King of the World

King of the World

Pentecost 74

It is one of the most iconic movie scenes of all modern times. A young immigrant lad sneaks onto the deck of the world’s most advanced (at the time) ocean liner with a girl from the upper crust of society. He climbs onto the railing of the ship’s deck, leans out over the ocean and proclaims: “I’m king of the world!”

The reign of any human being is subject to time, politics, and other aspects of mankind. Those who rule the longest tend to be mere figureheads while those with real power either are overthrown or subject to term limits. The Greek Zeus, known to the Romans as Jupiter Optimus Maximus Soter or simply Jupiter, is perhaps the beginning of mankind’s shift from polytheism to monotheism although some eastern spiritualities might argue that with good evidence.

In his epic poems, Homer refers to Zeus as the all-knowing, a foreshadowing of the characteristics given to the monotheistic deity known by many names that are summarized by the one – God. Homer spoke of the mind of Zeus, “nous” as well as the will of Zeus, “boule”. Homer’s drama seems to follow some divine plan that hints of a predestination that could not be understood by mortals. This directly contrasts with previous polytheistic cultures.

Yesterday we touched upon the Egyptian sun god Aten who was singled out by the Pharaoh Akhenaten for greater adoration than other deities. The Persian Zoroaster also referenced a chief deity, Ahura-Mazda, both deities being those we will discuss in the coming months. Even in Mesopotamia, deities such as Anu, Narru, Shamash, Marduk, and Ashur were given special attention over other gods and goddesses.

Another Greek poet, Hesiod, in his epic “Theogany”, described Zeus as being supreme over the other deities: “But when the blessed gods had finished their toil, and settled by force their struggle for honors with the Titans, they pressed far-seeing Olympian Zeus to reign and to rule over them, by Earth’s prompting. So he divided their dignities amongst them.”

In discussing the one god of the Abrahamic religions which some have called mythologies based upon one man known as Abraham, a passage from Deuteronomy, chapter 32, stands out in similarity to the description from Hesiod: “When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided up humankind, he set the boundaries of the peoples, according to the number of the heavenly assembly [the sons of God].”

In his book ‘The Evolution of God”, Robert Wright addresses the fact that the early Israelites were indeed polytheistic. The character of Moses, found in the holy writings of all three Abrahamic faiths and a central figure in the education of the people in learning the desires and teachings of this monotheistic deity, makes reference to this culture as well as the offering of sacrifices. It is, therefore, not surprising and extremely important that one of the names of this singular deity makes sure that the believers knew he/she was indeed the god of all, the king of the world – real and spiritual.

The name for this god, “El Bethel” appears only once in the above-referenced holy writings. Bethel was the name of a town near which it is said that a faithful believer known as Jacob, constructed a ladder from earth to the heavens. The word “el” literally translates as “God” and “bethel” translates as “house”. The name El Bethel was to reference the one god of the house of God, the one above all, the singular deity for all.

“El” appears in various forms throughout our languages. Many names that ended in “el” were said to have special religious meaning and most are defined as being connected with this god. Names like Michael, Daniel, among others were used in these holy writings to identify chosen humans or special angels, lesser deities among the religion and its literature. It also appears in the English language as a prefix, both in the spelling of “el” and “al”.

In making the move from many gods that controlled practically every aspect of living, the shift was made to mankind bearing some of the responsibility for this living. Having been gifted with this creation of life, mankind no longer put the blame for everything on multiple deities. Some of that “blame” became consequences of action.

I do not know what purpose faith serves in your life or the lack thereof. For many people, faith is itself a ladder by which they advance in their life both spiritually and realistically. Their faith is a compass by which they move throughout the world. There are also others for whom the lack of faith is just as important. They pride themselves on being too smart to need faith, too rooted in reality to believe in unseen spirits. The wind to them is merely the movement of air, caused by the earth’s rotation and movement through time, time being simply the passage of the sun across the galaxy and our planet.

There are those who proclaim science is their master, not the imaginary deity or deities of the past, based upon ramblings of scared ancient cultures that were ill-equipped to deal with their environs. Even Science, which could rightly be called their god, has a quest to discover what it has termed the God particle, that one ultimate beginning moment of creation.

