Athena – the Goddess of Wisdom, War and Craftsmen in Greek Mythology

Athena, goddess of wisdom, war and crafts in Greek mythology, brought to life again…in a manner of speaking.

Why ‘real’ – or ‘true to life’, when talking about ‘mythology’? Which in the tradition of almost all peoples around the globe is a ‘myth’ to begin with, something like a ‘highbrow fairy story’?

Of Greek mythology it can be said particularly well that it was built, based on what was common in the society at the time:
life, love and war or parents and children, brothers and sisters. Kings, queens, gods and peasants, they figured in it, fought, won, lost, loved and hated just as human beings did – and do.

As a child I encountered the German retold stories of Greek mythology ‘en vogue’ then. I didn’t like the style. It seemed cramped and rather bent on trying to provide a sense of blind worship for the old traditions. Typical among those that seem to hold anything of ancient Greece in highest regard without checking twice – or real understanding and a broader view.

Still, recently I came across a documentary about the Greek myths that not only was colourful, consists of more than 20 parts – but also seems true to ‘life’.

The second time after reading Joachim Fernau, historian, of hotly debated, enlightened approach, who yet successfully made ancient history come to life in his books on Roman or Greek mythology and history.
Colourful, too, great fun to read, with real insight.

Athena, the Modern Woman?

Athena is particular to me because she seems to represent a figure as a woman I feel I can relate too:
not perfect, but well-liked, desired even, yet not easily taken in – or had. She fights only in order to make more peace.
She sprang from the head of her father Zeus, reigning god of Greek mythology,  at birth, also a striking way to come to life: a father’s thought or idea…

She failed once dreadfully when killing her sister in a sparring fight, where her father Zeus interfered at the last minute, blinded her sister momentarily to weaken her and thus makes Athena kill her sister accidentally.
A little background here makes it clearer:
‘Pallas’ had been her uncle Poseidon’s daughter in the tales, but both had been raised and felt like sisters. That Zeus would interfere at all, in the tales was due to an old rivalry between his brother Poseidon and himself.

That’s apparently why she is called ‘Pallas Athena’ on most statues or scrolls or in texts: she put the name of her beloved sister in front of her own to remind and be reminded for the rest of her life.

She is protective goddess of all crafts, close to arts and although I am not a craftswoman as such, I like many crafts very well, such as knitting, crocheting, or cooking.

Wisdom, last but not at all least of the main characteristics and responsibilities of her as a figure in the tales:
wisdom is dear to me and I try to attain more, as the years pass  by, always have held in it in high regard.

Wisdom and knowledge are not the same thing by a long chalk. But experience and a kind heart, as well as knowledge are the best possible bases for wisdom to come – sometimes sooner, sometimes later.

Non-violently ‘fight’ for peace, be wise, do not let them fool you and look your fellow-man – literally and figuratively – squarely in the eye, yet remember also about love or passion, quality-wise, instead of quantity: that’s what this image means to me in a nutshell. Athena.

A Sense of Being – A Being of Sense – or Why to Not Have It All Can Be More

Wealth, fame, leisure, luxury – these things seem to present an irresistible allure. In former times, the most important person was the king, in Europe. Or an emperor. The nobility after that. The craftsmen and merchants also were well respected. Some had even more power, such as the Medici or the Fugger, who as rich merchants either bought kings and emperors by lending them money. Or even were lesser earls themselves, at a later stage.
At the heart of all this is very often the longing for appreciation. I’ve posted about that before.

But another yearning shows itself: what if the appreciation of others has already been gained?
Perhaps, if the appreciation and self-esteem are in place through upbringing or surroundings, the next step in a human life is feeling fulfilled…

The last Austrian empress comes to mind, Elizabeth II., former Bavarian princess and wife of the last Austrian emperor:
contrary to popular belief she was not the sweet and tragic figure who fell in love and then became sick and had to leave family and country for health. Tuberculosis of the lung is so nice and pale and sweet and bitter, it lends itself beautifully to the stereotype of the tragically dying young lady and sweet girl.

