Author Archives: Melas the Hellene

About Melas the Hellene

An ethnic Hellene and traditional polytheist seeking friends and discussions within the scope of polytheism and its communities in the world. I am curious to learn everything about the history, nature, and standing of polytheism in general. Being a strong advocate of traditional polytheism, I will point out the faults of neopaganism as well as monotheism, and when necessary, expose and reject them openly. Website: traditionalpolytheist.com

Polytheism in media (part 2): Gautama Buddha 2007 and Confucius 2010

Spoilers below. If you haven’t seen the films yet, I recommend them greatly. They might well be the first Indian and Chinese films respectively you have ever seen. Links are provided. Another warning: although I enjoyed these films greatly, I have something to say against Buddha and Confucius themselves. Pardon the intensity, but do correct me and engage if you have cause!

Gautama Buddha, 2007—set in North India around 550-450 BCE

Visual: Immediately I loved the attractive sets and colorful costumes. An older camera must have been deliberately used to make the film seem older and I think this had pretty good effect in the storytelling.

Verbal: The script was serious and literary, with much to analyze. Buddha is obviously given the largest share of speech, and he is always teaching and reflecting with success. There are also beautiful folk songs that are meant to adorn the story.  

Portrayal: The character of Buddha seemed too withdrawn and self-centered to invite a sympathetic 220px-Tathagatha_Buddha_film_DVD_coverconnection, at least from my position. He leaves his wife on a whim and treats everyone with a sense of superiority and grandeur, and then when he returns to see her and his son after many years, he is without any emotion at all—a mere piece of wood. Indeed, if one looks closely enough, some of Buddha’s behavior and speech resembles that of a psychopath! Since the film was quite successful, the depiction and performance offered must have been very acceptable to the viewer and even admired as such.This implies that the film was not only meant to celebrate Buddha, but also in effect to deify him. He is often called “bhagwan” (god-man) by his followers and others who meet him, including former enemies. The question that the film (and indeed the story itself) raised but did not answer for me was, what did Buddha preach that was really new and why is he so admired for his erratic individualism?

Thematic/Moral: The main moral and theme was the promotion of peace and happiness by the limitation of desire. I admire the film for this purpose, but not so much the story itself. One thing I disliked is that women (in the form of the wife and later the courtesan) are placed on the side of desire and serve as obstacles to tempt the Buddha from transcendent salvation, but certainly he overcomes them because he is transcendent. Women are included in Buddha’s school at the very end, but we still don’t see any of the feminine power and agency of the traditional Hindu religion, where women serve as priestesses and oracles, for example. Moreover, regarding desire, even though Buddha merely organized a few ideas already known, Buddha must have desired excessively to be known, otherwise he would have conformed a little to what others were doing (including other sages-note the melodrama with the Hindu priest who hates Buddha). Moderation is a noble idea and Buddha should be admired for promoting it, but (this in reference to the film) he must not allow others to call him a “god-man” while declaring himself an agnostic, nor should he be so immoderately spiritual. But perhaps that is an inherent problem with individualism and the Axial Age “philosophy” that go along with it. It is said that the followers of Epicurus (who also invented nothing, but unlike Buddha preached absolute nonsense), who did not care for traditional worship or believe the Gods influenced life, erected a shrine for him.

 

Confucius, 2010—set in Eastern China around 500 BCE

Visual: Quite satisfactory and noble

Verbal: The script was somewhat Western in its brevity, but still there is some complexity and room for analysis between the lines.

Portrayal: Confucius reminds me very much of Buddha in his individualism and egotism, but at least he seems to care for tradition and other people. He weeps for one of his scholars who died trying to save texts, but at the end of the film he is shown surrounded by thousands of copies of his texts, directing one of his students to send copies to such and such a prince. I am not sure whether his humanization rather than deification is something the Chinese state would prefer, but in any case there isn’t much to deify about him, when all is studied historically. I know that he is a folk Hero in China, which I respect as far 220px-Confucius_film_postas local tradition and ancestral worship is concerned, but I question that one should go beyond. In the Analects, he alleges that Tian (Heaven) spoke to him, but not in words, and I don’t see how this is different from what any traditional Chinese shaman would experience. But Confucius’ concentration on Tian, the transcendent supreme Deity or Spirit, parallels his high-flown spirituality and ambition in the film. He is in the company of kings and nobles, and there are hints of Chinese unification and imperialism in his thought, or at least this is what the film depicts. The character of Confucius does not seem to fit his time at all, but fits the modern age quite well, which annoys me, although it isn’t his fault alone. The nobles had their share of wrongdoing in an unstable period and Confucius reminded people of some old traditions such as filial piety. His exhortation against the human sacrifice of retainers was also noble, but there was no need for the violent depiction to prove the point.    

