The brightest stars do tend to burn up upon re-entry.
But oh how they shine on the way out !
ἀριστεία – Aristea – refers to ‘Excellence’,
κλέος – Kleos – to ‘Renown’, ‘Glory’. The result of said Excellence.
Grand exemplars are to be found – of course – within the Iliad. We are literally still talking about Diomedes & Achilles some three thousand years later precisely because these figures possessed and exhibited so much of the former that their their Kleos has, in fact, become Kleos Aphthiton : Undying Glory !
An associate [S.B.] has a long-running intent to look in grander depth and detail at an Indo-Iranian (and more specifically, Vedic) cognate: Sravas Aksitam (which, while it is encountered directly in that form (e.g. RV VIII 103 5, as pointed out to me by S.B.; or RV I 40 4), is also found elsewhere as the same two words occurring in the same sentence rather than directly alongside one another in, for instance, RV I 9 7 & RV IX 110 5).
In the case of RV I 9 7, we find the following:
सं गोमदिन्द्र वाजवदस्मे पृथु श्रवो बृहत् ।
saṃ gomad indra vājavad asme pṛthu śravo bṛhat |
viśvāyur dhehy akṣitam ||
Griffith renders it as:
“Give, Indra, wide and lofty fame, wealthy in cattle and in strength,
Lasting our life-time, failing not.”
Which, per the recent Jamison / Brereton translation is:
“Place in us, o Indra, broad and lofty fame, accompanied by cattle and victory prizes,
lifelong and imperishable.”
Meanwhile, in the case of RV IX 110 5, we find:
अभ्यभि हि श्रवसा ततर्दिथोत्सं न कं चिज्जनपानमक्षितम् ।
शर्याभिर्न भरमाणो गभस्त्योः ॥
abhy-abhi hi śravasā tatardithotsaṃ na kaṃ cij janapānam akṣitam |
śaryābhir na bharamāṇo gabhastyoḥ ||
“All round about hast thou with glory pierced for us as ’twere a never-failing well for men to drink,
Borne on thy way in fragments from the presser’s arms.”
Now, I mention both of these hymnals because they are both relevant for understanding what’s really going on with this UNDYING GLORY concept in archaic Indo-European mythopoetics.
In the former, we find that it is the God, Indra Who, is able to imbue the supplicant with the Vedic expression of the quality.
In the latter, we find that it is Soma which bears the quality.
If we consider those exemplars of the Iliad Whom I have aforementioned – what do we find ?
In the case of Diomedes, His Aristea comes about as the result of the fairly direct intervention of the Goddess Athena to Empower Her Chosen.
In the case of Achilles – well, once again it is the hand of Athena … although, inter alia, this entails bringing and bestowing to Him the Ambrosia and Nectar. The Empowering Elixir.
I also mention these facts because in my (very, very brief) research for this post, I noted that there was a somewhat artificial attempt to seemingly distinguish Kleos Aphthiton from Sravas Aksitam upon the basis that the latter was more ‘supernal’.
Now, this is a fundamental misrepresentation and misunderstanding, I believe, of the situation of the archaic Indo-European Hero.
He is a man (a ‘spirit’) Who is foundationally already within the realm of Myth – the Supernal. At least, when we encounter him.
And the ‘him’ who should seek to emulate his forefathers (for these are often ‘Ancestral Glories’ of which we are speaking ! Inherited and passed down in a manner of a ‘Family Name’ or the concept of ‘Mana’ so familiar to us here in New Zealand – a ‘Clan-Soul’ component, perhaps, to over-bend a phrasing) in the attainment, the emulation, the reaching of some level of this ‘heroic’ quality – he is seeking, searching for the mechanism that shall enable him to weave himself into the fabric of myth.
To participate in the Mythic Sphere, the Mythic Realm – and become … metaphorically, yet also I suppose mytho-literally – one of those great glittering constellations up there ‘midst the shining hosts of his cultural memory among the Stars !
In other words … an Achaean or other Ancient Greek hero fighting in the mud and the blood of the fields of Ilium, and a Vedic aspirant participating in a holy Aryan rite to directly seek to draw the Gods’ Favour … these are not separate situations, separate scenarios. Only the ‘phrasing’ via ‘framing’ is a bit different.
