Asdiwal and Odysseus

by D. E. Bynum

    "The Story of Asdi-wā´l; or, The Meeting on the Ice" was thrust upon the attention of an audience greater than the small community of mid-twentieth-century AmerIndian ethnographers when Claude Lévi-Strauss published an article about it in Paris in 1958.1 By that time, the story itself had already been obscurely in print for half a century. The German-born American anthropologist Franz Boas had obtained three texts of the tale from Tsimshians of British Columbia and published them in 1895, 1902 and 1912, respectively. The earlier two of Boas's three texts are quite short, but the one published in 1912 is very long. Naturally, the long text was the one Lévi-Strauss found most useful when he wrote his comments on the story -- long texts from an oral narrative tradition are usually more informative in every respect than short ones (which is why they, rather than short multiforms, have to be regarded as the norms of tradition) -- and that long text is the one widely referred to since then as "The Story of Asdiwal," most readers not even knowing that the other two, shorter texts exist.

   The long text was produced originally in Tsimshian with an interlinear English translation by one of Boas's collaborators, Mr. Henry W. Tate, whom Boas described as "a full-blood Indian of Port Simpson, British Columbia." With the help of another native, Boas revised both Tate's "original" Tsimshian text and the English translation before publishing them on facing pages in 1912.2 It is not known how Mr. Tate obtained the Tsimshian text. It seems unlikely that he got it by dictation from another story-teller, because Boas attributed to Tate himself certain objectionable grammatical features of the original Tsimshian text which Tate gave him. But whether Henry Tate composed the story from his own memory of tradition, or paraphrased some telling of it which he had recently heard from one or more other persons; how much knowledge of Tsimshian tradition about Asdiwal those informants might have shared and agreed upon; and whether Tate's version represents one or a pastiche of several traditional tales -- all such questions are now quite unanswerable except by way of surmise. Lévi-Strauss accepted the 1912 text simply and uncritically as a single, internally consistent artifact of Tsimshian culture.

    Boas intended his literal English translation of the Story of Asdiwal as a help in reading the Tsimshian text. It is seldom elegant English, but its literalness often helps as much in understanding the ideas in the tale as in understanding the unfamiliar Tsimshian language of the original. It was still imagined in 1912 that for good and profitable relations with the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest Americans of European ancestry would need to learn such languages as Tsimshian, and Boas' publication of native texts with literal translations was meant to advance that cause.

    Lévi-Strauss made use of the Story of Asdiwal for entirely other purposes, as have most others after him. He was interested rather in the relationship between myth and social organization. He gave no indication of just what his conscious reasons were for choosing that story in particular from among so many other good recorded Tsimshian tales; it may have been little more than accident. As a respectable social anthropologist should, Lévi-Strauss strove primarily for a more exact science of society, but he was also a cultivated Frenchman who might have been expected to seek his more perfect social science where there were at least charm and grandeur to reward an investigator, as there are in the Story of Asdiwal.

    It cannot be said that Lévi-Strauss' article in 1958 was a great or durable achievement beyond the stimulus it gave to others later to notice the Tsimshian tale per se. He attempted to relate patterns of Tsimshian marriage to the patterns of motifs in the narrative about Asdiwal with meagre and controversial results on both counts. Then, having made what small profit he could for kinship studies out of the story, he passed on to more promising subjects for his purpose, pausing only briefly before leaving it behind him to admire the design on the surface of the narrative. It was a though a treasure-hunter looking for ancient statuary had unearthed a temple and stayed a moment to admire its architecture before making off with the cult-images. But the temple deserves a larger guerdon of attention, for it is craftily designed, a masterful portrayal of ideal native North American manhood.

    The style used by the unknown Tsimshian story-teller as he began to relate the Story of Asdiwal was abrupt and repetitious. The first paragraph seems confused, as though its author had urgently wanted to say several unrelated things and had blurted them out all at once without stopping to organize his thoughts. The story begins suddenly and alarmingly with a great natural disaster. But before the narrator will tell us how bad the spring famine on the Skeena River really was, he interrupts himself to describe a pair of women whom he seems to have chosen at random, and then he goes into an even more remote explanation about the places where the two women dwelt, as if their whereabouts had some invisible connection with the terrible starvation of their whole people (which of course it does).

Well, when a great famine reached [touched] the people of the Skeena, then a chieftainess was also among the starving people, and a young woman who had married a man of a town way up the river. Her mother, however, was in her own village at Canyon. That town is way down the river, that was when the great famine [touched] the villages.

    This hasty conflation of facts without evident regard for causation or consequence would be repugnant in a piece of literary fiction. But the logic that binds motifs together in oral fable is a logic of association, not of consequence or causation. The first paragraph of this native American tale initiates the familiar oral traditional narrative pattern of the Cosmogonic Triad:

  1. An infertile female destined to set terms and establish conditions.

  2. A female with animal and aquatic associations destined to unthinking procreativity.

  3. A spatial separation of the two females.

    Of course the Tsimshian narrator did not know that his first words deployed three parts of a universal pattern of story. For him, each element of his tale was fully fleshed and clothed in a familiar, specifically Tsimshian form:


1. Desolation
2. Two females
3. Disparate capacities
4. Spatial separation


1. Famine
2. Mother/daughter
3. Chieftainess/fertile
4. Downriver/upriver

    Starting the story required only four elements, and the anonymous conteur needed little time to supply them since he knew from long habit what they should be. But the particular Tsimshian costume worn by each of the initial four motifs implicates still other features of Tsimshian culture which are not explicitly mentioned in the tale. Famine implies faults in the Tsimshian economy; mothers, wives, and daughters constitute only half of Tsimshian society; the Skeena river is a major axis of Tsimshian transhumance; and so forth.

    Thus not one but two systems of association operate simultaneously in the first paragraph of the Story of Asdiwal: a universal pattern of story holding together three explicit motifs, and a uniquely Tsimshian sub-system of implicit associations which links each motif in the explicit story-pattern to various other features of the culture where the Story of Asdiwal was told. By means of only four motifs in a prefabricated pattern, the narrator was able in a few seconds of speech to evoke a dozen sets of distinction that were basic components of Tsimshian culture.

    The most obvious such distinction is between food and famine. Next, the two women are singled out from among the whole starving people, forming a distinction: society ~ individuals. The two ladies are noble, as opposed to commoners and persons of mixed descent, which were the two lower castes of Tsimshian society. The older woman lives at Canyon, which was the eastern frontier of traditionally Tsimshian territory, while her daughter has married and gone to live with a man whose home is beyond the Tsimshian frontier, in the territory of a neighboring people, the Gitskan tribe.

    As a chieftainess, the mother has a hierarchical function of authority which her daughter, who is not a chieftainess, does not. But her daughter enjoys a reciprocal advantage to offset the disadvantage of inferior authority; being young, she may more easily expect progeny than her mother, who already has a grown and married daughter. Further, the River Skeena has an upstream and a downstream aspect, and provides a distinction: land ~ water.

    On the principle that a society's culture consists of distinctions customarily shared in the minds of its members, all the distinctions conjured up by the words of the first paragraph in the Story of Asdiwal may be taken in sum as an incomplete but recognizable sketch of basic components in Tsimshian life:

Nominal motifs

"great famine"




"young woman








Implied contrasts

food ~ famine

governing ~ governed

lower castes ~ nobility

society ~ individuals

menopausal ~ fertile

wed ~ unwed

male ~ female

village ~ wilderness

downriver ~ upriver

water ~ land

mother ~ daughter

Gitskan ~ Tsimshian3














    The twelve contrasts in this chiaroscuro portrayal of Tsimshian life are not necessarily the native ideas which an alien anthropologist would have chosen to begin a scientific ethnography of the Tsimshian. But they are nevertheless a recognizable (if incomplete) model of the Tsimshian world. They are in effect a short Tsimshian ethnography of Tsimshian. As the embodiment of that model, the first two sentences in the translation of the fable about Asdiwal are full of meaning, despite their superficially unkempt style. The last sentence, however, is a surprise after the dense economy of reference before it. By contrast, it is pure chiastic redundance, and adds nothing to the story except emphasis, like a cadent repetition in poetry, since every Tsimshian would know where Canyon is, mid-way along the course of the Skeena river.

    Once the Tsimshian conteur had constructed the skeletal model of Tsimshian civilization in his first paragraph, he was free to resume the initial subject of famine and its consequences. The destruction of life by famine means more placed where it is in the second paragraph than it would have meant at the very beginning of the tale. First, the culture; then its nemesis.

    Yet for all its severity, the famine is a selective disaster that damages without completely destroying the fabric of relationships woven together in the first paragraph. Many people die of the starvation, and thereby a new distinction arises: the living vs. the dead. But this new contrast entrains two others that preceded it in the first paragraph. Men die, while women survive. Moreover, death that chooses for its victims all the husbands among the stated persons of the tale incidentally destroys the institution of marriage, at least for their wives. So the second paragraph of the story coordinates three sets of contrasts, the second and third contingent on the first:

dead ~ living

male ~ female

wed ~ unwed

    There is nothing in the general laws of oral fable that would have prevented the Tsimshian story-teller's continuing his tale with the adventures of the dead husbands. Such things are perfectly possible and even usual in traditional story-telling. In this same tale Asdiwal himself was eventually entertained by a tribe of dead sea-lions whom he personally had earlier slain. But the customary pattern of this particular Tsimshian fable called for the two dead husbands to behave as they would in plain narrative and vanish from the unfolding story of their widowed wives. By this selection of personae, some of the contrasts created at the beginning of the story are now either reduced or completely abolished.

    Initially the famine was only a logical opposite of nourishment, but in the second paragraph food disappears entirely, leaving starvation unopposed. The starvation kills all the male characters, and so far as the story is concerned, the Tsimshian world thereafter consists of only unmarried women. Moreover, the famine chooses its victims with such refinement that it destroys not only the institution of marriage but also the whole of society, sparing only separate individuals in dwellings well isolated from each other.

    Both of the surviving individuals belong to Tsimshian nobility. Tsimshian society had three hereditary castes -- nobles, commoners, and persons of mixed caste parentage -- and it was possible for Tsimshian to marry outside their castes. But there is no vestige of the lower castes left in the story of Asdiwal after the death of the two husbands; only nobles remain, represented by the two women.

    As the story progresses through its third and fourth paragraphs, still more of the original thirteen contrasts are reduced or abolished. The Gitskan (or Gitwunlkal) implications of the younger woman's marriage upriver disappear when her husband's death forcibly dissolves that marriage. Thus the Tsimshian are figuratively thrown back upon their own resources and their own people for whatever restoration of their world may be possible after the famine.

    Each of the widows decides independently (and for her own reasons) to give up trying to live in her village and to make a long journey into the wilderness on an empty stomach in bitterly cold weather. Normal, prudent behaviour and life in a place of fixed winter settlement give way simultaneously to emotionally induced physical risk and a transhumant pattern of life in temporary shelter in the wild that was normal for the Tsimshian only in warm weather.

    So the two women travel toward each other on the frozen river, which is neither water nor dry land but a bad, temporary compromise lacking the best qualities and potential of both the opposed categories which it replaces:

water ~ land

movement ~ fixity

fish food ~ terrestrial animal & plant food

The frozen river yields no food of any kind; it cannot be used for rapid movement by boat; nor is it fit to live on since it will eventually thaw, break up, and flow away. When the Tsimshian economy fails and their social organization is deranged by deaths in late winter, then distinctions of place or geography fail too, as though all the contrasts which compose their world were coordinated in a continuous chain of mutual interdependence.

    Finally mother and daughter meet on the frozen Skeena River at a place that is nowhere, an indeterminate location in the wild not decisively upstream nor down, a place obscurely situated between the two poles of the widows' permanent homes upriver and downriver as established at the beginning of the story. There cold, hunger, and death cancel geographic distinctions entirely, leaving nothing to choose from among:

water ~ land

upstream ~ downstream

    Thus each successive reduction of contrast precipitates other similar changes throughout the schematic model of the Tsimshian world as presented in the first paragraph of the tale. This process of reduction is the main effect of paragraphs 2-6, but a few new contrasts in addition to the original thirteen are also created here. With their world falling to pieces around them, mother and daughter remember each other. Their memories are the very essence of contrast between:

parent ~ child

The mother remembers her child for its own sake, while the child remembers its mother for her largesse:
Then one day the chieftainess talked to herself when she was hungry: therefore she said, "I remember when I used to meet my daughter." Then the young woman also said, "I remember (think) when I meet my mother when I go down the river, when I go near her, then I shall eat food, then I shall have enough to eat."

    The relationship of mother and grown daughter is not however the finest flower of social organization in a virilocal society such as the Tsimshian were. In keeping with the principle of virilocalism, the dispersal of mature women in sets of husband and wife would normally be preferable to sets of mother and mature daughter as a customary formula for the social fulfillment of adults. But when the benefit of virilocality ceases, matriliny remains. So the story of Asdiwal displays the opposition:
husband & wife ~ mother & grown daughter
    In a time of disaster, when all normal contrasts are under attack and most fail, this opposition also collapses. As though to emphasize the seriousness of the damage, not one but two separate pairs of husband and wife, one in each of two separate generations, are sacrificed to produce a single pair of mother and daughter.

    Thus the preferred Tsimshian arrangement of consanguineous adult women in separate places gives way to a more rudimentary form of society. But the inadequacy of the pair mother + grown daughter is starkly revealed by a subsequent opposition, displayed at the end of the sixth paragraph:

Both were left (alone) by death, (she) and her mother. Then they sat down and wailed and wept because of their husbands, who had died of starvation.
The pleasure of mother's and daughter's reunion in the wild is no equal in strength to the widows' grief over marriages dissolved by death in their respective villages.

    The fifth paragraph of the story produces yet another new opposition, drawn this time from the context of Tsimshian economic customs. The Tsimshian normally transhumed upriver in the fall and downriver in spring, moving toward natural supplies of vegetable and animal food that awaited them in those directions at those times of year. At the height of the famine, the two widows mechanically perform the economic act of transhumance. Each of them moves in a proper direction along the Skeena, but in winter, which is out of season for any movement. Moreover, they contradict each other, the older woman going upstream, which is appropriate to fall, (i.e., retrospectively correct, since it happens in winter) while the younger woman's simultaneous movement downstream anticipates the spring transhumance which should occur in the near future. Thus a new contrast arises:

autumnal transhumance    ~    vernal transhumance
                upriver            downriver

    In fact, autumnal and vernal transhumance were equally important in the Tsimshian economic strategy against winter famine. Life depended on maintaining the distinction, and rhythmically changing from one to the other in season. Food-gathering upriver in the fall, to which women contributed heavily, produced stores of food that had to nourish the Tsimshian until they moved in spring to their fisheries downriver, their first dependable source of fresh food in the new year. Both autumnal and spring transhumance are therefore rational but unseasonably deployed tactics against the crisis of famine in this Tsimshian fable.

    Given the condition of dire winter famine, the daughter's travelling toward spring fisheries might seem more promising than her mother's repetition of an autumnal economic act which had obviously already failed once to satisfy Tsimshian needs for the winter. But in the story of Asdiwal, the logic of the real world is again reversed. The sum of their movements toward each other leaves the two women camped in temporary shelter on the upper course of the Skeena. That would be the outcome of the usual Tsimshian autumnal transhumance upriver. Thus the mother's movement is decisive in determining the location and the economic means which mother and daughter together (but mostly daughter) will subsequently exploit to overcome the famine. Despite the nearness of spring the opposition between the two seasonal patterns of transhumance is reduced to the autumnal pattern implicitly elected by the elder woman, and that opposition is one of the very last to be restored late in the story. Even then it cannot be restored until the death of the mother to whom the autumnal form of transhumance figuratively "belonged." True to the narrative pattern of the Cosmogonic Triad, the infertile elder woman sets both the terms and conditions under which the (re)generation of the Tsimshian world must come to pass.

    At the end of the sixth paragraph of the story of Asdiwal, famine and winter have nearly wrecked the Tsimshian world, partly by outright destruction, and partly by unstringing the lines of tension between opposites which normally hold that world together. And yet, though the damage is undeniably severe, more has survived than has been destroyed. First, there is a large and useful residue of categories without opposites waiting to be re-paired, and even a small remnant of binary contrasts that have miraculously escaped the famine's havoc, shaken in some cases, but still intact (underscored in the chart above). Moreover, the damage wrought by winter famine is distributed unevenly over the various discernible aspects of the Tsimshian universe: its geography, economy, society, and personalities.

    In the realm of geography, all distinctions have ceased. The widows meet in the sixth paragraph neither upriver nor down, neither on land nor on water. Food, the basic coin of the economy, is completely wanting, but hunger remains real for some of the characters in the story -- the living ones. The widows respond to their hunger with contrasting economic actions, transhuming in opposite directions, although it is not the season for transhuming and though they gain no ordinary economic benefit from it. In the words of the Tsimshian conteur, when the women met: "There was nothing to eat." Thus, while distinctions of geography are being completely eliminated from the story, some economic realities are retained, although in a state of great derangement and imbalance.

    Social organization seems to suffer most from the destruction of contrasts in the first six paragraphs of the story. Certainly Tsimshian society is represented in this fable by a larger number of distinctions than are posed for geography, economy,or personality. But while many social distinctions have been reduced up to the end of the sixth paragraph, a few of these too are still unharmed, tucked safely away in the persons of the two widows like seeds of future renewal. The contrasts of authority, procreative function, and consanguinity which reside in the two women are left intact:

governor ~ governed
menopausal ~ fertile
mother ~ daughter

    The last aspect of Tsimshian life disturbed by winter and famine is the category of personalities: the egos of the tale. This turns out to be the realm where distinctions are simplest, fewest, and least destructible. The women share a mutual grief in circumstances that would test anyone's mental balance. There may be a fleeting implication of psychological regression or withdrawal in the mother's and daughter's desperate steps toward each other when they are economically and socially threatened; perhaps their long walks with empty stomachs on the icy river were not perfectly rational ways to overcome hunger and cold. But when the two widows meet and learn the whole terrible extent of their helplessness, they face the bereavement of their husbands and their disappointed hopes of obtaining food from each other in the best possible way, with ritual homage to the dead and to past happiness. Then, in the seventh paragraph, they take deliberate, perfectly sane steps to make the most of present and future. From that point in the story onward new contrasts appear and old ones are restored one after another without reduction or impairment of any contrast until the death of Asdiwal's grandmother and the departure of his father, far in the future of the narrative.

