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"George is a sample specimen of Aristotle's 'political animal' and a lover not only of Aristotle and his work but of all the men and women who have contributed to the nourishment of the human mind, the nurturing of its heart and to the understanding of the difference between good and evil. He has translated all of the extant plays of the 5th Century BC, Athenians, as well as many of the Lyric poets, including Sappho and a few morsels from Plato’s lush table, all of which he has placed up on the web for everyone to download, to study or to read at their leisure. His thirteen volumes of the Greek plays and a book of his own poetry are available from Amazon. He loves Literature and when one is so disposed one cannot help but to also love politics. The two are inextricably one. George says he's neither Left nor Right, since these terms are now nothing more than labels on an empty vessel. What is meaningful is the thought and the deed and both should be just. He is a member of the working group of the Barum Fabula digital library of classical works, a collaboration of eight universities in Spain and the US. http://thebarumfabula.usc.es/team/

Website: https://bacchicstage.wordpress.com

Nuclear Subs? Time to get Atavistic!

Perhaps we need to become a little atavistic now and turn Australia, if not the whole world into a 5th Century BCE Athens, into a place where our soul goes to a theatre to be cured of all its traumas, of all its infirmities.

Athens of that era did that once a year. She went to the theatre to heal herself. Religiously, on the week of the festival of its youngest and most important god, Dionysius, the god of, among many other things, fertility.

Once the two Persian attacks were done, once the last barbarian soldier left Plataea and Mycale, once the last Persian ships were driven out of the waters of Salamis, once Greece had rid herself of all attacks from the East, a burgeoning epidemic of arrogance, of hubris, overtook Athens.

COVID-19 wrecks the flesh but hubris wrecks the soul.

The Athenians had established the Delian League, an alliance which incorporated some 300-odd cities, all paying tributes of either money or men or ships as a means of boosting Greece’s military and to build an adequate protection against possible further revenge-attacks from Persia.

That League became, in fifth century terms, quite considerable in size. With Athens its unquestionable ruler, the once-small Attican city became the engine of a powerful empire – initially benign, but soon an oppressive, colonial power much like the one they had just repelled. It happens often, doesn’t it: he who defeats the oppressor becomes the oppressor himself. Power corrupts. Power corrupts the powerful.

Initially too, the treasury was placed on the uninhabited island of Delos, Apollo’s sanctuary island, but it took little time before it was moved to the temple of the goddess Athena, the Parthenon, in Athens’ Acropolis and not long after that, the city began to raid it, spending the money on glittering and begemming herself and on other self-serving interests. The allied parties of the Delian League, who were dutifully paying their taxes, saw this blatant plunder of their wealth and it made them angry and unruly.

In response, Athens became increasingly more brutal, more arrogant and more corrupt, increasingly more afflicted by its burgeoning hubris, in other words, quite sick. Athens, it was obvious to one and all, had to be urgently cleansed of that sickness – purged of those symptoms that brought her to that state. This is where theater came in. (Classic Wisdom, The Healing of Athens).

The first play we have in which this epidemic is identified is Aeschylus’ Persians, a tragedy which he wrote in 471 BCE. In this play, Aeschylus shows the horrendous consequences of this disease. He staged it as a warning to the Greeks, who, by then showed the same temperament and proclivity for war-mongering and conquest as did the Persians. Arrogance, to paraphrase in shameful oversimplification, two of the greatest philosophers of all time, Aristotle who said “man is a political being” and his teacher, Plato, who had put his view in his Republic and elsewhere, “arrogance overwhelms all human values, and replaces them with forces destructive to the soul; and, after all, is not the soul of the man the soul of his city?”

Athens became strong militarily but feeble and infirm mentally, morally and spiritually. Her moral compass, as Thucydides remarked later in his History of The Peloponnesian War, was abandoned and replaced by the rules of savagery.

Sparta began to see the new belligerent Athens as a military threat, (see “The Thucydides Trap“) sweeping away her own allies and, in 431 BCE mounted a challenge: a proxy war on the island of Corcyra (today’s Corfu). This war broadened to encompass almost every Greek city and became known as the Peloponnesian War. It lasted, on and off, almost thirty years, ending in 404 BCE with the destruction of Athens and the establishment of a new anti-democratic government, ruled by Thirty Tyrants, puppets of Sparta.

In the interim, on the Dionysian stage, Athens’ illness was examined as meticulously as a surgeon examines bodies in the operating theatre, exposing the affected parts under painfully glaring lights. This work of diagnosis was done by the tragedians of whom we, alas, have only some of the works of three of many, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides.

Some 15,000 Greeks would go there to observe the work of their doctors. The question about whether women were also observing, is all but concluded and the answer is in the affirmative.

The stage exhibited the sickly Athens as well as the cured Athens, the Athens of the Erinyes, the avenging furies, as well as the Athens of the Eumenides, the benevolent protectors of the city. They would see the Athens of the brutal men like Cleon and Cleophon, as well as that of the strong women who stood up to them: Iphigeneia, Antigone, Medea, Klytaemestra, Helen, Hecabe, Lysistrata, Praxagora.

So, when Pericles enacted a law declaring that henceforth only children whose parents are both citizens of Athens may be granted Athenian citizenship, Euripides showed how poisonous that law was for the people and for the country. He did so by making a slight change to an old myth. In his eponymous tragedy, he has Medea, effectively a refugee, kill her children instead of leaving them behind when she left for Athens, as the original myth had it. Her husband Jason is no more than an extra, a secondary character in that play. Medea’s words – the words Euripides had put into her mouth – showed which of the two sexes was the stronger, which was the more courageous, the more worthy of kleos (eternal fame) and which was the weaker, the coward.

To the Corinthian women Medea says,

“Then people also say that while we live quietly and without any danger at home, the men go off to war. Wrong! One birth alone is worse than three times in the battlefield behind a shield.”

In Euripides’ mind, the female wins the war on bravery and endurance of pain. In fact, the absence of women in Athens’ daily life is one of the reasons why the city’s spiritual health is so feeble. This point, this diagnosis, is made very blatantly by all the playwrights of 5th century BCE Athens.

Thus, it is no accident that women appear so often in both the tragedies and the comedies as far stronger than the men. This is why so many Greek plays feature such strong women uttering such powerful speeches. Iphigeneia’s speech (in Iphigeneia in Aulis) must have had the whole of Athens shedding tears for days.

In 416 BCE, the Athenians slaughtered all the men of Melos and enslaved all the women because the Melians (allies of Sparta) would not pay their taxes. Athens gave them no option at all: “pay or die.” Thucydides has the full account of the dialogue between the two sides, a dialogue that brings the political pragmatics of war to a full display. War pollutes the soul. Corrupts it. Empties it of virtue.

A year later, Euripides, enraged, produces his Trojan Women, where the victorious Greek men behave in exactly the same savage way as they were doing in his time. Yes, that stage enacted myths, but these myths were parables of real life, these myths were the modern microscopes that peered into the man’s body and soul.

After three days of Tragedies, where Athens’ afflictions were glaringly displayed and diagnosed, Athens was visited by the comedy writers, of whom, again unfortunately, we have the works of only one: a satirist, and perhaps the indubitable master in this field. Aristophanes knew the Athenians very well, as he also knew the stage. He knew the Athenian of the agora, the market place, as well as the member of the council and of the Ekklesia, the Parliament.

Aristophanes, then, was the one to prescribe the remedy for sickly Athens:

“Have a sex strike,” said, in as many words his Lysistrata, in his eponymous play, Lysistrata) and “Give all the legislative powers to the women,” or words to that effect, would be heard from Praxagora’s lips. (Women In Parliament) “Get rid of the jury men who sting Athens like wasps sting people!” (Wasps). “Send away the sausage sellers,” (Knights) and “learn how to use Clever Logic rather than Wise Logic, if you want to avoid the clutches of your creditors” and, “don’t listen to the cloud-inhabiting sophists, like Socrates!” (Clouds) are the messages that would be taken home from Aristophanes’ many satires.

The satirist has the most powerful tool in his hand, because satire is a flame thrower. Aristophanes aimed that pointy flame at the belly of Athens’ corrupt politicians. He cauterized the wounds, prescribed the cathartics, delivered the purgatives.

Dionysus, tyrant of Sicily, once asked Plato what his fellow Athenians were like. Plato’s response was to give Dionysus the books of Aristophanes’ plays.

Aristophanes not only knew the Athenians, he also knew what they were made of, he knew the full contents of their character, as Martin Luther King Jr put it.

Scholars also called the Athenian stage a school, “The school of Athens,” with the intimation that it was also the school of the world.

This appellation is also quite valid. After all, is not a teacher also a doctor and is not a doctor also a teacher? Don’t they both try to purge the man (and thus the city) of all his ills, his undisciplined pride, his ignorance, his injustice, his brutality and his corruption?

The practical details may differ, but both aim for the same thing: healing.

In both cases – school and clinic – Aristotle’s Catharsis takes place. It takes place not only at the end of every tragedy, purging all the painful emotions that the trilogy had brought to the surface, but also, and far more importantly, at the end of the entire festival, all the symptoms have been examined, displayed and all the necessary remedies prescribed.

Fifth century BCE Athens went to the theatre to be healed, and the theatre did its very best to provide that healing.

Unfortunately, Athens continued to be ill. Her arrogance was not removed, her war mongering and her brutality were not tempered and the inequality between the sexes continued. Women were still kept away from the more significant positions and slavery continued unabated. All of the plays -tragedies as well as comedies, in one way or another, point out that the women are punished for the wrongs committed by men. The young, Juliet-like Iphigeneia of Euripides’ Iphigeneia in Aulis is a victim of her father’s sin against Artemis and of his wanting to go to war through no fault of hers. Antigone, in Sophocles’ tragedy by the same name, suffers the death sentence because of her uncle Creon’s extreme, autocratic views. Helen, the most complex character of the mythological cosmos, suffers abduction and endless insults because of what Paris has done. Hecabe, Cassandra, Andromche, Medea, are just a few more examples of women suffering the consequences of men’s arrogance and disrespect, their need to enforce and exhibit their deluded view that they are powerful, more powerful than something, anything, someone, anyone, slave or woman.

The death of Aristophanes marked the end of a golden age of culture and thought and the beginning of Athens’ steep decline.

Then came the era of the Macedonians, of Phillip and of Alexander which was, in turn, followed by the era of the Romans. Homer of the 48 rhapsodies which decried war, was replaced by Virgil of the 12 which praised a Caesar, much like the soviet painters and writers praised the post Czar regimes.

Yet it was during that era – the fifth century BCE – that the Greeks had given to the world a new word to ponder over: paradox (at odds with the common view). For it was during her most turbulent era, the era of war and inequality, that she gave birth to the most magnificent, intelligent and effective remedies for society to heal itself.

Any student today – and I daresay for many eras to come – can walk in any direction he or she chooses, enter any theatre in any University in the world, and he or she will hear references made to the fifth-century Greek theatre, when the first healers made their appearance.

Time to be atavistic. Time to learn from History. Time to abandon weapons of every kind, especially those that bring the worst of the diseases of the soul, hubris, the most treacherous of diseases. Time to abandon the nuclear weapons, the weapons of mass destruction – of the soul.

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Eggs and Onions

I hold an indomitable dogma which, though at first blush it looks like it belongs to matters culinary, in fact it is a dogma, an undeniable teaching, that applies to one’s whole life, and it is this: no decent fried egg should present itself without a good-sized fried onion. Whether dressed as an omelette or as poached, or scrambled, or as sunny-side up or down, no epicurean worth his saffron, no gourmand worth his bearnaise, would have anything to do with such eggs, unaccompanied by their reasoning, by their alter eggo! (Cheff’s Play on words there). It’d be vulgar and an affront to the morality of reason. Treachery to Socrates.

