Notes to Poem:
Nine, Page, and Ace of Pentacles

Peter Y. Chou

Commentary on Poem "Nine, Page, and Ace of Pentacles":

Nine of Pentacles
Are those nine star-orbs by her side
the golden apples of Hesperides that
Hercules would be coming to steal?

The Nine of Pentacles in the Rider-Waite Tarot deck (1909) was illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith from instructions of the mystic A. E. Waite. The Garden of the Hesperides is Hera's western orchard, where a tree of immortality-giving golden apples grew. Three nymphs tended this blissful garden with a never-sleeping, hundred-headed dragon Ladon guarding the apples of Hesperides. Because apples when sliced crosswise show a pentacle (see below), it struck me that the maiden in rose garment on this Tarot card was one of those nymphs guarding the apples of Hesperides.

Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898)
Garden of Hesperides (1873)

Page of Pentacles
he ponders its meaning or
perhaps offers this as a gift.
Is this Hercules after stealing
the golden apple of Hesperides?

The Apples of Hesperides could not remain with King Eurystheus because they belonged to Zeus and Hera. They were a wedding gift from Gaia, the primordial earth goddess. After all the trouble Hercules went through in stealing them for his Eleventh Labor, he had to return them to Athena, who took them back to their rightful place in the garden. The Page of Pentacles shows a youth holding the star-orb at eye level with great reverence. He is using this talisman to summon spirits or offering it back to Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom.

Hercules Stealing Apples
from Garden of Hesperides

Ace of Pentacles
Could this star-orb be the secret that
gypsies reveal when cutting an apple
crosswise to display a pentacle inside?

Much of the reverence paid to the apple arose not only from its value as food, but also from the secret, sacred sign in its core: the pentacle, which is revealed when the apple is transversely cut. Gypsies claimed this was the only proper way to cut an apple, especially when it was shared between lovers before and after sexual intercourse. At Gypsy weddings it was customary for the bride and groom to cut the apple, revealing its pentacle, and eat half apiece. (Barbara G. Walker, The Woman's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects, 1988, p. 480)

Apple with Star

The most widely revered of all esoteric symbols, the pentacle has received many alternate names: pentalpha, pentagram, Solomon's seal, Star of Bethlehem, Three Kings' star, wizard's star, Star of Logres, devil's sign, witch's cross, goblin's foot, or the Druid's Foot. From this assortment of names it can be seen that the pentacle is associated with magic, paganism, deviltry, & Christian mysticism.
    In ancient times, the pentacle meant "life" or "health". It was derived from the apple-core pentacle of the Earth Mother. To this day, Gypsies cut an apple tranversely to reveal the pentacle, which they call the Star of Knowledge. The pentacle was sacred to the Celtic death-goddess Morgan and was carried in her honor on a blood-red shield, according to the tale of Gawain and the Green Knight. It is still the sign of the earth element in the Tarot suit of pentacles, which evolved into the modern suit of diamonds. With one point downward, the pentacle was supposed to represent the head of the Horned God. (Barbara G. Walker, The Woman's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects, 1988, p. 72)

For his Eleventh Labor, Hercules slew
the dragon guarding the golden apple,
a fruit that made the gods immortal.

The twelve labors of Hercules or dodekathlon are a series of archaic episodes concerning a penance carried out by Heracles (Roman: Hercules). As a reward for finishing these twelve treacherous tasks, he was given the gift of immortality after his death by his father Zeus. For his 11th Labor, King Eurystheus commanded Hercules to bring him golden apples which belonged to Zeus and Hera, King & Queen of the gods. (Image: Detail of The Twelve Labours Roman mosaic from Llíria, Valencia, Spain).

shape of the Greek letter lambda, Λ—
which Plato calls "Soul of the Universe"

The Platonic Lambda, the Soul of the Universe,
is the sum of the two series (Timaeus 35b):
Sum of the double interval series (powers of 2) =
20 + 21 + 22 + 23 = 1 + 2 + 4 + 8 = 15
Sum of the triple interval series (powers of 3) =
30 + 31 + 32 + 33 = 1 + 3 + 9 + 27 = 40
Sum of the double & triple interval series (Timaeus) = 15 + 40 = 55
“Now God did not make the soul after the body, although we are speaking of them in this order; for having brought them together he would never have allowed that the elder should be ruled by the younger... First of all, he took away one part of the whole [1], and then he separated a second part which was double the first [2], and then he took away a third part which was half as much again as the second and three times as much as the first [3], and then he took a fourth part which was twice as much as the second [4], and a fifth part which was three times the third [9], and a sixth part which was eight times the first [8], and a seventh part which was twenty-seven times the first [27]. After this he filled up the double intervals [i.e. between 1, 2, 4, 8] and the triple [i.e. between 1, 3, 9, 27] cutting off yet other portions from the mixture and placing them in the intervals.” (Benjamin Jowett's translation Timaeus, 35b, F.M. Cornford, Plato's Cosmology, 1937, pp. 66-67). See also Number 55; Speculations on the Soul; Giacometti's Walking Man; Platonic Lambda Sonnet; Vanishing Point.

Arthur Rackham (1867-1939)
Freyja under Apple Tree (1910)
No wonder our Pilgrim contemplates this treasure—
Apple of Immortality from the Tree of Life.

In Irish tradition, the apple is a fruit that guarantees immortality: cut in half, crossways, it reveals a five-pointed star, the pentagram, a symbol of the 'five stations from birth to death and rebirth.' (Nadia Julien, The Mammoth Dictionary of Symbols, 1996, p. 23). Magic apples of immortality are common to most Indo-European mythologies. The Norse Goddess Idunn kept all the gods alive with her magic apples. Mother Hera fed the gods on apples from the Tree of Life in her western garden of paradise. The Irish hero Connla received a magic apple of immortality from a woman of the Other World. King Arthur was taken by the Triple Goddess to Avalon, the "Apple-land" of eternal life. (Barbara G. Walker, The Woman's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects, 1988, p. 479). The Norse Goddess Freyja is associated with love, beauty, fertility, gold, war, and death. She rules over her heavenly afterlife field Fólkvangr. Freyja shakes apple tree for a good harvest to sustain life. [Image: Arthur Rackham, Freyja under Apple Tree (1910) for Richard Wagner's Das Rheingold]

                                Peter Y. Chou
                                Mountain View, 6-9-2011

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