Some comments on a photo by Eman59


Originally uploaded by eman59

Eman59 posted a beautiful photo at Flickr (here shown) that I mentioned in the comments reminded me of the Dionysian/Christian story of the release from the prison. He’s unfamiliar with the story and asked me to blog it.

In Euripides’ “The Bacchae” (about 410 BCE) we have:

Servant: We are come, Pentheus, having hunted down this prey (note: meaning Dionysus), for which thou didst send us forth; not in vain hath been our quest. We found our quarry tame; he did not fly from us, but yielded himself without a struggle; his cheek ne’er blanched, nor did his ruddy colour change, but with a smile he bade me bind and lead him away, and he waited, making my task an easy one. For very shame I said to him, “Against my will, sir stranger, do I lead thee hence, but Pentheus ordered it, who sent me hither.” As for his votaries whom thou thyself didst check, seizing and binding them hand and foot in the public gaol, all these have loosed their bonds and fled into the meadows where they now are sporting, calling aloud on the Bromian god. Their chains fell off their feet of their own accord, and doors flew open without man’s hand to help. Many a marvel hath this stranger brought with him to our city of Thebes; what yet remains must be thy care.

The Christian presentation is found in the story of Paul in the Acts of the Apostles.

Acts 16 23-33

And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:

Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.

And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto ELOHIYM: and the prisoners heard them.

And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed.

And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.

But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.

Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,

And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?

And they said, Believe on the ADONAY YAHSHUA MASHIYACH, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

And they spake unto him the word of YHVH, and to all that were in his house.

And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.

As it turns out I’d remembered this incorrectly, I’d believed there was an accompanying radiance with the bursting of the bonds.

The reason I associate these passages with a supernatural illumination is because of the associated story, in Acts 9, of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, where he is blinded by a great light, and which also has a parallel in Euripides.

Acts 9

And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:

And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

And he said, Who art thou, ADOWN? And the ADONAY said, I am YAHSHUA whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

In Euripides’ “The Bacchae” we have:

DIONYSUS: Still obdurate, O Pentheus, after hearing my words! In spite of all the evil treatment I am enduring from thee, still I warn thee of the sin of bearing arms against a god, and bid thee cease; for Bromius will not endure thy driving his votaries from the mountains where they revel.

PENTHEUS: A truce to thy preaching to me! thou hast escaped thy bonds, preserve thy liberty; else will I renew thy punishment.

DIONYSUS: I would rather do him sacrifice than in a fury kick against the pricks; thou a mortal, he a god.

Streamlined down, the slipping of the prison had to do with gnostic revelation bringing freedom, or the preparation of the soul through purifications for release from the bodily prison. The Orphic and Dionysian mysteries were concerned with this and may be observed, as shown, in Paul’s illumination on the road to Damascus and the breaking of the bonds.

A number of Eman59’s photos have people in scenes in which they are passing through or accompanied by a radiance that transcends the mundane. When I saw this photo, the rays of light moving into the negative/positive space of the bars, and the individual to the front bathed in that light while innocently reading, it did remind me of the story of that breaking of the bonds and the slipping of the prison. As if this individual is caught in the moment just prior illumination, or as yet unaware of what is transpiring perhaps to the rear of him and that the inmates have escaped their prison already.

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Juli Kearns

Juli Kearns is the author of Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine and Unending Wonders of a Subatomic World (or) In Search of the Great Penguin. She is also an artist/photographer, and the person behind the web alter of "Idyllopus Press".

3 thoughts on “Some comments on a photo by Eman59”

  1. That is a really beautiful image and I love the way you’ve described your feelings/reactions to it by way of these two stories. Ever since I’d come to my own understanding of the story of Paul and what happens on the road to Damascus, I’ve been drawn to this idea, too, of illumination, of that transformation.

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