Sunday, January 8, 2012

It's All Greek to Filipinos

Did you hate History in school as much as I did? I detested it. Despised it. I only got "A's" (the top American grade) because I was a dippy nerd afraid to fail.

My oldest daughter, who has a memory like an HP scanner, loves the stuff, all the way back to the classics of Greek and Roman mythology. She is fluent in Latin, a dead language, so you know she digs ancient.

It helps if you can automatically recall dates and related them to things that mattered. History was all irrelevant memory work to me. I didn't get it. At age 13, I couldn't relate to a World War, much less Teddy Roosevelt leading the charge up some Spanish hill on some island in the Caribbean, or one of the other oceans. I was more interested in trying to peer down Ms. Perrine's blouse . . .

Speaking of oceans, here's something interesting I read today (bear with me, I'll get to the Philippines shortly). "Ocean" was one of the early Greek gods. He was one of the Titans who were later merged into a scheme under 12 great Olympian gods. He must have had a sex change operation, too, because today we refer to the oceans as "she". The Greek gods all had Roman counterparts. Romans were like the Chinese, I guess, copying everything instead of concocting their own.

Ocean was the god of the river that encircled the earth. He had a wife named Tethys, but you don't have to remember that name if you can't pronounce it.

So now you know that you use one Greek word regularly. And you know where the word came from. It came from people who were humanizing that which they did not understand. This was 1000 B.C., before Jesus decided the Greek and Roman saviors needed some competition.

I was once accused of being an "intellectual" during a blog argument on Filipino Voices (speaking of dead languages . . . )

Well, I'm not. I just read a lot and can upchuck words in strange and occasionally entertaining ways. My eldest daughter is an intellectual. So is Edith Hamilton, who wrote the book I am now reading, entitled "Mythology".
Greek Gods

Filipinos are neither intellectual nor interested in reading. (Sweeping generality meant to drive GabbyD up the Jackfruit Tree). I've actually met one exception.

That is the connection of this article to the Philippines. But I would like to think that my readership is a cut above the great unread masses. I mean, they have to be to "stick with Joe" and his offbeat perspectives.

So today I shall give you well-brained Filipinos(and non-Filipinos) a lesson in Greek, courtesy of some excerpts from Ms. Hamilton. Stretch yourself on this . . .

The Greeks did not believe that the gods created the universe. It was the other way about: the universe created the gods. Before there were gods heaven and earth had been formed. They were the first parents. The Titans were their children and the gods were their grandchildren.

Now that is a mind-bender, eh? Who created the universe then? But not to worry. The Greeks were unerringly practical. Their gods were not even religious. They just explained the undiscovered science that surrounded the Greeks. The sky, lightning, oceans, the sun, fire . . . The actual scientific discoveries would come later.

This recitation by Ms. Hamilton puts religion in its proper place by giving the Greek mythological view on priests:

The priest is rarely seen and is never of importance. In the Odyssey when a priest and a poet fall on their knees before Odysseus, praying him to spare their lives, the hero kills the priest without a thought, but saves the poet. Homer (who is writing the story) says that he (Odysseus) felt awe to slay a man who had been taught his divine art by the gods. Not the priest, but the poet, had influence with heaven . . .

I'm going to become a Greek mythologist, for sure. It's older than Catholicism, so must be more historically accurate than the wild stories the Church would have us believe. Noah on a huge dung-stinkin' boat and Jonah in the belly of a swimming mammal whose digestive juices must have given him quite a case of acne. Deny the stories, however, and you go to Hell quicker than Ms. Arroyo can say "vindictive".

Here's the list of Titan gods, your last bit of scholarly knowledge to glean from this reading:

The Titans, often called the Elder Gods, were for untold ages supreme in the universe. They were of enormous size and of incredible strength. There were many of them, but only a few appear in the stories of mythology. The most important was Cronus, . . . He ruled over the other Titans until his son Zeus dethroned him and seized the power for himself . . .

The other notable Titans were Ocean, the river that was supposed to encircle the earth; his wife Tethys; Hyperion, the father of the sun, the moon and the dawn; Mnemosyne, which means Memory; Themis, usually translated by Justice; and Iapetus, important because of his sons, Atlas, who bore the world on his shoulders, and Prometheus, who was the savior of mankind . . .

So we can safely say Filipinos would admire Zeus for his supreme skill at carrying out a coup.

And I wonder what happened to Themis in the Philippines. Justice here is rather like a thief in the night . . .

Prometheus and Jesus were both saviors. Figure that one out for yourself. The Greeks are still here, not running track meets naked like they used to, and financially on the ropes, but definitively here. I'm rooting for them. They are very old and their gods have character . . .


  1. The Greeks saw Gods the same way Marvel sees superheroes, they practically humans with special abilities. Most of are also have mental illnesses.

    They were never infallible, but you'd had to have guts or friends in high places to question one of them.

    Most of the Titans were locked in Tartarus, maybe Themis was one of them.

  2. AJ, haha, mental illnesses indeed. The Greek gods had human traits, and represent the early attempts of mankind to figure out our emotions and social flaws. In that regard, they reflect a very advanced society. Much more advanced on the matter of introspection than many Filipinos would seem to be. (Americans introspect, but still act crazy.)

  3. Many people thought that Filipinos do not like history ... Actually,

    Filipinos so love history that they keep repeating it


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