Eros, god of Beauty, Love, Sex, Desire, and ultimately, Creation. All other theoi, ultimately, create things. Even the Goddesses Parthenos.
The path of the hoi polloi is to work, procreate, and pass on.
The path of the hero is to use one’s gifts to create from one’s life a legacy that outlives, outshines one’s mortality.
The path of the artist is to hone one’s craft and create, create until one can do so no more. This, too, brings immortality. Artists live forever through their creations and the desire of those who love it to keep it alive.
Is creativity, in any of its forms, integral to a pagan identity? I’d say yes.
If one’s gods do not create, then what incentive is there to worship Them? If one is going to say “oh, I worship nature”, then what is a seed? Water and fire don’t necessarily destroy, they just create smaller objects from bigger ones. If you’re not passing on your path, either via initiation, familial procreation, or just engaging others and teaching them, then you’re destroying it. If one can’t even muster up the courage to be not just inspired by their Deities, but to make something that future generatons can enjoy, then one might as well set fire to the Louvre, for one who does not act on that creative spark, ultimately, destroys it.
“The dancer’s body is simply the luminous manifestation of the soul.
The true dance is an expression of serenity;
it is controlled by the profound rhythm of inner emotion.
Emotion does not reach the moment of frenzy out of a spurt of action;
it broods first, it sleeps like the life in the seed,
and it unfolds with a gentle slowness.
The Greeks understood the continuing beauty of a movement
that mounted, that spread, that ended with a promise of rebirth.” Isadora Duncan
I’ve been fascinated with the 1920s since I was a little kid and delighted in the occasional Chaplin film on cable, so it’s not at all surprising that I’d come across the career of Isadora Duncan.
Duncan is regarded as the creator of Modern Dance (though in dance communities, this is sometimes hotly debated). While Modern Dance performances are clearly similar to ballet in some ways, the Modern Dance movement in the early 1900s was born from a distaste that many dancers had with what they perceived as a rigidity and “unnatural movement” in classical ballet. While there are now several schools of Modern Dance, Duncan’s dance was based on the dance depicted in ancient Hellenic pottery, sculpture, Graeco-Roman mosaics and neo-Classical Renaissance art and sculpture.
If we seek the real source of the dance, if we go to nature, we find that the dance of the future is the dance of the past, the dance of eternity, and has been and always will be the same… The movement of waves, of winds, of the earth is ever the same lasting harmony.” Isadora Duncan
Though she did have formal teachers giving her a background in classical dance, she ultimately rejected much of this training for improvisation and a sort of Neo-Pagan Romanticism. She once famously proclaimed that the Goddess Aphrodite Herself taught Ms Duncan in the art of dance on the beaches of California.
Her parents were once wealthy, but became rather poor shortly after Isadora’s birth, when her father lost his bank; her parents later divorced when she was seven-years-old. The experience of growing up impoverished, she and her mother and sister giving music and dance lessons to support the family, likely bred her Communist ideals, which would later lead her to defect to Russia. In spite of gaining Russian citizenship, she lived her last years in France, as well as a significant portion of her life prior.
“There are likewise three kinds of dancers: first, those who consider dancing as a sort of gymnastic drill, made up of impersonal and graceful arabesques; second, those who, by concentrating their minds, lead the body into the rhythm of a desired emotion, expressing a remembered feeling or experience. And finally, there are those who convert the body into a luminous fluidity, surrendering it to the inspiration of the soul.” ~Isadora Duncan
Despite being clearly a subversive influence on the world of artistic dance, she never completely fit in with Bohemian crowds, but her free-spiritedness and natural draw to shake up convention kept her from truly assimilating into high society. In some respects, her nature could be seen as Dionysian.
