I took a break from working today and read part of Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon just to relax from researching and data gathering. In the following section, one of the several main characters, Randy Waterhouse, a UNIX coder par excellence and part of a corporate team that’s setting up a data crypt, is talking to Enoch Root, a Catholic priest with a medallion of Athena around his neck. Enoch is explaining to Randy why he has an Athena pendant while Randy figures out a playing card-based encrypting method Enoch has shared previously. They are both in cells in a Philippine prison, although they are in upgraded VIP cells as someone is Van Eck phreaking the information Randy has on his PC.
“Now keep in mind that the typical Greek myth goes something like this: innocent shepherd boy is minding his own business, an overflying god spies him and gets a hard-on, swoops down and rapes him silly; while the victim is still staggering around in a daze, that god’s wife or lover, in a jealous rage, turns him—the helpless, innocent victim, that is—into let’s say an immortal turtle and e.g. power-staples him to a sheet of plywood with a dish of turtle food just out of his reach and leaves him out in the sun forever to be repeatedly disemboweled by army ants and stung by hornets or something.”
I’ve written in at least one other post about how much the Greek gods acted just like temperamental, omnipotent versions of humans and found myself laughing at the description Stephenson renders of the hideous punishments meted out to screw-ups like Sisyphus and Prometheus.
A lot of the stuff that went on was violent; as I contend this was a mirror to human behavior, that should not be surprising. Some of what went on fell into the category of rape, followed by one or another god taking revenge. Zeus, the supreme god, was probably the worst violator of all the gods; Hera, whom he tricked into sex and marriage, would find out about Zeus’s activities and punish those whom Zeus had visited. He had at least four lovers and a couple of wives before Hera. Perhaps the Greeks came up with the aphorism “if you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas” (nope, it was Seneca the Elder). Zeus was a dog of a god. There’s a list of all the gods and humans he visited. The result of one such visit and revenge episode was that Hera sent a dragon to pursue Leto, a Titan, for her fling with Zeus.
This is the troubling thing about a lot of the Greek and Roman myths, or for that matter, myths from other ancient civilizations: there was a lot of rape going on! The myths that we know best are patriarchal (there were probably matriarchal mythologies, probably destroyed by rampaging men and their patriarchal myths).
And the whole thing about Hera going around punishing the victims is pretty troubling as well. You would think that, with the Greek myths being myths and this being a few millennia later, human behavior might have grown out of blaming the victims. That has not been the case.
I read today that the Stanford lacrosse player who received a 6-month sentence will be released on Friday. The U.S. Congress has not adequately addressed rapes in the military… among soldiers serving their country! Rape is under-reported around the world because (1) if the victim (male or female) comes forward, they are usually re-victimized by shaming, (2) many police and police departments do not adequately investigate the initial allegation, (3) if they do investigate and the case is tried, more public shaming occurs as the defense strategy often involves impeaching the character of the victim.
We do not live many millennia ago. We live in a less patriarchal world than even a century ago but it is still very patriarchal. The needle has shifted only a jot. But we also live in a society where human trafficking in the world is responsible for the kidnap and/or false detention of 20.9 million people at present, many of them women imprisoned as sex workers on the threat of violence and death.
In short, we live in a world where those who perpetrate these crimes are able to commit them without punishment while their victims are shamed, slandered, and imprisoned. Zeus would be proud. Hera would be meting out punishments in overtime!