    So the pivot of change from systematic destruction to systematic regeneration of the Tsimshian world lies in an opposition of emotions -- an arrangement of psychological facts -- at the close of the sixth paragraph. The pivotal point is the opposition between the women's happiness and sorrow:

happiness of reunion ~ grief of bereavement

This is a strangely durable contrast. Like the earlier opposition of personality-traits,
parental devotion ~ filial dependence
the opposition between happiness and grief also remains undamaged amid the general havoc of winter and famine. For a time, the widows' mourning for their husbands outweighs the solace of their renewed society as mother and daughter. But if the sorrow of bereavement is temporarily stronger, the comfort of reunion is more lasting. Thus when the women have finished their wailing, a reason to go on living remains in the egos of the tale as a counterpoise to their misery, despite the extreme material difficulties of sustaining life.

    This narrative tells us that winter and famine attacked the Tsimshian most fiercely in the impersonal aspects of their universe -- their geography and economy. But the assault weakens as it passes through the organization of society toward the inner resources of human feeling and the mind. The end of the sixth paragraph is the right place finally to appraise and tabulate the havoc of winter and its distribution, before the women resolutely begin their work of reconstruction in the seventh paragraph.

Area Damage Examples of Coordination
Geography: all contrasts abolished,
none restored;
no elements remain
to coordinate
downstream    vs.    upstream
water    vs.    land
Economy: all contrasts reduced,
none restored;
remaining elements
improperly coordinated
food    vs.    famine
autumnal movement4
vernal movement
village    vs.    wilderness5
Society: some contrasts reduced,
one restored;
remaining elements
permissibly coordinated
male    vs.    female
wed    vs.    unwed
society6    vs.    individual
mother    vs.    daughter
governor    vs.    governed
Personality: all contrasts threatened,
but all retained and
coordinated normally
parental devotion
filial dependence

comfort of reunion
grief of bereavement

Accordingly the damage inflicted on the Tsimshian world by cold and hunger diminishes from total annihilation of geographic contrasts to a mere fit of weeping in the realm of emotional experience -- a momentary imbalance of psychic quantities which is soon set right. The story says that between the two extremes of impersonal nature and the conscious self, the apparatus of economy and society buffer individuals against material hardships and deformations to which only inanimate matter can yield without perishing. And then, even before the famine's last acts of depredation, the women realign all that is left of human life -- themselves -- into a primordial form of society from which a new order of prosperity, power, and contentment is destined to arise, a new order better than the old order before the famine.

    The residue of paragraph one that remains after the onslaught of famine in paragraphs 2-6 forms a caption or plan for the next section of the story.

governor  ~  governed
menopausal  ~  fertile
mother  ~  daughter

If the rest of the tale beginning with paragraph seven were lost, its general line of development could still be determined by arranging this residual data as a descriptive statement:
Individual, unwed, noble Tsimshian women, governess and governed, menopausal and fertile, mother and daughter, live during famine in a wilderness devoid of geographic contrasts.
A more general expression of the same information reveals the underlying universal pattern of narrative which will be employed to continue the story:
Two powerful, differentiated females exist alone in an undifferentiated void.
    Anyone familiar with traditional patterns of fable will perceive immediately that the Tsimshian conteur is proceeding toward a Tsimshian telling of cosmogony. All that remains to complete the Cosmogonic Triad is an unstable aerial male of some Tsimshian kind. The anonymous Indian cosmogonographer prefaced his telling of cosmogony with an unusually fine cosmodialysis, but otherwise conceived the (re)generation of the world according to the same plan set forth also by Hesiod in his ancient Greek Theogony :
    ἤτοι μὲν πρώτιστα Χάος γένετ᾿· αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα     116
Γαῖ᾿ εὐρύστερνος, πάντων ἕδος ἀσφαλὲς αἰεὶ
ἀθανάτων οἰ ἔχουσι κάρη νιφόεντος Ὀλύπου,
[Τάρταρά t᾿ ἠερόεντα μυχῷ χθονὸς εὐρυοδείης,]
ἠδ᾿ Ἔρος, ὃς κάλλιστος ἐν ἀθανάτοισι θεοῖσι,
λυσιμελής, πάντων τε θεῶν πάντων τ᾿ ἀνθρώπων
δάμναται ἐν στήθεσσι νόον καὶ ἐπίφρονα βουλήν.
    ἐκ Χάεος δ᾿ Ἔρεβός τε μέλαινά τε Νὺξ ἐγένοντο·
Νυκτὸς δ᾿ αὖτ᾿ Αἰθήρ τε καὶ Ἡμέρη ἐξεγένοντο,
οὓς τέκε κυσαμένη Ἐρέβει φιλότητι μιγεῖσα.
    Γαῖa δέ τοι πρῶτον μὲν ἐγείνατο ἶσον ἑωυτῇ
Οὐρανὸν ἀστερόενθ᾿, ἵνα μιν περὶ πᾶσαν ἐέργοι,
ὄφρ᾿ εἴη μακάρεσσι θεοῖς ἕδος ἀσφαλὲς αἰεὶ,
γείνατο δ᾿ Οὔρεα μακρά, θεᾶν χαρίεντας ἐναύλους
Νυμφέων, αἳ ναίουσιν ἀν᾿ οὔρεα βησσήεντα.
ἣ δὲ καὶ ἀτρύγετον πέλαγος τέκεν οἴδματι θυῖον,
Πόντον, ἄτερ φιλότητος ἐφιμέρου· αὔτὰρ ἔπειτα
Οὐρανῷ εὐνηθεῖσα τέκ᾿ Ὠκεανὸν βαθυδίνην
Κοῖόν τε Κρεῖόν θ᾿ Ὑπερίονά τ᾿ Ἰαπετόν τε
Θείαν τε Ῥείαν τε Θέμιν τε Μνημοσύνην τε
Φοίβην τε χρυσοστέφανον Τηθύν τ᾿ ἐρατεινήν.
τοὺς δὲ μέθ᾿ ὁπλότατος γένετο Κρόνος ἀγκυλομήτης,
δεινότατος παίδων· θαλερὸν δ᾿ ἤχθηρε τοκῆα.7

In truth, Chaos came into being first of all; but thereafter     116
broad-bosomed Earth, who is the secure abode
of all the imortals forever, they who rule upon the summit
    of snowy Olympos
[and the murky depths of Tartaros far beneath the broad
    avenues of the inert earth,]
and so too came forth Eros, who is goodliest of all
    the deathless gods to look upon,
who melts the limbs     121a
and overrules in their hearts the wits and wise provisions     122
of all gods and men alike.     121b

Then out of Chaos Erebos and darkling Nyx [Night] were born,
and Night in turn gave birth to Aither and Hemera [Day],
whom she conceived in loving union with Erebos.

But Gaia too gave birth to a first-born, equal to herself in size,
starry Heaven, whose great expanse should cover her all over
and be a secure seat for the blessed gods forever.
Next she gave birth to the mighty Mountains, lovely haunts
of the divine Nymphs who inhabit wooded heights.
Thereafter she bore the waste of open sea pouring forth
    its swollen waters,
Pontos, whom she got without delightful concourse of love.
    But then
by coition with Heaven she brought forth Okeanos with his
    deep-swirling waters,
and Koios and Kreios and Hyperion and Iapetos and
Theia and Rheia and Themis and Mnemosyne and
Phoibe of the golden crown and Tethys the fair.
But the youngest of those born to her was wrong-minded
a most terrible child. And he detested his lusty father.

    Two supernal persons of different capacities, each of whom gives birth in a feminine fashion, Chaos and Gaia, antedate all else in Hesiod's primordium. They are like the mother and daughter in the Tsimshian story.

Theogony       Story of Asdiwal
Chaos   ≅   elder chieftainess
Gaia   ≅   little noble woman

    The two primaeval females in the Theogony, Chaos and Gaia, are matched with a pair of males, Tartaros and Eros. But like the two husbands in the story of Asdiwal, Tartaros and Eros do not mate with Chaos and Gaia to produce the new world. Instead, an aerial male interloper, Ouranos, attaches himself to the younger woman, while the elder woman makes her contribution to cosmogony without the aid of a sexual mate. The three male persons in the Greek and Tsimshian stories have much in common:

Unproductive in cosmogony
Tartaros8 (governor
and embodiment of
the netherworld)
  ≅   old chieftain
Eros9 (influential
but transitory
denizen of the
upper world)
  ≅   husband of noble
Tsimshian woman
(influential but
transitory upriver)

Productive in cosmogony
Ouranos (meaning
in Greek: Heaven,
  ≅   Hatsenas (meaning
in Tsimshian:
Messenger of Heaven)

    Chaos in the Theogony and the elder woman in the Story of Asdiwal function as women, but asexually. They furnish the creation of the world with certain conditions for life but not its substance. Thus the mother in the Tsimshian story determines the upriver location for the events of regeneration, and the economic technique (women's autumnal gathering of stationary, vegetable food) which her daughter uses to obtain both food and progeny. Moreover, the mother provides important social and legal sanctions for her daughter's marriage to Hatsenas.

    The marriage of the chieftainess's daughter to Hatsenas is the social catalyst that transforms the women's temporary camp into a new permanent homesite and a center of commerce.

    All the physical effort and material creativity in this Tsimshian myth of regeneration fall to the lot of the younger woman, who obtains a sexual mate from heaven to help her. Meanwhile, her mother supplies intangible rules of procedure and form to control and regulate the younger woman's physical creativity.

    The role of Chaos in the Theogony is essentially the same. All her offspring are incorporeal qualities or conditions of life in the new cosmos and not material creatures, i.e., not the substance of any individual form of life or other physical being. Chaos gives birth to two kinds of darkness, Erebos and Night (Nyx), who are personifications of subterranean and aerial darkness respectively. But like the Tsimshian chieftainess, Chaos has only a slight procreative capacity compared to the younger woman's, and her brief fertility ends before Gaia's begins, just as the Tsimshian mother remains sterile once her daughter's motherhood has begun. Chaos's children Erebos and Night assume responsibility for generating further states of being (Aither and Day), and Night becomes a prolific mother of further abstractions and conditions (but not substance) of being:10

Νὺξ δ᾿ ἔτεκε στυγερόν τε Μόρον καὶ Κῆρα μέλαιναν     211
καὶ Θάνατον, τέκε δ᾿ Ὕπνον, ἔτικτε δὲ φῦλον Ὀνείρων.
δεύτερον αὖ Μῶμον καὶ Ὀιζὺν ἀλγινόεσσαν
οὔ τινι κοιμηθείσα θεὰ τέκε Νὺξ ἐρεβεννή,
Ἐσπερίδας θ᾿, αἷς μῆλα πέρην κλυτοῦ Ὠκεανοῖο
χρύσεα καλὰ μέλουσι φέροντά τε δένδρεα καρπόν·
καὶ Μοίρας καὶ Κῆρας ἐγείνατο νηλεοποίνους,
[Κλωθώ τε Λάχεσίν τε καὶ Ἄτροπον, αἵ τε βροτοῖσι
γεινομένοισι διδοῦσιν ἔχειν ἀγαθόν τε κακόν τε ,]
αἵ τ᾿ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε παραιβασίας ἐφέπουσιν,
οὐδέ ποτε λήγουσι θεαὶ δεινοῖο χόλοιο,
πρίν γ᾿ ἀπὸ τῷ δώωσι κακὴν ὄπιν, ὅστις ἁμάρτῃ.
τίκτε δὲ καὶ Νέμεσιν πῆμα θνητοῖσι βροτοῖσι
Νὺξ ὀλοή· μετὰ τὴν δ᾿ Ἀπάτην τέκε καὶ Φιλότητα
Γῆράς τ᾿ οὐλόμενον, καὶ Ἔριν τέκε καρτερόθυμον.

Night engendered loathsome Doom, and black
and Thanatos, and she brought forth Slumber,
    and bare also the swarm of Dreams.
Next, Disgrace and agonizing Misery
the goddess dismal Night bare without mating,
and the Hesperides, who on the far side of famous Okeanos
tend the splendid golden apple(tree)s and (other) trees
    bearing fruit.
And she brought forth the fatal Destinies and deadly Fates,
    relentless punishers
[Klotho, and Lachesis, and Atropos too, who apportion
    to mortals
at the time of their birth what they shall have
    of good and of evil]
who beset whatsoever men or gods overstep the bounds
    of their appointed ways,
and never at all do these goddesses abate their
    harsh anger
until they have exacted of the sinner the bitter
    penalty which is due the gods for such a fault.
Deadly Night brought forth Nemesis also, the bane
    of mortal men;
after these she bare Guile and Lust,
and vile Senectitude, and strong-hearted Strife.

But Chaos herself has no other progeny after her first children Erebos and Night are born.

    Gaia's first act of cosmogony is to give birth to Mountains and Pontos, personified high land and deep sea. Gaia does this singly, before coition with her heavenly paramour Ouranos. These asexually gotten progeny embody two contrasts:

water ~ land
down ~ up

    Pontos and Mountains are Gaia's counterparts to Chaos's parthenogenetically conceived children Night and Erebos, who are also composed of two contrasts:

flux ~ fixity
up ~ down

    So at the very beginning of cosmogony, before the first acts of sexual procreation, Chaos and Gaia share (the one abstractly and the other concretely) in establishing distinctions of above/below and mobility/imobility. The two women in the story of Asdiwal follow the same pattern in their first joint efforts to reconstruct their world at the beginning of paragraph seven.

    By these acts, the Tsimshian widows together reassert the two geographic distinctions which were abolished earlier in the cosmodialytic portion of the tale.

land ~ water
up ~ down

    They leave the movement of their convergent journeys on the frozen water behind them and choose a fixed location on land for their campsite. The place they select is beneath a large tree, a new axis of up and down to replace the Skeena river, whose directional contrasts of economic utility have temporarily (seasonally) failed. So, like Chaos and Gaia, the Tsimshian mother and daughter act jointly to polarize contrasts of direction and motion before the younger woman submits to male influence and begins the work of physically (re)populating the cosmos and providing food.

    Chaos's and Gaia's first pairs of asexually conceived children in the Theogony are opposed to each other not only as intangible abstractions vs. concrete instantiations, but also by inversion:

Chaos' Progeny Gaia's Progeny
down, fixed,
and unfruitful ↘
up, fixed,
↙ and fruitful
up, fluid,
and fruitful
down, fluid,
and unfruitful

    In a time of cosmic desolation the Greek and Tsimshian stories both depict the upper world as fruitful. After helping to establish the polarity of up and down, the elder primordial females retire in both stories while the younger unite with male representatives of upper cosmic regions. By her union with Heaven, Gaia peoples the universe with Titans, monsters, gods, plant life, and men.11 Asdiwal's mother correspondingly peoples the Tsimshian world by commerce and childbearing through her union with Hatsenas, messenger of Heaven. Standing beneath the sycamore tree from which all manner of food animals fall at the command of Hatsenas, the little Tsimshian noble woman exploits the masculine fecundity of the upper world from a feminine position in the lower world, just as Gaia does in the Theogony.

    In both her presexual and sexual phases, the daughter in the Tsimshian story rapidly restores the normal contrasts of her world which were compromised by winter famine:

_________  ~  famine
_________  ~  nobles
_________  ~  unwed
_________  ~  female
_________  ~  wilderness
_________  ~  Tsimshian
 ~  _________

Even before the intervention of Hatsenas, the little noble woman finds a morsel of food to oppose famine. Poor sustenance it is, but it is enough to reestablish the conceptual balance between food and hunger. From that time on, the cuisine improves steadily. Ultimately the two women's abundant provision attracts people to their settlement from all quarters. Earlier in the Tsimshian story it had seemed that all the world was dead. But after the wedding of Asdiwal's mother and Hatsenas, the valley of the Skeena fairly teems with people. It is no stretch of the imagination to see commoners and peoples of other tribes among those who came to trade with the bountiful Tsimshian ladies.

    Hatsenas's desire to formalize his arrangement with the Tsimshian woman and the willingness of her mother to grant the necessary sanction complement each other to redress the opposition:

wed  ~  unwed

Like the contrast between food and famine, the contrasts between village/wilderness and male/female gradually improve from paragraph seven onward. A small, temporary shelter expands into a regular winter homesite, and Hatsenas waxes from a mysterious midnight visitor to a full-fledged fiancé, husband, and father. Then at the very end of the cosmogonic portion of the Tsimshian myth, mother and son are freed to move downriver by the death of the old chieftainess, whose very presence in the story asserted the primacy of autumnal transhumance and kept all the persons of the tale fixed in a corresponding location. But when she dies, Asdiwal's mother moves downstream once again, and the contrast between spring and autumnal patterns of movement and their respective economic activities is restored.

    The most spectacular feat of cosmogony in both the ancient Greek and modern Tsimshian narration is the generation of male presence and power in a world where only female forces are previously active. The introduction of an active male is the focus of fiction and miracle in narratives of this pattern wherever they are found. The male interloper everywhere makes his entry into the fable with the same dramatic, unlikely suddenness; as well he may, for he is the original deus ex machina, the praeternatural agent who completes the work of cosmogony by stimulating population of the world and providing food. It is he who finally terminates the ‘primordial condition.’

    In the direst circumstances, Hatsenas enters the widows' crude shelter and comforts the younger, fertile woman as though in a dream. The order of his actions is as strange as Hatsenas himself. Since he had that power, he might more considerately have fed the hungry young widow before he dallied with her beside her lonely fire. But Hatsenas could hardly choose other than to be coarse; the universal pattern in this cosmogonic tale requires the female to get progeny first and only afterwards to be fed.

    The old chieftainess and her daughter have had nothing to eat but a single rotten hawberry between them, when the daughter begins to manipulate hewn wood.

