April 04, 2007

SECOND PLACE, plus stuff on Wal-Mart

Caption: It's not yet clear how happy these brothers are, but they have eight more lives than the people discussed here today.

You can find all kinds of things in this week's Goat Rope, but the guiding thread is the story of a conversation about happiness that took place between the ancient Greek sage Solon and Croesus, the wealthy and arrogant king of Lydia in what is now Turkey.

If this is your first visit, please scroll down to the earlier entries.

Croesus was miffed to find out that Solon did not consider him to be the happiest of mortals, but he thought surely that he had to come in a close second. When he asked who was the next happiest, Solon, who was obviously trying to teach Croesus a moral lesson, replied

Two young men of Argos, Cleobis and Biton. They had enough to live on comfortably; and their physical strength is proved not merely by their success in athletics, but much more by the following incident. The Argives were celebrating the festival of Hera, and it was most important that the mother of the two young men should drive to the temple in her ox-cart; but it so happened that the oxen were late in coming back from the fields. Her two sons therefore, as there was no time to lose, harnessed themselves to the cart and dragged it along, with their mother inside, for a distance of nearly six miles, until they reached the temple. After this exploit, which was witnessed by the assembled crowd, they had a most enviable death--a heaven-sent proof of how much better it is to be dead than alive. Men kept crowding round them and congratulating them on their strength, and women kept telling the mother how lucky she was to have such sons, when, in sheer pleasure at this public recognition of her sons' act, she prayed the goddess Hera, before whose shrine she stood, to grant Cleobis and Biton, who had brought her such honour, the greatest blessing that can fall to mortal man.

After her prayer came the ceremonies of sacrifice and feasting; and the two lads, when all was over, fell asleep in the temple--and that was the end of them, for they never woke again.

The Argives had statues made of them, which they sent to Delphi, as a mark of their particular respect.

That sounds pretty grim to people today, but part of Solon's point was that happiness (eudamonia) is not a matter of life's quantity but its quality. A happy life is one that is honorable and socially useful and concluded with dignity. Fortune is changeable and until it's over one can't say with certainty whether a person is happy or just lucky.

Croesus still didn't get it, as we'll see tomorrow.

OUR OLD FRIEND WAL-MART. It's too soon to tell whether the retail giant Wal-Mart, which is a rich as Croesus (even if its workers aren't) is happy or just lucky. A recent article in the NY Times describes the company's take-no-prisoners approach to investigating employees with a team composed in part by former FBI, CIA, and Justice Department officials.

The April 2 New Yorker has a fascinating article on the company's corporate culture. The latest twist involves hiring liberal/Democratic political operatives to help bolster its somewhat tarnished image.



Anonymous said...

Oh to have a quilt like that! Did La Cabra make it?

El Cabrero said...

Actually, those kitties were outsourced. They and the quilt belong to a friend who wanted her cats to be goat roped. Don't tell our animals or they will be ticked!