Hekate - Section A

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Hekate or Hecate (ancient Greek Ἑκάτη, Hekátē, pronounced /ˈhɛkətiː/ [1][2] is a pre-Olympian chthonic goddess associated with childhood, magic, witches, ghosts, and crossroads as well as wealth and prosperity.

Hekate
Hekate

Name, etymology, spelling, and pronunciation

Notable proposed etymologies for the name Hekate are:

  • From the Greek word for 'will'. [2] [3]
  • A native name meaning “the one who works from afar (Εκάς 'far'): far-shooting, far-darter. [2]
  • From the Egyptian goddess of childbirth and fertility, Heqet. [4]

Εκάτη appears to be the feminine equivalent of Εκατός (Hekatos), obscure epithet of Apollo. [2]


Parentage of Hekate

  • Hesiod emphasizes that Hekate was an only child, the daughter of Perses and Asteria, a star-goddess who was the sister of Leto (the mother of Artemis and Apollo). Grandmother of the three cousins was Phoebe the ancient Titaness who personified the moon.


Other References about her parents

  • Perses
  • Zeus & Asteria
  • Zeus & Demeter
  • Zeus & Hera
  • Nyx (Night), as the mother of Hekate was probably identified with Asteria ("the Starry One").

(see: Hekate - Section C (Quotations I)


Offspring

  • None (she was a virgin goddess)
  • Skylla (by Phorkys)
  • Kirke, Medea, Aigialeus (by Aeetes)

(see: Hekate - Section C (Quotations II)


Overview

Hekate is not mentioned in Homer’s work, but she appears in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter and in Hesiod's Theogony, where she is promoted strongly as a great goddess.

According to the most genuine traditions, she appears to have been an ancient Thracian divinity, and a Titan, who, from the time of the Titans, ruled in heaven, on the earth, and in the sea, who bestowed on mortals wealth, victory, wisdom, good luck to sailors and hunters, and prosperity to youth and to the flocks of cattle; but all these blessings might at the same time be withheld by her, if mortals did not deserve them, and was the only one among the Titans who retained her power under the rule of Zeus, and was honoured by all the immortal gods. Hekate assisted the gods in their war with the Gigantes and slew Clytius.

Like Artemis, Hekate is also a goddess of fertility, presiding especially over the birth and the youth of wild animals, and over human birth and marriage. She also attends when the soul leaves the body at death, and is found near graves, and on the hearth, where the master of the house was formerly buried. She was a torch-bearing goddess of the night, the leader of haunting ghosts and inspirer of the night-time baying of hounds. She may have been a goddess of the moon or rather of moonless starlit nights.

Hekate was considered as the consort of Khthonian Hermes. In Thrace she played a role similar to that of lesser-Hermes, namely a governess of liminal regions (particularly gates) and the wilderness, bearing little resemblance to the night-walking crone she became.

Alone of the gods besides Helios, she witnessed the abduction of Persephone, and, torch in hand (a natural symbol for the moon's, light) [5][6], assisted Demeter in her search for her daughter.

On moonlight nights she is seen at the cross-roads (hence her name “trioditis”, Lat. Trivia) accompanied by the dogs of the Styx and crowds of the dead. Here, on the last day of the month, eggs and fish were offered to her. Black puppies and she-lambs (black victims being offered to chthonian deities) were also sacrificed.

(see: Hekate - Section C (Quotations III)

Theories about Hekate’s origins

As for the homeland of Hekate's worship, the early archaeological evidence is concentrated about the Aegean Sea and in western Asia Minor, although it is also possible to origin in Egypt:

Caria, Anatolia

Hekate could have been originated among the Carians of Anatolia, [7] the region where most theophoric names invoking Hekate are attested (such as Hecataeus or Hecatomnus, the father of Mausolus), and where Hekate remained a Great Goddess into historical times, worshiped at her famous temple in Lagina.

If Hekate's cult spread from Anatolia into Greece, it is possible it created a conflict, as her role was already filled by other more prominent deities in the Greek pantheon, especially by Artemis and Selene. This reasoning lies behind the widely accepted hypothesis that she was a foreign deity, who was incorporated into the Greek pantheon. Nevertheless, it has been argued that "Hecate must have been a Greek goddess”, [8] since the monuments to Hekate in Phrygia and Caria are numerous but of late date.