Thematic/Moral: Transcendence, avoidance of temptation (we see another courtesan, but at least Confucius doesn’t disrespect his wife), asceticism, self-righteousness, and other Axial Age pomp as before. I can’t help the criticism! I wish Buddha and Confucius weren’t such individualists who constantly subverted their own humility and thus weakened their lessons!

Polytheism in media (part 1): The Egyptian 1954 and Pharaoh 1966

Spoilers below. If you haven’t seen the films yet, I recommend them greatly. Links are provided for further reading.

 

The Egyptian, 1954

Set around 1335 BCE

**Initial reactions:

-Beautiful scenes and set (later used for The Ten Commandments)

-Excellent script and performances

-Thematic depth, but with somewhat fixed charactersTheegyptian

-Peter Ustinov’s drollery

-Egypt is depicted with splendor, but there is social decay

**Critical thoughts:

-Horemheb should have been replaced with the historical Ay, and perhaps giving a presence to the Amun priesthood would have also added complexity.

-Akhenaten is depicted as a wise saint as well as a tragic hero, but this was hardly the case in reality. His unprecedented invention of monotheism resulted from a bitter struggle with the priesthood of Amun for the domination of Egypt.

-The artistic and thematic allusions that compare Christianity to Atenism are rather weak in a historical respect, but significant in what the film wishes to achieve for a popular audience. In particular, I mean the “whore of Babylon”, the Moses story, the ankh/cross, and Akhenaten’s selfless humility.

-General Horemheb massacring Akhenaten’s “fanatics” turns the story into somewhat of a melodrama, but I can understand its purpose for the plot without justifying its huge inaccuracy. It is also entirely misleading and unlikely for the historical Horemheb to have done so, because Akhenaten’s “reforms” were neither popular with the masses nor did the common people worship Aten directly—rather, they worshipped the Pharaoh and Akhenaten served as sole mediator and priest with Aten. If there was any real violence associated with this historical event, it was probably committed by Akhenaten in order to force the Egyptians (the priesthood especially) to adopt his heretical innovations.

-Sinhue’s conversion and transcendence at the end of the film, after hearing Akhenaten’s last words, is obviously something that would annoy a polytheist. This increases with the intended foreshadowing of corruption and inevitable decline in Egypt when Horemheb becomes Pharaoh (because he doesn’t care for ideas or morality), which contrasts to the foreshadowed moral & philosophical ascendance of monotheism to reform the world. In reality, Egypt was to decline seriously (and never recover) about two hundred years after Akhenaten, because of the raids of the mysterious Sea Peoples, who actually succeeded in destroying the Mycenaean and Hittite civilizations. As for the purported improvement of monotheism upon polytheism, the present state of the world says enough to prove otherwise…

 

Pharaoh 1966:

Set around 1070 BCE

**Initial reactions:

-A very magnificent and monumental set and scenes

-Excellent script and performance

-Thematic simplicity, but with great depthFARA-2

-Several interesting characters

-As before, Egypt is depicted with splendor, but there is decay

**Critical thoughts:

-Although Ramesses XIII is a fictional pharaoh, the film is set at the onset Third Intermediate Period, which was a time of great decline for Egypt, from which it was never to recover. One thing to admire is that this film, unlike the other, doesn’t seek to add inaccurate ideas or choose sides to prove its point. The theme that was unfortunately missing in The Egyptian, i.e. the struggle between the Amun priests and pharaoh for power, is present here to the full.

