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Should We Navel Gaze?
Omphaloskepsis...and What is a Hero?
Dear Classical Wisdom Reader,
This is the problem with being married to a writer. They like to use weird words. They like to use very long weird words. They like to use words that they are almost certain no one else will know.
Thus was the scenario when dear husband bade me farewell this morning.
“Make sure to not do too much Omphaloskepsis.”
My vacant look was met with a slightly smug face.
“It’s Greek you know.”
“Seriously! Look it up, you’ll love it.”
“Sure! Sure!” I rejoined, as I plowed ahead with my emails, hand flippantly waving him goodbye.
But alas, he was right. It is a great word. And it is very long, and Greek, and almost no one knows it.
Deriving from the Ancient Greek ὀμφᾰλός (omphalós, lit. 'navel') and σκέψῐς (sképsis, lit. 'viewing, examination, speculation'), Omphaloskepsis essentially means “Navel-gazing”.
Navel gazing... it has such a negative connotation in our fast paced world. It’s a castigation. A criticism, an opprobrium, a disparagement... one heard with a yokey voice directed at some sandy haired kid in overalls with legs dangling over the porch.
“Stop yer navel gazing!”
And yet, this was not the true intent of Omphaloskepsis in the ancient world. Instead of being evidence of self-absorption, it was a means to greater meditation, a practice in contemplation.
Indeed, Hannah Arendt, the German-born American historian and political philosopher, posited that this was the biggest divide between ancients and moderns. The latter prefer a life of action, while the former considered Omphaloskepsis - or contemplation - the highest goal.
At such a thought, I began to navel gaze... and began to wonder:
What good does Navel - Gazing do? Should we practice Omphaloskepsis?
As always, you can write me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or reply to this email.
Now onto the incredibly thoughtful responses to our previous question on what makes a Hero a HERO? below…
Founder and Director
P.S. One of the benefits of being married to a writer is having wonderful books to read. If you haven’t already checked out “Night Drew Her Sable Cloak”, make sure to do so! Historical fiction, literary and littered with classical references, it’s a stunning book…
One reviewer observed: Joel does an artist’s job of sketching history, philosophy, and an intriguing tale in a work of fiction. Or, is it really fiction?
Make sure to get your copy to find out:
I've been a hero, by most criteria. I'm not a demigod (as far as I know!), but I've saved people's lives. Maybe. I've pulled people from rivers who were in danger of drowning. I've been in the military, so those who say "Vets are heroes" would be satisfied on that score. I've done a few things in the military that most wouldn't or couldn't do, though I was never in combat. But I can tell you that I don't agree that everyone who served in the military is a hero. Some of us were downright bastages. But we all agreed to put our lives on the line, if it came to it. Most never do.
Do I have a point? If I do, it's that, in my experience, heroes are mostly made by circumstance. When a situation requires that something be done, there are those who step up. What kind of person they might have been before or after, is immaterial. It seems to me that it was always thus.
Ancient World: Originally Heros was the female protector/defender to the goddess, Aphrodite (and morphing to only the actions of males, probably when they destroyed the statues/temples of the former female goddesses).
Today’s World: Hero refers to a male, human person who does a “selfless act” to help or save others without concern for their own safety. Both words have lost their true meanings and applications.
Examples: the blanket appellation applied to those who occupy or perform duties considered dangerous to their lives, i.e., Firefighters, soldiers, sailors, police, lifeguards, etc.
Those who have done so-called Heroic Deeds/Actions will tell you: they cringe at being called heroes. They were, “only doing my job, or what is humanly natural to save/help others, (that being whatever animals they happen to be).
Note: Nowadays, we can all be considered heroes through our actions of just living and protecting a “worthwhile life.” Ours and the lives of our “brothers and sisters” striving to do the same: heroic living advancing and protecting life! There is nothing special about that: it is just living life as it should be!
Qualifications to be honored a hero require an individual to take great personal risk outside their normal call of duty. The risk can be life, wealth or denigration by a disingenuous crowd of people. At times a hero can be criticized for the act as it may be unpopular for some but a significant contribution for many. The act of heroism must be one of goodness and sacrifice.
