Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Cunning Intelligence, Chapters 3 through 6


Summary of Chapters 3 through 6

Chapter 3: The Combats of Zeus

Despite the name this chapter is really about the Theogony and the successive reigns of Ouranos, Kronos, and Zeus. The Prometheus story is discussed but not in anything like the depth I would have been interested in; hopefully both Prometheus and Pandora will return. The main point Detienne and Vernant make is to disagree with the tradition of pseudo-Apollonius who posed the U-K-Z cycle as three successive rulers. Instead, they argue, Gaia and Ouranos are primordial powers; Kronos uses metis to rebel violently against the overly passionate and stifling nature of Ouranos, and thus establishes the first kingships (by severing or smashing the originary nature of the universe, he created a split in the “texture of the world,” and thus the need for order, or an ordering force, is created: sovereignty comes into existence along with its opposite, evil). Sovereignty itself is a trick (dolos) conceived by Gaia and implemented by Kronos. However Kronos brings on the vengeance of the Erinyes, and Zeus comes to deliver justice and to bring a new order founded on more moderate and just metis. So there is a kind of dialectic going on.


Chapter 4: The Union with Metis and the Sovereignty of the Sky

The key point of this chapter is to explain the myth of Metis being eaten by Zeus as the foundation of Zeus's unending sovereignty, which differs from that of Kronos who was able to be overthrown. Zeus cannot (he does not even sleep), and even the trickery by Prometheus he actually sees through and tricks in turn. Metis and Themis (Justice) are contrasted as different kinds of oracles of the future: Metis sees what could happen and offers advice to mortals to help them shape the future; Themis, as destiny, sees a certain future and pronounces sentences of life, death etc. This is interesting in relationship to Boethius's attempt to reconcile God's perfect knowledge of the future (a la Themis) with human free will (a la Metis). By swallowing Metis and then marrying Themis, Zeus has consolidated power and inaugurated a new cosmic order to replace that of the Titans. Some further interesting elements are references to pharmakon and to Typhon and Anatolian dragon-slaying myths, relevant to Siegfried.

 Zeus tricked Metis, according to one version, by the old trick of getting her to change into a fly; they explore the examples of numerous parallel stories in which shapeshifters are tricked. And so the trickster becomes the tricked:

 What had been confused and enigmatic becomes, to the advantage of the one who dominates it, clear and unequivocal. (112)

It is the victory of knowing order over the polysemous and polytropic.

Chapter 5: The Orphic Metis and the Cuttle-fish of Thetis

This chapter traces the images of Metis in the Orphic theogonies, i.e. the Orphic religion  [which developed out of Dionysianism and thus was not quite orthodox re: ancient Greek religion; indeed it has more similarities with Isis/Osiris and with Christianity. Nevertheless the Orphic theogonies both borrow from and alter the story from Hesiod.] In any event the Orphic theogonies, and also some other sources such as a poem by Alcman and the “rhapsodic” theogonies, are surveyed to explore the theme of Metis and her attributes, even as the theogonies and their stories change, and as Metis is replaced or displaced by other goddesses or gods with different names but similar characteristics. On a side note, it becomes very interesting that there are so many different versions of the Greek gods’ origins, during both the Classical era (as shown in the tellings by various poets, playwrights, and philosophers), and later on.


Chapter 6: The Eye of Bronze

This short chapter starts off a section called, “The Divine Forms of Knowledge: Athena, Hephaestus.” Basically the character of Athena is discussed and her close relationship to her mother, Metis. The story of Murmix who steals the plough from Athena and is changed into an ant, is used to demonstrate that Athena possesses sollertia, manual skill and practical intelligence [the Latin term for metis, the story being from Servius]. They argue against the thesis that Athena was originally an earth goddess tied to agriculture, by showing that the agriculture/plough myth is really about technology and skill, not agriculture; after all Athena is the daughter of Zeus and metis, she is sometimes called Metis herself. Athena has renounced her femininity to maximize her warriorness. She is discussed in relation to the Dumezilian concept of a "warrior function." They discuss the power of Athena's shield, the Aegis, more powerful than Zeus's thunderbolt, and made either by Hephaestus or Metis, according to different myths. The Gorgon head paralyzes the enemy. 

 This mesmerizing power of the Gorgon which is deployed by the aegis is, in Homer's epic, also acknowledged to exist in the eyes of the frenzied warrior who is possessed by Lússa, Madness, or in the terrible glare projected by  a shield of bronze. (182)



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