Eggs are delicious on their own and, drunk – yes, drunk! – straight out of the shell, still warm and with the chook’s bum-fluff still attached, they are also beneficial to your throat and thus to your voice, if not to your general physical as well as mental health. (It’d be too uncouth of me to add that they also increase your sperm or egg production, so I won’t.) They are self-assurance, confirmation of the greatness of being alive, confidence in Nature and all her beasts and curiosities and they are a very pleasant greeting from rose-fingered Dawn, all in one little fragile container.

Certainly, about the throat and the voice, I am an unimpeachable witness. My grandfather, you see, was a village priest whose little house was built on the only little hill of our little village, just a few yards from his little church and every morning, when I was little – barely the size of his beard – he’d instruct me to go and “steal” a couple of eggs -without disturbing the blessed (by him) chooks. Then, just before he’d start his instructions to me on the Byzantine music, especially on the psalms I’d have to sing solo the following Sunday, we’d dig a couple of holes on the stolen eggs, one on their nose and one on their bum and suck out their contents.

Delicious yes but this daily practice gave us also powerful voices that were as clear as the water that gurgled in the little river at the feet of the little hill. My grandfather would often sing the vespers mass from his front door and all the farmers, working at their fields would stop to cross themselves and take a holy rest while their priest performed his duties. I would be right next to him, obeying his every command, though, quite early on I learned all the cues.

And to this day I make sparrows a mile away, cry when I sing a byzantine psalm to them. (Only respectful comments are accepted!)

Onions present whatever statement the eggs want to make with the reason for making that statement. They are the basis, the logic, the proof that the eggs use to fortify their view, whether sunny-side up or down.

No onions, no proof, no logic, no basis for saying what you’re saying, and your words are mere waffle that had come out, not of an honest chook’s bum but from a fox’s mouth wanting to kill all your chooks and steal all of your eggs. And we see this phenomenon almost every minute of the day, these days. Foxes talking, while standing on egg cartons, lying as the mountebanks used to lie, standing on soap boxes by the river bank, once upon a time.

“We need more tax cuts!” those charlatans, will yell!
or “We must do as the American Military Complex tells us because they are our buddies!”
or “We need to dump $20bil in the French égout and spend $200 bill more on building new “nukelar” submarines to protect our nightmarish paranoias.”
or “We need to give earth-killing mining licences to the rapacious filthy rich!”
or “China is our enemy!”
or “There are ‘weapons of mass destruction’ all over the planet and we must destroy them – by bombing the whole planet!”
or “We must incarcerate refugees, or non-white trash people!”
or “No marriage between gays! God said so!”
or “No abortions!”
or “No euthanasia!”
or “Rape in Parliament is acceptable!”
or “We need to privatise everything, now!”

Or – but I won’t go on, you get the picture by now, I’m sure!

So, next time you see one of these smug bastard politicians, talking like that, no matter how pretty, no matter how articulate, no matter how seductively they’re dressed, yell out to them, at the top of your egg-enhanced voice, “where are yer onions?”

You may even wish to carry a few eggs with you when next you have your family picnic by the river but hurling those precious little health-explosives at these lying, bum-fluff spitting politicians would be a culinary blasphemy, A treachery to logic, to reason, to Aristotle and to Plato, to Socrates and an attack on St John’s 1.1: “In the beginning was the onion!” (He meant “logos” of course)

Why, they’ll even dare tell you that they’re from your own loving party, the party you voted for all of your life, the party you’re rusted onto all your life! It was always Hawthorn and Labor with pies, tomato sauce and beer and that’s how it’ll be for all eternity. That’s how low they can get!

Eat those lovely eggs, always with a full, large, fried onion, or else drink them, raw. When you’re eating them on a plate, you’re looking down, thanking Earth. When you’re drinking them raw, you’re looking up, thanking the heavens.

I so very much miss the early morning rooster’s call to prayer!

 

Image from freecodecamp.org

 

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The whispering slave and the wondering sage.

He is called “The Father of History” by the appreciative and the “Father of Lies” by the unappreciative because of the way he collected his information about the events he writes in his Histories, a word which in his day, meant “Inquiries.”

To my mind Herodotus is far more than both those designations. He is a Philosopher and Philosophy, I hold, as Plato does, with high esteem. Plato wanted philosophers to rule the nations -but that’s another story. The reason that Mythology is far more reliable than History is because Mythology’s most valued content is Philosophy. History might be written by all sorts of vagabonds and the main content there is lies. Lies and agendas and prejudices and covetings.

“History,” James Joyce’s Daedalus exclaimed “is a nightmare from which I am trying to get out.” I, on the other hand, say, “Mythology is a sweet dream from which I never want to awake.”

Herodotus relates the war which Darius I waged against the Greeks on the West coast of today’s Turkey, those whom historians call The Ionian Greeks. Darius I, amazingly, lost that war because the Athenians and the Eretrians sent forces to help the Ionians. Amazingly because this was Darius I, the great king of the great Persia, the great Emperor of the greatest empire on the then known world, the then known cosmos, even. Darius I could summon, equip, train and feed the biggest army of them all.

But, all of that amounted to nothing because, thanks to the Athenians and the Eretrians, he got nowhere with his attempts to subjugate those Ionian Greeks and, after his last attempt at Miletus which failed disastrously,

this great Darius I became consummately annoyed. Detonatingly so, even!

He asked his generals around him who were those damned Athenians. When he found out he got even more annoyed and shouted to his slaves, “fetch me my bow and arrow NOW!”

When these were brought and put into his hands he shot an arrow upwards, towards the heavens and anger still spurting fumes out of his nostrils, shouted at Zeus words to the effect, “grant me oh mighty Zeus the vengeance I deserve against those pesky Athenians!”

Then, to make sure he never forgot those pesky Athenians, he ordered one of his slaves to remind him every day, before his first mouthful of dinner of the calamity he had just suffered by whispering into his imperial ear, thrice:

“Lord, remember the Athenians!

Lord, remember the Athenians!

Lord, remember the Athenians!”

The rest, as they say, is History, one which Herodotus detailed in his “Histories”, the first ever book of History, a word which in its day, as I said meant “inquiries” and not “true and incontestable events” or some such fantasy.

I always say, I have more faith in mythology than I do in History.

History, as our lovely Norman Swan said, suffers deeply from -though he wasn’t talking about History, per se- “programmatic inefficiency.”

You gotta love our Norman Swan, one of our very few truly intelligent intellectuals.

Anyhow, the Great Darius The First gathered a huge force and, in 490 BC, headed towards Athens.

Alas, for the Great God-King, the bloody debacle of Miletus repeated itself in Marathon and elsewhere in Southern Greece and the great King, Emperor and self proclaimed god, Darius The First found himself tearing his hair out, lacerating his cheeks and shredding his golden robes while cursing the Athenians most profanely. History (or Zeus, or Fate or some other powerful entity) was brutal to that boy and to his boy, Xerxes also, who ten years later, tried to avenge his father by following his trail all the way to Greece. It ended up as a very dismal double demolition derby for the poor Persians. Huge, gory and shameful losses for them.

Aeschylus reminded the Greeks of the event, less than ten years later and warned them most direly about getting too hubristic about their victories against the Persians. In 472, Aeschylus wrote his splendid tragedy, The Persians.[1] “Darius,” he says in many more words, “was arrogant. He thought too much of himself and that is something that the gods hate with a great sizzling fervour.”

It’s a lesson for all humanity, the one about the whispering slave, wherever and whenever humans happen to be, especially those of us whose brain is beginning to lose its youthful prowess. We, of this feeble state of mind, must get someone or something to whisper in our ear, just before the first spoonful or forkful of dinner, to remind us who we are and what is the purpose of our existence or of tying our shoe laces, especially when the shoes have no laces.

In political terms, we should make it the job of the Presidents of both houses of our Parliament to begin each session, not with a useless, hypocritical and pregnant-with-bigotry and smugness act of uttering a prayer to god but with a loud and meaningfully uttered exhortation, uttered thrice, to everyone in the chamber, to all the law makers there:

“Remember, you bastards what you are here for!

Remember, you bastards what you are here for!

Remember, you bastards what you are here for!”

It just might help to get the beggars focused. They are there to serve everyone in the country and to serve everyone justly and not with all sorts of prejudices and personal covetings, like gold, or oil, or lithium, or opium, or pfizer vaccines. NSW is Victoria and Victoria is Western Australia and Tasmania and South Australia and Northern Territory and ACT and whatever other State and Territory slipped my mind. They, the politicians are there to distribute the wealth and the vaccines of the nation equitably, not to obey the media or mining moguls.

And it would be a very useful tool for all of us, that device which would whisper in our ear what and who we are and why we are walking towards the kitchen but have now stopped dead midway there.

Was I going to the kitchen or the bathroom, I often ask myself. Someone please tell me!

We, humans forget just too easily all of that simple and obvious stuff. We are not born to live for ever and nor are we born to conquer or to be nasty to anyone. There’s a golden rule: “Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you.” Bertrand Russell thought that it was quite a silly rule. “Don’t do that,” he told someone one rainy day, “those others just might not like what you like!”

And that, in essence is the key to humanity’s endless turbulence and disquiet. We covet too much. We think too much of ourselves. We are too greedy and too gluttonous. We never have enough of our own stuff so we take on the Darius system. We march with huge armies towards those who have it.

Darius I and his son Xerxes, ten years later! How compellingly reminiscent this is to the Bush I and Bush II expeditions (the second Bush called it “Crusade” -against the “Coalition of Evil,” against Iraq!

In his “Inquiries,” Herodotus has pointed out to us two vital lessons. The first was the one above, with the slave whispering the reminder in Darius’ ear. The second is the story of the meeting between Croesus, the emperor of Anatolia (roughly modern day Turkey) and Solon, one of the seven sages of Greece.

The Darius I-Xerxes story teaches us to understand the limits of memory (and physical power also, of course) and the Croesus-Solon story tells us to understand the limits of our sway over our fate and our useby date.

It would take too much time and space to tell the full story of the meeting of the king and the sage, so I encourage you to read it in Herodotus’ own words. It’s a delicious story, delicious enough to make you smack your mental lips.

Croesus was what we call today, filthy rich. His huge palaces in Sardis were clogged with gold and silver and gems and all sorts of extremely valuable things. When Solon came wondering by in his world tour after he had fixed (most Athenians said destroyed) the laws of Athens, Croesus invited him in and, in time asked him who the great sage thought was the happiest man on earth, anticipating that Solon would name him as the rightful owner of the accolade.

Cutting a long and scrumptious story short and morsel-like, Solon gave the king the relative maths: “Listen, Lord Croesus,” Solon said humbly, “we live around seventy years and, forgetting the intercalary months, we have some 25,200 days… add another 35 months, which make up 1,050 days, altogether 26,250 days, none of which will produce events the same as any of the others. So I can’t say who is happy and who is not until the very end of their life. Until they’re dead, in fact.”

Croesus, not being a sage -far from it in fact- was disgusted and angrily sent the Athenian away.

Not long after that, Solon’s observation began to come to fruition. Croesus’ favourite (of two) sons was killed in a hunting accident and not much later, Cyrus, the founder of the first Persian Empire brought his army to Sardis, waged a war against Croesus, won and had Croesus mounted on a pyre. Just as the flames began to lick Croesus’ feet, he remembered the Athenian and yelled, “Oh Solon, Solon, Solon!”

