Bits of Bad Advice From Myths and Legends
Myths and Legends are, according to every English teacher and Magic: The Gathering enthusiast, important stories that teach us valuable lessons about life.
This isn’t always the case. Sometimes they teach lessons that will set you off on an epic quest toward a jail-cell. If you are a diligent student.
I. The Odyssey –
Who doesn’t want to run away from their lives every once in a while? After all, adventure is out beyond the horizon, while all we have at home is a steadily growing pile of dishes and constant reminders of our mistakes. When life is stressful, or dull, or that enigmatic combination of both, sometimes we need to just leave it all behind. “But what about all of our responsibilities?” you may ask. Well, if you’re taking the advice of ancient mythmakers, they would probably say, “meh.” Just ask Odysseus.
Although he had a bit part in The Iliad as a crazy inventor, Odysseus is most famous for his leading role in the Homeric epic, The Odyssey. It is a title that refers to a long and arduous task, like being forced to undertake a ten-year voyage. (Or reading The Odyssey)
Before the ten-year voyage, he fought in a ten-year war. Ancient Greece operated on a very tight time-table. If it didn’t take ten years, it wasn’t worth doing! And what did brave Odysseus leave behind to be gone for twenty years? Oh, not much. Just a wife, and a kid, and an ancient, ancestral duty to be king and protector of his island.
(Who wants Ithaca, anyway?)
But he had a sweet adventure, even though the whole time he insisted he was trying to get home.
(Sure he was.)
Odysseus the brave. Odysseus the clever. Odysseus the irresponsible.
When he did finally return home, everything was hunky dory. No angry wife or emo kids. Sure, he had to brutally kill some people who were trying to bogart on his territory, but that was nothing new to him at this point. And although his family didn’t quite recognize him right away, all he had to do was describe some old furniture and everyone was happy, drinking wine and subjugating servants like nothing ever happened.
Book Twenty-second…Such is this terrible Book in which destruction is fully meted out to destroyers. According to our count 129 people are here dead, all of them guilty. A doomsday spectacle for that household, and for all readers and hearers since; it shows the return of the deed negatively upon the negative doer. But Ulysses, the hero sitting amid these corpses, is simply the Destroyer, the very picture and embodiment thereof. Is there to be no positive result of such bloody work? Yes; that is the next thing to be shown forth in the two following Books; Ulysses is also the restorer, wherewith his career and this poem will terminate”
Book Twenty-Third…Now this is just the test which Penelope wanted, a double test indeed, not only of the head, but also of the heart. He reveals to her not merely that he knows about the bed, but how strongly he feels in reference to it, and to what it signifies. For he might be the returned Ulysses, and yet not be hers. But now she has yielded,”
So, if you ever up and walk away from your job, your family, and your life, for whatever reason, just remember this: All you have to do is go home and talk about something you own, like how much the refrigerator or the television means to you, and everyone will be drinking beer and telling jokes in no time.
But if you’re gone for more than a few years you are likely to find suitors in your house first. If you kill them, you’ll go to jail. (Unless you’re famous, maybe?)
II. Second Labor of Hercules –
Hercules is famous for being the son of Zeus. But he was no trust-fund demigod. He earned his fame, first by killing half a dozen of his own children, and then through accomplishing twelve herculean tasks to atone for it. We can learn lessons from these tasks, like being brave in the face of scary monsters. But in the modern world most of us don’t have lions to fight. The biggest monsters we deal with are simply rude or inconsiderate people.
We all deal with jerks in our life. They do things like pull way over curbs when they park, take forever ordering snacks at the movie theater, and are always too loud in restaurants. Why do people behave this way? This simple answer is because they can. They are usually big, and strong, and whose going to stop them? Besides, for every jerk you destroy, two more will spring up to take its place. Its like Hercules fighting a hydra. (Or a Netflix que trying to fight Nicholas Cage movies.)
To most people its not worth it. Most people aren’t Hercules.
Hercules had to fight a hydra, and it wasn’t just a bunch of people talking on their cell-phones in the library. It was an actual, many-headed dinosaur thing. (I believe this is Ovid’s description.) For hours, Hercules fought the beast, slicing away at head after head, leaving behind bloody stumps of necks. And from each stump, more heads emerged. It was probably a lot like Whack-a-mole on Miracle Grow. Of course, Hercules was having a blast, but you can’t just chop heads off monsters all day. There are other monsters to fight and maidens to save.