The term is often overused today. Heroic events are exceptional acts by individual people at great personal risk. They should never be trivialized by those who present trophies for mediocre accomplishments.
Being an idealist, I would say that anyone who stood for ethical behavior and practices in the face of oppression or opposition, is a hero.
In today’s world, some examples would include “Whistleblowers,” people that make public the actions of institutions that cause harm; those who challenge institutionalized policies that harm others; those who report, or those who support those who report, sexual harassment or assault; those who risk their lives to save another, or those whose actions challenge hatred, inequality, or injustice.
Ήρως and Hero when pronounced are very similar to the ear.
Since mythological times a hero is a man or woman with special abilities, physical, mental, spiritual or other, that uses them for the good of the community. Usually in battle or achieving kleos in some endeavor.
Achilles is considered the greatest hero, yet he turned his back to his community in Troy, withdrawing from the fight.
In the absence of Achilles, King Diomedes holds the stage as Mr. Nice guy. He is a successful fighter, has victories and his own aristeia in the Iliad. He is respectful of the gods and acknowledges that matters are in their hands, and humans must proceed the best they can. He is brave, gives good counsel, knows tactics and strategy, is a hell of a fighter, humble to the gods and because of this, he has divine protection.
He returned safely to Greece or Italy, depending on the version. And even his army comrades were favored by the gods and turned into birds. All this led to the hero cult of Diomedes.
Today there exist true heroes and heroines, we see them in everyday little things they do. They have a smaller impact and usually go unnoticed. All the others' intentions and interests must be examined.
I am uniquely qualified to answer this question, as the name appears on my birth certificate.
Hero; n. 1. A fool, properly motivated.
a. Said fool, fortunate.
b. Said fool, deceased.
c. Said fool, both fortunate and deceased.
2. A thin layer, once scratched, revealing a villain.
3. A villain, properly backlit.
4. A broad category covering villains past, revised and updated.
5. A broad category covering noble ancestors, ignored and minimized.
6. A convenient category one places those that do what one cannot or will not.
7. A citizen, rightly informed.
Expert Generalist/Aristotelian man of leisure
Medea v. Jason
Medea is vilified as is the practice in all Western Culture.
Magdalene fills the same role in Christianity.
Nothing new to see here.
A hero is defined as someone who understands that their life may be lost but chooses to act anyway. Many acts of heroism don’t fit this definition. Personally, I have experienced moments where I acted to help another but did not have time to think about the consequences the action might have on me personally. I believe most everyone has had similar moments in life. These are heroic efforts, but they are not heroism. Regardless of time or culture, this principal difference is immutable. Heroism is plentiful but heroes are much more rare.
An act of heroism requires conscious evaluation of the danger the act provides for you and the choice to act regardless. Soldiers entering combat face such moments. Overcoming fear of self then becomes an incredible rush in these life and death actions. Vets returning to civilian life may often become despondent because normal life has no such moments. I suspect this phenomenon is buried in the psychobabble called PTSD. Military heroism may be seen in this light.
Joe Kennedy finished his 25 air combat missions in WW2 then volunteered for a very difficult mission. He chose to go and had plenty of opportunities to measure his mortality. He succeeded but did not survive. That is heroism, the fully evaluated acts and thoughts of a hero.
The premature deployment of B29 s made them a death box on takeoff for the flight crew when loaded with gasoline and napalm. They did not always manage to reach take off speed and crashed on take off. Seabees were stationed at the end of the runway to deal with the resultant inferno. Each flight crew knew the store but climbed aboard anyway. Heroes committing an act of heroism. True American Samurai.
When Vietnam was raging, and the draft lottery was in place, every eligible male had to choose to resist or go if the lottery date was called up. I made the choice that if my number came up I would serve rather than live with the thought that my avoidance or evasion would cause another to go. I understood all too well the potential consequences of that. Three elected presidents evaded and dodged their commitment forcing two others to go instead. Cowardice? You discern.
Now Enrolling: The Essential Greeks
If you want to learn how to approach life like Socrates, have the perspective of Thucydides or insights of Aristotle, this is the course for you. Join us as we explore the life, philosophy, and literature of the Essential Greeks.