Cyrus wandered which was this god that Croesus was calling out to and asked to have Croesus taken down and brought to him.

When the two were next to each other, Croesus explained the story behind his cry. Cyrus became thoughtful and let Croesus live.

Two lessons today, both from Herodotus:

1) We need someone to whisper in your ear what we need to do, so that we won’t forget or get distracted, and

2) you never know where Fate’s endless pivoting will land you even a minute hence.

Indeed, Herodotus was a philosopher, a sage, a wise gatherer of wondrous stories.

Our heads and bookshelves and the heads and the bookshelves of those who dictate the laws of a nation, or a group of humans should be afforded his book.

[1] My translation of the play is here and on Amazon.com.

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NO JAB, NO POKE! : From Lysistrata to Albo

Three hundred dollars per jab?

Laughable stuff! Laughable, Albo!

Get with the program mate and do what Aristophanes says you should do for Zeus’ sake and get some results! This pussy-footing around with dollars and cents is meaningless and inconsequential! It bares no fruit!

Try something that has worked and is guaranteed will work again and again and always!

Try sex, for example. Yea, try sex!

Aristophanes (ca446 BC Athens –ca 386, aka “Prince of Comedy and Maestro of Satire,”) was a man who knew all about men and what they wanted most out of life. He also knew a lot -but not all (does any man?) about women. His country was suffering, almost constantly, throughout her history and almost half his life, from the ravages of war, some of which was self-inflicted, some which was caused by various wannaby-colonising barbarians.

The two major ones, the Persian Invasions of 490BCE by Darius and a decade later by his son, Xerxes, (which over two-and-a-half thousand years later were repeated by Bush 1 and Bush 2, of the USA, consecutively, in Iraq,) was handled excellently by Athens and her allies, all working together and using their collective brain and brawn. That glorious synergy turned the two huge invading forces running back home with their tails between their legs.

But this the new one, this Peloponnesian War, the one which opened up deep scars all over the whole of Greece, and which was a war of Greek against Greek was turning into a protracted disaster, distinguished by the ever-increasing and ever-peaking mountains of blood and gore and an unstopable proliferation in Parliament, of war mongers. The Peloponnesian War lasted almost thirty years and it looked like it would last till the ends of time, had Lysistrata not intervene with her special form of Peace Treaty -as we shall shortly see.

Internecine wars diminished and weakened one’s own country and made it ripe for an invasion by your enemy. They weakened your country and diminished them most gravely. Wars are all the fiercer when they are between family members.

After the two losses suffered in the arms of these diminutive Greeks, the Persians were seething and gearing up for a third invasion. Luckily Alexander (The Child) kept them otherwise occupied!

The Persians were watching at the weird and bloody machinations of the two sides, the Athenians and the Spartans. The Delian League and the Spartan (Peloponnesian) League.

Men were thinning out on the ground, at home, in bed and at the festivals especially the Dionysian one where, the sanctum sanctorumexhibit of the ceremony was a giant wooden phallus, gaudily painted red to show the vital role it played in human life.

No phallus, no fertility!

During these six days, humans decapitated themselves with -well, with whatever they fancied or could get their hands on such as wine, ouzo, gin -no, not gin, but wine, cute mushrooms, herbs of a peculiar type and so on, and so on. They did this, this decapitation, so as to remove Apollo’s nagging insistence that we must think, we must work in the light, we must intellectualise things before we acted on anything. Damn Apollo! No, during the Dionysian festival, it was all about praising Dionysius’ gift, that of the phallus, that of the desire, that of the freedom to do as your instincts and your bowels and all that dark stuff hidden in your belly told you to do. To be a husband, a sower, a planter of the seed. Nine months later, of course the maidens around Athens would protest, “no, no, father, this is no child of a mortal but of the god of fertility, of Dionysus himself. I am still a virgin!” And so the maiden was still able to marry as if she were still an undefiled virgin.

Where was I? Oh, yes, forgive me, the phallus!

If any man understood humans, around the 5th century BCE, that man was unequivocally, Aristophanes. Plato was once asked by Dionysius I, a tyrant of Syracuse, what were the Athenians like. Plato smiled a wide yet a bewilderingly philosophical smile and said, words to the effect, “go to Athens, my King and when you’re there, see the comedies of Aristophanes. No man knows those people better than he! Those plays will tell you all about the Athenians.”

Being a depraved, debauched and, of more suchlike characteristics that describe wanton men and a man unwilling to be educated, the tyrant of Syracuse didn’t bother to go to Athens but Plato, who knew Aristophanes very well (they frequented the same symposia) was, of course, correct. Aristophanes described the Athenians to perfection. Pity about his description of Socrates, a description which helped get the philosopher a death sentence -but that’s another story.

Aristophanes understood mortals better than any other mortal and had little time for the immortals; He knew what it was made all men tick and what made them all who they were: Sex!

If you wanted to get anything done, the comedian thought, you invoked their intense and relentless urgings for sex. After all, was not the god of gods, the king and father of all the gods a sex machine, or, rather an incessant rape machine? A machine which was switched on not much after he, himself was born. That was when he took to chasing his wet nurse around the mountains and valleys of Crete, one lovely lady, called Metis. He eventually managed to mate with her, not during his suckling period but a little later, during -of all occasions- his wedding with his sister Hera. (Don’t ask!)

Out of that copulation, Athena, the meticulous one (read circumspect, wise, thoughtful) was born, a fully grown adult and dressed in her full war armour, spear, helmet, sword, shield etc., grey eyes, the works! Inside Zeus’ head which gave Zeus a hell of a screaming headache. Luckily his son, Hephaistus was there and with a crunch of an ex on Zeus’ head, he split it open and Athena hopped out, fully armed as I said before. Headache eased but the sexual appetite did not.

The Athenians loved sex but they also loved war! As did the Spartans.

For every plus, there is a minus as they say, to temper the hubris of too great a plus. So the love for war came to counter the love for sex. We don’t want an overabundance of children crawling all over the planet… In fact! Earth was at one stage groaning with pain from the weight of all these huge numbers of people. She groaned and she complained to Zeus and Zeus brought on the Trojan War. That one managed to get rid of the people on half the planet, a considerable easing of the weight problem but not an altogether one.

What to do?

Back to the Dionysian Festival. What was it about? It was about healing, rebalancing the urges.

During the Dionysian Festival, the Athenians walked over to the newly built theatre to be healed. It wasn’t a mere theatrical stage, where fictional or mythological stories were performed but a medical, surgical theatre and psychological, moral clinic where Athens’ illnesses were diagnosed and healed.

The diagnosis would be given by the tragedy writers and the remedy, the medicine, the script, or the prognosis, if the illness was fatal, from those who wrote comedy. Like Aristophanes, for example.

“The problem with you Athenians, is that you think that War is good. It’s not. Watch my ‘Trojan Women,’ my ‘Iphigeneia in Aulis’ and see just how nasty it is,” Euripides would tell them. And for the duration, the Athenians would watch, would listen and would cry. The crying was vital, as Aristotle pointed out in his “Poetics.”

The tragedies would be shown for, most probably, three days and then the comedies would be staged on the fourth day. That’s when the Athenians would be handed the healing script, the instructions on what steps to take to heal themselves of that war-loving illness.

The healing medicine, Aristophanes would declare was with the women. “Include more of them!” he would shout between the bellowing guffaws of hilarity! “Include more women in your decision-making processes, you bastards!”

In his Lysistrata, the women go on strike. They… abstain from sex! “Give them nothing until they sign a Peace Treaty!” his Lysistrata requested fervently of her sisters, women from all over the Greek world. The women protested. “That would be tragic,” they said, what if we get horny too?”

But, in the end, they obeyed and with much tragic hilarity, the action was successful. Read the exchange between Myrrhini and Cinesias (or “Shaggy” as I’ve called him in my translation), ll. 840-965, to see tragedy and comedy both wrapped up in one. Elsewhere I call it the “comic pain” but I won’t go there for now.

In his Women in Parliament, the women dress up as men and take over the Parliament where they introduce new, socialist, if not communist ideas with the overarching condition that the women are the rulers and organisers of the Athenian politics.

Aristophanes knows all there is to know about mortals and all there is to know about comedy. Both of these plays are truly curative. Not only because of its advice but also because laughter is a damned good medicine. Laughter cures.

The Athenians however, though they loved these plays, they did not take them seriously enough and the war went on interminably until they lost it and the Spartans very nearly burned the city to the ground. What saved Athens was a last minute request by an Athenian, that the victorious Spartans should watch one of these plays before they put the city to the torch. The name of the play is lost but we do know that it was one by Euripides’ plays. After the show, the Spartans, very uncharacteristically, I’m tempted to say, said, words to the effect, “a city that can produce a writer so talented must not be burned.”

The trick and the cure suggested by Lysistrata (her name is hugely pregnant with meaning -multiple babies in there, from “disbander of armies,” to “deranged”) was that the men would get no sex until all the main warring parties signed a peace treaty. In the play, they did so and it ends with great merriment, a true Peace party.

Unfortunately, the reality was not so joyous. In reality the war mongers ran the city and so no peace was signed, no sex strike happened and the war went on. War is much more powerful than Peace.

But sex, or the promise of sex, or the deprivation of sex are powerful forces so what we may wish to forget Labor’s dollars and cents and start thinking about sex.

Man to vax-resisting woman: No jab no poke!

Woman to vax-resisting man: No jab no poke!

Gays and those with other sexual proclivities do same.

No jab, no poke!

I think the resisters will evaporate!

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Homer the Greek and his lock-downs

I know, this will be somewhat controversial, this view of mine about Homer, I mean but, oh well, let the controversy explode and let’s see where the bits and pieces fall!

Not Homer Simpson but Homer the blind bard, I mean. That Homer who sang some 300,000 words which he accompanied with a lyre, about a war and a hero’s tortuous and torturous, adventure-packed journey home. That was Odysseus.

That war was called the Trojan War even though it had taken place in Ilium and even though it hadn’t taken place at all. Such are the perplexities of mythology, especially the Greek kind. Rest easy, though, after those 48 songs (or rhapsodies as the Greeks called them) there were no more myths, no more heroes and all wars were real, brutal and deadly, as brutal and deadly as Homer the blind bard described them. There were also no more heroes, other than those on the footy fields of Australia and the canines who drag their masters out of sink holes.

Nor was there a Homer, supposedly born around the Western shores of modern-day Turkey around the 8th century BCE. No Homer, no war, no heroes, just scrumptious stories of bronze spears driven through the eyes of men, swords thrust mightily through throats of loud war-cry, of spines being torn away from men’s backs, bronze helmeted heads lopped off bodies, of bodies tied to the back of chariots and dragged around the walls of Troy at the peak speed of stallions, and so on, and so on and so on. A pleasant sojourn around a battlefield heaped with blood and gore!

Oh, look, there’s Athena whizzing Paris away from Agamemnon‘s blood-soaked sword! She flies him to his bedroom where he can polish his spears. His new wife, well, by now a ten-year long marriage, Helen screams at his cowardice which only makes him horny.

And oh, look! There’s Ajax falling on his sword, ashamed by grey-eyed Athena who loved Odysseus!

And, who will it be, who will dare fight the Trojan warrior, Hektor? Will it be Diomedes, Achilles or Ajax?

And so on, and so on, and so on!

But the Iliad is not about any of this. Nor is the Odyssey about a punishing adventure.

And yes, it’s true, Homer did not exist!

And how do I know that? That Homer did not exist, I mean?

