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Are you an Epimetheus?

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Are you an Epimetheus? Are you an Epimetheus?

I know what you're thinking, and it's a good question. Who or what is Epimetheus? For all of you who are not up on your Greek mythology, allow me to enlighten you. 

Back in the day, about 1,000 years before the birth of Christ, the Greeks wrote about gods and goddesses, giants and monsters, virgins and sacrifices. Good times, I've heard. In the last decade or so, Hollywood has churned out some epic movies on these epic myths: 'Troy,' 'Alexander' and the 'Percy Jackson & the Olympians' series to name a few. Nothing really beats Brad Pitt in a loin cloth, but Collin Farrell with blond highlights is a close second. Recently, Logan Lerman's 'Aw shucks, me, a demi-god?' portrayal of Poseidon's son, Percy, has struck a chord with tweens and teens everywhere, so Greco-Roman myth has happily seen a bit of resurgence in today's pop culture.

Though kids in high school English class groan a collective sigh of agony (agon means struggle in Greek by the by) when teachers like me assign Greek mythology for bedtime reading, much can be said about the relevance of myth in our everyday lives. First, any writer that's ever lived has alluded to classical mythology somehow in his or her writing, so if you've never read about Zeus and his philandering ways or Hades and his abduction of Persephone (daughter of Mother Earth,) then you may be missing out on the underlying meanings in most of the stories you read.

When that awesome insight fails to entice 18-year-olds away from their texting, tweeting and Facebook stalking, I usually go for the easy angle. I tell them, 'Greek gods and goddesses are no different from you or me. In fact, they are surprisingly human for immortals. They have human characteristics, love stories and flaws. Which Greek god would you be?'

This usually gets them interested enough to read about the big 12. After an introduction to the 12 Olympians, most kids choose the obvious. The boys want to be Hercules or Zeus, and who can blame them? What guy wouldn't want to slay a lion with his bare hands or throw a lightning bolt down from Olympus? That's pretty cool, dude. Girls love Aphrodite or Athena. For a girl, you can either be gorgeous or smart. Unfortunately, precious few realize that they can be both, even in Greek times. Then I ask them, 'Who here thinks they are an Epimetheus?'

Golden silence falls over the crowd before some brave soul (who doesn't mind the death darts other students will surely shoot his or her way) will say, 'Who's Epimetheus?' As if on cue, I launch into the timeless tale of two brothers (Titans, if we're going to get technical) who were assigned the task of making mortal men. After he dethroned his father, Zeus put his two cousins in charge of the creation of man: Epimetheus and Prometheus. Lots of people have heard about Prometheus, but relatively few know about his brother, Epimetheus, and here's why.

Epimetheus messed up. He made a mistake. Before his brother could get to the all-important task of crafting mortals, Epimetheus gave all of the best characteristics to animals. Strength, speed, courage, cunning, fur and feathers - all of these traits he gave to beasts instead of men. By the time Prometheus arrived on the scene, there was nothing good left to give mankind. Recognizing that man would need something to defend himself from such an unstoppable foe, Prometheus journeyed to the heavens, struck a torch on the sun, and stole fire from the gods. 

Obviously, he lit Zeus's fury as well. Instead of saying, 'Hey, fuggetaboutit,' Zeus chained Prometheus to a rock and had an eagle peck at his liver for eons, but that's beside the point. Prometheus became the god of forethought and his brother, Epimetheus, became the god of afterthought, the father of all excuses. His name literally means, 'hindsight' or 'after-thinker.'

Though his brother warned him against Zeus's retribution, Epimetheus went on to marry Pandora, the first woman given to mankind (by Zeus). He was gentle and lonely. She was beautiful and female; it was bound to happen. Unfortunately, we all know what happened with Pandora: she opened the box. When you leave the little woman alone with a shiny box full of secrets, what do you think is going to happen? Needless to say, all the ills of the world flew out in a hurry while Hope remained, our only ally in the face of so much evil.

If they're still conscious at this point, I return to my earlier question. 'Are you an Epimetheus? Do you act first and think later? Do you find yourself doing damage control more often than you'd like? Do you make more excuses than intelligent decisions? Or are you a Prometheus, an intelligent thinker and a rebel against injustice?' 

Most students concede that they would rather ask for forgiveness than permission. Others say they procrastinate making even minor decisions in fear of making the wrong choices. It's better to be sure about what you want and wait too long, than to be unsure and make a mistake. The remaining few are torn between the two. They are neither as impulsive as Epimetheus nor as ingenious as Prometheus, but somewhere in the middle, ambivalent.

I think we're all a bit more like Epimetheus than we'd care to admit. We're only human after all. We're bound to make mistakes. It's in our make-up, and now you know who we have to blame for that.

       

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