The Heroes of the Iliad as Indo-European Gods: A Mythological Rosetta Stone: Part 6 of 9

The Heroes of the Iliad as Indo-European Gods: A Mythological Rosetta Stone: Part 6 of 9


Paris – Surya (The Sun)

It may be surprising to some but as we have mentioned, the incarnation of the Sun God Surya in the Mahabharata fights on the side of the Kauravas, the force opposing that of the protagonist Pandavas. This may represent the idea of a conflict of the gods of the potentially destructive natural forces, against the gods of “society,” those gods who represented the three social classes. For instance, Vayu and Indra, though gods of the fearsome and destructive natural forces of wind and storm, were able to be brought into the social structure as representatives of the ideal warrior nobles, Indra later as the ideal king as well. The Sun God, however, was always seen very ambivalently, and even his association with certain strands of elitist esotericism may have put him in an uneasy and antagonistic relationship with ordered society (Mircea Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Mythology, 145-146).

Hence, as we find with Karna, Surya's incarnation, and as with Paris, the Sun God in the epic tradition is always conceived of as at best a long lost half-brother of the other gods, his true parentage only revealed later after he has been raised separate from them. Karna is conceived by Kunti (who later becomes mother of the Pandavas) with the Sun God Surya. She is unmarried at the time, so she puts Karna in a basket and sends him down the Ganges river. The baby ends up being adopted by a couple of relatively lower status, from the charioteer and poet class, who work for the Kaurava king Dhritarashtra. The fact that he is believed to be of low birth is an impediment to Karna throughout life. It is later revealed to the Pandavas that he is their half-brother. Paris, repeating much of this story very closely, is conceived by Hecuba, the queen of Troy; however, she has a dream that she will give birth to a flaming torch, and, it being prophesied that the child would lead to Troy's destruction, they instruct their herdsman to kill him. In the end, however, the herdsman ends up raising Paris. Hence, just like Karna, Paris, the long lost brother, is believed to be of low birth until he returns to court and is finally recognized as the forgotten prince. This theme of the Sun God being the forgotten half-brother of the gods is an allegory for the sun originating from out of darkness each day, forgotten during the night until he returns to his rightful place on high and his regality is recognized. Paris, as has been thoroughly discussed in a previous part, also has a direct parallel in the Welsh solar figure Gronw Pebr “The Radiant,” who commits adultery with Blodeuwedd and confronts Lleu, in the same way that Paris duels Menelaus after stealing his wife.

The Sun God heroes are always depicted as morally ambivalent, yet highly noble nonetheless. This is due to the way the Indo-Europeans viewed the Sun, as often inhospitable, even abusive, potentially exceedingly destructive, and yet as beautiful, life giving, and a symbol of intellect, sovereignty and the elitist esoteric pursuit of immortality. Mircea Eliade explains it thus: “The sun's ambivalence is shown also in its behavior towards men. It is, on the one hand, man's true progenitor...On the other hand, the sun is sometimes identified with death, for he devours his children as well as generating them” (Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion). The sun, so powerful and uncompromising, a god even of devouring Time itself, was found difficult to bring into the social order and to count on as a benefactor of society. Karna distinguishes himself for his noble character, is an exemplary friend, generous in charity, hard working, piously devoted to Surya, compassionate to those in need, and is known for his “glowing” beauty, yet his hot temper leads him to insult Draupadi and to order that she be assaulted. He is oversensitive and arrogant. He is a skilled speaker, but he fights for the adharmic side of the war, abetting the destructive actions of Duryodhana. He is at times cruel and abusive, as he is toward Draupadi. Paris, in his turn, is noted for his truthfulness and his fairness (which leads to his being chosen to judge the beauty contest of the goddesses), and he is recognized for his astonishing beauty and intelligence. Yet he commits the theft of the foreign queen which starts the war, and in Homer's account he displays significant cowardice (which Homer may have emphasized more than the tradition had), and is considered as lacking in warrior skill (this aspect also does not appear in the other traditions where the sun hero is generally a highly skilled warrior). These Homeric exaggerations come from the fact that Paris is said only to be able to fight with ranged weapons, specifically bow and arrow (seen by the Greeks as more cowardly), this mode of fighting of course being the fitting and natural metaphor for the action of the Sun who shoots his rays from afar.

