Sunday, 24 January 2016

Tutelary Gods of Sydney

"Sydney" by
The founding of Sydney by Europeans theoretically began on the 26th of January 1788 when a flag was first flown on Sydney’s shore, courtesy of a small number of British officers who had disembarked from the first fleet; it took up to eleven days for the remainder of the men to make their way to shore, at which point the women arrived:
“On February 6 their disembarkation began … Those who had decent clothes had put on all their finery … The last of them landed by six in the evening … as dusk fell the weather burst. Tents blew away; within minutes the whole encampment was a rain-lashed bog. The women floundered to and fro … pursued by male convicts … One lightning bolt split a tree in the middle of the camp and killed several sheep and a pig beneath it. Meanwhile … sailors … asked for an extra ration of rum ‘to make merry with upon the women quitting the ship.’ … Bowes [a doctor who travelled with the first fleet] remarked, ‘it is beyond my abilities to give a just description of the scene of debauchery and riot that ensued during the night.’ … with ‘some swearing, others quarrelling, others singing – not in the least regarding the tempest, tho’ so violent that the thunder shook the ship exceeding anything I ever before had a conception of’ [Hughes, The Fatal Shore, Random House at 89].”
This event marked the true date upon which Sydney was founded and the circumstances were both dramatic and remarkable – it is as if Jupiter took an offering of “several sheep and a pig” for himself by the action of his lightning, while the settlers drank and f—ked in a wild Bacchanalian rite as the storm roared around them.

In the ancient world it was often the case that cities were deemed to be especially protected by certain deities, just as tribes were. Most famously Athena was the tutelary deity of Athens as Artemis was to Ephesus, and Apollo to Miletus.  Juno was the patron Goddess of the Etruscan Veii, while Rome was not content with just one patron deity but proclaimed her people as children of Venus and Mars, while being especially protected by the Capitoline Triad (Jupiter, Juno and Minerva at the time of Caesar) and worshipping the spirit of the city herself as the Goddess Roma. In our own time we might say that Paris is protected by Venus, for she is often called “the city of love”. London is said to be protected so long as ravens reside at the Tower of London, so perhaps is protected by Odin (commonly equated with Mercury; ravens are also associated with Mercury in Roman Mithraism). Australia ranks in the top ten of the wealthiest countries in the world* so it follows that powerful and benevolent deities surely protect this land and her largest city, Sydney, which ranks tenth in the world for quality of living.** It might be that Sol-Apollo looks favourably upon Sydney for the sun shines so well here (and is home to a magnificent fountain with Apollo at its centre), and Neptune, for our beaches are beautiful, or Mercury, for Sydney is a centre of trade and travel, but the foundational events of the 6th of February 1788 surely invoked Jupiter’s divine blessing above all others, a blessing that is continually renewed via the vigorous electrical storms that are so common in Sydney, especially in late summer, when they quell the nearly unbearable heat that often beats down at this time of year. Likewise, the Bacchanalian party (or rite) that ensued on that date suggests that the God of intoxication looked favourably upon the founding of this city. The statistics for Sydney are unclear, but it is known that Australia ranks in the top fifteen in the world for alcohol consumption***  with 38% of alcohol consumed being wine ( Likewise, Australia claims the crown for being first in the world for use of the drug ecstasy ( – a drug that seems to fit in very well with Bacchus’ manic domain. Surely we are watched over with favour by Bacchus, at least it would seem so, while at the apex sits Jupiter hurling thunderbolts. Long may it be so.

Written by M. Sentia Figula.

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