Breakfast with Pandora caters to everyone interested in ancient Greek and comparative mythology, good stories, the craft of writing, food, theology, education, and other humane things. Ask a question at teenage underscore heroes at yahoo dot com.
Had a question from a longtime reader who is always thoughtful. It's multi-part and probably should be answered by a Ph.D. dissertation, but my take on one part is worth sharing now.
Photo: Zeus loves a good grill-out.
The question, in a nutshell, is this: is Greek Mythology and philosophy propaganda for keeping the rich in power? Or are they honest expressions of all Greeks, slave to aristocrat?
This interests me because of the constant dialogue we have today with the purposes of our modern mythology, especially now with the relentless need to push new content (propaganda?) through as many conduits as possible.
First, on philosophy. This was a newfangled pursuit in ancient Greece that was undertaken by rich men for rich men, and though Socrates showed that philosophy could be disruptive politically, it wasn't promoted to a large group of people the way myth was. So it is sort of in a different category.
As to mythology, the question has taken me up short a bit, because I have romantically seen Greek Mythology as an organic outgrowth of the expression of an entire people, and have never seen it as promoting a rich man's agenda.
Why do I have this feeling that mythology was stubbornly democratic? I'm reminded of a passage from the poet Hesiod, who lived when Greek Mythology was becoming strongly rooted in the Greek mind.
You barons also, cannot even you understand for yourselves How justice works? For the immortals are close to us, they mingle With men, and are aware of those who by crooked decisions Break other men, and care nothing for what the gods think of it. Upon the prospering earth there are thirty thousand immortal Spirits, who keep watch for Zeus and all that men do. They have an eye on decrees given and on hard dealings, And invisible in their dark mist they hover on the whole earth. Justice [Themis] herself is a young maiden. She is Zeus' daughter, And seemly, and repsected by all the gods of Olympus. When any man uses force on her by false impeachment She goes and sits at the feet of Zeus Kronion, her father, And cries out on the wicked purpose of men, so that her people Must pay for the profligacy of their rulers, who for their own greedy purposes Twist the courses of justice aslant by false proclamations. Beware, you barons, of such spirits. Straighten your decisions You eaters of bribes. Banish from your minds the twisting of justice.
Hesiod is famous for being a bit grouchy and going on rants, but he was also one of the most influential poets we know of for the development of Greek Mythology.
The "barons" are the rich oligarchies (small number of powerful, interrelated clans) in individual cities before the advent of democracy, and it's clear that Hesiod at least thought they ought to be doing a much better job on fairness. He uses mythology and religion to show that the cosmic order is predicated on the powerful not taking too much power. In a fun innovation over the idea that Zeus sees all because he is the presider over the sky, Hesiod introduces some spy cam helpers-- thirty thousand of them-- which would make sense to the Greeks, highly animistic people as they were.
There is a lot more here, but let this taste suffice for the moment. Further reading on this subject: the highly democratic use of mythology in Greek tragedy. Start with Antigone, (I recommend the much-improved Perseus interface-- kudos to the Tufts Classics Department) which is multi-layered, but has on the surface a wonderful critique of concentrating power in one ruler.
And as for today? I'm listening closely to Simon Johnson, a professor at MIT who is advocating for the breakup of the big banks, in the fashion of the trust-busting Teddy Roosevelt at the beginning of the last century.
This morning, those words of St. John Chrysostom are ringing in my ears. In English, "Christ is risen. He is risen indeed."
The words are Greek, which is the language of the New Testament. And they show up in the most famous Greek-oriented movie of the last decade, My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding.
Photo: Wildflowers at Easter, and our spirits take us upwards.
The female lead, Toula (Nia Vardalos), is trying to teach her non-Greek boyfriend, Ian (John Corbett), to say Christos anesti, which is a traditional greeting for Greeks at Easter.
He says, "Cheese straws are nasty."
