Ancient Greek Myths – The Universe, The Gods, And Mortals told by Jean-Pierre Vernant.

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Those who’ve experienced the elementary education offered in Southern European countries can consider themselves lucky, as you really get an introduction to the “Western Civilisation” perspective, rather than the post-modern version void of “the classics.” I remember how we had several volumes of history books for each school year, thick books as well, that offered way more than what my peers and relatives were presented with up North. I recall that the Italian public school system was four years ahead the Norwegian one which is quite something to think about. Even though that was the case there was little that was given away when it came to WW2 and these type of things, probably because of Italy’s role, I can only assume.

If you find yourself in a similar situation to mine, there will be a need for a brush up at one point or the other, which is precisely why I decided to check out the Greek Myths once again.

Some of it made me remember, some of it was new. It was an interesting read and a reminder of how people find new ways to express the same ideas and concepts. The idea of a death ray, for example, is nothing new, as “War of The Worlds” echoes the evil Cyclops who can grill you with their eye, the same can be said of Maleficent from ย “The Sleeping Beauty” , which brings to mind the story of the Golden Apple, thrown into the midst of a party by a disgruntled entity who was not invited, (indirectly or directly depending on how you want to look at it,) starting or laying the foundation for the Trojan War.

Jean-Pierre Vernant is an extremely gifted writer, the preface was stellar and the main text was impossible to put down. I would highly recommend this work!

It is especially interesting to notice how women are being portrayed. There is this popular myth out there that Christianity was created to oppress women in particular, like a vicious plot, since women were empowered under paganism. However, it certainly doesn’t come across as such, when reading how “sexist” the Greek Myths are/were; with the first woman being practically blamed for everything, much like Eve in Christianity. I have not read the Norse Myths yet, but female characters are apparently severely sidelined with male entities of war taking centre stage. This is of course very interesting when thinking about modern narratives…..I’m assuming that our current age of egalitarianism is unprecedented; at least that is the impression I have as of now; but I might come across something that will change my mind in the future.

Here are some cool quotes from the work; as always: I choose to highlight what I consider to be of interest, it is always best to read the original text in its entirety….

How women are described in Greek Mythology.

“Now, the stories show this Pandora, like her whole genos-the whole “race” of feminine women who descended from her – with a particular characteristic: She is always dissatisfied, demanding, self-indulgent. She is never content with what there is; she wants to be sated, surfeited.”

“…Pandora has a voracious appetite, she never stops eating, she must always be sitting at the table … But any household with a woman in it will develop that insatiable voracious hunger. In this sense the situation is similar to what occurs in beehives …”

“Similarly in the human households, on one hand there are the men, who sweat over the fields, break their backs digging the furrows, tend the grain and then gather it; and on the other hand, inside the houses sit the women who – like the drones – ย  swallow up the harvest.”

“Not only does she swallow up and exhaust all the resources, but that is precisely a woman’s main reason for seducing a man: What she’s after is the barn … she sings the young bachelor her big seduction aria because she actually has her eye on the grain stores. And every man – like Epimetheus before them, all agog, transfixed by her looks – every man falls captive.”

“Indeed, woman, the wife, is a fire burning up her husband constantly, day after day, desiccating him and making him old before his time.”

“If a man marries, his life will pretty certainly be hell, unless he happens on a very good wife, which is extremely rare. Conjugal life is thus and inferno – misery after misery. On the other hand, if a man does not marry, his life could be a happy one: He would have his fill of everything, he would never lack for anything – but at his death, who will get his accumulated wealth? It will be scattered, into the hands of relatives for whom he has no particular affection. If he marries it is a catastrophe, and if he doesn’t, it’s another kind of catastrophe. Woman is two different things at once: She is the paunch, the belly devouring everything her husband laboriously gathered at the cost of his effort, his toil, his fatigue; but that belly is also the only one that can produce the thing that extends a man’s life – a child.”

The greatest threat to men:

“Throughout the long journey to follow, at every moment, behind all Odysseus’s adventures with his companions, this forgetting – the erasure of any memory of the homeland, any desire to return to it – forgetting is the constant danger, the evil.”

How the mob is described in Greek Mythology.