But this is the popular image painted in movies of the fifties of the last century, shortly after the war, when people felt a particular need for the perfect, glamorous world of fairy stories.

Most of her life she spent in travelling, and building little, playful kiosks and castles. Sometimes taking on enormous, life endangering risks, such as sailing in storms that could easily have killed everyone on board.

Wrote poems of longing and more or less sad mystery, spent a large amount of time on drilling her body and eating practically nothing in order to fulfill the idea of the most beautiful woman at a European court, she had been purported to be.
She seems to have been sometimes bulimic and anorexia was at the bottom, apparently.

In a way she seems to have been what is called a bird in a golden cage: with education and a comparatively easy childhood in the outdoors she led a life as the completely ‘useless’ wife of an emperor, her whole existence being geared towards producing an heir to the throne.

Once she had done her duty, she was little more than a decorative asset. A life like hers – driven across and around the world, severely exercising morning, noon and night, almost feverishly hunting adventure and dangerous risks – begins to make sense in this light:
a well-educated human being with creative ideas and not the slightest task or challenge to keep her agile mind busy.

So perhaps, not to have everything, may be the height of existence, after all.

The Art of Making Mistakes and Yet Thrive: Try Again!

There’s no shame in failure, only in not trying again. (Henry Ford)

Many quotes similar to this have been attributed to Henry Ford. The image of the proverbial entrepreneur is associated with him.

Regardless of this being really his own words – I have found them to be quite true in the course of my life.

In a number of cultures, the strict rules we grow up with as children can create the impression that making mistakes can lead to serious consequences. During education the consequences of a mistake or an error are often painted in very dark and sinister colours. This method often is used to make children and adolescents better understand that consequences should be taken into account before acting.

The concept of Yin and Yang is often used to describe the fact that nothing and no human being is just one thing – or another.
Black – or white. But both, more often than not.
In some ways this is true.
The Chinese concept itself is a little more complex.

In order to find out what concept helps understanding life and human beings as well as situations wholly and thus truthfully, and so make our ideas reliable, the Yin-Yang-concept is not sufficient.

To make it clearer and yet easy to understand, I like to use the image of the kaleidoscope: most situations, people and even mistakes are not one- or two-sided, but rather multi-faceted, that is:
colourful!
Therefore, to be afraid of a mistake can also be the result of not looking at the whole picture. Of all the pros and cons a situation, a person or especially a mistake can have.

Basically, as the quote above also shows, not trying again is the real shame. And not seeing what is true, but jumping to conclusions.
I’ve posted about this in another context before.

If we slip on a banana peel, fall and get hurt, we pick ourselves up. We attend to the scratches – and we may notice in the event that the slip has prevented us from running across the street, without watching out for the van that might have killed us.

That is a simple example of what I mean:
Get up, try again – and see if there aren’t upsides after all!

I Cannot Be Bothered with Museums – or: Being Is so Light – or: Why Education?

I am part of a family that for hundreds of years has been busy to educate and learn and further culture, arts and knowledge, basically across half of Europe.
When I was still a girl, I often felt overwhelmed and intimidated by all the possible knowledge domains that are there these days, all the facts, figures and rules of art one would learn, languages and their often hidden meaning. Mathematics, physics, chemistry, in short: all the subjects of the higher holistic academic education, based on humanist principles, in turn based on Wilhelm von Humboldt’s Humboldtian education ideal of the nineteenth century.

I often asked myself: will I ever be able to learn and understand all these facts? Apart from the possible interpretations and philosophical consequential thoughts one might develop. My parents used to discuss philosophical matters, such as epistemology, the limitations of knowledge, as opposed to wisdom, terminology questions, or language, society and its roots, politics, arts, sciences, literature…

I’ve learned in the meantime that for all the high ideals and aspirations, growing up does for us what we need: knowledge becomes ‘manageable’, categories form in the mind and thus build a solid structure, slowly but surely, if we continue.

I also learned early in life about Socrates and his (alleged) dictum:
“I know that I know nothing.” Although proper research does not find this to be part of the Plato texts, it is widely acknowledged as a short gesture of respect towards previous philosophers and scientists, in the sense that a wealth of knowledge exists and one human being would not be enough to imbibe it all.

