Monday, January 10, 2011

Rapture vs Ecstasy

Rapture means, literally being "seized by force," as if one were a prey animal who is carried away. Caught in the talons of a transcendent rapture, one is gripped, elevated, and trapped at a fearsome height. To the ancient Greeks this feeling often foretold malevolence and danger -- other words that drink from the same rapturous sources are rapacious, rabid, ravenous, ravage, rape, usurp, and surreptitious. Birds of prey that plunge from the skies to gore their victims are known as raptors. Seized by a jagged and violent force, the enraptured are carried aloft to their ultimate doom.

Ecstasy also means to be gripped by passion, but from a slightly different perspective: Rapture is vertical, ecstasy horizontal. Rapture is high flying, ecstasy occurs on the ground.

For some reason, the ancient Greeks were obsessed with the symbol of standing and relied on that one image for countless ideas, feelings, and objects. As a result, a great many of our words today simply reflect where or how things stand: stanchion, status, stare, staunch, steadfast, stature, and constant. But there are also some unexpected ones, such as stank (standing water), stallion (standing in a stall), star (standing in the sky), restaurant (standing place for the wanderer), prostate (standing in front of the bladder), and so on. To the Greeks, ecstasy meant to stand outside oneself. How is that possible? Through existential engineering. "Give me a place to stand," Archimedes proclaimed in the 3rd century BC, "and I will move the earth." Levered by ecstasy, one springs out of one's mind. Thrown free of one's normal self, one stands in another place, at the limits of body, society, and reason, watching the known world dwindle in the distance (a spot standing far away).

Diane Ackerman, An Alchemy of Mind


Post a Comment

<< Home