Because his name has been concocted to fit just too conveniently with the two epics. The name Homer, in Greek, (Ὅμηρος,) means “hostage” and being a hostage is the very essence of these two great works. Everyone in these two huge operas is dealing with the fact that they are a hostage. The war is not between the Trojans and the Greeks -in any case, around that place and around Homer’s time, they were all Greeks and Herodotus couldn’t see what was all the fuss about the abduction of a mere woman. Such a thing happened all the time by sailors from all around the world. They’d dock their ship at some port or other, girls would be enticed to go up and check out its cargo and before you know it, the ship would be sailing away with them on board! Nothing unusual, certainly nothing to bring on a war over.

But, Homer is trying to say that this war was between Man and his Fate, Man and his inescapable condition, which is to be a hostage. Nietzsche’s “homo!”

Homer is singing in no uncertain notes the true nature of Man, his inability to escape his condition as a hostage. His weakness, his insignificance, his place in the Cosmos as a hostage to it: to the gods, to fate, to the stars, to kings and queens, to beauty and to ugliness, to terror and to horror, to the telly and the dirty book, to things beyond his reach or strength or ken.

“We are all in lock-down,” he sings. “In an eternal lock-down and the exit is most firmly deadlocked!” In another book, by another wise man, he’d put it in different words, “were you a camel (the thickest type of rope) you wouldn’t be able to get through the exit’s eye.”

The Trojans have been hostages to the Greeks for ten years before all the men were slaughtered and all the women – bar one- were taken to Greece as slaves. The one who was freed from enslavement was Polyxena. She was spared the enslavement but instead, she was sacrificed on Achilles’ tomb by his son, Neoptolemos, a man judged by all to be, like Achilles, a man of virtue. By all the Greeks, I mean.

The Iliad begins, in res (in the middle of things) on the tenth year of the war when Chryseas, the father of a young priestess, Chryseis, loads his cart with valuable things, goes to the Greek camp and asks to have his daughter, Chryseis returned to him for all the wealth on his cart. She was held as war-prize by the leader of the Greek army, Agamemnon who, in spite of all his men calling him to return the young woman to her father, he doesn’t. The beautiful Chryseis is a hostage to Agamemnon, and he says he’ll take her home to be his and his wife’s slave.

The distraught father leaves the camp and when he gets back to Apollo‘s temple, prays to the god and he, in answer, punishes the Greeks most severely.

Muse, sing about Achilles’ rage! Peleus’ son and his bellowing rage

which sent immeasurable misery upon the Achaeans, their glorious souls to Hades and their bodies to the teeth of dogs and the talons of birds of prey.

Sing the song from that moment when anger split apart the two men,

King Agamemnon and brilliant Achilles.

The two leaders one, of men, the other of the battlefield, are now hostages to their pride and thus, their soldiers become hostages to them also. So are all the armies that had gathered around the walls of Troy, trying to free another hostage, Helen, ex-queen of Sparta, a hostage now of her lover, Paris and of her beauty, identical to that of the goddess Aphrodite. She was handed over to Paris in a deal between the goddess and the Prince. She was a hostage but then so were all the women at the time. Bereft of any freedom to choose or do anything.

Homer does a divinely inspired job (after all he calls for the help of the muse) in describing Helen’s torment as a hostage and why the Trojan elders understand her predicament and the predicament of all the Trojans and Greeks alike, in effect, their hostage.

So I’ll jump to what the author of these two massive books, The Iliad and The Odyssey is describing for his audience. He is describing the travails of being a hostage. Man’s existential condition. We are all locked up – or “locked-down”- to use the modern vernacular; the Trojans, not for a few weeks, as we are in modern-day Australia but for ten years! No wonder whoever gave him his name he thought of the most appropriate one for him: Homer. Hostage.

We are hostage to the strength and weakness of our bodies, of our minds and of our hearts. We are hostage to the will and whim of others, more powerful than us and we are hostage to this moment and this place.

The worst question one can ask about any work of art, be it sculpture or Music, or Literature or origami is “what is it about?” It’s an insulting question because it reduces all that immeasurable inspiration it took to create that work into a single, deplorably miserable sentence. “Oh, it’s about war!” or “Oh, it’s about peace?” or “it’s about the abduction of a queen,” or, “oh, it’s about love!” etc, etc, etc.

But the core message, the greatest picture we get when we read these works, is the one that merges when we plunges deep into own soul, much like when Odysseus was guided down to Hades before he left the shores of Calypso’s island and headed for home. It’s a picture that psychologists try to see but never can because, as Homer describes it, it is a huge picture, ever evolving, yet ever a hostage.

It is the picture of Man as a Hostage, Pontius Pilate’s man, when he uttered the words “ecce homo.” And it is a picture that emerges out of the fog of chaotic clamour and groans of pain. The poet’s sermon says that man is a hostage right from his first breath.

Astyanax, Hektor and Andromache‘s baby boy was thrown over the sky scraping walls of Troy to his death, by – another irony! – Neoptolemos, the “virtuous” son of “virtuous” Achilles who had also cut Polyxena’s throat upon his father’s tomb. Some virtuous man! That’s what baby Astyanax was hostage to; a male, the son of the most prominent man in Troy, Prince Hektor and of the turn of the battle between two peoples about whom he knew nothing.

Being a hostage brooks no logic.

The Odyssey, too, begins with Odysseus, his name means “someone hostage to acute mental pain,” begins with this man being hostage to the Queen/goddess Calypso and to Poseidon‘s anger because – well, for many reasons but primarily because Odysseus had blinded Poseidon’s beloved son, the cyclops, Polyphemus.

Back in Ithaka, Odysseus’ wife, Penelope was hostage to 108 suitors waiting for her to pick her husband from one of them and they, the suitors themselves, were hostages to her will. They became hostages (and target practice) to Odysseus when he had returned after ten more years on the sea, twenty years altogether from the day he left for Troy (23 actually, because the fleet was held in Aulis, hostage to Artemis who would not allow favourable winds to fill the sails of the 1000 ships). There, the young girl Iphigenia was also held hostage and had her throat slit because of her father’s indiscretions.

Homer gave us the greatest insight about us: we are all hostage to this planet, to this time, to this place in the Cosmos. Both, place and the cosmos are magnificent. Yes, we are in lock-down but, luckily – some religiously-minded will say, purposely – we are locked-down in a great resort. The best that Nature can offer. So let’s not destroy it, let’s not fill it up with destructive rubbish of our flaws, hubris, greed, gluttony, crime. Let’s just enjoy it. It’s a holiday.

Homer sang for us the quintessential lesson about our life as humans: We are all hostages and then we die. We must live knowing that.

Plato called him “the teacher of Greece” and a number of scholars said that he was not merely a footnote in the pages of History but History itself.

“But, come now! Let us you and I enter the bliss of love for never was my soul captured so mightily by desire…

You make me so horny when you’re angry!” Iliad Book 3.438) (The last line is my paraphrase).

NOTE: All translations from ancient Greek are mine.

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This word “courage”

This word “courage”

The word “courage” is used far too often these days, so much so that it has become a “courageous” thing for someone to do the simplest of things: to perform a simple act that requires no Hercules nor an Achilles to perform.

Just a human being.

We must be “courageous” to make a cup of tea, to give a glass of water to a thirsty child, to say “g’day” to someone crossing your path, to helping an old man across a busy street.

To say “welcome” to a persecuted family.

The word is almost invariably used when the plight of this tiny family of a father, a mother and two little girls, both Australian born, is considered and the conclusion, is again, almost invariably, that he or she who dares to do the right thing must be “courageous!”

The view that we need “courage” to perform this, the most basic, banal, mundane, human deed, is repulsive. Only an Achilles, blessed with immortality could do it. This country, by its rulers -on both, yes, BOTH sides of politics- has shown itself, time and time again to be anti-human, anti-compassion, anti-empathy, psychopathic, Inhumane! Lethally vile! This government is what the heel killed Achilles and it is killing us.

What the Fuck?

To pull this family out of the miserable bog our government has dropped them in, we need no “courage,” no “ifs” no “buts” and no Old Testament-type laws to hide behind. No “thou shalt nots!” It is simply evil to do the inhumane thing, the barbaric thing, the thing that is done in the darkest heart of a jungle. It is a quintessential part-and-parcel of being human.

It’s what humans do.

What twisted logic says that to prove that you are human you must behave inhumanely? Brutally, stupidly. Which school teaches that evil is virtue and virtue is evil? That Justice is bad and Injustice good? That fair is foul and foul is fair, as the three witches claim in McBeth? Which school teaches this sort of appalling syllogism?

How low we must have sunk when these simple, trivial, everyday acts, acts which identify us as human and which separate us from heartless iron robots require us to have “courage?”

How heavily we must have fallen to have all of our connections to each other smashed beyond repair?

How did we manage to become so selfish, so self-centred, so interested in things that simply don’t matter and avoid being what we are born to be, fellows in life and on this planet, “political” (ie, social) as Aristotle observed over two and a half thousand years ago!

For the sake of humanity, for our collective sake, let us stop the bullshit about “courage” and “bravery” and all the other war words we are currently rolling around in our mouth and soul so casually and callously. Let us stop the shitty law games written in the abyss of rich, white-trash halls of entitlement and let us start doing the right thing, the humane thing, the thing that we should be doing without thinking, without hesitating and with a fully human heart. Let us look well at the original design of our creation.

What a piece of worke is a man! how Noble in
Reason? how infinite in faculty, in forme, and mouing
how expresse and admirable in Action, how like an Angel
in apprehension, how like a God? (Hamlet ii,2)

Bring this tiny family home. Take them to wherever they want to go. They, too are human. A thousand times more human than the rabid jungle-animals who so arrogantly prance about our Parliament as if they were entitled to send us all into the Tartarus of inhumanity.

If the sovereignty and safety of this country is vulnerable to the nature of this tiny group of tiny, powerless people, then, make no mistake about it, we are not courageous. We are abject cowards!

 

Cartoon by Alan Moir (moir.com.au)

 

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What a Bastard of a Year!

What a Bastard of a Year!

Oh, I don’t know, perhaps I’m wrong on this, too but I see Albo as an Aussie version of Biden, or, even worse, a Sanders without the little flame he had fluttering in his belly, a little flame that once added some energy to his rhetoric. Gone now the flame, gone the verbal energy, gone now Sanders and what’s left now is just Biden. Sure, Biden is not Trump, not as bad everyone says but is he any better? Better than Trump, better than Obama, better than Clinton, better than all the Bushes, the Reagans, better than all the eight kings that paraded before McBeth?

“What, will the line stretch out to th’ crack of doom?”

If Albo will win the forthcoming election, it’ll be a hollow and a near-meaningless win, a paralysing win, I suggest because, like Biden, his win will be barely perceptible, barely of substance since he’ll have lost many of his troops and since he’ll be dealing with a hostile senate. Not the requisites of a vigorous, luxuriant government a cornucopia of humanitarian policies. It’ll be more like a party whose job it is to keep the seats warm for the next lot’s turn, barely better than the job of keeper of the king’s bum, the keeper of the King’s stool.

Which is pretty much what’s been going on since the Hawke-Keating tango, eight Aussie kings ago.

I see an ALP that is behaving like an old man with weak knees, a weak heart an over-demanding bladder and a mind that has been re-wired so as to work in faultless synergy with a callous pragmatism and a disdainful laziness. The Left – if there ever was a Left in this party – it seems, has already returned to their cappuccinos and their lattés and their mulled wine and their reclining-chair chit-chat, about the good old Whitlam days, so beautifully out of the way, so “long ago” and so beyond their need to do anything but romance lyrically about it. Thinking any more deliberately about anything for this crew is just too tiresome.