I've been immersed in things Greek lately, through Report to Greco (thanks, Iulia!), the memoir and reflection of the great Greek author, Nikos Kazantzakis. The name Kazantzakis might ring a bell as the author of a novel that was turned into a controversial movie,The Last Temptation of Christ.
Some conservative Christians didn't like Last Temptation because it depicted Jesus as less than an untemptable superman. It's been a long time since I saw this one, and Hollywood often gets Christianity all mixed up. But since I haven't read the book itself, I reserve judgment on Kazantsakis' original vision.
Report to Greco shows us Kazantsakis as a deeply spiritual, imaginative person with a thirst to understand the world, God, and himself. You won't like this book if you think people should just keep things simple, enjoy life, and above all not worry about the details of Christianity.
I never write in books, but I underlined this sentence, because I think it's extraordinary:
And still later, when my mind grew overbroad and my heart overbold, I began to discern something behind God's face as well-- chaos, a terrifying, uninhabited darkness...Possessed by satanic curiosity I went further and discovered the abyss.
The meaning and implications of this sentence are impossible to summarize in a blog post, but the basic gist is that God is way too big for us to understand, and anyone who tries is liable to go crazy.
Right up my alley, and strangely comforting.
Then there is Kazantsakis' pilgrimage to the Greek Orthodox monastery on the peak of Mt. Sinai. A mind-blowing account for another blog post.
I am not finished with this book yet. It's 512 dense pages, and unlike a lot of books, I hardly skim over a word.
I found Report to Greco at the huge sale that's held annually by the county library one city over. There are a million books at that sale, and they are only rudimentarily sorted. If I had gone looking for Report to Greco, I never would have found it. But because of some invisible grace, I was led to it, sitting on a table chock-a-block to fifty other titles in which I had no interest. Another instance of the Holy Random Empire.
Easter, in the tradition of my church, goes 40 days, and each day is a day for celebration. I wish everyone the spirit of that celebration in their lives, and pray for this broken world that needs that spirit so urgently.
If there were any beer that could, Sean Lilly Wilson would get it made. He is the brains behind Fullsteam Brewery, a local brewpub startup that is hoping to get up and running this year in Durham, North Carolina.
Full disclosure:Sean is a friend of mine and so I am biased. But I like what he's doing as a local entrepreneur who wants to benefit the community.
Sean's vision is Southern beer, locally made, enjoyed at a local place where everyone knows your name, or close to it.
Southern beer? That's beer that comes from ingredients at home in the Southern USA, or goes well with food from the Southern USA-- such as Fullsteam's Hogwash, a hickory-smoked porter (dark beer) designed to go with barbecue (that is, whole pig roasted overnight, for you non-Southern folks).
Or a sweet potato-enriched beer. Or one with Scuppernong grapes, which are native to North Carolina. The message: Budweiser is from St. Louis. Drink something from a little closer by.
Fullsteam is not just about new ingredients, however. Sean wants to open a pub that's truly open to the public-- a place to take your laptop, sure, but even better, a place to meet people and spend a couple of relaxed hours. Is there any way to stop the frenzy of our busy, busy, busy lives? Have your PTA meeting at Fullsteam. After a pint or so, the meeting will run that much smoother.
I have often been told I need a "third place" to lower my blood pressure and stress level. That is, a place other than home and work, a place that doesn't have the focus of home or work. People in the UK have known this for centuries. That's the place Fullsteam aims to be.
I'm also rooting for Fullsteam because of the courage-- and hard work-- it takes to open a new, community-oriented business in these tough, transitional, even transformational times. Seems like nowadays the only startups that can work are the ones that emphasize the virtual-- such as writing the killer app for a handheld digital device. Sean stubbornly sticks to the physical, and though I wouldn't be surprised if videoconferences from the pub were common occurrences, he insists on the importance of real people coming together to enjoy food (click on "Bully!" at the Fullsteam website) and drink made with local ingredients, local passion and local creativity.