William Berg also observes, "Since children are not called after spooks, it is safe to assume that Carian theophoric names involving hekat- refer to a major deity free from the dark and unsavoury ties to the underworld and to witchcraft associated with the Hecate of classical Athens." But, he cautions, the Laginetan goddess may have had a more infernal character than scholars have been willing to assume."

On the other hand, Robert Von Rudloff states in “Hekate in Early Greek Religion”: “As it is common for Greek deities to serve beneficial and destructive functions that are paired opposites (for example, Apollo as healer and sender of plagues and Artemis as bringer of comfort or death to women in childbirth), Hekate's reputation for governing fearful ghosts might be the "flip side" of Her ability to offer protection against them.” [9]

Thrace

Farnell regards Hekate as a foreign importation from Thrace, the home of Bendis with whom Hekate has many points in common. Hekate is not mentioned in Homer’s works, but in Hesiod [1] she is the daughter of the Titan Perses and Asterie, in a passage which may be a later interpolation by the Orphists. She is there represented as a mighty goddess, having power over heaven, earth and sea; hence she is the bestower of wealth and all the blessings of daily life. The range of her influence is most varied, extending to war, athletic games, the tending of cattle, hunting, the assembly of the people and the law-courts. Hekate is frequently identified with Artemis, an identification usually justified by the assumption that both were moon-goddesses. Farnell, [5][6] who regards Artemis as originally an earth-goddess, while recognizing a "genuine lunar element" in Hekate from the 5th century, considers her a chthonian rather than a lunar divinity. He is of opinion that neither borrowed much from, nor exercised much influence on, the cult and character of the other.

One surviving group of stories suggests how Hekate might have come to be incorporated into the Greek pantheon without affecting the privileged position of Artemis. Here, Hekate is a mortal priestess often associated with Iphigeneia. She scorns and insults Artemis, who in retribution eventually brings about the mortal's suicide. Artemis then adorns the dead body with jewelry and commands the spirit to rise and become her Hekate, who subsequently performs a role similar to Nemesis as an avenging spirit, but solely for injured women. Such myths in which a native deity 'sponsors' or ‘creates’ a foreign one were widespread in ancient cultures as a way of integrating foreign cults. If this interpretation is correct, as Hekate's cult grew, she was inserted into the later myth of the birth of Zeus as one of the midwives that hid the child, while Cronus consumed the deceiving rock handed to him by Gaia. There was a fane sacred to Hekate as well in the precincts of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, where the eunuch priests, megabyzi, officiated.

Egypt

A. It is possible that Hekate’s cult was imported from Egypt, where Heqet (also Heqat, Hekit, Heket etc, more rarely Hegit, Heget etc., written with the determinative frog- Her name was probably pronounced more like *Haqā́tat in Middle Egyptian, hence her later Greek counterpart Ἑκάτη / Hecate), the Egyptian goddess of fertility and childbirth was worshiped. [4]

B. H.P.Blavatsky relates Hekate to Hathor, as the latest represents the lower infernal aspect of Isis. [10]


Identifications

Iphigeneia

Some poets identified Hekate with the goddess worshipped by the tribes of the Tauric Chersonese (the Black Sea Crimea). Hesiod in his “Catalogue of Women” says that Agamemnon's daughter Iphigeneia was carried off to the region and transformed into this goddess by Artemis.

The sacrifice of Iphigenia. Hecate idol on altar.

Artemis

Artemis was frequently identified with the goddess Hekate. In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Artemis the playmate of Persephone perhaps becomes Hekate, the companion of Demeter in the search for her stolen daughter. Hekatos (the far-shooter) was also a common Homeric epithet applied to Artemis' brother Apollon. Depictions of the two goddesses were near identical. The attributes they had in common included a short-skirt and hunting boots, torches and a hunting dog.

Hecate-Artemis-Selene

In Roman-era’s poetry Hekate, Artemis and Selene are often presented to be invoked as a triad (see Seneca, Statius and Nonnus).

Silver coin. (obverse) Bust of Diana Nemorensis right, draped; behind, inscription; before, inscription. Border of dots. (reverse) Triple cult statue of Diana Nemorensis (Diana, Hecate and Selene) facing; behind, cypress grove. Border of dots.