And, of course they’re probably writing their autobiographies for the good instruction of the younger generation of course, for the covering up of their sins and for the plenishment of the academic library shelves. For the precious autographs.

Hold on, dear reader, the cascade of cynicism is still coming down with great force.

The whole party at the moment, feels to me at least, like Odysseus’ crew when they gorged themselves on the lotus fruit. There they were, all laid out beneath the trees, in the bliss and fog of being stoned – and just as heavy. Albo’s crew has been under those trees for the last – what? twenty years? – and they have shown that they just love this state. Too much, I assert and are now fully harmonised with it. A near-comatose state of euphoria.

Odysseus

They need an Odysseus to wake them up. Desperately so, desperately urgently so. None of Odysseus’ crew made it home to Ithaca and Odysseus himself did so only with the help of the goddess Athena, the wise one, the meticulous one, the circumspect one.

What will happen with Albo’s lot? Is there a god of some sort who’s got his and their back? How are their ships holding on? Are they going to make the same mistakes that Odysseus’ crew made, slay the sacred cattle of Helios, say, or let Aeolos’ winds out of the sack and loose to wreak havoc? How many sacred cows will Joel Fitzgibbon slay? And is anyone among them able to calm the wild winds of trade churning about all around us? To stop the Pentecostal’s many tongues, not let his bellicose words escape the barrier of his teeth (as Homer would put it?)

Personally I can see no god anywhere near them. Certainly not a wise one. Some malevolent daemons, sure, but protective gods, no.

And gee, I do hope that Albo and this lot of lotus-addicts are not still hanging around after the next election – win or lose – their political carcasses meekly but stubbornly propped up by their egos and blocking the entrance of some young and mentally agile minds with a strong sense of duty and a connection to other human beings around them – and to the planet!

Albo, don’t plug your ears with wax as did Odysseus to his crew when they sailed past the island of the man-eating sirens and their divine sounds. We are your mates and you, for better or worse, are our captain. Listen to our calls and make your crew listen also. Ours are not divine sounds but they are human and they are this also: sacred. Listen to us and let your crew also listen!

This lot of Albo’s crew, I feel, has expanded all its energy and all its will also, to find any more of it. They should now take their generous pension and their cushy new jobs, their lecture tours and their lotus fruit and just go.

Do like Elvis, guys, do like Elvis and leave the building.

Rudd seems to be the only one to be working at the moment. Sure, in concert with Turnbull but he is the only man with even a whiff of ALP proclivities, highlighting the very essence of the evil of conservatism, which is monopoly.

I’m strongly reminded of something that Laura Tingle said (inter alia aplenty) in the pages of The Financial Review in 2015:

“… we don’t seem to quite be able to take in the growing realisation that we actually are being governed by idiots and fools, or that this actually has real-world consequences.”

She was talking about the Abbott govn’t at the time and I’d so love to hear her words on this mob, Albo’s crew.

Mungo, I miss you! I now know how Aristophanes must have felt when the last of the best playwrights, Euripides died.

But I might be wrong.

Merry Xmas to you all and let no year henceforth be as grim as this one. This was a bastard of a year!

George Theodoridis

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Leunig, mothers, babies and the phone

Here I am again, defending yet another cartoonist, yet again against charges of some -ism or other. Last time, back in February, it was Ken Knight who was vilified for being a racist, having drawn a cartoon depicting Serena Williams in such a way that it raised the ire of a good number of readers, reading the sketch as a comment on her race rather than on her appalling behaviour on the tennis court, which was how I saw it..

This time it is Leunig with his sketch of a woman so absorbed in the flickering lights of her mobile phone that she lost not only the plot but also her baby.

What a horrible attack on women, on mothers, Leunig’s attackers screamed! It is undeniably an attack on mothers and women and it’s undeniably a misogynist cartoon.

Why, even Jane Caro said it! Jane Caro, for Zeus’ sake! What an appalling thing Leunig had done. Just another white male who longs for his lost gender dominance! Roll out the guillotines

And again, they hurl the same charges and denunciations at Leunig that they had hurled at Knight: He has form. He does this all the time. He is a real misogynist!

Yes, roll out the guillotines!

Imagine what hellish castigations the gentle cartoonist would be copping had he drawn a black Muslim woman wheeling the pram, or an Aboriginal woman or a woman with a huge cross dangling from her neck!

Fukuyama’s latest book is on “Identity Politics.” No matter how you look at Fukuyama, he comes out looking like a USA-peddling Nazi so I don’t take his views too seriously but the essence of his latest extrication is nearing relevance to the commentary on Leunig’s cartoon.

Fukuyama asserts that (after his “End of History”) a new social phenomenon has emerged. We have become, he says, too ready to identify with certain, few things and our political views have shrunk so much that we vote for men or women who promise only to attend to the concerns we identify with and we do not concern ourselves with what that person will do on any other issue.

If we, for example are gay, then we will vote for someone who will support the gays, without caring what other things that person supports. If we are pro abortion, then we look only for a person who will support this cause, without checking out what else is in his bag of policies or in the contents of his character (to use Martin Luther King’s description) and so on.

In short, we care only for what we identify with or feel strongly about, relinquishing our care for other issues.

Feminism, Misogyny, Patriotism, Religion, that sort of thing.

And, I do declare, the attacks on Leunig are of this “identity politics” nature.

Leunig is making a perfectly glowingly simple, concise and certainly accurate statement: Electronic devices are devious, insidious and anti-humane things. Devices such as phones can shift even the mother’s attention from her newborn and this statement is all the more profound because he has a mother wheeling that pram.

He could have had a male doing it.

Or a black woman or a black man, an Asian, an Inuit. But he didn’t.

He just used the single, most profound, best known symbol of parenthood, the most crucial symbol of nature, of nurture, the most accurate symbol of the human bond: the mother in whose womb that baby became.

This – the bond between mother and baby – is the closest possible human attachment there is; it is the most important one, the most necessary one for both, the mother and the newborn.

Leunig’s exhortation is not against the mother but against the device.

The device destroys that most essential bond, that between the mother and her baby. Yes, even that bond!

The device replaces the mental and psychological, the intellectual and the moral umbilical cord between us and our maker. The device does.

Had he had anyone else wheeling that pram, the essence of this message would have been lost. We would be saying to ourselves, “yeah, we gotta be careful when wheeling our babies around not to get distracted by the phone.”

Nowhere near the emphasis on the horrors of the phone itself. In that circumstance, you do not hear Leunig’s voice saying, “Fucking mobiles are so nasty, so narcissistic, that they can separate even the mother from her child. They make us motherless. They make us absorbed in trivialities, in mundane things to the detriment of vital things.”

Had Leunig had an old man wheeling the pram, we’d be thinking Leunig is warning us against dementia.

No, it had to be a mother.

Leunig is not attacking the mother. He is attacking the device. The device is so insidious it can destroy even the tightest bond, which is that between mother and the newborn. Mother and the newborn are the victims of that device. And since this bond is the most important bond of all, all other social bonds are up for destruction by a very simple, totally banal device.

Nearly 3,000 years ago, Homer wrote a poem in which he said (using a mother again) that devastating divisions, the most devastating wars are caused because of banal, unimportant, petty things such as pride and lust and beauty – insignificant things.

Helen of Troy had a daughter, Hermione, which she had left behind with her sister to look after when she left with her lover Paris.

Homer had Eris, the goddess of Strife, chuck a golden apple in the middle of a wedding party, with the words “to the most beautiful” inscribed upon it; and that started the war between two continents, devastating one.

This time, Eris has chucked a mobile phone amongst us and Leunig says, beware, like the golden apple, it can devastate half the planet.

Golden apples, wooden horses. Beware!

This cartoon goes to the kernel of Homer’s Iliad and it uses the instrument of his day to make the same point. A golden apple for Homer, an iPhone for Leunig.

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Ostracism (or “Hinch is no Aristeides and a vote is no ostracon”)

I have two daughters, a grand daughter and two grand sons. I have many other relatives, neighbours and friends. Close friends and friends separated by distance. Friends and relatives I love.

The mere thought that someone has hurt a single hair on their heads could well have me feeling murderous and grieving for a long time. If then a creature like Senator Derryn Hinch – cursed be his name and cursed be the Senate that has him in its fold! – decided to publicise the gruesome details of that event (real, alleged or imagined) would make both, my grief and my urge to be murderous near impossible to control.

Hinch has no idea about grief. He has a platform which he has turned into a pulpit of hateful dogmas. He has no idea of what he is saying nor what the effects of his sayings are, how powerfully hurtful they are and how close to being lethal they can be. Hinch does not protest. Don’t make the mistake of thinking his frenzied and mindless attacks are acts of protest. Don’t think that his sonorous accusations, all his drum beating and all his crass and vulgar, his bilious hatred towards a sex offender are acts of protestation.

They are anything but.

They are simply acts.

Acts by a bad actor

They are acts of accusation which, like ancient Greek stage masks, are worn to hide some flaw in his character. Hinch wears a mask to hide his attempts to gain kudos and relevance. Distinction from the rest of us. To hide his lack of, or his inadequacy of, almost anything that a compassionate human has. His loud accusations are nothing more than masks of inhumaneness.

He committed this despicable act of tweeting the gory details of what Aiia Maasarwe had suffered in the hands of a savage, not so as to correct an errant law because if that was his purpose he could have done it by many other means, very powerful means and much more effective means, means that we could all relate to and give our consent; this tweet of his shouted in no uncertain language, “I am your saviour, I am your messiah!”

It is the shouting of delusion, of psychopathy – in any case, of a deep psychological problem, desperately seeking a cure.

And, instead of correcting an errant law, the highly possible change that Hinch has effected would be that he brutalised the law. By this grotesque act, he is urging the masses to put pressure on the legislators to create new laws -or, rather to exhume old laws from the graves civilisation had buried them in a long time ago- and to apply them anew. Old, abandoned brutal laws become the new accepted brutal laws.

Next stop, if Hinch has his way, will be capital punishment or banishment for stealing a loaf of bread.

Hinch was born with a tin howler in his hands which he took for god’s golden mike and so he uses it at every opportunity to tell the world what the principal teacher of morals, according to some, Jesus, would say.

Hinch, like almost all politicians does not want to change the law. Such laws give them air and legitimacy. Something to hang their hat on. An emblem.

No, they are after the tin howler, the one they think god uses to straighten us all up.

I cannot bear to see his face let alone listen to his grating rants. I’ve stopped listening to him pretty much the first time I heard him speak. Can’t remember what it was but no matter, the message hasn’t changed one apostrophe or one exclamation mark since he started. One issue, one solution, one dogma: Stop the law from being the law, be as graphic as you can when describing the brutality a victim has suffered, create even more victims out of that one act of savagery, so that the law would change and so that he, Senator Derryn Hinch would be declared our Messiah.

Never mind that his dogma causes more victims, more grief, more pain, more virulent pain, more lasting pain.

It seems our radio stations, our TV channels, our press and our Parliaments have been, at some point not that long ago suddenly stormed by a horde of bastards and now we hear and see nothing but putrid hatred for humanity.

From George Brandis’ “we have the right to be bigots, you know” to Dutton’s “they’re doing well at Manus and Nauru” to… things said in such number that, well, let me borrow Jack Hibberd’s delicious line, “too numerous to enumerate!”

Bastards, one and all.

What do we do? What do we do in a state where Democracy is the clarion call and “freedom of speech,” its slogan?

The ancient Athenians had an answer. Ostracism.

