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Is Pride Virtuous? Is Damaged Pride Dangerous?
And why do we celebrate what we can’t control?
Dear Classical Wisdom Reader,
I had planned to sleep in.
But the screaming men outside had other plans. The shouts were coming from hundreds of enthusiastic voices, but not in one location. Spread throughout the city their cries rang out in almost unison.
I knew it must have just gone past 7.... And the World Cup had begun.
Around the world, it’s a strange and unique experience. Last time we were in Mexico City for the event... I remember walking past the impromptu party that had gathered in front of the South Korean embassy when their win (loss? I can’t remember) meant Mexico had qualified for the next round.
The World Cup before that, we were actually in Romania... trying to find a seat at a cafe/bar to watch the Brazilian/German game... we were so confused as everyone cheered each time we got a new place. We thought there must have been a weird replay... rather than a South American thrashing.
But this is, surprisingly, our first time to experience it in Argentina... and we’ve been told it’s like no other. Blue and white striped plastic horns adorn the kiosks, along with hats, streamers, and all sorts of random knick knacks. Every goooooooooool cheered in unison throughout the land.
Argentines are usually quick to deride their nation, truth be told, but not when it comes to fútbol. This is the moment their chest swells and serious determination sweeps their face.
Only 30 countries qualify, one porteño remarked to me, and Argentina is always in.
Argentina is not alone, of course, in having unconcealed enthusiasm for their accidental place of birth from time to time. The World Cup certainly proves that!
More than that though, flags fly for all sorts of nations, cities, peoples and causes... all under the notion of Pride.
But what is Pride?
Historically, it was a Seven Sin, condemned in Victorian moral stories and pictures alike.
In the ancient world you couldn’t actually do much worse. Hubris, usually defined as extreme or excessive pride, dangerous overconfidence, often in combination with (or synonymous with) arrogance, was the confounding plot point of just about every myth. From Odysseus revealing his name to the Cyclops to Cassiopeia equating her/ her daughter’s beauty to the Nereids or Arachne boasting her weaving skills.... Excessive pride always led to trouble...
But nowadays, it is celebrated with puffed chest and bumper stickers. Indeed, you can get chastised for not displaying your pride sufficiently!
Even more bizarrely, the most common ‘reasons’ for pride (nationality, sexuality, ethnicity, etc) are things beyond our control, the result of genetics and chance. Why would we boast about something we didn’t choose or earn? Why isn’t there a national Doctorate week? Actuary License Day or a month cheering on Marathon runners?
And what happens when that pride is deflated... when number 50 beats number 3? And the crowds fall deadly silent.
Which brings me to today’s mailbag question:
Is Pride Virtuous? Is Damaged Pride Dangerous? Should it be encouraged... or curbed?
As always, you can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or reply to this email.
Before we get into today’s eclectic mailbag regarding Thanksgiving, the ancient Greek Novel and Myths and Leaders, a quick reminder:
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On The First Ancient Greek Novel:
Thank you for your discussion about Longus' magnificent novel. It has long been a favorite of mine, for all the reasons you listed. The edition with Chagall's illustrations is increasingly hard to find, but worth the effort! "Daphnis & Chloe" was purportedly favored by Goethe, as well.
On How Can We Give Thanks?
Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time of thanks not a forum for political discussion.
To the best of my knowledge the earliest thanksgiving is depicted in 1 Chronicles 16 in the Old Testament as taking place during the reign of King David in approximately the 10th century BCE. Chronicles was written by (or attributed to) Ezra who lived during the Fifth Century BCE.
Prof. E.J. L.
On Myths and Leaders:
I think it is better to rephrase the question “Do nations need myths to live by as the nations create their leaders”?
Every Leader needs a myth, a story, a conviction to guide how they see themselves and also their sphere of rulership.
I am of African Origin and most of the African Countries which only recently have been formed and admitted into the commonwealth of nations lack a myth to live by. The concept of democratic rule which is not a myth but a whim of the people voting for an unknown leader has created the situation that is evident to all observers of leadership.
And many old civilisations have a myth that they can use to bring hope to their sphere of governance.
As we are now coming out of so many isms and people are losing confidence in the current pool of leadership. I think a leader with a story to tell and activities to back up their narrative will resonate more with their people than most of the current crop of leaders who all sound the same.
Myths do not make leaders. They do memorialize them if that leader succeeds. The cherry tree and George Washington would not be remembered had Howe not encamped in Philadelphia for the winter.
Sometimes a myth is created to the detriment of a leader by those that opposed and survived him. Mark Anthony to Caesar when he said he came to bury not praise him at the victim’s gravesite. Jackson lies buried in a small plot while Lee has an entire chapel in Lexington, Virginia. Lee survived and Jackson did not. The latter became the symbol of the lost cause and gallantry. Jackson was nothing but worm food. Aaron Burr is reviled for killing Alexander Hamilton in a fair duel. He opposed the form of government now ruling America and supported Jefferson. For that he was vilified.
Vlad the Impaler is not remembered for his successful preservation of Eastern Europe from Muslim invasion. His opponents have indoctrinated the entire world that he is the source of Dracula legend. That legend was created by his actions to overcome the long odds of defending his kingdom. He simply used Ottoman tactics employed by those elsewhere against kingdoms and used their methods to drive terror into their very hearts. For this he is vilified today. And often those who benefitted later sit in judgment of the supposed wrongs committed.
Revisionism is north of myth and south of storytelling usually.
Mythology elevates the rulers and in doing so the nation and citizens follow. England under Churchill after Dunkirk, Queen Elizabeth against the Spanish Armada or even Martin Luther at the door of the Catholic Church. The relationship often seen between rules and storytelling is the latter sets the rules to apply to the story told. Most history is propaganda told by the victors. They own the rules and the narrative. The vanquished forgotten not so much.
That’s all from us today, dear reader! Have a happy Monday!
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