May 11, 2009

Living myths

A mask of Dionysus. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

It's an unfortunate turn of language these days that we use the word myth to denote falsehoods or misconceptions, as in "the myth of the free market" or whatever. I'm more inclined to the saying I've seen attributed to various people that goes something like "myths are things that never were but always are."

Thomas Mann, to whom some attribute the thought expressed above, put it like this:

For the myth is the foundation of life; it is the timeless schema, the pious formula into which life flows when it reproduces its traits out of the unconscious.

Some of the most powerful expressions of myth are those developed in Athenian tragedy, an art form that reached its pinnacle in the 5th century BC. As mentioned previously, tragedies were performed as a competition during the spring festival of Dionysus, a god associated with wine, growing things, and ecstasy.

The form developed over time from dithyrambs or choral singing in honor of the god to the recitation of stories from various mythic traditions. Over time, an actor was added to answer the chorus. The English word for hypocrite, by the way, comes from the word for this actor. The tragedian Aeschylus added a second actor, Sophocles a third, and Euripides still more, so that the product is recognizable to modern readers as a play.

Greek tragedies often portray people caught up in a long series of events which they imperfectly understand or understand only when it's too late. Sometimes, they show the disastrous results of excess or a lack of holy moderation which bring on the wrath of the gods.

Far from being something removed from real life, I see tragic themes being played out over and over again in history, politics, family and personal life. Over the next stretch of time, Goat Rope is going to take a look at the surviving tragedies and what they might say to us today.

GREAT FIRST LINE. This article about how Americans are landing on or falling through state and local safety nets says it all:

As millions of people seek government aid, many for the first time, they are finding it dispensed American style: through a jumble of disconnected programs that reach some and reject others, often for reasons of geography or chance rather than differences in need.

TALKING BUSINESS. Here are two items El Cabrero and amigos are working on right now. One is the need to take advantage of stimulus money to help WV deal with its budget problems and the other is about the state's unemployment insurance system and how we can improve it.

WALL TO WALL. Here's the latest edition of the Rev. Jim Lewis' Notes from under the Fig Tree. It's all about walls from wall to wall.

BABOONS are socially smart. Some even make good goat herders. Wait a minute! Don't read this.


No comments: