Monday, November 26, 2012
Oh!! Those Greeks…
Have you heard of this quotation “whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make to go mad”? It’s an explanation for the word “Hubris” from the old Greek Classics. Likewise, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” is another favorite quotation of mine from the Homerian classic, The Iliad, where all wars are attributed to the fickleness of a woman’s mind. If you are now scratching your head and wondering why I am inflicting this kind of alpha, beta, pi variation of torture on you, it’s not just to show off my passing familiarity with Greek classics. It’s because woman and war are uppermost on my mind, right now at this late night or early morning (depending on your view) time when I am writing this post, having attended a get-together earlier today. And who better to quote on those two topics of woman and war, than those ancient Hellenic warriors and philosophers of yore?
Given all their recent economic trauma from the Euro-troubles, the Greeks are looked on disdainfully in modern times, by people who have forgotten their past glories. They may not be good with their economics. But they were magnificent when it came to literature, war and philosophy. Anyway to come back to the Greeks, not only did they produce gems like the Iliad and the Odyssey, they also left us with a view of the gods and fate that is far, far different from what later religions have tried to make us believe. The rise of Christianity in Europe and its widespread acceptance in just a few centuries of its founding stamped out all the old beliefs and religions, painting them as paganism. But some of the old sayings do ring true when viewed dispassionately.
God does not play dice with the fate of mankind said the towering intellect of the twentieth century Einstein. But those Greeks had a different view of the gods. An earthier view, so to say. They spoke of the gods as eternally bored immortals with all the capriciousness of a bored child. Consider, the Iliad, where Queen Helen makes a split second decision to cheat on her loving husband with the playboy Paris. The result, thousands dead, Troy sacked and an entire civilization wiped out. Now is that a sign of the gods playing dice or merely the fickleness of a single woman who chose temporary gratification over long term consequences? Can you hold just one woman responsible for the deaths of heroes like Hector and Achilles and for the exile of Aeneas from his beloved country?
Or consider the Odyssey. The hero Odysseus, after much suffering in the Trojan wars, is just a day’s journey away from his home, when some of his men inadvertently hunt down a beast which is on a protected isle of a god, who then decides to take revenge by sending the hero away on a ten year long exile from his own land wandering the seas endlessly. Talk about proportionality in punishment. If that doesn’t speak of the mindless acts of gods what does?
Or take the story of Hercules for instance. The greatest hero of old times successfully completes his twelve tasks which no mortal has ever done before. And what do the gods do? They drive him insane temporarily, make him kill his wife and children by his own hands and then bring him back to sanity to show him the enormity of what he has done, again driving him mad with grief and rage. If that’s not cruelty by the gods what is?
The point I am trying to make is that all the random acts which play havoc with our lives and which believers are at a disadvantage to defend against atheists, can be simply explained by the Greek philosophy of mad gods who play dice with us. Some things just happen. Things which can never be explained rationally. Like falling in love with the wrong person. And instead of looking for complicated philosophic reasons like the heart and its vagaries, it’s better to look for alternate explanations like a mad god who decided to have a little fun suddenly. That’s another way of looking at all the unexpected mysteries of life, the strange paths that life takes on a sudden turn.
And on that note, I would also like to add that it’s difficult for people to be in a common group of friends when someone else is also there who has turned one down earlier. The heart which is on the mend little by little suddenly gets exposed to all the old feelings which flow back in a rush of memories laying bare the old wounds. It’s like scratching at the healing scab of a wound and making the blood flow again. Not something I would recommend. And that’s when I remind myself of the word “Stoic”; a word invented by those Greeks, who knew a thing or two about facing pain. If you don’t know it, the word stoic denotes an otherworldly unconcern for pain amidst suffering. So things have to be endured sometimes for the sake of appearances and when a bunch of good friends have a get together and invite you, it would look churlish to refuse to go just to protect the healing heart from further injuries. So the memories have to be faced in person and the pain has to be endured afresh, all the while under an “I don’t give a damn anymore” kind of external facade and putting on a cheerful, bubbly act to prevent others guessing the truth. Very exhausting that is. Hiding under a pretense of joy.
So to conclude, O you Greek gods, stop interfering in the affairs of men. Go away. Go play other games. And Pallas Athena, Goddess of wisdom, may you grant me the strength to face my trials and tribulations wisely. To conquer my enemies. And to have the last laugh. Hail Minerva.
(Pics Courtesy : Google Images)