Bendis

After the fall of Troy, Odysseus received Queen Hekabe was received from Odysseus as a captive. During the voyage back to Greece she murdered a Thracian king and was stoned by the locals. The gods then transformed her into a black dog, Hecate accepted her as an animal familiar. In this myth the queen was clearly identified with Bendis, the Thrakian Hekate, who was offered dogs in sacrifice.

Representation of Artemis Bendis

Enodia

It was probably Hekate’s role as guardian of entrances that led to Hekate's identification by the mid fifth century with Enodia, a Thessalian goddess. Enodia's very name ("In-the-Road") suggests that she watched over entrances, for it expresses both the possibility that she stood on the main road into a city, keeping an eye on all who entered, and in the road in front of private houses, protecting their inhabitants.

(see: Hekate - Section C (Quotations IV)

Attributions

Hekate came to be associated with ghosts, infernal spirits, the dead and sorcery. Like the stone piles of Hermes—hermae placed at borders as a ward against danger—images of Hekate (who, like Artemis and Diana, is often referred to as a "liminal" goddess) were also placed at the gates of cities, and eventually domestic doorways. Over time, the association with keeping out evil spirits could have led to the belief that, if offended, Hekate could also allow the evil spirits in. Whatever the reasons, Hekate's power certainly came to be closely associated with sorcery.

Variations in interpretations of Hecate's role or roles can be traced in fifth-century Athens. In two fragments of Aeschylus she appears as a great goddess. In Sophocles and Euripides she is characterized as the mistress of witchcraft and the Keres.

In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Hecate is called the "tender-hearted", a euphemism perhaps intended to emphasize her concern with the disappearance of Persephone, when she addressed Demeter with sweet words at a time when the goddess was distressed. She later became Persephone's minister and close companion in the Underworld. But Hecate was never fully incorporated among the Olympian deities.

The modern understanding of Hecate has been strongly influenced by syncretic Hellenistic interpretations. Many of the attributes she was assigned in this period appear to have an older basis. For example, in the magical papyri of Ptolemaic Egypt, she is called the 'she-dog' or 'bitch', and her presence is signified by the barking of dogs. In late imagery she also has two ghostly dogs as servants by her side. However, her association with dogs predates the conquests of Alexander the Great and the emergence of the Hellenistic world.

When Philip II laid siege to Byzantium she had already been associated with dogs for some time; the light in the sky and the barking of dogs that warned the citizens of a night time attack, saving the city, were attributed to Hekate Lampadephoros. In gratitude the Byzantines erected a statue in her honor. Probably it was her epithet “φωσφόρος” -lightbearer- after which the straits of the Bosphorus were named, slightly corrupting her name. [11]

As a virgin goddess, she remained unmarried and had no regular consort, though some traditions named her as the mother of Scylla or Kirke, Medea, and Aigialeus.

Hekate assisted Demeter in her search for Persephone, guiding her through the night with flaming torches. After the mother-daughter reunion she became Persephone's minister and companion in Hades. Two metamorphosis myths describe the origins of her animal familiars: the black she-dog and the polecat (a mustelid house pet kept to hunt vermin). The bitch was originally the Trojan Queen Hekabe, who leapt into the sea after the fall of Troy and was transformed by the goddess into her familiar. The polecat was originally the witch Gale who was transformed into the beast to punish her for her incontinence. Other say it was Galinthias, the nurse of Alkmene, transformed by the angry Eileithyia, but received by Hekate as her animal.

Hekate was usually depicted in Greek vase painting as a woman holding twin torches. Sometimes she was dressed in a knee-length maiden's skirt and hunting boots, much like Artemis. In statuary Hekate was often depicted in triple form as a goddess of crossroads.

Hekate was identified with a number of other goddesses, including Artemis and Selene (Moon), the Arkadian Despoine, the sea-goddess Krataeis, the goddess of the Taurian Chersonese (of Skythia), the Kolkhian Perseis, and Argive Iphigenia, the Thracian goddesses Bendis and Kotys, Euboian Maira (the dog-star), Eleusinian Daeira and the Boiotian Nymphe Herkyna.


