August 07, 2008


The fearsome goddess, courtesy of wikipedia.

On the walls of the temple of the god Apollo at Delphi were carved the words "Meden agan" and "gnothi seauton"--Nothing in excess and Know thyself. As words of wisdom go, those are two of the best.

It was commonly held that excess (hubris) leads to destruction. (Good thing that doesn't happen any more, huh?). The "Know thyself" thing could be interpreted in lots of ways but the main idea was know that you are just a mortal, not a god.

A basic idea that runs through Greek mythology is that of nemesis, personified as a goddess of the same name that "gives what is due." When people are excessive, i.e. when they act as if they were gods, they have to pay the price. Although the goddess Nemesis doesn't have a speaking role in the Odyssey, the concept does.

Like Dylan said, "When you bite off more than you can chew/you've got to pay the penalty."

That was the case of the Greeks at Troy. After they finally gained access to the city they had besieged for 10 years, they committed a number of atrocities and excesses. Achilles' son Neoptolemos killed King Priam at his family altar. The child Astyanax, son of Hector and Andromache, is thrown from the city walls. According to some versions, Ajax the Lesser raped Cassandra, daughter of Priam, in the temple of Athena.

The gods were not amused.

For those reasons, the "victors" at Troy must pay a heavy price. Some, like King Agamemnon, will be slain when they reach home. Menelaus and Helen won't make it home for eight years. Ajax the Less will drown on the way home. Many others die on the way as well.

Odysseus must wander and suffer for 10 years and go home to face much trouble. In the epic cycle, the characters frequently opine that the lucky ones fell in battle.

As you may have noticed, sometimes you lose when you win and vice versa.

The Odyssey is all about the perils of homecoming and the price of excess.

SPEAKING OF NEMESIS. Thomas Frank ponders the conservative crackup in his latest book. Here's a preview.

HEY NEMESIS, COULD YOU PUT THESE GUYS ON YOUR LIST? It looks like Wal-Mart's latest attempt to intimidate employees might have backfired a little. Not enough...

HUNGRY PLANET. Here's an item on possible responses to the global food crisis.

CLIMATE CHANGE SKEPTICISM is predictable but unaffordable, according to this item from the Boston Globe.

QUEEN OF THE STARS. Brian May, founder and guitar meister of the rock group Queen just published his Ph. D. thesis on astronomy. I hope it comes with a guitar solo. For that matter, we should name a galaxy for Freddie Mercury. A planet just isn't enough.


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