Monday, December 8, 2008

Life in twilight

The Greek and Roman myths are filled with narcissistic sissies prancing around in their underwear, slaying big scary beasties, and flitting through oak groves. My ancestors were different. As Edith Hamilton writes in her classic Mythology:

The world of Norse mythology is a strange world... No radiancy of joy is in it, no assurance of bliss. it is a grave and solemn place, over which hangs the threat of inevitable doom. The cause the forces of good are fighting to defend against the forces of evil is hopeless. Nevertheless, the gods will fight for it to the end. Necessarily the same is true of humanity... The heroes and heroines of the early stories face disaster. They know they cannot save themselves, not by any courage or endurance or great deed. Even so, they do not yield. They die resisting.

Many of the Norse texts went the way of their gods. What the Christians didn't destroy, time did. (Don't build statues out of wood.) But where the Greeks and Romans found illusionary glory in temporary victories, the Norse found permanent dignity in futile struggle.

Even the greatest achievements are washed away by history. And your children - and theirs and theirs and theirs - are all you have as a hedge against death. And yet you fight the fight. Not for a doomed world or a doomed future. But for its own sake.

Your will to battle towards a unpleasant and certain end is the most important thing you have. My ancestors knew this. And I know it too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fight the good fight, my friend. And find your joy in the spaces between the battles.