Though posthumously, she’s been idealised by some as a sort of radical femme-inist of the school of “sisters doin’ for themselves” because her dance schools were famously all-girl, early on she sought to include boys amongst her pupils of dance and philosophy, but ultimately, it was financiers who made the decision for her single-sex education in dance, and men trained in a lineage that can be traced back to Isadora Duncan herself, while increasing in number, are still rare; I know of only one male dancer to have ever been directly taught by Duncan herself. While examinations of her personal life definitely show many feminist sympathies (and also a bisexual with at least one noteworthy and passionate affair with another woman), she refrained from identifying her socio-political ideaologies as anything more than Communist, Socialist, or Marxist, which is easily argued to be inherently feminist, if not explicitly, much less radically so. The ultimate downfall of her schools, though, was her idealism; even her school in Moscow at a time of the early days of Russia’s totalitarian form of Communism suffered financially because the state had not yet made a suitable provision for the arts that could keep the school afloat, and Duncan was so firm in her belief that commercial performances cheapened the artistry she taught students to value, that she’d just as soon close a school left in the charge of a star pupil than tolerate her students performing on a commercial stage. In honour of her value of art over money, Duncan legacy dance troupes are largely non-profit.
Love is an illusion; it is the world’s greatest mistake. I ought to know for I’ve been loved as no other woman of my time has been loved. -Isadora Duncan
Her style of dance she always stressed to be very natural in its approach to the movements of the body, and improv is a major element to Duncan’s style of modern dance (though the choreography is often surprisingly intricate). Emotion and the expression of through the whole body with dance is another defining characteristic of Duncan’s style. Unlike ballet, which tends to place greater value on women dancers who are especially light-weight, and often with an unspoken mantra of “the lighter the better”, Duncan dance values any body that can move with the natural grace and convey the emotions integral to a piece; though this often means fans of ballet and some other dance regard Duncan dancers as “fat” and “out-of-shape”, the inherent athleticism in Duncan dance illustrate that Duncan dance not only keeps one in good physical condition, but also that the movements celebrate all shapes and sizes of graceful. Typically performing in bare feet, hops, skips, leaps, and arm movements tend to be regarded as the most basic elements of Duncan dancing, and Grecian-inspired dance costume is clearly preferred by Duncan herself, and those continuing to dance in her lineage.
The only surviving / known film taken of her dancing is not only extremely short, but clearly gives more attention to Isadora’s costume adjustment than her dance, which is shown as little more than a few hops. The circumstances under which this film was shot, I do not know; it’s likely that it was an experiment taken by a friend, or perhaps setting up the equipment took so long she had become tired. This is certainly not representative of the great dancer that shook up the art world and caused a sensation in the Early Twentieth. For more representitive video, there is no shortage of video of dancers of the Isadora Duncan legacy.
Interestingly, for all of Duncan’s glorifications of the Greeks, Aphrodite, Eros, the Moisai, the Khairetes, and all her applause for the wisdom of the Greeks and the inherent natural beauty of her reconstructed Greco-Roman dance, the music she selected, and that is still popular with dancers of the Duncan legacy, is movements by Romantic composers, and often music not written with dance performances in mind. This rather odd choice, all things considered, still lends to a graceful and beautiful interpretation of the music, I can’t help but wish to see Duncan dance performed with reconstructed Greco-Roman music.
Off the stage, Duncan was a flamboyant character, being practically immune to the typical ill effects of scandal, and a well-regarded eccentric. She rejected Christianity for Classical and Neitzchian philosophy, eagerly entertained Romantic Neo-Pagan imagery of her own character, and often read tarot cards for friends, strangers, and herself. Still, for all her fabulous life, it was marked with great tragedy; her marriages ended bitterly, her children died in a tragic automobile accident, her own life cut short when her excessively long scarf she regarded as something of a trademark wrapped around the axle of her Amilcar, choking her, then snapping her neck, then nearly dragging her body down the street just as her lover realised what was wrong. She died at fifty, but not before leaving an indelible impression on not only dance, but all of the arts (having inspired painters and sculptors).
Once upon a time, in ancient Boeotia, there was a man named Hesiod. He lived with his father in the town of Askra, which Hesiod hated. Originally, Hesiod’s father was from Cyme, a city in Aeolis once claimed to be Aeolis’ largest and most important city — so I can see why Hesiod hated it in Askra, which was small, rural, and largely insignificant. In fact, there was very little that Hesiod didn’t hate. He hated Askra. He hated his brother. He hated women — and just wasn’t too fond of people, as a general rule, as well.
