June 06, 2009

Animal updates

Please join us in welcoming Little Larry (no comment on the name source but some of y'all know what I'm talking about) to Goat Rope Farm. Arcadia S. Venus is the proud mother.

Some weeks back, we reported the arrival of our first turkey baby. Here is the little hopper whose name at this point appears to be The Little Hopper. He seems to be doing just fine.

While we're at it, here's Arpad, our 140 pound lawn ornament, aka Sweet Little Angel Baby from Jesus in Heaven aka Whitey on the Moon. He's supposed to protect the critters but spends a good bit of his time hanging out with his girlfriend down the holler.


June 05, 2009

Enemy brothers

(Goat Rope's survey of Greek tragedy continues. You'll also find links and comments about current events below.)

When men die by a kinsman's hand,
When brother is murdered by brother,
And the dust of the earth drinks in
The crimson blood that blackens and dries,
Who then can provide cleansing?
Who can wash it away?

The theme of enemy brothers shows up pretty often in myth, sacred stories and folklore--and sometimes in real life. Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Romulus and Remus are a few that come to mind.

In Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes, it's the two sons of Oedipus, Eteocles and Polyneices. The two were supposed to alternate in power in Thebes following the...uhhh...family problems of their old man, but Eteocles refused to yield to his brother. Polyneices then roused an army led by himself and six other heroes, hence the title.

Both were cursed by their father for maltreatment after his fall. Oedipus predicted that their inheritance would be divided by a stranger, which turned out to be iron.

There's not a great deal of action in this play. Eteocles, attended by a chorus of Theban women, receives news from and gives orders to a herald, dispatching forces to guard six gates of the city from the invading army. The last enemy at the gate is his brother. Though he is warned against shedding kindred blood, he insists on facing Polyneices himself and they kill each other.

Kinship problems ran in that family...

The ending of the play, which anticipates Sophocles' Antigone, may have been tampered with by later scribes. It is of course the later Oedipus plays of Sophocles that are best known, but cursed families such as his were a favorite tragic theme of Greek dramatists.

Aeschylus was particularly concerned with the cycle and spiral of violence through the generations and how this could be brought to an end. He took up the subject at length in his Orestes trilogy, a masterpiece for the ages. More on that next week.

GETTING IT RIGHT THIS TIME. Here's Paul Krugman with warnings on health care reform.

GREENING COWS. A change of diet may reduce methane production caused by windy cows.

ALTRUISM. This item speculates on what may have been its bloody roots.

DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS. Here's the link I messed up yesterday on a new report showing that West Virginians lead the nation in psychological distress.


June 04, 2009

The first cowgirls

The Danaides, by John William Waterhouse by way of wikipedia.

"On trouble's wing you will not find two plumes alike.."

Goat Rope lately has been looking at Greek tragedies, with those of Aeschylus being the main items on the menu at present. If you scroll down, you'll also find links and comments about current events.

Most of the plays by Aeschylus and the other tragic dramatists that survived to the present are incomplete trilogies. One such is The Suppliants, the first and only survivor of a trilogy that relates the story of the daughters of Danaus, a descendant if Io.

If you recall, Io was a young woman of Argos who attracted the amorous attention of Zeus. Hera tried to head things off and punish her by turning her into a cow tormented by a gadfly. She wandered the known world and eventually wound up in Egypt, where she was restored to human form and gave birth to Zeus' child Epaphus.

The trilogy by Aeschylus takes place a couple of generations later when Danaus and his 50 daughters flee Egypt to avoid a forced marriage to the 50 sons of their uncle Aegyptus. They seek refuge in their ancestral city of Argos, where King Pelasgus and the citizens of the city grant it. They are pursued by the sons of Aegyptus, which is pretty much where the action ends.

What probably happened in the rest of the trilogy was that Pelasgus was killed in the ensuing fight and Danaus became tyrant (non-hereditary ruler, not necessarily a dictator) of Thebes and was forced to agree to the marriages. The daughters of Danaus agree to kill their husbands and all but one, Hypermnestra, do so. She was motivated by love and for this is punished by her father.

