April 06, 2007


Caption: This man is pretty happy. Now. (Photo credit: La Cabra)

Goat Rope is all over the place this week, but the guiding thread is a story from the Histories of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus about the nature of happiness. If this is your first visit, please scroll down to the earlier entries.

The story has to do with a conversation and its aftermath between the wealthy and arrogant Lydian king Croesus and the Athenian sage Solon. Croesus asked the latter who the happiest mortal was, expecting to be told that he was.

As the last few posts have shown, he didn't get the answer he wanted and thought Solon was a fool.

But as Herodotus puts it,

After Solon's departure nemesis fell upon Croesus, presumably because God was angry with him for supposing himself the happiest of men.

After a number of misfortunes, he loses his throne to Cyrus, ruler of Persia. The story goes that as he was placed on a pyre to be burned alive, he

remembered with what divine truth Solon had declared that no man could be called happy until he was dead. Till then Croesus had not uttered a sound; but when he remembered, he sighed bitterly and three times, in anguish of spirit, pronounced Solon's name.

Cyrus asked through an interpreter who Solon was.

'He was a man,' he said, 'who ought to have talked with every king in the world. I would give a fortune to have had it so.'... He then related how Solon the Athenian once came to Sardis, and made light of the splendor which he saw there, and how everything he said proved true, and not only for him but for all men and especially for those who imagined themselves fortunate--had in his own case proved all too true.

Herodotus states that Cyrus was moved by this:

He himself was a mortal man, and was burning alive another who had once been as prosperous as he. The thought of that, and the fear of retribution, and the realization of the instability of human things, made him change his mind...

After a close shave, Croesus was saved and became a companion and advisor to Cyrus.

I guess you could say he learned his lesson the hard way. Looking at our world today, it looks like he's not the only one that should have listened to Solon's advice the first time.

EMPLOYEE FREE CHOICE ACT UPDATE. Now that EFCA, a bill which would restore the right of U.S. workers to organize, has passed the House, the struggle has moved to the Senate. Here's an item from the AFLCIO blog on the latest phase of the campaign.

FEDERAL BUDGET. The outlook for a rational federal budget has improved drastically over previous years. This week the House passed its version of the budget, which was even better than the Senate version which itself was WAY better than the proposed Bush budget. Alas, one member of WV's delegation apparently longs for the bad old days. Here's Antipode's rant on that subject.

GOOD FRIDAY. This item appeared in Goat Rope last year on Good Friday...

El Cabrero is not sure at what point in church history the observation of the crucifixion of Jesus acquired the name "Good Friday." It pretty terrible to the people involved. It's hard in our day and age to understand how terrible or commonplace crucifixion was to people in the ancient world. The early church would have been horrified at the use of crosses as ornaments; they did not become standard features of Christian art until around the 4th century, after the practice was largely abandoned.

According to Martin Hengel, author of Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross, "among the Romans it was inflicted above all on the lower classes, i.e., slaves, violent criminals, and the unruly elements in rebellious provinces, not least in Judea. The chief reason for its use was its allegedly supreme efficacy as a deterrent; it was, of course, carried out publicly..."

The practice was in part a spectacle of power and degradation. Hengel continues, "By the public display of a naked victim at a prominent place--at a crossroads, in the theatre, on high ground, at the place of his crime--crucifixion also represented his uttermost humiliation, which had a numinous dimension to it. " Often the crucified were denied burial and simply left on the cross, which for many in the ancient world was worse than the death itself.

Historians and believers agree that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem during Passover week shortly after he caused a disturbance at the Temple. Passover was more than a religious holiday to the Jews in Roman controlled Judea: it was a subversive celebration of freedom. The Roman occupiers would have been on high alert for the slightest disturbance at such politically charged times.

The Romans were right about one thing: the reign of God that Jesus proclaimed and enacted was and is a threat to all systems of violence, hierarchy, exploitation, oppression and degradation. To that extent--and to his honor--Jesus was guilty. In the best sense of the word.


No comments: