August 20, 2007


Caption: This isn't one of her better pictures.

El Cabrero is a big fan of ancient Greece. Philosophy, art, literature, politics, history, a pluralistic approach to religion, name it. Unfortunately, the objects of my admiration sometimes had the self-destructive tendencies of the heroes of their tragedies.

They were like the Ziggy Stardusts of the ancient world. They took it all too far, but boy could they play guitar--or kithara, as the case may be.

Back in the heyday, Greece wasn't a unified country like a modern nation or an empire like those of Alexander the Macedonian or the Romans. It was a diverse collection of city-states which took political forms ranging from democracy to monarchy to tyranny to mixed governments. To the extent they were united at all, it was by language, myths, religion, and custom, including the famous panhellenic games which were the forerunners of our Olympics.

They had plenty of shortcomings but one of the biggest was an addiction to strife or Eris,which/who was also a goddess. According to the poet Hesiod in Works and Days, there were actually two goddesses of strife, one good one bad. The bad one led to war and destruction:

So, after all, there was not one kind of Strife alone, but all over the earth there are two. As for the one, a man would praise her when he came to understand her; but the other is blameworthy: and they are wholly different in nature. For one fosters evil war and battle, being cruel: her no man loves; but perforce, through the will of the deathless gods, men pay harsh Strife her honour due.

The other, theoretically at least, to led healthy competition:

But the other is the elder daughter of dark Night, and the son of Cronos who sits above and dwells in the aether, set her in the roots of the earth: and she is far kinder to men. She stirs up even the shiftless to toil; for a man grows eager to work when he considers his neighbour, a rich man who hastens to plough and plant and put his house in good order; and neighbour vies with is neighbour as he hurries after wealth. This Strife is wholesome for men. And potter is angry with potter, and craftsman with craftsman, and beggar is jealous of beggar, and minstrel of minstrel.

In practice, the two often get muddled together, as you may have noticed.

According to another mythological strand, the whole Trojan war grew out of the spite of the vengeful goddess Eris at not being invited to a wedding (although, in my experience, strife is usually at most weddings anyway, invited or not). She makes an appearance in Homer's Iliad with a particularly apt description:

Strife whose wrath is relentless, she is the sister and companion of murderous Ares [god of war], she who is only a little thing at the first, but thereafter grows until she strides on the earth with her head striking heaven. She then hurled down bitterness equally between both sides as she walked through the onslaught making men's pain heavier. She also has a son whom she named Strife.

Anyway, strife or Eris, whether personified or not, brought down classical Greek civilization. The fall was long and slow, but a major step on the way was the long and fratricidal Pelopponesian War, masterfully recounted by Thucydides. That will be the guiding threat through this week's posts.

I don't plan on working the parallels between the Greeks and us too hard but I think it's safe to say that this goddess is still with us.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. William Schweke of the Center for Enterprise Development recently published this op-ed about a rational approach to economic development for West Virginia (and elsewhere). He warns that

the state should not be frightened into radical proposals by the dogmatic anti-government crowd to cut regulation, taxation and other responsibilities to the bone.

WORTH READING. The latest edition of Jim Lewis' Notes from Under the Fig Tree is available. Jim, an Episcopal priest (yay team!), is a master of metaphors and this issue is full of them.

UNLEASHING WHATEVER DEPARTMENT. Meanwhile, over at West Virgina Blue, Antipode has published a good critique of Unleashing Capitalism, a libertarian tract that has become the Holy Writ of the WV right wing.

CALLING ALL WEST VIRGINIANS. I've noticed that readers of Goat Rope come from all over, but I'd like to ask those who live in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia to read this and respond appropriately in this economic justice campaign. Short version: please check out the link and contact the legislature (it's easy if you go there) to preserve access to education for welfare recipients. It's the best way for people to permanently escape poverty.

THREE ITEMS. For those who don't get the Charleston Gazette or the Sunday Gazette Mail, there are three items in there I highly recommend. One is an article by Paul Nyden on economist Dean Baker, who will be giving a talk in Charleston today on the theme of The Conservative Nanny State. Another is an op-ed by Perry Mann on a lifetime of reading. Finally, there is the heart-rending story by Tara Tuckwiller about a young girl from WV who is doing her part to stop the war in Iraq. Her mother is about to be sent there.


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