Danaus in turn is killed by Hypermnestra's husband Lynceus, who becomes ruler of Thebes. The women who killed their husbands are pardoned with the help of the love goddess Aphrodite.

The theme may have been the power of love to promote reconciliation. One fragment spoken by Aphrodite survives from the concluding play that shows love as a cosmic force on which all things depend:

"Longs the pure sky to blend with Earth, and Love
Doth Earth impel to yield to his embrace;
The rain shower, falling from the slumberous heaven,
Kisses the Earth; and Earth brings forth for mortals
Pasture for sheep-flocks and Demeter's grain.
The woods in spring their dewy nuptials hold;
And of all these I am in part the cause."

The play and the earlier myths that inspired it raise some interesting issues. One is the debt the Greeks felt they owed to Egypt. Another is the sacred relationship between guest and host and especially that between a suppliant--someone who begs for mercy and/or help--and the person to whom he or she appeals. Zeus was the patron of supplicants and it was considered dangerous to deny mercy when someone pleaded for it.

Blessed are the merciful, in other words. As the chorus puts it in the play,

"If you respect the suppliant,
The sacrifice you pay will be the best
That a man of pure life can offer
On the gracious altars of the gods"


BUBBLE (HOUSING) BUBBLE, toil and trouble.

HEALTH CARE. The recession has caused many Americans to cut back on refilling prescriptions. Meanwhile, here's the latest on President Obama's approach to health care reform.

THIS JUST IN. Scientists can track penguin poop from space. While that is undoubtedly a worthy objective in itself, they are using it to locate penguin colonies. I'm waiting for the wolverines...

STRESSED OUT. Residents of El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia have the highest rate of psychological distress, according to a new federal report.


June 03, 2009

Ziggy and Xerxes

Themistocles, leader of the Greek naval forces at Salamis. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

"For pride will blossom; soon its ripening kernel is
Infatuation; and its bitter harvest, tears."

A common image of Greek tragedy is one that El Cabrero likes to think of as the Ziggy Stardust interpretation. I am referring to the David Bowie song in which the title character "took it all too far/but boy could he play guitar"--i.e., he was someone brought down by excess.

That doesn't work for all tragedies but it fits Aeschylus' The Persians pretty well. In it, the Persian ruler Xerxes plays Ziggy. Master of a huge land empire and incredible wealth, he wasn't content with what he had but planned a massive invasion of Greece.

For Aeschylus, Herodotus, and many others, Xerxes was the embodiment of hubris and excess, which was also impiety--the pagan equivalent of blasphemy--against the gods.

One example of this impiety as far as the Greeks were concerned was Xerxes' audacity in building a bridge of ships across the Hellespont, the narrow body of water between Asia Minor and Europe. This was seen as the attempt to shackle the sea itself. When a storm damaged this project, he was said to have ordered the sea to be flogged.

In biblical language, this is the pride that goeth before a fall. And the fall comes fast in the tragedy.

It begins with the anxiety of the Persian court and Xerxes' mother Atossa over the army's fate. It gets worse. A messenger arrives with news of the total defeat of the Persian navy at Salamis. It gets so bad that Atossa consults the shade of her dead husband and former emperor Darius, who is appalled by the excess and loss. (Note: not to be nitpicky, but the real Darius planned to do the same thing but died before he could do it.) By the end of the play, a chastened and humbled Xerxes slinks home.

The play can be interpreted as Athenian triumphalism but it seems to me that it was also a warned to a confident city-state and budding empire to avoid making the same kind of mistakes. Too bad it was a warning not taken.

ANOTHER ROUND. Economist Dean Baker is one of several calling for a second stimulus.

GOING UNDERGROUND. Here's an item about infiltrating hate groups.

ANIMAL REGRET. They may experience it too.

IN CASE YOU'RE RUNNING A LITTLE SHORT, here's a new hominid.


June 02, 2009

"...man is mortal and must learn to curb his pride"

Persian Xerxes, by way of wikipedia.

