The Ecphorizer

Review: Facing the Gods, James Hillman, Ed
JoAnn Malina

Issue #33 (May 1984)



This book is a collection of essays dealing with the ancient Greek gods as psychic forces, taking seriously the power of these forces in our lives. These essays are quite varied in theme and tone, including a highly personal description by Christine Downing of the part Ariadne has played in her life; a 10-page list of the various appelations of Hermes; and a note by Karl [quoteright'/>Kerenyi, dedicated to his nine-year-old daughter, on the self-posession and even fierceness of prepubescent girls and their virgin goddess, Artemis. Although the authors are generally Jungians, there is little of insiders' jargon here. However, it would help the reader to be familiar with the concept of the archetype. A good introduction to this and other Jungian ideas can be found in the book Man and His Symbols, by Carl Jung.

Probably the most striking essay, one which requires and repays careful reading, is the lead piece by James Hillman, "On the Necessity of Abnormal Psychology: Ananke and Athene." Starting from Jung's quote, "The Gods have become diseases," he explores the way the gods appear in our internal lives as compulsions: driven, often destructive, behavior. He describes the Greek relationship to necessity, that which cannot be changed, Ananke; as Euripides describes her: "She is a goddess/ without altar or image to pray/ before. She heeds no sacrifice." The thought of a powerful god who cannot be related to or affected by our human condition is a terrifying one, and it certainly terrified the ancient Greeks. Hillman discusses how they attempted to deal with this fear in their religion and art.

Another concept in this essay is the necessary connection of these psychic forces with their pathological excesses. The world (therefore human beings) can never be "purged" of the pathology while leaving the "good" parts behind, the dark side is a necessary accompaniment to the light. It was good to see this attitude, which has kept many thoughtful people out of "good guys vs. bad guys" religions, spelled out in psychological terms.

Another essay that I found particularly interesting was a discussion of Hestia by Barbara Kirksey. As Goddess of the Hearth, Hestia (Vesta to the Romans) has no images. Ovid is quoted as saying "Conceive of Vesta as naught but the living flame." She is the Goddess of the center, the place of balance and energy. Again, Kirksey echoes Hillman when she cites the need for pathology, which is "a demand for readjusted focus," not just a nuisance to be expunged.

The book also includes essays on Dionysus, Amazons, Hephaistos, and Rhea ("Red Riding Hood and Grandmother Rhea"). The authors put forward many interesting ideas and make interesting connections, without attempting to reduce the gods to "nothing but" impersonal, mechanical psychological forces.

Contributor Profile

JoAnn Malina

She was a former officer and newsletter staffer in San Francisco Regional Mensa. She was well-known for her columns about the behavior of Mensans. An escapee from Chicago, she has worked as a career programmer at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.




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Filler
Fuller

Issue #33 (May 1984)

If you find this fulminiforous filler fullsome, you're fuller of filler than I felt you were, feller!
-The Paster-upper

The "filler" was invented in 1757 by Johann Sebastian Filler, an obscure Hanoverian printer.  It solved a problem of long standing, enabling typesetters to fill spaces formerly left blank with short items of trivia so that the printed area could be extended to the very bottom of a page, of which this filler is a prime example.

Contributor Profile

JoAnn Malina

She was a former officer and newsletter staffer in San Francisco Regional Mensa. She was well-known for her columns about the behavior of Mensans. An escapee from Chicago, she has worked as a career programmer at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.




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