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Tom Chaney: Just Like a Goose

Of Writers and Their Books: Just Like a Goose, a review of Robert Penn Warren's The Gods of Mount Olympus. Review first published 26 August 2007 in the Hart County Herald
The next earlier Tom Chaney column :Tom Chaney No. R776 - Roast Pig and Charles Lamb

By Tom Chaney

Just Like a Goose

A local attorney once told me about a client of his who was a repeat, serial offender. He didn't just break the law repeatedly. He kept breaking the same law over and over. Not content to earn just one charge for DUI, he would get three or four DUI's before moving on to a string of charges for fighting; then public intoxication and so on.

My attorney friend said that the miscreant's brother came to his office. "I asked him, what's the matter with your brother? Can't he learn?"

"Oh! You know him. He's just like a goose -- wakes up every morning to a new world!"

When I read accounts of the lack of information that most of our high school students have about events as recent as World War II, Korea, and Viet Nam, I wonder whether we are not bringing up a generation of geese -- every morning is a new world.

That condition came into focus for me as I read a delightful little book for young folks by Robert Penn Warren. He published The Gods of Mount Olympus [Random House, 1959] dedicated to his young daughter Rosanna -- the perfect gift a father could give to a young child.

The stories of the Greek gods are told here in the straight forward style and clarity we come to expect from Warren.

Here is how he begins.

"Long ago in ancient days, the Greeks looked at the world around them and told stories about how that world had come to be. Such stories are called myths.

"At first, according to one of these myths, there was only empty space and darkness. Then out of the emptiness appeared Earth. The Greeks thought of Earth as the real earth we know. But they also thought of her as a goddess, the mother of all things.

"After Mother Earth, came Eros or Love -- the most beautiful of the gods. The power of Love brought order and beauty, light and day into the universe.

"Then Mother Earth created Starry Sky, who was as great and big as she was. Together, Mother Earth and Father Sky brought forth several groups of children."

Among those children were Cronus and Rhea. Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Hades, and Demeter followed as did their children.

Warren recounts many of the stories of the gods and goddesses -- or perhaps I should say goddesses and gods, since Mother Earth created Father Sky. He tells how the world was nearly destroyed by flood in the Age of Brass, when humankind was not as upright as desired. Zeus, having heard about the evil on earth, decided to wipe out humanity.

Prometheus, pretty much always on the side of humankind, let the word of the flood get out to his son Deucalion and his wife Pyrrah, both faithful worshippers of the gods of Olympus.

Prometheus told his son and daughter-in-law to build a boat with a roof on it. As the waters came up the boat floated. When the flood subsided the boat came to rest on Mount Parnassus. Only Deucalion and Pyrrah were left alive in a ravished world.

In their despair and loneliness they prayed to the goddess Themis. "Suddenly they heard a voice: 'Veil your heads, loosen the garments from your limbs and cast the bones of your mother behind you.'"

"The earth is our mother," Deucalion exclaimed, "and the stones are her bones!"

They came down the mountain, each tossing stones over their shoulders. "Those cast by Pyrrah [became] women, those cast by Deucalion [became] men. This steadily increasing procession of people trailed down the mountain to begin human life again under the rule of the gods."

Storytelling was an integral part of Greek life.

As you can see by the flood story, they did not live in a cultural desert. The Greek version of the flood bears strong resemblance to that of the Hebraic and the Ugaritic tales.

Time was when education was strongly based in the classics. We knew these beginnings of western civilization.

Now we are apt to be like the goose - waking every morning to a new world. The landscape of our past fades as quickly as a darkening computer screen. And we do not even know we are making the same mistakes.

The Gods of Mount Olympus, aimed as it is at late elementary school, is just a place to begin. I picked up a copy of The Greek Myths by Robert Graves the other day to discover once again the complexity of that world too often lost. I also suggest The Greek Way by Edith Hamilton and the novels of Mary Renault. I guarantee you won't be bored.

Box 73/111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2012-08-26 11:42:53
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