A Levantine Myth

The NASA’s Discovery Program has proposed a new mission called Trident, which, much like the three-pronged spear carried by the ancient Roman sea god Neptune, is set to explore Neptune’s largest and most unusual moon, Triton [1].  In Greek mythology, Triton was the son of Poseidon, who is Neptune in Roman myths. Triton, as Neptune’s son, blows a sea conch [2]. Triton, as Neptune’s moon, runs retrograde, As Neptune rotates, Triton orbits in the opposite direction and no other large moon in the solar system does that. Triton has an unusual atmosphere with charged particles, a layer called the ionosphere which is 10 times more active than that of any other moon in the solar system. The question arose from when NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by Neptune’s strange moon Triton three decades ago; How could an ancient moon six times farther from the Sun than Jupiter still be active and if there were something in its interior that is still warm enough to drive the resurfacing  activity observed in the images taken by Voyager 2. This trait is strange because ionospheres are generally charged by solar energy, but Triton and Neptune are 30 times farther from the Sun than Earth, so researchers hypothesise that some other energy source must be at work. (Factoid: It takes 165 Earth years for Neptune to complete one orbit around the Sun). The Trident mission will launch sometime in October 2025 (with a backup in October 2026) and would take advantage of a ‘once in a 13-year’ window, when the Earth is properly aligned with Jupiter so that the spacecraft can use the gravitational pull of Jupiter as a slingshot straight to Triton for an extended 13 day encounter in 2038. I was intrigued by the icy volcanism hypothesised of Triton,  that somehow merged with my poem today, on a surprisingly and seemingly distant topic as can be found in a Levantine salad called tabbouleh [3].

A new Discovery mission proposal, Trident would explore Neptune’s largest moon, Triton, which is potentially an ocean world with liquid water under its icy crust. Trident aims to answer the questions outlined in the graphic illustration above.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Now there’s a place called Jonestown, a Northern Lebanon town, where beneath approximately 12.4 square miles, with dimensions of roughly 2 by 6 miles lies the Jonestown Volcanic Field [4]. There’s no volcanic activity there, but it is a mysterious area where the bedrock isn’t well exposed. The volcanics here are composed of igneous rocks (e.g. basalt) which became ‘overprinted’ or deformed during when the ancient supercontinent Pangaea assembled. It is possible that the volcanic rocks came from underwater volcanoes of a mid-ocean ridge or seamount that leaked magma, which cooled into rocks and slowly moved farther away from their point of origin. There is limestone around this volcanic field area, the age of which is unknown since it contains no fossils. The area is also thickly covered in vegetation which makes it difficult to analyse the soil. Reddish-purple soil, for instance, would indicate igneous rocks, unfortunately, most of the igneous rocks around Jonestown are quite weathered and fractured which makes this analysis difficult [5]. Now you see, Jonestown is actually a borough in Lebanon County in Southeastern Pennsylvania and you may have thought it to be somewhere in the Levant 🙂

Sunday Tabbouleh

Sunday had something of the Levant in it. In fact it was lovely with friends and we even celebrated Lebanon as we took over some Tabbouleh that I was able to make and a delicious Baba Ganoush, which I finally got the hang of. I’ve been inspired thus, to write a poem for Tabbouleh, for Lebanon, for the volcanic field of Lebanon county and share my recipe too. The universe is generous in its prompts 😉

An early sculpture by the Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini at the Victoria and Albert Museum of London from1622–1623. Carved from marble. The scene is thought to be making loose allusions to Neptune and Triton aiding Trojan ships as described, by Virgil or Ovid or both, together with additional material. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Neptune bids Triton to blow his shell to calm the waves. Picture Credit: Yair Haklai (Wikipedia) [7]

