HOMER’s ODYSSEY, Ch. XVIII- VIRGO II
Examples abound throughout this chapter of Homer. Like Gemini, which is also ruled by Mercury, this is the sign of the mind and nervous system, but unlike Mercury’s rulership over Gemini (an AIR sign), this is Mercury’s rulership over Virgo (an EARTH sign).
In Gemini, it is often thoughts and concepts of a more generic character. In Virgo, the mind is harnessed by practical considerations.
We see example after example of Mercury’s duality, of sense and senseless, logic and illogical, of critic and critique. Mercury and Virgo are all part of an empirical philosophy to help improve the situation, whatever the situation. Pointing out flaws are the first step towards removing imperfections. Removing imperfections brings a step closer to being perfect. But a critical mind can also be a nit-picker, one who never stops pointing out error after error, without really doing anything about it, or even simply being wrong.
To illustrate Mercury’s role in this classic, Homer concocts Irus, a parasite on the land (EARTH), a beggar. Like our communication lord,
“hustle messages at any beck and call.” (line 9)
Irus may be a take off on Iris, a messenger deity sent by Zeus found in the opening chapters of the Iliad. On the first page of chapter XVIII in theOdyssey, Homer has Irus and Odysseus meeting, with Irus launching a “rough, abusive (verbal) burst.”
“Get off the porch, you old goat, before I haul you (line 11)
off by the leg! Can’t you see them give me the wink,
all of them here, to drag you out- and so I would,
but I’ve got some pangs of conscience. Up with you, man,
or before you know it, we’ll be trading blows!”
A killing look, (line 16)
and the wily old soldier countered, “Out of your mind?
What damage have I done you? What have I said?
I don’t grudge you anything . . .
. . . you’ve got no call to grudge me what’s not yours. (line 22)
This is where we first enter Mercury’s realm in this chapter. “Out of your mind?” Are you being senseless and illogical here? Here are some of the reasons why. “What have I said?” Odysseus goes on to explain why there should be no argument between the two of them, two beggars cast aside by the woes of the world, as commanded from the blue vault by Zeus. Nevertheless, in spite of Odysseus’ logic the irritated criticisms continue to flow from the local beggar.
“Look who’s talking (Mercury)!” the beggar rumbled in anger.
“How this pot-bellied pig runs off at the mouth (Mercury)-
like an old crone at her oven! . . .
Tongue-lashing each other, tempers flaring, (line 39)
there on the polished sill before the lofty doors
Mythologically and astrologically, Mercury rules the path, windows, doorways and keyholes, as noted in the myth of the first day of Hermes (Mercury’s) birth.
Later in this chapter, Odysseus is berated by Melantho, one of the royal household housekeepers. A particularly beautiful one with a history, but one whose words cut through civility.
At that (line 362)
the women burst into laughter, glancing back and forth.
Flushed with beauty, Melantho mocked him shamelessly-
. . . She was the one who mocked her king and taunted,
“Cock of the walk, did someone beat your brains out?
Are you out of your mind!? Are you being totally illogical?
Why not go bed down at the blacksmith’s cozy forge? (line 371)
Or a public place where tramps collect? Why here-
blithering on (Mercury), nonstop,
bold as brass in the face of all these lords?
No fear in your heart? Wine’s got your wits (Mercury)?-
Or do you always play the fool and babble nonsense (Mercury)?
Lost you head, have you, because you drubbed that hobo Irus?
Beggars are beggars because they don’t have a job, they don’t have solid work. Work and employment are ruled by Mercury and Virgo. In Chapter VI (Virgo I) we found ourselves in the middle of laundry day. In Chapter XVIII the focus is on more manly work.
Then he wheeled on Odysseus, raider of cities: (line 403)
“Stranger, how would you like to work for me
if I took you on- I’d give you decent wages-
picking up stones to lay a tight wall
or planting tall trees on the edge of my estate?
I’d give you rations to last you year-round,
clothes on your body, sandals on your feet.
Oh no, you’ve learned your lazy ways too well,
you’ve got no itch to stick to good hard work,
you’d rather go scrounging round the countryside,
begging for crusts to stuff your greedy gut!”