(And if this is Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules, vests to wear!)
Eventually, Herc had to end the battle. To do this, he got help from a friend. Every time Hercules would heroically slice one of the heads off, his friend would run to the bloody stump and burn the wound, preventing a new head from emerging. It took two men to do the job of a single lightsaber, but before long the monster was defeated. Everyone praised great Hercules, while his friend who arguably had the more dangerous job just walked off and probably died somewhere. (Just another NPC who doesn’t matter.)
so he killed it, and in his turn called for help on Iolaus who, by setting fire to a piece of the neighboring wood and burning the roots of the heads with the brands, prevented them from sprouting.”
III. The Legend of Romulus and Remus –
If there is one person in your life who you can count on to always be there, for better or worse, it is your sibling. No one knows this better than Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of the city of Rome.
(And later the Romulan Star Empire.)
These two had a tough childhood. Many people have weird uncles, but few of them are murderous power mongers.
(Unless you are a baby lion.)
It is great to have a father who is a god, but Mars was never around to play catch or teach them how to shave. And, for all the statues glofigying the babes at the mother wolf’s teat, wolf milk is not the most appetizing beverage.
(More Ovaltine Please)
So they were already beating the odds just by surviving into adulthood. But they did more. They defeated their evil uncle, refused the crown he usurped, and went off to found their own city.
(According to some sources, it was to be made from Rock and Roll.)
After all that, they fell to the horror of urban planning. They couldn’t agree if they wanted their new city to be built on one hill, or the other one slightly up and to the left. One thing led to another, and like children sharing a bedroom they each began to build their own wall to divide the land. One brother made fun of the other, and like many bouts of sibling rivalry, the response was violence. Romulus killed Remus, and regretted it for the rest of his life.
At least he claimed to. If he really felt bad, he would have named the city Reme. That he named it Rome showed who his favorite brother really was. The point is, you should not kill your brother. He is a lifelong companion you can never replace. And even if you don’t like him, we’re not all sons of gods with armies behind us. If you follow Romulus’s example, you will go to jail.
“Book 10: …as Romulus was digging a trench where his city’s wall was to run, he (Remus) ridiculed some parts of the work, and obstructed others. At last, when he leaped across it, he was smitten (by Romulus himself, as some say; according to others, by Celer, one of his companions), and fell dead there.”
IV. The Popol Vuh –
Few mythologies have the same whimsy as pre-columbian Mesoamerica. People with cool names like Two Reed and Ten Rabbit spill blood so the gods can eat. (Something the ancient Greeks didn’t tell us: ambrosia is really human blood) They even have their own story about brother-twins who save the world and start a new society. It is a long and complex story full of weird sports where human heads are the balls and the fate of the mortal world hangs in the balance.
In the ancient Mayan story, the hero twins seek revenge on the lords of the underworld for the death of their father. They play the ancient ball-game against them and win. To defeat the lords of the underworld is a big no-no, so they are summoned to their hall to face their punishment. Instead, they perform a neat magic trick.
(This is how David Blaine gets out of paying taxes.)
The Lords of the Underworld demanded a sacrifice, so the hero twins took some poor peasant and killed him, spilling the blood on their just-cleaned floor. Instead of, you know, dying, the man was brought back to life. The Lords of the Underworld were impressed. They then asked for another sacrifice, so one brother killed the other, and once again the sacrificial victim was resurrected immediately. Naturally, the audience wanted to take part in this spectacular show, so the Lords of the Underworld demanded they be killed, because they would surely be brought back to life, and defying one of the fundamental laws of nature sounded like fun. Only when the hero twins killed the Lords of the Underworld, they neglected to finish the trick. The Lords of the Underworld were defeated by their own desire for audience participation.
Basically, it was like a magician asking for a volunteer to cut in half, and then actually cuts them in half. If you were to do this, you would go to jail. Or, at the very least, not be allowed in Las Vegas anymore.