Some people have answered the question ‘why study’ in a more generic way:
‘Being educated is a worthy and dignified asset and a proper value of distinction.’
Some find:
‘It can be crucial for a life in wealth or even riches’ – which is the, alas, modern, utilitarian variety of the reason for education.

But somehow these answers weren’t enough for me. They seemed to reduce knowledge and wisdom to something ‘countable’.
For myself I have found a basis for education that is rooted in a belief and experience, especially those blessed with wealthy families and upbringing, may not easily share:

‘Education can make the fundamental difference between the ‘unbearable lightness of being’ – and the ‘unbearable heaviness of being’.’

Why? How?

Lightness of being may be felt by those, who live in comfortable circumstances, who do not know, what real want or need of the fundamental necessities in life feels like. And who may even be tempted to idle away their lives in constant partying and drinking and perhaps even drug abuse, or worse, in order to quench any emotion or thought of emptiness or lack of focus this way. (This kind of behaviour may be a phase only, when people think they have to prove their membership of the ‘wealthy elements’ of society, prove to be bold and exciting…)

Heaviness of being can be felt by those, who have seen – or see – this want, this need. Who have to reduce their living circumstances for years or even decades to the bare living and breathing and clothing and food.

For some time I was part of the second aspect of people. One day, after years and years, one might say, I had the chance to ‘return’ to the museums of my childhood, to the paintings, the knowledge of scientists and meaning.

I entered that hall of paintings, in my case the Flemish and Netherlands artists of the 14th to 16th century, mainly.
And suddenly I was moved almost to tears, feeling:
“Thank God, this is all here, still, and will be, whatever else may happen.”

It was like a revelation at that moment, of art lifting me up above the worries and fears of everyday life. I remembered a number of things I had learned during childhood about the rules for why these paintings were just this way. That made the experience even more insightful and exciting.

So, my answer(s) to the question above, why education, are these:
It can lift you up.
It broadens the horizon of understanding, that is understanding humans, ways of life, religions and politics.
It can make you feel as if a light, like a beacon, shines on our lives, because all those wonderful artists have created art to make life more colourful, multi-faceted and exciting.

So, be undaunted, now or later, and conquer the knowledge, the wisdom and the arts – to light up your life with the knowledge and arts – your way.

Tolerance – or: Accept the Other by Looking Beyond the Image

When we work or live together, everyday life can be made difficult by disagreements, arguments or even serious quarrels, with misunderstandings at the bottom of them, very often.
What can help to solve this all-to-common occurrence? How can we get past petty arguments and self-righteousness to allow for a broader view and deeper understanding?

Listen to Your Peers

This sounds like easy advice but it isn’t. In everyday life, we are busy and these days internet and digital devices are everywhere. With work, family and friends demanding our full attention most of any day, it can get difficult to really listen; pay attention to what is being said, and what a person may even not say, but what is still there.

Identify Guilt and Get It Over With

Why should we identify it – or even assume it’s there?
In most countries and cultures around the globe the expected conduct, behaviour and rules of the community are strict, especially when listened to closely. Some more than others. But this strictness, these rules, between people, between parents and children, between lovers, between husband and wife, between friends – lead to easy and repeatedly felt emotions of guilt in the sense: “I did not follow the rule. I behaved or acted inadequately. Or seem to have. That is bad.”
After such, often not completely conscious thoughts, the next step in such chains of thought is:
“I have to prove myself. I have to contradict the other person, to make clear that I am good.”
With this the defensiveness sets in, anger enters the conversation, and mutual accusations of what the other person got wrong, will follow.

How can that be got over?

It cannot completely, because we are human beings and we live in this world and have been raised to certain standards and beliefs.
It can be relieved, though.
Because if we are ready to see the whole picture, we may teach ourselves and thus our surroundings, forgiveness.
Based on the realization, that we all at times have differing needs, even in the same family, not to say across cultures. That this difference of need and emotion can lead to excitement and even anger – and we are still good at heart!
Because, just as much as we are trying to do our best and occasionally fail – so do the others.

