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I noticed a powerful parallel in your post - one you don't draw out, but I can't resist. You mention "a book called Dirt: the erosion of civilizations, which is about how civilizations rise and fall based on the fertility (and exhaustion) of their soil." It hit me hard, during the rest of your post, that it might also be said that civilizations rise and fall based on the fertility of their mythology. Candy mythology leads to obesity and death - there are too many calories and there isn't enough nourishment. Not enough fertility. Where are we headed? You have posted often about that last question.


Steve, I wondered why I was so drawn to this book, and I think that is part of it. I'm very interested in what builds and keeps society going. Scholars are always speculating about what makes a civilization rise and fall; I'm not sure that many would agree with the "fertility of mythology" argument, but I can see the logic.

Greek mythology as a valid spiritual system is popularly considered to have begun its decline around the time of Socrates and Plato, which also coincides with the fall of Athens to Sparta and the deaths of the greatest Athenian playwrights, Sophocles and Euripides.

Within a few decades we have the rise of Macedonia and Alexander the Great and the permanent fall of classical Greece (Athens, Sparta, Thebes, etc.) as political powers in the Mediterranean. With Alexander came the importation of much religious innovation from the East, as well as new philosophical systems such as Stoicism and Epicureanism. Greek mythology lost out in this big shuffle.

Does the evidence I present here indicate classical Greece could have gone on ruling if only they'd produced a few more magisterial playwrights, or another Homer? Well, no. Even I haven't convinced myself. But the fall of a spiritual system is certainly a symptom of a larger problem in a society.

As to the USA, I do see in our dominant mythology a looming problem. But hey-- with this democratic, global Internet of ours, with its ability to produce content independent of some disastrous trend, maybe we are being pulled back from the brink. I do think that Pan's Labyrinth is a positive sign. I hope it isn't just the last surge before the creativity machine poops out.


I finally got round to watching this. A beautiful balance of myth and history.

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