Aristides and the Citizens

Every year – once only a year and against one only citizen – people in Parliament would be asked if they want to hold an ostracism. If yes, then two months later (enough time for discussions to take place) a minimum of six thousand people would gather in the agora, the market place, the speech making place at the centre of the city and there they would scratch on broken pieces of pottery the name of the man they hated the most and place them in great urns. Men who have done unconscionable wrong or men who, like Aristeidis the Just, simply annoyed people. These were generally rich, influential people who got under the skin of the commoners for one reason or other. I won’t go on discussing this summary law, other than to say that there was no court, no judicial process, no lawyers, no prosecution nor defence lawyers, no involvement by any other person or body of persons. Just you and your ostracon, your shard of pottery. You were asked to participate in a reverse “popularity contest” by scratching on that shard the name of the person you hated the most.

Officials would preside and the person whose name appeared the most would be given ten days to get out of town – for ten years.

These were almost exclusively people of wealth and influence because it was they who could cause the greatest civil agitation and harm.

The banished person would be kept away from Athens for ten years with death being his punishment if he tried to come back any earlier. And when he did, all was forgiven. His property was not confiscated, his reputation – good or ill – remained and he would not be stigmatised for being ostracised.

Only one per year.

It was a way of keeping the political process and the ego of the politicians, just that little bit more sanguine. More circumspect.

It wasn’t an idea that was perfectly executed but certainly one that requires some examination as to how to improve it and make certain that it stays uncorruptedly in the hands of the common citizen.

And although, many rascals (Cleon and Cleophon are two that come to mind) have escaped this process, Senator Hinch, I’m certain, would be told to pack his venom-dripping bags and leave the country. I’d be there, at the agora with enough anger and fury to make sure I’ve spelled his name right:

Ντέρρυν Χιντς.

And please don’t bring up his own story of molestation. Whatever it was, it must have been horrific and would have had enormous impact on his views about paedophiles and sexual miscreants. This should make him think even more about what he is saying about what words he is using about what impact these words have upon the victims and their family.

The incident did nothing of the sort and at the kindest, one would say he is acting so relentlessly out of revenge.

I’m not so kind to people who cause so much grief.

He is doing it so obsessively because it’s the only thing that gives him, in his mind, the legitimacy to hold a mike, a tin howler and I very much wish that someone would take it off him because he is using it to cause harm and not good.

Yes, we could do this done by vote but an ostracon would see him out of the scene quicker and cheaper, which is what is sorely needed.

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The Choice

It is the first day of the new year and I feel that this is the proper time when one should turn his attention to Socrates and hear once more his exhortation, “know thyself” and read also over his observation that an unexamined life is not one that is worth living. That life, the life that is worth living, the noble life, is the one that has been thoroughly examined.

So I have chosen today, one day after last year, to be introspective.

The Byzantine Emperor Theophilos, golden apple in hand, is inspecting a long line of women, all petitioners for that golden apple. They are the most beautiful women in the Empire and they are now all lined up in one of the palace gardens in Constantinople, not too far from the monumental church Hagia Sophia where the most important Byzantines go to observe all the rituals of Christianity, the birth, the christening, the marriage the death and a whole host of blessings for a whole host of needs. Hagia Sophia had replaced Apollo’s temple at Delphi in importance and in popularity. In need, even.

His stepmother, Euphrosyne is walking beside him and it is her stern eye that will determine which woman will get the prize. A double prize, as it happens, the golden apple and the title of Empress. That woman, the woman who will get the apple, will effectively be her daughter-in-law. Lots at stake here so the eye must indeed be stern so that the choosing might not err.

Among the gorgeous women is one called Cassia, (also Kassia) Kassiani, in Greek. Cassia is the feminine form of the Roman name Cassius and Cassius-Gaius Cassius Longinus, the Roman was given a frown by the then Emperor of Rome, Julius Caesar, to wit (according to Shakespeare):

“Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look,
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.”

This Roman Cassius, chose to play a major role in one of History’s highly significant events, that which occurred on the 15th of March, 44BC, the fatal Ides of March. His blade, along with that of young Brutus, had caused two of the 23 stab wounds found in Julius’ assassinated body, an assassination which he, Cassius, had organised.

The Emperor Theophilos had to make a choice, one that was much like Homer’s Paris had to make, a choice between three goddesses. Paris chose Aphrodite, the consequence of which was the ten-year long, Trojan War.

As Theophilos and Euphrosyne, walked along the line of potential brides, (dubbed “The Bride Show”) they asked the women all sorts of questions or make all sorts of comments to them to try and gauge their IQ, their philosophy on things and, quite possibly their prowess in the bedroom and possibly the kitchen. Virginity being the necessary prowess in the former, expertise in the latter.

When they came before Cassia the Emperor proffered this to her:

Through woman flow all things evil

To which Cassia, without losing a beat, responded with:

And through woman flow all things splendid

She was referring to the birth of Christ, the central figure of Christianity and the alleged saviour of the world.

Theophilos had only just turned 18 years of age and he immediately fell deeply in love with Cassia but the choice was not his to make. Cassia too was love-stricken by the young Emperor but the choice was also not hers. Their choice was ripped away from them.

Kassia/Cassia

The young man’s step mother, who, incidentally had organised the Bride Show, thought as did Julius Caesar about Cassius, the Roman: that this woman “thought too much” and that “such women are dangerous.” She scornfully tugged at Theophilos’ arm and dragged him away from Cassia, along the line of women, all now trembling with excitement, until they’ve got to a lass called Theodora. (Now, we must not mistake this Theodora with the other one, the infamous Theodora about whom some 300 years earlier, the historian Procopius, devoted many words in his “Secret History”, on allegations about her being a common whore and a very imaginative stripper.)

This is a whole new Theodora.

A choice was made that day and a few months later, the bells of Hagia Sophia announced the happy event. The choice of the bride was not made by Theophilos.

Ah, choice!

How much of it do we have? How much choice do we have when it comes to the most significant events in our life? The existential events. Events like the time and place of our birth and death. Our genes, our DNA, our blood type. Choice of parents, other relatives, brothers, sisters, aunts uncles, grand parents. What gender we are, how healthy a body or mind accompanies us on our travel through life. What sort of religious, political, social, economic environment we are born. No choice at all to be seen anywhere there. None at all.

All these events, crucial to our existence, are beyond our control, beyond our ability to choose between their variables.

Joseph Carli’s tiny story, “The last lingering kiss” is about a woman showing the need to make a choice. She makes it only to have it taken away from her again, only to turn her back into a creature of a closed convent from which she chose to escape for a few occasional moments.

Nope! Choice is verboten here!

Choice is a very expensive thing. People can be slaughtered for daring to make it. Many, under the Christian Emperor Theophilos, were indeed slaughtered because they dared make icons and idols of holy entities and venerate them. Priests and monks blessed them. Theophilos was, on the other hand, a fierce iconoclast, a smasher of icons. And the story of slaughter because of belief and choice is repeated around Henry VIII and the kings and queens who followed him. Bodies were hanged from bridges!

The Abrahamics will assert that god has created us all and when he did so he gave us the ability to choose, the gift of choice. We could do what we liked. So would the Abrahamics assert.

But he had made us without asking us, without giving us the ability to choose whether we wanted to be made in the first place and in the second place, to be made according to his image. In the third place… ah, never mind.

“Choice,” I ask him. “What choice is that? Where is this choice, exactly?”

I am baffled by the fact that astonishingly awesome minds like that of Mozart or Vivaldi or Beethoven, of Michelangelo, of Sappho of Ezra Pound of Euripides, of Pythagoras and Einstein, minds that gave us the best nutrients for the healthiest of humanity can coexist with the minds of war mongering politicians, too numerous to enumerate and uncompromising thieves and murderers, committers of atrocities beyond belief, also too numerous to enumerate; minds that deplete us of all those nutrients, destroy them all completely, starve humanity of them; I am baffled about the fact that on a daily basis I see both of these extremely opposite types of mind at work, often the one totally ignorant of the other.

Astonishing, wondrous minds that nurture and nourish the human soul on one hand and minds that destroy body and soul on the other. One lot elevates us, makes us humane, empathetic, considerate, loving, happy, while the other builds mountains of blood and gore out of our bodies, clogs our soul with hatred, bitterness, phlegm and everything savage and turns everything we’ve built into rubble.

I disagree with the Abrahamics: we, humans, have no choice, not a single choice on anything of any significance. No god has made us, no god would be so cruel as to make us bereft of choice!

Politics is a cruel lie. A nasty joke where, in a system called Democracy we, the hoi polloi are told that we have a choice. That who governs us is our own choice. We vote whom we choose. No lie is more phosphorescently blatant!

None!

The last day of the last year was one that is still reverberating with the bliss of a wonderful family gathering complete with the sparkling laughter of three tiny tots, grandchildren whose little arms, when wrapped around your neck bring a cascade tears of joy to your eyes. It was a day where we all gorged with mirth and merriment, with boisterous love and with morsels that rivalled the nectar and ambrosia on the tables of Mt Olympus. We are the lucky ones. The very lucky ones. Not that we had a choice in that.

That nanosecond after the clock strikes midnight changes a whole lot of things: a new minute, a new hour, a new day, week, month, year, century millennium…

Empedocles was right: Everything is in a state of flux and the only thing that is stable is this very fact: all things are in a state of flux!

Within that nanosecond we have moved from the past to the present and must ready ourselves to move into the future, all within the next nanosecond.

I feel the vertigo of the slide into oblivion!

And I can not choose to alter any of that.

We, the lucky ones, welcome 2019!

Cassia’s story, by the way, is simply gorgeously romantic. It is a story I very much urge you to read. Not too unlike Joseph Carli’s nun, though much more intense. The sentiments are there and so is the unfortunate end.

The Kiss

In the vast and wonderfully rich vaults of the ABC’s archives there would be, I’m quite certain, a little news item shown on the telly just a few years back. It’s gorgeously thought provoking and it’s about a kiss.

The camera is in the classroom of a High School, going from student to student as they are anxiously peering into the glowing screens of their computers. Their teacher is there also, and she is just as excited as they are. All are waiting for their VCE results. Excitement all around. Bubbles and squeaks are heard and we, on our sofas at home empathise fully and feel bubbly and squeaky along with them. I, a retired teacher (is there such a thing?) also feel that bubble and squeak and know what it’s all about. I recognise the atmosphere of that classroom well. It is exhilarating and bursting with anticipation an atmosphere I’ve felt many, many times.

Suddenly, a young boy sees his results on the screen and screams with unfettered joy. Behind him stands his teacher. Quite spontaneously, she turns to him and gives him a kiss on the cheek, commonly referred to as a “peck.” She pecked no other cheek in that classroom, at least not while the cameras were rolling. It was absolutely nothing more than a motherly, a friendly, a very natural reaction from a proud teacher to her student, for whom she would have given her best that year to make sure he had reached his best potential in the subject she taught and he did, paying her back for her efforts. I know exactly how she must have felt when she saw the boy’s results. I would have felt exactly the same way. The young man received the kiss – yes, the peck – as if it was indeed, his own mum or his best friend who had delivered it on his cheek.

Not a single murmur or post in the social media was made about it being an inappropriate act, or an immoral one or one that was shamefully unprofessional or anything of this nature. The public, quite rightly recognised the deed for what it was and accepted it. No public outrage the likes of which we have been seeing the last few months. No observations about “power differential” or “workplace ethics,” or anything of the sort.

It was a kiss of excitement, an excitement that was well earned after a year’s hard work. A very much, valid excitement. I saw nothing, absolutely nothing untoward about that kiss.

