Saturday, April 29, 2006

Aidos and Nemesis

Title: Aidos and Nemesis

Dear Reader,

I am reading Gilbert Murray's The Rise of the Greek Epic. I loved his Five Stages of Greek Religion, so Epic was the easy choice of the many fine books on Greek history, culture, and philosophy I have to choose from.

I am reading about Aidos and Nemesis. Many students of Greek mythology are familiar with Hesiod's description of the five ages of mankind--golden, silver, bronze, heroes, and iron--and remember this as a sequential loss of happiness and goodness. Murray quotes Hesiod as saying things are so bad in the Iron Age that even the last two of the Immortals on Earth will eventually abandon us to join the rest on Olympus. These two are Aidos and Nemesis, the last divine spirits of mankind in this bleak era.

Aidos refers to the capacity to be moved to pity or mercy by the helpless, that noble feeling that causes us to care for the orphan, the aged, the stranger, the dead, when we are not compelled to but only because we are moved by the divine emotion of Aidos to do so.

Nemesis refers to the righteous horror and anger of those who witness a crime such as cowardice, falseness, lack of reverence, or lack of aidos on behalf of another. Fear of the nemesis of witnesses, even imagined witnesses, can turn aside from criminal intent anyone not wholly lost to goodness.

Hesiod predicted there would come a time when the people of Iron would fall so far that they would lose even Aidos and Nemesis and be left with no redeeming characteristics whatsoever, no touch of the divine left. Murray, writing in 1907, commented that "the time which the prophet feared never came." One of the more remarkable things for me in reading Murray's books is the reminder that we once imagined history was a great march of progress toward higher forms of civilization.

Now for certain lessons in goodness and hope we have to look more to the past than the future.

Yours truly,

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