There be dragons!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Amused Muse about the Muse

I was reading Proverbs again today (it's something I do) and noticed at the very beginning (Prov 1:7) that the poet says "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." Fear of the Lord. Fear leads to knowledge. This seems similar to Plato's statement that "all philosophy begins in wonder" and certainly reflects the image of Gyges' wondering at the chasm in the ground and going into it, or the philosopher descending into the cave. Are wonder and fear related in this way? Do we both wonder and fear at some dark pit, some chasm? Certainly the ancients said that the world begin in an abyss, and Genesis of course begins with "the deeps" over which the spirit moves. At what are we wondering/fearing? That abyss seems to be internal rather than external - some darkness within us - and has echoes of the lacuna between image and imaged in which the truth resides.

But it occurred to me that Aristotle points out the purpose of tragedy is "to provoke fear and pity." Tragedy provokes fear or awe by revealing the deep pit inside each of us. We are awed by it and wonder "what's down there?" Yet we also have pity b/c we know that this pit is terrifying and dangerous. Caveat - beware - the Cave. Yet what is that caveat within us?

Plato explicitly uses the term "noble dogs" for his guardians who are the meeting point between the nobility of the intellectual rulers and the caninity of the appetitive workers. Man is both noble and canine; spirit and body; divine and mortal. What is the tragedy in that? Unless, of course, the dog knows it is a dog and not a god. By dog! ho kunos!

That certainly is a cave canem.

"We know what we are but we know not what we may become," as Ophelia states. Were we to be merely dogs, ants, goats we would have no knowledge of our dogness, or our antness, or our goatness. But b/c we are aware, b/c we wonder (an action unique to humans) we know that we are dogs and live everyday with our grossness. We are aware of our antness and live with our puny existence. We are aware of our goatness and live with the knowledge that goats become gyros. Before the slaughter we look up at the knife held by our Father and cry out in a mournful wail, a goat song - tragoidos. Tragedy is the cry over our own existence.

And as our dogness seems apparent enough our nobility does not. Show me an ounce of honor, a foot of soul, the weight of love. These things cannot be measured or held in the hand and so seem ephemeral - unreal - lies or illusions. They are mere myths we tell in order to feel better about our own dogness. Were we merely dogs this would be no problem and we could go about rolling in fish or sniffing bottoms or chasing rabbits and be none the wiser. But the dog knows it is a dog and hence the source of our sorrow. "For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief." (Ecc 1:18)

We are compelled by wonder (fear) to go down into the cave.
There in the dark we encounter the reality of our noble dog existence.
Once we are aware of our existence we are compelled by pity to go down into the cave to save others.

What is amusing about this? Tragos, in Greek, means goat, but also means the smell of the armpit. Tragedy is "the goat song" or "the armpit song". It is a reminder of our mortal selves translated into something beautiful. Imagine all those garlic and gar eating Greeks sitting in the outdoors from sunup to sundown for the Dionysiad. How it must have stunk! And how, surrounded by the smell of armpits, they would have been reminded by this beautiful singing and drama that man is also very noble. That realization should provoke fear and pity indeed.

1 comment:

  1. Hi! I really enjoyed talking to you on Saturday, and stalking your house on google. I hope it was a fun weekend. I would have loved to be there & see everybody.

    Your dog thoughts are timely for my situation, as Bruno & Coco's recent departure has been on my mind. I recently learned a new English word, "cynosure," which is derived from the greek kynos (like "cynic") and means "guiding light." A most interesting etymology, if I may say so.