Tyche: Beyond Jealousy, She Says
It is I, Tyche, patron goddess of the city of Antioch, who take up this tale. I consider a sign of my fine, artistic and, as the muse of music, universally appreciated character, that I am beyond jealousy of other and, as history has decreed, greater gods with their more frightened, thus loyal, constituents. My people, the four impoverished women in black whom you have met, are not loyal at all. Oh yes, they admire me, put a drachma, a shekel or a dinarius, a coin minted anywhere from the Straights of Hercules to the far banks of the Tigris, Rhine, Rhone, Dnieper or the Nile, in the waiting palms of my priests, bring small offerings of sugared fruits, sit by my pool below, that sort of thing, but loyal? Hardly. Antiocheans importune us supernaturals, but if we fail to give them service, whatever the request, they say we deserve neither gifts nor even remembering. A smelly bunch of god-shopping opportunists, they are. I sing only to a highly selective few, the best, believe me!
I grant, some in this city are serious, if not about me, about more useful immortals. But don’t you ever forget, celestial music from elsewhere, Pythagoras or not, I am the only immortal, with my sister Calliope, who sings. She’s Roman. Her voice is hoarse from cheering too many emperors. I am the languorous, melodic, seductive, hypnotic, wild and rousing East. I sing better than she. Those especially gifted hear more in me than my notes; they find my deeper meanings. There I am also Beauty, and in that cosmic rhythmic, sonorous depth, I am much closer to the One than any petitioner could imagine. We are in that correspondence, communion, consonance serenely, joyously intimate.
In the history of Antioch, there is a story, told here, of one mortal, a man in but not of my city- who, arduously threading his own Path enjoys benign intimacy with the One, he whom Jews, Christians, Buddhists and Zoroastrians , call, “the one God”. That God has many names. On this, my Antiochean mystic’s lips it is not Yahweh but Deus Maximus, or of His god-being, “numen”. It is said that a few Jews likewise know the Path to being of and with the One. Music can accompany it. I regard it well that for Jews song has elevated purposes.
With the Diaspora of the Hebrews and their Yahweh, many people in the Empire, as new hosts to Hebrews, came to see theirs as more attractive than any religion heretofore known to them. They were not with the One but they came to regard Him. That was true in my Antioch as well. So great was its attraction that it may have been what Hebrews can claim, that a tenth of Empire were, by Roman year 835, (100 AD) Jews. Not so here. I, Tyche, do not count my people as the Roman census might, but I do observe their faiths. So yes, envy is possible, as one religion grows more rapidly. But you know that most immortals are known for their jealousy. The outreaching Hebrew faith was complex, rooted in the ages and their sagas, was allowed elaboration, adoption, as with Plato and his Philo, It entertained the abstract, surely was passionate, and in my professional view was the first to glorify the subjectively available, thus the personal, for Yahweh could be known to each privately—ask poor Job about that! Among those later priests not dogmatic, they did not require a uniform discourse as to His form. I grant the mysteries of Eleusis might have tried as much, but the mystery of winter and then fecundity is not the same. Besides Eleusis became theater. The One is not an actor, although it is said he sets all or our stages, and illuminates.
With Judaism came strict morality- more demanding than my own, I can tell you. Most of us lesser immortals are a bawdy, profligate bunch and, after all, since I sing, well I get invited to a lot of wild, I do mean wild parties. Morality’s less virtuous partner is intolerance, yet also lawful duties to others. Hebrew evangelists brought their Yahweh to their new neighbors of whatever tribe or tongue. With the Diaspora it is reported that synagogues were quite thoughtful, pleasant, non polemic- no pounding or gibberish, please- places to be. Nevertheless He, Yahweh, Abba- not Theos nor Deus, nor by any means a Teutonic “Godos”, “Gott”, so then, “God”- was still the Hebrew tribe’s own. To know him, to be cared for by Him, one must join His tribe. Its joining was, is hardly easy if you think about circumcision, sometimes with a flint knife but iron is hardly friendlier. Happily, it is only in primitive places we girls are held down for love-scarring clitorectomies. The Jews do not require of women genital pain and depletion for the sake of initiation, and, a man-beast thing, excising their chattels’ joy, or potential lust. The Jewish religious law is severe and self-denying, heavy with guilt and sin and, yes, pride. For a singing goddess all of that is ridiculous, the path to Beauty requires concentration, discipline, but is the antithesis to suffering or its display.
