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A trip to the coast

The term catabasis can refer to a trip from the interior of a country down to the
coast (for example, following a river), in contrast to the term "anabasis", which
refers to an expedition from a coastline up into the interior of a country.

The main meaning given for catabasis by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)
describes "A going down; a military retreat, in allusion to that of the ten
thousand Greeks under Xenophon, related by him in his Anabasis:

1837 DE QUINCEY Revolt Tartars Wks. 1862 IV. 112 The Russian anabasis and catabasis
of Napoleon. 1899 Westm. Gaz. 17 May 4/1 Little space is devoted to the Anabasis;
it is, as in the story of Xenophon, the Catabasis which fills the larger part.

— Oxford English Dictionary - catabasis


In the opening of Plato's Republic, Socrates recounts "going down" to the port city
of Piraeus, located south of his native Athens. Several scholars, including Allan
Bloom, have read this first word, κατέβην ("I went down") as an allusion to
Odysseus' journey into the underworld.

Arts
In poetry and rhetoric, the term katabasis refers to a "gradual descending" of
emphasis on a theme within a sentence or paragraph, while anabasis refers to a
gradual ascending in emphasis. John Freccero notes, "In the ancient world, [the]
descent in search of understanding was known as katabasis",[1] thus endowing mythic
and poetic accounts of katabasis with a symbolic significance.

Modern psychology
In modern psychology, the term katabasis is sometimes used to describe the
depression some young men experience.[2] Author Robert Bly proposes in his book
Iron John: A Book About Men several reasons for the "catabasis phenomenon", amongst
them the lack of Western initiation rites and the lack of strong father figures and
role models.

Trip into the underworld


The trip to the underworld is a mytheme of comparative mythology found in a diverse
number of religions from around the world. The hero or upper-world deity journeys
to the underworld or to the land of the dead and returns, often with a quest-object
or a loved one, or with heightened knowledge. The ability to enter the realm of the
dead while still alive, and to return, is a proof of the classical hero's
exceptional status as more than mortal. A deity who returns from the underworld
demonstrates eschatological themes such as the cyclical nature of time and
existence, or the defeat of death and the possibility of immortality.[3]

Katabasis is the epic convention of the hero's trip into the underworld.[4] In
Greek mythology, for example, Orpheus enters the underworld in order to bring
Eurydice back to the world of the living.

Most katabases take place in a supernatural underworld, such as Hades or Hell — as


in Nekyia, the 11th book of the Odyssey, which describes Odysseus's descent to the
underworld. However, katabasis can also refer to a journey through other dystopic
areas, like those Odysseus encounters on his 10-year journey back from Troy to
Ithaca. Pilar Serrano[4] allows the term katabasis to encompass brief or chronic
stays in the underworld, including those of Lazarus, and Castor and Pollux. In this
case, however, the katabasis must be followed by an anabasis (a going or marching
up) in order to be considered a true katabasis instead of a death.

The Odyssey

Odysseus consults the soul of the prophet Tiresias in his katabasis during the 11th
book of the Odyssey.
In the 11th book of the Odyssey, Odysseus follows the advice of Circe and consults
Tiresias in the land of the dead.[5] During Odysseus' visit, the souls of many
appear to him. The first to appear to Odysseus is Elpenor, his crew member who died
prior to leaving Circe's island. Elpenor asks Odysseus to give him a proper burial,
and Odysseus agrees.[6] The next to appear to Odysseus is his mother, Anticlea. As
Odysseus has been away fighting the Trojan War for nearly 20 years, he is surprised
and saddened by the sight of her soul.[7]

Tiresias, the soul whom Odysseus came to see, next appears to him. Tiresias gives
him several pieces of information concerning his nostos (homecoming) and his life
after. Tiresias details Poseidon's anger at Odysseus' blinding of Polyphemos (and
the coming troubles as a consequence), warns Odysseus not to eat the livestock of
the god Helios, and prophesies Odysseus' return home to Ithaca and his eventual
death at sea at an old age.[8] After Tiresias instructs Odysseus to allow the
spirits he wants to talk to drink the sacrificial blood he used to find Tiresias,
he is again given the chance to see his mother, and she tells him of the suffering
of his family as they await his return home.[9] As his mother leaves, Odysseus is
then visited by a string of souls of past queens. He first sees Tyro, the mother of
Pelias and Neleus by Poseidon.[10]

He next talks to Antiope, the mother of Amphion and Zethus (the founders of Thebes)
by Zeus.[11] Then, he is visited by Alcmene, the mother of Heracles by Zeus, and
Heracle's wife Megara.[12] He is also visited by Epicaste, the mother of Oedipus,
and Chloris, the queen of Pylos.[13] Odysseus is then visited by Leda, the mother
of Castor and Polydeuces and Iphimedeia, mother of the Aloadae by Poseidon.[14]
Odysseus then sees a list of women whom he only briefly mentions: Phaedra, Procris,
Ariadne, Maera, Clymene, and Eriphyle, all also lovers of gods or heroes.[15] Next
to visit Odysseus is Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae. Agamemnon tells Odysseus of
his death by his wife, Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. He warns Odysseus to
return to Ithaca in secret and be wary of his own wife.[16]

Odysseus then encounters Achilles, who asks after the well being of his father,
Peleus, and his son, Neoptolemus. Odysseus reassures Achilles of his son's bravery
in fighting the Trojans.[17] Odysseus then begins seeing figures of dead souls who
do not talk directly to him: Ajax, Minos, Orion, Tityos, Tantalus, and Sisyphus.
[18] Odysseus ends his visit with Heracles, who asks about Odysseus' intention in
Hades. Odysseus begins to get fearful as he waits for more heroes and leaves.[19]

