[Contents]
CHAPTER SEVEN ~ Touchy Subjects

This chapter will explore, under a series of subheadings, some of moral issues that were evoked by the story bones and dealt with in the Pomegranate Flesh manuscript in a deliberate manner.

Homosexuality

That this issue is currently controversial is clearly illustrated by the recent wrangling over new equal rights legislation in Australian parliaments. In the Pomegranate Flesh manuscript a position is taken on the issue of homosexuality as it appears in the form of Ameinias’ love for Narcissus.

The position taken by the text of Pomegranate Flesh is that the issue of homosexuality is not a contentious issue. Narcissus is equally irritated by the advances of Echo (a female suitor) and Ameinias (a male suitor). The point he makes to Kora, the character he befriends, is that he wants firstly to be left alone and secondly to be loved for who he really is, not for his physical beauty.

The issue of Ameinias’ homosexuality is also conspicuously not raised by his own mother who is opposed to his love of Narcissus only on the ground that it is unrequited. She is insulted that Narcissus will not accept an invitation to dine with her family and she is worried about her son’s pining and misery. If this part of the tale has a moral it is that “a love affair for one can never be” and that homosexual and heterosexual love affairs can go wrong for the same reasons.

The lack of mythic data on Ameinias’ mother allowed considerable freedom in the formulation of her actions and reactions. The presentation of her as untroubled by her son’s sexual preference was a deliberate alignment with the views expressed by the subgroup of current culture arguing for equal treatment of homosexuals and heterosexuals in all legal and social matters. It is also in keeping with the acceptance of homosexual behaviour in ancient Greek culture, where it was socially acceptable for a man (an erastes) to take an adolescent lover (an eromenos) for a few months and to train him in hunting and fighting skills before showering him with gifts and parting company (Dowden, 1992).

Empowerment of women

One of the primary provocative features of the Pomegranate Flesh manuscript is its adherence to the notion posited by Spretnak (1978) that in its early pre-Hellenic versions the story saw Kora go voluntarily to the Underworld. In her introduction Spretnak wrote: The rape of Persephone reflects the rape of the pre-Hellenic culture and does not seem to have been part of her mythology before the invasions. In Jungian terms, the rape would be seen as an intrusion of patriarchal consciousness into the earlier matriarchal mode. Graves (2001, p. 95) concurs that the forced marriages of pre-Hellenic Goddesses “refers to male usurpation of the female agricultural mysteries in primitive times.”

This view of a young woman making her own decisions stands in stark contrast to versions of the myth, such as Crompton’s Gods and Goddesses of Classical Mythology, in which he relates that:

Persephone [proserpina] …..frolicked in the fields and orchards as a child. Her gaity gave great joy to her mother, who blessed the earth with great fruitfulness. But the joyfulness and beauty of Persephone attracted Hades, Lord of the Underworld, who stole upon and kidnapped Persephone, bringing her underground to serve as his queen.
(1999, p. 23)

There is something inconsistent about the idea of a simple morality tale involving a girl who wandered away from her mother being snatched by a lusty suitor being the subject of years of devotion and study. Giving details of the kind of devotion and study the story attracted, Guirand wrote:

In the Thesmorphoria which were celebrated in Attica in the month of October, the departure of Kore for the sombre dwelling was commemorated. According to Herodotus the origin of these festivals went back to the daughters of Danaus who imported them from Egypt. They were exclusively for married women and lasted for three days. The return of Kore was celebrated in the Lesser Eleusinia, which took place in the month of February. As for the Greater Eleusinia, which took place every five years in September, it seemed that they had no connection with Kore. It was a solemn festival ~ the greatest festival of Greece ~ in honour of Demeter, and its principle object was the celebration of the mysteries of the goddess. The scene of the Greater Eleusinia was Athens and Eleusis.… Only the initiated could participate and they were forbidden to divulge what occurred. Initiation comprised of two stages; the second the epoptae, could only be taken after a year’s probation.
(1982, p. 155)

Consideration of this assertion that the Demeter/Kore story was studied for years at great depth gives rise to questions about the kind of lessons that may have been learned from the study. Would time spent with this story help women to deal with the trails of life, love and parenthood or would it threaten them with rape if they openly displayed the traits of beauty and joyfulness? Given that the message that can be drawn from what Spretnak (1978) calls the pre-Hellenic version of the myth is considerably more empowering to women than the lessons of the later versions, it is possible that the veil of secrecy that Guirand (1982, p.155) mentions was drawn around the myth in order to protect the women who were teaching and learning its lessons from sanctions by the patriarchal rulers of Hellenic Greece.

By retelling the story without the rape, in the form that Spretnack (1978) claims is the original, and by including elements that can be conceived as useful to women, Pomegranate Flesh chooses to use the myth as a source of celebration and empowerment of women rather than as a warning aimed at repressing them. It rebukes the notion that it is dangerous or undesirable for young women to be beautiful and joyous and while it acknowledges that women can be wrong, lost and confused, it also asserts that they have the freedom and power to make choices, as well as the ability to function as competent professionals in their chosen fields.