The religious would claim ancient man already discovered the God particle in the monotheistic creation stories of their doctrines and beliefs. The cynical would claim that materialism has become the god of the masses, that modern-day mankind has become too attention deficit in its religious and/or spiritual holdings to be anything other than lost.

It would seem that the ancient writer who coined the term “El Bethel” might have prophetic in our need to be reminded that whatever deity we make supreme, it should be, in fact, above everything else in our lives. Life has become one big game of competition: religion versus spirituality; science versus faith; conviction versus materialism; socialism versus democracy; dictators versus equality. Just as nature competes and each is a step on the ultimate food chain of the living, that which feeds our souls has become simply a step to be occasionally used when nothing else seems to work.

I offer no easy answers in this series; this entire blog is just a conversation win which questions are asked and, hopefully, questions pondered and maybe resolved at some basic level. Sir Isaac Newton was said to have written more interpretations of the Bible, holy writings used by two of the three Abrahamic faiths, than he did of his beloved laws of physics.

The scientists among us will perhaps be happy I used a spectral representation synthesis in sorting through ancient literature to point out the overlapping data. The historians among us cannot deny the overlapping of beliefs around the world and the sequence of events which have led to them. The religious among us will probably argue my use of the term mythology in referencing their faiths and claim them to not be simple stories but evidence of the existence of “el Bethel”, the one and supreme God in the house of gods.

Arguments are simply the sharing of viewpoints, hopefully in a calm manner so that all can be heard respectfully. Mankind has debated these issues throughout time and I certainly do not expect to be the one to resolve them. What I do hope is that you resolve them within yourself. Whether the air is the breath of a deity or the movement of air currents across one’s face, it is the lifeblood of us all. Just as different languages have different terms for “air”, so our minds have words for that which created our world and being. I hope today your deity lives within the house of your soul and that your living strengthens your ladder to the rest of your life.

Hero or Victim?

Side Effects

Pentecost 68

“Even if a story is the same, each culture will tell it differently, because each one has its own genres and cultural rules.” In one sentence, folklorist Kay Turner has explained why each culture has its own mythologies and why there are similarities amongst them all.

Looking at an international gathering of computer scientists and you will see little differences. Look at an international gathering whose purpose is to celebrate one’s ethnicity and you will have a very hard time finding five people wearing the same attire. We share a great many things in common and that is a fact often overlooked. Yet, we all have our own unique identities and that goes for cultures as well.

Often the characteristics of a culture are misinterpreted. The Hawaiian culture is famous for its hula dancers who are almost always seen swaying to typical Hawaiian music. The dance, however, does not move according to the rhythms of the songs but rather the words of the story the dance conveys. The words, either spoken or sung, are half of the dance. The music is simply ornamental and has no real meaning at all.

The ancient mythologies were perhaps the earliest of stories, told to enlighten, entertain, and enthrall. Soon, though, the oral tradition gathered movement and drama. Cunto is an ancient Sicilian method of storytelling. It utilized habits from Greek theater and employed improvisation. Cuntisti story tellers began to use marionettes as they told the tales of brave heroes and their struggles as well as accounts of daily living.

One Japanese form of passing along mythologies is the Rakugo. The storyteller, called a hanashika, would convey the story in a monotone and was perhaps the earliest comedians. They seldom referenced actual people or specific places, relying on daily life to teach moral lessons. In India dance was added to the story and the Bharatanatyam became something of a form of prayer rather than just a simple story. Temple dances known as devadasis would pay homage to specific deities such as Krishna or Shiva.

While today it seems like these myths of old are simple themes for entertainment and literature, we should remember that they were integral parts of a person’s life in ancient cultures. There became the basis for many religious beliefs and practices and most are still present in some for or fashion today.

The mythologies of old and the stories of modern times have much in common. Both were unifying tools for the cultures from which they emanated. Both are also mirrors that reflect the society of the time… if anyone bothers to look.

