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Dionysian Kenosis

(again, rambling…you’ve been warned)

 So, the subject of ‘kenosis’ came up in the first paper I heard today. When I looked it up (because I’m toggling in this conference between Catholic and Orthodox perspectives and also, I’d heard of it solely in the context of a goal of devotional practice), initially I saw it defined as Christ’s rejection of his divine nature during the Incarnation. It’s more complex than that, but that initial definition did get me thinking. Why would this ‘putting aside’ of divine nature have to be ‘rejection?’ So, thinking of our theologies, I’m immediately reminded of Euripides’ play “The Bacchae,” in which the poet has Dionysos declare that (to educate Thebes) He will “put aside His divinity” taking human form. While this is a play, Dionysos is the God of theatre and it does reflect the practices and language and ideas and mysteries related to this particular God. Could one say that what is happening when Dionysos does this is a type of kenosis? (which the theologian just described as ‘self-emptying, taking the form of the servant’).

I wouldn’t describe any of this as a rejection of divine nature. Rejection would imply a permanent disavowal, wouldn’t it? ‘Putting aside’ implies that one can then put it back on (the root of the word ‘rejection’ implies a throwing back of something). Even within the Incarnation, was it a rejection? Was not God the father ever with the son even through the intense humanity and human suffering of the Incarnation? For our purposes did not Dionysos remain divine even when He was wearing human flesh?

Kenosis is more readily Christ’s emptying out of Himself to be open to God’s will. It’s…complicated. I do think ideally, we as devout people should seek to empty ourselves out (the meaning of κενοω) so that we can be filled with our Gods, so that we can be completely receptive to Them and Their will. The lecturer now speaking keeps talking about “self-emptying obedience” and I take issue with the way in which she’s using the latter term…devotion is more active, an active annihilation of all those things that would keep us from being fully open to the Gods. There’s nothing passive in it, save for the receptivity that allows us to eventually experience our Gods. And even within that level of receptivity, whatever obedience there is becomes full alignment, a partnership not an abrogation of personal will but a uniting of that will with our Gods…do Christians mean the same when they use this term?

Back to my initial point, I can totally see kenosis as a means and goal of devotional living (regardless of one’s tradition. I think ultimately we should empty ourselves of ourselves, of all our bullshit so that we can be the most useful tools and servants possible of our Gods. THAT is exactly what devotion entails), but I struggle to see it applied to the incarnated Christ. Returning to Dionysos, which is far more relevant to our praxis than Christ (with all respect to my Christian friends), when He put aside His divinity, was He emptying Himself out so that He could better align with HIS true will?

I want to parse that out…what does it mean that a polytheist could accurately say Dionysos is putting aside His divinity…here’s the Greek:

ὧν οὕνεκ᾽ εἶδος θνητὸν ἀλλάξας ἔχω
μορφήν τ᾽ ἐμὴν μετέβαλον εἰς ἀνδρὸς φύσιν.(Bacchae, line 54)

for which purpose, having set aside my form (lit: that which is seen)
I bear a mortal shape and I have changed mine into the nature (φύσιν) of a man. (my translation)

If we look at ‘nature’ in the Aristotelian sense, it is the motivating essence, the material cause for a thing. It is the essential substance of a thing. In the Heraclitan sense, it is a thing’s natural development. Is Dionysos here lowering Himself down to the human level and allowing things to thus play out according to human rules and decisions? Its opposite is νομός, or law and custom so is this a means of giving more freedom and loopholes for events to play out? Is there a freedom in incarnation not found in the immortal sphere (a horrifying thought)? I was discussing this with Edward Butler (wanted to be sure that I was correct, that this was as intriguing a passage as it always had seemed to me, because surprisingly little’s been made of it in classics) and he noted that, “eidos often means just the visual appearance of something; but what does a mortal look like, qua mortal? Then in the next line we have andros physin, which has the same ambiguity. Physis can mean just the outward appearance of something, but it can also mean something deeper, the “nature” of something. Euripides seems to be playing a bit with the idea that Dionysos is taking on more than just the look of a human.” So, I think something is going on here and I can’t help but wonder if it’s something more than just a poet taking theological and poetic liberties.

Perhaps it makes no sense to make this comparison – Christians do what they do with their theology and kenosis is a particularly Christian theological term—but the entire conversion reminded me so strongly of that passage about Dionysos I could not help but doing playing with it here.

And…I went back to the Greek to the word εἶδος. It is the word from which we get our word ‘icon’ and I believe also ‘idol.’ It is something that can be seen, a form which can be seen. So, Dionysos is transforming His appearance. The presence of the word φύσιν complicates things for me. It has certain specific meanings philosophically, Is it all simply a change in appearance not reality here (unlike the licit view of the incarnation in which the humanity assumed by Christ is reality … unless one is a Docetist lol). I could go round and round with this for hours but I need to stop myself. Argh.

 

EDIT: So, thus am I served for writing this, while taking notes during a lecture, and discussing it all withe a friend via email. I had my etymology wrong above. “icon” comes from “eikon” and ‘idol’ from εἴδωλον. We get our word “idea” from εἶδος. What i wrote above still stands though: Dionysos is transforming into the idea of a mortal man…close enough to appearance to still ask: what does that mean? what is a God’s idea of mortal man and how would that translate to other mortals? 

