Ο Ομφαλός

Many years ago I participated in a Parian exhibition based on mythology. Using recycled materials, I made the above painting about Omphale and Hercules. The text is rewritten below:


Hercules’ first home was his mother’s body. But once the cord was cut, he strayed and lost his way. The gods sent him to Omphale for the cure. Omphale made Hercules dress like a woman (because wisdom is in her body she said). And Hercules laboured to learn how to hear the Oracle within. Because Delphi lives inside us all. So learn to be a god: keep yourself centered.

Omphale, Queen of Lydia, although not recognized as a goddess, has an undisputed connection with the omphalos.

Omphlos, which in Greek means “navel”, refers to the center of the world. In Greece, the center was in Delphi.

But not everyone has the center in the same place.

Connie is my friend and part-time neighbour. Every year our friendship renews itself towards the end of spring and mid-summer when we are neighbors again. She is funny, wise, an avid reader, and a generous book lender. Naturally, when together, we often talk about books.

This year Connie was particularly hyped-up about Joan Didion. A few years ago I’d tried reading Didion but found her froideur too uninviting. But Connie, who likes science fiction, gothic and most anything dark in literature, didn’t have any problems with Didion. To the contrary.

One day, while talking about current events (we both share American roots) and how helter-skelter the world’s become, Connie brought up Didion. She insisted that I read Didion’s “Slouching towards Bethlehem” regarding how “The center was not holding”.

Although inspired by W. B. Yeats’ “The Second Coming”, whereas Yeats had written about the aftermath of WWI Didion, who’d recently moved to California, had written about the Haight-Ashbury of 1967.

Didion writes of her new surroundings:

It was a country of bankruptcy notices and public-auction announcements and commonplace reports of casual killings and misplaced children and abandoned homes and vandals who misplaced even the four-letter words they scrawled. It was a country in which families routinely disappeared, trailing bad checks and repossession papers. Adolescents drifted from city to torn city, sloughing off both the past and the future as snakes shed their skins, children who were never taught and would never now learn the games that had held the society together. People were missing. Children were missing. Parents were missing. Those left behind filed desultory missing persons’ reports, then moved on themselves.

Yeats, too, had worried how when “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

And here, in 2022, we find that our center, which acts like gravity to keep us anchored, is once again shrinking away. Chaos is in command and those forces that should keep us centered are failing to do so.

The center has become the periphery and we are falling apart.

The Omphalos of Delphi

Rhea was the daughter of the earth and of the sky. Her husband and King of the Underworld, Cronus, had been warned by his mother that he would be overthrown by one of his sons. So, every time Rhea and Cronus had a son, Cronus would gobble him up. Rhea couldn’t bear seeing her sons annihilated. After giving birth to Zeus, she hid him in a cave. When Cronus showed up demanding his son, Rhea gave him a stone wrapped in a blanket pretending it was their baby. This stone came to be identified as the Omphalos at Delphi.

All of us, male and female, have their own omphalos, their own navel that is a constant reminder that, via an umbilical cord, we were once attached to our mothers to keep us alive. Although the cord may have been cut, its memory will always remain.


Related: Slouching toward Bethlehem + William Butler Yeats “The Second Coming” +

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