Breaking the Chains

Breaking the Chains

Pentecost 59

Mythology comes from the imagination but much of the stories of ancient times do have a basis in the history of the period. After all, a story teller must have some point of reference for his/her listeners, right?

We’ve already discussed how Rome was found in the eighth century BCE. The myths of Rome are plentiful but the one of the strongest following is that of Romulus and Remus. Having established the city and named it after himself, Romulus was not the proud ruler of men….and only men. His laborers and warriors were all male and no region wanting to grow can do that with only men. Even for a story full of gods and goddesses, the lack of the female and the mothering of successive generations must be included.

The Feast of Consualia, a festival invented by Romulus after discovering a buried temple to the god Consus, drew neighboring families to Rome. Romulus had sought permission for his men to marry women from surrounding towns but had been rejected. He hoped that such festivities were attract women who would be impressed by his brave men. This story was written about by Roman historian Livy and the Roman writer Plutarch. It is in ancient Rome that the lines of fact and fiction become blurred and forge together in the history of the culture.

The neighboring town of Sabine was well represented by men, women, and children. In Livy’s own words written in his history i, cap 9, here is an account of what happened next. “When the games began, and each was intent on the spectacle before them, at a signal given, the young Romans rushed in among the Sabine women, and each carried off one, whom however they used in the kindest manner, marrying them according to their own rites with due solemnity, and admitting them to all the rights and privileges of the new commonwealth. The number carried off on this occasion amounted to near seven hundred; but this act of violence produced disastrous wars between the Romans and the Sabines, which were at last happily terminated by the mediation of the very women whose rape had been the cause of their commencement.”

The myth is that the Sabines returned home without their virginal brides and returned to fight with their king Titus Tatius. They soon discovered their women assisting the Romans and, according to legend, at one point, the women rush forward imploring both sides, their fathers and their new husbands, to lay down their arms. Romulus and Titus agreed to a ceasefire and an alliance. Sabine politicians held seats of power within their newly formed allegiance with Rome being the capital. The allies remained together for centuries to follow.

A similar story is told in the Book of Judges, found in the Holy Bible, a book of scriptures and stories about the Jewish and Christian faiths with many crossover characters found in the Koran. Here is the description of Chapter 21 of Judges from Adam Clarke’s Bible Commentary with verse numbers for the chapter given: “The Israelites mourn because of the desolation of Benjamin, and consult the Lord, 1-4. They inquire who of Israel had not come to this war, as they had vowed that those who would not make this a common cause should be put to death, 5, 6. They consult how they shall procure wives for the six hundred men who had fled to the rock Rimmon, 7. Finding that the men of Jabesh-gilead had not come to the war, they send twelve thousand men against them, smite them, and bring off four hundred virgins, which they give for wives to those who had taken refuge in Rimmon, 8-14. To provide for the two hundred which remained, they propose to carry off two hundred virgins of the daughters of Shiloh, who might come to the annual feast of the Lord, held at that place, 15-22. They take this counsel, and each carries away a virgin from the feast, 23- 25.

Mythologies are stories, stories that were told to illustrate an aspect of living. A common aspect since the dawn of time has been the use of women as a commodity. They are the only ones in the species who can give birth and thus have a value that no man can duplicate. Sadly, this has led to gender bias and acts of violence against women. In some cultures they are seen a nothing more than breeding animals and felt to be too dangerous if educated or respected.

This has led to many women perceiving themselves as victims. Victim mentality is not a condition that results from a chemical imbalance in the brain. It is an acquired or learned trait. No one is born with it but rather, develop it because of how they perceive they are treated, a perception that in the case of many women is justified. Victim mentality is a personality trait wherein someone perceives they are always the recipient of negative behavior, a “poor me” attitude.

For me, the lesson of the Sabine women is one of breaking the bond of victimization. Several years ago a young girl was tortured for no other reason than she was riding a bus to her school. Her injuries were plentiful and deadly yet she persevered and remained strong. Last year, that young girl Malala received a Nobel Peace Prize. She continues her fight for the education of all, especially women, in her Middle East native lands and worldwide. She found strength in her injuries rather than bondage to the fears of others.

Persecution exists. It is a sad fact of life. However, it is not a natural phenomenon but rather, the result of another’s fears. We can find it in the humanity of ourselves and others to combat such fears and turn them into strengths. Empathy is a vital component of our everyday living. Empathy is a state of mind in which we vicariously experience the feelings, thoughts, and attitudes of another, often unlike ourselves. The word comes from two Greek word, “em” meaning before and “path”. The Greek word “path” comes from the word “paschien” which means to suffer. It is interesting to me that empathy translates as before suffering because if we live with empathy, we can stop suffering.

The Sabine women found strength in their position and used their love of family to stop a war. Most wars involve fighting of cultures that share a common bond or ancestry. How glorious it would be if people of opposite sides found a similar strength. How many lives could be saved? What new alliances could be forged?

Losing one’s victim’s mentality does not mean giving in nor accepting inappropriate behavior. We can and should seek resolution that teaches. I myself give a person three chances to apologize and see what I perceive as the error of their ways. Then I continue on, realizing their right to be, in my opinion, wrong. During that time in which I bring up the matter in order to give them a chance to correct their discrimination or wrong-doings, some might feel I am wallowing in my misery. I disagree. I think I am showing hope for their potential in becoming the better people I think they are. Ultimately, though, it is the choice of each individual to be as smart and kind or as rude and small-minded as they choose. We cannot let their beliefs and actions victimize us, though. We cannot then become a part of our own persecution by living in it day and night.

Life is about moving forward. The past should have our respect but the future is built by our living our faith, living in such a way that our beliefs are evident with each word and every action. IN the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “A ‘No” uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a “yes” merely uttered to please, or, what is worse, to avoid trouble.” It takes courage to break the chains of peer pressure, of overcoming past hurts. It also makes for a great life and bright future.


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