    Like Hatsenas the Messenger of Heaven descending to earth for a midnight visit to the Tsimshian woman, Heaven descended to Earth by night in the Theogony:

ἦλθε δὲ νύκτ᾿ ἐπάγων μέγας Οὐρανός, ἀμφὶ δὲ Γαίῃ     176
ἱμείρων φιλότητος ἐπέσχετο, καὶ ῥ᾿ ἐτανύσθη

Then great Heaven descended bringing night with him, and spread himself out delighting in love-making all over the Earth, and he stretched himself to cover her up completely.

After her union with Ouranos, the Greek Gaia produced the Titans, a round dozen in number. Last of the twelve was Kronos, father of Zeus:
  1.   Okeanos (=the waters around Earth)
  2.   Koios (husband of Phoibe, father of stars and wind)
  3.   Krios
  4.   Hyperion (‘He Above’)
  5.   Iapetos (inventor of mortality)
  6.   Theia (wife of Hyperion)
  7.   Rhea (wife of Kronos, mother of Olympian gods)
  8.   Themis
  9.   Mnemosyne (‘Remembrance,’ mother of the Muses)
  10.   Phoibe
  11.   Tethys (wife of Okeanos, mother of 3,000 river-gods
         and the Oceanids; nurse of Hera)
  12.   Kronos, father of Zeus
Immediately following the birth of these twelve children, Gaia bears six more, three Kyklopes and three Hekatoncheires (‘Hundred-Handers’):
Kyklopes Hekatoncheires
  1. Brontes
  2. Steropes
  3. Arges
  1. Kottos
  2. Briareos
  3. Gyes
All six are physical and social monsters.

    In a corresponding manner, the little noble Tsimshian woman after her initial union with the Messenger of Heaven gets a series of creatures nine in number ending with Hatsenas himself, the father of Asdiwal. As in an advancing pregnancy, the bulk and importance of what is attained increases at each of the nine steps:

  1.   Squirrel
  2.   Grouse
  3.   Porcupine
  4.   Beaver
  5.   Mountain Goat
  6.   Black Bear
  7.   Grizzly Bear
  8.   Caribou
  9.   Hatsenas, father of Asdiwal
Immediately following the miraculous acquisition of these creatures, the Tsimshian woman also gets an additional six dangerous brutes:
Then two large grizzly bears fell down, and two black bears, and two large mountain-goats came down... .
    The account of Gaia's six Kyklopes and Hekatoncheires in the Theogony is followed directly by the story of the emergence of Ouranos's male successor and heir, Kronos. Similarly the birth of Hatsenas's male successor and heir Asdiwal follows directly after the account of the little Tsimshian noble woman's six brutes. Thus Hesiod's narrative about Gaia and the Tsimshian story about Asdiwal's mother both consist of the same four principal parts:
  1. Descent of heaven and union with fertile younger of two females.

  2. Getting of 12/9 creatures representing the diversity of useful beings in the cosmos, including father of future cosmotact.

  3. Getting of dangerous brutes.

  4. Emergence of the unstable aerial male progenitor's heir.

    Claude Lévi-Strauss seems not to have noticed the cosmogony at the beginning of the story of Asdiwal. That is not surprising when one remembers that his purpose in writing "La geste d'Asdiwal" was to explore the tale's conceptual links with other parts of Tsimshian culture (primarily kinship), and not the patterning of the fable itself. But knowing too little about story patterns, he could not perform the essential formal analysis of the story which would have had to precede a well-organized and complete interpretation of its local, Tsimshian significance.

    If one were to accept Lévi-Strauss' own admission, then the story of Asdiwal would matter only as much as Tsimshian culture matters. Beyond that however, if it were possible to prove a systematic correspondence between the story of Asdiwal and other, more fundamental characteristics of Tsimshian culture, that proof might have some procedural value as a warrant of critical method to use in interpreting traditional oral fable elsewhere in the world. Such was Lévi-Strauss' own avowed hope.

    But such claims cannot escape seeming perversely parochial to others more able than he was to recognize in the story of Asdiwal story-patterns manifestly more wide-ranging and durable than Tsimshian culture, patterns not limited to only that significance which Tsimshian might have appreciated or found useful at certain moments of their particular ethnic history.

    The synchronistic myopia of much twentieth-century anthropological learning was a disabling fault in Lévi-Strauss' study of Asdiwal too, whatever its other merits. The contention of some anthropologists that a fable's meaning can be only the meaning exploited in the culture where the fable is told at the moment when it is told is simply untenable. For it is the nature of oral traditional fable to be always charged with more meaning than may actually be recognized in it at any given instant in this or that culture. If it were not so, fable could not have survived, as it obviously has, the paradotical process in earlier, different cultures to become en passant a part of the culture where the social anthropologist encounters it at the point in time which he calls his "ethnographic present." Every oral traditional tale is rich in immanent significance, but not all its potential significance is ever fully recognized or replicated in the customary life of every people who temporarily possess a tale. Cultures together with the societies to which they belong arise, evolve, and disappear, but the patterns of oral narrative endure. They are by definition inherited properties, and not new creations invented independently in each culture to express solely its unique or typical system of ideas. Nor does the quality of cultural survival or legacy detract at all from the usefulness of story-patterns, because they are powerful mechanisms for organizing ideas that work equally well in the most diverse conceptual ambients. That they are superbly and reliably able to do so is why they have survived.

    Thus the cosmogonic pattern in the Tsimshian story of Asdiwal and in Hesiod's Theogony implies no specific likeness between modern Tsimshian and ancient Greek culture, nor any historical contact of any kind between them. But when the modern Tsimshian and early Greek story-tellers came to narrate the creation of a functioning world out of the inchoate materials and conditions of a primordium, they each independently found the same inherited customary story-pattern perfectly suitable. Indeed, we must go even further, and insist that because that story-pattern was customary, they as traditional fabulists would never have thought such narration could be done in any other way. Thus story-patterns are permanent repositories of meaning in which, and from which, every story-teller and every culture may deposit and draw in their own coin. As such, story-patterns are themselves institutions of culture worth great pains to preserve, and they have in fact been carefully preserved with the most varied applications in different cultures, sometimes even when some of them have had no current content of local meaning at all.

    Those who have argued otherwise have forgotten or not known the basic truth about the working of human intelligence everywhere in every age so accurately formulated centuries ago by Edward Gibbon: "Our imagination is always active to enlarge the narrow circle in which nature has confined us." The principal tool of such enlargement has everywhere and always been oral traditional fable.

    Skill in recognizing story-patterns is no substitute for ethnology; one cannot determine solely from fables what are the important ideas and how they are related in a given culture. But neither is it possible to determine solely from the ethnology of a particular people what are the local meanings of their fables and how their fables serve to organize disparate categories of experience into locally customary schemes of conceptual association. One who is familiar with universal patterns of narrative but has only moderate knowledge of a particular culture may often more accurately appreciate the local meanings of its oral fables than a highly informed ethnographer of the same culture who is not adept in recognizing traditional story patterns.

    Because therefore his purpose and method gave him no opportunity, Claude Lévi-Strauss did not notice the cosmogonic pattern at the opening of the story of Asdiwal. Instead, he saw cosmology in Asdiwal's sojourn in heaven with the bear-girl and his visit to the underworld of the sea-lions at the invitation of the mouse-lady.

    But whereas the beginning of the story with its two isolated women and praeternatural aerial male is profoundly cosmological, Asdiwal's Himmelfahrt is only superficially so. To a folklorist, a hero's passage from real to fictitious geography does not necessarily denote cosmology, but it does inevitably portend an imaginative suspension of the ordinary conditions of the real world and the substitution of other, fabulous conditions for the sake of conceptual experiment. Thus, for example, the four-fold geography or Four Zones of oral traditional fable operate no differently in the Tsimshian story of Asdiwal than they do elsewhere.

    Asdiwal's homeland is the whole of traditional Tsimshian territory along the Skeena River from Canyon to the sea, the valley of the Nass to the north of the Skeena, and the coast and offshore islands between the mouths of the two rivers. His liminal region full of danger but where companions and help are found is the territory upriver from Canyon, the non-Tsimshian limbo where Asdiwal's mother and grandmother survived the danger of starvation with the help of Hatsenas, and whence the bear-girl came in her mid-winter excursion down the Skeena. The heavenly court of the Sun and the sea-lions' hollow island complete the traditional four-fold pattern of places, a place for the fulfillment of every desire on the one hand, and a reciprocal place from which only escape is wanted on the other hand.

    Out of the Cosmogonic Triad there usually comes a fourth, male person, a cosmotact whose business is to rule, and to impose the authority of rule on a regenerate but still choatic cosmos by discriminate acts of trickery, destruction, and appropriation. In the story of Asdiwal this cosmotact emerges from cosmogony directly into the traditional patterns of the Four Zones and the Restorative Journey.

    Lévi-Strauss' preoccupation with direct analysis of the story's Tsimshian values obscured fully as much as it revealed to him. It is always better practice to consider first what is universal in the design of an oral fable, and only then to analyze the local values assignable to it. Had the French theorist proceeded in this way with the story of Asdiwal he would surely have noticed the strongly incestuous implications of Asdiwal's journey to the sky and marriage with the bear-girl. Considering the importance of incest in Lévi-Strauss early thinking about kinship and his interest in the myth of Oedipus, it is unlikely that he would have noticed the parable of incest in the Tsimshian fable and failed as he did to comment on it.

    Asdiwal's journey to heaven is a patent allegory of infancy, maturation, and the dispersal of human resources in society by the mechanism of marriage. The features of its universal patterning make it so, no matter how thoroughly Tsimshian is the Pacific Northwestern American dress worn by those features.

    After the disappearance of Asdiwal's father and the death of his grandmother in the story's liminal region on the upper course of the Skeena, Asdiwal and his mother move downstream to the home of her deceased ancestors at Canyon. Lévi-Strauss observed the impropriety of this arrangement: the Tsimshian were virilocal, whereas Asdiwal's new home at Canyon is matrilocal. Yet Canyon is more decidely the home of his affections than any other place in the tale. He leaves Canyon, then grows homesick and returns to it not once but twice, both times returning to the real Tsimshian world from the fictitious society of the Sun and stars in the sky.

    The two periods of Asdiwal's life in heaven are thus long excursions of fantasy that punctuate his less eventful real life with his mother on earth. Or, to put it differently, the entire narrative about the bear-girl and Evening Star is framed within the tale of Asdiwal's matrilocality. As one might expect, the framed story derives a large part of its meaning from its frame.

    If Asdiwal's matrilocality is a fault, then it is a tragic fault, and he is as powerless as was the Greek Oedipus to save himself from its consequences. Asdiwal was not responsible in any way for the famine in the village of his mother's first (Gitskan?) husband which originally detached her from a correct virilocality. Nor is he responsible for his mother's subsequent affair with the robin-like Hatsenas, a flitting bird-man whose very name implies such mobility that no home of his could last more than a season, whether in fact or figuratively. Asdiwal is predestined to commit the social sin of matrilocal dwelling by the cruellest necessity -- the famine and family disaster before his birth.

    Indeed, whatever responsibility there is for his social predicament rests not on Asdiwal but on his parents' generation and on the generation of his grandparents, because it was his grandmother whose movement upriver during the spring famine determined where Asdiwal was born, and it was her authority that sanctioned his mother's marriage with the transient Hatsenas. Asdiwal's human ancestors were opportunists driven by hard privation, able to be neither more provident nor wiser than their means permitted. His matrilocality and the journey connected with it are thus truly matters of family fate not personal choice, just as they were in the ancient Greek myth of Oedipus.

    The unknown Tsimshian conteur narrated Asdiwal's move to Canyon with the same eloquent brevity he practiced in beginning every new section of his tale, relating ideas to each other not by explicit, rhetorical logic but by a subtler logic of juxtaposition:

He was a great hunter, and he hunted...

...Then his mother, on her part, returned to her relatives at Canyon, and her son accompanied her. All the people knew that the prince was a great hunter; and his fame was all over the world, and the animals also knew him.

Asdiwal's settlement with his mother at Canyon is thus connected with four things from the very first mention of it: his prodigious manliness, his renown, his special relationship with animals, and his engrossment with food-getting.

    Because he is a Tsimshian male, Asdiwal's manly prowess is appropriately measured in his success as a hunter. Of course his peculiar knowledge of animals and mastery over them are not human parts of Asdiwal, but parts of his praeternatural patrimony from Hatsenas. Nonetheless they find suitable human expression in the great fame his accomplishments as a hunter earn him among ‘the people,’ and in his economic rôle as a getter of food. His praeternatural and human attributes complement each other symmetrically:

of animals
of Asdiwal
great hunter great consumer
of wild food

    Still, despite his possession of both praeternatural and human features, Asdiwal remains a curiously incomplete man as he begins his residence at Canyon. Society recognizes and honors him, but he displays not the slightest concern for society nor any connection with any of its members except his mother, whom he accompanies to Canyon. Literary prejudice might lure an incautious critic to censure the anonymous Tsimshian story-teller for scanty characterization of the youthful Asdiwal, but the incompleteness of his character is no doubt intended by the tradition. Asdiwal at Canyon is as unsocialized and as preoccupied with getting food and attention as is any very young child -- a child in the first year of its life. There is he cannot do economically, but nothing he can do socially.

    Asdiwal's first adventures in heaven repeat and amplify the same four ideas that dominate the description of him at Canyon. Indeed, he reaches the very apogee of his hunting skill, public adulation, knowledge of animals, and food-getting among the citizens of the sky. But his attainments in these four things diminish steadily when he leaves heaven to live again permanently on earth, finds his mother dead, and terminates his connection with Canyon. Thus Asdiwal's Himmelfahrt coincides exactly with his earthly matrilocality at Canyon, while the same qualities and achievements that mark him at Canyon are elaborated on a cosmic scale, as in a dream, during his sojourn in heaven. When finally Asdiwal leaves the sky and Canyon, his hunting prowess and knowledge of animals steadily recede, together with his rôle as provider of food, while his concern with the society around him and with moral issues steadily increases.

    The coincidence of Asdiwal's life at Canyon with his life in the sky points clearly to a duplication of his earthly mother in the bear-girl, daughter of the Sun. The identity of the bear-girl as an allegorical double of his ‘real’ mother is also confirmed by certain other details.

    The bear-girl who lures the great hunter Asdiwal to heaven in pursuit of her belongs to one of two species of bear mentioned in the story. One recalls that Asdiwal's mother earlier obtained grizzly bears and ‘black’ bears from Hatsenas on two occasions, once in the series of eight animals gotten from the spruce tree, and once as part of Hatsenas' wedding present after the old chieftainess had agreed to her daughter's marriage to him. So again, just as a gift of bears attended the marriage of his mother with the robin-like messenger who descended from heaven, so Asdiwal's first bride makes a gift of herself to him in the guise of a bear whom he pursues into heaven.

    The so-called ‘black’ bear of the Tsimshian story is more commonly known as the ‘brown’ bear in contemporary American parlance, and is unmistakeably Ursus americanus. It and the grizzly bear (Ursus horribilis) did (and still do) inhabit British Columbia. If Asdiwal's beautiful white bear is not an outright praeternatural, then it should surely be understood as a specimen of what latter-day zoology knows as ‘Kermode's Bear,’ a so-called ‘color-phase’ of Ursus americanus peculiar to the real district in which the story of Asdiwal is set. (The Skeena River is at least eight hundred miles too far south for Asdiwal's alluring creature to be a Polar Bear [Thalarcpos maritimus]).

    A healthy female specimen of Kermode's Bear ought in the normal course of things to be pregnant and on the point of parturition at just that mid-winter season (January-February) when Asdiwal pursues his bear to heaven. But when he and his bear arrive in heaven, it is flowery spring, i.e., that same time of year when the bear's 200-210 day gestational cycle would begin.12

    The great Tsimshian hunter tracks this white bear as though it were food, but it involves him in a deep narrative equation of food-getting and procreation. This white bear is food to Asdiwal as only mothers and paramours can be to sons and lovers. The identity of the bear-girl as a parabolic reprise of Asdiwal's real Tsimshian mother is asserted by both the symmetry and the nature of the events surrounding the two women in his life, the one earthly and the other heavenly.

    Asdiwal first accompanies his mother downstream to her father's house at Canyon, and then the bear-girl downstream to her father's home in the sky. The bear-girl retraces the Tsimshian woman's steps on the ice along the upper course of the Skeena outside Tsimshian territory, and she risks her life running the gauntlet of hunters in order to possess Asdiwal. But the greatest danger to her among all the hunters is Asdiwal himself, the great hunter whose "fame was all over the world." He meets multiple women in his career, but none ever gambles so much to possess him as does this, his first paramour. Her single-minded, courageous desire to have him despite pain and fatigue suggests again the relationship between mother and son. Furthermore, like Asdiwal's real Tsimshian mother, Kermode's Bear belongs downriver, not upriver, for it like the whole of the Tsimshian people is by definition a coastal creature.

    If the bear-girl's journey to earth in quest of Asdiwal is motherly in its motivation and in its imitation of his earthly mother's actions, then the journey to the sky can also be understood as a parable of child-birth. When the white bear grows tired of her labor, the mountain splits apart, and she rests for a time while Asdiwal struggles to span the gorge. This palpable parable of child-bearing is repeated, and finally Asdiwal emerges from the wintry world below onto a sweet-smelling prairie in the full bloom of spring. Now the chase has ended, and Asdiwal merely follows the white bear who guides his first steps in the new world.

    The bear-girl's only comments on her exploit are perfectly consistent with Asdiwal's dual role as both son and lover.

    Asdiwal remains waiting outside helpless as a new-born child, while the woman who has brought him into his new world complains how exhausting getting him has been. And like a new-born child, he is quickly and easily accepted in his new home both as a relative and as a permanent member of the household. Here he lives in nearly perfect happiness, a contentment flawed only by the Oedipal competition that shortly develops between himself and his father-in-law, the Sun.

