8 September 2023

Beach Games and our Lady's Nativity

 I would like you to imagine a beach.

Then to people it with a naked man.

And, then, with a gang of naked girls heaving a ball around.

Yes; Book 6 of the Odyssey begins with a fair dose of sexual frisson. But ... this what appeals to me ... never with vulgarity.

Washed up naked after shipwreck, Odysseus, in the undergrowth, has to decide what to do after the girls arrive on 'his' beach. Technically, he should dart forward and clasp the knees of the lead-female. This would give him the formal status of a suppliant and thus entitle him to protection. But he is savvy enough to realise that even quite a resolute girl might be disquieted by a naked man suddenly hurtling at her knees.

So, polutropos, he does it verbally. Gounoumai se anassa, he begins. "I approach as suppliant." But notice how he has addressed her; "anassa".

Georg Autenrieth assures us that this is the only time, in Homer, that anassa is used of a mortal woman. (It actually recurs on the next page, anassa eleaire, where the latter word, from the same root as eleison, also has cultic undertones.)

Odysseus' ploy now becomes obvious: he questions whether she is goddess or human, suggesting that she rather reminds him, er, of Artemis, Daughter of Mighty Zeus. This is flattery, captatio benevolentiae, in buckets-full.  

Anassa is an interesting word. It is the feminine of anax, Monarch, but neither term is 'modern'. This is not the more up-to-date Greek term Basileus. Anax and Anassa are far more ancient; they are archaic; I suspect that they are, in Homer, deliberate archaisms

Centuries even before Homer, the bureaucrats in the great labrynthine Bronze Age Palaces of Greece (Cnossos ... Mycenae ... Pylos ...) had kept records written on clay tablets. Their script ('Linear B'), so explained Arthur Evans and other experts, could not possibly be Greek. But an amateur enthusiast  called Michael Ventris deciphered them ... and they are Greek. They are syllabic. And in these records, wa-na-ka is the 'syllabic' way of indicating 'Monarch, wanax.

Notice the W. There is no W in Anax and Anassa. But Classicists have always known that originally there had been ... the now lost Greek letter Digamma. We know this because, as in the line we are discussing, a consonant has to come at the start of the word to prevent hiatus or elision when a previous word ended with an open vowel.

One of the Titles of our Most Blessed Lady in Byzantine Greek is Pantanassa. "August Mistress of All". It goes back to narratives of her Assumption. Tourists who have visited the 'World Heritage Site' at Mystras will recall the mone of Pantanassa, which is the only building there still occupied. It houses a young community of nuns. Its original foundation in 1428, last of Mystras' great buildings, was in the interesting decades after the Palamite Councils of the fourteenth century. 

So that word which Homer had preserved from the second millennium ante Christum had not been forgotten, but had acquired a new sense and a living force.

The feast of Mary's Nativity, today, should not be overlooked because of a glamorous neighbour on August 15. It is one of the Byzantine Twelve Great Feasts; it is the Titular of the Greek Cathedral in South London. In many places, the fact that, by September, the grain harvests have been gathered in, has sometimes made September 8 functionally and culturally attractive. For example: when Henry III granted Walsingham a Fair in 1251, it was for the Vigil, Feast, and week of the Nativity. The presence of Ss Anna and Joachim in a number of the Mystras frescoes reminds us that their festival, in the Byzantine Rite, is tomorrow.

It is a sure marker of the decadence and corruption of the Roman 'rites' of 1960 and 1970, that this Feast ... so far from having any sort of proheortia ...  is not even allowed a First Vespers.

The Great Lady of God's House and Household, Mistress of the Universe, of all that is, Mediatrix of All Graces, evokes our love and devout worship on this Feast of her Glorious Nativity. 

Most Holy Mother of God, Anassa panton kai prytanis tou ploutou tes Theotetos, Save Us.


Luke said...

Is "worship" the right word for the honor we give the Blessed Virgin?

DMG said...

Very bravo, kind pastor!

El Codo said...

In France today is a Grape Harvest feast following on from Transfiguration and Assumption. The first-fruits theme…

frjustin said...

Our library has a Breviarium Cisterciense of 1751, which lists the Nativity of Mary as a "Sermo major[sic] cum Octava".

After Vatican II, the two branches of the Cistercian Order dispensed with the Octave, but while the Strict Observance (Trappists) have gone all Novus Ordo, the Common Observance, with admirable rigidity, have retained First Vespers of the Nativity of Mary, notably at Heiligenkreuz.

Some of their monasteries have retained the custom of a solemn procession before the conventual Mass on 8 September.

Albertus said...

Παναγία Θεοτόκε, σώσον ημάς, αμήν.

Thomas Beyer said...


Albertus said...

The classic meaning of the truly English (of Anglo-saxon origin) word "worship" is "honour, venerate" (both Fench/Latin loanwords). Absolute "Worship" in its highest form - recognising God as Supreme Being - is rendered to God and relatively also to images of God the Son. Thus we sacrifice to God alone. Worship in the common meaning of honour, venerate, we give to Our Lady, the Saints, the Angels for the sake of God. One can also - in older usage - give due worship (i.e. respect) to a living person of authority, hence a mayor is titled "His Worship". The latin/greek distinctions of adoratio (latreia), hyperdoulia and douleia (veneratio) are proper theological distinctions that are not needs be reflected in other tongues. Lithuanian, e.g., has just one word "garbinti" for both adoration and veneration. The distinction can only be made by added description/ explanation, but is usually clear from context.

Fr.Nathan said...

I wonder if W.S. Gilbert had that beach scene in mind in the Pirates of Penzance when Frederick meets the girls on the beach. LOL

Paulus said...

In the Roman rite, Our Lady's Nativity came with a proper octave before S Pius X's lamentable (not in all respects) reforms, and with a curious and practically non-existent 'simple' octave from 1913 until 1955.