Upcoming Classes

In the fall, several people contacted me about doing another round of online classes. At the time, I couldn’t do it. My academic teaching load was just too heavy (very writing intensive, and hence, grading intensive) for me to add anything more to my schedule but now that school is out for the summer, I’ve decided to offer a couple of classes.

These classes will be interactive: we will meet one day a week for an hour and a half via interactive video-conference for six weeks. There will also be an email list where we can communicate and discuss the material throughout the week.

Upcoming classes are as follows:

Class: Homer’s Iliad
Date and Time: Class begins Friday June 17 from 7pm-8:30pm and meets each Friday for six weeks (June 17, 24, July 1, 8, 15, 22)
Cost: $70

Class: Euripides’ Bacchae
Date and Time: Class begins Thursday June 16 from 7pm -8:30pm and meets each Thursday for six weeks (June 16, 23, 30, July 7, 14, 21).
Cost: $70

There are  seven spots still available in the “Iliad” class and six spots in “Bacchae.” 

Future classes will include Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days, Vergil’s Aeneid, Homer’s Odyssey and Ovid’s Metamorphoses with a little Catullus thrown in for good measure.

Each course will offer an intensive introduction to the mythic tales – our sacred stories in many respects – of ancient Greece and Rome as presented in epic poetry and, in the case of Euripides, tragedy. We’ll focus on ideas of heroism and fate, how the cosmology is reflected in each of these works, and what these works show us about the cultures in which they were written. We’ll talk about hero cultus, ancestor cultus in the ancient world, syncretism, miasma, and the development of ritual and how we can engage with these stories to deepen our understanding and engagement with the Gods in our practice today. We’ll focus on violent transformation: through war, through initiation, through the workings of Gods and Fate and explore what these stories can teach us about our traditions and our faith today.

These were essential, foundational stories for ancient Greek and Roman polytheists (and for many of our own ancestors up until about 1950! Every school child would have learned them). They defined their community’s identity and understanding of the world. They helped our ancestors better comprehend how the Gods could act in our world. These stories were their own language, a lens that shaped everything and through which people learned to face the dangers, fears, and exigencies of their own life and fate.

I’ve taught for six years as a teaching assistant and then senior teaching fellow in the Classics department at Fordham U. I’ve spent the last year exploring these works with my academic classes and I’m delighted to be able to offer them to our communities too.

If you’re interested in taking either of these classes that I’m offering now, please contact me at Krasskova at gmail.com.

I will be offering two online classes in June

Triumph_of_Achilles_in_Corfu_Achilleion

In the fall, several people contacted me about doing another round of online classes. At the time, I couldn’t do it. My academic teaching load was just too heavy (very writing intensive, and hence, grading intensive) for me to add anything more to my schedule but now that school is out for the summer, I’ve decided to offer a couple of classes.

These classes will be interactive: we will meet one day a week for an hour and a half via interactive video-conference for six weeks. There will also be an email list where we can communicate and discuss the material throughout the week.

Upcoming classes are as follows:

Class: Homer’s Iliad
Date and Time: Class begins Friday June 17 from 7pm-8:30pm and meets each Friday for six weeks (June 17, 24, July 1, 8, 15, 22)
Cost: $70

Class: Euripides’ Bacchae
Date and Time: Class begins Thursday June 16 from 7pm -8:30pm and meets each Thursday for six weeks (June 16, 23, 30, July 7, 14, 21).
Cost: $70

There are eight seven spots available in each class.

Future classes will include Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days, Vergil’s Aeneid, Homer’s Odyssey and Ovid’s Metamorphoses with a little Catullus thrown in for good measure.

Each course will offer an intensive introduction to the mythic tales – our sacred stories in many respects – of ancient Greece and Rome as presented in epic poetry and, in the case of Euripides, tragedy. We’ll focus on ideas of heroism and fate, how the cosmology is reflected in each of these works, and what these works show us about the cultures in which they were written. We’ll talk about hero cultus, ancestor cultus in the ancient world, syncretism, miasma, and the development of ritual and how we can engage with these stories to deepen our understanding and engagement with the Gods in our practice today. We’ll focus on violent transformation: through war, through initiation, through the workings of Gods and Fate and explore what these stories can teach us about our traditions and our faith today.

These were essential, foundational stories for ancient Greek and Roman polytheists (and for many of our own ancestors up until about 1950! Every school child would have learned them). They defined their community’s identity and understanding of the world. They helped our ancestors better comprehend how the Gods could act in our world. These stories were their own language, a lens that shaped everything and through which people learned to face the dangers, fears, and exigencies of their own life and fate.

I’ve taught for six years as a teaching assistant and then senior teaching fellow in the Classics department at Fordham U. I’ve spent the last year exploring these works with my academic classes and I’m delighted to be able to offer them to our communities too.

If you’re interested in taking either of these classes that I’m offering now, please contact me at Krasskova at gmail.com.

A Humorous Note on the Bacchae

I thought of this the other day, since I’m currently teaching the “Bacchae.” I love this (borrowed from Betterbooktitles). Makes me smile every time i see it. 

wizard god