Did Curiosity Kill the Human Race?

At the beginning of time, only the gods existed. They had ruled the heavens for centuries. The titan Prometheus, was charged by Zeus with creating Mankind (perhaps the gods were getting creative that day). Prometheus created mankind and gave them many blessings. One day, he stole fire from the heavens and gave it to the humans, thinking that it would assist them.

Prometheus

Zeus, of course, was beyond angry as fire was sacred to the gods. Prometheus was given a horrible punishment, he was chained to a rock. The Fury (a very furious bird)  came every day and plucked out the titan’s liver. Prometheus would die every night and return in the morning, for the whole process to be repeated.

The Fury comes to punish Prometheus every day.

But did Prometheus really deserve to be punished? In the beginning, fire was never a bad thing. The humans used it for cooking, warmth and light. Zeus’s problem wasn’t the fire itself you see, but the act of giving the puny human race the heavenly fire of the gods. Hundreds of years later, Zeus realized that the actual fire itself was becoming a problem.

Below him, the world was getting worse. The air was getting smokey and the village was covered in ashes. Zeus decided to punish Prometheus more.

Due to a popular Latin mistranslation, many people believe it to be Pandora’s Box instead of Pandora’s Jar.

The gods decided to create the first woman out of clay. She was called Pandora. She was given the gift of curiosity and trickiness from Hermes. Pandora was delivered to Prometheus’s naive brother Epimetheus, along with a tall clay jar. She was told to never open the jar, but she begged Epimetheus to let her. The jar contained the all the evils in the world. These were thrust upon the human race. The phrase ‘To open Pandora’s box’ means to perform an act that seems meaningless and have a severe far fledged consequence from it.

In some versions of the myth though, there was one spirit at the bottom of the jar, that got released after the others. It was Elpis, the spirit of hope. Although the gods wished for the humans to suffer from Prometheus’ mistake, they also left mankind with the one thing that can help everyone (even Prometheus).  The spirit of hope.

Did Curiosity Kill the Human Race?

Athena And Her City

As you probably know, the capital of Greece is Athens. Athens is an ancient city that has been the heart of Greece for centuries. It is one of the world’s oldest cities. The patron of Athens is Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, crafts and stratagy. In 447 BC, the parthenon was built in Athens for Athena. It still stands today. The idea was that it would be equal to a hero’s adobe, but made for a goddess.

This picture shows the Parthenon in Athens, Greece.
This picture shows the Parthenon in Athens, Greece.

Athens didn’t always belong to Athena though. There is an old Greek myth about how the patron of Athens came to be. The story starts that Athens was a new city, and had requested a god to help their city. Poseidon (god of the sea) and Athena both came forth. To make their decision, the people staged a contest. Whichever god could offer them something more benefitial to the city, would be chosen as the patron. Poseidon created the first salt water spring. Athena created the olive tree. Since the city was low on food, they chose the olive tree and ate olives and olive oil. Athena was officially their patron.

This statue is the Athena Parthenos, a statue of Athena holding Nike in the Parthenon.
This statue is the Athena Parthenos, a statue of Athena holding Nike in the Parthenon.

Athena is popular in myth for helping the heroes. She is the daughter of Zeus, sprung from his brain, and often got in trouble for meddling in mortal affairs. She famously helped Perseus kill Medusa and even assisted Hercules in his 12 labours. She also was on the Greek side of the Trojan War and thought of the idea of the Trojan Horse. She protected Odysseus fiercely since she stated that she could see her traits in him.

The parthenon still stands in Athens, as a memento of ancient Greece and Athena. Thousands of tourists visit it every day, but few know the truth about why it stands there.

Athena And Her City

The Origins of Tragedy

Tragedy was a common theme in ancient Greece. Heroes often suffered tragic fates or had to deal with tragic circumstances. The idea of tragedy is thought by scholars to have originated in the 6th century B.C. Every year in Greece, a festival was held in March called the Greater Dionysia. It was held to pay tribute to Dionysus, the

This statue depicts Dionysus with one of his sons and his traditonal bunch of grapes.
This statue depicts Dionysus with one of his sons and his traditonal bunch of grapes.

hero turned god of wine and theatre.

During the festivals, bulls were sacrificed to a temple of Dioynsus. Following this, four days of dramatic competition occured. Each participant would have to present a play in their given genre (tragedy, comedy, satyr). The winner was given a crown of ivy. This was the first literary mention of the concept of tragedy.

An ancient theatre in Greece.
An ancient theatre in Greece.

There are two main types of tragedy discussed in greek literature; atê and hamartia. Atê is defined as veering abberration or derangement. It is also a disaster or punishment for a disaster. Hamartia is an error or flaw. Metaphorically speaking, atê was a ship being blown off course by an evil wind. Or simply put, something being punished by fate. Hamartia is like missing the mark while shooting a moving target. This is basically when someone causes their own fate by error.

Tragedy is also described as tracing a chain of wrongdoings. When one mistake is made, it has an effect on something which then causes something else and so forth. The chain of tragedy is made up of causes and their effects. To end this chain, a wrongdoing must be corrected or in the case of most greek heroes, someone in the chain must die so it cannot continue. In some greek stories, we also see the chain continuing after death which means that the particular hero may have died in vain.

The Origins of Tragedy

The Garden and the Desert

Imagine a straight line, direct and to the point. In ancient Greece, this represented dikē which means justice, judgement and being direct. Now imagine a crooked line. This line is indirect and could be going any 360 directions in a circle. This represented hubris or outrage. Dikē and hubris are opposites of each other. Through the power of words, hubris can be transformed into dikē as well. Another metaphor commonly used was that dikē is a flourished garden, while hubris is a desert.

lines

The concept of dikē or morality in general is scarcely seen in Homeric poetry. While the characters often struggle with these emotions, we are not usually explicitly told what is wrong and what is right. We see a rare example of this in The Odyssey when Nestor is speaking of the aftermath of the Trojan War. He states that Zeus planned a cruel nostos (homecoming) for the Achaeans. Apparently he did this because they had no sense of noos or dikē and therefore were doomed to receive the mēnis of Athena. Simply put, they were being punished for having no sense of mind or justice.

