Saturday, July 30, 2016

Flight and Pursuit


Desperate situations call for desperate measures. A true free spirit, the wood nymph Daphne is never happier than when she is roaming the forests. The dappled sunlight of the forest glades are more than home to her: they are her preferred company, and she vows that she would sooner keep herself chaste than exchange the familiar company of the surrounding trees for a partner in life.

All might have continued to go well for Daphne, were it not for the fateful day when the glorious god Apollo happens to catch sight of her as she dances in a sunlit glade. At once smitten by her beauty and charm, the god approaches Daphne and attempts to seduce her. Now, Apollo is used to having his way, whether with mortal or with nymph. But for the first time ever he finds his advances rejected. In a moment’s distraction Daphne seizes her chance to flee the god’s amorous advances and runs away as fast as she can, hoping that her familiarity with the forest trails might offer her an advantage in her flight.

But Daphne’s knowledge of the secret paths through her beloved forest is proving no advantage when matched against a god’s bruised ego. Wounded pride mixed with ardour for the fleeing nymph only fuels the pace of Apollo’s pursuit. At the last moment of her flight, when the god is so close behind her that she can feel his hot breath on her back, Daphne calls out in panic to her father, the river god Peneios. 

The great river stirs angrily, and white-topped waves slap its banks in a frenzy of fury as Peneios sees the plight which his daughter is in. Unable to leave his watery domain, the river god makes a last-resort move to save his daughter. Just as Apollo reaches out to seize the nymph, his all-too-eager hands grasp, not soft and yielding female flesh, but bark and branches and dark green leaves. Peneios with his powers has changed his daughter into a laurel tree: one more tree among all of its fellows in the wood nymph’s beloved forest.

A handful of laurel leaves are Apollo’s only gain. How to save face? How to restore a god’s bruised ego? By declaring a defeat to be a victory and founding a tradition. Apollo decrees that from that moment on, a crown of laurel leaves will become the worthy symbol of a victor. And the god promptly begins the tradition by weaving for himself a crown from the leaves that just moments before had been the living flesh of the beautiful nymph.

How often has it happened that reality has been turned on its head, and those who have been bettered have, through one means or another, insisted that they have in fact triumphed? Saving face in such a way is familiar enough to us from our own current news events. But in the story of Daphne and Apollo we can perceive a deeper meaning. Sometimes circumstances force us to change, and to change dramatically, and we become something other than that which we were before. It might not always be a change which we have wished for ourselves, but it has been a change made necessary for our survival, in whatever form that might take.

But Daphne’s fate also gives us reason to hope. The nymph’s essential nature was that of her own beloved forest, and her essence did not change. Instead it became absorbed into what she truly loved the most. Even in dramatic change, even undergoing apparent complete metamorphosis, our true essence survives in some form, and endures beyond even the great change at life’s end.




Art: Daphne and Apollo by John William Waterhouse


6 comments:

  1. Emma wat een prachtig verhaal als krachtige metafoor. Zoveel diepzinnige lagen,zo eigentijds. Dat we onze vrije geest mogen houden,wat er ook gebeurt in ons leven. Warme groet Syta

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, wat fijn Syta, dat dit verhaal jou zo aanspreekt. En ja, een vrije geest, dat we die mogen behouden...dank je wel! ♥

      Delete
  2. As I read this tale of Daphne spoken by your voice I find myself immersed into her life. Oh yes....oh yes....save Daphne from a fate that will only do her harm. A fate that will take her spirit away. A fate that will kill her with a slow slow death. Or even a sudden end. As River God, Peneios, her father, steps in to do what a father must do, Daphne is saved. Oh yes....no longer flesh....she is now bark, branches and dark green leaves....and will flourish and become an ancient tree. Living in her beloved forest forever more. Emma this is fabulous. Just fabulous. You said it: "Desperate situations call for desperate measures" and no one, no one, need ever give up hope. To live the life as a laurel tree among the sitkas, the firs, the alders, and the trees of many varieties, is to live the life of freedom.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your wonderful response to Daphne's story, Deborah.. Daphne may live on as a laurel tree, but ultimately her true essence, that spark of divinity which is inside of all us, is untouched and free and will always be.♥♥♥

      Delete
  3. A powerful metaphor and one which brings its message home. One of the sages, maybe Rumi said, oh goddess you destroy me and you protect me at the same time! And once we understand this we have no fear left. At our Essence we are Unchangeable and it is only our thoughts which actually change. blessings!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So true, Hettienne. The Spirit who cares for us knows that our outer selves must be stripped away to reveal our true Selves. It is a process of transformation.

      Delete