-As with the other film, we have a contrast between the virtuous, humble woman and the deceitful, tempting one. This film gives us the familiar Hebrew and Phoenician contrast, which is rather worn out and stereotypical, but at least it is wrapped up in political intrigue. It was good (and somewhat surprising) to see that the other film didn’t further degrade its complexity with such unnecessary Biblical allusion.

-I am not sure what to make of the failure of the Pharaoh to defeat the priesthood. On the one hand, I am glad of it as a polytheist, but on the other, I know that the Amun priesthood was corrupt and touchy, much like the Catholic bishops and monks before Protestantism. However, I am baffled by what the film was intended to achieve according to its writer and producers, who were operating under Communism. Why does the Amun priest’s prayer cause a successful sandstorm against the mob that is depicted as divine? I can understand the Pharaoh’s youthful mistakes and tragical end, but his case becomes weak when he stands alone against the priesthood, except for a few bitter or ambitious associates.

-As a continuation of the above, it’s interesting to note that the priest of Amun is murdered by the Pharaoh’s men and the Pharaoh is murdered shortly after. It’s as if there is revenge and retribution for violating the sacred, especially since the priest was murdered just outside a temple.

-I couldn’t tell if the Greek youth, who looked like the Pharaoh and murdered him, acted symbolically in his capacity. Does it perhaps confirm our idea that the Pharaoh, in effect, destroyed himself? We know that the Pharaoh operated in a difficult environment and a period of decline, but his failure to understand his limitations and act patiently with good counsel led to his end.

The Enuma Elish: History as Mythology

An excellent post–this is my comment to it:
This is one of those topics that is extremely rich for study, and even a little dangerous! I wonder if the list of events here are your own, or are drawn from a book. The Mesopotamian legacy seems foundational in the histories & mythologies of Near Eastern and Western civilizations, although systematized Egyptian theology seems earlier. Civilization is always at war with “primordial chaos” and that’s why we see the serpent figure of Tiamat also present in the marshes of the Egyptian Delta as Apep, the creature that battles with Ra.

Theology, as a system, arises from the interaction of various peoples, their Gods and their myths. But it always tends to become increasingly complex, and dare I say arbitrary in its detail, with imperialism. This is because the power of one state or group or region sets itself above the subjected others, and expresses the hegemony in divine terms. So, since the first Pharaohs (i.e. conquerors) of Egypt came from Nekhen in the South, they set their tutelary God Horus to a very high position, but that stature later declined somewhat because of rising influences from the solar theology of Ra in the North (the Pharaohs settled around that region), which was one of the several Gods of the Sun in Egypt. Ra was later to be joined with Amun after the second re-unification of Egypt by a king of Thebes (Ahmose), and thus Amun of Thebes (like Horus before) rose to a pre-eminent position. It’s interesting to note, however, that during the first re-unification, which also was achieved by a king of Thebes, the tutelary God of the city was different: Montu, and this God also arose to a supreme theological position for a time.

The Enuma Elish was Babylonian theology and it was used to elevate the rank of Babylonians in Mesopotamia. An early nation-state was forming there, just as with Egypt before, and the Sumerian Eannutum (a little earlier than Sargon) was actually the first true founder of imperialism in the region. The Assyrians, much like the Thebans in Egypt, later replaced Marduk with their own tutelary God Ashur, in order to attribute their new power to him. And when Babylon rebelled, a myth was commissioned by Sennacherib the Assyrian King, where Marduk is brought to trial by Ashur and found guilty! The nation-state ultimately failed in Mesopotamia and that is a reason why the theologies of that region are much more easy to comprehend than any attempt at a unified Egyptian theology. In fact, any unified Egyptian theology makes little sense, and I have a theory that Akhenaten’s monotheism grew out of that confusion and struggle for power.

I have reflected on this topic of divine genealogy and hierarchy (the two are related) for some time past, even as it regards the Hellenic pantheon. The Gods are the Gods, but their changing positions can be traced sometimes to certain events. There is no unified scripture, and thus myths and epic poems take their place. Homer sung about a Greece that was soon to be dominated by Dorian peoples, said to be descended from Herakles and whose tutelary God was therefore Zeus. It’s actually plausible Poseidon might have risen to a pre-eminent position if the Mycenaeans had continued, because although Zeus was important, he was not as exalted as later. So, there may after all be some truth to what Herodotus says about Homer and Hesiod, in that they established the positions of the Gods and distinguished their functions more neatly.

