becomes, we shall never reach a moment when the phrase ‘This is a story about . . .’ ceases to fascinate and enchant. Hence my wager that postmodernism does not spell the end of the story but the opening up of alternative possibilities of narration.
But let me return briefly to our genealogy of storytelling. What both historical and fictional narratives have in common is a mimetic function. From Aristotle to Auerbach, it has been recognised that this involves far more than a mere mirroring of reality. When Aristotle defines mimesis in his Poetics as the ‘imitation of an action’, he means a creative redescription of the world such that hidden patterns and hitherto unexplored meanings can unfold. As such mimesis is essentially tied to mythos taken as the transformative plotting of scattered events into a new paradigm (what Paul Ricoeur calls the ‘synthesis of the heterogeneous’). It has little or nothing to do with the old naturalist conviction that art simply holds a mirror up to nature.
Narrative thus assumes the double role of mimesis-mythos to offer us a newly imagined way of being in the world. And it is precisely by inviting us to see the world otherwise that we in turn experience catharsis: purgation of the emotions of pity and fear. For while narrative imagination enables us to empathise with those characters in the story who act and suffer, it also provides us with a certain aesthetic distance from which to view the events unfolding, thereby discerning ‘the hidden cause of things’. It is this curious conflation of empathy and detachment which produces in us – viewers of Greek tragedy or readers of contemporary fiction – the double vision necessary for a journey beyond the closed ego towards other possibilities of being.
Aristotle confined this cathartic power to fictional and poetic narratives, maintaining that these alone revealed the ‘universal’ structures of existence – unlike historical accounts, which dealt merely with ‘particular’ facts. But I would wish to contest such a schismatic opposition and acknowledge some kind of interweaving between fiction and history. One of my main preoccupations in this book will be to explore various examples of such interweaving, and to unravel some of the more intriguing enigmas which result. In the chapters which follow, I shall endeavour to treat of a number of actual stories, before trying to sketch out a more precise philosophy of story-telling in our final section. I shall be returning, therefore, in conclusion to Aristotle and certain contemporary thinkers about narrative and would hope to be in a position at that point to offer a clearer conceptual account of the characteristics of storytelling. In other words, before getting to the moral of the story, I shall first engage with stories themselves. Before the theory the practice.
Hence, in what follows I propose first to explore the controversial relation between fiction and history in three individual cases – Stephen Daedalus, Ida Bauer (Dora) and Oscar Schindler. Then, I shall extend the discussion to three examples of more collective or national narration: Rome, Britain and America. By means of such examples – drawn from literature, cinema, art, psychotherapy and political history – my aim is ultimately to disclose a philosophical view instructed by the rich complexities and textures of these narratives. That way, we may not just be putting thinking into action but also, with luck, some action back into thinking.
In the light of these various explorations of narrative, sometimes probing the very limits of the sayable, I shall conclude that narrative matters. Whether as story or history or a mixture of both (for example testimony), the power of narrativity makes a crucial difference to our lives. Indeed, I shall go so far as to argue, rephrasing Socrates, that the unnarrated life is not worth living.
*Excerpt reprinted with permission of the author.
The Greek goddess Hera was the patroness of marriage, status, and social power, and as I hope to demonstrate here, a goddess appropriate to feminism too. By analyzing the character of a goddess we follow the late psychologist James Hillman’s suggestion that “Mythology is psychology in ancient dress,” – ie. it gives us insight into human nature, and more specifically into the nature of feminism.
No other goddess in the Greek pantheon comes close to capturing the activities we associate with feminism – not the warlike independence of the Amazons, not the esteemed motherhood of Demeter, and not the allure of Aphrodite. These are merely peripheral topics taken up by a feminism that is concerned with securing multiple varieties of power, and Hera is the goddess I’m going to finger for that role.
