Athene, Dancing

In the Philosophical History, Damascius writes that he saw an agalma of Aphrodite in armor and that the image struck him. I had a similar, much less intense experience recently when I came across this secular-function image of Athene, La Danse Triomphale, created in 1925 by Carlo Sarrabezolles. The plaque on the image’s base reads, “À Pallas Athéné, par qui les dieux vainquirent les géants. À l’intelligence dominatrice de la matière.”

The website dedicated to the sculptor hosts images of it in its full glory; it seems that the spear is not always present in the actual execution of displaying the statue. I encourage you to check out the images there — I’m only putting two in here because I know clickthroughs are not a thing many people do. EU Touring also has a collection of them, each absolutely breathtaking.

It reminds me a lot of the esteemed philosopher Proclus’ Platonic Theology, specifically the part in Book V (Chapter 35) where he brings his discourse about the Gods to the Koretic Triad, that part of the unfolding from the One where Athene expresses the type of her nature that have a protective and undefiled quality.

For who that is in the smallest degree acquainted with the divine wisdom of the Greeks, does not know that in their arcane mysteries, and other concerns respecting the Gods, the order of the Curetes, is in a remarkable manner celebrated by them, as presiding over the undefiled peculiarity, as the leader of the goddess [Rhea], and as binding in itself the guardianship of wholes? These Gods therefore, are said to guard the queen Rhea, and the demiurgus of wholes, and proceeding as far as to the causes of partible vivification and fabrication, to preserve the [Persephone] and Bacchus which are among these causes, exempt from secondary natures, just as here [i.e. in the intellectual order], they defend the vivifications of total life, and the first-effective monads of all-perfect fabrication. Not only Orpheus therefore, and the theologists prior to Plato knew this Curetic order, and knowing, venerated it, but the Athenian guest also in the Laws celebrates it. For he says, that the armed sports of the Curetes in Crete, are the principal paradigms of all elegant motion. And now, neither is he satisfied with having mentioned this Curetic order, but he also adds the one unity of the Curetes, viz. our mistress [Athene], from which the mystic doctrine also of theologists prior to him, suspends the whole progression of the Curetes. He likewise, surrounds them above with the symbols of [Athene], as presiding over an ever-flourishing life, and vigorous intellection; but beneath, he manifestly arranges them under the providence of [Athene]. For the first Curetes indeed, as being the attendants of the intelligible and occult Goddess, are satisfied with the signs that proceed from thence; but those in the second and third orders, are suspended from the intellectual [Athenaic] monad.

Rhea is the mother of the Demiurge of Wholes (Zeus), and the Kouretes are the watchful ones who, in the myths, pounded their armor so loud that Kronos couldn’t hear the cries of the divine child and devour him. Platonism is extremely fond of triads, in which an abiding term, proceeding term, and reverting term are found; these could also be considered in terms of mini-“being, life, intellect” moments. Athene, as their monad, gives her traits to the entire series.

What then is it, that the Athenian guest says concerning this monad, which converts to itself in an undefiled manner the Curetic progressions? “The [k]ore (κορη) i.e. virgin, and mistress that is with us, being delighted with the discipline of dancing, did not think it proper to play with empty hands; but being adorned with an all-perfect panoply, she thus gave perfection to dancing.” Through these things therefore, the Athenian guest clearly shows the alliance of the Curetic triad to the [Athenaic] monad. For as that triad is said to sport in armour, so he says that the Goddess who is the leader of them [i.e. of their progression] being adorned with an all-perfect panoply, is the source to them of elegant motion. And as he denominates that triad Curetic, from purity, so likewise he calls this goddess [K]ore, as being the cause of undefiled power itself. For koron (το κορον) as Socrates says in the Cratylus, signifies the pure and incorruptible. Whence also the Curetes are allotted their appellation, as presiding over the undefiled purity of the Gods. And the monad of them is particularly celebrated as a mistress and as [K]ore [a virgin] she being the supplier of an inflexible and flourishing dominion to the Gods. The word koron therefore, as we have said, is a symbol of purity, of which these Gods are the primary leaders, and according to which they are participated by others. But their being armed, is a symbol of the guardian power according to which they connect wholes, guard them exempt from secondary natures, and preserve them established in themselves. For what other benefit do men derive from arms except that of defence? For these are in a particular manner the safeguard of cities. Hence [myths] also ascribing to the unpolluted Gods an unconquerable strength, give to them an armed apparatus. Hence adorning the one unity of them with an all-perfect panoply, they establish it at the summit of the progression of these Gods. For the all-perfect precedes things which are divided according to parts, and the panoply exists prior to the partible distribution of guardian powers. And it appears to me that through these particulars Plato again asserts the same things as were afterwards revealed by the Gods. For what they denominate every kind of armour, this Plato celebrates as adorned with an all-perfect panoply. [For the Gods say,] “Armed with every kind of armour, he resembles the Goddess.” For the all-perfect in the habit of Pyrrhich arms, and the undefiled in power, pertain, according to Plato, to the [Athenaic] monad; but according to the narration of the Oracles they pertain to that which is furnished with every kind of arms.

This passage struck me deeply when I read it in a group setting recently, that link between the Goddess and the rhythmic, flowing motion of dance suddenly made bare. According to Xenophon, Socrates considered dancing to be a practical form of exercise; it’s fitting that the inspiration for Plato’s dialogues and doctrines moved in accordance with the Goddess who is the school’s patron, alongside Apollon and the Muses, despite Socrates being very Artemis-like (midwife of the soul).

Farther still, rhythm and dancing are a mystic sign of this deity, because the Curetes contain the undefiled power of a divine life; because they preserve the whole progressions of it always arranged according to one divine boundary; and because they sustain these progressions from the incursions of matter. For the formless, the indefinite, and the privation of rhythm, are the peculiarities of matter. Hence, the immaterial, the definite, and the undefiled, are endued with rhythm, are orderly, and intellectual. For on this account, the heavens also are said to form a perpetual dance, and all the celestial orbs participate of rhythmical and harmonious motion, being filled with this power supernally from the unpolluted Gods. For because they are moved in a circle they express intellect, and the intellectual circulation. But because they are moved harmonically, and according to the first and best rhythms, they participate of the peculiarity of the guardian Gods. Moreover, the triad of the unpolluted leaders is suspended from the summit of the intellectual Gods. And that it proceeds from this summit, Plato himself teaches us, by placing the first cause of purity in [Kronos] the king of all the intellectual hebdomad. For purity (το κορον) is there primarily, as he informs us in the Cratylus, and the first-effective cause of purity, preexists unically in [Kronos]. For on this account also, the [Athenaic] monad, is called [K]ore (a virgin) and the Curetic triad is after this manner celebrated, being suspended from the purity in the intellectual father.

The dance of the Heavens, ordered by the Kouretes and the daimones in their series who are attentive to orbital dynamics and gravity, to the evolution of a solar system from its turbulent, stormy youth when planets are hurtled into the star(s) and ejected from orbit and colliding to obliterate one another to its mature state when its dependable regularity swells with nectar-hungry life, is a beautiful image. And, of course, underlying that is the beauty of the orbital dynamics mathematics, the n-body problems and en-formed matter’s hunger for perfect circles and stability. I love the way the statue captures her movement, the dynamism of protection, and the unique way in which Athene displays her expressive, composed serenity. You can see that abiding stability in the way the artist rendered her face, the calm at the center of so much motion.

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