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Rethinking The Divine Daughter - Rilke, Apollo, Athena

Over 2019, I have had opportunities to rethink some of the points I discuss in my book. Sometimes I find myself just confirming my work, while others can be more of a challenge, where I must change my mind.

According to the first real line of the book, that was kind of the point. The power of a god was the power to know when to change your mind.

The experience has changed how I look at things. In many ways I feel much better prepared to spot ideas that need attention or could change minds. I also feel like I can take initiative more with creative ideas, and play with things in order to see what can be extended, or revived, or reversed, or even set aside.

An artist gave Rainer Maria Rilke a challenge - go to galleries or museums and capture, in poetry, the experience you might have with a piece of art.

One famous poem that came from this challenge is Rilke's "Archaic Torso of Apollo." The last line of the poem has found a reputation all its own, partly because it suddenly serves the reader with a kind of prescriptive implication - You must change your life.

Although it can seem out of place with the rest of the poem, that's kind of the point. The impact of the statue-torso on Rilke must have been like this - he felt compelled, as if this piece of art was like a god. It was staring into his soul, commanding him and affecting his very being.

I have read the poem many times. a new idea popped into my head on a recent reading. Would the poem have the same gravity to readers if, instead of the line you must change your life, Rilke had gone somewhere like you must change your mind?

Changing your life is one thing. It can be inspiring and beneficial and positive. Motivational speakers want you to change your life. But changing your mind... well, you might as well hand someone a Watchtower magazine.

I think people would easily choose to change their lives any day over having to change their minds.

So, this reading got me wondering if Rilke ever faced the challenge of Athena and her aegis, and her wise judgement? Is Athena any match for the chiselled torso of Apollo?Rilke experienced a remarkable level of lust for change through this desire from Apollo's physique, or for Apollo's physique. Did he ever find a similar love for wisdom?

Rilke, Apollo, Athena

The poet Rilke looked upon the torso of Apollo,

Weeping and wondering at the brilliance from inside, lit like a lamp.

With no face, the image of the tantalizing god looked back at him,

Giving him rise, as if teasing, “You must change your life.”

I dare you poets to look on the Gorgon head with such flirtations. There, on the aegis of the wisest child of Zeus! Stand unmoved as stone,

With fear and awe as she holds you fast, in the judgement of gods.

She is not done with you in her proclamation; “You must change your mind.”


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