Stories are not fact, though, and perhaps that is where conflict has arisen regarding religion. During the month of August we will explore the various names for God, a monotheistic deity who arrived somewhat late in the mythological timetable. It is important to remember that, unlike mathematics and science, mythology evolves with each telling. There is no one right or wrong answer or interpretation.

Today I awoke and had cereal for breakfast, not the sugar-filled fluff cereal that comes with a prize but a healthy, whole wheat-ladened cereal. The other adults on my block appeared to be sleeping still when I arose, although that is purely based upon the absence of light in their abodes and rooms so perhaps they were awake and simply meditating in the dark. The thing is that no one woke up “wrong”. They simply arose differently than I.

The primary side effect of any good story is that it spurs us to think, to explore. Whether we simply ponder an imaginary creature in rainbow hues or take the story as a stepping stone and create something useful and far-reaching is not really important. The fact is that we listened and then had a response. Stories delight; they help us whittle away the hours; they sometimes provide a moral lesson; they can boost our morale.

Mythology can be a time machine, taking us into the past and inspiring the future. They connect us and unite us while emphasizing out differences. The composition of myths seems to be an essential part of living for mankind. As Homer said, “All men have need of gods.” Whether I feel capable or not, I am the hero of my own personal story, the myth that is me. Perhaps I am also the villain but that really depends on how I respond to life, not what anyone else does. After all, heroes do not only live on top of a glorious mountain surrounded by a gilded temple. Even those that did left their treasured abode to walk among the mortals, those left fortunate and more human.

People may dislike us; let them. People may abhor them; consider the reasons for such and learn from them. Your living is an actively-written myth that expands with each hour lived. You may not be able to write the perfect ending of your dreams but you can write the best possible ending given the circumstances, the setting and the other characters. So what will it be – hero or victim?

Choice is the greatest side effect of all in mythology. We can choose to believe or not. In life we can choose to live or vegetate, really be active in our living or simply be a reactive particle that waits for the inevitable transition many call death. You and you alone have the ability to write your story.

Double Trouble

Double Trouble

Pentecost 57

Within the past ten days, there have been two days in which my numbering of the days of Pentecost was in error. It was my own “double trouble” that perhaps could be explained but really has no bearing on the conversations so…why bother? (Blame it on computer issues and just being so happy something got types that I failed to double check the numbering!)

When discussing the founding of the city of Rome, many people take a similar attitude. Known as the Eternal City or the City of Love or even the City of Seven Hills, Rome stands as it always has and continues to – a proud metropolis able to withstand time, evolutions, governments, wars, and even the millions of tourists who flock to it each year. The City with a city within, referring to the Vatican City, Rome’s history is also a tale within a tale.

Most mythologies tell the story of two babies, raised by a wolf and later by a shepherd. The wolf is an important though minor aspect of this story because the wolf was considered a sacred animal of the god Mars who is the father of these two babies. Their mother was hidden away in a convent of sorts where women served a period of approximately thirty years in service to Vesta, a goddess of virginity and purity. These women were known as Vestal Virgins as part of their service included taking a vow of innocence in carnal matters. Women were viewed as both life givers and life confusers, temptresses that could change the course of history.

The mother of these twins who would be named Romulus and Remus was the daughter of a twin herself. Her father was Numitor, ruler along with his twin Amulius of Alba Longa. The twins, sometimes called simply brothers, did not always agree and on one such occasion, Amulius seized control and had his brother Numitor imprisoned. Numitor had only one child, the daughter Rhea Silva, and Amulius had her taken to the temple of Vesta to avoid her claiming her father’s throne and/or power.

Numitor was a grandson several generations later of Aeneas, the central character of Virgil’s “Aeneid”. Archaeological findings date the beginnings of Rome to 750 BCE while the stories of Homer and Virgil place Aeneas’ travels to the area which would become Rome somewhere around 1220 BCE. To account for the discrepancies, there are tales of roaming bands of warriors, and mythologies woven to fill in the gaps between Aeneas and Numitor. Archaeology has provided proof of inhabitants in the area surrounding Rome that date back to the eleventh and twelfth centuries BCE, and it is believed those people were from the Latium culture.