Sole parenting

The difficulty of sole parenting is acknowledged in the first few paragraphs about Demeter in the chapter called ‘Her Mother’. Demeter begins the Pomegranate Flesh story as a busy working mother who rushes home to cook a proper meal for her daughter. In order to meet all of her responsibilities she must also make arrangements to have Hecate care for Kora while she attends meetings.

Conspicuously absent is any notion of condemnation for being a sole parent and no details are given about how the state of affairs arose, such as whether Demeter knowingly indulged in adultery with Zeus or whether she was unwittingly seduced by him. Omission of this detail makes her state of sole parenthood more universal and is intended to block the path of readers who may prefer to believe that she deserves her hardships on the grounds that she was a loose woman.

As a sole parent Demeter has coped well but she reaches a point, common in sole parents, of finally thinking that enough is enough and that the absent parent should be made to contribute. This leads to her issuing an ultimatum to Zeus that frees her from the constraints of her role as a sole parent.

Demeter does not reach this position of power easily however. The first time Kora goes missing Demeter is unable to let go of her parenting role and she is consequently incapacitated to the point that she cannot continue to function as usual. The second time Kora goes Demeter consciously releases the role, by delegating responsibility for parenting to Zeus. She deliberately avoids taking on caring for Echo as a substitute child and instead pursues her own path seeking to find something within her self that will fill the void that she feels. By the time Kora leaves for the third time Demeter has adjusted to the point that she is content to allow Kora to go without needing to have a substitute parent, such as Hecate or Zeus, on parenting duty in her absence.

The void that Demeter feels in the face of Kora’s maturation and departure was described by Beane Rutter (2000), and others, as ‘the empty nest’ syndrome. Allusion is made to this in the text via the inclusion of the story of the small bird that leaps from its nest. In the chapter called The Empty Nest Demeter says to the bereft mother bird: “There’s no point looking for your baby, she’s gone and she isn’t coming back…. Your nest must feel empty without her little bird, I’m sorry. It must be hard for you not knowing why she jumped like that.”

Describing empty nest syndrome O’Connor wrote:

How well parent copes with this rite of passage can depend very much on the manner in which a child leaves home. There is such a difference between separating and severing. When people find it difficult to acknowledge and deal with their sadness at an impending separation, they tend to resort to fighting and arguing. It’s as if it is easier to fight and have that as the basis for leaving ~ “I’m glad to see the back of them” ~ than deal with the sadness. The result can very often be a cutting off rather than an untying, leaving behind a painful vacuum into which can rush feelings of parental failure. It’s then that ‘empty’ is truly the experience.
(2003, p.113)

O’Connor (2003) goes on to describe the departure of children further, as a rite of passage for the parents and as an opportunity for renewal. By having Kora leave home three times, at first suddenly and unexpectedly, secondly after an argument and finally after an acceptance of her maturing, Pomegranate Flesh is able to illustrate three different typical parental responses. It also models the notion that taking the departure of the child as an opportunity for personal renewal is a socially acceptable and potential rewarding option.

Ageism

Ageism is covered in the book in the form of the casting of Hecate as a kindly wise elder, rather than as a witch.

Different mythological texts take different positions on Hecate. In some she is portrayed as witch-like, in others she is benevolent and helpful. Graves explains the differences saying:

Hesiod’s account of Hecate shows her to have been the original Triple Goddess, supreme in heaven on earth and in Tartarus, but the Hellenes emphasised her destructive powers at the expense of her creative ones until at last she was evoked only in clandestine rites of black magic, especially at places where three roads met.
(2001, p. 123)

In keeping with the pre-Hellenic presentation of Core/Persephone, Pomegranate Flesh presents a pre-Hellenic image of Hecate, referring to her ability to function in all three worlds, Olympus/heaven, earth and the underworld.

The archetypal role that Hecate plays in the Pomegranate Flesh manuscript is that of the old wise woman. She is Hiawatha’s Nokomis, Cinderella’s fairy godmother and the transformative Baba Yaga of the Russian folk tales.

In Pomegranate Flesh she assumes the role of a counsellor, often employing techniques from the disciplines of provocative and narrative therapy. Her intentions are kind but she makes her ‘clients’ face the difficult questions within themselves in order that they may face their challenges and grow beyond them. This pattern sees them visiting her and drinking in her tea and advice. This represents a deliberate decision to present an image of an older person in a favourable light, challenging the ageist stereotype of senior citizens as senile or out of touch with reality. The portrayal provides another point of connection between ancient Greek attitudes and those of my story, illustrated by Campbell’s assertion that there was “an appreciation of age in Greek mythology with the presentation of the wise old man and the sage as respected characters” (Campbell & Moyers, 1988, p.71).

[Chapter Eight ~ Better Left Unsaid]