The Poet-Merchant and the Stranger from the Sea

"The Poet-Merchant and the Stranger from the Sea." The Greeks and the Sea, 59-65, ed. Speros Vryonis. New York: Aristede Caratzas Publishers, 1993. Reprinted in The Archaeology of the Soul, 2012.


The sea has both a surface and a depth. It thus lends itself to be the paradigm for the human soul, which, as the Chorus of Sophocles’ Antigone says, when stirred brings to the surface the blackness within. The soul retains the very nature of historical time, in whose sediment are stored the experiences of an original terror. Aulus Gellius remarks that the sons of Zeus are outstanding in virtue, prudence, and strength, but the sons of Poseidon are monstrous, cruel, and alien from any hint of humanity. The archaeology of the human spirit is one of the characteristics of ancient poetry. It consists in the attempt to consider the origins of things in light of the current experience of those things. This juxtaposition of the beginning with the present, of the roots with the flowering, tends to expose the criminality of the presumably lawful, whether it be that the fraternity at which the city aims is built on the incest of Oedipus and the fratricide of his sons, or that the name of Oedipus himself, which like all proper names designate but does not mean, expresses the truth of the crimes he cannot will in retrospect but nonetheless cannot deny to be his very nature.