Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

5 March, 2012

Five of a Thing: Graeco-Roman Gods

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Yes, it’s that time again, where the deadline haunts, and I need something useful and easy to say, and I turn to a list. Seeking to avoid a repeat of last time’s debacle, I’m aiming for a safer subject. My head is currently full of Greek and Roman mythology, both from reading through course literature and from a recent re-watch of HBO’s Rome. Great show that. Rather than try to sort out something coherent on this topic right now, I’m going to give you my favourite gods. Yes, and ranked this time, by my interest. You heard it here first folks, the final and definitive mythological popularity contest! (Hubris? What’s that?) So here we go, top five Graeco-Roman gods!

5 – Janus

The only really Roman god on the list, and at the end of it at that. Janus is one of those gods who seem like they should be hugely important, what with controlling doors and such, yet somehow don’t figure to much. The reason he gets on my list right now is because I really like the concept of one of his temples in Rome, the one with the gates of war. Whenever Rome was at war, the gates were open – this was most of the time. Augustus apparently bragged that he managed to close the gates a whooping three times in his reign.

4 – Zeus

Head lecher of Olympus, but he only reaches the number four spot on my list. Sure he’s big and strong and kingly and all that, but he’s not terribly interesting. Where he really shines, though, is in his, ahem, sexual escapades. There’s really nothing else to call them. This is the guy who seemingly slept with at least half of Greece, and never as the same animal twice.

3 – Dinoysus

Zeus may be a party dude on paper, but Dionysos is the real Michelangelo in the dodecatheon, at least when he’s counted among them. Sex, drugs, women, wine and song – no wonder this guy was popular. My interest in him comes more from his foreign status, though – something I had never heard about until I began reading about this for my course. Dionysus was a god who came from somewhere else, in his fundamental conception an outsider that invaded Greek order with his man bacchanalia. That’s worth a number three spot for sure.

2 – Hephaestus

Who got a rawer deal than Hephaestus? His whole reason for being is to prove the point that women aren’t any good at doing stuff for themselves, and he goes on to be the Olympian butt monkey. Even when he does smithing well, he gets no respect. There’s something eminently loveable in an underdog like that, but not enough to outweigh the sheer cool-factor of the number one spot.

1 – The Erinyes

Well …

We are the skilled, the masterful,
we the great fulfillers,
memories of grief, we awesome spirits
stern, unappeasable to man,
disgraced, degraded, drive our powers through;
banished far from god to a sunless, torchlit dusk,
we drive men through their rugged passage,
blinded dead and those who see by day.

Then where is the man
not stirred with awe, not gripped by fear
to hear us tell the law that
Fate ordains, the gods concede the Furies,
absolute till the end of time?
And so it holds, our ancient power still holds.
We are not without our pride, though beneath the earth
our strict battalions form their lines,
grouping through the mist and sun-starved night.

– Aeschylus’s Eumenides

‘Nuff said.

1 March, 2012

In the Beginning

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

In the beginning, there was nothing, only a great void, empty and lifeless. Then, at either end of it, two realms were created; one of smoke and ashes and ever-burning fires, the other of cold and snow and never-melting ice. The ice from the cold realm spread into the void which remained between the two, and there it met sparks from the realm of fire which melted it, and from the meeting of the two forces, a giant was born. And a cow. The cow provided him with milk, and fed itself on the salt stones from the cold realm. As it licked at a stone, a man appeared from within it, and came to life. He had a son, presumably with one of the creatures created from the giant’s sweat, who again had three sons. These three killed the great giant, plopped his corpse down in the void, and created the world from it – mountains from his bones, soil from his flesh, and the sky from his skull, that sort of thing. Finally, they took two logs of lumber, and made them into a man and a woman, and got the human race started as well.

I am currently reading a book which contains creation myths from various cultures all over the world. Not full holy books or epics, just salient excerpts concerning the creation of the world, the world order and mankind. The one I just recounted, as I’m sure you sussed out somewhere around the second sentence, is the Norse creation story, taken from Gylfaginning, a charming tale of a Swede getting swindled – just the sort of reading we like here in Norway. Though it would have been even better if he was a Dane.

In the beginning, the Plough married the Earth, and they had the Sea and the Cattle God. Then the Earth seduced the Cattle God, who killed his father and married his sister, the Sea, and had the God of the Herd, who also killed his father, and then married his mother (the Sea), who then killed her mother (the Earth), and they had a son who married his sister, the River, and killed both his father and his mother, and had the Shepherd God who married his sister, Graze-and-Poplar, and I think you see where this is going.