Lastly, one observation: Since you mention the notion of paterfamilias, I can’t help but notice its centrality within civilization in general. It’s also expressed within the desire to end “chaos” by power (it’s interesting Tiamat is made female) and thus, by extension, is attached to imperialism. We see a hegemony of male Gods over female ones, or at the very least, the masculine over the feminine. The Athenians were actually the most patriarchal in all Greece. I think my position against imperialism has made me somewhat of a “feminist” in this respect–civilization is a kind of masculine chaos in itself that needs to be controlled.

Neptune's Dolphins

nbmarduknabu

During the Bronze Age in Mesopotamia, empires rose and fell. In the Enuma Elish, the creation story of the Babylonians, this is told in mythic terms. One part of the Enuma Elish tells of the rise of the Sumerians. Their generation of Gods were Anu (An), Enlil (Ellil), and Enki (Ea), who focused on developing agriculture and decreeing divine law. While Anu ruled the Gods, Enlil granted kingship, and Enki created people. These Gods had overthrown Tiamat of the Saltwater and Apsu of Sweet Water, the original Gods of the Ubaid people of the late Stone Age.

The Sumerians drained the swamps, dug out the canals, and began irrigation. They tamed the “sweetwater” thereby killing Apsu as a God. Moreover, they transformed the salt marshes into farmland. Then in 2330 BCE, Sargon of the Akkadians established the first empire. He began the first dynasty by deciding that his son should…

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Two points

First, I will be combining film commentary in matching pairs, for the sake of shortening this coming series. I have many more posts in mind, but I prefer posting in order. So, next post will cover both The Egyptian 1954 and Pharaoh 1966. In some cases, I may skip over certain films.

The second point has concerns this mid-term election. I can see it is very hot because there have been many advertisements (all negative, obviously) and volunteers have been at my door several times, including today. Well, I thought to make it known here as I told one of them that I won’t be voting, and here is my quick explanation:

1- I am tired of political dualism between two parties. Both parties have good points to make, but likewise they are almost equally guilty of creating the same diseases everyone is complaining about without agreeing upon. While incidentally I think the Republicans deserve losing the majority at this time, it won’t apocalyptically solve all problems–on the contrary, it will only aggravate them.

2- For me, worthy participation in a real “democracy” means voting for a mayor or for local policy. Electing these high positions such as governor or president or even representatives means nothing. And in any case, I was never fond of a republic, especially an imperial one modelled on the Roman system. I can only smile (and laugh sometimes) at those who call this way of thinking “backward regionalism”.

3- The “United States” is a declining empire that can’t be saved by elections. Radical movements have arisen and won’t go away for the time being. I have learned about and traced all the problems of America back thousands of years, and now the consequences are not difficult to foresee. It’s rather useless now to participate, and so I’ll be a spectator.

4- I think a moral objection to the whole concept of this country in itself (without reference to the particular elements it subjugates or falsely represents) is developing within my indigenous mind.

5- I have the odd, but justifiable conviction that small, traditional monarchies like Bhutan are the only ones worth fighting for. I do care for the peoples of this country, but I wouldn’t fight for the country in itself.

35 films and drama series about polytheism you should see

are-you-not-entertained-w-text-720x396The following are select examples, some of the best I could find, of films and drama series relating to polytheism directly or indirectly. They are put in chronological order, from ancient to modern. All of them I have seen, except those marked at the beginning with asterisks, but I can vouch for them all, according to my research. Although these works are not always favorable towards polytheism and polytheists, they present us with interesting topics, themes and ideas to analyze and reflect upon. It’s my intention to discuss, more or less briefly, most (if not each) of them in order (with exception to the series), at the rate of once a week. This site has thus far been so stuffed with theory that it’s high time to offer something of a lighter kind. Why not share some of my thoughts about films I have already seen or will see, and hope that my dear readers will keep up? The films are easy to find and view online without any cost. So, next week I will discuss The Egyptian, a truly excellent film that rivals its contemporary The Ten Commandments, and which you’ll find on YouTube!

