June 09, 2009

A history of violence

The punishment of Tantalus.

"I know this house's ancestry--
it's pedigree of sin."

Violence seems to run through families, generations, countries and even entire regions of the world, with outrage breeding outrage. Sadly, sometimes those who were its victims become its perpetrators.

Ending that seemingly endless cycle and establishing a higher social order is the theme of the Oresteia by Aeschylus. Although its message is profoundly political, the dramatic trilogy focuses on how violence played out in one family...and what a family it was.

Here's a short summary of the backstory of the drama:

1. Tantalus served up his son Pelops (literally) at a banquet for the gods. They were not amused and he was one of the few ancients to qualify for personalized eternal damnation by being "tantalized" with food and drink but forever unable to get it. The gods reconstructed Pelops physically but not morally.

2. Pelops sabotaged the chariot of his father-in-law to be, which led to his death. Then he double crossed and murdered they guy who helped him do it. The guy not surprisingly cursed the house with his last breath.

3. Pelops sons Atreus and Thyestes set a new standard for nastiness. First, they contested for power. Then Thyestes seduced the wife of Atreus. Then, after a family meeting for "reconciliation," Atreus kills Thyestes children and serves them for dinner to their unknowing father. One, Aegisthus, got away.

Nice guys, huh?

In the play proper, the merry dance goes on:

4. Agamemnon, son of Atreus, sacrifices his own daughter Iphigenia in order to get fair winds to sail for Troy at the beginning of that war.

5. On his return, Clytemnestra with the help of her lover Aegisthus (remember him?) kills Agamemnon.

6. Orestes, son of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, kills his own mother at the order of Apollo.

Then it really gets messy.

While all that sounds like an incredible downer, the plays are actually optimistic about the possibility of people, with the help of divine wisdom, to rise above all that and break the endless cycle.

More to come.

GO, SUPREMES! The big news around here is the US Supreme Court's decision regarding Massey Energy and whether a state justice elected with money from CEO Don Blankenship should recuse himself form cases involving the company. The court said he should. Here's the NY Times on it. Here's the Washington Post. And here's the Charleston Gazette.

A "WARRIOR GENE?" Some scientists think they've found one that is associated with violence. Hmmm...maybe that explains the whole Atreus thing.

ON THAT NOTE, global spending on weapons is through the roof.

BULLY FOR YOU. The research is in, and some strategies seem to work in confronting bullying.


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