Hesiod did, though, seem to get enjoyment in some form from the things most people disliked, if only because it gave him a smug sense of superiority. He liked work, especially hard manual labour. Actually, I think that was about it. Then one day, he realised that, even more than work, he loved the Theoi. One day, Hesiod’s up on Mount Helikon, tending sheep and hating everything, and a Moisa visited him, as he was out being perfectly happy, with his own little cloud of hateful feelings hoovering above him (as one does, when one’s first, middle, last, or only name is Hesiod), and the Goddess whispered beautiful metres into his ear. “Could it be?” He thought. “Is there truly something more wonderful in life than misery?”
“Indeed,” said the Moisa with a nod, before commanding Hesiod to write it all down.
First Hesiod wrote the Theogony, a grand epic poem of no fewer than 1022 lines, detailing the geneology of the Theoi and the universe They brought together — from Everything’s humble origins as little more than a speck within the great vast tendrils of Khaos’ formless tresses (yes, She is like a Lovecraftian Old One) to the woman Pandora. Pandora was likely inspired by Hesiod’s now long-forgotten ex-wife, Synthykhe1 — she was one of those educated bitches from Thespiai and was the youngest of her family, with three other sisters, so her dowry was, like, two chickens and a used featherbed, and she didn’t dig Askra too well, so she took off one day when Hesiod and his brother were being weiners at each-other, leaving ol’ Hesiod even more broken and joyless than he was before — and that’s a mighty accomplishment. Now she’s a famous hetaera, and making fat cash. Basically, all those “educated Thespian bitches” stereotypes that Hesiod could think of, he put into Pandora so that he could use her as a literary device to support his notion that women can’t be trusted. Or something. Hesiod’s got issues.
Hesiod’s also got family problems. After his father died, he and his brother ended up in a dispute over the estate, and so Hesiod put a big chunk of that (also thinly-veiled) into one of the longest asides ever in his next major poem, Works & Days, and tried to make it some kind of morality lesson. On the good side, we all can rest easy now knowing that whatever family issues we’ve got, people won’t be reading our brother’s side of things for the next 2800 years. Serious, man: Hesiod’s got subscriptions.
He also wrote Ehoiai, or The Catalogue of Women, another geneology — but that only survives in fragments. Another complete work often ascribed to Hesiod is Shield of Herakles, but modern scholars dispute its authorship, some believing it’s about two centuries too new, and too imitative of Homer’s style. Still, some disagree with this modern notion and continue to attribute this one to Hesiod, even though it isn’t that good, when compared to the other two that survive intact.
Some people then claim that Hesiod and Homer competed in a poetry contest, but aside from the fact that Homeric Greek is an Aeolian dialect, there really isn’t much to support that, aside from local tradition, which had a bronze tripod at the shrine to the Moisai at Mt. Helikon that was claimed to have been won by Hesiod in the contest — local traditions also claimed dinosaur bones as those of griffons and demigods, so clearly oral traditions are no more reliable than journalism. Still, it’s possible.
In Hesiod’s later life, we don’t know much from him, but we have a few accounts claiming he was murdered for adultery. I think it was actually cos people finally got tired of listening to how much he hates everything. Hesiod’s got issues, and some people are just prone to snapping like that, put in such close proximity to that kinda pressure. Like, one day, Hesiod’s neighbour is out doing his thing, minding his own business, and then here comes Hesiod, with his moralising, and his prizes, and going on about the economy like he did — and his neighbour knows it’s never gonna end because why? Because Hesiod’s got issues. It was bound to happen.
Then legend has it that Hesiod’s body was cast into the sea and returned to the shores by dolphins (probably after the dolphins did unspeakable things to his corpse — a dolphin will totally perv on you, if you let him, sometimes even if you don’t). Then, his body was put upon a pyre and his ashes entombed with honour at Askra, even though he clearly hated the place, but I guess they figure no better-fitting sentence for being a total wenus than to give him a place of honour in the place he despised most of all. Either way, the hamlet loved him, and so they interred his ashes with honour. Then the Thespians showed up some time later, probably cos of a war or maybe just because Thespiai is wicked-awesome, and the Askrans moved to Orchomenus on the advice of an oracle, and took Hesiod’s ashes with them, and interred them in the town’s agora and was honoured as a heros of Orchomenus’ town hearth, as well. This is Hesiod’s last known resting spot, but clearly the spot isn’t there anymore —thanks, Christians2— and thus ends the story of Hesiod, The Heros Who Hated Everything (and Had to Tell the World About It).