    Any healthy new-born infant's strongest interests are getting food and eating; they correspondingly dominate the beginning of Asdiwal's life in heaven. His father-in-law commands four labors, each concerned with obtaining and preparing food. The progression of Asdiwal's four athloi should have pleased Lévi-Strauss and he ought to have commented on them, for they move from raw food to cooked. The Sun requires that Asdiwal get him the meat of mountain goats, drinking water and firewood, and finally that he submit to being cooked in a baking-pit like a food animal. The ambiguity or reciprocity between eating and being eaten, or between killing to provide nourishment and being killed, is not confined to the progression of Aswidal's four labors; it is also present in each of the labors separately.

    The first labor, to obtain the meat and tallow of mountain goats, demands that Asdiwal climb a shaking mountain. The mountain threatens him with the same danger and impotence that characterize early infancy: the danger of falling and inability to move from place to place. The second labor involves a Tsimshian equivalent of the Greek symplegades, a cave with clashing rocks at its entrance and a spring of water for drinking within. Both the description and the behavior of the cave are manifestly oral. It is a great, salivating mouth that chews and consumes all who enter it except Asdiwal, whose cunning, luck, and childishly unlimited self-confidence save him from being eaten by the mouth-like cavity. But his unlucky companion and guide on this adventure, the great slave of the Sun, is caught and chewed up by the cave, and when the Sun undertakes to resurrect his servant, all that remains of him is an inedible residue, his bones.

    The sky-chief's third trial of Asdiwal is to obtain firewood -- an obvious prerequisite for the last and most terrible test of being baked like meat for the great chief's dinner. This task is accompanied by the hazard of being crushed under the firewood as it falls from the rotten tree where it is to be gotten. Again the Sun's servant dies instead of Asdiwal, pounded to death by the falling wood as by a club (or batticarne). The servant's death is an obvious inversion of the death Asdiwal inflicted earlier on the mountain goats and their shaman.

    Asdiwal's imense self-confidence is finally shattered in the fourth and final trial, which confuses him, the great provider of food, with food itself. The Sun commands him to be cooked, and he despairs. This fourth test imposed on Asdiwal by the Sun is tantamount to death. His dawning consciousness and fear of injury and death marks an essential stage in Asdiwal's figurative maturation -- like a maturing child, he has first learned to fear fire. But this stage in Asdiwal's growth is also part of a progression that runs parallel to the progression from raw food to cooked food, and like that progression it too helps to bind together Asdiwal's four labors into a single child-like phase of his experience.

object wanted hazard helper
1.  raw meat falling/
Kite-star as admiring
observer and inert
2.  drinking water mastication Sun's slave as
willing guide and
substitute by force
3.  firewood pounding Sun's slave as
reticent companion
and substitute by
4.  cooked meat falling/
father as pitying
rescuer, and no

    In the fourth and last of the tasks set by the Sun, Asdiwal meets his match and he knows it. His attainment of juvenile wisdom in fearing fire and, more subtly, in knowing the limit of his own power, coincides with his first experience of social help. When his father offers unsolicited aid to help him escape being cooked, Asdiwal accepts it. Thus, as he matures beyond his narrow preoccupation with food and the processes of nourishment, Asdiwal performs his first act of true social dependence.

    After success in the four labors, Asdiwal is happily reconciled with his powerful father-in-law, the Sun. He supposes, and the Sun seems to concede, that Asdiwal is the better magician of the two, but future events prove the true worth of that belief. Oedipal victories are notoriously specious, and Asdiwal's victory over his father-in-law is no exception.

    The events after Asdiwal's four athloi continue the parable of his childhood at a more advanced age. Although his life in the sky is idyllic after he has satisfied his father-in-law about his competence as magical provider of food, he grows strangely homesick for the less comfortable (but more real) world of mortals. The Sun promises Asdiwal safe return to his own people, but first teaches him the elements of astral navigation.

    Here, for the first time in the story, Asdiwal is indoctrinated, and in a subject that agrees perfectly with the idea that he is still a child. The names of the stars are something a Tsimshian boy could be expected to learn, not a grown man. The chief of the star-people teaches the figurative boy Asdiwal much as a father might teach his son. Where better to learn star-lore than at the court of the Sun, chief of the stars?

    The Sun's initiation of Asdiwal in matters relating to the stars and fishing creates an important opposition for the young ‘man.’ Asdiwal is a hunter of mammals par excellence, having inherited innate ability as hunter of all terrestrial animals from his father Hatsenas, who also gave him the necessary physical size and the tools for hunting on land. Against Asdiwal's innate and patrimonially inherited skill as hunter, the Sun opposes the acquired knowledge that belongs to fishermen:

innate talent ~ learned culture

The tension between his native ability as a terrestrial hunter the and the acquired knowledge of fishing-lore that begins here in the parable of his childhood is destined to continue into Asdiwal's adult life, where it embitters both of his marriages with ordinary mortal women.

    When Asdiwal's elementary education is complete, the Sun commands his daughter to let him return to his own people. His return to earth creates new symmetries in the grand design of his story. For now he revisits his mother under the same circumstances that prevailed when his mother and Hatsenas first met.

It was winter again, and the people were starving again. Then they entered the house, and his mother was glad when she saw him, because she had thought that Asdiwal, who was her child, was dead.
Thus Asdiwal, his mother, and Evening-Star reconstitute the same ménage à trois that resulted from the first famine, the same cosmogonic triad that originally gave him his being. Only now it is he who is aerial and unstable, like his father before him:

Celestial   Terrestrials

elder chieftainess
from Canyon
who descended    
to marry
+ Asdiwal's mother,
who provides food:
hawberry, and meat
    obtained from Hatsenas


Terrestrials   Celestial
Asdiwal's mother
at Canyon

who ascended    
to marry
+ Bear-girl/Evening-Star,
who provides food:
    salmonberries, and meat
    obtained from Asdiwal


The rôle of the elder woman in both households is the same: recipient of food, and bestower of conditions on her children.

Hatsenas + mortal woman + her mother condition of marriage for daughter (i.e., full womanhood).

Asdiwal + immortal woman + his mother condition of potlatch-giver for son (i.e., full manhood).

    However, there is an important difference between the full womanhood and full manhood bestowed first on a daughter and later on a son in the two successive generations. Asdiwal's mother had been married before she met Hatsenas, and had already consummated her second marriage, with Hatsenas, some time before her mother sanctioned it. In her case, full womanhood is a past reality merely reaffirmed by her mother, while in the case of Asdiwal full manhood is only a promise of a future estate which he will actually attain only long after his mother's prediction of it, and indeed only after her death.

    Thus again the Tsimshian conteur has signalled that Asdiwal is not yet a complete man. Having brought with him to earth all the benefits of heaven, he superficially has now the best of both worlds, a real mother and a fictitious wife united at his home in a single household where he may enjoy both women simultaneously without the interference of any male competitor. Never before and never again is he so free from the jealousy of other men, be they his elders or his peers.

    Asdiwal's Oedipal fantasy is almost perfect, but it has one flaw. The fault is never stated explicitly, but it is present nonetheless in the patterns of the story. The marriage of Asdiwal and Evening-star is infertile; they have no children. This marriage and its infertility are opposed to their counterparts in the previous generation:

celestial male
+ earthly woman
(Asdiwal's mother)
earthly male
+ celestial woman
| no progeny
    It would hardly have been proper for Asdiwal to get children by the heavenly supernumerary of his own mother, but it is not any compunction about symbolic incest that makes Asdiwal's first marriage sterile. The real reason is given in the framed anecdote of the plume, a patent allegory of male pubescence. Asdiwal has no children by Evening-star because he is himself still a child and cannot. In the tale of the plume he becomes an adolescent, but not without a final, violent dislocation of the untenable social arrangement which he has so heroically contrived in order to assure himself simultaneous enjoyment of the best women both in heaven and on earth [¶ 81].

    Like a dutiful child, Asdiwal goes daily to draw water for his ‘wife.’ Were he a man, his dalliance with the wench at the drinking-place would be an abject folly; why would a mature person risk so much for so little? But if he is understood to be a child masquerading as man in order to become such in fact, then his passing indiscretion with an ordinary pretty mortal girl may be recognized as a maturing adolescent's preference for the real thing over even the most glorious of fantasies.

    For a time, Asdiwal has succeeded in combining his real mother and a fantasy-wife in a single household. But he cannot combine them with a third, real mortal paramour, no matter how nameless and casual an acquaintance she is. The wife of his fantasy will not tolerate competition from a real girl. Yet Asdiwal's attachment to his illusory wife is still much stronger than his attachment to earthly reality, and he gives up his illusions hard. Nothing less than his own annihilation can separate him from the fantastic daughter of the Sun [¶ 84].

    Up to this point in the story, only one person has ever been, or seemed to be, a foe to Asdiwal. Now that person, the Sun, proves to be his best friend and saviour, in a reversal no less dramatic than the sudden loss of Evening-Star's affection [¶ 85].

    After his pubescent adventure with the girl at the well and his resurrection into heaven, Asdiwal -- now Potlatch-Giver -- resumes domestic life with Evening-Star; but the circumstances of this second sojourn in the sky are radically altered from those of the first. From his first coming to heaven, the myriad stars and other powerful persons of the Sun's court watched Asdiwal's every movement and acclaimed his successes. Like a child, Asdiwal basked in their attention. But Potlatch-Giver lives alone with Evening-Star, and no one else has any place in their story except her father.

    As though to emphasize their solitude and the exclusivity of their relationship, the Sun's daughter has borne the name Evening-Star only since leaving heaven to live for a time with Asdiwal and his mother on earth. True to her name, Evening-Star is the sole luminary in Potlatch-Giver's heaven, which she shares with him alone during the Sun's declining moments. As at his conception in winter Asdiwal's two female ancestors shared their dwelling on earth with the youthful male Hatsenas (during the final days of the old Tsimshian chieftainess' decline), so on the threshold of Asdiwal's maturity in summer the two males Asdiwal and the Sun share a dwelling in heaven with the youthful female Evening-Star.

Earth in Winter
prosperous woman
who will soon migrate

declining elder

youthful, divine, and
magically powerful
celestial male

Heaven in Summer
prosperous man
who will soon migrate

declining elder

youthful, divine, and
magically powerful
celestial female

    Like Asdiwal before him, Potlatch-Giver grows homesick, and his kind father-in-law helps his goddess-wife decide that she will giver her husband back to his own people. Their parting is as tender as a summer evening [¶ 87].

    The final affirmation of Evening-Star's identity with Asdiwal/Potlatch-Giver's mother comes at the moment of their final separation. Evening-Star vanishes from his life forever and at the same instant her learns of his mother's death. It is a fitting ending to the whole somewhat naughty Oedipal allegory. And as though to emphasize the purely fantastic nature of the two Himmelreisen as allegorical extensions of his mundane existence at Canyon, Potlatch-Giver proceeds immediately down the Skeena.

Behold! [but] his mother was dead, she had died before he returned. Then Potlatch-Giver continued to go down the Skeena River.
It is as if Asdiwal had never left the valley of the Skeena to pursue the bear-girl to heaven. Like dreams, the two skyward flights of his imagination have in the final reckoning gained him nothing but the capacity for more mature, less childishly extravagant behavior in the earthly adventures still before him.

    The continuation of his journey down the Skeena takes Potlatch-Giver all the way to the coast, into the heart of traditionally Tsimshian territory. There the conventions of Tsimshian life operate around him with a realistic rigor diametrically opposed to their laxity and inversion in heaven.

    At Ginaxangiget he meets the daughter of a Tsimshian chief, a mortal woman whom he may naturally and properly marry. She is eager to marry him, though unlike the bear-girl, she does not assume the initiative [¶ 88].

    The time at Ginaxangiget and Metlakahtla, the old Tsimshian capital, is surely the happiest in Potlatch-Giver's story. Married to an adoring and submissive woman with the very best social connections, he lives prosperously and is at peace with a normal array of relatives in the real world.

    But the move from Metlakahtla to the outlying town of Ksemaksen upsets the equilibrium of his life once again. The old chief, Potlatch-Giver's new father-in-law, is left behind at Metlakahtla, and adverse winds curtail the family's intended journey. Dissension arises among the men, who, without the elder chief to compose their differences, cannot come to terms except by a contest. Potlatch-Giver wins the contest and humiliates his affinal relatives. But his economic success in winning the hunting contest is a social disaster: it so alienates his brothers-in-law that they and even his wife desert him, though she is heavy with his unborn child.

    Despite the Sun's teaching him the things germane to sea-hunting, Potlatch-Giver's unaccommodating natural preference for hunting on land thus results in rejection of him and his virtual expulsion from Tsimshian society. The tables have turned: the great hunter who once pridefully and of his own will left the Tsimshian world at Canyon for a more glorious life in the sky is now cast out against his will for the same arrogance, to be adopted out of pity by semi-foreigners, the Gitxala people. He goes away to live with them first on the Nass, and then at Laxalan, an insular town wll beyond the traditional coastal confines of the Tsimshian.

    Potlatch-Giver's second mortal wife, the Gitxala woman, continues the declining progression begun in the exchange of Evening-Star for a Tsimshian noblewoman. The Gitxala woman is neither noble nor socially powerful, and instead of the eagerness of his first two wives to marry him, this woman displays only passive obedience to her brothers' decision that she should marry. Indeed, she has little reason to be as enthusiastic as her precursors, for Asdiwal comes to her as a stranger, without reputation, a virtual beggar; cold, hungry, and destitute except for the four dead bears he had obtained to humiliate his former male affines.

    Here among the Gitxala he must earn his renown as a hunter, because for the first time in his life his reputation has not preceded him. But if the conditions at the beginning of this marriage among foreigners are not so heroic, in the end it is a far more durable and useful marriage than the two before it. This foreign commoner gives him a son at last, and only she remains faithful to him through every future adversity.

    After the tender abandonment by Evening-Star, and the ruder abandonment by his Tsimshian wife and her angry brothers, Potlatch-Giver again commits the social sin of arrogance and is abandoned once more. He insults the lesser economic abilities of his relatives-by-marriage among the Gitxala, and they abandon him to die on a storm-swept rock at sea. There, instead of childe Asdiwal's powerful and cunning white bear to guide him into a magnificent and wealthy house in heaven, the mature Potlatch-Giver finds a timid mouse, who helps him descend into a pestilent and cheerless underworld. The great hunter's fortunes are at their lowest ebb, and he at last is tamed even to the point of feeling sympathy toward his own prey.

    When Potlatch-Giver returns from the sea-lions in their marvelous boat, he is bent on vengeance. He has his revenge by motifs that are inversely symmetrical with others in the earlier story of his parents:

Noble mortal woman + divine Hatsenas work magic to sustain life for her people with the dead wood of a (deciduous) sycamore.
Semi-divine Potlatch-Giver + common mortal woman work magic to inflict death on her people with the living wood of an (evergreen) cedar.

Thus the virid cedar and the hewn sycamore mark the same polarities of gratuity and levy found in the adventures of every hero who moves within the pattern of the Two Trees.

    By his violent magic with killer-whales made of yellow cedar, Potlatch-Giver finally triumphs over the old bane of his existence, the social difficulties of matrilocality. Through slaying all but his most friendly and forgiving uxorial relatives, he is able for the first time in his life to live peacefully and durably in the house of his wife's family.

    Asdiwal/Potlatch-Giver's peculiar strength has always been in using violence against other men and animals, while himself remaining immune to it. Through his own powers or the help of praeternaturals he has overcome all manner of lethal dangers: falling, fatigue, being crushed, drowning, hunger, exposure to heat and cold. In the end, it is not a violent death but only senile forgetfulness and immobility that overcome him. He forgets his magical snowshoes, and becomes a stone monument of himself on the muntainside where he has gone to hunt mountain-goats [¶ 135].

    This final scene in the story of Stone-Slinger's old age evokes the earlier one in the allegory of his infancy when he first hunted mountain-goats at the command of the Sun. The stars had then truly foretold Asdiwal's destiny, which he, like the heroes of the ancient Greeks, could avoid for a time but never escape [¶ 42].

    The petrification of Stone-Slinger is not however so sudden an imposition of fate as it may seem. Ever since Asdiwal's first magnificent hunt on the shaking mountain in heaven, his social and cultural maturation has been matched at each step by a dwindling of his physical and economic powers. Asdiwal reaches the fixity of old age by easy, almost imperceptible stages. At each stage the Tsimshian conteur coordinated new information about eight different parts of Asdiwal's experience:

  1. his maturity;
  2. his location;
  3. the seasons;
  4. his relations with women;
  5. his hunting and distribution of its benefits;
  6. his mobility;
  7. his relations with men;
  8. his progeny.

The Ages of Asdiwal


  1. Infancy and adolescence.

  2. Canyon/Heaven: Eastern frontier of Tsimshian territory with excursions beyond.

  3. Mid-winter.

  4. Marriage to a divinity of dual character (animl ~ human, mother ~ wife), with implications of incest. Reluctant, gentle, and conclusive separation from that woman, and kind replacement of her by a promiscuous mortal woman.

  5. Motives of hunting: to feed male affines; to dominate male affines.

    Success of hunt: supernatural prowess against supernatural game of one species on the very top of a supernaturally quaking mountain. Innumerable game of one species is all killed in a single encounter by a single means (clubbing).

    Appropriation of benefits: all to a single male elder.

  6. Movement is mostly confined to the ground; brief aerial mobility during hunter's descent from mountain hunting-ground. Terrestrial mobility is complete, threatened but not actually impaired before the kill. The hunter ascends to the peak of a moving mountain, and the return portage of game is prodigious, effortess, and complete.

  7. Decisive and profitable vistory in a four-fold contest with the most powerful male person in the cosmos (Sun).

  8. No progeny.


  1. Young manhood.

  2. Ginaxangiget and Metlakahtla: inner district of Tsimshian territory.

  3. Late winter.

  4. Marriage to an eager noblewoman of pure Tsimshian blood.

  5. Motive for hunting: to feed male affines

    Success of hunting: abnormal prowess high on the side of a natural, stationary mountain. Very numerous but natural game are killed in one encounter, but by two separate means (spear; bow-and-arrow) [¶ 91].

    Appropriation of benefits: divided unequally between two generations of male relatives.