Our focus is on the twin, though, so let’s continue with their story. As they grow up, the shepherd and his wife tell the two of their birth and together the twins travel from the countryside to the city to claim their legacy. They overthrow their uncle Amulius and free their grandfather. (Their mother had been buried alive as punishment for not upholding her vow of chastity which is why the twins ended up in the river and found by the wolf and shepherd.) Numitor regains control of Alba Longa but the twins want their own kingdom and leave home in search of it. The settle on the area of seven hills and begin development. Here there are also various stories but one of the more common ones is that Remus mocks Romulus for building a low wall to protect the city. He hurdles the wall and easily clears it to prove his point. In anger, Romulus kills his twin and continues building the city which is called Rome.

Mythologies aside for a moment, let’s look at what we can prove about the founding of Rome. As mentioned, there were Latini or Latins in the area. They were descended from the Indo-European tribes that settled on the Italian peninsula somewhere during the second millennium BCE. Within a thousand years, the Latins were a culture in their own right. They congregated in the area known as the Alban Hills and were able to effectively defend and prosper their way of life, a way of life influenced by the Iron Age of southern Italy and the Villanovan civilization of southern Etruria. They lived in huts and, after cremating their dead, placed the cremains in hut-shaped urns, decorated with geometric figures.

In 600 BCE, the peoples of Etruria expanded into Latium and settled in Latium, the area around the city we now call Rome. Etruscan art and ways of living intermingled with the Latini culture. Rome became a powerful city and in a little over a hundred years, the Etruscans were driven out in a civil uprising made successful by an alliance between the Greeks and the Latins. The departure of the Etruscans, however, meant the effective leadership was gone and Latium soon lost its standing and great wealth. The Latin league was a delegation of representatives from all of the Latin cities. They would elect a dictator to command the army and the city of Tusculum was not the seat of power. The Latini were not the only people in the area, though, and soon became threatened by the neighboring Volsci and the Aequi. After decades of fighting, Roman authority in Latium was assured and the Latin country became modeled after the city of Rome.

Throughout the historical facts as well as the myths about Rome, there is a consistency of dual behaviors and histories: Aeneas, a Trojan who escapes the Greeks as they celebrate the victory over Troy; Numitor and Amulius; Romulus and Remus; Etruscans and Latini; Volsci and Aequi. Each duality, whether fact or fiction, had a significant effect on the city we now today as Rome. Rome celebrates both its mythological beginnings and its culture of warrior and art.

The words of Titus Lucretius Carus illustrate this duality each of us face with our past and present as we strive to make a future. “So each man flies from himself (vain hope, because it clings to him the more closely against his will) and hates himself because he is sick in mind and does not know the cause of his disease.”  It is important in honoring our heritage not to get bogged down in it and begin to simply run around in circles. Numitor and Amulius, Romulus and Remus were, in a very real sense, fighting themselves rather than their brother. We each have at least two sides to our personalities. The victor is he or she who can successfully meld all that we are into a productive being that can move forward successfully. We must honor our past but remember that we live in the present. We have no future if we cannot move forward each day, living our beliefs and showing charity to all.

Bump in the Night

Bump in the Night

Pentecost 54

We’ve all heard them. Those mysterious sounds that go “bump in the night” and frighten us. IN an anthology of poems, Walter de la Mare published an old Scottish saying: “”From ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, good Lord deliver us.”

The poets of the past are the ones who have fed us the mythologies of our ancestors. Homer with his “Iliad” and “Odyssey”, Virgil with “The Aeneid” and Ovid with his “Metamorphoses” and “Fasti” all left a legacy of Greek and Roman deities which still delight us today and continue the immortality of these characters.

It should be noted, however, that what was once a deity has, in some instances, become something else. Today the phoenix is no longer a self-eating monster but a symbol of resurrection. The phoenix dined on the very things used to preserve the dead. It would nest high atop the mountains at the highest point of a tree and, in time, be consumed by the sun. Allegorical interpretation was that the phoenix illustrated the sin of gluttony.