Iynx

Goddess Hekate is associated with a device called “strophalos” or “Hekate’s wheel” about the actual shape of which there have been several speculations:

a. Michael Psellus, a Byzantine Neoplatonist speaks of a golden sphere, decorated throughout with symbols and whirled on an oxhide thong. He adds that such an instrument is called an iynx (hence "jinx"), but as for the significance says only that it is ineffable and that the ritual is sacred to Hekate.

b. Hekate is one of the most important figures in the so-called Chaldaean Oracles; in fragment 194 is mentioned: "Labour thou around the Strophalos of Hecate. This appears to refer to a variant of the device mentioned by Psellus.

c. According to W. G. Arnott , most of the ancient literature deals with the Wrineck’s use in a piece of erotic magic in which a man or woman spread-eagled a (presumably dead) Wryneck and fastened it to a small four-spoked wheel which could then be whirled rapidly in alternate directions by attached strings while she or he chanted incantations designed to attract or bring back a loved one; the wheel itself came to be termed an Iynx, and was often used on its own with either no bird attached or an imitation substituted and indeed the wheel concept came to be used as a metaphor for sexual magnetism or desire.

These birds [The Wryneck] get their English name from their ability to turn their heads almost 180 degrees. When disturbed at the nest, they use this snake-like head twisting and hissing as a threat display. This odd behaviour led to their use in witchcraft, hence to put a "jinx" on someone.

Greek writers provided various mythical explanations of the Wryneck’s connection with erotic magic. Pindar claims that the Wryneck wheel was invented by Aphrodite to help Jason win Medea. Callimachus says that Iynx was originally a nymph, a daughter of Echo, who Bewitched Zeus and as punishment was transformed by Hera into a Wryneck. Other writers made Iynx the daughter of Peitho, her crime that of luring Zeus into an affair with Io. Nicander has one of Pierus’ nine daughters punished for trying to rival the Muses by metamorphosis into an Iynx. The bird is at times figured on Greek vases and in Roman wall-paintings, always probably with its erotic connotations in mind. [12]

The word "jinx" might have originated in this cult object associated with Hekate.

Representations

In older times Hekate is represented as single-formed, clad in a long robe, holding burning torches; later she becomes triformis, " triple-formed," with three bodies standing back to back - corresponding, according to those who regard her as a moongoddess, to the new, the full and the waning moon. In her six hands are torches, sometimes a snake, a key (as wardress of the lower world), a whip or a dagger.

In classical sculpture Hekate was depicted in one of two ways: either as a woman holding twin torches; or as three women standing back to back and facing in three directions. She also appears in a number of ancient vase paintings battling a giant with her twin torches.

The earliest Greek depictions of Hekate are single faced, not triplicate. Lewis Richard Farnell [5][6] states:

“The evidence of the monuments as to the character and significance of Hecate is almost as full as that of the literature. But it is only in the later period that they come to express her manifold and mystic nature. Before the fifth century there is little doubt that she was usually represented as of single form like any other divinity, and it was thus that Hesiod imagined her, as nothing in his verses contains any allusion to a triple formed goddess.

The earliest known monument is a small terracotta found in Athens, with a dedication to Hecate, in writing of the style of the sixth century. The goddess is seated on a throne with a chaplet bound round her head; she is altogether without attributes and character, and the only value of this work, which is evidently of quite a general type and gets a special reference and name merely from the inscription, is that it proves the single shape to be her earlier form, and her recognition at Athens to be earlier than the Persian invasion.” [6]

However, Greek anthropomorphic conventions of art resisted representing her with three faces: a votive sculpture from Attica of the third century BCE, shows three single images against a column; round the column of Hekate dance the Charites. Some classical portrayals show her as a triplicate goddess holding a torch, a key, and a serpent. Others continue to depict her in singular form. [5]

The second-century traveller Pausanias stated that Hekate was first depicted in this so-called Triformis style by the sculptor Alkamenes in the Greek Classical period of the late fifth century. There is a good example of an Hekate Trimorphis in the Vatican Museum and also one in Antiquities Museum of Leiden.

