At the beginning of this class, I had a difficult time grasping the point and aim of our discussions and readings. Naturally, however, as time progressed, I became aware not only of the significance in “the past possesses the present”, but of something else that was causing my confusion at the beginning of the semester. This notion, which I have come to believe in more and more, is the inescapability and the inevitability that nothing is ever how it seems (or at least not until you complete this course). The only comfort I can find is in knowing that this is infallible, always has been and always will be, and I will probably forever walk around in a fog of skepticism.
The exception of this, I can already think of, being the condition of the Greek men in Lysistrata, there is definitely no misinterpreting that. But we see this example in old comedy, which everyone knows is just grotesque jokes anyway. More seriously, the study of tragedies we’ve done led to a lot of questioning and uncertainty on my part. I’ve realized that my personal tragedies will never be anything close to those that others have experienced. What seeming misfortunes I have in my life come closer to being labeled comedic rather than tragic. As we know, the sacrifice of a child seems to take the cake in that department, dying for the honor of your brother is a close second, and the death of my pet really is nowhere near that arena. So just to clarify, stop thinking anything you’ve experienced is tragic, because it’s not. Just ask the Trojan Women.
As if the tragedies in my life being unremarkable aren’t enough, I now also fear for my own originality. I don’t know if that everything that is past possesses the present is alluding to that or not, but if everything that is my present has already been a present, how am I ever to consider myself original? How are any of us? It’s like that kid on the playground who tells you that his dad made up some popular joke. If I could go back in time, knowing what I do now I would say, “Well actually that joke has literally been around for ages, originating from Aristophanes Lysistrata, and it has only just followed a cyclically predictable path back into the mind of your unoriginal father”. Talk about a slam-dunk, he would stand no chance of responding. That joke is not as it seems, when what was an original funny bit of comedy, can turn into a worn-out gag, in holding this notion of unoriginality. But maybe we cannot value originality on the grand scale of things, and rather must appreciate it for what it is in our own time and space.
Physical transformations, the most obvious example of “it’s not what it seems”, prove deceiving as well. What appears to be a wild boar is in fact King Pentheus. Lucius is an ass. Calisto is a mama bear. Acteon is a stag. Who’s to say that my dog isn’t Amelia Earhart? I mean nobody knows where she went; it’s not out of the question! These things are definitely not as they seem, but how would anyone be to know? In these transformations we see mothers and sons turn against one another, friends turn to foes, and nymphs into bodiless voices, to name a few. We seem to be surrounded by a veritable garden of transformation, with hardly a clue about what is real. And if our senses are so greatly deceived, what is left to rely on? The only solution, it would appear, is to refrain from eating meat, not uproot any trees or flowers, and know where your son is before you go boar hunting.
When our physical forms are changeable, is too our nature? Are things like love, desire, and grief transformable? Diotima says love is an intermediate stage, there is always desire; it is a stepping stone. If love, which all humans strive to achieve, is not an ultimate goal, what then is? Is any earthly thing as satisfying or completing as we make it out to be? Maybe it is an eternal struggle, to find that which completes you. Malouf begs this question in The Imaginary Life. What is the true destiny of man? At the beginning of the novel, Ovid believes that the civilization of the Child is what would serve him best, when in the end it proves to be the exact opposite. We see a reversal occurring. Bird calls transform from meaningless song, into a beautiful and unique language like our own. The child who originally seemed to be the student, in fact became the teacher. With this widening of perspective, Ovid becomes aware of his place and his destiny. The exile, which seemed to be an unimaginably heinous fate, was always in fact a necessary step to his finality.
Our own fates, destinies, paths, whatever you like to call them, are not so different from Ovid. I think you can relate it to the idea of blessings in disguise. For example, a rejection letter from your dream college could lead to you going elsewhere, and in turn meeting the love of your life. You then find yourself praising what was once a disappointment. We make decisions everyday that guide us in one direction or another; that may drastically alter our course without our knowledge. And we must become aware that our lives are not as they can seem, mundane or predictable at times. We have become who we are through a very precise chain of events that could have resulted in a million other outcomes. It is true that as humans we are circumstantially bound, but it’s not as if we know what we are bound to.
You can’t live like that, thinking that you are just a pawn in the grander scheme of things. That frame of mind can translate into a license to be reckless or uncaring and just assume it’s all in the cards that way. Although we may be products of our circumstance, we are similarly products of ourselves. It seems a bit daunting at times, but as with most everything, it takes balance, and with that you can then operate in the worlds of both ignorance and enlightenment harmoniously. Meaning that, an awareness of our human condition and past as present will serve you well. But it serves equal importance to hold onto your own experiences and thoughts to appreciate them for what they are, and your role as an individual.
You have to take everything in stride, because the world we live in is chalk full of ambiguity and hidden meaning. It may not actually be hidden, but unless you know what you are looking for, it will never reveal itself. What am I talking about? I am talking about an echo, or a windflower, or Groundhogs day, or a current event in the newspaper. These things that are so present in our everyday lives, yet we are not aware of their pasts. And when you come to realize the significance, the importance of these things, what have you gained? Simply, and satisfyingly enough, the ability to chuckle here and there when you read the caption “Groundbreaking New Story!” or see the flight of a swallow, knowing that none of it is as it seems.