Perhaps the phoenix should represent to us that which we like that often becomes an all-consuming love. One small ounce of wine or other alcohol seldom harms anyone. Try purchasing two ounces of wine – one for you and one for a companion. It simply is not sold that way. Once home with the bottle, it is easy to justify drinking it…and drinking more…and purchasing more… and the cycle of drinking has begun.

One elusive beast of antiquity was the prized one-horned quadruped, perhaps a distant relative of the rhinoceros or giraffe. This animal, long sought after by hunters throughout time, was described by Pliny the Roman naturalist in ancient texts as “a very ferocious beast, similar in the rest of its body to a horse, with the head of a deer, the feet of an elephant, the tail of a boar, a deep bellowing voice, and a single black horn, two cubits in length, standing out in the middle of its forehead.” Others believed that if an attempt to capture it ensued, the creature simply leapt from tall cliffs, using its horn to propel itself from rock to rock, much like a pole vaulter uses his/her pole to cross the high bar. It doesn’t really sound like the cute, sweet-faced unicorn of fairy tales, does it?

We all have fears and psychologists advise four basic ways in dealing with them. The first is to analyze your fears and mythology is a great way to do this. The next step is to control your fears. Story telling is a great tool in doing this as it allows us to put someone else in the main character’s role and gives us a vantage point from the outside. The third way to is change the way we think about the specific fear. Someone afraid of heights, for instance, might change their thinking from the perilous perch of an upper rock plateau to imagining it the palace of a lovely god or goddess. The last way to manage fear is to acknowledge it and give it a place in your life.

Mythology gives fear a place in our life and goes one step further by giving it a purpose. Some fears are beneficial. A fear of snakes means you probably will not try to kiss a rattler on the face and get bitten. Others are debilitating and need professional guidance to overcome.

It is important that with each day we live, we write the story of our own lives. Former US President Franklin D Roosevelt is famous for having said: “There only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” With one sentence he summarized the mythologies of most of the world. A more modern update to that quote might be: “The only thing we have to fear is ourselves.”

Living our beliefs takes courage. It means standing up for the unpopular at times. It means not being fashionable or realizing that different is not something to fear but to respect. Today I hope you face your fears instead of running from them. Use them as our ancestors used their myths and learn from those things that can bump in our minds. Follow the words of Plato in facing today and writing a great story of your life today: “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”

Journey of Mindfulness

Journey of Mindfulness

Pentecost 52

“Everything old is new again”. Evolution is the act of growing. That is my own definition. Short and sweet, I am certain most experts would claim it is incomplete and I understand that viewpoint. Nonetheless, I still defend my definition of evolution; it is the act of growing.

Hopefully, as we age, we grow up, maturing into that which we hope to represent – our beliefs, a good version of our heritage, a promise for the future. Recently, a great deal of discussion has ensured in the USA regarding the continued use of a battle flag from a dark period in the country’s history. Many have claimed it is their “heritage”.

I realize the importance of heritage. Growing up in the same part of the country from which this heated debate has ensued for over sixty years and having heard these arguments before, I was raised on the importance of remembering one’s heritage, honoring one’s ancestors.

The thing is, though, if all I thought generations of my ancestors had accomplished was one single piece of cloth…well, I’d be put in a chair and instructed for hours, days, even weeks. I would be told that my family was far more than any one year or four. I would be reminded of all that had been accomplished, challenges, met, struggles overcome, faith continued. I would also be admonished for living in the past. I would be told to remember the past but live in the present and prepare for the future.

The greatest gift any parent has is the hope for a future for their children. Sometimes those children grow up to be fine, upstand citizens. Sometimes they become the plague of society and sometimes they simply forget they ever needed parents at all.

It is a common buzz word today and the source of many internet businesses – mindfulness. Few realize its heritage is in the Greek mythologies of antiquity and illustrated in both the epic poems attributed to Homer and the two novels, one being released at midnight last night, of Harper Lee.