The former may seem superficially to be more ‘mundane’ – yet anybody reading Homer cannot possibly think that it, in truth, actually is. Not with the Gods Themselves taking to the field (and, in the case of Diomedes, being fought against directly with Athena’s most glorious — and glory-enabling — aid!), etc.
The intrinsic quality to both Kleos Aphthiton and Sravas Aksitam is to be superhuman. So brightly burning that one becomes over and above what an ordinary man – even an extraordinary man – might be capable of in similar such circumstances.
And that, to take one’s place as a hero worthy of myth and legend, is something which quite auto-maxically, entails the ‘ascension’ of Divine empowerment.
And so we come to RV VIII 103 5:
स दृळ्हे चिदभि तृणत्ति वाजमर्वता स धत्ते अक्षिति श्रवः ।
त्वे देवत्रा सदा पुरूवसो विश्वा वामानि धीमहि ॥
sa dṛḻhe cid abhi tṛṇatti vājam arvatā sa dhatte akṣiti śravaḥ |
tve devatrā sadā purūvaso viśvā vāmāni dhīmahi ||
“He with the steed wins spoil even in the fenced fort, and gains imperishable fame.
In Thee, O Lord of wealth, continually we lay all precious offerings to the Gods.”
Or, per Jamison / Brereton:
“With a steed he bores through to the prize even in the stronghold; he acquires imperishable fame.
In You among the gods might we always acquire all things of value, O You of many goods.”
RV VIII 103 is, of course, an Agni hymnal – and it should seem eminently logical that when one is seeking Divine engagement, empowerment, elevation, the Priest of the Gods and Conduit between the Divine and Mankind ought be called upon.
The ‘Steed’ spoken of in the former portion of the verse may even be Agni – or, perhaps, the ritual offering, the song, etc. – various interpretations are possible.
Whatever the precise saliency of the ‘Steed’, the results are clear enough – the ability to carry out a mighty deed of storming a stronghold in pursuit of something precious. The mythic deed, the mytheme, indeed, that is so often associated with Indra in amidst other Gods and Heroes – the reclaiming of the stolen wealth from those demonic forces that have made off with it and imprisoned it behind fortress walls.
“Imperishable Fame”, indeed, via attaining to the heights of the mythic deed – immanentizing out into the world around one the quality of the Divine, the Myth, through one’s own actions, and thusly becoming worthy of sharing in that other, ultimate suite of fruits thereof: Imperishable Glory, Kleos Aphthiton.
RV I 40 4 is also useful for us to consider within this light.
यो वाघते ददाति सूनरं वसु स धत्ते अक्षिति श्रवः ।
तस्मा इळां सुवीरामा यजामहे सुप्रतूर्तिमनेहसम् ॥
yo vāghate dadāti sūnaraṃ vasu sa dhatte akṣiti śravaḥ |
tasmā iḻāṃ suvīrām ā yajāmahe supratūrtim anehasam ||
This is presented in the Griffith as:
“He who bestows a noble guerdon on the priest wins fame that never shall decay.
For him we offer sacred hero-giving food, peerless and conquering easily.”
Now, a full exegesis of this particular hymnal is beyond the scope of this piece. However, it is intriguing to note that it is a Hymnal for the empowerment of the patron of the priest doing the rite. Various verses state particular qualities associated with or necessary for the augmentation / empowerment of a great hero – and ask that these be imparted to the man who has commissioned the Rite in question.
This reaches its apex in the 8th verse of the Hymnal, wherein it should seem that the subject of the ritual’s empowerment is hailed in terms equating him in some measure to Lord Indra Himself !
Specifically, we find the man to be accompanied by the greatest of allies – the Ruling Deities ; in situations of great peril remaining unshakeable (the actual construction is more a ‘secure position’ being maintained even amidst fear and dire threat) ; and neither great ‘barriers’ / ‘obstacles’ [‘Varta’, the word used here, is of a common root with “Vritra” – with much which that entails] nor small ones shall stay his conquering course (Tarutr) ; for he, you see, is [akin to] the Wielder of the Vajra.
