The beauty of the precariousness of life

Exam on Classical Greek myth and drama is over now, but one thing has remained on my mind. To escape reading The Odyssey in its entirety (I have now taken two courses that require reading it and still have not finished it!), I went to the library and borrowed a BBC production that gives an overview of The Odyssey’s key scenes and themes. (Alright, so I did then sit down and read those scenes in the actual epic.)

The narrator on BBC talked about how there is this tension in Greek culture between men envying the immortality of the gods and the gods being fascinated by the precariousness of human life. As if the very danger of its being snuffed out at any moment made everything far more precious. In the past, I’ve often thought about the question of ‘whether it’s all worth it.’ Why go through that short dot on the line of eternity when it can be so hard and such a bother?

A friend of mine once showed me a Buddhist-oriented cartoon of a pig looking at another pig standing sadly in a valley in a landscape of hills and valleys. The one pig then dug at the dirt to even out the landscape so that it was all flat, and then they embraced each other happily.

Then you think about those precious moments that you cherish in your memory. Soaring on the mountaintop. Who would exchange those for a life of flat blandness? -even if it means you get rid of the times when you are so sad you feel physically ill. Temporariness and eternalness seem to play off each other. What happens in the temporary is worthwhile when it has eternal impact.

Yet I would digress from Greek understanding a bit… there seems to be very little distance between the gods and men in terms of how different they are. When Odysseus chooses his life in Ithaca over being made an immortal, the epic seems to want us to take away from it that eternity is not all it’s hyped up to be. But when I think about eternity, it seems that eternity can stand alone, while the temporary must be defined against the eternal. The eternal is unfathomable. There is much more mystery and profoundness in this divide than I find expressed in Greek literature, where ‘the gods’ just seem to be upgraded humans with several more functions. Even though the ancient Greeks were ‘religious’, I feel like Greek culture contributes more to secularness today than anything else.

eternity  >  the temporary


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