I am a father as well as a teacher and know what it is to raise children, to love them to death and to be with them when they succeed in whatever it is they want to succeed and with them when they struggle with loss. The emotion is very near uncontrollably heart bursting, and nor should it be anything else. Win or lose, it is a team effort, and it is as intense as that during a footy game when the players rush to hug each other whenever one of them scores a goal or deprives the opponent of kicking one.

A teacher is not too unlike a parent when it comes to the love and the care involved. Not too unlike at all.

Nothing unnatural. Nothing to make one jab the air with a condemnatory finger. Nothing to scorn. Nothing to get angry about.

But had that teacher been me, a man, who had felt those very same feelings with his students -the joyful excitement when they won, the sad and sympathetic heart when they had to struggle against harsh realities – had that teacher been me, kissing that boy or – Zeus fore-fend, a girl ! – the story, I dare suggest with quite some certainly, would have had a different ending.

But why?

The federal Court judge, Justice Michael Wigney gives us a strong clue:

“I wouldn’t say ‘yummy’ or ‘scrumptious’ to anybody in my workplace but I’m a boring lawyer, and Mr Rush is an actor in a theatrical workplace where people use florid language,” he said and continued with “Obviously some people see tremendous significance but I have to say depending on the context I am grappling with it.”

Ah, the context!

This article, let me say with the greatest haste I can muster, is not about Mr Rush and what he is facing at the moment. It is not about his alleged actions and nor do I have the slightest wish to enter into any courtroom currently in process. This article is about something else. It’s about examining deeds, not people.

Examining people needs a very careful, a very thorough look at them, a look not unlike one presenting itself to a surgeon before an operation, nor unlike one presenting itself to a judge in a court of justice; and I’m neither a surgeon in surgery nor a judge in a court of justice.

But I am a retired teacher (is there such a thing?) and I have learnt of the crucial need to be thorough and of the need to judge the deed and not the person.

The judgement of people requires entering into hearts and brains and these are the best fortressed organs in our bodies. Fortressed better than the “topless towers of Ilium,” that protected Troy, walls that took ten years for the Greeks to bring down (as Christopher Marlowe put it).

And so, I agree with the judge: The context of the deed is highly, if not vitally important; the whodoneit is not.

When Euripides was writing his Medea in 431 BC, he was not describing the mind of a murderer, he was sending a message to the politicians of the day, politicians, like the great demagogue Pericles who had not long before implemented a law that said that only the children whose parents are both Athenian may be considered to be full Athenian citizens.

All other children are “barbarians” (effectively foreigners) even if they were born in Athens. Medea was born in the distant land of Colchis and was therefore a barbarian even though she was married to Jason, a local. (The play is set in Corinth).

The ancient Greek stage (5th c.BC) was a classroom, or even a pulpit. More of a pulpit for Aeschylus and Sophocles but more of a classroom for Euripides and Euripides was using the myth of Medea, merely as a platform to teach about the consequences of Pericles’ law. Mothers would be expelled and in doing so they’d kill their children to save them from the horrors of living in a land of xenophobes.

Euripides was talking about the importance of the context of a deed. Its birth, its reason, its cause. This is probably one of the reasons why the play came last in that year’s competitions.

The context is just as connected and as important to the deed as are the heart and the mind to a living body. To examine it, to judge it, to understand it one needs to look at its context, at its heart. This is not to say that the context will automatically excuse the deed but it is important for us to include it so as to have a full understanding of that deed. Understanding the deed is understanding the human and, as humans, that is our primary assignment, an assignment that written at the forecourt of the temple of Apollo at Delphi over two-and-a-half millennia ago and turned into a common aphorism by a whole lot of philosophers, including Plato and Socrates.

There is no deed that is naked of context. Not an excuse but a context.

Whether one says ‘yummy’ or ‘scrumptious’ or gives a peck on someone’s cheek depends on the context.

And I come to wonder what would happen in the smoggy atmosphere of the “social media” if the ABC showed that item again – just to agitate our morals up a bit, see what comes to the surface.

Is a kiss just a kiss, a sigh just a sigh, a peck just a peck?

My Grandchildren!

I wish you all the merriest of Xmases, the happiest of 2019 (Good Loooord, is that the time?) and the jolliest of them all for the many years that shall follow.

From Oedipus to Morrison

They came to him. The Theban citizens, in pain and in prayer. They came to king Oedipus and cried for his help.

“…But, you, too, Oedipus, with your own eyes, you too can see how the whole of Thebes is in the grips of a battering sea storm of troubles and you too can see how she cannot raise her head from its murderous waves! You too, can see that our trees let drop their best flowers to the ground just before they become fruit and you can see too that our herds drop dead as they graze and that our women have all become barren.
A despicable pestilence, my lord, has taken our Thebes tightly within its murderous grip, my lord!”
Oedipus Rex 30ff.

When Freud read Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex” he thought that his “eureka moment” had arrived. Such pestilence he thought is natural and it comes from an innate instinctive desire, a “complex,” that has sons wanting to sleep with their mothers. I won’t go on about the conflict he had with Jung about the latter’s Elektra Complex here only to say that both were wrong to think that this was what Sophocles was on about.

Sophocles was not talking about filial sex, though this was the platform, the myth, he based his warning upon but about something far more sinister, far more dangerous and far more common than that: power.

If there is an innate disease, an instinctive desire, a “complex” of some sort or other, that keeps us in fear and despair it is that of our wish to gain power and -and here’s the “complex” bit- to hold on to it. We need to show that we are strong, strong enough not to be hurt by others, to be stronger than others, to be able to destroy our enemies. And then to be able to keep and maintain that power for our own use. Power and the fear of losing it. Power and the energy needed to keep it. From whom? From our enemies, of course.

And who are our enemies?

They are those closest to us. Our sons, our daughters, our brothers and our sisters.

The first ever god, Uranos was castrated by his son, Cronos and Cronos, in turn, was thrown into the Tartarus -the eternal jail for gods and other immortal entities, like Sisyphus and Tantalus and Atlas who had committed heinous crimes- by his own son, Zeus, who is still the ruler of the Universe to this day. Look up towards the peaks of Olympus and you will see him there, thunderbolts in hand and at the ready!

Sophocles was giving his fellow Athenians a lesson that is very similar to the one that the biblical Timothy was giving us about money: “The love of money is the root of all evil.” (1.6:10).

Substitute the word “money” with the word “power” and you’ve got the similarities.

The next two plays in the story emphasise that lesson: His “Antigone” and Aeschylus’ “Seven against Thebes” describe just how evil, how destructive the love for power is.

But back to King Oedipus of Thebes.

“Oedipus Rex” watercolour by Pamela Stadus

When the people of Thebes gathered around his palace and asked him to try and find out what the cause of this destruction was, he swore to do so and launched an investigation so thorough that Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple working together couldn’t match. This was a most meticulous, forensic search that lifted every carpet and opened every secret compartment of every chest of drawers, had every cobweb perturbed, every skeleton brought out of the cupboard, every wound put under the microscope, every foot and its heel, every foot print and finger print scrutinised assiduously and every piece of DNA parsed thoroughly.

King Oedipus began this investigation by asking the local vicar of the gods, the prophet Teiresias and from there he went on to question servants and shepherds and other citizens, his brother-in-law, Creon, until he discovered that he was the culprit. He had killed his father. He had sat upon his father’s throne and he had taken over his father’s power.

Then he married his mother and with her had four children. But that bit wasn’t the main offence. The offence was that he robbed his father of his power.

All this, of course happened in total ignorance of the relationships involved and by those involved in the crime.

The Palace, under King Oedipus had opened its gates and a thorough examination of all pertinent facts was conducted. Eventually the problem was solved and resolved. The crime was revealed and understood, its perpetrator arrested and punished severely – by the investigator himself, King Oedipus.

In the process, a most powerful lesson was learnt, a lesson about power itself: “Those who feast in power and are gluttonous of it, will indubitably taste the famine that is delivered by the powerless.”

The same entreaties were directed to our king, Scott Morrison.

Oh, we call them “Prime Ministers” these days but they are, in effect, as powerful and as fearful of losing their power as were the kings of Thebes and elsewhere back then.

They came to him, to Scott Morrison, as suppliants in pain and concern and prayed that he let the children and the adults who are in desperate need of medical care as declared to be so by two medical practitioners, children and adults who are imprisoned in the Guantanamo-like tents of our making, in Nauru and Manus to come to Australia.

Deaths had taken place there because of our bloody-minded nastiness. Deaths, injuries, both inflicted by others as well as by their own hand but most commonly and savagely because of the conditions of the prisons and their inability, the inability of those poor inmates to see an end to it. Their inability to understand what it is that they have done which has caused this country to treat them with such abhorrent hatred as if they were not seeking help and safety but as if they were some satanic abomination. This is what they just can’t understand and this what they want investigated, and this is what any fair-minded human being also wants investigated with the same thoroughness and methodical effort engaged by Sophocles’ Oedipus. Oedipus the King!

Morrison, like Freud and Jung did not learn from Sophocles’ exhortations and warnings about power, which is that you throw wide open your palace gates, you let in the people in and you ask them questions. You investigate all crimes committed with all the punctiliousness you can master. And you go on investigating until you find a solution and work on a resolution.

You do not punish until you find a crime and a culprit.

Oedipus the King showed his love for his people by relinquishing his throne and all the power that came with it and by working at finding out what ailed them, what ailed his city, his Thebes.

Morrison, the Prime Minister, instead, shut down his beloved palace, his seat of power, the thing he loves more than his people.

No, he wouldn’t allow any questions, he would brook no investigation, seek no solution and definitely proffer no resolution. He would tolerate no human emotion, accept no human rights inquiries, seek out no answers.

The inmates, those poor children and their parents, those people who stretched out their hand to us, asking us to stretch ours to meet it, are still there. In Manus and Nauru, still suffering, still wandering what on earth might this country be like? What savage hearts live here?

I cringe and at times I scream, when I hear the mantras, “Australia is a compassionate country,” or “Australia is a tolerant country,” or even “Australia is a generous country!”

To whom, exactly is Australia all these things? And how much of it?

We should now be re-addressing JFK’s exhortation, “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Or as Aristophanes had put into Euripides’ mouth in his satire, “The Frogs,”

“I hate a citizen who is slow to help his city, quick to cause her harm, who’s got his eyes wide open to anything that helps himself but completely shut when it comes to helping the city.” Frogs, 1430

Ask that question and show that anger of those occupying the throne room, or the oval office, or the office of a Prime Minister.

Ask that of anyone who holds even a smidgen of power.

To Hope or not to Hope

For a wedding gift, Zeus gave Pandora (Allgifts, in english) an urn which contained all the ills that face humanity. Sickness and death and pain and hate and suchlike destructive things.

The urn, which was made of the same clay from which Pandora was made (there’s poignancy in this observation) was sealed and the instructions for use, to her and her husband, Epimetheus (Prometheus’ little brother) included that it never be opened.

It was a divine wooden horse. Zeus knew that Pandora would not be able to resist the force of her curiosity and she’d lift open the lid.

Zeus, you see, had a grudge against Prometheus because he, Prometheus had made man andinstilled in him the dignity and self confidence not to bow in abeyance to Zeus nor to any of the other gods.

Prometheus’ man needed no gods!

An anathema!

(Of course we’ve strayed badly from that since then but…)

So Zeus – it’s too long a story to relate it here in full so please forgive the shameful contraction- wanting to destroy Prometheus’ creature he devised this very cunning, Odyssean plan: Make a woman (with the help of Hephaitus) instil in her the trait of curiosity, put all the ills in an urn and give it to her as a gift, much like the Danaans gave the gift of the wooden horse to the Trojans. No wonder Virgil feared the Greeks. “Timeo danaos et dona ferentes,” he said with a tremor in his voice.

