Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Watching a very silly movie about volleyball, the words of a friend of mine rang through my ears. He claimed that every story every told was told by the ancient Greeks first. Of course, being from Greece, he’s undoubtedly biased, but it is an interesting concept.
The Romans certainly stole the Greek stories. Now, I know it seems odd to think that the ancient Greeks wrote about volleyball, but the premise of the movie is the classic David and Goliath story dating back to the 11th century BC. In the movie, a small home-grown gym finds itself in imminent danger of being taken over by the mega-gym competition. Yes, the medium (volleyball) may be new, but the story itself dates back eons.
Personally, I enjoy Greek stories. The Greek Gods fascinate me. In the Greek stories and plays, the Gods were sometimes terrifying and serious, in others they were comical. I guess the Greeks took their poly-theological beliefs seriously, but the playwrights certainly were not consistent.
My favorite Goddess, that I call my “patron Goddess”, has to be Athena. Here we have a shooting-range/gun shop named after Athena because she was the Goddess of war. Actually, the God of war was Aries. So, which was the God of War?
Actually, both. See, Aries was the God of brutal, brute force, slaughter and mayhem war. Athena, on the other hand, is the Goddess of intelligent and compassion in war. Athena was responsible for the Trojan Horse that ended the war, Aries was responsible for the burning, looting, slaughter, enslavement and salting that occurred afterwards. There is a story of a mortally wounded Greek soldier laying next to his slain enemy. As Athena unknowingly to him approached to heal his wounds, he cut off the top of his enemy’s skull to drink the brains just as a final act of disrespect. Athena turned and let him die.
There really are only a few truly unique story lines, so I guess it’s not a surprise that the Greeks did them all. If we are being truly honest, the reality is that there were probably bards preceding the Greeks from which those stories derived. Perhaps the Greeks were among the first to write them down. Regardless of the details, there are many stories that fall into the category of David and Goliath, the “little guy” overcoming the established huge and far more powerful enemy.
The small army overcoming the massive enemy, as we see in Red Dawn, for example, certainly dates back to the story of the Trojan soldiers made famous in the movie 300. Intelligence overcoming the massive enemy is a favorite story line of mine.
Infidelity is an interesting story line. In the ancient Greek legends is the story of the Vestal Virgins. A lot of people have heard the expression “Vestal Virgin”, but I’m not sure how many know the story. Back in ancient Greece, fire was, of course, known, but difficult to start. It’s not really a surprise, then, that fires were thought of as holy. In ancient Athens, the Vestal Virgins were in charge of maintaining the holy fire, no doubt a gift of the Gods. They worked in turn to watch over the fire and keep it burning, and if, indeed, the fire ever goes out it is assumed that one of those Vestal Virgins has fallen from grace because they’ve lost their “qualification”. In their song “Whiter Shade of Pale”, Procol Harem referred to this legend in the line “one of sixteen Vestal Virgins were headed for the coast.” Of course, the punishment for losing one’s qualification was death. The story is told of the fire going out, and one of the Vestal Virgins being blamed. To prove that she was still a virgin (that is, she was still “qualified”), she and fifteen of her fellow virgins walked to the shore where a cargo ship had become trapped on a sandbar. Saying a prayer, she wrapped her scarf around a part of the ship and pulled it off of the sandbar. No doubt, the tide was up, but it was considered to be a miracle and her life spared.
So, I guess that stories of miracles also date back to the Greeks. Back then, and before then, news of the world traveled slowly. As it turns out, around 500 BC the cell phone service was severely lacking (yes, a joke), so to get the news of the world they depended on traveling bards who would go from city to city telling the news of the day. This news was spun in the form of stories and fables, and each time the stories were retold they would be embellished and grow because the bard wanted to be allowed back again and again. They would be welcomed into the cities with great feasts and sports even before they asked who the person was. It was a major event, and the entire city would be involved. Today, well, I have a hard time keeping focus on just one movie.