 

The Egyptian, 1956, set in the reign of Akhenaten

The Legend and the Hero 1-2, aka. Investiture of the Gods (series), 2007 & 2009, set during the Shang and Zhou dynasties of China

*Pharaoh, 1966, set just before the Third Intermediate Period of ancient Egypt

Gautama Buddha, 2007, biographical

Confucius, 2010, biographical

Sins of Jezebel, 1953, biographical

The 300 Spartans, 1962, set in the Second Persian Invasion of Greece

Alexander, 2004, biographical

*Ashoka, 2001, biographical

Druids 2001, set in the time of Julius Caesar and Vercingetorix

Boudica, 2003, biographical

The Passion of the Christ, 2004, biographical

*Quo Vadis, 1951, set in the reign of Nero and early Christianity

Spartacus, 1960, biographical

Rome (series), 2005-2007, set during the late Roman Republic and early Empire

Agora, 2009, set in Alexandria in Late Antiquity

Arthur of the Britons (series), 1972-1973, set in Post-Roman Britain during the Saxon invasion

The Pagan Queen, 2009, set in the 7th century CE in Prague

The Message, 1976, set in Arabia during the exploits of Mohammed–Sunni version

Mohammed the Messenger of God, 2016, the same setting, but during the early life of Mohammed–Iranian Shiite version

Robin of Sherwood, (series) 1984-1986, biographical

The Warlord, 1965, set in early medieval France

When the Raven Flies, 1984, set in the Viking period

Vikings (series), 2013-present, set in the time of Ragnar Lothbrok

The Virgin Spring, 1960, set in medieval Sweden

*Northern Crusades, 1972, set in the time of the Teutonic Crusade against the Baltic polytheists

*The Pagan King, 2018, set in the time of the Teutonic Crusade against the Baltic polytheists

The Great Warrior Skanderbeg, 1953, biographical

*Apocalypto, 2006, set after the Spanish conquest of Mexico

*The Other Conquest, 2000, set after the Spanish conquest of Mexico

Dances with Wolves, 1990, set after the American Civil War

The Last Samurai, 2003, set during the modernization of Japan

*Zulu Dawn, 1979, set during English imperialism in South Africa

The Wicker Man, 1973, set in modern Scotland

 

 

 

The history of the rise of monotheism

The past few weeks have been very busy for me as I carry on my research about the origins of monotheism. Penning a chronology to that end with notes is a very difficult task, because certain details are very important to explain. I have also confirmed my earlier suspicions that monotheism did not arise in a vacuum, but rather paralleled or was directly influenced by other developments. The separation of monotheism, therefore, from various socio-political changes is a grave mistake. My chronology begins at the onset of the Bronze Age, 3300 BCE, and so far continues till only 490 BCE, whereas I had meant to stop at Late Antiquity (400 CE). After a total of 25 pages, I think it has already grown too complex for a publication here, even as a series, and since the complexity will only increase, I have determined to incorporate it into a book I have been conceptually preparing for some time past. Nevertheless, I have selected some important observations and conclusions about monotheism, in order to share them below. I look forward to remarks and discussions. 

Initial points:

A- The history of monotheism begins in Egypt, and 90% of its essence is developed there, with only growth accounting for its later spreading.

B- The character and deeds of “Abraham” never existed, and are merely composites of various traditions, created later. The beginning of “Jewish” monotheism goes back to Moses, who was himself an Egyptian, but his story has later additions. Therefore, the Jews are merely an extension of Egypt, as indeed they historically were geographically during the New Kingdom.