  6. The hunter's mobility is confined to terrestrial movement; it is easy before the kill, but the portage is mostly by others.

  7. No contest with other males.

  8. Progeny is conceived.


  1. Mature manhood.

  2. Ksemksen: northern frontier of Tsimshian territory.

  3. Spring.

  4. Sudden, rude, but not quite conclusive separation from a disloyal noble wife.

  5. Motive for hunting: to demonstrate superiority over uxorial male relatives.

    Success of hunting: unusual prowess at low altitude on the side of an ordinary mountain. Two separate encounters are needed to kill only four head of game.

    Appropriation of benefits: intended for relatives but taken by strangers.

  6. Terrestrial mobility is easy before the kill, but difficult and prolonged afterwards. The hunter labors into night carrying only some of the game, leaves the rest behind where it died, and reaches home with none of it. Others must complete portage.

  7. Victory in contest for prestige with less lucky male peers harms the victor more than the vanquished.

  8. An almost-child: son begotten but unborn until after its separation from father.


  1. Early middle-age.

  2. Valley of the Nass: northern limit of Tsimshian transhumance.

  3. Summer.

  4. Marriage to a passively willing, semi-foreign (‘strange’) commoner. Tranquil life with this mortal woman.

  5. Motive for hunting: to feed uxorial male relatives; to advance the hunter socially by conventional means (potlatch).

    Success of hunting: good hunting below the tree-line in the valley of the Nass river. Two separate encounters on each of two successive days are needed to kill only four head of game.

    Appropriation of benefits: most complex to date. Some are distributed directly to uxorial male relatives, the rest by prestation to the whole society of Tsimshian chiefs [¶ 100].

  6. Mobility: two terrestrial expeditions and two return portages are required to accomplish the work of a single journey previously.

  7. Contest: the hunter obtains social advancement and personal recognition from his peers by a mutually beneficial, peaceful prestation of wealth (potlatch).

  8. A son is born.


  1. Late middle-age.

  2. Island town of Laxalan and a nameless rock at sea: the outermost westward confines of human habitation, with an excursion beyond.

  3. Mid-winter.

  4. Temporary separation from a loyal mortal wife, followed by a temporary friendship (but no sexual contact) with mouse-woman, a bestioform foreigner of mixed ancestry (her grand-father the chief is a sea-lion, not a mouse).

  5. Motive for hunting: to demonstrate ability as hunter.

    Success of hunting: hunting near sea-level. All the game seems to be killed but is not. For the first time in his career some escapes the hunter, though it is presumably dead [¶ 105].

    Appropriation of benefits: the hunter impartially distributes all his prey to the prey itself: he restores possession of life to each in turn of the whole sea-lion population.

  6. The hunter must be conveyed to the hunting-ground by others. Terrestrial mobility is as usual unobstructed before the kill, but the hunter maroons himself at sea by his own choice. There is no portage of the game; instead the game provides portage home for the hunter (sea-lions' stomach-boat).

  7. The hunter retains his own life and obtains his freedom by donating life to animal prey.

  8. A son begins to grow up.


  1. Old age.

  2. Ginadas.

  3. Fall.

  4. Temporary abandonment of woman by man becomes permanent, with no replacement of any kind.

  5. No motive for hunting except habit.

    All the game is killed, but the hunter also perishes.

    No appropriation of benefits; the game is entirely lost.

  6. Terrestrial mobility is unobstructed in ascent to the top of a great natural mountain before the kill, but descent is completely impossible for the hunter. The dead game is separated from the hunter, but there is no portage.

  7. Gifts are exchanged between father and son only for reason of affection.

  8. A son reaches maturity.

    Stone-Slinger's complete separation from women in the sixth age of his life foreshadows an end of all his other terrestrial activity, just as the Month of Taboo in the Tsimshian annual cycle of ritual curtailed the activities of real Tsimshian man before the grand ceremonies of winter. But the Tsimshian conteur knew as well as Shakespeare that the number of a man's ages is seven, not six. So death does not entirely obliterate Stone-Slinger, it only dissolves him into the two qualities that had united to create him in his seventh age, the time of his origin. He disintegrates into a body like his mother, the little Tsimshian princess, and a spirit like his father Hūt (Hatsenas) [¶ 137].

    The two posthumous residua of Stone-Slinger, his inert physical permanence on earth and his animate transience in the sky, are not all that link him to his parents when he dies. His apotheosis high on the mountain at Ginadas replicates in Stone-Slinger the earlier death of his mother deep in the valley of the Skeena at Canyon. She too died by a process of separation: her terrestrial, human form vanished on earth, while at the same time her immortal, animal double returned permanently to the sky in the person of bear-girl/Evening-Star. And just as Potlatch-Giver's mother had an immortal, animal double to supplement her mortal, terrestrial self, so earlier in the story Asdiwal's father also was a dual animal-person: celestial, avian, and immortal on the one hand; terrestrial, human, and mortal on the other.

    The end of Stone-Slinger at Ginadas furthermore repeats the death and disappearance of Asdiwal's two fathers in the same way it repeats the death and disappearance of his two-part mother. The mortal (Gitskan?) man who would have been Asdiwal's natural father must have gone to the mountains to hunt in the fall just as Stone-Slinger did in the autumn of his petrification. Judging from the severity of the famine before Asdiwal was born, his natural father was no more successful than Stone-Slinger in securing a stock of meat for the coming winter. Both men in turn perish through mistakes and bad luck in hunting, and the same result might be expected to attend the death of Stone-Slinger as followed the death of his mortal father: famine.

    But miraculously Hatsenas, an immortal, animal father whose origin and resources lay outside the terrestrial world, appeared from the sky when he was needed to restore life and well-being to the remnants of humanity after the primordial famine. The final identification of Stone-Slinger in his sixth age with his immortal, bird-like father Hūt (Hatsenas) strongly suggests that like Hatsenas, the spiritual, celestial residuum of Stone-Slinger may also revisit the earth in season to restore the benefits lost by his demise. Thus the immortal part of Stone-Slinger himself may be expected to join in eventual reenactment of the cosmogony, under the same conditions and in the same late-winter season that were the seventh age of Asdiwal, the age of his own origin. The Tsimshian storyteller's seven ages of Asdiwal are cyclical, fusing the destiny of each generation with the destiny of both its ancestors and its own progeny.


  1. Stage of personal maturity: Conception

  2. Place: Indeterminate location beside the Skeena: neither up-stream nor down, neither domestic nor wild, in no-man's land.

  3. Season: Late winter.

  4. Marriage: Totally exogamous marriage: between animal/human, mortal/imortal; relations both promiscuous and licit. Husband abandons wife conclusively, and is replaced by his son.

  5. Motive for hunting: To feed women.

    Success of hunting: Effortless hunt obtains every imaginable kind of game in arithmetically increasing quantity. Game materializes and drops dead of its own accord, as though it were vegetable.

    Appropriation of benefits: universal; distribution to everyone, beginning with paramour/wife and ending with all who apply. Distribution gratis to kin, by commerce to others.

  6. Mobility is totally free, both aerially and terrestrially. Effortless portage of game by gravity.

  7. Hatsenas donates abundant life and prosperity to the two Tsimshian women, their male heir, and through them to the whole Tsimshian world.

  8. Asdiwal, the progeny of mixed natural and supernatural parentage, is a fiction, both more and less than no progeny at all.


    Although there is no plausible historical connection between them, still it is no accident that the little-known adventures of Asdiwal resemble the more familiar Homeric story about Odysseus. Use of the Two Trees' pattern as the grand frame for an extended adventure story about a much-travelled and long-suffering man inevitably recreates not only a general impression of the Odyssean type, but also an intricate web of motival multiforms that coincides in detail with the story Homer told in ancient Greek.

    Any generic motif in oral fable implies all the other motifs that traditionally adhere with it in the same constellation of themes. The great conteur simply realizes more of the traditionally implied association among motifs in a given narrative than does an inferior story-teller. Hence one says that the Odyssey or the story of Asdiwal is ‘better’ than other tales containing the pattern of the Two Trees, meaning not only that they are longer and more intricate but also that they make explicit in one performance more of the traditional thematic associations among generic motifs than do lesser performances. Indeed, apart from the traditional thematic association of motifs, neither ‘length’ nor ‘intricacy’ mean anything in evaluation of traditional oral fable.

    A conteur who cannot array motifs in their traditional constellations achieves inanity not intricacy, no matter how many individual motifs he can remember. And in a sense a tale like the story of Asdiwal or the Odyssey is not any ‘longer’ than its simplest anecdotal congener. The two pillars of verdant and hewn wood between which the hero's wanderings are suspended are generically the same no matter how long or short, monotropic or polytropic, is the sequence of adventures linking them. Like his heroes, the polytropic or ‘lengthy’ and ‘good’ conteur is a man of many multiforms, different in his ways but not in kind from less celebrated narrators. There are extant several shorter tellings of the story of Asdiwal; so must there have been of the travels of Odysseus too, their failure to have survived in writing notwithstanding. Between the two trees a simpler storyteller narrates only one hunting, one marriage, one season, one degree of heroic mobility. The great conteur knows whole progressions of multiforms for the same motifs, and hence one rightly say that his telling reflects more of the potential mutability of real lives. Yet in their genera the motifs in the short tale and in the long one remain indistinguishable.

    The story of Asdiwal begins with a patently social famine, that is, a condition in which specifically domestic supplies of food have been eaten up. There is no implication in the Tsimshian story that sources of food in nature are exhausted; it is only that supplies at hand have failed. The sole natural means the Tsimshian knew to make good such a deficit of food in winter was their men's hunting expeditions for game, so that the famine that shaped Asdiwal must, like any other Tsimshian famine in late winter, be considered a failure of adult male protective and provisory functions.

    The same concatenation of want and implied male failure characterizes the beginning of the Odyssey. By consuming all the supplies of food in Odysseus' house on Ithake, Penelope's suitors threaten it with famine, but only because there are no men manly enough to oppose the direness of the want with suitably forceful masculine corrective action. Odysseus' son Telemachos twice says at the beginning of the ancient Greek story:

(α 250-251)
        ... τοὶ δὲ φθινύθουσιν ἔδοντες
οἶκον ἐμόν· τάχα δή με διαρραίσουσι καὶ αὐτόν.13

... For these men are withering away all my property, eating up
everything in my house. Soon they will make an end
    of even me myself.

(β 55-62)
οἰ δ᾿ εἰς ἡμέτερον πωλεύμενοι ἤματα πάντα,
βοῦς ἱερεύοντες καὶ ὄϊς καὶ πίονας αἶγας,
εἰλαπινάζουσιν πίνουσί τε αἴθοπα οἶνον
μαψιδίως· τὰ δὲ πολλὰ κατάνεται. οὐ γὰρ ἔπ᾿ ἀνὴρ
οἷος Ὀδυσσεὺς ἔσκεν, ἀρὴν ἀπὸ οἴκου ἀμῦναι.
ἡμεῖς δ᾿ οὔ νύ τι τοῖοι ἀμυνέμεν· ἦ καὶ ἔπειτα
λευγαλέοι τ᾿ ἐσόμεσθα καὶ οὐ δεδαηκότες ἀλκήν.
ἦ τ᾿ ἀν ἀμυναίμην, εἴ μοι δύναμίς γε παρείη.

These men haunt our house every day,
slaughtering our cattle and sheep and fatted goats,
wantonly banqueting and quaffing our shimmering
Most of everything we had is already despoiled.
For we have here no such guardian as Odysseus was,
    to avert disaster from our house.
We ourselves are not such men as can defend it. In truth
we shall be accounted pitiably weak men, who have
    no skill in valorous deeds.
I would indeed defend myself, if only I had in me
    the strength to do it.

    Like the life of Asdiwal, the Wanderings of Odysseus and indeed the whole Odyssey are fraught with concern about sources, kinds, and manners of preparing food. In the absence of proper masculine attention to the economic needs of their people, the triad of Asdiwal's mother, grandmother, and Hatsenas temporarily baulked famine's destruction of their world by uncharacteristically direct provision of food enough to feed the host of ordinary people who flocked for a season to their remote campsite. But their permanent solution to the perennial problem of having enough to eat was to produce Asdiwal, whose whole life and lineage would be the antitheses of economic incompetence and consequent want.

    Analogously, in the first book of the Odyssey the nubile but passive Penelope, the long-lived but infertile feminine giver-of-conditions Athene, and the aerially transient, bird-like male Mentes (α 319-320) cooperatively contrive for a season to nourish the host of suitors gathered around Penelope on the island of Ithake, that distant out-post of the ancient Greek world. Here too the only lasting countermeasure against destitution is understood to be the (re)establishment of Odysseus and his lineage.

    Thus Asdiwal and Odysseus alike are embodiments of material security for their kin. That security rests always upon the innately superior skills of the cosmotact, but the pattern also requires that the identity of the cosmotact's kin be in one way or another recurrently at question.

    The resolution of that question entails for Asdiwal, Odysseus, and all of their fabulous kind a series of adventurous quests for nourishment during which the cosmotact ages and his powers of acquisition diminish. At each stage of the aging, he is forced to cope with an ever-expanding circle of social and moral consequences devolving from his acquisitive acts. He learns to obey, and exacts obedience from others towards, an increasingly subtle web of rights and obligations. So Asdiwal learns early the personal hazards and social consequences of attachment to someone who is altogether too like his mother, but it takes him longer to escape the more insidious social and economic woes of matrilocal and uxorilocal living. And able hunter though he is (no Tsimshian was ever abler), yet he may not hunt the wrong animals out of season, nor yet may he with impunity insult other men's prowess and legitimate pursuits, no matter how much inferior to his own they are.

    Whether it pleases him or not, he must also migrate with his own people when they do; though paradoxically, the more remotely he is married away from his own people, the happier and more rewarding is his marriage. Framed between the standing sycamore at his conception and the hewn yellow cedar at the time of his last great ritual acts, the cosmotactic progress of Asdiwal is all subsidiary correlative and multiform refinement of the basic associative contrast between the verdant wood and the cut, the standing tree of gratuity and the cut wood of recompense. In the same manner and to the same ends, Odysseus moves from the voluntary woods, both virid and hewn, on Kalypso's island of Ogygia to Laertes' carefully tended orchard and the hewn olive of his own marriage bed on Ithaka.

    Asdiwal and Odysseus, and (proportionately to the distance between his Two Trees) every other fabulous cosmotact since Adam has had not only innately praeternatural endowments of craft and skill, but also a praeterhuman capacity for enduring hardship. Without such endurance, the cosmtact could not survive the punishments meted out to him for the breach of laws and conventions whose existence he often does not even suspect until he has breached them. But survive he must, to demonstrate to those who hear his story how annihilating retribution for such mistakes would be for ordinary men were they ignorant of the cosmotact's monitory experience. The fabulous cosmotact moving between the Two Trees suffers to save those who hear his tale from the selfsame sins of ignorance illustrated by his fictitious career. The conteur who commands the greatest array of mltiforms for the patterns in narrative about this cosmotactic saviour is his greatest prophet, and deserves for his poetic skill the same admiration which Asdiwal and Odysseus themselves inspire in thoughtful minds. There but for the grace of knowing their tale go we, and there by virtue of knowing their tale perchance we too my survive.

    The messenger of heaven Hatsenas injects Asdiwal into the Tsimshian world from a location well outside Tsimshian territory. Asdiwal's relationship with the stationary female proprietress of the remote location whence he originates is ambiguous; is she mother, or paramour -- or both at once? The messenger of heaven Hermes similarly injects Odysseus into the Achaian world from a location (Ogygie) well outside Achaian territory. Odysseus' relationship with the stationary female proprietress of that location is as ambiguous as was Asdiwal's; she mothers him, but is his paramour and would-be wife. Hermes' purpose in Odyssey ε is solely to cause Kalypso's prompt discharge of Odysseus from his lodgement in her grotto, an obvious equivalent of parturition. Like Asdiwal, whose manhood is curiously juvenile until he finally enters his people' s traditional territory, Odysseus too is curiously a dependent man-child until he leaves the gods behind and (re)enters the real world of his own kind.

    By the time Homer introduces him in the Fifth Book (ε) of the Odyssey, Odysseus has already endured quite enough hardship to have killed him several times over. The doubt about his survival expressed earlier by his son Telemachos and by Penelope's suitors is no more than reasonable, even if they do not know the details of Odysseus' sufferings. Through no choice of his own, he has found refuge as a castaway on the island of Ogygie, a place so remote that no ship ever calls there (ε 175-176), and no one lives there except the nymph Kalypso and her spritely maids-in-waiting (ε 199). It is patently a mournful place, for being in it makes Odysseus mourn (ε 82-84; 156-158).

    Hermes, who comes to Ogygie at Zeus's bidding to command the release of Odysseus, is delighted with the aspect of the grotto where Kalypso dwells and the surrounding countryside. But only a god such as Hermes who would come into that place accustomed to the company of dead souls could so simply admire what he sees. To mortal eyes Kalypso's home is not only mournful, but also on close inspection downright funebrial. The more one examines it from a human vantage, the more Odysseus' ‘release’ from Ogygie takes on the character of a resurrection (ε 63-73):

ὕλη δὲ σπέος ἀμφὶ πεφύκει τηλεθόωσα,
κλήθρη τ᾿ αἴγειρός τε καὶ εὐώδης κυπάρισσος.
ἔνθα δέ τ᾿ ὄρνιθες τανυσίπτεροι εὐνάζοντο,
σκῶπές τ᾿ ἴρηκές τε τανύγλωσσοί τε κορῶναι
εἰνάλιαι, τῇσίν τε θαλάσσια ἔργα μέμηλεν.
ἡ δ᾿ αὐτοῦ τετάνυστο περὶ σπείους γλαφυροῖο
ἡμερὶς ἡβώωσα, τεθήλει δὲ σταφυλῇσι·
κρῆναι δ᾿ ἑξείης πίσυρες ῥέον ὕδατι λευκῷ,
πλησίαι ἀλλήλων τετραμμέναι ἄλλυδις ἄλλη.
ἀμφὶ δὲ λειμῶνες μαλακοὶ ἴου ἠδὲ σελίνου

Woods were growing luxuriantly all about the grotto,
alder and black poplar and fragrant cypress.
There the long-winged birds went to roost,
little horned owls, and hawks, and long-tongued
    salt-water cormorants
such as busy themselves upon the sea.
A flourishing vine, luxuriant with clusters of grape
surrounded the mouth of the hollow cave.
Four springs side by side spouted glittering streams
    of water
which were turned to flow away in different directions.
All about were meadows whose soft earth was covered
    with blue violets
and smallage.

