“Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you.” Confucius’ saying is often repeated in this blog. It is a great rule of living, of how to behave in a relationship, of how to treat others. It is not a description of behavior often found in the Greek mythologies.
Yesterday we discussed Achilles and the Trojan War. Homer does not specifically tell of the death of Achilles but he does die, according to legend, from an arrow shot into his vulnerable heel. It may have seen like that would be a great ending – the magnificent warrior felled by a humble arrow. But the Greeks were great at creating stories, not ending them.
After the fall of Troy and the death of Achilles, Odysseus “inherits” his father’s armor. Actually, he talked his way into possession of the supposedly magical suit of armor said to have been forged on Mount Olympus by the god (and blacksmith) Hephaestus. After Achilles is killed by Paris, Odysseus and the mighty warrior Ajax fight the Trojans and retrieve his body.
Ajax is a grandson of Zeus and trained with Achilles. HE claims he should have the armor because of his history in fighting for the Greeks. Ajax is now the strongest warrior and feels he should have Achilles’ armor. Odysseus, however, is an intellectual, rational type of man. He does not eagerly run into battle. His weapons against an enemy when physically challenged or opposed is his eloquent discourse and well=planned strategies. According to some versions of the Trojan War, Odysseus is who devised the plan of the Trojan horse.
After several days, the council of the gods awards the armor to Odysseus. Enraged, Ajax attempts to kill the chieftains who made the decisions. The goddess Athena protects Odysseus and instead makes Ajax believe his killing the council when he is actually slaughtering a herd of cattle. With even greater fury, Ajax falls upon his sword and commits suicide. The goddess Athena has protected Odysseus and assured him Ajax will no longer be a contender for his position.
The very fact that Athena helped the Greeks would have amazed any Trojans still in the area. IN the middle of the city of Troy had stood a statue and temple dedicated to Athena. They thought they had her protection. She actually had sided with the Greeks due to her being scorned by Parish in his abduction of Helen. (Read the “Iliad” if you want more specifics. It is a great read and wonderful story for both genders and those of all ages.)
The seemingly hypocrisy of allies is nothing new. The Trojan horse strategy is often used in both military and political strategies. Mythologist Richard Martin refers to specialist Thomas Bullfinch’s version of the Trojan tales to explain: “Athena embodies the logic of the Trojan horse: hiding in order to overcome winning by making it look as though she has lost.”
We all know people who employ similar courses of action. Wimbledon is wrapping up today. Interviews with all those competing will find them being very careful to speak in such a manner as to attempt to seem like the underdog. Very few since John McEnroe will sit before a battery of reporters and microphones and simply state “I am the best.” Seeming to be humble, these athletes are actually living out a centuries old strategy that dates back to the Greek tales of Troy.
Certainly the actions of many of the characters in the Greek myths are not what we would consider proper or legal. In homer’s time, killing one’s wife because she was evil or unfaithful might have seemed a correct response. However, as mankind evolved, so have moral questions and ethical situations raised by these stories. We do not read and study them any longer seeking role models. They can still serve as examples of making inappropriate choices, nonetheless.
The story of Ajax was best recorded by Sophocles. Perhaps it was the struggle between Odysseus, said to have bribed the council in order to be given his father’s armor, and Ajax that was on Sophocles’ mind when he said: “I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating.”
Hopefully, few of us will do battle with a deceptive mythological deity nor feel the need to end our own life. One is unrealistic and the other accomplishes nothing. Many of us will face daily struggles and will be called upon at some point to “do the right thing” rather than the east thing or even what we might prefer to do. A hero is someone who does what is right, someone who lives with integrity. We don’t need to be a great warrior or super-human to be great. Winston Churchill easily told us how: “All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.” I hope today you live with greatness, with integrity, with honor. If you do, you will be a hero. And the world will be better for your presence in it.