Hera was first and foremost a goddess of marriage, or rather the goddess of marriage. Under her sign marriage tamed men to great advantage of the Greek State, and the State in turn extended honors to her cult. In parts of Greece men could not be recognized as citizens until the day of their marriage, thus enticing men to marry and providing a means for Greek cities to continue reproducing the citizen-estate, not to mention securing a ready supply of laborers, taxes and military personnel to boot. James Hillman writes,
Marriage belongs to the state; it belongs to society, to the community. Zeus and Hera are social stability; they are the state in a way, so we can be married by a Justice of the Peace at City Hall, because marriage is also secular. We recognize that by having both church weddings and legal weddings. Our tax code, our inheritance laws acknowledge that a fundamental structure of the organization of society is marriage. Therefore some can claim it has nothing in particular to do with the persons who are engaged; it hasn’t anything to do with God; it hasn’t anything to do with symbolic representations. It is a fundamental structure of society belonging to the polis or the city or the community.1
While the marriage of Hera and Zeus is mythological, life in this instance had a way of imitating art. In the marriage month (Gamelion ) the mythical marriage of Hera and Zeus was reenacted and celebrated with public festivities, a time when many couples would get married in imitation of the divine couple. On these occasions prayers and offerings were given to Hera, and the bride would pledge fidelity to extending Hera’s dominion on earth. One can only surmise that the riches, status, and influence of the divine couple became a model to which each couple would hope to aspire.
Another facet of Hera’s cult was the focus on buildings, and her temples were usually the biggest and most lavish in all Greece. Women would carve small houses, or make them out of clay and give as offerings to the Goddess. Remarking on this practice, Hillman states that our modern obsession with houses and real estate, one of the bedrocks of our economy, may also arise from a Hera-like sentiment;
If you think back to all the times you play house as a child, or had a dollhouse, or made little houses out of cartons and boxes, this is an archetypal move going on. We forget that the house is not just something made by an architect and sold you by a developer… What one does for the house, to the house, with the house, is taking care of Hera. Housekeeping is a Hera activity. Our culture recognizes this. Think of the enormous quantity of house magazines: House and Garden, House Beautiful, Home Decorating, Architectural Digest, World of Interiors, the home section of newspapers, home improvement on TV, supposedly a best-selling TV show or one of the most watched, “This Old House.”
“I know a woman who decorates people’s houses. You pick out the furniture and the fabrics – then she’ll lay out the paintings you should have, what repros you should have on the wall, and the bric-a-brac and what colors the walls should be and so on. She told me that in every one of the cases that she works with (of married couples), the woman picks out everything in the house and the entire house belongs to her except for the husband’s desk and his playroom and maybe the garage. He has his little area and the rest of the house is hers. He makes no decisions about what color the upholstery should be or the kinds of window shades.
“Often when you go to people’s houses the wife shows off the house while the husbands talk shop. “Come, let me show you my house; I want to show you the house.” She’s showing a part of her Hera nature.
“There are these old sayings (whether you go with the gender of them or not): a woman likes a man who can do things around the house, and she hates it that she always has to pick up after him and he leaves things in a mess. By desecrating the house that way, he insults Hera. And a man likes a woman who’s a good housekeeper. These are Hera statements. Another one: She loves the house more than me. And the jokes: A man is making love to a whore and she says, “You’re the greatest;” and when he’s making love to his mistress, she says, “I love you so much.” But when he’s making love to his wife, she says: “I wonder what color we should paint the ceiling.” Now, that is a nasty gender joke, but it isn’t! She really loves the house. That’s crucial and shouldn’t be treated as just a kind of obsession. Her obsession with the house equals his obsession with sex.1
In a telling newspaper cartoon some years ago, two women were conversing. The first said she was getting a divorce, to which her friend replied it must be an awful thing to go through. “Not really” the woman replied, “it’s actually a dream come true; I get the house, the furniture, the artworks and the kids. I’ve been planning this divorce since I was a little girl!” In this cruel cartoon we get a sense that the husband was merely a backdrop to securing the larger vision of a house, renovations, furnishings and the children. But especially the house.
Hera was nicknamed ‘The Tamer.’ She tamed horses, men and heroes and in some places was recognized as the tamer of the seasons, of nature, and even the universe itself.