    As the practiced hewer Odysseus must know at a glance, Kalypso's virid alders (Alnus glutinosa) have a bark such that when the live wood is cut its color turns from white to bloody red. This incarnadine evidence of a wood-spirit's residence in the tree, and visible proof of the injury which may be done to the indwelling nymph by cutting, made the alder emblematic of dryads in ancient Greece. Homer does not call Kalypso a dryad, but she has the dryads' emblematic wood both living and dead in peculiar abundance on her island.

    Homer did however repeatedly describe groves of black poplar (Populus nigra) such as obtain around Kalypso's cave as temenea of dangerous female divinities, as for example of Persephone, dread queen goddess of the dead (κ 508-10). As for the third species of timber said to abound about Kalypso, cypress, it was a favorite planting at gravesites in ancient Greece. The connotations of all three kinds of Kalypso's woods are thus uniformly parlous.

    The birds wherewith Homer populates Kalypso's grove are just as cheerless as are the trees around her cave. Like the line that enumerates the trees (verse 64), the list of birds (verse 66) is cast in slow, heavy (in this context one might reasonably say ‘lifeless’) spondaic rhythm. The birds are all killers and flesh-eaters, aquatic and terrestrial birds of prey that live by dealing death to other creatures and picking over carrion. In this connection it is probably more than just coincidence that the classical Greek conception of the man-eating Sirens found in Homer (μ 39-46) gave to them exaggerated shapes of various birds of prey. Like the superficially innocent, winged predators around the cave on Ogygie, the Sirens too (whose danger odysseus had already once escaped) were sweet-voiced, deceptively attractive, but deadly creatures who like Kalypso's birds also dwelt in the interior of the island though they might get their victims from the sea (ε 67).

    If the shady grove outside Kalypso's grotto is ominous in both its animal and vegetable attributes, the sunny meadows nearby are no better. Here grows a luxuriant voluntary crop of the plant Apium graveolens, called selinon in Greek, the English smallage or ‘wild celery" (ε 72-3). It was explicitly sacred to the dead in ancient Greece, worn in wreaths by the winners of funeral games and hung directly on tombs in homage to the dead.

    The violets growing in the same fields (Viola odorata; verse 72) had a more active principle. Used herbally to remedy a wide variety of nervous ailments, the violet was anciently regarded as a general analgesic and soporific, a plant with what the latter English herbals called a ‘sovereign power’ to deaden the senses. Wine made from wild grapes such as those hanging at the entrance to Kalypso's cave was anciently imagined to be more potent than cultivated vintage; one does not forget that a common ancient conception of the deceased psyche's state-of-mind in the House of Hades was one of irreversible inebriation.

    Alder, poplar, cypress, smallage, and violet all bespeak moist, even sodden ground. Continually watered by her four-headed spring, Kalypso's surroundings are thoroughly wet, and therein too she is mortally dangerous; adult males in particular were at risk of their lives in proximity to running springs of water according to ancient superstition. Her environs are nevertheless a kind of paradise where, as in the Biblical Eden (Genesis 2, 10 seqq.) each of four streams flow away in different directions (ε 71). Hesiod (Theogony v. 359) explains that Kalypso is wet by origin, being one of the elder daughters of Okeanos and Tethys (hence an Oceanid), and thus a sister to the world's Rivers. Kalypso's name is usually interpreted as implying that she is by character an enveloping force, ‘she who hides, covers, conceals’ (as the waves of the sea may cover and conceal a drowned man). A cognate of her name, καλπύτω, is used to describe sea water's enveloping concealment of another wise male in another passage of the Odyssey that concerns another water-nymph (δ 402).

    Homer repeatedly asserted Kalypso's identity as a nymph (ε 14, 30, 57, 149, 153, 196). (The other conspicuous nymph in the Odyssey is of course Kirke, of whom in this respect as in so much else Kalypso is a reprise -- the same kind of reprise in the ancient Greek tale as Evening-Star is of bear-girl in the story of Asdiwal). A ‘nymph’ (νύμφη, ‘bride’) was the immanent, nubile feminine vitality in various productive (‘living’) natural objects such as springs and streams of fresh water, trees, and flowery meadows. Ancient writers after Homer's time had names for various particular species of nymph. A tree-nymph was termed a ‘dryad’ (δρυάς), a water-nymph was a ‘naiad’ (ναϊάς), and flowery-meadow-nymphs were ‘leimakids’ (λειμακίδες). The daimon Kalypso is thus a sort of super-nymph, possessing dominion over, and the power of, dryads, naiads, and leimakids all three.

    Coming to Ogygie as he did from near-drowning at sea, Odysseus has escaped saltwater (where he was at least mobile) only to become the thrall of a fresh-water sprite who keeps him immobile in her fresh-water wetness for seven whole years. So Kalypso is an ancient counterpart of the man-destroying water-may in such modern traditions as the British ballad of Clerk Colville (Child ballad 42) or the Nixe of German Märchen. A composite of forest, meadow, and water-nymphal characteristics, Kalypso is a powerful goddess who offers to her consort all the good things that nature can bestow on men. She is destitute of nothing except social and human cultural assets. Gratuitously kind and nourishing towards Odysseus, she yet imposes on him the insupportable deprivation of a solitary confinement away from all his own human kind, separated especially from those things which as a right-thinking man he values most of all, his fatherland and parents. Like the Biblical Yahweh in the story of Eden, she offers her guest the prospect of an unending animal contentment in a natural paradise for which the guest is however mentally and emotionally unsuited.

    Odysseus is grateful to Kalypso for saving him from a castaway's anonymous death, but he fears her caprice (ε 171-9). Under her green trees, he seems to be united forever with Kalypso, but paradoxically it is precisely from this location that he is finally released to return to the really permanent and indissoluble social alliance demarked by the hewn wood in ψ 181-204. Both the captivity and the release come to him gratuitously, as they must under green wood; neither has he earned or deserved the one or the other. In sum, Kalypso is a perfect specimen of the unpredictable, alternately kind and dangerous ogre whom one expects the wandering cosmotact to encounter at the green wood in traditional oral fable everywhere.

    Like Asdiwal alone in heaven with Evening-Star, Odysseus too finds that he cannot be content with endless bliss in a ménage-à-deux cut off from all commerce with others of his own faulty and mortal kind.

    In the face of so many tokens indicating Odysseus' death, Hermes' flying mission to remote Ogygie must be interpreted as a delegation to resurrect as much as merely to ‘release’ him. What to the gods is only the power of movement is life itself to men. So at the behest of the great sky-god Zeus Kalypso lets her beloved consort go back to his own people, just as at the behest of the Sun Evening-Star let Asdiwal return to live with the Tsimshian. Once during his lifetime the Greek and Tsimshian hero alike dies violently, each on the eve of an idyllic interlude with a beautiful, powerful, and devoted paramour. But their idyllic, barren isolation cannot last, for each hero is destined to a peaceful not a violent death, in a real not an imaginary world, and neither can abide the intervening paradoxical paradise of his perdition which is at the same time the hell of his salvation. Ogygie and the darkening sky of Asdiwal's final sojourn among divinities thus have much in common. To escape the terrible paradox of this place, Odysseus and Asdiwal alike resume their long journeys from green wood to hewn, and out of the company of transiently interesting women toward that of their respective mortal Penelopes.

    Like a child receiving its first instruction in star-lore, each hero gets a lesson in elements of astral navigation before his release (ε 271-7). The goddess is tender and motherly toward her departing consort (ε 180-3), who in each case discourses with her as his last immortal collocutrix on a long journey between a final meeting with his real mother and a final reunion with his permanent mortal spouse. According to Hesiod (Theogony 346-7), Kalypso like all her immediate brothers and sisters is a special patroness of the young everywhere; certainly her solicitude and possessiveness toward Odysseus show the same curious mixture of mother's and lover's concern that characterized the Tsimshian Evening-Star.

    For Odysseus, two divine females, Kirke and Kalypso, are transiently interesting consorts. Other commentators have noted how alike these two goddesses are, and how contingent on Kirke Kalypso is. So too was Asdiwal's Evening-Star a contingent, subsidiary aspect of his bear girl. Midway in their experience with these two temporarily captivating, similar, and designing females, both Asdiwal and Odysseus visit their own mothers for the last time. When finally Kalypso and Evening-Star release their socially starved thralls, both heroes move on to a meeting with another gracious and helpful woman who is also praeternaturally though not divinely endowed.

    This being, Nausikaa or the Mouse Woman, dwells in an insular, infrequently visited, but nonetheless humanly accessible place; Odysseus and Asdiwal agree in leaving her untouched during a soujourn as house-guest in her male-dominated dwelling.

    From the company of this woman both heroes are wondrously transported homeward to a reunion with an ordinary mortal woman who is mother to their children and who remains loyally expectant of their return during the indeterminately prolonged absence of their journeys. Like Gilgamesh escaping from the unwanted attentions of the praeternatural Ishtar, Asdiwal and Odysseus also literally hew their way home to a calmer life within the scope of ordinary human occupations and powers.

    Odysseus' story is longer and hence shows more wood both verdant and hewn than does Asdiwal's. Kalypso makes a man and a proper cosmotact of her human consort when she puts a cutting blade with a haft of olive wood into his hands (ε 234-6):

δῶκέν οἱ πέλεκυν μέγαν, ἄρμενον ἐν παλάμῃσι,
χάλκεον, ἀμφοτέρωθεν ἀκαμένον· αὐτὰρ ἐν αὐτῷ
στειλειὸν περικαλὲς ἐλάϊον, εὔ ἐναρηρός·

She gave him a great axe suited to the grip of his hand,
with a sharp double-edged head of bronze, fitted with
a tightly fastened, very beautiful haft of olive wood.

Then she leads Odysseus away from her wet grotto to the far end of Ogygie. There a stand of long-dead and naturally cured timber offers material for a raft whereon he may escape the island. The first ‘Homeric’ Hymn to Aphrodite tells in vv. 259-263 how much more seemly a mate for Kalypso wingèd Hermes would have been than was Odysseus; so too would wingèd Hatsenas have bee a more likely mate for the Sun's daughter than was the earth-born Asdiwal. The same Hymn tells furthermore (vv. 264-272) how such a stand of dead trees as that on the dry end of Ogygie may mark the place where nymphs have died. Their death is Odysseus' deliverance, for once they are dead he may hew their trees with impunity, and the dry alder, poplar, and fir of ε 239 all do actually make exceptionally light and floatable wood, as Homer later says they do.

    Before their final adieux, Odysseus and Asdiwal both enjoy one last intimate twilight encounter with their sublime paramours. Asdiwal -- now become Potlatch-Giver -- and Evening-Star:

Then they went down again on the rays [feet] of the sun. They arrived again behind the houses. Then the woman embraced her husband at once, and she kissed him, and for a while they were happy. After she had done so, they parted... .
So Odysseus and Kalypso (ε 225-7; 233):
ᾭς ἔφατ᾿, ἠέλιος δ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἔδυ καὶ ἐπὶ κνέφας ἦλθεν·
ἐλθόντες δ᾿ ἄρα τώ γε μυχῷ σπείους γλαφυροῖο
τερπέσθην φιλότητι, παρ᾿ ἀλλήλοισι μένοντες.
. . . . . . .
καὶ τότ᾿ Ὀδυσσῆϊ μεγαλήτορι μήδετο πομπήν.

When he had spoken, the sun went down and the dark
    of evening came on.
Withdrawing then into the deep recesses of the hollow
they two shared with one another the solace
    of lovemaking and abode side by side through
    the night.
And so she gave herself to thinking how she should
    send great-hearted Odysseus safely on his way.

    Like Asdiwal, Odysseus is on good terms with the deities of the upper world -- such Olympians as Zeus, Athene, and Hermes. In both tales it is at sea that vengeance is exacted against them and retribution sought for past injuries. Odysseus takes his raft of dead nymphs' trees to sea, and there he encounters once again the wrath of the sea-faring Poseidon, who would exact of him a full price for such of his earlier exploits with hewn wood as the blinding of Poseidon's kinsman Polyphemos. For Odysseus, death is by fate pontic (λ 134).

    Vengeance at sea is equally the cause and the occasion of Asdiwal's last great ritual hewing. So in both tales the husband and father returning from feats of conquest is retributively stopped and detained in insular places while his faithful wife waits uncertain of his return, and while his youthful son matures. When Asdiwal returns from his prolonged sea-voyage and sojourn on a remote island, he undertakes in cooperation with his wife to purge inimical males from the place where during his absence she has dwelt faithfully awaiting his return. The same sentence describes also Odysseus in the Odyssey.

    Death and resurrection at the hand of an otherworldly mistress in the remote land of his captivity is the pivotal point in the career of this long-suffering and resilient hero, be he ancient Greek or modern Tsimshian. From it, the hearer of the tale goes forward to his destiny and backwards to his origins. Yet it matters curiously little which way one chooses to look from this crux, whether backwards or forwards, for as it is with Asdiwal, so it was with Odysseus: his destiny and his origins are replicas of each other. The cosmotact's career obviously makes his world less hazardous and better regulated in some important respects than it was before he came into it. But a more subtle and more valuable benefit which he also leaves in the world at the end of his story is the possibility derivable from the likeness of his origin and his destiny of retrieving and recycling his regulatory wiliness when it may again be needed after he is gone. Thus may the force of imagination in fable engender invention in the real world.

    The further one looks back into Odysseus' earlier life before Ogygie, the more mature, wily, and self-reliant he seems, while after Ogygie he grows like Asdiwal after his Himmelreisen ever more dependent on others, ever more moved than mover. Drawing upon that earlier strength of the cosmotact, Homer makes Odysseus after his resurrective release from Ogygie achieve his destiny through rehearsal of his past (books 9-12). It is a past dominated by his experience of sundry techniques of food-getting and food-culture on the one hand, and by his association with several different kinds of women on the other.

    Asdiwal/Potlatch-Giver's Three Women occur in four persons. The first two are only transiently interesting persons: Bear Girl/Evening-Star (the Sun's daughter), and the Tsimshian chief's daughter whom he meets and marries at Ginaxangiget. Then comes the Mouse Woman, in whose father's house he dwells for a considerable time with good-will but without any liaison with the daughter. Finally there is the woman of Potlatch-Giver's permanent alliance, the woman of the Gitxala tribe whom he marries, leaves, to whom he returns, and who bears him the only son whose childhood he witnesses.

    Odysseus' several feminine encounters obey the same pattern. Kirke, Kalypso, Nausikaa, and Penelope are respectively a pair of Transiently Interesting Women, a Woman to be respected but Left Alone, and a Woman of Permanent Alliance. Like Asdiwal's Evening-Star, Kalypso was a solitary goddess. Not so her precursor Kirke, who like Asdiwal's bear girl is a person accustomed to various society. Like Bear Girl, Kirke is also daughter of the Sun (κ 135-8), dwells in the land of the Sun's shining (μ 1-4), and freely changes human shapes into beastly ones or vice versa. The putting off of animal hair marks the transition from bestioform to anthromorph as much for Kirke as for Bear Girl (κ 393-5). Kirke's rites over a pit restore the dead (κ 517-530) as do Bear Girl's. When he meets her, Odysseus at first acts as though he would slay her (κ 321-322), just as Asdiwal would have slain the Bear Girl at their first encounter; but like Asdiwal he becomes her lover instead (κ 346-37). Odysseus' fame precedes him to his first meeting with this divine female just as the Tsimshian hero's did, and Kirke takes him into her bed as precipitously as did the Sun's daughter in receiving Asdiwal (κ 330-5). While he resides with the daughter of Helios, Odysseus like Asdiwal makes an excursion with the help of his divine consort to visit his mother. And when finally he gives up housekeeping with the Sun's daughter, his mother too is permanently lost to him.

Kirke Bear Girl
Kalypso Evening-Star

    The two tales really are the same, despite the absolute absence of any historical connection between them.

    Asdiwal by trickery escapes being eaten by a cave in a "living mountain" [¶ 54], which consumes [¶ 57] his travelling companion instead. Odysseus by trickery escapes being eaten by a cave-dweller big as a mountain, who consumes his travelling companions instead (ι 177-470).

    The supernal sky-king Zeus/Sun intervenes, causing the second of Odysseus'/Asdiwal's two supernal consorts definitively to release her human bedmate and enable his travel to an intermediate location within human range of his homeland when he grows homesick in her remote company.

    Ino/Leukothea in the guise of a gannet bestows her veil on Odysseus, enabling him to weather the storm at sea before he is received by a hospitable population of distant islanders who provide for his return home effortlessly in a miraculous sea-going vessel (ε 333 seqq.). Hatsenas as bird bestows his blanket on Asdiwal, enabling him to weather the storm at sea before he is received by a hospitable population of distant islanders who provide for his return home effortlessly in a miraculous sea-going vessel [¶ 109].

    This virtually placental integument preserves the man in the storm until the wind and the sea subside, then he sleeps. Nausikaa/Mouse Woman awakens him from his slumber and mediates his introduction into the male society of her island, who first entertain him, then lend him their nautical equipment for this transit home.

    Having miraculously returned home by sea, Asdiwal/Odysseus contrives with his loyal wife's cooperation a strategem to kill male enemies who outnumber him. Then he enjoys a time of tranquil prosperity with the wife who remained faithful to him while living during his absence in a house full of men who mostly — but not quite all — wished him dead.

    There is certainly no historical connection or interchange between ancient Mediterranean and Pacific Northwest native culture that might be invoked as plausible reason for such congruences. Much of the narrative about Odysseus and Asdiwal is evidently of more extreme antiquity that that, an inheritance implicitly both pre-AmerIndian and pre-Hellenic.