Experts disagree on whether Homer actually wrote both the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey”. One argument for multiple writers uses both central characters: Achilles from the “Iliad” and Odysseus from the “Odyssey”. Achilles’ story is the story of a young man growing up while Odysseus is a man grown up living his life. Richard Martin describes the two as Achilles being “an initiatory hero” with Odysseus as a “trickster”.

Robert Fagles translated the opening of the “Iliad” thus: “Rage — Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles, murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses…”. Achilles goes through a series of battles that move him forward in his process of maturing. His eventual death at an age younger than desired is indicative of many warriors. Symbolic of a young man’s journey in becoming an adult, Achilles leaves his home and makes decisions that ultimately orchestrate his demise.

Odysseus lives in the everyday present of his life. His takes each day as it comes, handles each challenge with a mindset of winning for today. Greek mythology also followed an evolution of sorts. It was not simply content to have superhuman immortals that sat on high and pulled the strings of life. Their deities evolved into interacting with mortals, in losing and winning and sometimes losing again. Their deities were decorated not only with great beauty but also great emotions – good and bad.

In living in the present, Odysseus is seen as a trickster. He does whatever it takes to win the hour and take home the prize, whether he really needs or wants the prize doesn’t matter. Life is a competition to him and he wants to win.

Mindfulness today is about being present in the moment but realizing that life is not just a race, it is a pace. Any marathon runner will tell you that there are periods of fast running and periods of slower running. Life goes uphill and downhill and the successful person is one who stays focused on the steps before him so that he/she is ready for those ahead.

The two novels by Harper Lee speak of a period in American history where one man ran a different course and stood up for a disenfranchised accused man. The character of Atticus Finch is neither godly nor superhuman. He is a mere mortal but one who is neither foolish nor a trickster. Finch is a mature lawyer who decides to go against his community in upholding his purpose to uphold the law. He sacrifices his popularity in order to “do the right thing”.

In the mythology of our life that we all write in our minds, we have the courage and fortitude of Atticus Finch, the mature man, the leading character and hero of “To Kill a Mockingbird”. He is a man who realizes his heritage is much more than his color or a piece of fabric representing a century old battle, in part a battle brought about by hatred. In the recently released novel, Harper Lee describes a younger Atticus Finch. Instead of her young man being the warrior Achilles, many have felt duped by Lee’s young Finch, the Odysseus trickster. Young Atticus Finch is trying to make his place in society and build a life. He lives very much in the moment, thinking his legacy should be one of status and wealth, not laying the foundation of a heritage of honor.

I believe many are rejecting this younger version of Atticus Finch because it speaks to our innermost nightmare and no longer represents the myth of who we are but the stark reality. I will leave it to the experts, those literary critics who feel compelled to write modern-day myths about great works, to determine if either is truly great or worthy of our time.

Evolution is not a done deal. Perhaps that is why it is never finished. Odysseus has an enduring character of mindfulness. He never loses sight of his prize. The telling of his history employs imagination, mythology, and the very core of humanity, that which is often not very humane. Fagles translation of the opening lines of the “Odyssey”: “Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns driven time and again off course, once he had plundered…”

Psychology Today has written much on the subject of mindfulness. “Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.” It is a part of Buddhist meditation and seen as a tool to combat depression.

Mindfulness in the twenty-first century is about being alive – the most basic parts of life, the breathing, the silence, the feeling a part of all there is. It is not about combatting those forces but about simply being a part of them. Living in communion with ourselves is a very difficult thing to do. Living at peace with what we have made ourselves is even harder.

It is a journey, much like those of both Achilles and Odysseus. The myths of antiquity are also the myths of today. Atticus Finch made his journey, although many never knew how far he had to travel to become the beloved character in the second-written but first published novel. Perhaps the best thing about our journey is arriving at a destination of self. The journey is fraught with despair and challenges but it is a journey worth undertaking.

Deceptive Honor

Deceptive Honor

Pentecost 50

“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.

