Arrogance. Fame.

February 21, 2008
By Daniel Kessler, Silver Spring, MD

Arrogance. Fame. Trying to live longer by cheating death. These issues are in our society so much today, it’s almost impossible to miss them. We see them in movies, read about them in books, and learn about them on the Internet. What you might not know however is that these issues were important to societies even thousands of years ago. These themes were repeated over and over again in Greek Mythology. That’s why stories written so many years ago are still interesting to people today.

What you really should know before I start talking about ancient Greek myths is what ancient Greece was actually like. The ancient Greek people told those myths to each other, because they needed an explanation about why the world worked. So they made up a huge amount of gods and minor gods, and made some of the gods become gods of nature and others become the gods of human actions and characteristics. They even built up this whole story surrounding the birth, lifetime, and death of the gods. It’s really amazing that this one civilization had the talent to come up with such amazing stories, and that we still read them, and love them, today.
If you still have doubts about what an amazing thing the Greeks accomplished, check out this quote I found: “Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world” (Robert Francis Kennedy U.S attorney general and advisor 1925-1968)

Since I talked about the Greeks, here are some stories they wrote that have arrogance, fame, and trying to live longer by cheating death in them:

Arrogance in modern times is shown in stories about big companies that cheat the American people because they can. Modern day people like to read about that because they want to see that company be taken down. Arrogance is shown in Greek mythology in the story of “Arachne.” It goes like this: once was a fantastic weaver named Arachne. She thought she was so amazing at weaving that she was better that the gods. Stupidly, she challenged Athena, the goddess who invented the loom, to a weaving contest. They both wove magnificent tapestries. However, Athena wove a picture of the gods in all their glory and Arachne wove a picture making fun of them. Insulted beyond belief, after Athena won, she turned Arachne into a spider. That’s what happens when you are way too arrogant.

Fame in the modern world appears in the T.V. show, “American Idol.” People like to watch that show, because the thrill is in some random nobody becoming extremely famous, all through one little show. Fame appears in Greek mythology in the story of “Perseus.” It goes like this: once their was a hero who set out on a quest to slay medusa and a sea monster and win himself a kingdom. He succeeds, and along the way he wins a princess. So there’s this guy with all he ever wanted, and he’s totally content forever. You have no idea how rare this is in Greek mythology. Almost every other story ends up with the hero eventually dying a horrible death. People like to read stories about heroes achieving success and becoming famous.

I see examples of trying to live longer by cheating death in the modern world, in a certain fruit juice company’s pomegranate juice. The motto for that pomegranate juice is, “So good, it let’s you cheat death.” People like to drink that juice, because they think it would help them live longer, but I personally think it wouldn’t. For an example of trying to live longer by cheating death in Greek mythology, I found the story “Sisyphus” It goes like this: once there was a king who thought he was clever enough to cheat death. The first thing he tried to do to cheat death, was tie Hades-the lord of the underworld- to a pole. He actually succeeded and no one could die, because Hades was tied up. However, Sisyphus eventually had to untie Hades, because if he didn’t, the gods would have tortured him for eternity. The Greeks believed that after you die, the people at the funeral have to put a coin under the dead person’s tongue, so the dead person’s spirit has money to pay to cross the river of the underworld, the river Styx. Knowing this, Sisyphus devised another scheme to cheat death and live longer. Right before he died, he told his wife not to prepare him a funeral feast, and also not to put a coin under his tongue after he died. He then arrived in the underworld as a poor beggar. Seeing this, Hades commanded him to go back into the world of the living, and make sure that his wife prepare him the feast, and that he had the coin under his tongue when he returned. He went back into the world of the living, and remained alive and happy for many years until he finally died of old age. Of course, this is what the gods were waiting for, and when he came into the underworld again, they tortured him for all eternity as a price to pay for being too clever. They made him roll a rock up a steep hill, but whenever he was about to push it over the hill, it would slip out of his hands and roll all they way down it again. However, he did manage to stay alive long past his due date, which was remarkable, considering he was going against the gods themselves.

It’s really amazing what the Greeks wrote about, and how we still care about those issues, and we probably still will for all eternity. That’s what makes Greek mythology so much fun for people to read, and you should read it too.

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