Look Beyond the Image

What image? And why look beyond one?
Culture, education, upbringing and history of our respective countries shape our idea of the world, of what is acceptable behaviour, what is not.
Women and men are usually supposed and expected to act or behave or talk in a certain manner. If that manner is markedly different from our expectations, we start wondering, why and how – and very often jump to conclusions based on what we learned so far.
That is the image: what we have learned, what we expect, and what these presuppositions actually let us see – or miss.

So, in this sense, looking beyond the image means: realize what the values are that you learned, which of them you actually live by – and what could be different, in the other person.

Accept the ‘Other’ as such – different, not better, not worse, just different, in most cases. And, sometimes the most difficult task of all: accept yourself!

Tolerance

With this comes tolerance:
A wonderful word, to my mind, it encompasses the concept of allowing for variety – of being open-minded, and accepting that not everyone is the same as we are, at least in detail, and that this fact is – and thus the other person is – welcome.

The Acorn, the Oak-tree and (Young) Ladies’ Self-confidence

This short video is another example of the TEDx series of talks that I like to share. And it could be for you, if

  • you are a young lady between 17-24 and want to learn or be reminded of what can be important to remember for a life.
  • you are a lady of more advanced years and had temporarily forgotten all about it…
  • you are a husband, father, son, brother, uncle, cousin, granddad…or… to find out about what it makes sense to teach young ladies – and why.

The ideas expressed are generalizations to some extent, as is customary for a short talk. For individual human beings and situations we always should look more closely to be as just as we possibly can.
But these ideas provide excellent pointers!
Emotional well-being and self-confidence are essential ingredients for a day – and a lifetime.
So, enjoy, everyone out there, who come by – and like this, too.

(Young) gentlemen, although in this day and age, in many regions of the world it seems too self-evident: you are oak-trees, too!
(Young) ladies, remember: you are an oak-tree already!

Trust – and How to Build It

Trust is crucial, is precious and not always easily found.

If we trust a person, we may feel a little as if there was a rock around we can rely on,  eternal almost, always there. Someone we could talk to about what moves us. Someone who would not use us or our emotions, perhaps. Who’s there when the times get tough, or who we know will tell us the truth, no matter what. About themselves – or about us.

Trust is not always ready-made, but can be built. But how to build it? What is it, really?

I recently came across a video by a speaker of the TEDx series of talks. As far as is known to me from research, the series and the organization are independent of any ideology or creed. And the sole purpose is to provide  a platform for people to exchange ideas. Although the speaker’s and my life’s choices are completely at odds, I admire her talk, her way of getting the concept across, and ultimately, providing a sound idea of how to build trust. As I think she has put it in a nutshell, I like to share it here:

The Church, Crime, Creation and the Freedom of Choice

The recent years brought to light something that is as disturbing and dreadful as it is tragic for many people: the Catholic church unearths more and more details about abuse that has been going on behind its walls at least for decades, if not much longer.

So far it seems, bringing to light and the first apologies by bishops and the Pope himself have been first steps to acknowledge what in fact is criminal behaviour in a religious body.

It could make people, who attribute a value to that faith as well as that particular belief, despair, of the church as well as religion or even life.

One is tempted to ask, why do we need a church at all? Or a religion, for that matter?
I think, Erich Fromm was right in stating that religion is an expression of the yearning for transcendence in man (and woman). Transcendence of life and the sometimes hard to explain pain and suffering we see every day.

I have been a Christian in my time – and in some ways where people grow up and are raised, the respective history and prominent religious orientation of a society are important for mind and thinking – the frame of mind of a human being.

In this context modern Christians could be tempted to despair because the message in the later part of the bible, the gospel is focused on neighbourly love. On goodness and on God’s grace for all that have sinned on the day of resurrection.

This made Dostoevsky in one of his great novels, “The Brothers Karamazov” ask, how it could be that a gracious and judicious God could allow suffering, and especially the suffering of innocent children.