    Kirke is as mutable an ogress in greenwood as is Kalypso (κ 194-7; 210), but Homer did not describe her glens and forests in such detail as he did Kalypso's. Persephone's grove of willows and black poplar in Hades (κ 509-510) get more attention than Kirke's, less than Kalypso's. Not until Odysseus comes to Scherie, the island of the Phaiakians, does the arboreal imagery of his journey become really luxuriant with the breaking of the live branch to cover his nakedness (ζ 127-9), the contingent evocation of the gentle herbivores and the ravaging predator (ζ 130-4), the likening of Nausikaa to a sprouting palm tree in a holy place (ζ 160-9), the discovery of a grove sacred to Odysseus' protectress Athene (ζ 291-2), and the fabulous, perpetually fruiting orchard of Alkinoös (ζ 112-131).

    Concurrently with this elaboration of green arboreal scenes, Odysseus learns to articulate the sadness of his losses and his longing for home. On Aiaie he forgets and his companions must remind him of the need to go home (κ 469-486); then, when he learns even a small part of how difficult his return is to be, he reacts in a mindless and speechless way (κ 496-500). On Ogygie his mourning is more measured if not more articulate (ε 81-4; 148-158); on the other hand he needs no one there to remind him that home is best. When finally on Scherie the greenwood fruits and for the first time the possession of it is male, Odysseus finds his tongue and in methodical verse he tells the gathering of noble Phaiakians all his woe. Having come thus to deliberate, detached thought about himself, and having gained the absolving power of measured narration, he is at last ready to go home to Ithake and to hid inheritance of Laertes' orchard, Homer's ultimate green wood.

    Like Asdiwal's, Odysseus' fame among women progressively diminishes as he passes from association with Kirke and Kalypso toward a final assertion of his domination over male rivals at home. His Two Transiently Interesting Females on Aiaie and Ogygie have foreknowledge of him just as Bear Girl and the princess at Ginaxangiget knew of Asdiwal before they met him. Contrastingly, Nausikaa knows nothing of Odysseus but what he tells her, and Penelope is not even willing to believe that much without compelling proofs. Yet the males whom Odysseus meets know him progressively better as his wanderings proceed, from Polyphemos who stupidly thinks him Nobody to the men of Ithake who confront him in the final battle of vendetta in Book Twenty-Four. At the penultimate stage of this progression, Asdiwal and Odysseus alike come as ironically naked and failed would-be conquerors to the praeterhuman quasi-society of Nausikaa/Mouse Woman's insular people.

    Important as they are, the ages of his life and the changing social affiliations of the cosmotact are still only consequences, not the motives of his career. He is motivated rather by the need to eat (his own and that of his social dependents) and by the incidents that occur during the travels resulting from that need. Odysseus' famous comment to Alkinoös about the vileness of the belly and the wretchedness of mankind resulting from it (η 215-221) is not merely generalized philosophical observation but implicitly also a factually exact prolog to Odysseus' story of himself personally.

    The cosmotact's ‘wanderings’ are richly instructive for him and for those who hear his story; the mythic originals of travelogue have in the various forms of oral traditional fable always been primary vehicles of education. The fictitious ancient Greek and modern Tsimshian traveler is each an unsurpassed paragon of manhood whose superiority is established by a double series of Wanderings rich in inverted similitudes. The accumulation of experience achieved by these Wanderings is metered by reference to the cosmotact's arrival at each specific place in the double series, what he finds and what he does there. Just as Asdiwal advances in age and rank through a series of translocations with corresponding changes in his personal resources of strength and status, so Odysseus too ‘wanders’ through different kinds of place and experience between Ilion and Ithake.

    Asdiwal's Wanderings are a twofold series of transhumant movements causing him to halt long or briefly in twice seven locations, some unique but some also reprises under altered circumstances of places he has visited before.

The Wanderings of Asdiwal

  1. Canyon
  2. heaven
  3. Canyon
  4. heaven
  5. Canyon
  6. Ginaxangiget
  7. Metlakahtla
  1. Ksemaksen
  2. Olachen Place
  3. Laxalan
  4. sea-lions' rock
  5. Laxalan
  6. Ginadas
  7. nameless mountaintop
    1. Asdiwal arrives at the first of his stopping places in each of the two series having left a formerly regulating but now incapacitated noble relative behind: the decease of the elder chieftainess at the eastern extreme of the total territory over which Asdiwal moves precedes his change of location with his mother downstream along the Skeena River to Canyon; and the incapacity for travel of his father-in-law the Tsimshian chief causes the latter to be left behind at Metlakahtla when Potlatch-Giver makes the fateful move with his coeval affines to Ksemaksen, where he suffers his single most serious unrecoverable misfortune. Opposite to Canyon, which marks the easternmost boundary of traditional Tsimshian tribal territory, Ksemaksen lies at the westernmost territorial boundary. The first place in the second sequence of the twofold series of Wanderings is thus for Potlatch-Giver, as it was for Odysseus, the scene of his greatest uncompensated loss.

    Having arrived at Canyon with his Tsimshian mother, Asdiwal proceeds to desert her there due to his prideful superiority as a hunter. Having arrived at Ksemaksen with his Tsimshian wife, she proceeds to desert him there due to his prideful superiority as a hunter.

    Such ‘inverted similitudes’ characterize the Wanderings of Asdiwal/Potlatch-Giver and of Odysseus throughout.

    2. The shared significance of the second two places, heaven and Olachen Place, is oleaginous.

    At the end of winter, Asdiwal goes first to heaven pursuing a prime live specimen of Kermode's Bear that her nature obliges him however to forfeit in exchange for a supernal non-Tsimshian wife. But once he has arrived on her territory, he finds himself challenged to a singular set of highly specialized provisioning tasks. He accomplishes the first and greatest of these labours, and the only one that requires him to obtain a specific foodstuff, by acquiring, compacting, and porting all the (richly caloric) belly- and kidney-fat (but none of the meat, skins, bone or horns!) of hundreds of magical mountain-goats [¶ 44]. This involves him in a prodigious (but nonetheless handily executed) labour of pressing [¶ 49]. Thus does Asdiwal extract and deliver all the fatty matter of a single species of terrestrial animal.

    Again at the end of winter, at the second step in the second sequence of his Wanderings, Potlatch-Giver exchanges this time an entire set of four dead bears for yet another non-Tsimshian wife, though now only an earthly one [¶ 98]. Following her onto her non-Tsimshian tribal territory, he is again confronted with a very specialized labour of foodstuff-extraction by pressing, this time however from a single species of fish, the olachen running in the Nass River, which must first be drawn UP out of the water BEFORE they are processed for their fatty fish-oil (rather than like the mountain-goats of heaven slid DOWN off the mountain AFTER the work of pressing). Again none of the prey's meat, skin, bone, scales, or other matter is to be ported, but only the fish-oil -- the solid residue of the olachen after processing being always by ritually binding custom left behind onshore at the end of the run to rot away unused.

    Asdiwal dealt heroically and singlehandedly with the mountain-goats of heaven, but is prosaically in no wise distinguished from everyone else, both Tsimshian and Gitxala, in the communally shared business of olachen-pressing.

    3. At the third step in the first sequence, at Canyon Asdiwal's mother ritually endows him with his new name Waxayek, Potlatch-Giver, but is she who gives the actual potlatch, not he [¶ 80], and the name itself is only a hopeful predictor of a bright future for him, not at all a statement of present fact. Only at the same third step in the second sequence of his Wanderings, among aliens at Laxalan in Gitxala territory, does Potlatch-Giver finally achieve the promise of his name and become in reality a famous prestater.

    4. Maximally contrasted females and the dominant native male in each of their different worlds supply the inverted similitudes of the fourth locations, heaven (for the second and final time) in the first sequence, and in the second sequence the sea-lions' rock at the absolute seaward limit of Potlatch-Giver's range, well beyond the traditional confines of either Tsimshian or Gitxala territory.

    Evening-Star and Mouse Woman belong respectively to heaven and the underworld, the first being by nature a tenant of space above Potlatch-Giver's native ambience, and the second contrastingly belonging to space beneath it. Both are solitary females in otherwise entirely male societies, and the function of both at these stages of his career is to be a guide to Potlatch-Giver, who otherwise has no means of finding a way down to salvation.

    The Sun's daughter gets Potlatch-Giver into her world in the first place as a bear, the largest of terrestrial mammals; Mouse-Woman gets him into her world as the smallest of terrestrial mammals.

    The regent male power in Evening-Star's heaven uses seafarer's gear to restore Potlatch-Giver to life when she has left him for dead [¶ 86]; the regent male power in the sea-lion's subterraneum uses seafarer's gear to restore Potlatch-Giver to life when all his male affines have left him for dead [¶ 118]. Both make repeated gestures before finally succeeding in their restorative manipulations.

    5. Arriving at the fifth step in the first sequence, his mother's place of residence at Canyon, Potlatch-Giver finds that she has died during his absence, and he immediately departs. This is his third and final coming to Canyon, but this time, like Odysseus coming for the second time to Aiolie, nothing detains him, and whatever further awaits him in his career, none of it will happen to him here. His departure definitively terminates his erstwhile matrilocalism; he will never again dwell in any place determined by a mother.

    Arriving at the fifth step in the second sequence, his Gitxala wife's place of residence at Laxalan, Potlatch-Giver finds that she has remained alive during his absence, and he settles down to serious work and prolonged residence with her there.

    This is his second and final coming to Laxalan, but this time he devises a final solution to the worst social problem of his life. At the third step in the second sequence of his Wanderings, Potlatch-Giver finally proved the validity of his name and won the celebrity in other men's minds that his mother had predicted for him due to his excellence as a giver of potlatches. But now, in contrast to that earlier benefit of success in male rivalry, during his second stay in Laxalan he deals decisively and conclusively with the detriment of his success in male rivalry, namely the resentment of and malice towards him of other, jealous men, in particular his coeval affines. He now ends this recurrent affliction once and for all, curtailing his anonymous Gitxala wife's family in just the way it needs to be restructured to suit himself; then he stays on at length to enjoy the most enduring stability in his relationships with other earthly men and women that he has ever known.

    When however, having remained for years as a settled adjunct of his Gitxala wife's truncated family, he does once more move away to another place, the move is final, and it definitively terminates all his erstwhile uxorilocalism. He will never again dwell in any place determined by a wife.

    6. At the sixth step in his double set of Wanderings, Potlatch-Giver goes first to Ginaxangiget, where he obtains a proper Tsimshian wife; then in the second sequence he goes to Ginadas, where he obtains a proper Tsimshian son, his and his first, Tsimshian wife's child, now grown to manhood.

    7. Metlakahtla, the seventh step in the first sequence of the Wanderings, was a kind of ‘capital city’ of the Tsimshian tribe, a permanent lowland settlement that was their cultural hub. The very name of the place, Metlahahtla, was redolent with signification of everything distinctive and valued in the Tsimshian way of life. Going there, Potlatch-Giver was however a mere transient, passing through on his way to other places entirely beyond Tsimshian territory, where the greater part of his future existence was destined to be located.

    At the same seventh step in the second sequence of his Wanderings, Stone-Slinger was again a mere transient, just incidentally passing through on his way to other places entirely beyond Tsimshian territory, where the whole mobile part of his future existence was destined to be located. An inverted similitude of Metlakahtla, this second seventh place was a highland cultural void in nameless wilderness, where his earthly residue remains transfigured as stone, and his imperishable component departs in the company of his psychopompic father Hatsenas.

    Just as Asdiwal advances in age and rank through a series of translocations with corresponding changes in his personal resources of strength and status, so Odysseus too ‘wanders’ through different kinds of place and experience between Ilion and Ithake. And again like Asdiwal, Odysseus' vulnerability, fortitude, wisdom, and human appeal are greatest whenever he returns to a place of adversity like (but not identical with) one he has already previously survived.

    Odysseus relates his Wanderings to the Phaiakians in books Nine through Twelve of the Odyssey. Journeying by sea, he makes, in all, sixteen landings while visiting thirteen different places between Troy and Ithaka. Six of the places are, however, palpable replicas of another six, so that he makes a few second landings at literally identical places while revisiting even more numerous multiforms of places whose kinds he has already seen once in a different light.

    Sailing from Troy with a gallant fleet of twelve ships (ι 159), Odysseus comes first to Ismaros, a walled city of the Kikonian people. Taking them by surprise, he and his troops raid their livestock and slaughter many of their sheep and cattle for food. But the Kikonians, being like the Trojans familiar with horses, and organized as the Trojans were for close cooperation and defense, rally and repel the attackers, of whose number they slay seventy-two. The number of men killed on the one side and livestock on the other was perhaps not dissimilar in this incident, given the size of the flotilla to be fed by the raid.

    The mainland coast of Troia and its walled city Ilion where a place where the prize to be won or lost in the give and take of battle was an entire multinational empire -- mythically the world's greatest of its time -- and all the wealth concentrated at its capital. It is a far cry from that glorious past joint Achaian campaign at Troy to the lesser incursion of Odysseus' lesser following on the Kikones' mainland coast at Ismaros, where the most to be gained in battle is a single revictualling of the ships' crews before their voyage continues. Both the Odyssean flotilla and Ismaros are but surviving subsidiary fractions and fragments of the Achaian league and the Trojan empire respectively, both of which collapsed with the fall of Troy.

    The next stopping-place, again a mainland coast, represents a still greater diminution of both opportunity and of challenge to the travellers. Taking refuge from tempestuous seas on a nameless, uninhabited mainland beach, Odysseus and his countrymen followers have nothing to gain there but delay, and feats of arms are of no avail against storm-winds.

    Thence the Achaian fleet goes to a wholly different place, the land of the Lotouphagoi, Lotus-eaters, where hardly any features of Trojan or Kikonian life obtain except by inversion. Unlike the normal, omnivorous Kikonian or Trojan, the Lotus-eaters subsist entirely as vegetarians, and that upon a single species of plant. Knowing no labor, not to speak of military skills, the Lotouphagoi are apparently social, though it can hardly matter whether they are socially organized or not, since their forgetful way of life robs society of any meaningful function.

    Whereas the Kikonians like the Trojans would repulse aggressors or be obliterated in the attempt, the Lotouphagoi simply absorb any who come to them in their mindlessly insouciant way of life. Much ink has been spent in attempts to identify the historical and cultural background of this mythical people, but their real meaning lies simply in their utter dissimilarity regarding sustenance, communal identity, and defense from the people of Ilion or Ismaros (or Ithake). From the beginning then, the Wanderings of Odysseus are like Asdiwal's an education in the manifold conceptually possible varieties of personal and communal life.

    Next Odysseus visits the region inhabited by the Kyklopes, who like the Kikones and Lotouphagoi are a mainland people. He is curiously well-informed about them, for he never has any personal experience of them except for his brief and nearly fatal stay in and about Polyphemos' cave. Like the Sirens, Rovers, Skylla, and Charybdis, the Kyklopes are collectively horrors past which he sails at the price of some of his men's lives without actually wanting to call upon them as he did the Kikones and the Lotouphagoi. It is as though he had learned by hearsay before coming to their region -- from whom we are not told --all he cared to know about the general traits of Cyclopean culture (ι 105-115), as later he learned from Kirke's talk about the Sirens, Rovers, Skylla, and Charybdis. As when later he sails to the land of the dead, Odysseus does not actually seek out the center of their culture, any more than he visited the ‘house’ of Hades itself.

    Instead he seeks out neutral ground, where from a kind of periphery he can inquire about their individual existences. He does this with a clear objective of gain by prestation, hoping for guest-gifts from some Cyclopean notable. He lands first on a deserted off-shore island, his first island landfall since leaving Troy, and one anticipatory of Ithake in its coastline. It is a place of refuge and repletion for Odysseus' men, being full of wild goats at hand for the taking. The place either has no name, or the word of unknown meaning that is applied only to it anywhere in the Homeric texts, Λάχεια -- Lacheia, is its name.

    This island is within easy sight of the mainland, and leaving behind all but one of his ships and crews, Odysseus crosses to visit Polyphemos. At Ismaros he had wanted to attack and flee quickly, while his men had preferred a self-indulgent lingering. Now it is Odysseus who stubbornly will not rape and run, while his men are contrary-minded.

    This inversion of his attitude corresponds with inversions in the Cyclopean way of life as compared with the Kikonian. The Kyklopes do no work, yet have flocks and vegetable food in abundance, all of it springing voluntarily without cultivation or care in breeding. Like the Lotouphagoi in their carefree habits, yet the Kyklopes are not forgetful. They have not even the vestiges of any larger society or institutions except the nuclear family, which is however perfectly functional among them. They have been called ‘noble savages.’

    Against this general background, the rude bachelor Polyphemos lives somewhat eccentrically in a cave at the very seaward edge of the Kyklopes' district. He is as it were the last outpost (from the Cyclopean point of view) of civilized life. Beyond lies the island Lacheia where Odysseus' men and ships are temporarily harbored, the wilderness place which forms the next step after the Lotouphagoi in the progression of Odysseus' experience since Ilion.

    If Troy was a walled culture sacked, the Kikonians at Ismaros were a similar urban people who successfully repelled their attackers. The inert Lotouphagoi and craggy, energetic Kyklopes are another such contrastive pair, both with relation to each other and as a pair of loosely communal peoples vis-à-vis the tightly organized Trojans and Kikonians. The deserted island Lacheia off the Cyclopean coast is just a further logical possibility in the same progression, a place (like Ithake) perfectly capable of sustaining even the most complex kind of mixed inland and maritime economy (ι 131-9), but in fact unpeopled by any race. To this place Odysseus returns after his escape from the hellish cave of Polyphemos, who in the midst of abundant meant-animals prefers to eat instead the flesh of men and make the meat-animals his society.

    Thence Odysseus sails again to a first stop at the last of his destinations in this series, the Aiolian Isle, which presents yet another change rung upon the subjects of economy, marriage, location, and receptivity to aliens.