Zeus’s plan worked. Pandora, unable to contain her curiosity lifted the lid of the urn to see what was inside. Within seconds she realised what it was and she immediately put the lid back on. Too late though. All the ills have flown out and they pester us to this day.

All except Hope.

Hope? Is that an ill? Surely not. “Hope springs eternal in the human breast” to quote the poet, Alexander Pope. It can’t be an ill. Surely only good things spring eternal in our breast.

An ill or a good?

Hope makes its possessor compliant. Give them enough hope and they’ll lick your boots. Give them enough hope and they won’t start a revolution. Give them enough hope and they’ll make you head of the revolution.

And then, of course, there is this: something based on hope is something on instinct and not on fact. It’s unreliable and liable to bring about an ill.

“Be a good boy or girl and do as god says (“god,” a deceptive substitution of the word “I”) and when you’ll die, you’ll end up in Paradise.”

Things that are based in facts are not hopes but expectations. Valid expectations.

Yes, those wonderfully plucky, brave, conscience-packed hearts and minds, those kids with the vibrant awareness and ardent concern for the future of the planet upon which totally depends their own future and the future of the generations to come, will vote soon.

And they will vote against politicians who waste time with tricky, conniving and smartarsey moves to suit their own, selfish agendas, instead of legislating with an honest, genuine wish to do the right thing.

Those students who’ve marched in their thousands are with David Attenborough who recently warned us that,

“The world’s people have spoken. Time is running out. They want you, the decision-makers, to act now. Leaders of the world, you must lead. The continuation of civilisations and the natural world upon which we depend is in your hands.”

With whom are our politicians?

And so, for whom will these students vote? Where do they direct their hope? And what sort of hope is it?

The ALP, through Tanya Plibersek, Bill Shorten, Penny Wong and others hold no genuine attraction for these wise young people. These pseudo-Lefties will do nothing about anything relating to the environment, including about the very emblem of climatic catastrophe, the Adani coal mine. They will, of course, these pseudo-Lefties, incessantly fill our ears with mellifluous rhetoric and insulting, vacuous excuses why it is that they can do nothing: “Adani is not that bad for the environment,” Bill Shorten was heard saying.

Or “the market will take care of it! We are not responsible for the market’s behaviour. Nor are we responsible for the Great Barrier Reef. Or the inmates on Nauru and Manus. We can sleep easy.” (Paraphrasing Plibersek and others, in unison with the LNP).

But the “market” is no longer the ancient Greek agora which took good care of sardines and olives and figs and walnuts and chickens and eggs and wine and garrulous gossip.

The “market” now is Wall St. and Fleet St and a whole lot of other “Streets” where the only thing that happens is the syphoning of the value of everything and the bloating of egos and of wallets -fewer by the day- and the proliferation of crimes.

The market will take care of it, says the ALP, which, to my eyes at least it is the clearest indication yet that when it comes to legislative responsibility on issues of significance, these two major parties are of the same view: abrogate it (their responsibility) to the market, a market that is now not only free and unfettered in any way but one that has gone totally wild and gluttonous.

Don’t interfere with the market.

Make your job a well paid sinecure.

So, they, too, these pseudo Lefties, will sell us oblivion as if it were a newly baked loaf of bread.

Put all their words together, all the words of the ALP, add up all their syllables and look at their sum worth. I mean that number there, beneath the bottom line. How different is that number to the number beneath the syllables uttered by Minister for Resources Canavan and Prime Minister, Morrison: (to paraphrase them) “These students should be at school learning about science… and not protesting… or they’ll be joining the dole queues!”

What they mean, of course, is for the students to stay in class where they can learn science, all the science that is, except that which has to do with the climate and with the survival of our planet, and (Morrison) how “not to argue with their teacher,” who, in his mind is also their master, their ruler, their god, their Zeus!”

I was waiting to hear the Sunday school mantra, “Children should be seen but not heard.” I feel short-changed!

Just another mode of Tony Abbott’s (erstwhile PM of Australia but constant ruler of the LNP and his cluster of political conspirators): “women should stay home and do the ironing” or Trump’s (to journalist Jim Acosta) “Let me run the country, you run CNN.” Or, on climate change: “I’m not going to put the country out of business. When you look at China, they have not-good air that comes over to the U.S.

“People don’t want to talk about it. we’re not going to spend trillions and make it good for others but not (us).”

I weep!

Reminds one of Galileo Galileii and his troubles with the High Ignoranti of the Catholic Church on the issue of where in the universe this planet swirls and spins; and of a whole lot more people, of course, past and present who had the conscience-packed heart, the vital awareness and theindissolublepluck and drive, to contradict their teachers, their masters, their Zeus.

Dismissiveness: it is the first requisite of an authoritarian government, the first requisite of a bully.

What do we do with Hope?

Do we let these glowing gems of humanity, these explorers of the moral compass, have some hope or do we, instead, give them something – some “thing” some deed, some factual, some palpable thing, something that can teach the Canavans and the Morrisons and the Shortens and the Pliberseks and the Trumps of this planet about the quintessence of science, the quintessence of life?

Pandora is confused. The poor woman is wondering what to do with that little thing wildly flapping inside her urn.

No one stands on the “high moral ground” anymore because morality itself has been trashed a long time ago.

And just as McBeth has killed Sleep, so have the long line of Ministers and Prime Ministers in this country and in many other countries have killed morality.

Or have deformed it.

Just a few days ago, a fairly decent journo – “decent in ethical journalism and decent also in dress” was refused entry into our Parliament because – Zeus forefend!

Patricia Karvelas dared to bare too much arm flesh!

Refusing the baring of arms in Parliament is a new lifting of the bar of morality. Or a new lowering.

What will Clio do?

Clio and her eight sisters are heading for your grave. They are the nine muses and they are your very last visitors. All of them, daughters of Zeus and Memory.

Clio is the muse of History. Clio remembers all and she tells all. Nothing escapes Clio and Clio hides nothing. Clio does not tell lies and nor does she blemish or sugar-coat anything. Clio’s truth is inscrutable because Clio is inscrutable. She cannot be bought and she cannot be lobbied. Her truth is in the heart of the sun. All lies are burned off and all truth shines in all its grandeur. Hers is the honest truth.

Presidents die. So too, children. Babies die. Sons and daughters. Mums and dads die, lovers die. Soldiers die. Heroes die on the battlefield or in a bush fire and cowards who spend their days in glittering, palatial oval offices die.

Charos awaits us all.

Ask yourself now, what would you rather have these sisters do at your grave, piddle upon its dusty mount or crack a bottle of nectar, just delivered to them by the gentle doves of Mt Olympus and pour it over the daisies you’re pushing up?

And what sort of music would you have Clio pluck upon her lyre and what words would you have Euterpe sing for you? What sort of dance should Terpsichore dance for you around your tombstone?

Music, words and dance that will make the daisies spring up in a joyous and proud bloom or such that it will make them bend and blush with shame?

You will be dead, you say and behind the unassailable, unbreachable walls of Oblivion. What Clio or anyone else does on or around my grave will not touch me. I will be dead and protected from feelings, physical and mental. “Dead means peace,” you insist.

You will indeed be dead and buried then, or cremated or even eaten by the carrion birds and animals, as were the countless Danaans before the topless towers of Ilium at the beginning of the Iliad, yes, but I’m asking you now, now that you are alive and fully sentient, physically and mentally and you are sitting at your lawyer’s office, dictating your last will and testament and you are totally free to record it for all eternity.

Now, dictate to your lawyer your codicil regarding the nine muses, beginning with the words, “as for my grave I would like Clio and her sisters to…”

To do what?

This is the moment that two aphorisms appear before you. One is a sentence inscribed at the forecourt of the temple of Apollo at Delphi which says, “know thyself,” (said to be uttered by Socrates) and the other is an observation also made by the same philosopher, “an unexamined life is not worth living.”

This is the moment to check inside the drawers and filing cabinets of your life, to learn about yourself, your past, your present and your eternal future. This is the time when Clio is hovering just above your head, as did Mercutio’s “galant spirit,” just before his body became worms’ meat.

Clio pours praises upon the graves of people who have lived well, who have lived by the rules of Justice and Virtue and she piddles upon the graves of those who have lived lives of injustice and evil.

Graves are anything but silent. They are ear-smashingly sonorous and they are garrulous. They tell stories, our stories and this is the only time when the stories -your story amongst them- are true because they are told by Clio.

And our stories are the stories of our times and our cities.

But what is Justice and what is Virtue?

In his book, “The Republic,” Plato has his teacher, Socrates embark upon a trip around Athens in the hope of finding the answers to these questions. What is Justice and, more importantly, is the just man a happier man than the unjust one?

Socrates had walked through the streets of his beloved Athens, the Athens that throbbed with theatre and art and philosophy and architecture and Democracy, the Athens that was at the time the hub of cogitation and invention, the Athens that was given the name “the cradle of civilization,” and he asked anyone and everyone just those very questions about Justice and Virtue and he discussed with them their responses, in his usual dialectic manner, a manner that became known as “Socratic irony.”

One such citizen, Cephalus, suggested that Justice is seen in the act of giving people what is owed to them. Simply, pay all your debts before you die!”

Another, sitting at the same table, a certain Polemarchus, suggested that Justice is seen in the act of giving good to your friends and evil to your enemies.

A third, Thrasymachus proclaimed with a full throated assertiveness that “justice is nothing more than the interest of the stronger.” Might is right, in other words. Not quite a definition of Justice and rather more like a cynical denial that Justice is of any value at all, we might suggest. In fact, being just is more trouble than good, Thrasymachus insisted because, Justice stops us from behaving according to our very natural inclinations, inclinations such as, to desire to get more than the other guy, to steal the other guy’s land, to completely destroy the other guy’s life, to send the other guy into exile, to make him a refugee, looking for a safe place to live. These are all natural inclinations for humans and so, Justice stops us from being fully natural.

Justice is no good at all, according to Thrasymachus and thus, Justice being the very kernel of morality, Thrasymachus tells us that morality itself is a pain in the proverbial, and a hindrance to us trying to be our true selves.

And Plato wrote down all their answers and the discussions that went with them in a book he called the “Republic” and he called it that because a city, a polis, or a “City-State” (to all intends and purposes another word for “one’s country”) is like a man, a human. The constituent parts of a man’s character are the same as those of a good city. A good country is like a good man and it is good because it is made up of good men.

So, what Clio, the muse of History, will do upon our grave is a strong indication of what she will do upon the grave of our country.

What would we have her do then, piddle upon it or praise it?

Graves are the great and indisputable levelers:Tomb or multi-storied mausoleum, or a grassy knoll; a tombstone of solid marble or of mud brick; an urn made of solid gold with the rarest of gems or of tin for your ashes; a grave alone in the desert or one amidst a million other graves.

Or a mountain of blood and gore and rubble; a tempest of tears, a firmament of groans and; it’s all the same to Clio and her sisters.

In this era of bunker politics, of impenetrable wall politics, of Parliaments and Congresses, used as cowards’ castles, of Parliaments bereft of the demos but thronged by noisy money men and military men and god’s men and oil men and media moguls; of Parliaments where we see the bloody festival of Idus Martiae taking place almost on a daily basis; in this era of such Parliaments, it is hard to remain sanguine and with your equanimity intact.

It is hard not to get angry.

Another President has just died.

What will Clio do?