To me, one of the most wonderful answers to this almost eternal question has been given by John Steinbeck in “East of Eden”. The main character one day realizes that his faithful Chinese servant of many years is not only highly educated but a scholar. His servant tells him that after studying the bible in its common English translation and the Hebrew original, and especially the chapter Genesis, whose interpretation modern Western society is based on to a great extent, he found one sentence particularly striking and its interpretation crucial to what was going on in a great part of mankind.
‘Thou shalt go forward into the world and rule it and subdue it…’

Quoting Steinbeck’s text from memory at this point: he goes on to say that after years of study, he found the verb ‘shalt’ had been wrongly translated from the Hebrew and instead of ‘shalt’ it should be ‘mayest’.
From this would come the realization, that God hadn’t just entrusted his creation to mankind in a sense of commandeering action and correcting human errors himself where necessary.

Rather, the term ‘mayest’ encompasses the idea, that – human beings are also entrusted with choice – the choice between good and evil – every day.

To me this is the most important answer to any wrongs, crimes, pain, cruelty and suffering we may observe or go through: there is always some choice a human being can make, in any situation.

Many people due to this special context grow up in the firm and mistaken belief that someone else is responsible for their deeds, be they good or bad.
They feel and behave even as grown-ups not much differently from childhood: a little ashamed now and again they still think, breaking the rules cannot be too bad, if no one finds out – or no one complains.

This idea of choice is also the idea of personal freedom in this sense: ultimately any choice we make, is ours. Whatever way we decide.

It is responsibility, for creation, for our neighbour, for ourselves.

Freedom of Choice.

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn Revisited – The Modern Craze for Calm Kids

children playing

In the times I grew up in (I was a kid in the seventies in Europe) there was a distinct trend for raising children differently: the recently weathered storm of Nazism and fundamentalism together with the most atrocious crimes against mankind called forth a very determined frame of mind to never let it happen again. The root causes were being analysed in earnest shortly after WW II across the globe and especially in Germany starting with the late fifties, when a new generation claimed the silence of their parents to be broken.

The reasons for such atrociousness as the Third-Reich of the Nazis and their followers caused have been defined since then: the servant’s, even devotee’s frame of mind people had been raised in in many parts of Europe that basically stated authority should be listened to and followed at all times at all costs, together with a long history of Anti-Semitism.

The new young generation in the sixties and seventies, among others picking up Alexander S. Neill’s ideas set forth in his school in England, Summerhill, in turn created the idea of a children’s education which is free of adult authority.
His ideas since have found a world-wide reception and response. Many sources cite him as the most influential educationalist of the 20th century.

I won’t recite or summarize his work, but I am worried and even feel repulsed by a (not-so)-new counter tendency that can be found throughout recent movies, documentaries and articles: to basically diagnose every second or third child with the so-called ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and then – recommend or even prescribe medication to quieten them!
A recent review of a not very important little comedy movie featuring primary-school children in prominent roles even went so far as to recommend such treatment for one of the main characters – an about seven year-old boy who obviously was a little too young to not play around an office!

The reasons for this tendency seem clear to me and are really frightening to me, as they seem to point into the same direction as the ideas that had been prevailing at least since the nineteenth century: let children be quiet and calm at all times so parents are not disturbed too much and also would not have to attend to them too much…

In other cultures than the Western children and their special needs and care for them are viewed differently. One would not easily find a parent in the Middle East asking a small child to always be quiet – or even medicate them.

There are certainly cases of children who need more than the average attention, but why? Because someone (the parents or family or teachers) didn’t do their ‘job’ properly!

Children and adults alike need attention, in the case of grown-ups it’s called appreciation and ‘suddenly’ is a good thing. So, parents that are unable for reasons most likely based in their own childhood to pay attention to their own children, will probably raise children suffering from that kind of attention deficit, where the term actually says it (almost) all!

Apart from a proper loving attention and care that includes drawing the line now and again, children should be able to draw attention to themselves and they also should be allowed to play and develop slowly into grown-ups, as nature intended.
No adult can always stay calm without medication, not to say drugs. A child that is ‘drugged’ into calmness at an early age will most likely become a drug-abusing adult instead of a healthy and occasionally loud human being!

So, parents, theorists and teachers, think again: would you want to have Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn around today – and what medication would they have to take….?