Past Perfect
Craftiness and Cannibalism

So I remember hearing stories about wily gods and goddesses in the Greek pantheon, but “Greece” as an identifiable thing brings two images most clearly to mind.  Both are books.

First: my father is an artist and an art history professor, and I remember the book From Abacus to Zeus: A Handbook of Art History in the little bookcase we had in one of the hallways.

From this book, I learned that the Greeks had their own headless horsemen (as I thought of them, anyway), and I learned that they’re not big on tweeds. Gossamer robes and sandals or nothing at all.  This is where I also started having a sense of what “ancient” meant…

The other image I have of Greece came in the 7th grade, when I read The Odyssey for the first time.  I was completely into the whole adventure thing, and I was a big fan of Circe, who turned Odysseus’s team into pigs.  But what I really remember was my teacher who had a long last name and bright red hair.  She couldn’t get enough of the cyclops story:

Sure, it was a scene that showed off Odysseus’s famed craftiness and cunning, but what my teacher really dug was all the GORE.  She described in gruesome detail what it must have been like to watch him tear bodies in two, guts dripping from his mouth, until the crafty Odysseus plunged a spike into his great big eyeball.  Seriously. This was my teacher.

I imagined something along the lines of the old Sinbad the Sailor movie:

So, you can understand, perhaps, why I was fascinated by but a little apprehensive about these Greeks, who wrote epic poetry about one-eyed monsters eating people…

“O Cyclops! Would you feast on my companions?
Puny, am I, in a Caveman’s hands?
How do you like the beating that we gave you,
you damned cannibal? Eater of guests
under your roof! Zeus and the gods have paid you!”

Greece meant a classroom full of horrified middle-schoolers.  But we were ALL reading!!! Rubber-neckers to “the ancient world”!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

May 2023