They used to call them “oracles” back then, in ancient Greece. Or “prophesies.” We call them “polls” today, here in Oz.
Silly things they were which silly people believe in. The giant primordial gods believed in them and that’s why they lost their thrones. One minute they ruled the Universe and the next they trod the rough grounds, “the desolate, untrodden Skythian paths of Tartarus,” as Aschylus put it in his splendid Prometheus Bound.
And, like today’s polls, oracles always gave the same message and with the same effect: “Doom is imminent!” And, as sure as Zeus would follow a gorgeous, mortal virgin, change his form and rape her, doom would certainly come.
It’s always a case of self-fulfilling prophesy. Believe in the oracles and you’ll try to avoid their doom scenario and, trying to avoid it, you cause that doom.
Aeschylus, for example, came to a most unfortunate death thanks to an oracle: “Beware of fallen objects!” the oracle had told him. He was living in Gela, Sicily at the time. Aeschylus looked up at the ceiling, saw the vast, glimmering crystal chandelier and the poor man thought that this was it. This was the source of his doom. So he spent his days away from it, outside, where the only ceiling is the sky. No chandeliers to fall upon your head up there.
One fine day, however, something fell upon his head. Hard and heavy.
Just before his last breath, he looked up. An eagle was hovering above him and next to his bleeding head he saw a turtle, shell smashed and also bleeding.
Aeschylus was killed by the act of an eagle which, as is their custom, picked up the turtle, flew high, looked for a rock to drop the animal onto, saw Aeschylus’ bald head, thought it was a rock and…
Zeus, was a jolly fellow, so jolly that the Romans gave him the name “Jove” whence we got “jovial.” Jolly and strong. Still a suckling, he accidentally and playfully, tore off one of his mother’s horns, his mother being the goat, Amaltheia (“she who for ever nourishes”). That horn became the “Cornucopia,” a horn perpetually filled to the brim with food, also known as “The horn of Plenty.”
Zeus had brought doom to his father Cronos, (renamed Saturn by the Romans) who, at the time, was the omniscient one, the boss of all bosses, in the same way that doom was delivered to his grandfather, Ouranos (Uranus by the Romans -trust the bloody Romans to deform a great Greek name!)
Cronos, was a frightened god because fear goes with power, and absolute power, as we all know, makes its possessor absolutely unnerved. Oracles scream fear just like polls do. Always!
So, Cronos too listened to the ravings of an oracle which told him that his own son would strip him of his power and so to avoid that plight, he would snatch his newborn the moment they poked their little heads out of the womb and eat them.
Until Zeus turned up.
Ouranos would do the same.
Until his son Cronos arrived and, to cut a splendidly long story short, Cronos ambushed his father and sliced off his genitals. He wanted to kill him in fact but you just can’t do that to gods because they are, after all, immortal. Ouranos is still there, in Tartarus, along with all his loyal devotees, his followers, his acolytes, other near-rebel deities, the Titans and all those who had disobeyed the new Boss of Bosses, the new God of all gods, Cronos himself.
There they still are, waiting for another rebellion, spending their time either rolling great sisiphian boulders up a hill or being tantalised by fruit bearing trees or a lakes with crystal clear water, neither quenching their thirst nor satisfying their hunger.
Real kings, of course, real bosses, real leaders don’t consult oracles; they consult philosophers, men and women of skill, of expertise, because that’s what the word ‘sophia’ means, skill and a philosopher is someone who loves sophia; it does not mean some mysterious capacity to be omniscient, all wise, nor some equally mysterious understanding of what is virtue and what is evil but, simply the possession of a “skill” the expert knowledge of doing a particular thing: Hektor was sophos at the spear, Achilles at running, Ajax at the sword. Phidias at sculpting statues, Pythagoras at Maths. That’s where their sophia lie. So, real leaders sought out and listened to philosophers, not to oracles or to entrails-shuffling priests.
And so, I now come to today’s gods, today’s leaders, today’s Uranus and Cronos and Zeus. I come to the politicians who lead this country and it seems to me that with the exception of but one of them, they all do as did the primordials: consult the oracles, the “polls”. Three days later, they are still consulting oracles and entrails!
Our current leaders prefer the counsel of polls rather than that of philosophers.
Plato warned us about doing this very thing, some 2,500 years ago in his great work, The Republic,yet here we are: at both, the State as well as at the Federal level, we see our leaders treat philosophers with scorn and pollsters with great reverence (a euphemism for fear.)
We are afraid of children so much that we lock them up for all eternity in Tartarus-like tent jails. We are afraid of gays and lesbians so much that we deprive them of love and marriage. We are afraid of the poor so much that we deprive them of every necessity to stay alive. We are afraid of education that much that we make it almost impossible for anyone but the rich to get educated.
And so on. Oracular forces of fear.
Last Saturday we saw a leader who, for most of his term was wise enough to have consulted the skilled ones. He came to the Victorians with policies delivered to him by the skilled ones. Policies that sparkled with progress and vision and a Promethean good will. There was no oracular fear in any of his presentations.
His opponent did not. He came with the policies that came out of the burnt offerings of sacrificed animals and barley. Out of oracles. The result is an unequivocal, thunderously crashing win for the philosophers and a calamitous loss for the pollsters, who did nothing but shout belligerently, at every opportunity, the word “fear.”
From the Opposition we heard no policies – just fear.
There are a few lessons that may be learnt from this experience and, to my mind, they are not so much directed at the LNP, as they are to the leader of the Federal Opposition, Bill Shorten who is still fumbling his way between one tentative and shamefully timid announcement, like “we will check out their policy and then make up our mind” and another, like, “the LNP and we are singing from the same hymn book.”
I mean, I ASK YOU!
The Victorian Premier, Dan Andrews called out in no tentative or timid tones to his Federal colleagues, “guys, don’t keep staring at Uranus and at Cronos and trying to make us fear our own shadows. Start thinking like Zeus and give us a cornucopia, a horn which is always replete with the stuff that nourishes our bodies, our minds and our hearts: houses, schools, hospitals, utilities, infrastructure, jobs, justice!”
To Bill Shorten and the Federal ALP, to all the other State and Territories leaders, Dan Andrews is bellowing his exhortations for them to start looking at being assertively progressive, not timidly regressive.
To the LNP, Andrews is saying, “guys, stop eating your own children! Cannibalism in politics can be harrowingly lethal.”
And that’s what can be learnt from last Saturday’s Victorian State election.
Heed these lessons or forever fall into the shadowy world of Tartarus.