Thursday, January 14, 2016

To Be Greek Mythologically Literate

My original text began with a diatribe against the improper use of the word "Myth".  But since that would be foolish without a proper definition and context, I should begin here instead.  The word itself is derived from Greek mythos (μύθος), which is "story".  The word story then is expanded in terms of how we understand it, within a context, of a story told to explain, or to understand a larger truth.  Creators of the story do not presume literal interpretation, nor do they aim to be scientific.  However, the creation of myths is a cultural thing, and can become a religious or spiritual event.

I have heard for the last twenty years or so that myth equates lie.  That is such a travesty.  I am not a genius, nor have I read all the great works of human history and literature.  But "Myth" does not equate "Lie".  It is one of the vulgar misunderstandings of the present of the purpose of the works of the past.

The point of this is not to scold the language devolution.  It is not to scold people for not reading the ancient writings or myths.  But, to understand some of the greatest stories of all time, it helps to know the original works being referenced.  Cultural literacy is a term that refers to knowing the important events of your culture, and how they work within the framework of life.  Greek culture is probably not your own, but Western Civilization likely is your culture.  So, try reading some great myths, and then some great books.  Maybe you'll be amazed.

Sisyphus was punished, and was made to bear a rock or boulder to push or carry up a steep hill every day, only to have it roll down at the end of his labors, every single day.  Albert Camus wrote using the character of the mythic story to show how humans in our labors might well feel the same way.  We might wonder the point of existence, the value of our life, and why we struggle.  Camus suggested that we live in an absurd world, without instructions, and that through our own struggle and mental clarity and definition, WE make the world less absurd.  He says "You must imagine Sisyphus happy".

Atlas comes into closer view, as a Greek legend, but with more clarity via Virgil, a Roman.  His work the Aeneid featured the journey of a people from Troy across the Mediterranean, to end up in Rome.  He explains that Atlas's name means Long enduring.  And his name is very apt.  Atlas was a titan, a race of giants who competed with the gods and heroes for dominance of the Mediterranean world.  The titans lost a battle with the gods of Olympus, and for siding with the titans he was punished.   Zeus condemned Atlas to stand upon the Earth and hold the Heavens on his powerful back and shoulders.  Ayn Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged as a novel to demonstrate her political and social views in a context of story.  It was not an allegory, but presenting her views in story form.  (Kind of like a myth, right?)  Her view was that human freedoms trumped the need of group safety.  As such her "Objectivism" is shown as a reasonable answer to "Collectivism"  The title refers to Atlas being well being of man, essentially, being weighed down with regulations, and finally overwhelmed, shrugs and fails.

Poseidon was the Greek God of the sea.  He was given the wild, ruthless nature of the sea, as well as the serene glory that the sea can also be.  Many Greek cities held him as their patron deity.  The fabled city of Atlantis was also said to be his home city.  The Poseidon Adventure featured a large ocean liner that is overturned by a "rogue wave" on New Year's Eve.  Rogue waves are the domain of an angry Poseidon, by the way. The title is therefore playing upon the fact that naming a ship, who ventures into the sea, the domain of Poseidon, by the God's very name, to be an act of sacrilege.

Prometheus was a titan and deity in Greek mythology who was the creator of mankind and its greatest benefactor.  He gave mankind fire stolen from Mount Olympus and fought along side of Zeus versus Chronos and the Titans.  Prometheus Unbound speaks to the unchaining Prometheus from his punishment (having been chained to a rock and having birds eat his liver).  The first writer of a story about Prometheus Unbound was Aeschylus, and that was a collection of three plays. Shelley's work is a closet play never meant to be made for stage.  In Shelley's work Prometheus is released from chains.  He was also freed within the work of Aeschylus, but his version was happier.  Zeus and Prometheus are made to reconcile. Not in Shelley's work, in his work, God and Titan are not reconciled because Zeus has fallen, and mankind and Titans have risen.  That is, it is a comment upon the world we live in, that WE have reconciled and freed Prometheus, our benefactor, by our learning, thinking, and advancements. 

'Never regret thy fall,
O Icarus of the fearless flight
For the greatest tragedy of them all 
Is never to feel the burning light.'


Icarus flew too close to the sun, his father had fashioned wings from feathers and wax, and had warned him, the sun would melt the wings.  The story is long suggested to be a warning against hubris, the false beliefs in oneself, and such.  I also believe it is about the dangers of youthful risk taking.  His father was a genius.  It is probable, perhaps a guess on my part, that Icarus was a dick, but, maybe a genius kid who was a dick.  So he said fuck that advice, I am flying.  Imagine being a kid, 16 years old, told don't go over 55 or the car would explode, and having a highway that is empty of traffic in every direction.  You are free to speed, but do you.  The answer is of course, up to you, or up to your risk tolerance.  I love this mythic story.  It is multi-layered, and I take all of its layers to heart.

I have not read this book, so I cannot offer a concise reading of it, but ...

"FROM PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY:  A century of unwise American military adventures is probed in this perceptive study of foreign policy over-reach. Daily Beast and Time contributor Beinart (The Good Fight) highlights three examples of Washington's overconfidence: Woodrow Wilson's hubris of reason: the belief that reason, not force, could govern the world; the Kennedy-Johnson administrations' hubris of toughness during the Vietnam War; and George W. Bush's hubris of dominance in launching the Iraq War. In each case, Beinart finds a dangerous confluence of misleading experience and untethered ideology; the Iraq War, he contends, was fostered both by a 12-year string of easy military triumphs from Panama to Afghanistan, and a belief that America can impose democracy by force. (The book continues the author's ongoing apology for his early support of the Iraq War.) Beinart's analyses are consistently lucid and provocative—e.g., he calls Ronald Reagan a dove in hawk's feathers, and his final conclusion is that Obama will need to... decouple American optimism from the project of American global mastery. The book amounts to a brief for moderation, good sense, humility, and looking before leaping—virtues that merit Beinart's spirited, cogent defense. (June)

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