I also tried to revisit characters in Virgil’s Latin epic poem Aeneid, those of Aeneas and Dido. There is something about the epic building exercises of writers that make books and ideas potent, dangerous and powerful [6], especially since they haunt the imagination long after the text loses its relevance. Academic interest helps to perpetuate myth, project ideas, thread them into contemporary narrative. In the myth of Aeneas and Dido, I find once again the sad tropes of emotional lustful females and calculating dutiful males, that haunt the patriarchy of ancient Rome, its marble male stoicism. The intervention of Neptune, Venus, Cupid, Juno, Jupiter and other heavenly bodies, obliterates free will and I am led to conclude that writers of popular epics tend to undercut the idea of a free evolution by a rigid fatalism of sorts, in self fulfilling descriptions of war as inevitable, morals as convenient struts, a veil of perceptive haze and other such. So I take a leaf out of Virgil’s characterisation and strive to rehabilitate Dido, from her fatal distraction (by the serial deserter, the Trojan Aeneas, through the unfortunate intervention of Cupid and Venus) to reclaiming her wholesome power as the resultant icy volcanics of the innards of the Earth. I also took a bit of liberty with nomenclature here, to epitomise or perhaps embody Dido in Gaia (Her Latin equivalent would be Tellus or Terra, but this Roman goddess sounds a bit marginalised unlike Gaia). I believe, trauma makes us lose personal power in that we volunteer it to a soul lethargy, to life ennui, to the blackout of sadness. Myth-making helps us process turbulence, then again, myth-borrowing (taking Virgil too seriously for example) obstructs self care and self reconstruction. It is important to make our own myths, I believe.

I know it all seems like a convoluted way to arrive at a poem (I should come around to changing its style and structure later, if I feel), but given my habit of circling a mountain before arriving at the top, I should think nothing would trigger fear in the descent then, ha ha 😉

A Levantine Myth

In Parsley, a Levantine munificence accreted together in Tabbouleh,
herbage that covers fractured bedrock in a poultice of healing.

Secreted within, lie igneous outpourings of bloodied tomatoes, 
those solid affections that had welled through an ocean floor 

as Neptune quelled Gaia's contractions, her waters seeking to burst 
beneath the wrinkled surface of a salty sea. She, an underbelly of sky,
pregnant in the overwhelm of magma, sweating out her heart in fire, 
muted like a moon of Neptune, in his retrograde soliloquies, yet mirroring

hers in icy resurfacings of skin. The God of the Sea,  boils an amnion  
to hazy mists, how deep will his trident plunge to dislodge those Trojan ships 

of deceptions ? Yet, Triton blows a conch for Gaia, not for man's duelling 
and his warring tribes. He soothes her feverish gnashing of thighs

labouring continents. Some fires burn in water, like desultory heartbeats
moving the pace of rocks through the ocean floor, spiriting away

to stranger places still, marking maps of memories in the beauty of 
a stillborn magma. The limestone they say is no blood relation to such

alien fructification, those oceanic intruders, bleeding still, spilling
secrets in reds and purples. The acid tears spilled in lemons merely 

neutralised in syllables, sedimented to a community of  limestone, 
that possess no archaic remnants reminiscing through dead bones,

an age of glory. Now beauty lies in herbage over once raucous magma
and traces of a salty sea, freshness of life trailing her veins, in fragrance of Parsley

This is a bit of a retrograde recipe for Tabbouleh. It consists not of bulgar wheat, but red quinoa. Seasoned simply in lemon juice and salt, as per taste, the way to make flavourful Tabbouleh is to source very fresh herbs. I used flat leaf parsley, coriander leaves and some mint. The diced tomatoes need to be drained and the quinoa cooled before use. Add extra virgin, cold pressed and unfiltered olive oil for salve, so to speak. You can try scooping up the salad with lettuce leaves or finely chop lettuce hearts into the mixture. Add cumin and paprika if you like and spice is the flavour of life. Don't worry about measures and such technicalities, this isn't a mission to Triton 🙂






[5] Tristan J. Ashcroft, (University at Albany, State University of New York), thesis, Field relations, structural geology, and geochemistry of the Jonestown Volcanic Field ~https://scholarsarchive.library.albany.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1005&context=cas_daes_geology_etd