The writer of Ecclesiastes once said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Such a statement has never been truer than in the case of movies. As we endure the endless onslaught of prequels, sequels, remakes, etc, we strongly suspect that our age is derivative and has nothing new to say. It appears as if our time has lost the ability to create stories and has the talent only for taking the stories of and adding CGI, explosions, and tedious dialogue by performers who are easy on the eyes. Though there is truth to such an excoriating critique, it deserves noting that these movies also function as our culture’s mythology. What stories we keep retelling and how we choose to retell them provide glimpses into what we as a culture find most meaningful and valuable.
According to Greek Myth, Scylla (pronounced SIL-ah) and Charybdis (pronounced kah-RIB-dis) were monsters that inhabited opposite sides of a channel of water, sometimes imagined as the Strait of Messina separating Italy from Sicily. Scylla, a former lover of Poseidon, had been transformed into a hideous beast by the poisoned bath salts of Poseidon’s angry wife Amphitrite. Charybdis was a massive underwater beast, later rationalized as a whirlpool, that would drink in ocean water three times a day and spew it out again. Sailors had to choose how to navigate the hazard. If you sailed too close to Scylla, she would snatch 6 people from your ship, but the rest would survive. If you went to close to Charybdis, you risked your whole ship being sucked down and destroyed. “Caught between Scylla and Charybdis” was the ancient equivalent to our “stuck between a rock and a hard place.” Continue reading
There is a Greek myth about Eos (Roman: Aurora), the goddess of the Dawn, falling in love with Tithonus, a mortal man. She laments that while she will live forever, he is doomed to die. She asks Zeus to grant Tithonus immortality. But she fails to ask in addition that Tithonus remain eternally youthful. Tithonus, therefore, is doomed to grow old but never die. The story continues that as Tithonus ages his body becomes brittle, his mind deteriorates, and his speech becomes mere babbling. Eos is saddened by the gradual loss of Tithonus’ strength and sense, and though in the story she loses sexual attraction towards Tithonus, she does not abandon him. She transforms him into a cicada so that no one will fault his mindless chirping or fragile body.
Interpreters frequently focus on this myth as either an etiology, explaining the origin of cicadas; or as a cautionary tale along the lines of the Oscar Wilde quote: “When the gods choose to punish us, they merely answer our prayers.” While both interpretations have their merits, I would like to suggest that this myth has to do with how societies treat the elderly. Continue reading