In Egyptian-inspired Greek esoteric writings connected with Hermes Trismegistus, and in magical papyri of Late Antiquity she is described as having three heads: one dog, one serpent, and one horse. In other representations her animal heads include those of a cow and a boar. [6]

Hekate's triplicity is elsewhere expressed in a more Hellenic fashion in the vast frieze of the great Pergamon Altar, now in Berlin, wherein she is shown with three bodies, taking part in the battle with the Titans. In the Argolid, near the shrine of the Dioscuri, Pausanias saw the temple of Hekate opposite the sanctuary of Eileithyia; He reported the image to be the work of Scopas, stating further, "This one is of stone, while the bronze images opposite, also of Hekate, were made respectively by Polycleitus and his brother Naucydes, son of Mothon."
‎ Hecate on the Pergamon Altar.

A fourth century BCE marble relief from Crannon in Thessaly was dedicated by a race-horse owner. (This statue is in the British Museum, inventory number 816.) It shows Hekate, with a hound beside her, placing a wreath on the head of a mare. She is commonly attended by a dog or dogs, and the most common form of offering was to leave meat at a crossroads. Sometimes dogs themselves were sacrificed to her. This is sometimes offered as an indication of her non-Hellenic origin, as dogs very rarely played this role in genuine Greek ritual. [7]

Attributions

Goddess of the crossroads

Hekate's role as a goddess of crossroads actually is a single aspect of the broader role that she played from early times—that of guiding individuals through liminal points and during transitions of many types. Evidence for this larger role includes epithets such as “Enodia”, “Propylaia”, “limenoskopos”, “Prodomos” and “Prothyraea” which describe Hekate's presence at liminal points. [14]

Pillars like the Hermae, called Hecataea, stood, especially in Athens, at cross-roads and doorways, and in front of city gates, perhaps to keep away the spirits of evil.

Cult images and altars of Hekate in her triplicate or trimorphic form were placed at crossroads (though they also appeared before private homes). [15] In this form she came to be known as the goddess Trivia "the three ways" in Roman mythology.

In what appears to be a 7th Century indication of the survival of cult practices of this general sort, Saint Eligius, in his Sermo warns the sick among his recently converted flock in Flanders against putting "devilish charms at springs or trees or crossroads", [17] and, according to Saint Ouen would urge them "No Christian should make or render any devotion to the deities of the trivium, where three roads meet..."


Animals

Dog

Dogs were closely associated with Hekate in the Classical world. "In art and in literature Hekate is constantly represented as dog-shaped or as accompanied by a dog. Her approach was heralded by the howling of a dog. The dog was Hekate's regular sacrificial animal, and was often eaten in solemn sacrament." [7] The sacrifice of dogs to Hekate is attested for Thrace, Samothrace, Colophon, and Athens. [19a]

A goddess, probably Hekate or else Artemis, is depicted with a bow, dog and twin torches.

It has been claimed that her association with dogs is "suggestive of her connection with birth, for the dog was sacred to Eileithyia, Genetyllis, and other birth goddesses. Although in later times Hekate's dog came to be thought of as a manifestation of restless souls or demons who accompanied her, its docile appearance and its accompaniment of a Hekate who looks completely friendly in many pieces of ancient art suggests that its original signification was positive and thus likelier to have arisen from the dog's connection with birth than the dog's demonic associations." [16g]


Snake

Sophocles presents Hecate crowning herself with oak leaves and twisting coils of wild serpents. She is also often depicted holding a snake.


Horse

In Egyptian-inspired Greek esoteric writings connected with Hermes Trismegistus, and in magical papyri of Late Antiquity she is described as having three heads: one dog, one serpent, and one horse. In other representations her animal heads include those of a cow and a boar. Hecate's triplicity is elsewhere expressed in a more Hellenic fashion in the vast frieze of the great Pergamon Altar, now in Berlin, wherein she is shown with three bodies, taking part in the battle with the Titans.

In her three-headed representations, discussed above, Hekate often has one or more animal heads, including cow, dog, boar, serpent and horse. [21]


Fish: Red Mullet and Sprats

Athenaeus [1st or 2nd century BCE], notes that the red mullet is sacred to Hekate, because of the resemblance of their names since the goddess is “trimorphos”, of a triple form. The Greek word for mullet was trigle and later trigla.[19] In relation to Greek concepts of pollution, Parker observes, "The fish that was most commonly banned was the red mullet (trigle), which fits neatly into the pattern. It 'delighted in polluted things,' and 'would eat the corpse of a fish or a man'. Blood-coloured itself, it was sacred to the blood-eating goddess Hekate. It seems a symbolic summation of all the negative characteristics of the creatures of the deep At Athens, it is said there stood a statue of Hekate Triglathena, to whom the red mullet was offered in sacrifice. [20] Another fish mentioned by Athenaeus as sacred for Hecate was the Sprat.

