Going into 2014, I decided: I want to be a bit more focused in my thoughts, and my religious writing, and so on. This will last until it becomes stifling to the process, as it frequently does, but for right now I’m going with it. Due to this, I’m taking the opportunity to write in a bit more of a focused manner for this year’s Pagan Blog Project. Time will tell if I’m able to keep pace with the 2 posts per letter, or whether I’ll drop down to one per two weeks, but I remember enjoying participating, and I remember enjoying the pace, until 2012 exploded on me.
I sat down to write about Poseidon Aspheleios for the first week of A, and in hunting down actual references, I rediscovered my love for research. I was dismayed at first, because it (I thought) rendered my initial essay moot. Except, I love this process, this religious studying, this looking toward history with an eye toward understanding and bringing forward into modern times certain aspects or understandings of how our gods were approached. Now and again, more than I’m pleased to admit, I tend toward pedantism, which often leads me down roads that make no working sense in my mind. Like a corvid with something shiny, I get caught up in the details. I want to follow threads, all the threads, until I know as much as I can, and I get caught up in the binary mindset many of us grew up with (either/or), its silken strands trapping me like an elaborate spiderweb. All of these different ways Poseidon was called upon, many which have nothing to do with the sea, His most recognized attribute in the West . . . it is just fascinating, and it’s made even more fascinating when nuances are picked up. It’s also a great reminder that there is no either/or within my understanding of polytheism, within my understanding of how the gods were approached. There are simply many, many ways.
I first encountered this epithet of Poseidon’s in Walter Burkert’s Greek Religion. “When an earthquake strikes, everyone starts to sing Poseidon’s paean(27), and to invoke him with vows as the god of steadfastness, Asphaleios.” and for the longest, longest time, I left it at that. I did not go and dig up the original (or a translation of the original) citation, until this week. Earthquakes are not really on my radar; it’s one of those connections my God has that I can’t really connect with, not on a visceral level. Intellectually, absolutely. Sure, I’ve experienced minor earthquakes before – most people may not realize, but the east coast of the United States experiences earthquakes, too. That said, for the nearly three decades that I lived on the eastern seaboard, the biggest quakes that touched my area had their epicenters hundreds of miles away. The sensation has been gentle and minor, akin to a semi passing by the house on the road, so that by the time it’s over you’re left wondering, was that a truck or a tremor? So, Asphaleios seemed a bit beyond my ken. And, heh, I was happily writing about that, but decided, well, let’s go read about this connection in primary sources. So, I did.
The notation in Burkert’s leads us to Xenephon’s Hellenica, but in the section cited, we don’t read about Poseidon Asphaleios. We do read about paeans being sung to Poseidon, and I realised that that is, in fact, where the citation is demarcated in the book. Curious. Where, then, did Asphaleios come from?
It would seem to hail from Pausanias’s Guide to Greece. (Where else? Ah, the rich material in those volumes of his!) and I rediscovered why it’s exciting to read multiple translations, often side by side. Because we’re dealing with translations rather than transliterations, nuances get lost in favor of the translator’s prejudices, preferences, and objectives. It helps, too, to pick up the original language, when you can. No judging here – I’ve been involved with Poseidon for nearly two decades, but I can’t recite the Greek alphabet, and I cannot speak Greek. I can’t really even read it, really, but I know most of the letters on sight, and I can read some words, if I’m already somewhat familiar with them. I’ve done this exactly so that I can go to the original Greek texts and at least try to recognize words I’m expecting to find.(One day, I’ll be able to read Greek fluently; it simply has not made it to the top of my priority list, as yet).
The copy of Pausanias’s Guide to Greece that I own is the Penguin Classic translation by Peter Levi. At no point in the reading did I recall Pausanias speaking of Poseidon SteadFast, but you know, my memory isn’t the greatest, and I read a lot, so maybe. I dug out my copy and went looking, and I found nothing about steadfastness. I did find a bunch of references to Poseidon of Safety. Frustrated, I decided to work smarter, not harder – why pour through books when I can search? Between the two wonderful sources of Theoi.com and the Perseus Project, I honed in on the reference quickly enough. Pausanias’ Guide to Greek, book 3, chapter 11, section 9. And here I rediscovered why multiple translations matter.
The original reads: τούτων δὲ οὐ πόρρω Γῆς ἱερὸν καὶ Διός ἐστιν Ἀγοραίου, τὸ δὲἈθηνᾶς Ἀγοραίας καὶ Ποσειδῶνος ὃν ἐπονομάζουσιν Ἀσφάλιον, καὶ Ἀπόλλωνος αὖθις καὶ Ἥρας,
The translation provided to us by the Perseus Project reads: “Not far from them is a sanctuary of Earth and of Zeus of the Market-place, another of Athena of the Market-place and of Poseidon surnamed Securer, and likewise one of Apollo and of Hera.”
The translation I have renders the secion thusly: “Not far from here is a sanctuary of the Earth and of Market Zeus, and one of Market Athena and the Poseidon called Safe Poseidon, and one of Apollo and Hera.”
The paragraph this belongs to is not speaking about earthquakes. I’m curious at this point as to why Burkert placed the reference of the epithet Asphaleios in with the reference to the paeans being sung to Poseidon for steadfastness. At a first glance to my eye, this is about securing one’s livelihood, keeping one safe and secure from the harm that our own kind can bring upon us. It speaks to me of safeguarding your resources, your source of income, and wanting protection from theft. Zeus and Athena of the market place? Poseidon the Securer, and likewise of Apollo and Hera? My translation drops the likewise, but the one over at the Perseus Project has me reading it as though Securer is an epithet given to both Apollo and Hera, in this context. The lot of Them being grouped thusly speaks clearly to me: this isn’t about keeping the earth from shaking – although that does play into it, because how you have your livelihood secure if the literal foundations of your existence are not secured?
This need not be an either/or. Poseidon Asphaleios need not be eitherthe financial securer or the securer of the earth under foot. He can be both, because they need not be separate from each other. I don’t know – maybe it’s because the subject of Poseidon and commerce is fresh on my mind that I’m viewing it this way. More likely, it’s because I adore languages. I love how they change, how they layer. I love words, I love connotations, I love discovering layers that I would not necessarily get, immediately, as a non-native speaker. And I love discovering new layers to this God of mine.