Parables & Ponderings

Vincent Kavaloski

The Tragedy and the Paradox of Greek Civilization

They are old Dead White Males,
Embarrassing in their political incorrectness.
They built their greatness on slavery,
They were patriarchal and sexist to the core,
They idealized the warrior and warred 
Incessantly. They could be cruel and often
Despised mercy as weakness.
And yet — and yet
We are still fascinated by the 
Shattered fragments of their tiny
Long-ago world. Why?

Perhaps we see reflected in them
As in an old cracked mirror, 
Our own subterranean psyches, 
Our own repressed Dionysian
Obsession with power and violence.

After all, for many of us, 
They are our cultural Ancestors 
And, however much we might
Try to escape or disown them,
We are imprinted with the
Mark of their madness — and genius.
In order to understand our
Own conflicted nature,
We must embrace them.
A return to the Greeks is a 
Return to our own roots.

But there is something else,
At the very dawn of civilization,
In a rocky and harsh corner of the world,
Amidst the violence and domination that
Flourished everywhere, human consciousness
Took flight on the gossamer wings of poetry
And philosophy, and for one brief, beautiful
Moment, warriors set down their
Weapons and began a quest for
Truth, Goodness and Beauty through
Drama, dialogue and debate.

They dreamed a Dream of Wisdom and
Virtue and Democracy
Soaring high in the sky of the mind,
Pushing back the limits of what human
Beings could be. They built temples to beauty
And poems to love, created philosophy that
Pursued self-knowledge and science
That probed the heavens and earth.  

And then the drums of war returned
And suddenly it was all over. They could not
Live the dream they dreamed so well.
This is their paradox and their tragedy.

Vincent Kavaloski, Ph.D., lived for 37 years in these Uplands in an intentional, eco-community devoted to peace and harmony with people and the land. He is currently in in-home hospice in Madison having concluded a long academic calling at Edgewood College. He can be reached at vincekavaloski@gmail.com. Mary Friedel-Hunt’s “Living Well, Dying Well” column will return next month.