So, as we can see … RV I 40 4 is part of a hymnal wherein Myth is invoked: and not just any myth .. the myth. The featuring the Greatest Hero – and the qualities which make Him (i.e. Lord Indra) so esteemed in might are ‘drawn down’ to become imparted in a human, mortal supplicant.
RV I 40 4 is specifically there to stand as part of this ‘gateway’ – stating in no uncertain terms that it is the necessity of sacrifice and offering which unlocks the ability to partake of this ‘Imperishable Fame’ (Aksiti Sravah) ; as it is then, through the offerings carried out by the Priests, that the energy may therefore be engaged with and go where it is intended by the humans involved in the rite to arrive.
Now, of course, it is worth noting that as with the Agni hymnal considered earlier – Brihaspati / Brahmanaspati is also thinkable of as a ‘Priest of the Gods’, a Divine Priest. And so, therefore, there is an intentional ‘double-meaning’, it should seem: the offering, the Dakshina [‘Right Conduct’ – from same root as ‘Dexter’ in English and Romance languages] is not just a commissioning fee to a human priest : but also is in mythically resonant terms, that offering also to The Priest, the Mythic Priest amongst the Gods Who both enables the original empowerment of the mythic-archetypal Divine Hero , as well as presiding over the capacity and the quality which we are seeking to ‘draw down’ from the Realm of Myth into our sidereal times and designated-appointed Champion … just as we are also seeking to have him ‘elevated’ up – at least some of the way – into the Realm of Myth both ‘from’ and most indubitably for us, likewise.
A ‘Mesocosmic’ approach, we ought say ! Part-way between ‘Microcosm’ (‘down here’) and ‘Macrocosm’ (‘up there’), ‘Sidereal’ and ‘Supernal’, ‘Mundane’ (of the World) and Mythic (‘above the world and yet therefore informing it).
And thus, we see it:
In those tales of the Iliad, Diomedes and Achilles are, in essence, already a part of the world of Myth. They have Divinity (in specia one very prominent and vitally integral Goddess) to directly ‘Choose’ them and empower them as necessary accordingly.
For men elsewhere – such things can most assuredly happen, even without the detailed ritual preparation which is thusly extolled above.
Yet the rites and rituals exist precisely because out here in the Sidereal such things are much less commonly come across – there is a ‘barrier’ between what and where (most of us) are and the Realm of Myth which must be bridged.
And therefore, even in the Myths themselves, these vital preparatory steps are often somewhat ‘glossed over’ (so, Athena appears to Achilles bearing the Empowering Elixir, without the extended description of the preparatory ceremonies via which such a brew would presumably have been produced) … whether because events were more ‘truncated’ due to direct and high-level divine interaction expediting the processes in question, or simple (and more likely) ‘dramatic license’ on the part of the poet recording the events for posterity.
So how is it, then, that a man may more meaningfully ‘engage with the Myth’, make himself one with it?
One approach is to attempt to engage in epic deeds by one’s self. That is certainly a bold proposition.
Another is to engage in quite a lot of reading and thinking – engaging with the myths in the most literal sense, allowing them to seep into one’s (sub-)consciousness and colour and contour one’s perceptions and consequent, ensuing actions therefrom.
That approach is certainly both ‘more’ and ‘better’ than merely reading things – that passive (yet still positive) form of engagement which should seemingly reduce Myth down to mere ‘literature’ upon the page.
But the third … the third is to seek it out via the most obvious manner and mechanism available to us: exactly what we find in various of those RigVedic Verses –
Having a Priest, somebody already to a certain measure ‘in touch’ with the Divine, the Supernal (indeed, this is functionally what is meant by ‘Brahmin’) make the ‘introductions’, the ‘linkage’, the ‘connexion’.
And therefore turn one’s whole life – rather than ‘just’ the ritual space of the rite itself – into the Stage of Myth to imbue itself out into the world around.
An experience which is sure to be, we may say – one of Aristeia.
The Best, Most Excellent – The Highest.
And perhaps, just perhaps, worthy of that Fame Everlasting and the Glory Imperishable.