In the Diaspora, depending on the faction, some rigorous self-denying or ritual-requiring law had been abandoned, with subsequent elevation of faith and intellect. To do that is not always advantageous for an ill educated world, which is more easily, trained to ritual, rote and obedience than to serious private, holy reflection. Almost all of Antioch is ill educated, the most likely educated are Greek or, superficially but for a few, Roman, with the Greeks a more amiable sort, respecting both gods and man. The Greek heart has always been open to Beauty, thus to the One, but, befitting the greatest civilization ever, not in the least tribal and much of its religiosity philosophical or artistic. Greeks gone god-shopping seem to like the Christian, now so much influenced by Plato, who by the way, was a music lover. I must visit him one day in Hades; see what the two of us can put together
As for Roman subjects gone god-shopping in the Jewish store, there have always been merchant Jews, proselytizing rabbis included in Antiochus’ city, here more after the fall of Jerusalem, Roman year 807. Most disadvantageous for Hebrew evangelism, was the Jewish defeat in Jerusalem, which given the power of Rome could not have been otherwise. A sensible gentile person, considering Yahweh, might admire the politically rebellious, violently God-loving spirit of the Jews, appreciate their historic religion, and if Greek especially argue He is the same, well, more savage, than Plato’s One. Even so it is no wise general who is suicidal, knowing the eventual cost of destroying whole Roman legions, nor when unendurably besieged still resist when that He has the example of what Rome did to Carthage. Further, it was true madness while besieged and yet strong if in union, to fragment and kill each other in factionalism. These are not actions that appeal to the rational man, particularly if he is a quiet sort, or cowardly. The ordinary man or woman out god shopping doesn’t such choose poisoning cabbage.
When Jerusalem was destroyed, about fifty years past this time now, when I, Tyche, goddess of this city, speak to you of my observations, many Jews, and also the few Christians there were, fled here. With that bloody destruction, being a Jew, for one not early of the Tribe and destined to that by blood, became an unwise thing. If Empire was to maintain and Rome was Empire, she could not be tolerant of rebels or incipient insurrectionists. The Jews, as God’s own tribe, opposed assimilation, and were remarkable and difficult. They obliged imperial notice. Few subjects of Empire, other than Jews, and now the Christians, valued religion more than their lives. Had the Jews but fully appreciated Philo, that fine philosopher, who served Rome and the Torah, Plato and God, reconciling Aristotle to these as best he could, no such fatal ending would have occurred. The course of the gods, those worshipping them, would have been much changed The race for the right god, the true god defined as most powerful, reliable, enriching, no longer saw Yahweh as the prize at the finish line.
As for my women in black, they kept to their sector of the city, the east Syrian quarter. They had never met a Jew, not heard of Christians - nor indeed but for eyeing their statues now, did they care much for deities who were a meddling, unpredictable, fearsome lot who, like Roman officials, required bribes and, worse than Roman officials, were less reliable once bribed. Nevertheless, bribed they must be. Nor did any god care much for women such as these, not even by bringing brief moments of happiness as might occur if a god were good enough to bring a pleasant dream. The women dreamt only of food. No god brought that.
So it was that the four women in black were not among those racing toward, not even much aware of one god or another. Choice was almost never theirs. As with the racecourse being built above them, the course to gods was not theirs. They were not athletes holding, staying the course for any god. No woman of them conceived such aspirations. There were some gods assigned them, so some priests had told someone of their lines, but they were inherited. By name yes, but otherwise the women did not know them. What they knew beyond the immediate was little. They knew the name of the language they spoke, the race or tribe of the district in which they lived, perhaps stories handed down as myth, warning, religion, or foods to eat and avoid, races they could not marry. They knew some names people called their gods and used in calling on them. They might have idols with other names honored in their hut or stinking crowded apartment in some wooden building perhaps four or even five stories high. Their reach to any sky god was limited by the height of their roof; Mt Silpius was too far a walk. The walls were on its top, the city citadel there, no god bothered to have his or her temple built where there were only soldiers and a dry terrain of rocks.
Antiocheans have always been fearful of fire, earthquake and pestilence, for these were plagues an angry god or goddess sent too often. Fear not success perpetuated their formulaic petitions, prescribed bribes to gods named but ill examined. Not much good these gods of theirs, but overpowering need and fear compelled offerings, for it they did not? Even worse could happen.