    Aiolos' Isle floats freely upon the sea, having no fixed location, while its people are hospitable only to those upon whom the great gods smile. In regard to marriage customs and social organization, the Aiolian Isle is perfectly endogamous, deriving all its social affiliations from the single principle of consanguinity. Like the Lotouphagoi subsisting on a single source of nourishment and Polyphemos seeing with but a single eye, the Aiolians similarly subsist upon a single source of social order. Such singular and unitary systems are easily conceivable, and Odysseus' Wanderings bring him experience of many such, if only to demonstrate to those who will eventually hear his story their unsuitability for viable communities of mankind in the real world.

    Finally, degrees of historical awareness come also into the progression of Odysseus' experience from Troyland to Aiolie.

    The events at Ismaros are just what might have happened earlier at Troy had no single-minded determination to sack Ilion been forged there in the minds of men and gods alike. But the events at Ismaros are only reminiscent of that past, and yield no glimpse -- present no model -- of things to come. Among the Lotouphagoi, all consciousness of either past or future is dead, and therein is their chief horror. From them Odysseus moves across an invisible distinction between retrospection and foresight to Polyphemos, who is horrible in other ways, but not quite so horrible as the Lotouphagoi in regard to awareness of time. Polyphemos himself has no meaningful past, nor will he consent to hear any narrative of the past from the lips of Odysseus, but he effectively curses Odysseus with an accurate divination of Odysseus' future troubles (ι 528-535).

    Not until Odysseus comes to Aiolie do past and future take on an instrumental connection, for in the hospitable home of Aiolos he has for the first time someone to listen while he recounts all his own history since Ilion, as earlier he had futilely volunteered to do to the violently rude, bestially inhospitable Polyphemos (ι 258-271), who would have none of it. To narrate his past is implicitly to analyze it, and as though to reward the analysis Aiolos forthwith bestows on the narrator the power to go forward into his future. Having thus been articulate about what preceded, Odysseus may turn squarely toward what is yet to come, and fittingly on leaving Aiolie he briefly glimpses Ithake (κ 28-30), the land of his ultimate destiny. But his uncircumspect followers, who unlike Odysseus do not understand what has gone before, greedily loose Aiolos' bag of adverse winds that sweep Odysseus with them back to the logical beginning of their voyage and a complete reprise in even more violent form of all that has already befallen them since their departure from Ilion. The curse of Polyphemos will be fulfilled and Odysseus must glimpse much more of the future beyond that curse before he may come home.

    So instead of landing on Ithake, Odysseus is forced to a second landing on Aiolie. It is his eighth landing in only six places, and every time he lands again at the same place, it is to an island that he returns. Always the island is a refuge between progressively more terrible experiences of mainland or seaward horrors. So Lacheia off the Cyclopean coast was a refuge from Polyphemos, and Aiolie at the eighth landfall is refuge from the storm that destroys Odysseus' hope of immediate homecoming when he is so near his native country that he can even see the figures of people going about their ordinary business there. So too is Aiaie a refuge after the disaster at mainland Telepylos and again after Odysseus' visit to the ghastly shades of Hades. Only when he stops returning for temporary refuge to other islands can Odysseus finally return for lasting shelter to Ithake.

    But first he must achieve a broader experience of the several ingredients that together constitute life on Ithake. That knowledge is the truest and most useful knowledge of the future that a man can have. To gain it, Odysseus voyages through a second sequence of fictitious places with their various artificial refractions of the elements of life in the real world. The second sequence is exactly parallel to the first, though differently colored. The sequences of the ancient Greek Wanderings are eight in number instead of the Tsimshian Asdiwal's seven; the only systematic difference is that, belonging to a transhumant culture, Asdiwal has no such particular sedentary localization of πατρὶς γαῖα καὶ τοκῆες -- his fatherland and parents -- as does Odysseus on Ithake.14

The Wanderings of Odysseus

  1. Ismaros
  2. nameless mainland shore
  3. land of the Lotouphagoi
  4. Lacheia
  5. land of the Kyklopes
  6. Lacheia
  7. Aiolie
  8. Aiolie
  1. Telepylos
  2. Aiaie
  3. land of the dead
  4. Aiaie
  5. Thrinakie
  6. Ogygie
  7. Scherie
  8. Ithake
    1. The travellers approach the Kikones of Ismaros belligerently, dine at their expense, and after the natives gather their forces are attacked with the loss of many (74). Odysseus is cautious here, while his followers are not.

    The travellers approach the Laistrygones of Telepylos (Lamos) irenically, but the natives gather their forces and then attack the travellers and dine at their expense, stoning, spearing, and eating eleven of the flotilla's twelve crews like fish caught in a tidal pool. Only Odysseus and the crew of his flagship survive, he having again been cautious when his followers were not.

    2. After the loss of many comrades, the survivors land dispirited on a nameless mainland beach from which they are unable to depart for a time due to storm. The place is uninhabited, and offers neither shelter nor provisions. When after a short while they do depart, the direction to be taken is unproblematical and no help is needed to plot their course.

    In the second sequence, after the loss of many comrades the survivors land dispirited on an island beach from which they are free to depart when they please, but shelter and provisions are to be had there and they remain for a year. When however they do at length decide to depart, the direction to be taken is inscrutable, and it is impossible for them to proceed without divine help in plotting and maintaining a course.

    3. What the Lotouphagoi habitually ingest in the sunlit land of the living destroys their memories, while they retain however all the other characteristics of living men's strength and substantiality. What the dead inmates of the tenebrous house of Hades ritually ingest contrastingly restores their memories, while they remain however devoid of all physical strength and substantiality.

    4. Lacheia is Odysseus' staging ground for an expedition during which the landbound cave-dwelling male monster Polyphemos will eat six crewmen out of his own ship. Before coming into Polyphemos' presence, Odysseus had no notion that he would lose six of his men. His followers, both those who will die and those who will survive, are reluctant to approach the monster, but he insists that they do. The voyagers spend the day before they begin this expedition feasting to repletion at the island's expense.

    Aiaie is Odysseus' staging ground for an expedition during which the seafaring, cave-dwelling female monster Skylla will eat six crewman out of his own ship. Before coming into Skylla's presence, Odysseus knew that this would infallibly happen, and that exactly six would perish. His followers, both those who will die and those who will survive, are reluctant to approach the monster, but he insists that they do. The voyagers spend the day before they begin this expedition feasting to repletion at the island's expense.

    5. Polyphemos on the Cyclopean mainland permits none of his multitudinous cattle to be eaten until his single organ of sight is extinguished. Having thereby achieved invisibility to the cattle's owner, Odysseus is able to despoil the cattle, but their owner Polyphemos implores a higher power (his father Poseidon) to avenge the loss and punish the plundering intruders. The petition succeeds and the plunderer is punished.

    Helios/Hyperion, owner of the multitudinous immortal cattle on Thrinakie, permits none of them to be eaten and has inextinguishable agents of sight watching all that transpires on the island, those agents themselves being invisible. When nevertheless his cattle are despoiled, their owner implores a higher power (Zeus as weather-god) to avenge the loss and punish the plundering intruders. The petition succeeds and the plunderers are punished.

    6. Leaving Polyphemos' mainland demesne to return intentionally to the island Lacheia, Odysseus is forced back and forth along his course at sea, and threatened with destruction from above as the huge boulders hurled at him by blind Polyphemos narrowly miss his bow and stern, nearly foundering his ship.

    Leaving Thrinakie to arrive ultimately (though he has no plan or foreknowledge of it) at Ogygie, Odysseus is forced back and forth along his course at sea and threatened with destruction from below by Charybdis after his ship is smashed and even it last flotsam founders.

    Having however after nearly being killed in shipwreck safely reached Lacheia for the second time, Odysseus promptly readies his fleet and puts to sea with it to continue his voyage, there being no question about the direction to be taken.

    And then, in the second sequence, despite having nearly been killed in a shipwreck that did in fact destroy all his shipmates, Odysseus nevertheless safely reaches Ogygie, where he is marooned for seven long years before finally being able to ready a sea-going raft for himself and putting out to sea on it, there being again no question about the direction to be taken.

    7. Coming for the first time to Aiolie, Odysseus finds the first hospitable, mixed civil society of men and women that he has witnessed since leaving Troyland. The hospitality of Aiolos, the ruling male, extends even so far as to providing for the travellers' safe voyage onward to their own country. Only the faulty minds of the compatriots who travel with him prevent the intended immediate homecoming.

    Coming for the first time to Scherie, Odysseus finds at this seventh step in the second sequence of his Wanderings the first hospitable, mixed civil society of men and women that he has witnessed since leaving Aiolie at the seventh step in the first sequence. The hospitality of Alkinoös, the ruling male, extends even so far as to providing for the traveller's safe onward voyage to his own country. This time there are however no compatriots making the voyage with him whose faulty minds might in any way interfere to prevent the intended homecoming, and even Odysseus' own mind is completely inactive as he sleeps a deep sleep of the kind ‘nearest unto death’ throughout the entire voyage in the Phaiakians' magic vessel.

    8. At the eighth and last step of the first sequence, Odysseus comes for the second time to Aiolie, where he is unwelcome and will not be entertained. It being an alien place, he has no choice but to move on, seeking acceptance of himself as himself elsewhere.

    And coming at long last to Ithake at the eighth step in the second sequence, Odysseus as Odysseus is unwelcome and will sooner be murdered than entertained. It being however this time his native country, he has no choice but to move on from seeming and claiming to be Odysseus to gaining acceptance and advantage in Ithake itself through seeming and claiming instead to be someone else.

    Manifestly, inverted similitudes are not confined to coordination between the two symmetrical sequences of either Asdiwal's or Odysseus' Wanderings. They obtain also within each sequence separately, and asymmetrically between the two sequences, imparting to the Wanderings as a whole an even greater capacity for expressing ‘like-but-different.’ Asdiwal finds himself, for example, among shamanic mountain-goats whose lives he completely extinguishes at the very apex of his cosmic experience, at the top of the quaking mountain in heaven; but at the geographic nadir of his experience he is himself a shaman who restores life completely to the sea-lions in their disease-wracked subterranean habitate.

    So too the Laistrygones at Telepylos (Lamos) are, like the Kikones at Ismaros, a socially organized people, but the former have also the cannibal tastes of the Kyklops Polyphemos. Like the Kyklopes, the Laistygones are physically gigantic; but whereas Polyphemos blindly missed Odysseus' single ship when he attempted to stone it with boulders from the shore, the Laistrygones' aim with the same and other missiles is deadly against all but one of the twelve vessels in Odysseus' fleet. Only one ship of Odysseus' fleet was at risk in the encounter with Polyphemos, but it narrowly escaped destruction, while the other eleven were out of danger throughout the episode. Only one ship of Odysseus's fleet was safely out of danger throughout the episode of encounter with the Laistrygones, while the other eleven were at risk and every one of them was destroyed.

    If the Kikonians were an organized people resistant to intruding aliens, the Laistrygones are many times more so. Here the defenders feast directly upon the intruders' flesh, not the intruders upon the natives' flocks and herds as at Ismaros, and there is no useful gift like Maron's wine to be taken away from Lamos and used to subdue Odysseus' next foe. Instead, he loses eleven twelfths of all that he brought with him to Telepylos. As at Ismaros, this is again what might in principle have happened earlier at Ilion had men and gods united in the determination that it should stand and the Achaian invaders be, as Hektor intended, so punished and reduced as never to think of laying seige there again. Thus all the theoretical alternatives to the actual outcome of the Trojan War are canvassed in the typology of events during the Wanderings of Odysseus.

    Contrasting with Telepylos in the same manner as the land of the Lotouphagoi contrasted with Ismaros, the place of Odysseus' next landing, Aiaie, is a venue like that of the Lotouphagoi, governed by an herbal essence where some of Odysseus' surviving companions are temporarily detained through an enchantment. As Telepylos was an inversion of the experience at Ismaros, so Aiaie yields inversions of Odysseus' experience with the Lotouphagoi. The lotus overwhelmed intruders and aliens, but the herb Moly overwhelms the most powerful magic native to Aia and so directly serves the intruding alien Odysseus.

    Among the Lotouphagoi, visitors might lose their minds but not their human forms or their ability to comunicate; but on Aiaie men's minds remain intact while their forms change and they lose the power of speech. As at Telepylos, elements of Cyclopean culture persist also on Aiaie, though in an inverted state. Maron's wine, a vegetable product of an almost occult vintner's art gotten from a Kikonian priest of Apollo at Ismaros, was Odysseus' primary weapon against the uncultivated Polyphemos. The problem posed by Polyphemos was artless brutality, and Odysseus' successful device against it was the artfully ensorcelling, cultivated substance of Maron's wine. Kirke however poses the problem not of brutality (only her thralls are brutal) but of a deeply cultivated sorcerous art of her own in the making of potions. No imported artifice however rare will do against her, because she is the unequalled mistress of all potions. So Hermes personally intervenes, giving Odysseus the rare, uncultivated, and raw herb Moly that is native to Aiaie as the only sure antidote for Kirke's profound magical contrivances.

    Thus art (Maron's wine) may serve against untamed nature (Polyphemos), and natural material (Moly) against art (Kirke). This is just another of the many lessons taught through the adventures of his Wanderings that cumulatively fit Odysseus for his eventual dominion in Ithake. When the gods give men material gifts, the physical matter of the gift is usually not more valuable than the attendant metaphysical principle which the gift betokens. Just as his wingèd father Hatsenas gave Asdiwal a praeternaturally potent token of natural matter (a magc chip of ice) with instructions how he should use it to escape the peril of being treated like a meat-animal, so wingèd Hermes gives Odysseus the white-flowered herb Moly as protection against the same danger.

    Escaping that peril, both cosmotacts enjoy a prolonged though impermanent amorous liaison with the Sun's daughter. The apotropaic gift to the cosmotact and its social consequences are similarly motivated in both the Greek and Tsimshian account, for while Hatsenas, the Tsimshian messenger of Heaven, is Asdiwal's father, Odysseus' maternal great grandfather is the Greek messenger of Heaven, Hermes.15

    From Aiaie where men lose their human shapes but keep their intelligence, Odysseus passes to the place of the dead on the far shore of Okeanos, where human kind retains neither sense nor subtance but is only mindless, flitting shadows. Like the Kyklopes, the inmates of of the House of Hades also know no labor, and are a lawless people without institutions. Here too the populace dwells underground (λ 36-37) in a place without light of the sun, and like the Kyklopes (though for different reasons) the dead also "care nothing for Zeus of the aegis."

    As elsewhere between the two sequences of Odysseus' Wanderings, inversion obtains also between the land of the Kyklopes and the land of the dead. The nerveless dead are an exact inversion of the Kyklopes, who as exemplified by Polyphemos are nothing but enormous, self-sustaining masses of rude physical energy and willful force. In contrast to them, the dead have neither strength nor will. The dead are pure disembodied identities, the mere reputations of men and women who once were, and as such are completely tractable to outsiders. The only peril from association with the dead is the danger that one may, by loss of one's own will and bodily strength, become like them, become as it were nothing but an historical remembrance of oneself. So the dead tell Odysseus their autobiographical anecdotes and care for nothing but the due performance of ritual.

    The Kyklopes on the other hand know and care nothing about ritual, and are so completely intractable to outsiders that they not only have no individual identities themselves, but are also incapable of properly recognizing the identities of others. Sacrificing wine and meat unceremoniously to a Kyklops renders him temporarily unconscious, but a duly ceremonious sacrifice such as that Odysseus makes to the dead temporarily revives them.

    As earlier Odysseus sailed past the Cyclopean social horrors to a place of refuge and repletion for his men on a deserted offshore island, so after his visit to the dead he lands again briefly on Aiaie, and then sails past the praeternatural physical horrors of the Sirens, Rovers, Skylla, and Charybdis to a place of hunger and perdition for his men on the island of Thrinakie. As earlier he found wild flocks of goats, of which he had no foreknowledge, roaming free for the taking on the uninhabited island Lacheia, so now he finds the Sun's domestic herd of cattle, of which he has been repeatedly and strictly forewarned, roaming forbidden to him on divinely inhabited Thrinakia, whose inhabitants like their master the Sun see all and keep constant watch on his movements and those of his men though they themselves are invisible. The earlier, uninhabited island Odysseus could leave and return to at will, but Thrinakie he cannot leave when he wants to, and cannot return to once he has left it.

    Thence he goes in the first instance to the grotesque, solitary, mainland male cave-dweller Polyphemos, and in the second instance to the lovely, solitary, insular female cave-dweller Kalypso. Having gone there of his own free will, Odysseus finds that Polyphemos will not release him from his cave; but once Odysseus escapes he can take ship and get away by water when he chooses. Kalypso lets him come and go at will to and from her cave, but he has no ship in which to get away from her, and he came to her in the first place through no choice of his own. Polyphemos exerts himself to stop Odysseus' going; Kalypso aids and facilitates it.

    Thus in some respects Polyphemos and Kalypso are inverted replicas of each other, as are Thrinakie and the deserted island off the coast of Polyphemos' homeland. In other respects they are direct duplicates of each other. Thus Lacheia and Thrinakie have no mortal inhabitants, and the divine ancestors of Polyphemos and Kalypso alike are, by different lineages, personifications of watery nature (Kalypso a daughter of Okeanos and Tethys, and Polyphemos descended from Pontos through Phorkys' daughter Thoösa and Poseidon).

    Finally Odysseus comes to the double of Aiolie, Scherie. Both are the homelands of comfortable, hospitable, and peace-loving societies with magical accomplishment as seafarers (the Aiolians on their self-sufficient floating island itself, the Phaiakians in their many and intelligent ships). These are both insular kingdoms where the traveller may call once and be well-received, but not a second time. In both places Odysseus narrates to the king the whole cumulative tale of his adventures since leaving Ilion, and thence puts to sea for the final voyage by night home to Ithake. Both times sleep overcomes him as he travels, but from Scherie he sails as passenger in an alien vessel, not in his own ship as from the Aiolie, and so is set down, still asleep, on his native shore. In the end he achieves his goal without even so much as a glimpse of his actual approach to it, in stark opposition to the heartbreaking sight of unattainable homely life on Ithake when his foolish comrades loosed Aiolos' bag of winds.

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