Her goal was to limit wildness and freedom by placing all creatures in her service. Her tools-for-taming were the entrapment of men and women in marriage, the use of her own sexuality as an enticement for conformity; shaming, and aggressive punishment of any rebellious behaviours. Even her lordly husband Zeus did not escape her control: “Hera’s cruel rage tamed him.”2
Hera was worshipped as ‘Goddess of the yoke,’ an enslaving device symbolizing her desire to create utilities of beasts and men. She yoked obedient men to wives, and yoked heroes to an inevitable death through their performance of labours that bring betterment to women and society.
In the Iliad Hera is said to tame heroes through death, not marriage. Death through service to others was considered -and is still considered- something appropriate for males and for their own good. In The Myth of Male Power Warren Farrell recounts a Greek story which illustrates the fact:
The Hero As Slave:
Once upon a time, a mother who wanted to see the beautiful statue of Hera had no oxes or horses to carry her there. But she did have two sons. And the sons wanted more than anything to make their mother’s wish come true. They volunteered to yoke themselves to a cart and take her over the mountains in the scorching heat to the faraway village of Argos, the home of the statue of Hera (the wife of Zeus). Upon their arrival in Argos, the sons were cheered and statues (that can be found to this day) were built in their honor. Their mother prayed that Hera give her sons the best gift in her power. Hera did that. The boys died. The traditional interpretation? The best thing that can happen to a man is to die at the height of his glory and power. Yet had this been a myth of two daughters who had substituted themselves for oxen to carry their father somewhere, would we have interpreted the daughters’ deaths as proof that the best thing that can happen to a woman is to die at the height of her glory and power? The statues and cheers can be seen as bribes for the sons to value their lives less than their mother’s request to view a statue. The fact that the statue was of Hera, the queen of the Olympian gods and protector of married women is symbolic. The sons’ sacrifice symbolized the mandate for men to become strong enough to serve the needs of mothers and marriage, and to be willing to call it glory if they died in the process. Which is why the name Hercules means “for the glory of Hera”.3
Sexual manipulation was another of Hera’s strategems to gain what she wanted. In one popular tale, for instance, she asked if she could borrow Aphrodite’s magic girdle to help her woo the King of the gods. By borrowing Aphrodite’s natural charms (the girdle) Hera imitated the goddess of love and sex and thereby seduced Zeus. As we read in Homer’s Iliad, the magical girdle of Aphrodite had the power to create subservience in the target;
Hera was divided in purpose as to how she could beguile the brain in Zeus of the aigis. And to her mind this thing appeared to be the best counsel, to array herself in loveliness, and go down to Ida, and perhaps he might be taken with desire to lie in love with her next her skin, and she might be able to drift an innocent warm sleep across his eyelids, and seal his crafty perceptions…
Now, when she had clothed her body in all this loveliness, she went out from the chamber, and called aside Aphrodite to come away from the rest of the gods, and spoke a word to her: ‘Would you do something for me, dear child… Give me loveliness and desirability, graces with which you overwhelm mortal men, and all the immortals…
Then in turn Aphrodite the laughing (philomeides) answered her: ‘I cannot, and I must not deny this thing that you ask for, you, who lies in the arms of Zeus, since he is our greatest.’ She spoke, and from her breasts unbound the elaborate, pattern-pierced zone (himas), and on it are figured all beguilement (philotes), and loveliness is figured upon it, and passion of sex (himeros) is there, and the whispered endearment (oaristos) that steals the heart away even from the thoughtful. She put this in Hera’s hands, and called her by name and spoke to her: ‘Take this zone, and hide it away in the fold of your bosom. It is elaborate, all things are figured therein. And I think whatever is your heart’s desire shall not go unaccomplished.’ So she spoke, and the ox-eyed lady Hera smiled on her and smiling hid the zone away in the fold of her bosom.4
Hera employed sexual manipulativeness as an artifice to purchase the power and influence she so desperately craved. Today we would call this behavior “Love bombing,” which has the ability to tame a man to schemes he might otherwise have never dreamed of following.
Binding Hera’s rage
When Hera didn’t get her desired measure of power, when her status didn’t reach high enough, or worse, when she lost status or power, things went very badly for the world around her. Epithets of spitefulness, jealousy, vengefulness, vindictiveness, cruelty and rage belong to the scorned goddess, and from a reading of the myths it seems she felt scorned much of the time.