And yes, I have tasted the beer, and it is good: a porter, a lager, and an India Pale Ale so far. As for the IPA, if you have ever tasted the pretty popular Sierra Nevada, that's what this tastes like, except with a bigger bitter pucker and a fresher liveliness.
Stay tuned for a review of a more exotic type of Fullsteam. There is talk of a rhubarb-enhanced brew. Maybe that one will go with the tiramisu. You never know.
I have concentrated here at BwP for over four years now on the power of stories, and it's great when someone I admire backs that up.
Gary Vaynerchuk, the Internet TV star and wine and social media expert (about whom I have written before), just gave a long interview on ObsessedTV.com where he characterized himself as a storyteller and affirmed his desire to be the greatest storyteller "of this generation":
I think of myself as a storyteller-- selfishly, because I think the people that I really look up to... in the business world...[are] Walt Disney, Vince McMahon, and Notorious BIG. And the common thread between those three men is that they are tremendous, world-beating storytellers...
Walt Disney I knew, but Vince McMahon and Notorious BIG were mysteries to me. I knew Notorious BIG (real name Christopher Wallace) was a rapper from the nineties, but that's all. Vince McMahon, I learned, is a television personality for wrestling shows and owner of the World Wrestling Federation.
A strange combination-- Disney is the king of family entertainment, while Notorious BIG (here and here), who was murdered in 1997, was a "hardcore" rapper with all the undesirable and family-unfriendly qualities many have decried in hip hop music for a long time now. Meanwhile, McMahon presides over the ultra-violent and yet ultra-campy professional wrestling world.
You'd think a wine connoisseur wouldn't be into such popular culture icons, but Vaynerchuk breaks a lot of molds. He made his reputation busting the stereotype of wine as a highbrow drink with a limited clientele. Often on his show he will have plastic wrestling action figures, and sometimes describes the color of a white wine as reminiscent of wrestler Hulk Hogan's blond hair.
After reading a bit about Notorious BIG and McMahon, I can see why Vaynerchuk puts them together. Notorious BIG used his raps to tell stories about an extreme life involved with drugs, money, and violence. McMahon orchestrates a huge complex of stories which get told in and out of individual wrestling matches.
Nevertheless, I don't see Gary Vaynerchuk as a storyteller. The three men he cites tell extreme, entertaining stories that make use of basic American mythological themes: the good guys versus the bad guys, for example, or in the case of Notorious BIG, the anti-hero you love to root for.
Vaynerchuk tells anecdotes, but his main activities veer more into the uncool profession of teaching. In the above-linked interview he admits to being a "class clown," and I have found in my twenty years of teaching that that one characteristic is a better predictor of who ends up a teacher in life than any other.
The class clown seems to be the opposite of the teacher-- loud, disruptive, dismissive, and seeming to want to be anywhere else but class-- but in reality, I've found, the clown feels completely at home in class, envies the teacher's ability to hog all the attention, and secretly wants to be the one in front of the whiteboard with the dry erase marker, telling everyone what matters.
Vaynerchuk also has a subject to get across: wine knowledge, expanding his students' wine palates, and now, as he expands his empire, teaching people how to develop their own personal brand. He is "passionate" and evangelical about his subjects, he loves his students (he has said he wants to "meet everyone in the world"), and spends a lot of time studying his subject and bringing new knowledge to his students. In fact, he has mastered the teacher's secret of knowing so much about his subject that he creates respect simply by opening his mouth.
If that's not a teacher, I don't know what is.
If you'd like to see Vaynerchuk in action as a teacher who is helplessly sandwiched between two class clowns, watch this episode of Wine Library TV.
As a former class clown myself, I admire Vaynerchuk's crusade to bring enlightenment to as many people as possible. He is already a thousand times richer than any schoolteacher I know, and God bless him for it. I wish all of us had the drive and initiative he has for doing good work and making it pay.