The importance of Daphne

October 11, 2010

Our Oldest Friends

Our oldest friends — the great gods
who never tried to woo us —
shall we reject them because our tools of steel
do not need them? Or shall we seek them on a map?

Those powerful friends, who receive our dead,
play no part in our wheels and gears.
We have moved our banquets far from them,
and pass their messengers with such speed

we can’t hear what they say. Lonelier now,
having no one but each other, not knowing each other,
we no longer meander on curving paths, but race straight ahead.

Only in the mills do the once sacred fires still burn,
lifting ever heavier hammers, while we
diminish in strength, like swimmers at sea.

Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus I, 24

As Rilke suggests, our contemporary world culture — so fixated on scientific, mechanistic reductionism and linear thinking — might benefit by re-earthing society into the ancient Greek myths; myths so replete with tales of interconnections of Gods and Goddesses with all things Earth.

Peneus was a river God. Creusa was a naiad (from the Greek “running water”) and daughter of Gaia. Together they had a daughter Daphne who, because of her beauty, was pursued relentlessly by Apollo whose infatuation was caused by an arrow from Eros. In desperation she prays — in different versions to either the river god Peneus or the earth Goddess Gaia — and is transformed into a laurel tree.

“a heavy numbness seized her limbs, thin bark closed over her breast, her hair turned into leaves, her arms into branches, her feet so swift a moment ago stuck fast in slow-growing roots, her face was lost in the canopy. Only her shining beauty was left.”
Ovid, Metamorphoses

To me, the essence of artwork, and its contemporary importance, is to remind us humans in a very visceral way of our intimate connection to earth, water, air and fire.

We are star dust. We are inextricably linked to all the elements of the cosmos.

The love beating out of our human hearts is but a minor heart of the great Heart.

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