De Sade

The ancient Greeks are probably just as bad as the people in the Bible.  They were all a bunch of pathological whacko-jobs.  Those guys in the old and New Testament who thought they were talking with God; well, they weren’t making it up.  Most of the ancient world was psychotic; that’s what you had to be to endure the endless shit going down.  But while I had plenty of intro to the Bible forced bastilledown my throat, I didn’t really get to read the Greeks in much detail till college.

Or let’s say, I had read quite a bit of them before college, but wasn’t ready till college to look at them with clearer emotions.  I was bowled over especially by the Iliad and the Odyssey.  Of course, in the Iliad, just like in the Bible, you find endless stretches of dullness where they make lists of things, like what armies were here or there or who was in them exactly, like the begat stuff in the Bible.  These lists suggest the value of list making at any time in human history as a mechanism for getting your feet on the ground and dealing with blasts of overwhelming anxiety.

But when Homer wasn’t making lists, he was talking about fighting.  And that’s what got me most.  Like with those Greeks, there was no breast beating or me-oh-my I have got to kill somebody or why the fuck am I doing this sort of thing.  No questions about meaning or guilt or any of that shit.  Just here I am and I am going to knock your fucking head off, and they would go at it till they were knocking each over the heads with rocks or whatever else came in handy.  No knights in shining army shit, just blood and dust till the day was done and they collected their dead.

And it didn’t seem to be about courage either.  Really no choice was involved.  So that wasn’t a question.  Odysseus at one point is getting the crap beaten out of him and he just starts talking to his opponent, pleading pathetically for his life, like hey, man, I am not ready to die and I have duties and obligations etc.  And he talks the guy out of killing him, and that didn’t mean Odysseus wasn’t sufficiently manly.  It meant he was and on top of that he was smart.

So maybe I was a proto-nerd because I was so knocked over with this stuff that I wrote an extra, un-required paper about what I was feeling and gave it to the professor.  She gave it back to me with no marks on it and said something like she had found it interesting.  OK, so maybe it had been filled with specious generalizations and based on extremely limited knowledge or whatever the heck had been wrong with it.  Or maybe I had come off sounding like a proto-fascists or something because as women since have reminded me the macho hood of those ancient Greeks was based on a society where women were treated like chattel, a sort of polite way of saying they were slaves.

Not till years later when I was reading the Romantics did I realize that back then in 1967 I had gone through a sort of literary rite of passage as it were.  All of the Romantics, well, most of them, had been bowled over by their first readings of the Greeks, which they usually did actually in Greek, while I read stuff in translation having, like Shakespeare, little Latin and no Greek.  I don’t know how to say it but the Greeks seem to breathe a clean and pure and cold air, while the air of we moderns is polluted and we in turn are sickly.  Almost as if all the pathology that had once been out there and accepted in the social structures and mythology of those days had moved right into our sickly heads.

It always gives me pause to remember that when, on the road to natural rights, the French knocked down the Bastille, one of the guys that game strolling out, was the Marquis De Sade.

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