Ancient Babylonia was a bloody soap opera. I’m not really sure what lessons that particular tale of a generational bloodshed that puts the House of Atreus to shame imparts, but I am sure the ancient Babylonians saw their society reflected in it somehow. Mythology fascinates me, both the phenomenon as an expression of human culture and what it says about both the culture and humanity in general, and frequently also as stories in their own right. And what story could be more intriguing than the start of everything? As someone who endeavours to write his own stories, getting under the skin of the oldest and truest ones can only be a good thing.

In the beginning, there was nothing, which exploded.

OK, that one’s not in my book, that’s a Pratchett quote, and while I don’t mean to say that the scientists who work with this particular area don’t know what they’re talking about, I do think that the idea of the Big Bang has become a pretty much mythical event in the popular conciousness. Pop culture is, in a way, the mythology we produce in this day and age. I doubt there are many outside the labs who actually understand everything  about the theory; I am certainly not one of them.

In the beginning, the Earth fell from the sky – stones and mountains and soil and water plummeting down from the great Above to settle down here and into the shape of the world. From the soil, plants grew, and people too sprouted from the earth as little children, feeding of the soil. A man and a woman appears to give them clothes. As they grew up and became many, they cried out for dogs, and dogs appeared from the earth as well. Then people learned how to die, and society could get started.

That tale from Greenland is so refreshingly straightforward and unconcerned; I think it is my favourite so far, but there’s no guarantee it won’t have to share the limelight. I’m not very far into the book yet. I’m still at the beginning.

Ba-dum-psh.

23 February, 2012

Kyrie Eleison

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.

We’ve entered Lent. Yesterday, members of churches more civilised than my own smeared ash on their foreheads, as a reminder of humility and a sign of penitence. We’re 45 days away from Easter, though the shops here started selling Easter candy last week. That little quote up there obviously doesn’t sum up Christian teachings on what a human is, but it is the focus of this particular season of the year – admitting fault, finding flaws, and making reparations.

Fasting during Lent isn’t widely practised these days, and I honestly don’t think that matters all that much. Fasting just for the sake of fasting won’t get you very far, I think. We’ve replaced abstaining from meat with giving up a luxury, in these parts of the world, and even that is probably not too widespread. While that, too, won’t really get you very far, I think there is a value in going without something you don’t really need, and making yourself realise how needless it really is. One of my former professors, a Hindu, told me she used to give up something new for Lent every year, to gradually pare down her dependence on non-essential distractions. I usually give up sweets, and maybe once of these years it’ll actually stick once Easter arrives.

Giving up luxuries isn’t really the point of Lent, though. It is about penitence. Penitence isn’t really something we Christians like to talk about any more –  it carries connotations of fire and brimstone and angry clergy threatening Hell and damnation; it just sounds dour and grey and oppressive, but it really shouldn’t. Penitence isn’t a bad thing, and it shouldn’t cause depression and existential dread.

Christians are sometimes perceived to be smug and superior bastards, insufferably arrogant twats looking down on the rest of the world. Sometimes that perception might be accurate. But that’s not they way it really is.  The best a Christian can hope to be is a penitent sinner, to steal a phrase from a vicar friend of mine (Don’t worry, I’ll be penitent for it later). Humans aren’t perfect, we make mistakes every day, and we don’t stop making them just because we’re religious. What Christ offered was forgiveness for errors, not inerrancy.

There is a prayer, and it is the easiest prayer to pray in the world. So many, many times I find myself using it. It has nothing to do with penitence. It comes from a parable, and can be found in Luke, chapter 18, verses 11-12. A Pharisee and a tax collector have come to the temple, and the Pharisee prays it aloud. “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” It’s a prayer of judgement, of seeing the mistakes in others and ignoring them in ourselves, and becoming insufferably arrogant twats.

Penitence is about admitting the mistakes we’ve made, sins in the parlance, and then accepting forgiveness. Lent is the season leading up to Easter, when the central event of our religion is commemorated. Before the grand miracle of forgiveness, we have a period of penitence, where we get to use that other prayer, the hard one, the tax collector’s prayer, which gives so much comfort.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

« Newer Posts

Powered by WordPress