To which Odysseus replies . . .
“Ah, Eurymachus,” Odysseus, master of many exploits, (line 414)
answered firmly, “if only the two of us could go
man-to-man in the labors of the field . . .
In the late spring, when the long days come round,
out in the meadow, I swinging a well-curved scythe
and you swinging yours- we’d test our strength for work,
fasting right till dusk with lots of hay to mow.
Or give us a team of oxen to drive, purebreds,
hulking, ruddy beasts, both lusty with fodder,
paired for age and pulling-power that never flags-
with four acres to work, the loam churning under the plow-
you’d see what a straight unbroken furrow I could cut you then.
Virgo likes straight lines. It’s part of their sense of order.
There are other examples that reflect both Mercury’s and Virgo’s vibration. Virgo rules health and the anatomy. In the early part of the chapter, with tension arising between Odysseus and Irus, this sentiment seems to be born out. From Irus we hear,
“I’ll batter the tramp with both fists, bash every tooth (line 34)
from his jaws, I’ll litter the ground with teeth
as Odysseus belted up, roping his rags around his loins, (line 76)
baring his big rippling thighs- his boxer’s broad shoulders,
his massive chest and burly arms on full display
as Athena stood beside him,
fleshing out the limbs
the flesh on his (Irus) body now quaking with terror. (line 89)
Mark my word (Mercury)– so help me I’ll make it good (line 95)
if that old relic whips you and wins the day,
I’ll toss you into a black ship and sail you off
to Echetus, the mainland king who wrecks all men alive!
He’ll lop off your nose and ears with his ruthless blade,
he’ll rip your privates out by the roots, he will,
and serve them up to his dogs to bolt down raw!”
That threat shook his knees with a stronger fit (line 102)
and Irus hurled a fist (line 109)
at Odysseus’ right shoulder as he came through
with a hook below the ear, pounding Irus’ neck,
smashing the bones inside-
Suddenly red blood
came spurting out of his mouth, and headlong down
he pitched in the dust, howling, teeth locked in a grin,
feet beating the ground-
But putting on the shelf these bloody examples, what about the high side of Mercury’s vibration? What about when the logic is sound, the judgment articulate? The end of the chapter focuses the reader on this more polished end of the vibration.
But now Prince Telemachus dressed them down: (line 457)
“Fools, you’re out of your minds! No hiding it.
food and wine have gone to your heads. Some god
has got your blood up. Come, now you’ve eaten well
go home to bed- when the spirit moves, that is,
I, for one, I’ll drive no guest away.”
So he declared. And they all bit their lips, (line 463)
amazed the prince could speak with so much daring.
At last Amphinomus rose to take the floor,
the noted son of Nisus, King Aretlas’ grandson.
“Fair enough, my friends; when a man speaks well
we have no grounds (EARTH) for wrangling, no cause for abuse.
Hands off the stranger! And any other servant
in King Odysseus’ palace . . .
So he said. His proposal pleased them all. (line 476)
And we’ll close with one other piece of ancient Hellenistic wisdom. This one is currently especially true for all my fellow Baby Boomers out there, as sands through the hour glass. Three thousand year old common sense, as true now as it was then, this time from the lips of Odysseus himself.
And the one who knew the world replied at length, (line 144)
“Amphinomus, you seem like a man of good sense to me.
Just like your father- at least I’ve heard his praises,
Nisus of Dulichion, a righteous man, and rich.
You’re his son, they say, you seem well-spoken, too.
So I will tell you something. Listen. (Mercury) Listen closely.
Of all that breathes and crawls across the earth,
our Mother Earth breeds nothing feebler than a man.
So long as the gods grant him power, spring in his knees,
he thinks (Mercury) he will never suffer affliction down the years.
But then, when the happy gods bring on the long hard times,
bear them he must, against his will, and steel his heart.
Our lives, our mood and mind (Mercury)
as we pass across the Earth,
turn as the days turn . . .
as the father of men and gods
makes each day dawn.
And the beat goes on.