We can see most of this archetype reflected in the Irish god Bres the Beautiful. Just as Karna and Paris, a disowned half-Kaurava and disowned Trojan by birth, “go back and forth” in their allegiances, at first allied with and then breaking their allegiance to the gods of society, so Bres, a half-Fomorian half-Tuatha De Danann by birth, originally fights on the side of the Tuatha De Danann against the Fir Bolg. He then takes over the kingship from Nuada temporarily, but proves to be the definition of inhospitable. Under Bres' rule, the gods' “knives were never greased and their breaths never smelled of ale,” (Gods and Fighting Men, Reign of Bres) and they are subject to hard labor under his command. In addition, satire is invented by his poet and used against the other gods (this associates Bres with harsh satire, in line with Karna's speaking skill and his insulting of Draupadi, and thus potentially also with Norse Loki who himself insulted and satirized the central goddess Freyja and the other gods. Further parallels to Loki become pressing, but will be discussed another time as he is surely a more complex figure than those discussed here). As a result, Bres is deposed and then leads the Fomorians against the Tuatha De. He is known as “the Beautiful,” “ornament of the host,” “with a visage never woeful,” “flower of the Tuatha De,” and “hot of valour,” yet he sparks the war with the Tuatha De Danann due to his own inhospitality, resentment and temper. As Paris becomes the lover and husband of Helen, possibly the Dawn Goddess, Bres becomes the husband of Brigid, the Irish Dawn Goddess. This clarifies why a fairly negative figure like Bres would be married to the central Irish goddess of all benevolent aspects. Bres' association with a knowledge of agriculture would also make sense for a sun god. His beauty and noble battle exploits early on contrast with his inhospitable and adharmic action later on, making him the most ambivalent of the gods. It must be remembered that Karna and Duryodhana in the Mahabharata also fight on the same side as the Pandavas before the Kurukshetra war begins, and that Paris was allied to Menelaus before he ignited hostilities, both figures following the same pattern of alliance and betrayal that Bres does.

Paris, like both Karna and Bres, is one of the two central warriors of the antagonist side of the war. There are always two central warriors of this oppositional side, between whom a couple of mythoi may combine in different ways. These warriors are Paris and Hector, Karna and Duryodhana, Bres and Balor. One of these two is always the Sun God, the other is generally the Demon of the Dark Age, but in the case of Balor, it should be noted, he is closer to the incarnation of one of the Rudras (Balor requires a separate explication). As Karna insults Draupadi and abets Duryodhana's taking of Draupadi and the kingdom, helping to spark the war, so Paris steals Helen (the slight difference here will be explained in the next part). This leads the gods of society to seek him out for vengeance in both cases. All three cases of the Sun God hero mentioned die in the war or immediately after. Paris dies from a poisoned arrow while Bres is made to drink poisoned sewage (Loki for his part is tortured using venom). Karna too is killed by an arrow, which, though not said to be poisoned, is no ordinary arrow but is said to be a special “anjalika” arrow, “extremely difficult to withstand,” “capable of destroying the body,” and “capable of penetrating the inner organs,” which blazes like the sun and like fire and is compared to Indra's Vajra weapon.

The Sun God may have gotten a fairly negative treatment in most of the epics (Karna being the most balanced version) and, with Paris and Bres [and perhaps Loki], who have taken on a more direct and active role in inciting the war, may even have begun to bleed together with the Demon of the Dark Age figure, perhaps becoming symbolically united with or corrupted by him. However, this negative treatment masked an esoteric meaning which we will expand on in the conclusion: as Eliade explains, the Sun God was after all the fearsome Lord of devouring Time and even Death, governing and harshly imposing our movement toward death within the realm of Samsara. His movement across the sky indicated with painful precision the steady march toward death. But precisely because of this he was the guardian of the gateway to the esoteric truths lying outside the realm of Time (these, according to Eliade, were often pursued by the royalty or elite priesthood), if one only knew how to overcome him and to continue up the path he guarded.

Sun God: (Paris, Surya/Karna, Bres, Gronw Pebr)

-Morally ambivalent yet noble

-Hot tempered and inhospitable

-Unknown parentage revealed later to be a lost half-sibling of the other gods, or has some kind of split allegiance between the two sides, allied with the gods of society at first and then turning against them

-One of the 2 main warriors for the “opposing” side of the war

-Known for his beauty and speaking skill

-Steals or insults the central female character, helping to start the war

-Is associated with speaking skill and harsh mockery or satire

-Lover of the Dawn Goddess

-Dies in the war or in the immediate aftermath

-Often an archer

-May die from poison

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