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Mythology and perfection

There's a little "Booktique Bookstore" here in LO where old library books end up, priced so low that they're virtually free. When I went there one or two months ago, knowing not to look for any specific novels, I decided to indulge myself and see if they had anything on life in the desert or Greek mythology, two interests that have gone largely undiscovered so far. I was unable to find anything useful on the former, but there was plenty on the latter. Eventually I chose Edith Hamilton's "Mythology" after reading a few pages and enjoying the style. It cost me 50 cents - a true investment, I know.

I've been taking my sweet time to read said book, but I do enjoy it every now and then. Yesterday evening I came across a passage that really got to me, about "The Two Great Gods of Earth", Demeter and Dionysus. I quote:

"But he was not always a joy-god, nor was Demeter always the happy goddess of the summertime. Each knew pain as well as joy. In that way, too, they were closely linked together; they were both suffering gods. The other immortals were untouched by lasting grief. "Dwelling in Olympus where the wind never blows and no rain falls ever nor the least white star of snow, they are happy all their days, feasting upon nectar and ambrosia, rejoicing in all-glorious Apollo as he strikes his silver lyre, and the sweet voices of the Muses answer him, while the Graces dance with Hebe and with Aphrodite, and a radiance shines round them all." But the two divinities of Earth knew heart-rending grief. (49)"

Wow. If it weren't for the fact that the ancient Greeks thought it folly to feel true affection for women, and that hygiene was probably pretty poor in those days, this passage would make me want to backtrack and live in the place and time that conceived these ideas. I was stunned by the beauty of the contrast Hamilton describes. The Olympians lived in a place quite devoid of things that symbolize unhappiness or strife, and the Earth gods lived in the midst of horrid wind and weather. Still, I wonder. Would it be all that great to live up on Olympus, where all is fine and dandy? The gods there may not know great grief, but I doubt they know great joy, either. I'm not sure I could live like that - as my friend Chaney once said: "Life is stark. It's beautiful. But I'm not sure it's happy." Light and shadow come together, and that's what creates beauty both in life and in art. Allow me to be a complete dork and quote Kingdom Hearts: "The closer you get to the light, the greater your shadow becomes." Now, in Kingdom Hearts this mostly seemed to be an excuse to throw in some dark enemies, but it can be a meaningful thought, too. The more joy you have, the more you have to lose. At least, that's the way I see it.

Continuing with the Olympus idea, I've always wondered what utopia would look like, and how it could even exist. In my mind a utopian society would have little to strive for, and I can't help but feel that the overarching feeling in such a place would be boredom, not happiness. This was one of the many problems I had when I tried to visualize heaven as a child. People talked about this place that was perfect, but all I could imagine was a blue-white area in the clouds with millions of people stuck in some kind of static existence with no excitement whatsoever. It wasn't somewhere I particularly wanted to go. (Maybe that's why I slipped off the altar and into agnosticism - the only belief I can wholeheartedly agree with.) Either way, I can totally imagine how the Greeks must have felt much more kinship to the gods who knew loss and pain like they did: Demeter, who lost her daughter every fall, and Dionysus, who was ripped to shreds each year when the grapes were harvested.

I love Greek mythology. It's great food for thought - and I'm still hoping to come across some epic novelization of Persephone's fall into the underworld. (Please let me know if it's out there.) Now if only Zeus would stop cultivating children in random parts of his body, I could totally eat these myths up... oh well, nothing's perfect. Thankfully.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 5th, 2009 05:18 pm (UTC)
Nice post . . . I agree with you on several points. I don't think happiness can exist without sorrow, because if all you ever know is perfection/happiness/utopia, then you won't appreciate it (and therefore, you still won't be happy, even though you won't be sad, either). Does that make any sense? Sometimes abstract ideas like that are hard to properly explain in words. Anyway, I've always thought of sadness/happiness as two sides of the same coin (kind of like hatred/love), without one, the other can't exist (because then you'd have a one-sided coin and I don't think those exist).

But yeah, I love Greek mythology too. It's super interesting. In eighth grade, we had to do a project on a Greek god/goddess of our choice... I ended up choosing Artemis (Goddess of the Hunt). The stories about her ended up interesting me so much that I did extra research on other Greek gods/goddesses, too.
Aug. 6th, 2009 12:58 am (UTC)
Oooh projects that actually turn out to be interesting! What good stuff did you find out? Artemis was mentioned briefly in my book, but I haven't heard any long stories about her so far.

Haha, I agree right back! Even about the fact that abstract ideas are hard to put into words.

One thing that I wonder about is whether love and hatred are truly opposites. They seem to come hand in hand a lot - I feel like apathy is the true opposite of either one. You know how it goes - you love someone, something happens, you hate them. The feelings change, but the passion doesn't seem to dim down. What say you? I've discussed it with one of my friends and I'm not sure what I agree with.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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