Minions and Ant People

Minions and Ant People

Pentecost 49

Tomorrow we will delve into the efforts of Cyrus, a leader who believed and had been encouraged by an ancient Greek myth, retold by Homer in the epic poem, “Iliad”. One of the central figures of the “Iliad” and Trojan War, Achilles was a warrior said to be protected by the gods and goddesses. The child of a nymph and the king of the Ant People, Achilles was said to have only one spot of weakness on his body, his heel. There are, as one might expect, differing stories as to how Achilles came to be so strong. Some believed ambrosia was spread all over his body and set afire. The one weak spot on his heel resulted from this process being interrupted. The more popular story is that his mother dipped him in the River Styx and held him by the heel, thus the only body part not to be protected.

Tomorrow we will explore more about Achilles but today, let’s go back to his father, Peleus. Read that last paragraph again and you will catch that, yes, I did say he was the king of the Ant People. The Myrmidons were a culture dating back to 2000 BCE. They lived on Aegina, one of the Saronic Islands of Greece, located about seventeen miles from Athens. Two thirds of the island is taken up by a large volcano but the island was very important in Greek trade with Asia Minor.   However, two generations before Achilles the island culture suffered a great plague with most of its residents killed. King Aeacus, the grandfather of Achilles, supposed pleaded with Zeus the once again populate his island. As recorded in Ovid’s text “Metamorphoses”, Zeus agreed to the request stating that the Myrmidons would once again “number as ants on his sacred oak” and from the ants would spring the Myrmidons.

The Myrmidons were great rivals of the Athenians and became known for their skill in battle and fierce loyalty to their leaders. Achilles himself is described as the bravest of warriors and his men follow his orders without question in the “Iliad”. The name became synonymous with someone who was a faithful, able-bodied servant in pre-industrial Europe. It later was a term used to describe a hired fighter and is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a loyal follower, especially one who executes orders without question, protest, or pity – unquestioning followers.”

Today some would describe followers of various radical cults and religious zealots in similar terms. Others might claim the difference was that the Myrmidons fought to protect the homeland and commerce. As we have discussed in earlier posts, perspective is often the lens through which one might see black and another white.

You might be wondering what a Greek mythological hero has to do with a movie that was released in the United Kingdom a month ago and in the United States last night. “The Minions” is a film about minions which are described as being small, yellow creatures that look like talking pharmaceutical capsules. They are said to have evolved since the beginning of time from single-cells organisms to their present state, the purpose of which is to serve as hired fighters, as Myrmidons from which the name minion evolved.

IN the movie the minions exist to serve the world’s most despicable bosses (Yes, this movie is a prequel to the movie released several years ago, “Despicable Me”). The minions is our movie have faithfully served a dominating Tyrannosaurus Rex, a belligerent caveman, an Egyptian pharaoh, the mythological vampire Dracula, and the real-life French dictator Napoleon. However, our movie minions are a bit too good at their job and end up executing all their masters. They decide to retreat to Antarctica but are soon hired by a female villain known as Scarlet Hill who is after the crown and monarchy of England.

I won’t spoil the myth of our modern-day minions for you and I do realize that few attending the film will realize how it evolved from a mythological character known as Achilles. I am fairly certain that when imagining his poem, Homer never envisioned his army becoming yellow, talking capsules found on t-shirts, notebooks, and on the big screen.

Ideas are often like ants, and they can scurry about and become larger than life. The importance of directing our thoughts for good is easily seen. The minions in this movie began as minor characters in another flick but took on a life of their own and now are the stars of their own. Whatever we do today, we must be sure that it has purpose and consequences of good.

The ants we know today are the result of over one hundred and thirty million years of evolution. They live in social communities and can carry up to five thousand times their body weight. Interestingly enough, ants do not carry any diseases, although germs live on them just as they do on humans. While it may not sound too complimentary, to be called Ant People was really a good thing. With over ten thousand different species of ants, the Myrmidons were guaranteed success in continuing and protecting their culture.

Today we are all minions of one kind or another. Hopefully, you will protect the innocent and fight for the dignity of all. May your ideas evolve into joy and I hope the day brings you laughter and smiles. Revisit the work of Homer and reread the story of Achilles; he is our coming attraction for tomorrow.