That is why every morning people came to the goddess of the city, Calliope, or in her different form and pose, that statue close by as well, my own, Tyche. Greeks and Romans favored Calliope, Syrians and those originated south and east favored me, Tyche. They were the same and different gods. All gods took different forms, sometimes appearing among men. One had to be careful for a stranger could be a god. Spitting was a good idea, especially if the stranger had blue eyes. Spit was apotropaic, is so. Keep the gods away. Proximity was dangerous. No god could be trusted, all are given to ill temper, too much like humans but eternal, petulant, spoiled and only kind when their favor was being propitiated That was done not so cheaply as by prayer, but by real gifts of coins or food to their priests who knew the secrets of these goddesses, muses and patrons of the city. That is why these wool-covered women gave what they could, a penny, an ear of corn, a tomato, to the priests. Their gifts were received disdainfully, but as priests must do, even for a penny, with a promise. The women, almost always silently angry, did not give thought to the likelihood that the priests themselves were likely poor.
I, Tyche, am appreciated as kind and useful, for I really do what I can to protect the city. When I was younger I was much older, and was much feared, much propitiated, much praised for, with some unpredictability, I was fertility to soil and women, They understood me when I was younger in time, older in the way women think, knowing I was prosperity. In my female power I was very much the Eastern mother goddess, even for East Indians, Kushanians who traded here, I was understood to be a version of Buddha’s sacred and predestined mother, Mahamaya, who, among the less syllabic might be called Maya or even, as word of her progressed westward—for at one time Buddhism was the most adhered to among all religions- Sanskrit Maya came to be the sound, “Mary”. There is nothing strange in this, all Mary’s may be mothers, some Mary’s are sacred, producing the sacred. Some allowed that there might be only one Mary mother of one god, God then, be He called Buddha or Jesus. It is not so strange; people and their worship intermingle.
Maya also can mean many things, as indeed it is with gods and mothers, in the Hindu Vedanta it is both illusion- when the One as unifying is not recognized but is great power, yet having the connotation of cunning, even a maker of magic. If the boundaries of meanings become to loose- if one is everything it may also be nothing- that the Vedanta understood. There is always danger of confusion. Yet it appears that India and its outreaches did comprehend that beneath the many forms and faces, there is but the One. Plato in Athens, as with Zeno there, had reached by logic what the wisdom of the East already intuited and could teach as their deepest understandings, that multiplicity arises from the singular but incomprehensible. The forms portrayed familiar and the attractive illusion, magnets to Truth. That Idea was making its way into Antioch.
I, Tyche, exist elsewhere, have existed earlier when younger and older from Babylon to Tyre, Palmyra to Judea, Canaan surely. I was known as the female Baal, thus Ba’alat of whom of me whatever the calling name, there were as many as cities themselves or, indeed, properties to be owned or protected, for Ba’alat was many local Mistresses of things and places. By coming to Antioch- the Seleucid kings inheriting from Alexander the Great brought me- I was given the opportunity also to sing, for when the Romans came they brought Greek ideas of muses and, in because, I, Tyche, have been so rich in versatility, I began with the Greeks, the best of civilizations and loftiest in its ways, to become one aspect of Beauty. I was then, as now, quite a mix of things, complex, as most women are. I stand here in Antioch next to these foundations and pools a singular iconic personification. What I do best these days is sing
It is known that my voice is particularly beautiful to those I choose as special audience Some who hope to hear me at my loveliest come sit under me to hear me and these very same fountains sing. This is a simple magic, and kindly. It elevates some souls even to Beauty as it spreads in them. Immersed, that become that beauty if only for the moment and the memory of it. Music does that for the chosen. Even when I sing softly, the fountain splashing as my supporting, harmonious chorus, those whom I choose to hear me, those persons know delight.
Sometimes at twilight when I am particularly moved, I can be heard singing softly over the all of my city. Those who hear me know it is pure music not intended to lull into foolish hopes, no Sirens’ song to lure and kill, as was done to Ulysses’ men. I am a loving woman now, for as men have grown loftier to Beauty and at least appreciating love, I have changed as well and for the better. I was once mother of all fields and mothers, but fertility is necessarily a bloody job. It is also full of wiles and stratagems, for to become a willing mother, for a mother to secure or select from her brood, there will be the ruthlessness of nature. A mother may even know her child is to be sacrificed, and will nevertheless allow the birth. There is no mother well understood by her child who is not magical, and sometimes dangerous, Medea the worst, but a Mary or two have also lent themselves to their children’s deaths.
There were at this moment, as the four women looked on, several people kneeling in prayer beneath me. In their foreign minds I was still Ba’alat or holy mother Maya. One was a dark skinned Buddhist trader from India, one a Phoenician from Biblos, one a Semite from Palestine. A beggar woman, so sick and ill clad she could have no protector beyond the Devil’s dried spit, stumbled to the pedestal. It is possible she died there. At dawn each day shuffling slave patrols, ghouls or knackermen of a sort, hauled the street dead away to dump somewhere. No one asked where. In any event no petitioner that day would hear me, Tyche, sing.
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