The causes of the rise of monotheism, in chronological order, were as follows:

1- The meta-tribal imperialistic creation of the Egyptian state with extreme centralization of power

2- The superiority of this centralized state in the minds of elites, including priests

3- The rise of theology, symbolism and syncretism of various regional and local Gods in order to maintain, explain, and sacralize the complications of the new state

4- The creation of moral dualism, as an extension of phenomenal duality, to maintain the state’s stability; the concomitant rise of Osiris as a savior God and Set as a demonized God

5- The democratization of royal religion and theology during an initial period of decline in Egypt

6- The rise of a bureaucratic scribal class, distinct from the priesthood, with its own literature and quasi-theology

7- The competition of regional priesthoods in order to achieve theological hegemony in the state

8- The rise of monism, universalism and further syncretism as a means to reconcile the competition, sometimes arbitrarily and inconsistently

9- The conflict between ambitious priests and Pharaohs for influence in the state*

10- The increase of meta-national imperialism as a means to unify and strengthen Egypt

11- Extreme imperialism within the upper Middle East leading to the weakening of several empires

12- The rise of independent tribes in Canaan after the Bronze Age collapse, a respite of imperialism

13- The rise of henotheism in the Levant as a means of protection from extreme Assyrian imperialism

14- The conflict between priests and Jewish kings for influence and tribal supremacy leading to the second rise of monotheism **

15- The rise of a Jewish ideology after the destruction of the temple and their deportation by the Neo-Babylonian empire

16- The Hellenistic imperialism of the Near and Middle East and the subsequent cultural and religious syncretisms

17- The new Hellenistic culture challenging centuries of Jewish autonomy under the now dead Persian empire

18- The expansion of Jewish monotheism by proselytism as a defensive means to Hellenistic cultural imperialism, but now with Hellenistic ideas absorbed within Judaism in order to combat the imperialism better

19- The rise of the Roman Empire and the increasing hatred or envy of Hellenistic Greeks towards proselytizing Jews, culminating in a few massacres

20- The destruction of the Temple by the Romans during the Jewish rebellion, giving rise to an alternative to Judaism, i.e. Christianity, which is a syncretism of Greek and Jewish thought, mainly former.

21- The rise of Neoplatonism, with deistic and monotheistic elements, as the dominant philosophical and theological system in the Roman Empire

22- The rise of counter-culture against the Roman Empire and the Christians successfully developing and proselytizing a combined mystical & Neoplatonic ideology as a remedy to it, while competing with other mystical religions and philosophies

23- The prosecution of Christians as an evil influence that was leading to the decline of the empire***

24- The Roman Emperor Constantine converting to Christianity (the religion of his enslaved mother) after proclaiming monotheism to be legal.

25- The rise of conflicts among Christian sects and Constantine’s forced standardization of the doctrines, leading to Christian power, and the later persecuting the polytheists as revenge for former grievances.

26- The fusion of Christianity with the imperialistic functions of the Roman Empire, and subsequent forced conversions and expansion

27- The cultural imperialism of Christianity leads to the persecution of Jews, many of whom settle in Arabia, with Arabia becoming the next battle ground for the spread of monotheism

28- The rise of Mohammed as a centralizing force against cultural imperialism but with his own kind of monotheism, regarded as the purest and final version ****

29- The huge and quick expansion of the Islamic empire and its competition with the Christian empires of the east and west, both proselytizing

30- The rise of modern empires and further proselytization of colonization of polytheistic peoples, continuing to this day

 

 _____________________

* Akhenaten and the definite invention of monotheism is placed here. His religion is soon stamped out (within about 35 years), and point 10 is the probably period a historical Moses can be assigned to.

** This begins with King Josiah, but it differed from Egyptian imperialism in that the function of the conflict seemed to be paranoid protection in the face of Assyrian imperialism.

***By 300 CE, the Christians made up about 10% of the Roman Empires population, mainly concentrated in the East part, and almost always within cities. They refused to sacrifice to the cult of the Emperors and thus were accused of civil rebellion. It is not known to what extent this was done, but the Christians likely exaggerated it by magnifying and glorifying stories about martyrs.

**** It is said Mohammed, who belonged to a noble mercantile family, travelled to the North (around Jordan and Syria) as a young man and met with an Arian monk who regarded him as a chosen one foretold by scriptures. This may have happened because of the strange similarity in the alphabetical appearance of the word “Jesus” in Syriac script to the word “Mohammed” in the Arabic script. See image below. Mohammed was interested in ruling Arabia, probably in imitation of “Christendom” and he borrowed his hatred of Jews and pagans from there.   

Jesus and Mohammed