Plants

Hekate was closely associated with plant lore and the concoction of medicines and poisons. In particular she was thought to give instruction in these closely related arts. Apollonius of Rhodes, in the Argonautica mentions that Medea was taught by Hekate, "I have mentioned to you before a certain young girl whom Hecate, daughter of Perses, has taught to work in drugs." [22]

The goddess is described as wearing oak in fragments of Sophocles' lost play The Root Diggers (or The Root Cutters), and an ancient commentary on Apollonius of Rhodes' Argonautica describes her as having a head surrounded by serpents, twining through branches of oak. [23]

The yew in particular was sacred to Hekate. Greeks held the yew to be sacred to Hecate, queen of the underworld, crone aspect of the Triple Goddess. Her attendants draped wreathes of yew around the necks of black bulls, which they slaughtered in her honor and yew boughs were burned on funeral pyres. The yew was associated with the alphabet and the scientific name for yew today, taxus, was probably derived from the Greek word for yew, toxos, which is hauntingly similar to toxon, their word for bow and toxicon, their word for poison. It is presumed that the latter were named after the tree because of its superiority for both bows and poison."[24]

Hekate was said to favor offerings of garlic, which was closely associated with her cult. [25] She is also sometimes associated with cypress, a tree symbolic of death and the underworld, and hence sacred to a number of chthonic deities.[26] Suidas mentions the Rhodians used to wreath Hecate with Asphodel.

A number of other plants (often poisonous, medicinal and/or psychoactive) are associated with Hekate. [27] These include aconite (also called hecateis),[31] belladonna, dittany, and mandrake. It has been suggested that the use of dogs for digging up mandrake is further corroboration of the association of this plant with Hekate; indeed, since at least as early as the first century CE, there are a number of attestations to the apparently widespread practice of using dogs to dig up plants associated with magic. [25]


Places

Hekate was associated with borders, city walls, doorways, crossroads, and, by extension, with realms outside or beyond the world of the living. She appears to have been particularly associated with being 'between' and hence is frequently characterized as a "liminal" goddess. "Hecate mediated between regimes – Olympian and Titan - but also between mortal and divine spheres." [28] This liminal role is reflected in a number of her cult titles: Apotropaia (that turns away/protects); Enodia (on the way); Propulaia/Propylaia (before the gate); Triodia/Trioditis who frequents crossroads); Klêidouchos (holding the keys), etc.

As a goddess expected to avert demons from the house or city over which she stood guard and to protect the individual as she or he passed through dangerous liminal places, Hekate would naturally become known as a goddess who could also refuse to avert the demons, or even drive them on against unfortunate individuals.

This function would appear to have some relationship with the iconographic association of Hekate with keys, and might also relate to her appearance with two torches, which when positioned on either side of a gate or door illuminated the immediate area and allowed visitors to be identified. "In Byzantium small temples in her honor were placed close to the gates of the city. Hekate's importance to Byzantium was above all as a deity of protection. When Philip of Macedon was about to attack the city, according to the legend she alerted the townspeople with her ever present torches, and with her pack of dogs, which served as her constant companions. Hekate was also worshipped in a temple in the area that would become the Hippodrome. Instead of being destroyed, the temple was absorbed into the construction of the Hippodrome, so that the memory of the cult “was perpetuated".[11] This suggests that Hekate's close association with dogs derived in part from the use of watchdogs, who, particularly at night, raised an alarm when intruders approached. Watchdogs were used extensively by Greeks and Romans.

Like Hekate, the dog is a creature of the threshold, the guardian of doors and portals, and so it is appropriately associated with the frontier between life and death, and with demons and ghosts which move across the frontier. The yawning gates of Hades were guarded by the monstrous watchdog Cerberus, whose function was to prevent the living from entering the underworld, and the dead from leaving it." [29]

(see: Hekate - Section D (Quotations V)


Other Sections

This entry continues to:

Hekate - Section B

Hekate - Section C (Quotations I-IV)

Hekate - Section D (Quotations V-VI)

Hekate - Section E (Quotations VII-VIII)