We turn for example to the priestess Medea who murdered her children as revenge against her husband’s transgressions. Her husband, Jason of Argonauts fame, decided to leave her after the marriage went stale. He found a new bride and Medea devised to make them suffer for their happiness. Much like the goddess Hera to whom Medea was priestess, she carried out a scorched-earth policy in the face of frustrated power urges, saying;
I will send them with gifts in their hands, carrying them unto the bride a robe of finest woof and a chaplet of gold. And if these ornaments she take and put them on, miserably shall she die, and likewise everyone who touches her; with such fell poisons will I smear my gifts. And here I quit this theme; but I shudder at the deed I must do next; for I will slay the children I have borne… and when I have utterly confounded Jason’s house I will leave the land, escaping punishment for my dear children’s murder, after my most unholy deed… so help me God, Never shall he see again alive the children I bore to him, nor from his new bride shall he beget issue, for she must die a hideous death, slain by my drugs. Let no one deem me a poor weak woman who sits with folded hands, but of another mould, dangerous to foes and well-disposed to friends.5
After killing Jason’s bride with a poison-smeared robe, murdering her own children, and then setting fire to the palace, Medea fled to Athens where she married the mighty King Aegeus, thereby securing a place of notoriety in the mythological scheme of Greece.
Mythologist Karl Kerenyi asks, “What should we make of it that Medea, a barbaric representative of the Hera world, and her gloomy cult, found acceptance in the sacred precinct of Zeus’ spouse?”6 Kerenyi was struck by the fact that Hera remained associated with Medea’s barbarism and surrounded her with the sanctity of her own world. Our thoughts on this question might extend to a similar comparison of moderate feminism and how it remains associated with radical feminism’s relational and cultural terrorism.
The Greeks understood better than we moderns, however, that impulses of the psychopathic mind needed to be restrained by a civil society.
To that end the Greeks developed a religious ritual that involved winding a rope tightly around a statue or effigy of the Goddess Hera, particularly during what they imagined to be her ‘unfulfilled’ moments. That hog-tying symbolized containment of destructive energies resulting from loss of status or power. Participants understood the binding was of the proverbial ‘woman scorned,’ a ritual teaching how to deal with such behavior in the lives of mortals.
In contrast to her fulfilled behavior within marriage, when the Queen of Heaven lost her marital station and status, she would tear the social fabric into black confetti. Hera then became monstrous or in some stories started giving birth to monstrous creatures who did her bidding. Jungian psychologist Murray Stein talks to this monstrous side of the goddess;
This compounding of evil upon evil is an image of Hera in her Iuno inferna aspect and energized by a full-blown animus rage and destruction, running amuck through the world, devouring whomever she can lay her hands on. Hera is in this development a veritable epidemic of pathology.
The ancient cults of Hera showed great foresight and wisdom in “binding” her image during the dangerous periods of her cycle. This was prophylactic against the potentiation of the she-dragon. But what could they have done to prevent this potentiation in the face of the Typhaonian spirit energizing it? Hera’s reaction to her experience with Zeus bursts all fetters, for without a full experience of the Teleia [fulfillment] aspect of the cycle the bindings on the infernal aspect of it cannot possibly hold. Thus we find in the Homeric and classical image of her a Hera Unbound, whose boundlessness knows no limit to destruction. The rhythm inherent in the archetype has been disturbed, and we get a sort of symphony whose rhythm is one long downbeat. The restoration of Hera Teleia is an individual and cultural historical project that is still being worked on in our time.7
The comparisons of Hera and Medea with feminism are unmistakable. The male shaming, intimidation, manipulation, and power-seeking are all there – as are the destructiveness and scorched-earth policy accompanying frustrated goals.
It’s no surprise that a Google search for Hera + feminist returns over 80,000 results, and Medea + feminist over 100,000, and the number of feminist orgs, initiatives and editorials paints its own picture; The Hera Women’s Cancer Foundation; Hera Entrepreneurs Against Trafficking; Hera Hub: female-focused co working space and entrepreneurship; The Hera Herald; Hera Society; Hera Health, Empowerment and Rights for Women; Hera Communications: Empowerment, Enrichment, Enlightenment; Women’s Club Hera (etc.).
