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Reply To: What’s In a Name?” with Stephen Gerringer”


Happy Day, Robert,

Jung’s psyche is expressing the Wise Old Man archetype that informs Merlin, Gandalf, Obi Wan Kenobi, Dumbledore, and so many similar figures found in myth, fairy tale, literature, and film. Recognizing this image as a refinement of his earlier encounter in his visions with a being that he referred to as Elijah (accompanied by a blind girl named Salome), Jung chose the name Philemon for this character – but doesn’t seem the New Testament epistle was foremost in his thoughts, if at all (nor is the real live Philemon Paul addressed his letter to, whom he knew in the flesh, an upwelling of Paul’s unconscious any more than a real life friend you send an email to is a production of your psyche; unlike the vision of the Apostle John detailed in the book of Revelations, Barnabas, Priscilla, Timothy, Luke, Peter, Philemon, and others he mentions in his letters seem to be real people).

Jung inscribed the following on the wall of the second tower he added to his stone edifice at Bollingen:

Philomenis sacrum––Fausti poenitentia” (Philemon’s Shrine––Faust’s Repentance)

According to Ovid, one day Zeus and Hermes, who liked to disguise themselves as ordinary mortals and wander the land, showed up in a town where the townspeople were wicked and they could find no hospitality; no one offered them a meal nor a place to stay, except one elderly couple who lived in poverty – Baucis and Philemon. Though they had next to nothing, the old folks invited the strangers in and gave generously of what little they did have.

While pouring wine into wooden cups for their guests, Baucis noticed the pitcher remained full, sparking the realization that their guests were Gods. The old folks immediately offered supplication and asked their guests to forgive the poor accommodations and simple fare. Philemon thought he should catch and slay the goose that guarded their home (there’s our gander connection!) so their divine guests could enjoy a worthy meal, but the goose fled to safety in Zeus’ lap. The All-Father then told Philemon and Baucis to forget the meal and instead accompany Hermes and Zeus to the top of the nearby mountain. Once they reached the summit they looked back and saw the town had been wiped out in a flood, save for their home, which had been transformed into a spacious, ornate temple.

Asked how the Gods could reward them, the couple asked that they be appointed the keepers of the temple, and that when when their time came, both would die in the same moment. And so, at the end of their lives, the couple did not die, but were transformed into two entwined trees (a linden and an oak).

Though this would seem a Greek myth, it is only told, in Latin, by Rome’s Ovid (a contemporary of Caesar Augustus). In Faust II (Act V), Goethe adapts and updates the characters for his own purposes: Baucis and Philemon own an estate that includes a cottage, a grove of linden trees, and a chapel, where the couple happily lives in peace. After building his seaside kingdom, Faust becomes obsessed by the fact that he himself does not control their estate—it is the last piece of land that eludes his grasp. He orders Mephistopheles and his minions to seize the property, although with due compensation and without violence. Instead, the devil murders Baucis and Philemon, along with a traveler staying with them, an episode that outrages Faust and leads him, at last, to renounce the use of magic:

There’s that wonderful chapter of Baucis and Philemon. The little old couple that have inherited this piece of property, but now it’s been condemed and the state’s going to take it over and they’re going to be moved out and put in a housing development. They die.”

(Joseph Campbell, summarizing the parts of Goethe’s Faust, in a question-and-answer session following a lecture on Thomas Mann)

Here’s Jung, on the same subject:

Faust, to be sure, had made the problem somewhat easier for me by confessing, ‘Two souls, alas, are housed within my breast’; but he had thrown no light on the cause of this dichotomy. His insight seemed, in a sense, directed straight at me. . . . Therefore I felt personally implicated, and when Faust, in his hubris and self-inflation, caused the murder of Philemon and Baucis, I felt guilty, quite as if I myself in the past had helped commit the murder of the two old people. This strange idea alarmed me, and I regarded it as my responsibility to atone for this crime, or to prevent its repetition.” (Memories, Dreams, and Reflections, p. 234)

And so it seems that is in part what motivated Jung to build his tower at Bollingen –  penance to compensate for his Faustian tendencies. Jung’s tower is that sacred temple.

So seems Jung’s unconscious was not drawing directly on Paul’s Philemon in the New Testament – and yet you may be right that there is some resonance between Ovid’s account and the experiences of Paul of Tarsus: in Paul’s epistle to Philemon, who lived in the Asia Minor community of Collosae, he lauds the man’s obedience and directs him to prepare a lodging for Paul and Timothy(much as Ovid’s elderly couple did for the Greek Gods).

And even more intriguing –when Paul and Barnabas visited the city of Lystra (also in Asia Minor), Paul healed a man who had been crippled from birth, inspiring the crowds to proclaim “‘The gods have come down to us in human form!’ Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes” (Acts 14: 11-12).

Curiouser and curiouser . . .

I don’t know if that really answers your question, Robert, but we’ll toss that in the stream of consciousness and see what eddies ripple out from there.