“Kill a person,! Make a sacrifice without death.’ Then they (The Hero Twins) took hold of a human sacrifice… And now One and Seven Death admired it, and now that person was brought back to life… and the lords were amazed…. One and Seven Death were as glad at heart as if they themselves were doing the dance… “Do it to us! Sacrifice us!” they said “Sacrifice both of us!” said One and Seven Death to Hanuhpu and Xbalanque. ”Very well…” So the ruler of Xibalba, One Death was sacrificed first. Then Seven Death. And they did not come back to life. The Xibalbans were getting up to leave, having seen the heart sacrifice there for the true purpose: to destroy them.”
V. The Epic of Gilgamesh –
Gilgamesh is another example of a half-god who doesn’t seem to have a grip on basic human institutions. He was the king of Uruk, ancient metropolis of the fertile crescent. (And popular vacation destination for ancient astronauts.) But he wasn’t a very good king. He made a habit of taking advantage of his subjects, particularly with the pretty young woman subjects. Apparently, in Uruk, it wasn’t rape if you were the king. Then again, if you begin a sentence with, “its not rape if…” it is probably rape.
Gilgamesh was so bad the people prayed for the gods that someone even worse would show up just to kick his ass. So they were delivered Enkidu, the wild man, who became fast friends with Gilgamesh instead of defeating him like the Urukians asked. Still, Gilgamesh now had a buddy to go on adventures with, getting him out of the city and away from the people who despised him. Eventually, Enkidu died, which made Gilgamesh face the prospect of his own mortality. He traveled the Earth, met the world’s oldest, lamest man, and was given a magic immortality plant which he practically fed to a snake. (And that snake is still alive today, living in a condo in south Florida.)
It took all of that for him to lean a basic lesson most of us get in kindergarten: it is better to be remembered for being good than being bad. Gilgamesh returned to his city, not to find that the had replaced him with a better king, or a system of representative government. They didn’t even seem to be mad at him. He went home, fixed up the walls, and ruled until his death, while nobody harassed him for his previous crimes.
(This was before the invention of lawyers.)
But you could’nt get away with this. It doesn’t have to be exploitation and rape, if you leave a bunch of dishes in the sink, them jet off to India to find yourself, you will return to find dishes done and people still mad at you for leaving them. And if you commit a real crime and run away, you’d better not return, or you’ll find cops waiting to escort you to jail. (Just ask roman Polanski.)
[The following lines are interpreted as rhetorical, perhaps spoken by the oppressed citizens of Uruk.]
Is Gilgamesh the shepherd of Uruk-Haven, is he the shepherd. … bold, eminent, knowing, and wise! Gilgamesh does not leave a girl to her mother(?) The daughter of the warrior, the bride of the young man…”
“The story ends with Gilgamesh returning to Uruk and looking at the city walls.”
VI. The Myth of Orpheus –
Orpheus was a famous musician. If you went back in time, he would have been bigger than Kanye West and Justin Bieber put together. He sailed with the Argonauts, and was one of the few on the voyage who actually made the trip enjoyable. But for all his musical talent, he was not the most emotionally developed individual.
Death is a terrible thing, but also a part of life we all have to learn to deal with. When Orpheus’s wife died, he did the absolute worst thing and descended into the underworld to try and bargain with Hades to let her live again. Most of us have heard this story before: Orpheus was just such a damn good lyre player that he actually convinced Hades, unmoveable lord of the dead, to return Orpheus’s departed wife. Of course, Orpheus couldn’t keep up his end of the bargain, causing his wife to return to the underworld. But the real lesson here isn’t that artsy-types don’t have backbones, it is that Orpheus should have never had the audacity to attempt to get his wife back in the first place. Some rules can’t, and shouldn’t be broken, no matter how much we think they should be.
No amount of skill or talent will allow you to bend certain realities, like death, for any amount of time. Get over yourself. Death is the ultimate authority, if you think you can win it over with music, you might also think you can convince the President to give you a pardon, which means you’ll probably end up in jail.
President Obama: “Well…I thought about it…and I like your music…and I have decided to give you those launch codes you asked for.”
“When Orpheus’ wife, Eurydice, was killed by the bite of a serpent, he went down to the underworld to bring her back. His songs were so beautiful that Hades finally agreed to allow Eurydice to return to the world of the living.”