We see another use of dikē in the Odyssey when Odysseus is discussing Penelope (Wife of Odysseus) with a village of people. He is in disguise at her funeral and during his speech he goes “The kleos of Penelope will reach the heavens, like a good king who upholds dikē, so that the earth flourishes and people prosper.” This speech gives the metaphor I mentioned earlier, of a flourishing garden or earth representing dikē.

Penelope and Odysseus embrace after he returns home. She died shortly after.
Penelope and Odysseus embrace after he returns home. She died shortly after.
The Garden and the Desert

The Timeless Hero

For heroes, timing is everything. They need to be quick and ready in the moments of need. To be even a second to late means potenially putting someone’s life in danger.

The very etmology of the word hero means to be seasonal, or timely. Hero comes from the Greek word hora. This is also the prefix for Hera, the Greek goddess of marriage, seasons and motherhood. The literal meaning of hora is the right time, or seasonality. Hera is the immortal representation of seasonality, while heroes are the mortal counterpart. Arguably the most famous hero, Hercules, is named after Hera. His name means the ‘Glory of Hera’.

This statue depicts the goddess queen Hera.
This statue depicts the goddess queen Hera.

The beauty and glory of heroes is earned by their ability to be timely and timeless. The myths of Hercules, Achilles and other heroes have lasted over 2500 years. These figures became timeless in their deaths. With death comes legacy and that is what we remember.

This ancient papyrus tells of old greek stories from over 2500 years ago.
This ancient papyrus tells of old greek stories from over 2500 years ago.

When a hero dies, he is telos, which means that he is coming full circle. You become blessed after coming full circle. The worshippers become blessed also by telos. Their telos is learning the mysteries of the cult and the hero. For them, they are experiencing a reenactment of the figure’s death. Again using Hercules as an example, a festival was celebrated every July or August in Greece called Heracleia, which was dedicated to the hero. For worshippers, this was a way to come full circle.

The Timeless Hero

Blessed are the Heroes

In the ancient world, death was never feared. The Egyptians for example, spend most of their lives preparing for death. The Romans were proud to die. In Greece, the dead were honoured more than the living sometimes.

Ancient Greek temple from Classical period.

Since the Greeks were big on worshipping, tens of thousands of temples were built all over Greece to honour the dead.  To the Greeks, heroes were more beautiful in death than in life. Heroes were blessed (oblois) after death and their worshippers became blessed after worshipping the hero.

One example of this is found in Book XI of Odyssey. He is returning from his voyage in which he greatly angered Poseidon, by blinding his son Polyphemus. The ghost of Theban (an old prophet from Thebes) came to advise him. He said that if Odysseus found a town that had never honoured Poseidon before, he would sacrifice a boar there. Odysseus would be free on his way and when he was elderly and full of knowledge, the sea would eventually take his life.

Odysseus and his crew at sea.

The people of the town would be oblois because they forever worshipped the sacred ground of the boar sacrifice to Poseidon. Odysseus recieves his nostos (return) and kleos (glory) by being allowed to live. By the presence of Odysseus, the people are blessed.

Blessed are the Heroes

Glory: Not Always a Good Thing

I’ve said before that glory is the most important thing for a hero. Glory, however means nothing if no one is around to see it. We see this in book 12 of the Odyssey.

Odysseus is at sea and decides to dock his ship at a cave filled island with several crew mates. After docking, he finds that several cyclopes are living on the island. They are welcomed and entertained. The next morning, Odysseus wakes up to find that one of his crewmen was eaten by the now apparent cannibal cyclopes.

A bust of Polyphemus, the leader of the Cyclopes on the island.
A bust of Polyphemus, the leader of the Cyclopes on the island.

Throughtout the day, all of the crew, except Odysseus, is eaten by the cyclopes. Odysseus takes to hiding inside on of the caves. Polyphemus, the biggest cyclopes, finds him and says “Tell me your name.”

Odysseus replies “Outis” meaning “Nobody” in greek. Odysseus runs away and the cyclopes claims that he will kill him. Odysseus returns when Polyphemus is sleeping and stabs him in his eye. Polyphemus, now blind, begins to shout: “Nobody hurt me” and “Kill Nobody”. The other cyclopes were so confused that they didn’t notice Odysseus running away back to his ship.

Odysseus is greeted by Polyphemus in his cave.
Odysseus is greeted by Polyphemus in his cave.

Since he was the only man alive on the island, Odysseus never told the cyclopes who he really was. He didn’t need to flaunt his glory while no one was around to hear.

When Odysseus got back to his ship, he bragged about his escape and being ‘nobody’. Cyclopes have excellent hearing and Polyphemus heard and prayed to his godly parent, Poseidon. Poseidon, the god of the sea, cursed Odysseus’ ships and it crashed into the rocky caves. Odysseus managed to stay alive, and he floated aimlessly in the Ocean. He ended up on Calypso’s island.

This statue depicts Poseidon, the god of the sea. He is seen with his golden trident, his weapon of choice.
This statue depicts Poseidon, the god of the sea. He is seen with his golden trident, his weapon of choice.

If Odysseus could have waited a little bit to tell of his story, he probably wouldn’t have ended up stranded on Ogygia. The fatal flaw of most heroes is that they tend to be boastful and are always too willing to tell of their glory. Sometimes this isn’t a bad thing; but for Odysseus, it most definitley was.

Glory: Not Always a Good Thing