"...Let no man
Scorning the fortune that he has, in greed for more
Pour out his wealth in utter waste. Zeus, throned on high,
Sternly chastises arrogant and boastful men."

Nearly all Greek tragedies are about mythological events. The one exception is The Persians by Aeschylus, which is the earliest surviving tragedy of the earliest tragic writer.

The play is set in the Persian royal city of Susa and it portrays the royal family and court when the news of their disastrous defeat by the Greek navy at Salamis arrives by messenger. Produced only eight years after the event by a veteran of that war, it is the earliest account we have of that decisive conflict.

Perhaps surprisingly, Aeschylus did not demonize his former foes. The Persian nobles are portrayed with respect and a degree of sympathy. As the French writer Albert Camus wrote in The Rebel, "The Greeks never made the human mind into an armed camp, and in this respect we are inferior to them."

The roots of the conflict were the efforts of Athenians to aid Greek colonies that had fallen under Persian rule. The Persian ruler Darius vowed to punish Athens and attempted a punitive expedition in 490 BC which resulted in the Greek victory at Marathon. Darius vowed a major invasion using all the resources of his empire but died before he could carry it out.

That task was left to Xerxes, who is portrayed by Greek sources such as Herodotus and Aeschylus as arrogant and full of hubris. The war began in earnest in August 480 when the Spartans inflicted heavy losses and died to the last man at the pass of Thermopylae. The naval battle at Salamis occurred a month later. Under the leadership of Themistocles, the Persian navy was basically destroyed as an effect force. A land army remained, only to be repelled the following year.

Tomorrow: the play itself.

SPEAKING OF MARATHON, here's an article about a different way of training for one.

THE RIGHT TO ORGANIZE. From the AFLCIO blog, here are links to two op-eds on the Employee Free Choice Act.

OH GOOD. Thanks to the "charity" of BB&T, more Ayn Rand propaganda came our way.

DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS. Here's the messed up link to the article about Charleston's sustainability fair.


June 01, 2009

What if?

Greek hoplite versus Persian warrior. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Have you ever racked your brain wondering what if? What if you or I had done something differently at a critical point in our lives?

For that matter, what if, say, Lincoln or Julius Caesar weren't assassinated? What if Alexander the Great lived another 40 years? What if Trotsky won out over Stalin in the early USSR? What if Hitler had died in a mortar attack during World War I? What if....

That kind of thinking can drive you crazy, but it does serve to point out that personal and world history has lots of places where things could have gone lots of different ways.

One such turning point in the ancient world was the war between Greece and the Persian empire. If anyone was taking bets then, the smart money would have been on the might of Persia rather than on Greece, which was not a nation but a number of independent city states that spent much of their time warring against each other.

Greek tragedy, the theme lately here at Goat Rope, came into its own in the aftermath of the Greek victory over the might of Persia. Aeschylus, the earliest tragedian whose works survive, was himself a veteran of that war. He fought at the battle of Marathon and possibly at Salamis and Plataea.

Although he wrote as many as 90 plays (of which only seven survive) and won many honors for this, his epitaph mentions none of this. Instead, it says:

Aeschylus, Euphorion's son, this tablet hides
Who passed away in Gela where the wheat fields grow:
His bravery the glorious shrine of Marathon can tell
Where the deep-maned Medes had learnt it well.

Interestingly, one of Aeschylus' surviving tragedies portrays this world historic conflict from the point of view of his enemies--and he does it well and respectfully. We seem to have lost that ability.

More on that tomorrow.

CLIMATE CHANGE. Here's something else for the coal industry to deny.

CENTER WHAT? This article argues that American attitudes are leaning in a progressive direction.

DEREGULATION. In this op-ed, Paul Krugman suggests that the roots of the current economic crisis can be traced to the explosion of debt from Reagan era deregulation.

SUSTAIN THIS. Four animals from Goat Rope Farm (eight counting humans) were represented at Charleston WV's Sustainabilty Fair.