August 20, 2008


Just one look/that's all it took. In this ancient vase, Menelaus is stopped from killing his unfaithful wife Helen by one look at her beauty. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

The Goat Rope Odyssey series continues. If you like the classics, please click on earlier posts. You'll also find news and comments about current events.

When you're in a bad way, sometimes you feel better if at least you have a plan to try something. When things are bad for Odysseus' son Telemachus--his mother's suitors are devouring his substance and threatening his life while his father is apparently dead--the goddess Athena gives him a boost. She inspires him to take a sea voyage to visit his father's comrades at Troy to seek for news.

He receives great hospitality but not much news from Nestor, king of Pylos. He then proceeds to visit Menelaus, king of Sparta, and his wife Helen, who was a major cause of the whole Trojan War. Menelaus tells of an encounter with the minor sea god Proteus who told him that Odysseus was still alive. The most interesting part of the story, though, is that of the very troubled marriage of Menelaus and Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world.

Back in the proverbial day, all the leading men of Greece courted her and swore to uphold the marriage when Menelaus prevailed. But when the Trojan prince Paris visited Sparta, he abducted Helen, not altogether unwillingly, and took her to Troy. This wasn't just bad manners--it was sacrilege, a terrible violation of xenia, the sacred guest/host relationship. According to the myth, this was what led the Greeks to invade Troy and fight there for 10 long years.

Paris is killed towards the end of the war. When the city is finally taken, Menelaus nearly kills Helen but is overwhelmed by her beauty and brings her back to Sparta where they try to get back to normal.

Now every marriage has issues, but this one is way over the top. There's not just infidelity, there's also a war that brought disaster on thousands of people on both sides. How do they deal with all those bad memories and recriminations? The answer is...drugs.

Then Zeus's daughter Helen thought of something else.
Into the mixing-bowl from which they drank their wine
she slipped a drug, heart's-ease, dissolving anger,
magic to make us all forget our pains...
No one who drank it deeply, mulled in wine,
could let a tear roll down his cheeks that day,
not even if his mother should die, his father die,
not even if right before his eyes some enemy brought down
a brother or darling son with a sharp bronze blade...

(There have been times when El Cabrero wouldn't have refused a swig of that mix.)

Then as now, people who have gone through war and other traumas often seek to dull the pain through self medication. It's probably not the best way of dealing with such things. In fact, as Jonathan Shay points out in his discussion of the Odyssey, it often causes people to miss or lose their homecoming.

But with a couple like that, what are you going to do?

DOES ANYBODY ELSE SEE A TINY BIT OF IRONY IN THIS STATEMENT by Condoleezza Rice about how invading another country can make a bad impression?

The behavior of Russia in this most recent crisis is isolating Russia from the principles of cooperation among nations of the communities of states when you start invading small neighbors, bombing civilian infrastructure, going into villages and wreaked havoc and wanton destruction of this infrastructure [emphasis added] .

HUNGRY PLANET, AGAIN. Here's another take on the global food crisis.

NOT A GOOD SIGN of the health of the economy, here's the latest on a key economic indicator.

A LITTLE GOOD NEWS about environmental innovations can be found here.

THE MIRROR STAGE. Magpies can recognize themselves in a mirror. Discuss.


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