Along with Hera, Medea is universally recognized as a feminist heroine. As an example of feminist websites promoting her we read, “There is, however, one other role that we twenty-first-century audiences are able to recognize in Medea: that of the feminist pioneer. And the fact that this precursor of the suffragettes is a mythic character dramatized nearly 2,500 years ago by a man is quite astonishing.”8
The Wikipedia entry for Medea reads, “Medea is widely read as a proto-feminist text to the extent that it sympathetically explores the disadvantages of being a woman in a patriarchal society,” – to which characterization is implied (by feminists) that we dare not read her as anything but a hapless victim, as one Jungian analyst Cheryl Fuller was to discover.
Fuller, a feminist, gives a revealing account of what happened when she attempted to shine a light on the dark side of Medea, and by extension of women. She writes;
Eight years ago as I searched for a dissertation advisor, I ran into a wall with the feminist scholars on the faculty of my university. As soon as I explained that I wanted to write about Medea came the assumption: of course, they said, you will be looking at the patriarchy as the issue in her behavior. And when I replied that indeed I was not going to be looking in that direction, but rather at Medea herself and at the meaning intrinsic to her acts and her story, interest in my work evaporated and they declined to serve on my committee. Though long a feminist myself, I had been absent from developments in academic feminism. It had escaped my attention that there were “right” ways and “wrong” ways to study women, both real and mythological, and clearly considering Medea as anything other than a victim of the patriarchy was the “wrong” way.
I persisted, found an advisor who could accept my apparently heretical viewpoint and happily explored the character of Medea and developed a description of a Medea complex. But the resistance to considering that Medea could be anything other than a hapless victim of the patriarchy continued to intrigue me and set me to wondering about the meaning of excluding this dark and troubling aspect of her, and by extension all of us, from our understanding of what it is to be human and more specifically a woman. It is this wondering which is the subject of my paper.9
In summary, the traditional binding of Hera has failed and her destructive energies are loosed upon the world – to devastating effect. Her bindings began to unravel in the Middle Ages with the advent of an indiscriminate chivalry that saw men worshiping women as pure and infallable vessels, while failing to recognize and bind their destructive potentials with reasonable forms of social constraint.
While we continue on our current path the scorched earth policy too will continue… compliments of a vengeful, and power-craving Hera.
 James Hillman, ‘Hera, Goddess of Marriage’ in Mythic Figures (2007)
 Joan O’Brien, ‘The Tamer of Heroes and Horses,’ Chapter 6E in The Transformation of Hera, (1993)
 Warren Farrell, The Myth of Male Power, Simon and Schuster, (1993)
 Richard Lattimore, Trans. The Iliad of Homer (1951)
 Medea By Euripides (431 B.C.E), Translated by E. P. Coleridge (1891)
 Karl Kerenyi, Goddesses of Sun and Moon (1979)
 Murray Stein, Hera: Bound and Unbound, in Spring: an annual of Archetypal Psychology (1977)
 Medea: Everywoman, Many Women (website)
 Cheryl Fuller, Medea, Feminism and the Shadow (2009)
Author’s note: Part of the Taming section was previously published in the article How to tame men.
● Gynocentric culture
● Gynocentrism 1:0, 2:0, and 3:0
● Gynocentric Culture Complex (GCC)
● Timeline of gynocentric culture
● The sexual-relations contract
● The real history of men — Part 1
● The other beauty myth
● Gynocentric marriage
● Gynocentrism Theory Lectures
● Gynocentrism: definition and early mentions
● Damseling, chivalry and courtly love
● Articles exploring the concept of gynarchy
● Gynocentrism 2.0, compassion, and choice
● The evolution of gynocentrism via romance writings
The following is a three-part extract from Dr. Frank Tallis’ excellent book Love Sick. The book surveys the concept of romantic love, or more accurately the sickness of it, with Dr. Tallis’ extensive clinical experience confirming just how sick-making these practices can be.