“Men make too much racket. There is the ethereal, silent realm where the gods withdraw to think and gaze upon one another, and then there are these humans, jumping about and agitating, shouting themselves hoarse with quarreling. So from the gods’ standpoint, a good war every now and then solves the problem: back to peace and quiet.”

“… the gods shift over to men the responsibility for decisions they shy from, the same way they sent them the misfortunes or baleful fates they wanted to avoid for themselves.”

How the Greeks identified gender….

“He sees some fifty girls there; Achilles does not stand out among them. Odysseus opens his sack and displays cloth and needlework, clips and jewels, and forty-nine of the girls crowd around to exclaim over his trinkets. But one of them hangs back, indifferent.

Odysseus then takes out a dagger, and that pretty little girl lunges for it. Outside the walls a battle trumpet blares: panic in the women’s quarters, the forty-nine girls dart away with their bits of frippery, while just one – with a dagger in hand – heads for the marching music.

Odysseus has unmasked Achilles just as Nestor unmasked Odysseus – and Achilles in turn is ready to go to war.”

“Identitarians” ย according to the Greeks:

” … Those who embodied the unconditional attachment to the unchanging, who proclaimed the need to preserve traditional values against whatever is other from themselves, against whatever questions them or forces them to see themselves differently – these “identitarians,” the Greek citizens confident of their superiority – are the very ones who topple over into absolute otherness, into horror, into the monstrous.”

Just like the Vikings described men of the East as effeminate, well so did the Greeks.

” … Pentheus harbours the idea that a monarch’s role is to uphold a hierarchical system in which men take their proper place, women stay at home, foreigners are not let in, and Asia – the East – is considered to be populated by effeminate folk in the habit of obeying a tyrant’s orders, whereas Greece is populated by free men.”

How feminists are described in the Greek Myths…

” His mother snatches up her son’s severed head, sticks it on the tip of a thyrsus, and marches about in delight with the thing, which in her delirium she imagines to be the head of a young lion or bull impaled on the end of her pike. … she boasts of having been hunting with the men and like a man, of showing herself to be even better at hunting than they. With that mob of demented, blood-spattered women, Agave goes over to Dionysus, who is still garbed as a priest.”

How Warriors are described by the Greeks:

” Cadmus does as instructed … sows the dragon’s teeth. Hardly has he finished than from each tooth springs up a warrior – already full grown and armed in military gear, with helmet, shield, sword, lance, leg guards, and breastplate. Once up and out of the ground, they eye one another with contempt, snarl, and hurl challenges the way men do who live for slaughter, warfare, and belligerent violence – soldiers through and through. Cadmus understands that they could easily turn on him.”

When offered immortality Odysseus turns it down, since he values his family way more, not evenย his encounter with Achilles can change his mind:

“Odysseus had visited the land of the dead; there among the spectres he had heard Achilles say how dreadful it is to be dead, how this phantom with no life or consciousness that a person becomes – this nameless shade – is the very worst future a man can imagine. And now, after his long journey and all his ordeals, Calypso offers him the chance to be immortal and to stay forever young, no longer to fear death and old age.”

“What Achilles says in The Odyssey is the opposite of what The Iliad proclaimed: that Achilles had the choice between a short, glorious life and a long life without glory, and he had never hesitated or doubted for a moment: He would choose a glorious life and heroic death in the flower of youth, because the glory of a short life ending in a fine death was worth far more than anything else. Now he says exactly the opposite: Once a man dies, given the choice he would rather be a poor louse-ridden peasant alive in the most benighted backwater of Greece than great Achilles in the world of the dead.”

What Odysseus sees when he visits death:

“They form a vague mass of beings who used to be individual persons but can no longer be distinguished. From that mass swarming past him there rises a terrifying, unidentified sound. They have no name, they do not speak; it is chaotic noise.”

The island of the sun god.

“The place does belong to the sun, that all-seeing eye.”

Sirens at work:

“But meanwhile, even as these beauties are revealing the Truth with a capital T … their island is ringed by a mass of corpses, flesh decomposing in the hot sun on the beach. These are the bodies of all the men who succumbed to the Sirens’ call and died. … What they say to Odysseus is in a sense what will be said of him when he no longer exists, when he will have crossed the frontier between the world of light and that of shadows, …”

 

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