The Cumaean Sibyl leads Aeneas to the Underworld for his katabasis in the Aeneid.
The Aeneid
The katabasis of Virgil's Aeneid occurs in book 6 of the epic. Unlike Odysseus,
Aeneas seeks to enter the underworld, rather than bring the spirits of the dead to
him through sacrifice. He begins his journey with a visit to the Cumaean Sibyl (a
priestess of Apollo) and asks for her assistance to journey to the underworld and
visit his father.[20] The priestess tells him to find a golden branch, and if the
branch breaks off in his hands, he is fated to go to the underworld. She also tells
Aeneas to bury his dead friend and prepare cattle for sacrifice.[21] When Aeneas
reaches the forest to find the golden branch, he is guided by birds to the tree,
and the branch breaks into his hand. The branch, however, does not easily break off
as the Sibyl said would happen to a person fated to go to the Underworld - the
branch is described as "cunctantem" ("hesitant"). The implications of this have
been debated by scholars - some arguing that it means that Aeneas is not as heroic
as he needs to be, others arguing that Aeneas has not yet fulfilled his destiny,
and several arguing that he is still a hero, with this section added purely for
drama. Aeneas buries Misenus and he and the Sibyl prepare a sacrifice to enter the
underworld.[22] Aeneas first encounters several beings and monsters as he enters:
Sorrows, Heartaches, Diseases, Senility, Terror, Hunger, Evil, Crime, Poverty,
Death, Hard Labor, Sleep, Evil Pleasures of Mind, War, Family Vengeance, Mad Civil
Strife, Scylla, Briareus, Hydra, Chimaera, Gorgons, Harpies, and Cerberus.[23]
Next, Aeneas encounters Charon, the ferryman who leads souls into the underworld,
and the mass of people who are unburied.[24] His first conversation is with
Palinurus, a man of his crew who fell overboard and died on their journey.
Palinurus begs Aeneas to bury him so he can enter the underworld.[25] The Sibyl
convinces Charon to carry them across the river Styx in exchange for the golden
bough.[26] Aeneas encounters Minos pronouncing judgment on souls and the souls that
died for love: Phaedra, Procris, Eriphyle, Evadne, Pasiphae, Laodamia, Caeneus, and
Dido.[27] Next, Aeneas sees heroes of battle: Tydeus, Parthenopaeus, Adrastus,
Glaucus, Medon, Thersilochus, Polyboetes, Idaeus, Agamemnon, and Deiphobus.[28] The
Sibyl then leads Aeneas to Elysium, the place for the blessed. On the way, they
pass the place for tortured souls and the Sibyl describes some of the tortured's
fates. Tityos has his liver eaten by a vulture daily. Pirithous and Ixion have a
rock constantly hanging over them at all times. Many others face the punishment of
moving rocks, being stretched, and being tied to wheels.[29] The two then enter the
Estates of the Blest, where they see a utopian land where heroes and good people
reside. There, Aeneas finds his father, who tells him of the rich history of Rome
to come.[30]

The Metamorphoses
In Ovid's poetic collection of mythological stories, he includes accounts of
katabasis as well. In book 4, he includes an account of Juno's descent to Hades to
bring her perceived justice to Ino.[31] Ovid describes Juno's path to the
underworld, noting Cerberus' presence.[32] Juno seeks the Furies (Tisiphone,
Megara, and Alecto) to destroy the house of Cadmus, namely Ino and her husband
Athamas. While in the underworld, Juno passes several souls who are being punished
in Hades. Hades is also a person, and he needs to get rid of those souls because he
needs them to fully recover. –Tantalus, Sisyphus, Ixion, and the Belides.[33] When
the Furies agree to Juno's request, she happily returns to the heavens where she is
purified by Iris.[34]

Orpheus travels out of the underworld followed by the shade of his wife, Eurydice.
The next major katabasis in the Metamorphoses occurs in book 5 by Proserpina, the
daughter of Ceres who is kidnapped by Dis. As Proserpina is picking flowers, Dis
falls in love with her and decides to grab her and take her to the underworld in
his chariot. Worried about her now-missing daughter, Ceres becomes distraught and
searches for Proserpina.[35]

When Ceres discovers the kidnapping, she goes to Jove to attempt to get Proserpina
back. He agrees that she should be returned as long as Proserpina has not touched
any food in the underworld. However, she has eaten pomegranate seeds, and cannot be
returned to Ceres.[36] To ensure compromise between Ceres and Dis, Jove divides the
year into halves and commands that Proserpina must spend equal parts of the year
between her mother and her husband. From that point on, Proserpina makes annual
trips to the underworld, spending half the year there.[37]

Ovid also briefly mentions the katabasis of Hercules in book 7. Ovid is telling the
etiological story of Medea's poison for Theseus. When Hercules travelled to the
underworld to capture Cerberus as one of his twelve Labours, Cerberus spread white
foam from his mouths which grew poisonous plants.[38]

The katabasis of Orpheus in book 10 is the last major inclusion of the theme by
Ovid in the Metamorphoses. Orpheus is distraught by the death of his wife,
Eurydice. He enters the underworld through the Spartan Gates and visits Dis and
Proserpina to beg for the return of his bride. Overcome by the heartfelt song of
Orpheus, Proserpina calls Eurydice to leave with her husband–on the condition that
he does not look back until he reaches the exit. When he looks back, his wife
disappears, and he is pained by grief for her death a second time.[39]